Never really posted much before but really feel the need. Anyone can read this if you are interested but I am particularly mindful of those who are struggling with C25K, newbies and to those of you who have heart issues and are concerned about exercise.
In May 2016 and at the age of 51 I had a full coronary block - 100%. As a life time smoker I could hardly be surprised. Luckily I live near Central London and was rushed to a specialised unit at St Thomas's Hospital where the clot was removed and a stent fitted. Within an hour I felt 10 years younger! I figured I was getting out of breath climbing stairs due to lung damage when in fact it was my arteries closing.
I was handed over to the hospital cardiac rehab team who had me in their gym twice a week for 6 weeks - showing me that my heart was a muscle and I must not be scared to exercise it and giving me the confidence to push myself in a sensible way. Eventually I was cleared to start C25K in October of last year.
It was hard at first but I was determined not to give up on a run and I did this by running as slowly as I possibly could. My times were not at all important - the only thing that counts is getting to the end of a run. The other thing that became really clear was exactly how clever the programme is, there is real science at work here designed by experts. Every time I had to run further I always thought ' I am never going to manage this' but every time I did manage it - clever NHS. So in times when you wobble about going from one week to the next have faith that the medics and physios behind Couch to 5 K know that you can do it because the previous runs have conditioned you to the point that you can do it.
So through the Autumn I kept to the programme to the point I was at week 8 - I couldn't believe it. Unfortunately it was at that point that my elderly Mother was taken seriously ill. I had to decamp from London to Hampshire to deal with her as her conditioned slowly worsened. My whole exercise regime fell by the wayside. Sadly she died on New Years Day. I then had the whole funeral etc to deal including an elderly Father.
By the time I was ready to resume C25K I figured I needed to go back a bit so I tried a 20 minute run but to my deep alarm I was running out of breath within minutes. I was so concerned that I went to see my cardiac team explaining I was really worried and that in fact I was much more scared about my heart now than when I was in the immediate aftermath of the attack. They were great with me. They explained that we lose our muscle stength, heart strength and lung capacity very quickly when we stop exercising. Within as little as 2 weeks we will start to lose significant amounts of our staying power.
With that in mind I went all the way back to week 3 an ground it out all over again. Strangely, it felt harder the second time around, the novelty had gone and there were times that I did pull off a run. I learned not to give myself a hard time if I did this. Eventually by about 5 weeks ago I reached week 9 and had only 4 runs left to graduate. By this time it was a year since my heart attack and to celebrate I bought myself a beautiful road bike. On my first run I did a whole 40K and felt great. With a mile left to go before reaching home I hit a bad bit of road surface and the bike just slipped away underneath me. Thankfully I was going really slowly but I fell very heavily on my left side. I was in a lot of pain but I was also really worried because one of my heart meds is an anti-platelet which means that if I bleed I won't clot. I was very concerned that I could be bleeding internally. I somehow managed to ride the bike home and jump into a taxi and got myself to A&E. Basically I had broken 3 ribs and punctured a lung.
Other than the pain and trauma (much worse than the heart attack) I was very down about the fact that I knew it would be weeks before I could exercise again and that all my good work would get undone all over again. Three days ago and just about 4 weeks I very gingerly attempted a week 3 run. My biggest concern was whether my healing ribs could deal with it, happily they could. Just as I expected I had lost all my lung fitness all over again, barely managing a three minute run but I did get through. This morning I did week 3 run 2. It was still hard but I have such confidence in the programme that I know it will make it and it will get me through.
So what are the takeaways from all of this?
- If you can't manage to finish a run don't worry and don't give yourself a hard time.
- Aim to run as slowly as you can when starting a new week to ensure you can get through to the end; you can do it.
- If for any reason you don't run for some weeks then don't be upset to find you might have lost some fitness. Just go back a couple of weeks in the programme to get your conditioning back.
- If you have had a heart attack your life has not ended it has just changed. Your heart is a muscle and you must exercise and strengthen it.
- If you fail, trip or have a set back, take a deep breath and start again - you will get there.
Apologies for the length of this post but I hope it might be of some help to some of you especially if you are wavering.