Running when you’re feeling poorly

Yes, it’s that time of year.  No – not THAT one.  That’s just been and gone.  I’m talking about the time of year when people are catching whatever lurgies and germs are floating around and feeling rubbish as a result.  For us runners, this is not a good look. 


Runners are generally a hardy lot.  We head out in all weathers and push our bodies further than most.  However, the downside to this is the increased chance of catching some bug and, even worse, ….having to miss a training session or two….


There are some good rules to follow which I have picked up over the years.  Generally from getting it wrong and making myself feel even worse.  They do say you always feel better after a run than before you headed out.  I would say when I ran the Quicksand 15 whilst suffering from gastro-enteritis a good few years ago is probably an exception to that rule.  I did set a PB for throwing up during a race though (4 times if you’re really interested).


Being quite a bit older and a bit wiser though I thought this would be a good time to suggest the following to any runner who is struggling a bit at the moment.


  • Adopt the “above the neck” rule.  If your symptoms are mainly nasal stuffiness, mild headache, bit of a sore throat etc, you’re generally ok to continue running (as long as it isn’t Covid !).  Dial down the pace, lower the heart rate and just take it easy.  No hill sessions or track sessions and no mega long runs.  Keep the Garmin on for the rest of the day and when you sleep and check your resting heart rate the next day.  If your resting HR is well over the normal reading then you’ve pushed it a bit too far so back right off the next day.  If it’s pretty normal then crack on (but still no speedwork etc)  There’s a bunch of research that suggests that increasing your core body temperature in this way can actually help fight off bugs and the like but just be sensible.


  • If the symptoms are tight chest, shortness of breath, vomiting or diarrhoea, then just don’t run.   It doesn’t matter if you’re half way through a 16 week schedule or you’re on Day 548 of a run streak.  Just don’t run.  Trust me, you’ll make it worse and you could be out for weeks.  This is especially true for anything on the chest.  A chest infection will trash a whole season’s race plans if it’s ignored.  


  • Wait until you feel like you can head out and resume normal activity.  Then make yourself wait another 24 hours.  Us runners are an optimistic lot and like to pretend we are feeling 100% better when we’re really not so this is one rule I always follow.  Wake up on Tuesday morning and feel good to go ?  Start running again on the Wednesday.  Trust me, your body will thank you for it. 


  • Enjoy the downtime.  You don’t need to prowl around the house like a bear with a sore head because you feel like you are losing fitness.  A few days rest won’t hurt.  Get some fresh air, walk the dog, read a book, sort the medal drawer out.  Just don’t find yourself glaring at other people out running when you can’t (maybe that’s just me ?)


 Getting ill every now and again is part of a runner’s routine in the same way as aching limbs and joints are in the morning after you’ve pushed it the day before.  Adapt to it, try and enjoy the rest and you’ll be back smashing out the training in no time at all !




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