Emerging from the aftermath of Long Covid, Finnish runner Sanna Kivelä shares her journey of resilience and rediscovery on the uncharted path of trail running.
The pandemic granted Finnish runner Sanna Kivelä an unexpected training boost, allowing her to focus on her passion during the lockdown. However, when she contracted Covid-19 in 2022, it hit her so hard physically that she was knocked from road running into the world of trail running.
A Journey of Resilience and Rediscovery
During her childhood, Sanna played many sports, ranging from football and floorball to orienteering, but it was always for fun. Maintaining this carefree attitude, she carried the same philosophy into her adult years when she took up running about a decade ago. She fondly refers to this activity as her dedicated time for "me, myself, and I."
“At first, I only did road running, 10ks, and half-marathons. But during the 18 months following the first lockdown in 2020, I suddenly had plenty of time to train because I work as a restaurant worker. I ran my personal best in several road-distance training sessions then, but it suddenly ended when I caught Covid in June 2022.”
It took ten slow months to start recovering from the virus’ impact on her sympathetic nervous system, which controls various involuntary bodily functions, such as heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate. “Sometimes my hand was shaking, and the heartbeat was fast. My recovery level was zero.”
The following April, she was disinterested in road running and, despite being in the worst shape of her life, decided to try trail running. “In the beginning, most training was done at a walking pace, but the trails were fun, and there were no previous times to compare myself against. It was a completely new thing, so it was easy to set goals due to my poor condition. Trail running also gave me much more physical and mental energy than road running.”
During that same period, Sanna began working with coach Aki Nummela, who helped plan her weekly training schedule. “Without him, it's easy to feel I am not doing enough and end up doing too much. He helps remind me that today's running pace should make me happy and that progress from the previous week is rewarding. We have a new me.”
Embracing Challenges and Inspiring Others
The new Sanna Kivelä made her first competitive appearance at the Bodom Trail in May 2023, running 12k and feeling great as she crossed the finish line. However, the race wasn’t without its problems.
“As a newcomer to the sport, I didn't know about the trail markers guiding the way. I asked my fellow runners at the start line whether to follow the red or yellow ones. The ground was so wet that the mud pulled the shoe from my foot. It was an experience that doesn’t happen in road running.”
She has observed a distinct challenge between the two disciplines, noting the struggle to maintain a consistent rhythm in trail running. Vertical training, especially on downhill sections, has proven to be particularly demanding. Despite these differences, she expresses no longing for road running. “I am happy to be a pacer. I never want to run that fast on the road again.”
Since Bodom, she has participated in the Helsinki Trail Run and finished in the top ten of the Aulanko Tower Trail 13k. “It was a good race for me. I had a lot of control and didn’t run with maximum effort. It was a good end to the season. Next year, I plan to run four or five Trail Tour races, including the Vaarojen Maraton 43 km and one road race as a pacer.”
If the marathon goes well, she will consider other goals. “People frequently ask about a possible 100-mile race or even further, but I’m still uncertain. Similarly, I frequently face questions about the challenges of juggling training with my job as a shift worker in the hospitality industry since I typically have 40-hour weeks and irregular morning and evening shifts.”
The solution is a weekly workout schedule from her coach, which she can use to strategically plan around. “Finding recovery periods can be difficult. On my rest days, I might find myself working a nine-hour shift on my feet, carrying plates. While it may be a day without running, it doesn't necessarily mean a true recovery day.”
She emphasizes the importance of maintaining an open mind about what is normal. “If you run at five in the morning and go to bed at nine in the evening, this is your normal. For me, I invest in sleep and food. Additionally, a few times a month, I treat myself to a one-hour session in a float tank, immersing myself in complete darkness and silence, allowing every muscle to relax.”
Self-care is also at the heart of her new Trail Tour Finland ambassador role. “I want to inspire others to run among nature and take better care of themselves. Whether you are good or bad, trail running is for everybody. It is beautiful, and I want to pass on the message. I recommend everyone to give it a try. Without Long Covid, I would have never discovered it myself.”
Are you feeling inspired by Sanna Kivelä's incredible journey? Embark on your trail-running adventure today by Free Fueling Coaching.