This Runner's Trials

That "should I run when I’m sick" question

Thank you all so much for your comments on my SMART goals.

Today, I witnessed a truly inspiring running event. One of my Girls on the Run girls- who usually walks most of the time and complains about running- ran 3 miles without stopping! She’s only 8 and is the tiniest little thing.

The girls were encouraged to do 2 miles. After she sprinted 2 miles, I told her to keep going because we had time left. She continued and finished 3 whole miles! She told me at the end she ran the last lap despite having a stomach cramp because she really wanted to finish. You should have seen the smile on her face. She had no idea she had it in her. I have never been so proud :)


That was all the inspiration I needed to give it my all during my marathon next weekend. I’m going all out because we never know what we’re capable of until we try.

But there is one minor issue that’s worrying me right now…

I woke up with a cold yesterday :(

Yup, I’m 10 days from my marathon, haven’t been sick for a year, and got a cold. Only me.

The annoying thing is that this hasn’t turned into a bedridden- nyquil-downing- knocking on death’s door cold… yet. It’s the yet that scares me. I’m paranoid that these minor symptoms will morph two days before my race.

I have been babying myself like crazy to get over this bug. All evening plans have been canceled, I’ve been going to bed early (sorry Situation, Pauly, Snooki and JWoww :( ), and I’ve tweaked my diet to be cold-friendly.

Plenty of peppermint tea and vitamin C. Note: The jury is still out on whether or not vitamin C prevents or treats colds, or does nothing at all. I figure it can’t hurt. (source)


And pretzel m&ms. Note: The jury is not still out on whether or not pretzel m&ms help colds or not. They do. Try it. They work ;)


And plenty of doggie cuddling :)

I’ve just been being as lazy as possible.

Health education interruption: Did you guys know there’s basically nothing you can do to quickly get over a cold? It’s true that decongestants, tea, and other remedies help ease symptoms and make you more comfortable, but only time can cure a virus. Once you have a cold, the immune system works to fight off the virus. This usually takes a few days to a week. (source)

But there are plenty of things you can do to lengthen the course of a cold. Not caring for your body, skimping on rest, or exercising too much make it harder for your body to fight the infection.

Did I say exercising? Why, yes, I did. So, have I been running the past 2 days with my cold? Why, yes, I have.

I know you’ve all heard of the runner symptom check before:

  • Run when symptoms are above the neck. If symptoms are moderate, exercise is usually ok and may be beneficial. (source)
  • Do not exercise when symptoms are below the neck.

I’ve always thought this advice was unhelpful for a few reasons:

1. Is your throat above or below your neck? Seriously, I can’t tell. I thought it was in my neck. My colds always come with sore throats so this advice does not help me.

2. There’s really no way to tell if running will make you feel worse unless you actually run. Stay with me here. I could skip my run, and still feel really sick for days. Or I could run, and feel sick for days. If I skipped my run, I’d attribute the worse illness to a virulent virus strain. If I ran, I’d blame my declined condition on the workout.

My point is, the “should I? shouldn’t I” game really confuses me. I’d rather see how my body feels. If I feel horrendous and am coughing up or blowing out all colors of mucus, you bet I’m staying on the couch. If I have so-so symptoms, I’m going to go out there and try to run and see what happens.

And the strategy has worked well for me this week:

  • Yesterday, I woke up feeling crummy, but ok enough to lace up my shoes. But not well enough to do the 5 mile tempo run with 3 miles at 7:35 that was scheduled. I ran 5 miles at 8:06 and felt strong and healthy :)
  • Today, I felt a little weaker when I got up but my symptoms subsided a bit. My easy 4 miles at 8:35 went pretty well, too.

I’m glad I listened to my body and got my running in instead of sleeping in. But I’m sure I’ll be singing a different tune if I can’t breathe next Saturday ;)

Do you exercise when you sick? How do you decide when it’s better to rest than workout?

Comments (17) Trackbacks (3)
  1. I pretty much always exercise when I’m sick. But of course, not when I’m SICK sick. If I feel decent enough to go to work, then I usually feel decent enough to work out. Or at least attempt working out.

  2. i exercise when I’m sick because I like to “sweat it out.” I’m not sure if that’s exactly what I’m doing, but it feels good. If I start to loose energy though, I know I need to rest. And if that’s the case, I’ll just go into the sauna at the gym and sit and sweat. :) feel better! I’m trying to get over a little cold too.

  3. I am kinda wimpy, so it just depends on how I feel. if I have been in bed a couple days I am probably going stir crazy and will at least do something light, like a walk or some kind of cros training. sometimes I end up feeling better after, sometimes not. i am with you, I think you just have to get out tehre and see how you feel.

  4. My worst colds are head colds, so I find that the “above the neck” guide is terrible for me. Running when I’m sinusy and headachey and feverish seems ridiculously stupid.

    I ALWAYS get some sort of taper sniffle, but if it is just a wee sniffle, I keep going- I just make sure I honour the taper EXTRA hard, so I sleep lots, cut my workouts even more, and eat extra vitamin-rich food.

    Don’t be too worried- athlete’s bodies have a knack of getting through race day! I was exhausted, run-down and getting sniffy for my second marathon and still ran a 3:58 (which was roundabout my goal- I think I could have done about 5-10 minutes better) and ran pretty strong the whole way.

  5. I had a minor panic attack when I woke up Monday morning feeling sick because my first marathon is next weekend. I skipped my workout, went to work and felt progressively worse all day. I took Tuesday completely off from work and class and spent the entire day in bed. Wednesday I went to work but skipped my workout and evening activities and was in bed by 8. Could I have powered through and done all my normal activities? Sure, but on Thursday I felt completely back to normal. I think if I had just ignored it I would be dragging out the sickness and still be feeling sick next week. I really think taking care of it by staying home Tuesday helped a lot. I always feel guilty about skipping workouts, but in the long run, what will help more – this run or getting healthy? I feel guilty about canceling things and staying home from work too, but really, who wants my nasty germs? That’s my 2 cents, hope you feel better! Oh one more thing, I have asthma so when I get sick it becomes difficult for me to breathe easily, which is another reason I skip workouts. If you don’t have this problem you might not need to.

  6. It really depends. If I have a body ache then I usually dont’ exercise. If it’s just in my head or nose then yeah I’ll do something a bit easier. I definately don’t push myself too hard when I’m sick.

  7. When I’m sick I try to ignore all that confusing advice (you really could argue for either way, depending on how you spin in) and just go with what my body’s telling me. Usually I try some very light exercise, and if it doesn’t feel good, just stop. If it does feel okay, I push a little more and see how that goes. I think everyone’s body is different on this!
    For me, sometimes even when I think I feel too terrible to work out, once I get moving and come home and shower, I already feel better.

  8. First, I love pretzel M&Ms. Now that’s out of the way, that 8 year old is so inspiring, awww.

    The whole sick thing sucks. I mean you feel bad and sometimes you want to sweat it out. I think if it’s in the early stages of a cold it’s best to take it easier, you’ll only do more damage to your immune system. Just MY unauthorized opinion:)

  9. Perfect timing on this post! I actually never heard the above the neck/below the neck theory. I’ve had a scratchy throat and stuffy nose for a few days, but no body aches or swollen lymph nodes. Time for a slow 3 mile run to see if it helps. Thanks!

  10. I workout when I’m “just a little sick” (sniffles, mild sore throat) – sometimes it even makes me feel better. I force myself to rest when I feel like I have a full blown cold (or a lot of chest congestion). If I have to do something I will usually just walk with the pup. Although it’s hard for me to accept sometimes, I know that when I’m really sick I need to let my body use all my energy to heal and not drag out the sickness by pushing too hard.

    I’m so sorry that you’re going through this so close to the race. So stressful. Just know that you ARE ready. You’re full-on tapering and letting your body recover from the months of tough training.

    I hope you continue to feel better and better every day and are 100% on race day! Try to get lots of rest this weekend.

  11. I admit I exercise when I am sick. The above the neck thing is confusing to me too, though. So I draw the line if I have a fever, throat so sore it is excrutiatingly painful to swallow, and if a dose of 400 mg acetaminophen isn’t helping. Also, might be too late for this tip but I used to get sick really often. Like every couple of months! In March of this year I started taking those “green monsters” at least 5 times a week and have not been sick ONCE (knock on wood). Twice I have felt the sniffles coming on and I drink 2-3 per day and the full blown cold never develops. I swear by them now.

  12. I guess I’m a big baby! lol. I don’t really ever workout when I’m sick. I just figured my body is better off resting… sometimes if I’m not THAT sick I’ll exercise, but usually it’s something light like power walking maybe with a few bouts of running slow, or yoga or something.

    It’s mainly mental I guess, but if I’m not feeling good I just can’t get in the frame of mind to want to do a workout.

    Such a cute story about the little girl!

  13. “Seriously, I can’t tell. I thought it was in my neck.”

    This made me laugh! I agree with you about running and seeing how you feel. But at this point in your marathon training… you could do no running between now in the race and still kick ass. Your ground work is already set!

  14. Fingers crossed that this cold hits the road soon!

    You know yourself best. At this stage in the game, just go with your gut and do what you think is best in the moment. I would normally run with a bit of a cold, but I wouldn’t take the risk this week…9 days!!!

  15. I’ve not even heard of these pretzel m&m’s and I should probably keep it that way. ;)

  16. It really freaks me out that each cold I get is a DIFFERENT cold! Gah!

    I drink green tea and vitamin c like it’s my job. I am not sure if it works, but I would like to think that it does!

  17. OMG I died laughing when you said “is the throat above or below the neck?” hahaah I LOVE IT. I wonder the same thing!! It’s a never ending thing isn’t it? And I always “wing it” when it comes to feeling ok to workout or not. I did a lot more “NOT” working out last year during some insane never-ending medical drama, and I really regret it now- I started off 2010 like 10 steps behind. Lessons learned.
    Great post and – good luck (not that you need it) on the Marathon!! WOOT!!

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