My story begins in 2012. I began participating in triathlons and immediately fell in love with the sport. Over the next couple of years, I matured from sprint distance up to full Ironman distance. My goal was to qualify for the Kona World Championships. In 2014, I was finishing in the top 10% in my age group and was a USAT All American. Kona was within sight. By mid year 2015, I had completed several Ironman events including three full distance and eight half Ironman competitions.
Late in August 2015 everything changed. I was out for a normal training ride and about 60 miles in something felt “off.” My throat got very dry. I assumed it was something in the air or allergies. The next day I went out for a run and about 1 mile in the same symptom arose. Over the course of the next few days, this continued to occur. After about a week of this and just ignoring the symptom, I decided it was time to go get a chest x-ray. The x-ray came back clean, however, the doctor recommended an EKG. I declined the EKG. After all, I was an accomplished triathlete and had just completed Ironman CDA seven weeks prior.
The symptoms continued and began occurring even when I wasn’t working out. The Friday before Labor Day, it happened while swimming and the palms of my hands became numb. I quit the workout and decided to take a day off from training. The Sunday before Labor Day in early afternoon while at home with my wife, it happened again. With my wife screaming at me to go to Urgent Care to get an EKG, I reluctantly agreed.
The Urgent Care doctor looked at the EKG and got very nervous. She explained to me that something was very wrong and that she was calling an ambulance to rush me to a local Emergency Room. In total disbelief, I proceeded to walk out and drove myself to the Mayo Clinic.
Mayo Clinic performed another EKG and blood test and immediately confirmed that I had suffered at least one heart attack. Based on the symptoms that had occurred for over a week, I probably had experienced several heart attacks. I was admitted to the hospital and placed into intensive care to my total disbelief. I was thinking “I’m in the best shape of my life. I don’t smoke. I’m extremely fit. I eat clean. I exercise vigorously for 15-20 hours a week. How can this be?”
An ultra-sound of my heart was performed where the cardiologist informed me that I had approximately a 70% blockage of the LAD (widow maker). The plan was to perform an angioplasty and have a stent put in. Since it was the day before Labor Day, I was scheduled for surgery the following afternoon.
At 3 am in the morning the cardiologist burst into my hospital room explaining my blood test from just an hour ago showed an extremely elevated protein level, and that surgery could not wait until the afternoon. Fifteen minutes later, I was in surgery. Once in the surgeon discovered that my blockage was actually two blockages, and they were much much worse than they expected. LAD was 95% blocked and the distal RCA was 100% blocked. The anticipated one stent became four stents.
Post surgery, I recovered very quickly but had a difficult time hearing the stats – massive tissue damage, ejection fraction down to 32%, etc…. Nurses and the cardiologist informed me that I would never race again, and that I would be prudent to keep my heart rate under 140.
About halfway through the cardiac rehab, my cardiologist suggested that I have a follow up visit with their sports cardiologist, Dr. Todd Hurst, that specializes in athletes. Dr. Hurst was and is exactly what I needed. Fast forward, ejection fraction has improved drastically. I passed the latest stress test with flying colors, and Dr. Hurst has cleared me to participate in another Ironman.
August 22, 2016 (approximately 11 months after my heart attacks) – Ironman Coeur D’alene race summary:
This was my post race summary on Facebook: As many of you might or might not know, about 11 months ago in the best shape of my life, I suffered a string of heart attacks. 2 blocked arteries, 4 stents put in , and significant heart tissue damage. Initially I was advised to never race again (not even a 5k) and always keep my heart rate under 140. Fast forward to May 2016 and I am cleared to “participate” (not race) in endurance events again.
Initially I planned on a half Ironman as my come back race. However after much thought and probably needing the ego boost, I decided on Ironman CDA – yes the 140.6 FULL.
After an 8 month layoff, and only 3 months out, I began training. Following my cardiologists advice to the letter, I paced myself, never pushing too hard and always paying very close attention to my HR and body.
As race day approached i was carefully watching the forecast (I did the race last year in record heat with temps well over 100 degrees). Much to my chagrin the forecast high was low 90’s with winds in the 15-25 mph range.
My pre-race plan – enjoy the day and be grateful just to be able to participate. Thank all the great volunteers, and dont worry about time (this was incredibly difficult for me, as pre-heart attack rob was very competitive). My guesstimate for pacing was as follows: 1:15 swim, 6:30 bike and 5:00 run. After all, I did this race the year prior in just over 12 hours (in absolutely insanely hot conditions).
Swim – Placed myself in the 1:20 pack and went out very easy. Swam a 1:16 and exited the water feeling great, and honestly – relieved. The swim made me nervous as if I felt like I was having a heart issue, I could be a mile from shore.
Bike – My goal here was to go super easy on the hills – 6000 feet of climbing is no joke. Then I would put a solid effort on the descents and flats. I was targeting 3:15 per loop. I nailed the first loop just ahead of schedule at 3:10. The second loop started great, but when the course heads out into the mountains, the wind kicked up. 25mph+ head wind all the way out of town. Even though I was going what I felt was easy and very sustainable pace, by the time I reached the turn around to head back to town, I was running on empty. The heat/wind combo took a huge toll. This is where the limited training and 8 month layoff really hurt me. As I coasted the numerous downhill sections on the way back and enjoyed the tailwind – I flatted at mile 104 of the bike (just 8 miles from T2). 15 minutes later and with the assistance of a great support guy, I was back on my way. I limped into T2 knowing that in order to put down any kind of run, I was going to need to dig deep and suffer (exactly what my cardiologist had advised against).
T2 – I got to T2 and sat inside the change tent for a bit contemplating how to attack the run. Do I push and suffer, blocking out all pain as I have done previously or do I go easy and enjoy the day.
Run – as I left T2 – I decided the latter was far more prudent. Leaving T2, I waited for about 20 minutes for my buddy Dan to catch up, thinking we could jog walk together (as we both agreed this is our last 140.6). Dan is a monster on the bike and I fully expected to be trying to chase him down on the run. However Dan ran into his own mis-fortune suffering 3 flats on the first bike loop.
Standing out in the heat waiting, I decided to start jogging and asked Jill to let Dan know my place and thoughts on completing the run together. Sure enough about 4.5 miles into the run, I saw Dan just about a minute behind at the first turn around. He caught up and from there we did the slow jog/walk together for the next 20+ miles. Both suffering from stomachs that completely shutdown on the run, we made the most of it and enjoyed the evening walk/jog until we crossed that line.
Tough day out there on a very tough course, but its in the books and got it done. Time 15+ hours (my slowest Ironman by nearly 4 hours).
As I look back and reflect – im very grateful just to be out there enjoying the sport I love with great friends and my loved ones supporting me.
Hope this inspires others to dream, work hard, and know that you can do anything you set your mind too.
Think you cant do an Ironman, – Think again – YOU CAN. But please please get an ekg/stress test first.