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Feeling Sick

Running Not Always The Cure

Published February 2, 1999 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

To run, or not to run, that was the question that I asked when I woke up with a sore throat, congested sinuses, and a mild fever. Indeed, to run, or not to run, is the question that every runner must ask when fitness leads to illness.

Despite our obsession with the pursuit of fitness and healthy living, runners are known to ignore early warnings of injury or disease, only to face regrettable consequences. Somehow, a pound of cure displaces an ounce of prevention.

Distance runners are notorious for a high incidence of injuries and illnesses. According to Dr. George Sheehan, the health benefits of running end when competition becomes the focus of one's running. While running three miles a day, three days a week improves one's immunity to disease, training forty to eighty miles per week can have the opposite effect.

Runners who train intensely and race frequently suffer a higher incidence of injuries than those who run for fitness. In fact, the rate of injuries increases with total weekly running mileage. Similarly, recurring intense activity taxes the body's immune system, and increases susceptibility to viral infections.

So, back to the question: to run, or not to run? Common sense suggests the latter. If over-training brings about an infection, then additional training can only aggravate matters. However, we are known to run through injuries and illness, believing that whatever does not kill us makes us stronger runners.

Therefore, the question becomes: what can kill us? Real life presents several examples. Bina started the Pittsburgh Marathon with pneumonia and a fever of 102. An experienced race official saved her life by pulling her off the course at mile 21. Chris spilled his guts across the finish line, and could not keep water down through the following morning. An alert flight attendant denied him boarding and sent him to an emergency room, saving him from kidney failure.

Conventional wisdom dictates certain truths:

Since more illnesses and injuries result from over-training, rather than under-training, taking a day of rest may be the answer.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and receives email at

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