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Regaining Lost Ground After an Illness

December 7, 2009

It’s as frustrating as it is inevitable. Just as soon as you set a new goal or sign up for a big race and start strong into your training plan – an illness of some sort sets you back to square one.

I experienced this very situation just last week. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m training for the ING Georgia Half-Marathon as a Girls on the Run SoleMate. While I haven’t geared up too much in my training yet (the race is in March) I have set the goal of maintaining the ability to run a quick and easy 6 miles. That way I’m ready to gear up quickly when official training begins in January, especially considering my goal of breaking 2 hours this year.

During my short time here in South Africa, I first had to conquer the altitude, which took several weeks, before I could get back to that 6-mile easy maintenance run. I had also started to incorporate more strength and interval training, which seemed to really be doing the trick. For the first time in a while I was really starting to enjoy myself in the gym, in the weight room especially, not to mention the ease of the runs.

Not one week after I had conquered the altitude and had a brisk and satisfying 6-mile morning run through the streets of beautiful Pretoria, illness, in the form of severe food poisoning, struck. In our readers’ cases this illness might more likely take the form of cold, flu, or sinus infection (the latter which, incidentally, struck me down just before leaving for South Africa, preventing me from running for several weeks before I left after months of ramping up to some great longer runs). While my particular illness climaxed at about the 12-hour point, it was days before I felt up to walking down my stairs to make breakfast, much less exercising. I just couldn’t seem to replenish my body of all its lost nutrients and fuel.

I finally got back on the treadmill (note treadmill, as I wasn’t sure enough about my health to brave an outdoor run) this weekend and set a goal of a 60-minute easy run. Let me tell you that 60 minutes was harder than the entire ING Half-Marathon last year! I completed the run but with my fair share of pain, fatigue, and mostly, frustration. I’ve told myself over and over that that first run is sure to be the hardest. But it’s a tough pill to swallow.

This experience got me interested in seeing what others have to say about getting back into running, or exercise/sports in general, after being sidelined with an illness. There isn’t much out there and what is is very much common sense. But hopefully these links and basic tips will help you ease back in after some involuntary time off:

  • Melanie Jordan, in her Healthy Eating Coach’s Corner blog,  writes about slowly phasing in different aspects of your routine. After an illness, she started with walking, then gradually added in weight training, and finally her more intense workouts. So according to this coach I should have perhaps done a 60-minute walk or at least run/walk on my first day back…it sure would have been easier and more pleasant.
  • The Sisterhood of the Shrinking Jeans blog advises against hard cardio right off the bat and recommends exercising indoors at first if it’s cold outside.
  • has a good article with tips depending on how long you’re sidelined. Its key tips include keeping the intensity of the exericse low; cutting the time by 20-50%; and stopping the workout if you feel worse as you get going.
  • Running Times encourages runners to get their seasonal flu shots! (Preventing illness in the first place is a separate topic but I felt the need to throw this one in…)
  • If you do get sick and want to figure out if you’re well enough to continue running, use the above/below the neck rule:

“If your symptoms are above the neck (runny nose, sneezing, sore throat) then, yes, you can run. Just take it easy and don’t do any intense workouts. Be sure to be aware of any symptoms such as dizziness, nausea or profuse sweating. If your symptoms are below the neck (chest congestion, intense coughing, vomiting, diarrhea), let your illness run its course before you start running again. Running under those conditions increases dehydration and may cause more serious issues. You also should never run if you have a high fever.”

How do you deal with illness? What changes do you put into your workout schedule, if any? Comment on this post or email (Quick note that in previous posts I believe that I listed this email address incorrectly, so please forgive me if you emailed and got a bounceback).

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 8, 2009 10:51 am

    “It’s as frustrating as it is inevitable. Just as soon as you set a new goal or sign up for a big race and start strong into your training plan – an illness of some sort sets you back to square one.”

    I totally agreed with you because I have experience it several times though I have a different goal. As with you is your running and mine is with my job. It’s really frustrating though.

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