31 pills for 20 miles: the debate on running when sick.

The alarm rang at 5:30am Sunday morning and by 6am I had a half-dozen capsules filled with herbs in my hand and my husband was rummaging through the medicine drawer in search of immodium tablets. Things were not looking good for a 20-mile run.image

My husband came down with symptoms two weeks ago – runny nose, scratchy throat, upset stomach, and in spite of not squarely kissing me on the mouth for two weeks now, I have acquired those symptoms all the same.

Ninety-nine percent of the time I ward off all that ails me with some sort of herb. One percent of the time I get desperate.

After breakfast I spiked my juice with the pre-game fuel I always use on these very long runs, then I took a few more pills:

Seven herb capsules: 3 that increase blood flow, another 3 with a tonic for what ails me above the neck and one that attacks the headache that seems to include itself among the symptoms.

Then…one D3 because my doctor said so, a B12 to counteract the effects of Morton’s neuroma, a low dose aspirin because the study that shows it helps avoid breast cancer was compelling and, because I have been feeling a little tired this week, one iron tablet.

Three supplements of varying variety finish off the meal of capsules.

Later, I went back for another handful of the herbs that attend to everything above and below the neck and another immodium tablet (the last one in the house). Almost three hours after the alarm rang, I was ready to leave for the run. My husband had already finished his workout. I said to him, “This is a production.”

All the fluids required to wash down 31 pills left me needing an extra potty break – or two – during the run and about half-way through I was wondering how my body knew what to do with all the things I had thrown at it that morning. Amazingly, I felt great. No problems. In fact, the last 8 miles showed the best pace of the run and….. I could have gone further.

So, you may be shaking your head at me now. All runners live by the above/below the neck rule…and I didn’t.

A few months ago I had a cold – I didn’t run that day. I felt feverish and generally sick. Running with a fever is downright dangerous and is the exception to the “above the neck” rule.

There have been a number of studies on the subject, needless to say. For me, I am most vulnerable at the peak of marathon training….in other words, now. I take extra precautions during this time to keep my immune system strong so that if I feel a few symptoms they are only mild.

For average runners, the dividing line seems to be 60 miles a week, according to David Nieman, Ph.D., of the Human Performance Laboratory at Appalachian State University. Nieman conducted the largest study ever done on this question by examining 2,300 runners who competed in the 1987 Los Angeles Marathon. “The odds of getting sick were six times higher than normal after the marathon,” says Nieman, “and those who ran 60 miles a week or more doubled their chance of getting sick.” The illnesses were of the upper respiratory tract, including sinus infections. Nieman says there’s no doubt these findings are still applicable to runners today. He’s also used himself as a test case: When Nieman trained up to 90 miles a week, he constantly battled sore throats. When he dropped his weekly mileage below 60, the symptoms stopped.

Maybe it’s not possible to say often enough, “Listen to your body.” Running churns things up in your system and can make even minor problems worse. When in doubt I say to myself, “Live to run another day.” On the other hand, it may be possible to run on days you feel symptoms – even below the neck. 

I read through several forums before hitting Publish and found more than half the runners say, it’s an individual thing.

This Week In-Training

2 thoughts on “31 pills for 20 miles: the debate on running when sick.

  1. I tend to follow the above-the-shoulders axiom (not neck, because a sore throat won’t keep me from training). In fact, whenever I’m feeling a bit under the weather, I go out for a run and immediately feel better afterward. Sure, I might feel like hell the next morning, but at least I can push out the symptoms for 30-90 minutes in the evenings.


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