Running while ill

Feeling under the weather? When should you run and when should you rest?

Last week, my daughter was generous enough to share a cold with me. At the same time, I heard from two runners I coach. One was battling what sounded like a pretty bad cold and the other was dealing with the flu.

It’s that time of the year again. People are getting ill and training is getting interrupted.

How significant should the interruption of your training be if you get ill? Well, it depends.

How your training is interrupted depends on many factors, most significantly how severe the illness is an how your body reacts.

Some people like hard and fast rules for what to do when getting ill. As is often the case, I prefer more flexibility. There are a few hard and fast rules but there is also room to weigh how the illness is affecting you and adjust accordingly.

The hard and fast rules:

First, let’s get these rules out of the way. Break them and you could end up with some serious problems.

1) Don’t run if you have a fever. The fever is an indication that your illness is serious and your body needs a lot of energy to fight it. Don’t push your luck.

2) Don’t run if the symptoms are below your shoulders. If you have things like chest congestion, an upset stomach, or muscle aches, this is a serious illness and you should be giving your body plenty of rest.

Other (still important) advice:

1) Listen to your body. If you’re feeling rough or you have no energy, don’t fight it. This is your body telling you it needs to save its strength for fighting off the illness.

2) Back off. How much? I don’t know, that’s why it’s in the less strict category. If you’re already in a low intensity/low volume training phase, you may not need to back off much. If you’re doing a lot of intense workouts, even if you’re not feeling too badly, those workouts could put you in a hole it’s hard to dig out of.

3) You should feel better after your run than you did before. If not, you’re likely doing too much or running when you should be resting.

4) If you’re unsure, do less. When dealing with illness, it’s better to err on the side of caution.

4 Replies to “Running while ill”

  1. Nice post Ryan!! I have learned over the years, that for me its better to rest. When a cold hits me normally it hits me hard. One time I remember that I ran sick, I felt good during the run, but after the run I felt very bad and I think got worse, from that day on, I decided to err on the side of caution and bag the day/days.

    1. Thanks Cesar. You’re so right. If unsure, err on the side of caution. I As I mentioned, you should always feel better after than before. That doesn’t mean just in the seconds or minutes immediately after but how do you feel an hour later? Two hours? If you don’t feel better than before, that’s a sign that the run took too much out of you.

      It sounds like you’re very much doing the right thing. Keep doing it.

    1. Hi Sarah, I agree with you 100%. Listening to your body will take you a long way. It is a skill that needs to be practiced to get it right regularly but it’s a skill we can be practicing every single day.

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