How to Run a Half Marathon with a Cold [Updated!]

If you have been running for any length of time, you have likely encountered the great conundrum faced by all runners at some point; to run or not to run with a cold. Personally, I would not let anything short of a broken limb or hospital stay keep me from running a race I have trained for. If you are reading this article, chances are you feel the same way.

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Fortunately, I have made several of the rookie mistakes that sick runners make their first few times out on the course with a cold. Now, you can reap the benefits of my flounders and avoid them yourself.

Running with a Cold? Dos and Dont's

Running while sick with a cold definitely comes with its list of dos and don’ts.

First of all, make sure you are sticking within your limits. If you have been rocking a fever over 100 degrees you should avoid the race. If you cannot do that, at least give up on the notion that you will hit a PR. Trying to do so can result in serious illness.

Running tasks the cardiovascular system, and you don’t want to overtax it by forcing your body into shock. 

Second, make sure that you are not suffering from something more serious than a common cold virus. If you have any symptoms of pneumonia, bronchitis or sinus infection, it is best to avoid the race.

The last thing you want to do is cause respiratory failure because you cannot handle sitting out for one race. Forcing one race might cost you an entire season.

In regards to determining how sick you really are and whether you should keep running, here is what Jonathan C. Crist, M.D. had to say on the subject:

​With respect to athletes and respiratory infections, we talk about performing a “neck check”. If symptoms exist above the neck (e.g., runny nose, congestion, sore throat), we usually recommend a trial of exercise at half intensity for 10 minutes and continue as tolerated if symptoms do not worsen. If someone is going to exercise while they are ill, I would generally recommend increasing caloric/fluid intake slightly so they are not burning the candle at both ends.  

Dr. Crist continues (pay attention; this next part is really important):

If symptoms exist below the neck (e.g., fever, fatigue, severe cough, stomach symptoms), there should be no exercise. Exercising with fever not only may increase injury risk but also impairs muscle strength, mental cognition, and pulmonary perfusion, and increases fluid loss.

Like your mom always told you, better safe than sorry.

Don't Overdo It!

Keep in mind that running will boost your immune system, but you cannot sweat out a fever. While we would all like to convince ourselves that running with a cold is a great idea and likely the cure scientists have been seeking since two men sneezed in a cave, it must be done with caution.

It is absolutely true that regular exercise does wonders for your health and your ability to stave off most viruses and infections; however, there are studies to show that distance training may actually put you at risk for colds and flu viruses. 

The reason is that your body undergoes a tremendous amount of stress during peak training seasons. If you are not allowing yourself the opportunity to heal between races and training runs, you are likely wearing your body out.

Know Yourself and Your Body

Runners are incredibly in tune with their bodies. The best advice I can offer you is to listen to yours.

Also, I can advise you to not take cold medicines before a race.

  • Benadryl will make you exhausted and wear you out faster than it will take a mid-packer to make it to the starting line.
  • Sudafed will dehydrate you and speed up your heart rate; both very dangerous side effects while running 13.1 miles.
  • Other meds offer a combination of antihistamines that will have the same scary effects.

If You're Going To Run With a Cold...

If you are going to run with a cold, take your race in stride. Plan to have a slower finishing time and hydrate more than you normally would. If you feel dizzy, feverish or tight in the chest, stop and visit the medic tent. Be kind to your body and it will be kind to you.

Spencer Haws

Addie - 29 Sep

If you do run with a cold use a nasal spray decongestant. They work best for running.

Buy Tanning Injections UK - 22 Aug

Wow!! This was really helpful to me as now I can really guide my friends who want to run with blocked noses, and please do explain with pictures that brings a sense of better understanding to the reader. Anyways keep up.

Angie C - 9 Nov

Out two days from work with a cold, cough, chest & nasal congestion, fatigued. Half marathon on Sunday, what the feedback on running after a cold or flu? Appreciate any advice

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