Expert Panel Question???
Question: “Everyone is different, but in general, how long should a runner wait after recovering from an illness, such as a bad cold or flu, before doing a long marathon training run 15 to 20 miles?”
(ask your questions to the UtahRunning.com Experts here)
(a brief response)
When not taken care of appropriately, a harmed immune system can lead to a cascade of problems when involved in heavy or high-volume exercise training. If you are not careful when resuming exercise following a damaged immune system (e.g. a cold or flu), you can chronically impair muscle tissue function, cardiac (heart) function, and of-course extend or rebound your illness. This is why more experienced runners will always tell you that patience always pays off in the end.
Intensive exercise training should not be resumed until a few days following the complete resolution of common cold symptoms (e.g. sore throat and runny nose without general body aches and fever). To date, research shows mild to moderate exercise (e.g. walking) when sick with the common cold does not appear to be harmful. Some data even suggests mild to moderate exercise during a cold enhances the immune system; speeding recovery.
With symptoms of extreme tiredness, fever, swollen lymph glands, and muscle aches (e.g. following a bout of the common flu), it’s best to allow yourself 2-4 weeks following resolution of symptoms before resuming intensive training. A long training run (e.g. for marathon training) is considered intensive training.
This being said, you are the ultimate decision maker as to the extent of your recovery from illness. If you do make the choice to resume more intense workouts, there are a few precautions that can help prevent potential negative consequences as a result of not being fully recovered from your illness. These same precautions are also always valuable to implement regardless of your current health. You want to make sure you hydrate well before, during, and after working out. Hydration helps keep a higher volume of blood throughout our body. A greater volume of blood means our body can transport more nutrients and other needs where required. Napping within a couple hours following your long runs increases both immune function and overall recovery. Both hydrating well and napping should also be done as much as possible on other days.
Please be patient. Remember also that it takes weeks before a person begins to lose practically significant aerobic fitness. You can perform very little activity for a few weeks and still maintain your fitness level.
By Trever Ball, M.S. – Exercise Physiologist | Epidemiologist | Local Elite Athlete | Doctoral Student – University of Utah