INTERVIEW On the road again



Padraig Marrey is pictured at the bottom of the Bowers Walk in Ballinrobe last week.?
?Padraig Marrey is pictured at the bottom of the Bowers Walk in Ballinrobe last week.?Pic: Elizabeth Toher

On the road again

Record-breaker Padraig Marrey is back enjoying life after a health scare

Ciara Galvin

PADRAIG Marrey has completed more challenging feats in his 42 years than most people would hope to do in a lifetime.
He has been involved in competitive cycle races since the age of 14 and has competed in 12 Rás round Ireland cycle races. He holds various records including cycling the 386 miles from Mizen to Malin Head in just over 17 hours, and climbing Croagh Patrick 12 times in 24 hours. The Croagh Patrick Challenge saw the Ballinrobe man and his group awarded the record for the most amount of metres ascended in a 24-hour period, a height equal to that of Mount Everest.
In saying all this, on a fabulous autumn morning last week in Ballinrobe, it may surprise most people that my first question for the super-fit postman was to do with a recent health scare.
It’s 10am on a Wednesday morning and instead of going about his usual work day, which sees the well-known postman rise at 5am to start his day sorting and delivering post in Westport, he’s sipping a coffee in the sun and doting over his thirteen-week-old son Kyle who is fast asleep in the pram beside us. He’s taking it easy, or as easy as someone like him can.
Padraig suffered a minor heart attack one month ago and has since got a stent fitted in his heart and is currently in rehabilitation.

Explaining the run up to the near-fatal occurrence, the cyclist said he was doing a ‘heavy bout of racing’ two weeks beforehand, preparing for the National Veterans’ Championship and had completed a heavy two-day race in Connemara the previous weekend, along with a time trial the day before he began to feel unwell.
“I pushed hard in the time trial, reasonably happy with the time...went home, slept well, got up the following morning and drove to Westport. I cycle from the Mall to the industrial estate [on the Newport Road], but I got as far as the petrol station and the power just went out of my legs,” he explained.
Just thinking he was tired from the previous evening’s time trial event, Padraig continued to his workplace. After breaking into a sweat and feeling nauseous, he continued to work, still not feeling ‘great’, but had no pain in his chest. At first he thought he had food poisoning, but as the father of one had suffered a strong heart attack in 2008, he decided to take some aspirin ‘just in case’.
“I just about got through the day work wise and said ‘I better go to the doctor this is a bit unusual’ and at this stage I began to get a pain from right to left [across his chest]. I told the doctor my symptoms and he put me on an ECG and that showed I had some sort of a heart trauma. He sent the results to Galway and they wanted me there within an hour, but because that wasn’t possible I went to Castlebar, where blood tests showed I definitely had a heart trauma,” recalled the Ballinrobe man.
Though there is history of cardiac disease in Marrey’s family, with his mother passing away from a massive heart attack and his father having had a valve replacement and a triple bypass, tests didn’t reveal cardiac disease, and initial tests didn’t show any problems in the heart, in fact his arteries were clear and larger in diameter than most people’s.
After many tests the problem was eventually found to be Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD), and according to Marrey’s doctors it is ‘exceptionally rare’ and is difficult to diagnose before a heart attack, as there are no warning signs. And although it can cause a life-threatening heart attack, SCAD patients don’t typically have other heart disease risk factors. Thirty two hours later a small stent was fitted in the artery and Marrey has been ordered to ‘keep things quiet’ for the next eight weeks.
According to Marrey, research on SCAD is ‘very poor’, but a lot of the research indicates that a lot of cases of Sudden Adult Death Syndrome could have came from SCAD.
“Generally it’s fatal, so I’m kind of lucky to be alive,” said Marrey, adding that it is usually a ‘very strenuous effort’ such as lifting a very heavy weight over your head that would bring it on.
Though Padraig’s doctor said cycling the two mile route to work that day brought about the SCAD, Marrey disagrees and said research shows that there is no case of people doing aerobic exercise having a greater risk of having it.
However, thinking back to 2008 when he had a similar occurrence, he remembers having ‘really good form’ in a cycle race, and having the same kind of ‘form’ in the days before last month’s episode and said ‘maybe I revved myself too much’.
“Maybe I put too much pressure on. I usually go 24/7 one year to the next without really taking a proper long break. From January I go from road biking to adventure racing, to mountain biking to cyclo-cross, to some running and then I do classes and that’s on a yearly basis and that’s kind of been for six years in a row,” Padraig explained.

Taking a step back
Cardiologists have told Marrey the opposite of what they usually tell people with cardiac problems, and instead of taking up exercise he has been told to step back from his normal routine. What does that mean for someone who has been racing for 27 years?
“This time it seems they don’t want me to go back. I’ve got away with it twice, I mightn’t get away with it a third time. They’re basing it on old research. I’m going to take a break for awhile and reassess and do a lot more research. It’s not that I want to keep competing but I don’t want to be told I can’t do this and can’t do that. You can’t go around living in cotton wool either,” said the former Gaelforce winner.
Although he misses participating in local events such as last week’s Mask Swim Challenge and various races, Marrey is busying himself organising these events and enjoying family time with partner Mary, and little Kyle.
Marrey admits he is itching to get back to normal but he’s not taking any chances, using heart monitors and gauging what percentages of his heart rate to cycle at, and has been told that this will not do any damage to his heart.
Marrey said he is looking at things ‘simplistically’ and compares his health set back to  ‘bursting a radiator pipe in a car’.
The cycling fanatic doesn’t underestimate the seriousness of his condition and said that the key thing for people is that if you feel ‘out of the norm’ don’t leave it. He also warned that signs of a heart attack aren’t just pains down the arm and can be from the stomach to the chin.
“If you are going for a check up, get checked thoroughly, regardless of how fit you look, because you don’t know, there could be a pipe ready to go.”