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Running With a Cold: Too Risky?

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It is that time of year again: cold season. Many athletes end up asking themselves if running with a cold and cough is dangerous or if it is okay.

As you have come to expect, when you have questions, we have the answers. 

Should I Run With a Cough and Cold?

Nothing is quite as frustrating as waking up with a cold or a cough when you are eyeballs deep into a training cycle. Let’s face it – none of us wants to be sidelined.

So how do you decide if it is safe to run through your sickness or if you would be better off sitting it out? 

The general rule of thumb is that you are safe to work out if your symptoms are above the neck. Although you should bear in mind that your interests might be best served if you take on an easier workout. 

Cold symptoms that are typically safe to run through include:

  • headache
  • runny nose
  • congestion
  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • sore throat

That is also assuming that none of your symptoms are severe. For example, if you run with a slight headache, you might find the fresh air makes the pain subside.

However, if you go to bed with a runny nose and coughing, then wake up with a killer throat plus a headache, perhaps you should take it easy.

Above all else, listen to your body.

Does Running with a Cold Make it Worse?

The easy answer is that running with a cold does not worsen. However, it is more complicated than that.

Sometimes if you work out with a cold, you will feel some relief from your symptoms. Personally, when hit with a cold, I love to run outside. My firm belief is that I am workout the evil out of my body. As I run, I spit out whatever works its way up.

If you hit the road for some intense training that will leave you feeling fatigued and run down, you could be setting yourself back a few days.

This is where it is a delicate balance between making good choices for your body and holding true to your training plan. 

Is It Okay to Run With a Cough?

While it is perfectly okay to run with a cough if you have a very bad cough coupled with chest congestion, you should probably sit this one out.

The Mayo Clinic uses the same “above the neck” protocol most runners are familiar with.

If your cough is just slight and dry, you are typically okay to run. A hacking cough or one that comes with chest congestion can be harder to shake.

Also, if you have any chronic conditions such as asthma, you should proceed with caution.

Can You Run with a Blocked Nose?

 Whether your nose is blocked, occasionally dripping, or running like crazy, you are usually good to run.

Remember: symptoms above the neck are not ones to worry about as much as those below the neck. 

Sometimes running with a cold can help you work up the yucky stuff you have in your head. In other words, it might help you clear your head – at least temporarily.

Can Running Help Get Rid of a Cold?

Running can help to alleviate some of your cold symptoms.

Since exercise releases adrenaline called epinephrine, running helps your body. Epinephrine is a natural decongestant, so running can help clear out those nasal passages. 

However, the other side of the argument is that exercise uses up energy that could otherwise be used to fight that bug.

This is why it is advisable to do a less aggressive workout if you are not feeling up to par. Instead of that hard tempo run or speed workout, jogging with a cold might be easier on your body.

Does Exercise Clear Mucus from Lungs?

Yes: exercise does clear mucus from the lungs. Some illnesses, such as bronchitis, leave you feeling like you have a collection of crap in your lungs.

Although some bronchitis symptoms can be made worse by exercise, there is research out there in the medical community that physical activity can be excellent for people who are recovering. 

One of the rationales given by Medical News Today is that it helps to work the mucus out from the lungs. Again, we are advised that it is okay to proceed with a gentle workout if the symptoms are above the neck. 

Physical activity is one of the best ways to clear sputum from the lungs.

Should I Rest When I Have a Cold?

Runners with a simple cold will be relieved to hear that you do not have to rest until better. Since a typical cold usually lasts anywhere from seven to ten days, that can be quite a relief.

For runners who are just “running to run” and are not training for a specific event, you have a little more wiggle room in your training. 

You could take a rest day or two if you want. Another option is to lower the intensity and duration of your running.

What if you are eyeballs deep in marathon training? Can you consider running a marathon with a cold?

Yes, you can. However, know that you might not perform at your very best, and be kind to yourself. 

If you are thinking about running with a fever, I would like to caution you against that. In addition, if you have a productive cough or if your chest feels tight or heavy, you should take a day off. 

Other symptoms that may sideline you are not necessarily cold but worth mentioning. If you wake up with diarrhea or are vomiting, that is a definite sign to stay home.

Remember to Give Yourself Grace

Whether you are in your training cycle, one of the best things you can do if you wake up feeling sick is to offer yourself some grace.

Unless you routinely choose to skip out on your workout, taking a day or two off or deciding to run a little easier won’t make or break you.

The best piece of advice I have to offer is this: pretend your training partner texted you, describing the exact symptoms you have. Would you tell him or her to suck it up and run, would you encourage them to slow it down a bit, or would you advise them to stay in bed?

Whatever advice you give your best buddy and training partner, give it to yourself.

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