Like most of you endurance athletes out there, I’ve had my share of the common cold. You know the typical symptoms. Starts with a tickle in the throat or nose. Graduates to soreness at the back of your mouth. Drainage of the sinuses. Then comes the full-on snotfest. Coughing starts after four or five days. Then the giant clearing out at the end. All of it. Just Lovely.
I have a mild cold right now. On a scale of 1-10 of the colds I’ve had, this ranks around a 3. In other words, not bad. This one was likely inevitable. The holidays push people together in tight spaces and all it takes is the transfer of cold germs by hand or through the air and next thing you know, you’re the one snuffling your way through the day.
Fortunately, I don’t get many full-on colds these days. At the first hint of a potential cold I take some sort of zinc meds or lozenges to fight back the early signs. That works for me almost every time. Something in the zinc zaps the cold viruses or ruins the environment in which they seek to thrive.
When I was training hard the common cold seemed to be waiting around the corner of every hard week. All it took to get sick was one workout too many or a run too far and the sore throat would come on. The other signs were excessive thirst, craving for sweets, achiness and a rise in resting heart rate. But when you’re obsessed with performance those warning signs slide by and suddenly, a cold comes on.
I’ve trained and raced through colds before. That’s no fun. I too well recall running track workouts in high school while wracked with a cold. We’d train in loops around the paved surfaces of Kaneland High School, a speck of a building out on open land between corn and bean fields around Maple Park, Illinois. It was hell getting through those workouts in the February chill and winds. The snot would be thick in my nose and it was hard to breathe. Yet there we’d go again. Around and around. Got to get in shape for outdoor season.
During college cross country it was vital to get enough sleep while doing high mileage or a cold could catch up with you. I was fastidious about that. Still, once or twice over the four years I did catch a cold. Overtraining was always a risk. That meant I had to run through a week or more coughing and hacking as we trundled along those country roads.
Post-collegiately I trained myself rather than work with a coach. I kept a tight little journal of every workout. Part of the challenge in my early 20s was not just the training, but burning the candle at both ends. There were so many opportunities to stay out late and party. In combination with the intense training it would frequently add up to trouble.
At one point I got so sick from a cold that it turned into migraine headaches. My brain felt like the entire lining inside the skull was on fire. I got to the doctor and they gave me a prescription for Tylenol with codeine to contend with the headaches. Those meds made my arm go numb and I got actually got sharp pain in my side from the medication. Likely that was dehydration. In any case, I wound up in the emergency room that same day. They took an x-ray of my gut to make sure nothing really bad was happening and said it look like there was a gas bubble in there, but nothing serious. The nurse said, “It seems like you mostly need some rest.”
So I went home and laid down. Then my brothers called me on the phone and said, “Hey, we’re going down to Mother’s in Chicago tonight. Wanna come?” And of course I did. I wound up drinking and dancing until three in the morning. Frankly, I got home feeling much better. Go figure.
I’ve actually gained some common sense over the years. By the time I was out of my 20s and had kids, I’d let up on training some. When a cold did come around, I worked at knocking the thing back with rest of Vitamin C. But I also tried cold medications, and then it turned out my prostate was really sensitive to antihistamines. My prostate would seize up and I couldn’t pee if I took much of anything. That once led to a prostate infection, which is one of the worst conditions a guy can experience.
So I tried homeopathic remedies including some little white pills that you sucked on to combat colds, but they didn’t seem to work very well. It wasn’t until someone created Cold-Eaze and other zinc medications that much of anything worked. I guess Emergen-C does some of the same things, but I trust my zinc. Love me some Zicam.
I’m just glad to have some sort of defense compared to those snot-nosed days as a kid when shirtsleeves served as a handkerchief and the common cold was like the Plague tearing through the school. None of that was any fun at all.
However there were some hilarious moments that emerged from those early experiences. In elementary school we had a classmate named Jeffrey (I’ll spare the last name) who sneezed hard in class while we were working on a group project. That resulted in a big yellow snot snake hanging down from his nostril. He wasn’t aware of the thing at all. We all yelled and backed away from the desk as someone yelled, “Ewwwww, it’s Pencil Nose!”
The nickname stuck. Poor guy had to live out the rest of the year with the nickname Pencil Nose. Ah yes, the glories of the common cold. Can’t say that I’m sentimental about any of it. But I also can’t erase some of those memories. For some reason this little rhyme has always stuck with me too.
“When you kiss your little honey, and your nose is very runny, you may think it’s very funny, but it’s snot.