|Born with a mystery heart ailment, Robert|
Chasen was proud to win an American
Heart Association race in Boston (years ago).
When did you start running, and why? April of 1969. I started running in 9th grade if you don’t count all my back of the pack last place efforts in gym class in grade school and junior high. For some reason, I started moving to a middle pack and then towards the front.
Early inspiration? When I was six years old, I missed half of first grade because I was diagnosed with rheumatic fever and mitral valve murmur. My parents were instructed to give me preventative antibiotics for the rest of my life and to not stress my heart. Later on this was found to be incorrect as medical technology improved, but as a child I was forced
into a sedentary lifestyle meaning no physical activity.
I did a lot of Venus Paradise Color by Number pictures and read a lot of astronomy and geology books. To cope with not being allowed to play sports, I imagined I was playing baseball with Pete Rose by bouncing a ball off the back steps of our house. With each passing day, I threw the ball harder, running, diving and lunging for the increasingly errant bounces. Soon, the imagined game became real effort. My play became real exercise and I lived!
|A more recent race photo|
How much did you run per week in your peak years? Now? I ran 80-90 miles per week for much of my 35-year career. Now I do 40 miles per week.
Your training years ago? I did a lot of lactate threshold intervals and tempo runs. My typical speed workout was five repeat miles in 4:40 to 4:45 range with a 440-yard jog rest interval.
Training now? Very different! My mystery heart problem turned out to be bicuspid aortic valve with ascending aortic aneurysm, which was discovered by my primary care physician at the request of an oral surgeon extracting a wisdom tooth. After an echocardiogram (during which the echo tech kept asking me if I had shortness of breath; felt light headed, or had chest pressure /pain during the test) and a cardiac catheterization test where they stick a wire in your wrist up to your heart (and by the way found perfectly clean coronary arteries), and a CT scan, the results were that the valve was heavily calcified and that I had ascending aortic aneurysm and needed open heart surgery.
I was very fearful of surgery because no one in my immediate family had ever survived more than two weeks after open-heart surgery. Thank goodness the surgery on December 15, 2017 went reasonably well. After a few complications that hospitalized me again, I returned to a good healing course. I started running at 10 weeks post-surgery on the advice I gleaned from an international organization called Cardiac Athletes. It is like starting all over again after open heart surgery. Intensity is increasing as I heal physically and mentally.
What were some of your memorable races? My most memorable race just might be my worst. It was March 25 of this year, a little over three months after my open-heart surgery. I was at a race where I am a three-time past overall winner and have been participating for 37 consecutive years. The race director was going to make me an honorary finish line official, but my Pete Rose inner voice kicked in and I decided to run the race to keep my streak alive. The course is a 10K called Cohasset by the Sea but this year it was shortened to 5 miles due to construction on the course. I managed to complete it in 42:06 (an 8:26 pace) on wobbly legs and a slowly healing heart.
Another memorable race is the Rhode Island Marathon in 1997. It is a point-to-point course and that year 24 of the 26 miles which follow the coast were run during a Nor’easter. I ran 2:42 in that race at age 43. Here's the full story.
Another one is the WAVA world masters cross-country championships in July 1995. Here's the full story. My fastest race was a 10K in Carver, MA where I ran 30:26 in 1982 at age 28.
|Chasen in his 40s|
Has your diet/weight changed through the years? Very little. I started out at 125 pounds. Now I am more like 140. I seem to like the foods that science say is good for you, i.e. lean proteins, yogurt and cheese as my dairy, fresh vegetables mostly whole grains, occasional glass of craft beer or wine.
Cross training? The closest I come to other exercise is hiking to mineral collecting locations when I am on vacation.
Social running? The social aspects of running have become more important as I age and with my brush with death. I lost five of my six closest friends in a six-month period late 2009 to mid 2010. I lost two other friends to sudden cardiac events. The Cardiac Athletes group has been great at replenishing my social pipeline.
Obstacles along the way? I have had my injuries here and there and addressed them as clinically and as thoroughly as I would with my patients, which allowed me to always get back out there quickly. My longest and toughest layoff was the open heart surgery.
A favorite quote? "There are only two tragedies in life--one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it." Oscar Wilde.
Running philosophy? Running may not add years to my life, but I sure know it adds life to my years.
Biggest lessons learned from running? Your health and your friends matter more than your wealth and your status.