Running with heart


Run the first part with your head, the middle part with your personality, and the last part with your heart – Mike Fanelli

“Running with your heart” has taken on a new meaning for me over the past couple of weeks.  I have unfortunately been spending lots of my spare time (or so it feels like “lots”) at my cardiologists office.  Yes, i said cardiologist.  While i have really debated sharing all of this with the outside world, I’ve just decided that’s it’s more “me” to be open and positive rather than feel like i’m keeping some secret.  Being private about all of this makes it seem like a bigger deal than I would like to allow it to be!

Where to begin?  Well, it actually begins about a year ago.  I had been off from running for about 7 weeks because of an injury and on one of my first solo runs back, I had pretty significant chest pain.  It freaked me out because it came out of nowhere but it went away as quickly as it came so I chalked it up to being cold and my lungs not being warmed up.  I  told Keith about the pain but we didn’t think much of it.  I eventually told my running partner because it would randomly happen so I felt like she should know (you know, “just in case” 😉 ) – but i still really thought it had some correlation to our cold runs.  (this is another reason i’ve decided to share now; seems a little irresponsible for me to keep this from my running buddies)

Well, anyway, the pain was never consistent and never as bad as the first time so I quit worrying about it and, from what i remember, I quit having the pains.  I, once again, was out all Spring with an injury so it never crossed my mind again.  No running meant no chest pains.  So, fast forward to marathon training this summer.  I hadn’t had a single pain until about 4-6 weeks before the race and on a training run, it hit me again, out of the blue.  It felt fairly significant but the weather was on the cooler side and i was also working fairly hard.  It didn’t really make sense to me so this is when i decided that it must have something to do with my asthma.

I made sure to have my inhaler with me on the following weeks of runs as well as on race day but it seemed that the pains were happening a little more frequently than what i was used to or comfortable with.  It’s not the kind of pain that will take you to your knees.  It’s just the kind that causes you to clench your teeth and breathe a little deeper until it’s gone.  I’ve always been able to run through it and within a minute or three, I’m usually fine again.

Race day came and went and was pretty uneventful.  I remember having a little tightness around mile 16 but didn’t think much of it.  I made myself a promise that i would make an appointment to see my doctor for another pulmonary test to make sure my inhaler is working correctly.  Of course, i didn’t think about making that appointment the following week but on my first, second, and third run after the race, the pain was significant enough to warrant a doctors appt.

(Mom, if you’re reading this, don’t freak out!  I’ll be fine!!)

I went to see my internist and promptly told them (nurse practitioner / avid runner and my doctor) that i needed a pulmonary test because i was having asthma issues.  Well, within about 20 minutes, I was being rushed out the door and directed straight to Stern Cardiovascular Center.

Apparently it has nothing to do with my asthma and everything to do with my heart.  Who knew?!  Within the past 2 weeks I’ve had 3 appointments, 2 EKG’s, 1 stress-echo, and have been diagnosed with a heart murmur and leaking in both the mitral and tricuspid valves.  The kicker is that the heart doc doesn’t think these things have anything to do with the chest pains.  I guess it’s just bonus knowledge that i now have.  I’m told not to worry about these new tidbits of information.  I must say, i was thrown for a serious loop to hear that something is wrong with my heart but I’m constantly reminded that the fact that i am a runner, a non-smoker, and in good general health, I have a lot of factors on my side. (PSA: to all of my smoking family and friends, please stop.  your heart wants you to stop!)

I have another test coming up to check for blockages and whatever else they’ll be checking for.  It’s a test he’s somewhat hesitant to give me because of the radiation dosage and the fact that i don’t have kids (yes, just another reminder that i am unlike most 38 year olds…geez!) but we’ve agreed that it’s a test I need to have so we can move on to the next step.  We could possibly get some answers about the chest pains from this test.  (good news is that i haven’t had a single chest pain in the past 2 weeks!  woo hoo!)

We’re hoping for good results from the next test.  I have a good feeling about it and my cardiologist has challenged me to run an ultra if my results are A-ok.  What kind of freak is he?!  😉  I’m currently allowed to run but just to “proceed with caution.”  He doesn’t want me to have to always proceed with caution (apparently he’s into reckless abandon) so he is anxious for some good results from the upcoming test.  We’ll see…

Thinking back, i feel kind of silly at how i reacted in my doctor’s office.  As they were rushing me to Stern, i was fairly unconsolable and although I was freaked out at the idea that something is wrong with my heart, I was completely unconsolable when he said, “absolutely NO running!”  I just kept telling him that running is what i do.  Running is what i love.  Running is what i share.  The thought of no running was more than i could handle.

Fortunately my cardiologist is a bit of a physic and he knows that I NEED to run.  Running helps my heart and no matter what issues i’m having, they would be so much worse if I weren’t a runner.  I have an exceptionally low heart rate (this is a good thing, by the way!) thanks to running.  I have a strong heart thanks to running.  I have new knowledge about myself thanks to running.  I can possibly get less radiation than the average 38 year old thanks to running.  I am staying sane thanks to running.

Running has and is helping me, both mentally and physically.  This has been a pretty surreal experience; there’s nothing quite like going from thinking I needed a new inhaler to using the term “my cardiologist”….and being the youngest person by about 50 years every time i go to the doctor now…but I’m just grateful that I’m still running!

Now when i run, i’m REALLY running with heart.



4 thoughts on “Running with heart

  1. Oh my goodness. I am so glad you have the smarts to follow up on your health concerns even (especially) if they led to knowledge of such a serious condition. It is too easy to pass something off as nothing but you knew your body…another benefit of being a runner. Take care of yourself, or better, let Keith take care of you. Stay strong.

  2. I believe they have misdiagnosed you from the start. I believe that your heart is too BIG and you give too much of it! But in all seriousness this is scary to say the least. It reinforces the cliche that time is the greatest gift and it is all that anyone should want more of. You are strong, smart and a good patient for sure. This will be a life changer for someone who probably does not need it as much as the rest of us. I know when I struggled and pushed myself for about the past year, that in my mind I keep telling myself how STRONG I am making my heart and that muscle is more important than quads, biceps etc. Now I truly believe it! To all….take notice, your health is everything.

  3. took me a couple days to remember to respond to this… but let me echo what star said about smoking. Just recalled that new years eve was the FOURTH ANNIVERSARY of the last time I ever smoked a cigarette. 3 years, 337 days later I completed a marathon. I don’t think that ever would have been possible if I’d still been smoking a pack and a half of marlboro reds everyday. But running references aside, I’m probably in the best cardiovascular health I’ve ever been, I feel better, and I stink less (well I don’t stink like CIGARETTES anymore…).

    This is not aimed at anyone in particular because you know I love you all, but PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE stop smoking. Now that I’m starting into my fifth year as a non-smoker I can honestly tell you it is the best thing I’ve ever done in my entire life.

  4. Wow. Thanks for sharing. The unknown is scary and thoughts and prayers are headed upstairs during this testing phase. And even if there is no ultimate answer, diagnosis or explanation, this process will rule out a bunch of stuff. (I had 2 grand mal seizures 12 years apart, one while running, and no real medical reason given for either one! I have also had severe chest pain like you describe which was diagnosed as mitral valve prolapse.) surround yourself with what lifts you up and let those you help and encourage, now do the same for you.

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