Should you race while sick? – One coach’s perspective

Sunday, November 12, 2017 by Coach Tommy

What a race at Austin 70.3. Not in a good way. Last Thursday (October 26th) I (Tommy Johnson) noticed my resting heart rate (RHR) ticked up into the 50s. (See the Figure 1).  On Friday my RHR was still in the 50s. It’s almost always in the 40s. And I had a tickle in my throat. I thought “I’m getting sick”. But I thought it wouldn’t be an issue to go race Austin and just do what I can. Saturday morning RHR was even higher; stuffy nose; sore throat.  I’m not missing another race after New Orleans 70.3 (NOLA) canceled. I and a couple of my athletes headed to Austin for the race. I wasn’t feeling too bad. Sunday morning my RHR spiked to almost 70. Not good.  Some of that RHR spike could be due to cold medicine I took.  I’m racing anyway! Dang it.

Race day was cold. On the swim I started cramping like I have never cramped in my life. Calves, quads, hamstrings all cramping. I never cramp. Ever. I just dragged my cramping legs along behind me during the swim and trying not to kick. Almost bailed out on the swim. Once on the bike, my legs were physically sore like I had already done a race. And the cramping continued. And I became so cold I was shivering uncontrollably. Stopped at an aid station and sat in the porta potty trying to warm up. Eventually the air temperature warmed up and I warmed up. Then onto the run. My legs were shot. I had a massive knot in my right calf. I hobbled along on the run. I could run for short distances with my athletes as they continued their races. Eventually I made it to the finish line. That’s the longest half I’ve ever run. And the most painful.

I think the sickness and the cold medicine I was taking caused the cramping. Or maybe the cold temperature.

I’ve spent the last two days at home recovering from an upper respiratory viral infection.

Those who know me, know I like data and use it in coaching. The moral of this story is that if you’re going to collect data, you must act on it for it to be useful. If this would have been one of my athletes, I would have said don’t race. But I couldn’t tell myself that. Especially after NOLA canceling.


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