Too Sick to Race?

by | Updated: December 3rd, 2016 | Read time: 3 minutes

Q:   Has being sick ever kept you from competing in an event?  

Amy Marsh answers:

A:   I remember a few years ago my husband and I drove to Memphis, Tenn., from Austin, Texas, which is about a 10-hour drive, to compete in an Olympic-distance triathlon. We left for Memphis on a Thursday and the race was on Sunday. Before we headed on the road I was feeling good and ready to race.

As we were driving and getting closer to Memphis, I could feel a little tickle in my throat.   I tried to convince myself that it was nothing, but Friday morning I woke up with sinus pressure and a stuffy nose to add to my sore throat.   I still had all day Friday and Saturday to get some rest and hoped to feel better by race day. I did some light training to keep my body moving and slept a lot.   Saturday night, the night before the race, I was in bed by 7 p.m.and didn’t sleep a wink””and unfortunately Brandon didn’t sleep well either.

I couldn’t breathe and developed a deep cough throughout the night.   I felt miserable.   Sunday morning my husband and I drove to the race site, and I was in tears debating whether I should even race.

It should have been an easy decision but it wasn’t.   After going back and forth until about 10 minutes before the start of the race, I withdrew. My body was suffering and I knew that if I pushed my limits, I would be out for more than a couple of days.

It was hard, but it was the right decision. Fortunately, my husband had a great race, so that made the trip home a bit more enjoyable!

As soon as I returned home to Austin I headed straight to the doctor’s office.   I ended up having a sinus infection and bronchitis. The doctor told me that if I would have raced I could have ended up with pneumonia.   I am glad I listened to my body!

You know your body better than anyone else.   A good rule of thumb is that if your symptoms are above the neck (for example, a head cold, sore throat, etc.) then it may be OK to do some light training””but only if you are up for it.   If you’re sick in your chest, have a fever and are achy, then I would advise not to train or race, as you could eventually make yourself worse.

Most type-A triathlete personalities (including myself) don’t like to miss workouts for consecutive days.   We think we are going to lose all the fitness that we have been working on day after day in just one week!   In actuality, this fear is pretty groundless.

That being said, I have to remind myself all the time that it’s better to miss one or two days of workouts than to make things worse and be out for weeks.

Amy Marsh is a four-time Ironman champion, two-time IronDistance champion, and was named the 2010 USAT Long Distance Triathlete of the Year. Brandon Marsh has been competing in triathlons since 1988, and can be counted on to be a top-10 contender in every event he enters. Got a question about swim-bike-run or sports nutrition for Team Marsh? Email them at On Twitter, follow Brandon @BrandonMarshTX and follow Amy @AmyCMarsh.