By Malindi Elmore
It’s going around and I fell victim earlier this week. It is inevitable that at some point we all get a virus. But while a common winter cold does not sound like a big deal, it somehow is more tiring, painful and disruptive to life than I often remember. Since the common cold is not the flu, bronchitis, or pneumonia, I often fail to give it the respect it deserves. Instead of rest, I soldier on, stubbornly sticking to my training plans and life commitments all while feeling miserable and not really benefiting from my “dedication”. And I know I am not alone!
I used to be quite disrespectful of the signals my body would send, adamant that nothing stop me. But in my case, being “committed” was always a fine line away from stupidity, because my commitment resulted in four stress fractures, three cases of bronchitis and a month lost to the flu within a two-year period. Now much older and “wiser”, I have a new four day rule that has allowed me to stay much healthier overall. For most common colds and minor injuries, four days seems to be a magical number needed to prevent a more serious illness or injury.
What exactly is the four day rule? For me, the four day rule is four days completely off training –time I spend focusing on rest, sleep, hydration, and attempting to feel better while also feeling slightly sorry for myself. The way I see it, four days is much less disruptive than the weeks and months I may miss for something that becomes a more serious injury or illness.
Of course, four days seems like eons, but sometimes it is just a matter of perspective. Firstly, it is important to believe that you do not actually lose fitness in four days – especially if you have been consistently working hard for an extended period of time. Think of the reverse: if you led a completely sedentary life and ran for four days, would you suddenly be ready for a race? Secondly, backing off for a small cold or niggling injury allows you the opportunity to get some extra rest, hydration and nutrition resulting in a “super-compensation” effect from the extra recovery – training without training! Thirdly, if you are someone who really resists a break from routine, consider it as a chance to work on stretching, rolling and rehabilitation exercises that you never seem to have time for.
I understand that it is hard not to run when it is “on the schedule” and something you enjoy doing every day. I have to work very hard to not feel guilty about deviating from the plan, and trust my common sense, my body, and my past experiences to do what is best – and in the big picture not a big deal – by taking a couple easy or off days when I first feel symptoms. Hopefully you have a healthy winter, but in case it’s not cold-proof, I challenge you to do the same!
Malindi Elmore is a Run SMART Project private coach. As an athlete she competed in the 2004 Olympic Games in the 1500m. She’s a 6-time National Champion and Stanford record-holder in the 800m and 1500m. To customize her 1500/mile training plan go here. To work with Malindi privately sign up here.