Knowing When to Quit a Race

Getting behind on nutrition and hydration can make some people sick or just feel like they have no energy to continue. Most athletes are not likely bonking, but they may be running low on fuel, fluids or electrolytes. If you slow your pace or rest for a bit, consume fluids and some fuel and it seems to make you feel better, you can likely finish the event—although at a slower pace than you intended.

Are there other symptoms?

Did you just get sick to your stomach or are there other symptoms? For example, in addition to feeling nauseated, are you light-headed? Do you have a throbbing headache? Are you having trouble concentrating? Can you do simple math problems in your head? Does your entire body feel horrible? (I know what you're thinking: "Of course my body feels horrible, it's an Ironman.") What I mean is that you don't feel that good athletic discomfort, instead you feel really bad.

The more symptoms you have, the more likely it is that you should end your race day. No one wants to think of ending a race day that you've worked so hard for, but ending up in the emergency room is not a wise choice.

The Next Day

If you do not bounce back a little the day after the race, consider having some blood work done.

A male athlete I coach experienced illness during the bike portion of an Ironman race and his power numbers plummeted during the event. He felt so bad after the bike portion of the race he decided to end his race day. This turned out to be a good decision.

His nutrition, hydration and electrolytes during the event shouldn't have been the cause of his problems, but we weren't sure. We reviewed potential root causes, but none made much sense. In the days following the race, he just wasn't feeling better.

When he returned home, he contacted his family physician to get blood work done. The results found that he had low iron levels, low red blood cell count and the doctor said other values indicated he had a virus as well. With some dietary changes, his numbers improved and training performance improved as well.

This was a good lesson because his low energy and sub-par training performance in the few weeks prior to race day weren't caused by a huge job workload; but, instead were caused by low iron and red blood cell values.

The Right Decision for You

If you are faced with illness during a race, the decision of whether to keep racing or DNF will depend on many factors. Continuing to race at a pace slower than you planned might be the right decision on that day. On another day, the best decision is to DNF an event and begin your recovery so you can head into the next event stronger and better.

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Gale Bernhardt was the USA Triathlon team coach at the 2003 Pan American Games and 2004 Athens Olympics. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Games in Sydney. She currently serves as one of the World Cup coaches for the International Triathlon Union's Sport Development Team. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow cycling and triathlon training plans. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.

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