I had the opportunity to share my experience with mono in a previous article, however I was writing having not completed a full season. After wrapping up at Nike Regionals a few weeks ago, I felt that it would perhaps be a good idea to share everything that I have learned, since so many runners will have to deal with mono at some stage in their careers. It is annoying, disruptive, and can set you back quite a ways in your training, but nonetheless it is something that has to be carefully dealt with. Here's our 5-step handbook on how to deal with mono and get back to running at a high level as soon as possible:
1) Listen to your body- There are a few indicators of mono. Upper abdominal pain, fatigue, and cyclical headaches. Sometimes, in the beginning, it can be hard to differentiate between a virus of sorts, and whether or not you may have mono. Look for something that lingers. These are a few notes from my summer training log leading up to my diagnosis:
7/24/17- Didn't feel great, tired legs
7/25/17- Had to cut down number of intervals, tired and headache
7/26/17- Tired, made it through, but not comfortable
7/27/17- Had a headache since yesterday, running hurt more
7/28/17- Didn't come close to goal times, felt awful
7/29/17- Really tired
7/30/18- Couldn't make it two miles, didn't sleep last night, still have headache and abdominal pain
Looking back, there was clearly something wrong with me towards the end of July, but I put my head down and kept trying to push through my workouts. There was one run I specifically remember thinking, "I can't possibly be this bad." If any of this sounds familiar, listen to the signs your body gives you and tell your parents/doctor.
2) Be Patient - Mono is most frustrating because there is no treatment other than rest. In most cases recovery takes around 2-4 weeks (although some people will have symptoms linger for months), and for a runner there is nothing worse than being forced to sit around while you feel like months of training is slipping out of your legs. It is important that you do not try and 'muscle through' recovery. Pushing it can lead to prolonged symptoms, and in severe cases, splenic rupture. Trying to train only increases the time it will take your body to fully recover. It is a definite change in lifestyle to not run everyday, but since you have to, you may as well embrace it. Watch some tv, go canoeing, or (a runner's best friend) sleep!
3) Connect With Someone Who's Done It - Lots of people get mono. In fact, 95% of the US population has contracted it at some point in their lives (though it's often mistaken for a cold in children). It's likely you'll have close friends or relatives who have gone through it. Use these people, reach out to them, ask them for advice. For me, I contacted the sister of one of my teammates, who is a top collegiate nordic skier, and she was incredibly helpful in providing reflections and advice from her experiences with mono.
4) Ease Back Into It - Once cleared by the doctor to run again, it is important to take things slow. It can be tempting to want to jump back into 60-mile weeks and try to make up for lost ground as quickly as possibly, however it is important to take things slow. For me, I was ecstatic to be able to run again, but I was fortunate to have coaches around me who knew how to bring me back after a month out. Jumping into heavy workouts right away won't be beneficial. Slow easy mileage for the first few weeks is all you need. Cardio doesn't go away as quickly as you may think, so be confident in what your coaches lay out for you.
5) You've Got a Whole Season - Depending on the timing of when you get mono, you may be worried that your season is over. I remember thinking that I wouldn't have a shot at running the times I had set out to, and be able to perform at the level I had hoped to. My first couple races furthered this mindset, as I ran roughly a minute behind where I wanted to be. It was hard to trust myself and my training, but by the end of the season, although I wasn't where I perhaps could have been, I was able to run significant PRs and place pretty well in my final races. You won't be where you thought you would be right off the bat, but you have time. Take early results with a grain of result, you'll get where you need to be when it matters!
Mono is tough, especially for an endurance athlete. It's easy to fall into the trap of feeling sorry for yourself or frustrated that your hard training has seemingly disappeared. It is important to stay positive, confident, and patient throughout the process. We hope these quick tips will make it easier and answer any questions!
Questions, comments, concerns?
Fellow running junkie to talk too?