Athlete Recovery from COVID-19

Seven different Slowtwitch forum members shared their COVID-19 stories and their unique paths to recovery. We had initially posted the question in our reader forum, and then followed up with 7 folks who had responded. They all happened to be male; that was not the goal of the article, that is just how it turned out. With screen names, it is not always obvious as to who is behind that name. But here now are 7 athletes and their stories, in their own words with their pic always leading the story.

47-year old Mike Synowiec from Salisbury, Maryland is Y-Tri in the Slowtwitch reader forum, and he found out that he was COVID positive in November of 2020.

“I was COVID positive on November 18, 2020 and had many of the tell-tale symptoms and was really nasty sick for 2-3 days of the 14 days I quarantined. My family was a massive help during this whole thing. While I quarantined in a separate room of the house, they would cook meals and leave them just outside my room. We would FaceTime at dinners and this would last for the full 14-day quarantine period. Somehow my wife nor our two kids have not become ill with COVID to date.

I feel absolutely fine now. I’d say the habit that has changed most is really watching my heart rate during activities for any irregularities. Interactions have not changed but that is only because I was perhaps one of the safest people in my office. Double mask, wear it prior to entering and do not remove it until sitting in my car, etc. My training is basically back to 100%.

I consider myself in my current state to be extremely lucky on many accounts. I have a few friends who contracted COVID and have struggled to get back to 50% capacity and of course there are those who have passed on – truly an inexplicable virus.”

Adam Beston who goes by the screen name Spacemoonman is 38-years old and found himself positive in late October.

“I lost my taste on Oct 28 which happened to be my 38th birthday. My wife and daughter ended up symptomatic the next day. I am an assistant XC coach at the HS and I missed our Boys taking 5th and Girls taking 8th at state that weekend which was a bummer. I had put in a lot of running with the team and was in sub 20-minute 5k shape.

Looking back at December and most of January there was quite a bit of brain fog and fatigue with a severe lack of motivation. Trying so hard to hold back when I still felt fit slid into that lack of caring. My HR would also spike really high if I pushed at all and would not recover well when walking. I took the advice of the ST Forums and really tried to not push it too hard too quickly. I also personally know an athlete who is a 16-minute 5k runner who developed myocarditis and has been instructed not to run for 5 months so I have been apprehensive about pushing it.

I have now switched my routine to get up at 5 and workout for the past two weeks. Just biking and swimming now until I am ready to run in the dark and snow that early. Some of the switch is pool limitations and the other is I can justify going to bed at 7-8. Unfortunately, my job has changed a ton to an on-call teacher substitute for K-12. It can be really tough trying to enforce COVID restrictions at the various buildings and trying to keep students socially distanced. I think I am still experiencing fatigue, brain fog, and maybe some depression but there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. I used to get Seasonal Affective Disorder [self- diagnosed] in Montana and it feels a little similar.”

37-year old Patrick McIntyre is from Rockford IL and his screen name is Dangle. He had many of the symptoms in October but never had a positive test.

“My wife was a critical care nurse for many years before going to interventional radiology a couple years back. Like many areas of the world, we got hit with COVID cases pretty hard in April. Between her many friends still in ICU and her helping out in the ICU when the hospital's needs changed, she quickly learned of the damage being done by COVID. She said the tone completely changed as fewer patients were surviving. There was minimal hopeful talk of ventilated patients. PPE was in very short supply. Staff were getting sick.

There had been so many times that my wife wasn't feeling great after a tough week of work that we didn't think too much of her being run down on a Saturday. She went for a COVID test Saturday, but it was one of several over the last few months. She had a fever and several flu-like symptoms. We went to the drive-through COVID testing site nearby. After two days of barely leaving the couch, she was starting to feel better and got her call Thursday morning that her Tuesday PCR test was positive.

I felt horrible Saturday upon waking. Body aches, headache, and fever all hit. I went back to the testing site to 'get' a positive test result. I felt worse and worse sitting in the car, especially knowing I had the sick time to cover a week or so off and didn't need the documentation from a positive test. Saturday evening and all of Sunday were the same. It was like the worst flu I had ever had but didn't let up after the normal 8-12 hours. It was kind of like waves that came every couple of hours. I would work up the energy to try and get off the couch or maybe eat or drink something and another wave would put me back down with my eyes closed for a bit. This went until Monday afternoon when the waves relented. It was sicker than I had ever been for a couple of days, but I recognize that I have led a charmed life. Friday, October 30th was slated to be my last 'contagious' day, but I waited a couple of days after to get groceries. I knew I would feel fatigued after, but the level of fatigue didn't go away. Just the aches, fever, and low O2 numbers. I tried to get on my bike for the first time in almost two weeks, but I was gassed in a hurry and knew I needed some more time. I hadn't taken a break from the bike like that in almost a decade. In mid-November, 4-5 weeks post onset of symptoms I went to convenient care. I couldn't shake the fatigue and shortness of breath. I started getting weird headaches too. It was splitting pain that induced vomiting. I had no history of headaches except for a handful of hangovers in my younger years. Some days I felt great and would go mountain biking. Some days I felt exhausted. I didn't see any pattern. The convenient care physician said I had a bit of crap showing up in one lung. Strangely enough, I knew the person that read the image and they elaborated more later. He said it was common in COVID patients but wasn't pneumonia. I got some antibiotics, prednisone, and instructions to follow up with my primary care physician.

I knew training didn't make sense when I was easily fatigued and discouraged, so I was just trying to enjoy a beautiful November. I was mountain biking with lots of breaks whenever I felt up to it and ignoring training numbers for the most part. I could focus on improving handling skills and having fun. After years of power-based training and a pretty good sport science background, I estimated my FTP was around 280 in December after a month of semi-regular riding. That would have been the lowest it had been in five years. I was convinced I was coming down from a bit higher than the August test after setting a 5-hour power record on a gravel route the first week of October. I wasn't going to test FTP until going through tests with my PCP. We met in mid-December and along with being an experienced runner, he took a lot of time to listen. All my blood work, x-rays, and EKG looked fine. The fatigue was still there but was more annoying than limiting. Nothing was available until January and I finally started feeling a bit more normal then. We had great snow for fat biking and the temps hovered in that mid 20-degree range which is perfect for January. I tried to push a little more each time I went out. I finally felt up to training and just finished a 4-week sweet spot, mid volume block in TrainerRoad. Somehow I tested at 310 for the initial ramp test for that block. I'm a bit heavier after moving so slow for three months, so I am closer to 3.5 w/kg right now.”

Orem, Utah resident Darren Wood uses the Vonagut screen name on Slowtwitch and he tested positive in late September - but was asymptomatic.

“I tested asymptomatic positive on September 21, 2020 along with my then fiancée. Two of my roommates got separate tests and also tested positive, so I guess it's possible that they were all false positives, but not likely. We isolated for 14 days per the county health guidelines.

During the isolation, I had just the slightest bit more tiredness than normal. But it was so slight that it could have been psychosomatic.

I then resumed training as normal. On December 3, I raced Challenge Daytona and got a slight 70.3 PR, but my Garmin had all three legs of the race quite short on distance, so I don't count it.

Since then I have been doing my off-season aerobic build and it's been going really well. Haven't gotten an antibody test, haven't felt the need to. Utah is pretty lax on regulations, but we still stay inside most every day, except for grocery shopping.”

Queens, NY resident Paul Brown is SlowAmericano on ST and he got hit hard with COVID very early on but he feels lucky.

“I got sick on March 25th and was hospitalized on April 1st. I was admitted for acute respiratory failure due to COVID and spent 10 days in the ICU. Upon release I was very weak and had lost over twenty pounds.

I started cycling indoors around May and then a slow return to running. By mid-fall I was feeling pretty good and went for my annual physical. A heart arrhythmia was discovered and my doctors believed it to be a COVID souvenir. On December 18th I had an ablation procedure done that resulted in emergency vascular surgery on December 20th. I left the hospital very depleted due to blood loss and feeling lucky but weak once again.

Once cleared to start moving again I began the William and Mary protocol for returning to running in mid-January. I am running a slow 30 plus minutes every other day with body weight strength and core work on the between days. Just last week I resumed Zwifting. To motivate myself further I am registered for a May trail race here in NY.

In an attempt to get rid of the remaining swelling and bloat from the December surgery I have cleaned up my diet in an attempt to reduce inflammation. I sleep as much as I can with a busy job, two kids, two dogs and a great wife. My kids usually tuck me in a little after 8 pm as I have a job that often begins at 5 am. Recovery can be frustrating as lost fitness and ability are so apparent but I balance that out with the realization that I narrowly beat the big sleep twice this year and am lucky just to have the chance to run, bike, father and husband at all.”

Mark McCain is from Farmingdale, NY and his ST screen name is AutomaticJack, and although this 59-year old works in a big essential manufacturing facility, he thinks he got infected by his wife who works in retail.

“My company is located on Long Island. When NYS shut down in March of 2020 we were deemed essential and continued to operate with a few key changes. Everyone has been required to wear a mask since the middle of March. We had a few handheld temperature monitors at the time and had senior managers walk around during the day and take random temperatures. We have since installed passive temperature monitoring equipment at all the entrances and time clocks.

We are a big manufacturing facility – 300 on site if you count both shifts. We had an accounting staff, a quality staff, and an engineering staff that all worked M-F 7-3:30. That is no longer the case. They are all split between first and second shift, if they can’t do the job from home. Accounting and purchasing only come in 1 day a week staggered. As the Plant Manager I have to be here, as does my senior staff. We no longer have in person meetings - everything is in MS Teams.

As for me personally, I did not race last year, and neither did my wife. We both used to be long course athletes. My job has progressively gotten more time consuming and I have not raced that distance in many years. My wife last raced a long course in 2018 because we had a wedding in 2019.

My wife is the customer service manager for The Christmas Tree Shops here. She wears a mask and is behind a plexiglass shield, but her job requires direct customer interaction with people that are often unhappy. She came home on a Saturday night not feeling good. She did not have a temperature. I woke up about 3 am that night and she was burning up with fever. After taking care of her I moved to the guest room. She was sick until Monday night. I got sick Tuesday evening. She was up and running like nothing happened by Wednesday.

I intend to continue to increase my training load slowly as my body accepts it. I have been doing this a very long time and understand my body and limits. It is not possible to run outside right now and I don’t have access to a treadmill. I normally run year around outside so when the roads clear I will go back to that routine.”

Brian Kerssies is a Canadian who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan and he goes by CanUsa on ST.

The COVID journey has been extremely challenging. As a 3-time IM finisher, I thought I'd be ok if I were to get COVID, but it was a shocker that set me back drastically.

On July 15, symptoms started and beginning September 1st, I could go for a walk again - a couple miles at a time. I've walked every day since that time and it's now part of my routine to walk 3+ miles per day. I did not swim, bike or run until November when I realized I felt well enough to try it. Signed up for IM Florida 2021 after my first run - walk. In December I received blessing from my cardiologist to begin exercising. By the end of December, I received full clearance for full training.

I occasionally have shortness of breath in the evening hours while sitting on the couch that causes some unproductive coughing and or annoyance as I try to calm by breathing. When I'm active, I do not have breathing issues. Only when I'm in a relaxed state in the evening as I'm slowing down my day. I have not had any setbacks over these past few weeks of training. I'm swimming 2x per week and I'm running about 10 - 15 miles per week. I'm biking an hour or 2 in the basement every week. I'm averaging about 4 hours per week without any negative items. I'm also walking 20 - 25 miles per week in addition to the swim/bike/run.

My doctors have said my case of COVID was the worst they saw in their office. Truth is I'm not sure that's the case, but I do believe that it might be a very rough case for someone as active as I am. In early August, I had a virtual appointment with my PCP soon after I left the ICU, and he warned me about the risks of training after COVID and made sure that I would be slow to getting back to training and exercise extreme caution due to the severity of my experience.

I am waiting anxiously for the vaccine. Not sure if I have antibodies now, but I'm assuming I do not. I want to do my part to raise awareness and caution within the social circles I'm in to ensure they exercise appropriate caution regarding COVID.”