Should I Run When I’m Sick?

Now that it is officially fall, we have the unofficial start to the cold and flu season. If you have kids in school, though, you’ve been fighting germs off for several weeks now. I, myself, am not a germaphobe. In fact, I have no problem with my kid picking up a cold here and there, as it boosts immunity long term. Yes, we both take our vitamin C to help us fight off the colds, and when we remember, we get our flu shots (that reminds me, I need to do that). However, while I don’t mind the occasional cold, I really don’t like getting sick, especially if I’m running a lot and training for a race.

I’ve dealt with enough illnesses personally to know when it’s okay to run and when it’s not. Runny noses and mild cough and congestion aren’t enough to keep me from running, but doing so aggravates the symptoms. I am careful about what I take to mitigate those symptoms, too, as some medications can cause dehydration.

I haven’t had the flu in 3 or 4 years, at least not as severely as my son. The last time I had the flu, it was at least 10 days before I even felt like running again, and when I did, I felt like I was going to die.

The thing about getting the flu or a fever while you are in training for a big race is that it’s just darn inconvenient. For real, we’ve got miles to run! It can be stressful to look at our training plans and see a 5 mile run scheduled. We want to run…or at least we want to want to. The idea of lacing up and getting out the door when we can barely get off the couch though is just too overwhelming to process.

The best thing we can do for ourselves when we are sick is to rest. Whether it’s a cold or the full-blown flu, more rest is required to help out our immune systems. Even running with a cold can lead to worse if we push too hard — and by that I mean, even our “easy” efforts might be too much.

But we are type-A, obsessive compulsive runners! We see a workout scheduled, so we HAVE to do it right? Well, maybe if I double up when I feel better? NO. Come back from illness slowly, and give yourself several days, if not a couple of weeks after you feel better to get back to your pre-sick performance.

In times like this, I ignore my training plan completely. I’ll even make a training journal entry stating that I am sick. That way, when I look back at my log and wonder why I missed so many workouts, I will understand. I also have been known to delete several days worth of workouts so I’m not tempted to make them up later.

What if you feel fine, but your kids have the flu? This may go without saying, but you might have to skip a workout or two in order to care for your kids. It is during these times that having an at-home option is helpful: a treadmill or bike, a set of dumbbells, or even doing bodyweight exercises like pushups and planks. You might only get 15 minutes in, or you might have to workout while your kids are resting, so declare victory. Remember too, if you are in the same house as your kids, you are exposed. Watch for any signs of illness in yourself and back off effort if necessary. Beef up your rest, recovery, hydration, and nutrition, and weather the storm until everyone in the house feels better.

What do you do when you or your kids get sick?