Run Or Rest? How To Approach Running When You’re Sick

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It’s been nine days since I last went for a run. I knew the flu was going to hit me soon; it got each of my family members, one by one. It hit me last and it hit me hard. I’ve run sick plenty of times, but when a person has the flu, there is nothing to do but rest.

So, what are the guidelines for running while sick? If you have a fever, don’t run. If are having breathing issues, stay in bed. If it’s just the sniffles or a minor headache, get on out there!

But who needs guidelines when what we should really do is listen to our bodies. If I am having a hard time feeling like an athlete, I take some time to evaluate what my body is telling me. Think of your sick-gauge much like your injury-gauge.

How do you determine if you are too injured to run? If it hurts during and after a run, right? Usually, if you have a pain that hurts before your run—and it gets worse while running—you should stop and rehab until you are pain-free while running. By focusing on your body and what it is trying to tell you, you can lessen injury.

In the same way, we should be able to listen to our bodies when we are sick. If you have a fever, you should always go back to bed and let your body fight off the infection. If you’ve got the flu, stay away from those shoes.

If you have a head cold and you don’t feel too uncomfortable, I say get out there. That being said, do not put yourself in the position of making yourself sicker. If it’s cold outside and raining sideways, perhaps you should opt for the treadmill in a warm room instead.

Taking a few days to recover from illness will affect your running. Don’t expect to bounce right back after a sickness. While I was down with the flu this week, I lost five pounds. We all know that was muscle, and I am going to feel like absolute crap when I go for my first healthy run tomorrow. But I will bounce back fast.

Now, I’m not knee-deep in a training plan right now, so I wasn’t very upset about missing runs. I do need to start ultra-training in a week and a half, so it wasn’t a matter I took lightly either. Will my body be able to handle the stress of Week 1 of training when I haven’t been logging my foundation miles? We will see. Something is always going to compete with running, but some things we have to stop and deal with.

It comes down to a personal question: Is an upcoming race worth potentially putting yourself in the hospital? Sometimes our bodies need time to rest in order to heal. By resting for a few days, you can ensure that even if you lose some of your fitness, you will still be able to run your race. If you have to miss a race, it’s not the end of the world. There are different races, and you can live to run another one.

Stay healthy this year, runners. Take those vitamins and get a good night’s sleep. I hope you don’t have to make the choice to run or to rest.

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Liz Ward

Liz Ward is a running fanatic, avid reader, and amateur farmer. She lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband, three kids, and a small herd of animals.

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