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Runners are planners. We obsess over training schedules, meal plans and workout logs. We prepare for everything from weather to water stops, but sometimes the unexpected occurs. A sniffle here, an ache there, and all of a sudden we’re sick—and left wondering whether you should hit the streets or hit the sheets.
“In the grand scheme of things, a couple of days off are really not going to hurt you,” explains Dr. John Ellison, Medical Director for the Big Sur International Marathon. “If you’re concerned about a race you have coming up, it’s best to take a few days off to make sure you’re ready to go.”
And no runner is immune. Lauren Fleshman, professional athlete and partner at Oiselle, was once stuck in a sickly situation. “Because I was sick, I missed a race in college that was a really important qualifier for the NCAA Indoor Championships. If I didn’t run it, I couldn’t run the Championships, where my team needed me for points,” she remembers. “Ultimately, I had to listen to my body. To race sick in that qualifier would have wrecked me and kept me out of the other [important races].”
But hindsight is 20/20, and if it weren’t for her experience and intelligence, Fleshman easily could have made the wrong call. So how can you tell if you should run when you’re feeling under the weather? The common recommendation, according to Dr. William Roberts, professor at the University of Minnesota, is to perform the “neck-check.” “If symptoms are above the neck, you’re probably okay to run,” he explains. “If they’re below the neck, you should rest.”
We’ve developed a handy flowchart to help you with the “neckcheck” and other important self-assessments. Follow the flow to see if you should rest, go for an easy run or get ready to race.