Showing posts with label heart health. Show all posts
Showing posts with label heart health. Show all posts

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Pace matters, until it doesn't

Not exactly a blistering pace but I did get a blister.
 Most of 2019 has gone by and we will soon start another new decade. The idea that we will begin our own Roaring Twenties (roaring good or roaring bad? Discuss.) is both exciting and scary. From a running perspective it's an important milestone for this blog which began in the aughts (does anyone actually use that term?) and will, in 18 days, limp gracelessly into its third decade. That's right haters, I'm still standing!

I started blogging in late 2008, around the time that I started running seriously. Seriously did not mean well or fast, but that's when I started. Like most runners, I had simple objectives: run faster and longer. Something about health and piece of mind. But mostly run faster. That was a reasonable goal and I did make progress. Running also led to many great friendships and experiences, blah blah blah. You can read all about them in the almost 2,200 Emerging Runner posts. But let's get back to pace..

No one is ever satisfied with the speed they run. Sure, in the short term, runners celebrate their PRs and PBs. Aside from that, we are always castigating ourselves for falling short of our perceived potential. Don't agree? Tell me how many times you've told yourself that you are so satisfied with your current performance that you wouldn't wish to change a thing. Speed matters, until it doesn't.

When I first began running I had no benchmarks for speed, so I focused on increasing my distance. Running my first non-stop mile was a big deal. My pace at that time was almost inconsequential. I remember someone telling me, "If you run 8:59 a mile or faster you're a runner and if you run 9:00 or more you're a jogger." I took that as gospel and was pleased when I recorded my first run after purchasing a Nike+ foot pod and confirmed I was a runner. I soon dismissed that definition when my results showed I ran in the 9's as often as in the 8s.

I competed in a lot of races between 2009 - 2014 and probably hit my high water mark in 2012. Pace mattered then because PRs and age group podium-ing were both reasonable aspirations. A few things happened after that, including suffering a herniated disc and changing my work commute. This disrupted my workouts and hindered my performance. I watched my pace balloon to the point of near embarrassment. If 9:00 per mile was a jogger, what was I at this point?

I made the decision to stop working in early 2019 and since May I've had much more time to run. Five years ago I probably would have taken this opportunity to run at lots of different places and get back to 6+ mile runs on a regular basis. In reality, I've found it easier to commit to near daily runs by sticking close to home, running 3-4 mile routes in my neighborhood. I'm covering 70-80 miles a month, but my average pace has only improved 4.8% over the last seven months.

Hardly moving the bar on speed was disheartening, and I worried that I had a physical issue that was affecting my pace. My Garmin's heart rate monitor reported some erratic data that was hard to dismiss. I tested its accuracy in a few different ways and moved to a chest strap that showed a more stable range. But still...

Without going through all the details, I had a full day of lab testing -- cardio echo, carotid artery Doppler and even a nuclear stress test (super fun, here's a post I wrote about a prior stress test I did in 2014). I even had a couple of neurological tests for blood flow, just for good measure. The results of all that were clear, I couldn't blame my slow pace on my heart or arterial system.

I was happy to get confirmation from my doctors that I was physically fit, but I felt like I had no excuse for my slowness. I decided I had license to push harder on my runs and there has been a small improvement in my performance. However, it occurred to me that one of the reasons my test results came out so positively is due to the way I run.

I don't look at my pace readout on my Garmin anymore. My objective is primarily to follow my route and enjoy the experience. This seems to be the right thing for me. If I have to choose between healthy, active meditation or a minute per mile improvement, it's hardly a choice.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Stress testing in sixteen steps

Not as fun as it looks
Today's run (street): 3.4 miles

Despite my resistance to the idea of taking a stress test, I finally acquiesced and went through it this week. My experience at the end of the Brooklyn Half provided the impetus to do it. Actually, it was strong encouragement from my wife, the Runsketeers and my friend KWL that made me go through with it.

If you've never gone through a stress test (this was my third), you should know that it's not particularly stressful. But it sure takes a long time. I don't know if the process is universal, but at my doctor, the process goes like this:

1. Arrive at doctor's office at your scheduled time.
2. Wait an hour to be called in.
3. Wait for the doctor in the exam room. You can pass the time by reading your chart on the computer display (at least that's what I did).
4. Have a conversation with the doctor about how you ended up in the medical tent after running a half marathon. Hint: his response will always be, "I want you to run a stress test today."
5. Have an EKG.
6. Have blood taken.
7. Have an heart ECHO sonogram.
8. Go to stress test lab and wait.
9. Get your first injection of thallium, a radioactive isotope that's used as a trace agent during the imaging process. Very reassuring.
10. Go into the imaging room and get scanned for 12 minutes.
11. Go into another sonogram lab and have carotid arteries checked.
12. Go into the room with the medical treadmill, where the technician attaches electrodes all over your body attached to a belt unit that you wear during the process.
13. Start at walking pace, with the goal of getting heart rate over 140. She ended up putting the incline to 16% and the speed to over 5 MPH to get me there.
14. Get your second injection of thallium and wait.
15. Get your second imaging to compare to the first after exercise.
16. Go home six hours after you arrive.

The good news is that you do get feedback throughout the process. My doctor said my EKG and ECHO were fine, the sonogram tech said the same about the carotid check and the treadmill technician said I didn't have a single missed beat during my session. I needed my doctor to review the imaging results. If there were concerns, I would have got a call yesterday. All of that, and no issues.

So why am I running so slow?

My doctor's office should now deliver my clearance form so I can use my company's fitness center. I can then do workouts in the morning when I get into the office. Without that, my options are either to go back to 4 AM runs, or work out when I get home from work. I worked from home today and got in a few miles before I started what turned out to be a busy day. It's the weekend now, and I hope to give those Cascadia's their first experience on the trails either tomorrow or Sunday.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

When hearts attack

Today's run (treadmill): 3.2 miles

It was 8° outside when I was ready to run this morning. Between the extreme cold and roads that were coated with icy-snow, I had no choice but to use the treadmill. I have accepted that I'm no longer hardcore and I'm okay with that. My workout today was nothing special: A moderate start and a hard finish. But by the end, I was glad to have run for the first time since Tuesday.

After I finished my workout, I looked at my email and saw a note from my friend M. I was shocked to read that he'd suffered a heart attack the weekend before New Year's. M is a runner and triathlete and the day before this attack he'd played two hours of full court basketball. I immediately thought of Dave, an occasional running partner, also fit, who had a heart attack during a race a couple of years ago.

Interestingly, I had introduced Dave to M at the Dirty Sock 10K that we all ran last August and we talked about Dave's experience. Dave had recovered so well by then that he beat my time by almost seven minutes. M has quickly bounced back from his heart attack. Unbelievably, he is running again. In fact he's planning to compete in this weekend's Winter Run Series at Caumsett State Park.

It's scary to think that dedicated runners like Dave and M would be candidates for a heart attack, but it's also reassuring to see how quickly they were both able to recover. We tell ourselves that an active lifestyle will keep us healthy and I have no doubt that's true. But other factors can tip the scales and these things sometimes happen. Even so, I firmly believe the reason why M and Dave came through their experiences so strongly is because of the conditioning they got from running.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Incomplete recovery is better than none

Yesterday's troubles continued through the night, and I got to bed early in hopes on sleeping off my pounding headache. I woke up in the middle of the night feeling no better, so I took some pseudoephedrine and Advil and went back to bed. When I got up, my headache was far less noticeable and the heavy fatigue I'd carried most of Wednesday was gone. Still, I knew better than to try a run. I learned something from yesterday.

Headaches of this type are really debilitating and, when they finally leave, the world feels so much better. But even with that improvement, I wasn't out of the woods. I felt well enough to go into the office but some slight dizziness and a mild headache remained. Sudafed saved the day, but it wasn't a complete victory. Another dose this morning brought further improvement.

I'm not sure what's behind these headaches but the only way to get rid of them seems to be a combination of sleep, NSAIDs, and pseudoephedrine. Missing a day's workout, like I did today, would normally bother me because it will make it harder to reach my weekly goal of 20 miles. But an article from Tuesday's sent to me by FS, says that (for older endurance athletes) it's better to keep weekly mileage below that number. Older endurance athletes that run 7:30 paces or faster that is. So I guess I'm good with my 20.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

My running buddy's race day nightmare

Today's run (street): 5.25 miles

Two years ago I was near the end of my recovery from a serious bout of pneumonia. It was so severe that I was forced to spend a week in the hospital. This was an awful experience, but it could have been far worse. I'm still thankful to my friends, family and work colleagues who supported me through that long ordeal. As sick as I was, I never felt it was a life and death situation. Now let me tell you about my friend Dave.

Through this blog, I have connected with a number of great people, some of whom I've been fortunate enough to meet for a run or two. Dave and I both live on Long Island and we've got together to run a number of times. Dave is a strong runner, with an enviable ability to increase his speed as he went along on longer runs. In races, Dave would usually cross the finish line a couple of minutes before I did. But on long runs at Bethpage, our conversation helped us settle into a mutually agreeable pace.

The last time I saw Dave was at the Dirty Sock 10K last August. We both did well on that challenging course through the woods. Afterward, we talked about doing a Cow Harbor practice run in a few weeks, but we didn't get around to doing that. In fact I hadn't heard from Dave until I got a note from him this weekend. He wrote to tell me that he'd suffered a heart attack during a ten mile race last weekend.

I was completely shocked by this news. This is a guy who runs and bikes and lives a very active life. But on this race day morning, Dave discovered that he had an undetected blockage that brought him down at mile six. In those situations, the severity of the problem may not be obvious. There's only a small window of time to recognize the difference between electrolyte depletion and a life-threatening event. Thankfully Dave had the presence of mind to flag down a race volunteer and request an EMT.

Even after the EMT's arrived, Dave's troubles continued. He endured quite a bit as they worked on him in the ambulance before arriving at the closest hospital, where the ER doctors struggled to stabilize his condition. They smartly sent him to a another hospital that was better equipped to handle the situation. It was there that they discovered the blockages and got his vitals back to normal. Amazingly, he was released after a couple of days.

I'm thrilled that Dave came through this so well and he's taking steps to correct his issues. He's a strong, fit guy and I know he'll get through this fine. I can only imagine how fast he's going to be when his heart is back to full working order. Even if that's the case, I'm sure Dave will graciously run at my pace when we return to Bethpage for another long run.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Doctor's orders: more stress

Yesterday's workout (Stress test): 4 hours

Having a top ranked physician as your doctor has its pluses and minuses. On one hand you know that you are getting the best care that medical insurance can buy, but it also means that you are monitored closely and forced to take tests to confirm that everything remains normal. I'm not fanatical about my health but me and my family meet annually or (semi-annually) with our doctors and dentists just to confirm all is well. Yesterday, as a follow up to August's physical, I went through a stress test that involved a number of activities. The process is time consuming and not particularly difficult but in the end it is exhausting.

Soon after my arrival I was injected with Thallium 201, a trace agent for monitoring blood flow through the imaging process. No big deal except for the idea of having a radioisotope coursing through your veins and arteries. The half-life is 73 hours so I won't be boarding any airplanes this week. I was assured a number of times that it's extremely safe. I guess I have to take their word on that. The first activity was a full body scan on a flat imaging bed that required keeping absolutely still for about 15 minutes. Running has taught me much about patience while enduring discomfort so that was a piece of cake, despite the need to hold my arms far forward and holding my head at an unnatural angle. After that I was hooked up to a bunch of electrodes and put on a treadmill that increased in speed and tilt angle over a 20 minute period. Being a runner helped me there, though I'll admit that the apex of speed and elevation became challenging. Still, I never reached the point where I was sweating profusely.  Halfway through the process I was re-injected with Thallium while I was in motion. That was a little weird.

The next part of the test was another round of imaging that seemed longer and even less comfortable. I was then brought into another room for a sonogram of both carotid arteries. During the treadmill and sonogram testing I was asked why I was being tested because my results looked fine. That was good to hear. The final step was to be fitted with a heart monitor with four electrodes that would record cardio-activity for 24 hours. I'll get to take that off at noon and I'm looking forward to that. I can't shower until it's off so I didn't run this morning. I'm deciding whether to run with it just prior to removal or to wait until I take it off. I'd be interested to know how my heart rate varies when monitored by a more sophisticated instrument that the Garmin's HRM but I doubt the doctor will show me the raw data. However, they might share the highlights. The best part of having completed the stress test is that, unlike yesterday morning, I'm now allowed to drink coffee. I missed that a lot yesterday. I far prefer it to Thallium 201.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

One out of one doctors say running is good for your heart

Today's workout (elliptical): 25 minutes

I spent much of yesterday at doctor's offices. My appointments were routine (annual physical, etc.) but the process, especially the waiting, can be exhausting. I was glad I ran in the morning because the rest of the day was understandably sedentary. I asked my doctor about an article I'd recently read that said running could pose increased risk to the heart. I wasn't that concerned because the greater risks were with higher mileage, performance focused athletes. My doctor is a nationally ranked cardiologist and I trust his opinion over a newspaper columnist's.  He flatly dismissed the risk and said "running is the single best thing you can be doing for your health." That's good enough for me.

I followed my usual schedule this morning and did 25 minutes on the elliptical machine. It was hot and humid but I didn't mind it much today. I selected a higher than normal level of resistance and was able to maintain my usual pace even with wattage output close to 100 (vs my usual 80). I was well soaked when I stepped off the machine but I felt I'd worked as hard (or harder) as I do on my daily runs. It's nice to engage different muscles and to include my upper arms for a change. That's why I devote one day a week to the elliptical. I should probably use it more frequently but if the choice is between running and the elliptical machine it's rare that I'd choose the latter. I'm hoping to run tomorrow but we're hearing that Earl will come close to Long Island tomorrow and (hopefully) move well off shore by late Friday night. If conditions aren't good I may end up on the elliptical tomorrow after all.

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