It was early March, on a business trip to Utah, that Lauren Wilke ’07, ’07 MAE Eng noticed general fatigue and a dry cough. With the buzz about COVID-19 escalating worldwide, it was enough to stop the architectural engineer from entering a nursing home she was supposed to inspect and head home to Pittsburgh, where she was briefly hospitalized as breathing became more difficult.
Wilke, 36, is an avid runner who has completed more than 30 marathons and ultramarathons, but she says her fitness hasn’t mattered much in her struggle with coronavirus. Before she became infected, her only preexisting condition was minor asthma. Months later, she can barely make it up the stairs some days without resting. Other days, she can manage a few minutes of jogging.
“I’m in a weird limbo,” Wilke says. “I’m not healthy enough to live a normal life, but I’m not sick enough to take resources from other people or get more serious treatments.”
Six months removed from her hospitalization, her chest X-ray still showed lung inflammation. She was taking 10-12 pills a day, mostly steroids, and using three inhalers. “There’s so much news coverage on the number of deaths, which is certainly serious and important, but the day-to-day impact on people who have the illness and are counted as recovered is much more severe than I think most people realize,” she says.
As she continues treatment, Wilke’s goal is to get her lungs “out of crisis mode,” which may also help resolve another issue—COVID toes. She says the nerve damage to the second and third toes on her right foot make it feel like she’s constantly stepping on a Lego. Realizing she still has months to go in her recovery, Wilke is still looking forward to the day when she can train for her next race.
“This is not limited to people who have preexisting conditions, it’s not limited to people of a certain age,” Wilke says. “You can think, ‘I’ve run 30 marathons, I’m healthy, it’s fine,’ but I’m living proof that you can run 30 marathons and then not be able to run a mile for a long time.”
Erin Strout is a senior writer at Women’s Running magazine. A version of this story appeared at womensrunning.com.