Heart attack set Champaign man on road to first full marathon
CHAMPAIGN — Jim Doyle has always been a big believer in goals.
At 57, he's achieved many. He's a husband, father, Boy Scout leader, accomplished information systems technician, and an avid bicyclist, just to name a few.
After a major heart attack in November 2008, however, goals took on a whole new meaning.
The Champaign man has gone from walking a few minutes on a treadmill at 2 mph in Carle's cardiac rehabilitation lab in January 2009 to running the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon today.
Since the heart attack, he's run five half marathons. This will be his first 26.2-mile race.
"The reason I got serious about running is, I thought, 'You got really lucky and you have a gift here. Don't throw it away,'" he said.
Doyle had stayed up late on Nov. 4, 2008, to watch Barack Obama's victory celebration in Grant Park in Chicago. After going to sleep, he woke at 2:30 a.m. Nov. 5 with serious heartburn.
"I went to the bathroom and grabbed a Rolaids and took a drink of water and came back to the bedroom. I thought, 'Boy, those Rolaids didn't really help at all.' My chest really hurt and I realized it hurt in both shoulders. I recognized immediately that it was a classic sign."
He alerted his wife; she called 911; he took an aspirin; and firefighters and paramedics were at his home in minutes.
Heart specialists found five blockages. One artery was 100 percent blocked, two were 90 percent, one was 80 percent and the fifth was 50 percent. That day, he received stents in four of five of the blocked arteries.
He's grateful that the symptoms were obvious.
"It was the classic anvil on the chest and shooting pains in both shoulders. I was lucky because I didn't waste any time."
"In my case, that golden hour, I got my butt to the hospital immediately and gave the cardiologist the best chance to make things better," said Doyle.
But it wasn't an easy recovery. Two weeks after his initial surgery, a clot formed where two of the stents were touching, causing both to collapse.
"I recognized the symptoms and ended up going back in another ambulance and I got the fifth stent. The funny thing is, I don't think I was all that upset or alarmed after the heart attack. But after the stent collapsed, that really rattled me," he said.
In hindsight, Doyle can name a few things that he now realizes should have gotten his attention.
A "casual runner" of two or three 5K's per summer, Doyle said he just didn't feel up to running the Christie Clinic Run For the Health of It in April 2008, something he'd done many times before, so he walked it.
He didn't interpret that as a harbinger of a huge health problem. His mother was dying that year and he was making trips to Chicago just about every weekend between April and June.
"I do know that was a stress trigger — just one more thing piled on."
The day she died in June, he drove to Chicago, made all the funeral arrangements and during dinner, felt such heartburn that he decided to drive back to Champaign that night.
"I just chalked it up to too much caffeine. That might have actually been a small warning sign. That was in June and the heart attack was in November. Those clots didn't appear overnight. They were probably there then," he said.
Two weeks before the heart attack, he went from the floor of the Assembly Hall from his seat at the statistician's table up to the top of C-section to talk with a friend.
"When I got to the top, I was really out of breath. I thought, 'Wow. You really are out of shape,'" he said.
Never one to fret about weight, Doyle said he weighed about 190 at the time. He is 5 feet 11 inches tall. He bicycled to work at Amdocs on Fox Drive from his home in central Champaign frequently, which helped keep his weight in check.
The Monday before the heart attack, he was cycling to work and stopped in at Holy Cross School, where he was a frequent trouble shooter for the school's aging computer lab.
"I didn't feel good so I rode back home and I drove to work," he said.
Rehab and recovery
The day after his heart attack the cardiologist drew Doyle a map of his blockages and talked about the things he should have been feeling.
"I looked at him like, 'Stupid me,'" he said, realizing he had.
He learned in cardiac rehabilitation that the symptoms of a heart attack are even more subtle for women.
The people who have the toughest recoveries, he observed, are those who ignore the warning signs for too long.
With a family history of heart problems — Doyle is the fourth of five siblings to have a heart procedure done — he knows his genes are a potential enemy.
While still hospitalized, his doctor said to him: "You can't do anything about your family history. The only thing you can control are diet and exercise."
"That really sank in. I was ready to hear that lesson," he said.
"Initially after the heart attack, I was too dumb to be afraid. But when those stents failed, it really made me nervous."
Doyle said he got panicky in crowds, fearing the embarrassment that would accompany a health crisis in public. In church, he'd find himself looking around to see if the firefighter trained as an EMT or the emergency room doctor he knew were at the same Mass. At a theater, he chose a back row seat in case he needed a hasty exit.
In February after the heart attack, he went to Peoria to accept a Boy Scout leader award. It was his first trip of any distance and he rode with a parish priest and a married couple who are both doctors.
"I had two doctors and a priest with me. I was pretty sure I could get over there," he said, able to laugh now about what were his very real apprehensions then.
Knowing his fear was irrational, he sought counseling that is offered as part of cardiac rehab and learned how to breathe deeply to relieve panic, a simple yet effective tool for him.
And he got on the treadmill.
"They start you out walking 2 mph, which wasn't hard for me. That's really slow. There was eight weeks of rehab. By the end of it, I was doing a slow jog," he said.
Besides scaling back on responsibilities at work, he was curbing his "bad habit of saying yes" in other parts of his life.
With his prescribed cardiac rehab over, Doyle decided "the easiest, most efficient form of exercise was to run."
He wanted to run a 5K in the spring of 2009, but the doctor nixed that. He did walk it, however.
"By the summer of 2009, I was running pretty regularly. A friend gave me a Nike running chip so I started tracking my distance, which was kind of neat. It just snowballed and the mileage started piling up."
"Now I was running for a reason," he said, adding he was disappointed he wasn't able to run any races in 2009.
So he set a goal to run a race in 2010 and did so with two co-workers from Amdocs.
They all ran the Christie Clinic Illinois half marathon; Doyle finished in 2 hours and 13 minutes.
"When we were done, the other two talked about how hard it was and I remember telling my office mate, 'I'm the guy who had the heart attack and I don't think it was that hard.' He looked at me and said, 'But you trained a whole lot harder than they did.'"
He got his friend's point.
"The last thing I was going to do is get in a race and collapse. I am not that kind of attention seeker. If I was going to do this, I knew in my heart I was going to succeed."
Time for a new goal
Not willing to accept finishing a half marathon at a respectable 2:13, Doyle's next goal was to finish in under two hours.
He missed that by 90 seconds in the 2011 Christie Clinic Illinois half marathon, saying he's not one of those runners who pours it on at the finish line only to collapse.
"To me, that's completely stupid. I have to be able to run in control. I always have nitroglycerine, my inhaler, cellphone, medical history card and ID," he said. "I've never, ever needed any of that, but I never, ever run without that."
Doyle attained his goal in the fall of 2011 during a half marathon in Libertyville, finishing at 1:53:37.
And in 2012, he broke his under two-hour goal at half marathons at both the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon in Champaign in the spring and in Libertyville in the fall.
After that, he was ready to begin training for the marathon. He joined the Second Wind Running Club's training group in January 2012, knowing he couldn't prepare for a marathon on his own.
"It was intimidating to run in January in the cold. After the heart attack — I'm a slow learner — twice I tried to shovel snow. I've only taken nitroglycerine three or four times since the heart attack. Two times were after I tried to shovel snow."
But running in the cold was much easier than shoveling, he said. For good measure, he hooked up with a pace group that included a cardiologist.
He was training for the 2012 Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon when knee problems forced him to quit. But he didn't give up his goal.
And he was back at the training for the marathon early this year.
"In the last six weeks, I've run 18 and two 20-milers," he said, conceding the 18 miles "was not a confidence builder."
Still, he's keeping up well with the 10-minute mile pace group — a tad better than the 2 mph he did on a treadmill just four years earlier.
"My goal is to finish in four hours and 20 minutes. I don't know if I'll be able to do it. My friend who paced me in (a previous half marathon) reminded me that your first marathon is about finishing. The time does not matter."
"I really get that now."
Lining up at start (First Street and St. Mary's Road): 6:30 a.m.
Wheelchair half marathon: 6:58 a.m.
Marathon, relays, half marathon: 7 a.m. (wave starts)
10K run, walk: 7:42 a.m.
27th-mile celebration (Kirby Avenue, between First and Fourth streets): 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Youth race (Memorial Stadium): 2:30 p.m.
Post-race concert (UI Research Park): 5:30 p.m.