Falk Levien depends upon his bike to take him away. Long Covid Syndrome is trying to steal it from him. He is taking it back with the help of virtual cycling.
Falk Levien relies upon his bike. He doesn’t need it to take him to the grocery store or even to smell the roses. Falk’s bike takes him to a place that only he knows. His bike transcends dimension and space, transporting him to a world where the comfort of fond memories reverses time. He pedals to a place where life was as he knew it.
Falk’s Cycling Story
“I got into cycling in early 2019, after my wife passed away, mainly cycling to and from her grave. But cycling quickly turned into a way of dealing with my grief,” explains Falk, whose wife passed away from the neuromuscular disease Polymyositis.
Falk Levien (Saxony, Germany) felt empty and without purpose. “Riding my bike was the first thing that gave me joy in life again,” notes Falk.
Falk is a musician who plays in a 60’s Beat band and is the primary caregiver for his ninety-year-old grandparents. He began sharing rides with his “shockingly fit” father, and once a year, they enjoy a hiking and cycling vacation.
“The year that my dad and I went on our first cycling vacation, it showed me that I had a lot of training to do,” he recalls fondly. When the coronavirus pandemic stopped him from performing music, he invested more time in training. Falk taught himself about cycling training theory and broadened his knowledge of sports science.
A Whole New World
To add more structure and begin training with a power meter Falk purchased a cheap, second-hand smart trainer in the summer of 2020. “It opened up the world of virtual cycling to me,” he states excitedly.
During the pandemic lockdown, Falk increased his training volume and intensity. He gained confidence and stepped from his comfort zone to try racing, admitting that “I was not a racer.” He was noticed, recruited to a team, and drafted by a team time trial squad. Find Falk’s Strava Profile here.
“Then, in May of 2021, I contracted COVID myself, while being in peak shape,” laments Falk. The improvements he made cycling during the pandemic gave him a sense of purpose. Now the virus threatened to steal it all away.
Timeline of Falk’s Covid-19 Diagnosis and Infection
Monday, May 10th – “In my last few days on the bike before contracting Covid, I posted my highest ever power numbers during a team time trial series with my squad, easily doing two minute turns at 400W repeatedly.”
Tuesday, May 11th – “I woke up feeling slightly sick and blamed it on my efforts, so I decided to stay off the bike and see what happened.”
Wednesday, May 12th – My symptoms got worse throughout the day, and my tonsils began to hurt, so I started self-isolating and put any workouts on hold.”
Thursday, May 13th – When I woke up, I felt proper sick and developed a fever. My family got me an LFT (lateral flow test) strip, which immediately turned a positive result.”
What Are Your Goals For The Future, Falk?
- To make a full recovery and inspire people to see that it’s possible despite all of the challenges and setbacks there are along the way.
- I plan on making my return to racing on 1st January 2022, obviously given I feel it’s safe for me to race again by then.
- My final vision is to achieve or even exceed the fitness goals I had before covid and with my team, putting that fitness to the use I had planned for it.
The Symptoms of COVID That Brought Falk Down
Falk described the immediate effects of Covid-19 infection as “really not that bad.” He experienced a fever, a bit of a cough, and a solid headache but remarked, “every common cold I ever had was worse than this.”
Falk could not say the same for the other symptoms he experienced. In addition to lingering headaches, Falk developed severe sleeping issues, ranging from insomnia to difficulty waking up. He had no desire to eat for many days, recalling, “I could eat normally. My body didn’t send me any signals of hunger at all.”
Falk also experienced dizziness, vertigo, and other balance and orientation issues. He was weak and tired quickly, very easily. The cold-like symptoms subsided within a week, but the others lingered.
Timeline of Falk’s Long Covid Diagnosis
Saturday, May 22nd – “A few days after my main symptoms were gone, I carefully tried very light exercise, which didn’t go too bad as long as it stayed easy. I took a light walk and a short ride at recovery pace.”
Tuesday, May 25th – “When I tried upping things to Zone 2, my body immediately shut down, I had severe headaches, and I felt sick again.”
May 31st – “I tried again to up things, but it wasn’t good, and I felt sick again.”
Sunday, June 6th – “I started feeling better and decided to join my Dad on a cycling holiday a week later. I planned to do more hiking than cycling and keep it easy.”
June 11th through the 20th – “Something snapped, and I got stupid. At that point, I had essentially been locked away, only staring at my walls for a month. The weather was amazing, so the hikes got long, taking all day. And I did ride my bike, which in that very hilly area necessarily meant going hard. But I didn’t care anymore, and I was feeling great.”
Monday, June 21st – “The day after we came home, I woke up feeling sick again. I had a high fever, and my kidneys started acting up. I was completely down and out for two weeks. That started long Covid for me.”
What is Long COVID?
Most individuals infected with COVID-19 get better within weeks or have no symptoms at all. However, some experience a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing problems several weeks to months after being initially infected.
Post-Covid conditions, also known as long COVID or long-haul COVID, can present as different types and combinations of health problems for varying lengths of time. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and experts around the world are trying to learn more. Who gets long COVID and why remains poorly understood.
As of July 2021, “long COVID,” also known as post-COVID conditions, can be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The Effects of Long COVID Devastated Falk Mentally and Physically
Once a highly conditioned endurance athlete who prided himself on a scary low resting heart rate, Falk’s heart rate shot up to triple digits when he tried to get up off the couch. Falk recalls, “I experienced shortness of breath, fatigue, and extreme brain fog. My heart was frequently pounding to my neck. I had headaches all the time and couldn’t sleep anymore.”
When a cardiologist ordered Falk not to perform any exercise due to his excessively high resting heart rate, even for an unfit person, he was devastated. It also destroyed him mentally, as he explains, “Long COVID took cycling away from me and gave me too much time with my thoughts.”
“Virtual cycling and the people I have met have been the driving force in my return to life after losing my wife, which made it so devastating when COVID kept me off the bike,” he recalls with mixed emotions.
Falk is Committed to Making a Comeback
Monday, August 2nd – “I did my first bike ride after being free of any spikes of fever or illness, starting conservatively by setting a heart rate limit of 135 bpm. I determined that COVID had cut my maximum aerobic function in half from 200W to just a notch above 100W.”
Tuesday, August 10th – “This time around, I wanted to do things right. I stuck to a plan. I took short slow rides and often went for walks instead of cycling. I didn’t feel comfortable getting back on the bike yet.”
Monday, August 30th – “I carefully brought some intensity back in, but this time in a controlled, structured, and measured way. I set myself a precise frame for my training—five hours a week with the careful introduction of VO2 max sessions.
Falk is Lifted by His Virtual Cycling Community
Falk has stuck to his plan and is pleased with the minor signs of fitness improvement and the significant effect on his well-being. Falk credits this mainly in part to virtual cycling and the community support, remarking, “I have an amazing group of people there, rooting for me and looking forward to my return. Most I’ve never met in person, but I call my friends, nonetheless, who listen and have the perfect things to say when I am at my lowest.”
What Does Virtual Cycling Mean to You, Falk?
- It is quite cathartic for me in that it helps me deal with my emotional struggles, first and foremost the loss of my wife, of course.
- Cycling virtually, I have met a fantastic group of people worldwide who have accepted me amongst them. The community helped and supported me when I was at my lowest and challenged me to become the best athlete I could be.
- I don’t think I’d be doing any other sport if not for cycling, and I honestly don’t know how I would have dealt with everything that way.
- “I love the friends I made, the pain, and I enjoy a controlled training environment.”
Conclusion - If He Had It To Do All Over Again?
Falk asks himself a question for which there is no answer, but his logical explanation is profound and potentially life-changing to anyone in his situation. “Could I have avoided contracting long COVID and three months off the bike if I approached the return to cycling in a more patient manner?” he asks.
No one will ever know. It is a possibility. Falk does see that it wasn’t worth it and emphasizes, “Going hard into it again, I gained nothing, riding a lot for a few days and then not at all for months.”
The tradeoff for Falk being, “Even if I would have gotten long COVID anyway, I gained nothing and would have been off the bike either way. The health risk was definitely NOT worth it!”
Falk leaves us with this profound and potentially life-changing advice. “I encourage everyone to make a trial of my story and take it slow and easy for a long time, even after a light COVID infection.” I’ll heed that warning, and you should take Falk’s advice too.
Have you suffered the devastating effects of COVID infection and returned to cycling? Comment below! Your fellow virtual cyclists want to know your experience.
For more incredibly inspirational stories highlighting the extraordinary ordinary members of the virtual cycling community check out the Community Page on The ZOM!
Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site.
In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, TheDIRTDadFund. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.
You will read him promoting his passion on the pages of Cycling Weekly, Cycling News, road.cc, Zwift Insider, Endurance.biz, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!