Running With A Head Cold

When to train & When to rest?

It’s inevitable that at some point your run training will be adversely affected as you’re struck down with a cold. The dreaded man flu! So frequently, this will occur at completely the wrong time in terms of preparation for your upcoming race or event.

This always throws up one big question: Should I rest? Or can I continue running?

As good as run training in moderation is for our immune system and general health. Many of us get sick when we push the training volume around peak weeks – as this increased physiological strain on the body frequently leads to suppression of the immune system. This leaves us open to infection and illness.

Getting sick is clearly a risk we all take as we increase our training. But the enjoyment we all derive from training and competing is certainly worth it!

Should you run when illness strikes?

At this point, I’ll point out that each case is different, and you should listen to your body. The last thing you’d want to do is make yourself seriously ill.

A good piece of advice is to follow the often quoted neck rule.

This good rule of thumb for runners and endurance athletes suggests that when cold-like symptoms strike, if the symptoms are above your neck (nasal blockage, sinus congestion, ‘high’ sore throat) and you don’t have a fever, continuing light training should be ok.

However, if the symptoms spread below the neck to your chest (coughing, phlegm production, ‘deep’ sore throat, bronchitis type symptoms) with or without a fever, you MUST cease training and see a doctor. Rest and possibly even medical intervention is your best bet once this stage is reached.

Most of us are in some way addicted to our training. Which is why you’re probably reading this! None of us want to miss a session if we can convince ourselves it’ll be ok. However, If the symptoms hit your chest, you must stop. It’s not unheard of for athletes to become hospitalised through trying to train through symptoms that started as a cold. A wholly avoidable situation.

A week of looking after yourself, eating well and some early nights will do you the world of good once the symtoms of man-ful set in. You’ll be back in training in no time, with minimal loss of fitness. Certainly a better option than a lingering chest infection.

Listen to your body!

Last updated on January 9th, 2019.


  1. Had this dilemma just last week, and man, am I glad I took four days off to rest my lungs instead of pushing it. I came back slow, but save for hacking up some phlegm, I feel great.

    You just can’t outrun lung issues, and if you push too hard, they get way worse way fast.

    Good piece!

  2. This is actually quite interesting.

    I have a weakened immune system due to an illness I had when I was 18, so running and training in the winter is always a struggle for me.

    I’ve actually had a minor cold (blocked nose and minor headache) for the last couple of days and have been fine to go out and do 4.5miles but two weeks ago when I had manflu I couldn’t do anything. Just had to see it out with no running and then eased back in slowly.

    Great article, many thanks.

  3. Good advice, I’d qualify the “MUST see a doctor” though, if a cough isn’t settling after 4-5 days, lasts more than three weeks, or if symptoms of fever last or worsen after 4-5 days consider seeing a doctor.
    If you see a doctor with earlier symptoms you’ll potentially end up with antibiotics for a viral infection, useless and creating community antibiotic resistance.
    Viral sore throats & bronchitis are self limiting & get better on their own, they are massively over treated with pointless antibiotics.

  4. That’s cool. I generally apply the rule without knowing the basic rule that you have stated. It’s good to be aware of the (neck) theory.

    I hope you can also write about eloctrolytes for marathoners.
    I feel like I have problems with keeping hydrated.
    Thanks in advance.

    Keep up the good work.

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