In another article about the Snowdon Mountain Race and Inov-8 F-lite I’d mentioned a strange fitness affliction. Many runners — and others who train their bodies — report abnormal heart beats or arrhythmia. Some years ago, I became alarmed with my own heart beat. Sometimes, during relaxation, the heart skipped beats: instead of a nice steady oooooooo I had an interupted oo oo oo. After a visit to the GP and subsequently to a cardiologist for thorough testing my heart was found to be structurally ok and I was thankfully given the green light to carry on running. Over the past 15 years or so these episodes of missing beats have come and gone with very little pattern. The only consistency being that they usually occurred when I was quite well-trained and some hours after a hard session or race.
Recently however, the irregular or skipped heart beats had been returning to a greater degree and also not always whilst resting. Accompanying these symptoms was an apparent dip in fitness; typically about a minute over 5k, but anything up to about 10%. Anyone who runs or trains regularly would be somewhat concerned by this alone and should be asking themselves a few questions about the training they are doing. I had a big race coming up: the Snowdon Mountain Race. In an effort to encourage my heart to behave I cut the training more than usual and also completely cut out caffeine (known to upset heart rhythm). Seemingly this had worked, because up to race day I’d been free of symptoms. But, after a short warm-up, standing at the start I could feel the tell-tale signs of my skipped beats and sure enough as I stood there with finger on pulse I could feel my heart regularly missing one beat in three. I was rather surprised and more than a little alarmed; of all the things that are going to work a heart to its max then running 5 miles up the highest mountain in England in Wales will be near the top. Was I worried? Strangely not really, maybe my mind was more occupied with the thought of staying upright on the way down (which proved to be the biggest danger anyway), or maybe after travelling 7 hours to the race the day before I didn’t fancy dropping out at this stage. Unsurprisingly, I was slower to the top than I should have been, by about 10%. Sure it felt hard (as it always will), but I’m not sure if my perceived effort was affected by some unconscious worry — probably it was. So, that little episode convinced me to do two things:
- take some time off running
- visit the GP
Fortunately, the GP is quite fitness orientated; he’d even experienced similar missed heart beats himself. He said that although my heart was checked out 15 years ago, any structural defects would have been revealed then, so there was no real need to repeat them. Nevertheless, he did book me in for an ECG. It was an interesting visit, he suggested that the missed beat is not a missed beat at all, but more likely a strong beat after an unnoticed extra beat immediately after the one before; the ECG should confirm this (if of course I am symptomatic at the time). One very revealing fact he mentioned was that on my previous visit about this all those years ago, I had also mentioned a dip in performance or fitness; I’d forgotten that. He again gave me the green light. So, what to make of all this. Well, it’s at times like this that it’s useful to have been keeping a running or training diary. Mine tells me this: I had been running well at the end of last year, and then over Christmas and New Year I was very poorly with flu. It completely flattened me and I had two weeks completely off with no training at all, and even after that I was on very light duties for another week. Since then though, I’ve trained at a consistent level without any breaks apart from a couple of days after a marathon. So, my training has been largely unbroken for more than 7 months (why is that we often do what we’d advise others not to do?). I don’t think that I’m symptomatic of over-training, but there could be some connection with my flu at the beginning of the year — it was pretty bad. Sometimes we never know why certain things affect us the way they do. Nevertheless, at this stage, taking a bit of time off from running seems a natural thing to do. I will of course expect to lose a bit of fitness, but I’ve not been responding too well to training lately anyway, so there’s not much to lose in the short term. We’ll see what happens when I resume running training in a couple of weeks. I’ll be interested to hear about other experiences of missed or irregular heartbeats; leave a comment below about your own .
Interesting further reading:
British Heart Foundation, Abnormal Heart Rhythm
MSD Manual, Ventricular Premature Beats
American Heart Association, Exercise Induced Ventricular Premature Beats