I ran my first (and probably last) marathon in October last year. About a month later I started getting heart palpitations. I have always thrown the odd palpitation and been assessed several times by cardiologists, as I have a family history of heart disease. No matter how many times they make me run up the vertical treadmill they have always failed to kill me.
However, the sporadic nature of these palpitations changed rather dramatically just before Christmas. Now I was getting them every day for most of the day. If you have never had a palpitation the feeling is quite hard to describe. It is a bit like a cross between having butterflies in your chest and going down a roller coaster or hitting a massive air pocket, only it is happening all the time. If I take my pulse I can feel the missed beats and irregularities that correlate with the butterflies. It is amazing that my heart can be bouncing around like that without producing any symptoms.
These particular palpitations went away with exercise, which seemed like a good excuse to run, run, run. Thanks to the shorter waiting times, because of my private health insurance, I only had to wait three months to see a cardiologist.
When I finally did darken his door he just waved the palpitations away as being inconsequential, because there were no accompanying symptoms. No exercise intolerance. No shortness of breath. No chest pain. Not completely inconsequential, however, because he warned me off any future marathons. 15 km was okay, 42.2 km was not. Apparently that amount of cardiac stress for that long tends to cause myocardial fibrosis, or scarring, which can then lead to potentially fatal arrhythmias (http://running.competitor.com/2012/06/news/how-much-running-is-bad-for-your-heart_54331, http://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(12)00473-9/abstract). Happy news.
And he stuck a 24 hour monitor on me just to see what my heart was getting up to when no one was watching. Not much, it seems. While I am asleep, so is my heart. My sleeping heart rate dropped to as low as 27 beats per minute (60-80 is average) with up to six seconds between beats. Apparently this means I am either fit or have severe conduction issues that will need a pacemaker to sort out. Ironically the only way to decide is to make me unfit and see if anything changes.
So for the next six weeks I have been banned from running. He wanted to ban me from doing anything at all but I convinced him to let me keep going to the gym as long as I didn’t “do anything silly” as he put it. That’s two races I now have to miss, including chasing a historic steam train into the hills.
I must admit to having mixed feelings about the marathon ban. I wasn’t too sure if I wanted to put myself through all that training again anyway. However, the complete running ban is something different altogether. I can already feel my fast (and slow) twitch fibres getting twitchy.
And how confident can you be in the prognostications of a fat cardiologist? Isn’t obesity one of the key risk factors for heart disease? I half expected him to light up a Marlboro and start chewing on a lard sandwich.
Still, for the moment at least, the running ban is irrelevant as I smashed my back escaping from Eddie’s headlock at last Monday’s Krav Maga session. I have so much pain in my right thigh (referred presumably from my spine) and have taken so many different analgesics that even typing is a challenge at the moment.
The unbelievable irony of all this has not escaped me. Everything I read, see, and hear tells me to go out and exercise. Be active and I will live to 156. Having taken that advice I am now being told that I am too active, and possibly too fit and that I need to spend the next month sitting on the couch watching television. This could get very ugly before it is over.
Dr. F. Bunny