Too Sick to Run? How to Know What’s Best for Your Body
Perhaps it’s a scratchy throat that signals you’ve caught a bug. Or maybe a pounding headache is your first clue that something’s not quite right. Whatever it is that indicates you’re starting to get sick, it’s never a welcome sign.
As people who tend to be goal-oriented, we runners are understandably frustrated when we come down with something. Taking a sick day can throw off your racing plans. On the other hand, trying to train when facing a serious illness can leave you even worse off.
Deciding between running and resting is tricky. How do you know if you’re really too sick to run? While every scenario is slightly different, there are some clear signs that indicate it’s time to take a break. Here’s an overview:
5 Signs You’re Too Sick to Run
This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of all the appropriate situations for taking a break, but they’re among the most common.
1. You have a fever
You might know what a fever is, but do you know why we get them? Scientific American explains a fever results from our body’s immune response, often to help fight infectious agents.
Having a high temperature indicates your immune system is already working overtime. Adding running to the equation is only going to stress your body more, which isn’t going to help you recover. You also run the risk of getting dehydrated if you try to run with a fever. Take a break. Your body needs it.
2. You’re coughing
This symptom is probably the most debated in the run-versus-rest debate. Should you risk heading out for a workout? Most experts would say no. They often mention the above-the-neck rule, meaning you’re only safe to run if your issues are limited to a runny nose and other similar symptoms. Having a cough means it breaks the rule. You’re probably safer taking some time off.
3. Your body aches
As with a fever, body aches signal your body is fighting an infection. You release more white blood cells and chemicals to fight the illness, which results in aches and pains. Your body is already stressed if your muscles and joints hurt, so you don’t want to make it worse by adding a workout to the mix.
4. You have an upset stomach
The obvious issue of running with an upset stomach is that it will very likely result in a pit-stop. You could even wind up with gastrointestinal distress. Many runners deal with stomach and GI issues regularly as is, so starting out feeling queasy isn’t going to help. And if you do end up becoming sick during a run, you also run the risk of dehydration.
5. You feel dizzy
While feeling dizzy might seem safe given the above-the-neck rule, it’s an exception. You could be experiencing an ear infection, a drop in blood pressure, or something more serious. Regardless of the cause, you could have trouble balancing. That means you’re more likely to trip and hurt yourself. There’s even a chance you could lose consciousness. Taking it easy is the way to go.
A few other considerations
You might recognize there are a lot of instances when you’ll feel less than great, but you’re still safe to hit the pavement. Maybe it’s just a sore throat, a stuffy nose, or a tiny bit of fatigue. Going out for a run might actually help you feel better in these cases. Moderate cardiovascular activity can help relieve sinus congestion. I know I personally feel better if I go for an easy run, just as long as I don’t go overboard. I keep the distance reasonable and the pace on the slow side.
Even if you’re well enough to run, you might want to lower your expectations. That might mean cutting out a few interval or hill sessions. And if you have a race coming up soon, think carefully about whether it’s a good idea to compete. Research has shown that runners who choose to race despite falling ill in the days leading up to the event are twice as likely to drop out. You certainly shouldn’t be aiming for a personal best.
You should also keep in mind that your training has implications for health beyond your athletic capabilities. One 2017 review confirmed what many of us have long suspected: You’re more susceptible to sickness when intensifying your training. That doesn’t mean you should avoid challenging workouts. Just be particularly mindful of hygiene if you’re ramping up your efforts. A little extra time washing your hands is a small price to pay.