Is running while sick bad or good

[00:00:00] I know it always sneaks up on us, but here we are approaching the end of summer, which means fall is right around the corner and it isn’t specifically a fall thing, but fall and winter tend to be the times when we get sick, we get a cold, we get something going on. It just doesn’t quite feel right. And the question is, when is the right time to run when you’re sick and when is the time to take some rest?

[00:00:35] I’m Jesse Funk, the founder of Solpri.com and the host of this show Runner’s High, where we talk about everything running and endurance related. So if you like running, you like endurance sports, you’re going to want to stick around, hit the subscribe button. Stick around with me. More episodes every Tuesday and Thursday.

[00:00:51] Today’s topic we want to talk about it’s not great to get sick, but you want to know, can I still go run? Right? Because this is the thing where we go run. We typically feel better. Maybe it’s the way we start our day. It’s the way you end your day or your lunch break routine. Whatever it is you run. It’s part of who you are. It’s part of what you do.

[00:01:15] But sometimes life gets in the way of that, and that is illness. So there’s this kind of general idea about if the illness is above the neck, then you can run. And if it is below the neck, then you don’t want to run.

[00:01:32] The idea here is if it’s just sinus related, like this is not an illness, but I have allergies, I have like sinus drainage year-round. Not going to be a problem to run with, just drainage. It’s not affecting my body in any other way. Don’t have aches and pains, any of that kind of stuff related to it. Again, my particular case, it’s not an illness, but it’s similar thought.

[00:01:58] So if it’s just like up here, no big deal. But as you get into your lungs, then it can become more of an issue. And here’s the reason why.

[00:02:10] Even though we know that over the long term exercise, staying active, eating good foods, all those things kind of help boost your immune system. Temporarily, stress from workouts and other stressors, be it life, work, family, whatever it is, can temporarily suppress your immune system. So if you already have an illness and you go and work out, you’re placing stress on your body, stress that you have oxidation going on, you’ve got muscle tears, whatever it is, we micro tear our muscles, we work out. That’s how they get rebuilt.

[00:02:50] So there’s this stress that you’re putting on your body that needs to be compensated for your immune system, then gets suppressed at least temporarily, and that can give whatever illness you already have the opportunity to spread. There are people that like to just try to power through everything, including one of my former coaches or my high school coaches, who is a very great runner in his time, great running coach.

[00:03:18] And because he was so dedicated to his runners, he just had to be there. He really ran himself ragged, almost literally, and ended up with pneumonia because he didn’t follow this rule. He had to be taken to the emergency room from a meet because he was about to fall over. He had a fever. It was terrible situation. But that goes to show you that even the most veteran of runners can be susceptible to this situation. If you don’t pay attention to that rule. 

[00:03:50] And that eventuality or potential of getting pneumonia is why that kind of rule comes into play. So if you’ve got things in your chest going on, you’re coughing up phlegm and your chest and your lungs. Then that’s the kind of illness that can lead to a more serious illness. If you continue to put stress on your body and it’s able to take advantage of your weakened immune system. So what can you do if you are taking time off?

[00:04:20] And the answer is really as you’d expect, rest, don’t do anything. Hydrate. Hydration is good. If you’re going through a lot of fluids, you’re peeing a lot. Or if especially if you’re throwing up fluids and electrolytes. Good, good to do that. As always, people suggest vitamin C because it helps your immune system, but basically take some time off.

[00:04:47] If you can, if you’re not absolutely miserable, enjoy the rest. I find sometimes because we like to go so hard for so long and we do it all the time. Sometimes these unplanned times where we have to take time off is a good opportunity to go, okay, now I can do the things that I’ve been meaning to do when I got time off, and in the case of being sick, maybe it means, “Hey, I’m going to watch a movie on Netflix” or something and take part of a relaxing activity that you may normally not allow yourself to do.

[00:05:25] So that way, at least to me, you don’t feel like, “Oh, this was a complete waste. I got sick and I missed out on my miles.” Okay. Yes, but, if you give yourself the opportunity to enjoy something else, then it isn’t time wasted. And if you’re not in a place where you are able to be cognizant enough to watch something or do some kind of light activity while you’re resting, then you probably just need to be resting.

[00:05:54] I can’t determine the level of illness for you and what you need, but I know that as a general case, this is not always obviously in the era of COVID. This is definitely not the case with that. But in many things there are not a novel virus where our immune system gets suppressed. Again, as I mentioned earlier, it’s largely because of too many stressors. So sometimes it can be getting sick can be a signal that you’ve been taking on too much.

[00:06:28] Like if you’ve ever just been working your tail off, doing all your exercises, you go on vacation and then you’re sick immediately. It’s like your body kind of takes this breath, this relaxation, your immune system suppressed, and then you get to pick up a bug in the airport or wherever you’re traveling, and now you’re sick.

[00:06:48] So sometimes, not always, but sometimes when I get sick, the few times that it happens, if it happens even once a year now we’re pretty isolated here working at home, I take it as a signal that I probably been working too hard and I need to, if I can readjust my schedule. So that’s the long and short of it.

[00:07:14] Again, above the neck, probably okay to run, below the neck, do not go out. Give yourself the opportunity to do something relaxing, restful that maybe you wouldn’t do normally. Read a book. Watch something. Do some crossword puzzles. Favorite of my grandfather. Any of those kind of things that maybe you would want to partake in, but you don’t normally use it as an opportunity for those kind of things. But otherwise that’s the general rule.

[00:07:42] So if you have any questions for me about running or the nitty-gritty of your situation as you’re getting sick, leave down comments below. I’ll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.

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