As I am writing this I am sick in bed, struck down with fever and a nasty cold. As annoying as it is, it should not come as a surprise.
Three days ago I ran my biggest and hardest race so far.
It was a 50km obstacle race with 3000m of elevation gain in the hills if Scotland, which took me over 12 hours to finish. But the worst bit was not the distance, the elevation or the obstacles. It was the weather. Cold, windy, with fog and heavy rain, just as typical as Scottish Summer weather can be.
This is already the second race in 2 months that has taken me out because I have gotten sick afterwards. And this is no surprise, because I have committed every possible mistake that leads to post-race illness.
So here is what NOT to do:
Not enough taper
I am a serial killer of the taper phase. I don’t like it, because I usually get very anxious and nervous, so I train nearly up to race date. Like last week, when I gave myself only 2 days of recovery before the 12hour race.
In theory I know that this is not a good idea. It will leave your immune system already weak before you even crossed the start line, and also weaken your performance. As a result it is more likely to get sick. So even if doing nothing is annoying, do the taper. See my blog post on how to rest day nor no rest day people.
Not enough recovery
Yes, I am also a serial killer if the recovery phase. After the Two Oceans Marathon I thought I had to do some recovery workouts like Bikram Yoga and slow running. It left me with weird muscle pain and suddenly infected blisters. (yes, this is also a symptom of a weak immune system). So if in doubt, check out my blog post again.
Not enough sleep
Did you wonder why I am writing a blogpost right now, even though I have fever and a cold? Yes, because I pumped so much coffee into my tired body this morning that I still can’t go to sleep. I did this because I did not get enough sleep over the last 4 days. The day of my arrival my flight was delayed and I was in bed at 2 a.m. . The night before the race I could not sleep because I was nervous. The night after the race I could not sleep because my body was still full of adrenaline (and caffeine). And the night after my flight was delayed (again!!! Thanks EasyJet) and I was in bed by 1 a.m.
So I did not get a lot of sleep. But constant lack of sleep also diminishes your immune stystem strength. The result: you will get sick. So don’t be me. Invest in a good hotel, a good flight, and get some decent zzzs.
Not staying warm
When I finished the race on Saturday I immediately wanted to change into dry and warm clothes. But I did not have any, as my bag had been standing outside in the transition zone and everything inside was completely soaked. So I had to change into wet clothing, and I was absolutely freezing. The fact that I had to wait 45 minutes for a taxi after the race did also not help.
So be smart and keep warm before and after a race. Bring spare trow away clothing and a rubbish bag for before the race, and some dry clothes for after. (and make sure they stay dry). Don’t forget a hat, as you will lose most of the body heat via your head.
Not refueling properly
Studies have shown that there is a magic window of 2 hours after a race or hard workout where refueling is most important. It helps your immune system to bounce back and therefore prevents the post-race illness. Preferably a carb to protein ratio of 4:1 in your refueling snack of choice is recommended.
So how did I refuel last saturday night? Not at all really. I had to wait 45 minutes for a taxi, and then it was so late in the evening that the hotel restaurant was already closed. So I ate what I still had: a banana, some biscuits and leftover bars from my race kit. Definitely not the right way after 12 hours of running.
Not taking your probiotics
Did you know that the majority of our immune system actually sits in your gut? Yes, that’s right. We have billions of friendly bacteria in our gut that help us break down food and keep us healthy by keeping out the bad bacteria and prevent us from getting sick after a race. But what if the good guys are weak and bad guys win? Then be prepared to face a lot of digestive distress, and a lot of time spent on the toilet.
Like me, when a nasty tummy bug took me out for over a week after the Mozart100 race.
Prevention is key in that case. Keep your gut healthy by eating prebiotic (aka fibrous) and probiotic (aka containing good bacteria) foods. Examples would be vegetables and whole grains for prebiotics, yoghurt, sauerkraut and other fermented foods for probiotics.
You can also take supplements. For Germany I recommend Omnibiotic stress which helped me get back on track. If you are from the US, check out my friend Brina’s blog post on probiotics for runners.
Not reducing all the other stress factors
I admit, I am also really bad at managing my non-sports stress levels. I recently started a new job that I really like. But it also comes with over time and higher responsibility. And there is the rest of my to do list: my taxes, booking all my travels, writing and editing my blog, social commitments like birthday parties, weddings etc. A lot of these things make me stressed out, and in addition they make me stay up longer and get less sleep.
So when you have an important race planned, get rid of everything else that is stressful in your life. I know it is hard, but if you dont put it out of your way now your body will ask for this later. But in a less nicer way.
In general the main thing to pay attention to is really simple: your body!
Your body will tell you what it needs (rest, food etc). If you don’t give your body the right attention, it will chase you down for it by getting sick. Sooner or later.