Perhaps you’ve gotten to a really good point in your training or are working towards an upcoming race, when bam – you’re down with a cold! Should you ignore the runny nose and constant wheezing and head out for that run anyway? The answer could be both yes and no. Any kind of stress brought out by exercise can disrupt your immune system’s efforts of curing cold or other infections, and make the recovery process much slower. At the same time, running brings about an undeniable physical and mental boost which can help you feel much better after a workout. If you’re down with a cold and have had similar contradictory thoughts running through your mind, here are some tips to determine if you should take the day off or lace up anyway.
DO follow the ‘neck test’. This is a fairly standard way runners can use to gauge if they’re well enough to run. If your cold symptoms are restricted to above your neck, it’s probably safe to run, but if they’ve spread to your chest or the rest of the body, you’re better off resting and coming back stronger. Therefore, if you are facing a blocked nose, runny nose or sore throat, you’re possibly okay to go running, while aching muscles, chest congestion and fever are not symptoms conducive for a run.
DON’T run with chest tightness or fevers. This is particularly important as your cold could worsen into a full-blown infection that could keep you away from running even longer. Similarly, running while suffering from vomiting, diarrhoea or high fever can increase risk of dehydration and slow down your recovery process even further.
DO lower the intensity of your training. Even if it’s a very mild cold, remember that your body is working overtime to fight it off and may not be able to cope with the normal pace of your training. Cut down your run in terms of time and distance, and make sure that you warm up adequately to prevent sudden shocks to core muscles.
DON’T run with competitive running partners. Yes, a running buddy can motivate you in a hundred ways, but while you’re dealing with a cold, your focus should be on a run that lets you off feeling good and not overly anxious or exhausted. Don’t run with any person or group who might challenge you to run more than you’re capable of; instead, focus on relaxing runs over familiar terrain and at a comfortable pace.
DO dress adequately. Dress for the weather you’re running in. If it’s cold, layer up appropriately and do your warm-up and cool-down indoors to minimize chances of the wind increasing your infections. For summers, ensure that your gear is breathable and does now allow moisture (sweat) to collect on your skin. If it’s raining, it’s best to skip running – or hit the treadmill instead.
DON’T run marathons with a cold. Firstly, even with mild colds your performance is likely to be affected and you won’t find yourself running in top form. Races are meant to be fun, competitive experiences and runners often get carried away by running faster than the body can cope, resulting in increased chances of infection as well as overall exhaustion and strain. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself if you do go racing – run at a comfortable pace and take advantage of the medical facilities and experts at hand whenever you feel unwell during the event.
Thumb rule: Always consult a doctor or sports medicine specialist if you’re doubtful about stepping out during a cold and follow their recommendation. You won’t compromise your fitness levels by taking a day or two off to recover from a cold, but you will be hampering your long-term training goals if a mistimed run leads to further health complications. Just take it as a momentary pause and don’t feel too anxious – you’ll be back to your peak running form in no time.
Main Image: Rennett Stowe