Heartfelt triathlon comeback
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.