A blog by runners. For runners.

Training in the real world: when sickness strikes

Regardless your race distance, that training plan becomes far more than a guide for the 10 to 20 weeks you follow it – it becomes gospel. But what happens when it all gets derailed by illness?

It’s bound to happen eventually. Anything from sniffles to sneezes, stomach upset to body aches and fatigue. Missing training time isn’t ideal, however, it’s also not necessarily going to cost you a PR at your upcoming race.

Here’s what to do:

The worst thing you can do is try to push through serious illness. That is, if you have a fever, any cold symptoms that migrate below the throat and into the chest, and infections that require antibiotics – go easy on yourself. Pushing through and trying to get in workouts might worsen your symptoms and aggravate your sickness into something worse. Eat good foods, consume more liquids, and step it back a bit. It also doesn’t hurt to go to bed earlier. Once you’re feeling better, take it day by day. Don’t push it. Which brings us to …

Resist the urge to make up for lost training time. More often than not, piling on additional mileage after even a short hiatus can set you on a path toward injury and burnout. (Especially if you’re returning to running from a compromised state.) You can definitely take some comfort in knowing that the “easy” days are more for maintenance than anything else. It’s also probably fine that you missed some hard days, too.

Studies have shown that well-conditioned athletes – those who have been running consistently for 4-6 months – experience very little change in VO2max after 10 days of inactivity. So, in a way, you can pick up where you left off. Just remind yourself of this fact when you’re feeling low about missing those miles. We have all been there, and it’s not the end of the world. Continue to look forward and keep a positive attitude.

That being said, you cannot necessarily expect to immediately run the paces you were smashing before you got sick. Ease back into activity by taking your body’s cues seriously. This might mean starting off with a brisk walk or walk/jog. Or at very least, leave the watch at home at pace yourself by feel for a few days. Once you get back on your feet again, you can resume your regular training.

If you’re sick during the first half of your training plan, it might be OK to skip last week’s track workout and jump in with this week’s instead. The second half of the training cycle is when these sessions tend to build on one another, though. They get harder. So, if you have a number of repeats on the schedule that your body isn’t ready to handle after your break, drop back to the week you missed to avoid stretching yourself too thin.

Chances are, you won’t be terribly off your mark by taking this approach. When you feel fully healthy again, you can try to catch up – albeit, slowly. Of course, if you were sick for several weeks, you may want to readjust your goals and training in general. Take it one day at a time and always listen to the messages your body is giving you. The goal is to cross the finish line with a great time and a smile on your face.

Written by  Ashley Marcin.