Saturday, February 11, 2023

Post-Viral Fatigue Part 5

If you've been following my blog, you may remember that I decided not to run the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon last fall because of the warm forecast. I wasn't concerned about running a slow-for-me time. I was concerned about getting sick. Racing in the heat kills my immune system and I have a history of getting sick for extended periods of time following warm races.

So I played it safe and continued training for Houston. I stayed healthy and had a very strong training cycle. I even PR'ed my 5K in November.

Then came Houston. It was warm. Even though I ran a conservative pace, running 26.2 miles at any pace in the heat is a strain on my immune system. Then we went to Mexico for 8 days, where I did nothing but relax in the sun. I did not have any alcoholic beverages because I was concerned about my immune system and I made sure to eat plenty of healthy foods. I had a few sips from Greg's drinks, but that's all. 

We flew home on a Tuesday. I ran for the first time post-marathon on Wednesday (30 minutes). On Friday, I noticed a mild sore throat and fatigue. No surprise I caught something on the way back from Mexico-- the airports were very crowded. 

On Sunday I took a Covid test and it was negative. On Monday I took another Covid test and it was positive.

I've heard that Covid round two is milder than round one, and that was definitely the case for me. The first time I had Covid (January of last year) my sore throat was extremely painful. I couldn't talk for two days. I took 25 days off from running. This time would be milder, I would be back out there in a week, maybe 10 days max.


Even though my Covid symptoms were mild, there is a huge difference between this illness and last year's illness. Last year I recovered like a normal person. Sure, it took three weeks, but that's not abnormal for this virus. I never felt weak. Walking around always felt normal. The lingering symptoms were the sore throat, cough, and some tiredness. 

This time, with a warm marathon still impacting my immune system - I am not recovering like a normal person. I have my FIFTH case of post-viral fatigue. This means I am weak, my body aches, and it's hard to move around. 

The most accurate description I have seen comes from Medical News Today: "Post-viral syndrome, or post-viral fatigue, refers to a sense of tiredness and weakness that lingers after a person has fought off a viral infection. It can arise even after common infections, such as the flu. People may experience post-viral symptoms, such as fatigue, for weeks or months after fighting off the infection."

Some doctors say that the Epstein-Barr virus plays a role and can be re-activated during these times. I was tested for this in 2012 and I was positive. (I first had Epstein-Barr/mono in 1999). Not sure if that's the case for me now;  the "Post Viral Illness" diagnosis seems to be the most accurate.

I've had these exact symptoms 4 times in the past: 2008, 2012, 2016, 2018. Here's a description that I wrote in my blog post from 2018:

So what, exactly, am I sick with? The best way to describe it is an over-reaction of the immune system triggered by a viral infection. I had a sore throat for the first three days and now my symptoms are: 

  • Dizziness when standing up from a seated position
  • Weakness in the legs and an inability to walk at a normal pace
  • General fatigue, and low energy levels, requiring about 1-2 hours of extra sleep per night
  • Varying degrees of body aches 
Progress with this illness is not linear. Some days, I feel almost normal as long as I stay seated. Other days (like yesterday) all I can do is lay in bed and even moving the slightest bit feels like a huge effort. Because I've had this illness in the past I know not to get too discouraged when I have one of the really horrible days. I basically just see it as a message that I need to continue to take it easy.

So all of this from 2018 applies to me right now. It doesn't matter what kind of virus it is, what matters is the state of my immune system when I catch it. Last year when I had Covid I was not running in the heat because it was January. So I wasn't impacted by this post-viral fatigue. So while it was a far more severe Covid case, recovery was shorter.

I've never had post-viral fatigue that was not preceded by a hot race. This is why I avoid racing anything longer than a 5K in the heat. Although hot 5Ks can cause this same issue, as can consistently running hard workouts in the heat. Last summer I limited myself to only one hard workout a week, and I would choose the coolest day of the week.

The good news is that I now work from home full-time so I don't need to worry about taking short-term disability like I did in 2018. When I was sick in 2016, I actually quit my job because they were not understanding and the stress of the situation was making things worse. I easily found another one. 

There's nothing that I can do to speed up recovery, but there are plenty of things I can do to lengthen recovery. I've learned from past experiences and from doctors that it's best to be mostly sedentary. Even though I could manage a short walk (and I had started walking a few days after the Covid test), walks cause setbacks. Even housework can cause setbacks. 

My primary physical activities are doing the dishes, doing the laundry, taking showers, and going from room to room in my house. A lot of online shopping has occurred. Kate Spade just so happens to have a zebra line out right now, and thus my bank account took a hit! You can see the photo of the zebra bag, with the tassel being the zebra's tail. Other items were purchased as well!

New Kate Spade handbag
Mentally I am trying to distract myself and not think about the fact that I am sick. Because I work from home anyway, the only day-to-day thing that has changed about my life is that I can't be physically active. And yes, that's a big deal, but I've dealt with it before. I had been planning to run the One City Half Marathon in early March but that is clearly out. Thankfully, I don't have any other races on the calendar. You can bet a comeback race is in my future - however distant that may be!

I had my first symptoms on Friday, January 27, so I am officially 2 weeks and 1 day into this.  I have no idea how long it will last, but if I stay patient and don't push myself, it should be about 4 more weeks. Seems like an eternity, but it's the hand I've been dealt. 

Everyone has their strengths and weakness as runners. My greatest weakness is running in the heat. It slows me down more than most and then my immune system suffers. This is why I adjusted my Houston Marathon goal to be 15 minutes slower than the time I trained for. And, as I said earlier, it's why I didn't run Indianapolis last fall. It's not ideal, but that's my weakness and I've learned to manage it to the best of my ability.