Returning To Running After The Flu, Surgery Or Serious Illness

If you’ve been sidelined from running due to illness or even surgery, we have your guide to getting out of bed and back in the game.


Whether it’s a minor ache or a challenging diagnosis, every runner is sidelined at some point. Keep in mind, it’s what you do (or don’t do) while off the bench that will directly impact how quickly and easily you will return to the roads.

If you were forced to take significant time off due to the flu, surgery or serious illness, it’s very important to take things slowly as your body heals itself from the inside out. The good news: If you were running significant mileage before, you will not lose very much fitness even after a month off. Studies show that after two weeks of not running, VO2 max (an indicator of aerobic fitness) decreases by only 6 percent.

Bedridden Workouts

There are things you can work on that do not require any movement.

Train your brain. Listen to podcasts, read books, articles (like this one!) and immerse yourself in positive reinforcement, so you’re ready to run just as soon as you recover.

Create a plan. Serious illness will require serious planning to get back in the game. Think about what training will look like once you are cleared to run—how much mileage, basic pacing, cross-training, nutrition—and be ready to execute. Also, be prepared to deviate from this plan and listen to your body.

Shop online. Because you will need some new running shoes, clothing or gear for just surviving this, right? Right.

Training Through Cancer

According to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, with your doctor’s permission, exercising during and after your treatments is one of the best ways to “improve your quality of life, increase energy levels and decrease the fatigue many patients report.” Here’s how to do it safely:

Check with your doctor first and have a conversation specifically about running.

Hire an expert or seek out a professionally run program specifically for cancer patients and survivors, like the YMCA LiveStrong group.

Listen to your body—it has been through a lot and you know best when you are over- or undertraining.

Stay the course. This kind of activity may be the best way to prevent future illness and help you feel healthy again.