Saturday, January 1, 2011

Best and Worst of 2010

The best:

1> Doing the Rae Lakes Loop in September

It was a really beautiful run, and it was kinda magical to run it solo starting at night.
Since I didnt have any where to sleep it was sort of an 'all-in' wager where once I started
down the far side of Glenn Pass, I had to make it back to the car or I would have a cold, lonely
night by myself. But it worked out, so I had a great feeling of accomplishment. Also it was the fartherest
I had run since surgery and it worked out, so I felt like a had a piece of my life back.

The worst:

2> No successful treatment

My cardiac procedure was painful or uncomfortable in constantly new ways for 20 hours.  I think I took it
pretty well, but at the time I thought that that day would be amongst the worst in my life, as in up
there with losing a spouse, child or dying yourself (although this just might be my inexperience with death speaking.)  Also I tried two drugs and nothing worked. Also my condition effects my day to day life more, such as it is now harder to carry dog food from the car without an attack, and my running has suffered.

Lets hope 2011 has more adventure running, and less heart problems.

Friday, November 19, 2010

No running - Boo-urns

I wanted to keep a stable base of running for the beginning of the year, but unfortunately I havent been able to run at all. Just walking around the house and doing chores leaves me light-headed, and weak.

In Sept-Oct, I had four hard events in six weeks (Rae in a Dae, Santa Cruz 50K, Dick Collins 50M, and a hard 5K) and this tends to make my heart rhythms bad. The doctor wanted me to try sotalol next, but it requires a 3 day hospital stay when you start it- because some patients who start it have heart attacks or cardiac arrests, so they want to monitor you. I think that anything which has a heart attack as a side effect should only used as a last resort, so I am playing wait and see.  Last year, I had the same thing after a string of hard events, and it took several months  but I got over it.  I am hoping that happens again this year.

My wife is also disappointed because I get cranky when I cant run, so we both need some relief right now.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Theta Breakers 5K- heart trouble

Earlier this week I decided to run a local 5K race.  It has been about 18 years since I ran a local road race (back in Toronto) and almost 4 years since my last road race of any kind, the LA Marathon.  Since i started
trail running, I havent wanted to run on roads any more- at least til now.

Theta 5K course at Stanford University 
The idea started when I ran one of my typical trails in Alum Rock park earlier in the week, and I decided to do it a bit faster than normal. On the way back I passed this teenaged runner, who i guess didnt like being passed, so he was breathing down my neck the whole way back.  The result was I had my fastest time by a minute (21:40) for a loop which is a bit under 5K.

So today I ran the Theta Breakers 5K on the Stanford campus, but I had a really hard time.

three tachycardias during the race

The pace was much faster than I am used to as a trail runner, which was nice/different. But around 15mins in, I had a very strong tachycardia (around 250 bpm) so I stopped, curled up in a ball and did my Vagal maneuvers.  Normally, I can stop a tachycardia almost immediately by doing this. But today, it took several minutes each time to get back to normal sinus rhythm.  This was kinda discouraging, since each time I would be passed by a dozen people.

I was planning on running this 5K as a benchmark, and then running another in the late winter to judge my fitness, but now I dont know. My goal was 25mins, with a secondary goal of 27mins, and a fallback goal of anything under 30mins, but with the three tachycardias, I was just over 30mins. My Garmin tells me my moving time was 25:53, so maybe I should just try to beat that.

As a sidebar- I had a bit of a prodrome today.  I wasnt feeling 100% heart wise earlier in the day, so I am not surprised I had a rough time of it. Also since I had several strong tachycardias today (three during the race, and a fourth a couple of minutes after I finished) I have been feeling pretty fatigued with some chest pain.
I think the bottom line is I have to stay away from high intensity running.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Santa Cruz 50K

I ran a 50K in Santa Cruz in late september.  The most novel part of the course is the four river crossings
of the San Lorenzo River.

Santa Cruz 50K - crossing the San Lorenzo River from Mike on Vimeo.

This race was my first trail race after I moved to California in 2008, and the course is beautiful so I have fond
memories of this race, but this year it was quite a slog.  Two weeks earlier I ran the Rae Lakes Loop in one day and my back was still sore, and I had some heart events which were much stronger than normal so the day was very tough. It took me more than 40 minutes longer to finish this year, and i think only 3 people ran the race slower than I did.

What to expect during a cardiac ablation and electrophysiology - Part one

I searched for a blog post about a having a Cardiac electrophysiology or a Cardiac ablation, especially from someone who was an athlete, before I had my recent procedure but I couldn't find anything- so I figured I would write it out

Some background

When I was younger I would feel palpitations during running but I thought I was just out of shape. But after age 30 they increased in number and intensity. During these episodes, I would feel light-headed as if I was going to pass out, and the only way to stop them was to stop running, crouch down and hold my breath. This would stop the episode in less than a minute usually. However if I ran a race that was very hot, long and where I got dehydrated (Bull dog 50K 2007, Ohlone 50K 2009)- then I would have episodes where I could not reduce my heart rate for hours.

I was only a little bit worried about this in the back of my mind until I got a Garmin 405 GPS/Heart rate monitor for xmas last year. I wore it during a race where I had one of these episodes and I noticed by heart rate was 242! The usual rule of thumb for maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age so 242 is definitely out of the normal range. On other runs I saw heart rates from mid to high 200s.

example of a tachycardia event

My wife didnt like this at all, so she asked me to take care of it before we had a baby.

I went to the Stanford Preventive Cardiology center where they took my history and saw my graphs printed out from my heart rate monitor. They gave me a heart event monitor which is like a EKG machine which you wear for 3 weeks, and every time you feel the symptoms- you press this button which sends the last 5 minutes and the next 5 minutes of your EKG to your doctor (no wonder healthcare is so expensive- no?) It also has a small cell phone running this java application which asks you your symptoms and the company who runs this service calls you to make sure you are ok.

I wore the monitor for a couple of weeks, and eventually reproduced my symptoms. My doctor, (Dr Paul Zei from Stanford) recommended an electrophysiology where they insert a catheter into your heart and try to pinpoint the origin of the arrhythmia and- if they find it- they can burn the 'faulty wiring' which is causing the problem.

Preparing for an Electrophysiology

The day before the procedure I had to come to the center to get my blood taken. The night before I wasn't allowed to eat or drink anything after midnight.

I arrived at the hospital at 6am. While my wife waited in the waiting room, they preped me for surgery in a large room with about 12 beds. There I changed in a hospital gown, they took a medical history, put a patient bracelet on me, inserted a IV plug in my left arm, and shaved my pubic hair into an mohawk shape since the groin is where the catheter goes in. This took about 50 minutes, and afterwards my wife could join me as I waited for the time for surgery.

While we were waiting the anesthesiologist, and later the attending surgeon dropped by to introduce themself, and a younger doctor came by to explain the procedure again and answer any questions. He explained that the procedure would be 1-2 hours for the EP, and maybe a couple of hours for the ablation although in 'very rare circumstances' some procedures take as long as eight hours. (foreshawdowing?)

We were scheduled to start the operation at 8:00. Right before the operation, they ask you to go to the bathroom, so you dont have to pee during the operation. At 8:30 I said goodbye to my wife, they wheeled me into the operating room where a couple of nurses transferred me to the operating table. It was really cold in the room, so they covered me with some warm blankets. They then shaved some big patches of my chest in order to attach EKG pads.

Later in the procedure the doctor needs to know exactly where his instruments are inside your heart- so before the procedure begins they tape a  coin to your back, and then they take an xray of it. They use this point on your back as a reference point or an 'origin' and can then calibrate where exactly the instruments
are inside your heart in relation to that point on your back.

Once that was done, they covered my 'beans and franks' with a dish rag thingie, and tied by hands to the table. I guess some patients wake up during the procedure and try to grab the tubes which are going into their heart- and that is no good- so they tie your hands down, and offer to scratch your face whenever you have an itch.

The Procedure begins - inserting catheters

The first step in the procedure is to numb the area where your legs meet your trunk.
Then they insert the stints (which is like a small hollow tube) into your leg, into the femoral vein. This hurts. It takes a lot of pressure to drive the stint thru your leg- the doctors said it is the most painful part of the procedure but I found other parts to be more painful.

After that step, there isn't much physical discomfort. Next, they thread the catheters thru the stints into your femoral veins. This actually tickled abit. During my procedure they didnt thread a camera into the vein, so they had an X-ray type device called a flouroscope over my chest and I could see a monitor with a real-time view of my heart. They inserted two catheters into each side of me, so in the monitor I could see four wires in my heart and could watch them move while my heart beat.  This was odd to see while totally awake.

A typical EP lab setup

The next step is where they begin mapping the heart. This will be covered in Part two.

Rae in a Dae - run/hike of the Rae Lakes Loop in one day

Rae Lakes Loop in one day from Mike on Vimeo.

I ran/hiked the Rae Lakes Loop in Kings Canyon National Park on Sept 11th.  The Rae Lakes Loop is a very beautiful loop starting at 5,000ft and ascends steeply for 18.5 miles up to Glen Pass at almost 12,000ft, then it meaders thru a series of lakes around 10,000ft and follows some valleys 27.5 miles back to the start. Most people do it over 5 days of hiking. I did it in 19 hours, starting at 3:20am and finishing at 10:40pm, with about 7 hours in darkness. The fastes known time is 7:29 by Leor Pantinlat (his report)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Dick Collins Firetrails 50 miler

I ran a 50 mile race on Saturday, and had a really rough time. I had a few tachycardias, but nothing which I couldnt abort quickly, and nothing sustained. However, I did feel heightened general fatigue, and cardiac instability.

 Things which went well:
 - I drank more electrolyte-based drinks and I think this delayed bonking
 - wetting a bandana and wearing it around my neck during the hottest parts of the day kept me cooler, and I think is partially responsible for the reduced number of heart events.

 Things which went poorly:
- I got a blister the size of a dollar pancake on the ball of my left foot around 33 miles in
 - I was undertrained. Not many long runs this year (pre or post surgery) except for races.

 For much of the race, I wasnt having fun, and I wondered if I should retire from ultrarunning. I met a doctor at the Ohlone 50K race who told me that I was 'on the leading edge' and 'pushing the envelop' as an ultra runner with afib. I didnt know if I should be proud to be more active than most patients, or if I was being foolish. But then I thought about how pretty the PCT 50 course is, and how if I just train a little bit harder, maybe I can do just the one more race...
Jean Pommier captures me surprised, 10.5 miles in