This morning I sent in the withdrawal form for 70.3UK. I am heartbroken and my heart appears to be broken.
I’ve said a few times in recent entries that training hasn’t been going well, and I mentioned why in the last one – chest pains, palpitations, trembling. I brushed over it a bit, but I had been worrying for a while. I also admitted that I’d been putting off seeing a doctor because I didn’t want them to say I couldn’t race, or couldn’t train, or couldn’t go to Paris (and honestly, there will be a far cheerier entry about the trip as a whole, especially since I legitimately will be sitting around a lot more). This, dear readers, is NOT the way to approach chest pains. I don’t know why I assume the ‘call 999 if you have chest pain’ ads are not aimed at me, but that’s what I did. Even now I’ve been taken seriously and referred on, I still sit here thinking I’m making a massive fuss about nothing and that it’ll all turn out to be psychological.
About a month ago (or more? I have completely lost track of time), on a standard work lunch run, I had chest pains bad enough that I had to stop running. It wasn’t cramp as I recognise it. I carried on having the chest pains every time I ran for quite some time – a band of pain that sits just under my right breast, behind my ribs, and then spreads across in a spider-fashion to the other side until I literally can’t breathe. I convinced myself I’d pulled a muscle or something, took it easy on the running.
Around the same time, I came back from the gym after a spin session and commented to CM that the gym had been crazy hot and it must have affected the heart rate monitor on the bike, because I was clocking in at 194bpm. My standard for the session I was doing is 164bpm. I didn’t feel as though my heart was going 30 beats faster than usual, but on different bikes in different temperatures, on easier sessions, it continued to shoot up to the high 180s and beyond, and it would not go down until I more or less stopped pedalling. Similar things happened on the treadmill.
I went on a cycle ride outside in the first semi-good bit of weather we had (this is a ride in which I got so lost I ended up back home without meaning to, soaked to the skin). At the end of a not-too-bad hill, I had to get off the bike because I couldn’t see, I couldn’t breathe and my heart was pounding so hard that it was knocking me off the bike. When I got off the bike, my arms were shaking so badly I could barely lift it on to the pavement while I leant against a wall. Possibly some of you are reading this going, “Well, that’s exercise! That’s what happens!” No, that’s not what happens. I’ve been doing this stuff for a while now; I’ve pedalled ‘til I’ve nearly thrown up; I’ve done speed sessions; I’ve done hill sessions. I do not react like this to a normal, easy bike ride. But I told myself it was the adrenaline of being on the road (scary) combined with the hill that did it. I conveniently overlooked that I’ve done that hill a few times and never struggled like that.
Anyway, the list goes on – the point being that I made excuse after excuse for each incident, dialled the training back a bit and carried on. Then I started getting the shakes whilst sat on the sofa – arms and legs trembling. I would feel my heart skip a beat, but not in the good way. I started getting chest pains from running to the train or walking up the stairs at work – consistently getting chest pains and being badly out of breath. My breathing and heart are giving up before any of my muscles. In Paris, after a day of walking round, I sat in a restaurant and felt the area around my diaphragm tighten up and my chest cave in on itself. I could breathe, but with difficulty, and I could see my heart jumping in my chest. I went to bed and lay on my back. I thought ‘panic attack’? Maybe. I don’t know how they feel and I’ve never had one before. But I was also very, very tired. After I slept, it went away. And that happened a couple of times.
So I decided to go to the doctor once we were back from Paris. I made the appointment, and then wrote out a list of what had been happening so that I wouldn’t leave anything out. And then I looked at the list I wrote and saw the big picture for the first time and thought, ‘Oh. Fuck.’
Something is clearly not right. So I knew what the doctor would say about continuing training before I even got there, but had a spell of massive denial all the same. Even when he responded to my outright question “Do I continue with this race?” by telling me that he strongly, strongly advised that I not do any strenuous activity until all the tests were done and they had figured out what is happening, I still considered how badly taking three weeks off for testing would affect my ability and whether I could race. I played devil’s advocate with myself. I spoke to a friend and to CM about the possibilities of deferral, racing anyway with less preparation, finances. And here are the basic facts:
1) At a crucial training time (eight weeks to go), I have been told not to train. I was going to struggle in this race even with the training. Without the training and without 100% health, the reality is I’m unlikely to complete it and am more likely to be stretchered off.
2) If it was just me, if I had gone in to the race under-prepared, I’d still have a crack at it. But, despite how completely fucking betrayed I feel by my own body, this is not my fault. And I have to remember that I’m not wussing out. It’s easy to feel as though I am, sat here and feeling all right, but then I look at that list. And when I do this, I want to do it fully prepared, not half-arsed.
3) I’m broke. Paris bankrupt me (totally worth it), which means I have limited means to get to an overseas race later in the year. So I can’t really afford a deferral.
4) I could be signed off as OK in two weeks, or be figuring this out for the next six months. I don’t know. But I’m also on a time-limit to get any kind of refund or deferral, with the race just two months away. I had until Tuesday to make a decision and I’m not really one of life’s ditherers when it comes to some things.
All these factors… yeah. And CM and my friend, having looked over the possibilities with me yesterday, both said the same thing: “Not this year.” I still claimed I was going to do some light training this weekend and see how I felt, but … clinging on to the ghost there. CM told me that he thought I also needed “a week off to do nothing but sleep and walk dogs and stop thinking. You put too much pressure on yourself and it’s making things worse.” As to the other races this year – I managed to potter through a 5k in Paris with very little pain, so I guess I can do the sprint distances if I cruise them and don’t push myself. I don’t know about the Ride 100 or the Swimathon at this point. Well, the Swimathon is in two weeks, so that’s not looking so hopeful right now.
Honestly, I’ve had times before every race I’ve ever done where I’ve gone, ‘Man, I wish I could sprain my ankle or get a chest infection so I don’t have to do this,’ and 70.3 has most definitely had its fair share of those wishes. But this is the first time it’s come true. And I don’t feel relieved. I’m just really, really, really disappointed. I sent in the withdrawal form and an email cancelling my registration for the familiarisation day – and then I sat on the sofa and cried.
I feel more bereft than I thought I would – so many hours of training, early mornings, excited tweets, connecting with people, and dreaming about crossing the finishing line have just gone ‘splat’. Which is not to say I won’t be staying in touch with everyone, because 2014 will be my year! But I was so psyched up , and now… nothing except the ignominy of telling people I’ve withdrawn and worrying about my health.
I’m scared. My family (on my dad’s side) has a history of heart problems. My grandpa died of a heart attack, as did my uncle. My Dad has had angina and a quadruple heart bypass (it was supposed to be triple, but part way through the operation they figured they may as well sort out the fourth artery rather than risk another operation in future. Granted, this was quite a lot to do with lifestyle as well as genetics). The doctor said straight off that my age and fitness mean he doesn’t think it’s likely to be a cardiovascular disease. He couldn’t hear anything when he listened to my heart, and my heart rate at the doctors came in at 73bpm (usually 61bpm, but I was nervous). Probably, how much it scares me makes it worse, as well. Stress can’t help. But because of this, and because although I have a history of depression I have no history of panic attacks, he’s referred me for a 24-hour ECG and blood tests for everything he can think of. Then, if nothing comes from those, he said we’ll be looking at my lungs in case my ability to process oxygen is being impaired.
And that’s all she wrote.