Monthly Archives: January 2014

Seeing the light

My swimming kit is simple (isn’t everyones?): Trunks, Goggles.

I upgraded my trunks some time ago. Since I started swimming seriously regularly I decided that beach shorts probably weren’t performance enhancing… they were literally a drag.  As I lost weight, they became a liability… literally a threat to common decency!

So I upgraded to something a bit sportier and a bit snugger. Job done!

My goggles were fine. I acquired them while we were in the Middle East. I remember being presented with a very limited selection at the local sports shop and selecting the best of a bad lot.  They had orange lenses.  I presumed they were light enhancing, but in reality they were just orange.

These aren’t an exact match, but you get the idea!

On Sunday I discovered my goggles were missing.  I had obviously left them in the changing room.  Being such a fine pair, I assume they had been “re-homed” rather than being handed in to lost property. Of course, their new home could be a rubbish dump!

Last night was my first outing with my new goggles.  I had gone for a simple pair with clear lenses.  When I tried them on, I discovered the lenses were slightly larger than I’m used to.  They looked a bit like googles goggles that you’d wear if you were Wing-Walking, or Driving a Vintage Car.  However, they looked like they’d do the trick.

My new goggles look like they could be multi-purpose!

When I got in the pool… WOW!!!  What a difference they made!

It seems fairly obvious in retrospect, but I had no idea how different the under-water experience would be with clear lenses.  There was light!!! I could see!!! (Actually I could see a little more than is required for an enjoyable swim!).

The environment was exactly the same as I’d experienced in the past, but the way I engaged with it completely changed that experience.  It was a real eye-opener!

I appreciate that in itself this is not a life changer… but it’s got me thinking about whether there are other things I do that could be similarly enhanced by small, simple changes.  I’ve got my eyes peeled!

Rites of Passage

I am still very much a novice cyclist.  Each time I get on a bike there’s a significant chance that something will happen that I haven’t experienced before.  Obviously I try to be as prepared for any eventuality as possible, but inevitably surprises will occur!

Last week I took a big step forward on a couple of fronts…

Firstly, I decided to take a Fitness test.  I know I have made huge improvements in my strength and fitness since I started cycling in July last year (See “Try something new“).  I did start from a ridiculously low level though… I’d just had a Heart Attack after all!

Until now I’ve had no basis for measuring my improvement.  In fact, other than judging by how I feel I haven’t had any way of measuring how I have performed in any of my training sessions.  So, the Fitness test… The Sufferfest’s “Rubber Glove“.

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I have learned that in cycling a key measure is one’s Functional Threshold Power (FTP).  This is a measure of how much power you can generate over a period of time – how hard you can pedal for 20 minutes in this case.

Having built myself up to doing the test, I was side-swiped by learning experience number two…

At some point during the warm-up I developed a puncture.  It took me a few minutes to work out what had happened.  The first indication was that my back wheel slipped on the Turbo Trainer when I tried to put the power down.  Having cleaned and adjusted the Turbo Trainer (in vain), I touched the wheel… the tyre was flat as a pancake.  Fitness test failed!  Game over!

I’m not sure about the professionals, but in the amateur scene, real cyclists also seem to be mechanics.  They all appear to have bike workshops and are never happier than when tinkering… an adjustment here, a tweak there.  I am not one of those people!

Since I bought my bikes my maintenance regime has involved the occasional application of oil to the chain.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” 

Unfortunately it was now broke!

With some trepidation, I set to work,..  In less than two hours I managed to replace the tyre and the inner tube, locating the puncture in the process.  The procedure was stressful, messy and more than a little chaotic, but I got it done (eventually)!

FTP

My high-tech FTP data recording system

The following evening (after a good night’s sleep) I completed the fitness test.  I now have an official FTP.  It’s strange, but I feel somehow closer to my bike too.

I feel like I’m slowly growing up!

The thought doesn’t count enough

Today was to be a swimming day.  Having been on the bike the past couple of days I was looking forward to a swim with no time pressure.  It was an opportunity to enjoy being in the pool, to get some lengths under my belt.  There was the added bonus of being back home before anyone else in the family got out of bed.

I have been tired so I didn’t set my alarm.  I’m still getting back into the normal routine having enjoyed the relaxation of the festive period a little too much.  My internal body clock has always been fairly reliable so I was confident that would wake up naturally in time to make the early morning session at the pool.

As planned, I woke up at around 7.30.  It took me a few minutes to summon up the energy and the courage to look at the clock.  7.35… still plenty of time.  I then had the inevitable dilemma… stay in my warm bed for a long Sunday lie, or move (fast) to swim.

The decision wasn’t straightforward.  I had made the mistake of thinking about it.  I should have just been up and out.

Two thoughts finally got me out of bed (1) I reminded myself why I was doing it in the first place and (2) that the exercise counts twice as much when you don’t want to do it! (See “Twice the satisfaction“)

After a very light breakfast, I headed to the pool…

The car park was surprisingly quiet.  I allowed myself a self-satisfied thought to myself:  “So, the New Year Resolutions don’t apply so much on a Sunday morning!”.

It was also quiet inside the pool.  Too quiet.

Receptionist:  “We have a gala here this weekend.  All weekend.  The pool’s closed.”
Me:  “Aaaarrrrrrggggghhhhhhh!!!”

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I guess it serves me right, but I’m not entirely sure why.

So, if you’re reading this over a leisurely breakfast, having had a long lazy lie, you can be satisfied that you have done exactly the same amount of exercise as I have so far today… without even thinking about it!  Sometimes the thought just doesn’t count enough!

The biggest hurdle

Recently my training has revolved around four different Turbo Trainer sessions.  Each is quite different, and I rotate them, using a shorter one when time is limited, a two-hour “marathon” once a week to help build my stamina, but generally alternating the other two.

As a result of the limited repertoire and frequent repetition, I have become very familiar with the various courses, and comfortable with the work-outs.  I know what’s coming and I can effectively pace myself to get the most out of each session (factoring in how I’m feeling on any particular day)*.

That all sounds good, and probably is on some levels, but it’s not real life.  Wouldn’t it be great if we always knew what the future held in store for us, if we always knew what was waiting for us around the next corner.  Wouldn’t life would be easy!

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As we all know, life is full of surprises.  No matter how much we dislike them, we have to be able to deal with them.  We can get better through practice, but that requires work and sometimes more than a little bit of courage.

Today I selected a new work-out, something different.  I was surprisingly nervous given I wasn’t going to be moving from the same spot in my office.  For the first time in some time I was going to expose myself to something quite new.

As it happens, the new work-out didn’t work out, but that’s another story (equipment rather than health problems so nothing to worry about!).  So, for the time being I’m going to take some satisfaction from the fact that I tried… the biggest hurdle has been overcome.  I’m sure actually completing the session will be no trouble at all!

***

* Thinking back to winter training during my days as an athlete, I remember some of the Fartlek sessions we did as a group. 

I used to love them when I was calling, when I was the person who decided what came next.  Simply knowing what was coming made it easier in some way.  I’m sure everyone else used to hate it because I think I made the sessions much tougher.  

When I was in the group following someone else’s instructions, the glove was on the other hand, and I used to find it much more difficult.

It’s not the destination…

In 4 months time I will embark on my Euro City Cycle challenge.  As they say…

“It’s the journey, not the destination, that matters most.”

Even arriving in London to start the event will be a major milestone on my journey.  When I signed up for the event in August last year it seemed like a huge challenge… more of a distant dream, in fact.

It was just 2 months after my Heart Attack and I was still in Phase 3 Cardiac Rehabilitation, being closely monitored throughout my 30 minute work-outs.  I knew I needed to give myself something to work towards.

I was excited but very nervous at the same time… Was taking on too much?  Would I physically be able to do it  (ever even)?  Was I being too ambitious?  Foolhardy?  At that stage I wasn’t even sure that the Doctor would allow me to participate.

The sun always shines on the Euro City Cycle!

Now, having got 6 months of structured exercise under my belt I’m feeling a bit more confident.   According to the “Welcome Pack” I received for the event, as a Novice I should start my training today.  I should begin by cycling 5 to 10 miles, 3 or 4 times a week, and slowly build up from there.  I feel like I’m slightly ahead of the curve on this so for the time being I’ll focus on maintaining my routine throughout the worst the winter has to offer.

I can’t wait until the weather improves, the days lengthen and the temperature increases (to the extent it ever does in North East Scotland!) so I can safely get outside on my bike.  For the time being I’ll get the miles in on the Turbo Trainer.

Over recent weeks I’ve connected with other people that are doing more ambitious challenges; Land’s End to John O’Groats (854 miles), Southern Spain to Northern Norway (~4,000 miles).  To be honest I’m feeling a bit envious, but I am looking at this as a stepping stone.

Cycling from London to Amsterdam to Brussels in 4 days will be an accomplishment in it’s own right, particularly given I should complete it less than a year after the Heart Attack.  However, I’m not counting my chickens… I need to keep my head down and do the work so I can really enjoy the London to Brussels leg of my journey!

Hanging around the pool

Nephew #3 was the highlight of our New Year gathering… just two year’s old, he’s a cheeky chappie and full of life.

Constantly on the move, he alternates between bouncing and running, vigorously waving “Hello” and “Goodbye” at each end of his frequent journeys.

He’s at that wonderful stage where he wakes up every morning with no idea what is going to happen during the day but confident that whatever it is it’s going to be great!

He’s almost talking, but not quite.  He can communicate with sound but with few words.  He makes himself understood… mostly… he makes himself heard… always!

He’s a real star and more than happy to be the centre of attention, selecting different members of the family to accompany him as he goes about his business of the day.

New Year really wouldn’t have been the same without him around!

Brother & Nephew, Father & Son

With the weather hampering plans to visit play parks, we decided to go swimming together – a favourite pastime of Nephew #3 and also a chance for me to get some proper exercise.

Abingdon Leisure Centre has a large Toddler’s swim area next to a wide, shallow main pool, all within one huge open area.  It was a bit different to the claustrophobic box (relatively) I normally swim in.  The width of the main pool accommodated 6 lanes with room left over for a recreational section next to the Toddler’s Pool.  Although there were a quite a few swimmers, there seemed to be ample space, it certainly didn’t feel crowded.

I was to arrive early, about 45 minutes before my Brother and Nephew, so I could have a “proper” swim first.  They were to join me for the fun bit at the end.

A simple plan.  What could possibly go wrong?

After 45 minutes I started looking out for them.  They hadn’t arrived yet, so I did a few more lengths.

50 minutes passed, then 60… more lengths.

“What could possibly go wrong?” I thought to myself again… this time actually looking for answers.

The lengths were becoming more challenging as I got increasingly tired.  The rest breaks became longer and more frequent… I was definitely now “waiting” rather than “swimming”.

It then struck me how difficult it is, as a middle-aged man in this day and age, to innocuously “hang around” a swimming pool…  I began to feel increasingly paranoid and self conscious.  Parents appeared to be getting uncomfortable too, at least one eye on me at all times.  I’m sure an extra Life Guard was drafted in specifically to watch me.

Time continued to pass…

Having considered my options (at length by this stage), the only two viable alternatives appeared to be (1) to continue to swim, doing lengths for as long as I possibly could or (2) to leave the pool, get changed and start again when the rest of the party arrived.  I really couldn’t see anything good coming from waiting in the Changing Area, the Toilets, or in the Showers.

So more lengths it was.

Eventually, after 80 minutes, Brother & Nephew #3 arrived, chirpy and raring to go, without a care in the world.  After an indeterminable further wait they emerged from the Changing Area… I could feel everyone breathe a collective sigh of relief as I joined them.  The additional Life Guard returned to do whatever member of the Life Guard SAS do when they’re on a break… Threat Level Green.

Abingdon Leisure Centre

After a few minutes of splashing, Nephew #3 started to cry.  Not being able to say exactly what was wrong some frantic pointing ensued.  It was not clear what the issue was.

I’m no expert, but I could sense he was not happy.  The crying continued…

Brother:  “He’s never usually like this.  He loves his swimming”

Not today!

And so, after about 7 minutes of fun family swim time we called it a day.

Eventually a packet of Quavers managed to quell the flow of tears.  The trauma receded, finally being laid to rest by a pre-lunch nap… and Nephew #3 got over it eventually as well!

Wasting time together

We headed “down South” this week to spend the New Year with my family.  It was a relatively rare gathering of my immediate family; Mum & Dad, Sister, Brother, Nephews and Nieces.  It was even more rare for us to spend so much time together; typically visits are restricted to a weekend arranged around a family event or celebration.

As well as featuring my first dry (and sober) New Year’s Eve since the 1990’s, the extended visit and miserable weather presented the opportunity to waste time together, catching up on events and developments in each others lives.

Our New Year celebrations were a little more subdued!

It was great to see everyone!  We seem to have had more than our fair share of challenges over the past year; emotional, physical and psychological.  However, we are fortunate… and I am particularly fortunate to have such a strong, supportive and generous family.

As you would anticipate, food and drink were a major feature of the visit.  Despite significant temptation, I managed to stay on the straight and narrow, even when presented with a variety of delightful desserts, cheeky cheeses and some of the most extravagant Burgers I’ve ever seen (the “Surf, Turf and Cluck” Burger in particular looked mighty fine!).  How my Sister and Mum managed to keep producing meals I have no idea, but we’re all very grateful!  Thanks!

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Inevitably, in time, the competitive embers were stoked by younger members of the family and a “Girls vs. Boys” challenge was thrown down.  The games tested our knowledge, skill and nerves, culminating in a win for the Boys… of course!  To be fair, we benefited from the fact that the game was produced in 1995 and some of the questions were rather dated, particularly for those born in the 00’s!

Pirate ShipA late Christmas gift allowed me to demonstrate my creative prowess as I built and painted a Pirate Ship.  The present included an Eye Patch and Treasure Map, but I resisted the temptation to become a fully fledged Pirate… perhaps next year!

Personally, I’m relieved to be heading into 2014 “on the up”.  I’m able to reflect on the trials of the past and look forward with optimism.  While others are in a similar position to myself, I feel for people that have experienced a loss, or are still on their challenging journeys and fearful of what the future might hold.

I wish everyone a Happy, Healthy and Successful 2014!