Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Coping with the effects of decades of running.

 I enjoy a daily run and I enjoy a daily drink of alcohol.  Rarely miss out on either.   Not unique in that. Many runners "reward" themselves with a couple of pints of beer or lager after a club training session or on the way back from a race.  After half marathons and even the odd marathon I have genuinely felt a couple of pints has served as an excellent recovery drink.
 But over the years a degree of moderation has been introduced.  With my training  I am running on average about 60% of what I was in the peak years.  Over the last couple of years I have felt alcohol has needed moderating and cut down to one can of Pils per night with the occasional glass of wine.  Hardly a "session"! I had been sharing a bottle of wine with Pat Thursday through to Sunday with the cans as well; and I decided it needed  cutting back.  Seems I was right to do so.   Not because of weight gain or the effect on the brain but how it effects the heart.
  This time last week  I was reading an article about how otherwise healthy people often have just a few too many units of alcohol whilst on holiday and consequently suffer "heart rhythm problems".  A phenomenon known as "Holiday Heart Syndrome".     With alcohol coursing through the body, palpitations, breathlessness, chest pains and lightheadness can be suffered. Not good.
 I would have guessed that "Holiday Heart Syndrome"  referred to  what young girls experienece when boys they fall in love with on holiday fail to get in touch afterwards. But no,  binge drinking , very often when away is the cause. 
 I've certainly been there going away with friends.   Strolling down a foreign  promenade, blazing sun high in the sky, passing beach cafe late morning  or for lunch and already  sat with pints of the ice cold amber nectar in front of them.   We take a table and  stroll on two pints later.  Only problem being I would have to train for the second time in the evening.  Perhaps OK when I was younger but not anymore.
 I have been suffering some abnormal "heart rhythms" over the last couple of years; sometimes going to bed only to lie awake with the heart  hammering away disturbingly for some hours.  Extremely unpleasant and quite alarming.  Naturally I've been trying to work our what has been "triggering" it off.
 I tried to relate the occasions to hard sessions or races.  Not so.  
 I  thought it might be paracetomol; so I stopped taking that.   No luck.   I  thought it might be down to coffee; so I stopped drinking that.  Still the occasional problems.   I experienced severe palpitations having eaten a very dark chocolate ice cream;  thought that might be the cause.  Still occurred.
 The article gave some explanation as I read further. It  said that another group prone to abnormal heart rhythms (atrial fibrillations) are MEN AGED 40 TO 55 who are still training  strenuously ....PARTICULARLY RUNNERS! and that if such runners experience palpitations they should consult their doctor.
 You can imagine at this point alarm bells were ringing.  Particularly when I had a very bad occurence that very night. but needed to know just what the medical people thought.
 So come Wednesday morning I was on the 'phone making an appointment and minutes later was sat discussing the problem with my G.P,  within two hours I was having an E.C.G.! 
 The initial diagnosis is that what I have been suffering is ATRIAL FLUTTER.  Not sure quite how this is different to ATRIAL FIBRILLATIONS! But no doubt further discussions will follow.
 Whilst accepting that decades of running enlarges the heart and accepting that alcohol can have a toxic effect  I  put it to the G.P. my asthma preventive medication may be playing a part. She said it might and suggested cutting it down from 4 "puffs" to 1. 
I decided to cut it out altogether.
She suggested also perhaps easing  back on the training.  Well I did that day; just a vert pleasant 2 mile walk with Pat.  But  needed to see how cutting out the preventive inhaler  would  effect things.
So how has the last week been? 
Well I have not really eased back on the training...much.   A good hill session on Friday,  a couple of solid hilly runs whilst in the Lake District, Saturday and Sunday and  6 x 400 on the grass track today.
   How has the heart been?  Pleased to report, no problems!
So I'm going to report that the "preventer"  is a major factor though accept that the alcohol intake needs watching.
I'm really hoping that this could be a turning point and remove a negative factor which has been taking the edge off  training and racing.  Whilst I have continued with my Ventolin "reliever" before training runs, cutting out the steroid preventer inhaler (pictured here)
does not seem  to have had an adverse effect.  

Let's hope that we've sorted the "trigger" out and these "flutters" don't reoccur.  I may be 62 and have nearly 50 years racing under my belt but I still feel I have hundreds of miles to run, sessions to complete and races to run.   Watch this space!


  1. That must have been a bit of a worry for you Terry and I'm pleased you have sought help and have hopefully found the cause. It's good to see that your running doesn't seem to have been affected though.

  2. I really hope cutting out the Turbuhaler proves the solution to your worrying problem. I'm not sure the nightly can of Pils and odd glass of wine will affect your heart very much (though one can and ½ bottle of wine each night might). I'll be interested to hear the results of your cutback.