AFib Realizations Or You’re Invincible Until You’re Not
I’ve always thought my obsession with endurance sports focused on cycling and running was a good way to manage my energy levels, stay healthy in general and be in such a large calorie deficit that I could always enjoy more tasty food. Not to say that it was a bad route. I just should have been a little more tuned in and aware of the quiet messages my body was sending to me on occasion. Turns out when you don’t pay attention to them the messages become a little louder, a little more frequent and then you realize something is really wrong. Here’s a bit of jump around.
Before I go into a lot of detail I want to say it’s a really good idea to listen to what your body has to say. Telling my clients to do this is very easy. Taking this advice to heart is not as easy. I’ve always rolled along with the motto “You’re invincible until you’re not”. For some strange reason I thought I would always remain invincible, relatively of course. Not in an egotistical way, I think I just moved forward in life thinking my body would always respond to every request I made of it.
After wearing a Holter monitor for nearly 30 days, most of the days…, I was diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation. There happens to be an interesting correlation to long time endurance athletes and AFib. Here’s what I can tell you about it: you’re cruising along crushing it no problem when suddenly you feel a really anxious feeling in your chest and the power drops severely. You feel like you should be significantly out of breath and it doesn’t make sense for the dropped effort you are putting out. Scientifically “AFib is an abnormal heart rhythm characterized by rapid and irregular beating. Occasionally there may be heart palpitations, fainting, shortness of breath or chest pain. The condition can be associated with an increased risk of heart failure and stroke. It is a type of supraventricular tachycardia. The rate of atrial activation during AFib is usually between 300 and 500 bpm.
Results from an MRI with Angiograhpy (MRA) came back today. Overall the heart structure looks great. Pulmonary veins are in great shape. I did a Stress Echo test last week and was able to rally for quite a long time. They stopped the test because my heart went to SVT and then AFib. Results showed no arterial blockages and that I’m in good cardiovascular shape. An MRI at the end of December showed the heart overall to have no structural issues. AFib is the result of misfiring electrical signals in the heart.
There’s a lot of intricate detail in the operating system of the heart. I understand overall what the doctors are explaining. Something interesting in the results from the MRA was the percentage of scarring, 11.3%, making me a candidate for a potentially successful ablation procedure. If I remember the conversation properly (I try to soak in objectively all of the information passed along in phone calls and in person meetings, however I tend to end up in a bit of freak out), 15-20% scarring drops the success rate significantly. Above 20% the procedure isn’t recommended. Again, I start to mentally fade when these things are explained to me. Haha.
Sounds like I potentially overdid things in the long term over the years and didn’t pay attention to some pretty obvious warning signs. A good example was 2016 Crusher in the Tushar, one of my favorite events ever. Since I was on the Slate without a power meter I wore an HR monitor. As usual I didn’t want to see HR so I just recorded it. The first hour went amazing. As we started into hour two I suddenly lost power, felt like I should be super out of breath compared to the effort I was putting out.
Instead of taking this as a sign I should back off I pushed on, struggling and battling. You’ve got to keep pushing, right? Hmmmm. As I approached the end of the second hour I was for sure going to quit at feed zone 2. However, I went over the top of the first long climb and started to descend at high speed. I came up to FZ2 and felt significantly better. Why not continue?
I didn’t feel amazing, I didn’t feel terrible. Finished the race and Alex Kim told me at the finish line I was for sure on the podium of the 45-49. Bullshit I thought based on how I felt. Amazingly he was right. In the back of my mind I was worried about hour 2. Fast forward to looking at the data file. During hour 2 my HR didn’t go below 190bpm. Hour 1 was probably high 150s, hours 3-5 averaged 160ish. I just figured I was out of shape.
CX season came along. Of course I didn’t wear an HR monitor. Each race started out awesome. About 10 minutes into each race I would come unglued, lose power and have a mental battle for the next 35-50 minutes about how I needed to figure out my fitness. I finally crashed so hard in the Halloween CX that I wasn’t interested in doing much more racing.
At this point I reluctantly wondered if there was something wrong without mentioning it aloud. I decided to wear an HR monitor in House of Watts classes. About three sessions in my HR exploded unexpectedly and erratically. I tried to play it cool. I mentioned it to Breanne and she was immediately concerned. I asked her team doctor about it and this is how the chase down started. A few days later my cardiologist explained a variety of heart arrhythmias to me and hoped it didn’t turn out to be AFib.
The procedure to repair my heart is next week. I’m relieved to take the steps to make a repair, amazed they can do this procedure on a beating heart and terrified that they are going to do it on my beating heart. Haha. I’m really interested in how this process is going to turn out and want to document it so I don’t forget about it. Going through all of the tests is one thing. Hearing the diagnosis is a bummer. Realizing I’m physiologically malfunctioning is weird. Anticipating the procedure/surgery is mostly terrifying. Fortunately I have an amazing partner in Breanne and feel confident in the doctors taking care of me. I’m sure I’ll be fine in the long run.
I’m interested in sharing this experience. I hope maybe if you’re body is telling you something you will think for a moment longer than I did about it. Pay attention to what your body tells you. Listen to the small signs that you’re not serving your body properly. Take an extra rest day here and there. Consider the long term. There’s no specific correlation to endurance athletics and heart arrhythmias, however more and more long term endurance athletes are experiencing these physiological problems.
Hopefully I’ll stay interested in sharing the experience. It will probably be good for my psyche.