With so many athletes wanting to get back to exercise after having COVID-19, I wanted to share my own journey in case anything I try might just help someone else.

You can see all chapters here.

Chapter 3

Running Again

Over the last two years I’ve read, watched and listened about how ill people have got with COVID-19. So when I tested positive in October 2021 I wondered how it would affect me. Now that I was taking asthma medication for higher intensity exercise, would that mean I would get hit harder on the breathing side of things? But I seemed to be lucky in that I only got a little ill. It didn’t stop me from working from home, and it was a much more mild version of the seasonal flu I used to get.

I did experience a couple of really horrible nights where I sweated so much I had to get up and get changed – yuk! But apart from that I really wasn’t too bad. Certainly nothing like all the stories on the news or even some of the people I knew who had it.

My heart rate stayed 15 beats per minute higher than normal for a couple of weeks but then settled. I didn’t get any respiratory issues at all, so all of that was fine. It was just the fatigue that was hanging around. Oh, and the very poor quality sleep.

I started to get some runs in, and all was kind of OK apart from the right sided foot pain that was still there from The Great South Run two weeks before, and some chest tightness after the short runs I was doing.

A week later and the heel was improving so I started to run a little quicker and started to notice that any sort of incline was wiping me out. And I mean any sort of incline. Just 9 metres incline over 250m distance was tiring me out – not good!  But I kept doing light speed work and hills. As I was coaching a group on Tuesday, I took advantage and ran the session much easier than I would have if I was on my own. This was a good test of both the fatigue and the heel pain. I was doing a load of work on my foot to reduce the pain. Things like mobilisations, nerve glides, and brain mapping – all the good stuff I teach my clients. It was paying off and the heel pain was getting much better.

Improving and Racing Again

Over the next couple of weeks, my foot pain continued to improve and I was learning more and more about my post COVID symptoms. Short intervals were mainly fine, so 200m and 300m efforts. Shorter runs of 5 miles (8k) and under were generally OK as long as I ran easy or upper easy (between easy and tempo). If I tried to run at a higher intensity my heart rate would shoot up (relative for me) and I would start going anaerobic way earlier than expected.

I did start to add in some lower intensity, longer efforts to experiment with how I would adapt. I also wanted to add these in because I had two 10km road races booked, one on the 28th November, and one on the 12th December. I ran an easy 12km run on the 19th November and it was a real slog. I was worried about the races but just resolved to run them as I could and enjoy them as much as possible.

Three more taxing interval sessions and a couple of easy runs and the first 10k came round. It was the Boscombe 10k that started and finished on the track and had 9km of road in between. Oh, and a decent sized hill just to add to the challenge. This course had been my first sub-40 minute 10k in 2015, and I had run it a couple of times since. This time though, I had absolutely no idea where to even start with the pacing.

Maximum Effort, Minimum Pace

I set a fallback target of 43 minutes, which although would be hugely disappointing, was probably reflective of how much effort I could actually put into it. The gun went off and I set a quicker first km than I was expecting (04:06min/km or 06:34min/mile). I pulled the pace back a bit as I thought I would never be able to maintain that over the distance, especially with the hill in the way. I settled somewhere around 04:14min/km (06:48min/mile) until the hill. That just wiped me right out! 04:50min/km (07:47min/mile) up the hill, but did manage to relatively roast it down in 04:04min.km (06:31min/km). Another incline and another drop in pace.

By this point the effort was so hard I was actually crying as I pushed myself to my absolute limit. I was doing everything I could to drag myself back to some kind of pace, but the fatigue was sapping everything out of me. It was as if I had a big bungee tied around me and I was working mega hard just to put one foot in front of the other.

The 9th km was better. The increase in input-effort started to pay off, but I was hurting more than I can remember. It felt like the last hard mile of a fast, hard marathon. As I completed the 9th km and started the final one, I decided to give it everything I had – no matter what happens. I went deep inside myself. I almost went to the depths I descended to in my 02:59 marathon – almost. In that marathon I blacked out for 3 miles but still maintained my pace. I still have no memory at all of those three miles.

Back in the final km of this 10km and I gritted and dug and gritted and dug. I cried and heaved. I tried to channel all of this discomfort into generating more power in my legs. I overtook someone as I came into the final 600m. And another 100m later. I popped out from this small grass section and onto the track for the final 350m. I pushed. I hurt. I pushed some more, wanting to catch the two runners ahead of me. I hurt and hurt and cried and hurt and cried and just kept pushing. I passed the runners with 150m to go and just let fly. Everything I had was left on the final straight off the track – everything!

I crossed the line. I keeled over left, onto the grass of the infield and just curled up. A very kind marshal came over to check I was OK and I looked up and assured her I was fine – it had just been a lot of work. She hesitantly hovered about but I insisted I would be OK in a moment or two. And I was.

Just like that I got up and walked through the finish funnel to get my bling and goody bag. Well, at least my recovery was quick, even if my running wasn’t!

I finished in 41:35, so not too bad really. A long way from where I would want to be, but given everything I guess it was fine. The thing that frustrated me the most though, is just how much effort I had had to put in to get a crappy pace back out. At least the 10km on the 12th December didn’t have a hill in it…

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