Running With COVID: My Own Experience With Illness and Recovery

A man lying in bed sick, thinking about running with COVID

For the past year, like many others, I’ve worried about getting COVID.

I got vaccinated early, so I wasn’t really worried about getting deathly ill. Sure, I’d prefer not to get COVID. But if I did, I never expected to end up in the hospital.

I was more concerned about spreading it to others – like my parents – who are older and more at risk. But I was also worried about how it would affect my running.

I’ve heard horror stories about people who got sick and then dealt with lingering symptoms for months. Not only would that derail my training for an upcoming race – but what if I never really recovered?

But recently, I’ve also seen more stories of people who got sick, quickly recovered, and had no long lasting effects.

For a long time, I’d been lucky. But eventually… your luck runs out.

Testing Positive

The morning that I tested positive, I felt a little off. But I didn’t really feel sick.

I went for my usual morning run. I went out for about an hour.

By the end, I was dogging it a little bit. But I thought maybe it was just the heat and the sun. I was a little more tired at the end than usual, but I finished seven miles and my pace (9:00/mi) was in line with my usual easy pace (8:45 to 9:30/mi).

Later, when I looked at my stats on Garmin Connect, though, I did notice that my heart rate was a little higher than usual and that my Performance Condition was very low (-5) by the end of the run. And when I got in from my run, I coughed a few times, although it quickly went away and it didn’t linger.

I was set to go away for a retreat later that day, which would involve being inside with a group of people for an extended period of time. So I decided to take a rapid test and – to my dismay – it came up positive.

Symptoms – Or Lack Thereof

After I took care of some logistical stuff – contacting work, cancelling my attendance at the retreat, taking a nap – I took stock of how I felt.

Really, I felt fine. A little nasal congestion. But no lingering cough, no difficulty breathing, no body aches or fever.

The old adage about running while you’re sick is that you’re in the clear to go for an easy run if it’s in your head – think nasal congestion – but you should take time off if it’s below the neck – think coughing and body aches.

This advice has always worked for me in the past. If I’ve got some congestion, a run usually helps clear it up – at least for a little while. But if I’ve got a fever or some body aches, I’ll actually take some time off.

Since the only real symptom I had was mild congestion, I figured I’d keep going for some easy runs but limit the distance and cut out any intensity for a week or two. If things didn’t feel right, or if new symptoms developed, I’d call it quits and rest up in bed.

Running Over the Next Week

I started that night with an easy run. I was due for a double anyway, so I hopped on the treadmill.

My five mile / 45 minute run went by without any issues. Heart rate was normal, pace was usual, although I did feel just a little slower and stiffer than usual.

The next morning, I went for another seven mile / one hour run. Again, heart rate was a little elevated and I felt a bit of fatigue by the end of the run. But my pace was typical, and I didn’t develop any new symptoms throughout the day.

For the next several days, that’s the way it went. I went for an easy run and I felt ok – but not quite 100%.

The only “bad” run I had was when I tried to do a ten miler. I had 15 or 16 miles on my schedule, and I wasn’t going to try for something that long. But I thought ten miles might have been ok. The first hour was fine, but I was really dogging it the last few miles. So I decided to keep everything under an hour for the next few days.

About a week later, I went for an eight mile trail run. It lasted an hour and twenty minutes. The fatigue seemed to be gone, and I didn’t fade at the end. My pace was back to normal – about 10:00/mi for this particular route.

I tested positive towards the end of the week, and I still managed to hit my mileage goal (70). The following week, I again hit my goal (75). And by the end of that week, I was feeling more or less normal.

Three Weeks Later

At this point, I’m about three weeks past my positive test and I feel like I’m back to my usual self.

My legs are a little tired, but I chalk that up to running a new peak mileage (75) for the past two weeks. The second week after I tested positive I still didn’t have any great runs, but that was likely because of a wedding and a business trip – and all of the eating and drinking that went along with it.

I got home from my business trip on Sunday and had my first good night’s sleep in a while.

Monday morning I woke up and had a great run. I banged out ten miles at around 8:30-8:45/mi pace. On Wednesday, I did a light workout – ten x 2 minute intervals at around 5k pace, with extended three minute recoveries. I felt good and hit my usual paces, until the last two intervals. But I also haven’t had a true workout since before my half marathon two months ago.

Looking Ahead

By this point, I wasn’t really worried about the illness itself. I’ve been boosted, along with my family and friends.

And as expected, when I finally got COVID my illness was very mild. The worst symptom was some nasal congestion and post-nasal drip. I was a little more tired than usual, and I enjoyed a nap every afternoon since I was off from work. But otherwise, I didn’t really feel sick.

I was more worried about how this would effect my running. I tentatively had a 5 mile race planned for the end of the month, and I was about to start training for the Philly Marathon at the beginning of the next month.

Luckily, I seem to have gotten through just fine. I’ve felt good this week, and I’m planning to go through with the five mile race next week. I had to take it easy for a week, but otherwise there seem to be no long lasting effects.

I share this story just to offer up one data point. I’ve heard too many horror stories about long COVID and lingering symptoms, and I want to offer some hope to the next runner who comes along and tests positive.

In my experience, the usual rules about running while you’re sick apply. If you have some symptoms above the neck, try for some easy miles and see how it goes. In my case, I was able to keep up my usual mileage – I just cut out the intensity and cut a few longer runs down into doubles.

But if you do have symptoms below the neck – coughing, ache, fever – then take the time to rest and don’t go out running. Hopefully you’re bout of COVID resolves as quickly as mine did, and you can get back out there in a week.

I see advice online to wait weeks after your symptoms resolve to return to running. And of course, you should listen to your doctor if that’s what they suggest. And maybe if you’re symptoms are severe that’s a wise course. But for truly mild cases – that seems to me to be overkill.

If you’ve had a similar experience, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Running With COVID: My Own Experience With Illness and Recovery

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