Am I Dying? A Tale of Shrimp and Running

The list of dangers for runners is already long: unobservant drivers, heat stroke, and potholes, among many others. Last week I discovered one more for the list, shrimp. And this was one tough lesson to learn.

It all started last Wednesday. My girlfriend stopped at the store on the way home from her pilates studio and picked up ingredients for shrimp tacos, a meal we've had a dozen times before. I arrived home hungry and immediately went to work chopping red cabbage and pan-frying the shrimp. After cooking, we gorged ourselves on three tacos each, then topped it off with chips and homemade salsa. Fantastic as always!

After cleaning up the dishes, I knew I still had go on a training run so I begrudging slipped on my running clothes, laced on my shoes and headed into the dark and rainy night for some miles at the nearby Carkeek Park. It was just past 7:30 p.m. I was weighted down from dinner, but otherwise felt fine. Daft Punk and 50 Cent blasted in my earphones and I quickly got into the rhythm of things.

After a few miles of navigating streets, I made it to the park and switched on my goofy-looking, but essential LED headlamp and began the trail loop. Despite a long day at work, I blasted down the trail, heading deeper into the fog and trees. No one else was in the park.

At just just over a mile, the trail cuts right and I started climbing the first hill. It was at this moment that I noticed my energy, once present in abundance, was fading. I blamed this on digestion and kept chugging along. As encouragement, I switched from a mellow Bon Iver track to a high-tempo Lady Gaga song on my iPod.

Any boost a change in music gave me was short-lived because less than a mile later I started to feel awful. I know you're not supposed to swim after eating, but I've run countless times after scarfing down a dinner without ill effect. I've even run WHILE eating dinner. For whatever reason, this time I was fading fast and in the middle of a dark and isolated trail. What was going on?

Abandoning my training run, I walked and trudged the remainder of the loop trail as an act of survival, all the while cursing my body for failing me. My skin itched and I was at a low point. I had no idea what was bugging me, but I knew I had to get home as soon as possible.

Without a phone to call for a ride, I depended on my legs to carry me the two miles back to my house. When I finally got to my door, I flung it open in an awkward movement and pulled myself inside. The instant my eyes made contact with a mirror in my living room, I realized what was going on.

I was having an allergic reaction to the shrimp.

Arm with Hives
Arm with Hives

Hives had erupted on the sides of my face and on the top of my arms, underside of my wrists and all across my chest. The sides of my neck began to swell. While I wasn't having difficuly breathing, I looked alarmingly like a body builder from the neck up. This was something that had never happened to me before, with shrimp or any food.

"Was this serious?" I questioned.

My girlfriend sprung to action and got me antihistamine tablets as I tried to calm myself with the mantra "I'm cool, I'm cool". Breathing audibly through my mouth, I sat on my living room carpet and tried to calm myself. I swallowed two pills and tried to relax.

Luckily, after about 30 minutes, the itching began to lessen and the hives on my face diminished. By the end of the night most of the symptoms had gone away, with the swollen glands in my neck lasting the longest.

The next morning I learned from a general practitioner and friend of the family that my symptoms were indeed likely that of an allergic reaction, intensified by exercise. The run had raised my heart-rate and respiration, making any minor reaction to the shrimp into something much bigger. She mentioned that I could have always been allergic to shrimp, but just never knew it before because I didn't have exercise to intensify the reaction.

So what did I learn from this experience?

Be careful about what foods you eat just before you exercise and maybe carry a cell phone just to be on the safe side. A few antihistamine in your pack might be handy too.  I was lucky because my reaction was minor. But next time, who knows. In any event, I guess I have to find another food to replace shrimp.

Have a food allergy story or tip? Add a comment below.