Posts Tagged Running
After 18 weeks of running on my modified program (two weeks medium, two weeks hard, two weeks off for three cycles. See “Run Till You’re Sick”) I was retested and revisited the cardiologist. The news was less than sparkling. I appear to have sick sinus syndrome. The sinoatrial node, which is the structure in my heart charged with keeping the beat, is not doing its job. When I sleep the node does too. At times I went up to 11 seconds without a heart beat. Very exciting.
This is so exciting that the node has been sacked. Its job is being outsourced and it will be replaced with an artificial pacemaker, one that takes its job a little more seriously. I must confess to feeling let down, disappointed and more than a little annoyed that such a tiny part of my otherwise presumably healthy body can have such a profound and long lasting effect on my life. Woody Allen said, “My brain: it’s my second favorite organ”. My heart would have to come a close third, but I would be more than happy to promote it if I thought that would cheer it up enough that it would live up to its job description.
While the cardiologist thinks the running and the appearance of sick sinus syndrome are all just coincidence I find it a little too convenient that this should flare up shortly after completing my first marathon and settle down when I stop running. From what I have read of marathon runners an alarmingly large number of them have some level of scarring in their heart muscle. I suspect that something I may have been predisposed to was a little unhappy with the extreme level of effort I expended while running the marathon and decided to pack up shop and go home in a huff.
Apparently the good news, apart from not going through airport security scanners any more, is that once the pacemaker is installed I will be as good as new and able to run, jump and leap tall buildings in a single bound again, as long as I only use the mobile phone on my right side, avoid shop security scanners and give up contact sports. So much for Krav Maga. Maybe I could just give up running instead?
Dr. F. Bunny
“Running the miles, pretty damn quick. Run through the wilds. Run till you’re sick”
(Going To Mexico, Motörhead, from the album “Aftershock”)
I have finished my six weeks in running purgatory (See “Too Fit To Run” 5/4/14) and visited a new cardiologist, one who looks fit, has Tour de France athletes on his books and seems to understand the concept of exercise. I passed my follow up heart test which means that, as my fitness level drops, my heart rate comes back into the “normal” range. Apparently there is “normal” and there is “normal”. Unfortunately my “normal” is closer to the “needs a pacemaker” kind of normal. But for now I can run again.
In order to try and keep my heart under control I have been put on a modified program of two weeks hard running, two weeks moderate running, two weeks no running, for 18 weeks (three cycles). Then I have a heart stress test and repeat heart monitor assessment. If all is good I assume that will be my foreseeable future. If all is not good then it’s back to the drawing board.
And I am allowed to run a marathon because I don’t have any myocardial scarring. The cardiologist was quite disparaging about my previous marathon result. Apparently, if it takes me four hours to complete a marathon, then I am not running nearly hard enough to damage my heart.
I guess that’s good news but I don’t think I will take up that particular challenge, at least not this year. After six weeks off I feel understandably sluggish and slow. I dare say that will all improve reasonably rapidly but, for now, I think I will confine myself to half marathons and see what happens.
Dr. F. Bunny
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
It does strike me as vaguely incongruous the amount of time, effort and money I spend exerting myself, whether it be plain running, obstacle running or lifting heavy things at the gym. As all of these activities are now big business I am obviously not alone in my desire to raise a sweat for no good reason.
I have been watching an interesting series called “Blood, Sweat and Luxuries”. The program takes a group of young, rich, spoiled British men and women and shows them exactly what is involved to bring them the luxuries they take for granted. They travel to a sapphire mine in Madagascar, a coffee plantation in Ethiopia, a gold mine in Ghana and an electronics factory in the Philippines. For a day or two they must participate in the same work as the locals and are then paid a corresponding pittance. Needless to say the work is unbelievably difficult and mind numbingly repetitive, and it certainly sheds light on the hard lives that people lead in order to deliver us the things that complement our soft lives.
It is hard to imagine any of these people going for a 10 km run after work or paying to crawl through mud under strands of barbed wire. I would think that, at the end of their working day, they would like nothing better than to have a nice sit down and watch a bit of tellie. If only they had a tellie, or electricity for that matter.
Still, this need to exert ourselves must obviously be hard wired into our DNA. Otherwise, why would people lucky enough to lead lives of physical ease pay big bucks to put themselves through intense physical challenges when they don’t have to?
Dr. F. Bunny
According to my reading the average person takes about two weeks to recover from a marathon. Obviously I am not average because, a month later, I still feel tired, my legs are sore and that seven kilometre run I completed last week nearly killed me. What better way to move my rehab along than to complete an adventure race, at least that’s what my son thought.
Festivities began with a five kilometre rogaine (wandering through the bush trying to find four checkpoints and getting totally lost). Once we finally had them ticked off it was back to base for the mountain bike leg of the journey. Neither my son nor I had ever been mountain biking before so attempting to navigate eight kilometres of the black diamond Commonwealth Games mountain biking track in fairly steady rain, while ticking off another ten checkpoints and avoiding fallen riders, proved to be challenging, to say the least. After this leg it was another five kilometres of running plus five more checkpoints. Despite the hilly terrain I did feel a bit more in my element and we actually overtook some of the hard core bikers.
Unfortunately that triumph was short-lived as we jumped back on the bikes for eleven more kilometres and ten more checkpoints. By now the steady rain had turned into a torrential downpour and the adventure race had begun to resemble a mud run.
After wearily peddling back to base the last thing I felt like doing was a two kilometre paddle across the lake. Four times they made us cross it, just to collect the last three checkpoints. The upside was that the rain had finally stopped and, being strong paddlers and even stronger competitors, we managed to burn a few teams off near the end, despite the mother of all quad cramps magically appearing in my left thigh as we approached the shore for the final time.
All told we spent a bit over four and a half hours getting cold, wet and exhausted but short term memory is a funny thing. At the time all this was happening I had completely convinced myself that I was not having fun, this was a stupid idea and that I was never going to do it again. However, about five minutes after the finish, with a hamburger and hot coffee in my belly, I thought that maybe it wasn’t all that bad. After all time spent with my son is always going to be time well spent.
Dr. F. Bunny
Now that I have had time to think about it, and my various aching body parts have had time to become slightly less aching, I wish to recant my comment on the “Marathon Man” post. I am in a big rush to do it again. I feel that I have unfinished business.
True, my first goal: to finish the marathon, was reached. However, my second goal, finishing under four hours, was not achieved (4 hrs, 8 min, 57 sec). What’s worse, for the first time in a race, despite giving it everything I had, I feel that I could have done better. While I finished strongly in the half marathon I all but fell over the line at the end of the marathon. Had I prepared properly, bitten the bullet and gone on those 30+ km training runs my body may have been better prepared to withstand the buffeting it received. Even as late as the 40 km mark I could still have got under the magic four hours, if things hadn’t fallen completely apart.
Over the previous months I had been making slow but steady progress. By gradually increasing the distance from 5 km to 10 km to 15 km and finally to 21 km (the half marathon) the runs ceased to be a painful struggle but something that could be enjoyed and accomplished with relative ease. Jumping from my previous longest run of 24 km all the way to 42 km was always destined to be doomed to failure. But I did not want to put in the work or the effort. During the marathon I saw a friend of mine running with what looked to be very little fuss and bother, but then he spent numerous weeks in the lead up running 30-35 km every Sunday. The result? He finished in 3 hrs, 10 min.
I should feel proud of my achievement, and I do, but something still nags and gnaws at me, something unfulfilled. The prospect of doing it all again, including the much more rigorous training program, certainly seems daunting at the moment and only time will tell if I decide to have another crack or leave it all to lie where it fell and move on to my next bizarre challenge (climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, I think).
Dr. F. Bunny
“But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic?”
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” John F. Kennedy (http://er.jsc.nasa.gov/seh/ricetalk.htm)
So too my son and I chose to run the Melbourne Marathon last Sunday, not because it was easy, but because it was hard. Little did I realise exactly how hard it was going to be. I have been running for five years, gradually building up my distance and endurance. When I completed the half marathon in July in good time with relatively few aches and pains I felt ready to embark on the real thing. Little did I realise that a marathon is so much more than twice a half marathon. My previous longest run was 24 km and that lack of 30+ km experience came back to bite me on the day.
I completed the first half of the marathon with relative ease because my body was used to the pounding it received over that distance. But after about 25 km the legs began wondering what was happening and why we had not gone to collect our drink and finisher’s medal.
I ran on, inspired by a particularly energetic Motörhead track blasting into my ears. I began to set myself small goals to avoid thinking about how far I still had to run. A little cheer erupted in my head when I hit the 30 km mark. After 32 km I knew that the remaining kilometres could now be measured in single digits. Unfortunately the knowledge didn’t stop me flagging to the extent that, around 34 km, a fellow runner felt compelled to give me an encouraging pat on the back as she glided past. Still, I was doing better than that poor fellow lying on the stretcher, surrounded by paramedics, with a drip in his arm.
At 35 km there were only seven kilometres to go. Seven kilometres! I often ran seven kilometres. I could easily manage seven kilometres. Are you joking? There are still seven kilometres to go! And then the heavens opened up but I was in too much pain to notice. I kept slowing to a walk, willing myself back into a run and then, when the knee pain got too much, dropping back to a walk. At 37 km the inspirational speech given at the start of Tough Mudder (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUwXTfWxCTM) burst into my ears. I “hoorahed” myself back into a run.
Turning the corner at 40 km, two kilometres from home, it felt like someone stuck a knife into my right knee. I crumpled but didn’t go over, dimly aware that an official photographer was busy recording every grimace to sell to me later. I slowed to a walk, a stumble, a shuffle. I figured I could manage the last two kilometres even if I had to crawl over the line, but that was not how I wanted to go out. I kept trying different running techniques to ease the pain in the knee: turning the leg outwards or shuffling sideways. I even contemplated running backwards. All around other runners ran past me.
I felt despondent, and then I saw the light towers of the MCG, the world’s greatest sporting stadium, the magnificent home of Australian Rules Football. The final 400 metres involved running a lap on the hallowed turf. No way was I going to walk this. I gritted my teeth and propelled myself into a lopsided, stumbling jog. I ran into the stadium, the stands of that great arena surrounding me. At 200 metres I stumbled and almost fell, but had just enough energy left to pass one final runner before collapsing over the finish line into the arms of my waiting son (I encouraged him to go on ahead at 25 km when it became obvious that I could no longer keep up). Sobbing and laughing simultaneously I felt so incredibly proud of us both.
As the adrenalin finally left my body I was utterly and totally spent. I had given my all, could barely move and felt close to passing out. A banana and a Powerade managed to restore some semblance of normality.
Now, three days later, I still feel tremendously buoyed by our accomplishment. I am sure family and friends are well and truly sick of hearing about it, which is why I thought I would tell you.
No doubt there are many who would consider this to be a ridiculously foolhardy expenditure of energy. Why run 42.2 km when you can drive that distance in a fraction of the time with absolutely no pain involved? I think this is one of the things that define us as a species. Had we taken the easy way and not risen to the challenge, made the effort or sacrificed our comfort I suspect we would all still be living in caves finger painting on the walls.
And now, I am going to have a nice lie down.
Dr. F. Bunny
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