Running when Sick
Sneezing, coughing, congestion, and achy muscles. Sounds like the opening to a Nyquil commercial. Unfortunately, getting sick and experiencing these symptoms is bound to happen when you’re training hard, especially if you have children at home. When you’re in the middle of a big training segment, it’s important to know what to do when faced with the question of whether to run when sick or not. To make the decision easy, I am going to tell you exactly when it’s ok to run while sick and how to adjust your training accordingly.
The most important thing to remember about running when sick is that you should always err on the side of caution if given the choice. Taking a few days off from running or even scheduling an extra easy day instead of a hard workout is not going to ruin your fitness. Yes, I know runners are obsessive creatures, but two or three days off will not negatively impact your fitness – its been scientifically proven. Be smart and be patient, you’ll be much better off in the long run.
Running when Congested
If your symptoms are congestion related – runny nose, chest congestion or coughing - it’s typically safe to run. Actually, an easy run and a nice hot shower afterwards may help clear you congestion and give you a few hours of feeling normal.
How to adjust your training
You should consider toning down the speed or intensity of your workouts or replacing a hard run with an easy day. Being congested and stuffy will make it harder to perform to your maximum ability. Instead of setting yourself up for disappointment, have the courage to adjust your workout ahead of time.
If you still plan to workout, start your intervals or tempo run 10-15 seconds per mile slower than your intended goal. If you feel good as the workout progresses, pick up the pace and finish strong. If the workout is harder than expected, keep the paces on the slow side and perform the best you can on the day. Remember, your goal workout paces are merely an estimation of the effort it will take to run that time given your current fitness. So, if you’re congested, you’ll still benefit from the workout, even if it is a bit slower.
Running with the Flu
If you have flu like symptoms, especially achy muscles or a fever, you should not run. Running with a fever is not only dangerous, but will significantly lengthen the amount of time it takes you to get back to 100%.
A fever, by definition, is a rise in the body’s internal temperature in response to bacterial or viral infections. Running also increases your internal temperature, which will make your fever symptoms even worse and could result in dangerous and long-term health consequences.
Likewise, running compromises the immune system, particularly in the first 20 hours after strenuous exercise. Therefore, your body will be more susceptible to the bacteria and viruses already making you ill, which increases the chance your symptoms will continue to get worse. Furthermore, running siphons away critical energy, nutrients, and resources that could be used to help fight the virus, thereby lengthening the amount of time it takes to get back to 100%
How to adjust your training
You should not run if you have the flu or a fever. Take as many days as you need to feel back to normal with your everyday activities. Remember, it takes at least 10 days to lose significant running fitness, so don’t be worried that a few days off to get healthy will ruin your training.
You should start running again the day after you return to normal during everyday activity. For example, if you first get sick on Monday and then start feeling normal on Thursday, you can begin running again on Friday.
Don’t go crazy and try to “make up” missed training the first few days back to running. Your immune system is still in a frail state and your body probably isn’t ready for optimal performance. Spend the first two days running easy mileage with a few strides to snap the legs back into gear. After 2-3 days of easy running, you can attempt a workout.
Be Patient when Sick
No one wants to get sick and lose training time. However, by being intelligent and patient in your approach, you can avoid having the flu set you back for weeks instead of days and be back to normal training before you know it. Likewise, setting expectations when suffering from a cold or other illness will enable you to adapt and keep your training progressing smoothly.
Have we missed a symptom or type of sickness you have questions about? Ask in the comments section and we’ll respond to help you out pronto!