Help! I’m Sick On Race Week

If you get sick during race week, don’t panic.

Photo: Willie B. Thomas

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If you get sick during race week, don’t panic. Most illnesses are viral, last 48 to 72 hours, and will hopefully resolve by race day. I tell my athlete patients that a fever less than 101 degrees or any infection above the neck is safe to race with. There are times, however, when you must step away from the start line. When you’re really sick—with a temperature greater than 101, chills and weakness—racing can be dangerous.

One risk of racing while sick is myocarditis, a viral infection that affects the heart muscle. The symptoms can be exactly like the ones described above: lethargy, high fever and flu-like symptoms. With increased load placed on the heart from racing, the risk of all types of heart issues, from arrhythmia to myocardial infarction (heart attack) increase.

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Here are my pre-race rules:

Because worn-down triathletes have a reduced immunity and are therefore more susceptible to catching viruses, expect to get some kind of viral illness during taper or for several days after a big workout or race.

Try to avoid sick people and make sure to wash your hands frequently as a means of prevention.

If you get sick, make sure you hydrate, relax and take supportive medicines (ibuprofen) to keep your symptoms in check.

If the illness looks more serious (fever higher than 101 or nasty green phlegm), make sure you check in with your doc before you toe a start line.

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More from Dr. Jordan Metzl.

Jordan D. Metzl, M.D., is a sports medicine specialist at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. Dr. Metzl is a 29-time marathon runner and nine-time Ironman finisher. His new book is titled The Athlete’s Book of Home Remedies.

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