Running With a Cold: Yes or No?
Hey runner! I have a terrible cold. Is running with a cold a yes or a no? Runners can be terribly stubborn and rigorous with their training regiment – so much so that they can make poor decisions.
Deciding if you should run while sick is an excellent question. There are some good rules of thumb to help you decide if you should run or stay on the sidelines until feeling better.
The neck check is one measurement people use to decide if they should run or not. What does that mean? If your symptoms are above the neck, go ahead and run. If they are below the neck, be wary of running.
So if you have a runny nose, cough, sniffles, or a mild sore throat, go ahead and run. What if you have a tight chest, or wheezing in the chest? Then it typically is not a good idea to run.
Early Cold Symptoms
If you have very early cold symptoms, it can actually be an excellent idea to get a workout in. Why? Hard exercise like running can open up your airways and help you push the muck from your body.
Also, running wakes up those endorphins,, which can actually make you feel better even if you are a little sick!
Some believe that running with mild chest congestion can actually help you feel a bit better. A run at a slightly slower pace than normal, followed by a hot shower, can open up those airways a bit.
Plus, any runner can tell you that running can promote some mucus flow, and you can literally spit up the yuckies.
It’s Getting Hot In Here…
If you have a fever, you should not run. It doesn’t matter what other symptoms you have, fever should mean stop and rest. A workout heats your body up and, if you already have a fever, this isn’t safe.
You also should not run if you have those achy flu-like symptoms. Your body is better off resting in those circumstances, also.
Slow Down When You’re Sick
Conventional wisdom dictates that if you are running through a cold or another sickness you should slow down a bit. If you’re heading out for a short run, add :15-:30 seconds per mile to your normal pace.
Don’t try to push through speed work if you’re under the weather. Be kind to your body if you’re trying to do a tempo run and just can’t quite make the times you were hoping for.
Other tips for running while sick include turning off your GPS watch and running by perceived effort. This means to decide to run at an effort, not set the pace. If you tell yourself to run at 65-75% perceived effort, you are less likely to overtax your already compromised body.
Likewise, the running group that you love to meet up with because they challenge you to run harder? Skip that group run if you’re really not feeling well. Those friends will push you to run faster and harder than you should do while fighting sickness.
Another modification you can make if you are under the weather is cutting the distance down. You may find you are well enough to run, but not to complete that 7 miles on your schedule. If you want to run but just aren’t quite up to par, just lower the distance.
If you are scheduled to race, you might not want to toe the line if you are sick. Sure, it sucks to see a DNS (Did Not Start) on your race calendar. But if you run yourself into the ground, how far back will you set your training?
If you don’t give your body time to heal, you will set yourself back. Sometimes, you are truly better off skipping a day or two of workouts rather than pushing through when you’re sick.
Can Pushing Through a Workout Do More Harm Than Good?
If you push through the miles on the calendar when you are too sick to run, you can truly be causing your body harm. Running through a fever can elevate the fever to unsafe levels. Running with chest congestion can make the situation worse.
When your body is trying to heal, it is stressed. Hard running puts more stress on the body which makes healing difficult.
How to Survive Sickness if You’re a Workout Junkie
I get it. You’re obsessed with logging miles, or maybe you just love that feeling you get when you sweat. There are some options that are less hard on your body than running. You can try a zero impact indoor workout like the elliptical if you’re sick and not up to running. Listening to some mellow music can often help you set an easy tempo.
Water jogging or light swimming is another thought for an easier workout, as an option to pounding the pavement. Make no mistake, this is not to imply that swimming is easy. You need to enter the pool with the intention of a light workout.
Putting on your comfy pants, playing some classical music and trying some yoga is another thought if you are truly under the weather. This light stretching and focus can help your body to feel better in more ways than one.
To Run or Not To Run
That is the question. The answer is not a simple one. If your symptoms seem to simply be cold like, it is probably safe to run. If those cold symptoms seem to settle in your chest, you may want to reconsider your decision to run. If you have a fever or overall body aches and pains, you should certainly not run.
If you are determined to get some kind of workout in, be smart. If that workout is a run, strongly consider modifying the workout so you aren’t overexerting your already stressed body. Otherwise, a zero-impact workout that won’t elevate your heart rate is probably the best option.
Remember: running while sick may set your training back much longer than if you simply took a day or two off at the beginning of the illness. Be smart. You only get one body!