As a runner, running coach, and someone who generally cares about her own health, I tend to read up on the human body quite often. Whatever I’m reading about or trying to teach myself usually has something to do with injury-prevention or rehab, but lately I’ve been geeking out over a major player in all aspects of fitness and life. It’s one of the most crucial organs in the human body and pumps, on average, 1,500-2,000 gallons of blood daily. Have you guessed which organ I’ve been reading up on yet? If you guessed the heart you’re right. (And if you guessed anything else, you may need to review basic human anatomy — maybe?)
I was given a complimentary copy of the Haywire Heart in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
The Haywire Heart: A Book Review
We’re always told too little exercise can kill you. But what about too much exercise? Well, it turns out that can kill you, too. In The Haywire Heart by Chris Case, Dr. John Mandrola, and Lennard Zinn, the authors take a fascinating look at how too much exercise can be detrimental to your health.
As soon as I started reading The Haywire Heart, I was hooked. Admittedly, the subject matter is a little dry (kind of reminded me of high school biology days) but it’s such a fascinating topic. As an endurance athlete myself, as I read through each page I found myself questioning and thinking: do I feel that? I wonder if my heart does that? I should make an appointment to get a physical.
The heart is one organ I don’t mess around with. I have a family history of heart disease which puts me at increased risk of heart issues and conditions. In theory I should have a stronger heart since I’m a runner, but after reading this book I’m now questioning everything I thought I knew. While the literature itself isn’t like reading a riveting novel, it’s important information that any athlete and coach needs to consider. I would say it’s particularly important for coaches since we work with all sorts of people on a daily basis. Thankfully as an RRCA certified running coach I’m required to be CPR/FA certified. But that doesn’t mean I actually want to use my training…
An excerpt from the book:
The doctor’s blindness to the endurance athlete
One of the drawbacks you may face in meeting with a doctor about a possible heart condition is the fact that most doctors have little experience with a full-fledged endurance athlete. If you have trained for hours on hours, months on months, years on years, or if you compete in races, you are special. Your heart and body and mind have undergone adaptations that most doctors don’t regularly see.
We mentioned training-related adaptations when it came to ECG patterns, but athletes present more than just variable patterns on an electrical record of the heart. A competitive endurance athlete lives a different kind of life than most people who seek out the services of a doctor. At least in most Western countries, the vast majority of people who go to the doctor have diseases acquired from too little exercise, not too much.
Here is an outlandish example of what I mean:
One of my colleagues, an experienced private-practice cardiologist, once remarked to me, “John, it’s not as if riding a bike is that hard. My gosh, it’s not like weight lifting or football or hockey.” He was serious. His view of bike riding was that of the beach cruiser: When you are tired, you slow down.
Most doctors don’t know the sensation of being in a road race, criterium, or time trial. They’ve never been in the gutter because of a crosswind, saying to themselves, Ten more pedal strokes, just do it for 10 more pedal strokes. Hold that wheel! Don’t let go!
Most doctors don’t know the effort it takes to bridge across to a breakaway. When normal people feel the sensation that a curtain is closing in on their peripheral vision, they turn the tension down on the exercise bike or reduce the speed of the treadmill. They pull the plug on the pain. They are normal. Competitive athletes are not.
Even doctors who run marathons don’t quite get the intensity thing.
Marathons are a different sort of affair. There is no question that they are hard, but they generally have an even pace and don’t involve the competitive crises that flare up repeatedly in a bicycle race or a cross-country ski race or a triathlon.
But it isn’t just the intensity of the efforts that most doctors don’t get; the demands of training remain unfathomable. When normal people are tired or sick or busy with life, they don’t go ride or run for hours. Exercise for normal people is expendable. Yes, it is true that many normal people exercise on a schedule, but they typically walk, jog, or do yoga.
Here is the key difference between “normal” exercise and training.
In normal exercise, it’s clear that when one is finished with the activity, it gave more life force than it took away. Tell me that’s the case after a four hour training ride in intense heat. It’s not. Most doctors don’t know that training can break people down. They think exercise builds people up. If you are an athlete, or live with one, you know differently.
Another aspect of the training life that most doctors don’t get is the mental aspect. That you would worry about missing a breakaway in next weekend’s criterium—worry about it on a Monday!—is utterly foreign. They see you as a professional with a job, wife, and family, but they do not get your focus on increasing threshold power by 10 watts in the next month. Little do they know the means you will take to get to those ends.
These gaps in knowledge set the stage for both overdiagnosis and underdiagnosis of heart conditions in athletes and it’s why it’s so important that you prepare properly for your appointment. The Haywire Heart offers a detailed guide on how to prepare to meet with your doctor about a possible heart condition.
This article is an excerpt from The Haywire Heart, the first book to explore heart conditions in athletes. Republished with permission of VeloPress from The Haywire Heart by Chris Case, Dr. John Mandrola, and Lennard Zinn. Learn more about heart conditions in athletes at velopress.com/haywire.
Athletes should consider their training load
Now, I realize this excerpt is aimed more at a cyclist than an endurance runner. But, after reading this book, I can say with confidence that all endurance athletes should consider their training load, competition schedule, and overall health (heart and otherwise). It’s important to get regular checkups and make sure all is okay, especially if you’re doing more than just recreational exercise.
I can’t sing this book enough praises. I’ve learned so much from it. It’s truly an eye-opening read. Yes, it may scare you. But it will prepare you, too. Better safe than sorry, no?
If you’re interested in geeking out over the human heart with me, pick up a copy of this book and let me know what you think.
TALK TO ME!
Have you had your heart checked recently?
Are you an endurance athlete or a recreational one?
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