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Racing My First Half Marathon—With The Flu

Sick Before Race Day

There are a few cardinal rules to follow the night before a race: you should fuel up, hydrate and mentally prepare for what’s to come. Well, I broke all of those rules when I set out to run my first half marathon two weeks ago.

I didn’t intend for it to go that way. In fact, my training was going great leading up to the race. I was excited and confident about testing this new distance. It was low pressure, as well. I was planning to run the race for fun, as a tune-up before the Indy Mini-Marathon the following weekend.

But when I woke up the day before the race, I knew something was off. The fluttering in my stomach was not from excited anticipation, nor was the feverish fatigue that settled over me. I had the flu.

My first thought was to skip the race. After all, I was pretty nervous and I knew that running while sick would be less than enjoyable. Here’s the thing, though: I don’t get sick. So, in the spirit of denial, I packed my bag and drove home to Ohio for the race. Despite the crippling headache and inability to keep any food down, I stubbornly declared I would be fine the next morning.

At 6:30 a.m., my head was still throbbing, but my brain wasn’t as fuzzy. Plus, my fever was gone. Feeling victorious, I grabbed my shoes and headed for the door. The hope was that my 11 hours of sleep would cancel out the lack of food and water I’d consumed in the last 24 hours, but I wouldn’t know for sure until the gun went off.

Usually, it takes me about 6 miles to get into my rhythm. The first few miles of a run are always a bit stiff for me. That wasn’t the case during this race, though. I bolted from the start line and settled into a brisk pace. For a whopping 25 minutes, I was feeling good. Then, my body crashed.

Aches crept into my legs and my chest grew heavy. The 6:30 mile pace turned into 7:05 and then 7:10, and I began plotting my own demise. Could I duck out into the crowd? No, then I’d have to walk back to the starting line. What if I pretended to trip on a rock? No way! Then I’d have to fake an injury to the medic.

I thought through every scenario—even the one where I ran into a stranger’s house and pleaded for a ride home—but I didn’t see any respectable way of quitting. So I shuffled on, angry that I couldn’t quit and angry for wanting to quit in the first place.

Around mile 8, I crossed a bridge over the Olentangy River, and that’s when something shifted. I was wildly unfocused by that point and was watching the scenery in the distance. That’s when I glimpsed a trail I remembered, one that jolted me from my misery. The trail burrowed under an adjacent bridge and continued along the waterfront for a few miles. I knew that because I had walked the trail a few summers ago with my best friend, sharing my struggles with an eating disorder and my longing to run again, to be healthy.

Clearly, my vision of “health” didn’t include the flu. But running my first half marathon was an otherwise accurate depiction of that dream. The memory was exactly what I needed to finish. I decided that, unless I became violently ill, I was going to complete the race. Quitting isn’t an option when gratitude floods your heart.

It was downright painful and debatably stupid, but I finished. And before you think that is some impressive feat, know this: we all have experiences in life that lay the groundwork for passion. Yours might be different, but it’s equally powerful. When your mind grips that foundation, it lights a fire and you remember why you’re fighting. You remember why you run.

Related:

Tips And Myths On How Combat The Dreaded Flu Season

Returning To Running After The Flu, Surgery Or Serious Illness

3 Things To Consider Before Running When You’re Sick

Hannah Hartzell

Hannah Hartzell

Hello! My name is Hannah Hartzell. I am student, an athlete and an all-around enthusiastic person! I grew up in Lewis Center, Ohio and currently run cross country and track for Butler University. When I’m not running, I'm most likely studying, drinking tea or hiking (I fit sleep in there somewhere). I’ve gained valuable experience as a prior communications intern for Just Between Us Magazine and the Columbus Running Company. You can read more of my musings at A Grateful Life Lived, and connect with me on Instagram. See you out on the trails!