If you are a runner, you are almost guaranteed to run into some circumstance that will cause you to have to take a break from your scheduled training. Whether it is an injury, work, vacation, family emergencies, and so on. I’ve recently been struggling to get over a cold and cough that just will not go away. It has really put a damper on my training routine that I have had planned. So it made me ask the question, when is it okay to continue training when sick and when should rest take a priority?
I absolutely hate to take breaks in my training because too long of a break can throw off the routines that take forever to get setup. At the same time, I’m extremely cautious and make sure I do not work myself into an injury. Avoiding injuries can be easy with proper stretching, preparation and mindfulness. The one thing that you cannot plan for is getting sick. Eating healthy, drinking plenty of fluids, getting enough sleep, and removing stress from your life are great ways to stay healthy. But even the healthiest among us will catch a cold from time to time.
The week I have been fighting a cold that involved a sore throat, upset stomach, and headache. As much as I wanted to get out and put some miles under my feet, I had to listen to my body and rest. Three days of medicine and extra hours of sleep and the headache and stomach ache were finally gone and my legs were screaming “LETS GO FOR A RUN!” Unfortunately, the cough had not subsided. So now I’ve got to make a choice, go for a run or keep resting?
My rule of thumb (and what you’ll most likely see other runners mention) is that if the cold is from the neck up, then you are good to go and train. In the past I would go running while congested and by mile two, the sinuses are completely clear. Honestly, I swear a good run will work better then most decongestant medicines. Just be prepared to be wiping you nose every other minute of the run. The reason for saying “from the neck up” is because if your stomach is acting up, then you are risking getting sick while training and throwing up (or it coming out of the other end). It’ll be messy and you really should be focusing on hydrating and eating properly until your stomach settles down.
The issue I was concerned about this time with my cold was the cough. The problem with a cough and running is that at any moment a coughing fit can arise and breathing becomes difficult. Add that to the exertion that happens when running, and there might be some trouble. I decided that I felt well enough to go for a short run and at a comfortable pace. This way if I had to stop mid run I could walk back, and not exerting too much effort by simply jogging means that if my cough does pop up, I can at least slow down and catch my breathe before continuing. Ultimately, it was a great workout. I decided to go for a 3 mile run at a 9 minute pace (that being my half marathon pace). As I turned home, I felt really good and no sign of coughing, so I went one more mile just to get some more steps in for my legs to be happy. Afterwords, I made sure to drink plenty of water and loaded up on the electrolytes by adding in NUUN tablets to the water. After that water was downed, I brewed some green tea to help sooth the throat soreness that had picked back up after the run.
Lesson here that I’ve learned, listen to your body but do not be afraid to push yourself. You can certainly train while sick but be extra cautious and make sure you are prepared to have to stop and take care of yourself. Also, the other lesson here is that it is important to stick to your training plan to insure you hit your race goal, but taking a few days off could and most likely would help your over all training by not pushing yourself into an injury or extended illness.
I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on how you approach training while sick or injured. Please feel free to leave comments here and let’s get a discussion going to help out the rest of the running community!