I recently had a cold and found myself asking, ‘should I run with a cold?’. Being a highly active runner, usually running 5-6 times a week, I found the notion of having to stop for any reason difficult and slightly irritating.
I was tempted to ignore brave my illness and run anyway, but I knew it was better to be safe than sorry. What did I do? What anyone does in my situation, researched the dilemma on the internet. I continued to run (though altered my training plan accordingly), but this is not a suitable course of action for everyone.
In this article, I’ll be answering the question ‘should you run with a cold?’
A quick answer…
If you want a short answer, no. You shouldn’t ‘really’ run with a cold, here’s why. When you have an illness, like a cold, your body focuses its energy on fighting the disease and making you well again.
When you have a cold the body begins producing white blood cells to attack the invader. This means it cannot spend as much energy on other things like movement, focusing on tasks and so on. When you participate in physical activity during a cold, like running, the body must split its energy resources between fighting the infection and physical performance.
If the body has to spend energy running rather than fighting the disease, the cold will linger for longer and it also might get worse. Not a desirable outcome. The solution? Knock running on the head for a few days and focus on recovery. Eat good food, rest (preferably in bed), drink plenty of fluids (water, juice) and read some good books or watch some Netflix. Sounds fun.
What if you don’t want to stop running? Conduct a neck check
If you’re like me and hate the idea of not running for a prolonged period of time, you might be able to run during a cold. If you want to run with a cold, do a ‘neck check. This is where you identify whether the cold symptoms are just above the neck, or also below it.
What if the cold symptoms are below the neck?
If you have a cough, tight chest, a fever and sore muscles, you have below the neck symptoms and should probably avoid running. These symptoms indicate an advanced, more serious cold and you risk doing more damage and slowing recovery if you run.
I know it sucks, but don’t worry too much about missing a couple of runs. What would you rather do? Miss two or three runs due to a bad cold, or run with a bad cold and make yourself even worse so you miss a week of running instead? It’s a no brainer. If the symptoms are below the neck
What if the cold symptoms are above the neck?
If you have a runny or blocked nose, a sore throat and mild sneezing, you should be good to go for some light running. The lack of below neck cold symptoms indicates the cold is not advanced, and not as serious as it could be. Therefore, you should be good to do some ‘light’ running to keep you going through the illness.
What do I mean by ‘light’ running when you have a cold with above neck symptoms?
Running with above neck cold symptoms is different to regular running when you’re fit & healthy. You need to make sure you take it easy and follow the below tips to ensure you run safely and don’t make your cold worse than it already is.
Don’t run with competitive individuals – Some people train in groups which are often competitive. Maybe you have a group of friends who meet on a Wednesday evening for a run, which turns into a competitive bout of speed and technique. Perhaps you train with a running club and you’re always tempted to push yourself for a better time. Avoid these situations and try running with non-competitive people or run solo. Don’t push yourself into a potentially competitive situation and run at a relaxed pace, well within your comfort zone. The purpose of the running should be to get the body moving and the heart rate up. Not to set a new pace per mile world record.
Turn off training mode on your GPS Running Watch – Lots of us runners use GPS running watches like the Garmin Forerunner, which track our location and map our performance stats. Whilst these gadgets help us perform optimally, they can be a problem when we have a cold. Especially if you have a training mode enabled. These modes push you to run harder and faster than you are comfortable with in your infected state, and you risk making your cold even worse than it already is. Not ideal.
An example of a training mode is when you set a particular time and distance onto your running watch and have it beep whenever you’re not on track to meeting it. Whilst this is a good training mode when you’re well & fit, it’s not ideal for the infected runner with a cold. Ditch the GPS watch training modes when you run with a cold. Be kind to yourself and prioritise recovery. Run at a comfortable, relaxed pace.
Don’t do long runs – When you’re perfectly well, fit and healthy, long-running delivers a whole range of benefits. A stronger heart, increased endurance, building muscle, burning fat, improving cardiovascular health, improving your mood, toning your muscles are just some of the benefits to long runs. However, when you have a cold do not do a long run.
You’ll be fine coping with a shorter 2-4 mile run, as the body won’t be placed under too much stress. However, anything over this distance will be difficult for the body as it will have to prioritise the demands of the long run rather than fighting the cold. Be kind to yourself during a cold and run shorter distances.
Don’t participate in races – You might be thinking I’m spoiling all the fun, but this is seriously a great idea if you’re running with a cold. Not only are races physically demanding on your recovering body, in a race situation it is tempting to push yourself and let the adrenaline of the event take over. If you push yourself hard during a race, when you have a cold, it will only end in disaster. Cold symptoms worsening, injuring yourself, feeling physically terrible or even prolonging recovery time.
It sounds hard, but don’t participate in races when you’re ill. If you do, you may regret it.
Reduce the intensity – Make sure you run at a pace well within your comfort zone. If it feels like you’re straining or struggling, drop the pace. You might even have to speed walk for some of it but the most important thing is to not overdo it.
When you up the intensity on a run, your body is working overtime to supply oxygen and glucose to the muscles to meet the physical demand. If the intensity of running is too high, not enough energy is spent dealing with combatting the cold and the symptoms will get worse. Ouch.
Run at a comfortable pace. You won’t regret it.
Don’t be afraid to call it a day early – If you start running with a cold, and it is much harder than anticipated, do not be afraid to call the run and head home early. If you experience breathlessness, a headache, It’s much better to be safe than sorry, so don’t worry about cutting the run short. Seriously. Get some rest and recover so you can come back to your running game strong and ready to crush it.
I hope this article has been of use to you. Hopefully you do not have a cold for too long, and remember to only run lightly if you have above neck symptoms. If this article has been useful, share it with friends and fellow runners to see what they think! Until next time.