Thursday, May 17, 2007

Training - Allergies

I've been having a hard time the last few days. It's hard for me to take a deep breath, to look at something without itching my eyes, to go for more than an hour without a hacking cough interrupting things.

Yes it's allergy season.

Apparently I've been snoring and sneezing and coughing and sighing dramatically in my sleep. The future missus claims to have woken me up to tell me I will breathe easier (and not snore or cough or hack) if I sit up. So I did. And then toppled over onto her. Not the result she originally planned out.

I started taking over the counter stuff for my allergies about 10 or 15 years ago. It was a big deal since my family made a huge deal out of taking an aspirin. Medicine was only for sledding to Nome to cure diphtheria, really bad fevers, and that's really it. I took that step to take medicine simply to relieve symptoms way back then. And now I usually take stuff for May with Memorial Day weekend being the absolute worst weekend for allergies. The pollen levels taper off pretty quickly after that. And throughout these years I noticed a couple things and then noticed a couple more things.

First off, certain allergy pills just knock you out. They work but you're so zonked that you end up in a happy, non-sneezing stupor. I occasionally slip up and buy or use the zonk stuff and end up zombie-ing a day of work. So I try and buy the non-drowsy stuff.

I noticed that one of the ingredients in non-drowsy allergy medicine is pseudoephedrine. Adrenalin (or something like adrenalin). Illegal for cyclists for a while, taken off the list a few years ago as it's so universally available. I suppose it's one step higher than caffeine in the drug world (unless you're making crystal meth with it, but that's a whole different tamale).

Adrenalin acts as a decongestant, the primary reason for including it in allergy medicine. It clears the lungs, makes breathing easier, and even masks some pain and elevates your heart rate. Sort of makes sense, right? If primitive man was attacked by vicious lions, he would get that metallic taste in his mouth as a monster dose of adrenaline hit him and then he'd take off running as fast as he could run. If adrenaline didn't help him breathe a bit better or get his blood pumping a bit faster, well, I guess, he became lion bait.

The "supressing pain" part is handy too - if he stepped on a splinter and it really hurt, adrenaline would help him run instead of the run-hop that would probably result. Remember that primitive man had to run faster than whoever was with him - a run-hop would be a fatal thing for one guy, a godsend to the rest.

So primitive man made it long enough to reproduce, his buddy that didn't have adrenaline helped feed the lions, and now whenever we get scared or surprised our bodies naturally pump adrenaline into the system. When it happens we feel less pain and we breathe easier.

What's primitive man got to do with cycling? Well, funny you should ask. Notice how in allergy season you feel fine while you're riding? You cruise along, your legs are fine, you can breathe reasonably well? Then when you climb off the bike suddenly the hacking and sneezing starts and your legs are kind of wobbly?

It's because cycling naturally boosts your adrenalin levels. Any exercise will do that. And while you're exercising, you tend not to sneeze. Or cough. Or hack. Not usually anyway. Your body doesn't know it's being pushed so that you can stay with the group on the hill. It simply thinks "Boy that vicious lion is still after us, keep the adrenalin going."

Then you get off the bike and your body says "Phew, we got away. Shut down the adrenalin."

And suddenly your legs feel a bit more sore, your eyes itch, and you start sneezing.

Since it's not practical to exercise all the time to stave off allergy symptoms (like, say, during work), various companies now sell products to simulate that same effect. Allergy pills help get rid of that discomfort by putting exogenous adrenalin into your system. Okay I don't think that's accurate even though it sounds good. I think it simply stimulates your adrenal glands or something. I'm no doctor or biologist so I don't know exactly.

Whatever. The important part is that when you take an allergy pill you eventually get a rush of adrenaline. Only with the pill it's a slow release, toned-down version of that metallic taste generating, heart palpitating rush you get when you almost rear end the car in front of you.

Adrenalin affects other things too. For example, you lose your appetite. It wouldn't do for that scared primitive man to be running along, splinter in his toe, the lion loping along behind him, and suddenly he thinks "Boy, I'm sort of hungry. Maybe I should stop and pick some berries."

Try that in the game Age of Empires. Your little dude will get chomped by the lion in no time.

The ones that stopped for the berries ended up weeding out the species. And the ones that made it? They eat after they're done running away. Why do you think that on the bike you don't feel hungry until it's too late? Correcto! Your body thinks it's running away from a lion and therefore it would be somewhat counterproductive to stop and eat.

So I have really bad allergies. Ask the cats. I got up at 2 AM the other night and they thought it was because I wanted to feed them. Ha. My throat hurt so much I thought I had an instant case of strep (the psychosomatic in me never sleeps). I took an allergy pill (Claritin - the non-adrenalin kind). I got the throat numbing spray the future missus thoughtfully got me and sprayed it down my throat every couple minutes.

And groveled on the floor in pain.

The cats thought this was great and rolled around with me. So I scritched them. And then had another shot of that spray stuff. Actually I had a lot of those spray shots. After a couple hours of groveling on the hallway carpet (the only carpeted place in the house) my throat finally eased up a bit and I went back to bed.

Usually when I get up I'm a bit hungry and munch on leftovers or make myself a peanut butter and Nutella sandwich. Not that night. When your throat hurts that much, it's hard to think about eating. And when I suppress that pain with pain killers (Alleve in this case) and some allergy medicine, I'm too tired to think about food. During the day I take the adrenaline allergy stuff - so my appetite is suppressed. Either way I end up losing my appetite.

And suddenly I'm not eating as much.

I'm hoping that this allergy pain and suffering actually benefits me in one way - that I manage to lose weight. When I was younger and I first started taking the sinus and allergy medicine, I'd drop 10 pounds in a blink of the eye. Nowadays it's different - I probably lose a pound or two, mainly because the allergy stuff also dehydrates you, and then promptly gain it back.

But for now, I'm riding the allergy wave. And although I'm not chowing down the pills like M&M's, I'm taking the regularly enough to control my symptoms. I'm hoping that this will indirectly benefit my cycling.

And in the meantime both the future missus and I can actually have a restful night's sleep.

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