Q+A: Why do I get a sore throat when I train hard?

Our experts answer real-life questions


Posted: 9 September 2000
by Patrick Milroy

Q I have recently discovered that when I’m training and racing hard I end up suffering from a terrible sore throat. I eat a well balanced diet, take multi-vitamins and have tried echinacea. Should I take antibiotics, cut down on the alcohol – I don’t think I drink excessively for a woman, but I often manage three glasses of wine an evening – and avoid other people after a run?

A It certainly isn’t uncommon for runners to suffer from sore throats when they’re training, so you’re not alone. Training and racing hard does reduce your potential to resist infection.

The first thing to clear up is the use of antibiotics with sore throats. Treatments like these are only effective against bacteria, yet statistically 95 per cent of sore throats are not caused by bacteria, but by viruses and other irritants. These may include catarrh, environmental factors such as the dryness that can occur if you are running with your mouth open all the time, and so on. If these sore throats are happening particularly frequently, though, it might be a good idea to ask your doctor for the opinion of an ear, nose and throat specialist.

Your alcohol intake is in line with maximum Government recommendations, though it’s more than the majority of doctors are happy with, for women. There would certainly be no harm in reducing your alcohol intake, and you might find that indeed this does reduce your incidence of sore throats. However, because there are millions of potentially infectious organisms in every inhaled breath, people around you or not, you won’t benefit from avoiding other humans after a run.

My own favourite treatment for a sore throat caused by an irritant rather than bacteria, is to gargle every two or three hours with soluble aspirin dissolved in water, spitting it out afterwards. The aspirin is absorbed into the irritated area and is very effective at calming the inflammation.

Dr Patrick Milroy, RW Medical Advisor.


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What is and how do you do 'Tempo' running?
Posted: 17/11/2002 at 23:50

Hi Tom,

I've wondered about this too. In the Runners World marathon training schedule herehere it's defined as runs of 15-25 minutes at a pace 10-20 seconds slower than one's 10k race pace. I'll be interested to see what other people say, though, as I'm not sure I properly understand it.
Posted: 18/11/2002 at 07:21

The definition is correct - a tempo run is simply a fast run, close to 10k race pace. I believe it is meant to be particularly effective in increasing one's lactate threshold. I also think it is a good way of strengthening mental discipline, because it requires you to concentrate in order to maintain a constant fast pace.

My suggestion on how to do tempo runs.

- Find a section of road or footpath about 3 to 4 miles in length, ideally fairly flat and free of obstructions which might force you to stop, such as traffic intersections;

- Measure the route, together with landmarks (eg, lamp-posts)at one mile intervals;

- Work out how long it should take you to run the section, based on a recent 10k race, adding 15 seconds per mile;

- After a good (2 to 3 mile) warm-up, run the route trying to maintain a consistent pace as close to your target pace as possible. Monitor your pace as you go by reference to the mile landmarks you identified beforehand;

- Have a good cool-down and stretch afterwards.

I always wear my lightweight trainers on tempo runs - almost as a reminder to myself that I am going to run fast.
Posted: 18/11/2002 at 12:34

Thanks, donutto - that's helpful. I'll try it :)
Posted: 18/11/2002 at 18:53

If you haven't done a 10k race and don't know what your pace is, the start the tempo run by slowly increasing your pace until you are breathing heavily enough to find talking difficult but not impossible. then hold that pace!

Posted: 19/11/2002 at 14:31

Or use a HR monitor, aim to run for 20 minutes at 85% - that's my tempo!
Posted: 19/11/2002 at 15:58

And run 10 minutes either side as warm up and cool down
Posted: 19/11/2002 at 15:59

Donutto. Thanks for your help, I;ll try it out.
Posted: 20/11/2002 at 22:21

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