Guest Blogger – US 50 State Marathon AFib Runner Carolyn




On October 8, 2017, at the age of 51, I accomplished something that only about 1500 people in the world have done. I ran my 53rd marathon in my 50th state! I have always been an active person and regular exerciser but when I ran my first 5K at the age of 31, I was hooked! It didn’t take long before I graduated to longer distances, running my first marathon a year and a half after my first 5K.  At the age of 38 with seven marathons and countless shorter distance races under my belt (not to mention a huge T-shirt collection) I set the ambitious goal of running a marathon in all fifty states after meeting a couple of other runners who were members of the 50 State Marathon Club.

At the age of 41, my running hit a hiccup. I had my first breast cancer diagnosis. I was treated with a lumpectomy and five weeks of radiation. Though that took me away from marathon preparation, I was able to do my first three sprint triathlons during that time. My life and running were soon back on track and I was averaging five marathons per year. I loved the travel and even persuaded my life-partner to starting running half-marathons and tackle a few full marathons.  The marathon running took me to some spectacular but off the beaten path kind of places like Taos, NM and Newfound Lake, NH.

Breast cancer wasn’t quite done with me. (Yes, I know this is a blog about Afib running and I promise I will get to that part!) In 2015, a mammogram picked up another abnormality which turned out to be cancer. This time, I would need a mastectomy. My goal for that year was to run a marathon in my 40th state. Though I had to adjust my plan and take some time off of training, I did manage to run five marathons that year with the final one being my 40th state.

Now onto the Afib.

Four years ago (one year before the second breast cancer diagnosis) I had done an eight mile training run. The next evening, while relaxing at home in front of the TV, I started having heart palpitations. I had had palpitations many times before throughout my life albeit very brief ones, and never for a prolonged period of time. I didn’t think much of it. When I woke up the next morning, my heart palpitations were still going, so I called my doctor for an appointment. By the time of my appointment that afternoon, my heart rate had returned to normal, so they were not able to diagnose me with anything. The doctor and I concluded that the palpitations had resulted from it being August in Georgia, and I may not have been properly hydrated during the eight mile run. I got back to my marathon training and completed six marathons during that 2014 calendar year.

I now realize that I went in to Afib that day. However, I had put the episode at the back of my mind until very recently, four years later, when I went into Afib again.

That day was November 9th, 2018. It was a Friday morning and I went to an exercise class that I regularly attend. About ten minutes into the class, I started having heart palpitations. I knew something wasn’t right when I did not have the stamina to do jumping jacks and my heart rate did not go down when we went down to the floor for mat work. The heart rate monitor on my Apple Watch was going all over the place from 55bpm to 175bpm. I left the class and decided this time, I was going to get medical attention right away. I went to Urgent Care. Other than the heart palpitations, I felt fine. The doctor listened to my heart and suspected Afib. A ECG confirmed it. The doctor wanted me to either go straight to the emergency room or to a cardiologist.  He found a cardiologist who would see me right away but would not let me drive myself to the appointment. Luckily, my spouse was able to take me.

I spent the better part of the afternoon in the cardiologist’s office. My heart rate was still very erratic. They plugged an IV in me in an attempt to get the Afib under control and my heart rate down. My blood pressure was being monitored. After about two hours and two different drugs, they were satisfied that my heart rate had slowed enough and my blood pressure was stable enough to send me home. Though my heart rate was not as high, I did not officially come out of Afib until the next morning. I officially spent 24 hours in Afib. I was to take Eliquis and Pacerone/Ameodorone for the next couple of weeks.

Now, I am still on Eliquis and am taking Metropolol instead of the Amedorone. I am still adjusting to the lower heart rate I have exercising with beta blocker but am determined to find my “new normal.” So far, I feel like I can work about 90% as hard as I used to. As I’m aging, I have found that my running pace is slower and I have to take more and more frequent walk breaks. Even though I no longer run with the pace and stamina that I did in my 30s, I’m grateful to still be going. These days I run about three days a week 4-6miles. On other days, I do interval or cycle classes at the gym and weights or yoga.  My next goal is to hike the entire El Camino in Spain!

I used to be a coach for Girls on the Run. If you are not familiar with that program, it prepares 3rd-5th grade girls to run a 5K but it is much more than that. In addition to their 5K, they are learning character building life skills, which are critical as girls approach the age where they are more vulnerable to peer pressure or negative body images. In a nutshell, the training and skills building all boil down to teaching the girls to keep moving forward in life. That’s is a valuable lesson no matter what your age is and that’s what I plan to keep doing!