Four Minutes at a Time: The Long Haul to My Tenth Mountain Goat Run
I write a lot of race recaps, but I don’t often write race reports. For one, I don’t actually race much anymore. When I do, it’s usually a pretty personal thing that I’m doing for me, and it feels odd for me to share something so personal. This being said, a few people have encouraged me to share my journey over the last year, and so I’ve decided to write this race report.
In January 2021, I contracted COVID-19. I had a moderately severe case, especially when compared to other people in my age and gender demographics who have had this virus. I was sick for several weeks (including having a fever for 14 days) and my recovery from being so sick was very slow. In addition to being very physically weakened by the virus, in March 2021, I was diagnosed with ”long haul COVID,” which is also known as “long COVID” or “post-COVID conditions”. This diagnosis means that many of my symptoms have not resolved with time, even though I am not actively sick with the virus.
The most prominent symptoms I still experience are: fatigue, brain fog, vertigo (and other adverse vestibular system issues), coughing, and altered sense of taste. The fatigue, brain fog, and vestibular system issues are the trickiest for me to manage on a daily basis.
In 2020, a third of the athletes I coach contracted COVID-19. I was able to successfully help them navigate both being sick with the virus and their subsequent recovery, but the long haul COVID was new territory for me; none of the athletes I coach had that. Because of this, I decided to reach out to some Physical Therapists to see if they could help me navigate this uncharted territory.
I ended up contacting Coach Adam Ruszkowski of ARo Sports Coaching. (Every coach needs a coach, my friends. :) ) I’ve known Adam for a long time and know that he’s very passionate about helping people. He’s a full-time Physical Therapist, but he also operates a coaching business. When we first chatted, he told me that he felt that people with long haul COVID are under diagnosed and that he was very interested in helping me navigate how best to try and manage my symptoms. We started meeting for in-person strength sessions twice weekly in late March 2021. These sessions also include elements designed to help the cognitive and vestibular system issues that I experience.
By May 2021, I was feeling better enough to start cycling regularly. At this point, Coach Adam started coaching all of my workout sessions. A lot of my workout schedule was very dependent on how I was feeling on a given day, and it took us a bit of trial and error to figure out a good rhythm of workouts for me that wouldn’t send me into a fatigue or cognitive overload.
Before I got sick, I needed far less sleep than I do now; I now need (on average) two more hours of sleep per night plus a nap during the day in order to be alert and mentally focused during my daily activities. I also recovered much better from physical activity before. The long haul COVID makes it so that I need to carefully monitor and manage any physical activity I do. This includes cleaning my house, mowing the lawn, being on my feet for work, and of course, workouts. Any slight overreach in any of those areas causes me to go into what I now call a “bad fatigue period” for several days afterward. As such, I try to limit overreaches. :)
Throughout the summer, Coach Adam and I continued to work on building me “back up.” I was seeing progress, but it was very slow (relative to the rate I used to progress at prior to getting sick). He also helped me address some lingering strength deficiencies that have existed since I broke my left arm in 2015 and had bone harvested from my left hip to save my left arm in 2017.
By late September 2021, Coach Adam felt it was safe to try to include running as part of my workout schedule. (Swimming was and still is off the table indefinitely due to my vestibular system symptoms.) He built up my running very gradually, and things were going pretty well. I needed to be mindful of my heart rate (a higher heart rate causes me to experience vertigo and blackout symptoms), but as long as I used a run/walk strategy and kept an eye on my heart rate, running was safe for me to do.
A week out from the 2021 Dunn Tire Mountain Goat Run, I asked Coach Adam what he thought about me running it since I was registered. (I had registered for it when it opened back in November 2020.) I had built up to about five miles in training, but I didn’t want to push to do the race just for the sake of doing the race. I wanted to make sure it was a smart choice and one that wouldn’t set me back in my progress.
Coach Adam felt that I had durability from the twice weekly strength/physical therapy sessions he and I had been doing together for seven months, and he also felt that the cardio-respiratory endurance I had built from cycling would serve me well. As such, he gave me the all-clear to run the race.
This year’s Dunn Tire Mountain Goat Run was and is significant to me for many reasons. Way back when, it was the first long-distance running event I ever did, and it (and its challenging course) taught me that I could do hard things. I’ve always felt that Mountain Goat Sunday is one of Syracuse’s best days of the year, and this race truly fills my heart with joy and makes me so proud to be from Syracuse. As such, I’ve run this race nine times; running it in 2021 would bring my total to ten. It felt right to me that the first event that I would attempt to complete after having COVID-19 and while living with long haul COVID would be the Dunn Tire Mountain Goat Run.
So, on Sunday, October 24, 2021, I toed the start line of the Dunn Tire Mountain Goat Run. I stuck to the plan of running three minutes, then walking for a minute. I ran on feel (aiming for an easier endurance effort), but also kept an eye on my heart rate to try and minimize the number of vertigo experiences I had on-course (ultimately, I only had two). Four minutes at a time, I worked my way through the ten hilly miles of this race course.
As I passed through each section of the course, I saw friends who I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic started. At the top of Stolp Avenue, I saw Coach Adam. He told me that I was doing great, and I replied that that was nice of him to say, but that I was only 2.5 miles in. :) As I ran through Strathmore, I couldn’t help but grin as I saw the great time that the neighborhood was having at the Goat Fest. I waved at little kids and high-fived my friends that were spectating along the course. In Upper Onondaga Park, I teared up when looking at the skyline of the City of Syracuse. On this clear, bright autumn day, the city never looked better.
I descended from Upper Onondaga Park and headed into new territory - a course change! I didn’t realize that the course had changed. (Shame on me; I didn’t look at a course map before race day since I thought I knew the course.) I loved the new section that takes runners through the Creekwalk. As I ran through the Mile 5 Aid Station and Relay Exchange Point, I teared up again, knowing that I was crossing the barrier to be on the longest run I’ve done since before I got sick.
I greeted Colvin Hill like an old friend, and felt every lyric of “Stayin’ Alive” (played live by Letizia and the Z Band) poignantly in my heart. Running through Syracuse University brought back memories of many, many training runs that I ran in that area when I first moved to Syracuse. Entering Thornden Park felt like coming home; the race’s last hill welcomed me and I ran to the top, getting emotional again and not quite believing that I was still feeling strong and good with more than eight miles under my belt.
The descent back down to the city was adventurous this year due to road construction, but it still provided a welcome change from the climbing. As I ran down East Genesee Street, and passed Mile 9, I knew that I was definitely going to finish the Mountain Goat Run, and do so feeling strong.
Rounding the final turn onto South Salina Street, I was overcome with a lot of emotions. I haven’t felt like myself in a very long time, and some days I do feel pretty poorly. But seeing the finish line and heading toward it made me feel - even if just for a minute - like my old self again.
And so, nine months to the day after my COVID-19 fever broke, I finished my tenth Dunn Tire Mountain Goat Run. Coach Adam was waiting to greet me with a hug at the finish line. I think (know) I startled him because I was crying pretty heavily when I saw him. I was so happy to cross that finish line and I was - and am - so, so grateful for his helping me to come this far.
I’ve said it often, but I say it because it’s true: Endurance sports is not all about the tangibles, such as the time on a finish line clock. Some days, endurance sports is about celebrating being and feeling alive, carrying the memories of our loved ones in our hearts, expressing gratitude that our bodies can do what we ask of them, and sharing experiences with friends.
This year - more than any other year - I’m thankful that the Dunn Tire Mountain Goat Run is still here to show me that I can do hard things.
Coach Laura Henry
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.