Jan 20, 2010

On running when sick

I knew it would happen. Didn't know how long, but - eventually - as certain as death and taxes, I knew it would happen.

Of course, I was hoping it would later, rather than sooner - but what I hoped doesn't really matter.

What I'm talking about is the first real challenge to my running streak - I've caught a cold.

You see, if I caught this cold 100 days in, I can rationally defend my stubborn adherence to keeping the streak alive. But 19 days in - it's not that big a deal to just get better, and re-start it. So since I can't be rational about it, I'll just use the fact that I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer as an excuse for my stubbornness a mere 19 days in.

Opinions from people who are actually smart about such matters

The conventional wisdom regarding running when sick is that it's ok when all the symptoms are "above the neck" - congestion, headache, sore throat - not an excuse to avoid running. On the other hand, "below the neck" symptoms, specifically fever - are very good excuses. People who know better suggest that I'd be dumb to try running with a fever. So when I woke up early this morning feeling like crap, I wasn't sure what I was going to do. My wife commented on how hot I felt. I felt a little chilly. I wasn't sweating, either.

How I feel vs. objective measurements

Confident that my temperature was high, I dug out a thermometer and took an actual measurement and found that I was actually not running a fever. Relieved, I took three aspirin and waited a half hour. Aspirin happens to be a magic bullet in my Experiment of One, and I actually felt fine at 6:15am when I drove to the gym.

Still being cautious, and knowing that my current feeling of well-being was, frankly, drug-induced, I made sure to run very easy this morning - limiting myself to a mile on a treadmill in about ten minutes. Sorry smart folks, but this was unavoidable. Nobody but other runners will understand this - but no matter how sick I felt, nothing was going to stop me from slogging a mile this morning. It might have taken 15 minutes. It definitely would have sucked, I would have hated it, and it certainly would have been pretty stupid in objective terms. But I did it anyway. Like I said, if none of this makes sense to you, then you're probably not a runner. But for those of us who do run, it's at least understandable, if non-sensible.

By the way, Amanda S calls these short runs "fake zeros" and I love that term. Just get the job done, even if it makes no difference in the training.

Streaking and the problems streakers face

Of course, I'm not the only person who deals with this, and a quick google search confirms this. The USRSA provides no exceptions "for genuine excuses like being sick, injured or laid up in hospital." To maintain a running streak of any distance requires a little bit of luck - and for the 90 or so people with 20+ year running streaks, perhaps a lot of luck. These people have gone 20 years without any sort of hospitalization or severe injuries. But these 90 people didn't get there with luck alone. I'm sure most all of them have had their bouts with sickness (even fevers) & injuries. But they all somehow managed. So I'm guessing that I will be ok, too - especially if I keep the sick days to "fake zeros."

I'll leave you with a few quotes from the aforementioned google search.
He’s run hours after hemorrhoid surgery and aboard a cruise ship while a tropical storm hit. Then there was the day 20 years ago when he broke his left foot. Although he managed to get home and to the hospital, his foot “was so swollen they couldn’t even put a cast on it,” Covert recalls. “So the next day I wrapped it in an Ace bandage, put on a makeshift boot, and hobbled through. I wasn’t going to miss my run.” source

"Running with a torn hip flexor was the toughest," he said. The broken kneecap and the suspected burst appendix presented challenges nearly as daunting. But the day his wife, Irene, was in labor with their daughter might only have made Davidson run a bit faster.source

"A few years back I had a minor operation. I went running that morning, and actually got out of the hospital that evening. It involved getting a few stitches but I was still able to run the next day. Another time I had a very bad dose of the flu. I was in bed all day, with my mother looking after me. She went out to the shops for a short while, and I seized the opportunity. I was really knocked out, but said I’d go for it, and skipped out for a run."source

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time and can be seen at http://www.tursi.com


  1. Steve,

    I'm glad you ran today. I was trying to do a streak too until the pain in my hip (discovered to be a femoral neck stress fracture 2 weeks after my streak stopped) was making me do my mile with a cocktail in my hand. Having drink alcohol to make it through a mile because of the pain was a good indicator for me to stop my streak. I still regret having to stop after 30 days but I had no choice.

    I encourage you to push through feeling crappy or having a cold or even a fever. Consider the source though if you take my advice.

    You're doing great, keep it up!!

    :) Dusty

  2. Thanks Dusty! "Consider the source" is hilarious to me. I'll take any nugget of wisdom I can get from ya.. (:

  3. Or do the opposite of what I say cause I'm stupid as hell...I still wish I didn't have to quit my streak. A mile a day on crutches would have been hard. At the moment, I'm living vicariously through you.

    Feel better!!