What to Do If You Get Sick the Week of Your Race

I swear I wrote up this post before COVID-19 was even a thing. I had planned all along to put up this post around this date, but it seems perhaps even a little more apropos with all of the recent news. Anyway, what I’m about to get into has absolutely nothing to do with Coronavirus. If you have that, you absolutely shouldn’t be running in a race or even leaving your house for that matter. That’s all I have to say about that. Now onto my original post.

We’ve all been there. It’s four days before your big race and you come down with a cold. Now what? There are some things you can do to help you feel better. But first, should you even still run? I’m not a doctor but everything I’ve ever read and heard about this subject says if your cold is in your head such as your sinuses, it’s OK to still run but if it’s in your chest or you have a fever or have aches in your muscles like what comes with the flu, you shouldn’t run. My knowledge is based on my scientific background including the pre-pharmacy classes I took before I decided pharmacy school wasn’t for me and switched my major to biology plus all of the immunology, physiology, and microbiology classes I had and scientific journals I’ve read over the years on this subject as a scientist. In other words, although I’m not a medical doctor, I have at least a decent amount of knowledge on health and illnesses.

Of course there are the over-the-counter (OTC) medications that don’t really make you “better” but merely treat your symptoms and sometimes help you feel a little better. However, sometimes using these medications can actually backfire and make you feel worse after using them for a few days. Some people don’t realize this but you will actually get over your cold quicker if you can wait it out and not use harsh over-the-counter treatments. The worst are nasal sprays like Afrin that can cause tissue damage over time. Other OTC medications can exacerbate your cold and lead to a sinus infection.

IMG_7861
Before my half marathon in Alabama. You’d never know from this photo how bad I was feeling (with a cold) but I ran anyway!

All of that being said, treating your cold with some good old fashioned remedies won’t hurt and some may actually help you feel better. Chicken soup has been recommended for people with colds for so many years for good reason. Consuming more liquids helps your body clear the infection easier and chicken broth is easy on the stomach as well. You can also flush out your sinuses with a saline spray or neti pot if you have congestion in your sinuses. Just make sure you use bottled water that has been distilled or sterilized if you choose to make your own saline solution. I’m also a fan of Nuun Immunity tablets, which have turmeric, elderberry extract, Echinacea, ginger, vitamin C, and other ingredients that will give your immune system a boost and help hydrate you. Wetting a washcloth and warming it in the microwave then putting that over your sinuses also helps temporarily relieve sinus pressure.

Honestly, the most important thing you can do if you get sick to help your body get better quicker is rest. Rest is so hugely important and effects literally everything we do in life, yet I feel like it’s often the first to be neglected when people get busy with life. If that means you have to skip a 40 minute run that you were supposed to do at 5 in the morning, but you’ve got a cold and your race is next week, you would be better off to skip that run and get some extra sleep instead.

What if you’ve gotten extra rest and hydration but you’re still sick and it’s race day? Like I said earlier, as long as you don’t have a fever and your cold is in your sinuses and not your chest and you don’t have body aches, you can go ahead and run. Just stuff some tissues in a pocket and realize it’s not going to be a PR for you, but try to make the best of it! I’ve run races with a cold before and while they weren’t exactly some of my most fun races ever, I was able to get through them and finish with a smile on my face.

Finally, you can do what Olympic athlete Clarence DeMar said and “Run like hell and get the agony over with.”

Have you run a race while sick? How did that go? Was it a bad decision or fine in the end?

Happy running!

Donna