Runners don't like to skip training sessions or miss a race when they’re ill, but at this time of year, colds and flu are par for the course. Here's how to decide when you should take a day off from running.– BY SEAN FALCONER
Picking up a head cold is usually not enough to deter an avid runner from heading out the front door, but there are times when going for a run can do more harm than good. The general rule of thumb applied by many runners is called the ‘Neck Rule:’ Symptoms below the neck (chest cold, bronchial infection, body ache) require time off, while symptoms above the neck (runny nose, stuffiness, sneezing) usually don't pose a risk, as long as you don’t push yourself too hard.
However, the doctors say that you should still err on the side of caution, as training with anything worse than a minor cold can escalate into more serious conditions affecting the lower respiratory tract and lungs. For example, sinusitis is an inflammation of the sinus cavity, with symptoms that include a runny nose, cough, headache and facial pressure. With a full-blown sinus infection, you rarely feel like running, but if you do want to continue training, the experts recommend a 72-hour waiting period. “No running for three days,” advises allergist/immunologist Dr Jeffrey Dobken. “Even without the presence of a fever, some sinus infections, when stressed by exercise, can lead to pneumonia or, in extreme cases, respiratory failure.”
If you're still in doubt whether to run or not, take your temperature. If it's above 37 degrees Celsius, rather skip the run. “Some people think that they can ‘sweat out’ a fever by running,” says medical researcher Dr David Nieman. “That's wrong. Running won't help your immune system fight the fever. In fact, running with a fever makes the symptoms worse, and it can lead to other complications.” For starters, during exercise, your heart pumps a large amount of blood from your muscles to your skin, dissipating the heat your body generates. If you have a fever, your temperature will rise even higher, and your heart will be put under greater strain to keep your temperature from soaring, and in some cases, this can cause an irregular heartbeat. Also, a virus can cause your muscles to feel sore, so exercising when your muscles are already compromised could lead to injury.
“I recommend that runners with a fever or the flu hold off until the day after the symptoms disappear – and then only go for a short, easy run,” says Dr Nieman. “You should wait one to two weeks before resuming your pre-illness intensity and mileage, and most importantly, obey your body and the thermometer, not your training programme!”