When To Rest & When To Train Through Winter Illness
What should you do if you get ill during a Winter training block?
This time of year carries increased risk of coughs, colds, and more serious illnesses. But if you’re a runner, you won’t want to stop training for a minor illness.
What should you do if you catch a Winter illness, and how can you tell whether to rest up or train through it?
Don’t Self Diagnose
Trying to diagnose the extent of any illness is a bad idea! So get off Google and go to your GP. This is particularly important if any of your symptoms are below the neck, or if you’ve been feeling ill or run-down for more than a few days. Take a rest from running until you have a proper diagnosis.
Below Or Above The Neck?
There’s an accepted wisdom in the running community – if your illness is “above the neck” (runny nose, headache) then it’s OK to carry on training. But if it’s below the neck (cough or stomach problem) then rest until you are better. But add your own common sense to this. If your head cold is severe, persistent, or getting worse, then take a break and get better.
Viral Or Bacterial?
Know the difference between viral infections and bacterial illnesses. Most common colds are viral (so there’s no point taking antibiotics to combat them). Antibiotics are only useful for bacterial infections. If your symptoms are still around after three days, go back to the Doctor to discuss medication.
Weigh It Up: Running vs Recovery
Taking a rest from running can be difficult. But put it into perspective. What’s the better option: a couple of weeks off now so you can recover completely, or a few days off and then a lingering illness that takes months to clear up? Do the sensible thing and look after yourself. Remember that your body needs lots of energy and resources to recover from illness. Running will be taking away from those energy stores.
Tune In To Your Body
As runners, we are more in tune with our bodies than non-runners. So keep listening. Do your training sessions feel more difficult than normal? Is your breathing or heart rate different? How about your resting heart rate, notice a change? Are you recovering as normal between runs, or do you feel exhausted? Look out for early signs of illness so you can rest and nip it in the bud.
Recover Properly To Run Again
If you do need to take time off running, make the most of the recovery period. Really rest, don’t try to replace your running sessions with something else. Get lots of sleep, pay extra attention to hydration and healthy eating, and try to minimise stress.
Easing Back Into Running
If you’ve had time off due to illness, you’ll need to take it easy when you start running again. Remember that your body has been fighting illness, but you will also have lost fitness simply from having time off. If you’ve had 5-7 days off, start with a short easy run to assess how you feel. From there, you can aim to get back to your regular routine. But if you feel tired, breathless, or struggle to recover, scale back on duration or intensity. If you had to have more than a week off, take a week to build back up. And if you’ve got a running race in the calendar, be realistic. Don’t rush your recovery, or try to fast-track your training plan. If you need more time, choose a later race. You won’t be able to put in a great performance if you’ve been ill recently. And your health is more important than any race.
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