Confessions from the Trail: Training and the COVID Rollercoaster

“I refuse to fail again. After all, I want to see the void blink.

Wow. What a week!

Sunday was Valentine’s Day, a holiday for which I feel ambivalent at best. I dislike the commercialization of it, it all feels performative, and I just plain have terrible luck with Valentine’s Day.

It started in High School. I was supposed to go on a church youth group ski trip that happened to fall over Valentine’s Day. The young man I was seeing, upset that I wouldn’t be around, dumped me. I went on the trip anyway and, of course, broke an ankle. Even worse, while in the ER, I picked up strep throat and spent the entire seven-hour drive from West Virginia back to North Carolina puking my guts out while trying to keep my foot propped up. There have been other Valentine’s Day mishaps, blizzards, and fights, but that really set the tone for my perception of the holiday.

It should come as no surprise that Valentine’s Day 2021 started as a trail run and ended in the ER.

For those of you who have only recently started following me, on Sunday, I was three weeks out from running the Mississippi 50k, a feat I have attempted and failed three times before, but the lure of completing it keeps drawing me back. It’s been a struggle at times, but last week I felt like I was really dialed in and the last few weeks before the race would tick by easily.

Then life happens. Remember my last post?And in this, the era of COVID, meeting with the wrong person could wreck my lungs and put me in the cardio penalty box for six weeks.

Oof. Big oof.

Sunday was supposed to be a 20-mile run, one of my last long runs before taper started, and I was excited to burn some calories before chowing down on the delicious dinner I had planned. Friday’s run had been an easy and steady six-mile run with no problems. But on Sunday, by the end of the first mile, I knew something was wrong. I spent a few miles trying to resettle my vest, adjust my bra band, and do anything that would ease the tightness settling on my chest.

By the first water stop at 5 miles, I was in a mental boxing match with myself and deep in the pain cave, something I had been staving off until at least the 10-mile mark recently. At mile six, I had to make the decision to quit my run. I was breathing hard. Harder than I should for how low my heart rate was. I was constantly stopping to walk and catch my breath. Even after readjusting my vest and bra, I still felt like I had a band around my chest.

At mile six, I acknowledge what I had been trying to ignore: I couldn’t breathe.

I can run through a lot of pain. In fact, my notably high pain threshold and lack of self-preservation are exactly what makes a good endurance athlete. But while the pain cave can be ignored, a distinct lack of oxygen cannot. I staggered back to my car and went home, resolved to try again on Monday.

An hour later, I got the first text: “Bad news… I just tested positive for COVID.”

I’m sure there is a compound German word for “the feeling of dread when your subconscious fear has been confirmed.” COIVD has been an ever-present threat for almost a year now and I have been fortunate. I got sick once back in November, but it was, mercifully, only strep throat. I have been careful. I’ve diligently worn my mask at work, at the gym, even while running when I’m near others. I look like a dork, but a safe dork.

Wear a mask. Wash your hands

I spent the new hour working with my coworkers to identify who had been near who, who needed to get tested, and how to move forward with folks on quarantine. The whole time, my breathing became more and more labored. Another hour and a phone call to my nurse later, I was on my way to the ER.

The ER staff was amazing; I’ll give them that. I was taken back to a room in under five minutes and saw a doctor almost immediately. Based on my symptoms, they did a rapid COVID test, but everyone acknowledged the rapid tests have a high false negative rate this early (based on when I had contact with the three positive folks). Unsurprisingly, it was negative; however, I was in a bad way, so I was essentially told, “look, you *do* have COVID. Go home, quarantine from your family. We’ll retest later.” They gave me an inhaler and I drove home, my mind whirling.

Ending my trail run early to go to the ER.

COVID affects the lungs and heart… as an endurance runner, I kinda need those to be in perfect working condition.

Dazed, tired, and scared, I told my family what I’d been told by the doctor and we worked out our plan. We split which parts of the house I would use and what they would use, plus where we would wear our masks.

You know that first second after the drops start on a rollercoaster? That was Sunday. Monday through Thursday were the rest of the ride, whiplash and all.

I spent Monday and Tuesday too sick to do much more than stagger to my computer desk, my bed, or the bathroom. I had to use my inhaler regularly and the emotional toll on my family was staggering. My kiddo’s birthday is soon and we’d planned a party this weekend, which we then had to cancel. More than a few tears were shed over that.

On Wednesday, a couple of monsters snuck up from work and I spent the day battling them while finally letting a few of my very close friends know how sick I was.

With every puff of the inhaler, I wondered what might be happening to my heart and lungs. The occasional burning feeling in my lungs or heart palpitations scared me, but I was too fatigued to do much more than lay on my bed worrying. I was sad I might have to drop out of Mississippi 50, thus failing to complete the distance for the fourth time. My doctor helped calm me down a bit as we talked through my symptoms and what I could expect. He recommended a second test to confirm, but with as hard as it had hit, he ordered three other tests from the same swap.

On Thursday, I got the utter delight of having the full depth COVID swab. I’m not a fan. It didn’t hurt, but it was very uncomfortable and unpleasant. I spent the rest of the day wondering what the results would be. The ER doctor was insistent that I had COVID. I had COVID symptoms. But I never had a fever and I never lost my sense of taste or smell. It was such an odd feeling while I waited. Fortunately, by the afternoon, the results were back: I was negative for COVID again. And two strains of flu and a common respiratory infection. Stumped, the doc and I walked through what I needed to do now (spoiler: wait until my 14 days had elapsed) and what my family could do (come off quarantine, yay!).

What a rollercoaster. COVID! No COVID! I feel like the rollercoaster cart is pulling back to the loading and unloading area, but I’m not off the ride yet. I have six more days of quarantine to ensure I don’t start exhibiting (additional) symptoms and I’m trying to do my job from home.

Where does this leave me for running Mississippi 50? Well, at this point, I still plan to run in the race. My health has improved each day since Wednesday and I feel confident I’ll be out running as soon as my quarantine ends. Which, of course, is the start of taper week. I’ll miss my two 20+ mile runs.

It’s unfortunate that my last two weeks to push through long runs are shot because I can’t leave my house. But I have eight months of training behind me. As my thesis advisor would say, “the hay is in the barn.” All I can do now is make good nutritional choices, keep my focus, and keep up with a good bodyweight strengthening program until I’m allowed back out. It’s not ideal, but it’s the hand I’ve been dealt.

And I refuse to fail again. After all, I want to see the void blink.

PS – during my downtime, I decided if/when I recovered and finished that f***ing race, I’m getting a new tattoo. I spent some time sketching out the design ideas below. I’m not set on any of of them yet, but I’m narrowing down what I like. So if you wondered why they were all plague doctor themed, now you know.

PPS – I finished Mississippi 50k and got my tattoo!

“This too shall pass” with “50k” on the shoes

Happy trails!

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14 Comments on “Confessions from the Trail: Training and the COVID Rollercoaster

  1. Sorry to hear of your dfiagnosis. I hope you bounce back quickly from it.

    There is next year for the race.



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