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How My Heart Problems Led to Renewed Focus on the Training Basics

This blog post will be a bit more personal than usual simply because I’m going through some challenges in my training and health, and my clients and fellow everyday athletes like you might relate. 

I had big plans for this cyclocross season, culminating in a trip to nationals in Louisville. 

But I’ve had to back off all racing and just rededicate myself to training - putting in the long-distance miles on the bike, doing yoga, and getting to the gym. 

We all have challenges to face, whether it’s health or an injury, family, or work, that keep us from training the way we’d like to. 

But that doesn’t mean, usually, that we stop altogether! 

Instead, I am refocusing simply on building my fitness. 

Maybe I’ll get back to where I was, maybe not. 

What matters is that I’m moving forward and rolling day by day to improve my health and fitness. 

And regardless of whether I can race again, my dog still wags her tail when she sees me!

Copy of DF Breathing

Heart issues corrected through surgery

Last spring and summer I started having heart issues with what was later identified as ventricular tachycardia. 

Basically, my ventricles would start beating fast, upwards of 220 beats a minute. 

It would feel like my heart was literally beating out of my chest. 

It wasn’t until I was dropped on a moderate group ride this summer while the palpitations were happening that I decided I had better get some medical attention. 

That eventually led to a lot of testing and the diagnosis. 

In September, the good doctors at Ascension did a successful ablation which took over seven hours. 

Longer than anticipated recovery

I had been preparing emotionally for the ablation, thinking about a young friend and client who had atrial fibrillation and an ablation. Her surgery took about an hour, so I figured mine would be similarly easy. 

However, the surgeries, conditions, as well as our vast age difference, meant that the recovery was more complicated and longer in my case. 

Still, I tried a couple of cyclocross races, but it was clear I wasn’t ready. 

Power down and heart rate up

It simply feels like there’s not a lot of power in the tank. 

I did some testing on the bike last Thursday and Friday, and those feelings were confirmed. 

For example, my FTP dropped at least 100 watts and my max power dropped several hundred watts. 

Nor does it feel like I can get my heart rate anywhere near my previous thresholds. 

I had a pity party for myself on Friday, but then had a talk with my wife who suggested writing this to share the struggles and what I’m doing about it with other everyday athletes who might need to know they’re not alone in their training and expectation challenges! 

Recovery from injury can always take longer than expected, and sometimes, we don’t end up in the same place.

But what stories do we tell about ourselves? 

What do we do? 

Athletica coaching has me on a good track

I’m being coached by Athletica’s AI program (which I also use in my coaching business), and I’m currently following the program as closely as possible to prepare for some gravel racing next summer

Some days, though, the power and heart rate just aren’t there. 

Yesterday, for example, I was supposed to do a 2:30 easy ride, but the legs just didn’t have much energy. 

So I still managed to get nearly two hours in. 

As I tell my clients, something is better than nothing. 

What I’m learning is that every day is a new opportunity to train, ride my bike, exercise, and move. 

My goals are process goals: Every day is a new day to make some progress in my fitness and strength. 

Building aerobic capacity

The advantage of the AI program is that it recognized fairly quickly that I was not doing the power numbers, nor was my heart rate getting to the levels it needed to be. 

So it recommended the testing, which brought reality home. 

I’m riding mostly according to heart rate right now in doing the long rides. 

Athletica still has me doing one HIIT (high-intensity interval) a week, which is good to keep pushing my heart rate and aerobic capacity. 

But it’s a struggle. 

Training schedule with endurance, yoga, and strength

My schedule is simple:

  • four or five days a week of riding, including one day of 30/30s and one day of big gear work
  • three days a week of yoga
  • two days a week of strength training

I’m focusing on the basics this winter, including recovery and nutrition

Maybe I’ll do some fat biking in the Hugh Jass or Snow Crown series.

Maybe I’ll do some Zwift racing. 

Maybe I’ll even start trail running to keep up with Coach Nicole. 

One thing I’ll do a lot, though, is dream about the gravel races I hope to do, including the Bear 100/ Hungry Bear combo, and the Big River series in Iowa and Illinois. 

The gravel racing is a blast: a combination of the racing of road, the scenery of a tour, and the technical skills of cyclocross. 

Plan B is a custom bike - with a motor

However, my dreaming may not come to fruition in the way I expect!

The heart may not come back to its previous condition, and I may not be racing again. 

Or my training might simply be different in ways I can’t imagine right now.

I hope my current situation is just a matter of sticking with the training. 

I have a good friend, David Wages, who is a frame builder at Ellis Cycles

I’ve already told him that if I’m not able to race my bike any longer, he’s putting a motor in a custom Strade Fango, and I’m off to do long tours and group rides on a really beautiful custom bike!

Plus, I mentioned my dog Joy at the start. 

She doesn’t give a shit about how I do at a race or how intervals go.
She provides that unconditional acceptance I’m looking to give myself. 

Three things when training and racing have unexpected results

So here are three things that I want people to take away from this:

  1. Something is always better than nothing. Do some riding, do some running even if it’s not what you used to do. Do something every day to improve your health and fitness.
  2. Be realistic and do some testing. Critical Power or Critical Speed tests give you a good insight into what you can do at the moment. Build from there, even if it’s not where you were. Start over. 
  3. Words matter. How are you going to tell the story of your setback? Is it a redemption story or something else? Listen to this insightful podcast from Hidden Brain

Need more? 

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Paul Warloski is a:

  • USA Cycling Level 2 Coach
  • RRCA Running Coach
  • Training Peaks Level 2 Coach
  • RYT-200 Yoga Instructor
  • Certified Personal Trainer
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1 Comment

  1. Kristen on November 7, 2023 at 5:37 pm

    I am so sorry that your recovery is taking longer than anticipated. I feel like this is a common theme in my life. Since I’ve known Jay, I have had 12 surgeries. When Anna was three, I had to have an ankle surgery after running two marathons. I was supposed to be able to run again after 4 to 6 months but it took 3 1/2 years and two more surgeries for me to be able to do so. My most recent surgeries were this past April and May when I had both hips done. Unfortunately, I am still having a lot of pain in one of them. I keep telling Jay and Anna that I am going to be at the 70+ Illinois state cyclocross champion so when I look at it like that, I have plenty of time. P.S. – Dogs are the best! I think I told you that it on my own dog walking business. Also, we think you’re the best! We feel so lucky that you are helping Anna with cyclocross. You are really making a difference in people’s lives 😊

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