Running For Life
My title is a little deceptive because I no longer run. But I ran for a long time, from high school into my mid-sixties.
All three of my sons, now 41, 37 and 32, as of my writing this, became champion high school runners in cross country and track, and recreational runners since then. My oldest, Devin, recently set a personal record in the Bay State Marathon. He ran 26.2 miles in 2:42:08, a 6:07 pace for each mile. You might say running is a family tradition.
Thinking it wouldn't happen to me
Even though there is a history of heart disease in my family, especially among previous generations of men, I never expected I would have a problem. I was a periodic smoker until I turned thirty, and alcohol was part of my life until I was 44, but running and other recreational activities always kept me relatively lean and fit.
I remember reading about the bestselling author and running enthusiast, Jim Fixx, who had a heart attack and died while running. He was only fifty-four. That will never happen to me, I thought at the time. There are no indications that I have a heart problem.
I ran my last half marathon when I was fifty-six, then a couple more 10Ks and 5Ks that took me into my late fifties, and then I turned to trail running just for fun and fitness. No more races. I liked being alone on a trail in the woods, and I particularly liked running uphill. It gave me the most bang for my running buck.
So it came as a surprise when symptoms I chalked up to fatigue turned out to be signs of coronary artery disease. An abnormal EKG and an angiogram yielded two blocked arteries that led to the installation of one stent and my first daily medication, a statin. That was in 2010.
When I look back to that time now, I realize that my weight had been creeping up and that my high-stress job as a high school principal who consumed maybe a little too much comfort food, might have contributed to the problem. Or maybe it was just genetics.
Two years later, after a strenuous backpacking trip in the Eastern Sierra, I experienced symptoms again, and this time I had a mild heart attack. Another angiogram, another blocked artery, another stent. Fortunately, I’ve had no other problems since then, and my annual tests are clean.
Now I occasionally shuffle up a hill (a knee injury in 2013 hinders my running), I try to get in at least one backpacking trip each year, I walk the golf course when I play, and I walk my dog a couple of miles each day on my way to at least 10,000 steps a day.
I often wonder what would have happened had I not started running in the '60s and more or less kept it up for forty years. Maybe I wouldn’t be writing this essay about running and CAD. Maybe I would have joined my father and his father, both of whom succumbed to heart disease relatively young. I’ll never know, but I’m glad I started running for life early and that I’m still here to write about it.
Do you use exercise to help manage your heart failure?