I'm going to get on my soapbox for this post. If you are offended by association, dear reader, then my mission is complete.
What do the names Steve Larsen, Ryan Shay and Jim Fixx have in common? All three at one time or another were known names in the running, cycling or triathlon world. All three also passed away during - or immediately after - a race or a training session from cardiac-related events.
Now, take a look at the sports news. There's another headline about an age-grouper dying at a triathlon or marathon because of a previously-undetected cardiac problem. It makes me shudder each time I see a report. I could have been one of that number three years ago. I quit mid-way through the swim portion of Ironman Florida because I felt fatigued; the medical technicians suspected an issue with my heart (premature ventricular contractions) and recommended I be taken to the hospital. Fortunately for me I had enough time to call Suzanne and let her know what had gone wrong. Yes, she was freaked out. But she was glad I was smart enough to know to get out of the water, becoming an Ironman was not worth killing myself.
Since that morning (even with the Hash House Harriers), I have worn a heart rate monitor when I run. I don't care that someone might mock me; I wear the "strap" to track every effort (and recovery). The emergency room doctor at the hospital in Panama City, my general practitioner, and the cardiologist who performed my echocardiogram all gave me a clean bill of health, but sometimes a guy can never be completely certain. Not because I need to quantify what I feel; I've been doing this long enough to "ball park" figure the effort. I also wear the heart rate monitor to remind me the chances of something going wrong. I tell Suzanne the route or location of my workout, a thumbnail sketch of what I plan to do, and my projected return. She does the same.
We have become really conscious of telling each other our intentions in the past year, the seeds of this attitude were sown a couple of years ago by several situations:
Suzanne and I had recently purchased a couple of road bikes after I decided I was interested in multisport. On our first group bike ride, our friends launched into a twenty-minute mini-lecture on flat repair kits, extra bike bottles, money, snack bars and such - my flat-kit-less bike was proof we were under-prepared for even the shortest of distance rides. At first, I wanted to pass it off as typical (northern) German efficiency and preparedness, but it wasn't just for the rider themself as it was for the group. Later that spring at a thoroughly-cold and miserable Crescent City Classic we left the huddled masses at City Park because Scott, the thinnest member of our little group, was shaking so badly he was spilling beer all over the grass; after a brief bus ride, hot showers and dry clothes for everyone we continued our Easter weekend in good conscience. I may have been their coach, but I learned from Christian and Petra that the well-being of any group is based on the well-being of each individual.
Probably around this time, I stopped at a porta-john during the latter stages of a group long run. Rather than hang back and wait on me the group decided to continue. Furious, I ran at 5K race tempo for the next two miles to catch the group. By the time I caught them I had a half mile to go, so I continued at that pace, climbed in my car and went home without a word. The next weekend, the teenage son of one of the group was having a bad day and falling farther behind, without a word of concern from any of the group. I decided after that to run with a smaller group under what I call "Ranger Rules." It's a very simple rule, borrowed from the movie "Black Hawk Down."
Leave No One Behind.
If you hit a porta-john, someone stays back to pace you back up to the group. If you feel badly, someone maintains that pace with you. If you feel very badly, someone gets help.
When it comes to personal health, there's a certain degree of personal responsibility that needs to be exercised. It makes perfect sense to be checked by a health professional on a regular basis, just to ensure no unpleasant surprises. Chronic conditions which require a medication or dietary regimen are just that, a requirement. It's irresponsible not to meet that requirement. A responsible person will communicate these issues with the people closest to them, carry a cell phone with an "ICE" - In Case of Emergency - number, or carry some sort of contact information, just in case things go very wrong.
If you know something is going wrong with your friend, don't leave it to the tender mercies of someone else; take care of it yourself. If you are fortunate you might be helped by a person you least likely expect to save your tender behind. Or you might end up in the news.