Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Running (racing) with the Flu

As fate would have it, I came down with the flu just 10 days before my first ultra of 2008 -- Holiday Lake 50k++. This concerns me, because the only true DNF in my short history of ultrarunning was at Holiday Lake, due to illness. I'm on the road to recovery now, but I decided to do some research into running (racing) with the flu. Here's one bit I found from Running Times that seems to answer my question:

Q: I know that you feed a cold and starve a fever, but what about training and racing when I'm sick?

A: There are a number of studies that show a decrease in immune function secondary to intensive training, increasing an athlete's susceptibility to infection. Overtraining certainly increases this risk.

If you feel too ill to work out, don't. If you are running a fever, you should also not work out; this could increase the risk of the infection affecting the heart.

Dr. Randy Eichner recommends the "neck check." If there is no fever and all of the symptoms are above the neck—congestion, sore throat, etc.—then an easy workout would be OK. If symptoms are below the neck—significant cough, muscle aches, etc.—then a day off is in order. Pushing too hard may prolong the course of the illness and increase the potential for complications.

If you pass the neck check and your temperature is normal, you might consider racing, but your performance may not be up to par. Pushing the pace may also cause protracted illness. This can sometimes cause symptoms similar to chronic fatigue syndrome, negatively impacting your training for a prolonged period of time.

To keep from getting sick, start with regular hand washing, eat a well balanced diet, and get plenty of sleep. During the winter, get a flu shot. Supplements may be helpful, but when considering taking any supplement, research it to make sure that significant side effects have not been reported.

--Dr. Cathy Fieseler

I'm getting lots of fluids and as much rest as I can this week. I've run once in 8 days, although I hope to get some short easy runs in early this week. I plan to approach the race with an open mind, and the goal of just finishing. Last time I went to Holiday Lake sick I did not respect the distance, resulting in a DNF after 17 miles. Oh, and my illness this time is not due to overtraining. Believe me. That has not been a problem so far this year. If all else fails, maybe courage and willpower will take over and get me through to the finish.

Comments? What do you do if/when you get sick just before a big race?


ncultra said...

Neal, you can go nice and slow for the first half of the race. That's what I will be doing. I haven't finished an Ultra since Promise Land last April. I don't feel very good about my conditioning right now, so I'm kind of apprehensive about the race.

When I've been in your position in the past I've always insisted on a couple of nice short slow runs on the Wed. and Thurs. before a race. If those felt OK and I didn't end up with muscle soreness I was good to go.

Neal Jamison said...


Thanks for the comment and for visiting this new blog. It, like my training this year, is a slow work in progress. I'm hoping that working on one will motivate me to work on the other. See you at HL my friend. We will finish strong.