The ‘neck rule’
Ploughing on regardless of illness is not a display of toughness and it can be dangerous. Many sports doctors advocate the ‘neck rule’ to determine whether you should still run when you are ill.
If your symptoms are above the neck, (sneezing, runny nose, mild sore throat), then easy running should be okay, as long as you back off the duration and intensity until the symptoms resolve. Harder training sessions or races are not advisable and will almost certainly prolong your recovery. If however, you have symptoms below the neck, (chesty cough, fever, muscle aches, stomach upset, vomiting), then you definitely need to rest.
So, what’s best to do when illness strikes?
As frustrating as it is having to miss training, you should listen to what your body is telling you. Fighting a virus or infection can drain your body of valuable energy, which further lowers your immune system. This means that if you further stress your body through training when ill you are much more susceptible to succumbing to another virus or infection. Rest really is best!
A few days off training will do your fitness no harm at all and will actually give your body the opportunity to absorb the hard work that you’ve done.
Many runners fear that by resting their hard earned fitness will disappear overnight, but that simply isn’t the case. A few days off training will do your fitness no harm at all and will actually give your body the opportunity to absorb the hard work that you’ve done. If you can tolerate food then ensure that you continue to eat well and be sure to keep on top of your hydration levels. Good hydration is key in immune function. Saliva is your first line of defence when it comes to fighting pathogens and if you are dehydrated you tend to produce less of the slobbery stuff, therefore compromising your immune system.
When to resume training?
Once you are feeling better wait one more day before resuming training in order to give your body a fighting chance. This is particularly important if you’ve been suffering from a sickness bug as it enables you to rebuild your glycogen stores and hydration levels and ensures that your immune function is restored to full power.
How quickly you can return to full training following illness depends on the severity and duration of your symptoms.
How quickly you can return to full training following illness depends on the severity and duration of your symptoms. It can be very tempting to jump straight back into your training schedule or to try and make up for lost time, however if you push too hard too soon you run the very real risk of suffering a recurrence of the illness or worse still a longer-term complication such as post-viral fatigue.