When You’re Sick

Sick in Bedby Liz Varner

I used to think that I was blessed with a superhuman immune system. I managed to avoid illnesses year after year. I could train high volume, race week after week and still remain healthy. My teammates and friends would come down with colds, the flu, and various aliments yet I continued to have the fortune of good health. Last year everything changed. First came mono last winter and then it was cold after cold this fall and winter. What changed? Why was my good health luck gone?

What changed was my lifestyle. My training was the same, at least until the mono, but my life had taken on many more commitments and stress. Right there was the clue to my new susceptibility to illness.

Like most athletes, I am stubborn especially when it comes to my training. I want to complete all my workouts, after all that is what is on my schedule, and that is what my competitors are doing. I’ve come to realize that training through illness only prolongs the illness, and not adjusting for a busy/stressful life promotes getting ill in the first place.

I looked at the health record of my clients in the last few months. I was surprised by a few that have not been ill. They work long hours, have families, are around children (germ factories), and have stress in their lives. So why are they staying healthy? These are athletes that are willing to adjust their training to accommodate their lives. They are also athletes that are most willing to take the proper amount of time off if they are feeling worn down or possibly ill.

So what can you do to make it through the season with minimal set-backs due to illnesses? Plan and hope for a little good health fortune.

Plan a realistic race season. In what level and what type of races can you really train to be competitive? If you are a parent and have a fulltime job, is it realistic to plan to race national level races throughout the season? Perhaps it is more realistic to plan to race locally and a little less frequently. Trying to cram a full training and racing schedule into an already busy life leaves little time for the body to get the proper rest it needs to remain healthy.

Budget time for recovery as well as for training. Make certain that you are getting enough sleep. An athlete that is not well rested does not train well and is more likely to become ill.

Plan your training around stress and travel. Hard workouts can leave your body susceptible to illness. If you know you are traveling or having a stressful week at work, school or home, talk to your coach about how to adjust your workouts. Very often moving a few days around will allow you to complete your training while dealing with life stresses.

Even good planning can’t guarantee that you won’t get sick, so here are a few tips if you do become ill.

Your first priority is getting healthy, not sticking to your training plan at any cost. Training while you are ill will make you stay ill or get worse. Returning to training too soon may cause a relapse.

If you have a little sniffle you can ride in your recovery zone up to 50% of your long ride time. You can lift weights provided that you quit if you feel worse. Continue the recovery workouts until one day after you feel well.

If you have chest congestion, fever, body aches, deep fatigue or nausea, do not train. Do not ride or lift. Start to train again when you feel close to fully recovered. Consult your doctor if you are ill for more than a week with no sign of recovery.

To return to training:

If you miss one to three days of training, take one easy day then return to your current plan. If you feel weak on the easy day, take another easy day. Continue with easy days until you have a good day. Do not plan to ride hard or race until you have four symptoms free days.

If you miss four to seven days, you will need six days to return to full training. Follow your plan as far as what days you lift or ride, but adjust the time and intensity. For the first two days, aerobic train in your recovery zone at 25% your long ride time, and lift 50% of your normal set at 50% of your normal weight. For days three and four, aerobic train at endurance pace (recovery pace if tired) at 50% your long ride time, and lift half the normal sets at full weight. On days five and six, ride 75% your long ride time at an endurance pace and return to your normal lifting routine.

If you miss more than seven days of training, talk to your coach about how best return to training. After a long layoff it may be better to delay your training plan or do some testing to evaluate what you have lost.

Most athletes find they are not able to race and train at their best for about two to three weeks even after a mild cold. Don’t be discouraged if you are unable to race well immediately after your symptoms clear up.

~Liz Varner