A COVID Experience

by Nick Hauger

While I wasn’t having any symptoms whatsoever leading up to the positive result, I knew I may have had some secondary exposures. Traveling itself is a risk and on top of that I had learned that someone at my workplace had gotten sick. Knowing and hearing this I took extra precaution in my day-to-day routines upon my return home.

As a part of NAZ Elite’s team protocol, every time we fly to something other than a race, we must get a COVID test upon our return to Flagstaff. We decided as a team that during these unprecedented times it is our duty to take the utmost precaution surrounding the pandemic and that means making sacrifices such as self isolation and solo runs until we receive a negative test. It is only then that we can return to the team to train.

It wasn’t until the day of the result itself that I even noticed anything out of the ordinary in terms of having any symptoms. The only thing that I could tell was I had a slightly stuffy nose that day, but I had simply dismissed it as nothing serious especially since I had just traveled and I was just starting up training again. I mean hell; I had even done a 4-mile steady state at 5:20 pace with little trouble the morning of the positive test.

After receiving the result, the dreaded phone calls and texts had to be sent. Here I was, with the symptoms of a light cold, about to call and tell people I had contracted the virus that is killing thousands of people. I was sick to my stomach just thinking about it all. I made an immediate phone call to my family followed soon after with a call to Ben Rosario. He was just as shocked as I was but offered a calm and strategic thought process to retrace my steps since being back in flag. He helped me to plan out the next steps to take, even offering to pick up groceries for my upcoming quarantine. Our biggest concern at the time was that I live with my teammate Scott Fauble. I felt I had taken decent precautions since being back in the house but I was still scared my whole team would eventually catch the virus. Ben immediately sent out an email to the team informing them of the news. He had everyone train on their own for a few days as well as get tested just to be safe. Fauble left the house to stay at another place and my solo quarantine began.

Week 1:

As the days went on my symptoms never got too bad. I had one day where I felt especially tired, coupled with a headache that persisted all day. Beyond that I felt overall pretty good. I could taste and smell the whole time and my energy levels felt good. I ended up developing a tight chest and a mild dry cough, which are the symptoms that lasted the longest period of time (more on this later). Ben and I had decided that we should exercise caution with my activity levels and felt that no more than 30 minutes of a running a day would be an okay amount of running. I would head out to a somewhat secluded dirt road near my house with a mask on and run nice and easy for 30 minutes at a time. While my symptoms were light this running didn’t feel great; my chest was tight and I would cough for a while after I finished running. If nothing more though, this was my only chance to venture outside of what began to feel like my prison. Being outside and staying physically active was a gift and really helped me during the period of being sick.

Week 2:

Almost exactly a week after testing positive, I took a turn in how I felt. I didn’t get nearly as tired after my runs, and the stuffy nose and headaches were gone. Aside from the tight chest and cough, I really felt as if there was nothing wrong. I began running more and was beginning to get very excited about the progress forward.

It was during this time that we learned a lot more about this virus. After a call from the health department, they informed me of a couple of things: my contagious period would end 10 days after my initial positive test, my “immunity” to the virus would only last around 3 months, and any future COVID tests I take would likely produce a positive result. Keeping Ben updated in this process, we stayed the course exercising caution and felt the best time for my return to the team would be a full 2 weeks after my positive result.

As we inched closer to my return to the team, we learned a bit more about the potential long-term effects of COVID. Ben sent me an article from Women’s Running that essentially stated that the virus can affect many organs in the body, with the primary one of concern being the heart. A condition called Myocarditis can come about when the virus resides in the heart wall causing issues such as irregular heart rhythm and worse yet—cardiac arrest. “But my symptoms are so mild, I feel great”. Yes, one can feel fine yet; this is still a potential issue. As Ben and I looked to the weeks ahead in rounding the corner on this virus, we wanted to take all precautions necessary to ensure my long-term health wasn’t in jeopardy. We felt that seeking out an opinion from a medical professional would be the best way to go about coming back into full-time training.

Week 3:

I had officially returned to running with the team and honestly, I felt great. I was only running at around 70% of my normal volume and intensity in training at the time but felt like I hadn’t lost a step coming back from the virus. Ben and I were pumped.

I had taken the necessary steps to find a doctor here in Flagstaff and scheduled zoom call appointments to initiate the conversation around coming back from the virus as a high level runner. My first tele-med appointment went great. I gave the doctor a great overview of how my time with the virus went and stressed to her the concerns Ben and I had about long term effects on my heart and lungs. In listening to all of this she felt the way we were approaching my training was appropriate and told me to stay at the 70% volume and intensity for the time being while she did more research on the topic. In the meantime I was to get a chest X-ray to take a look at my lungs to see if my chest tightness was related to any lung issues that might be occurring.

Week 4:

10/28/2020 (1 month since positive result)

Training had been going great. Aside from the lingering chest tightness and cough, I was right back where I wanted to be in this buildup. I was on my way to my first bigger session when I received a call from my doctor—“You aren’t going to like this information but everything I am reading is telling me you need to stop all exercise until one, your symptoms have subsided and two we get a wide array of tests done to ensure your body is healthy enough for the physical activity you will be doing. I have you scheduled for an immediate EKG and we can talk in person to go over the next steps in this process.”

With an immediate wave of concern and frustration I turned around and went straight to the doctor’s office. I was sat down and underwent and EKG. The doctor came in a short while later and went over the results of the EKG as well as my X-ray results. My EKG came back with that of any runner, a low heart rate (47 bpm) and no arrhythmias. My X-ray came back showing I had thickened airways and nodules in my lungs.

Everything my doctor had read showed that I needed to halt all physical activity until my symptoms of a tight chest and cough had subsided additionally, I would need to wait a full 2 weeks after those symptoms disappeared to return to running. On top of all this she was concerned that the virus may have affected my heart and lungs. She scheduled me for blood work, a pulmonary function test, as well as an appointment with cardiology to undergo an ECG to clear me for the kind of training I would be doing.

Shock, fear, and sadness all hit me at once as I left the doctor’s office. My season was over and the doctor couldn’t give me any real timeline for my return let alone a definitive answer on how my body would actually recover from it all. On top of all of this, my entire family had gotten sick and was experiencing worse symptoms than I did when I was sick. I called Ben to let him know what was going on. He was shocked and just as frustrated with the news as I was. Not knowing what to do, I reached out to my physical therapist AJ Gregg for some guidance and he adjusted my weekly programs to fit this new protocol.

Journal excerpt:

What a strange thing, I can’t do something that is inherently good for me all because it could harm me. I’m crushed. No season. I JUST hit a year of consistent training and now we’re done. This is such a bummer. Ben is so disappointed too. Is it all a test? What more will happen? So frustrating.

*COVID-19 is a virus we know little about and likely won’t know much about for a long time. The tricky thing with all of this is everyone is affected differently and the data around differing cases is coming out on nearly a weekly basis with new information to medical professionals. This is part of the reason why this process took so long. In reality, I was the first patient to come to these doctors with this type of circumstance.

Weeks 5-6:

Runs turned to walks. Weight sessions turned to stretching. Time went on as I was at the bane of our healthcare system. I awaited calls from the various medical offices to schedule the testing I was supposed to undergo. About a week into this time off my chest tightness and cough went away. But, I had to continue to wait for that two-week timeframe before I could train again.

November 11th I had my pulmonary function test to see if my lungs were healthy and functioning properly. After a half hour of this testing, the respiratory therapist informed me I had tested above average for a person of my size. Happy with the step forward I still had several days until the cardiology appointment that would ultimately give me the green light or not.

November 16th I had my first cardiology appointment. I sat down and explained to the doctor that I am a professional runner who runs at 100+ miles a week during peak training. I expressed my concerns about the long-term effects of COVID and I did my best to explain the level we run at. I also told him my fears surrounding this whole thing in general. Runners are very good at leaning into and overriding pain sensations and to be honest, my biggest fear was that I may have an underlying issue that could have detrimental effects if I returned to training hard again. I simply needed an opinion on the next steps regarding my long-term health and if/when I can get back to training normally. He seemed to understand my concerns and informed me that COVID has complications such as very low heart rate, myocarditis and other heart/lung issues. He felt everything we had done in this time was the right way to go about this tricky situation and scheduled me for a round of ECG testing. I will undergo a standard resting heart rate ECG and a maximal heart rate ECG on November 25th.

In the meantime he cleared me for easy running. The cardiologist viewed my lack of symptoms as a good sign that easy 30-40 minute runs wouldn’t be of any harm. This is a huge step forward in this process. Running with the team again is a blessing and simply to be healthy enough to do this is something that I am immensely grateful of. At the same time I realize there is a chance that the ECG comes back with results that signify I am just not quite ready for hard training yet. While I hope this isn’t the case, we will handle it just as we did everything else up to this point, with poise and patience because my overall health is not something to gamble with.

My goal with this article is to raise awareness around COVID. Even if I return to running normally, this is still not a virus we should easily dismiss. There is a reason we took the precautions we did as more and more evidence comes out showing the negative effects this virus can cause. So far I consider myself one of the lucky ones and I am well aware that there are people out there who have had a worse situation than me.

Please continue wearing a mask and remain diligent in your efforts to reduce contracting and spreading the virus. Wash your hands, keep your circle tight, and hold yourself accountable. We dodged a bullet as a team since I was the only one who ended up getting sick. There is a lot of value in creating an individual/team protocol for this kind of situation. And of course, if you do contract this virus stay patient with the process as it will be long and difficult. BUT it will be worth the effort as long-term health complications are simply not worth the risk. Looking back, I am happy to have missed this training time as long as it meant for full recovery and testing to ensure that I will remain healthy in the future.

Below I have links to the two main articles we used as precautionary guides in this process. This is what we know so far and things will likely change as this virus persists. Please reach out with any question to Ben or I on this as we hope to be an example and guide to anyone else working through a similar situation.

Take care and stay healthy.

– Nick

Articles of Reference:

https://www.womensrunning.com/health/wellness/running-after-covid-19/

https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/54/19/1132

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