Other Episodes and Articles

Can You Run with a Cold?

recovery Dec 07, 2020

It didn’t take COVID-19 to elevate the question of whether to run while sick to the tops of runners’ minds. The issue has been plaguing runners of all abilities for decades: Which symptoms mean I can’t run? Which mean I can? And how sick is too sick to lace up those shoes?


As a whole, runners are a pretty dedicated bunch. We don’t like to miss workouts. We don’t like to make excuses. And we definitely don’t like to let something as trivial as a runny nose get in the way of a training goal.


Our unwavering focus and mental toughness can often blind us to the bigger picture, though. Running while sick can cause harm, like a more severe illness, worse symptoms, or a longer time spent sitting on the bench (or, more likely, couch). And that can all add up to a missed race or goal.


Still, there are times when running while sick is OK, and, while each situation and individual is always unique — and should be treated as such — there are some general guidelines to consider.


Why did you get sick?


Setting aside COVID for the purposes of this article and assuming that’s not what’s ailing you, the first factor you should take into account when deciding if you should run is what caused you to feel ill in the first place.


Have you been overtraining? Not getting enough sleep? Fueling improperly? Doing these things once in a while may not hurt you, but if that’s your schedule more often than not, it could very well lead to sickness or injury.


If you’re feeling fatigued and groggy, it’s probably your body’s way of telling you to rest — and listening to it is probably in your best interests. Pushing your body when it’s giving you signs to back off could definitely lead to a longer or more serious illness.


How serious are your symptoms?


The next question to consider is the severity of your symptoms, which can generally be determined by the “neck rule,” or checking whether your symptoms occur above or below your neck.


Symptoms above the neck, like a runny nose or stuffiness, don’t typically require time off. Symptoms that occur within the neck or below it, however, like chest congestion or tightness, shortness of breath, a sore throat, cough, body aches, chills, vomiting, or diarrhea, mean you likely need to hit pause on your workout routine, at least for the time being.


When can you start running again?


The short answer is: It depends. If you’ve missed a week or less, you’re probably fine to jump back in where you left off. If it’s been longer than a week, though, you’re going to have to be more gradual about it.


Once your symptoms start to subside and you’re feeling better — even if you’re not 100 percent yet — you can start running again. You just may want to cut back on the length of your runs at first, as well as their intensity.


Remember, as with anything related to running (and life), it’s always best to look at the big picture. Will what you’re about to do help or hurt your overall, long-term goals?


Now get out there and run your life.

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