Racing off Sickness- Follow Your Heart

Racing Tips

I was not sure what to write about today, as I wanted to feature something that was fresh in my mind, and would hopefully flow out onto the keyboard. I am filled with emotion thinking about my 1:13 half marathon in Philadelphia a few years ago, and although it was not as fast as I had hoped for a few weeks ago, a 1:13 is definitely going to help me with my future racing endeavors.

When I think about that race, there are a few things that come to mind that make me especially happy with my performance:

  • I stayed strong and kept pushing hard from much earlier in the race than I would usually be comfortable with
  • I “redeemed myself” for the Philadelphia marathon and finally enjoyed a race on those roads I spent hundreds of hours training on
  • A few days prior to the race, I almost emailed the elite coordinators to tell them I wasn’t going to race

That third point seems like a good topic of discussion, as it is scary for runners. We read ALL the articles on it (Runners Connect has two great ones- are you putting your body in danger running while sick? and running with a cold? Should you do it?), but in reality, it doesn’t make the decision any easier.

I went through that struggle last week, and even asking around my other elite friends and coaches of elites, there was no cookie cutter answer.

After the race, many of the other elites admitted that they had also been sick, but had not told anyone or talked about it, and for good reason too.

If you talk about it, you are reaffirming those negative thoughts into your mind, giving yourself a way out in the race, so when those doubts start coming in, that negativity from voicing your sickness can fester on those negative thoughts, and pretty soon, your race is over- mentally, if not physically.

It got me thinking that this could be a place for us to discuss this, and see if we can get somewhat of a real perspective on whether we should race or not if we are sick.

You know I am all about the feeling, trusting your gut, and unfortunately, this is another one of those situations.

As I mentioned earlier, I talked to a few other elites and their coaches about what I should do, and I received mixed results. Obviously they could not see how bad I was at, but at the point I talked to them, I was probably at the worst point.

Putting on a brave face (mostly because of my beautiful new Saucony jacket), but I knew it my heart I was not "ready" on this day

Putting on a brave face (mostly because of my beautiful new Saucony jacket), but I knew it my heart I was not “ready” on this day

The best advice I received was from my good friend Mark Coogan, head coach at New Balance Boston. Mark told to trust my heart.

At first I was kind of frustrated with that answer.

Surely he must be able to give me a yes or a no?

He is an Olympian and coaches some of the best distance runners in America? How can you not have an answer for me?(Sorry Mark :p)

But then I thought about it.

He is right. So right. There is no rulebook about whether to race when you are sick or not.

You know in your heart if you are ready. If you have any doubts that the sickness is going to make you have a bad race, don’t do it. You are only going to destroy your confidence when you see the finishing time (or have to drop out). If that is the case, you have already started those negative vibes, which are magnified in a race when it is just you and your thoughts.

That being said, if you want to give it a try, do it, but drop out if you feel bad. It is not worth putting yourself further back for a bad performance, especially if you have another race coming up.

However, if you do decide to do it anyway, be prepared that you are going to feel worse about yourself afterwards than you would have if you didn’t race. Dropping out gives a real reality check, and you will probably regret dropping out, even if you know it was the right thing to do.

I know that is not what we want to hear, and that was not what I wanted to hear last week, but it really was the best advice.

On Friday morning when I woke up, I was at about 90% of my normal. The tapering I had done felt essentially useless, as I had lost that bounce in my step, that high your body gets off the extra recovery, but by tapering, my body could use that extra energy to get me back to healthy, which was most important. Had I not tapered for this race, I am not sure I would have been able to bounce back in time.

On that Friday morning, I decided I was going to race. I sat down and thought hard about it. In my heart I was excited for the race. I had a good feeling  about the race, which meant I knew I was good enough to go.

Take that back a day, on Thursday, I had a bad feeling about the race. Had the race been Friday, I am not sure I would have done it.

I wish I could give you (or a future me reading) the answer.

I wish I could tell you whether you should race or not if you are sick, but at the end of the day, you are the only one who knows if you should. You and your individual circumstances.

If this was your big race of the season, one you have been training for over the course of a few months and there is no other option for you a week or two later, then go for it. You have nothing to lose. BUT if there is a way you can do another race in a few weeks time, and your heart tells you that this is a bad idea, listen to that little voice, and do not start.

Races will always be around, and you can always try again. The training was not a waste, as you got stronger over the course of months, not just one day. You can always come back to running, but it is not worth putting yourself at risk of further setback by racing, and especially risking damaging your confidence, that is so fragile anyway.

Sit down quietly by yourself and really think about all the factors in your situation. You WILL know the answer, you just have to trust yourself. Just like I mentioned last Friday in my post about 7 ways to make sure you do not slow down in a race!

Be Brave. Be Strong. Be You!

What was the best advice about running while sick you have been given?

 

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17 Comments. Leave new

  • Interesting post on the dilemma of when to race. It seems whatever our level we all go through similar difficulties with these decisions.
    You had a great race last weekend. Delighted your hard work is paying off and I do hope that you get to run for GB next year.
    Thanks for all those pacing posts. I am going to try to put the advice into practice.

  • What a great post! It’s so easy to get caught up in the emotional side of racing and the long miles put in during training. I raced one half that I should never have done. I was mentally and physically exhausted from doing my first marathon 2 weeks prior. I did the half because my friends were doing it and I was miserable! I wasn’t sick but I ended up getting sick afterwards which I know was my body saying “slow down, give me time to rest!” Good reminders!

  • I think that (as in just about any case) we often know the answer ourselves, we just want someone to tell us what we want to hear (or give us another vote in a certain direction). Ultimately, it is a follow your heart and head moment–you are going to do what you are going to do ( heart) but be smart about how to execute your decision (head).

  • I usually push through any kind of sickness except the really bad ones like stomach flu and strep throat. For the most part, running helps me feel better but once in a while my body is like, NO SUZY NO. Trusting our heart makes sense. I wouldn’t trust my mind so much, as I get a little OCD but my heart? I can trust my heart.

  • I think it’s one of those things you have to sometimes learn the hard way. Experience tells you what your body is and isn’t capable of, usually, but it can take years and lots of mistakes to figure it out! I can run normally with head cold symptoms and even feel better during and after, but a cough or stomach problems is a huge NO!

  • I love this answer, Tina, even if it’s not as “definite” as we would like – ha! It’s so true, though; I’ve always known whether I should run, or not, I just don’t always follow that instinct. I did suffer through a race once (after taken LOTS of meds just before) and I’m not sure I’ll ever do that again; it was a really miserable experience. Thanks so much for sharing this; hope you have a great weekend!

  • I love this answer and admire your intuitiveness so much, Tina! I tend to listen to my body when I’m sick – sometimes I know a run will make me feel better, and other times I just favor some extra rest because that’s what I need. The best advice I received about it: if I was too sick to go into school or work, I was too sick to run.

  • I probably wouldn’t race sick, as it’s a lot of stress on the body to race anyway- but I always feel like it should be a game-time decision. Obviously an elite like you has a lot more at stake with a race, whereas someone like me could just run one easy or do a race with a friend if I didn’t feel 100% and maybe pace them instead of racing it myself. As runners, we all have that one race that we did where we knew we shouldn’t have, though- whether we were sick or we got injured shortly after the race, or had to drop out. There are ups and downs, but that’s what makes the journey fun.

  • Great post and I think it is so individual! I can usually tell when I need to rest. When I get sick I get really sick and my energy level is in the toilet. I always try to listen to my body. It’s a bit different, I’m not racing to win so taking a DNS isn’t that big of a deal…unless it was a BIG race that I had been training for. I hope you feel better!

  • I think it is key to listen to your body. You knew you were ready, the confidence was there and you raced SO well. I hope you are feeling better and get to rest all weekend!!!

  • I definitely think each event should be treated differently and obviously depending on how you feel and the professional opinion of a doctor. I have run races with a cold or something small. Last April, I had the unexpected happen while in Boston. Food poisoning struck on Saturday evening at 6pm. By the time 11pm rolled around and I had been asleep for over 2 hours, I made my husband take me to the ER at Tufts Medical Center. Two IV bags later and it was nearly 3am when we returned to our hotel. The ER doctor did give me permission to run on Monday and yes, I did complete the race. Having my sister by my side made it possible and it was the culmination of alot of hard work. I think the only reason I could get through the race was the fact that my running coach had me in the best shape possible at the age of 61! Sorry, this was a looooong comment!

  • The best advice I’ve heard is, from the neck up sick go for it. From the neck down (like stomach issues) don’t. I’ve ran with head colds but never with stomach troubles. It’s so hard to bow out. But, at the end of the day there’s no race more valuable than your health!! Always listen to your body.

  • I agree with everything you said regarding running while sick. We have to keep in mind that there will be other races, and that your training will not go to race. I would rather race stronger than while under the weather, personally. I think it all depends on how sick you truly are- ie, the difference between a minor cold and the flu is huge. Thank you for this post and for your perspective on this important topic! Happy running! 🙂 @janerunswild

  • Lindsey McRoberts
    November 8, 2015 1:33 pm

    Depending on how I am feeling, I generally run anyway. Last week, my son was not feeling well, I went for a 6+ mile east run, and by early afternoon, I was not well at all… I spent the rest of the day in bed, and decided not to run the following morning. I DID feel well enough to go running that evening though 🙂

  • Laurie Householder
    November 8, 2015 9:36 pm

    Such a timely post… I have trained my tushie off (with RC!) for 5 months for my goal race this past saturday- the Savannah Rock ‘N Roll. I was hoping for a sub 3:30 on an ideal day. However, as the days approached I began to become concerned about the hot forecast as it was predicted to be 69 at the start and as high as 80 at the end with 100% humidity. Not good. So, I adjusted my time goal to 3:35 and began figuring my new race strategy. However, the Tuesday before, I got sick- horrible sore throat, scratchy throat, low grade fever, etc. By Friday, i thought I was fine, went to the expo, got my packet, and went home for a high carb lunch. On a whim, I checked my temperature- 100 degrees. WTH? I thought I was fine! But I wasn’t and I knew racing in hot and humid conditions would make a tough race even more awful if I was still battling this ill-timed virus. So, I made the difficult decision to sit it out. Now for the crazy part… It was so hot and humid on race day, that race officials decided to cut it short mid-way through. The runners all ran different distances from 21-24 miles! Even if I had been well, I wouldn’t have been able to finish the race! Never have I been so glad for a virus! Now I can regroup without having a long recovery and am signed up for another marathon in December. Thank goodness for unanswered prayers!

  • I recently had to deal with being sick on race day too! After 15 weeks of solid training, the week of the my marathon I had to work late, got a bad cold and was feeling so discouraged. The day before the race my nose was running and after we got back from dinner I felt worse and even spiked a fever of 100.5 at 9:30 pm! I was in tears and my husband calmly told me that the best thing I could do was sleep, so I went to bed and strangely woke up feeling a lot better and fever free! I told alka seltzer cold medicine at the start and off I went. I figured if I felt horrible, I could just drop out and run another race the next weekend, but it ended up being a PR for me at 3:46 🙂

    I think ultimately I did have to just follow my heart and it worked out for me this time, just like it did for you. We are all capable of pushing through so much more than we may think.

  • Such great advice for so many aspects of life. You have to trust your heart.

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