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DeNucci goes from front lines of ultras to front lines of pandemic

By Henry Howard

As an ultra runner, Chris DeNucci’s 2020 season has been altered due to the coronavirus. So, too, has his full-time professional career as a radiologist.

Most people in his line of work would have direct contact with patients on a regular basis. However, DeNucci does teleradiology so he works remotely for a company and his clients are all over the United States, primarily on the East Coast and the Midwest.

“We cover a lot of their after-hours work and we mainly cover emergency department's ICUs,” said DeNucci, who is planning a move from California to an island in the Pacific Northwest. “Most of the cases we get are coming from those sort of facilities. A lot of times we’re covering for radiologists who otherwise would be working overnight.”

While he hasn’t had to navigate new protocols in working with patients, DeNucci has a unique perspective on how COVID-19 took hold in the American health-care system.

“I know there was a lot of talk that maybe things weren't as bad in certain places,” he recalls. “I guess a lot of people were informed by their local circles. You know, well, ‘I don't know anyone who was affected,’ so it's really hard for it to hit home.”

Witness to a pandemic

But the pandemic spread and DeNucci was privy to seeing the initial spikes like Georgia in March. In fact, he and other radiologists were among those who first spotted and alerted physicians that patients might have COVID.

“Patients would come in believing they're having respiratory distress,” he recalls. “They didn't really know the cause and a lot of places weren't too suspicious for coronavirus right up front and they didn't have good access to testing. And some of the places I cover still don't as far as rapid testing. So it was interesting that we were seeing certain findings specifically on CT that were pretty characteristic for COVID-19 associated pneumonia. And that's the main finding, I guess the most common finding that we'll end up seeing in patients that are presenting to the emergency department. But from the kind of national and international groups of radiologists, they were quick to report their cases and describe the imaging findings which are different from other viral infections.”

This goes back to the time when many emergency room personnel were not wearing personal protective equipment.

“One case that really stood out to me was one of the emergency room physicians that I work with,” he says. “He was actually infected probably through contact with one of his patients early on. He ended up doing well. But it reminded me that all the physicians and other medical providers that I work with on a day-to-day basis are at high risk and can get infected as well.”

Something old, something new, something in quarantine

DeNucci and Jenny Maier were married in January, just before the coronavirus became active in the U.S. It was a time of normalcy. Everyone was able to travel to the wedding. The bride and groom went on their honeymoon to Hawaii. But as they returned to California, things were different.

“California had initiated lockdowns; it felt like a zombie apocalypse when we arrived back,” he recalls. “We had been kind buffered from it not being in the area. We came back from our honeymoon directly into a quarantine. It was kind of a shock.”

DeNucci was in one of the hardest-hit states. While he dealt with the coronavirus professionally, he also had time to reflect on running.

“It's been hard just to set definite goals that are associated with events during this time, as we all know,” he says. “I know people have had things on the calendar and things were canceled. As runners, a lot of us find running provides structure throughout our year. That structure got wiped out as far as planning and setting things out for the year.”

They both cleared their calendars of racing and traveling, and backed off training.

“I've just been running when it feels good and running as far or short as I feel like,” he says. “That part of the flexibility is what was working for me. So, it's been good to be able to just run and not necessarily have a goal.”

Running for joy

As a side benefit, DeNucci has rediscovered the joy of running.

“When you're put in those situations, it also makes you re-evaluate,” he says, striking a similar theme to when we first did an interview. “Is running something I really love, or is it the competing and the goal setting aspect of it? So for me, I enjoy running and I enjoy the training and the process of doing that. And some of that is part of the organizing as far as the training and setting yourself up for a goal. But I found that I still do just enjoy running even without the goal aspect of it. So I guess for me, it kind of reinvigorated that aspect of it, of just getting out on our local roads and trails once we felt like there were just safe enough places to run.”

DeNucci has also picked up rowing as a way to cross-train. “It's definitely a challenging workout and something new to explore with keeping up fitness.”

He’s sticking to a day-to-day approach. He’s not injured so he continues to train for fitness. Once his safety concerns are alleviated, he seems himself lining up at a start line again.

“I'm hoping to be able to do some races in the coming year and one of the ones that I always am excited to try to get back to is Western States,” he says, suggesting he’ll try a Golden Ticket race in 2021. “I haven't lost that spark yet. I turned 40 last year and my big goals this year were to do my first year master's running and that was kind of squashed from the racing standpoint.”

Island destination

Since both DeNuccis work remotely, they opted to leave the San Francisco Bay area and explore somewhere new.

“We were pretty open to move anywhere, which can actually make your decision a little harder when you have infinite possibilities of where you could go,” he says. “We had talked about a lot of different places and ended up choosing the Pacific Northwest. Part of that decision was because at this point, we haven't been able to see family very much in person. I haven't seen my family at all but we've been able to see some of Jenny's family in California with appropriate social distancing.

“In a time when we're not seeing many people in person, moving to an island doesn't seem like such a bad idea, at least for a year or two.”

It will be an adventure for sure. And there will be new trails to explore.

DeNucci admits his racing calendar has previously focused on races in California. The new location means he’ll likely be taking on some races in the Pacific Northwest, once things open up. “It’ll be a good time for me to start exploring some of those as things open up and we move forward. That’s exciting to me, as well.”

As DeNucci settles in to his new environment, he’ll continue his remote work as a radiologist and his running for joy.

“We’re all feeling a little disoriented,” he summarizes. “It's a wild time and I'm hoping we get some semblance of normalcy coming back into our lives. Everyone's had a little different experience with this virus. We're all kind of a work in progress and need to stay flexible and find joy in the things we can do in this time instead of being upset about the things you can't.”

Speed drill

Name: Chris DeNucci

Hometown: Gaithersburg, Md.

Number of years running: 10 years

How many miles a week do you typically run: 50-70 miles

Point of pride: 5:56 beer mile

Favorite race distance: 100K to 100 mile

Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Anything with almond butter

Favorite piece of gear: Naked Running Band

Favorite or inspirational song to run to: AC/DC Thunderstruck

Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: Keep going. Never quit.

Where can other runners connect or follow you:

  • Website:

  • Instagram: @thedenuch

  • Twitter: @thedenuch

  • Strava: /

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