Tri Q+A: Should you race with a cold?

Should you race, or even train, when you're under the weather? Our expert Joe Beer weighs up the arguments for and against racing with a cold...


It’s a conundrum athletes face throughout the year, but more so from September through to March.


You may not have the training intensity of the summer season to deal with, but you still have to juggle weekly training through this low ebb of winter and keep yourself as fit as possible to tackle those hard strength-building sessions that will improve your next race season. Of course there are also plenty of off-season duathlons and cross-country events that you’ll want to be well for too. So let’s look at how to tackle the problem of training/racing and the common cold:

Variances of the common cold

What one athlete classes as a heavy cold, another may say is ‘just a sniffle’. One mopes, the other gets on with it despite feeling a bit rough. The argument for/against racing does depend on how risk-averse the person is, and how important race finishing is to them.

Why not race?

First, racing will not sweat a cold out of your system. If you’re feeling very ill, go back to bed! When racing or doing hard sessions, elevated body temperature and stress on the heart will further batter your immune system.

If Chrissie Wellington can do it the morning of Kona, you shouldn’t be hesitant about dropping out of a race for your long-term health and wellbeing. There will be another race when you’re feeling top of your game, and these symptoms could get a lot worse, potentially affecting many weeks of training and racing.

How to assess

If you have symptoms above the neck (e.g. a runny or stuffed nose), you should be okay to race. If it’s below the neck (lungs, stiffness, a chesty cough, etc.) then you won’t be able to
do moderate to hard training, but light daily activities could be doable.

If athletes do no training at all they can feel worse psychologically, so small amounts of light activity can allow them to assess, in the hours that follow, how their body is coping. Do not throw yourself into a race, HIT session or very long training session to test yourself – start small and chart when your body gives you the green light and symptoms abate. I suggest athletes give themselves a daily diary score out of 10 to watch for progress, and colour days red if things are so bad that they affect training/racing.

Some light training to assess your fitness is a good idea if you’re feeling at all unwell, rather than throwing yourself in and ignoring your symptoms entirely

Reducing cold incidences

To reduce your chance of catching a cold, be sure to prioritise 6-8hrs uninterrupted sleep. Employ good hand hygiene, have a good daily fruit and veg intake, avoid people who are sick and don’t share bottles. Regular relaxation periods and pre-planned, reduced-load training weeks in the winter (e.g. 3:1 or 4:1 ratio) are also smart moves to help you avoid nasty colds.


What do you think? let us know in the comments!