Sickness and Lost Workouts

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

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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.