Run With Your Friends

Over the past three years, I have become more and more distanced from my local running friendships, and a couple of Facebook conversations this week prompted me to share my conclusion that in-person running friendships are not something to take for granted, that despite your specific training plans which may make it hard to “lace up and go” together, it’s worth figuring out how to make it work.

RUN WITH YOUR FRIENDS

When I first started being coached, I began heart rate based training. The result was that my workouts were structured around lengths of time at specific zones. For example, as opposed to “run three miles,”  a typical workout may be “warm up ten minutes at Zone 1, run 20 minutes at Zone 2, 10 minutes at Zone 3, cool down 10 minutes at Zone 1” or “here’s a workout on iTunes — put it in your ears and do what it says” (not an instruction from my current coach) or “every 20 minutes, run at a higher heart rate zone for 3 minutes and then slow back down”). It was a little complicated to get my head around and I felt awkward telling people “even though I can run faster, I have to watch my heart rate monitor and stay within a zone so don’t pay attention to me.”

Run With Your Friends

A typical “with surges” workout in Training Peaks.

Related to this change, I began isolating myself from group runs I previously had participated in. In addition to the specificity of the workouts, my first coach did not want me racing as much as I had been (translation: almost every Saturday). The withdrawal from frequent racing made sense from a training standpoint but took me further away from the Saturday morning visit/run/sweat/eat routine.

My initial goal of being coached was to prepare for my first half marathon (September 2012) but after that I was single-focused on my goal of the sub-30 5K. That’s why I stuck so religiously to the “less racing” and “more following coach’s instructions to the letter” plan even though it meant being separated from my running peeps.

I vividly remember one friend saying of the Saturday morning group runs, “We’d invite you but we know you do your own thing.”

To be fair, a certain amount of my running has always been solitary. Early morning runs before work are sometimes more easily accomplished by just knocking them out in the neighborhood. I’m not always able or willing to meet a group at 7 a.m. on a Saturday. I love running alone but I also love the people in my running community. The farther I got into my little training world, the more distance grew between my local running friends and me.

I can’t say exactly when I began refusing to accept the impact my coaching plan had on my local running friendships, but I saw a subtle shift about a year and a half ago, when I started meeting a group of Moms Run This Town (MRTT) runners on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 5:30 a.m. for their runs. I was always the “caboose” and still running alone but it made a difference to start out with a group, to say hello to friends, and for someone to know I was out there (and to have a change of scenery from my neighborhood loop). It was a little silly to drive 20 minutes there and 20 minutes back, sometimes for a 40 minute run, but some actions that add quality to our running lives are not measured solely in minutes spent.

Run With Your Friends

The term “local running friends” should be broadly interpreted to include Miniature Pinschers, of course.

The more obvious shift came when I began experiencing challenges with my heart rate, leading to my April 2015 EP study and diagnosis of multifocal atrial tachycardia (MAT). Because an ablation was contraindicated (for now), I am currently taking a beta blocker half an hour before I run and, although I am sure there are plenty of runners out there accomplishing a sub 30 5K on beta blockers, I am dubious that is in the cards for me, so I am re-assessing my goal.

And it bothers me that before I got to the point of reassessing that goal, my path took me farther and farther from my local running friends, leaving me with a goal unaccomplished (I hate that!) and social bridges whose support pilings were on the verge of being washed out due to neglect.

That is why, when I got into those two Facebook conversations last week, I sent back responses that were hopefully articulately, sensitively, and diplomatically worded but were intended to say:

RUN WITH YOUR FRIENDS!

IT IS MORE COMPLICATED AND YOU’LL HAVE TO BE CREATIVE BUT …

RUN WITH YOUR FRIENDS!

I am not saying that coaching is a bad idea AT ALL (I LOVE my coach and my team at KR Endurance) and I believe in the effectiveness of heart-rate based training. BUT don’t abandon your local running friends.Whatever happens with your coaching journey and however many workouts you check off as complete in an online training system, none of that can replace:

  • Scrambling to make it to pre-race photos
  • Shared Finish Lines
  • Conversations over breakfast/coffee/beer/pizza (and Tuesday Post-Track Tacos of course)
  • Sacrificing your time goal on race day to help a friend who is struggling or has injured themselves
  • Sweaty hugs
  • The growth of trust and history with fellow runners that only accretes through being together regularly

Run With Your Friends

Why I Agreed to the “Human Microchip”

I have been doing heart rate-based (HRT) training since April 2012. HRT focuses on the athlete training to certain heart rate zones rather than focusing on pace, speed, distance, or perceived effort. Read this post from RunRunLive for a great basic explanation.

Setting your heart rate zones involves a max HR test and threshold testing (at least the way I have done it). Mine have been revised since I started, but they currently are:

HR Zones

Signs of an Issue

From April 2012 through February 2013, my HRT was going just fine. The first sign of any issue was the Flash 12K on February 16, 2013, when my Max HR was 229, well above my aerobic capacity of 186. I sort of wrote that incident off as a fluke.

I became less able to call my HR issues a fluke during the Summer Trail series of 2014. Granted, running in Tallahassee in the middle of the summer is an invite to strenuous running, but it did not feel right. I had to stop and walk several times to allow my HR to come down when it climbed above 200.

As I wrote in my Turkey Trot 2014 Race Report, the HR issues became more pronounced and more frequent, especially at the Boston Mini Marathon and the Turkey Trot (then at the Swamp Forest Race on January 3, 2015).

The Process of Finding an Answer

Right before the Boston Mini Marathon, I had been cleared by a cardiologist after a ten-minute stress test and a cardiac echocardiogram. After the Boston Mini Marathon, I called him back and asked to reassess. That is when he referred me to an electrophysiologist.

Twice (at least) the first cardiologist said “at some point you may have to get a loop recorder.” Twice (at least) I said “oh if it comes to that I won’t go as far as to have something implanted under my skin.”

When I met with the Dr. Silberman, the electrophysiologist, he reminded me that “you can still stay fit without running.” (I know, all you runners out there ……. I hear you laughing at the screen!). To his credit, he also recognized that running is quite possibly saving my sanity. (Also, I contend that as a runner I avoid so many health problems that would make me costly to CHP: diabetes, blood pressure issues, problems brought on by unhealthy BMI, etc.)

He explained that the implantable loop recorder really is the best option to help him gather information. One likely diagnosis is Atrial Fibrillation (which is described here).

Since the incidents occur sporadically, some diagnostic procedures will not yield the data he needs. Therefore, I agreed to what my teammates and I have come to fondly refer to as “my human microchip.” It looks like this:

LINQ

 

(And if you want to see exactly where it is, click this link. I am not a fan of subjecting people to “wounds” or other TMI pictures on social media but by the same token if it helps with education, I don’t mind. (This picture was taken the day after implantation; it is a tiny little scar now.)

So Much Waiting

And now I wait. I wait while my microchip records (and transmits data to my electrophysiologist’s office nightly). I wait for an incident to happen so I can use my handheld “patient assistant” to mark the incident.

 

Next Steps

After sufficient data is collected to give the Dr. Silberman the data he needs, I have a couple of choices:

  • An ablation, in which the short-circuit is corrected via radiofrequency energy
  • Plan B (ps – I don’t know what Plan B is…)

Medication is not an option because my blood pressure is already on the low side, and most medications would exacerbate that. I assume Plan B would involve life style changes, such as less caffeine and less racing. I really don’t know right now.

Putting It All Together

This title may be mislabeled because this situation does not feel “together” yet. I can tell you the questions/concerns swirling through my mind:

  • It is strange when people describe the various heart rhythm disturbances by saying “one kills you instantly and one only heightens your stroke risk.” I simply don’t see the value of that “only” before “heightens your stroke risk.”
  • I have stopped drinking caffeine prior to my runs. In 2005, during a previous set of cardiac evaluations, Dr. Batchelor advised me to stop drinking caffeine. About a thousand gallons of Diet Coke (before I stopped in January 2013) and coffee later, I have to admit that he may not have been making a passing suggestion.
  • I am so grateful for the people who look out for me and who share their stories. For Shannon Sullivan, who was basically going to put me under house arrest until I asked the cardiologist who had just cleared me to refer me on to Dr. Silberman, for Mary Jean Yon, who has been so  helpful by sharing her story (and telling me to not be so conservative that I don’t get data!), and to David Yon who is the best, most supportive researcher you could possibly want on your side. All of them have encouraged me to a) stay healthy and b) not throw the towel in on running.
  • All of the technology involved in this process is simultaneously reassuring and question-raising. When I had my loop recorder implanted, the Medtronic representative was present. When I had my first in-office visit, he was present. What happens if Medtronic changes hands? (I know there will be contingency plans but I have seen a few awkward situations among my relatives who have pacemaker/defibrillators and can’t resist questioning.)
  • I miss running free of worry. I know I am fortunate compared to the challenges many runners face. It is simply not a relaxing or release-filled time for me in my running life.
  • I have to “let go” of so many concerns about what others think. Dr. Silberman advised if I am having an episode to lie down and get in a sit-up position to break the cycle of whatever is going on electrically for me. That just sounds like an attention-getter (but if it saves my life, who cares?). I feel self-conscious about the fact that I represent my incredible team, KR Endurance, but with the fact that my times are getting slower, not faster, what kind of example am I of the incredible work our coaches do?

I love running and the running community. Now that I have shared my situation with runner friends, people are coming out of the woodwork to discuss their own experiences. I am not alone in having a health challenge, and I know wherever this process takes me, I am fortunate to have the support of many people.

Now that I have a microchip, anyone want to put a leash on me and take me for a run?