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Running writer Matt Fitzgerald details months-long struggle with post-COVID-like symptoms

The author of "80/20 Running" and so many other running and fitness books believes he contracted the coronavirus in March

Photo by: Facebook/Iron Cowboy

On Tuesday morning, fitness and running writer Matt Fitzgerald posted an article outlining his struggle with what he believes is post-acute COVID-19 syndrome, or PACS. Fitzgerald, the author of 80/20 Running and many other well-known books, writes that he believes he contracted COVID-19 in March after the Atlanta Marathon, but testing for the virus was not yet widespread, and it was therefore not available to him. Today, eight months later, he is still dealing with his illness, which he notes has negatively affected him both mentally and physically. 

“I feel crappy to some degree all day every day,” Fitzgerald writes. “In my best moments, I barely notice my condition — unless I stand up, or walk, or climb a flight of stairs, when shortness of breath hits me with a gentle reminder, ‘Still here!’ Other times it’s bad enough that I just have to stop whatever it is I’m trying to do and lie down.” In terms of running, Fitzgerald hasn’t been able to perform anywhere near his previous, post-illness levels for months. 

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He first noticed a decline in his running ability when he couldn’t complete a routine workout of 600m repeats. He figured he “just didn’t have it that day,” but the issues persisted. Just a couple of weeks later, he couldn’t complete fast runs or long runs, and he was stuck with light, easy runs that he says “felt anything but easy.” Fitzgerald notes his symptoms, which include erratic pulse, shortness of breath, numbness, brain fog and much more. 

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He writes that he spoke with sports medicine specialist and fellow writer Jordan Metzl about his issues. Metzl told him that, while exercise wouldn’t exacerbate his condition, “under no circumstances” should he progress his training until he’s better. “This advice would be easier to accept if I perceived I was on any sort of trajectory toward feeling better,” Fitzgerald writes. 

In July, four months after he believes he contracted COVID-19, Fitzgerald received an antibody test. This came back negative, and while this result means he didn’t have the coronavirus, he doesn’t put much stock in the test. Since then, he writes that he has received countless tests, all of which say the same thing: everything looks fine. 

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“Bloodwork shows nothing amiss, my lungs look good and my heart checks out,” he says. “I now stand only one specialist away (neurologist) from perhaps being told — like all too many PACS patients — that there’s nothing wrong with me. It won’t be the end of the world if this does happen, however, because there’s little that doctors can do to treat the syndrome.”

His doctors continue to look for the root cause of his symptoms, but Fitzgerald is sold on it being PACS. While this is hard to accept (Fitzgerald refers to a 60 Minutes segment in which it was noted that of the thousands of PACS patients to seek help at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital, none have made a full recovery), Fitzgerald explains it’s something he has to do. This goes along perfectly with his new book, The Comeback Quotient, which he says looks at “the importance of making the best of the challenges we face as athletes and as humans.”

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“Here I am, mired in the worst health situation I’ve ever confronted at just the moment I’m coming out with a book in which I tell other people how to deal with bad situations,” Fitzgerald writes. “As I said before, I earnestly believe that facing reality is the only way to make the best of any bad situation.” He says he knows this will be a tough battle that could last a long time, but he’s prepared to face it head-on.