Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Not fearing the flu

So, the thing is... I don't get the flu shot.

I used to. And someday, I may do so again. But, otherwise, the way I see it, I'm at the point in my lifetime where I'm feeling pretty good about avoiding the flu by being kind to my body. I don't want to get sick (like... really don't want to get sick), but I would rather roll the dice and build up the antibodies should I fall ill.

I realize this is a terribly out-of-date way to approach preventing illness.

I'm not one of those anti-vaccine people (by the way, the guy who started that whole thing about the MMR vaccine causing autism? Yeah, discredited and debunked.) Honestly, because of bad science, I can now walk down the street three blocks to the pharmacy and get a Whooping Cough vaccination because we have cases here in Washington that have stemmed from people not vaccinating their children. I like vaccinations.

But not for the flu. Like I said, someday, when I fall into a higher risk category, when my body isn't as well equipped to fight off a serious virus, sure, I'll vax up.

What's troubling to me is the way the Centers for Disease Control suggest you prevent the flu. To recap: drugs, cover your mouth, drugs. The "cover-your-mouth" section entertains me, in a dark way. Read it too carefully and, soon, you're walking around in a surgical mask and gloves, bankrolling Purell and probably, inadvertently, making yourself more vulnerable to diseases. I like to think my immune system is a baseball player. That bats really well. Why is it, with few exceptions, knocking viruses and infection out of the park? I've let it get tons of practice.

I used to ride the subway in New York, bare hands on one of those stainless steel standee poles. My eye would itch. I'd scratch it with the hand that touched the pole. Didn't care. You might think that's gross. I think it's called building immunity. Not exposing myself to those germs means not getting the immune system benefit.

Moreover, where are the lines from the CDC about just, you know, trying to be healthy? Being kind to your body? Letting your immune system have every possible advantage?

When I read about the current flu outbreak, I grab a glass of water. Dude, viruses HATE hydration. I don't care if I have to visit the toilet 50 times a day. That's a sign I'm drinking a lot of liquids and making my body as challenging as flipping possible for a virus to thrive in. I drink alcohol a fair amount. Optimistically, I'd like to think that means my white blood cells are used to operating with an elevated BAC and when I cut back on alcohol (like I do when I know there are a lot of sick people around), they turn into super white blood cells that probably use automatic weapons. Either way, cutting back on spirits can only help my immune system battle.

On top of this, I eat pretty well. I work out nearly every day.

I've spent the last five years traveling on flipping airplanes every week or so and I still, roughly, get two colds a year. Those colds, by the way? Same kind of virus that could be the flu. So those colds even help me by providing me with antibodies.

We live in what is probably the most germ-ophobic culture in human history. For 50,000 years, we have not only survived but thrived, fighting off maladies that could have leveled us. Like, you know, smallpox, which had a mortality rate over 30 percent. While the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic had a mortality rate of, perhaps 20% (likely much lower), the "usual" flu has a mortality rate of 0.1%

Maybe it's because being sick these days, more often than not, means "working from home while feeling like all hell." Maybe we're all genuinely afraid of death. Whatever the reason, we believe the flu is here to kill us.

In my case, I believe my body is built - except in extreme circumstances - to kill the flu.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

I'm not cool

Several years ago, on New Year's Eve, I made a resolution that I was going to run a 5k. For a variety of reasons, this has not happened. One of the primary reasons is that I don't particularly enjoy running. Those who know me have noticed I walk a little funny... on my toes, spring in my step, whatever you want to call it. The upshot of this is I have completely jacked calf muscles.

The downside is that running has always been something of a challenge for me. For a long time, if I ran for more than 20 minutes, I got sharp pains inside my knee. It was insane. I never had it checked out or anything and, let me be clear, for the past eight years or so since I have been working out regularly, I have done every cardio machine in the gym, hit spin classes and more and never felt any pain. It's running.

Then came the challenge. See, first of all, I live in Seattle, which means I am virtually surrounded by runners. Second, last fall, I was at a friend's wedding. This friend happens to run half and full marathons (and, honestly, bully for him... that takes a ton of time and work and he owns). One of the other guys we were with (who happens to live in Little Rock) announced that he was setting a goal of running the half marathon in his hometown this March. Every guy around the table chimed in that they were in, too. Eyes fell on me.

Not a chance. But, if there was a 5k available, I'd run it. This was met with lots of talk of how I could train for the half, but this is a group that was happier to hang out together than worry over how far people intend to run.

Then, I started telling people about my 5k plan. I cannot tell you how many people look at me and, their first reaction is simply this: "Why aren't you doing the half?!"

It seems everyone and their sister is training to run at least 13.1 miles at a time. My little 3.1-mile run? Not impressive. I've had a few people tell me that "anyone" can run a 5k. You give me five minutes, I can find you someone who most definitely cannot run a 5k.

I don't know if it's the trendy thing to run half and full marathons, but it seems like I know more people who run that level of distance than people who simply run to stay in shape. I know how many calories I burn running 3 miles. People who run 10 miles four nights a week are doing way more than staying in shape.

The sad thing for me... I'm getting better at running. In my training for the 5k, I'm finding that 3.1 miles is possibly the ceiling of how far I can run without knee trouble, but I do it well. But no one seems to find this commendable. I've set a goal for myself to run this thing in under 30 minutes. That one's a real laugher for some people, too. Never mind I ran my fastest mile ever in 1994 and clocked in a booming 7:54. I might (a big might) be able to run a mile that fast right now. But 3? With another tenth of a mile tacked on? Not bloody likely.

There is such a culture of distance running, though, that many I've talked to kind of just chuckle at my 5k goal. I'm not cool. I'm not doing what the cool kids are doing.

Worse, it extends to the ski slopes. I ski to be outside in the mountains. I ski because I enjoy it. I ski because schussing down a slope is something that physics didn't design my body to do on its own, but with skis, I can do it. Since fifth grade, I've been skiing. But... again, I'm not cool.

The cool kids are into backcountry skiing. Tearing up untouched fresh powder. I get it. It's skiing like no other. Hate to say though... it's just not for me. I tend to stick to "the groomers," slopes within the ski area boundaries that have been worked over by the ski area to, honestly, make for easier, safer skiing. As a result, I have really short skis (when I want to turn, I don't want to wait for it).

The past few years, I have been amazed at how, more and more, telling skiers I meet that I stick to the groomers has been met with, at best, nice nods and smiles. I hear, more often than you might think, things like "well, when you decide to get some powder skis, I can show you some real skiing." No one is ever going to be impressed with any tales of mine from the slopes.

I get it with running, too. People saying, "well, when you decide to do a half, I'll definitely help you train."

On the good side of all this, I enjoy what I'm doing. I run a faster 5k and I feel great about it. I ski a fantastic run that feels so good even at a good speed and it feels like all those years of learning on different terrain have paid off. I don't need an added rush.

So, no, I'm not cool, I guess. I'm not going to spend $1,200 on a killer new pair of rocker skis to crash a bunch of powder. I'm not going to run farther than I think I can go and make myself miserable in the process.

But, lately, I feel like one of the few who chooses the route I take.