Running With a Cold Is OK — Sometimes

A commonly discussed question among runners is whether running with a cold is smart. On the one hand, the fear of aggravating a harmless cough speaks to staying at home. At the same time, though, most runners are reluctant to sit out on a planned run.

The latest scientific research has debunked the old myth about a long run making you more susceptible to ailments such as the common cold. As explained in the New York Times article How Strenuous Exercise Affects Our Immune System, this notion comes from poor research and runners who can’t identify the cause of a sniffle.

Right as that may be, the fact that a cold always seems to hit a runner at the worst possible time remains. While the exact scientific explanation is not yet known, it makes intuitive sense. Long, challenging blocks of training puts your body under sustained strain.

During a marathon training block, your body might not never fully recover until you start tapering for the race. Continually working to strengthen muscular and cardiovascular endurance, it is no wonder if your body is not entirely up for the task of fighting off a virus. And if you have kids, that’s a futile task even before you add in all that training.

How to Decide If You Should Run With a Cold

Your overall condition is the most significant factor to consider when deciding whether you should run with a cold. The severity of your symptoms tells you how hard your body is working to fight the virus.

If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, that is a sure-fire sign that you should skip the run. When feverish, stay inside and let the body concentrate its efforts on getting rid of the illness. With such relatively severe symptoms, running is more likely than not to worsen your condition.

Running with a cold or stay in bed?
Flu-like symptoms are a sure-fire sign that you should stay in bed. Photo by twinsfisch.

Self-medicating to improve your condition to be able to run is also a bad idea. Studies such as this one have shown that popping NSAIDs (“Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs” like ibuprofen) adds extra stress to the kidneys, and can lead to higher rates of acute kidney injury. Not what you want to put your body through when it is already stressing to fight off an intruder.

However, if your symptoms are limited to a sniffle, some light congestions and a cough, running might make you feel better. Speaking to Runner’s World, physician Cordelia Carter explains how:

Running may decrease some of the congestion in the nose and sinuses, and you will still feel that natural endorphin high when you’re finished.

Ultimately, the decision comes down to comparing the risks of running to the potential gains of staying inside. If you are closing in on a goal race, the risk of aggravating your condition is reckless. Conversely, if you are in the middle of base training without any big races coming up, the associated risks may not be critical.

Considerations If You Go Running With a Cold

Once you’ve decided to defy the virus, there are a couple of pointers to remember as you get ready to go. The first and most important one is to remember to keep it gentle. If you’re battling a virus, it is not the time to go out and run a session. Instead, stick to recovery intensity to avoid aggravating the condition.

If the weather is cold, you should dress appropriately, and then add some extra clothes. Many runners tend to start their runs a bit chilly, warming up as they go along. When you’re combating a bug, you want to avoid freezing at all costs. If it’s frigid outside, consider hitting the treadmill if you have the chance.

Similarly, once you finish your run, you should hit the shower directly after. Again, this is to avoid letting your core temperature drop too much. Plus, your spouse/roommates will probably appreciate you showering before hanging out.

Hydrating well is important at all times, but critical when you are under the weather. All that mucus draws from your fluid reserves, and you’ll likely sweat a bit extra when running as well. Upping the fluid intake will help loosen up the mucus, and help you steer clear of dehydration.

Be smart, consider the risks, and follow these tips if you do decide to go out running with a cold. By being aware and listening to your body, you will be back to full training again before too long.