Do you want to kill yourself? Do you want to harm yourself?*
Yes, that is how you start out any interesting story that connects somehow, someway to strange world of trail running and all the insanity that comes with it.
I need to preface prior to the waterfall of thoughts, beliefs, and poor choices to state that I am not a medical professional (and the world is a slightly better place because of that). Everything that I am typing comes from personal experience (over the past 48 hours) that I firmly believe highlights the actual risk that is associated with our sport today.
Without further ado…let’s talk about breaking my heart…
First, let’s begin with a confession. I am competitive. Mentally at least, physically is more like a daydream on the days that I forget my medication. Internally though I am competitive. Even during strength class, when required to carry kettlebells like a jug of moonshine from down south down the street and back…yes, I wanted to complete it first. I am opening my heart, soul, and fears to confess that as a trail runner internally I am competitive.
Because of that, and my lack of experience, knowledge, skill, hopes, dream, etc…I tend to want to rush everything to ‘catch up’ with everyone else. However, the fun part of trail running, especially the endurance races, is that isn’t how it works. Patience, grace, and humility tend to be the building blocks of success.
I tend to miss those blocks, step on them in the middle of the night, and then wonder why we didn’t just replace the world’s landmines with Lego’s instead.
I am a teacher in my other life. That means the summers are designed for a time to recharge, refresh, and more importantly…run. The month of June this year was just littered with all sorts of new opportunities for me. Whether that was running the North Fork 50K, climbing around Quandary Peak, fishing in the Missouri heat, or learning that raves at night clubs have dress codes…I was moving around the nation literally the day after school got out.
Here’s the kicker to all of that though…
I never stopped.
I told myself that I would “recover” after North Fork by fishing and camping an entire weak in 90 degree heat in southern Missouri. The recovery from that trip would be me attempting (and failing) to climb my first 14er in Colorado the following weekend. Finally, the ease back into ‘reality’ I would not do anything strenuous for a while, I would just go to a rave, and finish the month with another 50K. Granted, to make sure I wasn’t too lax throughout the month I had yoga, a yoga mala, strength class, ab class, Monday run nights, Friday speed sessions, and all sorts of goodies in-between.
The knowledgeable, experienced runners know exactly where this story is going by now.
Two nights ago, on another normal Monday night run, I went running with my friends (yes, they are real). The final mile I was feeling spunky (because it was only 80 degrees, not the standard 1000 degrees outside), and in turn I dramatically** picked up the pace.
Dramatically: Going from a comfortable 16 minute pace down to a 10 minute pace and holding it for nearly a mile on single track.
Upon finishing my attempt at the land speed record (and likely causing the seismograph in the community to go off) I slowed down and walked out for some fresh air. That’s when I noticed my chest hurt. Yes, seriously, it felt like I had a cramp in my chest near the center. I laughed it off (freaked out internally) and went to dinner. At dinner I had a classic meltdown in front of the people at the table (so sorry!), and talked about my concern. They were all super chill.
I went to bed that night and woke up the next morning. The dull ache was still there (this is where the medical folks reading this go, “You’re an idiot!”), but I decided to go to yoga because I couldn’t figure out the different between a physical issue, anxiety, and a panic attack. After too many namaskars to count, a ton of sweat, and a moment of relaxation broken up by a Harley Davidson zooming away (to another country? Too soon?) I made the comment that the cramping, dull pain was still there…except that it was a little further to the left.
The next comment, I kid you not…
Go ahead and get in my car. We’re going to go get you checked out at urgent care. Actually…we’re going to the ER.
Now, this comment came from a person with medical background, someone very knowledgeable, and likely someone who did not want to perform CPR on my gangling, pasty body. I didn’t question, I just followed.
I could tell you the story of being in the ER, but solely off my writing style I’m certain you
can imagine what kind of dumpster fire that was. My blood pressure was through the roof, they couldn’t get me calmed down, and I could not shut up. Frankly, it was less like a hospital visit, and more like the final 5 minutes before a race starts.
After two EKG’s (heart stuff), a blood pressure cuff that freaked me out, two blood tests, a bag of IV fluids, being asked at least 10 times if I wanted to kill myself, and a really creepy lady named Betty (psych eval); I was out of the hospital by 12:30 AM this morning.
I went in at 8:00 PM last night.
Thankfully all of the signs for a cardio moment, like a heart attack, were negative. In fact almost everything looked rather healthy. However, there was one indicator on the blood work that caught the attention of all three doctors, nurse, and creepy Betty (you had to be there) was this stuff called Troponin. There was an amount of it that was found within the blood tests. Troponin is a protein enzyme that should stay in your heart, not the rest of your body. It is a protein that helps your heart contract when it is going through the beating process. If you have some sort of heart injury, heart attack, cardiovascular failure, Troponin can show up in your blood work.
It showed up in mine.
I was hooked to an IV, and practically told to chill. The results from everything else were not indicative of a heart attack. However, with that protein floating around, something was obviously amiss somewhere. After the IV was finished they ran the results again; the Troponin levels were back to normal. According to the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, if Troponin levels continue to stay elevated for days (10-14) it can indicate a heart attack has taken place. However, if the numbers drop there is a strong consideration of another piece in play.
Once the head doctor got my story of what I do with my free time (hehe), and started looking at the charts, everything was coming into focus. While preliminary (stress test ordered for next month), his thoughts are that I overexerted myself over the past month. Imagine your body being dehydrated for an entire month, imagine not taking legitimate rest days for an entire month, now you’re starting to see the same picture he was seeing.
The reality is that I pushed my heart, along with all other muscles, too far, too fast, and this was the result. Yes, I did injury my heart in this process. No, it was not a heart attack. Yes, it can result in a quick recovery if
you I play by the rules.
Rule 1: No, you cannot go run the Night Hawk 50K this Saturday. The doctor indicated that by crossing his arms in the form of an “X” and saying, “Times three.”
Rule 2: Yes, you do have to go get a stress test in July. That will cover anything else that may have been missed.
Rule 3: No, you cannot run or do strenuous activities prior to the stress test. You need to rest.
Rule 4: Yes, those closest to you will kill you if you try to violate any rules mentioned above.
Rule 5: Learn to rest.
For the experienced runner much of this information above is redundant and a whole lot of ‘duh’. However, for the rest of us I really do think it is a crucial lesson. I did not get an advantage over other people, I did not ‘up my game’ on the trails, and yes I did hurt myself in the process. The good news is that I am surrounded by knowing individuals who repeatedly keep me from making really bad choices, or at least are there to pick up the pieces afterwards.
It is easy to get excited, wrapped up in the fun, and in some cases make stupid ideas because they result in hilarious stories. At the same time, there is a fine line between trying new things and causing harm to yourself and your passion.
For once, even with a smile, let this be my lesson so that I can run further next time.
*I learned that it is common for people with heart attacks to sometimes feel lousy before the incident and become extremely depressed. Hence the constant checking.
**For humor purposes; 16 minute mile to a 10 minute mile…that’s dramatic in my world