One of the great things about being a runner is the community of people that you meet. These are fellow runners who you train with, race with, share stories with. We have a great one here in Central PA and I am blessed to know some amazing athletes. That is why it can be so hard when something happens to one or several of these people. It truly impacts everyone and I felt that the topic of health needs to be discussed.
Last month one of our runners suddenly passed away following one of his weekly training runs. This is something that he would do every week. He was an ultra runner, someone who would routinely participate in events exceeding 26.2 miles. It was a devastating loss to his family and all those who loved him. And this is not the first time I have heard this happening to other runners. Tragically, many strong male and female athletes are victims of undiagnosed and underlying heart conditions, often striking unexpectedly.
Many people (myself included) feel that they might not need to go to the doctor for an annual check-up since they are running or are active. A routine excuse is “Hey, I am healthy and get my miles in every day. I don’t need to go.” According to Dr. Larry Creswell, a heart surgeon at the University of Mississippi (and an avid triathlete), active people should incorporate regular check ups with their MD, and provides specific recommendations according to their age:
Young adult athletes, up to age 35
The AHA guidelines are probably also useful for young adult athletes. I [Larry Creswell] tell my friends in this age group that they should see a physician yearly for a careful medical history and physical examination. The checklist for cardiovascular conditions above is also useful in this age group. This is also the age group where a baseline check on blood cholesterol and lipid levels and routine blood chemistries (glucose, creatinine, etc.) should be made.
Older adult athletes, over age 35
As athletes age, they confront an ever-increasing risk of events due to coronary artery disease (CAD, where plaque builds up in the arteries that supply the heart). A yearly visit to the physician for a medical history and physical examination is increasingly important. This is the age range when it is important, even aside from athletic reasons, that people should establish a long-term relationship with a family or internal medicine physician. In this age group, many female athletes will already see a physician regularly for OB-GYN care, but “healthy” men are notorious for avoiding the doctor. The physician should continue to screen on a periodic basis for the risk factors for CAD: smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes or pre-diabetes, elevated blood cholesterol or lipids, and potentially others.
Athletes of any age, with medical problems
My suggestions above apply only to “healthy” athletes….those with NO chronic medical conditions. Athletes with ANY chronic medical condition will need to work with their physician to determine the frequency of visits to monitor those conditions. This will almost certainly require more than a single annual visit to the doctor.
Making that appointment for your annual check-up is more important than ever, especially if you are an endurance athlete. And everyone can benefit from this advice, not just those training for a crazy race or event (not sure who that person can be lol!) You can be someone who walks every day, chases their kids around the playground, or bikes with their family. You need to talk to your MD about your activities. Being active is such a good thing and it should be part of your daily routine. That is one of the bonuses of the COVID pandemic (if any); we see so many people come into our store who are more active since they want to get out of their house. I love hearing stories of how people are taking up running again or want to hike on the trail. It is great to see so many of these smiling faces at our group runs too!
So keep exploring and doing what gives you joy. Stay healthy and listen to your body! Hope to see you out on the trails. 🙂
Rest in Peace Mike, we will miss you. May your strength and spirit shine always.
Linda is a mom of two and the Assistant Manager at ARC Carlisle. Running is her passion – In the 10 years since she started running, she has completed races of various distances from one mile to ultras. You can catch her on the trail on Saturday mornings where she is the smiling face leading our group trail runs!