Mike Sandrock: ‘Haywire Heart’ a warning to aging athletes

Mike Sandrock

Lennard Zinn and Flagstaff Mountain are two Boulder icons.

On a summer’s day in 2013, the two went head to head, as they had many times in the past. Often during his years as a national team member and later as a competitive age-group cyclist, Zinn would conquer the mountain on one of his many rides up it.

This time, however, the mountain won.

Zinn, attempting to set a record on “Strava” (an app that lets cyclists and runners post and compare times on different courses), felt his heart skip a beat. He cut his ride short.

If you go

What: “The Haywire Heart” with Lennard Zinn and Chris Case

When: 7:30 p.m. May 9

Where: Boulder Book Store, 1107 Pearl St.

Cost: $5 (deducted from cost of book purchase)

More info: boulderbookstore.net

That night, he ended up in Boulder Community Health’s cardiac unit, beginning a journey of discovery that led to his new book, “The Haywire Heart,” co-authored with VeloNews managing editor Chris Case and cardiologist John Mandrola.

Zinn was diagnosed with an arrhythmia (an abnormal heart rhythm), which is, as he and Case found out, not uncommon among older endurance athletes who have a lifetime of hard training behind them.

Such is the case for Zinn, well-known internationally for the custom bicycles he has been making since 1982, and for his technical writing for Boulder-based VeloNews.

Response to the book has been strong, including a full page review in Ultrarunning magazine, according to Dave Trendler of publisher VeloPress. “It is selling very well. It seems there are a surprising number of athletes who have had a brush or full-blown, head-on problem with ‘athlete’s heart’ and arrhythmia.”

Yes, it is surprising. Many of us grew up with the notion that if some exercise is good, more is better. And exercise is indeed not only good, but great for us, as the authors carefully point out.

The problem comes, as Zinn discovered, when cyclists, runners or other endurance athletes such as cross country skiers — as one of the book’s case studies shows — overdo it.

Which leads to the surprising subtitle of the “The Haywire Heart:” “How too much exercise can kill you, and what you can do to protect your heart.”

Certainly an attention-grabber.

“The Haywire Heart” exceeded my expectations. It is the most important sports book I’ve read since Chris McDougall’s “Born to Run” shattered running shoe misconceptions. “The Haywire Heart” shatters another misconception, the mystique of invulnerability endurance athletes often have.

The authors take us inside the human heart, laying bare the plumbing and electrical workings that make the muscle a wonder of the universe. That is the first lesson I took away from my reading: a…

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