I could feel the burn again on a recent ride. Most of us sporty cyclists live for the burn in our training. We embrace it, recover from it and are strengthened by it. It’s a common part of almost all of our rides.
But this burn was different. I was doing one of my three-times-weekly roller rides – my winter staple – and was in the middle of a three-minute interval when I felt an unusual burning sensation in the area of my trachea.
I assumed it was some form of lung infection. Two days before, I had done 30-second intervals and everything was fine. But this sensation didn’t feel right, and being somewhat of a cycling masochist but not total idiot, I cut the ride short by half.
I took the next day off, expecting a lung infection or a cold to manifest itself. Nothing.
The burning kept coming back
Over the following week, I attempted to ride the rollers every second day – but the same burning feeling came back each time. As an alternative, I decided to go for a walk after one of those aborted sessions; the burning sensation came on after two blocks. I turned around and went home.
The pattern was always the same – I’d get the burn after a moderate amount of effort. When I stopped, it would go away within two minutes.
I was perplexed by this unexplained sensation, because I’ve always felt like I’ve kept in pretty good shape: At age 68, I’ve been enthusiastically riding (racing and training) since 1962 (54 years?). And while I don’t race anymore, I still do intervals on the road all summer and intervals on rollers in the basement for five months of the winter. It’s just a way of life. Until now, I’ve been totally healthy and I don’t take any drugs.
“I think you have angina!”
My concern drove me to the Doc’s office. I told him my story. His immediate reaction to my “burning sensation in the area of the trachea when exercising hard” was immediate: “I think you have angina!”
Until that moment the word “angina” never entered my brain as a possible explanation for what I was feeling.
Being a retired firefighter/first responder trained in CPR and de-fibrillation, I’m well aware of the “denial” stage that most people go though when faced with potential heart problems. But something can’t be denied if it was never thought of in the first place. The burning sensation that I felt didn’t fit any symptoms that I was aware of.
And until the sudden onset of this strange malady, I’ve felt perfectly fine. Heck, I’ve been riding hard my whole life with no break in five decades, and I’d be well aware if something (apart from general old age) was slowing me down. Nothing was – until this. I’d already ridden rollers thirteen times in the previous month, and there was no indication of any problem.
So when the Doc made his announcement, you could have knocked me over with a feather. Me? Angina? I was shocked.
But I’m also well aware that fitness doesn’t equal health.
I was sent for immediate testing
The Doc sent me immediately for a blood test, an ECG and a stress test. Not much showed up in the stress test even though I had the burning sensation at 101 pulse at the first “ramp up.”
As nothing was conclusive, my doctor has made me an appointment for an angiogram as the next step. I’m expecting that something will show up there. It has to. I’m hoping if there is an artery blockage, it can be fixed there and then with a stent.
Until then, I have to behave like a semi-invalid – no exercising, no lifting, no snow shoveling, no roller riding. And for someone who treats every physical thing as an excuse for a workout, that isn’t easy.
I’ll do a follow-up story after the angiogram to let you know how it went, and what the next steps are for me.
Mike Tierney writes The Wheel Builder column for RBR. He is a life-long cyclist from the UK who has spent most of his adult life in Canada. Mike has been a passionate home wheel builder for the past 52 years and specializes in taking the mystery out of wheels and wheel-building for Newbies. Hundreds of cyclists have built their first wheels with online help from his wheel building website, MikeTechInfo.com. Send your questions about wheel building and wheel maintenance to Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click to read Mike’s full bio.