New Blog – Colombia Travel Journal

I have a new blog. It’s a single 16,000 word entry – my travel journal from our trip to Colombia during Spring of 2012. That was about two months before I went into persistent (permanent) atrial fibrillation. I was running nearly every day back then and reviewing the journal I realize how much I have slowed down since going into atrial fibrillation. Oh well.


Here is the new blog:

For information on running and bicycling while in atrial fibrillation – just keep scrolling down.

Rejoice – Not All Runners in Atrial Fibrillation Are Slow

Moore Mountain 1/2 Marathon

The thing I enjoy most about the afibrunner blog is comments from other athletes who are dealing with atrial fibrillation. A recent comment from a runner (we’ll call him “Lon”) really caught my attention – here is a runner who, while in atrial fibrillation, was able to race at six minute mile pace (or better).

Here are some excerpts from his comments:

Way to Go!!!
Since 1983 I’ve run/jogged 59 full marathons and have suffered with A-fib on and off for the last 12 years. I’ve finished the Boston (2001 in 3:23) and NY City (2005 in 4:15) marathons while in constant A-fib while carefully monitoring my heart rate. My cardiologists encouraged me to run marathons and also triathlons. One cardiologist told me that my heart is so strong that it laughs at A-fib and that I have the heart of an olympic cyclist. For the first 6 months of this year my heart was in constant A-fib that no drugs or multiple cardioversions could put it back into normal sinus rhythm. On July 9, 2013 I had the “Wolf Mini-Maze” (at the International A-fib Center of Excellence in Indianapolis) operation done on my heart. It was a great success and my heart has been in constant normal rhythm ever since (nearly 6 months now and I’m not taking any medications). In the Mini-Maze they removed my Left Atrial Appendage (LAA) so that if my heart ever goes back into constant A-fib I will NOT meed anticoagulant therapy. As you likely know life threatening blood clots tend to form in the LAA when your heart is in constant A-fib. The risk of stroke over the life time of an A-fib patient is huge. 3 out of 5 A-fib patients will suffer a stroke in their life even while taking anticoagulation meds like coumadin. That is a statistic that your doctor will not likely tell you about. Coumadin is over rated and is simply not very effective for some people which should be a terrifying realization to anyone dealing with A-fib. Anyway, as much as I love marathons, I’m laying off the long distance jogging for a while and am just jogging 10K’s (one per moth and 3 sprint triathlons this Summer) as well as several other physical activities.
Good health to you!

I have lamented that atrial fibrillation has made me slow, while openly admitting that I started out slow – I’ve only ran, as far as I know, one six minute mile in my entire life – and that was thirty years ago.

Finish Line – Eugene Marathon

My understanding about atrial fibrillation is that the atria no longer preload the ventricles, and most people have a decrease of about 20% of their cardiac output. While sedentary people might not even notice this athletes certainly would. I do!

But I have heard that in some patients, certain athletes, there is little change in cardiac output and atrial fibrillation will not affect performance much. Lon seems like one of these fortunate people. Lon’s point about the increased risk of stroke (even if you take your Coumadin, Pradaxa, or Xarelto) is well taken – and I’m guessing that that is why he continued to pursue an effective treatment for his atrial fibrillation.

Finish Line – Haulin’ Aspen Marathon

But after all those marathons Lon states he is no longer running endurance events – he goes on to elaborate:

Here’s a little more. I tried not to make a long story short above. I left out mentioning that I had a radio-frequency catheter ablation in June 2010 in Seattle that worked great in keeping my heart in normal rhythm until December 2012 when suddenly for no apparent reason went into persistent A-fib. (During that 2 1/2 year period I finished 9 full marathons and 8 sprint triathlons) My heart stayed in persistent A-fib even after 4 cardioversions and large doses of amiodarone. My cardiologists in Seattle told me that I should accept my persistent A-fib and they offered to ablate my hearts pace makers (AV and SA nodes) and give me an electronic pacemaker so that my heart rate can be controlled. That told me that I needed a second opinion so I started communications with Dr. Randall Wolf in Indianapolis about his Mini-Maze procedure. After consultations with an E.D. doctor (and a championship Iron Man triathlete) who had the Mini-maze operation and was very happy with the results, I decided to get the Wolf Mini-Maze and of course I informed my Seattle cardiologists of my intentions and they said to go for it. Absolutely the main reason that I went for the Wolf Mini-Maze is that it removes the left atrial appendage which brings my risk of stroke down to that of a healthy person with a normal healthy heart while not taking any anticoagulation drugs. The fact that I now enjoy a normal heart beat is just a huge plus factor.

From 1983 until December 2012 I completed 61 full marathons a most of which ran with all out efforts (I’ve averaged sub-6 minute pace all the way). I’m now finding out that long distance running is simply not good for the heart and most likely caused my A-fib problem.

Google Dr. John Mandrola’s 18 minute video called “Cycling Wed: I told you so…”. It is very illuminating and a must see for all endurance athletes. Please check that out.

I don’t know much about the Wolf Mini-Maze procedure and don’t necessarily advocate it for everybody, but clearly it worked in Lon’s specific situation. Here is some information regarding the Wolf Mini-Maze.

Finish Line – Lake of the Woods 15K

No need to Google the video by Dr O’Keefe (posted on Dr Mandrola’s blog) I have the link right HERE.

Here’s the video:

If you don’t feel like watching the eighteen minute video I will summarize it for you – Exercise is good for you but in moderation. Too much or too intense exercise causes chronic inflammation of the heart and can ultimately harm the heart (atrial fibrillation, among other risks).

But if you are an endurance athlete dealing with atrial fibrillation you already know this – surely you have had a dozen or so friends and relatives, possibly sedentary and/or obese, kindly forward you information about the study he refers to – as if to justify their seemingly wise choice to avoid marathons and triathlons and replace it by watching other people play sports on television. Yes, this study was in all the newspapers and magazines last year.

Finish Line – Avenue of the Giants Marathon

Please understand, and I paraphrase here, that Dr O’Keefe states that exercise is good for your heart, and being obese and sedentary is bad for your heart – but that overdoing it is a problem. He didn’t say people should avoid exercising.

My choice – I understand the concept of the “law of diminishing returns” as well as the next guy; but for me, well, I enjoy long, slow trail runs and mountain bike rides more than just about anything else I can think of – so I chose to continue.

Finish Line – Bizz Johnson 50K (I completed the 50K in atrial fibrillation)

Oregon Outback Bike Tour and the OC&E Woods Line State Trail

(Sorry about the lack of atrial fibrillation content in this post.)


I am considering participating in the 2014 Oregon Outback bike tour. I love the concept of the Oregon Outback tour – it is a 360 mile unsupported bike tour, most of which is on remote dirt roads (and trails) in the barely populated Eastern part of Oregon (commonly referred to as Oregon’s Outback).

The best part is that the beginning of the ride, the first seventy five miles or so, is on the OC&E Woods Line State Trail – a 100 mile long Rails to Trails project that is a long, narrow Oregon State Park.

OC&E Trail

I live near and use the OC&E trail a lot and have trained for about twenty (?) marathons on it, and frequently ride bikes on it as well.

I’ve logged thousands of miles on The OC&E – not really because of the scenery, but mostly because it is nearby, the ideal surface, the mile markers every 1/2 mile, and because it is a place where I can run with my well-trained dog off leash. Plus I’m totally used to it.

I have a ton of photos in my Flickr set.

The trail was originally a logging railroad, beginning in 1917, and was used by Weyerhaeuser to transport logs and lumber from Bly, Oregon (where they once had a sawmill) and areas East of Klamath Falls to their main mill and the main railways in Klamath Falls. As everybody know the logging industry isn’t what it used to be and the railroad was shut down and “rail banked” in 1992.

I can give a little background on the development of the trail – I was part of the original group that developed the trail back in 1992. There were about nine of us that were part of an organization supporting the trail and we had plenty of opposition. Most notably there was an opposing group consisting 150 well organized adjacent land-owners that fought the establishment of the trail. They gave a number of reasons for their opposition, including a lot of concerns for privacy, and worries about potential criminal activity on the trail; but I always felt the real reason was that if the land wasn’t rail-banked the adjacent land-owner would get all the land back for free – that’s a strip of land 100 feet wide and about a hundred miles long.

Ringo on the Roof

I never really thought the trail would happen. There were other groups opposing the trail including a group that wanted to leave the rails in place and build a recreational railway – train rides for tourists. We never even bothered opposing that idea because we knew that Weyerhaeuser had already sold the ties and the rails for the highest price ever to a salvage company – 4.5 million dollars (1992) and the excursion train people would have to buy them back from the salvage company. I don’t think they had anywhere near that kind of cash.

Probably the least pleasant group opposing the trail was the Nature Conservancy. They own a large portion of the Sycan Marsh where the Woods Line portion of the trail passes. This is the most remote and least used portion of the trail. The biologist’s concern was that the train tracks, which are on a raised ballast, divide the wetland into two distinct eco-systems with slightly different gene populations – certain creatures couldn’t cross from one side to the other. I never quite understood why that was a problem, but evidently it was. For some reason we thought the Nature Conservancy would be in favor of a recreational trail – after all they are a nature conservancy, and who doesn’t love nature, the great outdoors, hiking, etc. – but no – they wanted the entire rail ballast removed and NO TRAIL.

I have never actually been on the Woods Line section of the trail. To this day that section of the trail isn’t used as much as the sections near town.

When I saw the photos of the tour directors of the Oregon Outback wading through the water in the Sycan Marsh I immediately understood the purpose of those breaks in the trail – that must’ve been a compromise with the Nature Conservancy. Now the little creatures can frolic and canoodle with the little creatures from the other side of the tracks – brilliant!

Taking a Break

Anyway – given all the opposition to the trail I never really believed it would happen; but it turns out the trail became a reality in 1992. The way I see it the real powerful people in the world (like the railroads, the power company, telecommunication companies, etc.) liked preserving the right of way so they could rebuild railroads, or put up power lines, or communications cables, or whatever, without much problem. That’s the goal of rail banking – to preserve the right of way for projects like railroads, pipelines, telecommunications – and little community forums and debates are, I believe, just for show – big companies run the world. It makes sense – after seeing the level of opposition the adjacent landowners raised for the trail on existing right of way it would be unimaginably difficult to build, say, a pipeline through that property if they owned it – it would take years of lawsuits and expensive land purchases. One hold-out landowner could cancel an entire project. Rail banking makes it less complicated.

And in the case of rail banking outdoor enthusiasts benefit. And the community can benefit when folks like the Oregon Outback group or Cycle Oregon decide to use the trail.

I was fortunate enough to tour the trail via one of those trucks that rides on rails after the railroad was closed but before the rails and ties were salvaged. It was a wonderful day and a chance to see the entire route in one morning with a picnic lunch in Bly, Oregon to boot. Our group did a similar tour of the Woods line portion but for some reason I missed that one. I still want to get out there and see the large treacle that remains from the railway days.

Jan and Her Sister-in-law

The trail has quite of variety of personalities. The first one and one half mile is unpaved (last time I was there) and passes through an industrial area, including some switching yards and some transient camps. This area is infrequently used by joggers, etc.

From the 1.5 mile marker to the 8.5 mile marker the trail is paved and first passes through a commercial area of Klamath Falls and then the “South Suburban” area. This is the most densely used portion of the trail and local people walk their dogs, roller blade, ride bikes, jog, walk – you name it. On a nice day I’ll encounter dozens of people on this section; I frequently ride my road bike on this section but generally don’t run there because I prefer to run off pavement plus I like to run with my little cow dog, Ringo, off leash.

My favorite and (personally) most frequently used sections are the section from Reeder Road (6 mile marker) to about the 13 mile marker (past Olene,Oregon) and of course the Switchback Mountain section near Sprague River, OR.

Ten Mile Marker

Olene is a “town” that has about three or four houses and one store. There is a nice parking area there that I use as a headquarters for long runs (like the twenty mile runs that are part of a marathon training program). I will do a number of “out and backs” starting in Olene and use my truck as a resupply depot to refill my hydration pack after ten miles or so, and also restock things like carbohydrate gels and electrolyte supplements.

Horse riders often like to park their trailers here and start their trail rides in Olene, including people with tiny miniature horses they use to pull little carts.

Little Horses

Another good starting point is the picnic area at Switchback Mountain near Sprague River, Oregon. This is a unique section of rail trail – the train would do a “double Y” switchback in order to get over the mountain – as far as I know it was the only railroad in the United States that did so. This is the only hilly section of the trail and for that reason is a great place to train if a hilly race is in my future. Plus it is adjacent to “Devil’s Garden” which as one might imagine is an area of spooky lava rock formations – a fun place to explore. Switchback Mountain is thirty-five miles from Klamath Falls so it only works as a starting point if I have enough time to drive that far.

The actual quality of the trail surface is quite variable and runs the gamut from exquisitely paved to extremely overgrown and rocky. The highly used areas are generally very peasant to run on – but once the trail gets past Sprague River, Oregon there are a lot of hazards including large clunky chunks of ballast rocks, overgrown weeds and sagebrush, and of course cows.

I have been chased, once, by a young bull out there. Mostly I encounter herds of cattle that just stare and refuse to move, or else they follow me after I pass. In general they don’t mind me, but it’s my cow dog they could do without.

After Work Ride Near Olene

Other animals along the trail include the usual suspects for our area – jack rabbits, coyotes, badgers, deer, antelope, mountain lions, bears, turkeys – but primarily cows and horses.

A friend of mine recently ran (in sections) the entire OC&E including the Woods Line. It was an all Summer project for him. He said he met quite a few cows out there. I have ran or ridden most of the OC&E excluding the Woods Line.

I’m attracted to the Oregon Outback ride because I’m intrigued to keep going, to break past the limited area that I’ve been running and explore the entire state beyond the OC&E trail – all the way to the Washington border – wow. Sounds like a great adventure.