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Running on empty: 8 rules for training when you're sick

Running on empty: 8 rules for training when you’re sick

You’re a few weeks into your training program and everything is going great. You’ve completed all your sessions, you’re feeling good about exercise and running is becoming second nature. But then you start to feel it… the scratchy throat… the runny nose… the heavy head. A niggly cold is coming on as if to test your resolve. Sickness is sure to strike at some stage. The big question is how do you respond?

These tips will help you contend with a cold and decide whether you can continue with your training program – or whether you need to take a rest from running and exercise.

Before we get started, I just want to be clear. I’m not talking about serious illness in this blog – for advice on how to cope with anything other than a common cold, please see your medical practitioner.

8 tips to help you decide if you’re too sick to go running

  1. Are your symptoms above or below the collar? If they are above, and consist of a runny nose, minor sore throat and mild headache i.e. the symptoms of a common cold, you may be able to continue your training program – with some minor adjustments. If you have symptoms such as fever, chesty cough or wheezing or aching muscles I would suggest laying off exercise completely until you are well again. I would also suggest a visit to your GP.
  2. If you do ONLY have common cold symptoms, you probably need to look at making some minor adjustments to your training program. Simply try running a shorter distance or exercise at a lower intensity than normal. Alternatively, you could try a walk until you’re feeling like you can make full use of those running shoes again.
  3. Be conscious of the weather conditions. If the weather is inclement, why not take your training indoors and try out a treadmill instead of your usual outdoor running session.
  4. What’s your body telling you? Listen to it! If you feel like you are just not up to exercise because of sickness, then don’t do it! But also ensure you’re not just using this as an excuse. Look yourself in the mirror and answer truthfully… are you sick or just being slack.training when sick 2
  5. Consider what else you are putting your body through. If you have common cold symptoms plus a pressing deadline at work, you’re trying to sell your house or you’re facing another stress, you may be best to ease up on your body for a day or two.
  6. When you’re planning your training program, I always advise clients to factor in a week off for sickness, injury or one of life’s other curve balls over a three month period. It’s pretty much a given that over this time something will come up that’s completely out of your control. Give yourself a break if you need it – missing two or three exercise sessions in a 10-12 week training program is not going to affect your running on event day.
  7. If you have to halt your training program until you’re feeling better, don’t beat yourself up. It’s much better to aim for a quick and full recovery, than to continue your exercise regime and cause a more lingering sickness. As I’ve said above, a few days off running is not going to stop you from achieving your goals.
  8. If you have to stop your training program for a longer period because of a more serious illness, you may have to adjust your training program – and your expectations. You could book a session with a personal trainer to help maximise the time you’ve got left and assess whether running the current event is still a realistic option. Or you may have to simply re-set your goals. If you’ve had to take an extended break from exercise, perhaps aim to compete in an event that’s a few more months away to give yourself time to get back to being 100% healthy.

No matter what – don’t give up!

Peter Bristow and Shannon Bell are qualified Personal Trainers and Owners of Balmain Personal Training in Sydney. They have more than 20 years combined experience in helping people achieve their fitness goals.