Sickness and Lost Workouts

BY Hal Higdon

Missing workouts due to sickness will hurt your fitness—somewhat. But maybe not as much as you think.

Have a question about running? You’re in the right place. Every Tuesday, world-renowned coach, author and athlete Hal Higdon posts and answers athlete questions here. You can submit your question by joining the discussions on Hal Higdon’s Virtual Training Bulletin Boards.


I’m training for my first marathon and am at Week 15 of your a Novice 2 plan. Unfortunately, I’m sick and have missed yesterday’s 5 miler and will miss today`s 5 miler too. I’m really nervous about these lost workouts, because this is the last build-up week before tapering. I don’t want to miss the 20-mile long run this weekend, because I will feel unprepared. Is it going to hurt my fitness to rest these days in hopes of feeling better for the 20-miler?


I need to be honest: Yes, it will hurt your fitness—somewhat. But maybe not as much as you think. Even missing that final 20-miler is not a total tragedy. But plunging forward with a set program is going to hurt more if you fail to rest and recover. So lest those lost workouts slip away. Forget them. Don’t look back. Consider also cutting back on the distance of the 20-miler. Don’t grind your way through a workout if you are not 100 percent recovered.

In general, runners are healthier than the general population because of our lifestyles, the exercise we do, even the running of marathons, because marathons force us to make sound lifestyle changes. But—and this is a big but—running at the extreme level can lower our resistance and make us more susceptible to certain illnesses, particularly upper respiratory infections, colds, the flu. And this happens right at the point you are in your training, that tough Week 15. Research by David Nieman, DrPH of Applachian State University suggests that runners are more susceptible to colds and the flu immediately before and immediately after our marathon runs. That’s one reason why I recommend that runners get their annual flu shots, particularly before a fall marathon.

But you got caught, and there is nothing much you can do other than not try to play catch-up by pushing missed workouts into the taper period. You also may need to program more rest in the taper and maybe lower your time goals, although as a first marathoner your only goal should be to finish. Getting sick is a bummer, but do the best you can, keeping in mind that less is often better than more.

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About Hal Higdon

Hal Higdon is a Contributing Editor for ‘Runner’s World‘ and author of 34 books, including the best-selling ‘Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide’. He ran eight times in the Olympic Trials and won four world masters championships. Higdon estimates that over a quarter of a million runners have finished marathons using his training programs, and he also offers additional interactive programs at all distances through TrainingPeaks. Hal uses TrainingPeaks to power his interactive marathon and half marathon training plans — check out more of Hal Higdon’s training plans on his website.