Heart of the Runner: Cardiologist, Cath Lab Team Train for Half-Marathon

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February 5, 2020

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The nurses and technicians at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute‘s Cardiac Catheterization Lab (Cath Lab) advise heart patients to do what they can to stay healthy with regular physical activity, in addition to any necessary meds and dietary changes.

This year, the Cath Lab, including its medical director, Marcus St. John, M.D., an interventional cardiologist, is taking its commitment to physical fitness many steps forward — 13.1 miles to be exact – by taking part in the Miami Marathon and Half-Marathon on Feb. 9. They have been training since summer to run the half marathon.

(Pictured above: From left to right: Milkos Olaniel, Fitzgerald Richards, Dr. Marcus St. John, Michael Rosquete, Freeler Castillo. Not pictured but also taking part in the half marathon is Jenny Batista).

Baptist Health South Florida is a sponsor and the official medical provider for the event, providing assistance at the various first-aid and medical stations along the full route. Many of Baptist Health’s healthcare professionals take part in the event, either by helping distressed runners or by running part or all of the 26.2-mile course themselves.

Dr. St. John is no stranger to fitness. He has been active in the past with CrossFit, the branded strength and conditioning program that involves “circuit training,” a mix of aerobic exercise, calisthenics (body weight exercises), and weightlifting.

‘They Were My Inspiration’

The team at the Institute’s Cath Lab helps coordinate diagnostic imaging procedures and follow-up treatment for patients who potentially need treatment for narrow or blocked blood vessels. They convinced Dr. St. John to take part in his first endurance running event. He will be at the event’s starting line before dawn to run his first half-marathon.

“They were my inspiration,” says Dr. St. John, of the Cath Lab runners. “A number of the technologists and nurses in the cath lab mentioned in August that they were going to do the half-marathon. They encouraged me to do it because they know that I’ve been involved in fitness activities, such as CrossFit. So, after tossing it back and forth for a few weeks, I decided to jump into the process to train for the half-marathon.”

Dr. St. John soon learned that training for an endurance event is very challenging, especially if you don’t run regularly. The aches and pains associated with “overuse” injuries common with marathon training soon became apparent.

“I felt very anxious about running, even though I was generally fit generally,” says Dr. St. John. “It doesn’t immediately translate. Just because you are perhaps good at baseball, for example, it doesn’t mean you could have the endurance to be a runner or vice versa.”

Most injuries on marathon day tend to be minor. Many runners simply underestimate the need for regular hydration with water or sports drinks that refill the body’s “electrolytes.” Most running injuries commonly involving knees, the feet, the Achilles heel or the hamstring

“Running has a lot to do with your legs and leg muscles and your joints, as well as your endurance,” Dr. St. John says. “So, I learned that lesson very quickly. I thought that this shouldn’t be too hard — and then it was.”

Pacing is Very Important

If you’ve trained properly, with proper hydration and nutrition, you shouldn’t have any major problems on race day, he adds. Pacing yourself and sticking to your training limits are key factors.

“I think pacing yourself is very important,” says Dr. St. John. “I have gone through the training, so far, relatively uninjured, although I did have some pain and discomfort in my Achilles tendon very early in the process. I learned subsequently that this is very common and probably just reflects overuse, or your body is just not accustomed to doing as much as you’re asking it to do.”

A new clinical study released this month made headlines with its conclusion: Marathon training and running a marathon (26.2 miles) for the first time could reverse some effects of aging. The impact of such training can reverse the normal stiffening of the aorta, the main artery in the body, and help reduce blood pressure, researchers said.

“It’s a small study but it does add to the growing body of evidence related to the many ways that exercise is good for your health,” says Dr. St. John. “My advice to those running their first half or full marathon is to start slowly, stick to your training habits and have a plan for event day that includes hydration and nutrition. It’s best when you get into a comfort zone where you may not be the fastest — but you can go for the longest time.”

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