I’ll admit: I sometimes struggle to find a topic to write about for this column. But—wait, pardon me while I blow my nose for the, oh, 177th time in the past three hours—I didn’t have that problem today. As I go on two weeks of being sick (a cold that morphed into a nasty sinus infection complete with a fever), the answer was clear: how to deal with being sick while training for a race. An innocent stuffy nose made its debut 10 days into my Boston Marathon prep. (I’m using a training plan from the upcoming Train Like a Mother. Something tells me I’ll be blogging a bit more about it in the upcoming months….) In typical mom-fashion, I blew my nose, ignored the post-nasal-drip sore throat, wrapped some presents, and soldiered on.
It wasn’t until five days later, when my friend/running buddy Molly commented, “you sound really sick,” did I pause to give my sneezing and sniffling any real consideration. Yet it wasn’t until my head felt ready to explode like an angry blood blister did I call the doctor. A 101-degree fever that afternoon confirmed it: sinus infection. Doc hooked me up with antibiotics, and I mentally urged them to work their magic quickly.
The following day was already a rest day, so that did away with any debate. But the day after that (last Friday), I was signed up for boot camp, which meant I’d already ponied up the dough for it. I went to bed feeling significantly better, with my gym shorts, tank top, and cross-training sneaks laid out. But when I got up to pee in the middle of the night, I heard the voice of reason (a.k.a. my wise running buddy Ellison, a two-time vet of Boston) in my head. She “reminded” me that running needed to be my focus these next few months; to be strong enough to take on the prescribed 15-mile run on Saturday, I needed to skip Friday boot camp. So I switched off my alarm, letting myself sleep in later than I have in nearly a decade. (Wow, what a coincidence: Our older daughter turns 10 next week!)
Let me stop blathering my saga now, and turn to some tips for other sickies. (And given a mom’s exposure to germs, we all know it’s just a matter of time until your number is called….)
-If all your symptoms are above your neck, such as a runny nose, sore throat, and perhaps a cough, you can still exercise if you feel like it. Think of it as a Blowing Snot Rockets 101 session. (I ran a fine-enough 14 miles on Day 4 of my recent malady.)
-If your symptoms exist lower down, chest congestion or an uneasy GI, for instance, or you have a fever, no exercising until you feel better.
-If you have to take an antibiotic, tell your doc you’re a runner training for a race. I’m going to admit: Dimity imparts this tidbit of wisdom in Train Like a Mother, yet I forgot it when I was at my M.D.’s office. Turns out some antibiotics can leave a runner more vulnerable to tendon problems.
-A question we get a lot on our Facebook page is where to pick up a training plan if a runner misses days due to illness. If you’re out for a few days with something simple, resume on the current day. (As in, if you are sick Tuesday through Thursday, do Friday’s workout on Friday.) Do not, I repeat N-O-T, try to make up lost miles, as you might push yourself deeper into illness. You can re-jigger the days on your training plan—maybe do a modified long run on Sunday instead of Saturday to give yourself an extra day to recoup. (Real life example: This past weekend, the plan called for running 15 miles with middle 5 at race pace. I did the 15, but left my Garmin at home. Pace be damned, no pushing it for me. I also carried my iPhone with me in case I needed to bail midway.)
-If your illness forces you to miss a week or more of running, re-evaluate your race. If the race is a long ways off, your course can right itself. But if you’re six or four weeks away, you might need to re-think running the event. It depends on what your goal is: If crossing the finish line with a smile is your aim, then you’re probably fine. But missing a week or more of prime PR training can be tough to recoup from, and you might want to choose another race.
-Expect it to take at least a few days, maybe even a week or 10 days, before you feel like your old self. Which means I’m letting myself off the hook for this morning’s tempo pace being about 30 seconds slower than usual.
What do you do when you get sick while training for a race?