Bad to Worse, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Nasal Rinses

Damn.

For a variety of reasons, I’m still not running. Yesterday I was diagnosed with a sinus infection — the kind that’s necessarily making you actively sick all the time, but is just sort of lingering there and then emerging every 6 weeks like a swarm of nasal cicadas.

I’ve had problems with sinus infections for… most of my life. It’s not awful, I just get them more frequently than I want and they last longer than I can stand. Nothing abnormal has turned up when I get my sinuses scanned by ENT wizards. So I don’t know what to do about it.

At this point, I’ve probably lost a lot of fitness. It’s depressing, and I’ll need to think carefully about how to resync into my training. One thing I know for sure — I’m making the Neilmedi Nasal Rinse a very regular part of my routine now (daily, at least). The price of getting sick for many times a year is just not worth it.

Discontinuity

I’ve never completed a training plan without getting sick or injured, and now I know that the approach to my April half marathon will be no exception. The beginning of this week has been head-coldtastic, but I optimistically hope to be back on my feet on Friday. Nasal and sinus infections are becoming a frustratingly regular occurrence in my life, so I’ve spent some time reflecting on on this bout to try and understand if there is something I should have done more or less of.

  • On Saturday, I ran the Bridle Trails Winter Running Festival with the awesome Eastside Runners Club. I was on a 3 person relay team (~10 miles each). It was the muddiest, sloppiest course I have run on in my life. The run itself felt good and warm — I wore a t-shirt and shorts and felt completely comfortable. Waiting for my teammates to run the final 20 miles was frigid (even tho I was bundled up), and standing in the cold may have played a role in coming down with a cold.
  • On Sunday, I did a 4 mile recovery run to round out my 14 miles for the weekend. Maybe that would have been a good day to skip?
  • On Monday, the Puget Sound area got one of its rare snow storms followed by uncharacteristically cold weather. Not wanting to miss a day, I did a 4 mile easy run in the snow. It took about 50% longer than normal due to the conditions. But it was so fun and I wouldn’t give it up easily. Could a run in the snow have sealed my fate?
  • Monday I also spent about 1.5 hours shoveling show (divided between the morning and the evening). Shoveling immediately after the run in my wet running clothes may not have been a great idea (though I felt warm the whole time). Monday night I noticed that my throat had started to hurt. I started to get that feeling I always get right before I get sick — a cranial fogginess coupled with a tingling sense of impending doom in my face. Before going to sleep I used a nasal rinse.
  • Tuesday morning I woke up with a sore throat and did another nasal rinse, but by this point I was down for the count. I stayed home from work and slept most of the day. I used Alka-Seltzer Cold to ease the symptoms so that I could sleep, and also had two more nasal rinses later that day.
  • Wednesday I woke up early for a flight to Boston (going to the MIT Mystery Hunt) and as I type this I am on an airplane surrounding by people sniffling and coughing. Granted, I am one of the sick people on this plane. Maybe I am my own worst enemy,
The cleanest part of the course. Classic Pacific Northwest running. Photo by Takao Suzuki posted at Runners.Photos

I find it impossible to attribute a particular cause to getting sick. Maybe I was out in the cold too much? Maybe I passed someone who was sick two weeks ago and it just took a while to surface? That said, I think I’ve learned something about how to handle it when I do get sick. Assuming I follow through on this upswing and feel better by tomorrow, this will be one of the shortest head colds I have had in years. I don’t really believe in Cold Eeze and the like anymore, but I do believe that nasal rinses played a role in keeping my cold relatively tame.

A couple months ago, I saw an ENT specialist about my sinus issues. Their evaluation revealed nothing abnormal, and he sent me away with the advice that I should do a sinus rinse every single day. At the time I thought the suggestion was ludicrous and committed to trying to hit one per week. I picked up a new Neil Med sinus rinse (it turns out that replacing these occasionally is important) and renewed my efforts. After this relatively short cold I’m willing to let correlation be the better part of valor and start doing the rinses more regularly.

As soon as I started getting cold symptoms on Monday, I also checked in with my copy of Hansons Half Marathon Method to review what they say about taking time off due to illness or injury. Unsurprisingly, they seem to err on the side minimizing time off, and emphasize how much fitness will be loss for N days off from running. Their advice seems more geared towards injury situations (along the lines of “it’s OK for you to hurt a little bit”), but I will try to get back to it on Thursday or Friday of this week.

The Hansons Method: Mileage

In my last post, I mentioned that the Hansons Half-Marathon Method consists of five components:

  • Mileage
  • Intensity
  • Balance
  • Consistency
  • Active Recovery

In this post, I’ll be discussing mileage, or “strategic weekly volume.” Early in explaining their philosophy, Hansons says:

The biggest problem with many half-marathon training plans is that they are tailored to fit what the average runner wants, not what he or she needs.

Hansons Half Marathon Method by Keith and Kevin Hanson

… and that’s it, that’s where they got me. Over the years and decades, my training has centered around what’s easy, what’s convenient, and what those around me are doing. For example:

  • I’m busy during the week? Better load up on that Sunday run so that I hit my mileage goals.
  • Running short on time? I’ll guess I’ll just run as fast as I can muster and jump directly into my car immediately afterwards to get home ASAP.
  • My friends are running 3 minutes per mile slower than I normally run, or doing an insane hill workout? Well, running is a social activity, so that’s what I’m doing too!

Hansons has encouraged me to take a step back and consider what I need to do in order to get what I want… And that means 6 running days a week right from the start. Note, however, that this is strategic mileage, so you have to do it at a pace and schedule that makes running that much possible. They prescribe pretty specific mileage goals for each week. The plan I am on starts at ~33 mi/week and tops out at 50 mi/week*. I remember thinking 4 weeks ago that it would be impossible for me to hit the mileage goal in even the first week, let alone the goals for week eighteen. So far I’m pleasantly surprised. Their program “works to bring you up the mileage ladder one rung at a time.” *Note here that I am using the “Advanced” plan which has more mileage than the “Beginner” or “Just Finish It” plans, but they all run 6 days/week.

I can see how this program would not be for everyone – many people I know are just plain bored when they run and would loathe doing it so often. I have always loved running, but at the same time I’m sick of feeling like running is so hard. Paradoxically, it seems that running more may be the key to feeling each run less. Plus, it’s an investment that pays off when you race — mileage is straw that you put into building an elaborate thatch hut. Months later, the race is when you burn that hut to the ground.

What is your mileage philosophy? How do you decide how much is too much and how much is not enough?

Next up, Intensity.

Run More, Run Faster

We all come to the starting line for different reasons. Faced with running a half marathon in April, I’ve been doing some thinking about how my running philosophy has changed since high school.

Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU from Pexels

It would be naive to think that the indomitable machine that was the high school cross-country and track training apparatus would be reproducible for me as an adult. You can’t call the runners back to the start once the race has been over for twenty-two years.

In college, I all but gave up on running during school. Sure, I started at UMass with delusions that I would join the cross-country team, but those dreams died before I was through with orientation. I was active during the summer but it was without a clear purpose aside from reconnecting with runners from home.

I almost recaught my stride during grad school – I raced in the Upstate NY XC Series with the High Noon Athletic Club at Cornell. But athletic life and personal well-being was always out of balance with the demands of graduate work. I acquiesced to the idea that productive races were a thing of the past for me, and adopted a “running for life” mentality – running was something I did to extend my life with no intrinsic local value temporally.

Since 2010, I’ve lived in the Puget Sound area of Washington. I’m still trying to find the balance of real life with my desire to make something of my running. Over the last ten years, I’ve been seduced into believing in training plans/styles that advertise better results with less running (e.g., Run Less, Run Faster). These plans promise that “readers can get stronger, faster, and better by training less” (quote via Amazon summary). It sounds great: I’m busy! I can’t run 6-7 days a week anymore like I could in… gosh 1995. I want a plan that fits my packed schedule.

These plans probably work well for some people — I’m guessing those who are into serious cross training so they don’t squander their “off” days. For me, running three days a week inevitably becomes two days a week when I am extra-busy… And two days a week rounds down to zero. I never felt like I was in good running shape under this type of plan. Every run was a chore, and I did not accrue benefits over the long term. At times, I did put down “longer” mileage weeks but it was often in the vein of 25 miles a week on 3-4 runs. This kind of plan just doesn’t help me feel like a runner.

In the book Atomic Habits, James Clear advocates for changing your behavior by changing your identity. He says:

Anyone can convince themselves to visit the gym or eat healthy once or twice, but if you don’t shift the belief behind the behavior, then it is hard to stick with long-term changes. Improvements are only temporary until they become part of who you are… The goal is not to run a marathon, the goal is to become a marathon runner.

James Clear, Atomic Habits

To me, the “Run Less, Run Faster” mentality is not commensurate with “becoming” a runner. We are what we repeatedly do, not what we repeatedly do as little as possible to eke out some minimal benefit.

So I was intrigued when I picked up Hansons Half Marathon Method by Keith and Kevin Hanson. Their method is built on the idea of “cumulative fatigue” — which is fatigue built up over weeks and months of training. They break down their method into five components:

  • Mileage
  • Intensity
  • Balance
  • Consistency
  • Active Recovery

I picked up a copy of their book and I’m now a few weeks into their 18-week plan. I’m making a commitment to try this plan out until my half in April. I’ll be breaking down what I’ve learned from this plan over a few different posts.

Books Referenced in this Post

  

May the 40th Be With You

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse… but maybe one I should have?

“I thought that since you all are turning 40 this year, we should all sign up for the Disney Star Wars Half-Marathon and run it and go to see Galaxy’s Edge. We can call it… ‘May the 40th be with you!’”

The idea checked all the right boxes… Friends, Running, Disney, Star Wars, escaping the infinite rainy season of Seattle right at the point where I would forget that there’s a way to do weather that’s not 40°F and raining.

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away“, by Ivan, is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The race itself wasn’t a requirement . Rather, it was a rallying point — a convenient way to pick a date for a trip without needing a consensus. Still.. the idea of running a half marathon, and booking it almost a year in advance, tripped some circuits in my head that I thought had long-since atrophied.

It reminded me that I used to have a thirst for running, and I haven’t felt that way for a while now. In particular, in the last fifteen years my running has been haphazard and has lacked focus. Even when I set up a big goal (e.g., trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon in 2016), I didn’t come at it with a realistic plan (I trained 3 days a week and completed two horrific marathons). I’ve tried to get away with the bare minimum investment in running. I have not made the plans or the commitments that would help me improve.

In total, it’s been a bit of a debacle, especially since I attempted marathons in 2016. I’d like to do it differently in 2020. My guiding principles will be:

  • Run more often.
  • Run higher mileage.
  • Don’t worry about cross-training.
  • Integrate strength/flexibility into my pre/post-run routines.
  • Listen to your body and don’t over-train, but it’s also OK to feel tired sometimes.

I’ll be writing more about all this in upcoming posts.

And yes, I signed up for the Rival Run half marathon scheduled on April 19, 2020.

Why Do I Run?

It doesn’t matter if you’re a lion or a gazelle — when the sun comes up you’d better be running.

– Who Knows

When I was ten years old, my mother would take me to dance classes she taught at the local JCC.  They were boring, and I didn’t like the way that the women in the class would fuss over me, so I usually tried to occupy myself elsewhere while she was teaching. For several years this consisted of either watching swimmers while eating challah, or trying to find enough coins to get a plate of french fries at the cafeteria.

The JCC had an indoor track adjacent to the one of the dance studios.  It was old-school and looked like it was made out of melted tennis courts. The track circumnavigated the gymnasium below and smelled like old basketballs and gymnastics equipment.  Each of the four turns of the track were pseudo banked. It was a tight squeeze.

I don’t know where I originally got the idea – possibly from my mother, but one day I decided that I would do laps around the track during her classes.

The track felt long.  I’d run 10 minutes and then want to do something else.  But I always kept a tally of my laps.  I was always interested in knowing how long and how far I ran.  I wanted to know for next time.

I’ve never been a great runner.  But running around that indoor track became more than a simple pass time.   It signified the beginning of a way of thinking that’s been with me ever since and is pervasive in my life.

This is the beginning of a series of posts I’m publishing about why I run and how running has changed for me as I grew into adulthood. I’ll share my thoughts about training (now and in the past), motivation, and why I’ve extended my trial of miles for so long.