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Running After Covid 19: This Is What I Learned

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If you’re like any number of people across the globe right now, you have been hit with the Coronavirus, otherwise known as Covid 19. Whether your case of Covid was serious and lingering or brief and mild, many people find that the effects of Covid 19 last long after they expected it to. As an avid runner who has had Covid 19 and struggled my way back into running, take it from me. It can be a long and challenging journey. However, if you are patient with yourself, you could be back running after Covid in no time at all.

When To Start Running Again

The first thing to know is that even if your case of Covid is categorized as “mild,” your body is impacted in ways you might not anticipate. For example, some athletes with normally very low heart rates find theirs fluctuating into abnormally high ranges, even when they are not exercising!

Another thing many people notice is that they seem to get short of breath very quickly post Covid. So how do you know what to do?

If your case is by all accounts mild, you likely can try to resume very easy exercise once you are no longer contagious. That does not mean you should expect to take off at the same paces and mileage as you were pre-Covid. It is important to note that not everyone thinks you should work out that early.

Second Wave Of Symptoms

Some people with Covid 19 get a second set of symptoms long after they think their Covid has resolved itself. For this reason, some physicians advise people not to run or do workouts any more strenuous than yoga for 10-14 days after their contagious window. Others feel that as long as you are taking it slow and mindful of your body and reactions, you can be okay to start prior to that.

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If you do get a second wave of symptoms, be smart and pull back on your physical exertion. The last thing you need is to slide backward as you have started to heal!

Some people have lingering symptoms for months after covid. These people, called long haulers, need to proceed with caution.

Precautionary Measures

There is a school of thought that has grown in popularity advising anyone who has had Covid to get an EKG and possibly even an echocardiogram before resuming physical activity. This is because there is a slight risk of heart attack or arrhythmia that has led to sudden cardiac arrest in people who were healthy prior to covid.

Some people have myocarditis post-Covid and find themselves very concerned about that. Know that most of these cases are people who had serious bouts with the illness. It is not typical in people who were asymptomatic or did not have very serious cases.

If your case of Covid caused you to be hospitalized, do not resume physical activity prior to consulting with your primary care physician.

Easing Into It

Being patient with yourself is a very important and necessary step after having this virus. If you were regularly running 3-5 milers with little issue, your first run should probably be closer to two. In addition, that maiden voyage should be closer to your easy, long run pace. If you can accomplish a few short runs at this easy pace, then you can consider picking up your pace some.

Fifty percent of your baseline mileage for the first few weeks is a standard recommendation by coaches across the country. If after seven to ten days of this you feel great, perhaps your body is ready for more. Just pay attention to your body.

There is a great guide called the 50/30/20/10 rule to resume activity. The first week, you engage in roughly half of your normal activity. The next week, reduce your normal workload by only 30%.

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The following week, you only have to deduct about 20% and the final week, you guessed it, you only are doing 10% less than you were before covid. This plan operates under the assumption that you are improving and not getting worse in any way. Be honest with yourself as you work your way through this.

Student athletes, for example, are put onto a strict protocol where they are required to ease back into activity in a very specific way. In many athletic programs, high school students have a mandate that they get an EKG before returning to practice. If these very young, healthy athletes take clear precautions, it stands to reason that recreational runners should also!

Monitor Your Heart Rate

One of the most common post-Covid struggles that athletes report is elevated heart rate. For this reason, it is advisable to monitor your heart rate for three to four months after you have recovered. As a runner, if you have a smartwatch, you likely have heart rate data to reference.

During my personal Covid recovery journey, I noticed my heart rate was up to 30 beats per minute faster while running significantly slower than the week prior. In fact, here I am almost four months post covid and still experiencing what I have coined “post covid weirdness.”

Mix It Up

Another thing that helps some athletes is to commit to a more varied workout regiment for a while. It may sound crazy, but running every day had my heart rate spiking like crazy. When I started intermixing some cycling and time on the elliptical, my heart rate seemed to find a more level ground while running.

You should also be certain to include some rest days into your week. Your body has just been through a lot and pushing it too hard could cause a setback.

Signs You Should Back Off On Workouts

It can be a big challenge to ascertain if your struggling workout is a result of you still being sick, having residual effects of your illness, or if you have lost fitness. Bearing in mind that you are unlikely to lose much cardiovascular fitness in 2-3 weeks, ask yourself how you feel while running.

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If running feels difficult each and every step and you are struggling, you should take that to mean your body needs more time. Big warning signs are any type of chest pain, tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, elevated heart rate and/or feeling like you might pass out.

Summary Of Dos And Don’ts

So just to keep it simple:

  • Do speak to your doctor before starting.
  • Do start slow.
  • Do start with lower mileage than you were doing pre covid.
  • Do monitor your heart rate.
  • Do eat well, hydrate and listen to your body.
  • Don’t start exercising when experiencing symptoms.
  • Don’t exercise when in your infectious period.
  • Don’t “push through” in a “no pain, no gain” attitude.
  • Don’t feel like a failure for struggling.

Remember that this virus takes a lot out of the body and treat it with respect. Your journey back needs to be careful and deliberate. Your body is counting on you to make good decisions.

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