Ever felt like you’re about to have a heart attack when running?

So here’s an update that I wasn’t expecting to be posting: I am writing from my bed on the cardiac ward of my nearest hospital. I have been here for five days now. Apart from going slightly insane due to inactivity and the ever-present grim reaper who seems to walk up and down the corridor every night (there is constant wailing and gasping coming from the rooms up and down the ward…), I’m fine. Well, almost fine.

I was admitted to hospital on Thursday morning. I woke up with what I thought was severe indigestion. Sitting up in bed, and trying to flush it out with lots of cold water, the sensation got more and more intense, and I was experiencing significant heart palpitations that radiated up into my throat, and echoed around my chest cavity like it were a tympani.

Indigestion. Perhaps.

I started to feel anxious. A weird anxiety, like something was closing in around my chest. When the pain became more intense, Jarrod took me down to the GP at the end of our street.

It wasn’t my usual doctor. It was just the closest. A tiny Asian woman in her fifties – immaculately dressed in a Chanel-like dress, with a red silk scarf draped elegantly either side of her neck – ushered me into her consulting room. She didn’t offer her name. She said hardly anything and just listened to my symptoms:

“I’m very embarrassed, I can’t believe I’m at the doctor’s for indigestion etc”.

She made me de-robe, and she performed an ECG right there. Looking at the graph on the screen, she said it looked fine, and walked me out to the front desk to pay, handing me a pack of antacids on the way. Phew. Embarrassing, but phew.

At the reception desk, she asked the young chap for the printout of the ECG. I handed him my card to pay, as she looked at the readout close up. Without lifting her head, she raised her forefinger in a sharp movement to motion ‘stop’, and then twisted it into a ‘follow me, immediately’ move as she ushered me back into her consulting room.

She tapped away at her computer, printed me out a letter, along with the ECG printout, and told me to go to The Alfred Hospital emergency department immediately.

That was Thursday, and it’s now Monday. Two ultrasounds, one angiogram, ten ECGs and about a hundred blood tests later, I’m still here. It turns out my troponin enzyme was elevated to 18,000 (when it should have been around 25?), and that this significant rise is usually something that happens during or after a heart attack. However, I have no other signs of a heart attack – my heart is apparently looking ‘fantastic’.

I am now waiting for an MRI to determine if I have a virus such as Myocarditis or Pericarditis that would have caused the pain and subsequent enzyme elevation. The MRI is tomorrow morning, so fingers crossed for the all-clear.

In the meantime, I have been told that I can’t do any sport for four weeks. The doctor said I’m permitted to ‘walk, but definitely not power-walk’ (and I had always dreamed about taking up power-walking…). So that has put my training in a holding pattern for now. Fortunately, my new coach has been a phenomenal source of knowledge on this topic, not only sending me a couple of clinical papers on the connection between the elevation of troponin enzymes and endurance athletes, but also reaching out to find cardiac specialists who are also runners/athletes. She also noticed that my heart was exceptionally high on Monday during a run that was meant to be easy, but I did it more at a ‘tempo’ pace. But still, even at that pace, my heart rate usually would have been around 170-175bpm. Instead it was above 185 most of the time, and peaked at over 190. At one point I actually stopped as the little voice inside my head jokingly said to myself “Piper, stop. You’re going to have a heart attack.” It was of course kidding, but did I run too hard? Or was I already sick?

The doctors have since told me that my heart shows none of the classic signs of damage from endurance sport (long term damage to the right ventricle) and that is is most likely a virus caused by a cold and chest infection that I only just got rid of last week. The funny thing is (well, none of this is particularly funny haha), is that on Sunday, I took part in a girls’ ride organised by Specialized, and the Australian triathlete Emma Carney was leading the ride. Afterwards, she was interviewed by WITSUP chief Stef Hanson on her athletic success, and of course, her subsequent cardiac failure and heart problems that brought her racing career to a halt.

A couple of us discussed this quite a lot in the day or so after the ride, and when I was sitting with ‘indigestion’ and heart pain, I thought I was imagining it, and had somehow manifested some kind of sympathy symptoms. But as my friend pointed out, had I not been on that ride, and had I not had Carney’s story in the front of my mind, I might not have even considered that something was wrong with my heart, and might not have sought medical advice.

Very peculiar, but serendipitous, cardiac synchronicity.

So tell me, has anyone out there had any cardiac-related incidents in their sporting lives? Or heart virus? It would be great to get some feedback of your experiences. I have another couple of days in here so I need positive stories of people being able to do more than ‘power walk’ again!!!

Lucy Piper_triathlon_heart

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86 thoughts on “Ever felt like you’re about to have a heart attack when running?

  1. issuu.com says:

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  3. Tom says:

    I have the same problems. I would be careful to think u r going to completely heal. It took me a year to b able to exercise the same way I did before I was admitted into the ER. (Sorry this is short. I’m supposed to b working)

  4. […] and start again. I originally wrote the piece below for WITSUP, but the day after I sent it off, I ended up in the hospital with myocarditis, so we decided I should write something else instead. And my ‘lessons from your worst race […]

  5. girl on a bike says:

    Hey sweets! A little late in reading this but really hope you’re ok and hope you get better soon xx
    PS I had a bit of a heart thing happen in the lead up to IM Melb. Ended up at the Austin ED. Turns out I have a heart murmur and the left or right ventricle (can’t remember which :-p) is slightly enlarged.

    • Hi Margs – thanks for stopping by! Absolutely loved reading about your Kona trip – it looks amazing! And yes, I’m starting to get much better. Began gentle training this week, even managed to get out on a ride in the disgusting Melbourne weather this morning :/ What happened with your heart? Did you have chest pain?? I have heard of endurance athletes having an enlarged right ventricle, or thickening of the wall of the right ventricle due to the heart getting so strong from pumping blood so fast and for such a long time. I hope your is ok?? And you’re racing IM Melbourne again this year? WOW! I would love to enter another IM – I’m enrolled for Challenge Melbourne half in Feb, but I will have to monitor my health, right now I have zero fitness – but maybe IM Melb next year or Busso at the end of next year. Good luck with your training and hopefully I’ll see you out on the road?? 🙂

      • girl on a bike says:

        So glad you’re feeling better! 🙂 yeah trip was AHHHHMAZING!! Totally sold – really want to go back to Hawaii next year.
        Re: my heart – I started getting chest pain and pain in my left arm while Brett and I were at the movies. I started to feel light headed and had trouble breathing. Thought it was nothing too but Brett to me to ED just in case. The good thing was the cardio I had was also into endurance sport as was his wife who also has murmur so he was really good at easing my worries. Haven’t had any troubles since but then haven’t started my build for IM yet so fingers crossed 🙂 but yeah doing Melbourne again and also challenge Melb. We should ride together if you want. Ill be on the road again soon.

      • Great news that it isn’t playing up since you had it checked out. I’ll email you my number and we can fix up a ride soon 🙂

  6. Sandra says:

    egads. What a story. I had similar sensations and was admitted to the emergency room for many tests in July. Turns out that I started running too soon after my bike wreck (and separated AC/shoulder). Luckily even though I have a heart murmur, it wasn’t an attack. I had an acute case of intercostal strain (which apparently feels like a heart attack) along with a bout of severe asthma brought on by excessive exercise after a four week break. NOrmally my asthma only comes along in the Spring with pollen season.

    Phew, but really scary. Not as bad as your scary. 😦

  7. kvjinc says:

    Oh dear-get well soon.

  8. Kimberley says:

    Oh dear

  9. Paul Hewitt says:

    Jesus Lucy – that’s crazy. You read about this happening to footballers in training, but not people you know. Hope things are starting to improve since I got the email alert and you’re going to take it easy for a while. Get well soon – lots of love from Shropshire!

    • So good to hear from you!! And, yes, it’s a bit scary – and like I said in the post, I was familiar with some of the stories, and I run with a chap at work who is extremely fit who also has some unusual heart problems. I guess the answer is to rest and put my feet up for a little while… I hope the sun is shining on you in Shropshire 🙂

  10. I’m so sorry to hear this. It is very scary. I hope you’re home & back to endurance training soon.

    • A tad scary, but I’m very relieved that I listened to my body and took myself to the doc (even though I felt a bit silly at the time!!) resting up for now and will be back before we know it (fingers crossed!) 🙂

  11. chriscsawyer says:

    Hi there – pretty terrifying reading this, an important reminder about how easy it is to take the health that enables us to do the sports that drive us for granted.

    Heal strong and ease back into it when you’re up and about again. A cycling club ate actually did have a heart attack whilst cycling and she’s back in the saddle, just paying pretty close to her HRM.

    Good luck 1st with recovery, 2nd getting back in the game

    • Thanks Chris. That’s terrifying to hear that your friend actually had a heart attack whilst out on the bike. Crikey. It’s made me think that I really need to brush up on CPR skills. It’s so scary the feedback I’ve been getting from endurance athletes having heart problems. Very peculiar. But you’re absolutely right, ease back in slowly, keep the heart rate low and don’t overwork it. I’m enjoying the time with my feet up to be honest! Take it easy and ride safe out there 🙂

  12. […] Another piece of evidence to listen to your body…Aussie triathlete and blogger, Lucy (Pipe Down Piper), just wrote about her experience while lying in a hospital bed in a cardiac ward. […]

  13. happytrigirl says:

    Holy wowzers Lucy! So thankful you sought help when you did!! Your voice through your writing always leaves me with a smile on my face, albeit, I’m reading such bad news of YOU in a hospital bed. I can’t help it … you write so well and are so damn funny, even in the midst of being mostly bed ridden (boo to no power walking …). Know this … positive vibes coming your way and I wish you speedy recovery!! xoxox

    • Thanks Gina – that has really put a smile on my face to hear such wonderful feedback and positive vibes from you! Your posts always come into my inbox and brighten up my day, so a little personal message was even better – thanks so much! I’m back home now resting. I can’t believe how much it’s taken out of me, I just feel weak. But I will definitely be taking things slowly and will no doubt be fighting fit in no time! 🙂 xxx

  14. yerttle says:

    I hope all settles down soon! Hospitals are no fun and no one ever really rests there. …beeping and poking and uncomfortable pillows. 😛
    Your blog and activities are always super inspiring to me and you make me laugh…I hope you can get back Out There quickly.
    I send you hugs from North Carolina!

    • Thanks so much 🙂 It sounds like you know a bit about time in hospital….? Hope you are fit and well and enjoying life in North Carolina! It’s so wonderful to hear where everyone is reading from – it’s insane to think that you can reach out and tell your crazy adventures to people everywhere! Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to leave me a message 🙂

  15. erin says:

    Oh, goodness! Rest and heal quickly, dear!

  16. I hope it’s something innocuous that isn’t going to persist and you will be back to your usual activity level soon!

  17. How scary! I hope you never experience anything else like this and wish you a full recovery!!!

  18. gloryhornetboy says:

    Get well soon

  19. I went through something similar and it ended up being this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Costochondritis

    I know what you are going through as I have been bed ridden for the past three weeks with 2 broken wrists, 2 cracked ribs and a beat up knee. I so want to be outside training.

    Great well soon.

  20. So sorry to hear this. Rest up and get better soon. Hopefully you find out a cause and prevention.
    Thinking about you XO

    • Thanks so much, that really means alot 🙂 Hopefully I will be able to explore some other avenues like yoga and pilates for the next couple of weeks – anything to stop me going crazy!! 🙂

      • Relaxation yoga would be nice for your body and mind! Or, you could read books about training or famous athletes that you don’t have time to read when you’re in high training season!

  21. Jeez lucky! I’ve only had very mild symptoms of what you describe via cycling. Thankfully a buddy was there to assist.

    The overall conclusion was elevated HR caused by dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.

    It took me a while to get back into things and now I use HR monitors with alarms set to alert if it goes too high.

    Get well soon!

  22. Kathy3Howe says:

    Wow! So sorry ( and very scary ) 😦 get rest and feel better soon!!

  23. bgddyjim says:

    Sadly, I don’t have a story to share but I am glad you’re okay. Chin-up sparky! Oh, and I’ll tell you how to handle the doctor: “Look Doc, I know you guys double the recovery time so I’m not waiting four weeks to get back to training. I’ll wait a week and start riding easy, then another to start working at it, then I’ll be running in three…”

    See what the doc says… If they’re being overly nervous or cautious you’ll know. If they strap you down to the bed, you’ll know you’d better give it their four weeks. Good luck. 😉

  24. MichelleK says:

    No advice, just wishing you wellness!

  25. Sarah says:

    Holy Toledo Lucy! Please tell me that you can still do the Tuesday dance?! Tuesday is, like, tomorrow!
    Now on a serious note, I’m getting very worried about these health issues. Cheeky Pups pride themselves on being forever rascals but this shouldn’t include wearing those funny white robes with no bottom for anything else other than a lark. So please look after yo’ self yo? Me thinks it sounds like you are not drinking enough red wine. I’ve heard that’s good for your ticker. As is dark chocolate.
    Rest up. You’ll be racing again soon there is no doubt. In the meantime, catch up on reading trash mags and then explaining to the rest of us who Miley Cyrus is and why she’s got Sineads panties in a bunch ploise.
    Much love Sass x

  26. Andy says:

    Hey Piper. Firstly, yikes!
    Secondly, my experience. A couple years ago I think I had something similar happen . After doing a couple boot camp sessions and also smashing myself in the gym I one week I discovered I couldn’t raise my arms above my shoulders. When the problem didn’t fix itself within a couple of days I went to the Dr. He checked me over then ordered a blood test before I went off to work for the day. 8 hours later, in my way home on the train I got a call from him telling me go directly to hospital. Turns out an enzyme level in my blood test was way of scale but there was no way to tell if it was due to skeletal muscle breakdown, or cardiac muscle. (i want to saw it was my “CK enzyme” but I can’t remember exactlyvbut the numbers you describe sound familiar) Tests in emergency speed it was not cardiac, I’d just really overdone the training.
    had to then do daily blood tests for the next week to make sure the numbers came back down AND that my kidney function was unaffected as it had to process all that extra crap
    Keep smiling and stay safe,
    Andy

    • Thanks Andy – it sounds very similar. I have told the doctors about my training, but they don’t seem to think it could have an effect. I think otherwise… I will await their diagnosis today as I’ve now had the MRI, but I may try to find a specialist sports cardiologist if I’m not convinced. We’ll see. I’ll keep you posted 🙂

  27. Joan Piper says:

    Read your report,very worrying hope for good news tomorrow love you lots Nan. & Grampxxxx

  28. Tryathlete says:

    Get better sooooooon

  29. Jules says:

    Morning Pollyanna – am so glad to hear that you are being taken care of properly (if only in the heart dept…. the food does look pretty ghastly!!).

    However, I would like to stress that I am more concerned with the idea that you may consider Power walking!! – Does this mean that you will have to adopt a peculiar wiggle?

  30. Alice says:

    Poor dear Lucy. You’ve had such rotten luck this year with your health, but you’ll be racing for years to come, don’t worry. Love to you. Hope you’ve got some good reading material to pass the time!

    • Thanks Alice – you’re totally right and I ned to think about the long term rather than the short term. This does mean I probably can’t do our race on the 10th Nov, but I will be there with you at the start and cheering you on the whole way, I promise!! xxxx

  31. ookgirl says:

    Wow. So sorry to hear this. Get well soon!

  32. gemmaiobrien says:

    Hope you feel better Lucy! Glad you are being well looked after, lots of positive thoughts for you from London xx

  33. zarahruth says:

    I had to quit training for my first half IM earlier this year because of what first manifested as heart problems (elevated rate, pain etc). Ended up seemingly connected to a temporarily outofwhack thyroid, since both the thyroid and the heart problems have calmed down in sync. Still no idea why my thyroid kicked off, though.

    I hope they figure out what the root problem is for you soon, and that you can get up and out again. I found the worst part was being basically inactive. Quick way to madness! Please keep us updated x

    • Wow, that’s pretty intense Zarah! Did you make a full recovery from the conditions? Hope you’re ok 🙂

      • zarahruth says:

        I don’t think it was anywhere near as intense as your experience! I’m building my fitness back up, but yeah, I seem to be back to normal. My thyroid levels are back to normal and still no idea why they went haywire in the first place. Now I just have to have bloodtests every few months to keep an eye on things.

      • That’s good to hear that you had a positive recovery. Thyroids are notoriously sporadic in their flare ups! Take it easy 🙂

  34. Alison DeMaria says:

    Oh Lucy you look after yourself.

  35. Dad says:

    Rest Boo…
    Thinking of you – out soon!
    XX

  36. jon928 says:

    Hi,
    Last year I fainted whilst training in an altitude room and was taken to hospital ( Cabrini) and had pretty much the same tests you had.Nothing really was found wrong and it was suggested a Pace Maker be installed. I rejected this and went back to training.Although I had a miserable experience I managed to finish the Gold Coast Marathon a few weeks later.
    Sunday I am running Melbourne Marathon. I think that although I am now in my 60s I can still run well….we will see. 🙂
    Not sure if this tale will make you feel better.
    I hope you recover soon. good luck.

  37. El says:

    Get better! x

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