While getting sick is miserable for everyone, it’s especially a problem for runners: should we rest? Or should we push through? Should we be running with a cold? Is that safe?
The answer, as it turns out, is not a simple yes or no. Every runner has to make the choice on a case by case basis. There are a few guidelines to help us out. But most of them are just that: guidelines. Ultimately it comes down to how the runner feels and their particular running style.
While most tips only count as guidelines, there are a few red flags. Athletes should avoid exercise if they have a fever, experience dizziness, or struggle to breathe. Exercise can help alleviate certain cold symptoms, but it will only make these worse. At worst, exercise will cause complications that land the athlete in their doctor’s office or in the ER. This goes double for athletes with pre-existing conditions. It doesn’t matter if the condition is asthma, diabetes, or imbalanced blood pressure. Illness complicates all of these conditions. Exercise will only make it worse. In these cases, it is best to rest until you feel better. If you must exercise, take a walk or try some yoga.
Honesty is the Best Policy
Runners without these red flags have a few more options. But all of them require that the runner be honest with themselves. And, if the athlete is working with a doctor, that they’re honest with their doctor. All of the guidelines work around how the athlete feels. Ignoring symptoms only increases the athlete’s risk of injury. In the worst cases, it can develop the athlete’s cold into something much worse.
Deciding Whether or Not Running With a Cold is a Good Idea
Making the decision to run with a cold is a multi-step process. And the first step is listening to your body. If a runner feels sluggish and tired, their body needs rest. Ignoring that demand will only prolong the athlete’s illness. In some cases, it can cause colds to morph into bronchitis or respiratory infections.
These conditions will keep a runner off their feet for weeks. A cold, when properly treated, should clear up in a few days. So listen when your body demands rest. Pushing through just isn’t worth the risk.
Runners should also check in with a doctor, if possible. According to the Center for Disease Control, symptoms are not enough to tell the difference between the flu and a cold. Doctors can do a quick test to determine if the runner is down with a cold or something worse. Nobody should run with the flu. The risk of developing something worse its too high. On the other hand, running with a cold might actually be helpful.
Once an athlete is sure they only have a cold, they have to evaluate their symptoms. A good rule of thumb is that symptoms from the shoulders up means it’s okay to run. This could mean a head cold or general sniffles. On the other hand, an athlete should rest if symptoms are from the shoulders down. And, yes, this includes muscle aches. This goes double for chest colds.
Chest Colds vs Head Colds
Chest colds are viral infections that make it hard to breathe. When someone has a chest cold a sense of pressure builds up under their breast bone. They may find it hard to breathe. Chest colds are often accompanied by a cough and a feeling of lethargy. We usually develop a cough because mucus drains into our lungs. The cough is our body’s way of clearing it out. Lethargy, on the other hand, is the body’s way of saying it’s fighting the infection.
Running with a chest cold is a bad idea. Not only will it make the runner’s chest feel tighter, but it may develop the condition into bronchitis.
Head colds refer to symptoms that settle above the shoulders. Clogged noses, sniffles, and congestion headaches are common symptoms. Not only can someone run with a head cold, but it may actually help them feel better.
Running releases adrenaline. This acts as a natural decongestant. So, for a little while after their run, an athlete will breathe a little more easily.
This doesn’t mean that they should run at their usual pace, however. Even if a runner feels fine, they should take it easy for a few days. Pushing too hard, too soon can cause a relapse. And nobody wants that. So runners should reduce the speed, intensity, duration, or distance of their runs for a little while. Generally speaking, runners can pick up their old routines once they’ve felt healthy for about a week.
Most people know how to combat a cold. Runners, however, need to focus on a few specific routes to recovery
Our bodies burn a lot of energy when we’re sick. This is because our immune systems are working overtime. We might crave sugar as a result since it turns into quick energy. But nutrition is more important than ever when we’re sick. Runners must be sure that they eat lots of protein and keep up their nutrient levels. This will help them heal faster while also reducing the severity of some symptoms.
Everyone has heard it before but it bears repeating. Sick people need to drink water, herbal tea, or broth. Other fluids like coffee or sports drinks contain sugar and caffeine that will leave the person more dehydrated. The more hydrated we are, the better our cells function. Healthy cells boost our immune system which helps our body fight the infection.
We’ve already touched on rest. But this tip specifically applies to the first few days that a person notices symptoms. Many of us get scratchy throats or runny noses before we fall ill. If we rest more at the beginning, illnesses usually clear up sooner.