Syracuse Online


Dr. J. on Running

Heart Surgeons

Lifestyle Should Factor

Published September 10, 2001 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

I am not a physician, and I do not play one in the newspaper. Do not heed my advice if you are prone to heart attacks. See a cardiologist. Having said that, heart surgeons have given me cause for pause. I have changed the names of my characters to protect their identity.

Take Steddy Eddy, who ran the first 70 years of his life. A poster child for Kenyan schoolchildren, little Eddy ran home for soup on lunch breaks, 2 miles each way, in knee-deep snow. At age 51, Eddy set an American age-group course record in the Boston Marathon in 2 hours, 31 minutes. At age 60, he won a silver medal in the marathon in the world masters championships in 2:50.

Eddy trained regularly with a threesome half his age. They ran 20-milers through the hills of Pompey, mile repeats along Onondaga lake, and quarters on the Manley track. He routinely beat them in marathons, and pushed them in shorter races.

Then one day, Eddy's running group disintegrated. One moved south, and the rest started a family. His training suffered. He slowed down. At 70, he was convinced that he had a problem. A cardiologist prescribed a pacemaker and reduced physical activity. Today, one of the region's best runners has turned into a born-again golfer.

Librarian Larry did not consider himself really fast, but fast enough to win some local medals. In college, he ran 100 meters in 11.0 seconds, 110 high hurdles in 14.9, and 400 intermediate hurdles 55.4. In his 30s and 40s, he managed to run a mile in 4:48.6, 5,000 meters in 16:49.7, and goofed around a marathon in 3:07:08. He also race-walked fairly successfully, achieving national rankings among masters of fifth in the 5K and tenth in the 10K.

At age 45, Larry ran a 5-miler while fighting a cold. He noticed a pain in his chest two days later, and went to the doctor. A physician's assistant diagnosed him with gas, and prescribed ex-lax. He returned to the intensive care unit the following day, as doctors worked on stabilizing his heart.

Doctors suspected that Larry's heart was damaged by a viral infection earlier in life. They feared that it might someday go into fibrillation, so they implanted a defibrillator. They programmed the device to discharge a massive electric shock into his chest any time his heart rate exceeded 180 beats per minute.

So, as Larry sprinted towards the finish line of a road race and his heart rate went skywards, the defibrillator discharged, shocking him straight onto the ground. This debilitating exercise recurred at another race, forcing him to control his kick near finish lines. He is currently negotiating with his cardiologist the settings of his defibrillator, trying to convince him to increase the threshold to 200.

The morale of the story: cardiologists can ruin a perfectly good running career. Before you let one train a knife at you, make sure to check their running credentials.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. Dr.J. created, webcasting live Every Lap of Every Race. He receives email at

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