Every now and then life serves you up a nasty moment. I had one of these on the morning of Sunday June 26th at the Scotiabank Half Marathon and it scared the bejeezus out of me! I’m sharing this story with you all in the hope that none of you will be as stupid as me (you’re probably not anyway) and that maybe you’ll learn something from it.
It was a beautiful morning, a little on the cool side at 7am waiting for the start, but it was predicted to rise to the upper 20’s later. The course for the half marathon is stunning. Starting at UBC and winding it’s way around the headland then past Spanish Banks, Jericho Beach Park, Kitsilano Beach over the Burrard Street Bridge, then Beach Avenue to the finish line at the start of Stanley Park.
The start of the race is pretty much downhill so my plan was to get away pretty quickly and see where my time was at the 10k mark and decide how hard to push it from there. When I got to that point I found I was only a few seconds off my best ever 10k time. I was rocking it, I’d never broken 2 hour mark for the half but this could be my chance.
It was getting hot now and we were running with the sun full in our faces. I always run with my own water and never bother with the water stations. I carry two small bottles with 300ml in each. Up to the 10k mark I’d been sipping occasionally at one but had only drunk about half a bottle. Those of you who see me running or at bootcamp know that I sweat like a turkey on Christmas Eve, so I lose lots of fluids.
One part of the race I knew would be tough was the killer climb up the Burrard Bridge, particularly as you hit the bridge at the 18k mark when things are starting to really hurt. It seemed to take forever to get there but as I rounded the last of many corners, there it was, staring me down like that look I get from Fran when I’ve ordered ‘just one last IPA’.
By this point I’d finished one of my bottles, yes a whole 300ml, can you see where this is going? I dug in, legs now giving me some serious pain, and ran up about three quarters of this beast of a bridge. Lots of runners were walking up it, the sensible ones, but bonehead here was having none of that. I ground to a halt at the three quarter mark and walked to the top sipping at my other water bottle, as best I could, while sucking in buckets full of air. I made it to the top and started running down the other side of the bridge.
It was now basically all level or downhill from here to the finish line but there was still another 3k to go. My legs were really heavy now and filling up with lactic acid but, of course, being that bonehead, I decided to push myself harder. So I just put my head down and focused on getting over the finish line in less than 2 hours. I was so determined that I didn’t bother to reach for my water bottle again and I ignored all of the water stations. I was concentrating on putting one foot in front of another and pounding out the last few kilometres.
The last thing I remember was passing the 20k marker as my app shouted in my ear 1 hour 50 mins and thinking, I’m going to crush this. Then there was nothing. Nothing at all.
I still have no idea what happened. The next thing I saw was the inside of an ambulance with two or three paramedics hovering over me, their radios buzzing and crackling away. I had an oxygen tube up my nose and two intravenous lines in my arms. They asked me what my name was, I knew, but what came out of my mouth was something from a different planet. “Dwavfv” I said. What month is it? They asked. I had no idea. I took a guess at July as I remember it being hot but really it was an outright guess. I was wrong. From that point on I was convinced I was in the throws of having a stroke. Having been at my dad’s side twice as he had strokes I knew what it looked and sounded like. Slurred speech, confusion and memory loss. I had all three.
I kept trying to wriggle my toes and clench my fists to see if there was a weakness on one side. I was constantly giving myself little tests in my mind, which made me even more anxious. What year were you born, what’s your phone number, what’s my street address? I didn’t have a clue. The paramedic asked me where I was from. I managed to get out something that resembled White Rock but to me those words sounded weird. I couldn’t even have told you that there was a place with that name. The paramedics reassured me that there was a place called White Rock, but I wasn’t sure if they were just trying to make me feel better.
At this point I think the paramedics decided I was too much of a basket case to treat in the ambulance so we started to drive off to emergency. One thing I was constantly trying to articulate to them was that I can’t have a stroke as I’ve just become a granddad! They asked me what his name was. I could remember that. I said “Oliver” although it sounded nothing like that. I kept saying it over and over again to see if it was getting any better. It wasn’t.
I could see and hear that the paramedics were getting more and more concerned with my blood pressure, it had got crazy low as I was so dehydrated. Now the flashing lights and sirens came on and we were fast tracking it to St Pauls Hospital. I kept raising each arm and touching the tip of my nose with my finger. Another memory from my dad, as if you can’t touch your nose or you miss it, it’s a sign of weakness down one side. They must have thought I was nuts.
We arrived at St Pauls emergency and I was wheeled up against a wall while I waited for a cubicle. They fitted me up with lots of ECG connections and another IV. Then I saw Dean. I thought, how the hell have you got here? Afterwards he told me that he was running past and saw a pair of blue Hoka’s sticking out of the end of a stretcher. He ran over to the ambulance and said, “is that Dave.” They asked him if he knew me and told him to run to the finish line then come back and he could come in the ambulance with me. Apparently I was only about 200m or so from the end. Seriously.
As Dean was coming back he could see the ambulance was just pulling away, luckily there was another ambulance there and they gave him a lift to the hospital. Dean was a real brick as he sorted everything out with regards to Fran. Fran was running the 5k which had a later start, so as I went down she had just started the race. He was able to get hold of Claudette and Tracey and got them to wait at the 5k finish line and pull Fran over to one side and let her know what was going on without freaking her out too much.
As time passed by in emergency I was starting to feel a little better and my memory was coming back a bit. It started to dawn on me that this could all be about being severely dehydrated. They were pumping bags of saline solution through my IV.
Because I had put up such a good display of stroke like symptoms the first thing they did was wheel me off for a brain CT scan. Luckily they found one, a brain I mean, so that was good news. Even better news was that they could see no bleed or clot on the brain. Big sigh of relief, so no stroke. I could stop touching my nose.
Next stop was a chest x-ray. The guy taking the x-ray had to retake them as the first shot didn’t show the bottom of my lungs. He told me I had the longest lungs he’d ever seen. I thought to myself, with my snake like back and my long lungs, who the hell put me together?
Fran, Tracey and Claudette had arrived now. The two girls had done a great job keeping Fran calm. In retrospect, I’m pleased she didn’t see me any earlier as it would have freaked her out big time. At least now I didn’t sound, or look like, I was going to croak any minute.
The docs were now concerned that I’d had a heart attack as my blood was showing high levels of an enzyme that is released when you’ve had a heart attack. They took me up to the cardiac ward where I was hooked up to more ECG machines and given some injections and tablets. No idea what.
If there is a funny side to all of this it was the cardiac ward I was put in. The nurses named the ward, “The Marathon Ward” as out of the 4 beds, three of us had run the Scotiabank half and all of us had collapsed during the race! Marc was from Brisbane, Australia and Michelle was a local girl. So we had an Australian, a Brit and a Canadian. It was like Comedy Central. Marc had 6 full marathons under his belt and Michelle was a rower, who trained 5 times a week as well as running. Marc and I began some competitive banter about what times we would have done. Turns out he would have finished in around 1h40m, so a lot quicker than me. I had a trump card though, I asked him where he went down.
“That bloody bridge mate” he said “and you?” 200m from the finish line I announced …. 1 and 0 to the nacho!
All evening and the next day there was raucous laughter coming from our room. When the nurses came in they would leave with tears of laughter in their eyes.
The next morning I was feeling much more human, still a little wobbly but at least what little logic I had, had returned. One last hurdle now was to confirm or eliminate whether I’d had a heart attack. Rather than give me a full on angiogram, they opted for an angio CT chest scan. They pumped some dye into my veins so they sort of glowed in the dark and sprayed some nitro glycerin under my tongue to inflate the arteries. I was then wheeled under the CT scanner while it took images of slices of my chest. Then it was back to the ward to wait.
They said it would take a couple of hours but it took about six to get the results. Both Marc and I had the same tests so we were hanging in there together hoping that we would both be let out. It wasn’t until about 7pm until we got the good news. Neither of us had experienced a heart attack and the raised enzyme levels in our blood was due to the stress the heart and kidneys had been put under during the race due to lack of fluids. Phew.
So, have I learned a lesson? You bet. I’m making no exaggeration here when I say I thought I was on my way out in that ambulance. It scared the crap out of me. I have a wife, an Oliver, a wonderful family and great friends that I want to spend much more time with before I draw the curtains.
So to everyone out there. Hydrate before, during and after a race. I drank about 450ml during the race, nowhere near enough on any day let alone a hot one. If I had to count up how much fluid they pumped into me, on top of what I drank at the hospital on that first afternoon before I felt hydrated, it would be many many litres.
I’m glad I’m here to tell the tale but please heed the warning. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
One minute you’re running, the next minute you’re not.