Whatever Happened to AFIB Ultrarunner?

Sunrise at the start of an ultramarathon

So, whatever happened to “that one guy?” The one with the AFIB Ultrarunner blog?

When I decided to start this blog I had, of course, scanned the internet for similar blogs, and I found AFIB Ultrarunner. This was a somewhat short-lived but excellent 2010 blog by an unnamed man who was an ultrarunner, who like me, was dealing with atrial fibrillation (AF).

Afibultrarunner” was actually the name I originally chose for this blog, but it was taken so that’s okay, I’d be simply “afibrunner.”

I’m particularly interested in contacting him for two reasons.

First of all, at the time I was starting this blog I was personally just starting to train for ultras. In fact, I went into permanent AF right at the end of a twenty mile training run while trying to train for my first 50K.  I didn’t really know how to train so I was simply running a twenty mile trail run every weekend and I truly loved those long, slow training runs; but evidently that wasn’t a good idea given what happened!

Second of all the AFIB Ultrarunner guy had had an ablation, and has an excellent description of his experience. I have never had an ablation and likely never will (I’ve been told my chances at success are poor) and wanted to find out how he did on a long term basis. At this point I’d really like to find somebody to write about the experience for this blog – but I’ve never been able to find out who he is or how to contact him.

His blog is excellent and ends, I think, on a very sad note:

My cardiac procedure was painful or uncomfortable in constantly new ways for 20 hours.  I think I took it

pretty well, but at the time I thought that that day would be amongst the worst in my life, as in up

there with losing a spouse, child or dying yourself (although this just might be my inexperience with death speaking.)  Also I tried two drugs and nothing worked. Also my condition effects my day to day life more, such as it is now harder to carry dog food from the car without an attack, and my running has suffered.

Lets hope 2011 has more adventure running, and less heart problems.

 

And that was the end. I’m curious. How’s he doing now? Still running? Still dealing with AF? Maybe he doesn’t want to talk about it anymore – he is a little secretive about his identity, although there is a photo of him during a 50 mile race but there’s no contact info. A fifty mile race while dealing with AF – not too shabby!

Hey, man, if you’re out there let me know!

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Endurance Sports and Atrial Fibrillation – WHY?

Endurance Sports and Atrial Fibrillation – WHY?

starting a long run on the local PCT. We saw a bear that day – fun.

Exercise is supposed to be good for you, good for your heart, right? Then why is that endurance athletes have two to ten times the rate of developing atrial fibrillation compared to “normal” people? Is a little or moderate exercise good but excessive exercise bad? As an endurance athlete (marathons, trail running, long distance mountain and road biking) who has permanent atrial fibrillation (AF) I would certainly like to understand “WHY?”

There is a terrific article on Europace entitled Endurance Sport Practice as a Risk Factor for Atrial Fibrillation and Atrial Flutter . By internet standards it’s a long read but I will review it here.

The studies aren’t large, and male athletes predominate – but it is clear that endurance athletes have, as mentioned above – 2 to 10 times the likelihood of developing AF. It is not actually known why but it is thought that ectopic atrial beats, chronic inflammation, and larger atrial size are all risk factors.

Personally – the story checks out – I started having runs of “premature atrial contractions” years before ever going into AF, and because endurance athletes train more frequently and tend to avoid rest the atria are chronically inflamed, which leads to fibrosis (scarring) of the atrial muscle. And of course my left atrium has been severely enlarged for decades – not as much because of sports but because I had previously had mitral regurgitation (repaired surgically 1994 but the atrium never shrunk back to normal).

But even without the mitral valve issues endurance athletes tend to have enlarged atria. And we don’t rest enough leading to inflammation and scarring. The Europace article cites several studies that link long term endurance sports with AF, compared to sedentary individuals.

Moderate exercise may actually protect against AF.

Ringo after a long run – Fremont Trail

The Europace article also cites studies that show a correlation with “occupational physical activity” and AF – meaning people that have difficult, physically demanding jobs are also in the same boat as endurance athletes.

I didn’t know this – there is also a higher rate of AF related to how tall a person is – damn! I’m 6’3” (or 6’4” – depending on what year was measured.)

The article discusses, speculates, as to the mechanism of AF in the athlete’s heart but much of this is a bit technical for this blog. Feel free to explore the article if you are curious.

The typical clinical profile of sport-related AF or atrial flutter is a middle-aged man (in his forties or fifties) who has been involved in regular endurance sport practice since his youth (soccer, cycling, jogging, and swimming), and is still active. This physical activity is his favourite leisure time activity and he is psychologically very dependent on it. 

Interestingly the AF rarely occurs during running:

They almost never occur during exercise. This makes the patient reluctant to accept a relationship between the arrhythmia and sport practice, particularly since his physical condition is usually very good. The crises typically become more frequent and prolonged over the years and AF becomes persistent. Progression to permanent AF has been described by Hoogsteen et al .

Again, for me, the story checks out. I certainly recall long episodes of palpitations at rest that I now can identify as AF – until the day when it became (dreaded) permanent AF!

The article suggests that abstinence from sports is helpful for athletes having episodes of AF, although it isn’t curative. The problem, as any endureance athletes knows, is that it is nearly impossible to get us to give up our long runs, bike rides, etc.

Other therapeutic measures are also discussed – but that is a talk that is best left to the runner and the cardiologist.

Although ablation seems to be quite effective, endurance sport cessation associated with drug therapy seems to us a more suitable approach as an initial therapy, particularly in non-professional, veteran athletes.

To conclude I’m just going to quote their conclusions right here:

Vigorous physical activity, whether related to long-term endurance sport practice or to occupational activities, seems to increase the risk for recurrent AF. The underlying mechanisms remain to be elucidated, although structural atrial changes (dilatation and fibrosis) are probably present. There is a relationship between accumulated hours of practice and AF risk. Further studies are needed to clarify whether a threshold limit for the intensity and duration of physical activity may prevent AF, without limiting the cardiovascular benefits of exercise.

I’d be interested in others opinions and experiences with these issues. Reading this article was a little emotional for me – like I said – the story checks out! I guess that if I knew what I know now I might have cut down a little on the endurance sports before I was forced to do so by permanent AF. Truly, for me, a day long run with my dog, on a trail, in a local wilderness area was the most enjoyable thing I can imagine. And at this point it isn’t even the AF preventing me from still doing it – it’s the  high dose of beta blocker I take for rate control – really takes the wind out of my sails.

 

 

“C’mon Boss, let’s go for a trail run!”

afibrunner.com – Healthline’s The Best Atrial Fibrillation Blogs of the Year

afib-best

I’m going to “ring my own bell” here and post that afibrunner.com has been chosen, once again, as one of Healthline’s The Best Atrial Fibrillation Blogs of the Year. Thanks so much, Healthline!

According to my WordPress dashboard I have a lot of views of my blog directed from healthline.com – I truly appreciate it.

Please feel free to leave comments on this blog.

Atrial Fibrillation News Update

Here are a few internet news stories related to atrial fibrillation. In the future I’ll try to update more frequently so I don’t end up with four topics in one blog entry.

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Overall, the increase in risk of heart attack was about 70% in AF patients, even after accounting for other cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as hypertension, high cholesterol, body mass index, and history of stroke and vascular disease. However, when the researchers looked at subgroups, they found that increased risk of heart attack was more than doubled in women and African Americans with AF—but less than 50% for men and whites with AF.

I’m not sure what to say about this – hopefully runners with atrial fibrillation (who hopefully also have other heart healthy lifestyle choices – like a healthy diet, not smoking, reasonable body weight) will do better than the general population. One bit of good news – the blood thinners a fib patients take to prevent stroke also seem to help prevent heart attacks.

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“Novel” anticoagulants refers to the newer prescription anticoagulants that are used as an alternative to Coumadin (warfarin). Specifically: Pradaxa (which is the one I currently take), Xarelto, and Eliquis.

I can tell you that as a clinician there are not many things more frustrating than prescribing medications for people who are on Coumadin – it seems like it interacts with everything! One of the great things about the newer anticoagulants is that they have less drug interactions – but they still do have potential drug interactions.

Please click on the link to see tables for drug interactions involving Pradaxa (Dabigatran), Xarelto (Rivaroxaban), and Eliquis (Apixaban).

Obviously all of the novel anticoagulants can interact with any other drug that is *ALSO* an anticoagulant – like Plavix or aspirin. Keep in mind that this includes NSAIDs like Alleve (naproxen), Motrin (ibuprofen), etc.

Personally, I completely avoid taking ibuprofen and naproxen – but every once in a while (like after a brutal long run) I will take a Celebrex. Tylenol (Acetaminophen) is fine – no interactions with the anticoagulants (although it has its own issues).

By the way – if you read the article and see a possible drug interaction please don’t stop taking any of your meds – but contact your own doctor immediately for advice.

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A recent study has shown that Coumadin (warfarin) actually increases the risk of stroke for people in atrial fibrillation during the FIRST THIRTY DAYS of warfarin therapy. That’s just the first thirty days – the idea is to prevent having a stroke, and that’s what taking Coumadin does.

This finding does not suggest that anything will change – doctors are still going to put people on warfarin to prevent stroke. They just have to get through the first thirty days!

If you are on warfarin and you read this article – please do not stop taking your medication.

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Finally – the FDA has not yet approved the Watchman left atrial appendage closure device by Boston Scientific – but it has given a “vote of confidence.” It appears that this gadget, which is implanted in the left atrium to prevent the formation of the clots that cause strokes, may be approved by the FDA for the US market late this year. The majority of the panel agreed that the Watchman was equivalent to standard treatment with warfarin, but it hasn’t been compared to the new novel anticoagulants (see above).

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Run, Smile, Drink Water and Don’t Die – A Guest Post by JoAnna Brogdon

Once upon a time there was a girl that loved to run just for the fun of it. She woke up early one morning on a cold and rainy March morning, excited to run the Rock Creek River Gorge Trail Run at Prentice-Cooper State Forest, just outside Chattanooga, Tennessee. She had run this race before and was wowed by the gorgeous gorge views and challenging single track trails.

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She signed up for the 10.2 mile run but wasn’t feeling exactly right that morning. She couldn’t put her finger on it. She was just a little off but that wasn’t going to stop her! She bounced out of bed and decided to do the 6.5 mile option instead of the 10.2—a decision that turned out to be one of the best she ever made.

The start was a little fast. Everyone was ready to get moving on the chilly and very wet morning. Soon the 158 runners headed into the woods and formed a single line, slowing the pace which was a good thing. The trails were incredibly slippery with tons of thick mud after much rain that winter. One runner took a face plant when crossing the creek and came up with a big gash on his forehead and blood dripping down his face.

“Are you OK said the girl?”

“Yes, I am just happy to be out here,” he responded.

“Me, too!” she replied. There were smiles on everyone’s faces as they headed up steep hills and carefully focused on the each step.

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At the half way mark, she was feeling OK but a little more tired than usual. No problem she said to herself, just having an off day. It was time to focus on other things, talk to people, make some jokes and carry on. She found a guy wearing a shirt that said, “Idiot Runner’s Club – Run, Smile, Drink Water and Don’t Die.” This sounds like my kind of runner thought the girl! They chatted and laughed about how slow they were going but how happy they were to be there instead of sitting on a couch or still sleeping in bed. The mud was so thick that their shoes nearly got sucked off but happily they went up yet another hill.

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Even though she wasn’t moving very quickly, her heart was starting to race quite fast. She slowed down and was walking more than running. She put her hands in the air a few times feeling like it was getting a little hard to breathe. Just focus on the gorgeous trails and it will be over soon, she told herself.

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There is that Idiot Runner again. He caught up and they were passing each other back and forth. It was time for more chatting and laughter. Only a few more hills and it will be time to relax and enjoy the day. One final push, climbing up through the narrow Indian Rockhouse and the race is almost over.

It is only 6.5 miles, she thought why does this feel so hard? She had run 50Ks and didn’t feel this bad. There goes a female racer. She will have to see if she can catch her but just felt so tired and ready to stop. Then she heard the crowd and knew that the end was near. She pushed as hard as she could one final time to make it to the finish line—she did it! And then she decided to sit down for a minute, she really didn’t feel so good … and then there was darkness …

…what is that noise?

She was waking up and heard a loud noise – it was her heart pounding at an incredible rate and a bright light in the distance. Someone was saying something to her, if she could only get to the light. She woke and found herself inside the medic tent with two physicians by her side. Her legs were cramping with the worst pain she had ever felt. Where was she? What had just happened? What was her name? Which hospital did she want to go to? So many questions…

She was being placed in an ambulance and sent to the local hospital. She was in rapid rate Atrial Fibrillation and needed a Cardizem drip to get her rate down. They admitted her to the hospital and the nurse came by to explain what A Fib meant. She drew a nice picture for the girl.

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She learned that A fib occurs when one or both of the upper chambers of the heart – called the atria – don’t beat the way they should. This can cause blood to pool in the left atrium, where a blood clot can form. If that clot breaks away, it can travel to the brain, where it can cause a type of stroke called an ischemic stroke.

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Two and half days in the hospital she waited for the meds to convert her heart back to normal sinus rhythm. They placed a band on her wrist that said “fall risk” – they had no idea.

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The doctor decided the only way to get her heart back to normal rhythm was to cardioconvert using an electric shock. She was wheeled down to the operating area and what a surprise– she saw the two doctors that were at the race. One was a cardiologist and the other was an anesthesiologist for cardiology. They were chatting and laughing and encouraging her that it was all going to be OK. Her cardiologist was running late and it delayed the procedure. He was known for this as he always took time with his patients. Right as the doctor arrived; the nurse looked at the monitor and said wait—she converted on her own! We don’t need to shock her heart. The girl was happy and believed that it was actually going to be OK— maybe not happily ever after but OK. She smiled as she remembered the new friend she had just met on the trail…

“Run, Smile, Drink Water and Don’t Die.” Now those were words to live by.

The End.

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JoAnna Brogdon, forty-three years old, went into a fib several times since the race and was hospitalized twice. She has no underlying chronic conditions and the doctors are unable to tell her why she has had a fib. She believes the worst part of the condition was the emotional stress and not being able to exercise as she had in the past. She underwent a cardiac ablation recently and her heart has been beating normally since. She is hopeful that she has put a fib behind her at least for now and looks forward to running, traveling and feeling normal again. JoAnna wants to support those that struggle with a fib and may be contacted at joannabrogdon@hotmail.com.

On Being Slow – Running with Atrial Fibrillation

Being in persistent atrial fibrillation is sort of like being a pickup truck with a four speed manual transmission, but you can only use second and third gear.

If you’re going to continue distance running in persistent atrial fibrillation you’d better expect to be slower.

I was already slow to begin with – my quickest marathon was four hours and forty minutes and it took me an hour to run a 10K. I’ve always avoided 5Ks because people in 5Ks simply run too fast. Once I was a back of the middle of the pack runner, well, now I’m truly a back of the pack runner.

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Training Run

I’ve always been a larger runner, and that’s definitely a factor in being slow. I’ve done a dozen marathons at over 6′ 3” and about 235 pounds, and have often felt that people would “mark” me, use me sort of as a target. I’ve felt particularly self-conscious about those people, often found in the back of the pack in a marathon, who will run up and pass me and then start walking – over and over again. This can be really annoying. One guy did that for 14 miles! I finally told him, “please either keep running or keep walking.” I know that these people are simply followers of Jeff Galloway (there are a lot of them in the back of a marathon pack), but it’s still annoying and it happens every race.

But if I was moderately slow before, I’m silly slow now. In an effort to preserve my pace I have actually lost about 40 pounds – but I don’t think I’ve even broken even. I had previously ran ten minute miles in shorter training runs, but now twelve minute miles are more common. As stated previously I had a cardioversion and was in sinus rhythm for thirty-three days – and at my new weight I was delighted to be able to train, for shorter runs, at a nine minute mile if I wanted to – but alas after a quick five-mile run in the thirty-third day I went back into persistent atrial fibrillation. I could feel it immediately and knew what had happened.

I imagine that a lot of athletes who are reading this blog are people who have had episodes of atrial fibrillation, or who go in and out of atrial fibrillation. I think people with intermittent atrial fibrillation become much more symptomatic and have a lot more trouble with training. They might not be able to train at all. But with persistent atrial fibrillation, at least in my experience, I have found that I stabilized and am able to train (a slower pace). You just have to get used to it.

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Back of the Pack – Haulin Aspen Trail Marathon and 1/2 Marathon

There are a few major differences, however. Prior to atrial fibrillation, like most runners, I would start out a long run at a fairly quick pace and more or less degrade as far as my pace was concerned as the miles accumulated. But with atrial fibrillation I actually start out quite slow, and after a mile or two find that I have picked up the pace quite a bit. I generally don’t do much interval training, but I imagine that is out of the question at this point. I live and train in the mountains and I can still run hills, but not really very quickly. When bicycling I find I don’t stand up and charge up hills any longer, but remain seated and spin more.

Being in persistent atrial fibrillation is sort of like being a pickup truck with a four speed manual transmission, but you can only use second and third gear. You start out pathetically slow, and your top speed is greatly diminished – but she can still drive as far as you want.

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Big Slow Runner – Before A Fib

The most important thing, of course, is that I am still able to continue trail running and mountain biking, and I am still able to participate in marathons and even ultra marathons. I still get to experience the sheer joy of slogging through a long trail run through the forest. I was never going to win any prizes to begin with, so what’s the difference?

Actually, I was delighted to get a medal for second place in my age group at the 2012 Bizz Johnson 50K, which I ran while in persistent atrial fibrillation. That was the first year they had a 50K at that event and there weren’t very many participants. I’m pretty sure that there were only two people in my age group, but still!

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Second Place (age group) Hell Yeah!!!!

One good thing about ultra running and marathon running, especially compared to 5Ks, for example, is that nobody really cares if you are slow. I was surprised that there were many people who finished behind me when I ran my first 50K in atrial fibrillation. Although it is kind of embarrassing to be so slow, you just have to change your mindset, and when you get involved with ultra sports, especially with atrial fibrillation, you need to simply enjoy yourself, enjoy the run, enjoy the trail, enjoy the people, and not worry about time.

If there are any other athletes reading this who are in persistent a fib, or intermittent a fib, I would love to hear about your experiences, and I encourage you to leave comments.