Post-Illness Progress Recovery for Runners: How Can You Get Fit Again?

Autumn has come, and with it the gorgeous fall foliage, the chilly foggy mornings, the pumpkin spice lattes… and the colds, sore throats, and flus. What will the post-illness progress recovery look like for runners?

Written by Lucas Collins
Edited by Pavlína Marek

You’ve been hitting the gym, pounding the pavement, and putting in the effort to hit all your fitness goals. With a couple more months to go, you’re poised to blow your last race time out of the water. But then, like thunder in the distance…

A cough. A sneeze. A scratchy throat. Oh no.

Before long the storm hits and that illness takes hold. If you’re lucky it’ll just be that occasional sneeze and sore throat for a bit, or it might progress into a full-on cold or flu. Whatever the case may be, the truth of the matter is you’re sick, and sickness really puts the brakes on training and fitness. But you had all these goals, and were making such great progress! What do you do now? How do you come back from this and maintain that level of achievement you were aiming for? Here are some things to consider on your road to a smooth post-illness progress recovery.

There Will be Lost Progress

Sorry to start with the big hits, but it’s better to rip this bandage off quickly. While there are some cases where you’ll be able to keep training depending on your symptoms, generally, there are two things to consider when you get sick. One, you have to stop and take time off to rest, and two, the sickness itself can impact you further.

First and foremost is rest. Exercise requires a lot of energy—energy your body needs to fend off the bug that’s making you sick. Plus, exercise can aggravate your symptoms and generally won’t make you feel very good.

It can feel maddening to be so idle when you’re reaching for your goals, especially if you recently started or when your goal is right around the corner. It may seem counterintuitive, but resting is paramount to feel better as fast as you can. Trying to train while sick will only leave you worse-off and for longer than when you focus on rest.

The damage caused to your body by both the actual disease and your body’s response to it can be serious or mild depending on what you’re fighting. If it’s just a common cold then there won’t be much progress lost at all. Whatever loss does occur will come mostly from the time spent resting.

However, if it’s something more serious, it can have more lasting effects. Something like the flu or COVID-19 can leave you dealing with issues for days, week, or months to come. After I recovered from COVID-19, for example, I could barely get through my warmup routine at the gym before I was short of breath. Even later on, a full month after I stopped showing any symptoms, getting through a full workout was much more challenging than it had ever been before. 

Recovery After Recovery

Now that you know what to expect, how do you adapt to the unwelcome changes? As I said before, first we rest! Only once you’re clear of all symptoms and feeling like your old self again can you let yourself head back to the gym, track, or trail. When you do resume your workouts, you’ll need to tone it back a bit, at least at first.

If you got over a cold and managed to do so fairly quickly, then you probably won’t have to change much or change it for very long. Simply going at a slower pace or slightly shorter distance might be all you need. Then, before you know it, you’re back in the swing of things, picking up where you had left off before falling ill.

Something more serious, however, such as the flu, can have you changing quite a bit. You could be off your routine and resting for much longer, and the disease could leave lingering effects. You may be speed-walking your route instead of running it, or you might cut the distance down—by half or more if you need to.

If you’re in the gym doing strength or resistance training you need to make similar adjustments. Try lowering the weight you lift, doing fewer reps in a set, or reducing the number of sets overall. You could be on this reduced routine for longer as well, with improvement being much slower than you’d like. I still haven’t fully gotten back to where I was before getting COVID-19.

You Will Regain Your Progress

This can all sound very dour. With so many restrictions, time spent away from  running or gym, and the disease aftermath, it’s hard not to doubt your post-illness progress recovery. But it is possible; there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s only a temporary setback. Trust the healing process you’re going through and you’ll get back all the fitness you’ve lost, and then gain more than you ever had before. 

You’re allowed to hate the setbacks and curse whatever little microbe has invaded your body. But don’t let an unforeseen roadblock stop you entirely! Use those feelings as motivation to fuel your comeback. Keep your goals in mind during every phase of recovery.

From realizing you’re sick and taking the time you need to rest, to learning what illness you have and preparing for how it will affect you, to adjusting your routes and routines to fit into what you’re able to do, just remember that it’s all “for now.” You’re only going slower for now. Only shortening workouts for now. Your original goals are still within reach, you just need to overcome a few challenges first. And just as I have all the confidence I’ll recover everything I’ve lost, you should too. Stick with it, and you’ll see the results!

If you feel like you need help adjusting your plan, don’t hesitate to reach out to our own Coach Karen at coachkaren1964(AT)!

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