Running After COVID-19
At first it was just a tickle in my throat. It was a minor annoyance, like clearing my throat wasn’t possible. That turned into a persistent cough that I couldn’t shake for a few days. Other than that, I felt fine.
I went out for a 12-mile run despite the cough. Wisconsin had unseasonably warm and record-breaking 70-degree days in early November, and I didn’t want to waste them by sitting indoors. I ran in the low 7-minute miles.
The next day, I ran 12 miles again. Ran 7-minute miles again. Felt great.
Meanwhile, my wife started to feel sick. She was in bed sleeping all afternoon one day. We thought that was just being a parent non-stop without a break during a pandemic. But the next day she developed a fever and started getting worse symptoms.
I made a virtual visit for her to get evaluated, and after consulting with the nurse we made a testing appointment — for the next day since they ran out of tests early in the day. Wisconsin was starting to break new records of daily COVID cases.
By the end of the week, all four of us in our family tested positive for COVID.
For context, my wife and I both work from home and we wear masks when we go out. Our kids go to school twice a week in a hybrid model, all the time wearing masks. We had no exposure to any known or suspected cases. We had no idea how or where we would have got COVID.
Just two days after running 12 miles, I woke up and didn’t know if I could get out of bed. My body felt like it weighed 1,000 pounds. My eyes felt like someone was pushing into my sockets. My nose was on fire. My muscles ached.
The next week or so was a blur of setting up more virtual appointments, sleeping, testing, getting results, sleeping some more and taking ibuprofen. It felt like a fever dream, made all the more surreal because it was election week without any presidential results.
Throughout this time, symptoms would swing back and forth from mild to moderate. Sometimes my head hurt, my sinuses felt clogged and my body ached. Other times I felt much more like my normal self.
When my smell and taste disappeared, I knew the classic COVID symptoms had appeared in full force. It’s such a weird sensation to suddenly lose one of your five senses— you feel cut off from your surroundings. You don’t realize how much your body unconsciously processes scent.
The weirdest thing about COVID is that the symptoms keep changing and lingering. At around day nine of my symptoms, I slept 10.5 hours and felt more exhausted than ever. After the physical symptoms receded, a mental fog set in for a few days that made concentration, forming sentences and remembering words feel like a lot of effort.
My wife had even worse symptoms, experiencing extreme fatigue and fever off and on for 11 days and additional symptoms like nausea. Around day nine, we took her to ER with chest pains, and fortunately her lung X-rays looked clear. I’ve never been more scared.
Throughout all this, Wisconsin’s COVID cases were surging out of control. In early September, the state was averaging about 700 cases a day. Now we are routinely topping well over 7,000 each day.
A New York Times reporter reached out to me after I shared my symptoms on Twitter, and she shared a quote about our family’s experience to illustrate how Wisconsin was the “state that unraveled the fastest.”
While I was sick, exercise obviously fell by the wayside and for two weeks I didn’t run. I was still able to get out to walk the dogs, but missed the feeling of working out, even if it wasn’t a priority while I was recovering.
Two weeks after my 12-mile run, I felt good enough to test the waters again. I cautiously ran three miles at close to a nine minute pace. I monitored my lungs, my breathing and how my body felt, and there were no obvious alarms. I felt good enough that the next day I got out again, this time for another slow 3.5 miles.
Nearly three weeks after the trickle in my throat appeared, I feel fully recovered and back to normal. I ran an eight mile trail run over the weekend, and lost myself in the woods for awhile.
I feel fortunate for every step and don’t take my recovery for granted, especially since I don’t know if symptoms will reappear as they have for others. I know not everyone has been as lucky or made the same recovery.
My advice is to take any symptoms seriously, even if it’s a tickle in your throat. Get tested and isolate yourself to keep others safe. COVID is like wildfire right now and you can get it without even knowing where you were exposed.
For me, running has long been a boost for my mental health, not just a physical outlet. This has been especially true during these long months of isolation. When I couldn’t run, I missed it even more. I’m grateful to have it back in my life — and to be on the comeback trail.