Frank Horwill



  • These articles were first published many year's ago and whilst some are as relevant today as they were when new, many are now mostly of historical interest as modern research and coaching methods have superseded them.

Infections Linked to Running, Training and Competition

By Frank Horwill

We possess a limited number of anti-stress factors. The word "stress" includes anything which reduces the body’s ability to function efficiently, eg stress fracture, colds, coughs and fevers. Let us suppose that we are all allocated 12 anti-stress factors. Travel to and from work, and work itself, may use up 4 anti-stress factors. Training daily may also use up 4 anti-stress factors. We may have a difficult partner which causes us to use up another 2 anti-stress factors. The battle to pay off bills could use up 2 more factors. We have used up all our resistance factors and providing things stay as they are we may say that we are in a state of equilibrium or coping with stress.

But, supposing we are given a more responsible and better paid task at work. What then? The stress syndrome follows a known pattern:

  1. Alarm
  2. Resistance
  3. Compensation

In running, the pattern is increased pulse-rate, resistance and better tolerance of running in due course (hopefully). Now, if the stress is too great, the body fails to compensate and gradually sinks into exhaustion. The tell-tale symptoms are

  1. Insomnia
  2. Swelling of glands in the throat, arm-pits, and groin
  3. Frequent colds
  4. Increased skin trouble
  5. Steady loss of weight
  6. Inexplicable aches and pains

However, the body’s ability to adapt to stress is very versatile provided the stress is increased gradually. For example, a person may have done no physical activity for 10 years and decides to train for and compete in the London Marathon. That individual may go out and run until exhausted and find that they can hardly walk next day But, if he or she decided to run for just one minute and stop, then the next day run for 2 minutes and kept on adding a minute a day, within 100 days they would be running 100 minutes and it would be managed with comparative ease.

All great running achievements have followed the pattern of starting small and aiming big. Roger Bannister’s breaking of the 4 minute mile barrier is a prime example. In October 1953, he did 10 x 44O yds in 66 seconds with 44O yds jog recovery in 2-3 minutes, three times a week. His plan was to reduce the times of the laps by 1 second a month. In April 1954, he was able to do all the repetitions in 56 seconds: he had, of course, to attend to his endurance, and for this, he ran 3 x 1½ miles on the track once a week, starting with 75 seconds per 400 metres and got down to 70 seconds per lap.

Similarly, Emil Zatopek, in 1947, was doing 5x200m, 10x400m, 5x200m daily with 200m jog recovery throughout. In 1949, he doubled this and in 1950, doubled it again! He was rewarded with three gold medals in the 1952 Olympics (5km, 10km and marathon).

It was his first ever marathon and broke the Olympic record (2:23:03.2).

Research tells us a lot about physical exertion and proneness to infection. For example, after a marathon the white cells (defence against infection) are greatly suppressed for 20 days. Marathoners frequently go down with bad infections a few days after the race. The answer to this in terms of prevention is to rest completely for five days and to take on board 1,000 mg of vitamin C daily, together with 40mg of zinc (after meals), for at least a month.

It is also known that glandular fever infects the super-fit athlete more than any other person. Coe and Ovett both got it when in peak form. Again, the answer is to pay particular attention to the intake of anti-infection vitamins and minerals, vitamins B6, B5, C, E, and folic acid and the essential fatty acids, plus iron, zinc and live yoghurt, when approaching peak condition.

Serious runners should take their pulse in bed first thing in the morning, then immediately on rising. A plateau difference will be established eg 15. When the difference is higher, eg 20, don’t train. When lower, train hard.