Returning to Running after Having Covid-19

Returning to Running after Having Covid-19

Update: This post was originally written in 2020 and has now been updated for 2022. Please always consult your doctor first to account for your vaccination status and underlying health conditions. In 2022, Omicron infections in vaccinated/boostered individuals may be mild and may allow a quicker return to running after having Covid-19.

Unfortunately, one of the questions for many runners in the early 2020s is, “How do I safely return to running after having Covid-19?” While there will be a range of individual recovery rates, these guidelines outline how to safely return to running after a Covid-19 diagnosis, based on the evolving knowledge of the disease.

Covid-19 recovery is highly individual, especially in regards to returning to running. Some people recover quickly; others will experience lingering symptoms for months. Some will be back to normal training in a matter of weeks; others will experience decreased exercise tolerance for months. Underlying health conditions may influence your recovery rate. Vaccination and booster status will have an impact, along with which variant you contract. At all ends of the spectrum of Covid-19 responses, you want to be cautious about returning to running. 

Major significant concerns include relapse of symptoms and long-term fatigue, which are commonly reported with Covid especially after the initial recovery. While recent research and the consensus of the American College of Cardiology indicates myocarditis is no more of a concern than after any illness (remember, you can get it after the flu, etc.), some athletes may experience lingering chest pain or irregular heartbeats that warrant medical examination and a pause from exercise. Pneumonia and lung damage are concerns, especially in unvaccinated individuals. Because of all of these concerns, your return to running after a Covid-19 diagnosis should be cautious. 

Disclaimer: This article does not serve as medical advice. If you have Covid-19, please speak with your medical provider and exercise an abundance of caution when returning to running.

Take Appropriate Time Off

Generally speaking, you should not run while sick, especially if sick with anything beyond a head cold. If you develop Covid-19 symptoms, you certainly do NOT want to run.

The new consensus (2022) from the America College of Cardiology outlines rest and return to exercise with the following protocol:

  • If symptomatic with mild symptoms, rest until your symptoms have resolved. Then, you can resume normal training.
  • If asymptomatic, rest 3 days to ensure no symptoms develop. Then, you can resume normal Training
  • Follow appropriate isolation guidelines.
  • If you experienced cardiopulmonary symptoms (chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness,.), do not resume running until you have medical clearance

Walk First

Before you return to running, you want to walk first. Walking will ease you back into exercise, even if you just do one or two walks when symptoms first resolve. You will be able to assess how you respond to gentle exercise. If you experience worrisome symptoms such as an excessively high heart rate, shortness of breath, excessive fatigue, or regression of symptoms, you are not ready to resume running and should contact your medical professional.

If Recovering from a Severe Infection or Fatigued, Rebuild Slowly

The omicron variant is fortunately symptomatically mild in most vaccinated, healthy individuals. However, some individuals may experience lingering fatigue or have to rebuild slowly after a long duration off (such as if they had cardiopulmonary symptoms but have now been cleared.)

For athletes with fatigue (who have been medically cleared), it may be beneficial to have a more gradual return. The 2020 guidelines recommended starting at 50% of your previous baseline and progressing 10% each week. Dr. Jordan Metzl recommends first running 50% of previous mileage; if that feels comfortable, then 70% the next week (30% reduction), followed by 80% (20% reduction), and finally a week at 90% (10% reduction).  It is important to note these recommendations were made before we knew more about the risk of myocarditis (in 2020, it was believed to be higher than we now know in 2022). While myocarditis is not a risk, a gradual return is always smart if fatigue lingers.

If you did not have a severe illness, you do not have to follow these guidelines. However, if your symptoms were severe, you experience lingering fatigue, or you were off of exercise for more than two weeks, it does not hurt to exercise caution and follow these guidelines.

Focus on Effort

Some runners will find that they can return to their pre-infection paces with ease. Others will find that they are a minute per mile slower – or more, at least for a few weeks post-infection. (This is both my experience and what I discovered reading through various forums.) It is not uncommon after any illness to run slower than usual for a few weeks.

Do not try to run at your pre-infection pace if it does not come naturally. Focus on your perceived effort or heart rate and run at a truly easy, conversational effort. Easy running will safely build back your fitness without overstressing your body. If you struggle with controlling intensity, try run-walk intervals to keep your heart rate under control. 

Know When to Scale Back or Stop Running

If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, lightheadedness, develop a fever, or other concerning symptoms, stop running and contact your doctor. 

If you are struggling on your runs or recording abnormally high heart rates, you want to scale back. Most likely, your return to running after a Covid-19 diagnosis will not be linear; you will make progress, then have to scale back and rest, before being able to make more progress. Pushing too hard too soon will only delay full recovery.

Be Patient

A Covid-19 diagnosis may affect your running for weeks or even months. Research found that SARS limited exercise capacity in survivors for three to six months. Covid-19 has barely been around long enough to see the full effects, but anecdotal evidence suggests that recovered Covid patients may not return to previous levels of fitness even months later. 

Be patient with yourself. Covid-19 recovery can a bumpy, unpredictable road depending on the severity of your infection. You may experience setbacks. Do not push yourself too hard, too soon. While it may be frustrating for a short while, a slow progression will benefit you in the long-term.

My Own Experience

I was diagnosed with Covid-19 on August 13 (alpha variant); my first symptoms appeared on August 10. I was in good shape for me; before ceasing running, I ran an 8-mile progression run at an 8:18 average and a 16 mile long run at an 8:4x/mile average. My symptoms were a sore throat, loss of sense of smell, intense fatigue, and brain fog.

I waited until a week after symptom resolution to resume running, which was August 29. After the initial test run, I ended up taking a few days off of running after because runs felt too hard. I then started back at three days of running and less than 50% of mileage and gradually build up to 50%. My paces are over a minute per mile slower than before.

However, in 2022, I have seen numerous vaccinated/boostered athletes contract omicron and return much more smoothly. They rested while symptomatic and were able to resume training afterward with minimal disruption.

Sources: 

Jordan D. Metzel MD, et al. “Considerations to Return to Exercise Following Mild-to-Moderate Covid-19 in the Recreational Athlete.” HHS Journal. 2020. 

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21 Responses

  1. These are great tips, Laura! I’m glad you recovered so well.
    Fortunately, I have never been diagnosed with a serious illness, but I will keep this post in mind it if does happen. Thank you.

  2. This is very good to know! The unknowns about COVID are so scary, and I agree its better to be cautious with returning to running. I’m glad you are running again and I hope you can start building back up to where you were pre-illness soon!

  3. I’ve heard from several runners who had COVID and the general consensus is that it takes quite a while to come back from that illness. Has to be frustrating. Thanks for sharing this–hopefully, runners will listen to their bodies!

  4. I am sure we still don’t know all the long effects that can come along with Covid. It’s definitely smart to follow your tips and take the return to running slow and carefully. Thanks for sharing your experiences and so glad that you are recovering well and back to running.

  5. I’m so sorry you had to experience this firsthand. Thank you for sharing all this! I’m on the verge of resuming my running, but am very tentative since this is uncharted territory for me as well. Glad to see you’re rallying back and being very cautious and smart about it.

  6. Great advice. I’ve seen a wide range of experiences as people resume running after Covid. I read a story of an elite triathlete who could not resume training for several months. I have a friend who was hospitalized a month ago and is just now returning to walking, though she was in good shape before Covid. Like you said, it’s just to soon to know the long term effects, which is another reason to be cautious about catching this virus.

  7. I am so sorry you had first-hand knowledge of this, but I am so glad you are feeling better and are able to resume your activity. This is such a scary and uncertain time 🙁

  8. Hi Laura – thanks for sharing your story. I’ve recently recovered from COVID (relatively mild/moderate case) and began running again for roughly 2 weeks now. One of the first things I’ve noticed is my HR jump. I’m averaging 20 BPM+ across all paces, and my heart immediately rockets upward at the very start of my runs. Did you or anyone else experience anything like this?

    1. Hi Aaron – I am sorry to hear about your Covid! HR jump is very common; irregular heart rate is one of the long-term effects of covid. About four months after having Covid, my HR still spikes at the immediate start of most runs. If you are concerned about your heart or experience any chest pain or shortness of breath while running, it is always best to speak to your doctor.

  9. Hi Laura,
    I’ve just found your blog out and thanks for speaking out on Covid-19. I was diagnosed last December and after quite mild symptoms (just fatigue) I am still not sure whether I can go back to running as I’m afraid. I’ll get a chest scan to check my lungs on Friday and I was wondering did you get your body checked before commencing your sporty activities?

    1. Hello! Thank you for commenting! I am sorry to hear about your Covid diagnosis and hope you are recovering well. I resumed after 10 days of no symptoms, but then did pause for medical tests when running felt harder and I developed chest pain amongst other odd symptoms (months later, that was determined to be GERD). I saw a cardiologist for an echo and treadmill stress test, had D-dimers and troponin levels tested, and eventually an endoscopy (all tests were clear except the endoscopy). I recommend working with your doctor; if you do not have chest pain, shortness of breath, or signs of post-exertional malaise, you could try a very short (10 min) run and see how you feel.

  10. Stumbled upon this. I’m having similar issues. I was able to keep my heart rate at 156 for a 3 miles run, but I’ve noticed spikes as soon as I increase intensity at all. I feel definitely crappier but my bpm is probably only running 7-9 bpm higher than it would have forcing the lower paces. I feel almost like I’ve gained 10 pounds. My cadence gets lower so I’m a little more sore. My main symptom was fatigue and a occasion dry cough. I’m a little puzzled on how long to wait between runs or how hard to push my heart rate.

  11. Thanks for this article. I tested positive on 10/15 after a few days of symptoms. I was in general symptom-free as of 10/22, just some lingering congestion. So I ran 1mi that Friday, 2 the next day, and 3mi the third day (yesterday). I woke up with chest pain today and it appears I started back too soon. I was in peak marathon shape as of like 10/9 and had a marathon planned for 10/17. So that’s where I am. Best of luck to all out there.

  12. Hi when can I start running again I am in day 6 of my illness COVID can I gently get into it after day 7 or is that to early.

    1. Hello! I hope you are feeling better. This article was written based on guidelines for the original strain, prior to vaccination. If you are vaccinated/booster and/or possibly have omicron, I recommend speaking to your healthcare professional. If in doubt, rest until your symptoms subside.

  13. Thank you so much for posting this and for sharing your own experience! I tested positive just a few days ago and I’m starting to ponder my return to running. There’s certainly not a lot of info on returning to running post covid and I found your article to be extremely helpful!

  14. Thank you Laura, very helpful article! Did your pace ever improve back to normal over the last year? And how long did it take? I’m only on week 2 of post-covid and I’ve had a similar experience of my easy runs (zone 1/2) being 1 – 2 minutes slower. I’ve heard from some runner friends that when you do eventually get your pre-covid pace back, it’s rather abrupt. I wonder if you’ve had a similar experience.

    1. Hi David,

      Thank you! My paces are closer to normal now (at least at sea level). I raced a half marathon at high altitude in May that was pretty close to my previous (sea level) baseline!

  15. I’m a fit 61-year old female. More of a cyclist and Nordic skier but have taken up running about 9-months ago. I was progressing very nicely and working my way up to a 10-K, 5K pace of 26min and working on hill intervals. Then came COVID. My case was mild and I was able to walk and stay active (not run or anything). I’ve been COVID free for nearly 3-weeks and mostly feel normal — but when I went for a short run today (my first full run) of 1+ mile at an 11-min/mi pace, my HR was ave of 131 and a high of 152 bpm. Normally it would be at least 15 bpm lower. Not sure whether it’s okay to keep running slowly and slowly increasing my distances or wait (sounds like it could be a long wait). I was not out of breath while running and RPE felt like a 2ish. Looking for sound advice. I have also left a message with my PCP on this matter.

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