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The Bad Run as an Early Warning Sign for Illness

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It’s been a busy few days here on the blog. My post from last Friday – ASICS versus Zero Drop, Maximalist versus Minimalist – sparked quite a bit of fruitful discussion, and I highly recommend you take a look at the post and the ensuing discussion in the comments (if you have a few hours to spare!). I have a lot of posts brewing in my head to further this discussion and better explain my position, but wanted to share a little story first.

My running has been going very well lately. From a pacing standpoint, I’ve been running a lot faster on my training runs than I have for quite some time, and in general have been feeling great. I set out on Sunday to run a 10 miler – beautiful day, and fully expected the experience to be a good one. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that something just wasn’t right. There was no pain, no aches, nothing that really stood out at all. It’s just that the amount of effort that I was putting out to maintain what was a more than reasonable pace for me was off the charts. I even had to stop mid-run to allow my body to recuperate a bit.

I got home after the run and was pretty disappointed. I hadn’t put up double-digit mileage in awhile, and I was worried that I had lost some of my endurance, despite my strong times at shorter distances. For a runner who is highly self-competitive, these things can wreak havoc on the psyche.

Fast forward about 36 hours. I woke up on Tuesday morning knowing that all was not well with my body. My throat hurt, and I could tell that a fever was building. By mid-day I was flat on the couch, and for the next 22 hours I barely moved, fighting off a throbbing headache, a 104 degree temperature, disorientation, and out-and-out delirium. As I suspected, it looks like I have another case of strep. Joy.

What’s the point of me writing this? Simply the fact that sometimes when a run goes bad, there are reasons besides poor training or loss of fitness that are the explanation. I’ve actually come to realize that how I feel on a run can be a great indicator of my well-being, and on more than one occasion a bad run has been followed a few days later by an illness. I’m also glad that I took the cue from my body and didn’t try to push through another run on Monday. It seems like a common refrain these days, but it’s worth repeating – the human body is wise, and sometimes it’s equally wise for we runners stand up (or crash on the couch) and listen to it!

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. Sarah Wells says:

    Just wanted to add, it can also show early signs of pregnancy! haha  I was running when I got pregnant and I could just tell something was off! Even my husband running with me noticed! I was slower and it was taking more for me to breath and…my shins hurt! I hardly ever have shin pain, but in the early weeks of my pregnancy, my shins really hurt! This was before I took a pregnancy test and new that’s what was going on. It’s just interesting how your body can tell you something in its own way. :)

  2. I actually find the opposite as well. If I feel a cold coming on if go for a run it will often chase it away. I’m not sure if there is any science behind this (although I remember reading something a while ago about it stimulating the immune system), but it does seem to work for me.
    Anyway, hope you get well soon….

    • Pete Larson says:

      I jokingly told my wife I wanted to go for a run yesterday based off
      of this logic (which I have also have heard) – she was not impressed.
      Especially after she had to shuttle the kids around alone for the
      previous 24 hours while I moaned on the couch (I’m a whined when I get
      sick!).

      Pete

  3. Feel better, Pete.

  4. I just want to say that I definitely agree with this! Yesterday, I had a bad run, and was really confused, as i just started my 3rd week of 40 mile weeks. I was doing 7 miles, so it wasn’t like my body wasn’t used to it. But I just felt terrible during it, and same afterwards. I came home and took an hour nap! Later that day, I felt hot… Woke up today, and sure enough, I have a fever! Hopefully it will pass soon, I just had to revisit this article and express how right you were in writing this. I love your blog, and visit everyday, thank you!

  5. D. Casey Kerrigan says:

    Pete, I hope you feel better. Here’s an even earlier warning sign for illness… My college track coach years ago told me to check my pulse every morning — if it was elevated it meant you were coming down with something. Years later with a medical degree and all, I find this still works.
    Insofar as this “debate” between ASICS and Zero-Drop, there IS highly pertinent peer-reviewed research which I did by the way (that traditional running shoes with an elevated heel increase knee joint torques compared to being barefoot), which I posted here – link to oeshshoes.com
    Cheers, Casey

  6. cody r. says:

    although i do agree with this, i must add that mononucleosis didn’t show any signs…i was running my best 800 meter repeats junior year 3 days before i got hit by a theoretical bullet train, they were all sub 2:35 too, then i shot back up afterwards to 3:00, and i didn’t know until 8 months later it was mono, and boy i have never been the same, i hate it

  7. Jeff Bradford says:

    I’m going to have to agree with you Pete. One of the most important lessons a runner can learn is to listen to what their body is telling them. I have come to learn that my body has 3 possible responses to a run.
    1) Happiness – Everything is great and I can keep running. All smiles.
    2) Anger – Certain parts of my body start cursing my name and yelling at me to “STOP IDIOT!” which, I’ve learned through trial and error, translates to “There is an injury brewing and if you don’t listen to me then you’ll be in to see the orthopedist very soon. IDIOT.”
    3) Zombie – My entire body says, “uuhhhggghhhmmrr.” Which means, “Everything is bad. Go back before you get too far away from home, and you’ll just have to call your wife to come get you, and then she’ll be mad, and you’ll just have to do something nice to make up for it. So just stop now. Just get me to the couch ASAP. Ok?”

    • Pete Larson says:

      Jeff,
      I agree with all three, i’m just not particularly good at following
      you wise advice about what to do in each situation!

      Pete

  8. Annette says:

    Yuck. I hope you feel better soon!

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