How to Return to Running After COVID Safely (My Experience)

I recently tested positive for COVID-19. It hit me last Thursday and the first few days were horrendous. Chills, aches, pains, and overall weakness. It sucked.

On the other hand, a few staff members tested positive but were asymptomatic. While we are discussing this topic, that's really weird how some folks react one way and others a different.

Needless to say my running schedule went out the window. So if your running or exercise schedule changed like mine because of it, I share my personal experience to get you back running.

So if you are wondering how to return to running after COVID, when should I start, what should I expect, and what the scientific research says, I share it all below.

One item before I dig in, what I share below is research and my own personal experience. It may differ for you. I strongly recommend discussing this with your doctor before getting back into any kind of exercise or training routine!

How to Return to Running After COVID Safely (My Experience)

Actual Scientific Research

Despite the slew of COVID-19 research, we still don't know much about this virus.

Although we have a basic understanding of what it does to the body when we catch it, there is still little information available regarding its long-term consequences.

However, there has been some research conducted that has yielded fascinating results. Here are some of the findings from early-stage COVID research on both the impact of the virus on activity and what it may imply for returning to running and exercise.

Injury

According to a recent research, runners who had the COVID-19 virus were more likely to suffer an injury.

Of the 1435 participants who did not receive COVID, 21.3 percent suffered an injury during the designated period of time. Of those who had COVID, 30.9% reported having an issue in the same amount of time as those that didn't have COVID.

While we can't argue that there is a big difference between the sizes of these two groups, it does raise an intriguing issue regarding whether COVID training is harmful to your muscles and organs.

I noticed that when I started running my body simply was not ready to pick up where I left off in my training before I got Covid.

Taking it easy slowly getting back into it will drastically lower your chance of getting injured. As you can imagine, my strength and lung capacity to run at the same level pre-Covid was not there.

These two together told me that my endurance was desimated.

Endurance Impact

Surprisingly, one of the most prevalent symptoms across the COVID spectrum is unusual, acute tiredness, which may contribute to these findings. Speaking from experience, I was absolutely wiped for the time I had Covid and trying to get back into running afterwards was extremely difficult as I never felt "full strength".

This research focused on the finishing time at which runners completed marathons and ultramarathons during the epidemic. Although it does not comment on runners having COVID or not, it's easy to infer that COVID infections have had a role.

Here is where is get's interesting.

The total number of finishes in these types of races have decreased. This implies that more people were dropping out before they reached the finish line, even though they had trained for these races.

Surprisingly, one of the most prevalent symptoms across the COVID spectrum is unusual, acute tiredness, which may contribute to these findings. Speaking from experience, I was absolutely wiped for the time I had Covid and trying to get back into running afterwards was extremely difficult as I never felt "full strength".

So should you expect your energy and endurance levels to be lower after Covid? Absolutely.

Cardiovascular Health

One of the greatest concerns about long-term COVID effects is how it may affect the heart. Patients who spent time in the hospital due to COVID-19 infection are more likely to suffer cardiac damage, such as myocarditis.

It's not clear whether or not this happens in those with milder symptoms, but there's no denying that any sort of disease has an effect on the cardiovascular system. The cardiovascular system is harmed by the inflammation in the lungs and a raised heart rate (which is typical during sickness).

These factors can make a huge difference in how quickly and simply you may get back into your running. There are also various rules for high-school athletes vs. masters athletes, for example.

I recommend getting a post-Covid checkup from your doctor to see how your heart is and if you have any linger health issues. Physical Therapists are also great to visit as they are experts in musco-skeletal (muscles and ligaments) health. They can help find and correct any imbalances or weaknesses you might have in your muscles.

Muscle Atrophy

This is another interesting aspect of how COVID impacts the body. Covid-caused weakness is typically more severe than regular runny noses, but it does affect some differently. I noticed that I had acute muscle atrophy . I am not a big dude, 5'10", 165" so I don't have a lot of weight to lose so when I was not eating during Covid (because I lost my appetite), I noticed that I was getting skinnier and the doctors shared that I had acute muscle atrophy which can happen from prolonged laying in bed.

Which makes total sense. I literally didn't move from my bedroom for several days.

COVID Toes

COVID toes, unfortunately, is a real outcome. COVID can have an effect on blood circulation, especially since the toes are so far away from the heart. This may show up as bruise-like dark spots on your toes in runners.

COVID toes, unfortunately, is a real outcome. COVID can have an effect on blood circulation, especially since the toes are so far away from the heart. This may show up as bruise-like dark spots on your toes in runners.

It appears to be more prevalent in runners who are prone to black toenails. Just make sure to trim them and keep an eye out for it.

Long vs Short COVID

The majority of individuals who have COVID heal swiftly and go on with their lives, seeming to have no long-term consequences. However, a few people experience long-term problems regardless of the severity of their COVID infection.

I had it for a total of five days and then the lingering issues of mild cough, overall weakness but then eventually was feeling "normal".

Long COVID technically has no defined duration. However, long COVID is usually interpreted to mean that a person's symptoms persist for 12 weeks or more after their initial infection (and can't be explained by anything else).

It's typically not the little, aggravating issues like a scratchy throat or runny nose that linger. It is the extreme tiredness, shortness of breath, chest discomfort or heart palpitations, memory difficulties, and joint aches are among the most frequent COVID symptoms that would define long Covid.

Individuals who have the longer bouts with COVID will find it much harder to get back into their regular routine and will need to take things easy in order to do so.

Safely Returning to Running After COVID

Speaking from experience, shorter Covid was easier to get back into running. I can only imagine the longer Covid being very difficult to get back into running.

Here are some questions to ask yourself if you're thinking about getting back into it.

When?

Similar to the evolving news cycle related to Covid, there are plenty of "guidelines" sharing what you should and shouldn't do and it can be extremely overwhelming.

How do you know what’s right and what’s not?

Everyone is different and that's the part that makes all of this the hardest to figure out. My symptoms and my body are different than the next so how my body responds post-Covid is going to be different than you especially when it comes to running.

The general rule is to wait 10 to 14 days after the day you experienced symptoms. So, if you began feeling sick on the 10th of the month and observed your final symptoms on the 20th, you should be able to resume regular activity without risk on the 1st to 4th of the following month.

If you aren't there yet, you don't have to sit around doing nothing for that period of time. Try walking or a mild cycle to get your muscles moving but not your heart rate too high. Staying a little active can help with recovery.

How?

Take your time. Regardless if you were training for a 5K or just downloaded your new favorite 5K training plan, take your time you ease into it.

Your muscles may be aching or weak in the aftermath of Covid, and they will require some time to recover.

Reduce the time or intensity by half. If it looks to be too simple, that's a good sign.

A good rule of thumb, if you used to run 3 miles every day, aim to start with a more chilled 1.5-mile jog. If that feels good, try a 2.0-mile run the next day.

Once you're back to 3 miles, make it every other day for the first week instead of daily.

By slowly increasing your pace, intensity, distance, or time by 5 or up to 10% per week until you’re back at your usual performance. It will take time. Give yourself patience and grace.

Runners traditionally have lower heart rates than non-runners, combined with lack of information of how Covid can impact your heart and lungs, it's best to take things slow as you go. If you notice your heart rate spike during runs, take it easy, slow down and ease into it.

I also recommend avoiding high-intensity interval training (HIIT) until you've returned to your usual running routine and haven't had any negative symptoms for at least two weeks.

When to Stop Running

You need to be intentional and really pay attention to how your body responds to running. If you find yourself weak, very tired, out-of-breathe more than usual; you have pushed to hard to fast.

You may be experiencing muscular discomfort or joint discomfort as a consequence of your lack of activity over the previous several weeks. This should go away rather quickly, especially if you follow the advice for recovery.

However, there are a few indications that you should be on the lookout for. If you encounter any of the following symptoms:

  • Heart palpitations (feelings of having a fast-beating, fluttering or pounding heart)
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling faint or dizzy

Then you'll most likely require more rest time. If you have any of the following symptoms while running, we highly advise seeing your doctor immediately.

Tips for Running After COVID

If you're feeling good enough to resume your running routine, we recommend taking safety measures to avoid reinfection. You could get it once (or more), but you can still get it again!

So no races for at least a month.

Here’s what we suggest when getting back into your running routine after COVID.

Ease Back into It

Diving back into your fitness program with vigor might be harmful and set you back even more than Covid. Starting at half intensity and building up to full strength over a few weeks is the most secure approach to return to your normal level of performance.

In these first few weeks of getting back into your routine, you're less likely to be injured if you begin gradually. COVID victims are more prone to injury, according to research, so take it easy and steadily.

Avoid the Strict Schedule

Some training plans lack the ability to adjust based on your needs. Some days walking is better than running.

Take Steps to Prevent Reinfection

Running with a mask on might assist protect you from reinfection, which is as inconvenient as it is. If you don't want to use a regular mask, consider utilizing a neck gaiter or balaclava instead.

Unless you're out on the trail when no one else is around, keeping your nose and mouth covered is a good idea.

Let People Know Where You Are Running

Let someone know where you're going and when you expect to return when you go for a run. This may seem unimportant, but it can assist someone if something goes wrong while running.

All of us want to believe that when we get back to our runs, everything will be fine.

However, the truth is that when your body has been severely injured and exposed to a virus about which scientists aren't sure of the long-term consequences, you can't take any chances.

Learn Some First Aid

It's always a good idea to learn the fundamentals of first aid. Rather than not knowing it and needing it, it's preferable to know it and never use it!

Brush up on your first aid so you can a) detect when something is wrong, and b) know what to do in the event of an emergency. Keeping your phone or a type of panic button on you is a smart idea so you can contact emergency services or a loved one if necessary.

Summary

It's not always easy to figure out how to get back into running after COVID. Everyone is different, but it's vital not to hurry back into training or expect to pick up where you left off.

Allow yourself plenty of time. Begin by relaxing and listening to your body, then commit to doing it correctly — even if it takes a little longer than you had hoped!

Hi, Jeremy Here, 

I am the the guy behind Train for a 5K. On this site, I share everything that learned along my running journey. The content I create is the running training I wish I had before we started this journeyAbout Me.