Orla Walsh, a three-time national champion and track cyclist with Cycling Ireland, got her start bike commuting. Earlier this month, she was diagnosed with COVID-19, and it was her Whoop Strap that prompted her to take a break from the gym and get tested. Here’s how her tracker alerted her something was wrong and what her recovery has been like.

I was training as normal on Saturday and Sunday (January 2 and 3), and I was planning to go to the national sports campus in Ireland on Monday morning for my gym session. I had developed a very slight cough that weekend, but thought it was exercise-induced as I’d done some really hard efforts on Saturday.

It was only when I woke up Monday morning that my Whoop (I use the Whoop Strap 3.0 and wear it on my wrist to track my health) clocked a dramatic increase in my respiratory rate. Typically, my respirations per minute (rpm) average is 15.8, but it had spiked to 17.9 rpm at the onset of symptoms. My average resting heart rate was up nearly 10 beats per minute (typically it hovers between 53 and 56 bmp), and my heart rate variability (HRV) had dropped to 40, when previously it reached 57 and higher. This raised the alarm that it was more than some intervals causing my cough.

orla walsh tracker covid 19
Walsh’s first sign something wasn’t right.
Orla Walsh

I didn’t have a fever or any other symptoms typically associated with COVID-19, but the dramatic lack of recovery, as indicated on my Whoop, was evidence enough that my body was fighting some sort of infection, which is why I decided to skip the gym, self-isolate, and book a COVID-19 test.

By Tuesday evening I was confirmed positive for COVID-19.

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Up until that point, I actually hadn’t missed any training, as I didn’t feel sick. My power numbers and heart rate were no different than they usually were during my sessions. It was only on Monday morning that my Whoop recovery data confirmed there was something wrong.

Luckily, I had a very mild case. I was chesty and had a dry cough for a few days, a slightly raised temperature (no real fever), and fatigue. I also lost my sense of smell which is a strange, but a common symptom.

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Over the course of my illness, I tracked my respiratory rate, resting heart rate, and HRV to make sure that I was returning to full health. (You can see more stats saved to the “COVID-19” highlight on my Instagram profile.) My resting heart rate has continued to drop each day, meaning I’m recovering well (even more than I normally get to recover), and my respiratory rate is back to my normal range. My recovery took about a week.

orla walsh tracker covid 19
Walsh tracked her recovery.
Orla Walsh

The protocol for returning to sport is very cautious. There have been reports of post-viral heart issues, so I am easing back into training after being completely symptom-free for seven days. (I started gentle exercise on January 14).

I plan to keep my training very easy for the first week or two, keeping my heart rate in the lower zones. And, I will likely do some heart-rate monitoring before I do any really hard efforts again. I plan to monitor how I feel and how my body responds and recovers.

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Anyone interested in joining Whoop can get their first month free via Welsh’s link here.

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