As I sat in my cardiologist’s office with my wife Sharon yesterday, I asked him how I could have finished the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run and Hawaii Ironman after midlife if my arteries were so bad. He said, “Because you were and are incredibly fit.”
It was always a source of pride for me that I had reformed my lifestyle in my forties. I stopped drinking, smoking and lost 60 lbs. by a change in diet and exercise. At one point later on, I came to believe that if one was not “marathon fit”, one was not fit at all.
I was primarily a runner initially and that was my drug of choice. With all the constant “Training” I suffered the usual overuse injuries like ‘runners knee’ and torn hamstrings. There was a mystery injury that kept me from running consistently for two years. As I look back now, I believe it was Popliteal Tendonitis. Of course this pain didn’t stop me because being fit was more important than being sound. I believe it was Hal Higdon who once said that runners were the fittest group of injured people he ever met.
Getting into triathlons was an epiphany for me since I could spread the abuse around thus limiting training injuries. Of course one muscle, the heart, was ‘training’ all the time. I adopted the ‘Tri-Life’ and continue this exercise format even though I no longer compete.
My performance has slowed considerably and even though I reached my maximum predicted heart rate on a treadmill stress test two weeks ago; the cardiologist saw evidence of Ischemia on the EKG. I wanted a definitive answer and had equivocal results on a thallium stress test six years ago. I have pushed myself over the line so many times that I have learned to ignore discomfort. One ultra runner tee shirt I once saw stated, “The whippings will continue until the morale improves.”
I had angioplasty, which is considered the gold standard for determining heart problems and blood perfusion. What it amounts to is that I have an inadequate supply of blood to the heart muscle. The cardiologist inserted two stents and said that it would help but also said there were issues he could not solve. Even bypass surgery would not help. I would have to limit my exercise, keep my maximum heart rate down and take the usual protocol of medications. This included statin drugs to reduce cholesterol, beta-blockers, to reduce blood pressure, and a drug to thin the blood plus one 81mg aspirin per day.
This heart condition will limit my exercise and lifestyle, erode my malignant pride and eliminate one more facet of my life that I have used to define myself. I have lots to ruminate about but I know one thing. This fitness god I served for so many years was, in the end, a false god that massaged an ego bloated by pride. Was it focus or obsession? It was probably both and served a personality that needed rituals to calm the anxieties of life.
While this has been difficult to adjust to and accept, I know that as a Christian, I cannot serve two masters.
“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:20-21, KJV)