Racing Sick

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As an athlete, sickness is part of the business.  I don’t think that all athletes are hypochondriacs, but most good athletes I know spend a fair amount of mental capacity trying to stay well.

I’ve probably raced sick more than any other person I can think of.  That is mainly because I’ve raced more than about anyone I know.  Both by duration and frequency.

I don’t much like racing full-on sick.  It isn’t fun.  But I’ve really surprised myself a few times, which is always a gift in sport.  Positive surprises are what makes athletes move to higher levels.

One thing about pretty much riding for myself is that no one is forcing me to do about anything. That is a good thing, most of the time, but sometimes you need some help, some outside influences, to nudge you into a certain direction.  When you feel a certain responsibility to teammates, sponsors and such, you never want to let them down, so you nearly always toe the line.

But riding off-road, when team tactics are minimal, at best, justifying racing sick, or even sub-par, gets harder and harder.

What always sways my decision making process is my past experiences of doing nearly the exact some thing before.  I could count on one hand, half of one hand, how many times I regret starting a race sick.  But I can list tons of times where I had positive surprises, super life memories, feeling exactly the same.

I am pretty positive that racing sick doesn’t make you any sicker.  If anything, racing sick can be the catalyst to getting well very quick.  I’ve never got well quicker than a few times I fell ill during a stage race.  Sickness that would normally hang around for a week or two, is over in two or three days, while racing 4+ hours a day.

I’ve won a couple big events sick.  I won a stage of the Biltmore Stage race, a hard race in the rain at the Biltmore estates in Asheville, NC.  I was last guy on until the last lap.  I rode away on a slick descent and then held the lead to the finish.  I beat some pretty great riders that day.   The next day I was well.

I won a Fatboy criterium at Sea Otter, over a decade ago, the day after going to a clinic and getting diagnosed with strep throat.  I had a Zpak antibiotics bottle in my pocket going to the race, but once I take one of those, my racing ability is done.  I won the one hour race, easily, ate the antibiotics and started the drive home.

That isn’t going to happen here in Chequamegon.  I’m not sure exactly what happened, initially I thought it was food poisoning, but now I’m thinking stomach flu or something.  It seems to be lingering on this whole week, I’m not really feeling much better.  I’m not physically ill, like violently ill like initially, I just feel weak and crummy.  This will be the shortest week I’ve ridden this whole year, which isn’t a big deal.  But my power level is pitiful.

And having no power in Chequamegon isn’t good.  I seem to be able to ride off my seat respectable, at least compared to being seated, but that ain’t gonna be enough.

No matter, Chequamegon is a good race to participate in subpar.  I’ve had a blast riding the race after flatting.  There are 3000 other people to interact with.  I’m planning right now on just riding with Catherine tomorrow.  There are definitely lots of advantages to having someone to draft out there.  The majority of the race is on access roads, which are logging roads, snowmobile or atv trails, and such.  There is only around 8 miles of riding on the Birkie Trail, where drafting isn’t that great.  But having someone pacing you, especially someone better, helps immensely.

No matter what happens tomorrow, it is going to be a life experience.  Just listening to my friends tell their race stories is super.  It is going to rain all day today, at least this afternoon, but the soil here absorbs a ton of water, so that isn’t going to be much of an issue.  It might make the FIretower Climb a little trickier, but that is fine.  Tomorrow looks alright as of now.  Okay, back to bed for a bit.

Fatboy at Sea Otter. I was away most of the race in various breaks, but it ended up a field sprint, which was a piece of cake that day.

Fatboy at Sea Otter. I was away most of the race in various breaks, but it ended up a field sprint, which was a piece of cake that day.

I was looking for the Fatboy photo and saw this one. It is one of my all time favorites. Sea Otter, once again. I was winning overall. This was the dirt criterium, which was really a mudfest. Lots of great photos from that event.

I was looking for the Fatboy photo and saw this one. It is one of my all time favorites. Sea Otter, once again. I was winning overall. This was the dirt criterium, which was really a mudfest. Lots of great photos from that event.

Tucker is a swimming fool.  He runs to the lake, a couple times, on his own, to go swimming.

Tucker is a swimming fool. He runs to the lake, a couple times, on his own, to go swimming.





18 thoughts on “Racing Sick

  1. LD

    Be careful with the Zpak: “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning the public that azithromycin (Zithromax or Zmax) can cause abnormal changes in the electrical activity of the heart that may lead to a potentially fatal irregular heart rhythm. Patients at particular risk for developing this condition include those with known risk factors such as existing QT interval prolongation, low blood levels of potassium or magnesium, a slower than normal heart rate, or use of certain drugs used to treat abnormal heart rhythms, or arrhythmias.

  2. RGTR

    I’ve raced sick before. It took me twice to learn my lesson. I raced with an illness that was previously contained in my sinuses. After the race I had a bad feeling in my trachea. A couple months later I’m still fighting bronchitis and relent and go to the doctor. She puts me on an inhaler that helped clear it a couple months later.

    Attempted to race sick again a couple years later and same shit happened. No more.

  3. KMK

    “Ciprofloxacin (Cipro) is a prescription broad-spectrum fluoroquinolone antibiotic highly active against Gram-negative bacteria. Ciprofloxacin is a good antibiotic for traveler’s diarrhea and food poisoning due to its activity against food-borne bacteria such as E. coli, Vibrio cholera, Campylobacter jejuni, Yersinia, Salmonella and Shigella.”

    It has worked wonders for me in the past when food poisoning has lingered.

  4. Mike crum

    Damn!!!! I counted 13 paragraphs of you telling everyone you’re racing sick .. Lol.. Big deal .. You’re always sick.. What was your point writing that huge blog?

  5. sillypuddy

    Please Steve don’t do this 2 yourself. YOUR SCARING ME! Your going 2 hurt yourself. Please don’t race n your current state. What if something terrible happens. What if te unthinkable……oh dear please I beg of u. Think of little Tucker. He would b lost with out u. Besides your going 2 quite b4 the halfway point anyway.

  6. Bryan

    Cipro also is effective against bacterial meningitis. I found this out after a hospital I worked at knowingly exposed us to it, then called us at home several hours later asking us to come back so we could be started on a precautionary round of it.

  7. LD

    Cipro and other fluoroquinolones carry a “black box” warning (the FDA’s sternest) that they can cause tendinitis and tendon rupture. I won’t use them unless as a last resort. Doctors often like to prescribe them because they are broad-spectrum antibiotics but in many cases, older antibiotics do just as well with fewer side effects and risks.

  8. Bolas Azules

    Man Up Tilly. Time to become a real ‘Sconny boy and go get your Friday Night Fish Fry, Brady Old Fashion while you wait for your table and a full pitcher of beer with your dinner. . . don’t forget the relish tray. That’s how you hold it all together in the North Woods.

  9. Terence Shaw

    While competing my attitude was always to think I’ll feel better once I’m riding. A bit over a decade ago there was an opportunity to introduce friends to a ride in Marin County, California. I was suffering from a mild flu symptoms. What I thought was a casual ride became a hammer fest. I thought it was proper to pull unprepared riders back into the group. Repeated efforts back to dropped riders and up to the group exhausted my reserves. Over the next few months I grew weaker. Thinking I could train out of it didn’t work. I finally went for a physical where I was diagnosed with severe cardio myopathy. No coranary disease, clear arteries of a life long athelete. My result from riding hard sick was I am now five years post heart transplant. My advice don’t push youself when ill.

  10. H Luce

    Last night I had a pretty good case of bubbly guts, also known as borborygmus, followed by about three hours of the Montezuma Quick Step/Five Yard Dash. Others report the same condition, so it may be viral. It seems to have resolved itself overnight, without resort to homeopathic arsenicum album (white arsenic) or lead in larger quantities. Probably a good thing there’s plenty of mud up there, and you could probably decimate the field if it is truly viral. Plus the field would make plenty of room for you, you might find few to share the podium with you.

  11. als

    Has your wife popped out that kid yet? Boy or girl? Is your name or Rubber Duck’s name on the birth certificate? Is Tommy still sidelined during soccer games due to his broken arm? How is Timmy doing in soccer? What position does he play? Did you ever get around to getting them soccer shoes? Are you going big-rig TRUCKIN’ any time soon with your big-rig truckin’ buddies? Are you out on the road again? Or are you, just can’t wait to get out on the road again?

  12. Ken


    The headline of the piece is “Racing Sick.” If the post were “Racing Injured,” there would likely be 13 paragraphs about “racing injured.” See how that works? That’s called “staying on topic.”
    The More You Know!

  13. barb

    What are you trying to prove (to yourself) by racing sick? Or to your readers by writing about masochistic racing experiences in the name of creating “great memories.” You’ve written over and over that you’re voluntarily and consistently overtaxing your body and beating down your immune system, with the assumed thinking you’re always going to be able to ride through it and get better. That might have been the case in your youth/younger years, but the aging process further diminishes immune system response, leaving more openings for pathogens to take over — immune system diseases like chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and others. MS is considered an immune system disease. I’ve known more than a few athletes who never felt like they were fallible until they keeled over and couldn’t get up (and couldn’t ride again for months, or ever.) Take care of your body, you only have one, and there aren’t any body swaps available.

  14. Gabriel

    I remember one of the top XC guys from that era saying in an interview that any time you showed up to a fatboy crit, everyone else was racing for second.


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