On running a 5K while sick

First, let me say I’ve never had a cold that lasted as long as this one has (more than a week.) But by Saturday, it had been around for 6 days and I was feeling better and better. I was even well enough to meet Scott for a couple of drinks on Friday night. And it was only a 5K – this would be a breeze. I’m a marathoner; I can run a 5K in my sleep. Right?

But the morning of I was still stuffy and feeling “off.” A quick stop at Harris Teeter for Dayquil on the way to the race would fix that. I should probably say I’d been taking Dayquil all week. This would be the third small bottle I was purchasing. I told Jeff I’m surprised my pores aren’t oozing orange, that I seriously never ever wanted to take Dayquil again.


I should tell you what the directions say regarding the amount of dayquil I’m supposed to take:

Adults and children 12 years and over 2 TBSP (30 ml) every 4 hours

Now I’ll tell you what I understood the directions to say on the first day when I was really sick and trying to read them:

Adults and children 12 years and over 2 Dose cups (30 ml) every 4 hours

I thought I was supposed to take two of the little plastic cups that come with the bottle every 4 hours. Not two tablespoons, which would have been one dose cup. Luckily, I wasn’t actually taking the stuff every four hours. I was only taking it about 3 times a day, which it turns out, equaled the maximum for the day, which is 6 doses a day.

But of course, I didn’t know any of this yet, so as I’m about to run a 5K, I sucked down two doses of the stuff.

The last time I ran a 5K was in October, the same day I ran a half marathon, and it had gone by so fast. So I was cocky. I was thinking of the first 3 miles of the marathon and how fast those went by. This would be a breeze, sick or not.

I sucked down as much water as I could, as I had been dehydrated all week, and I went out to run a little race.

There was a reason Scott signed me up for this particular race. This was the Get Your Rear in Gear 5K colon cancer awareness race. And Scott’s college roommate, Chris, died of colon cancer a few years ago. So Scott assembled a team to run in Chris’ memory (my friend Chris and I even made a graphic for a T-shirt in his friend Chris’ honor). I got to meet Scott’s mom, a cancer survivor herself, and my only regret for that day is I didn’t get to spend more time talking to her. She was so amazing!

Talking aside, there was a race to be run. And I was determined to get a PR.

For those who don’t know, a PR is a personal record. And why would I be assuming I could set a PR while sick? Well, because my last 5K PR, 27:50, was set a year ago at a race in which I walked a lot. I was running 5K training runs easily in 25, 26 minutes these days, and I’d even pushed myself a couple of months ago to run 3 miles in 23 minutes on a treadmill. So beating my old record should be easy.

And for the first mile, it was. I ran it in 8:13. I wasn’t complaining about that! And I was feeling great.

But right after mile 1, there was a hill. In my marathon training days, I would have been a mild annoyance. But what it ended up being was a huge challenge. I wanted to walk. I didn’t. But I wanted to. And on top of that I was feeling this really odd feeling, as if I’d swallowed a bunch of water that then froze in my veins. It was cold outside, so I may have just been dethawing as my heart rate was climbing, but it felt weird, as if I was frozen on the inside. I wondered if the Dayquil was causing it.

The first hill disappeared only to have another hill appear close to it. And then another. And another. And another. I ran the second mile in 9:38. I could still make it up. My stomach was hurting a little. All the reason to run faster, right?

The third mile took me 9:36. I was pretty disappointed. But I reminded myself that I was sick, and that it really wasn’t a bad time, it just wasn’t my greatest time.

I finished the race with my watch showing 5K in 28:10. I’m not sure what the official time will be; I didn’t cross the start line right away and I didn’t start my watch until I crossed the start line, thinking my watch would equal my chip time. But I found out after the race they were only recording the finishing chip time, not the start. So my official time is probably even slower. If you’re not a runner, ignore this paragraph. It probably sounds like jibberish.

After the race I checked my stats and I was shocked to see my average heart rate was 175. Yikes! It is never that high. No wonder I felt so weird. And then Jeff told me that Dayquil has a stimulant in it that might have caused my heart rate to elevate. Let’s just say I likely won’t be taking Dayquil before a race again. I found out later that day that I’d been doubling my doses, which I’m sure didn’t help.

But overall, it felt so good to be back out there. This was my first race since December, and I really want to do more. I can’t wait to get out there and run a 5K when I’m in good health and blow the socks off of my times. And I was proud to get out there and run in the memory of Scott’s friend. There wasn’t a huge crowd out cheering, but the ones that were cheering seemed to be there for a reason. I thanked one lady for cheering as I ran by, and she responded, “No. Thank you for running.” The way she said it made me feel like this cause might be pretty close to home for her.

For that reason, I’d run it all over again, sick or not.



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10 responses to “On running a 5K while sick”

  1. Scott Helms Avatar
    Scott Helms


    TOP 11% of all females. Top 10% of your age group. Top 22% of all runners, male and female.

    Not bad for someone jacked up on Cough Meds and Hung over from two beers the night before. . . 🙂

    Thanks again, Mello; great weekend,


  2. Amy Avatar

    Congrats for getting back out there. These damn colds! And yeah, I did the whole unconscious overdosing too recently. Wonder how my kidneys are doing.

    Run a few miles for me, would ya? My ass (and jeans!) will thank you!
    .-= Amy´s last blog ..Fine Mad Friday, a little cheesy? OR is that Hamm? =-.

  3. Justin Avatar

    5K is a brutal distance. You can talk strategy all day long, but for your fastest possible time, most people agree on this: Mile 1: Go out very fast. Mile 2: Continue going very fast. Mile 3: Hold on for dear life.

    It’s unfortunate in this day of marathons/utras/triathlons that the 5K (and 10K) gets forgotten. It’s brutal and hard and an awesome test of fitness. And you’re usually home by lunchtime.

  4. Staci Avatar

    Man, I hope you are feeling better! You did great, especially for being sick!!! I am too much of a baby and I would have just said no.
    .-= Staci´s last blog ..Day 2- No Soda =-.

  5. Heather ODell Avatar
    Heather ODell

    Melissa: I am Chris’ wife….Scott sent me the link to your blog & I wanted you to know how honored I am that you ran in memory of my husband, especially while sick. I hate to run, so I can’t even begin to imagine running while sick. After 37 years, I have finally decided to start exercising. I really enjoy it, but I am not running…..just doing classes & weight training. RPM is bad enough for me :). Scott posted pictures on my facebook of the shirt….so cool! Thank you again!! I hope you get back to feeling normal soon.


  6. Kevin Avatar

    You did great! You ran 3.1 miles more than most people did that day! 😉

  7. Jessica Avatar

    That’s a great time for a 5k! I know it’s not your best time, or your best *possible* time, for that matter, but it’s still at least 6 minutes faster than i can go currently… and I am proud of you for trying it after being sick, not having nearly as much in the recent weeks, and for a good cause. You should come run the 5K with me here in T.R. on May 7 🙂

  8. Elwood Avatar

    This cold/flu season has been odd. I’ve had full-on colds with intermittent traces of cold for over a month, and Steph has had at least one go around with Strep Throat.

    Now I have to battle Con-SARS. 🙂 Not being a runner, however, I’ll mainline all the DayQuil I want. 😀
    .-= Elwood´s last blog ..Andrew Koenig, 1968-2010 =-.

  9. Melissa Avatar

    @Scott – when you put the numbers in like that, it makes me feel pretty hard core! Lemme know when you’re up for doing more speed work – I need some lessons from you (ie, how did you get faster than me?)

    @Amy – I’m finally getting back out there! Did 9.5 miles yesterday of run/walk, so I’m feeling pretty good. And you know if your ass and jeans aren’t fitting right, there’s another reason for that! 🙂

    @Justin – Jeff and Scott and I were just talking about that strategy on Saturday! So true!!

    @Staci – I’m a whimp when I’m sick too. But for some reason a race is the ultimate motivation. If I am signed up for a race, I’m sure gonna be there!

  10. Melissa Avatar

    @Heather – it means so much to me that you came here to comment. Thank you so much. I am so honored to have been asked to run in your husband’s memory, and to have a hand in the T-shirt. Thank YOU and Scott.

    @Kevin – good point!

    @Jessica – Your times have really improved yourself, lady! I’ll check the calendar for May – I know Amy and I are planning to run the Springmaid Road Race in Fort Mill in May, which is great because as kids we handed out water at the race with Girl Scouts!

    @Elwood – my aunt said that there is a virus going around that feels like a cold and it just *lingers* forever. I’m guessing that’s what’s going on with all of us. It totally sucks! Hope your house is feeling better too!