From Cardio Unit to Marathon
I would never have thought that 2 years ago I would be where I am today, doing a photo shoot on Brighton beach for 2XU to promote pacing duties for the Brighton Marathon, believe me I am no model! It has been a roller coaster of a ride and without the support of my family, friends and the running community I may not be where I am today, very much alive and enjoying running more than I ever have.
I always knew I had a heart murmur when I was 19 after it was detected when I had a medical for a new job and never thought anything of it, however, it wasn’t until I started running 14 years ago that I noticed I was getting tired and needing to sleep more. During track sessions my heart rate was sky high, however, as I never had a heart monitor in those days I never really knew why. It was always frustrating when this happened as I could never train properly and the attacks were happening more and more frequently. Members of my club, Horsham Joggers, would regularly see me bent over gasping for air at the 200m point of the track or lagging behind at the back of a group on one of our Tuesday night or Sunday morning sessions.
I was the usual stubborn man and never went to the doctor’s to get it checked out until my wife made me go. I had ECG’s, blood tests, this test and that test and they could never catch my heart in what I now know to be AF mode (irregular and fast heart rate). I had holter tapes on at least 5 or 6 times to monitor my heart rate over different periods of time; however, they could never catch my heart beating out of sync.
One defining day though, which I will never forget, was at Horsham Park run on Saturday March 5th 2016. It was on this day that I was wearing the holter tape and was told to carry on as normal and do what I normally do. I felt ok in the warm up although felt a bit dizzy but carried on warming up. As we made our way to the start my heart did one massive beat and starting racing to levels I hadn’t felt before and it was at this point that I finally knew we were going to get this damn heart rate on tape. Now there is a button on the tape which you press to record this and I could not push it quickly enough. Whilst doing this the race director shouted 3-2-1 go and I instinctively just ran. Now some of you will say what are you doing you idiot! However, I just had it in my head that I had to do what I normally would do which is what the hospital told me to do. I must have run about 800m before I had to stop and keel over gasping for breath. I always remember my club chairman running past and asking me if I was ok and I just said to him ”finally I have got it on tape” and he knew straight away what I meant.
I went home had a shower and went back to the hospital that same day to return the holter tape and for another ECG. As I was leaving the room one of the nurses said to me we will be calling you Monday. Come Monday, and this is how unpredictable it can be, I had a really good run and smashed a 6 mile tempo run at 6.50 a mile. That afternoon I had a call from East Surrey Hospital saying that I am being admitted to the Cardiology Unit as they have found something that needed investigating on my heart. Now as a runner who was fairly fit this hits you like a brick. All sorts of things go round your head, Am I going to die, what will my family do, why is this happening to me, it’s just not fair and many more emotions. The journey to the hospital takes about 40 minutes and it was the longest of my life.
On arrival at the Cardio unit the first thing that struck me was why am I here everyone is much older than me, it can’t be happening to me I run and try to do all the right things and I being Punished for something and actually felt really bad that I was putting my wife and my son through this. That night I did not sleep a wink ironically and my heart rate felt fine and couldn’t work out what I was doing there, I’m fine aren’t I!
The next day the Consultant came to see me and told me what the issue was and was quite shocked to what had happened at the park run, my heart rate had hit 250 beats a minute and the Consultant couldn’t work out how I hadn’t passed out or collapsed. Bearing in mind my resting heart rate is 35 and has been as low as 30 at rest when I wake up, it’s quite a shock to hear it hit 250!!
For the next 4 days I had many tests, wires in my arteries pumped with dye to ensure they were clear, more blood tests and cardio tests and the worst one which was a tube down my throat to check behind the heart for functionality and size. I was then transferred to Brighton hospital to undergo a heart ablation to fire lasers into the offending heart muscle to repair the electrical impulses causing the irregular and fast heart rate. I met some very inspiring people in the ward who had been there months and their stories were very uplifting and this was the start of me thinking stop feeling sorry for yourself and get back to where you were.
As I was about to go to surgery I told my wife I am going to run the Brighton Marathon again in 2017 and do an Ultra Marathon (the Downs Link 38 miles) and her reply, which was typical of my wife, Are you an idiot I don’t bloody think so!!! On the way down to surgery I kept repeating in my head I am going to do it, I am and I must have bored the doctor’s to death with it. Even during surgery, as you are awake for the whole procedure, I kept telling myself you are going to do it and Brighton 2017 was my focus and goal from that moment. It made each laser blast into my heart insignificant even though it was one of the most painful things to happen to me. It was like having a hot poker thrust into your chest.
My recovery was very quick within 2 weeks I was back in work and able to do normal things again The guys in the NHS are fantastic miracle workers who deserve all the praise that comes their way. I went out on walks along our local downs link with my wife and eventually got up to 6 miles. My wife was always very nervous about me running even to this day; however, she knew that the time would come that I would want to start running again. The doctors were always against it, however, I needed to run I wasn’t going to rest up and sit on the sofa getting unfit and fat, it’s just not me. Running has given me, drive, determination and motivation and even helps de-stress, surely this is good for your heart.
That first run June 20th 2016 was very tough 12 minute a mile (a bit slower that the 11:20 a mile I will be pacing at Brighton this year), however, what a feeling the best 2 miles I have ever done. From that day I said to myself don’t worry about PB’s just go out and enjoy the fact you can run again.
December 2016 brought the start of 16 weeks of marathon training and it was the first time ever that I had gone the whole 16 weeks without getting injured. Lining up at the start line April 2017 was the best feeling ever my dream of running a marathon again had become a reality and I will be eternally grateful to the Brighton Marathon for giving me that opportunity. I was on such a high that I ran the first half in 1 hour 35 minutes which was way too fast and was on a good for age 3 hours 15 minutes. Needless to say I hit the brick wall at 20 miles and ended up doing 3 hours 26 minutes which I was over the moon with considering where I was just 12 months earlier. Also bear in mind it was a very warm 23 degrees on the day sonot good overall for my heart. At the finish all the emotions were too much to keep in and burst into tears, however, I was so proud of what I achieved and sharing that moment with my wife and son was the best feeling, even though I was exhausted!!
That same year in October 2017 I ran the down links ultra a 38 mile race from Guildford to Shoreham along the old railway line. It runs right through my village in West Sussex and had often trained on it but never run the whole length. My wife thought I was mad and after returning from holiday in August I got food poisoning and I only had 4 weeks of training for it, however, completed the race in 6 hours and 6 minutes in atrocious conditions, another very proud moment. The time was not important just the honour of completing the distance. I actually ended up in hospital with an erratic heart rate caused by dehydration and had to be put on a drip, however, it still didn't stop me running the following Tuesday with the club.
It leads to me the present, I am still enjoying running and every now and again my heart will play up. I may need another operation; however, this condition (Atrial Fibrillation) will not stop me from running. It won’t beat me and I won’t let it. This year I am one of the official pacers for the Brighton Marathon doing the 5hr pace and it is quite ironic that the starter for race is Paul Sinton-Hewitt the founder of Park Run. If it wasn’t for Horsham Park Run that day in March 2016 they may never have found my condition and unbeknown to me was at risk of stroke. I have a lot to be thankful to Paul and the Park run organisation for getting me where I am now.
If my story can inspire and motivate others who are suffering from adversity then it will make me a very happy man. Never give up, always have dreams and goals and go out there and achieve and share them as they inspire me to keep going.
Huge thanks to Jason for sharing his story. You can follow Jason's running journey over on twitter - @jasonwalker1970
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