Health & Injuries

Running Through Sickness? You’d Better Listen To Us First!

by On Nov 7, 2015
Running Through Sickness? You'd Better Listen To Us First!

You sneeze once, hoping maybe it was just something tickling your nose. You sneeze again. Maybe it is just allergies? But then you realise that your chest feels a little tight, and your throat is a little scratchy. Uh oh. We all know what that means.

Unfortunately for runners, we are more vulnerable to sickness during periods of hard training, and if we have children at home or work in situations where others are often ill, the risk goes up even higher.

We cannot choose when we get sick, and it usually falls at the worst possible time. When we are in the middle of an important week of training, it can be hard to decide whether to take a few days off, rest up, and try to get better sooner, or plow on through and hope that it does not get any worse. As runners we can be very stubborn, and the latter is usually the one we follow.

However, sometimes running through sickness not only makes it worse, but can turn it into a few weeks thing, rather than a few days. It is always going to be better to play it safe than risk it, but as runners this can be a hard pill to swallow.

Hopefully, after reading this, you will have a better understanding of knowing which days to run through, and which days to rest.

Rest Up And Your Body Will Thank You

The most important thing to keep in mind is that resting for a few days is not going really going to affect your fitness at all. Pushing a workout back a day is probably going to help you, rather than set you back.

We know it can be hard to accept, and we still struggle with this too, but we actually researched heavily into this in a previous post on how long it takes to lose your running fitness, and we found that when it comes to sickness or injury, it takes longer than we think to lose anything.

Running Through Sickness? You'd Better Listen To Us First!

Photo Credit: 123RF

If you listen to your body, and be patient with your body while it tries to fight off what is attacking it, it will thank you, and you will bounce back quicker.

Should I Run If I Am Congested?

Congestion problems include a runny nose, coughing, or chest tightness/restriction, in most cases you can get away with keeping up with your running.

Actually, sometimes that hot shower following a nice easy run might help to clear some of it, and allow you to feel somewhat normal for a few hours.

How Should I Change My Training?

We mentioned that it can be good for your body to go for an easy run. That is going to be the best option if you do chose to run while congested, but if you are determined to do a workout, it would be best to reduce the speed or intensity you are going to run at.

It will be more difficult to breathe anyway, especially out of your nose, and your body will be a little run down. Both factors will mean that you are not able to run as fast as you usually would. By slowing down the paces you are prescribing yourself, not only are you preventing doing further damage, but you are helping your confidence too.

Trust that your body will bounce back quicker this way, meaning you can get to your speedy self quicker, rather than having a prolonged time of running half speed.

Running Through Sickness? You'd Better Listen To Us First!

Photo Credit: 123RF

Start your workout at 10-20 seconds per mile slower than your original schedule called for, and if you feel okay as the workout goes, you can speed up a little to finish feeling confident and strong. If you are struggling, then keep the pace slower and just focus on effort rather than pace.

Keep in mind that this workout does not necessarily say anything about your fitness. If your body is fighting off sickness, it is not going to perform to the level it usually would, but you are still getting the benefits of the workout even if you are running slower on that day.

Should I Run If I Have The Flu?

Want the short answer? No.

If you are experiencing aching muscles or a fever, these flu symptoms are a real warning that your body really fighting hard right now, and if you try to “run through it”, you are going to set your body back a lot longer than you will if you just take a few days now. It is also very dangerous, and you are risking your long term health by trying to run through it.

Running Through Sickness? You'd Better Listen To Us First!

Photo Credit: 123RF

Remember what we said above:

A few days off is not going to affect your fitness.

A fever is the rise in your internal temperature as your body tries to respond to a bacterial or viral infection. As running also involves raising your temperature, it will make things worse and put you back even further. Running also means blood is diverted away from your immune system and towards your muscles, which means your body is not able to spend that time helping you get better, but instead puts you at an even greater risk of catching something else as your immune system is surprised for up to 20 hours after hard exercise.

How Should I Change My Training?

If you have any flu like symptoms including a fever, do not run. It is important to rest for as many days as your body needs to feel normal during your every day life.

Our studies found that it takes at least 10 days to lose significant running fitness, so those few days your body craves to fight off the sickness are not going to do you any harm, and your body will thank you in the long run as you return to running faster.

When you feel normal within your day to day activities, the next day is when you should begin your training. We talked about this more in a separate post on how to return to running after sickness.

Another important point to mention is not to try to make up for the training you have missed. That means not trying to cram in extra workouts, or rushing back to where you were. Your immune system will still be working hard to get back to normal, and if you push it straight into hard workouts, you are risking taking a step back and getting worse.

Use the first few days back to running to run easy. A few strides at the end of your run might help wake your body up to prepare for future workouts. If you feel good after 2-3 days of regular runs, try a light workout to see how you feel.

Patience Is Key

As much as we hope it does not happen to us, and no one likes taking time off training for sickness, if you listen to your body when it is asking you for rest, and you are patient with your return to running, you will be back to normal in no time.

If you do not listen, and continue to force your runs, you could be struggling with this for weeks or even months rather than days.

Remember that you need to be real with what your body can handle during the time you are feeling sick, and especially when returning. You can prove your fitness when you are back to 100% health, but try to go by effort (and keep that effort easy) for the return to running process.

Have you ever tried running through sickness? Share with us your experience.

Tina Muir is a Saucony sponsored elite runner and community manager at Runners Connect. Runners Connect is a community of expert coaches that provide custom and dynamic training plans tailored to runner abilities, pace and goals. Tina also hosts a popular running podcast on Runners Connect, which promises to provide unparalleled expertise and knowledge about training and racing to help make runners smarter, fitter, and faster.

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