From The Heart: A Former Ironman Pro’s Story Of Heart Risks For Athletes

  • By Torbjørn Sindballe
  • Published Feb 3, 2014
  • Updated Mar 16, 2014 at 6:42 PM UTC

Tips For A Long And Healthy Life

Whether you are 40, 50, 60 or older, you still have many years to compete. Here are my four basic tips:

1. React Immediately To Serious Symptoms
If you ever experience shortness of breath, severe chest pains or loss of consciousness either during exercise or at rest, you should seek medical assistance immediately and get a thorough examination from a cardiologist.

2. Get Checked
Get a checkup from your doctor involving at least a basic questionnaire screening for risk factors and a standard electrocardiogram. This will rule out most congenital factors and should be done at least once in your career. Preferably, you should get a checkup once a year while you train and race. If you train seriously to compete in your age group you can consider an echocardiogram, which is more expensive but enables a more comprehensive screening — although it will not rule out everything.

3. Chase Your Dreams, But Respect Your Body
It is safe to train regularly and with high intensity, but adequate recovery and respect for illness and injury are paramount to athletic health. Do not train or race while ill, and do not overtrain. How much is too much? That depends on many individual factors. If you prepare your body gradually for the once-in-a-lifetime Ironman, you may be OK, but if you race and train several iron-distance races a year and you do that for several years in a row you may be in the gray zone in terms of developing arrhythmia and other potential malfunctions later in life.

4. Change Triathlon’s Overachieving Culture
I know many athletes who train too much. I know many athletes who have triathlon as their single identity. I know many athletes who would rather risk their health than DNF in a race. Choosing to do so is an individual choice and, if that choice is informed, I am fine with that. Too often, though, these choices are affected by the overtraining culture in triathlon. People sometimes sacrifice their health for something that seems meaningful now but is not in hindsight. In my view, this is not OK and we need to change this as a sport through information, more research and the way we salute our heroes.

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