Running through Recovery

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With Long Covid now behind her, Rachel is ready for the AJ Bell Great Bristol Run

Rachel Whitfield was training for a marathon when she caught Covid in December 2020 and her life changed dramatically.

After her initial illness, Rachel came down with Long Covid, which left her so exhausted she was barely able to walk to the end of her street. Two years later, Rachel is fully recovered and excited to be taking part in the Half-Marathon event at the AJ Bell Great Bristol Run on Sunday 14 May.

“I had a fairly mild case of Covid that was no worse than a bad ‘flu at the time,” explains Rachel. “I was well again in time for Christmas and quickly went back to work and my exercise routine. But at the start of January, I just crashed.”

Rachel describes feeling so tired she could “hardly think or function” and found herself in a cycle of similar periods of exhaustion and incapacity, then followed by short recovery periods where she felt more normal.

“Each time the crashes were worse and the periods of feeling OK were shorter. This is what’s known in Long Covid and other post viral syndromes as ‘boom and bust’ cycles.

“It was the scariest illness I’ve ever experienced. I just wanted my old life back, but against the background of the winter lockdown and all the fear that was circulating at the time, it was hard to imagine getting back to normal and I was housebound for much of March and April 2021.”

A holistic approach

These apparently random cycles made Rachel scared and anxious. She realised these thoughts and the uncertainty was impacting on her physical health and decided to take action.

“Looking back, I was juggling a lot with running my own business and being a single parent to my daughter, including home schooling her throughout the lockdowns. I expected a lot of myself. I think catching Covid was the final trigger for a body and mind burnt-out by exhaustion and stress.”

“I realised I needed to stop and take some time off work. I rested like I’ve never rested before. Not just physical rest but mental and emotional rest as well. I started doing breathing exercises and meditation and read positive stories about others who’d recovered from illnesses like mine. Soon I felt I was in control of my recovery and able to let go of so much of my anxiety.”

Slowly, Rachel reintroduced more activity as she started to feel better.

“I got my bloods checked by my GP and they couldn’t see anything wrong, so I gradually started running again. Every time I felt worried about a relapse, I’d talk myself down from that fear. I would be alright. This helped me keep going by remaining calm about things.”

These days, Rachel tries not to fit too much into her daily life and makes time to relax mentally, while remaining physically active.

“In some ways, my experience has been a gift because it forced me to stop and re-evaluate things. It’s shifted my thinking.”

Hope for others

Following her illness, Rachel is on a mission to try and help others.

“The narrative around Long Covid is awful,” she explains. “There’s so much focus on how it can permanently affect people’s lives, but everyone’s different.

“I know there are many others who, like me, have experienced this because of what their lifestyle was like before they were ill. Factors such as stress and anxiety can have a big impact on our health and contribute to symptoms persisting. By looking at the mind and body together as one system, people with Long Covid can find a way out.”

Rachel started running just a few years before she first caught Covid and has taken part in a number of races around the country. Based in Horfield, she always enjoys the AJ Bell Great Bristol Run.

“Having done the race a couple of times, I’m now familiar with the route and I really appreciate all the crowds who come out to cheer us on every time. It really makes a big difference.”

Her goal for the Half-Marathon is to keep running and to cross the finish line at around the two-hour mark.

“At one point when I had Long Covid symptoms I was told by the GP that I’d probably never run again. Some days I look back and almost cry from the thought about where I might be if I’d held on to that belief. For me it was possible to reset my wonky “fatigue alarms” and build on the positive belief that I could recover and get my life back. And for others to know that there are people like me who have recovered might give them hope that there could be a way for them to do the same.”

You can read Rachel’s blog about her experience of recovering from Long Covid at: https://mylongcovidjourney.wordpress.com/

An inclusive celebration of running – and of Bristol itself – the AJ Bell Great Bristol Run takes place on Sunday 14 May and includes a 10k, Half Marathon and Family Run. Entries are now open at greatrun.org/great-bristol-run