Thursday, August 4, 2016

I Had A Heart Attack.

I had a heart attack.  It sounds absurd to utter that sentence.
As a life-long endurance athlete a heart
attack was not something that was ever on my radar.  No blood pressure issues.  No elevated cholesterol.  A resting heart rate around 50 bpm.  I immersed myself in the endurance lifestyle because I loved it.  A super strong, healthy, bulletproof heart was just a positive benefit.

When the news spread, I was inundated with support and love from friends and family.  Once they realized I was going to be ok, the questions spilled out:
What happened?
How could this happen to you?
Should I quit running?
What were the warning signs?

I didn't take these inquires as people being nosy or intrusive.  I understand completely.  If I heard of another fit, healthy endurance athlete having a heart attack I would want to know EVERYTHING so I could recognize/ prevent the issues!
I am choosing to share the story to help everyone understand what happened.

March 2016: I was in the midst of basic winter training.  Running 30 - 40 miles per week and cycling 100 - 125 miles per week.   Seemingly overnight I started experiencing shortness of breath and some minor chest pain during exercise.   I couldn't keep up on the bike with my normal training partners nor could I hold anything close to my usual running pace.  By "anything close," I am talking about 2 minutes per mile slower.  Every run was a struggle at a very slow pace.

A complete physical, including an EKG, echocardiogram, treadmill stress test and labs all came back normal  I was assured "It is not your heart".
Over the next few months I was prescribed antibiotics, steroids and an inhaler in an effort to pinpoint the cause.  Nothing helped.

April  - June 2016: No improvement over the summer.  I kept trying to train despite my inability to perform at my usual levels.   Every run and ride was a struggle with shortness of breath.  There was no joy being derived from my workouts.   Gaining weight, losing fitness and no solution on the horizon.

July 16, 2016:  I wasn't feeling good on my Saturday morning team ride.  I had even more difficulty keeping up.   I felt a bit queasy.  Headache.  Figured I was getting a head cold.    After 20 minutes I told my training partners I was heading back.  I was asked if I was ok and needed someone to ride back with me.  I said "no, my stomach is feeling funny and I will ride back easy".   As I pedaled towards home my chest started aching.  It quickly spread to my left shoulder, arm, neck and jaw!   Ugh... this isn't normal.  But they told me it wasn't my heart!     My heart rate monitor was fine  No elevated heart rate.   I stopped  and stretched.  Yep.  I thought maybe it was a muscle cramp in my chest/ shoulder.    In hindsight... it was clearly a heart attack.  In the moment?  Nah, couldn't be.  So I rode the 8 miles home.

I felt weak and sick for several days.  (nope, I did not go to the ER on Saturday.)

My wife finally convinced me to go to the emergency room 4 days later.    We were frustrated and wanted some definitive answers.   We certainly got them!

July 20th, 2016: I drove myself to the ER.  I had my laptop so I could do work if I was waiting all day in the ER.   (yes, it is darkly humorous now!)  When you walk into the ER and mention "chest pains" you go to the front of the line.
Within ten minutes I was hooked up to an EKG and having blood drawn.  
Fifteen minutes later the ER Physician came in with a serious look and informed me that "you are not going home tonight.  Your Troponin level is 5.7.  You are having a heart attack right now.  You are next in line for the cardiac catheter lab."

Wait, what?

Ninety minutes after driving myself to the ER, my awesome, new cardiologist found a completely blocked posterior descending artery and inserted a 32mm stent.   (stunned silence)

No signs of heart disease or damage.

What happened? Sometime back in early 2016 I got a tear in my posterior descending artery.
SCAD: Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection.   Very rare.  Cause is unknown.  Recurrence even more rare.
All of those symptoms and shortness of breath were caused by a supply/ demand issue in my heart. The artery tear got worse over the summer until it caused a complete blockage and ...a heart attack!

48 hours later I walked out of the hospital feeling like nothing happened.  Crazy.

Now what?  Very restricted, monitored exercise for 6 weeks to allow everything to heal.  Then, if everything checks out I should be able to return to my usual workout schedule and get back in shape for the 2017 racing season!

The lessons:
  • There is nothing i could have done to prevent/ predict the SCAD. 
  • Shortness of breath during easy exercise (beyond the usual signs of racing/ training hard) is serious and should be checked immediately.    As in, go directly to the ER.  If I had gone during one of those early episodes the blood work might have shown something serious. 
  • When you know your body well, and you KNOW something is wrong, don't settle until you find out exactly what is going on. 
  • Life is short.  Make the most of it!
Addicted To The Test of Self. 
Running Coach, 35+ years of running & triathlon, 
Los Locos Racing, 
Ironman, Marathoner, Ultrarunner

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Thunder In The Forest Tri/ Du Course Preview - (updated 4/13/16)

A new multi-sport race being added to the local race calendar is always good news!
When the race incorporates some favorite bike & run routes... even better news!
The new Thunder In The Forest Triathlon/ Duathlon is set for Sunday, April 17, 2016 at 9 am.
The event will be held at Poplar Tree Lake in Meeman Shelby Forest.
The race is a partnership between Start2Finish Event Management,  Memphis Thunder Triathlon Team & the Millington High School NJROTC.

There will be two race formats to choose from:

Duathlon: 1 mile run, 15 mile bike, 3 mile run

Triathlon: 500 yard swim, 15 mile bike, 3 mile run

Both races will be run simultaneously with one transition area.  This means that swimmers from the triathlon and runners from the duathlon will hit the same transition area and then race the bike and second run together.    The Shelby Forest area is home to several very popular running events and is also a regular training ground for area cyclists.   Shelby Forest is known for one thing: hills!   Expect some challenging hills in the first 3 miles of the bike and in the first 1.5 miles of the second run.   *Bonus: the course avoids the hilliest "Three Pigs" section of very steep hills!

Triathlon start:
Swim: The 500 yard swim will be a triangle shape in Poplar Tree Lake.  The lake is very typical of small fishing lakes in this area.  The swim will start in waves based on age groups and quantity of athletes per age group. We will determine closer to race day how that breakdown will look.  Expect wetsuits to be legal and very necessary in the cold water!

Duathlon start:
Run #1: A simple out-and-back around the lake.  There is a slight incline on the way back into the transition area  but nothing to worry about.   It is considered a "fast" mile.

Swimmers and runners will be entering the transition area at the same time and then compete on the same bike/ run course for the duration of race.

Bike Course - 15 Miles
The bike starts with a rollercoaster ride of hills for the first 1.5 miles.  Make sure your bike is in the proper gear as you leave the transition area.   Don't overdo the first few minutes of the bike course. As soon as you leave the park, near the two mile mark, the road flattens out for the most part until you reach Watkins at mile 4.  Watkins is a wide four lane road with a median.  It will be a fast stretch with some long gentle rolling hills for three miles until a right turn on Robertson, then another right on Benjestown.   The next three miles on Benjestown are winding with a few small rollers but this should be a fast stretch.  After a left turn back into Shelby Forest cyclists get a flat stretch followed by a long downhill all the way back into transition!
Caution: There is a sharp left turn at the bottom of the hill into the parking lot at the end of the bike course.
Bike Course Map (updated 4/13/16)

Run #2 -  3 Miles
This loop run course will be two distinct parts! Survive the rollercoaster hilly first mile (that you experienced on the bike) and then get rewarded with the long downhill final mile to the finish (that you also experienced on the bike).   The run follows a counter-clockwise loop out Grassy Lake Rd.  Runners will turn left near the halfway point and cut through the old Shelby Forest swimming pool parking lot and make their downhill return to the finish.

The Thunder in the Forest races will provide a great early season tune up in a beautiful rural setting.

Course Maps



Coach Kevin is a 35+ year runner & triathlete, an RRCA-certified running coach & the National Coach for the St Jude Heroes & Team McGraw

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Run Smarter. Consider the Source!

You don't have to hire a coach to train smarter.
"Get a Coach... Or At Least Think Like One" 
Just don't take advice from those that have done nothing, or done it poorly, or repeatedly get injured, or make the same training mistakes over & over.

I hear and read so much bad advice being thrown around by runners who aren't experienced enough to be the "expert" they think they are.   Some runners think that their training plan, nutrition and shoe choice is BEST for every runner. NOTHING is further from the truth.

A competent coach isn't an expert because of a certificate on the wall.  Good coaching comes from years of experience coaching a variety of runners of all abilities.  The "art of coaching" comes from a base of training knowledge & basic training plan templates coupled with the experience and anecdotal evidence of developing runners of all abilities.  

Greg McMillan of McMillan Running, one of the top coaches around, sums it up well in "You (Only Faster)":
"When I started coaching I used published training plans, mostly from Arthur Lydiard, with my first athletes.  Soon, I began to modify these plans based on what I was seeing in the athletes and my new athletes benefited from these experiences.  I certainly have my overriding philosophy for each race distance but it's just more artistic in how I apply this philosophy to each athlete." 

  • Each runner is different.  Cookie cutter plans are a good guide, but you must learn to identify which methods work best for you and adapt accordingly. 
  • If you keep getting injured, especially the SAME injury, you are doing it wrong!  Repair the root cause of the injury.  "Runners Are Dumb"
  • Seek out experienced runners & coaches for training advice.   "Experienced" doesn't necessarily mean fast.  Experienced means someone who has been able to stay consistent and reach their own personal peak performance. 

Coach Kevin is a 35+ year runner, an RRCA certified running coach & the National Coach for the St Jude Heroes & Team McGraw
Follow  him on Twitter Facebook

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Evaluating Your Race Performance

You just completed your goal race.  Whether it was a 5K, triathlon, marathon or ultra... the post-race
analysis is crucial to your ongoing improvement as an endurance athlete.

Don't make rash judgments on your performance in the first 24 hours post-race.  Let the emotions (positive and/ or negative) settle down.  Then do an honest self-evaluation.  What made the race a success?  Did you hit your goal time?  Was it a PR?  Did you complete a distance for the first time?  Was finishing the ultimate goal?   Was your performance good considering race day conditions?   Was your race day focus good/ bad?  How was your training... really?

What went wrong?

  • Did you go out too fast?   This is the #1 error.  Most runners go out too fast.  Proper pacing takes a tremendous amount of discipline & patience.  You learn this in training. Marathon Pacing Made Easy 
  • Did you pick a goal that did not realistically reflect your current fitness?  What evidence from your training did you use to pick your racing goal?  Was it sound and scientific?  Or a wild guess?  Breaking Through the Wall
  • Did your ego/ impatience/ adrenaline get in the way?   Happens to all of us.  Don't compare your fitness, results or race pace to anyone else.  Focus on YOUR race. 
  • Did you stray from your nutrition/ hydration plan?  Sometimes we just forget to eat and drink. Many runners do not take the opportunity in training to figure out exactly what works for them.  Marathon Nutrition Tips
  • Did you think that lingering injury would magically disappear during the race?  Did you think the rules of injury/ recovery don't apply to you?   Runners Are Dumb

What went right? 

  • You hit your goal performance?  If so, document everything in your training log and your race recap so you can repeat the formula next time.  You obviously did many things right.   You stayed injury free.  You can tweak things with each training cycle as goals, fitness and experience change.  But you have the basic blueprint for your own personal success.
    Average weekly mileage
    Injury prevention methods
    Race goal & strategy

What would you do differently?  Whether you judge the race "great" or "poor", there are always
things to tweak for the next training cycle and race.

  • Do you need more race specific pace work?
  • More/ less speedwork?  Running Fast to Race Fast
  • Tempo runs? 
  • More/ fewer long runs?
  • Clean up your diet to get close to ideal "racing weight"?  Every pound helps.  Racing Weight
  • Find the root cause of your injury and FIX it.  
  • Listen to credible sources of training & racing advice?  
  • Find a training group.  There are many advantages to groups: advice, camaraderie, distraction, safety.  
  • Hire a coach to avoid many of the basic training and racing errors.  Get a Coach (Or At Least Think Like One)
Learn from your races.  Don't make excuses. Don't keep making the same mistakes.  

Coach Kevin is a 35+ year runner, an RRCA certified running coach & the National Coach for the St Jude Heroes & Team McGraw
Follow  him on Twitter Facebook

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

CSE Running Form Workshop: Learn To Run More Efficiently

The Can't Stop Endurance Running Form Workshop is aimed at helping endurance athletes learn to run more efficiently, smoother, lighter... and faster.    I feel there is a real need for runners to be aware of their form flaws and improve those weak spots.  I do not believe in a total overhaul of a person's bio-mechanics.  I do believe we can all make the most of our personal bio-mechanics to run smoother, faster and less prone to injury.   I have attended three different running form clinics in the last 10 years.  I gained valuable lessons/ self-evaluation that I use on a daily basis on my runs.  Those lessons have helped me reduce injuries and run more consistently year after year.

This 90 minute clinic focuses on a few key areas:

Body Awareness
Running Posture
Learning to Lean
The goal of the clinic is to smooth out your natural bio-mechanics, reduce heel strike and hopefully make you less injury prone!

The session starts with an overview of body awareness, positioning & posture. Then we incorporate those ideas into moving forward.

The clinic ends with personal form evaluation and feedback.

Comments from some of our attendees:
"The clinic allowed me to focus on more than just running farther or faster. I hope to be able to continue to work on what I learned so I can run injury free"

"I was amazed at how focusing on two simple things like lean and cadence helped my form.  I can't wait to see the results from focusing on those two ideas!"

"Loved the small group 1:1 attention.   Simple approach."

Sign-Up Instructions: Click on the link to check for scheduled dates:
The Workshop fee is $85.00.

The workshops are limited to 6 participants to allow for personalized attention.
Group workshops are available for teams, clubs, etc.

Coach Kevin is a 35+ year runner, an RRCA certified running coach & the National Coach for the St Jude Heroes & Team McGraw
Follow  him on Twitter & Facebook

Monday, August 18, 2014

But I'm Doing The Best I Can. Really?

A running friend sent this to me from Seth Godin's marketing blog, but it applies to endurance sports as well!

Doing the best I can ... is actually not the same as. "doing everything I can."
When we tell people we're doing the best we can, we're actually saying, "I'm doing the best I'm comfortable doing." 
As you've probably discovered, great work makes us uncomfortable.  
~ Seth Godin

As a runner, and a human, I use plenty of excuses to explain away poor performances.   I am very good at "letting myself off the hook!   Granted, in the big scheme of life, most of us are doing the best we can to get through the day and take care of our responsibilities.

But when it comes to achieving peak performances we are not doing the best we can.  My training log does not lie.  It is the proof of the work I have, or have not been doing.

Getting stuck in your comfort zone is fine.  Sometimes.  It is a calm place.  Low expectations, low stress.  If you are content in your comfort zone, fine.  But stop complaining about not reaching your desired fitness level, racing weight or racing goals.

Am I doing the best I can?  Or am I in my comfort zone?? It is a decision we get to make.  Every day.

Coach Kevin is a 35+ year runner, an RRCA certified running coach & the National Coach for the St Jude Heroes & Team McGraw
Follow  him on Twitter & Facebook

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Breakaway Bardog 5K Free Entry Contest!

Love a grassroots race?  How about a downtown Memphis course with lots of swag, post race food, beer
& live music? Now add in great door prizes, a dunk tank AND a meatball eating contest??
And the clincher?  

Don't miss the 5th annual Breakaway Bardog 5K on August 17th.  

You can win a free entry into this year's race courtesy of Breakaway Running and the Bardog Tavern.   
Breakaway is our great local running store.  
Bardog Tavern is a "runner-friendly" local pub downtown that also serves as the "clubhouse" for the Salty Dogs Running Group.  

Register here: RacesOnline

If you are already entered you can win an entry for a friend... because runners are awesome! 
Enter to win a free entry! How?  There are several ways.  Yes, if you do all three you get three chances to win. 
  1. Go to the CSE Facebook page and share the post about this contest.
  2. Go to the CSE Twitter feed and retweet the post about this contest.
  3. Leave a comment on this post telling us why you love running in Memphis.
Coach Kevin is an RRCA Certified Running Coach, National Coach for the St Jude Heroes Program & Team McGraw.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Germantown Half Marathon Course Preview

The Germantown Half-Marathon is a popular race on the Memphis and southeastern race calendar. With a  $5,800 prize purse the half-marathon draws a competitive field of 1500 runners with another 500 in the accompanying Mayors Cup 5K.  After 18 years the race has established itself as a well-managed race with great amenities and a fast, but challenging course.   The race directors take good care of their runners:

The race starts at 7:30am at the Germantown Athletic Club (GAC), 1801 Exeter.  There is plenty of parking at the GAC and the shopping center just south of the center.  Arrive early in order to park, walk to the GAC and then make the short 1/8 mile walk to the start line on Neshoba.   

The course is challenging due to the hills in the first few miles and the final mile, but there are minimal turns and plenty of downhill and flat road to make this a fast course if you approach it with the right strategy.  

Miles 1 - 5:  The first hill, on Kimbrough, starts out as a "false flat" just past the one mile mark.  It then climbs steadily for a mile before pitching up in the last 500 yards as you approach the stoplight at Dogwood.  Hold effort on this stretch but don't be afraid to let your pace slow a bit.  Relax and don't stress over that mile 2 split.  There is a nice long downhill after you turn left on Dogwood that will allow you to get back on pace and make up any lost time.  Going too hard up this hill can make the final miles more difficult.   By the time you get to mile 3 you should be back on your target pace.   Just after mile 4 runners turn left on Forest Hill and enjoy a slight, 3/4 mile downhill to Wolf River Blvd. where they turn right and pass 5 miles.

Miles 5 - 10: The next 5 miles are on Wolf River Blvd with two quick detours through parks.  This stretch of road offers few turns or hills so runners can really dial in their pace and effort.  If it is a windy day this is where you will feel it.   The next race landmark is Houston High School and Houston Levee Park. Runners turn in at mile 6 and make the one mile loop around the park.  The halfway mark is inside the park and when you exit back onto Wolf River Blvd you are headed towards the finish with less than six miles to go.   Take the opportunity in the park to reassess your form, nutrition and pace.  Get ready to tackle the second half of the race. The next 3.5 miles on Wolf River Blvd. and Farmington Ave. are flat and require runners to stay focused and on pace. The quick loop through Cameron-Brown Park ends with a short steep exit back onto Farmington.   The incline is less than 20 yards so just get up the incline and get back on pace.  Runners soon reach mile 10 and begin the final 5K.

Miles 10 - Finish: A gradual false-flat greets runners at mile 10 all the way up to the Kimbrough intersection at mile 10.5.   You are too close to the finish to relax now so just keep pushing.  Turn right on Kimbrough and get ready to attack the final hills in the last mile.  After two left turns runners are heading south on Brierbrook. Just after mile 12 runners are greeted by the most challenging part of the course.  The hills are not overly steep but there are several rollers that will test runners, especially those that started out too fast. Be sure and save a bit of mental and physical fortitude for the finale: the 400 yard hill from Exeter and Farmington to the finish line.  

*Course Records: 1:14:12 Janet Cherobon, 2010, 1:06:02 Michael Green, 2005  

For half-marathon training tips: Conquer The Half-Marathon    

Coach Kevin is an RRCA Certified Running Coach, National Coach for the St Jude Heroes Program & Team McGraw.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Jackal Trail Marathons race report

Jackal Trail Marathon, June 22, 2013
Backass Jackal Trail Marathon, June 23, 2013
Jackson, TN
Sunny, 90+ degrees
Trail: This trail, near Union University, is in great shape and heavily shaded for 90% of the 3.7 mile loop.  Mostly dirt single track.  Roots, some small hills, lots of twist & turns.  This is another great, grassroots ultra from Run It Fast.

Normally I would call this a stupid idea.  Running two trail marathons back-to-back in 90 degree temps in June makes no sense.  But, as runners, it is what we do.  When Josh Holmes, at Run It Fast, announced this race I knew it would be a perfect training block heading into the Leadville Trail 100 in August.   The cornerstone of ultra training is big double long run weekends.  The Jackal races were an hour from home and put on by a great grassroots group of runners.  Sometimes, running is stupid, and so am I.

Jackal Trail Marathon, Saturday: I approached day one as a normal weekend long run.  Pacing and fueling would resemble a 50K much more than a standard road marathon.  No pre-race stress or time expectations.  Just run, fuel and most of all, hydrate.   The goal for the first 3 laps (7 total laps) was to run under control, keep my heart rate down and hydrate. In a small trail race, the field quickly separates and it is highly likely that you will run for hours on your own.   I was able to run for a bit with Josh, the race director and Run It Fast founder.  Then we caught up with JV, a fellow Memphian and talented runner, who ended up 2nd overall female.  The conversations made for a good distraction as we rolled through the laps with surprisingly steady splits. Finish time: 4:48. 8th overall.  No cramps, no blisters, no falls.   The day unfolded the way I wanted: a normal, uneventful long run.

Recovery:  As soon as I finished I drank my GU Brew Recovery/ protein powder/ Amazing Grass Green Superfood/ Udo's Oil recovery drink.  The goal was to get re-hydrated and refueled as much as possible in order to have the best shot at a good run on Sunday.  I put on my compression socks and dry clothes and made the one-hour drive home.  Along the way I picked up a veggie sub for lunch and two bags of ice for my ice bath.

Backass Jackal Trail Marathon, Sunday: Day Two would be run on the same trail, but in the opposite direction.  When my alarm went off it felt like the movie "Groundhog Day".  Same breakfast, same gear, same drive to Jackson, same venue.   Race strategy would be the same: run under control and hydrate!   The goal of back-to-back long runs is to run on tired legs and battle the accompanying mental and physical fatigue that would surely arrive in the later miles.  Legs felt good and pace was steady through the first three laps.  I was feeling a hot spot on my foot so I changed shoes at the aid station.  By focusing on a quick shoe change I failed to properly hydrate.  In addition to drinking a whole 20 oz bottle (with a GU Brew electrolyte tablet) each lap I was drinking an additional half bottle of water at the aid station.  Skipping this extra water caught up with me on lap 4.  My bottle was empty early in the lap and I felt "dry". No cramps,but sluggish.  The hills felt a bit steeper and the pace a bit slower.   I made sure I paid close attention to my hydration the rest of the race.  I was able to run most of the day with another fellow Memphian and "Can't Stop" runner, Courtney. The distraction was good, but it did get very quiet as we both managed our own internal struggles.  (Courtney ended up 1st overall female)  The late race fatigue showed up and I went to the "dark place" a few times in the last 10K.   I wasn't distressed though... that is the exact feeling I wanted.  I needed it to get hard and I needed to work on my mental and physical stamina.  Again, no cramps and no real problems, other than the expected fatigue.  Stay calm, just keep moving.  I was ready to be done by the time we started the final lap.  Just keep moving and in 45 minutes I could stop... and sit down.   I ended up finishing in 5:10, 8th overall.

Fueling: One bottle of water with GU Brew electrolyte tablets every 45 minutes, one S Cap per hour, one GU energy gel every 90 minutes, a few bites of boiled potato at the aid station.

My legs were fairly well crushed on Monday, but I made the point to get out for an easy 4 miles.  The big mileage weekend had been a success.   It provided a good confidence boost that Leadville training was on track.  The lessons:

  • A long race in 90 degree heat is a hydration contest.  Just keep drinking.  And never pass up a chance to top off a half empty bottle, even if you don't think you will need it.  
  • When it gets hard...and it will get hard... focus on the basics: form, fuel, hydration.  
  • If you feel a blister, chafing or other such issue... take care if it early before it derails your day.  
  • Aggressive recovery:  ice, compression, refueling... works!

Run Smart. Train Hard. Race Fast. 
Coach Kevin is an RRCA-certified Running Coach.  National Coach ~ Team McGraw, National Coach ~ St Jude Heroes.