Running And Competing With A Pacemaker

I’m Wayne Johnson and you might have seen me on some of David’s training videos at I am the other Headblader working out hard. I’ve been running for 32 years, and I’m 52 years old now. I’ve always been pretty competitive. I’ve competed in the 5k to the half marathon. Although my favorite of late has been the 5k and 10k. My personal record is 16:40 5k and 34:45 for the 10k. This last season was 18:30 5k and 38:30 10k.

I began noticing changes in my body and mind 8 years ago. There were times I would feel light headed and I feel like I was going to pass out. So I would take a couple days off from my training as I thought I was over training. This probably went on for at least a couple of years. It got to the point that I would feel these episodes coming on and move closer to the ground in case I would pass out.

There were other symptoms too, as I thought I was getting Alzheimer’s as I had difficulty remembering anything – very forgetful. My hands were always cold and I would wake up in the middle of the night choking. I’ve always had a slow resting heart rate (30bpm), but how slow needed to be tested as there were times I would almost fall asleep while standing up as my heart rate dropped to a dangerous level.

I work in a hospital as a radiologic technologist as I x-ray during surgery. One of the doctors always wanted me to wear a pace maker. But she being a anesthesiologist, I felt that she did not have the experience as a cardiologist who knew about the efficient athlete’s heart.

One day at work  the light headedness came on strong. So I asked one of the nurses if she would check my blood pressure and the anesthesiologist overheard me and volunteered to give me a thorough check. She hooked me up to a 12 lead ECG machine and the blood pressure cuff. To her dismay, my heart was pausing between beats a few times for 18 seconds! A pacemaker is suggested if your heart pauses for 2-3 seconds. She proceeded to tell me I should go to the emergency room. They put me in a wheel chair and the director of the operating room gave me a little ride to the ER. The doctor of the ER was looking at my ECG strip and thought I should have passed out.

After all this, I was set up to see a cardiologist. I was instructed to wear a heart rate monitor for a week to observe my heart activity. The monitor showed I had a resting heart rate of 30bpm, a sleeping heart rate of 17bpm, and up to 9 pauses of the heart per day that lasted up to 22 seconds! I was told that the only reason I did not pass out or worse was due to my efficient heart and the reason I was choking in my sleep was probably due to the reflex reaction to again start my heart when it had a long pause.

So I have had this pacemaker around 6 years now, and I take no medication except running endorphins. It was mentally hard at first to train all out and push my workouts. People think I am not supposed to be a good runner because I have a
pacemaker. However, I have competed well the last couple of years and plan to participate in the 2011 Senior Games.

I have had many inquiries from other athletes about my pacemaker and their concerns about their own slow heart rate. So even though you have an efficient heart today – keep a watchful eye on the symptoms of a dangerously low heart rate.  I am here to tell you that I am a living example that a pacemaker does not mark the end of your competitive days. Keep training and keep believing – the body is amazing!


Posted in Author - Wayne Johnson, Topic - Training.


  1. the heart is an amazing thing. wayne, you are amazing. you have a strong heart, strong body and mind. a great training partner to O’Meara. See you soon. On the track!

  2. I ran for about 17 years and at 52 had almost exactly the same performance as you. I alway had a very low resting heartbeat and the day before a marathon and after a few rest days measured 29 BPM. My max heartbeat was low also and never got as high as 220 minus age. I have not run daily since I was 55 and am 82 know. Over the past 10 years or so I would notice my heartbeat at rest would be erratic with sometimes missing a beat or two. Last year I had a sudden cardiac arrest. I went 30 minutes without a heartbeat, but received very advanced CPR. I got a quad bypass and pacemaker. I feel great and am walking very briskly and jogging nonstop for a couple of miles. My question is how far can I push and improve with the bypass and pacemaker? My doctor reset my upper level a 125BPM which is not terribly low as I have always had a max HB 10 to 15 beats below 220-age. For me that would be 138 less my normal 10 to 15 or 128 to 123. My question is how far can I go and should I vet the doctor to raise my pacemaker a little more.?

  3. Hi Wayne,

    I am 69 and just got a pacemaker in Oct 2023
    I had same symptoms as you had, light headed, feeling dizzy, fainting……..etc…..until
    my heart blocked at 30………..
    I am also, a runner, swimmer, weight training………. I am afraid of pushing myself too much….
    I would love if you could talk to me………to trust myself and to keep training……….. Today I did 20 minutes on the Treadmill……my pulse was 87…..( I am set at 130 with my pacemaker) Tks

  4. Thanks for your input. I am much older than you but ran very similar time at 52. I have basically walked long distances for the past 10+years.
    About 3 months ago I had a sudden cardiac arrest and went without a heartbeat for 30 minutes. I received very rigorous and professional CPR from my son and DIL, he a neurosurgeon and she a neurologist. As a result I lived through it and have no brain or heart damage. Every cardiologist that came to visit me said I was one in a million! I received a quad bypass and pacemaker. I started walking while still in the hospital and have continued. The past month I have started jogging and even increasing my speed to an old man’s run. I feel I am ripping but only running at a 12 minute pace when sprinting! I hope to get down to a 10 minute pace
    I will be 83 in 4 months so for the age it will be acceptable.

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