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Yes, you can

The 40s and 50s may bring heart trouble with them. But that doesn’t have to be reason to slow down. In fact, it might be the perfect time to sign up for a marathon.

health and fitness Updated: Nov 21, 2009 14:02 IST
Dhamini Ratnam

As Dhananjay Yellurkar (45) huffed past his 17th kilometre in the winding roads of Lonavala last Sunday, he couldn’t help but marvel at how far he’d come. And he wasn’t just thinking about the distance he and his running group, ‘Top Gear MIG’, had covered. As he ran the last mile Yellurkar thought only of the days that had followed his bypass surgery. Barely six months ago, he was diagnosed with no less than five arterial blockages. In the weeks after his discharge from the hospital, Yellurkar could barely stand and was, in his own words, “an emotional mess”. Yet, here he was, jogging to his goal without pain or stress, knowing that he had the upcoming Mumbai Half Marathon well under control.

Slow and steady progress
There are many like Yellurkar who haven’t let a heart surgery come in the way of participating in the marathon. But the process of training and recovery requires more mental strength than physical capability.

Shailesh Patel, 58, underwent a bypass surgery in 2005. “My doctor told me, ‘You’re going to run the marathon with me next year’,” he says, explaining why he decided to take up running. Patel first enrolled in the Cardiac Rehabilitation Centre at the Asian Heart Institute, Bandra, where his training was closely monitored.

In 2006, he ran the six-kilometre Dream Run, and followed it up every year after that. While he didn’t stop going to the Rehabilitation Centre, he began running outdoors and joined a gym, which he attended five days a week. Earlier this year, he joined a running group to train for the half marathon.

“The body is an amazing machine,” says Yellurkar. Like Patel, he too attended the Asian Heart Cardiac Rehabilitation Centre, where for a month, he performed walking and cycling exercises on the elliptical machine. His performance was tracked throughout. In August ’09, Yellurkar asked his doctor if he could run 21 kilometres. Once he got the go ahead, he began training for it — first in the Centre, then outdoors. “The first couple of times I ran outdoors, my knees and legs ached, but, over time it became easier,” he says. The day he completed a 10-km run, Yellurkar realised, much to his amazement, he felt absolutely fine.

Keeping the pace in check
One of the first things most marathoners with a history of heart condition talk about is the necessity of knowing their limits. Venkat Raman, 52, who underwent the surgery in 2007, was back on his feet running his fifth half marathon the following year. He began training four months after his surgery, but like Yellurkar and Patel, Raman made sure he strapped on a heart rate monitor every time he went for a run, or performed any kind of exercise.

Dr Ashish Contractor, Head of Department of Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation, Asian Heart Institute doesn’t discourage his patients who want to run, but it is essential, he says, “to assess their readiness first”. “A bypass surgery isn’t a handicap,” he says, adding that there are several medical factors to consider before a patient can get the go-ahead to run a half marathon.

Fitness expert and co-trainer at the Nike Run Club, Daniel Vaz recommends that people who have had heart surgeries should not exceed 70 per cent of their maximum heart rate while exercising. “However, a patient’s actual maximum heart rate should be assessed in a treadmill test at a centre for heart disease,” he says. “People with known Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) should watch their heart rate in warm and humid weather. They must reduce their pace of running and the intensity of their workout, so that their heart rate comes down. This is why a heart rate monitor is essential,” Vaz explains.

For the likes of Yellurkar, these precautions are part and parcel of their training. For them running the marathon is not just a goal. It’s their journey towards a healthier and fitter life.