Training through illness…

image of poorly looking bandaged teddy bearSo today I was intending to complete day 5 in my 10,000 kettlebell swing challenge, but I have decided not to train. I'd be training through illness. As frustrating as that might be, I'm 99% sure its the right decision. I'm not sure its ever that easy to make the decision when you are motivated, even when you know its the right one. So instead of my training session, I'm going to pen this blog and talk you through my thoughts on training through illness. I hope that it will be of some use to others facing a similar decisions in the future.

What happened?

On Friday evening while coaching, I noticed I had a slightly itchy throat. Nothing uncomfortable, but just noticed it was slightly harder to swallow. I had a ride planned the next morning and at this stage thought, 'I'll probably be ok if it doesn't get much worse'. Sadly, at about 2am woke with what I'd describe as a noticeably sore throat and found it difficult to get back to sleep. I was grumpy to have my sleep disturbed, but was then a victim of my own vagueness. How much is '...much worse'.  It's a real grey area and I think always is.

I was up at 6 and didn't want to let my ride partner down, but my throat was no better. I've had sore throats like this before and on occasion, the infection has really taken hold and its wiped me out.  That said,  after some breakfast and a coffee, the discomfort lessened and as it was not a 'hard' ride planned, I decided to get on with it and bail if I needed too. I didn't feel weak, other than a little fatigue in the legs from general training. On returning from the ride, I felt ok, ate well, and headed straight off to a gymnastics skills workshop. A very active one! Although I definitely noticed the sore throat, perhaps a little worse than before, throughout all the drills, physically I didn't feel anything other than totally fine.

After another disturbed night's sleep and the throat at its worst, I've ummed and ahhed all morning about whether to train.  The tricky bit is that I actually feel physically ok, if not positively good. I still can't ignore that I was up early this morning because I couldn't get back to sleep from the discomfort.

Why I'm not training through illness

Any workout in the 10,000 swing challenge is a tough one. Vigorous, intense, etc etc. Call it what you will. If it was just light or light/moderate training, its a different question. Intense exercise does however compromise your immune system in the short term. I might already have let the infection take a firmer grip, and another bout of intense exercise will only likely make this worse! I have to be physically fit to work to earn a wage, so my health is always the over-riding priority. Its an added risk I shouldn't really take.

Hint: Consider the nature of the workout ahead. Is it likely to significantly compromise your ability to fight off your illness? If so, don't do it!

The challenge is just that. Its not supposed to be easy, and part of me feels like riding it out because I thrive on the process of overcoming adversity - it can be very rewarding. That process I think only really applies to more psychological challenges however (whether or not they are created by physical ones). This is different. There is nothing 'brave' or useful about exercising through illness, its just stupid.  If I can't complete the challenge now, I can always do it again, later, or a modified version. The purpose of the challenge is also to test my skills (physical, psychological etc) and to come out the otherside stronger. I want a training and performance benefit from this experience. Not the opposite. Not training through illness can be the harder thin As an aside, its also important to consider the very real risk (albeit small) of exercising when suffering from an infection. I know of at least one athlete who has significantly impacted their health and well-being permanently from pushing through when unwell. Not cool.

Hint: Look at the bigger picture. Why are you training? To improve, or to make yourself weaker. I think people take this for granted or don't consider the question enough.

I don't get ill very often. I gave the kiss of death to this the other week, proudly proclaiming that fact. Since then, I've had a nasty bout of food poisoning after the UKSCA conference and now this. The last time I had a sore throat like this was in 2007, when I got pharyngitis and was off work for nearly a week. It can get worse that what I'm experiencing now, with the added physical fatigue as the body fights infection. Again, I need to work this coming week, so I need to prioritise that.

Hint: Take your time to think back to when you've been ill before. It can be unimaginably bad (e.g. man flu - girls just don't get it!)  Remember those times when you feel so ill, you forget what it's like to be well. Use your experience. On balance, think about what you want and do what you can to facilitate that. If that means rest, then rest. I don't want to relive my 2007 experience again - one or two workouts is not worth it!

It can be really hard to actually know how you feel. How ill is too ill? If we stopped training every time we felt slightly sub-par, we'd get nothing done. Since getting control of my diet and organising my lifestyle to prioritise my health and well-being, I don't think I appreciated how good I could feel. This comes down to experience, and trial and error. Yes sometimes (and only sometimes) we have to do too much to know where that line is. I question the value of always pushing our limits and 'living life on the edge'.  Applied inappropriately, this approach can be our undoing. But as Julius Caesar said a very long time ago "Experience is the teacher of all things". Sometimes there is only 1 way to really find out. That is, dipping your toe in the lake to assess if its filled with flesh eating piranhas as opposed to taking a running dive with somersault to find out the same.

Hint: One thing that can be useful in knowing how ill is too ill is appreciating the context of how you should or could feel. Focus on health for a while, sleep well, avoid caffeine, alcohol, eat a nutrient dense diet. Learn what great feels like. Also understand where you are in your training. Yesterday on my ride, my legs were tired, but I'd had an active week of coaching, and cycled 100 miles mostly all fixed/single speed and completed 2,000 kb swings. I probably should feel a little tired.

So after a day of rest and nutritious food, and plenty of fluids, fingers crossed tomorrow I'll feel more confident that I'm on top of this temporary set back!