Sub-1:50 half marathon: Week 10 I GOT SICK AND COULDN’T RUN.

illI really want to do one of those personality tests. I’ve always been curious about why I do things the way I do, or, more specifically, why I react to stressful situations the way that I do. When anything out of the ordinary happens in my day-to-day life I have a sort of out of body experience and observe myself dealing with said situation, while making sarcastic comments. It’s all a bit ‘Peep Show’. I like to be prepared and organised, and, at risk of sounding like a bit of a stick in the mud, I’m not always that smooth when it comes to handling the ‘unknown’ factors of life. (Note: this does not extend to Hollyoaks plot lines or surprise romantic gestures). I inevitably do handle them and, to the people I live and work with, I think I appear pretty well composed and well organised. But I’m a born panicker.

I guess having a professional opinion (psychological or psychic – I’m not that fussed) on the ways in which I manage myself will make me feel more prepared  to prepare myself. But really I think I should be trying to figure out why ‘the unknown’ makes me feel so on edge in the first place.

The closest I’ve ever come to having a personality analysis is when my housemates ‘did my stars’ (with the aid of the internet, in the middle of the night, fueled by cookies) and attempted to fathom my most inner workings via my celestial interactions. I found the whole experience very uncomfortable, which rather ironically is indicative of my reaction to ‘the unknown’.

You see, I like to feel in control and well prepared at all times, even if this means preempting psychic intervention. I appreciate that this may not make me sound very fun, but are you really that surprised? I mean, you read my blog, right? You must have noticed that I’m super-organised (some may even say anal, but they’re being mean) about my training. And the fact that I even keep a blog about my running – that’s pretty controlled too, right? And the way that this blog is a (dare I say, mildy entertaining) training journal indicates my rather intense tendency for reflection and self-improvement. I admit it, OK – I’m a bit of a control freak.

I think that’s the reason why I found this week’s disasterous training so damn infuriating – there really wasn’t anything I could do to make it any better. This week’s training wasn’t terrible because I’m lazy, or because work got a bit mad, or because the weather was quite frankly shit. Training was terrible because I got sick – really sick – and it was completely out of my control!

It started with getting my period in the middle of a set of hill sprints and developed into an agonisingly cramped cycle ride to work. It worsened and I felt faint for half of my shift. I sneezed for the second half. I cycled home with swollen sinuses that night and went to my teaching job the following day with half a functioning nostril and a lump of ginger. I drank hot ginger tea all day with a splitting headache, while listening to my students’ presentations (which were very good btw), and then went home feeling nauseous and with a whole different kind of stomach cramps.

I don’t get sick very often and so when I do it scares the crap out of me. I start to wonder if it’s the beginning of the end. After all my hard work, not only will I not run my half marathon, but I will never run again. I resign myself to slovenliness for what remains of my life. I pass the hours doing laundry instead of running, mournfully folding my running clothes and packing them more tidily than ever before onto their designated shelf.

Obviously this is a gross overreaction, but I’m not making it up. Every time I get sick I panic that it’s more serious than it is and when I get sick during training I lose all sense of perspective. Who knows what I had – early norovirus, food poisoning, bad cold, bad period – and quite frankly, who cares? It really doesn’t matter because I’m all better now. What does matter though is how I manage such encounters with ‘the unknown’ (or in this case how I don’t) and get back on track with my training.

Sickness is kind of to be expected when training for a big race – not encouraged, obviously, but expected for sure. I mean, over the course of 3 months most people will get a little ill at some point and if you’re a lady with a womb then you’re prone to a whole bunch of other menstrual-related woes along the way too. This is bad news for the control freaks amongst us (yeah, that’s a lot of runners I just referred to right there).

I know the usual advice about running – if the illness is above the neck (i.e. a headache or blocked nose) run to your heart’s content, but take it easy; if the illness is below your neck (i.e. cough, stomach ache) get back indoors immediately and do not even so much as look at your trainers. I am not a medical professional and so I wouldn’t dare argue with this advice. (Actually that’s not true. I did argue with it once and ran a cross country race with a bad cold. It was a good race, but I thought I was going to puke in the middle and was deathly sick for a fortnight afterwards. OK, not quite deathly – I’m exaggerating again – but pretty damn sick.)

As soon as I realised that I definitely felt unwell during my run on Wednesday’s morning I stopped. As much as I enjoy ticking each training session off my wall chart it was not worth getting any more sick for. And, though I tell myself each training session is crucial, the truth is that while missed sessions can be detrimental to training, crap sessions (made crap by illness or injury) are just as bad and can have far worse consequences in the long run. So I actually felt like a bit of a champ for quitting mid session and heading home to feel sorry for myself with some ibuprofen.

I couldn’t shake it off though and ended up taking the rest of the week off. I knew that it was for the best and tried not to worry about missing a few days training. After all, I’ve been ill during training before and taken time off and it’s all come right in the end. But this bout of illness was a real ‘unknown’ because of when I was taking a few days off. It was 3 and a half weeks before the race, 2 weeks before my taper. Would my body begin the tapering process and expect me to race a week early? By that logic, come race day I’ll be laid up on the sofa with a bar of Lindt and the Hollyoaks omnibus. Normally after some unexpected time off I would just ease back into the routine and let my body catch up, but I began to panic that this 5 days off so close to race day would jeopardise my entire training. All of the ‘science bits’ of sport and fitness that I’ve learned went out of the window as I spiraled into a panic about the ‘unknown’ effects of a pre-taper taper (as I was now calling it). It should be noted that by this point my actual illness was only a minor detail, and its improvements went largely unnoticed.

Now, my friend and fellow Chaser, Sarah, ran an incredible first half marathon at Reading yesterday despite being ill on and off since January with cold after cold after cold, and then getting a crappy thigh muscle pain in the last few weeks of training. In between bouts of illness and a demanding work schedule she tried to keep up her fitness and stick to a vague routine, but in our conversations she has at times been less than confident in meeting her target. However, the night before her race when I texted her good luck she told me that she’d held an 8:30/mile pace at a recent 10 mile race and so she was hoping to ride on the back of that.

I hugely admired her attitude. Her logical approach to race strategy and common sense, despite jogging into those ‘unknown’ extra 3.1 miles, made me snap out of my funk and worry. Just a few weeks ago a ran a great 10K time that stands me in good stead to hit my half marathon target in 3 weeks. That is proof enough that my training is working and that I’m fitter than 3 months ago. There are a lot of ‘unknowns’ in running. Illness is one of them, as is injury, but so is the weather on race day, unexpected blisters, trip hazards, the night before’s dinner… The list could go on, but quite frankly I’m getting worried just typing it.

Ultimately all I can do is ride on the back of that 10K success, knowing that I’ve trained the best I can in rain and snow, amidst crowds of tourists on Tower Bridge, despite being chased by teenage boys in Chingford, and that I’ve run hill sprints with period pain. When the big day rolls round I’ll be trying my best, just like I have in every training session over the last 3 months – except during this last week, of course.


3 thoughts on “Sub-1:50 half marathon: Week 10 I GOT SICK AND COULDN’T RUN.

    1. Thanks Emma. I’m pleased to report that it was all a gross overreaction and I am now back to full health, tearing up Finsbury Park in the mornings.

      Seriously, I’m such a wimp.


      1. Ohhh, I’m pleased to hear that!! Will have to keep an eye out for you, I’m often in the park too!
        Nothing wrong with being a wimp occasionally, reminds you how strong you really are x


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