The curse of the clot

Posted on January 27, 2013

UntitledMy friend and fellow runner, Angeline, posted an article about runners and blood clots on Facebook recently.  It immediately attracted my attention. Why?  Because just a few months back when I was in Australia, I woke up one night with a huge dull ache in my calf and spent the next 12 hours, under the care of a wonderful guy I know from a previous race in Nepal, at Sydney’s ER unit.  Just days before, I’d run Borneo’s TMBT Ultra in Sabah and followed it with a pretty long period being immobile. 

Here’s what you need to know:

The stats & facts 

The key is to be aware as you train, travel and race. About 85% of air travel thrombosis victims are athletes. A scary statistic much assisted by our low heart rates, low blood pressures and fatigued / sore post-race muscles. Altitude can also increase coagulation factors … in my case, most of my races are at altitude.

The causes 

Other circumstances that further increase the risk factors for athletes developing clots include:

  • Inactivity Immobility is on the top of the list for risky behaviours for clotting. If you’ve got a long flight post race, or anytime in fact, get up every hour or two for a wander around and wear compression socks / tights
  • Dehydration It decreases the plasma in our blood and increases the viscosity, making it thicker. Athletes are often likely to be dehydrated anyway what with training and racing never mind excessive post race hydration of the vino variety
  • Fitness With fitness, our body increases the red blood count and oxygen-carrying capacity, which can increase the thickness of the blood
  • Genetic traits and medications can also play a role

 The symptoms 

The immediate signs to look out for include:

  • The feeling of muscle cramp that doesn’t let up in time and feels worse when standing or walking
  • Swelling in one leg (versus both as is normal in flight or driving)
  • Bruised or tenderness in your lower leg or behind the knee

And the more serious ones are:

  • Unexplained, sudden shortness of breath
  • Rapid breathing
  • Cramp in your side or chest that radiates to your shoulder
  • Painful breathing
  • Fever
  • Coughing up blood
  • Feeling light-headed and dizzy or fainting

The strategies 

  • Perform leg extensions every 15 minutes
  • Get up and out and move around every one to two hours
  • Hydrate with electrolytes
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Be aware of your medications and your family’s health history
  • Wear compression socks or tights

To sum up 

Ultimately, as runners I’d say we tend to be a pretty self-aware bunch but it’s not enough to just pick up the signals. You need to act on them.  If your gut is sending you a sign, listen up. If you go to a doctor or the ER, insist on an ultrasound. If any of the symptoms above apply, do not assume it’s nothing. Never feel silly either in case you’re over-reacting.  Your insistence could save your life … and leave you having the last laugh. The curse of a clot is a very real risk amongst us runners and it’s up to us as individuals to be informed and listen to our bodies.

In my case, all was well in the end but scares happen for a reason and I’ll certainly be more cautious in future. Hindsight is always a beautiful thing and when I look back, I finished the race and spent the afternoon stationary in bed watching movies with my sister.  We then hit an exceptionally long happy hour then I endured a long jeep journey and three flights.  Silly me but as we all know, experience is the best teacher out there …


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