Are you Putting Your Body in Danger by Running While Sick?
Sneezing, coughing, congestion, and achy muscles. No, you did not stumble onto a Nyquil commercial. Unfortunately, hard training increases your susceptibility to getting sick, especially if you have children at home.
When you are in the middle of a big training segment, it’s important to know what to do when those symptoms do arise, and you are faced with the question of whether to run or not. To make the decision easy, this article will give you a clear idea of what to run through, and when to rest up.
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.
You are not going to ruin your fitness by pushing your workout back a day, or even by taking a few days completely off from running. Yes, runners are obsessive creatures, but two or three days off will not negatively impact your fitness. We looked into this in great detail for our post on How Long Does it Take to Lose your Running Fitness post. Be smart and be patient, and your body will thank you in the long run, pun intended 🙂
Running when Congested
If your symptoms are congestion related – runny nose, chest congestion or coughing – you are usually safe to run.
In fact, an easy run, followed by a nice hot shower may help clear your congestion, and give you a few hours of feeling back to normal.
How to adjust your training
Reduce the speed or intensity of your workouts, or ideally, replace a hard run with an easy day. Being congested and stuffy will make it harder to perform to breathe in and out of your nose, which will limit your ability to run your best.
Instead of setting yourself up for disappointment, have the courage to move your workout backwards. In the words of 2014 US Marathon Champion, Esther Erb, “it takes more confidence to run slowly than it does to run fast.”
If you still plan to workout, start your intervals or tempo run 10-15 seconds per mile slower than you initially intended. 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 as you adjusted, 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 slightly slower based on conditions.
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 increase the time it will take 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 unwell, which increases the likelihood of your symptoms taking a turn for the 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 you to return to full health.
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 are able to return to normal day-to-day activities. For example, if you first get sick on Monday, and start feeling normal on Thursday, you should begin running again on Friday. Here is a more detailed look at how you can return to training after getting sick.
Do not try to “make up” missed training in the few days after you return to to running. Your immune system likely still fragile, and your body probably isn’t ready for maximum effort. Spend the first two days running easy mileage with a few strides at the end 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 listening to your body, and being patient in your approach, you can avoid the flu setting you back for weeks instead of days. You will be back to normal training before you know it. Likewise, setting realistic expectations when suffering from a cold or other illness will enable you to adapt and keep your training progressing smoothly.
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