jogging for the readily ill
September 10, 2005 3:18 AM   Subscribe

How do I avoid getting sick when I start a running regimen?

I'm 30, and used to run track and cross country in high school. Lately I've made several efforts to get back into the routine of running 3-4 miles a day. But now I consistently find that, after testing the waters with easy runs to start a regimen, a hard run or two will then put me in bed with a sore throat. Every time, and right when I'm getting to that "Chariots of Fire" high.

It throws a real wrench into my running. I don't feel like I lack the base strength for sustained running, but maybe after all these years I do.

Is there something I can do to deflect the blow to my immune system from a tough run in the hills, or should I go for easier runs? Any help much appreciated; I used to be the fastest sprinter in my high school, but thanks to my inability to start a steady running routine I'm in bed with the pale, hairy beginnings of a beer gut.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (12 answers total)
While exercise in general will boost your immune system, particularly hard exertion will make it weaker for 24-48 hours. It is a good idea to take it easy after you push yourself as this effect applies to even elite athletes.

As for your exercise routine, you sound as if you are trying to up your intensity too fast. It is very common for people re-entering a sport to push themselves too hard and hurt themselves. You may have the muscle strength to run the miles but lack the aerobic capacity to really sustain the speed or vice versa. A lot of your supporting muscles are probably out of shape even if your quads feel strong. An easy run may lull you into thinking that you're doing fine but as you have experienced, you cannot immediately push yourself to the limits that you were used to. If it was not a sore throat that was sidelining you, it would almost certaining be a stress fracture or pulled muscle a little bit down the line.

You need to recondition your body which will take time and patience. Instead of shooting for intensity, start your routine out by accumulating mileage. Allow your body to re-adapt itself to running. The standard guidelines are that you shouldn't increase your mileage by more than 10% each week and that you should not do significant speedwork during a week when you up your mileage. A gradual change will guarantee that you are not placing undue stress on your body and will result in you getting more exercise over time. It didn't take 3 weeks for you to get out of shape, don't expect it to take 3 weeks for you to get in shape.'s couch to 5k program is a great guide for getting back into running and you will find plenty of other helpful information at their website also. Don't allow your impatience keep you from actually getting back into the game, set an easy pace and move on from there.
posted by hindmost at 5:04 AM on September 10, 2005

As a teenager you could get into shape fast and overtrain in the process with little likelihood of ill effects. You ain't a teenager anymore. Don't run every day, and perhaps even start out with two miles, or at least run the three or four at a slow pace. The throat ailment can also be aggravated by poor hydration. Make sure that you are well hydrated prior to the run so that your throat doesn't dry out from the heavy breathing.
posted by caddis at 5:12 AM on September 10, 2005

I think hindmost (a puppeteer reference?) is right.

You're trying to go too hard and too fast. You need to give your body a chance to adapt. Your body is getting older....but your body also remembers "what it felt like". Don't rush it. Want to do a "hard run?"

Do it over a month or two after you start. Easy, easy, easy roadwork. Get a light mile (or three) under your belt. Add a little walking. Want to run harder? Then run harder for 50-100 yards. See how your body feels. If it feels okay? Then add another 50-100 yards each day. By the time ten days have passed you'll be running half a mile (well....more really) hard.

The key is slow, steady process.
posted by filmgeek at 5:20 AM on September 10, 2005

Related question: at what age is one's body most likely to be in its physical peak? The mid-twenties?
posted by madman at 5:38 AM on September 10, 2005

A lot of it comes down to diet, as well as training intensity. There's a lot of great diet advice for fitness and training regimens on the net, so I won't repeat it all.

Of course, make sure you're taking your vitamins, and get plenty of fresh fruit juices down you, and have a very balanced diet. Don't eat high calorie snacks except on intense training days.
posted by wackybrit at 5:57 AM on September 10, 2005

I'm also a former h.s. cross-country running 30 year old who started running again fairly recently as an effort to stem the growth of my gut. You can definitely do this -- I went from being a total bum to finishing a marathon -- but it takes some time.

It's all about fun! I'm not saying you shouldn't push yourself, but ease into it. Alternate running with biking. Do some swimming if you can. It's ok to walk...

When you're just getting started, forget about counting miles and all that stuff... there will be time for all that later. All that matters is that you get out there and make a comittment to doing something physical 5 days a week.

You'll notice a slow but steady improvement.

Also, you'll start to get a better feel for when you can push yourself and when you have to hold off a bit to recover. Being a successful runner is all about learning patience and control.

Of course -- I suppose someone has to say this -- if you're really worried about your health, you should talk to your doctor. It's not so crazy to do that, even if you're not sick with some immediate problem. (I went in and got a 30 year checkup from my doc, which set my mind at ease and established a kind of health baseline to compare against as I dig deeper into training for the LV marathon.)

Madman: I believe that it depends on how you define it. The running mags all suggest that a person beginning running will steadily improve for 7 years or so.
posted by ph00dz at 8:00 AM on September 10, 2005

By the way -- this may sound kooky, but it's actually possible to relive your former glory as a cross country runner. Local running groups put on "open" cross country meets from time to time... events anyone can participate in, regardless of age. ( has tons of listings for events of that nature.)

It's helpful, when training, to have a goal in mind. That late fall 10k, maybe... or something like that.
posted by ph00dz at 8:03 AM on September 10, 2005

Some people recommend taking your pulse every morning before getting out of bed (hopefully not having been startled awake.) If it's elevated, it means you're not fully recovered and you should take it easy.
posted by callmejay at 9:24 AM on September 10, 2005

just push through it.
posted by at 10:29 AM on September 10, 2005

Sleep enough to recover from an intense workout. This may end up being 10 hours in a given night. Sleep is where your body recovers, if you're not getting enough, you will get sick (and your muscles won't develop either).
posted by knave at 11:37 AM on September 10, 2005

For some strange reason this is the subject of a MeTa thread.
posted by fixedgear at 4:42 PM on September 10, 2005

It didn't look like anybody else had suggested it, so, as another aging former XC runner, I'd like to point out that it's possible that you've developed a new allergy to some pollen or mold--it could be because you live in a different area than you did in high school, or just because those things happen. Depending on where you live, it could also be air pollution.

Besides going to the doctor and getting allergy tested, you could try over the counter Claritin, or just try varying where you run (in a park, in your neighborhood) and the time of day (air pollution is worse in the afternoon) to rule out environmental causes.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:53 AM on September 11, 2005

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