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Trying to Break Through Long-Haul COVID

re: Long-Haul COVID

I’m writing this hoping that at least one Long-Haul COVID sufferer might benefit, particularly athletes like myself. It has been a sore trial, worse than anything in my life, even my 2018 concussion.

For 13 months now, I’ve suffered from Long-Haul COVID. June 2020 thru late November were terrible, with brain-fog, crippling fatigue, headaches, rheumatic symptoms and muscle aches, etc. It wasn’t a question of slowing down or reducing training; it was about whether I could walk 1/4 mile slowly or not, and whether I could manage 1 hour or 3 hours of productive work each day—and for some months none at all on many days.

Then I got a break just before Thanksgiving 2020, literally overnight feeling much better—what the hell?! I thought I had cured myself. All I could figure is that grass-fed New York steak every day for 3 days had something to do with it. So I went back to moderate exercise, but could never seem to resume a normal training level.

And then a relapse starting in early March 2021 which lasted until... today, with a few hopeful streaks not lasting long in June. Long periods of little exercise and no biking failed to get me off a baseline energy slump, and sleep/rest needs remain very high. Physicians clueless as ever, normal blood work.

Typical pattern on a weekly basis, oscillating/repeating, exercise induced decline:

#1 moderate energy, #2 low energy, #3 very low energy, #4 toast, #5 toast, #6 very low energy #7 low energy.
<repeat ad nauseum>

Poking the bear

Starting last week, I resolved try something new:

  • Exercising only in the morning when most rested (afternoons were not working);
  • Exercising every day for my full ride but at an effort level as slow as needed.
  • A 1L bottle of water with 300 calories of my proven sports-drink Tailwind, to ensure available glucose since my system might be awry.

This on the theory that excercise is healing (blood flow, hormones, thyroid function, etc)—the trick being having enough energy to get therapeutic levels of exercise.

Plus: (1) eating a nutrient-dense meal after exercise, (2) a 90-minute nap mid-afternoon, (3) any additional rest needed to feel able to be up and around (1-2 hours), (4) minimum 9 hours sleep in bed by 10 PM, typically 10 hours.

I knew this might throw me into a weeklong energy overdraft, but I had signs that acupuncture might be making changes to my nervous system, so I resolved to try it. And with 20 years of experience paying close attention to my body for hard core cycling, I also felt that I had the insight to make reasonable judgments about the need to abortor continue.

Acupuncture signals

Yesterday was my 5th acupuncture appointment in just over 2 weeks. I could a lot of energy flow in my body as I lay on the table, and I suspected that something might be “up”. My body was giving me a very clear signal, and in the hours after, I felt great too.

Prior to the treatment, I had done a full ride at low pace (which the doctor said was inadvisable prior), but I nonetheless feel it was synergistic.

After the appointment, I ate as usual after a ride a nutrient-dense smoothie of 900 calories or so, and allowed myself to rest and sleep for 3-4 hours. Things seemed to settle in well and today confirmed that. Yeah, that’s part of the recovery— an absurd amount of rest and sleep. Skip it, and things go to crap.

It has been a month since I was able to ride 4 days in a row, albeit at greatly reduced pace for the first three days. So now I am gaining strength, and I need to not overdo it.

Most important of all, I felt good on the ride, I felt normal (albeit detrained), and I was not tired afterwards, at least not initiall, though I needed to take my (now) usual 90 minute nap plus extra rest. Tomorrow I need to be cautious.

Below, this is what a baseline ride looks like for me when in detrained condition, though here today power and heart rate were definitely affected by the high humidity and relatively high temperature. I’d been riding two hours earlier, which is a better plan than a 10 AM start.

UPDATE: next day: low energy 1/2, 2nd day low energy followed by acupuncture that afternoon very tired, following day low energy, low energy, low energy. Seems to be the same pattern. So maybe it will be like the stock market: higher highs and higher lows. Definitely not a quick breakthrough.

Green line is power (watts), red line is heart rate, purple line is temperature.

Power (watts) and heart rate for baseline ride in detrained condition, relatively high humidity and temperature
Power (watts) and heart rate for baseline ride in detrained condition, relatively high humidity and temperature

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