I had completed 12 days of the Hansons Marathon Method until this common cold reared its ugly head. It could be worse, could have been the flu. Tell me, who gets a cold during the summer?! Doesn't someone up there know I'm training for a marathon right now and don't have time to be sick?!
In the past, I usually take some days off from any exercise, flush my system with vitamin C and soup (or mom's caldo de pollo, which is basically Mexican chicken soup, oh so delicious!) and I play the waiting game to get better. Hmm...take some days off or continue training?
Most runners tango with this question as well as Al Pacino did in Scent of a Woman...Hoorah! As runners, we dread the thought of taking time off, especially when we have an upcoming race. I'm very focused on my marathon training plan right now and I refuse let a cold stop me from the task at hand! However, I also don't want to do more harm than good to my body and do something that would take me out of commission. What to do?
I decided to research the matter since you always get different opinions from people on the subject. I've heard things like "working out is good for you when you are sick. You will sweat out the germs" or "it's not good to workout when you have a fever." According to Runner's World (Should You Run When You're Sick?), a rule of thumb or "neck rule" to go by, is to evaluate the symptoms present. If the symptoms are below the neck (chest cold, bronchial infection, body) then take some time off. If they are above the neck (runny nose, stuffiness, sneezing), then there isn't a risk posed to runners who continue their workouts. As long as you don't push yourself beyond your usual workouts, running would still be beneficial in maintaining fitness and physical well being. Anything worse than a minor cold, you could make things worse, though. For instance, if you have a fever then you definitely should not workout. Since your body temperature goes up while you workout, having a fever makes your heart work harder than it has to in order to cool you down. In some cases, this can lead to an irregular heartbeat. Also, let's say you have a virus that makes your muscles sore and achy, then exercising while your muscles are compromised can lead to injury.
On a side note, for those who like to lift (Training While Sick), as I do, the idea is the same: if you have a minor cold, go ahead a lift but take it easy; don't try to set a new PR on your squats. If you have more than minor cold, such as the flu, then rest. The body needs to be healthy in order to allow you to go from a catabolic state (exercise) to an anabolic state (recovery and muscle growth). If you have the flu, then your body is already in a catabolic state because it's fighting off a virus, so exercising will only add to that catabolic state. This would then lessen the immune system's ability to fight the virus, which can cause you to get sicker.
Something pretty cool I learned about the common cold, not counting the flu, is that there are over 200 different types out there. Once you get one, your body builds up an immunity to it; however, since there are so many out there you could spend your lifetime getting the common cold without ever becoming immune to all of them.
Once I read all of this, I thought to myself, ok, I have a runny nose, sneezing, stuffiness but that's about it: I have a minor cold. In the past I would have just been a big baby and threw in the towel for at least a couple days, but from what I read, I shouldn't have a problem. I can continue training especially since my runs at this stage in the training plan, are easy runs.
I did just that, I continued on. It definitely was hard since having a cold does affect your mental state; I felt very unmotivated to run or lift and there were days where I thought maybe I should just go home after work instead of working out. I could never find a valid reason to skip my workout. Another thing I had to watch closely was my diet. Having a cold made me want to fall off the bandwagon and my reasoning was because I was "sick", therefore, I needed some comfort food. I stayed strong and continued with my diet, which wasn't an easy task; I went to visit my parents on one occasion and my brother brought over pizza and kept telling me to take a slice, "Just one isn't going to hurt". Yeah, right. it was that mentality that kept me overweight for many years. I like to indulge (and make it a rule, to do so) however, right now is not the time. I remember texting my girlfriend about my pizza dilemma and I think she summed up quite nicely: "Pizza won't help a sore throat or stuffy nose." That was exactly I needed to hear and didn't take any. That kept me focused on the end result and after getting through the first couple days of dealing with this cold, it became easier. I'm up to day 19 right now. The cold is almost gone; the little remnants of it are being stubborn house guests.
I think what I take away from all this is to learn to read the signs and gauge what your body can or can't handle. If I went by my mood, I wouldn't have worked out and taken some days off because a cold, albeit a minor one, makes you lethargic and feel unmotivated. I ignored my mood and read how my body felt and physically I didn't feel fatigued or injured. It was more of a mental game and you have to use whatever you can in your arsenal to win that battle. In this case it was research on the subject and having people in my life that that support me in my endeavors (When your parents and girlfriend both try to give you medicine, soup, or anything to get you better, you really feel loved). Johnny 1, Common Cold 0.