I may have been bitten by a radioactive spider

Two things, first it’s my birthday. The 51 year-old milestone doesn’t carry quite the heft of age 16, or turning 21, but it’s a big deal to me because I had a massive heart attack a few weeks ago that kills roughly a third of the people who get it. So I’m celebrating by doing some bragging today. On that heart attack, I have a question … I seem to have developed super human powers!

A few days ago my cardio nurses at cardio rehab finally let me cut loose on a treadmill. Or at least they looked the other way while I did. In terms of speed, I will never ever be a threat to any local 10k champion (At least that’s what I used to think). Prior to the attack I was running fairly consistently. It started as a walk to warm up to lift weights. After a while I could jog a bit, over time it improved and one day I jogged a mile. Then I started paying attention. Eventually I could jog three miles and started paying attention to my times. Every now and then I’d see how fast I could run one mile.

Like I said, I’m no marathon runner. The fastest I could run/jog a mile was just under eight mins and that wore me the fuck out when I last did it in December, a few days before the MI. I was gasping for breath at eight mins. Since the heart deal last Christmas, I haven’t run a lick or lifted weights seriously — they wouldn’t let me! But finally they did.

I decided I was going to run as fast as I could, after all I was hooked up to a monitor and there was a crash cart sitting right there. It seemed like the safest venue possible.

…. I ran a mile in 6 mins 14 secs. That may not sound fast to a lot of people who run, but it’s the fastest I’ve ever run a mile in my life. And I do mean RAN. I didn’t jog this one, I RAN. Like the wind. And it felt good, like a sense of freedom.

Now to do that, I started at a full on sprint, about as fast as I can go (I was always a solid sprinter as a kid) and kept it up for as long as possible. What amazed me is I kept that blistering pace, 12 mph, for more than two minutes. I dialed it down several times to a fast jog, recovered incredibly quickly, and ran it back up to 11mph, then recovered, ran it back to 10 mph, and boom, the end was in sight and I just kept plugging until I was done. It’s a good thing I didn’t come off, because I would have flown off that treadmill like a human bowling ball. Most of the treadmills in the gyms I use won’t even go that high, I don;t think anyway, for that reason. But these will, some local colleges actually use them for research and training

What was giving out in the end wasn’t my wind, it was my legs, I developed a small cramp in the diaphragm but I was able to nurse it along, It was my legs, they burned like fire, like I was doing the worst squats you can imagine. Another minute and I think they would have collapsed. I was real sore for days.

But how is this possible? From eight mins to six? I’ve lost some weight, I quit smoking, and I had a stent put in to a primary coronary artery that restored blood flow. I’m assuming that’s what did it. Which of those things do you think would make the biggest difference? My guess is I had been training, unknowingly, with greatly reduced blood flow to my heart and thus to my body, and once it was restored. bingo, my aerobic capacity shot up. Either that or there’s a radioactive spider someone around, and if so, I sure hope she bites me again.

I’m going to train and see if I can get my legs ibto the game. I’d like to do one under five mins, maybe even less.


  1. leftwingfox says

    My guess is I had been training, unknowingly, with greatly reduced blood flow to my heart and thus to my body, and once it was restored. bingo, my aerobic capacity shot up.

    So… you just spent the last few episodes fighting at partial capacity, got your ass kicked, then ascended to the next level of mastery.

    You’re a Dragonball Z character.

  2. roggg says

    FWIW, treadmill running is easier than running outdoors, so if you’re comparing an 8-minute mile outdoors to a 6 minute mile on the treadmill, that may account for some of the difference.

  3. flex says

    As an on-again, off-again long distance runner I’ve found the following as I begin training after taking a break after a few years.

    When starting from scratch your limiting factor is usually your wind. You will get winded long before your muscles get tired. But your cardio–vascular system adapts pretty quickly. By the end of the second week of training you are no longer limited by your wind, but by your muscles. Your cardio-vascular system may well have been already trained to be efficient because of your previous blockage.

    In my experience, this is a hazardous time for training because it becomes very easy to over-exert your muscles. You feel great while running because you are no longer short of breath, and you are not yet attuned to the signals your muscles are giving you saying that they are tired. So you end up putting yourself in pain for a few days, or weeks, because you have strained a muscle. This can really set back your training.

    Of course, in your case, you are not training, just recovering, so a few days of sore muscles isn’t going to be much more than a badge of honor.

    Congratulations on your recovery and on the pleasure you are getting from finding you are capable of things you never thought possible. I suspect that with training you will be able to reach your goal, but while breaking a 5 minute mile is a good goal, I’d also suggest some long distance work.

    In long-distance running there is a point, at about 20 minutes in, where a part of your mind relaxes. It’s like the brain has decided that it can’t remember a time where running wasn’t happening and it gives up suggesting that you stop. This feeling of contentment and acceptance seems to translate further than simply running, it placates many of the fears and worries that arise throughout my daily routine. That relaxation, that point where other cares just seem to melt away, is why I keep going back to running.

  4. glodson says

    Happy Birthday. And congratulations on a good run. I need to start running again soon.

    And I really need more sleep, I swear this was titled that you bit the radioactive spider.

  5. says

    I’ll second what #3 said.

    One winter, I pretty much did no running other than treadmill. And I felt pretty darn strong.

    Then spring came, and I decided to run outside. I was winded in a quarter mile. My legs were little wooden pegs. It was not a great experience.

    That’s the last time I deliberately “trained” on a treadmill.

  6. says

    Now that you guys bring it up, that’s a good point. I haven’t run outside since I was in college.

    Flex: good advice. One of the reasons it took me so long to discover the joy of running is becuase in high school, our coaches were just sadistic about it. Either that or they believed running us til we puked or injured something was good training technique. It turned me and my friends off to running for life. I got back into it almost by accident, just warming like I wrote in the post. I used to love to do every kind of aerobic class, but I avoided running. And now I realize those knuckle dragging asssholes robbed me and many of my peersof a really cool way to work out and zen out. So I really don’t know much about running and it’s info overload when I try to read anything on the net. Clean concise advice like that is much easier to understand: “work on some distance, it will help you all around”. How much you think you to start, three to five comfortably paced miles maybe, a good half hour?

    On another note, I understand these cardiac nurses have to be super careful, they are giant liability magnets dealing with mostly elderly people with severe, in some cases terminal, cardiopulmonary issues. But I wonder if there will ever come a time when they allow me to lift weights normally. This gym is incredible, you can monitor your heart rate and O2 levels and other stuff while you work out. But ther day they cleared me to lift weights, the exercise physiologist knows what she’s doing, her instructions and examples were perfect form and flawless. But they were for someone 70 years old who hasn’t lifted weights in 40 years. I’m not saying this to brag, the weight workout she had me do was so mild … I mean vacuuming my bedroom would give me a better pump. It was a complete waste of time. I don’t see the point if even doing it.

  7. flex says

    I’m no trainer, but when I’m starting out after not running for a few years I’ll run/walk for a few weeks. Your technique may vary, but I count strides.

    I’ll start by running for 100 strides and walking for 100. By the second week I’ll be running 200 and walking 100. By the third week my cardio-vascular system has adapted to running so I’ll start timing. I usually don’t worry about distance until I know my muscles are back in tone and that takes from 3-4 weeks. So I’ll run 20 minutes, then 30 minutes. Everyone seems to feel tired muscles in slightly different ways, for me the tops of my thighs get a slight burning sensation, but I’ve heard other people say they calf muscles or their foot muscles are their indicators, but by paying attention you can learn what signals your body is putting out.

    You will hear both pros and cons about stretching before you run. Everything I’ve found suggests that there is a slight performance boost for top athletes if they don’t stretch (1-3% boost, not much but measurable). I’m not a top athlete, and I don’t pretend that I am. I feel that stretching helps me to warm up and get the muscles loose before running. The studies I’ve read suggest that stretching is important to maintain flexability and reduce the risk of injury, but as long as you stretch regularly it doesn’t appear to matter if you stretch right before running, right after running, or at other times during the day. I stretch before a run because I’m used to doing it that way. Since this seems to be an on-going debate, if anyone has any other data to share I’m interested in reading it.

    If you do start running to the point where you reach the zen-like state there is again the danger of over-exerting yourself. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m running 15 miles a couple of times a week (I’ve never extended my training to a marathon, I could, but I’ve not really been interested), and I’ve finish those 15 miles but still felt like I could do more; lots more. On the occasions I’ve run an additional 5 miles or so beyond what I’ve trained for I’ve felt really sore the next few days. The zen state is a great place to be, but keep an eye on your time or distance because it becomes easy to ignore the warning signs from your body while in this state.

    One last thing, people seem to think that running is a natural skill. Well, to an extent it is. But if you want to run well, without injuries, there are learned aspects to running. People buy special shoes to correct for abnormal pronation when they would do better to learn to run with proper foot alignment (and again, there are some people who need special gear because of physiological differences). Again I’m not a trainer, but I’ve coached a few running partners about how to hold their arms/hands, where they should be placing their feet, how to roll the foot properly, and they have all said that they were surprised how much more enjoyable running became when they learned to run properly. It doesn’t sound like you have any problems with form, but it’s something to be aware of.

    I don’t have any real experience in weights, so I can’t help you there. And I can’t really say that the observations I’ve made about my own running experiences will apply to you either.

  8. anne mariehovgaard says

    Perhaps training w/reduced blood flow to your heart works a bit like high altitude training?

  9. says

    Happy Birthday Steve! Just rolled the odometer over myself this month (10 years your senior.) I’m very glad you are still around to celebrate another birthday.

    Your experience after the stent has me thinking that I may have to have another talk with the cardiologist about a cardiac catheritization. Hard to tell if the shitty way I have felt the past several months is age related or due to decreased blood flows.

  10. F [nucular nyandrothol] says

    Either that or there’s a radioactive spider someone around, and if so, I sure hope she bites me again.

    Since you’re already there, ask for a half-price myocardial perfusion scan.

  11. naturalcynic says

    Your aerobic capacity is a function of two things: muscle oxygen uptake [arteriovenous O2 difference] and cardiac output [heart rate x stroke volume]. What probably happened to you is an increase in stroke volume due to an increase in cardiac muscle contractility. A large part of the left ventricle was not receiving adequate amounts of blood, and thus, could not contract forcefully, limiting the amount of blood that could be ejected with each heart beat. The clearing of your LAD artery allowed much more blood to enter the ischemic portion of the heart muscle, allowing it to resume pumping forcefully, significantly increasing your cardiac output without changing your heart rate [heart rate will only decline as we age].
    Your heart became capable of meeting the demand necessary for running as fast as you did. Your ability to extract oxygen from the blood did not receive any significant change. Your leg muscles only maintained their previous training level and the energy metabolism in the leg muscles couldn’t produce enough ATP aerobically. Glycolysis [breakdown of muscle carbohydrate-glycogen for energy] increased beyond the level that muscle mitochondria could metabolize aerobically. This excess of metabolic turnover lowers the pH – acidosis, which is a major pain in the muscle. The post-exercise soreness is mainly due to an increased amount of muscle damage caused in your contractile proteins by running much faster than you are accustomed and the subsequent healing – which includes inflammation.
    If you could had kept a steady pace, you might have been able to do about a 6-minute mile. I would suspect that it will take a LOT of training to get anywhere close to a 5-minute mile, if it is even possible [like a year of 30 mile/week with a lot of speed work]. As your mileage increases, you will probably get a small increase in your heart size, allowing a small increase in cardiac output and a slightly greater increase in the ability to extract oxygen by your muscles.
    As to strength training, you can wait out the time that you are supervised and then you’re on your own. Just pay attention to breathing technique at rehab and you can certainly do some extra out of class. Just be careful about breathing and pay attention to form and any untoward symptoms. Think of the present as preparation for more to be done in the future.

  12. naturalcynic says

    @10 anne marie:

    Perhaps training w/reduced blood flow to your heart works a bit like high altitude training?

    Not really. the major effect of altitude training is polycythemia – an increase in hematocrit, red blood cells per unit volume of blood. This is induced by lower oxygen saturation from the reduced partial pressure of oxygen carried in the blood causing a natural increase in erythropoeitin [one of the things that Lance injected]. EPO increases the production of red blood cells.. Incidentally, smoking also reduces the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood, inducing slight polycythema.
    At sea level, the red blood cells of a non-smoker are saturated [or at least 97% saturated] with oxygen unless you are in heart failure or have some other pathology. In Stephen’s case, his arterial blood was oxygen saturated, just an insufficient amount of it was being pumped around his body.

  13. jnorris says

    Congratulations on making it to 51. I hope to read about your 52nd.
    Good work at rehab. I’ve been doing it since summer of 2006.

    I may have been bitten by a radioactive spider

    Does that line really work at bars? May I use it, pleasssseeeeee?

  14. Tim DeLaney says

    “I quit smoking …”

    Great news! Every day for the rest of your life you can take pride in that statement. And the “rest of your life” will likely be longer. Nobody but an ex-smoker can appreciate that accomplishment.

  15. raymoscow says

    Yeah, I agree that the arterial blockage (now fixed) apparently was holding you back. You are more fit than you realised.

    You’ve got enough workout experience to know not to overdo it now — go for the slow but steady improvement. Something else will limit you now, so don’t push past the point of injury.

  16. Crudely Wrott says

    How did you do it?

    You wanted to. Your body wanted to.

    You did it.

    Now you know you can.

    Fifty isn’t old. It’s just better informed.

    Well done, Stephen. Well done.

  17. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Congratulations and belated happy birthday from me. Great to read. :-)

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