Year of the Sasquatch: Beginning

This year is off to a pretty awesome start with a 13th, 8th, and FINALLY a 2ND!! Despite the Phoenix, AZ Spartan trip that is. That was a mini nightmare with an unexpected outcome and a lot of rude awakenings.

 

Last year, I ran the entire season with an undiagnosed heart condition that’s been plaguing me for over seven years. Palpitations, constant tachycardia, and super frequent episodes of syncope were a normal occurrence. My training and daily living were suffering. Walking up a flight of stairs would often cause my heart rate to go through the roof and me to blackout. Trail running for the past year has been a huge struggle. My heart would average about 180 bpm, which physiologically, is not a good thing. There is a only so fast that the atria chambers in the heart can passively fill with blood. If the heart is beating over 180 bpm, there is simply not enough time for the atria to fill with a large enough volume of blood to effectively pump out and supply organs with oxygen. My legs constantly felt like they were suffocating and my heart would viciously pump and palpitate. Not exactly comfortable when you’re trying to train at a world-class level.

    The last year has involved a ton of testing including stress echocardiograms, multiple holter monitor tests, ekgs up the wazoo, and ultrasounds. Thankfully I found (finally) an incredible cardiologist, who identified what was going on. I suffer from Autonomic Insufficiency. For whatever reason, my body does not like to hold on to salt and my pacemaker cells don’t always like to regulate themselves because of this. Also, I don’t retain enough water, so my body is constantly running in a dehydration mode. The first solution we tried was salt-loading my diet with 4,000 to 8,000 mgs of salt a day. I tried taking shots of salt water (SO NASTY!), dumping salt on my food, taking some types of salt pills and electrolyte tabs, but it wasn’t quite enough. For 3 months (which is where my last blog left off) I felt better than I had, but not nearly as healthy as I had years before. Thus, he started me on Corlanor. Though I do still take about 6,000 mg of salt pills a day, too.

    Corlanor is a pretty awesome heart medication that regulates the K-current (aka: Funny current). To put it simply, the pacemaker cells have their own ionic depolarization method by which they automatically fire off and contract 60-70 times a minute. When my heart starts to go too fast (over 110 usually, which is when the sympathetic nervous system takes over and screws up everything), the drug works directly on the funny current channels to actively suppress the acceleration. The harder my heart works, the better the meds work to control it and keep it slow and regular. Thus, I don’t feel like I’m suffocating and dying. It’s amazing!! My resting heart rate before Corlanor was about 85. Now it rests around 53. During exercise it would be around 185, now it’s around 140 - right where it’s supposed to be. I feel like a BOSS!  

 

    So back to the races! Phoenix was indeed an eye opener to a couple things:

 

  1. My heart feels a lot better but, damn, I was out of shape!

  2. NEVER DRIVE 15 hours the day before a race!!!

  3. Fly

  4. Make sure the hotel room has towels and toilet paper before you get settled...even if it’s the third room they put you in already.

  5. No matter what, don’t get psyched out if people pass...I’ll kick their asses on the obstacle

  6. Time to get back at it and hit Beast Mode

 

    The Spartan Austin was a ton better! After taking a full month to revamp my workout patterns and train my ass off, I felt way healthier and more confident going into the Austin Spartan Sprint. The biggest changes were my diet, weekly routine, and my new custom orthotics!!

PS: Aside from a heart problem, I also have congenitally deformed feet. Because of this I have extremely crooked knees and I have suffered years of pain. I have had surgeries to release mechanical pressure in my knees and I’ll probably knee both replaced in the nearer future. Not to mention I’ve torn oh so many ligaments and both menisci over the years. I am extremely religious about doing physical therapy exercises and focusing of fully functional strength and endurance training. My prescription custom orthotics help tremendously and my latest ones are incredible! I haven’t had knee or hip pain since I put them in my shoes!

Thus, Austin was awesome! I came in top 10 and felt incredible the whole race. My heart felt rock solid and my energy never caved. I definitely could have pushed harder but I didn’t want to burn my energy too quickly. It set me up though for the Kansas City Battle Frog which turned out to be by far the hardest race I have ever done and the best one to boot!! I got my first podium!! But that’s a different blog…. ;)

Mending My Broken Heart - Teaching and Racing

Just over one year ago, I was still a full time teacher, albeit on the verge of resigning and in the middle of a mentally violent full-blown nervous breakdown. On Oct. 17th, 2014, I had to resign from a career that I have loved dearly from way before day one. Ever since I sat in Tony Salvia’s bio class in 9th grade, I knew I wanted to be a high school biology teacher. It was my dream job and it came true!

 

    I was beyond fortunate to spend over 8 years working in Maria Regina High School in Hartsdale, NY. Over that time I always taught freshman biology. I also got to teach Health, Environmental Science, and college-level Anatomy & Physiology. I moderated the guitar club for years, started and Environmental Science club, and even a Rock Climbing Club my last year in the school. Every day was a godsend with my students - all girls, and every day I still miss them and try to keep in touch with as many of the thousands I taught as possible.

    Unfortunately, teaching in a private Catholic school is far different than teaching in a Colorado Public School. I moved to Colorado with my son and soon-to-be husband in the summer of 2014 ready to embark on another year of teaching, but in a new location. Right off the bat, I was forced to work about 10-14 hours a days. I was teaching biology still, but I had two new textbooks I had never used before and a new sequence for teaching the subject, new testing standards, new workbooks, new colleagues, new procedures, new professional development requirements, new everything! My 9 years of curriculum development went out the window in a hurry and I suddenly felt like a first year teacher all over again (a place I never wished to revisit.) What’s worse was that I was unable to teach in the way I knew I was most effective. I was being told to produce reports and statistical breakdown sheets to my administration multiple times a week that had nothing to do with my curriculum planning or lesson planning. Instead of being able to spend 8 hours a day actually teaching (between being in the classroom, grading papers, and writing the materials for the next few days,) I was being forced to spend about 4 to 5 hours a day on administration paperwork that had nothing to do with my kids and left me with less than 8 hours to do my normal teaching work. There was no physically possible way for me to keep up with all the demands and very quickly I mentally broke down with failure and fatigue.

    I have had a pre-existing heart problem for at least 10 years. When I was pregnant with my son was the first time a doctor caught wind and I had my first stress-echocardiogram done. Was very active (despite being pregnant) and would regularly spend 2 to 3 hours in the gym a day. Unfortunately, I did not have a top-notch doctor and he wrote off my Stress-echo as completely normal despite my symptoms and issues.

    When we moved to CO in 2014, my heart problems came on with a vengeance. I could hardly stand up without my heart feeling like it was going to pound out of my chest and frequently I would pass out while cooking dinner for no reason, out of the blue. If I tried to exercise, my heart would start beating violently within a minute and frequently I would end up with arrhythmic fibrillations that could last a couple minutes. My blood pressure began to skyrocket during exercise (not a normal response,) and my legs would turn into lead weights because of insufficient oxygen flow. Stress made all of these symptoms worse and between the elevation and my teaching job which was killing me with stress, I quite literally ended up with three different doctors telling me I needed to quit my job because it was quite literally killing me. So I did. It was the hardest career move I have ever made. And I don’t regret it at all.

    The first three weeks after quitting, I spend simply recuperating and trying to feel like a normal person again. I began working out cautiously after the mini-vacation and began working on developing my business Sasquatch Training. Within a few months I was training professional both as a pro-athlete and as a fitness trainer for others and life became great again. I still had heart problems but they were nowhere near as bad as when I was teaching, until we moved to our house in Evergreen which is another 2000 higher in elevation. (Our mailbox sits at 8,000 feet elevation!) All my heart problems came back to plague me and I finally ended up in a cardiologists office again, at which point he hooked me up to a 30 day heart monitor. (My 3rd monitor within in the year.) I just got all the results back and finally had a sit-down with him last week. After nearly 10 years of searching for a reason, I was finally able to find out I have a condition called Autonomic Insufficiency. I should have seen it coming. My brain has a tendency to take over my heart’s built in pacemaker regulation at inappropriate times. Typically, I should be able to workout with a steady heart rate and steady blood pressure, For some stupid reason, my brain takes over and tells my heart to go really fast and freak out. Thus, my heart rate goes through the roof and my overall blood pressure goes through the roof. If I’m sitting and I stand up and this happens, it can result in me passing out. Same happens if I’m just cooking dinner and my brain turns on the “freak-out” mode out of nowhere. Not very useful as an athlete. So what is the answer? After over $4,000 in cardiac testing and doctors visits, the answer is I need more salt. Possibly medication, but that’s months down the road. Nope, salt is the answer for now.

    A typical diet requires about 2,500 mg of salt per day (for 2000 calories and a 6 foot male, mid twenties.) I need to consume between 4,000 and 8,000 mg a day. Holy shit! That’s SO MUCH SALT - it’s about 3-4 tspns of salt a day!!! So I started salt loading a couple days ago (I get in about 3,800 mg a day so far) and holy shit, again, it’s working. A month ago, an 8 mile run with about 3,000 feet elevation gain would take me 2 hours, sometimes longer. This was right before the Spartan Race World Championships. I’ve been consuming ridiculous amounts of salt for a week and yesterday I ran 8.7 miles with over 5,000 feet elevation gain in 1 hour, 21 minutes. FREAKING WHAT? 40 minutes came off my time, an extra 0.7 miles was added on and another 2,000 feet of gain. Who the hell would have thought salt would fix my heart :D. I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

    I still have insane anxiety and practically go into a full panic attack whenever I think of teaching, but at the very least, I feel so much healthier and suddenly stronger again. There were a few months where I was worried that this would be my last racing season, but I am so happy to report I’m here to stay, kick ass, and take names.