Zero Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

By September 28, 2016Health, Performance

For those of you who keep tabs on my career and my racing schedule (all 8 of you), you may have noticed that I have been absent from competition for quite some time. I safely can tell you that my lack of participation lately certainly was not part of the plan.

After a midseason break that encompassed the end of July and beginning of August, the plan was to ramp the training back up relatively quickly and return to racing at Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz on September 11. I followed up 70.3 Vineman with three incredibly solid weeks of training, particularly on the bike. With some rest coming off that volume, the body was supposed to gain a level of fitness that my coach and I then could take advantage of during the back half of the season.

heart-editThe first week of training coming off the midseason break was sluggish, but that is of course to be expected. Any time the body has a chance to undergo some serious repair when the training volume is down, there is going to be a period of lethargy as you begin to work the lungs and muscles once again.

But the listless training never disappeared. Instead, I fumbled to find a rhythm, my performance continued to struggle, and (perhaps most oddly) I no longer seemed capable of handling heat and humidity during training. I couldn’t quite place the cause of these problems — coming off a break, energy and motivation should not be lacking — and could only say that things were “off.”

These feelings are not atypical; because of my health issues, I often run into periods of fatigue and difficulty as my body fights against some of the endocrine struggles that I regularly face. However, normally these problems do not arise after a period of rest. So needless to say, I was confused. And a bit concerned, to be honest.

Then came a bout of atrial fibrillation. Again, not unusual. Thanks to my heart condition, I often deal with 2-3 cases of irregular heartbeat annually. But that bout of atrial fibrillation was followed only one week later by another one. And one week later, yet another one.

All told, I had 4 instances of atrial fibrillation in one month. Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz came and went, yet I was still in a spot where I had absolutely no idea what was going on with my health.

The frequency of atrial fibrillation created two significant problems. First, as you can imagine, it is very difficult to train with an irregular heartbeat. At even low levels of training, heart rate skyrockets, and the impaired cardiac function makes even aerobic training incredibly unsustainable. With 4 bouts of atrial fibrillation (each at least 24 hours long), maintaining consistent training was virtually impossible.

But the much, much larger issue looming overhead concerned the fact that the increased incidence of atrial fibrillation may indicate that something was wrong with my heart, and that possibility can frighten even the most stoic of individuals.

So now, instead of rounding into form for the second half of the season, I am making frequent trips to the hospital and doctors’ offices in the hopes of determining a cause for the higher frequency of atrial fibrillation. After a visit to a cardiologist, I now am scheduled to have an echocardiogram and cardiac MRI. Not exactly the type of tests an endurance athlete wants performed on them, but I understand the necessity at this point in time.

With no answers yet, I am left in limbo — not only with respect to my overall health, but also any future racing. Without a doubt, I am worried. However, I understood the difficulties that potentially could result as I pursued professional triathlon with a known heart condition, so it was my choice. And I can now only remain optimistic and hope that the test results come back positive.

Until then, I must sit and wait.

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