Running with a cold. What I learned from racing ill

My preparation for the South of England Cross Country Championships was going smooth. I have finished my intensive training with a 24km of hard work of keeping myself at the threshold, broke my half marathon PB, and all this gave me the uplifting confidence I needed before the race.

But then the unthinkable happened. I picked up a throat inflammation that peaked on Tuesday and Wednesday. I usually try to let the body do its job and not intervene with medication, but this was a case when I was desperate to run the race in my top form. So I topped up with loads of over the counter medication.

Should you run when you're sick? What I learned from racing ill.

Even though the illness started to draw back, when I got back into exercise, I only did 20 minutes of static bike plus some conditioning exercises for running. Next day, on Thursday, I did another half an hour of static bike, and then I thought I’ll let everything sort out by itself so I can be fresh and dandy on Saturday.

In reality, the very first day I felt recovered was exactly Saturday, the race day. I was still quite noticeably coughing, but feeling all right overall. But even then, the more I advanced through the day, the feeling of drowsiness was creeping in. But I manned up, and I even told everyone at the club that I planned to finish the race in around 1 hour, which meant exactly 4 minutes per km. You don’t plan to pace like this in cross-country races simply because the field is so uneven that it makes it impossible to maintain a steady pace per km. All you can do is do your best. But just as a reference, I was planning to stick as close to 4/km as possible. My racing number was 4444, a constant reminder of the pace I had planned :).

I started strong, and the first 2-3 km were really nice, no illness anywhere, no coughing, just me and my legs. And then as I slowed down going up a slope, I started to cough, which combined with the effort lead my brain into thinking “yeah, we need to throw up now”. Went on the side, caught my breath, everything was ok. But then, because I stopped, stitches took over and that was the beginning of my body breaking up into a sheer continuous pain. Abdominal pain, muscles, bones, everything was aching. For the rest of more than 10km.

My club mate Ilia overpassed me at around 5km into the race. I finished the race second in the club, after 1h10, almost in agony and swearing I’m going to return and have my revenge race in under 1h.

What did I do wrong?

First, I raced.

I would feel sorry for anyone not competing in a race because of illness, but one lesson I learned that Saturday is that is best for you and your body to first recover and then race. If you aren’t recovered, keep yourself out of races, because you’re not doing anyone any good.

I was too weak to put myself in such a great position of racing. After you get better, you need to allow a period of recovery, do some base training and then see where you are left with your running fitness. Don’t just throw yourself into the crowds; you don’t know the level you’re at.

I delayed my recovery.

Most probably my healing period was extended because I forced myself into the race. Instead of putting all of the efforts in the actual process of healing, those resources were wasted on something that didn’t get me anywhere I wanted to.

So really, let your body heal itself, then allow some time for recovery, then restart training, and that’s when you can get back into the game and compete.

Now I just patiently waited to heal completely, and I’m excited to restart the training as soon as possible.

Have you run any races when you were ill or not yet recovered?

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