It seems that the Summer cold and flu season has arrived once again. Personally, I’ve had a cold all week and I just haven’t been up to running. But I get asked the question all of the time: “should I run when I’m sick?”
First, the biggest issue that most runners have here is that they are worried about losing performance by taking a few days off to get over a cold or flu. Let’s just put that to rest at the outset. You won’t lose fitness by taking a short break for the flu or a cold (or even a minor injury). It takes an extended period of time for you to see a drop in your fitness, usually two to three weeks. So put that out of your head.
A couple of days off, in fact, may do a lot of people some good, because most runners are on the verge of over-training most of the time. A few days down in bed, even when sick, can be a well deserved mental and physical break.
But going back to being sick, there is a simple rule: if you’re sick from the neck up only then you can probably still run. If you’re sick from the neck down, then you absolutely should not run.
Sick from the neck up, would mean stuffy noses, sore throats, and head-colds.
Sick from the neck down, means fevers, body ache, stomach flus and any whole body illness. Any of these symptoms mean that your immune system is compromised and working hard to get you well. A workout will just set you back in your recovery.
In particular, you should never run with a fever. The risk of damage to your heart is a real issue and this could lead to life-long consequences.
In general, you should always listen to your body. If you’re sick, then you more than likely should take the time off to get better. I usually recommend that people wait until they are at least 80-90% back to their normal energy level before they return to running.
Today, for example, I have a head-cold and I’m feeling only about 50% recovered. So even though I probably could run (I’m sick only from the neck up), I’ll most likely take another day off to recover. In the long-run, it won’t have an impact on my performance, but if it helps me avoid a relapse then it will be worth it.
If you’re reading this and you’re sick: I hope that you feel better soon!
Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
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