My COVID vaccine experience – Darren Lee

A band showing brand colours of CicloZone, an indoor cycling app

I hadn’t written anything regarding COVID until now as I believe that my opinions and choices were personal to me and I didn’t want to jump on any bandwagons or jump to any false conclusions without all the facts, especially early in the vaccine rollout. To my knowledge I haven’t caught COVID, or at least I hadn’t noticed if I had, but being on the other side of 50 I got called up for my 1st Vaccine shot in March. With my elderly parents to consider and based on the facts I had, I decided to take it… this was March 26th 2021…

As everyone knows I am pretty in touch with my physical cycling ability on a metric level and have been for over 20 years. From HR max and FTHR to Threshold power and V02, I have generally always known where I was at physically, as when loading for races my training routine relied entirely on the metrics I delivered. 

Prior to my 1st vaccine I was on good form. An FTP level of 282, 3.85 watts/kg with Max HR of 191 and an ability to hit supra threshold power for around 180 secs.

After taking the 1st dose I had a mild cold for 2 days but quickly recovered, feeling normal on day 3, and then I got back on the bike. My 1st session back, I noticed a dramatic change- my aerobic capacity had just disappeared, my FTP was now just simply unattainable with any venture in V02 max, resulting in me literally collapsing on the bike after 30 seconds of effort and unable to continue for minutes after, with a 45 minute class simply not possible. 

After addressing this on a training level by retaking my FTP test, it resulted in a new level of 231 watts, down 51 watts from less than a week prior, and even at this new level I struggled to spend any real time in the red zones… hell I ruptured medial ligaments in my right knee in 2003 and didn’t lose this much power. I was in  shock, day to day I felt fine but at the sharp end of my training I was really affected. I kept quiet, assessing the situation, treating it as an injury and deciding to do as I always have, head down, train my structured profiles, take my supplements and train this thing out.

8 weeks after my 1st jab, my second dose was due and I decided to take that too, in spite of the effect of the first. Mainly because I had already taken the jump 8 weeks before. Evidence, at least the media, showed the vaccine was improving the state of health of the nation in general and if nothing else I didn’t want to run the risk of catching this thing as variants now seemed to be new dangers.

 At 8 weeks, I was still down on power and recovery levels from the 1st jab but by now I identified that this wasn’t only down to inhibited Aerobic capacity, but I also simply didn’t seem able to convert calories to power in my legs. I was just physically weaker than before. 

The second jab thankfully didn’t make things any worse, in fact I didn’t get any noticeable reaction to it at all so I continued to train… and to recover. 

To address my lack of energy and lack of power, I started back on my trusty supplements of Vitamin D, citrulline and Larginine to boost the energy levels and little by little I did see improvement, but it was slow.

I am writing this now simply to document my experience and because I am reading more and more comments from athletes who have experienced similar effects. Athletes that say that on a normal day to day level they didn’t notice adverse effects from contracting COVID, or from the vaccine being administered to them, but when asking their bodies to produce the power and energy required from high intensity level activity they experienced a real loss of performance. 

Now don’t get me wrong, this is not an anti vax blog, I am pro vaccination and the danger posed by the COVID pandemic is real and present, and as a community we need to to be led by our medical advisors, and take their advice. However, in my experience there has been a price to pay. Even now I am still below my pre COVID power levels, having trained myself back up to an FTP of 260 and V02 max intervals of 120 seconds are just about sufferable, and this is 4 months after my 1st jab. 

My trick to success has been the painful acceptance that I lost power. I readdressed my FTP level to a manageable level (albeit through clenched teeth) and using CicloZone profiles I followed the COL level plan and my progression continues. All i know is that if I had continued to try to work to my pre jab FTP levels I would have either given up… or died… one of the two. Training is a journey of highs and lows and the only good training is a consistent training.

As with life in general, there will be external factors which will affect you and hold you back, the answer is consistency and structure based on your own ability and you can guarantee the highs are on their way. 

I will get back to pre-COVID fitness levels, but I truly believe that the long term effects of COVID or COVID vaccinations are real and although we will all recover, I am sure, to full health and fitness, that journey for some could be longer than for others.

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