Running away from illness

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There’s a fine art to returning to running after an injury or a prolonged illness — and they’re not quite the same. I’ve had a few times when I’ve had to take a few weeks off running due to illness. Here’s how I ease back in — when I’m being smart. Of course I am not a medical professional or coach and I don’t play one on the Internet!

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I’m linking up with My First 5K and MoreRunning With Attitude, Runs with PugsZenaida and Run Laugh Eat Pie for Fit Five Friday

When are you ready to return?
If it’s a simple cold, you might actually be able to run through it, although I don’t personally recommend it — because when you catch a cold it usually it means you’re already very run down. Rest will help you more than running through it.

If your illness involved a fever, *my* rule of thumb is to be at least two days fever free before even thinking about running. Unfortunately I get viruses where I’ll feel fine (after the initial few days of feeling bad) and then suddenly I’ll be running a low grade temperature again, over and over for a couple of weeks.

In that case, I did light exercise every day. Yoga. Walking Bandit. No hard cardio though — no running.

Eventually though I was fever free, and I was ready to return to running.

Start off easy
Easier than you think you need to. Light exercise while you’re sick will keep you in decent shape — but it won’t keep you in running shape. After a few weeks off, you can’t just pick up where  you left off. If you have a running coach they can definitely guide you to the right amount of exercise.

If you don’t, I suggest starting off with 1 mile (yup, that’s what I did). Run/walk is a really good idea, too, although I didn’t actually start out with run/walk intervals. I know it seems like nothing, but by starting off easy, it’s also easier to gauge your fitness and potentially ramp up your running quickly.

Start off too hard or too soon, though, and you’re likely to either relapse — or even potentially injure yourself.

You can expect to feel some DOMs (delayed onset muscle soreness) as your muscles get used to the pounding of running again. Or maybe not — I didn’t!

You absolutely should be doing only easy runs — and at a slower pace than you were running before you got sick. Don’t worry; you won’t be stuck at this pace — muscle memory can kick in quickly — but overdo it at the beginning and you will pay the price.

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Increase gradually
I started out with 1 miles, and then only added a quarter of a mile until I was at 2 miles. Then I jumped up a half mile to 2.5 miles. 

I found my V02 MAX had dropped a few points — in other words, I’d lost a little cardiovascular fitness. I know that with a slow and steady return, I will regain that fitness relatively quickly.

Don’t worry, be happy!
Just play it smart. Appreciate that you can run again — no matter how it feels (hard, probably), or at what pace (slower, hopefully). You won’t stay there forever. It won’t take you as long to get back to where you were before you got sick as it did to work your way up to that point in the first place.

As long as you play nice with yourself and take it easy!

Do you have a “furmula” for returning to running after a few weeks off?

Do you run through colds? I actually almost never get colds.

Have you ever jumped back in at the same level you left off — and regretted that?

31 thoughts on “Running away from illness

  1. All good tips.

    Hopefully will not need them. knock on wood. Have never gotten a fever I don’t think. I have gotten a cold or two but not recently and hasn’t affected my running. Just annoying need for tissues.

    One good thing about the pandemic is that people are telling me that wearing masks has kept them from getting colds or other viruses that they might normally catch.

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    1. I found it interesting, I do think coming back from injury vs illness is a different thing. You don’t have to worry about reinjuring yourself if you’ve just been sick — although you do have to worry about pushing too hard & getting sick again, of course.

      Listening to your body is a really important skill, especially as we get older & it begins to talk louder to us. 🙂 You’re really good at that, Kim!

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  2. Coming back from an injury or illness is really hard both psychologically and physically. I usually want to do more than I should and it can be hard to hold back. Intervals serve me well and I’ve come to love them.

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  3. Knock wood I don’t often get sick but I do remember an upper respiratory thing may years ago that left my runs feeling deflated and difficult for a long time. When it comes to injuries, I consult my sports chiro for a comeback plan. He’s been a wonderful resource.

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  4. I don’t think I’ve ever had to take extended time off from being sick, but i’ve had to come back from many, many injuries! I agree, it can feel so slow to start with a mile, or even run/walk intervals, but it’s a smart way to start, the time passes quickly and before you know it you’re back up to your normal distances again.

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    1. Luckily I only had one injury that forced me to take a few weeks off. There are always annoying aches, though, it seems!

      I think it helped that it was Winter, and therefore not so inviting to run anyway. 🙂

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  5. I don’t have a formula yet, but do plan to start my “come back” slow and easy. Listening to your body and not your mind is the key, I think. Sometimes, it’s really hard to separate the two – or hard to convince the mind that the body knows what it is talking about. I think there is still a little bit of the “no pain, no gain” mindset out there which can really be counterproductive when you’re coming back from and illness, injury, or surgery.

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  6. Sometimes I will run through a cold, but it depends how bad it is. I don’t run with a fever, and it usually takes me a few days to even consider being able to run again after its gone. Great tips!

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  7. Thanks for this good, common-sense advice, Judy. I find that now that I am retired,. I am sick so much less. Part of it, I am sure, is not being around germy kids all day, but part of it is a much more relaxed schedule and lack of stress. I always know I SHOULD take it easy when coming back from an injury or illness, but I don’t actually do it! 🙂

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    1. I stopped working in my mid 40s. Totally unplanned. Although there’s been a lot of stress since I moved here. And everyone has stress in a pandemic!

      That’s really wonderful that you are sick less often & can enjoy your retirement.

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  8. Good tips! I’ve been injured a few times and have taken it slowly to get back to running. Mainly it is because my body “won’t” let me run faster or longer. 🙂 Though I am not injured right now, it will be interesting to see how it goes when I start running again like I used to. Right now sometimes my one mile runs are challenging. The body is sometimes weird.

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  9. I run when I am sick. It may not be fast or long, but I just do it. I just always feel better afterwards. I think that I sweat out the toxins like my father would say. It clears the sinuses too. For some reason remaining consistent shorten the length of time I am ill.

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    1. Can’t really remember,bee last time I had a cold either. Would definitely run with a headache but I don’t get them too often either. I’m not sick often, but when I am, fever is usually involved. 😔

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