Tag Archives: heart disease

Running with the wrong ICD settings.

For the better part of a couple years now, I have been baffled by inappropriately high heart rates that seem to bring with them, inappropriate fatigue, somewhat mirroring symptoms of running/training to hard. (over training syndrome). Initially when I started to notice these symptoms, my first reaction was to back off on the amount of running I was doing. But just simply cutting back the miles, and even slowing the pace seemed to produce no effect.  So after going right down the list of possibilities, I started seriously thinking about the things in my lifestyle that could potentially bring about a higher than normal heart rate, accompanied with higher than normal fatigue levels. I completely re-evaluated my diet habits and failed to see how it could be the cause. A big fear of mine, and with good reason, was the simple fact that advancing heart failure could produce the same identical symptoms, if in fact heart disease were to ever rear its ugly head again. Not a lot of comfort in that thought, but a fact I must always consider and take seriously, given my cardiac history. Gave me lots to think about for sure…

As excellent as I think my aerobic conditioning should be after 6 years of regular and consistent exercise that has included plenty of seasonal periodization/recovery so as to not over do it, my heart rate has not  followed suit aerobically speaking, but instead, has taken the high road, always hanging on the high side of what works out to be my aerobic threshold, even when running a very slow pace. Based on the lower intensity exercise I have been doing the last couple of years, having a lower aerobic heart rate, or lack of I should say, shouldn’t be an issue. But from what I have been seeing with the limited heart rate data, I believe my heart has been running 20-30 beats higher than it should be, and this seems to happen almost immediately anytime I exercise. And this increased heart rate doesn’t just gradually ramp up either. Instead, it ramps up really fast, and equally as strange, upon ceasing the activity, the high heart rate will drop, almost every bit as fast as it ramped up, but not before it feels as if its ramping up even higher for about 30 seconds after the activity stops, and then just like that, the heart rate will drop back down somewhere around 110-120, where it should have been all along.  Weirdest feeling…

 For the past two years I have done very little anaerobic exercise, instead staying focused on increasing the fitness level in my lower aerobic zone by running much slower speeds. I thought my previous neglect/training in this lower aerobic zone, might be partially to blame for the higher heart rates I kept seeing. But, moving on, after two years of only working to condition in that lower zone, my heart rate still erratically races off, going higher than it should, any time I break into a run. The heart rate ramps up and down as if something is controlling the heart rate with an on/off switch…

I can drag/pull a light truck tire behind me while walking a 15 minute pace  for miles and my heart rate isn’t going to break 100-110.  But, drop the tire, and break into even the easiest/slowest of runs/jogs, and immediately my heart rate appears jacked through the roof. Same thing comparing the data from biking to running. The biking data always reads much lower/stable and shows a consistently lower heart rate then running or xc skiing.  

After coming to the realization this was happening, my immediate thoughts were to question the settings on my ICD.  But to further compound the mystery and create confusion, as well as raising my anxiety level one call at time, each time I called the pacemaker clinic and asked if my device was somehow causing this,  I was always told the settings currently programed into the ICD would not allow it to pace my heart in this range. They also told me, that according to the history/data stored on the device, no pacing had taken place. I really had no choice but to take their word(s) for it, since they are the only ones who can actually see the data short of me filling out a bunch of requests and pissing off everyone in the process, just so I can personally view the data printed out on paper. Printing all the data out on paper was actually the norm for my first ICD, as this was prior to remote monitoring such as currently the norm.

On the last call I made to the pacemaker clinic less then a month ago, I asked the tech to recheck the device settings since I still believed I was being paced. As was the norm, the person on the phone at the pacemaker clinic repeated the same mantra to me, of how there was a zero percent the device was the cause of any problems. The tech went on to tell me instead, how the problem(s) I was encountering, were most likely on my end, such as with the personal HRM I was trying to use possibly being faulty, or, one of the more frustrating responses, “maybe I shouldn’t be running…?”  I was being treated like the problem was all in my head, caused by running, or both. At least that’s how I felt by the time I would get off the phone each time I made that call. Instead of the pacemaker clinic people genuinely listening and  hearing what I was saying/explaining, and then  helping me to find a solution by actively seeking/searching through the available data that is recorded on my ICD/device, (data only available to them, even though its stored within my body… weird hu…?),  they would instead leave me with the impression they seemed to think it unreasonable,  bordering criminal, that I would continually question the settings/setup, and  history on the device, after all, isn’t that the doctors job…? And the doctor would never make a mistake right…?

On one occasion, I almost went ahead and made the required appointment necessary for a face to face with the electrophysiologist so I could ask him about these problems.  But on past occasions he made it perfectly clear that he believed in no way, shape or form, that my healthy lifestyle was too credit for my success at achieving such remarkable health/recovery from heart failure. He not only made this clear to me on several occasions, but while I was in the recovery room after having this ICD installed, he stopped by the lobby to try persuading my wife, telling her she should talk some sense into me, because anyone with my history needs to be taking an assortment of medication since lifestyle modifications alone do not work for people given my cardiac history…

None of his advice was solicited, nor did any of it consider my excellent metabolic markers/health, lack of symptoms, and instead was an obvious knee jerk reaction to the fact my medical chart contained no medications… His advice was given purely based on his very limited knowledge, that I have a cardiac “history”. He knows very little of the history.

This is also the same doctor who when asked how I could facilitate the remote monitoring of my ICD in the event my wife and I spent a couple years sailing the Caribbean, rudely responded by telling my wife that sailing off the grid would be the same as signing a death warrant for someone with an ICD, and that she better bring a magnet. What he meant about bringing a magnet, was of course so she would be able to turn my dead corpse “off”, that way she wouldn’t have to sit for days at sea watching my dead body twitch as my ICD continued trying to restart the heart. At that point, I didn’t know if I should get angry, punch him in the face a few times, laugh really hard, or cry over the sickened state of this current “for profit only” medical industrial complex everyone keeps referring to as health care. This is not health care… Sick care at best…

So after thinking about my previous experience with this board certified quack, I decided to not risk wasting the expense and hours required traveling and checking in for what is almost always a lengthy wait in the waiting room, followed by  a 5 minute face to face with a doctor that would only end with some arrogantly made recommendation to stop running and take some medication. (I know… need to fire this quack and get another, or better yet, someone who isn’t a quack, unfortunately, few choices here in the Northland since our health care system was taken over and corporatized/nationalized).

In the two years leading up to this point, I had slowed down the pace of my running, biking and skiing efforts to a crawl, staying focused instead on slower/easier/longer efforts with lower heart rates, while keeping faster efforts/higher heart rates limited to strides, or HIIT (high intensity interval training) and limited to once a week at best. All of this, was in fact, just a personal experiment to see if I could increase my overall aerobic base, and the rate at which I can metabolize fat, (beta oxidation), to augment the keto lifestyle/diet I have been following for almost the same amount of time. This experiment took place over the course of a couple years and no doubt, I was becoming more curious/excited to see how my body would respond if I reintroduced some faster efforts after sticking with this slow approach for so long.

Since I do in fact feel a bit safer tracking the rate of my wounded heart with a HRM when pushing the limits,  I ordered up a new optical heart rate watch/monitor, and a HRM strap, hoping to capture some heart rate data so I could see how my heart would respond to the higher/faster paces. Unfortunately, after using new HRM/strap only a few times, I became discouraged and disgusted by the lack of accuracy in the data I was seeing. The data appeared very erratic as if my pacemaker was producing interference with the HRM.  

Every time I tried tracking my heart rate, the same thing would happen. My immediate thought, and rightfully so, was the possibility that the settings programed on my pacemaker were wrong, and it was causing the ICD to pace my heart, creating interference on the HRM. On several of the occasions this happened, I followed up with phone calls to the pacemaker clinic. On each occasion, the pacemaker clinic told me my pacemaker was not, and could not, be the cause of the inaccurate data I had been seeing on the HRM. After being told this repeatedly by the people who should in fact know, I became discouraged over the whole ordeal, and just stopped wearing the HRM out of frustration, instead, electing to run in the dark so to speak, as I was totally clueless what my actual  heart rate was.

Then last week, my running coach was helping me get me ready for Wild Duluth 100K and said he needed to see some heart rate data from the training he had me doing, prompting another deep dive into this issue once and for all. So I went to work on the problem, reading everything google could come up with on the subject, before getting busy with some experimenting. Believe me when I say I tried every way known to man, that a heart rate monitor can be wore on a human body, such as on your back, your torso, etc… I tried different types/brands of monitors. I took readings while using different modalities such as tire drags, bike rides, before, during and after breaking into an easy jog/run. Many times along the way I stopped and took my pulse the old-fashioned way, comparing the real time data against the HRM data.

No matter the pace, the warmup, etc…, every time I would start running, the heart rate data would immediately jump to a very high anaerobic rate before quickly becoming scrambled/indiscernible. Weirdest part of it all, I could pull a heavy tire up and down the road for a couple miles at a walk and my heart rate would barely hit 100-110 despite the same exertion level an easy run should produce.   But disconnect from that tire and start running, or better yet, let’s use the term jogging to describe what I was doing, (hate that word haha), and even at the very slowest/easiest of paces “jogging”, my heart rate would immediately ramp up into the 140’s-150’s… Weirder yet, doing a threshold run/walk, I could feel my heart rate elevate, and stay elevated, for about 30 seconds after I would slow to the walk portion of the exercise. This felt really strange…  so strange in fact, that I had been searching/reading/looking for an explanation behind this. Anyhow, it was at this point I figured out that motion, not effort, was to blame for the high heart rates and scrambled data. At this point, I knew my ICD was the cause, no matter the repeated assurance from the pacemaker clinic to the contrary, I believed what I thought should be just plain common sense.  

So this time around, instead of calling the pacemaker clinic like my previous attempts to solve this mystery, I instead called a friend, who called a friend, who put me in touch with someone, who put me in touch with someone over at Medtronic who knows a thing or two about that ICD embedded in my chest that’s connected to my heart. After less than a 10 second explanation of the problem, this person knew of a potential cause, telling me my ICD has what is known as an “activity tracker” that when turned on, would indeed induce pacing, not based on heart rate, but  simply based off movement, as measured by the accelerometer built into the device. After thanking the guy from Medtronic for the info and hanging up the phone, I immediately called the pacemaker clinic back, and once again asked they check the settings, specifically checking to see if the activity tracker was turned on, or off… I was put on hold for a short time while they checked to see what the settings were and after a brief time of listening to really horrid/crappy elevator music, the tech came back on the line and told me the activity tracker was in fact turned on.

Many thoughts started racing through my mind that point. I was happy to have the cause of this problem  known so as to be able to have these settings corrected to put this problem behind me, but also I was immediately concerned for both the device and my heart, knowing the device had now been wasting its battery power needlessly pacing my otherwise completely healthy natural intrinsic heart rate and in the process, potentially over working/punishing many of metabolic processes required to support the increased heart rate.  Most disturbing to me, the metabolic possibility(s), potential(s), but these would take a much longer blog to touch on so will save all that for another time. All these facts just further undermine my already diminished confidence in this medical industrial complex.

 Some doctors will quickly argue that it’s completely harmless to pace the heart, stimulating it with electrical impulses that elevate it above the body’s naturally selected intrinsic rate. I did in fact read a few studies showing some metabolic advantage(s) of motion/sensor/based pacing, but these studies were only done on people who had a very low, already compromised intrinsic heart rate. The subjects in these studies who were shown to benefit from pacing would not otherwise be able to get their heart rate above 100bpm without pacing…

The studies I mentioned above clearly did not take into consideration, or apply to anyone with an otherwise perfectly healthy intrinsic heart rate who is running marathons with ease, and is already able to hit a max heart rate heart rate of 187bpm, far above what is even considered to be an average/normal heart rate for a soon to be 53-year-old male. These same studies that where showing benefits of pacing people with low heart rates, showed no advantage to pacing anyone with a natural heart rate above 120bpm.   

The studies showing what happens when you run marathon distance and longer while your ICD continually shocks your heart because of improperly programmed settings, forcing the heart to beat faster as the ICD overrides the body’s natural intrinsic rate while determining the rate-response based off nothing more than an accelerometer built into the ICD, an algorithm built using  data from compromised people unable to get their heart rates above 120, along with a few other corresponding settings, all programed by an electrophysiologist who never ran further then his refrigerator for more of the crap food he so obviously eats as highly evident by his hormonally skewed pudge factor, (spare tire syndrome) …?  haha… These study’s do not exist. I am the guinea pig…

I had this current ICD installed after my first ICD suffered premature battery failure after less than 8 years of use. The reason for the premature battery failure was because unknown to me at the time, the device was pacing me at night due to improper settings. Like this current problem, it took a long time to figure all this out, and even longer to have the ICD settings corrected. Those incorrect settings not only screwed up a lot of my sleep, they also caused me to go under the knife for the replacement 2-3 years earlier then I would have otherwise needed… Wrong on so many levels…

So, when I was about to get this new ICD installed, I was very specific about what device, and what settings I wanted.  I put all of this in writing and had the discussion upfront with the electrophysiologist/surgeon.  My gut feelings at the time told me he was going to screw up the settings somehow just based on his know it all attitude. He already knows so much, that he must figure he doesn’t need to listen to anyone. Wish I would have listened to my guts instead of his arrogant double talk. It was clear from day one that I was obviously the first patient of his ever who was running marathons with my ICD, and asking for the specific settings needed to accommodate this lifestyle. He seemed to take great offense to me asking for specific settings, telling me more then once that I need not worry about any of the settings on my device, and even going as far at one point as to tell me I should stay off Google, as if I was an idiot, parroting what I read there…  

 I hope my heart forgives me for overstimulating it with electrical impulses over the course of running so many miles. The tech who corrected the settings and turned the “activity tracker” off was quick to try minimizing everything like it was just another groovy day at the pacemaker clinic. She was quick in pointing out that I had been paced less than 3% of the time and therefore didn’t think this was in fact a big deal.  

Pacing the heart 3% of the time might sound trivial to someone used to working with people who are paced more often. But consider that what constitutes that 3% of time I was being paced , is the same 3-4% of my time spent running the almost 3000 miles that I ran during the same time period. In other words, the 3% of time I was being paced, accounts for about 99% of the time I was running.

 I do my best to maintain the healthiest of balance between running and maintaining my once weakened heart. I started running late in life, only 4 years after my heart gave out, and at that point and time when I got started, my sole reason for running was only to see if could help improve my low heart function.  Back then I hated/despised running and thought everyone who ran must be an idiot.  But somewhere over the course of those 7,000-8,000 miles ran since, the reasons behind why I run have all changed.

Today I run because I love to run… Nothing more, nothing less. I love the way it makes me feel. The way it clears my head out, giving me the clarity needed to remain sanely focused when viewing/engaging this modern world and all its pitfalls (like this current pacemaker pitfall)… A nice run seems to just melt away all that stress and tension this world sometimes creates. I no longer run because I think running will somehow magically create a healthier heart (I believe there is great potential for the opposite effect if overreaching). Instead, I run because I love the way it makes me feel.  I will run as long as this body remains able.

If in fact I could not run without being paced by my ICD though, I would seriously reconsider any amount of running altogether.  After very little time researching/reading about “known effects of pacing”, such as pacemaker syndrome, I came across enough published science on the subject to draw a very clear understanding of the fact that pacing the heart with electrical stimulation can potentially lead to many other types of heart problems, such as arrhythmia, lazy heart syndrome, disturbed sleep patterns, ejection fraction, etc.…  And aside from all the effects on the heart, think of the metabolic hell being placed on the rest of the body in order to support the metabolic requirements of those higher heart rates being artificially forced by electrical stimulation to the myocardium. Consider also the fact I have heart failure. WTF were these pacemaker doctors and technicians thinking…?  Obviously, they weren’t.

To successfully and safely navigate this “corporatized/nationalized medical industrial complex”, aka as the “sick care system”, known to the uninformed masses only as the “health care system”, you dare not leave anything to chance by turning a blind eye to even your doctor. You must learn to be your own best advocate because no one else will. Iatrogenic death remains the 4th leading cause of death in this country. Not surprising to anyone paying attention…

Vasaloppett with a Wounded Heart

Vasaloppett 42K Ski Race

The night before my first race on skis found me  lying in bed wanting to sleep, but wide awake with a ton of different feelings running around in my head. Being able to tackle something as physically demanding as a marathon on skis despite my wounded heart stirs a lot of emotion, making me reflect on the times I was told by  doctors that I was dying of heart disease and all they could do was try slowing it down. I was told I needed the 13 different medications to stay alive for any length of time, and would need to take them for the rest of my life. The medications left me so tired that I spent most of my time siting on the couch missing my old life. All my doctors were very quick telling me  I needed to take it extra easy and slow. Short walks were ok and encouraged but much beyond that was discouraged by all the doctors I was seeing back then.  I was repeatedly told to except this as my new normal but thankfully there was a part  of me that just wouldn’t let this happen and I refused to listen to them. This was less four years ago, yet here I was,  ready to ski a marathon distance race.  I knew my body was in good enough physical shape for the task, and hoped my conditioning could make up for some of my inexperience and lack of refined technique. This was my first time around other cross country skiers/racers. Until this point, I had been on skies less than three months in over 30 years. Following is a brief rundown of how I found myself skiing the Mora Vasaloppet Classic 50K.

Earlier this winter, tired of being chased inside to my treadmill by wintry Northern Minnesota weather, I decided to break an old promise I had made to myself over 30 years ago, and that was to take up cross country skiing. Thirty years ago, while serving in the US military as a young Paratrooper, I learned to cross country and alpine ski in the Dolomite’s of Northern Italy, under instruction of the 4th Italian Alpini Paracadutisti (Alpini Parachutist) Regiment.

For two years in a row while serving in the US army while stationed in Italy, I received advanced instruction in  Alpine, Cross country Skiing, Snowshoeing and winter survival. The cross country skiing we did was on these old awkward cross country skis and alpini boots. The skis had metal edges, and required a felt climber to be strapped on for traction while going uphill, with a binding that could lock down for downhill travel. We wore heavy backpacks full of personal gear and carried a weapon, while pulling an ahkio (sled) behind us that contained 100’s of pounds in gear.  To pull the sleds, we used harnesses very similar to ones found on dog sleds, allowing 4-6 of us to pull the ahkio at once.

After about 5 days of cross country skiing that basically consisted of climbing up, over, and down one mountain after another while looking for a make-believe enemy, I promised myself I would never put on cross country skis again in this lifetime.  The worst blisters of my life came from those cross country Alpini ski boots. I really didn’t see any fun in any of it at the time. It was seriously hard, physically demanding work. Those mountains seemed to go on forever and my blisters only got bigger.  None of this necessarily prepared me for a race thirty years after the fact, but did give me a basic understanding of how cross country skies work, and if nothing else, it taught me how to push through the pain, a lesson later used at other times in my life.

So, last fall I decided it was time to break the promise made to myself so many years before, and I started researching classic cross country skis.  I was looking for something Heidi and I could do in the winter that would help carry and maintain our summer fitness level we had built while running, through to the following spring when we would be able to start running again. We settled on trying out some wax-less classic touring skis and went to get fitted for them at Pengals Basswood Trading in Ely Minnesota. The first thing I learned that process, is that when you are 6’2” and weight in around 210lbs, there will be very few ski options available in Ely Minnesota. Apparently, the average person buying skis weights 20 or more pounds less them me. Thankfully they had one pair that was a borderline fit. Heidi is much smaller than me, and they had many options for her, quickly producing a pair that fit her very well.

Another reason I decided to break my promise and was taking up cross country skiing was to take advantage of many of the 1000’s of groomed cross country ski trails here in Northern Minnesota. Cross country ski trails are everywhere in our area. Almost every town here on the Iron Range has a trail maintained specifically for cross country skiing. In Minnesota, once winter gets into full swing, it gets hard to run or bike because all the trails generally have a couple feet of snow covering them. All the highways and roads become dangerous to run on once the snow piles up leaving very little shoulder for pedestrians. This left the treadmill in the garage as our best option for getting in some cardio during previous winters. I really thought skiing through the winter versus spending it running on a treadmill staring at the inside wall of a garage all winter might be a better option for getting some cardio in.

Once we had our skis, we were super excited to try them out but unfortunately for us the weather wasn’t cooperating and none of the trails were tracked/groomed. Our first few outings, were on the Babbitt golf course and consisted of breaking our own trail around the outer edge of the property. We did this for almost a month before the trails were finally being regularly groomed. Once the grooming started, we began skiing loops on the golf course almost every night during the week while venturing off and discovering new ski areas on weekends.

It didn’t take long to realize the potential in speed I would have on faster skis. My skis were very slow because they were wax-less touring skis designed for someone 10 or more pounds lighter than me. My frustration continued to grow as I watched others pass me with ease, and this resulted in a lot of glide wax experiments trying to make them faster. But nothing would make them any faster, so I went back to Pengals Basswood Trading in Ely and bought a pair of wax-able race skis. This time, I was fitted with a nice, stiff ski that appeared to be a perfect fit for my weight. I was given a short lesson on waxing the kick pocket before heading out the door to try them. I couldn’t have been happier after trying them out. The glide was almost double that of my wax-less skis. For the first time in my life, I now understood the attraction to cross country skiing. Putting on a pair racing skis was life changing.  Nothing that soothes the soul and erases life’s stress the way quietly and quickly gliding through the woods on a gorgeous sunny winter day can. I woke up most mornings excited to go skiing when the conditions were nice. For the first time in many years, the cold seemed to melt away, and I found myself enjoying winter again.

It took a little time to learn how to choose and apply the many variations of kick wax. I ended up with a box full of different waxes for different conditions. but the pay off in speed was well worth the lesson. At this point, I was averaging  the same pace on my skis that  I normally run at while on flat ground or going uphill. The downhill sections I was going much faster than any pace I can run at.

By now, all the trails I was skiing were groomed and tracked. For the most part, I was skiing on fast pristine conditions most days and could ski 20 miles very easily without much effort. One night while relaxing for the evening, I came across an advertisement on the internet for the Mora Minnesota, Vasaloppet. The Vasaloppet is a 50K classic ski race that would be held the following weekend. I didn’t  think about it but for maybe ten minutes, before deciding to enter the race. I was nervous and excited all at the same time. A marathon on skis was something I wouldn’t have even been capable of just a year before, and at this point I knew I could finish without any trouble.   The following week was full of research on proper kick wax and glide wax for the expected weather conditions. I took my skis to Mesabi Recreation in Virginia, Minnesota and had the proper glide wax for conditions applied. I had to go to three different shops however to find the Klister wax(s) needed for kick. Weather conditions were going to be unseasonably warm with temps in the lower 40’s requiring a special wax combination. I settled on a hydrocarbon glide wax, and a three layer Klister kick wax combination with the help and recommendation of Mesabi Recreation.

The town of Mora, Minnesota host’s this annual ski race every year. The race begins and finishes on  main street.  With a fleet of dump trucks and heavy equipment, snow is trucked in until it completely covers main street. In places where the trail crossed the roads, snow was also trucked in and dumped across the road. It was an amazing amount of snow to haul and spread out. As we pulled into town the night before the race, I was absolutely amazed at how little snow there was on the ground. The lack of snow on the ground started making me doubt  they would even have a race but upon getting to the registration we were informed the trails would be good, but that due to the lack of snow, the 50K was now going to be 42K. This was somewhat disappointing because I had come to conquer a 50K ultra-marathon on skis.  I signed up for the  race and then Heidi and I walked across the street and attended the pasta dinner that was being served for the event at the American Legion. After dinner, we retired to our  room at the American Inn where  I did my best to get some sleep, however I tossed and turned most of the night, becoming more nervous as morning drew near.

Morning arrived and brought perfect conditions for skiing. It was about 30 degrees at the start so conditions would be fast. After about a 20 minute wait in line for the porta john, I headed to the start line,  picking a spot somewhere in the middle of the pack.  while finding my way to the middle of the pack, it quickly became obvious seeing all the brightly colored spandex cladded people with super human size legs around me that hanging with these guys would be by far the hardest and fastest I have ever pushed on a pair of skis.  The more I looked around the more I started thinking of how tiny my legs looked in comparison to everyone around me. They looked really fast in those shiny spandex suits. From what I could see, I was probably the only guy not wearing a bright spandex ski suit, and the guy with the smallest  legs.  It was intimidating being in that start que for the first time ever. No doubt, I felt like I was about to get schooled on the fine art of classic skiing. Thankfully I was able to get my intimidating thoughts under control and remind myself I was there to compete with the guy I was yesterday, and to learn from the Pro’s. Since the guy I was yesterday didn’t ski, I had already won just by showing up.

And just like that we were off. With a loud bang from the start gun it became a flurry of poles and skis. For whatever reason, I had never pictured the start of a race on skis. Being more of an optimist, I generally think about the finish line. Turns out, the start of the race was pretty intense. I had people running their skis up on the back of my skis, pushing me up on other people’s skies.  I lost count of how many times I was hit by other people poles, or hit others with my mine. For the first mile I kept thinking that If I crashed and went down the people behind me would run right over me. Everyone was headed forward as fast as they could go. After taking a painful jab to my foot from someones pole, I did my best to just tuned it all out and push forward. At that point, I was concentrating on keeping my ski tips about six inches off the skis of the guy in front of me. For the first mile or so, the pack seemed to stay really tight before finally loosening up and spreading out somewhat. The snow conditions were really fast. My wax was working out perfect at this point. The glide on my skis was incredible and the kick was just as incredible as the glide. I was hanging with the middle of the pack in these conditions with ease, and felt like I could easily hold the pace for the next 50K.

After a few miles, we came to the first hill. It wasn’t very high, but it was steep. I had no trouble running up the hill. I was amazed at how well my kick wax was working. I was able to diagonal stride most of the hill, and had no issues running in a herringbone pattern on the steepest portion before turning onto a short level portion leading to a very steep descent with a slight turn at the bottom.  As I approached the turn at the bottom of the hill I knew I quickly realized I was in trouble. I did my best to make the corner but ended up out in the woods. I took a good tumble but thankfully not injured and was able to pick myself up and quickly push on.

After I had gone about 10 miles or so, the conditions started to get really soft and I kept running into issues on the downhill sections. It was pretty obvious that I needed to practice more downhill trails to learn how to control classic cross country skis during a steep descent. They handle nothing like a metal edge ski on downhill and my inexperience was showing. About half way into the race I was still holding middle of pack right up to the point where I wiped out myself and two others on a steep downhill section. One of my poles went flying pretty far, and it took me a few minutes to pick myself up and find the pole before pushing on. I had taken a pretty hard hit, actually knocking over the guy that was in my way. At this point was really starting to dread the downhill sections. Thankfully there were not a lot of these steep hills, but just enough to show me my biggest weak spot. At that point, I promised myself I would ski more downhill sections in training until I  master turning on classic skis.

Not long after my biggest crash, the temps started pushing into the upper 40’s. By then, there was a lot of slushy/granular snow on the course. This type of snow, began icing up my kick pocket to the point It was slowing me down to a snails pace. With only about five miles or less to the finish, most of the trail  had this condition. I lost all my glide those last miles and basically had to run instead of ski. If I would have had a scraper, I could have scrapped off some of the kick wax to improve the glide, but I didn’t have one. So another lesson was learned. Another promise to self, next time bring a scraper with me.   By the time, I crossed the finish line I had fell almost to the back of the pack but I was on top of the world despite this fact. I had just completed my first 42K ski race. My wounded heart had no trouble keeping up with the middle of the pack. It was only my inexperience that held me back. Using the lessons learned in this race, I will be back next year and will lead the middle of the pack at the finish line…

Freeze Your Gizzard Blizzard 10K

Freeze Your Gizzard Blizzard 10K

Saturday morning found me wide awake at 4 a.m., thinking about a race. So many things going through my mind, with my heart being at the top of the list. Sometimes I get a little hung up over the logistical issues in cold weather like what shoes I should bring, how many layers of clothing I should wear, ect. But it doesn’t end there for me because I also need to look out for my wounded heart. I took up running to help strengthen the heart, not weaken it, and I believe there is a balance that must be met to keep everything on the healthy side. As a competitive person by nature, I love the adrenaline rush experienced in a race more than the competition itself. Most of my life I’ve been chasing that rush.

Whether I’m riding a snowmobile, motorcycle, driving a fast car, or a pair of running shoes, my apparent need for speed is nothing more than a craving for adrenaline. Since I started running only four years ago, I have discovered running has the same exact adrenaline producing effect on me as racing motorcycles and snowmobiles. No doubt about it, I am an adrenaline junky and love the added kick I get from a dose of adrenaline. Over the years, I have enjoyed various motorsports. I lost count a long time ago of how many snowmobile motors, dirt bikes motors, boat motors, and car motors, that blew up while I was using them to race someone or something. 99 percent of those motors usually died prematurely for one or three reasons. Exceeding the red-line, improper warm up, or a combination of both.

The only injuries I have suffered from running are muscle injury’s that occurred because I skipped warming up and pegged my heart rate to the red-line right out of the gate.  As most people who exercise hard, or who play sports already know, one of the fastest ways to take out a muscle is to work it work it too hard before allowing the body to warm up. 8 years of living with heart failure has taught me to view my heart much the same way as I view a high-performance motor.  Both need an adequate warm up period before they will function properly.  When doing anaerobic work such as racing in a 5k or a 10K, warming up is not only easier on the heart, it also results in a faster time.

There are many physiological responses that take place in the body during as we start running. Warming up properly, enables many of these Reponses to take place while the body is still in its aerobic zone. This results in a lower sustained heart rate once we are in the anaerobic zone. More importantly and to the point, warming up slowly places significantly less stress/strain on the heart.  After a couple years running exclusively with  a heart rate monitor, I learned that my heart rate runs 10-15 bpm faster during cold weather (like the weather at freeze your gizzard blizzard 10K). I have also learned through trial and error, that skipping the warm up for a 5k or a 10k, even during warm weather, significantly lowers my finish times while producing a higher average heart rate and a slower recovery. Cold weather significantly exasperates these issues since my heart isn’t pumping at full capacity.

Warming up before a race can be difficult during a northern Minnesota winter. Standing in the corral at the start line can be a chilling experience when your dressed in light running attire and the temperature is below freezing with snow on the ground. For me, to even think of a new 10K personal record, I need to run the first mile only a few seconds slower than the last mile. This  means that I must start the race at a pace that places me well into my anaerobic zone right from the start.

So after laying awake in bed thinking about all this stuff for half the night before the “Freeze Your Gizzard Blizzard 10K” I decided to skip the racing altogether and to just run for fun with my wife who races at a pace that’s 3-4 minutes per mile slower then mine. Although I did miss feeling that adrenaline kick, I had a blast. Running slower allowed me to relax and just have fun while taking it all in. I plan on running more races just for fun in the future. No pressure, no stress, just an enjoyable time running with my wife and hundreds of other people. It really was a great time. The City of International Falls did an awesome job of hosting this race and I was really surprised at how well everything was set up. Lots of small town charm and that friendly charm I would expect from a small town in the border country of Minnesota.

       Last June I was one of 26 people selected by Medtronic to attend an all-inclusive weekend for two which included an entry into the Twin Cities Medtronic Marathon for me and entry into the TC10 for my wife.  We flew to Minneapolis on Thursday afternoon where we were greeted by people holding signs with our names at the airport and chauffeured to our hotel where we were basically waited on hand and foot by our unbelievably gracious hosts for the next few days.  When we first arrived at the airport I was pretty focused on the race and  nervous, despite the fact I really had nothing to be nervous about …except  my own disappointment if I failed to get the sub4 finish goal I set for myself.  Thankfully we had a super busy itinerary that included activities ranging from dinner banquets and an awards ceremony, to a tour of the Medtronic building with the opportunity to meet some of the scientists responsible for the lifesaving technology in my Pacemaker/Defibrillator so I really didn’t have much time to worry.  

The weekend turned out to be way more than just a race.  It was more  a celebration of  life than a celebration about a race. The more I listened to stories of the other Global Heroes, the more amazing my weekend became. Everyone’s story touched me deeply.  Their tales were full of love, courage, and determination.  Everyone selected to participate in this race had a variety of medical diagnosis that would have permanently sidelined most people yet they had flown in from all parts of the globe to show the world life doesn’t end with a medical diagnosis.  Despite very challenging health issues these individuals were  wholeheartedly embracing their second chance at life and believed in living to it to the fullest.  The lifesaving technologies used by these individuals, coupled their with unwavering iron will(s), courageous determination, and a strong love of life has allowed them to continue to race while inspiring many others along the way.  Each person’s race began on a course filled with medical diagnosis obstacles but was won the day their feet touched the starting line.  

They race to give others hope and each of their personal stories is nothing short of amazing.  Despite unpleasant, and in many cases very painful circumstances, these people are all not only still smiling, they are living life with a passion.  I will forever be inspired by each one of their stories and so honored I was able share this special weekend as one of them.  

When I first read about the Medtronic Global Heroes Program early last winter, I immediately rushed to get my application in.  The application process seemed straight forward and easy enough to navigate through but I did get a little hung up while reading the rules when I came to the part stating you must have successfully completed a Marathon prior to applying.  I had yet to run in any race beyond a half marathon and had never run a distance beyond 15 miles even in training however I was confident I could conquer the 26.2 mile Grandmas Marathon in the spring.   Crossing my fingers, I submitted the application hoping Medtronic didn’t process it prior to my finish at Grandmas.  I was banking on being able to use my official time from Grandmas marathon to qualify me to run in the Medtronic Twin City’s Marathon as a Global Hero because the TC10 option just didn’t hold the same appeal for me. 

 I was notified by Medtronic less than a week before Grandma’s Marathon to inform me I had been selected.   

       I wanted to run fast enough at the Twin Cities Medtronic Marathon for a sub4 finish. No handicap of any kind, just 26.2 miles of pavement as fast as my body would carry me. I wanted to show others suffering from heart disease that so much more is possible then most have been led to believe.  I wanted to show the world that heart failure/disease is just a diagnosis that need not stop the race. The typical societal labeling that normally associates Cardiac Patients as fragile and weak need not apply in this miraculous age of medical technologies.

      Race day arrived and I  barely slept a wink the night before.  My best guess is I maybe got 4 hours of sleep, which is a far cry from my normal 8-10 hours of sleep.  I was excited but was also nervous.  I knew if I went out too fast I would crash and burn long before the finish line and my tendency to do this worried me.  Thankfully some of the other Global Heroes were planning to run the same pace as me with the same goal of a sub4 finish.

One of the Heroes, Jeroen Hoorn from the Netherlands, was accompanied by his father Leo Hoorn.   Leo is an accomplished marathon runner and normally runs much faster having a PR of 2:56 and over 33 marathons to his credit. Leo was gracious enough run slower in this race just to help pace us to a sub4 finish. I will always be super grateful for Leo’s help. Without it, I most likely would have  crashed and burned somewhere in those hills that seemed to never end.  I actually  met Jaroen  only weeks before while I was  in the Netherlands. The picture below was taken at my hotel in Amsterdam posing with Jeroen  about four weeks before we met again in Minnesota for the race.

The first 18 miles or so of the race was absolutely amazing.  Energy seemed to be everywhere including in my legs.  The energy emanating from the crowds was intense.  I had never experienced anything like this.  People were lining both sides of the streets cheering loudly.  My legs felt fresher then they had in over three months.  All my training seemed to be paying off.  For more than half the race I felt like I could have sprinted to the finish.  Thankfully Leo kept reminding me to slow down when my pace would start creeping up faster.   His steady pacing skills along with all the encouragement he kept handing out was invaluable.   

I was completely caught up in the moment and loving everything about it for the first 15-18 miles but then we started into the hills and it was a quick jolt back to reality but with lots of encouragement from Leo, I managed to stick with a steady pace.  I concentrated on trying to stay relaxed while lifting, not dragging my feet and focused on taking shorter, faster strides going uphill but eventually I couldn’t ignore the fatigue in my legs.  The  elated feeling of being able to run forever I experienced throughout the first half quickly faded to a faint memory.

In the beginning the smaller hills seemed easy enough but by mile 22 or so they felt completely out of hand.  Every time we came over the rise of a hill, another would appear in front of us.   As we continued heading up Summit Avenue my pace dropped 15-20 seconds or more and my leg muscles felt as if they were on fire. I had heard and read a few stories of people who underestimated the hills in this race and failed because of it so I was now wondering if I too had underestimated my ability to maintain the pace.  Every hill seemed to be higher and steeper than the last.  My brain seemed to do me a favor and shut down; I was no longer seeing the crowds or  thinking about how much fun we were having. I became so inwardly focused that I all thoughts of my surroundings disappeared yet doubts of my ability to finish crept in.  I pushed myself with all the strength I could find, digging really deep in the process; my body now in a complete state of physical  protest.  Each step seemed to hurt a little more than the last.  I became consciously aware of each step and  just did my best to stay focused on taking the next. Finally, we crested over the last hill and I could see the end. The finish line arch and cheering spectators were only about a ¼ mile or so down the hill. The Minnesota State Capitol building loomed in the background and created a very surreal backdrop for it all. As we closed in on the finish line Leo was  still right there with us but now he was telling us to run faster.  Between the large cheering crowd, Leo’s encouragement and the help of gravity going down a hill for the first time in about five miles, I was able to pick the pace back up as I crossed the finish line.  I immediately gave Leo a big hug.  I would not have got a sub4 finish without his help. The  last miles of the race were humbling and made this point more than obvious to me.  In the future, it will serve as a lesson to trust my training and stick to the plan; never start out too fast.

As I slowed to a walk after crossing the finish line, something knocked the wind out of me and it was probably 4-5 minutes before I was able to catch my breath and during that time, I shed a couple tears; the emotions were so overwhelming.

This had been about more just than a race to me and I felt as though I had WON it by a huge margin.  After all, I was racing the guy I was yesterday and he never stood a chance. Not even close.  This race was the culmination of a commitment I had made to take back my health and my heart and that morning, when my feet hit the starting line, I won.

In the beginning, I only took up running to see if it would help strengthen my heart. Up until that point, I had always thought of running as a chore and wanted nothing to do with running itself; the goal was only to achieve the associated health benefits and when I first started to run, I experienced many fears spawned by the possible consequences to my heart.  As a cardiac patient, they were logic fears but those fears always prevented me from experiencing the true joy that running is.  To overcome those fears,  I had to push beyond the boundaries everyone puts on a cardiac patient but those boundaries are often nothing more than fear and can be overcome as long as we are willing to make the effort.

Each time I pushed a new boundary, I found a new fear.  Some were warranted and required a visit to the doctor, while others I was able to work through by studying and self-educating myself to either put the fear to rest or find a way around it.   It took me three years and at times it seemed to be an endless process and there were times I wondered if I would ever get through it but in the days leading up to and culminating with this race I realized I had….  I cannot describe how incredibly powerful that feeling was.

     Running has now become a major part of my life and part of who I am.  I  have grown a really strong emotional connection with running I can’t fully explain at this point other than to say running restored my outlook on life as it strengthened my heart, mind and body.  It was through running that I was able to turn one of  the darkest periods of my life into one of the brightest.  I no longer running to strengthen my heart.  I run to celebrate the strength of my heart. I run because I love the way my body feels in an excellent state of health and fitness. I run because it clears my mind and gives me time to focus on the things in this world that are actually important to me.  I run because it gives me an awesome feeling of freedom and control over my life.  I run for the confidence it builds in me and how it continues to reward me through new adventures; all reasons not normally experienced by heart patients.  Running is a celebration of my ability to live life to the fullest without getting hung up on boundaries.  I plan to run as long as this body is able and allows.  No matter which one  of us wins in the end, (myself or heart disease), I will never again view myself as a victim of Heart Disease but instead choose to see myself as a victorious conqueror; a man who wasn’t afraid to fight back.  This race will always represent a significant turning point in my life and a very emotional one, rightfully so.

Every Medtronic Global Hero is a Pioneer in the world of modern medical technology. They are helping patients to eliminate boundaries that historically accompany a medical diagnosis . They are showing the world that a medical diagnosis doesn’t have to disqualify you from the race.   Without these heroes, the world may never have known the possibilities available to us through technology and devices made possible by company’s like Medtronic so I would like to thank the people at Medtronic for what they do, because without medical technologies like theirs, my dreams wouldn’t have been possible.  

As a survivor of both Sudden Cardiac Arrest and Congestive Heart Failure, I would never have attempted any of this without the  safety backup of my Pacemaker/defibrillator.  My ICD keeps a vigilant watch over my heart even if I am not able; always watching, waiting to take over in the event my heart needs help.  It’s become an integral part of me and allows me to pursue life with passion despite the damage to my heart.

I truly can’t find words that describe how awesome  it was to be selected as one of the 2016 Medtronic Global Heroes nor can I  thank Medtronic enough for the opportunity to run in the Medtronic’s Twin Cities Marathon as a 2016 Global Hero.  It was an experience I will never forget.  So thank you Medtronic…. from the bottom of my heart.

Click Here to View My Race Data on Garmin Connect


26.2 miles and across the finish line

After 18 weeks of training, Grandma’s Marathon finally arrived. For days I was glued to the weather forecast as the day of the race drew closer. The last forecast I read said race day would be cloudy with a high of 70. When the gun went off at 7:45 that morning, we had bluebird skiesGrandmas Finish overhead with a bright warm sun and it was already 71 degrees. I arrived to the starting line on the shuttle bus about 45 minutes before the start of the race and made my way to the bathrooms where I got in line behind what appeared to be five thousand people also waiting to use just one of the portable bathrooms available. Once the national anthem played, I was still quite a distance from the porta john and I started to get the feeling I might still be waiting in line when the race started. It was tempting to start the race and keep my fingers crossed in hopes I’d find somewhere to stop off somewhere along the way the way but with so many people in the race I figured it was probably not a very good idea plus it was rather like trying to not think of pink elephants; the harder you try, the harder it gets so I stayed in line and waited my turn.

When the gun went off, there were still several people in front of me waiting but eventually I did make it into a bathroom and came out on the run, hoping to catch up with the 4-hour pacer but there wasn’t a pacer to be seen and everyone was running much slower than I had expected. grandma's marathon 564-XL   The route was very congested and my way was blocked by hundreds of slower runners. Weaving my way through them slowed me down considerably for the first mile or two but eventually I was able to pick up my pace and finally saw the 4:15 pace group somewhere around mile 12 or 13, less than a quarter mile ahead.

I really started to feel the heat now as the sun climbed. I continued to chase the pacer for the next 6 miles or so, doing my best to keep my focus on staying relaxed and enjoy the scenery but was careful to take advantage of every bit of shade along the way. Around mile 19 or 20, the heat really started to feel brutal and I began to get nervous as I was in uncharted territory. I didn’t know at what point my body would give in and succumb to the heat. I felt chills one minute and was burning up the next. My pace slowed considerably in response so I decided to walk through the water stops while pouring water over my head to help my body cool and drank at least two full cups of water at each stop.IMG_0920
This tactic seemed to work wonders and by mile 24 I was able to pick the pace up again. Along the way many people now had hoses out with sprinklers going and some good samaritians even had showers set up to help the runners. I took advantage of every water source I came across and made sure I got as wet as possible. There was very little shade in this section of the route but any little bit that did come along, I was there. The last couple miles through downtown was shaded pretty well by the tall buildings which also helped cool me off and as I cooled down my pace got stronger. By mile 25 I felt pretty good and actually passed over 80 people in the last mile before crossing the finish line! CA shirt

Ever since I took up running some three years ago, I had dreamt about this day over and over again as I weaned myself off all my heart medications. Back then, I couldn’t run a mile without my body screaming in pain or protesting in some fashion. In fact, I would run out of breath just tying my shoes.  I had had no medical guidance beyond instructions to take my medications and the only medical advice I was given was completely contrary to both the exercise and the diet I was embracing. Since I did not find the predicted physical outcome on medication acceptable, I had taken a risk and with that risk came many obstacles. Mental, physical, cultural, and IMG_0891
environmental obstacles continually reared their heads and tried to thwart my progress but by the end of the first summer I was able to run six very slow but very steady miles. Seeing that much improvement despite my cardiac conditions, coupled with how much better I physically felt, not only gave me great hope but also created the motivation I needed to continue my pursuit to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

Finishing this marathon is proof medication was not my only choice nor the best choice for me, and it stands as a great example how powerful our lifestyle choices can be. Thirteen different medications and a pacemaker could not reverse the damage to my heart or stop the progression usually associated with heart failure; yet a few lifestyle and dietary changes enabled me to complete my first marathon at age 49 in spite of my cardiac conditions and medical prognosis.

I plan on running many more marathons in future, being a beacon of hope for the  others  diagnosed with heart failure. IMG_0896