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When In Doubt, Get Checked Out
By Clem McGrath

In February 2001, while escaping the Connecticut winter weather in sunny Florida, I had open heart surgery (5 way bypass). This came as quite a shock to me as I get an annual physical and the basic risk factors (high blood pressure and high cholesterol) were not there.
I retired from Electric Boat in 1999 and had been concentrating on my training as I entered the 60+ age division. I had a pretty good racing season in 2000 with divisional wins at Rose Arts, Kelley and a 4th at Manchester.
As you know, we runners are a strange breed especially when it comes to denial. Speaking for myself, I write off most discomforts as a "bad day", "I have a little cold" or "It's not easy after 60". The concern I have is "how many runners out there are like me?" The "running boom" came a little behind me so there are many runners approaching their "golden years" and, like myself, are not listening to the body signals. I can look back to last fall when I experienced some chest discomfort and achy joints and attributed it to the Connecticut weather. I figured once I got to Florida I would feel better.
So here I am doing speed workouts and hill repeats on the Ft Myers Beach Bridge in preparation for The Edison Festival Of Lights 5K and my discomforts are persisting. A week before the race I decide to go to a Walk-In Clinic convinced that I had Lyme Disease. After an examination by the doctor (who happened to be a runner) he thought the symptoms were heart related and recommended I put the running shoes aside until I had a stress test. I had never had a stress test and thought it might not be a bad idea to rule out any possible heart problem. To my complete surprise, I failed the stress test and the rest is history.
Thank heaven there was no heart damage and I'm looking forward to a full recovery, but I was lucky. How many runners, with no risk factors, are gambling their lives by not listening to their bodies. Genetics is a major risk factor that is easily overlooked.
The important lesson to be learned here is that, if you have any question as to why you feel the way you do, especially if it persists, don't blow it off. See someone and get it checked out. It could save your life.