Illness and Jetlag - How NOT to prepare for a 37km swimrun race

By Andy Blow | 6 Minute Read

I've said it before when sharing my tips for motivating yourself to train during the depths of Winter, but I really find I need a goal in order to get myself out of the door and sweating. So, largely just to get a goal in my diary, sometime earlier this year I filled out an entry for ÖTILLÖ Swimrun Isles of Scilly on June 9th.

I’ve been lucky enough to do all three of the previous editions of the race and absolutely love the venue as well as the challenging and picturesque race course.


 Isle of Scilly swimrun map


Keeping up the tradition of having a different partner each time, I’ve teamed up with James, our sports scientist/customer service maestro.

Given that he’s about 15 years younger and considerably faster than me - both in the water and on the trails - it seemed like that ought to provide the necessary motivation for me to get my ass in gear and do some mileage!

Things started off promisingly enough as I focussed on racking up some run mileage for a 14 mile cross country race in February and I also managed a very decent block of awesome trail running in Arizona when I spent a week or so there working with some of our baseball clients during Major League Baseball Spring Training.

I did a few time trials up and down a famous, short, sharp and rocky climb called ‘The Camelback’ near Phoenix - and even managed to get a lifetime PB up the ~20 min climb, so I was pretty satisfied with progress at that point. 


Andy running up the Camelback in Arizona


I then backed my week in ‘Merica up with some good running during a quick trip to Australia, including the hottest Parkrun I’ve ever competed in, down in Sydney.

However, not long after coming back from Down Under, I seemed to have a bit of wobble health-wise.

I'm not sure if it was all of that long haul air travel and the associated jet lag, or the fact that both of my children seemed to spend most of Q1 2019 incubating and sharing various mutating strains of the common cold, but for whatever reason I then entered a period where I seemed to go from sniffle, to cough, to cold and back again for weeks on end.

Eventually it got to the point that I found that I had to take a full week off training with a chest infection so bad I just couldn’t face doing anything at all except inhaling Olbas oil fumes around the clock!

Once I was over the chest infection my swimming thankfully started to click into place again and James, Jonny (who's also racing again this year) and I, began putting in some reasonably regular ‘Red Mist’ sets in the pool as recommended by our good mate and head honcho at Swim Smooth, Paul Newsome.

(Well, technically most of our sets were more ‘Pink Mist’ at ~3,000m per session rather than the full strength 4,000m recommended dosage, but we were happy with them nonetheless!)

We began introducing a lot of race-specific pull/paddle work during most of these sets and even graduated to using running shoes in the pool for key sets to increase the drag and to try to get an idea of what our race pace would likely be when the big day came around.

By mid May I was pretty happy with my swim speed, but definitely felt like running was more of a struggle than it should have been.

I had a second trip to the US planned and booked hotels as strategically as I could to be able to find some decent running routes in a bid to rack up some miles during my 10 day stint away.

This began positively with a ~20km run around lower Manhattan the day after I arrived in New York at the start of my trip. I then backed this up with a lakeside run in Chicago and a spectacular 90 minute trail run in Portland, Oregon a couple of days later, before joining a proper ‘Red Mist’ swim set with local Oregon Swim Smooth coach Gretchan Jackson. Thanks for the invite Gretchan...


Andy swimming with Gretchan


Unfortunately though, it was in the hours after this swim set and during a short flight down to Los Angeles that I started to feel a bit under the weather again. At first I put this down to a combination of jet lag and tiredness from the training and hit the hay early in my hotel in Hollywood, with the view that I’d just sleep it off.

What actually happened was that I woke up in the wee small hours of the night aching, sweating, shivering and generally feeling like death.

Not good.

I suffered through the next couple of days on a combination of Tylenol, Caffeine and Will Power until I got to Detroit where I gave in, cancelled my last couple of meetings and went to see a doctor who ran some tests and returned the verdict that I had a proper dose of Influenza B virus.

So I holed up in isolation in an airport hotel room for a couple more days with some Ibuprofen and cough medicine and tried to sleep it off and wait for the fever to pass before I flew home feeling sorry for myself!

Once home I slept an unbelievable amount for several days (16+ hours each night!) before starting to feel vaguely normal again last weekend.

As I type this I'm feeling much better and 99% sure I’ll be racing with JP in the Scillies this weekend. I seem to have recovered from the flu and managed to do some light training session over the last few days with no negative effects.

During my enforced downtime, I took the time to do some analysis of my training data since January 1st and came up with the following...


My training data 

22 week block from the start of January until the end of May.

  • Total training time: 81 hours, 21 min
    • Running: ~57 hours
    • Swimming: ~24 hours
  • Total training distances
    • Running: 769 km
    • Swimming: 111,525m
  • Longest run: 22.8km (in a trail race)
  • Longest swim: Just over 4,000m
  • Average training per week:  ~3 hours 40 minutes (combined)
  • Peak training week: ~6 hours (combined)
  • Shortest training week: A couple of weeks of 0 hours when I was ill
  • Average run week: 35km over 3.7 run sessions
  • Average swim week: ~5000m over 2 sessions
  • Average individual run: ~42 min, covering ~9.8 km.
  • Average swim: ~33 min moving time, covering ~2,500m
  • Average run pace: 4 min 26 sec per km (7 min 08 sec per mile)
  • Average swim pace: 1 min 20 sec per 100m

Note: I essentially did absolutely no training other than swimming or running due to a lack of time to fit anything else in.

Based on this data, plus having just got over the Flu, it's going to be interesting to see how the race goes this year!

I'm definitely working on managing my expectations, as both my overall training volume and my general health in the build up have been nothing like as good as they were for the ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Champs last September (which I raced with Paul Newsome and which promoted me to write a piece on avoiding injury and maintaining consistency when training for an ‘ultra’).

With that said, the average pace for all of my running is similar to what I did last year and my average swim speed is actually a bit quicker, so the speed is likely there, there's just a big question mark over the endurance. It's a ~5 hour race after all! 

As a result of recent events, I will also be trying to learn something from all of this and I'm already looking at my travel and training schedule for the rest of this year as I do think that it was a combination of some heavy duty long haul travel and exposure to a lot of bugs and illnesses at home that have made this particular build up pretty challenging.

I'm still very much looking forward to going to the Scillies although I'm already warming James up to the idea that he may need to use the towing line quite a bit on Sunday...

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