Ultrarunner fighting Atrial Fibrilation (AF)

This blog has pretty much always been about running ultras, mostly Hardrock. It still is but now it is also about running after AFib. I was forced to miss Hardrock in 2011 due to the onset of AF but my long term goal was to get back to running milers. And hopefully help any other runners with AF who stumble upon this site. I never made it into Hardrock in 2012, or 2013, or 2014. I didn't have a qualifier for 2015. I ran Fatdog in Canada instead. That was tough. I finished my 4th Hardrock in 2016 and now I'm back to try for the magical number 5.

If you want the history of my AF the heart problems all started back on May 25 2011: http://howmanysleeps.blogspot.com/2011/05/out-of-hardrock.html

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Another cardiology consult

I ran alone again last night. The weather was atrocious. The dogs didn't even move away from the heater when I headed for the door. I was wearing 3 layers on top plus a light running jacket, polypro beanie, buff around my neck, full length heavy tights, and polypro gloves. A cap kept the rain out of my eyes. The biggest problem was walking/shuffling so slow meant I couldn't warm up. My hands were freezing even in the gloves. Ordinarily I would probably just skip my run in these conditions. Not anymore. If I haven't run and I am scheduled for one I am out there. I will never take running for granted again.

I have a new rating system to describe my runs. On the heart medication it feels like I am dragging a tyre behind me when I try to run. Sometimes it feels like I am dragging 2 tyres at once. Sometimes I am dragging a tractor tyre. I don't like to talk about those ones. Last night was a 'one tyre' night. I ran again this morning, unusual to run 2 days in a row but opportunity knocked. This was a 'two tyre' run. I had just had my morning medication and clearly the effects were strong. We bumped into a runner I know and he turned and ran with us a short way but soon realised I wasn't going to talk. It was more that I couldn't talk. It was taking everything I had just to keep moving.

I revisited my cardiologist today. I updated him and he said that it looks like I need to see the ablation specialist (who I had preemptively booked in to). That is not for another 3 weeks. So I am to remain on this relatively low dose of beta-blockers until then. No solution to the side effects. Except more time off work. I pretty much expected all of that but left rather disappointed nonetheless. I haven't had an episode of AF for 2 weeks. But I am still suffering regular arrhythmia and I can feel my heart 'jumping' to try and flip into AF but the medication is suppressing it. A very unpleasant feeling like my heart is actually rotating inside my chest. I have had more anecdotal stories of successful ablations (thanks Darcy) so I am really pinning my hopes on that now.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Not going to Hardrock

Today is the day I would have flown out to Hardrock. As I have done the last 3 years. It feels a little weird and a lot disappointing. It will be really hard following the online progress of the race and not being there. It will be tough watching friends drop out, and feeling their pain. It will be rewarding watching other friends finish. It is going to be tough not being there. I will miss the people more than the race.

But I need to deal with my heart problem. I will be in that notoriously difficult lottery again next February. I plan to get back to HR and get that sub 40 hour finish I so badly want. I need to believe that will still be possible.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Trying to find motivation

this is my heartrate sitting on the
loungeroom floor at rest even
while on medication

For the first time in my life I almost hate running. I am not injured. But I struggle to get out the door. Once out the door I struggle to get going. Once going I struggle to keep going. Then I struggle to get home again. Running has become a real struggle. It is no longer the pleasure that I once knew. I could quite easily just give up. I am not seeing any fitness gain. I do not need any weight loss. I have no race I can train for. And it is definitely not providing any sense of wellbeing. I come home feeling more crap than when I went out. I gasp for air walking up a hill. My legs feel like lead running down a hill. The flats are a shuffle barely more than walking pace. The winter has settled in with cold and dark evenings. It has also settled on my heart like a cold dark cloud.

But I will not give in. I know I can beat this. The drugs are like poison but they keep my heart in check. Well at least most of the time. And that is the point, the drugs are not a cure. They are to manage the problem and even then it is a compromise between keeping me in sinus rhythm and allowing me to still function as a human being. Right now neither objective is totally successful. I see the cardiologist again next week. Time to look at the other options. I need to run again. I doubt I will ever be able to run like I want again. I don't mind going slow. But I need to have this weight lifted off my heart and this cloud to clear.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Trying to run

my heartrate

I went for a run last night. Hardly worthy of comment you would think. But for someone who eats, sleeps and breathes running it is something I no longer take for granted. It was bitterly cold. And raining. And dark. Conditions that would normally keep me warm indoors. I hate being cold. I really hate being cold. But I hadn't run in days and I needed desperately to reconnect and that was the only way I knew how.

My medication suppresses my heart function. Imagine towing a tyre behind you. Except that it is a tractor tyre. That is how I feel. And I still need to keep my heartrate down so I am little more than shuffling. I can do that. I have dragged my arse up and down mountains on sheer will power. This is nothing.

I wrap myself in thermals, tights, gloves, buff and running jacket. My cap kept the rain out of my eyes. I walked to get started, allowing my heart to slowly adjust. As soon as I started to shuffle at 8min/km pace it took off. 140bpm while shuffling? I regulated my breathing and slowed even more. I could walk faster than this. It dropped but sped up immediately without provocation. My heart sank. Figuratively. What more could I do? I was going as slow as I could. I was on the meds. Bugger it. I would just push on as slow and as regulated as I could.

I could feel my heart speed up and slow down, with no correlation to my effort. But I needed to run. I needed to know that despite all of this I could still run. I wasn't dying for god sake. I needed some perspective. I have a friend who is dying of cancer. That is truly sad. My problem pales by comparison. I have another friend paralysed from the neck down. This gives perspective and a reality check. I can do this.

15 mins in and I am still yo-yoing up and down but keeping a slow steady rhythm in my running and breathing. I enter a recreational park and footballers are leaving the ground after training. The lights on the towers are still blazing away, lighting up the oval. As I run past the last tower I look up and the rain is spiraling down. The shimmering cascade is hypnotic and I run mesmerised as the rain drops fall towards me backlit in the broad beam of light. Euphoria washes over me and I reach one of those rare moments in running where I can feel nothing and nothing really matters. The sheer beauty of the moment carries me away from all my cares and I move without effort.

As I pass from the light back into the darkness the moment recedes but the experience travels with me. My shuffle feels light and I don't care how slow it is. I am running and that is all that matters.

Eventually my heartrate stabilises at a regular 120-130 bpm for most the rest of the run. I run for an hour and finish with a walk. It is a far cry from any ultra but it means nearly as much to me. We take so much for granted and so often sweat on the detail that it causes us to miss what is really going on and what is really important. Sure there is so much more to life than running. And so much more than ultras. But for me running ultras is so much of my life. I still need to feel just a little of that. However brief. However hard.