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Slow and easy is better than being out cold

By SCOTT PURKS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 17, 2003

TAMPA -- Before I get to the part about passing out on a gym floor and thinking I might die from a heart attack, let me explain a few things.

It started several months ago with a column I wrote. I stated that at age 38 I was going to renew a running regimen after a 20-year hiatus and write about it along the way.

I was going to run with Plant's girls cross-country team because Plant was the defending state champion, and they were, well, girls. (My secret plan was to work my way up to a boys squad.)

In this column I reviewed my cross-country days at Brandon, which was a state power in the late 1970s and early 80s. I explained how we often ran 40 to 50 miles a week and that I had dropped my 3-mile time to a low of 16 minutes flat.

I wrote that because of my experience, I had an idea of what I was getting into, even though I weighed 185 pounds, or 40 more than when I was in high school.

I was true to my word. I ran with the Plant girls team, at least with its B team. When I didn't run with the team, I did what Panther coach Roy Harrison suggested, which included resting a day or two between workouts.

"Don't push it," Harrison said. "No need to be stupid."

Here's a few notes I jotted down:

Oct. 3 -- Tendons kill me, trudged through 3 miles on my own. Feel like I'm carrying two suitcases full of clothes.

Oct. 5 -- Ran, actually jogged, 4 miles on the beach. Think someone took out clothes and replaced with books.

Oct. 7 -- Ran 5 "easy" miles with the varsity A team, which ran a race Saturday (two days before) and ran another 7 miles on their own Sunday (I rested Sunday).

A cyclist friend saw me and rode alongside sarcastically asking, "How much do you weigh?" ... With a mile to go, Harrison sent the B team ahead because it was more rested after not running Saturday's race. My friend said, "I thought you were running with the B team." I said, "Not today. You kidding? I'm still running with whoever runs easiest."

I ran several more times after that, including the 2 miles I jogged to the gym when it happened.

I walked in feeling good about my new regimen. Even though I was relatively heavy for a good runner, I had lost six pounds. I also had continued lifting weights, which is why I was at the gym.

Anyway, I was standing at the water fountain when things got fuzzy ... then dizzy. Heart fluttering, racing. Need to breathe. Better sit down. ...

I woke up face down on the floor.

Some guy hovering over me said, "Breathe. Breathe. Take it easy."

Other voices: "He went straight down. ... Call 911. ... Can you hear us? ... Does anyone know him? ... Breathe. Okay, okay, stay down. Don't move. Don't move."

The room swayed as if I'd chugged 12 beers. Wha? Wha? Didn't know where I was for a minute.

A man's face, his voice: "Does anything hurt?"

"My back," I said.

He peeled up my T-shirt. "You're going to have a nice scar. You fell into the weight machine. But it'll be okay. Chest pains? Left arm tingling?"


"How old are you?"


"Okay, the paramedics are coming. They said don't move."

So I sat, dizzily, with six or seven strangers staring at me. The paramedics gave me an EKG and checked my heart and said I was probably dehydrated, low on electrolytes. They said I seemed okay.

I, however, was troubled.

I had drunk plenty of water that day. I had eaten fine and I hadn't run that far.

I thought about eight years earlier when I had chest pains and tested positive for heart disease. The final heart specialist, after reviewing the tests, said, "Don't worry, they're all just false positive results."

But maybe, as I had asked myself a thousand times over the years, the results were right. I always remembered the looks on the doctors' faces before I spoke with that final specialist.

They looked troubled.

I decided to go back to the cardiologist, who, after reviewing my EKG ... looked troubled.

He set me up for a battery of tests a month later and told me not to exercise. No running. No lifting weights. Nothing.

So that's when my cross-country experiment took a hit.

The good news, after all these tests, is that I got a clean bill of health. I was simply overdoing it.

I was staying up all night with our new baby (which can be very stressful). I was stressing a bit through a busy time at work. And I was trying to run on a 38-year-old body with a bunch of teenagers -- after not running regularly for 20 years.

So what's the final analysis?

I think it's that my heart is fine, but I need to remind myself that I'm not 18 anymore.

Sure, I'll keep running, but I'll ease into it a little more.

What's the rush? I'm not going anywhere any time soon.

And like I said before, I'll keep you posted.

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