Ultra-marathon runner, 40, reveals how he manages 'living hell' of long COVID

Alexandra Thompson
·6-min read
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Luke Hanson (pictured before he became unwell) believes taking scheduled breaks has enabled him to manage his long COVID. (Supplied: Luke Hanson)

A father has opened up about the “living hell” of long COVID.

Luke Hanson, 40, from Bristol, believes he caught the coronavirus while skiing in France in February.

After enduring mild fatigue, aches and brain fog with the infection itself, the symptoms became more severe over time.

Used to running ultra-marathons, Hanson continued to train, until the strain of vigorous exercise and home schooling his two children left him “struggling to get through a day”.

Things took a turn for the worse when Hanson was too exhausted to get out of the bath, leaving him lying in the water for hours.

Read more: What is long COVID?

Deciding to take matters into his own hands, Hanson came across a psychotherapist and self-professed “fatigue coach” online at the beginning of September.

She taught Hanson the importance of resting, with the father-of-two now lying on his bed for around an hour twice a day.

Hanson believes this scheduled downtime has enabled him to manage his long COVID, with the keen cyclist now able to ride his bike for up to three hours.

Watch: What is long COVID?

Hanson was never swabbed for the coronavirus, however, doctors have told him his symptoms fit the bill.

An antibody test also came back negative, however, these are thought to wane after several months.

Antibodies are immune-fighting proteins released by the immune system to stop an infection that has already been overcome from taking hold again.

Believing to have caught the coronavirus in France, Hanson only developed mild symptoms once back home.

His wife was also never swabbed for the infection, but endured a persistent headache.

Read more: Two-thirds of hospitalised coronavirus patients endure long COVID seven weeks after discharge

“I was relatively fine initially,” Hanson told Yahoo UK.

“I’m not unusual in that my symptoms deteriorated over time.

“I tried to continue with normal life, which I think was to my detriment.

“I was trying to be active – run, ski, cycle, do gym work.

“Being an athlete you teach yourself to ignore pain, which is the worst thing you can do with COVID [the disease caused by the coronavirus].”

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Hanson (pictured before he became unwell) used to run ultra-marathons. He has recently started going on short jogs again. (Supplied: Luke Hanson)

“By April I couldn’t run anymore,” he said. “By May I just struggled to get through a day really.

“Some days I’d be sort of okay and other days phenomenally fatigued.

“I had a really hard day and had a bath. I couldn’t get out. I sat there for a number of hours then managed to summon the strength.”

Read more: Long COVID given official diagnosis

With long COVID not much of a conversation at the start of the outbreak, Hanson thought he was “going mad”.

“When I really started to struggle by May, my mental health completely fell apart,” he said.

“I didn’t know if I was going mad or developing ME [myalgic encephalomyelitis or chronic fatigue syndrome].

“My mental health went into a complete tailspin, the saving grace being that my wife is a psychologist.”

‘You need to imagine your energy levels as a battery’

Having run a project management consultancy firm, Hanson was financially comfortable enough to stop working in mid-2019.

“I stopped work to do more running,” he said.

Hanson also took on the role of home schooling his 10-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter, neither of whom ever developed coronavirus symptoms, during the UK’s first lockdown.

By June, home schooling the children had become “untenable”. Due to Hanson’s wife being a key worker, the youngsters were able to go back to school during lockdown.

It was around this time Hanson first heard about the phenomenon of long COVID.

“I read an article and thought ‘wow these symptoms feel very familiar’,” he said.

Hanson did not initially seek help, however.

“I continued to deteriorate,” said Hanson.

“By August I struggled to get up; had whole days in bed or sitting in the living room watching telly.”

Read more: Long COVID may trigger skin symptoms

The next month, Hanson contacted psychotherapist Pamela Rose after coming across her online.

The father-of-two believes speaking to someone who grasped chronic fatigue was the first step in his recovery.

“A really key point was allyship; another human being who fully understood what I was going through,” he said.

Rose taught Hanson about the importance of pacing yourself throughout the day.

“You need to imagine your energy levels as a battery and use that energy throughout the day,” he said.

“For me, resting was [once] watching the telly or reading a book, but you need to include cognitive effort.”

Hanson began taking regular breaks, even if he felt energetic at the time.

“I would put myself to bed and close my eyes, possibly sleep, but really doing nothing,” he said.

“I would cut the lawn, have a rest, maybe cut the rest of the lawn later – prioritising my health rather than thinking about what needs doing.

“Also planning your rest rather than waiting until you’re tired, when it’s already too late.

“If you overdo it one day because you’re feeling good, 24 to 48 hours later you get massively taken down.”

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Hanson (pictured before he developed long COVID) used to enjoy vigorous cycling. He has recently started riding for a few hours a week. (Supplied: Luke Hanson)

‘Take time over recovery’

Hanson “stopped getting post-exertional malaise” in September, the same month he started working with Rose.

“I have made a huge recovery,” he said.

“I’ve been back riding a bike for about two weeks, up to two to three hours at a time.

“I started jogging. I once ran ultra-marathons but my runs have been 4km (2.4 miles).”

While it sounds like positive progressive, Hanson has not forgotten to rest.

“I look for cues I may be starting to overdo stuff,” he said. “I don’t exercise on consecutive days.”

Hanson has not changed any other aspect of his lifestyle, with the keen athlete already not drinking or smoking, and having a healthy diet.

The father-of-two has undergone private scans, which suggest the coronavirus has not damaged his organs, leaving him optimistic for the future.

When asked if he may run an ultra-marathon again, Hanson said: “At the moment I would say yes. I think I’m on the road to recovery.

“What I’m not sure about is if I’ll recover to the same energy levels. I don’t even know what it feels like to have an abundance of energy.”

Speaking to people who do not take coronavirus restrictions seriously, Hanson said: “COVID is nasty. It’s not just asymptomatic or two weeks of flu-like symptoms.

“For me, it’s been a living hell.

“If you do get COVID, really respect the illness. Take time over the recovery.”

Watch: Can you catch coronavirus twice?