Monthly Archives: November 2013

Just the three of us

The maintenance work at the Local Pool finished yesterday bringing the week-long closure to an end.  I don’t usually swim on a Saturday, but I was keen to get back in the pool, particularly as we have visitors this weekend and an early morning swim seemed like a good way of getting some exercise without impacting our plans for the day.

Not being a regular on a Saturday, I didn’t quite know what to expect.  Given it had been shut all week I assumed the pool be busy.

I arrived to find 6 lanes marked out.  Normally the swimming team would have been using 4 of the lanes but today they were all available to the public.  There were some early comings and goings, but shortly after my arrival there were only three of us in the pool, and it stayed that way for the duration of my session.  What a difference it makes to have a dedicated lane.  A rare luxury.  Bliss!

Sharing a lane can be frustrating!

After the session, one of my fellow swimmers asked me a question:

“What are you training for?”

I thought this was a fantastic question to ask in a Swimming Pool / Gym type setting.  There’s no real downside… if you’re not training for something you’re likely to be pleased that someone considered you might be, and if you are it’s obviously a good conversation starter.

Personally, I was really pleased to be asked.  It’s the first time anyone’s openly mistaken me for someone who’s fit for a long time.  I took it as a sign that I’m making progress.

As it turned out, the chap I was speaking to is training for an Ironman event in South Africa in April next year (2.4 km Swim, 120km Cycle and a 28km Run).  Clearly he has a little more conditioning under his belt than me!

The delights of competitive Open Water Swimming!

I have to admit, I was a little bit jealous.  I suspect I’ll never be in a position to take on such a gruelling challenge.  I’ll continue to set myself challenging goals, but they will always be within the context of my medical history, long term medication, etc.

I was recently asked a question about what I can’t do as a result of my Heart Attack.  The list of things didn’t extend much beyond “some rides at Disney” and “scuba diving”.  I suspect in reality the list is much longer, but I’m not going to add Ironman events to it just yet.  Instead I’ll focus on doing what I can, taking it one step at a time.  Who knows where the journey will end up!

Probably a step too far for me right now!

Make time to play

I think most of us spend much of the day being pushed for time.  As a result, exercise tends to get “fitted in” around the other commitments… a class in the lunch hour, or a run between dropping off / picking up the kids, a pre-work swim.  It’s admirable that so many people keep it up, but I’m sure it didn’t used to be that way.

The pressure’s generally on!

Personally, when I’m under time pressure I will tend to only do what I know.  I repeat exercise routines that have been tried and tested, that I know will get the job done and won’t take too much time.  I’m keen to get the work under my belt and move on.  The problem is, this approach doesn’t allow me to try new things, to practice new techniques, or to have “fun”.

When I was at university we occasionally used to get a day pass to a leisure centre.  The pass allowed us to do everything for the day.  We’d spend hours “playing”… squash, badminton, in the gym and in the pool (actually, not so much in the pool!).  We had mini-leagues and long running grudge matches to keep the interest levels up.  We didn’t ever have an exercise programme, when we were there we just played and the exercise came for free,

It was certainly a different way of approaching exercise than today.  I understand why; We have different levels of responsibility; Time is precious; It’s not all about us; Exercise is a means to an end.  Personally, I think it’s a shame.

The pool I usually swim at is closed for the week for maintenance. As a result, I will spend a little more time at a gym where we’re family members.  Usually I would only visit once every couple of weeks to fit in a weights session around the more focused cycling and swimming routine.

Today I spent an hour in the gym and then hit the pool.  The pool is shorter than my usual one… not idea for swimming distances, but good for practicing turns.  It was also busy… again, not great for swimming long distances, so I also took the opportunity to practice some of the drills and strokes that I’ve been shown at my lessons.  For once I didn’t worry about the effort I was putting in or how my body was reacting – my heart rate wasn’t a concern.

Make time to play in the water!

I enjoyed trying some things out.  I practiced floating… still not close to cracking it, but the drills are getting easier!  I also went back to the breaststroke kick that I’ve been struggling with… I just couldn’t get any “oomph” into it without it twanging the tendons in my legs.  After some playing around, I think I may have discovered the missing ingredient.  It definitely felt like I was being propelled more effectively.  This definitely wouldn’t have happened in my normal pool during a pre-work swim.

I also enjoyed my time in the water.  I ended up being later than I had anticipated, but it was time well spent.  It’s not something I can afford to do every day, but once in a while it’s something I’ll throw into the routine.

I think “making time to play” is something everyone should do from time to time.  Try new exercises or a new class.  Think of it as an investment… learning new things that may become part of your future routine.  If you can, free yourself from your normal constraints and time pressures (even just for a few hours).  You may even enjoy it!

Going solo

This morning I was presented with a dilemma.  Due to a combination of (1) an unexpectedly  heavy night and (2) a communication break down, I found myself all ready to go for a ride but no-one to cycle with.

So far, whenever I’ve cycled on the road I have done so with a wing man to accompany me.  Initially this was as a safety precaution.  Cycling as a pair provided comfort that any unforeseen Heart issues could be attended to quickly, and also meant that I could rely on someone a bit more experienced to help with any more “run of the mill” cycling problems (flat tyres, minor accidents, getting lost, etc.).  It therefore helped build confidence; mine and everyone else’s.

The risks of cycling alone…

Up to this point I have not really considered cycling on the road by myself.  It’s just not been a factor.  This morning I was ready to ride, but alone.  Hence, my dilemma.

***

There were plenty of reasons not to head out… besides all the reasons I prefer to cycle with company… it was a bit cold and clouds were gathering (a hint of  snow perhaps?).  There were plenty of flimsy but credible excuses if I wanted one.

Having had one abortive trip already this winter due to cold weather, I now have all the kit necessary to keep me warm. So, the decision came down to whether I was up for it or not.  As it turned out, it really wasn’t that much of a decision.  It turns out that cycling is just something I do now.

So, I headed out.  I followed a route I know well.  I kept my cadence high, gears low.  I stayed well within my physical limits and I had a rest en route.  I returned safely after an uneventful ride, feeling good.  No biggie!

I felt good as I approached the end of my ride!

I feel like I’ve moved beyond the stage where I cycle as part of my Cardiac Rehabilitation.  Now I just cycle.  Of course it’s good for me.  Of course I constantly monitor my Heart Rate to keep in “in the range”.  However, I think I’ve graduated beyond being a Heart Attack Survivor that cycles a bit, to being a “Novice Cyclist”.  A small but significant milestone!

Fat and Bald

I turned 43 this week.  I definitely consider myself middle aged despite the fact people try to convince me that I’ve got a long way to go… middle age starts at 60 apparently (mostly according to people too young to really care, or old enough to be horribly biased!).

images (13)Like many men of my age, I had been losing the battle to maintain the physical attributes of my youth… although, to be fair, I wasn’t fighting very hard.  I was drifting towards the stereo-typical look of a middle aged man who’s slightly let himself go… “Fat and Bald”.

My personal journey into middle age took an “interesting” twist with the Heart Attack in the summer.  I am quite proud of what I’ve managed to achieve since in relation to getting myself into decent shape…

It’s been 150 days since my first post-Heart Attack visit to the Doctor.  At that stage, I had been out of hospital for about 10 days, and I was able to walk for about 15 mins, twice a day.  My Body Mass Index was about 29 (Overweight, borderline Obese) and the amount of superfluous weight I was carrying seemed ridiculous (See:  It all smells a bit fishy – 28th June 2013).

Since then I’ve lost about 40lbs and really started to build some strength and fitness.  For the first time in a very long time, my weight is officially in the “normal” range:

Body Mass Index

To achieve this. I wouldn’t say I’ve dieted as such.  If I’m hungry I eat.  I just tend to eat much more healthily.  I have significantly reduced the amount of fat and sugar I consume.  I haven’t drunk any alcohol.  I eat lots of fruit and vegetables.  I also make sure I have Breakfast every day, which I think makes a big difference.  Regular exercise has also made a huge impact.

In summary, as far as the “Fat and Bald” equation is concerned, I am fighting back (and winning) on the “Fat” front… which brings me to hair loss!

I visited the Barber’s today.  A not particularly frequent or regular trip to get my hair cut.  I have to say, I look forward to these visits less and less as time goes on.  In particular, I don’t look forward to the end of the visit when a mirror is produced to check that I’m happy with the back of my head… actually, “No, I’m not!“.

Bald Patch

My poor baldy heid!

My hair is quite fair.  Technically I could argue I still have a reasonable covering of hair however it isn’t very effective at making itself seen!  In short, I have a bald patch that has been increasing in significance in recent years.

In the great scheme of things this really isn’t a big deal (although it causes much amusement to some members of my immediate family!) and I’m looking forward to the day when I get all my hair cut short so the patch becomes irrelevant.

In the meantime, I guess it acts as a good reminder that time only moves in one direction, and I should spend my energy on things that I can directly influence.

Let middle age roll on… I’ll fight it where it matters!

One of those weeks

It’s only Wednesday, but it’s already been one of “those” weeks…

We had our first dusting of snow on Monday.  Winter is definitely on its way.  This means frosty mornings, traffic chaos and general disruption.  Great!

Snow Deer

Fortunately the snow wasn’t quite as deep as this!

The cold is one thing my medication doesn’t help with.  Whether it’s the blood thinners, my weight loss or something else, I feel the cold much more than I used to.  Gone are the days of me being a one-man, furnace with  unlimited internal heating.  Reluctantly, I have had to invest in extra layers to keep me warm.  Perhaps I’ll even be “ne’er casting a clout” come next May!

Tuesday was my birthday.  Another year older.  I’m grateful for the gifts and cards, and it was nice to be the centre of attention for a day (at home at least!).  I guess it’s natural to have some sort of emotional reaction to my first post-Heart Attack Birthday… a reminder that I’m well and truly in the “lucky to be alive” club!  To be honest, I’ve just found myself feeling a bit colder and older.

Birthday

To compound matters, it feels like I’ve hardly done any exercise recently.  I think this is largely because the grind of the week has made the days seem longer.  I was therefore looking forward to my swimming lesson on Wednesday evening.

As I arrived at the pool it looked like there was a gala on and my plans would be ruined (“Please, not those pesky Brownies again!!!”).  There were cars everywhere.  Just my luck!  Fortunately the pool was just busy, “Zigzag down the pool to find some space” busy as I had a quick swim to warm up (in more ways than one!) in advance of my lesson.

Although my swimming has improved, and the distance I’m covering in each session is gradually increasing, I’m still finding it exhausting.  I guess this is positive as I want it to be good exercise, but I’m not progressing as I hoped I would.  Discussions during my lesson focussed mostly on this… and we concluded that I’m a “sinker”.  I have not been naturally blessed with buoyancy.  As a result, I’m generally too tense, and a lot of my swimming effort is spent preventing myself from sinking (or drowning, whichever way you want to look at it!).  I am therefore inefficient, using much more energy and “puff” than I should need to.

Swimming Unbderwater

My natural swimming position!

Short of getting floats installed, the only way I can see of addressing this issue is through patience and practice.  So, more of the same.  Onwards and upwards (to the surface of the pool at least)!

Only 30 days until the days start getting longer!  🙂

Earning my 100m badge

Our dining table was oval… a rectangular table tennis table was a dream!

As a child I did lots of sport.  When I was young we tended to organise our own “events”.  We’d play football into the dark winter evenings, play cricket through the long summer holidays, compete in “do it yourself” athletics challenges, play table tennis on the dining room table and participate in epic snooker matches on our child-sized tables, and participate in any other sport we had the chance to.

As I got older, I did more and more organised sport providing structured competition, regular training and coaching.  In summary, Sport was an important part of my life.

One sport I never did competitively was swimming.  After having been taught to swim by my parents, it was strictly a “fun” activity.  While my evenings and weekends were fairly busy, my morning activities were limited to getting up, eating breakfast and getting myself to school.  For me, there was no pre-school training that swimming seems to require.  Swimming “competitions” were limited to low key school galas and attempts to gain badges and / or certificates to record my achievements.

Having never really got into it as a child, swimming has never been a feature of any previous attempts to get fit as an adult.  It always seemed like too much work.  An inefficient, and potentially embarrassing, way of getting exercise that I could get much more easily on dry land.  As a result I have never swum any significant distances.

Turning isn’t a strong point for me either! It all tends to be a bit hit or miss!

Things have changed a little in recent weeks as I’ve added swimming to my regular exercise regime.  I recognise that I’m not getting any younger, and now seems like a good time to overcome my prejudices and inadequacies (in relation to swimming at least!) and learn to swim properly.

Having decided to take on Freestyle first, my initial goal was to learn how to breathe properly…

My first few weeks were spent doing single 25m lengths, in sets of one.  I tended to reach the end of each length short of breathe and needing a rest.  Stepping up to doing sets of 50m was a big deal.  Again, the second (and final) length always seemed to be more difficult than it should.

For some reason moving beyond 50m proved to be a big psychological barrier for me.  Perhaps it was because I’ve never swum 100m without stopping before (at least as far as I can remember).  The chances of successfully turning after the second length seemed slim.  Completing a further two lengths seemed almost a physical impossibility.

untitled (54)So, my successful attempt to get my 100m badge on Friday morning resulted in a fair amount of satisfaction!  It wasn’t easy, but I’m hoping it will mark the beginning of a new phase of my swimming career.

I’m not looking to compete competitively, but it would be fantastic if I could build up to being able to swim for an hour without stopping.

Next goal, 200m!

Twice the satisfaction

I’m a believer in the principle that exercise counts twice as much if you don’t want to do it than it does when you do.  As a result, I almost look forward to days when I lack motivation because you get so much more satisfaction after your work out.

Today was one of those days.  Work was busy.  The weather was grim; cold, wet and windy. I arrived home from work a little late, feeling a jaded.

I’ve got into a good exercise routine over the past couple of weeks:

  • I swim first thing on Sunday, Tuesday and Friday
  • I cycle Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday
  • Wednesday alternates between swimming lessons and a visit to the gym
  • On Monday’s I rest.

So far, I’ve had no trouble getting up and out in the mornings.  I don’t have much time to think about it, I just grab a quick bite to eat and head out the door.  I’m finding a swim a good way to start the day.  It makes me feel different… good different.

I’m not the only one to enjoy an early morning swim!

Depending on the day I’ve had, the evenings are more difficult.  Fortunately, once I’ve started, it only takes a few minutes for the fatigue of the day to dissipate and for me to get into my exercise.  I generally feel great afterwards too – clean, healthy and relaxed.

The overall routine is definitely doing me good.  I’m getting stronger and fitter all the time.  I have the continual challenge of staying within the safe working range of my Heart, but it’s satisfying to see my work rate slowly increasing over time… twice as satisfying after a hard day in the office!