I’ve been a sporadic runner for a large chunk of my life. I ran a lot as a kid, a lot more in the army, and I’ve done my fair share of obstacle/mud-runs as an adult. I officially got bit by the running bug in July 2013, when for the next 10 months (with the ASICS Runkeeper app along for the ride) I ran, on average, three miles or more, four days a week. I was hooked and knew that I’d be a lifelong runner.
Then in April, after a bout with an upper respiratory infection, I started feeling pain in my chest and left shoulder at the half mile mark of my runs. The pain wasn’t horrible, but there was certainly no battling through it. Seriously? A half mile? A couple of Saturdays ago I ran 8 miles and now I can’t even do a half mile? I chalked it up as my lungs weren’t fully recovered from being sick, and walked back home. A couple of days later, I tried again, but the results were the same. Over the next few weeks, it was like the movie “Groundhog Day.” Try to run, chest pain, stop. Try to run, chest pain, stop. Try to run, chest pain, stop.
Rather than go to the doctor (I’m stubborn like that), I got online to research my ailment and found that most signs pointed to angina—chest pain caused by a heart issue. Even with that knowledge, I stubbornly kept thinking it was my lungs and that over time it would go away. I mean, come on, I’m only 45 and had been running for almost a year. So I kept waiting, and kept trying, and kept getting the same results.
It wasn’t getting better, in fact, it was getting worse. Since I couldn’t run, I decided brisk walking was the next best thing, but less than a half mile into my walk, the pain, combined with a weird breathlessness this time, almost brought me to my knees. I felt like I was pretty close to a full-on emergency type situation. It was scary, scary enough to finally convince me to do something about it. So after almost two months of this nonsense, I finally scheduled a doctor’s appointment.
Long story short, it wasn’t my lungs, so I soon found myself at the cardiologist for a stress test. I ended up doing pretty poorly on the test (surprise, surprise) and afterwards the cardiologist told me that I had the classic signs of significant arterial blockage, and that he needed to do a cardiac catheterization next week to find out how bad.
A week later, the procedure found a 95% blockage in my left anterior descending artery. I later learned that blockage in this particular artery often leads to a heart attack that’s known as the “Widowmaker” due to its high mortality rate. Turns out, I had been a walking—scratch that—a running time bomb. Thankfully, the cardiologist was able to re-open the artery via angioplasty and he put in a stent to keep it open.
About a week after the surgery, with the doctor’s blessings, I laced up my shoes and nervously hit the road. I’m happy to report that I smiled ear to ear as I ran right past the place where the chest pain used to stop me. I can’t even begin to describe just how great that felt. As of this writing, I’m ten runs in to my comeback, and I still smile and thank God every time I run.
I never thought, as long as I was running, that I would have heart problems. True, I’d been diagnosed with high cholesterol, hadn’t been to the doctor in seven years and have a lousy family history when it comes to heart disease. Both my father and grandfather had heart attacks before they were 55. BUT….. here’s how I saw this math adding up: they were older, smoked like chimneys for most of their lives, had some weight issues and didn’t exercise. I, on the other hand, am younger, I don’t smoke, I’m not overweight and I’m a runner, so I figured I was good.
Yeah, turns out I’m not real good at math. The reality? I was well on my way to possibly making my wife a widow and leaving my kids fatherless. Yuck. Running is good for the heart, we all know that, but unfortunately it’s not a cure all. It didn’t matter how many miles I’d logged over that 10 month period (a little over 600). A suspect diet, some crummy genes, and a side order of stubbornness came dangerously close to taking me out. Thankfully, it didn’t, but what it did do was give me a new perspective on my overall health, and because of that, I’m making some significant changes in my life (mainly diet and prescribed meds). I’m determined not to get blindsided again. This was definitely a wakeup call for me, but you’re more than welcome to borrow it.
Take care of yourselves Runkeeper Nation, I’ll see you out on the road.