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Running a Marathon after the Flu

Posted Jan 23 2010 12:00am
This past Sunday, January 17, 2010, my husband and I went to Houston, TX to run the Chevron Houston Marathon.  It was our first race in Houston and we had both been looking forward to it as we had heard that the race was very well supported and a “fast, flat course.”  Living in Austin, we are used to running up some massive hills, so our marathon is not exactly a “fast” course! 

Unfortunately, he came down with the flu the day after Christmas, and I got it one week later.  So, he had just recovered about 2 weeks before the race, and I just had one week of recovery under my belt.  Needless to say, neither of us expected to have a very fast time, but we were still expecting to have fun.  After all, it should be much easier than what we are used to running, we told ourselves! 

As you may remember from my blog a couple of weeks ago, when you are coming back from a sickness involving a fever, you should really take at least 10 days to ramp back up to your previous workout level.  Unfortunately, I did not have that long.  Running the marathon meant that I was going to go beyond my “pre-sickness” workout level after just 7 days, as my previous long run was just a 30K.  Knowing that my body was still in “ramp up mode,” I decided the safest course of action was to run the race at a slow, even pace (which for me means I started out running about 30 – 45 seconds slower than my normal marathon race pace).  I also planned to have more protein, in addition to carbohydrates, immediately before as well as during the race to hopefully keep myself well fueled and able to handle the demands of a race my body really probably should not have been doing so soon after being sick. 

As far as pre-race nutrition, we did our normal things for the most part.  Since this was a “destination race,” the night before we made sure we would be able to get food either at the hotel restaurant, or at the hotel’s “grab and go” area.  I had also packed us plenty of snacks in case we would not be able to get what we needed.  Luckily, the restaurant opened at 5 a.m., while the grab and go area was open at 4 a.m.  Plenty of time, and lots of options!

I had a bowl of cold cereal with milk about 2 hours before the race was scheduled to start, while my husband had a cup of orange juice, a cup of black coffee, a small bowl of oatmeal, and some fruit (he’s much taller/bigger than I am!).  About one hour before, we both had a boiled egg, along with some water (I had brought the boiled eggs from home and had them stashed with a freezer pack in our room).  About 30 – 45 minutes prior to the race, my husband and I also both drank a full 20 ounces of Accelerade (sports drink with both carbohydrates and protein, in addition to electrolytes).  In addition, he ate a full Lara bar and I ate about half of one (this is something we have not traditionally done in the past, but I felt like we could use the protein).  

Normally, I would pop a sports gel of some sort (or sports beans) about 15 minutes before the race, but because I had just had half a Lara bar, I really didn’t feel like I needed one, so I skipped it.  I did pack 4 for during the race “just in case.” I also packed some “real food” (by that I mean I had a snack size baggie of dried apricots and the other half of my Lara bar!).   

During the race, besides running slower, I also planned to stop and walk at each water stop, which is something I usually do anyway because I’ve never been very good at running and drinking at the same time!  For about the first half, most of my walk breaks were around 15 – 30 seconds, but as the miles ticked on, these breaks got up to 1 minute.  I ate 1-2 apricots at most of the stops until I ran out (around mile 16), then I took a few more miles to finish the rest of my bar.  While I was eating the apricots and the bar, I just drank water at the stops because Gatorade was the sports drink on the course and I do not normally drink Gatorade and was afraid of what it would do to me.  Eventually, I went to my gel (Cliff shots); actually I only used one, which was around mile 22 or 23.  I did have a couple of sips of Gatorade at the last 2 or 3 water stops, but I also had some water afterward to get the taste out of my mouth! 

In general, I felt pretty good during most of the race.  I did have a much harder time breathing than I normally would, and I did have a slightly upset stomach, but nothing unbearable.  I also slowed way down the last 3 miles, but this was due to some knee pain I developed going down a stretch of the course that had severe banking. 

I am happy to report that we both really enjoyed the race, and were pleasantly surprised by our finishing times, which were close to “normal” times for both of us; mine was actually a PR by a few minutes!  The race was extremely well supported; there were lots of people throughout most of the course cheering on all the runners; most of the water stops were well staffed and stocked; there were LOTS of port-o-potties shortly after the water stops (so many that I actually decided to stop around mile 11 because there was no line!  I lost about 3 minutes, but it made for a much more comfortable rest of the run!); and at the end there was a very nice sitting area where you could enjoy a hot meal, along with hot coffee, hot chocolate, hot tea, or cold drinks. 

So, running a marathon after getting sick late in training can be done, but you have to be very diligent about listening to your body, running at an easy pace, and fueling properly before, during, and after the race.  Aim to just have fun rather than expecting to get a PR!  

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