Dealing With Race Day Colds

It’s the Thursday before my first race of the season and I’m still fighting off a cold that I wrote off as no big deal last Friday. The sniffles I dismissed as nothing turned into a full-blown guttural cough, body aches and chills.

Months and months of training behind me, countless hours with my friends and family sacrificed to prepare. Runs in the rain and cold, pre-dawn wake-ups and skipped social events.

My coach is concerned. My doctor thinks I’m nuts.

I’m not stoked about the cards I’ve been dealt, but there’s nothing I can do to change this snotty reality. This is how I’m approaching race day with the worst illness I’ve had in years.

Rest vs. Stress

Last week, nine days before race day, I told my coach I thought I might be getting sick. He had me back off the mileage and intensity, trading in my running shoes for cozy slippers.

“Better to get healthy than try to cram in some more workouts,” he said. “The body doesn’t adapt positively to workouts when you are fighting a bug, the immune system requires too much energy, so there is none left over for positive adaptation to exercise.”

If race day wasn’t looming and if this cold wasn’t quite as severe, we might have stuck to the plan and continued training with a stuffy nose. Instead, we opted for rest and easy runs to give my body the fighting chance it deserved.

I skipped a lot of runs on race week. It didn’t do much good in this case. But who knows how bad it may have gotten without those unplanned rest days or easy runs in the place of high-intensity workouts.

Do Everything You Can to Ward it off

Back in high school, I felt a cold coming on before a state cross country meet. In a panic, I researched how to get rid of a cold quickly, and I landed on raw garlic.

The limited research into the garlic’s influence on colds suggest that the sulphuric compounds that give garlic its distinct smell and flavor may protect against infection, virus, fungus and helps to calm inflammation. Garlic can help an athlete not only recover but to ward off potential illnesses that can derail training.

I ate two whole raw cloves of garlic the Thursday before race day and followed it up with a solid and healthy performance at the state meet. Since I make sure to eat one or two cloves of raw garlic the Thursday before every important race. Everyone has pre-race rituals. Mine just come with bad breath.

As much as I wish I could say I only used natural and homeopathic remedies, I definitely had some outside assistance. I also took Vicks NyQuil Cold & Flu Nighttime Relief to help me sleep at night. I would rather not take it, but it really does work well to knock you out, and as we have already mentioned, rest and sleep are the best ways to encourage recovery.

I was prescribed antibiotics, but decided not to take them after reading about side effects for runners.

Make sure you talk to your doctor before taking any over the counter medications or before foregoing any prescribed medications. Luckily, my doctor, Dr. Josh Edmur of SteadyMD, is a runner himself and understands the panic that comes with race-week flu symptoms.

When Prevention Fails

If you’ve done all of the above and the illness persists, wait as long as possible to make any decision on abandoning the race attempt. If at two hours before the start, you have a fever, your system is too wrecked to keep fluids and food down or you have a deep, wheezing cough, you’re putting yourself at risk by racing. Withdraw and take care of yourself.

Perhaps if many hours later, you’re feeling better and are not contagious, you can return to the race site to volunteer or cheer on the participants. I believe supporting others has healing power. It will help get you out of an expected withdrawal-related funk. Most importantly, take the time you need to recover and get back out there.