Dr. Michael Joyner, the Guy Who Predicted the Sub-2:00 Marathon, Now Helping Lead the COVID-19 Fight

By LetsRun.com
April 11, 2019

Dr. Michael Joyner of the Mayo Clinic is best known in running circles as being the guy who in 1991 published a paper saying a human being could run a marathon in 1:57:58. Joyner, an anesthesiologist and physiologist by trade, now is using his skills on a much more serious matter by helping lead the National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project (CCPP19). The CCPP19 is a nationwide effort of researchers, institutions, and blood blanks to try to use plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients to better treat patients suffering from COVID-19.

“What we’re trying to do is leverage the antibodies produced by people who have recovered from COVID-19. Harvest those antibodies from recovered patients and then give these antibodies in the form of plasma to people to either prevent disease in people that have been exposed but aren’t yet sick, to treat people who are in the hospital and try to keep them from going to the intensive care unit, or to try to shorten the stay in the intensive care unit. This is called convalescent plasma therapy. It’s been around since the late 1800s. It’s worked numerous times before,” said Joyner on this week’s LetsRun.com Track Talk Podcast.

Dr. Joyner via @DrMJoyner

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Joyner said the goal is for people to continue to practice social distancing and proper pandemic control while groups like his develop better short-term treatments for COVID-19 before a vaccine can be made to really stop the virus.

“We believe it’s our best shot on kind of [a] biological goal in the short run, and then after that, we anticipate concentrated gamma globulin, like antibodies, [being] available toward the end of the summer. And then we are waiting for the vaccine and biotech cavalry to come to the rescue,” Joyner said.

Running did play a tangential role in getting Joyner involved with CCPP19. Joyner has always been interested in oxygen transport and physiology because of his days as a competitive runner at the University of Arizona. Recently, Joyner was on Twitter and he saw a retweet by David Epstein, the former Columbia 800m runner and former ProPublica journalist who, along with the BBC, broke the allegations that Alberto Salazar and the Nike Oregon Project were breaking anti-doping rules.

The retweet was a link to a Wall Street Journal article by Dr. Arturo Casadevall on using antibodies to try to treat the coronavirus:

Casadevall is a friend of Joyner’s and Joyner reached out to him to see if he could help. They started talking, the FDA was doing something similar on a parallel path, and eventually a bunch of people came together to create the CCPP19.

Right now the project is in its infancy as there is a time lag of 28 to 42 days between someone getting infected with COVID-19 and being able to donate plasma. But recovered patients can donate multiple times and this type of treatment has found success with other illnesses. Twenty-five people have received treatment at Mt. Sinai in New York, and there are positive reports out of China, according to Joyner.

Coordinating plasma donations throughout the country and matching them up with patients is a logistical challenge, but one that Joyner said running has helped prepare him for.

(If you have tested positive for COVID-19 and would like to help the project, click here for more information on how to donate).

“I think the skills sets that have helped me be involved in the leadership of this program nationally are really skill sets I learned in distance running. One is to set an intermediate goal. Two is to get up every day and try to take a bite out of the problem. And three is to recognize not every day is going to be a good day. And then fourth, to understand, you know, the general principles of interval training is to take a bite out of it, get some rest, come out and take another bite, and so forth,” he said.

Joyner realizes the fight against COVID-19 is not a smooth one, but dealing with setbacks is something every runner goes through with their daily training.

“You obviously want to have every day be a good day but a few bad days or bad interval workout or bad run or whatever it is, you know, don’t let that get you down too far and just get up the next morning and go out for your morning run.”

Speaking of running, Joyner encouraged people to continue doing it as long as it is legal in their area and can be done in a socially distant way.

“I think banning running is a bit draconian provided people are out by themselves on the trail someplace, and not exposing themselves to large numbers of individuals,” he said.

For those of you not able to run, Joyner said, “God made jump ropes for a reason.” Because of an injury, Joyner himself has been doing more cycling and high-volume calisthenics than running. He also tries to fit in a set of push-ups or pull-ups between conference calls.

Joyner has praise for two of his running coaches, Larry Schloss, who introduced him to running, and his college coach Dave Murray, for teaching him life lessons that have helped him now. “Those guys really taught me basics of organization, intermediate goal setting, and how you can apply the lessons of endurance sports and distance running to the rest of your life. And I can tell you that 40 years later, it’s really paying off right now.”

You can listen to our full interview with Joyner on the LetsRun.com Track Talk Podcast in the player below or here on your favorite podcast app. Click here [71:02] to start listening where Joyner joins the podcast.

From the archives: Guest Column By Dr. Michael Joyner: Kipchoge’s Run & What Might (or Might Not) Happen Next

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