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Running Not Always The Cure
Published February 2, 1999 in The Post-Standard.
By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer
To run, or not to run, that was the question that I asked when I woke up
with a sore throat, congested sinuses, and a mild fever. Indeed, to run,
or not to run, is the question that every runner must ask when fitness
leads to illness.
Despite our obsession with the pursuit of fitness and healthy living,
runners are known to ignore early warnings of injury or disease, only to
face regrettable consequences. Somehow, a pound of cure displaces an ounce
Distance runners are notorious for a high incidence of injuries and
illnesses. According to Dr. George Sheehan, the health benefits of running
end when competition becomes the focus of one's running. While running
three miles a day, three days a week improves one's immunity to disease,
training forty to eighty miles per week can have the opposite effect.
Runners who train intensely and race frequently suffer a higher incidence
of injuries than those who run for fitness. In fact, the rate of injuries
increases with total weekly running mileage. Similarly, recurring intense
activity taxes the body's immune system, and increases susceptibility to
So, back to the question: to run, or not to run? Common sense suggests the
latter. If over-training brings about an infection, then additional
training can only aggravate matters. However, we are known to run through
injuries and illness, believing that whatever does not kill us makes us
Therefore, the question becomes: what can kill us? Real life presents
several examples. Bina started the Pittsburgh Marathon with pneumonia and
a fever of 102. An experienced race official saved her life by pulling her
off the course at mile 21. Chris spilled his guts across the finish line,
and could not keep water down through the following morning. An alert
flight attendant denied him boarding and sent him to an emergency room,
saving him from kidney failure.
Conventional wisdom dictates certain truths:
Since more illnesses and injuries result from over-training, rather than
under-training, taking a day of rest may be the answer.
A fever is an external manifestation of the body's fight against an
infection or a foreign condition. Running inherently increases the body
temperature. Starting with a higher than normal temperature puts the
runner at an increased risk of heat stroke and brain damage.
Respiratory infections affecting the lungs must be taken seriously. One
may run through head congestion, but must take time off for chest
congestion. A productive cough is a compelling warning sign.
A stubborn sore throat must be examined for strep and treated with
antibiotics. If left untreated, this bacterial infection may, in rare
circumstances, invade the cranial barrier and cause death.
Diarrhea and vomiting rob the body from essential fluids and minerals,
as do running and sweating. It is safer to take time off and drink
frequently to maintain hydration and electrolyte balance.
Oral surgery may pose a challenge of a mechanical nature. Following a
tooth extraction, coagulating blood forms a sizeable clot in the cavity.
Dentists worry that the jarring of running may dislodge the clot and
result in severe bleeding.
Major surgery of any kind requires a lengthy healing process. The stress
that distance running imposes on an already marginal system suggests that
caution and rest as the preferred course of recovery.
Bone pain must always be taken seriously. Although stress fractures do
not show on x-rays at first, they are not likely to heal by maintaining
the stress that originally caused them. Unfortunately for Gary, it took
two marathons with abdominal pain before x-rays diagnosed his pain as a
A final word of caution: pain is the body's way of telling us that
something is wrong. Taking a pain killer before a run can be risky
business. Masking the pain of a young injury may aggravate it and require
a longer treatment.
Kamal Jabbour runs and writes
on the hills of Pompey, New York.
His RUNNING Column appears in
The Post-Standard on Mondays.
He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and
receives email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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