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Fever Fighter: The 5 Steps of Running After Being Sick

Posted Dec 10 2012 11:42am

First off, I heart the holiday season. But not so much when I’m sick.

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Not long ago, I began alternating my running schedule to incorporate “easy,” “moderate” and “tough” weeks — all part of an effort to preserve my shin and prolong my longevity. After all, I’d like to still be doing this when I’m old and wrinkly too.

After a “tough” week of running and generally working out (the boyfriend’s family LOVES sweat) in Hilton Head , I scaled back to “easy.” My body needed it, and I was busy with interviews and assignments anyway.

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Just when I was ready to begin amping it all back up again and tackle a “moderate” week of runs and strength training, I came down with a relentless virus that lasted more than six days. It was long, it was inconvenient, and it totally sucked. But I was too physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted to cry or even wince. Without exercise and sweat (albeit for those few times my fever broke), I avoided working out of any kind. I could hardly bear the thought.

You can imagine how antsy I was by Wednesday morning when I woke up feeling better than I had in a while. Tired, but better. And for the first time in days, I wanted to eat pavement for breakfast.

Let’s not get aggressive, though. Aggression so soon after dealing with illness is how you set yourself back.

I have to say, I impressed myself with my gradual return to the great outdoors after this last bout of blah. These are the five things I tried to keep in mind, but to be honest, I’m more interested in what you have to say — so please feel free to share below.

1. Assess honestly. It’s amazing how big of a difference there is between how you feel when you first open your eyes and how you feel after getting up, brushing your teeth and walking around the apartment. Allow yourself a few extra minutes to assess the situation. Then, make an educated decision as to whether or not you’re truly feeling on top of your game.

2. Reassess. Then do it again. The innate need to run, run, run (!) can be overpowering — so much so that it can mask your need for sleep, rest and recovery. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re ready for movement when you’re not. If you are, then great. If not, maybe roll out the yoga mat and stretch a little. Still feeling okay? Try downward facing dog to get your muscles working again.

3. Take it easy. No matter how awesome you feel on that first day you wake up without fever, know that your body may still need time. On Wednesday, fresh air felt incredible. But I knew it right away; after two miles, I had had enough. Know that there is nothing wrong with increasing your mileage slowly.

4. Increase gradually. Everyone has had those freak fevers that break, and all of a sudden, you’re back to your normal self again. Some of these winter viruses can be tough though, really sucking the life from you for days. I allowed myself two miles on Wednesday knowing that, not only would it feel good, but a slow, 20-minute route might actually facilitate the healing process. Sweat can be a powerful antidote when taken in the proper dose.

On Thursday, I could have run four, but I mindfully stuck to three instead as I checked out the holiday decorations on 5th Avenue.

IMG_2789 IMG_2790 IMG_2793 (New York City is very religiously correct.)
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On Friday, I squeezed in four miles — running to the Bethesda Fountain and home at sunrise (skipping the western side of Central Park’s lower loop).

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5. Hydrate and fuel. I am completely guilty when it comes to running on an empty stomach first thing in the morning, and then filling my body with nothing more than a handful of cereal and a skim latte until noon. It’s not negligence, it’s forgetfulness. I constantly think I have more time than I do, and when I don’t, a hearty meal is the first thing to go.

This is something that is incredibly important to avoid when running post-illness — and it’s something I am incredibly conscious of. Short on time? Pick up ziplock bags and fill them with cereal and nuts (I like almonds and, lately, Brazil nuts). Grab a smoothie with spinach (bananas and strawberries mask the “green” flavors quite well) and whey (for an extra protein punch). Whatever you do, be sure to replace all the nutrients you may have lost while sitting on the couch eating matzoh ball soup broth with carrots and challah. Trust me, your body will thank you, and you’ll be back to your standard workouts in no time.

That said, on to a “moderate” week.

  • What goes through your mind when recovering from being sick and getting back to your workout routine?
  • Do you run while sick, even if it’s just a quarter-mile or so? I’ve done it before, and have mixed feelings. Sometimes it helps, other times I regret it. Thoughts?

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