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Running with a heart condition (from someone who knows)

When you’re struck down from an illness or injury, it can be hard to find the motivation to get back up and out there. Markus Patten had just such an experience with his heart at the age of 34. Now a decade later, he’s running half-marathons and sharing with others his learnings.

I started running when I was 13 or 14 years old. By the time I was 16, I ran around 20km daily.

After work, after school and so it went for years. Cut to the summer of 2005 and I felt something was wrong. Suddenly when I ran I needed more time for my daily route or I felt much more tired than usual. I thought – never mind – it mustn’t be anything – I was a young and strong man. Maybe a flu is coming, or that I am still sick or something like that. In January 2006 my doctor checked me out as my condition had gotten worse. He said that there was something wrong with the heart valve in my aorta. He said to have it checked every 6 months, but other than that, all normal. So time when on, however, everything was not normal, culminating in the summer of 2007 when I could no longer climb the steps to my second floor. On October 16th – only 12 days after my 34th birthday - they were forced to immediately implant an artificial heart valve for me to live on.

After the operation they told me it could be possible to do sports, but that I needed to control my heartbeat and that it shouldn’t be faster than 100bpm. 100bpm? Impossible… so no more sports. My life went on while I became a couch potato.


Last year I decided I couldn’t keep away any longer from sport. I decided to start running again – first walking, then walking faster, followed by some intervals until I was able again to run 5k in one go. Every year I need to go to my cardiologist to check (and he knows my sporting aspirations) so with his ok I’ve set out on this path. I have done more training and now even a half-marathon. I have found my old life and passion again. I love to run.


I think there are much more people like me with heart problems sidelining them from sport, so I want to show them that they can do something like this – they don’t need to be couch potatoes like I was and I wish someone had told me earlier there’s always a way to run on…


Tips for running with heart complications:

1.    Obviously and most importantly, talk to your doctor. I assume they will be happy and tell you what to do and your boundaries but likely support you.


2.    Get out there if you think you can, but start slowly with intervals (say, 1 minute easy jog – 1 minute slightly faster). Later you can adjust the intervals and grow them to 2 minutes easy jogs with 1 minute faster and so on.


3.    Don’t look up racing results…. Others don’t run with your condition. Only run against yourself.  


4.    Look out for the weather and look to yourself. If you get sick such as the flu or something like that so you need to be healthy before you can run again. The risk to get worse and put greater strain on your heart will be too high, so run when the weather is right and you are too!


5.    Take enough to drink with you and don’t run on hot days or in the midday sun. On hot days it will be better to run between the early morning and before noon. You can also run in the late afternoon or evening but be careful with the humidity. The roads will give off heat that you may not account for.


6.    Finally, don’t be too strict with yourself. There will be good days with good results and there will be days you will run slower. The important thing is you are out there and that you (like me) realize just how lucky we are to be able to run at all…