Training: Should I run when I’m sick?

It seems that the Summer cold and flu season has arrived once again. Personally, I’ve had a cold all week and I just haven’t been up to running. But I get asked the question all of the time: “should I run when I’m sick?”

Run when sick-First, the biggest issue that most runners have here is that they are worried about losing performance by taking a few days off to get over a cold or flu. Let’s just put that to rest at the outset. You won’t lose fitness by taking a short break for the flu or a cold (or even a minor injury). It takes an extended period of time for you to see a drop in your fitness, usually two to three weeks. So put that out of your head.

A couple of days off, in fact, may do a lot of people some good, because most runners are on the verge of over-training most of the time. A few days down in bed, even when sick, can be a well deserved mental and physical break.

But going back to being sick, there is a simple rule: if you’re sick from the neck up only then you can probably still run. If you’re sick from the neck down, then you absolutely should not run.

Sick from the neck up, would mean stuffy noses, sore throats, and head-colds.

Sick from the neck down, means fevers, body ache, stomach flus and any whole body illness. Any of these symptoms mean that your immune system is compromised and working hard to get you well. A workout will just set you back in your recovery.

In particular, you should never run with a fever. The risk of damage to your heart is a real issue and this could lead to life-long consequences.

In general, you should always listen to your body. If you’re sick, then you more than likely should take the time off to get better. I usually recommend that people wait until they are at least 80-90% back to their normal energy level before they return to running.

Today, for example, I have a head-cold and I’m feeling only about 50% recovered. So even though I probably could run (I’m sick only from the neck up), I’ll most likely take another day off to recover. In the long-run, it won’t have an impact on my performance, but if it helps me avoid a relapse then it will be worth it.

If you’re reading this and you’re sick: I hope that you feel better soon!

Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
Running Advice and News


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  1. Thanks! Good rule to follow. I’m still unsure though. I have a really sore throat, stuffy nose, and I’m feeling a little tired. I’ve also lost my appetite (which is very unusual for me). I don’t know if I have a fever – no thermometer. I skipped cross training, but I’m supposed to run hills tonight. Should I go to my workout? I’m getting ready for my first marathon and I’m supposed to run 10 – 12 miles on Saturday.

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  4. I've been sick for a few days now. Most likely the flu because I've had a cough (not too severe), fever, body aches, etc. I got sick on Sunday and it came on pretty fast. I've been staying home for a couple of days now resting and trying to get better. Today is Tuesday and I'm feeling much better than I was on Sunday. I'm off of Tylenol right now to see how I feel without it. I don't have body aches anymore and my fever is just starting to break. It is at 99.0 instead of 103.2. My cough is a lot better but it is still here a little bit. The thing I'm most worried about is that I have a cross country meet tomorrow, which is Wednesday afternoon. Even though I'm feeling a lot better today, I'm still not 100%. I'll more than likely head back to school tomorrow cuz I've already missed Monday and Tuesday.

  5. (continued comment)However, should I still run in my meet? It's 2 miles. You were right when you addressed that we often get worried that we will lose performance. I've been worried because the last time I ran was Saturday(3 miles) I got sick on Sunday, but Sunday is always the day our coaches tell us to rest and take the day off. Since I've been sick I missed practice on Monday and Tuesday. Basically, I'm wondering first of all if it is bad to run a 2 mile meet if you're not feeling 100%. The other thing I'm wondering about is whether or not it's bad to just jump into a meet after being sick and not practicing at all during the week. Wow, I wrote a lot… 🙂 Anyways, thanks so much for listening to my concerns!

    • Annie — I’m going to say that if you had a fever of 103 (which is a high fever) it is probably not a good idea for you to run in a competition so soon as tomorrow. You may feel somewhat better, but usually when the body goes through something like that it will take at least a week to get fully recovered. It’s always hard to miss a competition, but sometimes it is the best thing to do for your body.

      Good luck!