Can I Run a Race With a Cold?

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The general rule of thumb for running and illness is that if your symptoms are above the neck (i.e., sore throat, runny nose, sneezing), you should be fine to run. The exception would be if you have a high fever—if that’s the case, it’s not a good idea to participate in the race.

If your symptoms are below the neck (i.e., chest congestion, nausea, diarrhea), it’s better to play it safe and not run in the race.

If you’re feeling that ill, it most likely wouldn’t be a fun experience anyway. Some races may allow you to defer to next year's race, transfer to another race, or get a partial refund for your registration. If you're thinking of not participating in the race, find out from the race what your options are.

But if it turns out that you just have a simple common cold, it should be safe for you to run in the race. Of course, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor and see what he or she recommends.

Keep in mind that, even if you just have mild cold symptoms like a runny nose, your performance will most likely be affected. Don’t expect to be at your peak racing form and don't put pressure on yourself to have the race of your life. Listen to your body, make sure you stay well-hydrated during the race, and see what the day brings. Make sure you consider the possibility of having to drop out of the race if you're not feeling great once you get started.

Above all, bring along a handkerchief or a lot of facial tissues. It's going to get messy out there. Paper napkins often work better for long, snotty runs than Kleenex.

Will Running With a Cold Make It Worse?

If you decide to run the half marathon, 5k, or other race, will you be risking making it worse or having a setback? A study by Tom Weidner, Ph.D. at Ball State University looked at whether running while you had a cold would make your cold worse or last longer. It was conducted with 40 minutes of exercise at 70% of maximum heart rate every other day for 10 days. They rated their symptoms and even weighed their facial tissues used during exercise to measure their symptoms. The results were that there was no difference in the severity or duration of the cold with exercise.

This is a small study, but it is reassuring. Naturally, your mileage may vary! But at least you'll have a medal to show for your efforts.

How to Avoid Pre-Race Colds

In the days leading up to a big race, you can try to avoid catching a cold by taking certain precautions. Make sure that you’re drinking plenty of water, eating lots of fruits and vegetables so you know you’re getting plenty of vitamins and antioxidants, and aim for 8 hours of sleep a day. Most importantly, wash your hands frequently—that’s the best way to avoid the spread of cold germs.

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