Heart­felt triathlon come­back

Multisport Mecca - - News - Grant Ed­wards Grant.Ed­wards@apn.com.au

COLD, wet and windy con­di­tions at Gee­long were atro­cious for many. For Casey Munro the half-Iron­man race was per­fect.

Four months ago the 32-year-old Bud­erim elite triath­lete was told he would never com­pete again.

Ad hoc heart is­sues that had shown small signs of trou­ble in re­cent years erupted in 2016.

Casey’s heart was out of rhythm, his heart rate climb­ing 40–50 beats above usual lev­els.

Dur­ing train­ing runs last year his heart rate rose above 200bpm, which he put down to a faulty mon­i­tor.

It wasn’t un­til he went un­der the knife for stom­ach and oe­soph­a­gus is­sues that he found out about the hered­i­tary con­di­tion called atrial fib­ril­la­tion.

“Go­ing from think­ing I’m get­ting a cure… to find out you have this heart prob­lem. I went to see the car­di­ol­o­gist and one of my first ques­tions was whether I could con­tinue do­ing my pro­fes­sion. He said you will never train hard or race again, your best bet is to start look­ing at other things in life,” Casey said.

Ini­tially frus­trated and pes­simistic, Casey sought fur­ther ad­vice from sport­ing spe­cial­ists.

Af­ter even­tu­ally find­ing one of Aus­tralia’s best who spe­cialises in work­ing with elite ath­letes, he was of­fered new hope.

The spe­cial­ist said Casey could re­turn to rac­ing with­out surgery af­ter a four-month lay-off.

There is an op­tion for a pro­ce­dure called an ab­la­tion, where ra­diofre­quency en­ergy is used to de­stroy a small area of heart tis­sue that is caus­ing rapid and ir­reg­u­lar heart­beats – but that is a Band-Aid so­lu­tion.

“We have to find the cat­a­lyst,” Casey said.

“A lot of stud­ies show it could be as­so­ci­ated with stom­ach is­sues, so we are hop­ing that is the case.”

The prob­lems Casey suf­fered be­fore the stom­ach op­er­a­tion make his pre­vi­ous results even more re­mark­able.

Un­able to keep his nutri­tion down due to oe­soph­a­gus is­sues he’s had since birth, dur­ing a race he would vomit 40–50 times af­ter tak­ing gels, bars or elec­trolytes.

Gee­long was the first time he was able to di­gest nutri­tion. He fin­ished in 4:04:37 (23:06 swim, 2:12:12 cy­cle, 1:25:36 run).

“Ev­ery race I es­sen­tially blew up and I just adapted to do­ing races with­out nutri­tion,” Casey said.

“I was al­ways strug­gling in the back end of the run but at Gee­long I didn’t even feel like hav­ing gels and not one bit of lack­ing in en­ergy.

‘I went to see the car­di­ol­o­gist and one of my first ques­tions was whether I could con­tinue do­ing my pro­fes­sion. He said you will never train hard or race again.’

“Now that is fixed it re­ally opens up some pos­si­bil­i­ties of Iron­mans.

“I had zero fu­ture with­out get­ting the op­er­a­tion done.

“It was an easy de­ci­sion. My last bit of my run at Gee­long was my fastest. It never nor­mally hap­pens.

“I have re­cov­ered a lot faster than I nor­mally do… af­ter about an hour af­ter the race I’m nor­mally starv­ing and thirsty.”

Casey spent an ex­tra week, post-race in Gee­long to have a range of tests un­der­taken with a va­ri­ety of doc­tors.

These in­cluded a VO2 max­i­mum test, along with a special ses­sion cy­cling in­side a MRI ma­chine for a com­pre­hen­sive anal­y­sis of his per­for­mance where he fin­ished 14th over­all.

Rapt he was able to keep pace on the swim and stick with the sec­ond bunch on the bike, Casey ex­pected to strug­gle on the run off the back of lim­ited work.

“I had the heart rate mon­i­tor on if any­thing went bad. I just got more and more tired but I ran four-minute kilo­me­tres at a 138-beat aver­age,” he said.

“I knew I was go­ing to come un­stuck some­where in the four hours.

“It’s hard to go from what you are used to do to get­ting your arse kicked and go­ing five min­utes slower than I’m used to, but the ini­tial goal was just to have the heart stay in rhythm.

“I was rapt to just keep pace with the race.”

Help­ing Casey pre­pare for his come­back has been an im­proved work-train­ing bal­ance.

Un­der­tak­ing ex­tra coach­ing with At­las Mul­tisports and also teach­ing swim­ming at Bud­erim Moun­tain State School, the time off gave him time to for­get about the rigours of train­ing and rac­ing.

“When I first got the di­ag­no­sis I was pissed off and an­gry,” he said.

“But you hear of so many cases of these turn­ing into a pos­i­tive and maybe I needed that break to come back fresher and stronger.

“I’ve come back so hun­gry and it’s so easy to train again. It was taken away from me so you are so grate­ful to have it back.

“Now my favourite part is when it gets tough.”


Bud­erim's Casey Munro at the 2014 Noosa Triathlon.

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