This is a true story. It is not intended to scare people, but to make people aware of the safety factor that wearing a heart rate monitor while training can provide.
A number of years ago I was doing pick-ups (2-minute surges with a 1-minute recovery) with a masters age triathlete. We were both wearing our heart rate monitors during the workout, and I was surprised to hear the triathlete comment that he had achieved a new maximum heart rate.
I immediately commented that this was not “normal”, and that he should stop the workout and see his physician immediately to get this checked out. As we age our maximum heart rate declines, so this incidence of an increasing maximum heart rate suggested that there was a problem.
My triathlete friend (an attorney), took what I said under advisement. He felt it was an equipment problem until he tried out his wife’s heart rate monitor and had the same result. He then made an appointment with his physician ASAP.
He now uses beta-blocker drugs, has undergone an ablation procedure to try to restore normal rhythm, and has had a pacemaker installed.
He is able to train, albeit at a modified intensity. This is not a bad compromise considering sudden death during exercise was a possibility without treatment.
This may seem like an extremely remote case. I did however, run with another athlete about a year later and he too had an abnormality with his heart (detected on his heart rate monitor) which was subsequently diagnosed as mitral valve prolapse and had to be treated surgically.
As more people take up running recreationally, and running marathons seems to be a “fashionable” trend, it would seem prudent to screen people for potential cardiac problems. Getting medical clearance to participate in strenuous activities is a good starting point, as well as having a VO2 max test and properly using a heart rate monitor.
Hopefully, with these measures in place, you can have a heart healthy and safe running and racing experience.