Knowing your limits – how ill is too ill to race?

So, a couple of days ago I had my first DNS. Well, apart from a deferred VLM entry a few years ago because of a stress reaction/fracture, but by the by – I don’t miss races.

I’d booked in to run the Berkhamsted Half a few months ago as it’s my home half and therefore one of my favourites. Not an easy one by half (haha, good joke Katie) but a beautiful route with a couple of challenging hills. And nice scenery.

But, I just didn’t feel up to it. It wasn’t an actual injury, it was just a cold. A stupid flipping cold. I’m fairly hardy and tend to run through anything, and this is the first time it’s actually made me decide not to participate. And that was a big step. So I had a think about knowing when not to race – not necessarily just run, but race – and particularly when it’s due to illness rather than injury as I think it’s often harder to judge.

**Disclaimer – I am not a medical professional; please consult your doctor if you’re concerned about an illness impacting your ability to run and train**

This has annoyingly been a two week cold – I was pretty stuffy a couple of weeks back when I did a 19 miler, but also put this down partly to several G&Ts the night before. I then spent the next few days sneezing and spluttering, but able to train and had cleared it by the Thursday.

However, I then went away skiing for a week and it sneakily crept back in. A couple of missed nights out, a couple of mornings waking up like I was swallowing razor blades and a ton of paracetemol meant I realised my delightful cold had not quite left. Add to that a 3.30am resort – airport transfer and absolutely zero sleep in Grenoble airport, I was already debating by Saturday evening whether I should run or not. I managed a solid 9 and a half hours of sleep and when I woke up…the first thing I did was cough.

After being forced to actually think about it properly by my mother and boyfriend (dad’s response was along the lines of  ‘man up I’m sure you’ll be fine’), I decided the best thing to do would be to sack it off. And I’m glad I did.

So what are some of the things you need to consider if you’re not feeling 100%?

  • Will you actually gain anything from doing the race?

It wasn’t my goal race.It never was. It was merely a nice marker, a tune up and a route I enjoy. It wasn’t going to be a PB, I didn’t have to prove anything.I mean something around a 1.36/1.37 would have been lovely, but just that really (I mean also, looking at the results I could have been round about top 15 on current form, but not dwelling on that).

  • What knock on effects will it have?

Prevention is better than cure. I guarantee 13.1 miles probably would have delayed my recovery by a couple of days and then I would have missed more training and got more grumpy. Even if I’d switched down to the 5 miles (that felt doable more than 13.1), I know I would have tried to race it and it probably wouldn’t have ended pretty. For at least a week (again, checked the results and would have been challenging for 3rd. No way I wouldn’t have been pushing myself hard for that if I’d been out there)

  • Where’s the illness?

The general rule of thumb is ‘above the neck, you can probably get away with it’. I had a lot above the neck, but also a pretty hacking cough which wasn’t getting any better. It was also pretty flipping cold out, which I tried to claim would clear me out, but was promptly told would have the opposite effect. If it’s a fever, fatigue, aching muscles – definitely don’t run! You know your body well enough by now to distinguish between the symptoms and what you can cope with – but make sure you listen to it.

  • Is it really going to impact your fitness?

No is the answer. A couple of days off is far, far better in the long run for your overall fitness. One missed run doesn’t suddenly take you back to square one (take note y’all)

  • Race or run?

I mean yes, you might be able to run, but doesn’t mean you can race. And it doesn’t mean you can run the set distance. Like I said, I could have probably boshed out a few easy miles. So this all depends on how you feel, how competitive you are, and back to point 1, what does the race mean to you? Take it down a notch and go out for a few easy miles if you have to, but I wouldn’t really race anything above a 5k…

  • What did entry cost/take?

I didn’t pay much for entry so it wasn’t a big deal, but I can understand if you’ve put in a lot of cash and/or qualifying hard work for a goal race, the decision isn’t as easy. HOWEVER, there is 99% always going to be another opportunity. Can you defer?

There are some serious risks associated with training through illness – take heed and listen to your body; if you don’t feel like it’s a good idea, it probably isn’t. It’s also not a good idea if people specifically tell you NOT to run after spending 12 hours listening to you being a bit snotty and coughy (potentially not a word). They might also say things such as “I can’t tell you what to do but you probably shouldn’t run”. The main reason for this is so that you don’t blame them if you then get upset about not running, or, so that you don’t blame them if you do run and then get pneumonia or something.

On the plus side, I was a much better spectator this year. 3 years ago I cried watching this half when I couldn’t participate. This year I ate a sausage sandwich and cheered on everyone. Mightily impressed by the small children storming the 5 miler.

PS HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY. She had a great run. I had a great scone. My dad did a fairly decent job as well after a rugby match in a quagmire the previous day.


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