When are you TOO Sick to run?

Happy Tuesday! How are you today? Unfortunately, I am still a bit under the weather and so I’ve taken the last few days off from any exercise, including running. It’s also been pouring rain here. Normally, I would just run in the rain or take it to the treadmill but with this cold, I decided to take a little break. The good news is being a little sick inspired me to write this post.

So, when are you actually too sick to run?

Years ago when I first started running, if I woke up with the slightest feeling that I was getting sick, I wouldn’t run. I had always been taught that if you’re getting sick, it’s best to just rest and take it easy and so I followed that advice for a few years.

Of course as the years went by and I ran more and more, I didn’t want to take days off and so I didn’t; and sometimes that was okay and sometimes it wasn’t. Sometimes running would make me feel better, but there were some times it made me feel worse and probably prolonged the illness.

A few years ago I was visiting my sports doctor for something unrelated and I asked him, when are you too sick to run and when should you rest?

He said that runners are a rare breed and it’s hard to give them advice that includes ‘don’t run’, but as a general rule, he advised me to follow the neck rule.

the Neck Rule

If you’re not familiar with the neck rule, in theory, it works like this:

If your symptoms are above the neck, runny nose, watery eyes, scratchy throat, it’s probably okay to run. Just don’t do speed workouts or push yourself too hard. Adversely, if your symptoms are below the neck, chest congestion, coughing, upset stomach, take a rest, plain and simple, do not run.

If you have a simple cold with no fever, exercise can actually make you feel better and may give you temporary relief from the congestion. This is what happened to me on Saturday when I went for my long run. On Sunday however, it didn’t really help and that’s when I decided to take a day or two off, because colds can get worse, and I felt like I needed some rest in order to completely recover.

If your symptoms are below the neck such as chest congestion, hacking cough, or upset stomach, you should never run. The same is true if you have a fever or aches and pains. And you should never run if you suspect a sinus infection because some sinus infections, when stressed by exercise, can lead to pneumonia or, in extreme cases, respiratory failure. Sinus infections are serious and if you suspect one, you should check with your doctor before you run.

I’ve learned to trust my body and let it be my guide. If I feel like it’s just a minor cold and my major complaint is sneezing and a stuffy nose, I run, I just do it at an easier pace and sometimes I mix in walking. If I feel sick and miserable and I don’t want to get out of bed, I take a break, and scaling back for a few days has never affected my performance or my training in the past. I don’t expect it will affect it in the future either.

So tell me, when are you too sick to run and do you have a ‘rule’ that you follow?

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