Over 50 heart attack

I had a heart attack… 3 surprising things I learned about over 50 running training

When I turned 50, I had my midlife crisis, a heart attack. Totally unexpected. I was a healthy and fit marathoner and I thought I had my over 50 running training dialed in. I did all the right things: ate a low fat diet, exercised, and lived a pretty stress free life.
We all know the three main causes of a heart attack, #1 poor diet, #2 lack of exercise and #3 stress.
So what happened?
Well, at first I was in denial, I didn’t acknowledge I was unhealthy. I just cut out dairy fat and called it good. It wasn’t until I had another blocked artery 10 years later, I discovered that how I was eating and running, was literally killing me! It all boils down to the same three things, with a twist. You see, my diet was actually messed up and I was running and training wrong. So let’s look at each of these one at a time.

#1 – How you eat matters more than you know

 I’ve been running and reading Runner’s World since issue #1. So all those years I was told you needed carbohydrates to run, a lot of them. We would carbo load a few days before a race, then drink Gatoraide during the race to keep the carbs flowing. Following a healthy lifestyle also meant a low fat diet, to keep your heart healthy and weight. The problem was, even though I ate low fat and ran a ton, I never could lose that pesky last 10 pounds. It was quite normal to always be tired after lunch then constantly hungry again.
What I didn’t know, was that I was addicted to sugar, and was caught up in the highs and lows of the sugar cycle, increasing my body fat, causing chronic inflammation and insulin resistance. This carbohydrate intolerance was not only directly effecting my health, but also adding to the stress on my heart.

#2 – Training intensity is critical

To understand this, first you need to know a little about how your metabolism works. In simple terms, when you run slow, your body generally burns mostly fat for energy. When your run fast, your body mostly burns carbohydrates.
The fat burning is your aerobic system, the carb burning is your anaerobic system. The interesting thing is that in any race from a 5K to an ultramarathon, 98% of your energy comes from your aerobic system. So you would think we should totally max out our aerobic system to run faster, but the fitness industry has a short cut, interval training. But it comes with a price. You see, every time you enter into your anaerobic zone, it triggers the release of cortisol, the stress hormone.
So that make sense, but what does it have to do with heart disease?
For us runners over 50, constantly training in the anaerobic zone creates higher levels of physical and biochemical stress, decreases immune function, and muscle repair, increases inflammation, increases the risk of muscle injury (most common in fast-twitch fibers), and impairs fat-burning. These conditions are also associated with poor (or a lack of) recovery, and are common components of and contributors to the overtraining syndrome.

#3 – Don’t blindly follow a prescribed training plan.

The quickest way to build up stress in your body is to follow some structured training plan. As an over 50 runner, doing specific workouts when you body is not sufficiently recovered from your last workout leads to chronic stress. What I learned is that forcing yourself to adhere to some pre-determined schedule puts you at a high risk of illness, injury, burnout and over training. I would go out of my way to get that interval workout, tempo run or long run checked off for the week no matter how I felt. If i couldn’t make the required weekly mileage, I was falling behind and would have to make it up the next week. The lack of recovery and running when I wasn’t healthy was just part of the game. Remember, no pain, no gain.

How I fixed myself:

So a couple of years ago, after my last heart procedure, I finally saw the light. I switched to a low carb, high fat diet, and my cravings went away. I lost those extra pounds and I now can run for hours without fuel.
I also adopted Dr Phil Maffatone’s MAF method, and spent 90 days strictly following my max aerobic heart rate of 125 bpm, and ended up increasing my speed from 10:30 min/mile to 8:30 min/mile with no speed work!
I still have a training run schedule, but it’s regulated by how I feel, not on making a weekly mileage quota. I do that by:
  • checking my waking heart rate and reduce my work out that day if my resting heart rate is elevated.
  • I do all my runs at or below my max aerobic heart rate so I don’t trigger a metabolic stress response.
  • And if I don’t feel good during a run, I stop.


My over 50 running training:

So now I am on a mission to help other older endurance athletes to be fast, healthy, fat burning machines. I am convinced that by reducing overall stress by eating a low carb diet, running aerobically, and training while fully recovered, we can all run till we are 100 years old!
Don’t follow the crowd and make the same critical mistakes that I did. Start your journey to be both fit and healthy today. Join our community of Forever Runners to learn more!



About The Author


Sherpaherb: Forever Runner Coach, Helping Older Runners Eliminate Hidden Chronic Stress so they can Run Like A Kid Again! Click to Schedule a Free Coaching Call