Endurance Running and Immune System — borN

I am training for my first ultra distance race of 100k i.e Bhatti Lakes Ultra, this October. And I am training quite hard. I am recovering well too, as per my understanding. But you should see me when I get these sneezing bouts with runny nose and eyes. It’s just awful. These attacks have now become regular since the time I started my training plan for Bhatti Lakes 100k. The attacks don’t just seem to stop for hours together.

The solution is out there…

I have taken anti allergic tablets to no avail. Then I started reading about it and came to know of its cause.


Overtraining is common in endurance athletes where they continue to push their bodies to the wall. According to Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, overtraining with respect to physical training may be defined as plateauing and/or a decrease in performance that results from failure to tolerate or adapt to the training load.

This condition then leads to following symptoms(published earlier in this article) –

Emotional and behavioural changes

1. Loss of enthusiasm and drive ; generalized apathy; an ‘I don’t care’ attitude; loss of the joy of life.

2. Loss of joy and thirst for competition; desire to quit during competition.

3. Lethargy; listlessness; tiredness.

4. Peevishness; complaining; easily irritated; miserable; anxious; depressed; ill-humoured; unable to relax; bored.

5. Inability to concentrate on work; impaired academic performance.

6. Changes in sleeping pattern — in particular, insomnia.

7. Sleep does not refresh.

8. Loss of appetite.

9. Loss of libido.

10. Poor coordination; general clumsiness.

11. Increased fluid intake at night; feeling thirsty.

Physical changes

1. Impaired physical performance — in particular, inability to complete routine training sessions.

2. Gradual loss of weight.

3. Athlete looks drawn, sallow and dejected with sunken eyeballs.

4. Increase in early morning heart rate by more than 5 beats per minute.

5. Abnormal rise in heart rate upon standing and during and after a standard workout.

6. Slower recovery in heart rate after exertion.

7. Postural hypotension(low blood pressure with symptoms like lightheadedness or dizziness).

8. Heavy leggedness, sluggishness that persists for more than 24 hours after a workout.

9. Muscle and joint pains.

10. Persistent muscle soreness increases from session to session.

11. Swelling of lymph glands.

12. Gastrointestinal disturbances — in particular diarrhoea.

13. Increased susceptibility to infection, allergies, headache and injury.

14. Minor scratches heal slowly.

15. Loss of menstruation (amenorrhea).

16. Increased blood eosinophil count; serial T-wave changes on electrocardiogram.

17. Mild form of hypothalamic, sympathetic and adrenocortical insufficiency. (Point number 16 and 17 are greek to me. However, your Doc can tell you what they are if you land up in his clinic as an extreme overtraining case).

Immune System

Now that you are aware what overtraining is, now let’s switch on to immune system. Since I have started training for Bhatti Lakes 100k, I have come down with severe bouts of cough, cold and runny eyes and nose. It is terrible when it happens.

As per research, the immune is weakened after a long training session of more than 90 minutes or a race because upon production of stress hormone, in particular Cortisol, it suppresses many components of the immune system. And the system is vulnerable for 3 hours to 72 hours for microbial attacks. Most common type of this infection is the Upper Respiratory Tract infection.

This URTI is only aggravated due to intense long training sessions or race. However, it has also been proved by researchers that moderate exercise boosts the immune system. Well, if you want to run long, then the benefits come with added packages!

J Curve

However, this kind of immune system break down is not threatening and an athlete can train through it, depending on the energy levels. Some precautions need to be taken to avoid toeing the start line with illness.

What To Do?

Well, there is a very fine line between getting sick and to continue training. We, ultra runners, continue to hop across and pay the price. URTI or mild fever or some other sickness is inevitable, but there are some things we can do to avoid it most of the time.

1. Eat a balanced diet

There is no substitute for eating a balanced and healthy diet. Fruits and vegetables are the boosters for a strong immune system. Try and eat as much as you can. Think colour and add different kinds of veggies in your meal. The vitamins and minerals are essential in preserving the immune system.

Many runners try to avoid protein to get lean. However, when there is even a slight deficiency of protein, it impairs the immune system. So, look for good sources of protein.

2. Log book

This blog is my log book, but I don’t generally refer back to it. It is not maintained day to day, hence I do not, generally, write my moods or feelings on day to day basis. It is best to have a real diary where you can just jot down details like mood, type of workout, weather, pace etc after you get back home and till it is fresh in mind. Over a period of time, going through it can give you a general trend leading to any illness. Hence, you can proactively take measures to avoid it in future.

3. Supplements

I take few supplements because I feel my diet is not fulfilling those requirements. These have also been approved by the medical authorities. I take whey protein, glutamine and Vitamin C.

4. Chill out once in a while

Last week was bad for me. I went for my weekly long run on Sunday and my body gave up on me after 7k. Next 2 days I was down with fever, body pain and was coughing like an old man.

I took the entire week off except a 10k run when I was feeling alright. I just couldn’t stop myself. After a week’s rest, I am feeling better and refreshed. It is important to look for the warning signs which I have given in the preceding paragraphs. The rest again restores the systems in the body to perform better than before. It is like right click and Refresh!

5. Keep clean hands

I have since the last few weeks started using hand sanitiser after ever 3–4 hours or so. I now carry it whenever I am out of home. There are so many germs everywhere and with our shot down immune system, it is very easy to catch a virus. So, it is best to be safe and don’t worry it won’t make you look weak.

Endurance running and immune system are inversely proportional to each other. The more you run, the weaker the immune system goes. It is, therefore, important not to overtrain and identify the symptoms.

It is best to reach the start line under trained but injurious to health, even if you are a percent over trained. Take adequate precautions and enjoy the long runs.

Till then stay fit and keep running.

Do you suffer from cough and cold during intense period of training?

What measures do you take to be all right?


1. Lore of Running by Tim Noakes.

2. Effects of long-endurance running on immune system parameters and lymphocyte function in experienced marathoners by Nieman DC.

3. Exercise and the Immune System: Regulation, Integration, and Adaptation by Bente Klarlund Pedersen and Laurie Hoffman-Goetz.

4. Mucosal (secretory) immune system responses to exercise of varying intensity and during overtraining.

5. Upper respiratory tract infections and exercise by Nieman DC.

Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2015 Neel banerjee

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Originally published at blogonrunning.com on August 17, 2015.

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