The week before last began with a little sniffle, some sneezing and what felt like a small rodent scratching at the back of my throat.
Initially, I assumed allergy, and began upping my doses of antihistamine. I nipped to the chemist for nasal spray and eye drops to supplement my Piriteze, with an optimistic jaunt.
Day two – Tuesday – and I began googling: “Pollen count”, and “differences between a cold and hayfever” – which is pretty dumb since really the differences are quite clear.
On Wednesday, I decided to keep with my ‘hafever’ story and go ahead with my planned lunch-time-turbo session – I was leading the session for some colleagues, so I couldn’t really pull out. By Wednesday afternoon I was pretty stuffed –definitely not hayfever, and a dreaded chesty cough emerged.
Thursday through to the following Monday were a total right-off. I DNS-ed (did not start) my Saturday race, and decided I better rest up to avoid having to do the same this weekend. That’s 5 days off the bike, and it was so unbelievably frustrating.
To ride with a cold, or not?
Internet forums, webzines and blogs are full of answers to the question: “should I exercise/ride with a cold?” – and that fact implies to me that it’s a question a lot of people ask.
Opinions on riding with a cold are divided – but there is one theory that is quoted more often than any other: Symptoms above the neck and it’s fine, in fact quite good for you, to ride your bike or exercise. Anything below the neck – eg a chesty cough that could become an infection, and you should rest.
Your experiences might vary – but I’ve always found this approach to work. A bit of a sniffle, and getting my heart beating makes me feel better, but once the nasty has hit my chest, it’s time to stop. Anecdotal evidence from friends and online forum-ites seem to agree, and I’ve heard enough stories of coughts becoming nasty infections not to risk it.
Tips on resting though a cold
Having to rest is frustrating, I know. However, the best thing you can do is try to embrace it.
If you ride often, your legs get plenty of exercise, and a couple of days rest will make absolutely no difference to your general health or well-being. In fact, giving your muscles a few days break will probably do them some good.
Once you’ve got your head around the fact that you need to stop, it’s time to make use of the time you might otherwise spend on the bike (NB: If you don’t have another means of transport, I’m getting to you next!).
To take your mind off the lack of riding, you could:
1) Write that email / letter to an old friend who you’ve been meaning to get in contact with for months. You never know, you might get a reply next time they are under the weather.
2) Make plans – if you usually ride to commute, sit down with a map and see if there is a nicer route to take. If you take part in events, find some new ones, or search out a new challenge and plan how you’re going to get fit for it.
3) Take time out. There is a coffee shop near my house that’s open till 7.30pm. If I leave work at 6pm on by bike, I get home around 7pm, and I never make it out for a late night coffee – but whilst recovering from flueyness, I enjoyed a divine flat white after driving home.
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4) Look after yourself. For me that’s painting my nails or actually going crazy and plucking my eyebrows. You know – all the things most of my more girly friends do every week. For you that might mean tidying your sock draw so you can actually find a pair next time you want to or ironing some shirts you forgot you owned.
5) On tidying and organising – how about actually sorting out that huge pile of life admin – invoices, receipts, bank statements. It might sound boring – but you’ll feel a whole lot lighter once you’re done.
Of course, all of the above might actually sound quite appealing – but what if you ride to work, and don’t have another way to get there? Or – what if you’re just too damn pig headed to stop riding?
Cycling with a cold:
1) Take It Easy. I really mean that (hence the caps).
When you are ill, your immune system is working super hard to get you back to full health. Stressing your body with exercise that causes you to breathe very hard and elevates your heart rate a lot (anaerobic exercise) also puts stress on your immune system. Combine the two and you won’t get better quickly.
Research is varied here, but generally it’s considered that aerobic exercise – that is exercise at a low intensity – does not stress your immune system as much, or possibly at all. In addition, the hormones released by low intensity exercise could make you feel better. Do be careful, however, that the ‘happy hormones’ don’t mask the illness, causing you to push yourself harder than you should.
2) If you’re even a tiny bit competitive: Do not track your ride. Do not use a computer, or enable whatever app you use on your phone. Knowing that you are riding more slowly will not help you. And most certainly do not ride with any other human beings you know.
3) When I’m on the mend from a cold, but still a bit snotty, I find getting out in the fresh air helps to loosen all the, erm – grossness. This is good – you do need to get rid of the mucus – but do remember to wear gloves. The ‘soft, absorbent sweat wipe’ glove manufactures talk about is not really a sweat wipe, but a snot wipe. Put it to good use.
4) Make sure you get enough shuteye to make up for the lack of rest from cycling. Sleep – for as many hours a night as you can.
5) Your body needs to be as well nourished as it possibly can be. I opt for lots of water, apparently this thins out mucus and makes it easier to be rid of, tons of fruit, and a little help from Echinacea, Vitamin C and assorted multivitamins.
Do you ride with a cold, or do you prefer to rest it out? Either way, do you have any coping mechanisms I’ve not mentioned?
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.