Sure, we runners often rock a “Superman” complex, thinking we’re invincible and made of steel. After all, we spend hours rambling over roots and jagged rocks, take falls like Hollywood stunt doubles, and call clamoring across a rope in waist-deep water “fun.”
So it’s difficult when life’s little nuisances put dents in our intricately-spun plans.
Rewind 48 hours. I’m ogling a mouth-watering piece of turkey meatloaf topped with a brown sugar/honey BBQ mix. Mmmmm, mmmm, yum! Life is good. I go to bed. Then BAM! I wake up to the alarm with a groan. As I fumble my way out of the bed sheets, which have somehow managed to ensnare my legs like a cotton python, I become acutely aware of a tilt-a-whirl sensation. Suck it up buttercup.
By the time I get to work, I’m doing an old man’s shuffle up the stairs. Moving hurts. My students actually took a few steps back from me. 9 a.m. chills set in and so does the fever. By noon, every inch of my body hurts and aches. I can’t seem to get the room warm enough much to the dismay of my students. A colleague takes my students for lunch and for a bit afterwards to give me a rest. I’m literally out of it by this point and everything between that point and the next morning is a blur.
The runner in me laments the knowledge that today’s run is a bust. Within the next 48 hours, I was barely able to take in fifty percent of what I would normally eat and drink. By Saturday morning, I finally felt better, not 100%, but A LOT better. I still don’t know whether it was a stomach bug or my meatloaf, but the hubby ate the meatloaf…TWICE…and didn’t have any problems.
I contemplated a “short and easy” run Saturday; however, the reality was I still couldn’t hydrate or eat properly. This is often where our Superman complexes get us in trouble. Runners often return to normal running much too soon. Then, they’re left wondering why they are suddenly dealing with a series of unfortunate events, whether they are trivial illnesses or injuries.
The Return of Superman!
So when is it safe to resume our normally scheduled program of running? The answer is not cut-and-dry. It varies, depending on numerous factors: the type and length of illness, the severity of the effects on your body, and it depends on you. With any illness, your immune system takes a hit. If you fire up the engine before it’s ready, you’re likely to get into the red zone and overheat your entire body. The end result…more illnesses, more injuries.
Here are a few things to consider when deciding your comeback.
1. Hydration. This becomes even more important in the days following illnesses. Before you consider running, make sure you’re able to hydrate at the level you were at before getting sick. If you are suffering from dehydration, make sure you’ve been able to hydrate properly at least 2-3 days (depending on the severity) before running. Replenishing fluids does not happen overnight. It is a constant 24 hours day, 7 days a week regime.
2. Nutrition. If your calories have taken a serious hit, rest. Your body will need the calories to recuperate and regain strength. Once the tank is replenished, then the body can focus on exerting energy. Personally, I take at least 1-2 days before I start running again. Again, this depends on the illness. The common, everyday cold is not going to have a huge impact on you, but the flu? ….Oh, that will knock you down a level or two!
3. Run Happy. Once you can check off number one and two, you’re ready for the final step, run happy. Think of it like most people think of swimming pools. Ease back into it. Take the first few runs (1-3 runs) easy. Avoid jumping into speed-work or long-distance runs.
I also like to dial down the miles on the first couple of runs as well. Instead of going out for a planned 6 miler, I might do 4 easy-paced. Instead of 10, I might do 6-8 at an easy pace. It depends on where you are in your training.
How solid is your foundation? An inconsistent or beginning runner will have more challenges getting back into the swing of things, and THAT.IS.OK. A good rule of thumb for beginning to intermediate runners is to run 50% of your normal mileage the first week back.
My Plan of Action
With slightly over a week before my next race, the Twisted Ankle Trail Half Marathon, this setback couldn’t have come at a worse time. My goal has shifted from getting in the last training run to keeping my legs supple and energized. My last training run was a hilly, 13 miler, so I am confident that the amount of time and miles I’ve put in on the trails is enough to handle the Twisted Ankle trail half. You only get one body. Take care of it, and it will last you a lifetime.