Tuesday, July 27, 2021

10-year itch

...10 years of heart stability....let's test this thing!

A neglected blog is a reminder of life slipping past. When I last left this story it was 2013 - I had posted a few entries after a health scare that ended up being inconsequential and the early death of my first ICD. The day my ICD was replaced I got a proper cardiac MRI, and confirmation that my heart was doing just fine. From 2013 to 2017 good health, happiness, and significant life events conspired to keep me away from the cardiologist. 

Here's the Cliff Notes version...In 2013 Molly, my partner since 2003, deemed me healthy and presentable enough to actually marry, in 2015 I mustered the confidence to leave my job at a firm and take my architecture on the road, and in 2017 we decided that the little person developing in Molly's belly deserved to be born somewhere other than in Trump's United States, and so we returned to Europe grâce à my UK nationality and delivered him at Royal Victoria Maternity Hospital in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He can now chose from three countries to represent in the 2036 Olympics. 

...this changes stuff...

In 2018 the reality of having a child and the persistent pestering of that child's mom finally drove me back into the cardiologist for a check up. Also, I was bearing down on my 50th birthday and back in 2008 I had decided that if I could go 10+ years with cardiac stability I might try bike racing again. My hero electrophysiologist at UPenn was unimpressed, while my local cardiologist at George Washington U thought I was nuts. I re-upped my racing license and opened a Bikereg.com account. 

To be clear, I wasn't expecting much. My fitness was good, but I did not have the time or inclination to do the kind of training that would put me back where I had left off in 2008. Approaching 50, I was doubtful the same performance would be achievable, with or without a heart issue. 

Also, I was nervous about racing on tarmac with an ICD. Despite many outings with the local lunch time throw-down ride, actually racing on hard surfaces scared me, in part because I know myself. I've always been a risk taker, the guy that dives the inside line on the last corner of a criterium, and I wasn't sure I could stay out of trouble. So I decided to take up cyclocross.

no tarmac required...an off-road training tumble, ICD and bones all intact...

Cyclocross - for uninitiated readers - is Steeplechase on a bicycle: think off-road, mud, grass, barriers to ride or run over, sand traps, short steep inclines, all on multiple laps of a 1-3km circuit, races are 45 minutes to an hour long. The bikes are modified road bikes - slim but knobbed tires, slacker angles. There is crashing to be sure, but it all happens on softer surfaces and at lower speed, I'd have much less to worry about as far as damaging my ICD. 

Because they are short, you can also race cyclocross with a much smaller training volume than road racing.  What I was neglecting to acknowledge to myself was the intensity required, the violent effort that kicks off a Cyclocross race. Cyclocross is like any other bike race, backwards. You sprint at the beginning, rarely at the end. This is because the pack of riders is all trying to get as close to the front as possible before the circuit goes single-file. This usually happens in the first kilometer. What this means, heart-wise, is going from resting pulse to maximum effort in a few seconds, spending several minutes in this anaerobic state, and then the rest of the race trying to recover. 

My 2018 attempt at cyclocross racing was humbling. There was no way to reconcile sprinting off the line with my heart condition. No amount of warm-up helped. The inevitable 10-15 minutes of standing still while the start was staged brought my heart rate down to resting levels; the instant red-lining threw it into a panic. I never had any VT, but copious PVCs at max threshold were not helpful. The only times I was able to avoid falling to the back of the pack in the first lap was when the course went quickly into technical or downhill sections where I could get some recovery.  I also hadn't bothered to downgrade myself, and ended up doing my first few races in the combined elite field. So, there I was, dropped at the gun, with two goals: don't get lapped, and don't finish last...

...this guy doesn't care where I finish.