The Flu versus The Half Marathon

I was SO ready for this half marathon. I had built up my mileage base for months, to make sure the distance was comfortable. I had done speed work and hill repeats. I had trained my bare feet for rough surfaces. I had cross trained, slept well, and eaten good food. Then, a little less than two weeks before the event, I got the flu.

the-flu-versus-the-half-marathonBy flu, I mean the kind of upper respiratory virus that makes you want to sleep 16 hours a day. There was nothing for it, but to do basically that. Any activity, other than barely walking around the house, was both forbidden (by the caring husband) and impossible. The illness would not be ignored.

My husband-coach told me to just wait until the day before the race and see how I felt. He suggested that I was well prepared, if only I would let myself heal. It was not how I usually approach running after being sick, but I considered it. Nine days later, I finally felt I had the strength to run across the back lawn. It seemed hopeful.

The morning of the Fit One Half Marathon, I felt rather peppy. Not overly excited or anything, but energetic enough to think the race was really possible. The early morning temperatures were comfortable, just barely chilly, but not cold enough to stress my body in any way. Being surrounded by other runners helped with this, too.

Even before the race began, I got a few comments and questions about my bare feet. To those who said they were “impressed,” I responded that what they should be impressed with was that I had just gotten over the flu. I said this mostly for my own encouragement, because I still had to wonder how things would turn out. I also mentioned to them that running barefoot probably gave me an unfair advantage.

The first 6 miles or so went very smoothly. I felt good. I was comfortably keeping a pace that I was happy with. There was more chip seal road running than I had been told there would be, but I was keeping my form light and my feet were handling it well. Still, I made a note to self: when race coordinator says the race is mostly on the greenbelt, don’t believe them.

Around the half-way point, my right ham string began to try to cramp. I have to suspect this was related to my body dealing with the illness. I tried to make sure I was taking in enough electrolytes, via the lemonade in my water bottles. Slow and steady, not too much at once. I made myself relax even more and although I still felt the tightness in the back of the leg, it all seemed to help some.

Until around mile 9. At that point, I could tell my form was degrading just because the back of the leg was tightening. By mile 10, it had began to hurt and I was developing a blister on one middle toe of the opposite foot, most likely due to the form issues. Here, I would remind any shod runners who are reading that people who wear shoes regularly get blisters of all sorts.

It was disheartening to be approaching a steep up hill. It also didn’t help that in an effort to cheer the runners on, there was an inflated gate to pass through. I was disoriented and didn’t know if I had finished the race or what. However, I decided to keep going and soon saw that other runners were also still running on ahead.

The last three miles were very difficult. It was made more difficult by the influx of runners and walkers from the shorter distance races. As I was trying desperately to keep going, I would be all of a sudden blocked by groups of walkers with apparently no awareness of what a long distance racer might appreciate. Besides that, the signs announcing the end of the various races were inconsistent and every time I thought I had only a short way to go, another sign would appear telling another group they had “such and such” a distance to go.

Just when I was about to give up, the course turned the corner into the park. And I crossed two or three rubber mats, still not sure if I could stop running. Finally, someone was standing near with a half marathon medal and I said, yes, I definitely wanted one of those.

I had slowed way down the last mile, the troublesome leg just refusing to engage. I felt about the same as when I had finished my marathon two years ago. I was discouraged. My husband managed to get me over to check my stats, though, and they weren’t as bad as I felt. Sure, I almost certainly would have done *better* if I hadn’t been sick, but I had still finished nearly exactly in the middle of the pack for all racers.

I just barely missed being in the top 2/5ths of all women entered. I was in the top third of the 35 women in the 55 to 59 age group. My overall average pace was right around my average training pace prior to being sick. I had to admit that the 536 people who had crossed the finish line after me probably didn’t want to hear that I had just had the flu.

It took me about a week to fully appreciate my results. My leg is still a bit tight if I try to run more than a couple miles, but I can walk and dance and garden and bike and swim just fine, so I have to think it isn’t very serious. It just needs a little more time.

Would I ever run another race right after having the flu? Probably not. Right after the race, I said definitely not. I do think my husband was right that I would have been disappointed to not have tried, but if I am ever faced with that choice again, I can say I’ve already accomplished running a half marathon right after having the flu. Some things you only need to do once.