by Ron Nageotte
It was just another normal race day morning, Saturday, April 23rd. I had raced and trained on the Escape from Prison Hill ½ Marathon course for years. I had run a 20 mile training run just a week before with Carol and I had completed the Way Too Cool 50k earlier in March. We had also run the Escape from Prison Hill race course twice recently, as training runs. We were ultimately training for the Wild Wild West Marathon and Ultra for Carol’s birthday run in two weeks. I was preparing for the 50k, so the Escape from Prison Hill ½ Marathon ought to be easy.
The Escape from Prison Hill ½ Marathon website boasts that “it is complete with very difficult and rocky terrain, steep hills, and narrow mountain trails”, as are most ultras. It’s a perfect training run for ultra runners. I was reassured that the Prison Hill race should be fairly easy for me when I received my bib number that morning at registration, bib #123. So, I took off at the start, knowing that I’ll never be as fast as I used to be in my younger years but glad to be there
plodding along. I was feeling quite normal, taking in water and electrolytes as usual, even on a cool day.
I reached the Carson River Damn aid station at mile 11, knowing I only had 2 miles to complete and it’s almost totally level now that the tough part was over, with all the major ups and downs behind me. Even though the last 2 miles should be easy, most runners feel they don’t have a lot left at this point. Of course my legs weren’t moving as fast as I wished, so I was pushing, maybe a few hundred feet past the last aid station.
The next thing I knew is that several runners were looking down at me, telling me I had fallen flat on my face and had passed out. I didn’t even block my fall, dirt and blood on my face, broken sunglasses. They insisted I stay down even though I wanted to get up and finish the race. I actually felt bad that the runners took time to help me instead of completing their own race. That’s part of the camaraderie I love about fellow runners! Little did I know at the time, that they aided in saving my life.
The runners relayed messages by yelling back to subsequent runners to the previous aid station that I was down. When Craig arrived from the aid station, to help me into his truck at Mexican Ditch, I realized I wasn’t capable of even standing on my own, let alone finishing the race. Upon arriving at the finish line from the wrong side, a nurse, Patty, was brought to my aid and I was given water, electrolytes, and chips to see if I could come around. She was diligent to ask if I had any symptoms of a heart attack or maybe dehydration to which I had none. I was freezing cold even though Craig had loaned me his down jacket and I couldn’t stop shaking. While I was still in the truck, Carol miraculously crossed the finish line just a few yards away almost running into the truck and quite surprised to see me there. How timely! With little delay, George and Chris supported me to get to Carol’s car and we were off to Carson Tahoe Hospital to get checked out.
Carol helped me into the emergency room. We signed in and had to wait our turn, about 20 people ahead of us. While sitting there, shivering and not even able to sit up, I satirically commented to Carol “What if somebody was having a heart attack or something?” However, once we were called to be sorted by the triage nurse, she did a quick EKG and I was off to another race, but this time to the Emergency Room and it was pure pandemonium! It was like one of those hospital shows with doctors, nurses, assistants, tech guys, all over me! I never had so much immediate attention in all my life, plus I got to squeeze ahead of all those poor people in the waiting line in ER! They were shoving wires, needles, penetrating my body, seemingly helter-skelter, while bombarding me with lifesaving questions and sucking my blood.
Meanwhile, they soon wheeled my gurney into a nearby room for some CT scans of my head to see if I may have had a stroke. Interestingly, they did find that I had two tears to my vertebral artery caused by trauma which poses me subject to a stroke, which according to the neurologist, I may very likely had just experienced. We now know that at least one of these tears was probably from my ski accident that occurred years ago when I skied into a tree (another story). Immediate blood analysis showed my troponin levels were through the roof which indicates a heart attack. So I was admitted and scheduled for a next morning MRI of my head and an angiogram for my heart under the subsequent condition that they might have to open me up for a bypass if an artery is completely blocked.
Next morning it seemed like seconds after going under, they were waking me up and immediately informed me that they only had to do an angiogram, with one stent, and that everything was good. The artery had been 95% blocked. I only spent 2 nights in the hospital and they kicked me out. I have to admit that Carson Tahoe Hospital gave me utmost attention, diligent service, and the staff and nurses were awesome. I now have a neurologist, a cardiologist, a dietician, a plethora of new meds, a new lifestyle, and a newfound appreciation for friends, loved ones and fellow runners. I’m still getting more tests and they are investigating my other arteries that they claim could possibly lead to a stroke, especially my damaged vertebral artery. The meds and diet that I will now be on should hopefully deter that issue. I also have known that I have had high blood pressure for quite some time and procrastinated addressing that issue with a doctor. It was definitely written on my list of things to do. My Bad!
I consider this misfortune to really be a blessing.
What if I were on one of those long runs on the trails by myself? I’m sure I would have been coyote food. What if I wasn’t rescued in a timely manner? What if my artery was completely blocked? What if I did have a stroke, maybe at a later date, because I didn’t know about my vertebral artery? If it wasn’t for this event, I may not have discovered these fixable problems, through modern medicine, of course. This whole event may very well have saved my life. I’m a lucky guy!
My sincere thanks to all those who, in a concerted effort, including the Tahoe Mountain Milers running club and my wife, Carol, assisted to preserve me for future days of running. I have now scratched “seeing a doctor about high blood pressure” from my planner. I have replaced that goal with a new goal to “finish Escape from Prison Hill next year”. Or maybe I should call it Heart Attack Hill! The morning before they took me down for surgery, the neurologist walked in to my hospital room. He threw his arms in the air and exclaimed “I see you’re still alive!” I laughed so hard, I almost had another heart attack. So, I thought “Still Alive” might make an appropriate title for this article but it just dawned on me, this really was an “ESCAPE FROM PRISON HILL”!