Friday, February 3, 2012

Should You Run When You are Sick?

Earlier this week (Sun-Wed) I was extremely sick (with a cold, not the flu thankfully!), but it reminded me of the question so many runners ask and that is "should I run when I am sick?". 

There are many opinions out there about whether or not its above or below the neck etc., however I handle it on a case by case basis.

I am lucky that I don't get sick very often at all (maybe once every year, if that, more like once every 2 years), but there are times where I have a slight cold or something and as I said I take it case by case on how I feel.

I think thats the most important thing.  For example, on Sunday when I woke up, I didn't feel great at all, but I got dressed, went to the gym, ran on the treadmill and worked out.  I knew that something wasn't right and I felt groggy and was sneezing a lot and had a runny nose.  By the time Monday morning rolled around I was full on sick with everything except vomiting or fever.  I went home from work at 9am and obviously there was no running even though my symptoms were basically all 'above the neck'.  I felt like crap and just kept pumping meds into me to make me sleep, sleep and sleep.

On Tuesday morning when I woke up, I felt somewhat better and went to work, but it was short lived.  A fever showed up and back home I went.  I had actually packed my gym bag as I was going to run the treadmill and I had a session with K scheduled.  I cancelled both. 

By Wednesday morning, I was so much better, so running and working out is a-ok in my book.  Thankfully too since going two days without running while was OK and did wonders for my body overall, I was glad to be on the mend and to be able to run/work out again. 

Some might think to take an additional day just for the recovery from the cold/illness, but I felt like it was OK for me to go through with some sort of workout.  Again basing solely on a personal how I feel method.  I think this is what every person should do.

Runners seem to live by a creed that's stricter than the postman's: "Neither rain, nor snow, nor sniffle, nor fever shall keep me from my training schedule."

Indeed, the coming of winter presents many issues for runners who'd prefer to keep at it even when sick.  Oftentimes, symptoms aren't severe enough to make you stay in bed, home from work, or off the roads.  And while exercise can give you a mental and physical boost when you're feeling run-down, there are other occasions when going for a run may do more harm than good.

But, doctors say, you still walk, or run, a fine line. Take extra caution when training with anything worse than a minor cold because it can escalate into more serious conditions affecting the lower respiratory tract and lungs.

Sinus infection, or sinusitis, is an inflammation of the sinus cavity that affects 37 million Americans each year.  I mention this because I do believe that this is probably more of what I had as opposed to a cold.  Symptoms include runny nose, cough, headache, and facial pressure.  With a full-blown sinus infection, you rarely feel like running. 

But if you do, consider the 72-hour rule of Jeffrey Hall Dobken, M.D.: "No running for three days," advises the allergist/immunologist and ultramarathoner in Little Silver, New Jersey. Even without the presence of a fever, says Dr. Dobken, some sinus infections, when stressed by exercise, can lead to pneumonia or, in extreme cases, respiratory failure.If you're still in doubt about whether it's safe to run or not, take your temperature. If it's above 99 degrees, skip your run. "Some people think that they can 'sweat out' a fever by running," say doctors. "That's wrong. Running won't help your immune system fight the fever."

Nieman saw this firsthand when his running partner once ran a marathon with a 101-degree fever. Soon after, the runner developed severe and persistent symptoms similar to those of chronic fatigue syndrome. "Every day he'd wake up feeling creaky and arthritic," says Nieman. "When he tried to run, he'd stumble and fall." Eventually doctors concluded he had a "postviral syndrome," a latent condition that was exacerbated by the race.

Although this syndrome is rare, it's an example of the risk you take by running while ill. "Running with a fever makes the fever and flu-like symptoms worse," says Nieman, "and it can lead to other complications." During exercise, your heart pumps a large amount of blood from your muscles to your skin, dissipating the heat your body generates.

If you have a fever, your temperature will rise even higher, and your heart will be put under greater strain to keep your temperature from soaring. In some cases, this can produce an irregular heartbeat. Also, a virus can cause your muscles to feel sore and achy; exercising when your muscles are already compromised could lead to injury.

Nieman recommends that runners with a fever or the flu hold off until the day after the symptoms disappear--and then go for a short, easy run. Runners should wait one to two weeks before resuming their pre-illness intensity and mileage. Otherwise, you risk a relapse, he says.

Above all, obey your body and the thermometer--not your training program.

First, the biggest issue that most runners have here is that they are worried about losing performance by taking a few days off to get over a cold or flu. Let’s just put that to rest at the outset.

You won’t lose fitness by taking a short break for the flu or a cold (or even a minor injury). It takes an extended period of time for you to see a drop in your fitness, usually two to three weeks.  So put that out of your head.

A couple of days off, in fact, may do a lot of people some good, because most runners are on the verge of over-training most of the time.  Hello, take it from someone who knows!  I am not at all surprised that I ended up sick after 7 months of beating my body into the pavement training for 3 marathons and then just stopping.  Well not stopping, but drastically reduced my running once Houston was over.  Even though I didn't actually end up running the full in DWR, I still trained back up for it, ran the half in the pouring rain and then had to turn right back around and run 18 miles the very next weekend and then trained back up to 21 miles for the 3rd time.

My body was ripe for wearing down to some degree.  First it was the (sh)IT band and then this.  It has forced me to cut back and actually now to not run for 2 days and I must say that my (sh)IT band, my back, my foot?  Everything feels fan-freaking-tastic.


A few days down in bed, even when sick, can be a well deserved mental and physical break.  Holla.  I slept a lot.  I ate a lot of spice drops (only thing that actually had 'taste'.  I watched a lot of television.  And I snuggled a lot.

Like I suggested, in general, you should always listen to your body. If you’re sick, then you more than likely should take the time off to get better.

1 comment:

K said...

Great post and I agree 110%! The plan is a plan to get you where you want to be, but you should never be a slave to it. If you are, then, in my opinion, your goals are askew.
Every plan should have a mileage "range" and not a set number. Trying to hit that range more often than not is best, but it is even more important to rest.
I have asthma and get bronchitis almost every time I get sick. There is no running allowed. Sometimes up to a week or more. It stinks, but if I don't listen, it will be longer, and I could jeopardize my entire future to run.
Glad YOU are feeling better, June!!