Sick or missed a few training runs? How and when to return.


So you've been sick for the last week and a half. Or you had to go out of the country for a business trip and just couldn't get any workouts in. You're worried about what the missed training is going to do in your overall game plan. You’ve got holiday parties, gatherings and duties that just don’t quit. You’ve missed (or going to miss) some training runs . . . .

What do you do?

This article focuses on getting sick, but regardless of why you miss runs, how and when you return to running is generally the same.

When Can You Continue Training?

There are many sicknesses and illnesses. The most common are Colds and Flus.  There are also things like business trips, and just flat out laziness . . . you can skip to the end, but this is all good reading nonetheless. For these common illnesses and some you can continue to train through.

The Neck Rule

One general rule of thumb is the Neck rule.  Is it Above the neck (in your throat, neck & head) or is it Below the neck (Chest, Lungs, Body aches, etc.)

When it’s above the neck, it’s generally safe to continue training - though you may need to cut things back or take a day or two off. If below, then plan an “outage”. Of course, these points are very general in nature, so use some common sense, medical advice or otherwise if you truly feel like there may be something beyond the common cold or flu.

What Affects Your Rebound?

First, don't worry. Be happy you’re missing a long, tough run ;)  J/k . . . kind of . . . Unless you missed more than 2 full straight weeks (or had a severe case of Mono for 6 days) you will be fine. Studies show that endurance conditioning doesn't take a noticeable hit until after 10-14 days of completely missing out. Does this mean you'll be able to bounce right back to your 10k race pace or an easy 12 mile run? No. But it does mean that your overall training won't be affected as much as you think it will. A few factors affect how you will rebound and how fast it takes:

  • Overall fitness level before - One who's been working out straight for last 4 months will fare better than a rookie with only 4 weeks.
  • Longevity of endurance type of fitness - a marathoner with 4 yrs under her belt will rebound better than a new runner training for his first.
  • How sick were you?  Just a cold/upper respiratory issue?  Not bad, easy recovery.  A 4 day flu with fever, muscle aches, fatigue?  You will have a bit of a longer hill to climb, plan on a good 7-10 days of recovery workout.   H1N1 swine flu?  Bring me your doctor's note, then we'll chat!!
  • Everybody is different . . .

How To Return - Listen to your Mother

Secondly, rest and get better! Assuming you're still sick, just chill out.  Do all the 'motherly' things to get yourself better. Rest, get off your feet, have a bowl of chicken soup, take some meds, sleep well, hydrate even more, etc.  Get to the doctor if you need to.  Do not worry about the training that you're missing. This last part is extremely hard . . especially for newer / novice runners. It’s important to know that it is MORE important to get yourself healthy BEFORE coming back to training.  But when do you come back . . .

When to Return - Calculated Patience

The first thing I ask is if you're still sick, at what point are you in the process. If you're still in the thick of it, then continue to rest and recover. But, if you're already "peaked" and on the downhill slope per say, plan to get back on the horse. In fact, many report that a good workout will actually help speed up your recovery and kick your immune system into higher gear. Though you must "ease" back into it. HOWEVER, It also depends on the nature of your sickness (see below, and the reference articles/links) The worse or more intense the sickness, the more you need to hold back.

I picture any “outage” as a hill. There is a climb where the bottom of the hill is the “I think I’m feeling off” part. The climb is you progressively getting worse.  The peak is where you are at your worst. And then there is the downhill slope where you can literally feel your body getting better. For most common illnesses (colds, flus, etc.) its is the middle of the downhill slope that represents your “get back on it” time.

Ease Into It - Just Don’t Wait Too Long

Plan to ease into training over the next week or two. To get back properly, you simply need to get back the base/core mileage training for a few weeks. If you're a beginner runner early on, you may have to run/walk some before getting into full time running. Plan to get back to your 4x a week training and return to the current schedule like you never left. This may take a few weeks of easing back into it. For instance, if your last long run was 7 miles, and you missed out on the 8 and then 9 miler, and you’re back on the 3rd week and the schedule says 10 miles. . . . don’t do 10. You may need to do 7 or 8. Then the following week, do the 9 or 10. It may take 2 or 3 weeks to build back to the overall weekly volume.

Again, do NOT add mileage onto your regular training. You will risk more harm than good.  Do not overdo it by doing high intensity ("specialty") runs such as intervals, tempos, etc. as those are too demanding on your body, both from sapping energy and risk of injury.   Once again:

  • Ease back into it - you may have to do only 2 or 3 runs during the first week.
  • Your first couple of runs back simply may suck! That’s common, don’t let it get you down. (At the same time, under certain circumstances, I’ve witnessed “incredible runs” (or even races) due to the immense amount of REST their body has just gone through.
  • Do NOT “double up” or add on mileage, that’s worse.  Ease back into the program where you would have been if you never left.  (It may take you an extra week or two to do so, but you’ll be fine doing it.)
  • Most recoveries take 1-3 weeks to be back like you’ve never left.

What if I wasn’t sick, just legitimately out or just plain lazy

Of course, much of the above is different if you simply missed training due to other reasons (not being sick).  You will not have to tread so lightly upon returning, but you should also not do MORE than what is scheduled.  Whatever the case, still do not increase weekly mileage more than 10-15%  (assuming healthy)


As always, please let me know if you have any questions.

See ya out there!!

Coach Aaron

References, Links & Resources