Monthly Archives: July 2013

The wrong trousers

Wallace scores well on the trouser scale!

When was the last time you took up an activity, a hobby or a past-time that required you to buy some new trousers?

I think this might be a solid, independent, international measure of how adventurous you are; measured in “trousers”, calculated as the average number of pairs of trousers you’ve purchased for a new, specific purpose over the past 10 years*.

If you’re anything like me, you will score low on the trouser scale.  I can actually only think of a single addition to my collection in recent years – some long shorts bought to enable a brief tennis career in Bahrain (0.1t).

That was before today… today I took a leap forward with the arrival of some cycling attire (0.2t).

I realise I’m slightly naïve as far as cycling technology is concerned, but I hadn’t appreciated how painful and complicated cycling can be…

A disaster waiting to happen!

The complications are everywhere… gear ratios, pedal torque, wattage, ride height, on-board computers, tyre pressures, cadence, training regimes, etc. etc. etc.  I definitely wouldn’t describe it as “plug and play”.  More a plug, fiddle, check the plug, fiddle some more, adjust, and eventually, if you’re lucky you get to play… and that’s where the pain starts!

I am recovering from a Heart Attack.  I am not yet even close to being able to think about being ready for the level of exertion serious cyclists might “enjoy” on a regular basis.  Instead, I am trying to build a level of base fitness from which I can start to build in due course, keeping my heart-rate below my upper limit of 118 bpm at all times!

No!  So far, for me the pain hasn’t come from burning thighs or lungs screaming out for air.  For me, the pain has come from my hands, my feet and my derrière… and it’s really not very comfortable!

No… not quite yet!

So far I have not been able to sit on the bike for more than 20 minutes without taking a break.  My hands hurt from leaning on them, my (borrowed) shoes are half a size too small, cramping my bug toes, and my behind, just hurts.  Well, sometimes it hurts, sometimes it goes numb… I’m not sure which is more disconcerting!

Training is not enough… preparing for training was required… hence my new trousers.  I have dug deep into my pockets to invest in gloves, shoes and the shiny new padded trews.  Hopefully the new additions will transform my cycling experience to whole new level… of comfort!!!

So the increase in my trouser count is less a result of my adventurousness and more a matter of medical necessity.  I should point out that so far I haven’t even left the comfort of my own garage.  Heaven only knows what I’ll encounter when I hit the open road!!!

*  Multiple pairs of trousers for the same purpose count as one.

Don’t start the day in a rush!

Wake up! Wake up! Get a move on!

Before I had my Heart Attack my day started in a rush.  My goal was to get to work as quickly as possible.  Time was money.  Every second counted.

I didn’t do breakfast.

I’d grab a coffee (and “back in the day”, a cigarette) as a “wake me up” when I arrived at the office.

I realise now that this set the rhythm of my day.  I was rushing from the minute the alarm went off.  This typically lasted until I’d finished work, usually a couple of hours after arriving home.


A healthy and happy start to the day!

I now have a new routine, enforced by the need to take my morning medication.  After that, I sit and eat.  I don’t eat anything special, fruit, yoghurt, wholemeal toast, cereal, etc. but it really sets me up for the day.  The time I take to sit and eat, just a few minutes, allows me to gather my thoughts, helping establish a more sustainable rhythm for the day.

A recent study published American Heart Association journal emphasises the importance of a healthy start to the day.  Men who reported missing breakfast had a 27 per cent higher risk of heart attack or death from coronary heart disease than those who reported eating a morning meal.  (Click on the picture below to read more).

Breakfast, but not the healthiest option!


Another beautiful day in sunny Scotland!  After Rehab, I headed out for  couple of meetings.  The girls are away for a night, “sightseeing” (shopping!) in Glasgow, so I packed my fishing rod… just in case!

As a complete novice, I headed to the only place I know for Mackerel.  When I arrived, Inverbervie bay was packed.  There were up to 6 people trying their luck in the tranquil North Sea.

Apparently the fish were “flying in” yesterday evening.  Not so much this afternoon!


Another beautiful day in Aberdeenshire!

Lady luck was on my side!

I caught a fish.  More than that… I caught fish!  Very exciting!

I’m still eating a lot of fish.  Mackerel is an oily fish, high in Omega-3.  Good for me (and you)!  So I bagged them up for tea.

Mackerel Haul

Today’s Mackerel Haul!

There’s something satisfying about catching, gathering and / or growing your own food.  I don’t do it very often, but I do think it makes you appreciate what’s on your plate, and think about where it comes from.

It’s fresh and healthier too, the absolute opposite of processed food.

Having bagged four fish (a single and a very exciting treble that was almost a quadruple, for a second or two at least… the one that got away!), it was way too much for me to eat on my own so I bagged and froze two (bait for later in the year!).

Having cleaned and prepared the fish (it’s OK, I made sure I cleaned up behind myself!), it was time to select a recipe. Unfortunately I couldn’t find anything that took my fancy so I decided to go free-form… Mackerel stuffed with crushed garlic, fresh ginger, lemon wedges and freshly ground pepper.  Baked in a hot oven for about 20 mins.   You might want to stuff yours with something else!

The finished article

A little something I put together earlier.

I served mine with broccoli and green beans that had been carefully gathered from the Supermarket, but you can serve yours with whatever you like!

The fish was tasty (nothing mush to do with me!) and surprisingly filling (lots of good meat).

I definitely prefer catching to fishing!

It’s never too soon

No-one ever thinks they will get impacted by Heart Disease.  We live in blissful ignorance until one day, if they’re lucky, they get a “warning”, a “wake up call”.

Many aren’t that lucky.

In 2010, over 45,000 people under the age of 75 died of Heart Disease in the UK.

That’s certainly how it was for me.  I was bullet-proof.  Until I wasn’t.

Once a week, the Cardiac Rehabilitation sessions have an hour of education.  I consider this the “Community Service” session, where I do the time for the crimes I’ve committed in the past.  The same crimes as many people, but I got caught!

This morning we talked about the anatomy of the heart.  We covered much of the same ground when I was in hospital (see “You are what you eat“).  I’ve had 5 weeks to think about what I could or should have asked… our questions and concerns were on a completely different level back then.

What I learnt today…


  • The reason why atheroma builds up in some arteries and not others is not known
  • The build up can start early (in your teenage years)
  • Once it’s there, there’s nothing that can be done to reverse the build-up of atheroma
  • It can only get worse, not better (drugs can help reduce the associated risk, but don’t reverse the build-up either)
  • The only way of assessing the build-up is by performing an angiogram which itself carries a risk of 1 death in 1,000 from Heart Attack or Stroke
  • Prevention is the best strategy
  • It’s too late for me to adopt this strategy (but I knew that already!)

What’s happened to me could happen to anyone.  It’s never too soon to become aware.  Never too soon to take evasive action.

I know it doesn’t seem real, particularly if you’re young, fit and healthy.  It won’t.  Until it is.  And then it’s too late.

Little things to be proud of

I (not so) casually dropped in to my last post that I had collected a Turbo Trainer (TT) and done my first cycling session.  Before I could use it, it had to be assembled.  Joy!

At the shop where I collected the TT, I departed to the following words from the helpful assistant:  “You’ll probably exhaust yourself just trying to put that together!” (chuckle, chuckle).  Great!  Marvellous!

I wouldn’t say I’m particularly good with my hands.  I don’t get a lot of practice (out of choice).  Most manual activities usually involve a disproportionate amount of bad language and sweat that is inconsistent with the physical effort expected.

Within that context, I would say there are two things that I’ve historically been particularly unsuccessful with:

  1. Following instructions
  2. Bikes

So I was clearly set up for success!


Welcome to my world!

As far as instructions are concerned, I’m a bloke.  Instructions are there to help you unpick problems, to confirm you’ve made a mistake, to compare your attempt to, or to retrospectively understand the criticality of the red writing on the label marked “IMPORTANT”.

I find bikes fiddly.  My main experiences have been with brake adjustments, tweaks to gears and tyres / inner tubes.  All of them have been disappointingly unsatisfying and much harder work than they should have been.  I’m sure there’s a “knack”, but I don’t have it (in fact I had to check the dictionary to see how it’s spelt!).

Having got the TT home and unpacked it, I did the grown up thing… I sat down and read the instructions!  Ten single sentence lines and some incomprehensible diagrams.  Still, it appeared that as long as I could accurately measure the wheel of the bike (and didn’t drop / damage the “important bit”), nothing could go wrong.

And so, to the source of my pride… after less than 2 hours, and without having to take the whole thing apart to start again, I managed to build the TT.  (To be honest, I did have to measure the wheel multiple times… I knew it was important, but couldn’t get the “fine tuning” to work for quite a while!)


Construction is generally easier if performed under sterile conditions

I know it’s a small thing, sad even, but in my book assembling something without destroying it, even in a small way, should always be a cause for celebration.

Although I may be grimacing and cursing when I’m riding the bike, there will forever be a small smile (on the inside) because I managed to get this far in the first place!

Happy assembling!

Try something new

Personally, I’m still waiting for the magic!

Apparently “trying something new” is good for you… keeping you young at heart, pushing back the boundaries of boredom, interested and interesting.

I don’t think the “Live a little… have a heart attack!” T-Shirts will fly off the shelves, but there’s certainly been quite a lot new in my life over the past few weeks.  You wouldn’t expect to find many of the things I’ve been introduced to on anyone’s “101 things to do before you die” list, but they’ve certainly set things in an unexpected and different direction,

Today was somewhat of an exception as there was an element of planning involved… I collected a Turbo Trainer and introduced a bike into my exercise regime.

The humble beginnings of a beautiful relationship with a bicycle

I continue to exercise regularly.  Having returned to work, and working my way back towards full days, I have cut back to one exercise session a day.  My staple exercise is still walking, but I’m slowly expanding my repertoire.  Cardiac Rehabilitation has introduced me to a range of exercises.  As I get stronger, I can (very slowly!) expand my horizons.

The whole exercise thing is strange for me though…

I was fit in my youth.  I did a lot of sport.  I  trained 5 days a week for athletics, travelling miles to train, compete and get fixed (at the physio).  I reached quite a high standard.  We trained properly.  It was fun but serious (to us at least).

Before I left University I got lazy as far as physical exercise was concerned.  There’s been the occasional burst of activity since (a tennis season in Bahrain, 5-a-side Football, a Squash ladder), but nothing sustained… few and far between.

Coming back to it now is bizarre.  Mentally I’m still where I was when I was a fit 18 year old.  Physically I’m a complete mess… weak and unfit… and that was before the Heart Attack!

I’m going to have to very slowly build my fitness back up.  Balancing the desire to do more, with the need to look after my heart.  One step at a time.

I’m still looking for a long term challenge… cycling is a tempting option: a weekend in the Alps with the boys, part of the peloton for a couple of days.

At the moment however I wouldn’t even be able to make it home if I headed out on a bike (our house is at the top of a hill).  So today I started putting in the hours (well half an hour at least).  Stationary.  In the garage.  Plodding (if it’s possible to plod on a bike!)


The road to our house is not quite as tough as this!

I would estimate I need to do a couple of thousand miles of conditioning before I’m ready to hit the open road… only 1,998 to go!!!  🙂

Awakening (FD +35)

Five weeks ago today I was spending my first day in hospital trying to come to terms with having just had a Heart Attack.  It seems like only yesterday, and a lifetime ago at the same time.

Lots of things have changed without needing to make an effort change them.  The cumulative effect of many small alterations have resulted in some big differences:  differences to what I do.  differences to how I do it.  I’m still the same person, although you might find it increasingly difficult to recognise me.

Is it sustainable?  Will I change back?

People say that over time I’ll forget what’s happened to me, what everyone has been through; I’m not convinced.  Apparently only a very small percentage of people who have experienced Heart “Events” actually make lasting, positive changes to their lifestyles.  Will I be one of them?

There are lots of reminders out there…  since I’ve been out of hospital the unfortunate deaths of James Gandolfini and, only yesterday, Mel Smith, have hit the headlines.  A few weeks on from Gandolfini’s death, it’s unfortunate to see that more lessons appear to have been learned (more correctly, reported) about Estate Planning than the cause of his death (which I suspect is more relevant than the vast majority of us!).

In a lot of respects I’m a novice at many of the new features of my life:  healthy eating, regular exercise, weight loss, relaxation, medication.  but I’m not making any new discoveries.  The things that I’m learning are obvious to many if not most people.  I guess I was aware of them myself to a certain degree, somewhere below the surface, buried deep enough not to influence my day to day actions.

Remind yourself:  Preventing Heart Disease

The single biggest “awakening” for me is what I eat and drink.  Given I’m trying to eat healthily (Healthy Heart) and also trying to lose some weight (Calorie Control), I’m very aware of what I’m eating now.  The scary thing was how unaware I was before.  I’m quickly starting to realise that anything that has been “prepared” (by others) is likely to have been “abused” in some way… addition of large quantities of Salt and Sugar.

A light, tasty snack!

There are so many examples of seemingly healthy or wholesome foods that are really not great for you, it’s unreal!  And that’s only looking at the “healthy” choices… a fraction of what’s available.

I know I’m late to the party.  I’m sure you were aware of the hazards lurking in our supermarket aisles, but there are plenty of people that aren’t… aren’t aware, don’t care or are hiding from reality (as I was).

Just another week… (FD +33)

So, the end of “just another week”… back to work and starting Cardiac Rehabilitation.  Fortunately both  events were tailored to the needs of a survivor of a recent Heart Attack… gentle introductions with lots of attentive people looking out for me.

I’m lucky enough to work with people who care enough to take my recent escapade into consideration.  I have been largely protected from any noise that arose during my recuperation, and much of my week was spent within the confines of a “stress free” protection zone.  A disproportionately high number of discussions ended with the words “…but you don’t need to worry about that.”

I was very much a part-timer this week – following the instructions of my various advisors (including trying to “listen to my body”).  As the days go by, I’m able to do more.  Go longer between rests.  Recover more quickly.  Slowly returning to some sort of “normality” to return.

Over time things will definitely return to normal…  I’ve already noticed myself “rushing” around, and getting unnecessarily frustrated when dealing with morons / imbeciles / idiots*.  The difference at the moment is that I’m more aware of these occurrences.

Ultimately, my health is my personal responsibility.  I need to learn how to deal with these situations in a reasonable fashion.  If my plan is to rely on people protecting me from morons / imbeciles / idiots* and the stresses of the world I’m going to have to live a very sheltered life!!!

* Delete as applicable.

Standing up and Sitting down (FD + 31)

We are encouraged not to “blur” at Cardiac Rehabilitation as it can result in over-exertion

It turns out that standing up and sitting down on a chair repeatedly over even a relatively short period of time can be tiring.

Yesterday turned out to be a an introduction and assessment day at Cardiac Rehabilitation.  A bit of an anti-climax to be honest, but not a disaster.  The “proper” sessions started this morning.

So… I discovered that walking on a treadmill is fine, cycling on an exercise bike is a breeze, cross-trainer (minus arms) is comfortable, but standing up and sitting down (poor man’s squats, I guess) hurt.  Not a scary, Cardiac Rehab, “somebody get a doctor” kind of hurt, but my legs clearly weren’t used to that kind of exertion.  They hurt then and ache now.

[Try it yourself.  Sit on a normal dining-type chair and stand upright, sit and stand, sit and stand.  Repeat continuously for 3 minutes.  If you struggle, perhaps you need to get some more exercise too!]

It was a different exercise experience for me.  I guess I’m starting from a different place.  I’m not just a little bit unfit.  I have had a Heart Attack.  I don’t really want another one.  So this needs to be about taking the exercise seriously, but not doing too much serious exercise:  Warm up.  Work out (moderate exertion).  Cool down.  And relax.

I now have a maximum Heart Rate.  I’m not sure I’ve ever had one before.  If I have, I’ve certainly never owned a device to monitor it.  I do now. I’ve got a shiny new watch that tells me everything I need to know (unfortunately only while exercising).  My magic number is 118! [220 minus 42 (age) minus 30 (drug factor) multiplied by 80% if you’re interested.]

I tend to keep my shirt on… it reduces stress all round!

I was the only person with a (personal) heart monitoring device (no-one commented, but I did get a few looks).  Everyone else relied on the kit provided – which involved a single measure mid-way through the exercise programme.  I guess there’s a risk that I take this a bit too seriously, but I don’t think it’s over the top to want to know if you’re approaching your maximum heart rate, is it? (I maxed out at 112 bpm, incidentally).

Anyway, 1 session and 715 calories down…
15 and lots more to go!