MAY 16, 2016 – Training Peaks – BY SUZANNE FLANNIGAN

Every endurance athlete gets sick at some point in their training. Rather than panic, Suzanne Flannigan suggests you use it as a way to improve. She lists her four benefits of getting sick to help you make the most of what is usually a tough situation.


No one likes to get that annual nasty flu or cold that lasts a week or more and comes roaring back just as you think you are getting better. Not a single person I coach or train with likes to miss training, not even a single day. But the reality is, sometimes you get that nasty bug and it takes you down. You miss a day of training, and another and then another, and all the while the voice of worry is ramping up in your head. You worry that it’s you, that you are just not being tough enough. You imagine at least a dozen of your training buddies who would push through the congestion, the headaches, the fatigue. You fret about missing the next run session because you haven’t been running that well lately and you know you need more running to improve. You worry that after three days, you have lost all the fitness you have gained in the last six months of training and that you will never again swim as fast as you did last month.

Instead of getting depressed, anxious, frustrated, impatient, or demoralized when that nasty bug hits, consider adjusting your perspective about what is happening. Shift your thinking and intentionally try to make the most of an otherwise unpleasant situation. Redefine what being sick means, search for the silver linings, and find ways to actually benefit from your time away from training. Here are four ways you can alter your perspective.

1. Consider Getting Sick as a Healthy Heads Up

Getting sick is a clear message that you are exceeding your body’s current ability to absorb the training stress. By definition, as an endurance athlete, you push your limits on a daily basis in order to expand your capacity; however, for a variety of reasons, you can end up overreaching.

When you overreach too much or for too long a period of time, your body’s defenses come down and your immune system cannot fight off all of the bugs. The most tenacious bugs will get through and those are the ones that will send you straight to the couch for a week wishing you had shares in a tissue company. When this happens, accept the very valuable message your body is giving you.

2. Think of Being Sick as a Training Phase

Consider being sick as simply another phase of training. This might sound crazy at first, but think of what might happen if you devoted the same kind of attention to getting better as you do to completing your training? Instead of worrying that you are writing off months of training by taking a week off (even though you are sick and couldn’t train if you wanted to), use the time that you are in bed or on the couch to catch up on sleep. When you feel up to it, read about the latest trends in training and nutrition.

3. Rest is Good For You

Get extra sleep and nap often. Review your log for patterns that might have led to getting sick. Reflect on your goals for the upcoming race season. Take a nap. Look at your eating habits and ask yourself if they could be better, and if so how. Take another nap. Consider being sick as a chance for you to reinvigorate your training by starting fresh. Often, leading up to a long bout of the flu or a bad cold you’ll typically have experienced signs of deep fatigue, depression, lethargy, and a negative attitude towards yourself and others. Your efforts in training will likely be borderline to poor, and you’ll want to push yourself even harder, only to be frustrated by going slower. Then, you’ll come down with a bug and it will completely depress you. Don’t let it!

Think about the rest as good for your heart and the break from training as good for your soul. If you’ve been training hard, not wanting to rest, then this could well be just the break your body needs to combat the training stress. As you recover, spend some time cultivating a new appreciation for being healthy. Give yourself permission to start anew when you feel better, slowly building back into training. Let go of the pressure to immediately return to your previous training levels.

4. Consider Getting Better as an Opportunity to Problem Solve

Endurance sports require you to problem solve; to develop the ability to find a way through the tough times and to find something good in even the worst moments. When you are struggling with illness, find a way through the worst of it by applying key principles you use in your training.

Maintain a positive attitude even though you are in a less than positive situation. Practice patience because getting better takes time. Trust that your body will heal itself if you let it. Cultivate confidence in your fitness, believing that it will still be there when you are better. Build toughness by accepting what you cannot control and acting on what you can control to get better.

No one likes to get sick. As an endurance athlete, you are lucky since your lifestyle contains the very elements that can help you shift your perspective. You can turn being sick from an awful experience to a useful experience that can augment, rather than interrupt your training. Shifting your perspective can help you through the recovery process bringing you back to training better, stronger, and wiser.