So, this cold/head flu/chest infection thing dragged on for 3 weeks. For me that is unusual. Most years it is a one week of nose blowing and sneezing and then get back to it. If you are athletically inclined than being out of action is no fun. It is like the expenditure of energy through training creates more and leaves me buzzing. Similarly, the huge amount of effort needed to get out of bed early and get to the pool for an early swim leaves me amazingly wide awake and bouncing for the rest of the day. At least until 2pm perhaps. Is it real or is it just that smug sense of getting something done while others are asleep? maybe a bit of both. On the other side of the coin when I cannot train the fatigue grows, the general daily malaise festers and the negative thoughts of how much fitness I am losing compound. After a strong summer of openwater racing and events <60km plus of events raced> come September I thought I was in pretty good shape. Fri Sept 13th was my last swim session and it had gone well. We were two weeks out from the masters National shortcourse Champs and I had the 1500m entered. Sat 14th I had the scratchy back of throat sensation and had started sneezing. At this point I was ok about it since for as long as I could remember I was a one week ‘cold’ person that was easily shrugged off. 7, then 10days came and still I was not right and certainly not able to swim.
The following was useful from my recent SCIENCE OF ENDURANCE TRAINING AND PERFORMANCE course from the Uni of Kent. I don’t think this was written with swimming in mind though and you need to think carefully about what might be feasible, what might be actually useful and what will hinder your all important recovery.
The Road back to Recovery –This brief guide is based on the article by Ronsen (2005).
Day 1 -NO strenuous exercise (very light exercise (e.g. heart rate less than 120 bpm) is OK if only above the neck symptoms (e.g. sore throat, runny nose) present. NO exercise at all if symptoms are ‘below the neck’ (e.g. muscle/joint pain, headache, fever, generalised malaise)…. Remember, exercising with an infection can be very dangerous!!
Day 2 – If increased coughing (or any symptoms worsen) or if any fever: NO exercise! If no fever or malaise, no worsening of ‘above the neck’ symptoms: very light exercise (heart rate below 120bpm) for 30 minutes is OK
Day 3 – If symptoms persist, consult doctor. If no fever or malaise and no worsening of initial symptoms: moderate exercise (e.g. heart rate below 150bpm) for 45 minutes is OK.
Day 4 – If no symptom relief, NO exercise and see doctor. If first day of improved condition, follow the guidelines below for post-illness return to exercise
Post-illness return to exercise
Ensure you have had at least one day without fever and other symptoms before returning.
Ensure full recovery for each session before undertaking the next session (you will probably take longer to recover than before the illness). Stop exercise and consult your doctor if: New episode or worsening of initial symptoms, or if fever develops. Persistent coughing and breathing problems in response to exercise.
Gradually increase back to normal training (taking at least the same number of days spent off due to illness before getting back to ‘normal’ training levels).
Pay particular attention to your tolerance to increased exercise intensity and take an extra day off if it feels harder than usual.
Swimming well is a highly cognitive activity and if you are distracted with a foggy head, struggling to breathe, coughing and spluttering I wonder how much you are really helping yourself. You probably are not helping your swim advance in any way and it is unlikely to be assisting your recovery. Maybe some head up kicking with a float to ease the strain on your breathing if you are only suffering ‘above the neck symptoms.’ Sculling could work well at this point. This will keep you in touch with the water and reduce that clumsy mechanical feel when you finally do resume full training. I usually refer back to my Christmas example and how swimmers after 10-14 days out of the water despite feeling mechanically dreadful in the water they are not as bad as they think they are, once we have reassured them with video footage. Don’t rush back. You are not going to lose the full mechanics of your swim stroke in 2-3 weeks. Each day you try to rush back to reduce your fading fitness inevitably you delay your full recovery which only further lengthens the longer project of getting back to full training.
I would not swim with ‘below the neck’ symptoms as described in Day 1 and to be honest I doubt you could do much to enhance any area of your swim even if ‘only’ suffering with above the neck symptoms. Day2 – if no fever or malaise present then perhaps you could work on some yoga or prehab exercises to keep the body supple. Stretchcordz are a possibility which will have you reproduce the swimming arm actions but allow the HR to stay low and not restrict the breathing in anyway. Day3 – if no fever or malaise then 30mins gentle full stoke made easier with a pullbuoy and snorkel to keep the heart rate down and the airways flowing with no restrictions. Providing you were already comfortable with a snorkel in the first place. Day4 – if feeling ok then start the Post illness return to training as described above.
As I went through this process as much as I wanted it to be over and for me to be healthy I had to stop myself training. Going in too soon was not going to get me fitter or stronger. I could have practiced some drills but I wonder how accurate they might have been and surely I could be accelerating my recovery with the extra time resting and sleeping.
Activities for long term time out of the water.
Watch some swim videos. You can study and learn. Be inspired to return to the water. Competition admin! start to enter those races. Many are opening and filling. Henley just announced the date of the 14km swim. Order some new kit to replace old/tired/not shiny. An eventual return to the pool with new kit will help. Take as many positives to that first session as you can. At the least rinse and shine those tired goggles. Rose tinted?! Start an online diary/training plan/commit and get accountable, plan to swim x metres each week and hold yourself to it. The Speedo On app and website are very easy to make use of. Revaluate your nutrition and diet. Is there anything you can do better to avoid such incidents in the future? Do you carry hand gel? combined with more hand washing <soap and water> this can help as long as it is over 60% alcohol. Read up on some of the great Tri books out there. Especially mine and Steves! Maybe this is the time to finally plan that training camp you had been promising yourself for quite some time.
Rest and get your sleep. I once read that you need 7 days to get over a cold with antibiotics or 1 week without. If you catch something then let it run its course. Make the time productive in other areas. I actually got some of my Xmas shopping done last week thinking I would then be free to train in the run up to xmas! Let us see how that one works out.