Eleven months ago I survived what cardiologists call “The Widowmaker” heart attack. A 100% blockage in one coronary artery, 98% in another. Apparently it kills 90 – 95% of the people that have it. I’m lucky to be alive. It was a shitty, amazing, painful, beautiful and life-changing event.
Somewhere very early in the aftermath, lying in the cardiac ICU in a morphine drip induced haze, I realized I had to get off my fat ass and make some changes, big changes, in my life.
So I started eating better, and I started exercising. Big heart attacks damage heart muscle. Kills heart muscle. So I need to build up the remaining muscle, open up those arteries and get that heart pumping. I need cardio. Ellipticals and treadmills are boring. Bad genetics and three knee surgeries make running difficult. So I elected to start walking.
Not just take a Sunday stroll in the park walking.
But not that “Power Walking” you see people doing with pumping hand weights and flailing arms. I do have some dignity.
I walk fast. About 4 miles per hour – 15 minute miles. It’s a pretty decent clip, I’ve passed “joggers” on occasion.
For me, it’s the perfect exercise. Low impact helps the knees (and hips. Sucks getting old). Best of all, just before my heart attack I moved to Seattle. I have an amazing city to explore. I live right in downtown Seattle and can walk forever and see cool new things.
So that’s what I did. I went from lugging my 235 pound gut up hills that kicked my ass in 300 feet to dropping 60 pounds and walking 15 miles in an afternoon.
Uphill. Both ways. 😉
Months ago, I don’t know exactly when, I decided that I wanted to enter, and complete, a marathon. Actually, I have always wanted to finish a marathon. It’s been on the Bucket List in My Head for as long as I can remember. It’s hard to describe why anyone wants to run, walk or crawl for 26.2 miles under time limit conditions, but the desire is there.
A part of me wants to do it now just to raise a big giant middle finger to heart disease.
I refuse to let this disease bring me down. Finishing a marathon seems a nifty way to say, “Fuck you heart disease. You tried, you failed. I win, get the hell out of my life.”
So off to train for a marathon I went. Set my sights on the Seattle Rock & Roll Marathon on June 22. The time limit for walkers in that race is seven hours. Hit that time while still on the course and you get swept up in the trailing Van of Shame and shuttled to the finish line.
7 hours. That requires a pace of just over 16 minutes a mile. When I first started walking, I was doing 20 minute miles, and lucky to finish three miles.
This wasn’t going to be easy. But I walked on. Every day, no matter how sore I was, or how cold and wet it was outside. I walked.
It got easier. I got stronger.
Two weeks ago I did 10.5 miles at a 14:34 pace. I’ve done 18 miles at 14:54.
I’ve got this.
I publicly posted my goal, and training updates along the way. My amazing friends provided support, inspiration and motivation. Painful as it was sometimes, I trained hard. I track every step I take and I’ve taken over 3 million steps since my heart attack. I’ve walked over 1,400 miles. All in an effort to get to the point where I can walk 26.2 miles in less than seven hours on June 22.
I waggled my middle finger at heart disease with every mile that clicked by. It made me smile, even when it hurt.
Then there was this little bump
Three months ago there was this weird feeling in my foot. It felt like there was a little pebble — inside my foot. I pushed through it but it kept getting bigger and more annoying, so off to the doctor we go. It’s a Morton’s Neuroma, a benign growth in my right foot that makes walking painful. The doc whips out a needle the size of a pencil and gives me an injection into the neuroma, says to stay off it a month, and it will probably go away.
And it did. I eased back into training and the foot felt good.
Three weeks ago, the neuroma came back. The doc said it might. The next plan is to cut the damn thing out.
Here’s the problem with that:
Thanks to the aforementioned cardiac event, I am the proud owner of two titanium stents that prop up a couple of really important cardiac arteries. Seems these things are prone to clogging back up in the first year, so stent patents are put on anti-coagulants for a year while the stents “settle in”.
There isn’t a legit surgeon on the planet that will slice open my foot to remove a growth while I’m taking anti-coagulants. If I nick myself shaving it looks like someone slaughtered a hog in the bathroom, so bleeding out from foot surgery isn’t an option.
So I pushed on. I wasn’t about to let some stupid thing growing in my foot stop me from accomplishing this goal. I’d just deal with the pain and get through the marathon. By then I would probably be off the meds and could have the thing removed and I’d deal with the recovery and rehab then.
It’s called denial
This time the neuroma is bigger. And it’s growing. What felt like a little pebble in my foot before started feeling like a pea. Then a marble. Then I woke up today and it felt like a damn golf ball. Still refusing to believe this was happening, I put my shoes on this morning and headed out for an 18 mile walk.
Two steps into it I knew it was over. But I pushed on.
Two miles into it and I was in a cab, headed back to my apartment, fully cognizant that everything I’ve been working toward for the past 11 months was for nothing. I had failed.
And I was blaming heart disease. It was giving me the finger big time. If it weren’t for that damn medication I would just have the surgery now. I’m 14 weeks pre-race, I could take six weeks off to recover from the surgery, doing non-weight bearing strength and endurance training and still have time to finish training by June 22.
But thanks to that med, the timeline is whacked. There’s no way I can wait another month to get off the meds and have surgery. There just isn’t enough time.
I’ve finally accepted the fact that’s been staring me in the face the past two weeks.
My dream of finishing this marathon are over.
Deep in the throes of a pity party of epic proportions…
That is where I have spent the last several hours. I hate failing. I’ll freely admit that I don’t handle failure well. I actually contemplated stopping my anti-coagulent med early and having the foot surgery done. Then I remembered what the cardiac nurse told me about taking this med. She said:
Miss this once, you might be OK. Miss this twice and *I* will be pissed because I’m the one that will be consoling your wife and kids while they put a toe tag on you downstairs. Understand?
I loved that nurse. Yeah, go off the meds early. How’s this for a headline, “Man goes off heart meds early. Runs marathon. Dies.” That’s just stupid, it’s Darwin Award material. This goal is hardly worth dying for.
Yes, I wanted it. Bad. More than I’ve wanted anything in a long long time.
Boy howdy was I feeling sorry for myself.
Then, some wonderful things happened during my pity party. My wife, of course, pledged her undying support and understanding. I posted a picture on Facebook captioned, “Lots to contemplate…” and had friends from literally not just across the continent but across the world reach out privately and ask, “Everything OK?”
How cool is that?
You know what? Everything is OK. Better than OK. Life is terrific.
There will be other marathons. I’ll get this thing cut out when I can, I’ll train again, and I’ll try again. If it grows back, I’ll have it cut out again, and I’ll try again. I’ll have it cut out until there’s no foot left to cut from. If this stupid thing in my foot ultimately wins, well, then I’ll find another challenge to conquer.
A pity party? Seriously? With all I have to be thankful for? On April 21, 2012 I got a second chance at life. I don’t have time for a pity party, there is too much to do, too much to enjoy. Too many people to talk to, too many friends to spend time with.
So go ahead heart disease, stick out that middle finger at me. Wave it in my face.
Next time I’m breaking it off and shoving it where the sun don’t shine.