Archive for the ‘’ Category

The sufferer will become withdrawn and uncommunicative, but still at the same time “whiny”. This is the first sign that the plague may be upon them.  She responds to even the simplest enquiries with a curt announcement that she’s “not feeling well”. There may well be sniffles at this point. The patient is usually convinced that nobody has suffered like this…  ever. In this condition, she regards her temperature as a crucial barometer of her health and insists that it receives constant monitoring.   Her enthusiasm in describing her symptoms in detail is astonishing. But why is it when Molly, my 6 year old daughter, has a temperature and is too unwell to go to school she is still never sick enough just to lie in bed and not be irritating. I don’t mind looking after her (most of the time) and I do want her to get better. But is she contagious, because its only two weeks to the Dublin marathon and contracting any kind of sickness at this stage could be potentially disastrous. During the hard miles of marathon training the tapering period, which usually starts two or three weeks before the race is the time that hopeful marathoners look forward to, tapering is the last step in most training programmes. Tapering begins immediately after the most intense period of training- the longest runs, the greatest weekly mileages and for this reason. After an intensive training period like this immunity may be suppressed, meaning it might be easier for viruses and bacteria to take hold, increasing the risk for infection and sickness (Nieman et al., 1990; Nieman, 2000). two-weeks-But sickness is not the only potential problem of tapering. The practice of decreasing the distance and length of workouts gives the body time to rest and recover before the race. But as many find out this is a tough time for the mind because “Taper Madness” kicks in. This is eractic, irrational and paranoid behaviour that intensifies with each day as the marathon gets closer. It doesn’t make sense to do less, it feels wrong and it seems counterintuitive. No one is safe from taper madness! Whether it’s the first or hundredth marathon, the constant worry about mysterious aches and pains and a fear of deterioration in fitness affects all runners. The chief aim of the taper period is to allow the body to recover from the accumulated fatigue of heavy training, rather than to achieve any additional physiological adaptations or improvements. It restores levels of muscle glycogen, enzymes, antioxidants, and hormones–all depleted by high mileage– to optimal levels. The muscle damage that occurs during sustained training is also repaired, resulting in improved muscle strength. An effective taper results in an enhancement in performance of between 3 – 6% which may translate to somewhere between  5 to 15 minutes in a marathon (Mujika & Padilla, 2003). The tough physical aspect of training is now finished, trust the training. It  is time to  realise that the madness is entrenched in the mind rather than body, but that’s easier to state rather than live, especially as I feel like putting my six year old in quarantine.



Mujika I & Padilla S. (2003). Scientific bases for precompetition tapering strategies. Med Sci Sports Exerc 35, 1182-1187.


Nieman DC. (2000). Special feature for the Olympics: effects of exercise on the immune system: exercise effects on systemic immunity. Immunol Cell Biol 78, 496-501.


Nieman DC, Johanssen LM, Lee JW & Arabatzis K. (1990). Infectious episodes in runners before and after the Los Angeles Marathon. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 30, 316-328.



It can be thick and lumpy, and like most bodily secretions it’s sticky. Its consistency varies from jelly like to thick, sticky, and clumpy, and can be dependent on hydration levels (Fahy & Dickey, 2010). Its colour may give an indication of general health (Altiner et al., 2009). At best it’s a sign of a peak performance and effort, when it’s stuck across the face of a runner who’s first across the finish line. But “snot” is nothing to fear.  In fact, it’s crucial, whether we’re sick or not – phlegm is a kind of rubbish removal. The nose is not just for smelling. It functions as a “guard dog” or “watch dog” for the lungs. It humidifies and warms air,  and the nasal hairs catch bacteria, viruses, dust and pollen so that they don’t easily follow the air into our lungs and “snot” transports it out again(Geurkink, 1983). snot-rocket-800-1Most of us consider it difficult enough just managing our own snot. But runners may need to be more concerned about others’ phlegm because during training runs and races “snot rockets” fly everywhere. During runs the nose has to work especially hard, the increased breathing rate dramatically increases the demand for moisture to provide continued humidification. The snout is forced into overdrive to provide enough dampness, and as a consequence dumps extra mucus (in sometimes a seemingly endless supply) into the nasal passages.

So you would think runners would maintain a safe distance from fellow athletes and competitors but the reality is that we all benefit from tucking in behind a front runner. Cyclists use this to great effect, a cyclist at the back of a group of eight riders cycling at 40 km/hr, consumes 39% less energy than cycling as an individual because of the drafting effect (McCole et al., 1990). But cyclists are moving much faster than runners and for that reason they experience much greater wind resistance than runners. How much energy does it cost to overcome the resistance of air at running speeds – surely not much? Well, the energy cost of overcoming air resistance on a calm day was calculated to be 7.8% of total energy for sprinting (10 m/s), 4% middle-distance (6 m/s), and 2% marathon (5 m/s) running (Davies, 1980). But bear in mind a speed of 5 m/s represents a mile time of 5.22 per mile and a marathon time of 2hours 20 minutes, well beyond the capabilities of most recreational runners. So for us mere mortals who run at much slower speeds is drafting worth the risk of being soaked in bodily secretions of others? Yes it is, particularly if it’s a windy day but the bad news is that one has to be within 40 to 100 cms of the runner in front of them (Pugh, 1971), putting them in danger of a direct hit from a “snot rocket”. The strongest runner does not always win the race, remaining tucked behind a runner and allowing him or her to break through the wind for you prevents unnecessarily exposure to the wind. A smart, conservative drafting strategy can save energy and give you the reserves that you need to kick hard or just hang on at the end of the race. Do not be afraid to “tuck in” behind a few runners during a race. Your patience will pay off at the end and direct hits are rare!



Altiner A, Wilm S, Daubener W, Bormann C, Pentzek M, Abholz HH & Scherer M. (2009). Sputum colour for diagnosis of a bacterial infection in patients with acute cough. Scand J Prim Health Care 27, 70-73.


Davies CT. (1980). Effects of wind assistance and resistance on the forward motion of a runner. J Appl Physiol Respir Environ Exerc Physiol 48, 702-709.


Fahy JV & Dickey BF. (2010). Airway mucus function and dysfunction. N Engl J Med 363, 2233-2247.


Geurkink N. (1983). Nasal anatomy, physiology, and function. J Allergy Clin Immunol 72, 123-128.


McCole SD, Claney K, Conte JC, Anderson R & Hagberg JM. (1990). Energy expenditure during bicycling. J Appl Physiol (1985) 68, 748-753.


Pugh LG. (1971). The influence of wind resistance in running and walking and the mechanical efficiency of work against horizontal or vertical forces. J Physiol 213, 255-276.