Should I run when I'm sick?

photo from Cait is an artist, writer and runner.
One day this fall, I knew I was getting sick. I had body aches all over and pushed through the work day. And I'm ashamed to admit, I rushed home to squeeze in a quick 3-mile run before I got "too sick." This was not a smart move. That night I was wrapped in chills and body aches which progressed to an illness that lasted over a week.

Stress, whether it's emotional or physical, can prolong an illness or injury. Our very own, Dr. Jeff Waters, weighs in on the topic, "running when ill does produce more stress to your body if you are already cranking out immune cells, antibodies, and cortisol to get rid of some pesky germ...if you already have a fever, how will you accommodate the buildup of core body temperature while exercising?  The answer is: not as well.  You put yourself at risk for heat related illness and are impairing your body’s immune reactions."

So what do we do about training when we get sick? Do we keep training, modify or rest? I know you love this answer, depends.

Here is a "rule of thumb:

If your symptoms are neck and up: headache, sore throat, sniffles, sneezing...then it's OK to run. But listen to your body. If you have significant fatigue with these symptoms then you may want to modify your distance and speed or intensity. Rest, hydrate and properly recover between workouts.

If the above symptoms are accompanied with a fever, nausea or you have any symptoms below the neck like chest congestion, a severe cough, or vomitting then you should NOT run.

Depending on the severity, a walk may be a good alternative. Again, listen to your body - you probably aren't going to feel like walking with a 101 degree fever and a nasty, bronchial cough. But once the fever subsides and you start to regain a little bit of energy, a walk is a good thing!

If you tolerate a walk, try a shorter distance run at an easy pace and see how you feel. If that goes well, then you can pick up your training where you left off. If you stopped training for more than two weeks - then you might need some coaching advice to get you back on track.

Don't try to go back and "make up" what you didn't do while you were sick. If you have any questions about returning to your running plan after illness, contact Coach Amy. She can modify your schedule to keep you on target for your goals.

If you have severe symptoms like chest pain, breathing problems, an extremly high fever, or a fever that lasts more than a couple days, then you need to take a trip to the doc! Dr. Waters says, "There are some lines that should not be crossed if there is danger to the athlete.  These are best decided on a case by case basis."

The best way to keep yourself on the road and out of your sick bed is to wash your hands, eat well, get adequate sleep/rest, do not kiss your barfing spouse and when someone is coughing near you without covering their mouth, hold your breath and run away (don't forget to give them a nasty look).

Listen to your body, be kind to it and run happy!