Should I Rest or Run With a Cold?

If you’re starting to come down with something, here’s advice for when to take a break.

Seth asks: I ran a half-marathon over the weekend even though I knew I was fighting the onset of something. Now I have a major cold. I was wondering what should I do about my running – continue to run through this or rest? I’m concerned because I am 10 days out from my last long run for my very first marathon.

Some health care professionals suggest using the ‘neck rule’ when deciding whether to run or not. Symptoms involving the neck and below – sore throat, cough, chest congestion, bronchial infections, body aches, chills, vomiting, diarrhoea or swollen glands – require time off from running. Symptoms above the neck – a runny nose, stuffiness or sneezing – generally don’t require time off.

Though it’s not an exact science, running can even help with some cold symptoms because exercise releases adrenaline, also called epinephrine, which is a natural decongestant. This is why a run can clear out nasal passages. If you decide to run, keep the pace easy and stick to shorter distances.

These runs should be about maintaining your fitness while sick, not about improving it. Watch for dizziness, nausea, elevated heart rate, or abnormal sweating and stop running immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.

Even with precautions, training through an illness is not without risk. Runners may escalate a simple cold into something much more serious, like a sinus infection, respiratory tract infection, or pneumonia. It’s very important to listen to your body. When in doubt, sit it out because you might wind up having to take much more time off from training.

The next question then becomes when to return to running? It’s best to wait a full 24 hours where you have no symptoms, especially after a fever, before resuming training. Try running with short, easy paced runs and rebuild distance gradually. Incorporating walk breaks into your runs can assist with adding to your fitness and distance.

In your case, given that you just ran a half-marathon and are days away from your last long run for your first marathon, I suggest you try to nip this in the bud and take three to five days off right up front. The rest will most likely do you good after just racing.

Rest, drink lots of fluids, and monitor your symptoms closely. You can visit a doctor, if needed. By taking care of yourself, the odds are in your favour that you will be ready for that last long run.


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