Running while sick is similar to running with an injury. Or running while pregnant. If you are going to do it, you need to make sure your ears are tuned in to listening to the rest of your body. It’s been said that most non-running doctors have trouble understanding runners. Rest. Ice. You crazy runners. Common phrases I’m sure we’ve all heard. I don’t know about you, but when I come down with a cough, cold, or shingles (yes, I came down with shingles last week!), the first thing I do is scour the internet message boards for tales of other runners who continue running while sick.
What I’ve learned from this approach is that it must be done cautiously. If you are a borderline hypochondriac like myself, you might actually be entertained and put at ease by the number of way-more-freaked-out-hypochondriacs out there. You might even find yourself saying, “Dude, calm down,” to the user writing about that brief pain they felt in their stomachs when pushing a little too hard on the pot. Nonetheless, the internet does provide a great resource for the sharing of other runner’s experiences with sickness (and injuries and babies!).
When I recently came down with shingles, I went to letsrun.com first and typed in “shingles” in the search bar.
To my surprise, there were quite a few threads about running with shingles. Some runners’s shingles were so bad that the last thing they could think about was running. Others were fine. And some decided to take it day by day. Myself, I decided to run easy every other day, cutting my typical weekly mileage in half. And if I felt weird or weak on a day I planned to run, I wouldn’t run. I took it as a sign that my body needed rest. Combining message board wisdom with the expertise of my doctor and my sense of body awareness helped me to survive my week with shingles.
It would be foolish to ignore doctor’s orders. Or to ignore going to the doctor at all. The number one mistake to make in deciding whether or not to run is making your decision solely off the basis of the internet. Yet, many people do this, whether out of fear or stubbornness. How does one find a balance then when your doctor says don’t run?
Listen to your body. And, well, find a doctor, preferably an athlete him or herself who is who willing to take the time to listen to your concerns or learn about your running.
I believe it takes a while to really be in tune with your body. As runners, we tend to be more aware of our bodies than most. Something hurts? We slow down. This feels amazing? We pick it up. So when we come down with a bug, or shingles, or even something horrible like cancer, why should listening to our bodies be any different?
Being in tune with our body is also difficult because our minds try to play tricks (or devil’s advocate) with us. My advice to that is when you’re sick or recovering from a sickness, be a little more conservative. Your mind is probably right in saying don’t run when you are A) puking (unless you are NOT sick and it’s mile 24 of a marathon), B) running a fever, C) dizzy (unless you are NOT sick and it’s mile 24 of a marathon), D) stuck in a fetal position, crying for your mother (unless you are NOT sick and it’s mile 24 of a marathon). See, most of the time, it’s easy to decide when to take the shoes off for the day. In my case with the shingles, it required more of the conservative listening. For those moments, cutting back mileage and going by feel when running were key.
The human body is an amazing thing and tends to talk pretty loudly. If you learn to listen closely, it will let you know when something’s not right. Swollen glands, fever, chills, dizziness, numbness, lumps, and projectile vomit are the language of this unique home of ours. Sometimes you can run some of its nasties out. Other times, it’s best to let it do its job on its own. If you incorrectly hear what it’s saying, things could get worse. But if you listen correctly, you might actually help it heal faster.
What has been your experience with running while sick or coming back from a sickness? How has running helped you to be more in tune with your body?