Runner of the Month: Dan Pak
If you’re part of the Ottawa running community, or followed #runottawa2019 on socials, you’ve probably enjoyed highly motivational and witty posts from local Ottawa runner, Dan Pak. From countdowns to race weekend, to words of encouragement for participants of all levels, Dan is plugged into the running community and one of its fiercest (and most entertaining) advocates!
Dan’s relationship with running has humble beginnings. “I started running in high school with track and cross country,” he says. “Then I took a long break until about 2013, when I registered with my wife for the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend 5K.”
That year he walked the course to support Boston Strong. By the following year he was hooked. “I decided I could try running the 5K. Then the next year I moved to the Half-Marathon. Then the full Marathon. Then the Voyageur Challenge.”
After an unexpected atrial fibrillation diagnosis in 2018, Dan started to chronicle his journey with a blog he’s affectionately coined AFib Asian. Under a banner that puts even the best/worst Dad jokes to shame (“Finding Fitness even if my heart isn’t in it!”) Dan shares an inside view of his experiences, tracking his progress from his initial diagnosis to his current recovery activities.
“I’m not an ordinary person with a heart condition that needed a stent or angioplasty,” he explains. “Some people may not realize that atrial fibrillation isn’t about being unhealthy, it’s actually an electrical issue.”
The Ottawa Heart Institute describes atrial fibrillation as a condition where the heart beats irregularly. Your heartbeat is regulated by an electrical current, and with atrial fibrillation, those electrical impulses fire in an irregular pattern. Dan was prescribed an anticoagulant (commonly known as a blood thinner) and adopted a new diet.
“Part of my mandated recovery from the Heart Institute is to be mindful of what I eat,” Dan says. “So, I’m trying to eat more vegetables and less red meat. Sadly, I’m allergic to fish, so the suggested traditional Mediterranean diet needs to be modified for me. I still cheat,” he admits.
With a mindset focused on healing, Dan has taken on more activities than most heart patients, incorporating walking, hiking, cycling and of course, running into his daily routine. “I was told to focus on moderate intensity continuous exercise, but not to push myself because my heart was still healing.”
One of Dan’s favourite routes is a 5K hill training route on Blair Road that helps build his legs and endurance. “Hill training is a plus to add to any workout and those who follow me on social media know that this hill is a monster,” he laughs. “I make it my 5K workout to build my legs and endurance. It gets my heart pumping, but of course I take it easy, monitor my heart rate and go at a slower pace than most.”
Dan’s rehab physiotherapist has given him heart rate zones to maintain, and he does high-intensity interval training workouts at Orangetheory Fitness. “I usually recommend everyone do some sort of cross training, as running alone can only carry you so far,” he says, adding that runners can support injury prevention by focusing on different muscles and targeting different parts of the body. For Dan, that meant core training, and lunges with cowbells. “This year, my goal was to rebuild what I lost during my recovery and get back to running.”
And did he ever! Dan not only ran the 10K – his first return to running during race weekend since his diagnosis, but he also served as both a Team Awesome ambassador and as a member of the Xtra Mile Crew.
“This year I decided instead of doing crazy distances, I wanted to help out folks with the Xtra Mile Crew. Some runners need a bit more support on the course – especially if they hit that wall and are slowly boarding the struggle bus!” he says. And who can say no to Dan’s energy?!?
Dan has also been bringing this energy online as an enthusiastic member of Team Awesome for the last two years, encouraging and supporting runners near and far through social media all while promoting Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend.
“It’s been one of the most rewarding experiences,” he says.“I’ve met a lot of amazing people over that time, who I still communicate with and follow on social media. If you want to be a part of Team Awesome, be sure to apply and give back to the running community. That’s the biggest perk!”
Curious? Check out last year’s Team Awesome members and keep an eye on the @OttawaMarathon social media accounts in the fall when applications open.