How I Went from Marathon Runner to Heart Attack Survivor

BY Mark Offenbacher        May 26, 2015

The heart beats 70 times a minute, 100,000 times a day, and over 2.5 billion times in an average lifetime. So why don’t we treat it better? 

I’ve been a fitness advocate since I was a teenager, when I started running to shed some unwanted pounds and get myself healthy. Before I knew it, I was like Forest Gump and just kept on running, participating in everything from 5k races to marathons.

I spent nearly 5 years competing in triathlons, completing a host of them at the ½ ironman distance. If you’re not familiar with that race, it’s comprised of a 1.2 mile swim to start, followed by 56 miles on your bike, and for good measure you finish it up with a 13.1 mile run. So, given that I’ve been doing long distance sports for decades, one would think I should have a strong and healthy heart.

Unfortunately, I found out otherwise in March, 2011, when I suffered a heart-attack, which put me in the ER with a 98% blockage in the LAD, better known as "the widow maker." I was told by my doctor that if I had waited much longer, we wouldn’t be having a conversation at all. It’s safe to say, I was missing a major component when it came to heart health and I had some real work to do to become truly healthy again.

So, what was I missing? What are we all missing when it comes to heart health? It’s obvious that we're missing something, because heart disease is the #1 killer here in the US, according to the American Heart Association. For me, it was a lack of understanding. I thought if I could bike 100 miles a week and place in my age group in the local triathlon, I was healthy. But truth be told, I was putting toxins in my body every day by not maintaining a heart-healthy diet, I just didn’t recognize it.

So, what is a healthy diet when it comes to heart health? First, we need to recognize that good heart health is good cardiovascular health. We need those primary arteries that supply the heart with adequate blood flow to be free of obstructions like cholesterol. That’s where I was failing, big time. I had a strong heart muscle that saved my life, but my poor diet had been slowly limiting the blood reaching my heart.

So, what do you do and how do you get your life back on track? Well, for me, first off, I felt grateful that I had survived my heart attack. After that, you need to take stock of your current situation... do you have limitations? How far out of whack is your diet? Do you need to lose weight? These are important questions to get solid answers for, and then lay out a plan for your road to recovery.

This process led me to a great doctor Dean Ornish, who has been leading the way for people of all walks of life, but especially those suffering from cardiovascular disease like me. I got his book that lays out what he calls his spectrum program. I discovered right out of the gate that my diet was way out of balance when it came to carbohydrates and sugars, which led to my being 35 pounds overweight.

Over the next year, I made serious changes, and some were not in line with my cardiologist at the time, but he couldn’t argue with the results. The extra 35 pounds were gone, my blood work was now in the healthy range, and I was nearly medication free, which for me was a major accomplishment. That was 4 years ago and I’m happy to report that I now live in a zone that is balanced when it comes to my diet and the amount of exercise I get, and most importantly I manage the stress in my life with meditation and long hikes in the woods.

So, where are you? What do you want out of life more than anything? I bet it’s to be happy, productive, and fulfilled just like me. You can be that and the world at large needs to you be. You are special, you are needed, and what you have to say and do can only be said and done by you.

I know we have never met, but I do know that at the core we are very similar. You have the strength, the courage, and the ability to be all you dream of being. So go for it, it’s really only a thought away. Be healthy, be strong, and most importantly be you.


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Mark Offenbacher

Mark is a heart attack survivor turned health and wellness coach. Although he spent the majority of his life running and being a fitness advocate, participating and racing in everything from 5ks to triathlons, he still nearly died at 57. Since that time he has dedicated himself to helping others learn how to live healthy and fulfilled lives. He lives in Bend, Oregon, where he enjoys year round outdoor activities. He is a father of three boys and two grandchildren. You can learn more about his journey back to health at

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