I had COVID-19 symptoms, and I was the sickest person ever.
On Saturday 7 March, I won a 5K race at Mount Berry, Georgia. This was my fastest end since college; My time, 20:11, was nothing fancy for me, but after years away from competitive running, it was fun to feel fit again and win.
Later that night, I moved to hot yoga. As I kept in class, the woman next to me started coughing. “Don’t worry,” he said. “It’s just asthma.”
Although COVID-19 had started spreading to the United States, I had no idea that it was in Atlanta, where I went to visit my boyfriend. It seemed absurd that this woman in hot yoga was worried about the virus.
The next day, I drove eight miles and did 10 pull-ups in the park for fun. The day before, I ran another eight miles and felt well.
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I recently increased my training to 40 miles per week with plans to run a half marathon a week. It was the first time I started training for the race since running track and cross country at Yale University from 2010 to 2012.
That Tuesday, March 10, I woke up with a strange cold. At the time, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was warning that symptoms of the virus included at least 100 degrees of fever and cough. I didn’t have fever or cough, so I thought, It is not COVID-19. I work in civil rights law, and I worked remotely that week, but since I didn’t realize the disease, I kept running. The governor of Georgia did not close the state for the next three weeks.
On March 16, I was feeling completely exhausted – when you bounce your mileage and can’t get off the couch. It’s not cold, I thought. By then, my boyfriend and two of our closest friends had come down with the same thing.
COVID-19? I wrote in my training journal.
The fatigue became worse. I didn’t work at all, and by the end of the week, I couldn’t even get off the couch. I called the hotline number to speak with a nurse, and was told that I did not meet the testing criteria for COVID-19. The nurse advised me to stay hydrated, sleep, make myself comfortable and call back if anything changes.
I felt a little better the following week, but on Friday, March 27, I got feverish, which came and went over the next eight days. It never climbed above 100, but I thought it was really terrible. After the fever subsided and I finished the quarantine recommended by the government, I tried to run. But it gave rise to the most frightening symptom: lung pain. What started when the strange pressure transformed into intense pain and spread to the bottom of my lungs.
From 9 April to 1 May, my lungs hurt every day. At its worst, the pain was constant. I could not finish a 30-minute zoom call with my grandmother or sleep on my back.
On Monday, April 27, the pain was so bad that I lay on the floor and couldn’t hold my breath at all. I called the nurse again at the hotline, described all my symptoms, and was diagnosed as having COVID-19 on the phone.
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After that, I started trending better. On Friday, May 1, I finally tested for COVID-19, and by then my result was negative.
The following Tuesday I tried to run again because I was so inactive my brain. I left early in the morning, so no one shuffled with me. I did four minutes of walking, one minute of jogging, five times. I felt quite dizzy after minutes of jogging.
Since then, I have built my endurance, but it is far from the beginning of March. Last week, I was able to jog 20 minutes straight; I did not turn on my Garmin speed function, but I would have been shocked if I had gone a mile faster than 10 minutes. It felt very bad, and my lungs hurt for several days. Three months ago, a 20-minute jog before the afternoon workout would have been a morning shakeout. Now, this is the big athletic event of my week.
My fatigue is recovering, but some days I still feel tired. It is scary to be on the first wave of a disease where they have no idea which path the disease will take and they really have no way to treat you. The doctors cannot tell me what the long term effect will be, and it is absolutely terrible. Will my lungs heal completely? Am I going to race ever again? Are my athletic goals on the shelf forever?
I have been active all my life. I grew up backpacking and playing football, I went to high school and college for two years, and I discovered rock climbing as an adult. I miss feeling good in my body. I miss feeling energetic. I miss the agony after a good workout. This experience reminded me what a gift it is to be able to lace my shoes, go out for an hour or two, and feel free and strong. My favorite part of my day has always been my running.
I have had the privilege of worrying about my recreational games when people are worrying about their lives. This disease has shown me how much I take for the ability to breathe freely. The past several weeks have reminded me that black people cannot breathe freely in America, whether they are below the knee of the police or of the untimely death of COVID-19. There are many people in America who are not lucky enough to hide from this virus, and it is attacking America based on race and socioeconomic status.
Neighbors down the street have thrown weekly house parties with dozens of people over the past month. People my age do not understand how sick it can make you and how to recover.
Initially, there was a message to the youth that your grandmother would get sick from COVID-19, but you would just get a cold. As a 28-year-old runner who may suffer permanent lung damage, I can tell you that this is not true.
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