How to Return to Running After the Cold or Flu

Dragging yourself back from sickness can be, well, a drag

When the flu hit me in Charleston I felt like death on two legs. I still toured around the city and enjoyed my stay on the houseboat despite the fever chills, but getting back to running has been more painful. Stiffness, muscle soreness, fatigue, and a persistent cough all have plagued me for days, so I've been focusing on a few tips to help with recovery and getting back to running fitness.

1. Rest up

I personally believe that light activity can help with recovery if you're not too sick - I always feel better if I at least get up and move around between rest periods if I've got a mild cold - but I also firmly believe any running or vigorous activity has to wait until the fever breaks or if you've got the flu (unless you're me and you're in Charleston and need to sight-see. But do as I say and not as I do!). The general rule of thumb is if you feel crummy from the neck up then you can run, but if you feel crummy below the neck then definitely don't run. If you've got the flu you'll feel crummy all over, so definitely curl up and hold off any physical activity.

Rule #1 - Rest!

Of course, once you start feeling better you should still take it easy. I once heard the theory that you should rest one day for every 24 hours of fever, and I think this is a generally good approach. Keep in mind that even when you feel much better your body may still be recovering and performance may be affected. Don't be discouraged!

2. Hydrate!

I know this is a no-brainer that you should do for any sickness, but think about how important it is to stay hydrated for running and how important it is to stay hydrated when you're sick and then add them together. So yeah! Chug that extra glass of water!

3. Ease back in

When you do start running, take it easy. Your first run after being sick should be an easy recovery pace. If steady effort induces coughing or feels like agony on your legs then try intervals or back off your pace even more. Don't jump right back into your high mileage; take some easy runs and slowly build back to your pre-illness mileage. Be willing to adjust your training plan for several days as you get back into running.

Of course I managed to get McCrae sick too. My bad. At least we were cute curled up by the fire with our funky socks.

4. Don't stress over missed workouts

Yes, it sucks to miss training runs, but remember that recovery is an important part of any training plan. You'll do much better if you miss a couple workouts and adjust your training plan than try to run when you need to be off your feet. Every well-conceived training plan should have built-in time for extra recovery as needed. If you're in the middle of your training plan you can probably just pick up where you left off. Be smart about making up any workouts; you don't want to cram too many workouts into one or two weeks and get injured, so prioritize which sessions you need to focus on and adjust your training schedule.

Licensed image; not one of mine!

5. Cross train

If running - especially running in cold weather - is giving you trouble consider cross-training activities like swimming, yoga, hiking, climbing, biking, or the dreaded gym workout (it's not that bad on the rare occasion!). You shouldn't lose too much fitness if you're taking less than two weeks off from running, but this recovery period can also be a great way to focus on stretching and other activities to supplement your training.

6. Don't beat yourself up

Coming back from an illness takes patience. Don't beat yourself up over the slower pace or the tougher perceived effort on easy runs. Yes, it's frustrating, but trust your training plan and trust your body and let it recover and improve. I know I was surprised by how hard my easy "long" run this past weekend was. It felt like the miles dragged on forever and that I was really pushing the pace even though it's a distance I normally wouldn't consider "long" and it was a pace I normally wouldn't consider "hard." I trust my body to recover though, so I'm just going to keep working and pay attention to my body's needs.

Don't beat yourself up over missed runs, and don't get discouraged by tougher effort once you get back to running! You can do this!

7. Just get back out there

A break - even if it's just a few days - can really kill motivation, especially if you're newer to running. Add to that the sluggish feeling and mental discouragement from the tougher perceived effort and it can be really easy to fall behind on running. Just remember that it's a success just getting out there and back into the habit of running, and eventually you'll get your strength back.

Of course consult your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your cold or flu or exercising. I'm not a doctor, so don't consult me 😉

Have you been sick recently or struggled with recovery after the cold or flu? Are there any other tips you learned to speed your recovery? Let me know in the comments!


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