No-one wants to be ill or injured, but it can be especially frustrating to spend several months training hard for an event and then find that you fall ill. Injuries happen and how you return to training after an injury will depend on its severity and how close to your event you are.
A week before we were due to do Ironman Dublin 70.3, my husband and I each went out for a gentle training ride. I went out with two friends and he went out alone as he’s much faster than me. After 25 miles of cycling, one of my friends had to go home. We stopped and posed for some photos and then my husband arrived. At first, I was pleased to see him… until I realised that he was covered in blood. He had swerved to avoid a pothole, hit some gravel and crashed, tearing his calf muscle. His race was over 🙁
With a scenario like that, there isn’t much that can be done, but what if you have a cold or other illness? What steps can you take to get back on track?
1. Get well
It’s really important that you don’t try to push on with your training through illness. When training for my last marathon, I thought I was fatigued because of my volume of training and had no idea that I had glandular fever (mono). I felt exhausted all of the time and struggled to do all of my training runs. On the day I also suffered and it put me off from doing any more marathons.
Many people argue that it’s fine to train with a head cold, but that if your symptoms are below the neck (throat infections, chesty coughs) then you should rest. Also if you have to take antibiotics, then you should take things easy.
Treat yourself kindly – drink plenty of fluids, eat well, and sleep as much as you need to.
2. Don’t try to make up for lost time
Many people try to ‘catch up’ what they have missed, but fitting in extra long runs or rides, which can lead to injuries or severe fatigue.
Consider the sessions that you have missed. Anything that is relatively easy was probably on your schedule to keep you ‘ticking over’ and to help contribute to your overall mileage/training hours for the week, so don’t worry about those sessions. The hard sessions are usually progressive, so it will depend on how far you are into your build up as to how essential these were.
If you are an experienced athlete (training consistently for six months or more) then your VO2max (fitness) will not change significantly with a week (or slightly more) of inactivity, so you may be able to pick up where you were before you were ill.
3. Ease yourself back into training
When you are ready to go back to training, you may feel that you are able to function at your previous level, but you need to consider the frequency, duration and intensity of your workouts, otherwise, you may get ill again. No-one likes a yo-yo illness!
It’s a good idea to leave your Garmin at home and just run by feel so that you don’t push yourself too hard. If you can’t bear the thought of running naked, try training on heart-rate rather than pace.
4. Review your remaining schedule
This links on from point 3. If you fall ill during the base building section of your training plan (rather than the competitive) section then you may be able to pick up where you left off. However, if you are ill during the competitive second half of your schedule then you may need to drop back a little and then re-plan the final few weeks of your plan.
Remember not to increase your training by more than 10% a week.
5. Adjust your goals
If you are ill early in your training schedule, then it may not have an impact on your race, but if you are ill for an extended period or very close to your event then you may need to readjust your goals.
Can you safely make it to the start line? If so, consider what a realistic goal is. It may be completion rather than a personal best.
Remember that finishing a race with a smile on your face, feeling inspired to set yourself a new goal is much better than giving everything, missing your goal and making yourself so fatigued that you can’t get back out and train.
Finally, you may want to minimise your chances of getting ill in the first place – ‘Don’t let colds and flu stop you training‘ (from 220 Triathlon) gives some tips on strengthening your immune system.