My daughter is 16 and has be running cross country for four years. She throws up while running and after a race. It is getting to a point where she does not want to run anymore. She does have allergies and has a lot of phlegm; we have gone to a lot of doctors and try many medicals to stop it with no good results. She also gets car sick, and sometimes I think maybe she is getting motion sickness when running. We have tried different things like eating or not eating before a race. Any advice you can give to help her we would appreciated.
This is certainly unusual, but more so it is dispiriting. Allergies and phlegm are indeed possible reasons for the vomiting. It’s not clear from your note if this happens during all runs or only harder efforts. So, I’ll address both as best I can. As with so many maladies with athletes there is sparse information and most doctors are at a loss on how to treat us. We present unique challenges to them. Most have very easy solutions… if it bothers you while running… stop running.
It is interesting to note that seasonally I have several runners who experience these types of issues. During the higher allergy seasons, nasal drainage (post nasal drip) is so bad that it gags them. It is only exacerbated by hard running and breathing. I happen to be one of them.
The cure in one case was as simple as taking an antihistamine 30-45 minutes before running. What is nice is that it is an over the counter remedy. There are many choices out there and many are now “non-drowsy” anti-histamines. For some people this is more of an issue than other people. But, you certainly don’t want to feel like you’re ready to take a nap or sluggish on race day!
One gentleman had this problem every single time we did a time trial or very hard repeats on the track. His goal was to qualify for the FBI physical fitness test. He had passed everything else in the process; this mile and a half race against the clock was the last barrier. After exploring this gagging/vomiting issue with him over time, we came to the same conclusion. His anxiety surrounding performing, being “measured” and having to face his ultimate goal welled up inside him. By the time the third lap of the mile time trial came around he was heaving. We worked on reframing the efforts and disarming the importance. We renamed time trials to a “pace run.” I ran these trials next to him, and verbally reinforced his focus on – maintaining a rhythm, listening to his foot strike, controlled breathing, dropping shoulders to relax, running “tall.” These focal points had him concentrate on everything other than the gagging and heaving or whatever the sensations he was feeling in his throat. We never completely removed the problem but he made huge strides in controlling it. (PS – yes he ended up meeting the FBI standards!)
Your intuition, however, about motion sickness is interesting. I have no research or documentation on this (like your doctors apparently) so I can only make some educated guesses. I am not a doctor so I wouldn’t dispense medical care advice contrary to what your doctors are saying/doing. However, with that caveat, sometimes prescriptions aren’t the answer. I would explore over the counter remedies. Have you tried Dramamine (dimenhydrinate) or Dramamine II (meclizine)? Dimenhydrinate tends to cause some drowsiness that meclizine reportedly does not. Also there are naturopathic remedies that you could explore. But I’m not well versed in that area. (Perhaps one of our readers is a naturopath and could help us on that?)
Continue to experiment with food on your daughter’s stomach. There can be many triggers to something like this. Often someone with environmental allergies will have food allergies as well. Experiment not only with types of foods but also with amounts. The same food in smaller amounts may not create the same results.
Please stay in touch with your progress. There are indeed other runners who suffer from this issue. If nothing else I we all can benefit from your experiences and what you learn along the way.
Coach Dean Hebert, Tempe Arizona, USA
Contributing Editor, Running Advice and News