It is no secret that any illness affects our ability to function on certain levels. Viral, bacterial or physical injury limits our ability to function at 100%. Even when a disease does not target the respiratory system, there is a measure of physical drain when the body is trying to repair itself. Many athletes also fight a mental drain when sick or injured. I am one of those. I battle the idea of every minute that goes by I am losing fitness, but I must force myself to think that my body is working hard to repair itself, so I cannot stress it more with physical exertion. So what’s going on in there?
Cells heal themselves when they become unhealthy or damaged and then clone themselves as replacements. Just snapping a bone starts a huge process of producing new cells to heal the damage. If you are bleeding, platelets clot the bleeding, white blood cells remove the dead, injured cells and new healthy cells repair the damaged tissue; that is the reason for alarm when doctors notice extremely high levels of white blood cells. Even when we are “healthy” and feel great, we are continually producing new, healthy tissue.
Our immune system also deals with those sneaky viruses, bacteria, and toxins. Mucus wraps up invaders, acids in our various organs then kill the organisms, and of course Mr. White Blood Cell, code named phagocytes (see above picture), will also swallow up and destroy the intruders. Assassin cells recognize when one of their own has been compromised by a virus and take out the Benedict Arnold cell with a vengeance. Many times we feel soreness or tightness in a knee or other joint. Inflammation is actually a good thing. Although many think it is a problem, it is your body’s reaction to an injury or infection, allowing your immune system to hone in on restoring the injured or infected area. Your body temperature will increase to kill viruses and bacteria. A fever triggers particular cellular warriors which help battle the infection. We are WAY TOO QUICK to eat aspirin or something else to take away the things that are designed to help us.
A few weeks ago, I tested positive for COVID. The virus affects everyone almost on an individual basis. For me, nausea and weakness was excessive. I could do nothing but sit and sleep. I basically did that for two weeks straight. I had no doubt that I was losing fitness. How much? It is different for everyone. VO2 Max declines at a steady rate but less for trained athletes. In an article “Post-Season Detraining Effects on Physiological and Performance Parameters in Top-Level Kayakers: Comparison of Two Recovery Strategies” there is evidence that after a three-month break, it is “unlikely that any athlete would return to peak condition within a week.” To fully regain the pre-illness fitness level appears to depend on where you were before the injury or illness. I had been working hard to prepare for the upcoming season and thought it would not be that bad. Just be patient.
Even after I was cleared and COVID free, I gave myself about four more days to fully come around. The first day back on the bike, I simply spun and coerced the systems back online. The next day I ramped up my effort and BOOM . . . the muscles and respiratory system panicked. I panicked. Breathing like a fat man in a 5K, I pushed through the session and slid off of the bike, barely able to shower from lack of energy. Too fast on the return? Too hard on the outset? Possible . . . and more like probable. After that, I eased back into things. I can say now, without a doubt, I am close to being 100% back. It only took nine days.
All in all, do not freak out. Sickness and injury happens to all of us. Give your body time to heal. Do not be that guy who thinks he will “sweat it out” or ignore the symptoms by pressing on. Doing so WILL produce poor results, poor training and poor recovery. Our bodies are incredible machines. Let the systems do their job. After all, we are all in this to be healthy and physically fit.