9 Month Check Up

No, I am not pregnant

On Sunday it was 9 months since my heart attack.

As I mentioned in my previous post, last month’s stress-test ECG showed that there is nothing wrong with my heart.

And last week at my 9 month check up I was told that all of my blood test results were fine –  my cholesterol level is so low that the dosage in my anti-cholesterol drugs has been reduced .

Which is all great news, but doesn’t explain why I still feel crap.

My doctor was moderately surprised when I told him that the most energetic thing I have done since Christmas was to mow the lawns each week. He really was expecting me to be running again by now.

We had a long and thorough session, and in the end he convinced me that perhaps I just need to HTFU (this is a common endurance athlete term – I think in the UK it is expressed as TTFU – he didn’t quite use those words).

In essence we decided that I might be feeling unfit simply because I am unfit. And if I bite the bullet and get myself fit, I could then feel better. Hard to argue with that logic.

So I have put together a training plan. It is a lot different from my last training plan, where I was building up to my 5x50km, and was actually quite a challenge to get balanced.

I started on Monday with a very quiet jog of a shade under 3km.

Of course after 3 months of not running, my legs were rather stiff and sore, and 3km felt like a Very Long Way. I have run marathons that felt easier.

But on the positive side I only had one short moment of chest pain, and there have been no on-going chest pains (unlike my ECG test, which made my chest hurt for about 10 days). And I haven’t been totally wiped-out exhausted either.

It’s looking good after day 1. Check back here in another 3 months and I will let you know how I got on.

A run – of sorts

It has been 8 months since my heart attack, and I am finally feeling some real improvement. I have some energy back and have found myself thinking about running again.

I even went for a semi-run recently.

I had a heart stress test at the hospital, where they wired me up to an ECG machine,  took an ultra sound scan of my heart while I was rested, then put me on a treadmill for a bit and took another scan to see how my heart responded.

In the days beforehand I was quite excited at the prospect of running , even a short run on a treadmill with wires hanging off me. And it was as good as I had hoped. I was having so much fun during the test that they told me I was one for the very few heart patients who actually enjoy it. And they couldn’t remember when anyone else had asked for the treadmill to go faster.

To get a scan of my heart under stress, they wanted me to get to my “predicted maximum heart rate” – which they calculated at 169 beats/minute. When my heartbeat got to this target, they said the scan is best if I can keep working for longer, so I kept going and eventually got to 112% of my predicted maximum. I think that is awesome, but I’m not sure. I’m not sure whether it was good for me either. I’m an ultra runner, the whole idea is to go slow and conserve energy. My heart rate probably hasn’t been that high any other time this century.

The test results were negative – which is a positive result. No abnormalities in my heart at rest or under stress. This is great news, and I can officially “resume gentle exercise”.

Except that I can’t just yet. I have had chest pains and lethargy since the test. I am hoping that it is because my heart and lungs are not used to working that hard, and that it won’t happen when I get to do some gentle running. And of course the medical staff can’t tell me why – the scan shows there is nothing wrong with my heart.

We are still frantic at the office, but that all goes away at the end of the month, or perhaps the first week of April. I deliberately chose not to try and run while I am working long hours, and am really looking forward to being able to dust off my running  shoes next month.

I just have to recover from my hospital check up first. That really was hard work.

A Book Review – of sorts

I have not run since 23 December. This is due to a number of factors, one of them being that I am taking longer than I expected to recover from my heart attack.

I decided to read a few endurance running books to help keep me interested over the summer, and want to share my thoughts on “Running Crazy” by Helen Summer

The book is a series of interviews with members of the UK 100 marathon club, with a chapter for each runner interviewed.

Running 100 marathons in your lifetime! I found it hard to get my mind around it.

There are some amazing stories in the book, from some truly impressive and inspirational runners. From the bloke who didn’t start running until after he had a heart attack , to the young woman who ran 100 marathons before she turned 30, the achievements are staggering.

Because the interviews all followed a similar template, the stories do get a bit repetitive. There are only so many answers to “why did you start running?” and “Does your partner run?”. And I personally found the author’s propensity to make each interview about herself (“I couldn’t run to the end of the street”, “I would rather stay in bed”, “I like to eat ….”) a bit irritating.

But the runners themselves are fascinating – Oldest, youngest, slowest, fastest average times, shortest number of months, longest number of years are all there.

Along with the average runners who just decided to run a lot of marathons. Respect to all of them.

I first became aware of the concept of running 100 marathons (and recording/celebrating the achievement) before I ran my first ultra. At that time I thought it was incredible – not only the running, but the commitment. I thought I could probably do a marathon every 3 months, and at that rate it would take 25 years to clock up 100. I have trouble committing to the next 25 weeks. It was mind numbing. Then there are the logistics. I live in a provincial New Zealand town, with a 2 hour drive to the nearest marathon. The time and cost required to travel to 4 marathons a year would be significant. Multiply that by 25!

Having read “Running Crazy” I started to think about it from an ultra runner’s perspective. There are a few chapters in the book where admiration was expressed for people who managed the astonishing act of running marathons on consecutive weekends (referred to as “a back-to-back”). A few super humans had even done marathons on consecutive days!

This made me reflect that most ultra marathon training plans will recommend back-to back long runs – meaning Saturday and Sunday, not one long run on two consecutive weekends. When I was training for my 5×50 at 50, I would routinely run a hilly marathon distance on Saturday, followed by a similar run on Sunday. Then repeat the next weekend. I think I ran 5 marathon distance training runs in 6 weeks. With this as my frame of reference, the concept of running 100 marathons has shrunk to only a handful of years (apart from the logistical problem of there not actually being any marathons where I live).

Now that I am over the mental hurdle, I just have to recover from the heart attack. Watch this space…..

6 months on

Yesterday it was 26 weeks since my heart attack.

And it will be 6 calendar months tomorrow.

So I thought I would split the difference and post something today.

At one point I thought I would post monthly updates on my recovery and associated and return to running. The posts haven’t happened because the running hasn’t happened.

In my previous post (November, 4 month update) I was frustrated at my slow progress, which felt like “two steps forward, one step back”.

Then in mid-December, after a careful build up, I managed to run 5km. It was slow and painful and I loved it. I realised that I had not run 5km since the previous March, and I was very excited. For no real reason I had built 5km into a major milestone in my mind, and I convinced myself that I had turned the corner.

I had a couple of 3 and 4 km runs in the following week, then tried another 5km just before Christmas. My heart/chest/breathing handled this fairly well given the circumstances, but my legs reminded me that it had been a long time between drinks, and when I had about 500 metres to go my hamstring decided that it had had enough. Of course I was so fixated on clocking up another 5km run that I did not walk to the end, I kept running (with a limp) until my gps said 5km.

I have only had one run since. With a lot on over the holiday period, and physio appointments hard to get, I decided to simply rest my hamstring and let it heal itself.

My heart-attack recovery has probably been helped along by the rest. I have more energy now than at any time in the last 12 months. If things weren’t so hectic at work I might have been tempted to go for a run last week.

This is not to say that I am back to 100%, there is still a way to go (although I recently mentioned to some one that I was only at 80%  and they replied that they only get to 80% on a good day. So these things are all relative).

I am encouraged about the progress though, and can almost imagine myself being strong enough to run again in a month or so, once we are over the busy period at work.

With a bit of luck and some careful management I might actually post something about running later this year.

Recovering from a heart attack

But very bloody slowly.

Yesterday it was 4 months since my heart attack.

In my previous  post I was excited that I had managed to run 3km on the treadmill.

I followed that up with a couple more 3km runs, every second day, then I hit a bad patch and couldn’t run for two and a half weeks. I was just too tired. It was a bit of “two steps forward, one step back” as far as my recovery went. Very frustrating.

I have seen 3 doctors for routine check ups over the last 6 weeks, and they have all asked “Well, are you back running yet”?

The implication that I took from the casual way they asked was that they expected me to back to normal – at least normal for a normal person, not normal for an ultra runner.

It was a bit disconcerting that I still didn’t have enough energy for running. The doctors weren’t concerned – they all checked to see whether my heart was still beating (it was) and sent me on my way.

So I spent two weeks being careful to get a lot of rest and sleep, and cut back my hours at work (I am doing about 40 hours per week, so not yet back to full-time hours).

And it seems to have helped. I have had two 3km runs in the last week, and I don’t feel horrible. I am even hopeful that I will be able to manage a third before the week is out, without setting back my recovery again.

I can see a very faint light at the end of the recovery tunnel. It still looks to be an extremely long way away, but at least I am moving in the right direction. And hey, that’s what this blog is supposed to be about – running an extremely long way.

I went for a run this weekend . . . .

I managed a very tentative 3km on the treadmill.

Which doesn’t seem much, considering that this is a blog about running ultra-marathons.

A quick recap for those of you who came in late – in May 2012 I turned 50 and marked the occasion by running 50km per day for 5 consecutive days.

In July this year, aged 51, I had a heart attack.

This weekend was my first run since the heart attack, which was exactly 3 months ago. And I hadn’t run for 3 weeks before the heart attack, so it has been nearly 4 months since I was able to run (that was only 3km, my last significant run was 6km late in March. No wonder I have been so grumpy!)

I dislike running on the treadmill, but I was too nervous to go and run in the real world.

Everything hurt –and I loved it.

It reaffirmed that I run simply because I love to run.

Most of the aches were simply from having my first run after doing very little for several months. All the usual suspects were felt, with my knees hurting the most.

My chest got a little tight/uncomfortable, although it was nothing worse than I have put up with over the last 3 months, and nothing that felt like a pending heart attack. I think (hope) it was just from being unfit.

It has probably been 10 years since I was this unfit, and it is quite unfamiliar.

Apart from the fantastic fact that I ran for 22 minutes and my heart didn’t explode, I am delighted that I can just go and jog 3k after months of inactivity.

I am also delighted that it was the first time that I felt I had the energy to try and run. I don’t really care whether this was because I stopped taking  the beta-blockers, or just because I am almost recovered.

 I just enjoyed having the energy  to run.

As Serious as ….. a Heart Attack

I had a heart attack last Saturday evening.

Which was a hell of a shock, but might explain why I have felt like crap and been unable to run for several months.

It was almost amusing watching the Emergency Department doctor running through the heart attack risk assessment questions –

  • Over 65 – No
  • High blood pressure – No
  • Diabetes – No
  • Overweight – No
  • Smoker – No
  • Ever been a smoker – No
  • Heavy drinker – No
  • Stressed – No
  • Family history – No
  • Previous attacks – No

I could almost see them stop and ask why the hell I was there.

I have been home for a few days now, and am recovering well. They tell me that it was “only” a mild attack, which is a relief of sorts –  I certainly wouldn’t want to experience anything worse, it was excruciating at the time. Apparently I should recover fully and be able run again in a few months.

So although this blog was set up with the sole purpose of chatting about my 5x50km efforts, if I celebrate my return to running with another crazy ultra-running scheme I will post about it here.  I am in no hurry though. At the moment I am happy to just be breathing in and out.

Ann and our daughters Olivia, Antonia and Hillary have been fantastic. It would have been so much harder to get  through this without them and the support I have received from our wider families.

Denise, Fiona and Noeleen are doing a marvellous job of keeping the business running while I am recuperating, and I have been humbled by the messages and support from my friends and business colleagues.

Sorry, this is meant to be a running blog. Check back in a few months to see whether I am dong any.