I can't tell you how many times, all is going well and then when I ramp up my marathon training, I seem to get sick. It's usually something like a cold or in the most severe cases, more like the flu.
Guess what? According to David C. Newman, Dr. P.H., FACSM, who is a professor and director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, there's a reason for this bad-timed bug. "During periods of heavy training, the immune system reflects the physiological stress experienced by the athlete, and illness rates climb." So, that old saying "Too much of a good thing, can be bad." is true!
Problem is that there is no cure for all runners. Each runner has to find his/her training/rest balance. Newman suggests that nutrition along with rest is a key factor during these stressful times for athletes. So, you should pop a bunch of supplements during this time, right? NO! Newman says that making sure you're eating a balanced diet during this time is the best way to provide support for the immune system in its fight against viruses and bacteria. Research shows that vitamin and mineral supplements don't really boost your immunity above normal levels, so why spend that extra money on bland tasting pills? Just eat a good diet. This basically supports my thinking in a recent post, "Supplement the Natural Way...Eat!"
So during that carb-loading phase, don't forget that veggies are complex carbs. Also fruits, while they are more of a simple carb, are still nutrient dense and provide a great source of fiber. Don't just live on pasta alone!
Newman also suggests avoiding over-training. So, when the training plan says only 3 miles during the taper, only do 3 miles, even if you feel like doing 10! He also suggests trying to keep life stresses to a minimum, get adequate sleep, and limit your exposure to viruses and bacteria by practicing good hygiene (washing your hands frequently and voiding touching your eyes and nose with your hands). These are all they typical tactics for keeping healthy, but runners need to be particularly keen to these practices the few weeks just before the big race. Keeping a small bottle of hand sanitizer in your pocket those few weeks prior to the race is probably not such a bad idea.
A few running buddies of mine seem to have the problem after the marathon. Within a week or so, they've gotten "the bug." After the marathon, Newman says that "the body is inflamed for about 1.5 days with high stress hormones, cytokines, and suboptimal immune function." The odds of becoming sick during the 1-2 weeks after the race are twofold to sixfold. So, it's just as important to keep up the good nutrition and Newman's other recommendations after the race for a few weeks too.
Train hard. Train sensibly. Stay healthy!