Marathon runner’s unexpected challenge

Just because you're fit doesn't mean you won't run into heart trouble. Bob Webster knows that all too well.

Bob had run more than 20 marathons, with a stack of top placings under his belt, when his health suddenly took a dive.

“You never know what’s coming next. Shortly after the City 2 Surf two years ago, my running really turned to custard and I found I had a congenital malformed aortic valve.”

A year after having open-heart surgery, Bob kindly shared his story with us.  

“I ran my first marathon in Melbourne in 1979 when I was 26. The day of that marathon was hot, and I found it extremely hard going. I did 3 hours 13 mins and vowed never to do another.”

But a week later he received a phone call to say he’d won a spot prize to compete in the Honolulu Marathon.

“So I had to keep training! I think I ran about 2 hours 49 in Honolulu and it was fantastic, so on I went!”

By the time he moved to New Zealand in 1983, Bob was running at 2 hours 25 minutes - less than 20 minutes shy of that year’s world record.

But two years ago, and many marathons later, running suddenly became extremely difficult for Bob and he discovered he had a heart murmur. He was sent to a cardiologist and put through a barrage of tests.

He was told he’d need surgery to have a new, man-made aortic valve inserted to replace his own malformed one.

“Immediately after the operation I can remember crying; I felt such a wreck after being so healthy, but I improved rapidly, walking a lot in the hospital, and doing gradually longer walks once I was back at home, and returning to light jogging within a few months.”

Bob, who is 62 and works for Opus International Consultants in Christchurch, was cared for by his wife and daughter and received plenty of other support.

“I had lots of good reading material with good advice on recovery, much of it by the Heart Foundation, plus an excellent rehabilitation programme run at the Christchurch Horticultural Hall.”

He says he enjoyed mixing with others who had been through heart surgery and realised his ride had been relatively smooth compared to other people’s.

“I was also surprised to notice that most of these people were not actually overweight.”

Late last year, just nine months after surgery, Bob was at it again – running crazy distances.

“Together with a bunch of friends, we ran from Christchurch over to some land we own on the tops of Banks Peninsula, via the tracks along the Ports Hills and the Peninsula. It was about 32km with a lot of climbing, and took us a bit over five hours.”

Bob set out to run the Star City 2 Surf race as a Heart Racer last month and raised $550 to support the Heart Foundation. 

“After what I’d been through I thought it was the least I could do. I was so impressed with the health system right through my heart problem, from diagnosis, surgery, rehabilitation, and information and support, and behind all that I know the Heart Foundation plays an important part.”

All of us here at the Heart Foundation would like to warmly thank Bob for sharing his story and raising money for us as a Heart Racer.