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.

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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.

The crap we carry whilst running

I wrote this article for http://www.ultratales.co.uk a UK based ultra running e-zine that I enjoy. Then I thought I might as well post it here as well.

First a quick update – I am recovering well , but still don’t have the energy to try running. I discussed this with the cardiologist and he suggested that I stop taking the beta blockers (my heart rate was only 50, and my blood pressure is fine). Hopefully I will have the energy for a run next week. Watch this space.

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I am having an enforced break from running after my heart attack, so I took the opportunity to sort through my box of running kit. It made me realise just how much stuff I carry with me when I go for a run, and I thought it might be interesting to document it all.

I don’t carry all of this gear for every run, so I will include what I take for an unsupported run of around 4 hours on reasonably remote/isolated trails. Note that this is what I carry on a training run, it is not necessarily the minimum gear required by any specific race. And it is NOT intended as a gear review, so I won’t get into the pros and cons of various brands or models.

Technology – The first items are always my phone and earphones. The phone does multi duty as an MP3 player, camera, GPS logger and GPS live tracker. Sometimes I even use it to send texts or make phone calls. If it is raining the phone goes in a small waterproof map pouch.

 I don’t listen to music if I have company, but I enjoy it on a solo run. The music is mostly rock, with a lot of that being ‘80s hair bands. I have 21 hours of music on board, and don’t bother with playlists. I simply let it cycle through from A to Z then start again.

The GPS logger started out as a means of finding out where I had been, but I will confess that I quickly become addicted to recording my distance. It has been useful to plan subsequent runs, as in “OK, it is 16 km round that hill, then I can do 10km over this hill, and link up with that 12km track…”

The live tracker app was a recent addition, mostly as a safety precaution. If I become overdue on a bush track somewhere in the back of beyond, it will be useful to give the Search and Rescue crew an idea of where I was. It only updates when it has a cell phone signal, but it is better than nothing. It has been interesting to review the files and see where the pockets of cell phone coverage are.

With the cell phone doing all this multi-tasking, the next item is a USB battery backup pack. It can double the battery life of the phone, which should be enough for any mis-adventures that I get into.

The final bit of electronics is a wristwatch. It is handy to be able to check and see whether I am going to be home in time for lunch. Or know whether I have to stop next time I am in cell phone range and send an apologetic/reassuring “a bit slower than expected but still OK and moving forward’ text.

Clothing accessories – On a hot day I will wear a running cap to stop my bald patch getting burnt, and to keep me from overheating. On sunny days I also take a pair of light weight cycling glasses to stop frying my eyeballs.

On a frosty day I wear a thin merino “skull cap” type beanie and silk gloves. If it is mid-winter and I am going to be well away from civilisation I will take a thermal base layer top and bottom along with a waterproof jacket. I don’t often to run in a jacket, even if it is raining – my skin is waterproof and I won’t rust or shrink – but I carry it as a safety measure in case I have an injury or accident and stop generating body heat.

And I find myself increasingly in need of my discount store reading glasses so I can read the cell phone.

Food and drink –older readers will remember what this is. The younger readers will know it as “Nutrition and Hydration”.

I am fairly cheap, so I make my own electrolyte replacement gel by buying sports drink powder and mixing it to the consistency of goo with just a little water. I have two small squeezie bottles that each hold 3 shots of this.

For solid food I take a couple of peanut butter and jam sandwiches, a banana and a commercial energy bar. I will usually carry a few gummy snakes in a zip lock bag; these are good for the odd sugar rush, or just to reward myself for making it to the top of an 8 kilometre long hill.

Water is usually carried in 4×230 ml bottles on a “fuel belt”.  On a cool day this will usually see me through 4 hours, on a warm day I try to plan a route that takes me past a creek that I can refill from. I was once caught out halfway up the previously mentioned 8 kilometre hill on a hot summer day when I discovered that the creek was dry. That made the second half of the run quite a challenge. If I know I will need more water I will take a bladder in a backpack. I don’t put energy drink in the bottles or bladder, to avoid tainting them. Instead I get all my electrolytes from the gel shots.

Other stuff – I always have anti chafe goo in a pump bottle, and the tail end (pun intended) of a roll of toilet paper. 

Depending on the particular track, I often carry a rudimentary first aid kit – sticking plasters, strapping tape, scissors, whistle, bandage. Essentially the mandatory kit from the Coast to Coast multi-sport race. And a survival blanket in case thing get really serious.

If I am going to be running along roads with no footpaths I will wear a hi-viz vest. This is quite effective at retaining a bit of body heat on a cold day, but even better than that it is a none-size-fits-all vest that hides all of the gear I am carrying. It can be amusing to see people’s reactions when I reach under my vest and pull out a gel bottle. Then a bit later some anti-chafe. Followed by a peanut butter sandwich and a bottle of water.

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All this, plus 4 hours of food

Where does it all go? – Surprisingly, most of this stuff fits in the pockets on my running shirt.

A large zipped pocket on the lower back takes the first aid kit, survival bag and battery unit.  There is a smaller pocket on each hip, which share between them the two gel squeezies, the anti-chafe bottle, the solid food and glasses. If I am wearing a hat and gloves, they usually go in a hip pocket once I warm up, although they also sit comfortably in the waistband of my shorts.

The phone sits in a cheap cell phone pouch that I hang on the fuel belt. The rear pocket on the fuel belt will have some toilet paper and the smaller front pouch takes a handful of gummy snakes.

If I am taking the extra clothing I will carry it in a small backpack, which then allows me to use a 1.5 litre water bladder instead of the fuel belt. It also means I can take some of the heavier items out of the rear pocket of my shirt.

I don’t travel light – I realise that this is a lot more than other people carry, but I eat and drink a lot on a long run, and I like the peace of mind of knowing that I have some safety gear if something goes wrong when I am a few hours away from civilisation.

I have done a few runs where I knew I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) stop to refill my water, so started out with a staggering (almost literally) 3 litres on my back. That is 3kg of water, before all the other bits. If nothing else it serves as great resistance training.

It would be interesting to hear what approach other runners take.

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Picture courtesy of Scott B Wesley. The inspiration sign was NOT part of the design brief

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.

I’m going to the world champs!

I won’t be running, I am not doing any running worth writing about at the moment.

Our daughter Antonia has been selected to represent New Zealand at the World 24 Hour Running Championships, to be held in Holland on May 11/12.

Yes, you read that correctly. 24 hours.

It has been described as a bunch of crazy people running in circles for 24 hours to see who is the craziest.

I have managed to convince Antonia that I would be good to have on her support crew for the event. She might regret that.

Is it sad that I am excited at the thought of spending 24 hours watching people run around a park?

You can follow Antonia’s build up to the world champs at her blog :

http://petitefeetrunaway.blogspot.co.uk/

Ultra Tales

If you enjoy reading about ultra marathon experiences (and why else are you reading this blog) , have a look at the Ultra Tales e-zine, available for download from either of these sources –

 http://bit.ly/RLhLgc

http://bit.ly/WL6Yr2

It has a collection of race reports and articles, mostly from the UK.

If you have read my full blog you may not need to read my article on page 63. Having said that, I wrote the article specifically for the e-zine, so it flows a lot better than the disjointed live updates and daily reports on this blog.

The rest of the e-zine is well worth reading for anyone even remotely interested in ultra-marathon running.