Running into COVID
It finally got me
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On Friday, June 17, I went for an epic run. Yet, I barely remember anything about it. If I concentrate really hard, little snapshots come back into view. I can vaguely recall hammering up a monster hill, and cruising down a gnarly descent, but I can’t recall how I got there, or what happened next.
I do remember thinking, “This is gonna hurt,” after tacking on one more big climb at the end, and being completely OK with it. I also remember feeling sore afterward – the good kind of sore – because the parameters of pain were mine to set. Everything else from then until now is a blur.
I started feeling sick that Sunday and tested positive for COVID a few days later, even though I suspected what it was the whole time. Something about this illness just felt different. I have no idea how it happened or when the infection could have taken place, mostly because our family has been diligent about not getting COVID.
We used to joke that if anyone was going to make it through the pandemic without getting sick, it would be me. I work from home, generally prefer my own company to others, and wear a mask whenever I’m indoors around strangers. I have no problem doing any of those things and will gladly do so for the rest of my days if it means not getting COVID again.
If there was a silver lining in this whole episode, it was that we caught it before heading off to see my parents for what was supposed to be a week-long vacation. I can’t imagine how I would have felt if I brought this into their home.
As it was, I still felt pretty rotten. My symptoms were “mild,” in that I felt like garbage for a few days and then slowly started feeling somewhat human. After three days, I stopped feeling sick in a conventional sense except for an occasional dry cough that sort of comes and goes of its own volition.
Still, my brain was in some kind of time warp. There were things it wanted to do, tasks it would like to accomplish, but little motivation to begin, or see things through.
For example, it took several days to write this piece. I spent countless hours staring at the blinking cursor trying to remember how to string words together, let alone connecting them into a coherent narrative.
Where does this leave running? I’m not sure. The general recommendations are to wait for symptoms to subside and ease back into things slowly, which sounds sensible enough. Like so many things with this pandemic, everyone’s reaction seems highly individualized and changes with each variant and subsequent subvariant. As such, I can only speak from my own experience.
In the beginning of my COVID convalescence, I’d need a nap after any kind of exertion. On Day 3, I tried some light stretching. It made my cough worse, so I laid on the mat for a half hour until my son came in and asked for Cheerios.
Lying on the mat, I could feel my body losing some of its muscle mass. That actually wasn’t the worst outcome since I had once again overdone strength training and become more bulky than I’d like.
Then, I could feel my body start to detrain itself. The gains I made during the previous six months had already gone through the training/taper/race/recovery spin cycle, and were balanced upon an anticipated return to a full schedule.
This is such a delicate art. Before COVID happened, I felt like I had nailed the transition between recovery and active training. Now I’m not sure where I am.
Normally, when I get shut down for any length of time by an illness or an injury, my anxieties and tensions reach a point where everyone in my household is just as relieved as me when I can continue. This was different. I just felt kind of numb. I knew that my body was losing some significant part of itself, but I felt like I was on the outside looking in, an observer of my own fate.
In an effort to inject some objectivity into the equation, I paid careful attention to my heart rate during physical activity and at rest. My HR stayed low and stable during walks, which I took as a positive sign. Resting HR, meanwhile, can be a good indicator of overall health. Mine thankfully stayed low throughout the process.
I also listened to my body, which was somewhat more difficult. I think it was telling me things were fine, but was that what I wanted to hear, or the actual truth?
After gradually increasing the length and relative intensity of my walks, I went out for a bike ride with my son, which checked out fine. My HR stayed low and stable, my breathing wasn’t compromised, and I didn’t feel any more or less fatigued than expected.
My suspicion is that my case was mild enough that I could test the waters. So, on Monday, I went out for an easy outing. I carried some trepidation and anxiety to the start, but also peace of mind that whatever would happen was supposed to happen.
Overall, it was fine. I never felt overly exerted, nor did I feel like overly exerting myself. From a data standpoint, my pace was significantly slower than similar pre-COVID runs, which I would have suspected given the layoff. My HR was a few beats per minute higher, but well within the easy-run range.
All in all, I came through it unscathed as far as I can tell. But I’m in no rush. One of my COVID revelations was to accept things for how they are, not what I want them to be. Sure, I would love to be back on the trails experiencing epic runs, but those days will return when my body says it’s time.
I would love to hear from you guys about your experiences with running and COVID. Feel free to email me directly by hitting REPLY on this newsletter if you’d rather not leave a comment. As a reminder, comments are only visible for paid subscribers.