I’ve got a sore throat, should I train today?

I think I’m coming down with a cold but I don’t want to miss training as I’ve got a big race coming up. What should I do?

These are just a couple of examples of the questions my riders ask me when they’re not 100% healthy. This will affect most cyclists at some point each year, and some will be more prone to picking up illness than others.

Making a decision on whether to train or not, if you think you’re coming down with a cold can be difficult. However, in an attempt to simplify the decision process, I tend to look at it in the same way I look at multi-tasking.

I can’t multi task, I just can’t, and I’m very sceptical of most people who say they can. Ok, if the 2 tasks are both very simple then yes, it’s possible for most, but I’m talking about complex tasks. Things like driving a car and playing the violin (please don’t try that!). I’m a firm believer that if people are multi-tasking, at least one, if not both tasks will suffer, and not be completed to the same standard as if you were focussed solely on one task. Why am I taking about this? Because recovering from training and fighting off illness are both complex tasks, if you try to do both at the same time, neither are going to be completed properly, or at least each will take much longer to complete.

If you train when you’re ill, firstly you will take much longer to recover from the illness your body is fighting off, and secondly, at best it will take you a lot longer to benefit from the training, but what’s more likely is you won’t actually gain any benefit at all. This is down to a combination of factors:

  • Your training won’t be completed to the usual intensity when unwell.
  • You will prolong the time it takes your body to fight off the illness, to a point where future sessions will either suffer through the same drop in intensity, or be missed all together because your illness has taken an even firmer grip of you.

For anyone who worries about missing training because you have a race or event coming up, it’s much better to turn up on race day 100% healthy having not trained the previous week, than to turn up having done some poor-quality training and now still not 100% healthy as a result.

If you have been training regularly then missing a week will change nothing, in a lot of cases the extra rest will give you more benefit than harm. So rest up, miss a few sessions and only if you feel back to full health should you turn up at the race.

If you’ve been off for 2-3 weeks then there would be some loss of fitness (all the more reason to rest in the first place in an attempt not to drag it out) but if you are unfortunate to be out of action for this length of time then you have a couple of options for the upcoming race. You could turn up at the race, but treat it as training and accept that your result might not be what you want it to be. Or, if you mentally can’t deal with that, then don’t race, go training instead. Remember both options are only for if you are back to full health.

In more cases than not I think it’s better to be cautious and choose rest rather than training. If you rest up and focus on eating well, staying well hydrated and getting plenty of sleep, in many cases you will probably be good to go in a few days. There’s no need to take this to the extreme though, if you decide you’re resting every time you get the slightest sniff, then you won’t be training very often! But if your throat is sore or you feel lacking in your usual strength, then it’s best to be cautious in the short term to avoid the risk of dragging it out longer term. Remember, it’s just like multi-tasking, one or both will suffer, so best to focus on one thing, getting healthy.

I hope you found this useful.

Dan Small, Mountain Goat Coaching

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