the 5 stages of a runner with a cold

5 stages of a runner with a cold

I was certain that after completing my Prehab Not Rehab week, my body would feel rested and rejuvenated. Only problem is, at the tail end, I came down with a nasty head cold that slowly and excruciatingly made its way down into my chest, teetering on the precarious edge of bronchitis. You know the commercial where the elephant is sitting on the man's chest? Yep. That was me.

I pride myself on rarely getting sick, despite my heavy training load, or at least on bouncing back quickly. But this cold knocked the wind out of me. And it begged all sorts of maddening questions that will forever elude answers. Questions like:

  • How did I get this cold?
  • How could I have prevented getting this cold?
  • Did I catch this cold from [insert friend or colleague's name here]?
  • Did doing [insert activity here] push me over the edge?
  • Was I run down?
  • Will I lose all my hard-earned fitness?
 I was grateful for my Yogi Tea from  Stride Box

I was grateful for my Yogi Tea from Stride Box

When you're a runner, you know you are sick when you don't feel like running. At all. Or eating when you normally have an appetite that could rival a linebacker's. Or when you're a devout coffee drinker but you wake up craving hot tea.

Despite wanting to at least put in 20 quality miles this week, including a long run, I had no choice but to lay low. And drink tea. My body was not suggesting rest; it demanded rest. Following the old adage of, run if your cold symptoms are above the neck, rest if below the neck, I decided, after much deliberation, to cut way back and rest. 

Wait. "After much deliberation?" Not running when you are sick is ... well .... sane.

This got me to thinking that there's nothing worse than a sick runner.

The stages of a runner with a cold are very similar to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' 5 stages of grief.


5 stages of a runner with a cold - denial

Stage 1 of a runner with a cold: Denial

My nose had been running for several days (I had attributed it the chilly weather). I had felt fatigued despite my rest week (I had attributed it to the end of a long training season). I felt dizzy and nauseous during last Sunday's Tao Yin class. (I had attributed this to the difficulty of the exercises.)  Nope, I was in denial. Had I not been in denial, I might have been able to have nipped the cold in the bud with ZIcam or salt water and zinc. Lesson: listen to you body.


5 stages of a runner with a cold - anger

Stage 2 of a runner with a cold: Anger

When I woke up with a full-fledged cold on Monday morning, I was pissed. I didn't see it coming. I had fitness plans for the week. I had work to do – for my day job and for my blog. I had shopping and cooking to do, since I was hosting my track team's holiday party later in the week. I #$%@ing did not have time to deal with a bad cold. Lesson: Feel the anger, then focus your energy on healing.


5 stages of a runner with a cold - bargaining

Stage 3 of a runner with a cold: Bargaining

Every day, I thought I would feel better. Night and mornings were awful – heavy chest, raspy, sore throat. I would tell myself "I'll try to run 3 miles today." But my body just said no. I didn't run until Thursday, when I squeaked out 3 labored miles on the dreadmill. And even then, I had  no choice but to cut my pace way down. Lesson: bargain with illness and illness will win every time. Take care of yourself. Period.


5 stages of a runner with a cold - depression

Stage 4 of a runner with a cold: Depression

By the time I'd experienced stages 1-3, I was pretty down in the dumps about not being able to run or do much else. I'm usually upbeat, but negative thoughts creeped in, eg, my hard-earned fitness going slipping away, worries I'd spread the germs to my friends, worries I'd have to cancel my holiday party and forego a screening of Patriot's Day I was slated to attend on Wednesday. (I actually went. Go see the movie!) Lesson: stay in the present


5 stages of a runner with a cold - acceptance

Stage 5 of a runner with a cold: Acceptance

By the time, I finally accepted that I was too sick to run and stopped fighting, the cold took a turn for the better.  There's something liberating in putting things into a bigger perspective, accepting that you're human, you get sick, you can take some down time to take care of yourself.

Today (Saturday), I woke up feeling much better. I ran 4 miles on the treadmill yesterday, with some fartleky pickups, and it felt easier than the day before. I decided to skip my long run this weekend to give my body more time to heal. Instead, I am going to putter around my loft today and get ready for tonight's holiday party. I think I'll be able to get back to my schedule next week, and start training for the 2017 Boston Marathon and my spring goal races. 

Lesson: Don't waste energy fighting something you can't change. Things – including colds – happen for good reasons.

The bigger lesson, the bigger picture

I've been thinking a lot lately about Aleppo and the tragic situation there. When I visited in 2000, it was a happy, vibrant, historic city.  Amazing how quickly things can change. Now, Aleppo's splendors are a pile of rubble. Those people are not thinking about fitness. They are literally thinking about survival. They are living moment to moment, hoping for more moments. My heart breaks a little more each day for them.

How lucky am I? I have everything that I need: a warm house. Work. Friends and family who love me. I live in a country that is not at war. As a woman in this country, I can and will challenge things I think still need to change – without the kinds of repercussions I would face if I lived elsewhere.

Yes, I have a cold. But I can and will run.

I will soon put on layers of warm clothing and go outside and run in the frigid winter temperatures, my sweaty curls forming tiny icicles around my face. And I will come home afterwards, thaw out in a hot shower, and drink steaming coffee in my cozy kitchen. What, seriously, could be more life affirming?

Lesson: Be grateful for what you have and look at the bigger picture. 

How do you handle illness while you are training?