Can I run when I’m sick?
It’s a question that all of us will ask ourselves at one point or another.
Today, we are going to take a look at this question to help you figure out when it’s best for you to run or rest when you’re feeling sick. There are two big mistakes that runners make: many often push through instead of resting, thinking they’ll lose fitness, or on the other hand, they cancel their run at the first sniffle. Both of these can lead to not seeing the progress they want, or worse, prolonged illness forcing you to take longer to come back.
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This is the real life renters podcast, episode number 324. Can i run when i'm sick.Angie:
Hey everybody, welcome to the podcast today. Today we're talking about that. Infamous question, what to do if you're sick? What do we do about running? Should we run? Should we not run? Should we take a rest day? What do we do when we come back after we're sick? All theKevin:
things. Yeah, this question hit home real well with the Real Life Runners podcast because I'm a little bitAngie:
sick. Because half of our house is sick right now. So that's one of the inspirations for this episode, basically. Um, Kevin got sick first this time, which is abnormal. Usually it's one of the kids that gets sick first. Yeah,Kevin:
it's the start of the school year. I got it, I definitely got it from the students.Angie:
Yeah, definitely, um, lots of things and germs going around. So... We thought we'd talk about it because this is a question that we get a lot like should I run when I'm sick? Can I can I run when I'm sick? Is it a good idea? Is it a bad idea? So let's talk about all of that today because you guys probably will notice that Kevin if you especially if you've been listening to the podcast for a while His voice sounds a little different today, a little different, a little deeper, deeper today. Um, and if you are new, welcome, we're glad you're here. If you haven't yet, even if you aren't new, if you've been listening to us for a while, if you haven't left us a review on Apple podcasts, we would love for you to just pause the podcast for just about 30 seconds and head over to Apple podcasts or Spotify, whichever one you are listening to this podcast on and leave us a quick review. Tell the world. why you love the Real Life Runners podcast and why they should listen to this podcast because it allows us to reach more runners and help more runners to improve their running and the rest of their life in the process. So thank you in advance for all of you that have left a review and those of you that are going to do it right now. Excellent. Excellent choice. So let's talk about running while sick. Um, Is it a good idea? Is it a bad idea? Today we want to help you figure out when it's best for you to run or rest when you're starting to feel sick because we basically see runners making two main mistakes. The first one is pushing through instead of resting, thinking that you're going to lose fitness or on the other hand you cancel your runs at the sign of the first sniffle. Yeah. And basically both of these things. Are going to lead you to not making the progress that you're, that you really want. Um, if you are someone that tends to push through. Even when you're sick, you're off, you will also often find that that sickness or that illness will last longer and it will probably take you longer to come back and we don't want you to take unnecessary time off when you don't have to. Right,Kevin:
but both of them ultimately come down to you're not going to see the progress that you want. Either you're constantly taking breaks. Or your, your breaks get longer than they need to be. Neither one of those are good because ultimately the goal here is to be as consistent as possible to get as great of success and achievement as possible. So any sort of hiccups, the smaller the hiccup can be, the smootherAngie:
the path. Right. Because consistency is the key to everything. Yep. Right. We want to help you be able to run as consistently as possible so that you can achieve whatever goal is important to you. Because consistency is the key for any goal that you want to achieve. So the more we can work on that and improve that and have you consistent at doing the right things that are going to actually get you to your goal, the better. So let's start off with the first scenario of when it's okay to push through. Now, before we jump into both of these scenarios, first we're going to talk about When it's okay to push through. And then the second part is when it's probably a good idea to take a rest and notice the language that I'm using. It's not when it's good or when it's bad or when you should, or when you shouldn't, we're just going to give you best practices in our opinions.Kevin:
Yes. Right. Feel free to disagree. Right. That, you know, user experience isAngie:
important here. Right. So let's first talk about when it's okay to push through and the mistake that we're talking about here that we see is people that. Cancel their run at the first the sign of the first sniffle.Kevin:
Yeah, I mean if that's if that's a case you're taking too many breaks You're probably losing training time where you could be out there doing something because you have a slight sniffle and you're like, ah, I'm getting sick I don't want to push it. I'm gonna take it. I'm gonna take a day off and you Jeff You don't need to be taking that day off Especially if you have a race that you're training for especially if that race is coming up pretty soon If, if you can go for a run, in that case, it's probably better for you to actually go for that run.Angie:
Right, and so, the first thing we want you to understand is that it's okay to run if you're sick. So the old school rule, and this is something that we have used for years, is if it's above the neck or below the neck. So if it's above the neck, so neck and up, like I guess it's above the shoulders, really. Yeah. Neck and up, it's okay to run. So if you have a sore throat, if you have congestion, or a runny nose, or a headache, anything that's above the neck, it's probably okay to run. Now, again, there are lots of exceptions to this rule, alright? So this is definitely not a hard and fast rule by any means, alright? And it's also... So, very unlikely that you have one symptom in isolation. There's probably a host of symptoms that you have when you're getting sick, so keep that in mind too. And obviously, the more symptoms you have, the less this rule applies, I would say, right? Like, if you have one thing of like a runny nose or just a sniffle or just a headache or something like that, especially if it's a mild headache, you'll probably be okay. But if you find yourself with a sore throat, congestion, a headache, like multiple things in combination. Then you might end up falling into category two.Kevin:
Right, but the, one of the big ones here is, I've got a runny nose, or I have a sore throat, should I still go run? Right. Like, this is usually, um, you know, people are like, well this is, Often, one of the first things that I get before I get really sick, should I stop right now? And it's like, well, you might be able to get in another run, and it's probably not going to affect how sick you actually get. Like, if you have a sore throat, it's going to be annoying to go run. Like, it's probably going to be uncomfortable. I think the most annoying thing to go out and run with is when you have, like, that really runny nose. Because you've got to go out and run with, like, pockets full of Kleenex. Like, it's just gross.Angie:
But... Take pockets full of Kleenex though. I just like wipe yourself, like, just let the snot flow. That's gross. WhatKevin:
are you going to do with it? I have a pocket on each side. I move, I move like... Or like your sleeve.Angie:
shirt. You and I do not run together.Angie:
saying I do that. I think that's what you're saying. That's what I, I don't do that. So who, who of the people on the podcast is that? I definitely don'tAngie:
run with a pocket full of Kleenex, though, because when you sweat, your Kleenex will get wet, and then it'll be completely worthless, and it'll just start crumbling in your pocket. AllKevin:
right, so here's the thing. Usually I put myself into the second category. If I've got, like, real runny nose, and I know I'm going to end up blowing my nose multiple times while I'm out there, I probably have already moved into the second category when it's probably a good idea to take a rest. I used to get sick like runny noses. Yeah, but I used to get sick more when I was in like high school and college, but I would get sick in the winter. So you could easily go out and run with one pocket full of dry Kleenex and one pocket full of use Kleenex and they would not get wet from sweat because it was cold enough during the winter time. Yeah,Angie:
I don't know what that's like. We run in South Florida. I don't know what it's like to not sweat and run. And now I have the song pocket full of sunshine in my head.Kevin:
Pocket full of Kleenex. Pocket full of Kleenex. Perfect. All right. So I that, that idea of if there's one thing, if you have a sore throat, a runny nose, you got something like that, you can go run. It's gonna be annoying, but you can go run and it's probably not really gonna affect your illness, how the illness progresses. Like a lot of people areAngie:
like, it may or may not, dependingKevin:
on what you're doing exactly. If you push it super, super hard on that day. Yes. It may be an issue. If you just go out and have your normal run, you're probably going to be fine and it probably won't have any effect on your sickness. Right. And we'reAngie:
going to talk about that here in a second, but let's just talk about below the neck thing. So like if you have any sort of issues in your lungs, if you feel like you're, you have chest congestion, if you're having trouble breathing, any tightness in your chest, you're going to want to take a rest. If you're having stomach or digestive issues. You're probably going to want to take a rest day and, and not go out for the run. So that's kind of like the big things that kind of happen below the neck. Or body aches.Kevin:
Body aches. If you have body aches, Don't run. Like you, you also probably have a fever. You should not be running at that point in time.Angie:
Yes, and that's, the fever, like, people would say like, above or below. The fever is the whole body. That's your whole body. That's your whole body. So that's a definite rest day. Like if you have a fever, don't go run. Okay. Like obviously you're going to do whatever you want to do, but we would highly suggest not going to run if you have a fever or any symptoms below your neck. The other thing that you're going to want to take in or keep in mind here when making the decision, if you want to run or not, is where are you in your training cycle and what is your current goal for that training cycle? So if you are currently in the middle of a race training cycle or even towards the end of a race training cycle, I would say you might want to get in that run. Um, well, let's see if we're at the end,Kevin:
here's the thing is, this is where it starts toAngie:
get a little question mark.Kevin:
So you argue the other.Angie:
Oh, okay. Well, let's, let's, let's just talk about this for a second, right? So I think that it's important to know, we can, we can, so it is important to know where in your training cycle you are and what goal you're training for to help you makeKevin:
this decision. Okay. So you have a race. It's in four to six weeks, four to six weeks, and you're starting to show sickness. Do you go for the runAngie:
that day? I, if it's above the neck and mild in nature, I would say I probably would. Okay.Kevin:
If it's below the neck, no matter what are you canceling? Are you considering pushing and going for a run? Even if it's like, I mean, I've got a cough, but it's not a bad cough because I've done this myself, I've gone out where I felt pretty okay, but I had a cough and literally during the run, because you're breathing heavy. I had to cough a lot and I ended up coughing up a bunch of junk and I was actually feeling better afterwards. I was tired by the end of it, but I felt like my chest was clearer by the end of it. Yeah, so it can be beneficial. I don't think that's a selling point for trying to go out and grind it when you've got like a throaty deep cough. But I felt like I had like a mild cough and and that was like my the only symptom that IAngie:
had. Well, here's the other thing too. Is it day one of your illness or is this day five or six of your illness, too? No, that was the back end of my illness. So I think that's a different story, right? I think that if you're starting to have like chest congestion or those kinds of symptoms at the beginning if it's like day one and day Two versus okay. Now this has been going on for like a week and you have that lingering cough. Yep To me I would be much more apt to run If it's on day six, day seven, especially if like I kind of got sick, I started feeling better, but I still have this lingering congestion, even if it is in my chest, I'll be much more likely to head out for a run, um, or a workout. If everythingKevin:
like it's on the upswing. If it seems like I'm feeling better and I still have those things, then yes, I would still, I personally, and again, this is not medical advice, let's put that disclaimer out there. Um, I have a doctorate, but I'm not a medical doctor. I personally wouldn't wait until all symptoms are 100 percent resolved before I started training again.Kevin:
I think that I, I got to agree, especially if the race is coming up relatively soon.Angie:
Yeah. Oh, we're still in that four to sixKevin:
week window. If the race is coming relatively soon, I'm definitely trying to get back into training as quick as possible. Right. I'm trying to reduce that downtime window as much as I possibly can. Yeah. As we pointed out, consistency is key in all of this. So if you've got the race coming and. As the sickness comes on, it hits you pretty quickly, and you're like, okay, well I gotta, I gotta take some time off. Then as you start feeling better, I think you can ease back into it. I think one of the other things here is, when you're running, it does not mean that you have to do exactly what the plan says. You can change intensity, and that changes how it's going to affect your body also.Angie:
Right. And I think that's one of the big things that we want to talk about now is instead of total rest. Can you adjust instead? Right? So maybe you are in the middle of a race training cycle. And if we are going back to that 4 to 6 week period out, that's going to be some of your highest mileage weeks. So maybe you have a really high mileage week coming up. Maybe you can make that a down week instead, try to recover and then Start to add in more mileage the following week when you're starting toKevin:
feel better Yeah, hundred percent like you can manipulate those last few weeks and throw in an extra down week Yeah, instead of going like a two week taper, you could make it a three week taper You could just go real hard and make it like a week and a half taper Like it's not an exact science, especially when illness shows up you want to make sure that you get in quality training and Taper down for the race and you're going to be fine. So adjusting where a down week comes in there is going to beAngie:
beneficial for right. So during a down week, what we're talking about is pulling back your mileage. So instead of going from You know running say you're running 30 miles a week to zero Maybe you just cut it in half you pull back your mileage and just you know, do 50 percent of what you were planning on Maybe you substitute some more cross training maybe you skip your speed work that week and you know, just forgo that workout and Just do easy running insteadKevin:
Okay, so on that idea of skipping speed work, where does strength training fallAngie:
into this? Yeah, that's a great question. So When we think about speed work, we think of speed work as a hard workout. Yep. And strength training, I would usually put in that bucket also. But again, it depends on your training cycle and the goal of your training cycle. So if we're going back to racing during those last four to six weeks, if you're in a race training cycle, you're, you should be on maintenance for strength training. So you should not be. Increasing your weights and really trying to build muscle in those last four to six weeks because your focus should be on Preparing for that race. Okay, so I would say you should be good maintaining strength training during that time And kind of along the same lines of pulling back mileage, you can just maybe decrease it by a set or decrease the weights that you're using, um, just to make it a little bit easier on your body. And it also depends on how you respond to strength training. I think that some people really like strength training and It, they like the way that it feels in their body and it doesn't make them super sore. And then there's other people that when they strength train, they tend to overdo it like because mentally they're trying to push themselves, right? They tend, they just tend to overdo it and, um, they're super sore afterwards. You definitely want to pull back on your strength training. same as you would pull back on mileage or speedKevin:
work. I think that's, that's a real good point because sometimes if you're out there running, it could make you cough a little bit more. It's tough to breathe. Like you've got all that going,Angie:
but at least you can spit while you're running. That's true. You don't want to do that in theKevin:
gym. That's true. But you don't necessarily, I mean, I I've seen you work out sometimes. I think some people. slow down their strength training so that it's not as much of a cardio workout. So you might not be getting the same strain in terms of, of cardio of like stretching your lungs that are not necessarily working at full capacity when you're strength training. So I think I feel like some people might try to push their strength a little bit extra while they're sick because they're not able to run as much. Is it possible that that's probably a bad idea because you're overdoing it on that end and your body still needs to recover, whether it's from strength training or running, you're trying to take care of the sickness. So you want to make sure you kind of pull back on everything,Angie:
right? Because when you think about your body, your body has a limited set of resources. And a lot of times when When you get sick or when some people get sick, they also tend to lose appetite and they're not eating as much, right? I know that that's definitely happened to you and to our youngest daughter who is now sick as well. It's been like, I've been like trying to force feed her whatever I can get into her. A hundred percent. That was me on Sunday. Right. And so if you're not eating as much and you're also trying to strength train or train in whatever way, you're not fueling. And so your body has a limited set. of resources available to it. And it's trying to fight off an infection. It's trying to fight off a virus or a bacteria, whatever's causing you to get sick. And So, if you are now strength training or doing hard workouts on top of it, your body now has to repair the muscle damage that's there as well. And again, we have a limited amount of resources available. So, your body then has to split and figure out, do I want to fight this virus or this illness that I have, this infection, or do I want to go repair the muscle damage that we just did in the workout? And a lot of times it will try to do both, and it will do both. Poorly. Yeah, right. So that's what will lead often lead to like the prolonged sickness because your body's trying to repair the muscle damage in You know, at the same time, or it's going to lead you to stay sore and may even lead to injury because your body's trying to fight the infection. All the resources, more of the resources are going there, so you're not actually recovering from your workouts as, asKevin:
well, right? So this is the idea of if you're, you're pushing through, you still want to realize that what you're doing is maintenance. So you're pulling back on amount of pushing through sickness. If you're pushing through sickness. And you are doing your workouts, you're still pulling back as far as the, the amount, the intensity, you're pulling back on speed work, you're pulling back on the volume of, of your strength training. You're putting in some cross training instead of some running, like everything's just getting pulled back a little bit because your goal here is to maintain until you come out the other side of the sickness. Yeah, I think that'sAngie:
a really good way to look at it is like your goal while you were sick is maintenance at most. Yep. Right? Like your goal is not to build mileage. Your goal is not to try to get faster. It's not any of that. You're trying to at at most maintain where you are right now. Excellent. All right, let's go into the second category, which is when it's probably a good idea to take a rest when we would rest ourselves or when we would suggest for our runners to rest and If you are someone that would really like help navigating all these questions that pop up during your training, we would love to help you inside the Real Life Runners Academy. This is like some of the stuff that we do all the time with our runners. Like if they miss training because of illness or because of... Life just popping up and getting in the way they come to our live weekly coaching calls and they ask us, How do I adjust this? What do I do with this schedule? And we help them in real time adjust all their training. That is one of the benefits of coaching inside the academy. So if you are interested in the academy, it's currently closed, but we will be reopening doors soon. Actually, next month, At the beginning of October. So if you want to know when doors are officially open, head over to realliferunners. com forward slash academy and get on the wait list today. That was smooth. Thank you. All right. So let's talk about when it's probably a good idea to take a rest because a lot of times we see this is probably more common, I think, than scenario one. I think it's more common for runners to want to just push through and. Just ignore the fact that they'reKevin:
sick because that's what runners like to do. Right? Like, because we're tough. Well, one of the things that makes runners good at running is the ability to block out pain and discomfort. It's true. So like, that's like, people are like, Oh no, I run and I'm good at it. And we take pride in it. Great pride in it. I do hard things like running even when I'm sick. Okay. But that's not going to slow meAngie:
Sickness will not stop me. Maybe sickness should stop you. Okay, maybe it should. The mistake here is pushing through when you should be pulling back, when you should be taking time off. And the issue here is, it can stretch your illness out. As you just pointed out, your body only has so many resources. If you're pretty sick, your body is going to devote all of its resources towards the And so the, the work that you're putting in is either not going to have any payoff or you're going to get hurt because you're pushing yourself where your body is devoting all of its resources towards illness or your body says, Oh, wait, we're still working out. I guess I have to devote my resources towards Towards recovery from this workout and now you're not doing anything to recover from the illness and the illness lasts longer It gets worse than it naturally would have Neither of these are goodAngie:
scenarios, right and we are talking about this with a lot of love and Definitely not pointing any fingers because that was those fingers will be pointing right back atKevin:
us. Like you point one finger out, three fingers point back at you. That's what I was told.Angie:
Right. And that's, it's because we've done this, right? Like both of us have done this for sure. I have definitely dug my heels and been like, this isn't going to slow me down. Like I worked out when I had COVID I worked out. Pretty much the whole time. Yeah, you did. Like, I mean, did I, did I go for a run? Yes.Kevin:
I think I did.Angie:
Yes, you did. I think I did. Like, so this is not like us saying don't do, don't do something because this is what, you know, we, we don't do it and you shouldn't either. Like, it's because we've learned these lessons the hard way. Multiple times. We wantKevin:
to try to help you guys. I feel like I've handled this before. Current sickness, the best that I've done in years of handling sickness. Yeah. It's,Angie:
it's funny because you were supposed to run on Sunday. Kevin usually does a longer run on Sunday and he put all of his stuff out the night before. And so when I woke up on Sunday morning and he was still in bed next to me, I was like, oh, that's weird. And it was, I was like six something. So it was still early enough. And so I kind of poked him and I was like, are you going to go for a run? And he is like. Nope. Oh, because I, I got up to run this weekend. Yes. That's right. Cause I, I, uh, I had to skip my normal Saturday run because we had a cross country meet. So I had to run on Sunday too. And, um, so I was like, all right, it's time to get up. And you're like, uh, and I was like, Oh, so, um, But yeah, we've, we've done all of these things and I do like I am one of those runners that takes pride in my tough spirit and my ability to push through and this isn't going to get me down. My immune system is stronger than this, like taking pride in like ridiculous things sometimes. But this is, you know. This is the mindset that a lot of us have. Yeah. Myself included.Kevin:
I know and it's silly But so many of us take pride in this because we can overcome other obstacles This is just not one that you can actually overcome Like one of these options is gonna hit you either the illness is gonna last longer It's going to get worse than it would have otherwise or you're gonna end up like over training yourself because you're trying to train through illness. And so naturally, like what you're normally capable of doing is going to be reduced. So if you're trying to operate at the same level that you always operate, well also devoting body resources towards trying to get better. You're just, you're not, you're not going to be training appropriately. You're going to be training above your head.Angie:
Right. And so what we want. You to understand is that it's okay to take a break, and I think this is one of the things that we as runners sometimes have difficulty with. It's okay to take a break, like just Absorb that for a second. Right? Like we don't often like taking breaks because we like being consistent and we like pushing through and we like doing hard things. But sometimes our body needs to rest and it needs to use those resources to heal and to fight off the infection, not to run 10 miles. Yeah, right. And so when you are sick, especially if it's You know, a more serious illness, especially if it's been lasting for a couple of days, especially if, if, if it's below the neck in any way, especially if you have multiple symptoms all going on at the same time, oftentimes the best thing that you can do is sleep and hydrate and missing a day or two is not going to affect your training at all. So this is kind of going back to our. Point number one of when it's okay to push through there's a lot of times. It's okay to push through But is it the best decision for you to push through? Would you be better served by just taking one or two days off letting your body? Totally fight that infection and devote all of its resources to that getting rid of that Illness in a couple of days versus a week or two and then getting back to your training With the resources that you would normally needKevin:
right because if if you take even if you take a full week off Hey, your first few runs back are not gonna feel like amazing, but you're gonna be able to get back pretty quickly. Yeah. Hey we have a kid on our cross country team right now and She came up to me at practice today and was like coach. I don't feel good And it wasn't like, oh, well, I've got a stuffy nose, and this, she just feels exhausted. And she's a very good academic student, so she's using her energy to make sure she's still performing at school. Like, as, as real life runners post high school, you know, we've got a lot of things that we have to take care of. Maybe you've got to bring a lot of focus at your job. Maybe you've got kids that you're raising. That's using a lot of your energy. You just don't have anything left to go and run. And that was, that's where she was. She just looked at me and she was like, I'm just tired. And that's why I've taken a couple of extra days off of this one is, you know, was it above the neck or below the neck? I don't know. I didn't go through and check all the symptoms precisely where they were. I was exhausted. And so there was no way that heading out the door was the brightest idea. Could I have dragged myself through a run? Sure. I could have dragged myself through a run. I can do it. I can do it. But I shouldn't have because I wasAngie:
spent. Yeah. And exhaustion, anything that's full body like that, right. That's below the neck. That's below the neck. Right. Like that counts. Like any, any sort of full body symptoms of like, I'm just exhausted.Kevin:
I'm tired in my soul. That's below theAngie:
neck. Take a day off, right? Like, like when it's all just feels like too much, take a day off because oftentimes Even when we feel this way, emotionally say that we don't even have any physical symptoms, right? Like let's go to just feeling completely exhausted and wiped out. Maybe you're not even feeling sick, but you just feel totally wiped out. You've had a really tough week and you just don't have a lot of energy. Take a day. off. You're not going to lose any fitness. You're not going to lose valuable training time. You are probably going to be better served by taking a rest break and then getting back at it when you have some more energy.Kevin:
Yeah, I mean, that's that's just good rule of thumb for anything. Like the first sign of something showing up that you're that it's that recurring injury that is that same spot on your knee, on your shin, on your ankle, on your back, and you're like, oh, I've had this before, and this is the early sign of that same thing that's popped up before, take a day or two off, and then jump right back into your training cycle as though nothing happened. Just skip a couple of days. Don't try and make those days up, don't try and be like, oh, well if I take off Monday, Tuesday, then I'll just add in my mileage for Monday, and I'll spread it out for the rest of the week. No. Just take a couple of days off. If, if you're getting hit and you're feeling really fatigued from whatever the illness is that's coming off, take a couple of days off and then come back and you can come back just fine. If you take off a week, then you have to kind of adjust how you come back. But if you're taking off a couple of days, you can generally just pop right back into it. Yeah,Angie:
absolutely. So hopefully this has helped you understand. For you what decision you want to make and hopefully you're not sick right now I hope all of you listening are very very strong and feeling healthy out there, and I wish good health on all of you But when that illness does roll around whenever it does come Maybe you come back to this episode and maybe, or maybe you have a friend that is sick right now that you want to send this episode to, please feel free to hit that share button and send them this episode because maybe it's some, some helpful advice that they might need toKevin:
hear. Yeah, maybe you have that friend that won't take a break. Pass this one on. Tell them to start it at minute 12, that maybe it's a good time to take a rest. Do you, does it reallyAngie:
minute 12? I think that's when we flipped over from when it's okay to push through to when it's not. It's a goodAngie:
time to take a rest. Wow. Way to, way to look at the timer there. Somewhere. Somewhere. Somewhere in there. Okay. Well, whatever you decide to do, just make the decision that is right for you and that is right for your goals right now. And again, if you want some help navigating all that, go check out the Real Life Runners Academy and get your name on the wait list so that you will be the first to know when we open doors and are accepting new people into the Academy. So as always, thank you so much for joining us. This has been the Real Life Runners podcast, episode number 324. Now get out there and run your life.