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?