Getting Started

Running While Sick

What in the blazes would make someone want to do that?  Run?  While sick?

While my boyfriend – and probably countless others – can’t fathom why one wouldn’t just accept the sick day and go home, I felt my leaving at noon to go sit in front of a couch for a night was enough time resting… time to get moving!

MJS SundaySno, nws, sears, 1Call it stubborn.  Call it March Madness.  The non-basketball kind where you FINALLY get a glimpse of nice weather and just crave being outside.  It is also the cause for Chicagoans and other Midwestern folk donning shorts and tshirts in 40 degree weather that would scare any LA-native or Floridian under the covers.

Whatever the cause, I wanted to get out and get moving.  But I had to know…

Should you run if you’re sick?

If you read my last post (When Life Happens), you know that my training schedule had already been knocked around a bit.

And runners already don’t like to miss workouts.

So I will give that I was genuinely “go home and rest because you look like you were hit by a bus” sick on Wednesday.  I was good and ate soup, drank extra Vitamin C juices, and rested up.

Thursday I was feeling great by the end of work. Can I run now??

So here’s what I learned with a little bit of research:

Yes, you can!

BUT you have to do it safely.

Know What’s Ailing You

David Nieman, Ph.D., from the Appalachian State University’s Human Performance Laboratory – and avid runner of marathoners and ultras – uses “the neck rule.”  He guides that if symptoms are below the neck, you need to take time off.  That’s your chest colds, body aches, respiratory infections, etc. (Because, seriously, if you have an infection in your lungs, how are you supposed to go running?!?)  If symptoms are above the neck, like a runny nose, stuffiness, and sneezing, you’ll be fine.  Those symptoms don’t pose a risk to runners continuing to workout.

Research Ball State University also supports this.  Tom Weidner, Ph.D., director of athletic training research, studied two groups of 30 runners each and them with the common cold. One group ran 30 to 40 minutes every day for a week. The other group was sedentary. According to Weidner, “the two groups didn’t differ in the length or severity of their colds.”  In another study, he found that running with a cold didn’t compromise performance.  He concluded that running with a head cold–as long as you don’t push beyond normal workouts–is beneficial in maintaining fitness and psychological well-being.

Read that sentence again.  (Because I didn’t.)

Running with a head cold–as long as you don’t push beyond normal workouts–is beneficial in maintaining fitness and psychological well-being.

As in, don’t run your first 20-mile run of training with a head cold.  (I guarantee some of you are thinking “No kidding, Captain Obvious.”  But, come Saturday, I was just so excited to get out there!)


I’m no parent but I have been a kid so this is a clear “Do as I say, not as I do” moment.

You need to take extra caution when training with anything worse than a minor cold because it snowballs quickly, even into more serious conditions affecting your lower respiratory track and lungs.  If you get to this level, like a sinus infection, you probably won’t want to run anyway.  But give it about 3 days just in case.

If you’ve got a fever, or anything above 99 degrees, skip your run.  “Sweating out” a fever by running doesn’t work.  It’s not a cocktail you just need to push out of your system with time and blood flowing.  “Running won’t help your immune system fight the fever,” says Nieman.  It’ll do quite the opposite actually.  Because fevers are fought by your body increasing its temperature, and exercise means your heart is pumping blood from muscles to skin to keep you from overheating, you are causing your heart to work overtime at a time when it’s already strained.  Ouch, man.

So.  Don’t run with a fever.  The day after your symptoms disappear, go for a short, easy run, as Nieman recommends.  Give yourself a week or two until getting back to your pre-illness intensity and mileage to avoid relapsing.

“Above all, obey your body and the thermometer – not your training program.”

(I swear.  I did read this before running.  I must have had my runner goggles instead of reading glasses.)

Know Your Limits

Interestingly enough, 60 miles is the threshold that can tip your immune system to getting out of wack.  Sixty miles a week, for average runners, is the dividing line where you are compromising your system to the point of getting sick.  Nieman conducted a study of over 2,300 runners competing in the Los Angeles Marathon in 1987 and found that the odds of getting sick after the marathon were six time higher than normal.  “Those who ran 60 miles a week or more doubled their chance of getting sick.”  Even if this is 30 years ago, Nieman still holds that these results are still applicable today.  He even tested this himself to add anecdotal evidence:  When Nieman trained up to 90 miles a week, he was constantly battling sore throats.  When he dropped his weekly mileage, the symptoms stopped.

So while I am taking a couple days to recuperate, I hope everyone else is enjoying the (slightly) warmer weather on the lakefront.

Will see you back on the trails on Thursday!



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