Sometime late yesterday afternoon I choked a bit on a section of Clif Bar. Immediately after my throat felt funny. I’d upset the equilibrium somehow…
By evening there was a familiar tingling in my nose that told me a cold might be coming on. I reached for the zinc tablets and sucked on one of them for a while. It felt better.
Still, there was that low-grade sensation in my head and body that told me something was not quite right. I grabbed another zinc tablet and sucked on that for another hour.
That morning I’d run 6 miles on little more than six hours of sleep. Not a great combination. Working out at the health club the last couple days probably put me in contact with cold germs somewhere along the way. That’s what was up. A virus had crept into my head somehow.
Which is weird to say. Because is a virus just one critter? Or is it tons of critters doing their virus thing in your sinuses?
Whatever the case, you know the drill when it comes to the common cold. The typical pattern is to feel that tingling in your nose. Then comes the sinus drip or a simultaneous sore throat. Then you know you’re screwed. Not much use popping zinc much by that point. With a sore throat you’re in for the long haul. Zinc may shorten a cold, but by that point you’re already screwed.
I bring this up because I believe zinc consistently helps me fight cold viruses (yes, they are plural). Actually they are better known as rhinoviruses. That’s sometimes how they feel inside your nose anyway. Like snot rhinos are thrashing around inside your nostrils. So the nomenclature fits.
Medical studies show mixed results about whether zinc actually shortens or prevents colds. All I can tell you is that for me, it works. I know too well what it feels like when a cold is coming on. During my days of chronic overtraining I was sick half the time and worried about catching a cold all the time.
Colds come on for a variety of reasons. Mostly they hit you when your overall resistance to infection is down. That can occur when your body is overtired from training. Most likely we come into contact with cold “germs” all the time. Our bodies generally fight them off with white blood cells. But when you’re low on sleep or exhausted from too much running, riding or swimming, a rhinovirus can set its horns into your sinuses and the whole cycle of cold symptoms begins.
Zinc possibly works by making it harder for cold viruses to take hold in your sinuses. I’ve always felt like it gets up there and coats your throat and penetrates your sinuses. Hence the value of sucking on the lozenges. Cold-Eaze works well for me. But so do good old zinc lozenges from any pharmacy.
Can’t whack a cold
The weirdest confession I can interject here, since you rather expect it from me by now, is that late night antics like masturbating when you’re overtired can cut your resistance. I know that sounds like an Old Wive’s Tale or the product of some jerk like that Christian Control Freak James Dobson, but it’s true. There’s something about the pursuant rise in body temperature in an overtired male, anyways, that does not too good things for your resistance to colds.
Go ahead, Call me crazy or accuse me of TMI. Back when I was a horny young runner between girlfriends I pushed my body to the limit too many times. So I speak from experience. Good old companion sex can do the same thing if you’re overtired. It’s more about fatigue and pushing your body’s basal state more than it is about sex or masturbation.
Any combination of activities that wears you out while training can set you up for a common cold. Stress is a good one for that as well.
Many of us react the same way to all these situations. We grow anxious with fatigue and eat all the wrong things. Sometimes we gravitate to sweets, which actually feed the virus. Sugar in general is the enemy of the human body when consumed in too much quantity. Diseases like cancers love to feed on such fast fuels. CAT scans and PET scans all look for areas of high cell activity and sugar certainly fuels that activity.
Usually colds progress from runny nose to a sore throat to a cough to phlegm. And then comes the clearing out stage. None of it is very fun. I will confess that I had one doozy of a cold back in the early 80s that produced so much phlegm it was rather like a sport to go out for runs and aim that stuff by spitting at telephone poles. God that was awful. But it was awful fun too.
Deal with it
One year that I caught a cold I was obligated to race a half-marathon under my sponsorship contract with a running store. The night before the race was awful. It was that horrible stage when your nose is running so badly you can hardly sleep. I jammed bits of tissue up my nose to stop the tingling sensation so I could sleep.
The next morning the gun went off and my body took over the running part. All I could manage to do upstairs where my nose clogged up my face was honk and blow Farmer Snots from either side of my head. I felt like some crazed pelican out there.
Still, I passed the 10K mark at just over 33:00 and was on my way to finish in 1:10:58. I even beat a close rival by a few seconds. To this day it makes me wonder if I would have run any faster without the cold symptoms. Every step was an achey mess. The breathing was difficult. And yet, there was the result. Maybe it didn’t make that much a difference. My PR was not that much faster.
There were many other times when I trained through or raced with colds. That’s how I developed this aggressive routine trying to stave them off. I know the symptoms. I can sense the warning signs. So I zinc it up and that seems to work.
I just have one hard, fast rule. When I have a sore throat I do not run, ride or swim. There’s no benefit in it. You’ll only make things worse in the long run. Let your body recover instead.
Drugs and such
I’m not that big into alternative medicines or anything like that. I don’t believe in praying away the illness or shoving herbs up my ass. But there was one experience that made me wonder if there isn’t something to all this organic medicines. In the first few days of freshman year at Luther College, I was getting tired from all the training with the cross country team. We’d been cranking out 70 mile weeks and doing some partying as well. I felt a cold coming on.
Part of our freshman orientation was to meet with counselors off campus in their homes. I was invited to the residence of Orchard and Lillian M’Dzonga. They were both from Africa. For some reason I mentioned to Lillian that I felt a cold coming on. She led me to a room where there was a cabinet with dozens of little drawers. Opening one of the drawers, she scooped a small portion of dark powder and laid it out on a wooden plank. “Here,” she instructed me. “Sniff this up.”
I stared at her. I’d never done anything like that before. Nor would I ever again. But I bent down and sniffed that black powder up my nose. Within an hour, the sensation of a common cold coming on was gone. Sure, I was a little freaked out. But it worked. That’s one of the tarsnakes of modern medicine. It does not pay to ignore some ancient remedies. Chicken soup? It still works. Hot tea with honey? Helps too.
Bee pollen? Not so sure. More for allergies. And even on that, the jury is out. Colds and allergies feel the same, but come from different sources. It all comes down to knowing your body. Sometimes from the inside out.
No stimulants please
What I don’t do is conventional cold medicines. Years ago as a young father my doctor told me to stop using caffeine because it caused my prostate to enlarge. That once led to a prostate infection. That was enough for me to quit stimulants of all kinds. If you check the warnings on cold medicines this often language about not taking it if you are susceptible to enlargement of the prostate.
That ruled out all the antihistamines and other crap we ingest and take for colds. And you know what? I’ve had fewer colds than ever. Some of that medicine is so harsh I’m convinced it weakens your sinuses for the next time a cold comes around. So I don’t touch any of that. Better to face a cold organically and take better care of your body than jam it full of symptoms-related medicines that mess with the natural state of your nose and throat.
Wacky but it works
You can judge my weird little beliefs all you want. I’ll do just about anything to keep a cold at bay. So would you I bet, if you knew the method would not hurt you.
It’s a cold, cold world out there. Viruses are everywhere you turn. On the cart handles at the grocery store. On the stairclimber at the gym. On the lips of your lover. Yes, we trade germs all the time. That’s the fun part of life after all.
But colds aren’t fun. So whatever strategy you can find to keep them away, I support you. Got any strategies to share? Leave them in the comments below.