Coach Penny in her wetsuit, swim hat and goggles ready for Ironman Triathlon     Wild Swimming     

I’ve had a few clients this week suffering with colds, flu or chesty coughs. So I’ve had several conversations about when it’s OK to train and when it’s not.

Above the neck rule

The general guidelines I’ve always followed are that if your symptoms are above the neck it’s OK to do some easy training. By above the next we mean a runny or stuffed up nose.

By easy training we mean low intensity, short and not challenging to your skills.

Below the neck rule

If it’s below the neck then it’s time to take a rest so your body can recover. By below the neck we mean do you have a temperature, tiredness, fatigue, acheing muscles, a sore throat, stomach upset or something else.

Long term risks

Training while you’re ill or have an infection causes undue stress to your body. It can cause long term fatigue with post viral syndrome, damage to your immune system and can also affect your heart with long term consequences. Plus it’s no fun at all.

This is can be hard to get your head around as a fit and healthy triathlete who rarely gets ill.

But these are real issues. I’ve started to see some athletes taking a long time to recovery from a cold and have also had a serious conversation with a cardiologist about these risks in relation to a family member.

Tiredness and Sleep

However, I cannot remember the last time I felt well enough to train when I just had a cold. The cold usually causes interruption to my sleep and makes me feel more tired than normal. This often affects my concentration and just makes my reactions and movements a bit sluggish. So when I have a cold I usually just rest.

Recovery Time

It can also take longer than you think to recover after an illness so even though you might have stopped sneezing or throwing up, you might still be low on energy. So again make sure you take this into consideration.

I learnt the hard way

I learnt this the hard way. I spent 12hrs throwing up and 24hrs later felt recovered with my appetite back to normal. So I went out for a ride. Within a mile I’d ridden into a bollard and gone over the handlebars. Just because I wasn’t fully alert with full attention. I was a little distracted with wondering if I was fully recovered. Of course I wasn’t and my brain, body and nervous system was slightly overloaded trying to recover.

Another time I’d changed some medication that I was taking. And felt tired, sluggish and generally I just didn’t feel right. But I went for my run any way.  A few miles in I was suddenly flat on my face on the pavement, in a puddle (of course), with a line of traffic watching me. I’d rolled my ankle on an invisible dip in the pavement. Again here energy in my body was diverted managing whatever was going on for me sending my concentration, co-ordination and balance slightly off.  That was me off running for 6 weeks with a sprained ankle.

Mental Toughness vs Obsession

On the one hand it requires mental toughness and commitment to stick to a training plan even when you don’t feel like it.

But on the other hand it can be obsessive and lead to training when you’re not really well enough.

So learning to identify the difference between a “legit quit” and a “shit quit” and having a strategy for this is a skill that’s really important.

The 10% rule

Sometimes just starting off with 10% of a session can be a good place to start. If you feel OK after that 10% then keep going. If not then at you can be proud that you tried and proud that you listened to your body and stopped.

But I feel rubbish when I don’t move

If you’re used to being physically active not being able to train can be tricky for your mental and emotional well being.

If this is how you feel then it’s good to recognise this and have a strategy for dealing with it. The key here is to find movement that doesn’t physically stress your body and allows you to recovery from illness.

You might be able to do some activities that don’t require lots of effort or heavy breathing if you have a cold or chesty cough. Examples include lifting some weights, doing some foam rolling, pilates or yoga, swim drills or go for a walk.

Ups and Downs of Triathlon Training

Part of training is managing the ups and the downs in fitness. This is all part of the process and accepting that you can’t always be in tip top shape will help you to manage the times you can’t train due to illness.  Have faith that your body will recover and your fitness will return.

I can help

It can be hard to manage all this on your own and this is where the support of a coach can really make a difference.  If you struggle knowing when to train and how much to do then get in touch to find out how I could help. You can book in for a FREE Let’s Chat or send me a message. 

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I’m Penny. I’ve been taking part in triathlon for 18 years and I’ve completed 7 Ironman distance races. I’ve helped countless athletes train towards their first and their 10th Ironman.  If you’re curious about how triathlon coaching could help you then why not book for a FREE Let’s Chat to find out more.