Dealing with illness
by on Tuesday, January 28, 2014  (2 comments)

Over the past few weeks, the cold and flu season has caught some serious momentum. With the bad weather keeping people indoors, it's likely this may continue for a while. Runners aren't immune. Several of the runners I coach have recently dealt with colds and I got hit by one last week (which is why my blog is a day late this week).

So what do we do during this cold season? Obviously, the first step is to try to avoid the virus with all the usual precautions that we have all heard a million times and I'm not going to bore everyone by repeating. What happens when that isn't enough, though? It's the age old question that runners face. Do I run through this cold or not and, if I do, how much do I have to back off?

I know some people like to say if it's above the shoulders, keep running. If it's below, don't run. That's a decent general guideline but sometimes we have bad head colds and would benefit from a day or two off. While more rare, sometimes we get a chest cold that isn't too severe and some easy running won't be harmful.

How often do I say listen to your body? Well, here's another case. Your body will tell you how to handle the illness. If you're feeling run down before you even grab your running gear, how do you think your run is going to go? It's not going to be good and what are you going to accomplish? You're better off giving your body some extra rest so it can fight off the virus. If you are feeling up for trying a run, go for it but pay attention to how you feel while running. If you're feeling fine, keep going but consider skipping hard or long workouts. If not, then adjust as necessary. Keep your pace very easy, just go short and do something to get your blood flowing, which can help you fight the illness if it's not too severe.

As an example of how we may apply this, I'll offer my training from last week. Monday, I woke up early in the morning with a sore throat. I knew immediately what was going on but, other than the sore throat, I felt fine so I went out and got in a good 9 mile run. Tuesday, the congestion started but again wasn't bad. I felt fine. I went out and got in another 9 mile run, though not quite as fast. Wednesday, I felt fine while not running so I went for my run. Once running, I instantly knew my energy levels were very low so I just did 5 miles at about 2 minutes per mile slower than my prior 9 mile runs. Thursday, I felt a little better but my energy levels were still low so I did another 5 miles barely faster than Wednesday. By Friday, I felt better and my pace was returning to normal but I wanted to play it safe so I just did 6 miles. Since the cold was still lingering over the weekend, even though I felt fine while running, I continued building slowly, adding a mile a day while making sure I continued recovering. By Monday, I was back to my usual 9 mile run at a pace that was very solid given the conditions. I still have a few lingering symptoms but, by backing off when my energy was low, I ensured the cold didn't develop into something worse or drag on, draining my energy for longer than necessary. Now I'm back into my normal routine less than a week after the cold first began affecting my training.

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I was one of those runners who got a bit sick. My energy levels were near zero so I did not run for two days that I would have normally run. I am not running outside in this cold weather because I can no longer breath in the cold air without having a coughing fit. So in total I got four days of rest and the following Monday I had a fantastic run.

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You lost two runs and came back refreshed and ready to roll. Contrast that with the possibility of not letting your body recover and spending several days, possibly even weeks, training at a diminished level. That's the mistake people make. They try to plow through and end up training in a compromised state when it might just take a few days and they could come back refreshed and ready to push forward.

It's always hard for a motivated runner to accept that but taking some unplanned downtime, whether a day or two off like you did or easier and shorter running than planned like I did, can pay off down the road.

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