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Running with Illness: The Common Cold

Updated on April 20, 2007

In terms of physiology, it is clear that many of the factors that weigh heavily on exercise performance-particularly hydration levels, blood-sugar levels, and cardiopulmonary status-are the same ones chiefly affected by certain disease states. The most common illness, and one we are all sure to face is the common cold or the flu.

The common cold and the flu go together, with the second being, by definition, more serious. It is generally advised that runners can train and race through symptoms "from the head up" (runny nose, stuffiness, etc.) but when the lungs are involved, doctors advise resting until they have felt well for at least 24 hours.

With gastrointestinal flu symptoms, runners need to be careful about dehydration, a particular danger when vomiting and diarrhea are involved. Many doctors agree that they don't like anyone running with a fever of any kind, and they advice to wait at the very least 24 hours before all symptoms have passed.

Some runners have noted that it takes them up to several weeks to regain their full strength after a bad bout of the flu, so if you've been hit, it makes sense to adjust your training and racing plans accordingly. Runners, not immune to the bugs of everyday society, might consider getting a flu shot at the onset of each winter (especially older runners).

If you aren't sure where to run or nor ask yourself these simple questions, if you answer "no" to any of them you should not run. You should allow yourself time to rest and recover so you can heal and get well and get back to healthy running quickly.

Question 1- Did you feel like going to work or school or doing chores today?

If no, you probably should not run. If you weren't well enough to go to work or do whatever it was you should have been doing on a normal day, then you shouldn't be well enough to run. Also, if you did go to work and you felt horrible all day, you probably shouldn't be pushing yourself by running, when you could be resting.

Question 2- Have you felt dizzy or light-headed today?

If yes, running should be avoided. Dizziness is a signal from your body; listen to it.

Question 3- Do you have a fever?

If yes, then you should not run! It's kind of a common sense thing here; if your body can't control your temperature when you are not working out, then running is only going to exasperate that effect.

Question 4- Do you feel nauseous or have any other stomach problems?

If yes, please, for the sake of everyone, do not run. Nausea and stomach problems do not go well with running. The movement usually causes them to feel much worse.

Questions 5- Are you having trouble breathing?

If yes, then you definitely shouldn't run. If you are having any kind of chest congestion or breathing trouble, it's only going to get worse by running. Even a stuffy nose can be uncomfortable when running, though it often clears up during the run, so think how bad it would be if you really couldn't get enough air to your muscles.

Question 6- Do you think, honestly, that you should NOT run?

If yes (as in "I think I should not run today."), then don't. You are your best judge! Anytime you believe you are too sick to run, you probably are. You may want to decide now if you are too sick to walk. Sometimes taking a walk is a great alternative to running when we need some extra rest.

Questions 7- Finally, has your doctor advised you not to run?

If yes, I strongly suggest you listen to him/her.


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