A Little More Each Day

One working mama learning to run & to maintain my 100+ pound weight loss!

Should you run when you’re sick?

on November 8, 2014

Of course, the week when I’m sicker than I’ve been in years coincides with the start of my new training plan and new activity goals for the month. In terms of activity goals, I’ve definitely let some of those slide this week in the name of rest and recovery, although I’m proud to say I’ve only had two days with less than 7,000 steps and only one day where I missed my push ups and ten minutes of exercise. The training plan this week called for 4 miles on Tuesday, speed work on Wednesday and then my first back to back run Friday and Saturday. I did run on Tuesday, but it was a very slow run-walk and probably closer to 3 miles (didn’t have my Garmin). I skipped the speed work Wednesday, because that was the day I had body aches and headaches. When Friday arrived, I faced a real dilemma. When considering training for the Rebel Challenge, I decided that only two things were going to be really sacrosanct in terms of training: a) I was going to have fun with my runs and take it easy and b) I was going to do the back to back runs, if I got in no other workouts for the week. I’m not interested in any particular finish time for these races, as just finishing the back to back runs will be achievement enough. Plus, it’ll be my first and possibly only racing experience in Disneyland, so I want to soak it all in and have fun.

That presented a challenge for me on Friday. I was still feeling bad enough that I stayed home from work so I didn’t spread germs to anyone and so I could go to the doctor. I still had a really sore throat and huge, painful lymph nodes in my neck. On the plus side, the body aches were gone and the headache was gone. My appetite was back and I was starting to feel a little better overall. I was supposed to cover 3 miles Friday and 6 miles Saturday. In discussing training for back to back challenges, I’ve heard Jeff Galloway say repeatedly on podcasts and read in his articles that he encourages walking the first day and running the second because it’s really the time on your feet your need to train for, more than the running. That was reassuring, in that I didn’t feel like I would be up to running much on Friday, but is it a good idea to get out and do anything at all when you’re sick?

Like most rational people, I hit up Dr. Google for more information. I’ve put links to some of the articles I read down below. The consensus in my reading was that it was okay to go for easy runs if your symptoms were only above the neck (ie sore throat, runny nose, congestion) but you should avoid running if you had any systemic symptoms, like fever or body aches, or any symptoms in your chest, like bronchitis or pneumonia. That makes a lot of intuitive sense to me, because you certainly don’t want to raise your body temperature by a vigorous workout if you already a have a fever (that would not feel good) and trying to run with body aches would like lead to changing your gait to compensate for the aches and set you up for injury. Similarly, if you’re having trouble breathing because of respiratory symptoms deeper in chest, why tax things further with heavy breathing while you’re running? I was a little entertained to see that people have actually done studies to look at this and found that running with a cold didn’t exacerbate the cold.

Naturally I forgot my water bottle and had to loop back around to the house. Sigh.

Naturally I forgot my water bottle and had to loop back around to the house. Sigh.

My absolute favorite quote was in a WebMD article where a doctor said “Do what you can do and if you can’t do it, then don’t.” Brilliant and practical advice. 🙂 Ultimately, that was the approach I decided to take and I headed out for a very gentle 3 mile run/walk. I wouldn’t normally bring water on such a short run in my neighborhood, but since breathing the dry air was likely to irritate my already sore throat, I brought it along. That was a huge help! I did not bring my cough drops along because that just seemed like a choking episode waiting. As I’m already having trouble swallowing with this throat infection, I didn’t want to jostle along with a hard lozenge in my mouth!

Other tips I ran across for running when you were sick including trying pool running, because the humidity might help it feel more comfortable, or running on a treadmill indoors where it isn’t as dry and windy. If you’re hitting up the pool or treadmill at a gym, be sure to be diligent about washing your hands and avoiding spreading any germs. You should also be careful about intensity and keep things easy until you’re feeling better.

Ultimately, the answer to working out when you’re sick is going to depend on the person and the situation. How sick are you? How “important” is the training? As runners we think all of our training runs are absolutely critical, but I know logically if I missed or shorted this week’s runs, I’d be okay in the long run. If you try to work out, how does it make you feel? If it makes you feel worse, don’t do it again. If you felt okay when you walked but couldn’t breath when you were running, just walk until you’re back to your normal good health. It’s a good time to practice really listening to your body.

How do you approach workouts when you’re ill?

Links for More Reading:

Runners World Should You Run When You’re Sick?

WebMD Exercising When Sick: A Good Move?

Competitor.com Should you train when you’re sick?


11 responses to “Should you run when you’re sick?

  1. Ugh you poor thing. Hope you are feeling better. These colds are the worst. I feel like I’ve been “threatening” so I’m loading up on mucinex.

  2. Tokyo Marathon Runner says:

    I find that if I have the sniffles or my nose is clogged, a nice easy run clears everything.

    If it’s a fever or if I am coughing uncontrollably, then I definitely won’t run. I rationalise this but telling myself that if I force myself to run, I will end up worse and won’t get to run for more days.

    But if it’s a minor cold, then it gets tricky. I typically run 4x a week, so if I know that all it takes to recover is to skip a day, get some rest and good sleep, then I’d go for it.

    • It’s so hard to find that fine line. I felt fine to run Saturday, and still feel like it was a good idea even though part of my infection got worse. Of course, I’ll never be able to convince my non-runner family members that the run didn’t make me worse. 🙂

  3. sarahdudek80 says:

    Hope you are feeling better soon. I love that quote from the doctor. I have read a lot of research and also sat in on a discussion by Matt Fitzgerald of Competitor. A lot of research shows that as you said, when it is above the head (or even a chest cold) running can actually help boost your immune system and help clear up congestion. I personally really believe this and am gross to run with when I have a cold. Feel better!

    • Good to know that there’s more research out there showing that exercise might be helpful with minor illnesses! Maybe a cold is a good time for solo runs or really good (and forgiving) running friends. 🙂

  4. leannenalani says:

    It sucks to be sick. I have grappled with that question too. That practical advice sounds great, though. Most of the time when I’m sick I forego exercise because illness usually leaves me exhausted, but there have been times when I really wanted to do some Zumba, so I did. Makes sense as long as it won’t make your symptoms worse. Feel better soon!

    • It actually felt fine, so I think that whole “go with what feels good” approach worked well. Of course, I’ll never convince my non-exercising family that working out Saturday was in no way related to the lymph node that got infected and landed me in the hospital. We’ll see how long it is before my husband lets me run again.

  5. I am the same – run only when it’s
    above the chest, but I listen to my body mostly. If the cold has me feeling run down then I just rest. During my winter training for a spring race, I generally add in an extra week to my training plan (13 weeks instead of 12) so if I need a week off to battle a cold or other illness, I don’t feel stressed about it and then if I need a second week off, it’s really not a problem!

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