Marathon Running and DVT

I always joke about how marathon training has never gone smoothly, from injury to illness, break ups and break downs, there’s always something that throws a spanner in the works. That’s life though right? There’s always something happening that needs to be overcome. Since marathon training has taken up at least a third of my life for the last 4 years – two thirds for all but one year – then surely marathon training is life and things going wrong is to be expected?

And this year is no exception, although this year is perhaps the first time it could have been potentially life threatening –ok dramatics over! Let me explain…

On Sunday morning I woke with a sore calf, a strange cramping pain. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, although it was a little odd, as it felt fine the day before and it was two days since my last run. When it didn’t ease off as the day went on I started to get a little concerned that I might have pulled something, fears of muscles tears and damaged ligaments sent me into a panic. By Monday night the pain was getting worse and I kept getting pins and needles in my foot, however I just dismissed this as being because I was holding it funny/ not using it properly.

After failing to get a doctor’s appointment, I called work’s private insurance helpline, hoping I’d be able to get a quick physio appointment, instead the doctor I spoke to insisted I went to see the out of hours doctor that evening. The person I spoke to from NHS direct also seemed just as concerned and said I needed to see the doctor within the next two hours and booked me in for an appointment at the minor injuries clinic.

The appointment was at 20.45, the doctor had barely looked at me before he was referring me to the CDU at St. James’ A&E. saying I should go right away and that they were expecting me. When we arrived at St. James’ the nurses advised me it could be a very long wait and it was quite unusual to be referred to them this late at night.

The reason they were so panicked was because, although despite the odds being against it: being so young, not being overweight or a smoker and not having been on a long haul flight in over 2 months, some of my symptoms would suggest the possibility of deep vein thrombosis – Blood clots, which could apparently be potentially fatal.

After the initial assessment with the senior nurse she reassured me that it was very unlikely, my leg wasn’t particularly swollen and I didn’t fit any of the usual criteria but they were concerned that my left foot was a lot colder than the right so they wanted to do a blood test to makes sure. I’m not the greatest fan of needles and I don’t have the most prominent veins! It took several failed attempts to get any blood out of me!

After a long wait for the results, much to everyone’s surprise the blood tests came out positive. Apparently whatever it was they were looking for was three times higher than the normal level! Although this wasn’t a full diagnosis it was now 2am in the morning and they wouldn’t be able to do the ultra sound scan to confirm it was blood clots until 9am the next morning, so after a painful injection of anticoagulants I was sent home for a few hours rest.

The next morning I was back out the hospital but this time without Jim to hold my hand! The ultra sound confirmed I had blood clots in my calf.  5 hours, another lot of blood tests, another painful injection and a dose of warfarin later I was sent home again and told to come back yet again in the morning for more tests and drugs.

Whenever I tried to ask about training and running the doctor or nurse would pull an awkward face and say they weren’t the best to advise and the doctor would speak to me tomorrow. I tried not to worry too much about it until I had all the information, but it’s hard not to think the worst and get upset.

The next day after another 6 hours of tests including an ECG and a chest X-ray, the doctor decided that the blood clots were ‘unprovoked’ after not being able to find an underlying issue that could be causing them. Good news as it meant I wasn’t at risk from developing more in other parts of my body.

The bad news is he blamed it on being a distance runner, sometimes I think doctors quite often use distance running as a scape goat for certain things, the amount of times doctors have told me I won’t run again after various injuries is just silly. I will need to do some more research on this one but I think in this instance I might have to admit that doctor knows best… So apparently when you run over a certain distance you become dehydrated, which reduces the blood plasma ‘thickening’ your blood,  a higher level of fitness also means an increase in your red blood count and oxygen-carrying capacity, which can also increase the thickness of the blood. Combine this with also having a very low resting heart rate – mines 50, which is usually a good thing – and the blood can form blockages in the veins – hmmm not 100% convinced…

So what happens now, what does it all mean? Well I’m not allowed to run again until the pain has gone away, which will be when my body has broken down the blood clots, this can take anything from a week to months, I’m banking on it being a week! Two weeks out of training is recoverable anything more would mean major training plan adjustments.

I have to take anticoagulants for 3 months which I’m told will also effect training, training will be harder and I will tire more easily and until the clots have completely gone from my left calf it will also fatigue a lot quicker, as the blood supply is restricted.

I will also need to carry water on every run! I will permanently have a water bottle in my hand whenever I put my trainers on. You have my permission to shout out me if you ever spot me without it! I’ll probably have to add 15 minutes on to my finishing time to allow for portaloo stops at London! And of course there’s also the worry of going too far the other way and the risk of hyponatraemia.

Runhelenrun Portaloo.jpg

I’m hoping that London is still on, depending on how the next few weeks go. I think I will need to re-evaluate my goals, I think a good for age time of 3.45 may turn out to be a little ambitious this time round, the number one goal for now is to get running again and be marathon fit in time for the race.

So what about the future? It’s not the first time I’ve had to seriously consider whether an upcoming marathon would need to be my last, but this time perhaps it really ought to be. My 8th and last marathon? In the very least I think I will be scaling down the mileage after London for some time. I’ve got a 10km PB that needs chasing for a start…

I don’t want to turn you all into paranoid hypochondriacs but here are a few things signs of DVT to watch out for. A pulmonary embolism is often caused by a blood clot travelling up from one of the deep veins in your legs to your heart and lungs. Make sure you go and see a doctor straight way if you are worried:

  • A muscle cramp that doesn’t let up in time that can feel worse when standing or walking
  • Swelling in one leg
  • Bruise or tenderness in lower leg or behind the knee
  • The sore area is warm to the touch

4 thoughts on “Marathon Running and DVT

  1. Pingback: Ultra News, Thurs, Feb 11 - UltraRunnerPodcast: Ultramarathon News, Podcasts, and Product Reviews

  2. twopointzeroone

    Thanks for sharing your story. I have a similar one. Have to ask what kind of doctor diagnosed you/gave you that advice? I had very different treatment/follow up advice – would recommend asking for a referral to a haemotologist.


    1. You are not the first person that has questioned why I’ve not had more blood tests/specialist treatment. I was treated by the acute medical assessments ward at St. James. I’ve since had a follow up appointment and that doctor contradicted the first two and blamed other medication I was taking as the trigger. How does what you have been told differ? I’ve had the medication extended and have an appointment to go back and have it reviewed next month.


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