Running With A Cold
I admit, as I sit here writing this, I’m on day 6 of a ‘cold’. This isn’t just any common day cold, but what feels like possibly the worse virus ever (I'm
sure it's not, but you get my point). Most runners I know, would probably carry on running through a sniffly nose. Certainly for myself, it takes quite
a lot to stop me – perhaps too much? Having written on this topic before, I even found myself ‘googling’ should you be running with a cold – not because
I felt like I could by any means, but more to justify to myself that I shouldn’t be.
So this brings me to some questions that most runners ask themselves when they're buried under a pile of tissues…
Is running with a cold going to make me worse?
This will really come down to whether it’s just the sniffles that you have, or if you have a virus that hasn’t quite unleashed its talons yet. I made the mistake last week of running (way too far) only 1 day into my cold, thinking it would flush it out. On the contrary – I only got worse. Now, whether this was the natural course of the beast or if I exacerbated it by putting my body through unnecessary strain. As there is no research on running with a cold, I turn to running physiology to help. Here are some main points from a paper called ‘The Physiology of Marathon Running’ by Jake Emmett (2007).
- Heat loss and production can increase over 10 times during a marathon.
- Dehydration impairs the ability to transfer heat from the muscles to the skin
- Increase in body temperature – even with the ability to sweat, it’s not uncommon for marathon runners to finish with body temperatures of 105 degrees F
- Reduced glycogen levels
- Muscle damage incurred from running a marathon can divert immune cells for muscle repair and weaken others, leaving the immune system less able to protect against upper respiratory tract infections
Based on these points, I'd say Yes, there is a good chance you could make a cold worse by running.
Are there any benefits to running with a cold?
Respiratory physiology tells us that the humidification process can help to warm your airways and therefore make it easier to clear them of mucus. In fact, exercise for hospital patients has in recent years become a prime tool to help from minor respiratory problems to bowel and other organ function. You could also argue that the fresh air would feel good after being stuck inside all day... But is that enough?
Bottom line – should you be running with a cold?
In short. No, probably not .As you can see from above, the chances of lowering your immune system, which is already fighting a battle for you, are higher than the few benefits you might recieve from getting outdoors.
However, no runner is going to like that answer. Myself included. So to keep it simple, use these two guidelines I’ve found to play it safe.
- 1.)The Neck Up Rule- If your cold/illness is only affecting you from the NECK UP, then running should be OK. KEEP IN MIND a COUGH is not in your neck! So this is really only covering a runny nose and maybe a bit of a headache. If you’re ever run with a headache however, you’ll know its not particularly fun.
- 2.)85-90% - If you’re recovering from a cold, but not sure when to start again use this percentage guide to help you decide if it’s a good idea. If you’re not quite at this 85/90% point, save it for another day.
When in doubt, best to leave it another day. You don't want to risk dragging this out longer than necessary for a few miles, which probably won't feel very good when you cant breathe out of your nose anyway!
Emmett, J. 2007 "The Physiology of Marathon Running", Marathon and Beyond, pp.20 - 36.
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