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Gotta’ Run: Listen to your heart!

Having a few poor runs is just part of being an everyday runner. Sometimes things just don’t click and some or all of the outing is a struggle. Such was my dilemma in early January. A couple days of just being out of sync got worse and I was pretty sure that something was up when my breathing became a struggle for most of a week. The defining factor was the inability to keep running for any reasonable distance past a quarter or half mile.

I went to a blood drive and the tech told me that my heart rate was irregular and wondered if I had heard that before. I had not, so she suggested I get it checked out. A call to my regular doctor resulted in several office tests and they found nothing. But I knew by then that my heart rate continued to be erratic with significant spells of what felt like missed beats, sometimes two of ten. I could feel the unusual beats in my chest.

Referred to a local cardiologist, the first step was to wear a 24-hour heart monitor. Quick results found that at least 5% of my heartbeats were classified as PVCs, or premature ventricular contractions. PVCs are quick beats that then leave a pause until the next regular beat. I was having them most mornings upon rising but occasionally any time during the day. The PVCs leave some of the blood and its oxygen behind, which in my case seems to be the source of shortness of breath.

Next came an overnight oxygen test which I passed wonderfully, meaning that sleep apnea was not a possible cause. A stress test, electrocardiogram and sonagram were all non-conclusive. I did OK on the stress test, but I didn’t feel strong and struggled with the quicker uphill running, which in normal times is one of my strengths.

Just last week, I had a CT angiogram, testing for blockages and any irregularities. All good on that one too. A common theme voiced by many of the medical professionals is that the PVCs or heart irregularities could have been cause by COVID-19, yet I don’t have the antibodies and have not experienced any of the standard symptoms.

The good thing is that over the last 10 days, my morning runs have been a little more energetic. Leg speed is a little better and breathing is too. Almost five months into this, I have been getting great help as we work toward a solution. Next up is a consultation on whether to use electrical stimulation to shock the heart back into normal rhythm, but that won’t come for more than a month. For the time being, I will just keep running while hoping and praying for continued improvement.

My son-in-law, Dale Baker, just spent nine days at Northeast on the heart ward and has now returned home. Lots of fluid around the heart was an issue and Dale and my daughter Ashley are making big lifestyle changes including diet and exercise. In Dale’s case, he almost waited too long to get help, but he is doing much better now.

One of our best 60-plus local runners is also having recurring heart issues. His heart rate takes spells of being too slow and during those times, his runs are a struggle. Discussion of a possible pacemaker have begun.

Another good friend, just in the last two weeks, was found to have a blockage and has been prescribed medicine as a first step to break it up.

At least in my circles, folks are talking about heart issues more than normal. My point with all of these examples is that we need to be aware of normal resting heart rate, any unusual shortness of breath, and just irregularities in general. If something seems off, get it checked out.

The Special Olympics Torch Run is Tuesday, May 18, at about 10 a.m. and is open to anyone. Contact Lt. Patrick Smith of the Salisbury PD if interested at psmit@salisburync.gov .

The next race ahead is the Main Street Challenge 5K on Friday evening, June 4. This is usually the biggest Rowan County 5K and caters to all levels of runners and walkers.

Look for more information on these and other upcoming events at www.salisburyrowanrunners.org .

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