Cold and flu season is upon us, mother runners, (and COVID season is now, sadly, always upon us). And as marathon training cycles ramp up, many runners have the same fear: getting sick and missing training days. So, can you go running with a cold?
The short answer is: it depends on the symptoms and severity. If your symptoms are mild and above the neck, then a short, easy run is probably okay. If your symptoms are below the neck or you feel lousy, then rest is best.
I have a track record of learning the hard way where my body’s limits are. Like most runners, I despise missing running days—especially important ones like long runs or track workouts. I have run when sick only to come home feeling worse and having to take more time off than if I had just rested in the first place.
I do not want you to make the same mistakes as me. So, I’m going to unpack working out with a cold (when you should rest and when you should run with a cold or illness).
Specifically in this article, I will answer the following:
- Can you go running with a cold—or other illness?
- Signs you should rest instead of run
- Can running get rid of a cold?
- Can running make a cold worse?
- How to return to running after taking time off for being sick
- How to get over a cold quicker
- And, how to avoid getting sick while marathon training (or running)
An important note: I am not a medical doctor. I am a running coach. This article includes information from doctors and research that I use for my athletes and myself. If you need medical advice, talk to your doctor!
Can you go running with a cold?
Yes, you can go running with a cold IF your symptoms are mild and above the neck. For example, if you have a runny nose and sore throat from drainage, you’re probably okay to work out with a cold.
If you have a 20-mile long run or a hard track workout on the schedule, you will want to adjust your schedule. In most cases, if you are sick or getting sick, you’ll want to keep the duration of your run to less than 60 minutes at an easy intensity.
Remind yourself that taking it easy will save you from more time off later.
Pay attention to how your body responds to activity when you don’t feel well. For example, I have learned that running makes my headaches worse. If I feel a migraine coming on, or have a headache from a cold, I feel worse even after an easy run.
Related: How to Adjust Your Running Schedule for Time Off
Can you go running when sick?
You should not go running if you’re sick with below-the-neck symptoms. This includes GI distress, vomiting, chest congestion, fever, or body aches. Rest is best in these situations.
Signs You Should NOT Run When Sick
If you’re asking the question of whether you should exercise with a cold or sickness, then you should NOT run. Your best judgment is telling you rest is best.
Here are 10 signs you should NOT run with a cold or sickness:
- Below the neck symptoms including GI distress, stomachache, body aches, and chest congestion
- Bad headache
- Hacking cough
- Very sore throat
- Difficulty breathing (even if from head congestion)
- Lethargy (if the thought of running makes you tired, then REST)
- In the acute phase of illness (rest now, run later)
- You have COVID, flu, strep, pneumonia, bronchitis, etc.
- Symptoms worsen during or after running including shortness of breath, chest pain, or returning fatigue. If you go for a run and start to feel worse—walk home.
Can I run with COVID?
If you have COVID, do not run.
Get more information on running with COVID including returning to running, COVID reinfection, and an elevated heart rate after COVID.
Related: How to Return to Running After COVID
Should you run with a fever?
Hard no. Your body is working hard to fight infection. Allow it the strength to fight.
Should you run with a sore throat?
You can run with a sore throat if it’s a mild sore throat—likely from drainage. If you feel like knives are stabbing into your throat like if you have strep, then do not run. Go to the doctor instead.
Be sure to stay hydrated and drink cool liquids.
Should you run when congestion?
You can run when congested if you can breathe okay. Running while congested may actually help you clear out the congestion. A Breathe Right strip may help you breathe while running with a cold.
Is it OK to run with a cough?
You can run with a cough if it doesn’t worsen while running. If you’re in the acute phase of a cold and coughing a lot, rest to allow your body to recover faster. Be sure to keep up those liquids!
Can jogging get rid of a cold?
There is some evidence that shows running or working out with a cold can help you feel better.
This is because running releases adrenaline called epinephrine, which is a natural decongestant. This may help clear out your head congestion. Getting some fresh air and your blood flowing may also help you feel better and your body circulates those infection-fighting white blood cells.
Related: Does Running Make You Happy?
Can you sweat out a cold?
It’s not possible to “sweat out a cold.” You do not sweat out germs though being in warm air may help provide temporary relief of congestion and cough. You could also try a hot shower!
What happens if I run when I’m sick?
If you run when you’re sick, there is a chance the release of cortisol will suppress your immune system. In fact, your immune system may be suppressed for up to 72 hours after strenuous exercise, according to David Nieman, a researcher, and professor in exercise physiology, in what he calls his “open window theory.”
For this reason, keep your activity very easy and at most, half of the duration of your usual daily volume. Therefore, if you typically run 8 miles a day, aim for 4 miles.
I highly recommend going for a walk first to see how you feel. If you feel energized after 15 minutes of walking, try jogging for a few miles (if that is light mileage for you).
What should I do if I get sick and can’t run?
Here is your step-by-step plan of what to do if you get sick and can’t run. This plan will help you GET HEALTHY and avoid getting sick to STAY HEALTHY.
So, it is wise to do most of these things even when you feel well.
10 Steps to Fight a Cold Faster & Avoid Getting Sick
Related: The Importance of Sleep for Runners
Embrace the extra rest.
Remind yourself that taking a rest day now will save you from a longer layoff later. Aim to get at least 8 hours of sleep a night (deep sleep is when we repair our bodies) and don’t feel guilty for laying around during the day. This is helping your body bounce back quicker!
Also, remember that it takes more than a week of inactivity for you to start to lose even a small amount of fitness. And what you lose, you gain back quicker—so don’t worry about getting out of shape!
Related: How Long Does It Take to Lose Fitness?
Drink more fluids than you normally do. Staying hydrated helps your immune system work better by aiding the transport of oxygen to your body cells. Liquids can also help flush out toxins that negatively impact your immune system.
3. Eat your fruits and veggies.
If you feel up to eating, aim to get in a rainbow of colors including lots of fruits and vegetables (75 percent) which are rich in antioxidants that help your immune system fight oxidative stress.
4. Carb load.
Carbohydrates serve as the energy source for immune cells so make sure you are giving them the fuel they need to fight.
Related: How to Carbo-load for Your Marathon & Half Marathon
5. Get your protein.
Protein is used to make the antibodies necessary to fight infections and germs. Aim to get 4-2.0 grams per kilogram of weight.
Studies show that vitamin C and Zinc can help shorten colds. Consider taking an immune supplement like Previnex’s Immune Health PLUS which supports robust, healthy immune responses through a dynamic process called priming, which supercharges your immune system’s ability to respond to, and neutralize various threats. When my family got the flu this year, I was the ONLY one not to get hit hard. I feel certain it was because of this supplement! I almost always used to get what the kids had! Save 15 percent with code TMR15.
Related: The 12 Best Supplements for Runners
7. Take a probiotic.
Research also shows that 70 percent of your immune system lives in your gut so keep it healthy with healthy fats, sauerkraut, yogurt, and a probiotic. I love Previnex’s which includes 30 billion healthy bacteria, six clinically proven strains, with a clinically proven prebiotic, NutraFlora®, that helps with the growth and colonization of good bacteria in the
8. Go for a walk.
When you feel better and the acute phase of your illness is over, try going for a walk (about 30 minutes) first and see how you feel. The light activity will increase blood flow and help move white blood cells and nutrients to fight infection and remove waste products. If you feel energized or about the same, then you can try a short run the next day.
Related: 9 Steps to Return to Running
9. Adjust for time off.
If you took two weeks or more off running, then you will need to ease back into your training schedule. Don’t try to make up mileage. Instead, aim for a gradual re-entry into your training, first with easy running.
Related: How to Adjust Your Schedule for Missed Runs
- If you took only a week off, you can return to running as normal but with several days of easy running before trying any speed workouts or long runs.
- For 2 weeks off, aim to do the first week of running at 50-75 percent of your typical training volume with no intensity.
If your symptoms return, worsen, or you feel worn out, then you pushed too hard and need to scale back. Symptoms like chest pain or tightness or an irregular heartbeat are the signs that you need to call your doctor!
Get more information on how to return to running after time off here.
If you want guidance with your training or returning to running after having a cold, check out my run coaching services. Also, be sure to check out my free training plans:
- Postpartum Training Plan
- After a Break Training Plan
- 5k Training Plans
- 10k Training Plans
- Half Marathon Training Plans
- Marathon Training Plans
- Strength Training Plan