Friday, May 8, 2009

A Disheartening Discovery--Athletes and Arrhythmias

I got up at 4am today to ride 80 miles.

I wish I could say I did it out of a passion for ultra training.

But I did it because I was hooked up to a Holter Monitor.

The little device, which tracks the wearer's heart rhythms for 24 hours straight, was scheduled to shut off at exactly 10:16am this morning, and I wanted to make sure it had a good record of what my heart does when I'm riding long...even though 80 miles is less than half of what I had planned to ride tomorrow with my ultracycling best buddy, and personal ass-kicker, Robyn.

Imagine getting a call from your doctor at 6:30pm on a Monday, during which he tells you that structurally, your heart is rad (as confirmed by an echocardiogram taken a week earlier), but electrically, your heart's cardiograph looks like a Mexican jumping bean.

Doc: When's your race?

ME: The bike race? July. But I have a double century coming up, and a half-ironman, an Xterra, and a long ride Saturday--

Doc: I want you to cut back on exercise until we figure this out. Your echo didn't look good.

ME: What's a cutback? Like, I had a 12 hour ride planned for Saturday. So, um... only ride 10?

Doc: Like don't move.



Me: No. Way. You're joking, right?

Doc: No more than an hour a day. Not too hard. I want you to get a Holter Monitor and see a specialist in heart rhythms.

Then I heard his kids in the background and knew I couldn't grill him much longer.

ME: Um...ok.

I hung up. I couldn't talk anymore anyway, my throat was already swelling up and I was crying in a busy Vons parking lot. I think I'm one of very few Americans who cries then they're limited to 1 hour of low-level exercise per day.

I had asked my Dr., Dr. Ironman (name has been changed to maintain easy Dr. access), to listen to my heart when I went in to have him diagnose my fractured foot, knowing el heart-o beat funny sometimes, and I was becoming a little paranoid about it with advancing age and subsequent growing sense of my own mortality.

It did beat funny.

He took an EKG. It beat funny there, too.

So I went in for an echocardiogram, basically an ultrasound of the heart, and stared at my baby as she made strong swooshing noises and beat her own very unique rhythm.

"You see that--that's how it's supposed to look," said the tech as she pointed out a singular string of four perfect beats.

"I'm trying!" I said. The rest of the time it was totally spastic.

And so, having essentially failed one-half of the echocardiogram test--the beating part (A+ for structure!)--I agreed to look like an X-men mutant for 24 hours with electrodes all over my chest, and a monitor attached to my hip.

"You can do whatever you normally do with this on, just don't take a shower," said the tech as she stuck the electrodes on me.

"Really? How much exercise?"

"Whatever you want," she said.

"I exercise a lot more than most people...maybe you should check about that."

She went to ask my doctor what to do with me.

"Whatever you normally do," she said upon return.

And so I found myself up at 4am, climbing onto the Silver Bullet in a race against the clock to get in 80 miles before the monitor shut itself off.

The thing is, I've been through this before, 4 years ago as a senior in college. The results? I have PVCs, but they go away with exercise.

At that point, however, I had never dreamed I could ride my bike for 12+ hours straight. According to Wikipedia, PVCs are exacerbated by: adrenaline, caffeine, electrolyte imbalance, anxiety, physiological stress, and dehydration.

Boy did I become obsessed with the right sport for my heart's health!

If it all turns out to be a bad case of PVCs caused by the above, I guarantee I'll be riding with a Camelbak full of Gatorade every long ride from now on!

Let's hope Race Across Oregon can still be in my future!


  1. Sorry to hear about this - hopefully, it's all a fluke, and you can Race Across Oregon!

  2. Just read your blog about the team type 1 ride. Unfortunately, I'm blogging while in a meeting. So I burst out laughing for no apparent reason.
    LOVE your blog!

  3. Haha! Thank you, that makes me so happy to hear! And I love your ability to multitask :)

  4. Wow Erin - so sorry to hear about this!!! :( I certainly hope it's nothing serious and that you're back on track ASAP! Sending good thoughts your way!
    PS: Mike picked up a copy of Competitor Magazine in hopes of reading your article, but I guess there are different NorCal and SoCal issues, so ours doesn't have your article in it - bummer! :(

  5. Thanks Joan!

    That's stinky about the magazine--thank you for trying to read it! :)