It’s really only for the chocolate milk

33b704d250f7b0e727dadde22f46b7e3_dsc_3062It’s been a busy year for running. For most part my health behaved and allowed me to get seriously get stuck into trail. I did a few 12s and then gradually moved on to 21s. Oxpecker gave me the confidence and once you’ve done one, you just can’t stop. The most gruelling so far was Captain Carrot. These runs are designed by pint-sized trail legend Nina Furness Derieux with little trail to speak of. Which annoys my partner no end who believes it does serious damage to the environment. Regardless it was a lot of fun and with three 21 trail runs under the belt this year (Cape Town Peace Trail, Captain Carrot, Rocktrail), two stage races (Oxpecker 37ks and Runtheberg 32ks)  and two 21 road runs (Two Oceans and Old Eds), I have set my sights on London Marathon 2017. Every run has had its own personality, its own ups (and what felt like fewer downs) and has inevitably ended with the now-mandatory chocolate Steri-Stumpie. There is no bigger carrot than running towards artificially flavoured milk to replenish the lost calories. It’s throwing out the planning of your pre-race meals and the being careful around what you eat to ensure your body behaves appropriately, to say, well done. You deserve this crap. I may just have to take some with me to London.

Featherbed rattles the beat

But wow, it was worth it.  The trip across the lagoon to the start, the sunrise over Thesen’s, the views from just about everywhere. The start takes you up a steep hill and down again, through a restaurant and then onto possibly the prettiest path I’ve ever seen along the western head. And then the climbing starts. I may have bolted too quickly and soon my heart spiked to above 200. Which hasn’t happened in while but it wouldn’t settle down. No matter how slowly I took it. Regardless, I loved it. After the water point at 10ks it finally settled and I loved the route back with views east, then west, then east that just went on forever and over the train bridge (that went on forever). I got back to a very teary daughter who hated being left alone and I felt selfish for relentlessly pursuing this passion regardless of how it may affect my health and the sanity of the people around me. And while I have no idea whether my running is hurting or healing my heart I know that the elation I feel can only benefit my overall health. Not sure my daughter would agree. 

Running is the cure

I’ve had some good runs. Runs that stand out from the rest, where you wish you could somehow save it, like chocolate, and sample from it when you feel like a little bit of euphoria.

A few stand out: Two Oceans half this year, where I felt strong enough to do it all over again; my favourite training run from Hout Bay over Chapmans Peak to meet an old friend in Noordhoek for breakfast; Meiringspoort through the spectacular Swartberg mountains and a night trail run in Johannesburg in the pouring rain. Last week I felt that again at the Oxpecker trail series in the Drakensberg, a two day event through beautiful scenery with friends.


Oxpecker 2016

Come to think of it there are more but the common denominator is not the sense of achievement, the great scenery or the elation when you cross the finish line. It is just plain happiness. Happiness to be alive and healthy and happy.

I have yet to come across any medicine, vitamin or booster that can invigorate and uplift me like running out in the open. It’s just the most spectacular cure for anything from depression to a dicky heart and have brought me closer to the people around me (runners and non-runners).

And since you can’t bank the feeling, you just have to keep on running.

4 halfs on

After Knysna I got into a rhythm – a month rest and then start training for another half marathon. So it works out to about three a year which was manageable all through 2015. I ran the Two Oceans half which was a personal victory because of no afib throughout the run. Add to that the atmosphere, scenery and vibe and it was the most fun you could have while going through so much pain. My friends ran the 55k so my achievement was my own but it felt great to have ticked that off my list.

IMG_2134Midyear I was back in Knysna and bettered my time marginally. Again – no afib and I felt healthy. My third half in 2015 was my favourite though. I flew down to Oudtshoorn, woke up early the next morning for the ride on the ostrich truck out to the start and stood in the cold with my rusk and my blanket. It was a downhill run and spectacularly beautiful, ending in the little town of De Rust with a celebratory Coke and roosterkoek. Once again an awesome run with no afib – just sore legs.

It takes some time for my heart rate to settle in every run and it never really goes above 140 bpm thanks to the verapamil and the tambacor. Which means I’ll probably never do a sub 2 hour half marathon. But I am loving it and have my doctor’s approval. He’d still like to do another ablation but as long as I don’t try out a marathon, he’s happy. London 2017 may be calling.

I’m busy training for another Two Oceans, Vic Falls in June and Gun Run in Cape Town in September and feel great that I have found my rhythm. Not sure if my running is shortening my life span (or extending it) but I am doing what I love again.

Bittersweet Knysna

On the day it turned out less than ideal but the weekend was perfect. It was a cold start high up in the forest with blankets and hot coffee for the 6000 or so runners. A more ideal setting you couldn’t get. The few weeks of successful training to keep my heart in check had secretly lulled me into the hope of getting to at least 2.10, even though the original objective was to merely finish. Straight out the starting black I smelled trouble. I felt strong but after 2ks my heart was going mad. Was it the excitement, the nerves, the beer last night? Did I maybe not take the right medication in the dark this morning? But I did everything right and as planned, to the T, yet I was in afib.

The heartbeat that nearly beat me,

The heartbeat that nearly beat me,

My watch beeped furiously and swung between 150 and 200. I thought it would settle down as it usually does but very early on it became clear this was not meant to be. My partner, a strong runner quite a few years my junior stayed with me to the end and encouraged me to not push it and to listen to my heart. It was the most frustrating day. Feeling how fit and strong you are but your heart disagrees. No matter what kind of breathing I tried or how slowly I took it the only thing that would settle it down was walking. After 16 ks my heart finally settled and I settled into a 6 minute per k pace. It was a beautiful run which I couldn’t enjoy to the full, which I guess is what happens when your perspective shifts. The exhaustion of the afib finished me off in the 19th k and I started feeling dizzy even though my heart rate was now under control and my legs still felt strong. I finished the race in 2.30 which is slightly worse than my disastrous run three years ago. I have come full circle and managed to finish the dreaded race that started it all. Yet it was incredibly disappointing. It felt as though this condition had beaten me and said ‘don’t you think you can run away from me’. Emotions ran high and I swore I would never run again. But the will to run is too strong and I’m glad I had my partner beside me who could put things into perspective. I’ve loved it from the first time I’ve taken to the road and will keep trying. I’ll read up more, visit 20 doctors if I have to but I’m in good shape and am determined to get this thing under control. Which means I’ll be back next year. Thanks Brad.



Sunday bloody Sundays

The view from the top of Westcliff hill

The view from the top of Westcliff hill

I love the Sunday runs. I usually feel better in the morning. Calm and relaxed and easy to get into a pace. This Sunday was different. I’m not sure if it was the relatively rough night I had had on Saturday night but it played havoc with my heart rate. I woke up in afib for the first time in months and it never settled down.  I did the uphill course to make matters worse and had to give my heart a breather four or five times during the run even though my legs and lungs felt up to the task. The rest of the 15ks seemed to be ok yet my rate never dropped below 150 and my average page was a measly 6,45. I hope this was an isolated case and that it did have something to do with the night before. It was a beautiful run through the suburbs on a cold crisp morning though and some compensation for the way I was feeling. I’ll try the same route today with a shorter downhill totalling 8ks. Still on track with the programme without missing one run.

In week 7 and so far so good. I run Wed/Fri instead of Tue/Thu but haven't miss done yet.

In week 7 and so far so good. I run Wed/Fri instead of Tue/Thu but haven’t miss one yet.

Finding your rhythm

photoSo far so good. I ran my 13K (the furthest I’ve run since my last ablation) last Sunday and an 8K on Wednesday. The Sunday run was again out in the country with no one about, just fields, a river and a few rural huts with waving children happy to see me. I’m starting to notice a real pattern with my heart rate though. It shoots up fairly quickly from 60 to 150 within a few seconds once I start running. Once I find my feet it seems to be ok and I settle down to 125. In my last few runs my heart has never gone over 140 again after it settles in the mid 120s, regardless of the distance.

A sudden surge before it settles down seems to be the norm now.

A sudden surge before it settles down seems to be the norm now.

I also feel awkward for the first kilometre or so before I find my feet and the rhythm to go with it. Maybe I’m getting better at it, or fitter but even hills don’t affect the rhythm that much. Still hating the Wednesday runs for some reason. Doing another 8Ks tonight and then 15 on Sunday.

Keeping it down with style

Running with afib is a bit of a mind&^%$#. You have to constantly try and regulate your heartbeat through either slowing down or regulating your breathing. It’s confusing as the drugs are keeping your rate artificially low and you’re not sure if it’s good or bad for you. Regardless one has time on your hands when running so I play constant games in my head to try and regulate the beat. I’ve set my own limit at 150, even though I should safely be able to push it to 175. It’s just that margin that creates the buffer and makes me feel in control. When I see it inching up to 150 I relax my shoulders and to a passerby must have the sloppiest running style imaginable. I lean forward on the uphill with loose arms swinging about and bend my knees on the downhills to reduce impact, all of which makes me look like it’s my first day on the road. A friendly attitude to runners or commuters going the other way keeps me calm, I keep telling myself. Which all results in me being the biggest geek on the road.

12Ks in the desert

The jacket is to make sure I'm visible to traffic ...

The jacket is to make sure I’m visible to traffic …

The mystery location turned out to be one of the most beautiful little desert villages in the Karoo. Prince Albert was the perfect setting for an awesome weekend and, after a chilly week, expected it to be a cold start on Sunday weekend. We set out and my heart rate immediately shot up to an uncomfortable level. It was relatively flat though and determined to give it a chance we pushed on through the Main Street. It was a spectacular setting. Flanked by dramatic mountains on the one side and dotted with beautiful quaint cottages and a church, we veered off the main road down a gravel road into the valley. It was spectacular running into the sunrise and after 10 minutes my heart rate settled into a comfortable pace.  I had to keep myself back to stick to my allotted pace of 6.30 minutes per kilometre but I ran comfortably and finished the 12ks with time to spare. My heart rate never went above 130 again and I felt like I could have easily done a half marathon today. Loved it. Still on track.

Bad runs, good runs

So far I’ve followed the programme to a T. My first 6k weekday run was terrible. My legs felt tired and my running rhythm was out. The cold weather is playing havoc with my breathing which gives you one more thing to worry about on days where running won’t come naturally. I saw my heart rate creeping up as I became more and more uncomfortable and eventually walked the last kilometre. Regardless I spiked just before I reached home and felt annoyed and disappointed. Check out my run here. To make up for it my 7k run two days later was awesome. I planned that I have my smoothie only an hour before my run and I took half a flenaicide 15 minutes before I set off. Never sure how appropriate this is but since I’m supposed to take a full one in morning and one at night I figured I could split the nighttime one between late afternoon and bedtime. It worked and I had a great run despite a tremendous headwind and a cold front moving in. I guess mood also plays a role and as I greeted everyone who passed me from students to newspaper sellers it felt wonderful to be outside and to know that A bad run may very we’ll be followed by a good run. Looking forward to the 12k on Sunday at some mystery location my partner is taking me to. Just 5 weeks to go to half marathon and getting excited.