Running with a cold – what the coaches don’t teach you

Week two of my training for the Bath Half has looked like this: Tissues used – lots; cough medicine consumed – gallons; miles run – zero.

Yes I have had a grade one dose of the cold virus. You know the one that starts with a dry tickly throat with the odd sneeze and quickly becomes a fever and a head full of concrete. And before you can say “chicken soup please” the whole thing has descended to your chest and become a hacking cough that keeps you and everyone else in the house awake half the night.

I had decided to rest Monday and Tuesday anyway as a precaution after a small calf niggle on my long run on Sunday – so up until Tuesday night my cold didn’t cause any disruption to training. But thinking ahead to Wednesday I was curious what the running gurus had to say about running with a cold. I went online and found several coaches willing to offer an opinion and the advice was this:

“If the cold is above the neck then its fine to run. If the cold is below the neck then don’t run until the cough is better”.

I can only assume that this advice was written by someone who has either never run or never had a cold! I say that because it is about as much use in the real world as an underwater hairdryer. So as someone who runs regularly and has just had the Mother and Father of a cold, her is some advice from the manual marked “Practical Advice from the Real World”.

If you have a cold, then the first thing that you will notice is that you feel like crap. It is best not to run when you feel like crap, because apart from anything else you won’t enjoy it and we all run to enjoy it – don’t we? The feeling of crap will last for the best part of a week. There are no medals for forcing yourself out of the front door on a run during this time. My advice is do what I did and go to bed early with a Lemsip and a book.

When you have a cold you will notice that you feel tired and hungry. This is because your body’s immune system is fighting hard to combat the virus. Feel free to eat well and rest. Be mindful that your body will be tired and run down. Running while your body is low like this may lead to injury. This will do little to relieve your misery.

After a week your chesty cough will begin to subside. You will know when this is because you will be able to laugh without breaking into a 30-second uncontrollable coughing fit. At this point you could, as I did, venture out on a gentle 4-5 mile recovery run (this describes your speed not the effect the run will have on your cold). However beware (if you are squeamish look away now) – this will be possibly the snottiest run you have ever been on. Great for clearing your sinuses but best to run alone!!

It doesn’t matter where your cold is – above the neck, below the neck or down in your boots, if you follow these simple guidelines you will achieve several things. You will get through a good book, you will get plenty of sleep, you will eat well and you will make a normal recovery from your cold. You will also avoid compounding your misery by spending an evening sweating round a cold dark run and you will avoid an unecessary injury. At worst you will miss a week from your training program. In the big scheme of things this is not a train wreck – especially if it is Christmas Week!

Good luck to any cold sufferers – you have my sympathy.


10 responses to “Running with a cold – what the coaches don’t teach you

  1. I know what to do when I have a cold!


  2. Spot on. I’ve had a similar cold for a couple of weeks, you’re right about the sinuses!


  3. This has been my past week as well. I felt like crap and not running was an easy decision. Maybe tomorrow, after a full week off, I’ll venture forth for 4-6 miles and see how I feel. No guilt, no regrets, just lots of rest was needed.


    • I wish you luck when you venture out Angela. You may be interested that the book I have been reading during my early nights to bed is Scott Jurek’s “Eat and Run” on your recommendation. I am really enjoying it – thank you!


  4. hope you’re feeling better now


  5. I stumbled across the same confusing advice when ill over Christmas. So glad you ignored it too. Makes me feel like a real runner!


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