Friday, January 18, 2013

What price running?

I have been experiencing a problem while running. Sometimes my heart starts to pound "out of control" It is really, really fast. I become dizzy, like when I stand up too fast. My heart POUNDS in my chest, out of control! The weird thing is, I can keep moving. I can't run but I can walk.

The first couple of times it happened, it scared the crap out of me. In fact, the first time I was really freaked out. I finally lay down on the trail, threw water on my face, and then, all of a sudden, I felt fine. Got up and took off running. The second time wasn't as dramatic.

It started happening more often. I didn't know when it would hit or how long it would last. Mile 2? Mile 30? Uphill? At altitude? In the heat? The only thing that has been consistent is that it only happens when racing or running "at race pace." The most reliable way of "fixing it" has been to lie flat on my back. I am no longer frightened. I am frustrated though. I have started taking it easy during races.  I figure that I lose more time when I lie down on the trail than when I slow down a little.

So I told this to my physician. She said it was because I was dehydrated. Wrong. I told it to my next physician and, only after I said I had chest pain, she referred me to a cardiologist. I had a stress test and an echocardiogram. He found a few little abnormalities but certainly nothing to worry about. Told me to take a baby aspirin every day. Okay, fine.

But then I started reading about heart arrhythmias in older, long distance runners. I learned that it is not that rare and that there are treatments. Medications might work. If not, an ablation can be performed, either via a catheter or surgically. So when I moved to ABQ and got a new doctor, I told her about my little problem. She told me I am getting older and I may just have to face the fact that I can't push myself that hard anymore. I told her that is the wrong thing to say to a runner. She didn't want to accept my advice anymore than I wanted to accept hers.

She ordered a Holter Monitor test and I have scheduled it. I can go out there and try to initiate one of these episodes. It might happen; it might not. If not, then there are further tests. But, perhaps it is time for me to do some soul searching. I have had two orthopedic surgeries, one on each heel. I've spent thousands on these surgeries...well, my insurance has anyways. And lots more on physical therapy, medications and other orthopedic treatments so that I can continue to race.

Maybe this is ridiculous. Maybe I need to "back off the pace." From reading about the athlete's arrhythmia, it appears that there is some evidence that this level of running can actually injure the heart. Is this true? There are so many studies showing that consistent running is good for the cardiovascular system. In the world of biomedical research, there is rarely a definitive study. Until studies are replicated, using more people--especially older people who have engaged in long distance running for a number of years, we just won't know.

So the question is: should I have the Holter study done, at substantial expense to my insurance or should I just continue as I have been? Do I settle into not only a slower pace (that I can live with), but a reduced effort? This is not my style.

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