Heart & Science: Twin Tools of a Runner

I seldom get excited about studies that tell me how running affects the heart. Mostly I find them boring.

About the only exception is when studies confirm my real-life experiences as a runner.

Cardiologist Eric Larose, MD, professor of medicine at Laval University in Quebec City, studied the damage to runners’ hearts from running a marathon.

Those who were less fit showed abnormal functioning in more than half of the 17 segments in the heart’s left ventricle versus the fitter competitors, the team found. Other areas of the heart had to work harder to compensate, Larose said….

Specifically, the MRI showed inflammation and edema — swelling at the injury site caused by accumulation of fluid — similar to the damage that occurs when someone hits a knee against the side of a table. In both cases, the injuries hurt, but the damage is temporary.

The runners were all tested before the marathon, within 48 hours of the end of the race and three months afterward.

By three months, the damage was no longer visible.

No big shock — the marathon is tough on the heart. Stands to reason.

As proprietor of a tiny niche website that regularly spits in the eye of science and steadfastly affirms that the body can tell us most of what we need to know to train, I’d like to say, “I knew that.”

After running too hard, I always feel a disharmony in the area of my heart. For the next day or two, it feels as if my heart is tired. Accompanying the physical feeling, my emotions feel flat and battered.

Pressing too far past my normal limits impacts my quality of life. I don’t enjoy the emotionally neutered feeling of a bruised and tired heart.

My body, brain, and heart are engaged in a continual conversation. When I abuse my body, it yelps through the loudspeaker of my feelings, letting me know that I’ve stepped on its tail. It’s a raw feeling, an unpleasant low-range disharmony, a disturbance in the Force.

When my brain becomes aware of the warning signals from my heart, it reads the message and muses: Hm, running too hard is dangerous because it extends my recovery, impedes my progress, and isn’t enjoyable.

Motivated by the universal human desire to experience an expansive, joyful heart, I get busy and adjust my training.

Training in balance again restores my harmony. In this way, I’ve learned (again and again, sadly) that happy running requires sweet intelligence and self-discipline.

Reminds me — last week I lost my dad-blasted heart monitor. Running without it, I felt naked. That simple scientific device contributes a load of value to my running, by helping me avoid dangerous excess. It keeps me from running too hard on all four types of runs I might do: easy runs, sub-tempo runs, hill exercises, and speedwork.

It compensates for my imperfect intuition. Running monitor-free, I can tell fairly accurately when I stray outside the day’s safe running zone. But the electronic gadget confirms it at a glance — “Aha, I’m over pace and it feels wrong in my heart.” Science confirms what my heart tells me, and amplifies the message.

Last time out, I quoted the Buddha. Here’s more advice from ancient India. It’s from the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 6: The Religion of Self-Restraint:

But for earthly needs
Religion is not his who too much fasts
Or too much feasts, nor his who sleeps away
An idle mind; nor his who wears to waste
His strength in vigils. Nay, Arjuna! I call
That the true piety which most removes
Earth-aches and ills, where one is moderate
In eating and in resting, and in sport;
Measured in wish and act; sleeping betimes,
Waking betimes for duty.

By the by, I got an outstanding value on a replacement heart monitor. Running Warehouse sells the Timex Easy Trainer for $37.95. After entering the over-40 discount code [RW40PLUSD] on the home page, I paid $35 including California sales tax and free in-state overnight shipping. I placed the order on Thursday afternoon, and the package arrived at noon on Friday. Amazing.