Mythbust: Should you run when you’re sick?

This is the first of the Mythbust series!

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Myth: You shouldn’t run when you’re sick.

Experts’ advice: It’s okay to run with a head cold, but not with a chest cold or fever.

My advice: Follow the experts’ advice–if you absolutely have to run.

Last week, despite numerous precautions–including boycotting my pathogen-infected boyfriend–I got sick. In the past, I’ve been pretty lucky to bounce back to relative health within a day or two, and this cold was no exception.

However, being well enough to go to work and function like a human being is not the same as being well enough to run. Now that I am actually training for this race that’s looming in a mere 29 days, though, I freak out about missing too many runs. So I took to the Interwebs to see what the experts say about running while you’re sick.

Turns out, most of the hardcore runners and running-themed websites say it’s okay–as long as your symptoms are above the neck, such as nasal congestion, sore throat, or sneezing. Some people even feel better after running. This advice does not extend to fevers, which according to my extensive medical knowledge from watching marathons of “House” while unemployed, is your body trying to fight the damn thing off. Let it.

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Running when you’re sick also risks the minor cold turning into something worse, which is pretty much what happened to me. I allowed myself 2 rest days and then embarked on a “short” 3-mile run. I kind of wanted to die. It wasn’t the discomfort of the eternally runny nose or stuffy head, but rather just a general run-down malaise that made me want to take a nap right there on the trail. I kept at it, though, even doing a somewhat simplified, run/walk version of that week’s distance run, and the run-down feeling didn’t really go away. Then I did another stupid thing and flew across the country in a plane cesspool of plague while my immune system was still rebounding. By the time the next running day rolled around, I had a new running buddy: chest mucus. The cold had moved down into my chest, as colds are wont to do near the end–I’m sure you’re all familiar with the dreaded lingering cough of horrible–and the rattle in my chest as I did my first run with the Boyfriend’s mom, who I’d just met, aggravated my already asthmatic lungs. Ugh.

Dr. Roommate (or rather, my college roommate who is in the process of becoming a doctor) had this to say to my woe-is-me text message plea for advice:

“Sit in a hot shower. Sleep with your head under blankets. Wear [a] scarf over [your] face when [you’re] outside. Basically, keep [your] head/chest warm and moist. DO NOT RUN.”

I mostly followed these tips, in addition to accidentally swallowing a ton of saltwater from the Atlantic (which is saltier than the Pacific–fun fact), and The Cough is finally gone. Just in time for a 10-mile distance day.

The most important lesson I learned during this debacle is that, in the long run, it won’t make a huge difference to race day if you take a little time off to rebuild your energy stores and get well. Quality miles are still more important than how many you’re running. But use that time off wisely: hydrate, hydrate, stretch, and did I mention hydrate?

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