When you’re in the middle of training and suddenly you’ve got a cough or the sniffles, it’s immediately time to valuate what to do. Running with a cold isn’t always a bad idea, but you need to know when to push and when to pause. As someone who just went through this, I got you covered!
You’ve been washing your hands like a mad woman, eating plenty of greens and of course taking care of your body with smart training….right?
But you touched an elevator button that someone who has been less enthusiastic with their health did and now you’re making it rain tissues. Because you’re a runner the first thing you find yourself asking is “Can I still run“? instead of “should I see a doctor?”
It’s been noted that runners are crazy and this is a good example of why.
Today we’re exploring the age old question of will running with a cold make it worse? How to know when you’re good to go and when it’s really time for a solid recovery day.
In this article, you’ll learn the golden rule to know when to run and when not to, along with exceptions to that rule, and how running with a cold affects your body.
Should I Run with A Cold? How to Decide If You Should Run or Not
When you’re whole body hurts, it’s pretty easy to know you need the day off, but other times it’s not quite so obvious.
‘Above the neck’ is the golden rule that most runners are asked to follow while making the decision of whether or not to run with a cold.
If you have any symptoms below your neck, i.e., symptoms in your chest, then it’s generally advised to stay home.
But if you have mild nose, throat, or ear symptoms, you should generally be able to go out for a run. In fact, it may even help you feel better!
The location of your symptoms is incredibly important and it’s what you should focus on the most.
Symptoms Above the Neck
If you experience symptoms solely above your neck, you most likely have a head cold along with a blocked or runny nose, a headache, and sneezing.
Running is unlikely to aggravate these symptoms, as long as:
- you take it slow
- stick to easy training sessions
- watch your HR and if it’s higher than normal switch to a walk or rest day
- if you notice that your symptoms are getting worse time to stop
- if you notice that your energy the rest of the day is really poor, time to stop
Can Running With a Cold Make it Worse?
Bear in mind that training when unwell, even a simple cold, might result in further issues such as sinus infection or even pneumonia. I say this as someone who has gone from a cold to a sinus infection multiple times.
What can I say, coaches know all the rules, but it doesn’t mean we’re perfect at following them either.
In my case, my energy was totally fine, I was even keeping my HR under 120 to run…but due to all the snot I was sleeping horribly for like 5 days. Likely that pushed things over the edge more so than any sweat session.
Remember that a couple lost days is better than a couple lost weeks of training.
Can You Sweat Out a Cold?
You won’t actually get rid of the cold, but it can temporarily improve your symptoms, as described above!
Even Dr’s running tests on sick runners, were surprised to see that really they were totally ok to exercise.
“I was surprised their lung function wasn’t impaired,” Dr. Kaminsky, exercise physiologist at Ball State said. “I was surprised their overall exercise performance wasn’t impaired, even though they were reporting feeling fatigued.”
BONUS: And here’s a really important note about how quickly do we lose fitness?? It’s one day!
Symptoms Below the Neck
Anything below the neck is indicative of a more serious illness, and the only way to treat it is to rest until the symptoms subside. Especially because jostling is gong to make it all feel worse.
If you have symptoms below the neck such as chest congestion, coughing, body aches, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, or severe muscular ache, discontinue running until your symptoms resolve.
These are common sense guidelines, and you must use your own judgment and closely monitor your body; even if you pass the neck check, keep an eye out for additional symptoms.
‘Neck Check’ Checklist
Now that you know how the location of your symptoms make a difference when deciding whether or not to run, here’s the ‘neck check’ checklist to help you decide:
- Runny nose? Sore throat?You’re good to go, keep it easy as noted.
- Trouble breathing? Hacking Cough?Take another rest day.
- High temperature or aching muscles?Probably need at least a week for your immune system to recover.
- GI Distress? Upset Stomach?Really, do you want to run…it’s going to make this all feel worse.
- Fatigued?If nothing else is bothering you an easy run might be what the doctor ordered.
What are the Exceptions to the Above the Neck Rule?
As is the case with most rules, the neck rule has notable exceptions. ‘Whole-body’ symptoms such as a fever should cause concern, even if they are mild.
While a fever may accompany seasonal allergies, it is more frequently a sign of an infection developing. When in doubt, it is preferable to err on the side of caution and avoid intense workout sessions such as running long distances.
Dizziness, on the other hand, should never be taken lightly. Dizziness can develop for a variety of reasons, ranging from a dip in blood pressure to a middle ear infection.
Regardless of the cause, running may not be safe if your balance is impaired. Utilize your best judgment and consult a physician if symptoms do not improve.
There are occasions when nasal congestion is severe enough that it considerably impairs your ability to breathe. If you have a ‘nose cold’ and are forced to breathe only via your mouth, you may want to reconsider running.
While a nasal decongestant may be beneficial, it is advised to discontinue exercise if you are gasping for air or feeling lightheaded.
Until you are able to breathe normally again, you may want to limit yourself from running according to your regular training schedule.
Is Running Good When You Have a Cold?
Usually, the answer is yes!
For the majority of people, the immune system will respond favorably to an easy run but having a cold means it’s not the time for your hardest track workout of the year. Doctors think this could be due to a few factors:
- The short-term increase in body temperature seems to help fight bacterial growth.
- We know running releases endorphin’s, which make us happy…being happy is a big boost to the immune system and can therefore help ward off illness.
- Science also shows that because running increases blood flow, it means a quicker circulation of white blood cells throughout the body, which enhances the immune system.
“Check in with yourself 10 minutes after starting your workout,” exercise physiologist Ellen Breeding says. “If you feel fine, then carry on. But if you don’t feel great, then wrap it up right then and there, or else you’ll make it worse.”
BONUS: Checkout my drug free tips for preventing illness!! I swear by them during heavy training and with all my travels.
Tips for Running While Sick
If you have above the neck symptoms and want to go out for a run, here are a few tips:
- Lower the intensity: Instead of running hard as you normally would, run at a comfortable pace.
- Stop your interval training: It can put your body under too much stress so it’s best to avoid it till your symptoms subside.
- Cut the distance: Now’s not the time to run long, so reduce your distance so that you can still run without negatively affecting your body.
- Turn off any GPS tracking devices: They will tempt you to push yourself too hard, so turn them off till you’re feeling better and feel up to it.
- Don’t run in a competitive group: Running in a competitive group may push you beyond your comfort zone, so stick to running solo or with a friend that knows how you’re feeling.
- Stay clear of races: It’s not advisable to run a major race with a cold, so you might need to pull out of any big ones coming up
- Sleep more: Consider sleeping more by adding in a nap or just get to bed even earlier for optimal recovery
- Try CBD oil to improve workout recovery
- Hydrate,hydrate, hydrate, and get more electrolytes into your body.
As a runner there are times where recovery is every bit as key to the training process and getting yourself out the door when motivation is lagging. If your body is begging for rest, then let go of the stress of missing a few runs and recover so that you can return 100%.
Note for Endurance Athletes Who Get Sick A Lot
Are you getting sick a lot? It could be a signal that you’re over training.
Endurance athletes have an increased risk of illness when their training reaches peak levels or especially after an event where we’re giving our full effort.
During that time cortisol rises, antibodies in saliva drop dramatically and a number of other very sciency things happen making our body more susceptible to disease.Why Endurance Athletes get sick! What to do this winter! #runchat Click To Tweet
Our lowered immunity is temporary, lasting from three to 72 hours after an intense, prolonged event. Nevertheless, it presents an ideal opportunity to viruses and other invading pathogens, especially those that enter the body through the respiratory system.
In fact, according to David Nieman, professor of health and exercise science at Appalachian State University, someone running the Western States 100 miler has more like a 1 in 4 chance of getting ill.
Running a Marathon with a Cold?
What if your concern isn’t just your everyday training, but the big race that you’ve been working up to for months now?
Based on the studies and the above tips, if you’re just blowing snocket rockets and maybe a little coughing, then go for it.
Run your race as hard as you want.
It could feel harder if your body is depleted, so make sure you’re doing everything you can to support it in the days before.
- Get additional sleep
- Drink more electrolytes
- Focus on high quality nutrition for nutrients
- Don’t skimp on the carbs or fuel, you will hit the wall
- Be willing to adjust during the race if you start feeling worse
- Remember there are many races, 1 body
POST RACE you need to take recovery twice as seriously as normal.
Because your body was fighting something going in to the heavy load, you’ve increased your cortisol and now need to really give your body every chance at recovery.
What if you’ve missed training due to being sick?
If you’ve gotten the flu or other illness and had to miss more that a few runs, read this story on how to get back on track after missed training.
All right, hopefully this helps to put to bed all your questions around should you run if you’re sick? The answer is really it depends on what type of illness and then being smart about the workouts that you do.
Looking for more running healthy tips?
Do you: get sick yearly? Stay healthy as a horse?
What’s your rule of thumb for running when sick?
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