Monthly Archives: February 2014

Gaining inspiration

I’ve been fairly motivated to get myself in shape since my Heart Attack.  It gave me the “kick up the behind” I needed to get of the sofa and start exercising.

After building some initial momentum at Cardiac Rehabilitation, the Euro City Cycle has given me the focus to keep pushing through the winter.  Having something to work towards has really helped maintain my motivation through the cold, dark days.

Despite this, I sometimes find my work-outs tough.  I stay within my limits as far as pushing my Heart Rate and Stamina is concerned, but at the same time I try to work hard enough to push those limits further, to slowly build my strength and endurance.

Today marks 10 weeks until I head south to start the Euro City Cycle.  I really need to start upping my training to ensure I’m properly prepared.  To do this, I have to push myself a little harder.

I would like to avoid feeling like this on the Euro City Cycle!

When I’m tired it’s tempting to take short cuts, to give myself a break, to find an excuse to ease off or slow down.  Often the tiredness is mental rather than physical.  It’s difficult to keep pushing.

On Sunday I fortuitously stumbled across “Race across America (with James Cracknell)”.  I joined the story as he arrived in Death Valley, during his attempt to travel from West Coast to East Coast in 18 days.  Having arrived by bike, he had to cover about 80 miles on foot, the equivalent of 3 marathons in temperatures of 120+ degrees.  It was brutal!  If his challenge wasn’t great enough, he had an injured foot that made every step painful.

He lost 35 litres of sweat during this little stroll!

To be honest, the whole thing was bordering on nuts, but the effort and mental strength was amazing, a real source of inspiration.  Since I saw it, whenever I start to feel tired I compare my position with what he had to deal with.  It’s never failed to give me an extra boost of energy so far!

I also liked the fact that he really didn’t enjoy his ice bath afterwards.  I’ve always wondered how pleasurable they must be.  The answer appears to be “not very!”.  I understand the rejuvenational benefits an ice bath may have, but I’ll be giving them a miss if that’s OK.  If I were to have one it could literally turn out to be the last thing I did!

The part of the James Cracknell story I wasn’t expecting was that he got knocked off his bike and suffered a serious head injury from which he’s still recovering.  Ignoring how the injury happened, I also found his recovery inspiring.  It certainly helped me put my rehabilitation into some context.  Again, what he went through in the months after his accident was on a different scale to what I’ve had to deal with.  I am very lucky!

So, over the coming weeks I’m going to knuckle down and do the work.  No excuses.

Alternative energy sources

According to my Bike Computer I had a remarkably good session on the Turbo Trainer yesterday.

It was my third day on the bike in succession, so I was expecting to be a little jaded.  This would be compounded by the fact that it was Thursday evening, approaching the end of a long(ish) week.

Not last night I wasn’t!

As it turned out, I covered approximately 10% more distance than I have ever covered before following the same video workout and I didn’t feel like I had worked any harder than usual.

It was out of the norm enough for me to think something was different… the obvious answer is that there was something wrong with the Bike Computer, but in the spirit of positive thinking, let’s consider other options.

Mentally, I was slightly distracted, thinking about the exciting events of the day.  I know it’s good not to obsess about the time or distance, but I can’t imagine that distraction could have make such a significant difference.  After all, I still had to follow the instructions so I can’t have been so “out of it”, could I?

I may just have got stronger and fitter, but it was a huge improvement in just a couple of days, so I think we can rule that out.

Having considered the other potential factors, I can only identify a surprisingly refreshing cup of Lemon and Ginger Tea as the differentiating factor.  If it genuinely did make the difference, I need to get some more!

I’ve never been a fan of herbal teas.  For me they have always lacked body and depth, but this was different.  The fact that it gave me super-human powers was a complete bonus!

I’m not the only one to have discovered the Lemon and Ginger Tea!

Having discovered one alternative energy source, this morning a selection of Sports Nutrition Drinks and Gels arrived.  I’ve never used them before, but they’ll feature in my weekend ride.  I’m hoping they’ll provide an extra boost as the miles start to clock up.  If they’re half as effective as the Herbal Tea I’ll be flying!

Anger Management

I used to get angry, very angry.  I could get disproportionately angry at little things.  I could feel the frustration growing in my belly, bubbling up inside.

I didn’t ever really have mechanism for venting my feelings. Some people shout, others slam doors or hit things.  One of my former bosses had an elaborate array of ways to express his anger, all unpleasant and highly visible.  He had proper grown up temper tantrums.  I just used to get wound up and moan at people close to me, people that really didn’t deserve it.

My frustration would fester throughout the day, re-emerging every time I thought about the triggers.  I’d regularly get home in a bad mood, and have a drink to help “chill out”.

Angry? Me?

I had a run-in with someone about 48 hours before my Heart Attack.  A short, bad tempered interaction that left me fizzing.  I was busy, trying to juggle too many things.  We had a difference of opinion that quickly got heated.  I’m not sure if, in itself, it was that exceptional an event.  However, it’s significance increased when I ended up in hospital having undergone a Cardiac Procedure.

The individual actually sent me an email the following Monday, about 24 hours after my Heart Attack, wanting to continue our “discussion”.  I just apologised and told him he was right.  I was wrong.

Since my Heart Attack things have been different.  I don’t see the Red Mist in the way I used to.  I just don’t get the feelings in my stomach that I used to.  I seem to find it much easier to let things go, to move on.

I have recently read a few articles on the detrimental health impacts of anger.  It certainly couldn’t have helped me.  Whether it was a symptom or a cause of my Heart Disease, things seem to have changed for me since last summer.  I don’t know exactly why, but there are at least three factors that may have contributed to this change:

  1. Medication:  My medication keeps my blood pressure artificially low.  Would this influence how I would react to frustrations or not?  Perhaps it’s just a positive psychological factor.
  2. Exercise:  I am doing a lot more exercise which itself helps to relieve tension and stress.  My regular sessions perhaps help dissipate any latent frustration so I just don’t get the build-up that I used to.
  3. Perspective:  The Heart Attack provided a me with a different scale of what’s important and what’s not.  Some of the things that used to wind me up make me cringe thinking about them.

I’m assuming that I still generally get myself into similar situations as I used to.  The world didn’t suddenly become cleansed of unfairness, free of idiots or clear of ignorance.  Things still wind me up (all too frequently I’m afraid), they just don’t have the same short or long term effect on me.

imagesERHLIOIY

So in summary, I concur with the view that anger is bad for your health.  Personally, I feel much better without so much of it in my life!

Search and Rescue

Despite snow still laying in the ground, I went to bed last night hopeful that today would see my first on-road cycle of the year.  I awoke from my slumber to see a clear sky, a light breeze and no signs of rain or frost.  Things we’re looking promising!

The weatherman promised temperatures of between 2 – 4 degrees C.  It was going to be chilly!  Six layers on my upper half (two wind proof), would hopefully do the trick.  Add thick gloves, a hat and a snood, two pairs of leggings and shoe covers.  I was confident I would survive!

So, I headed out.  Solo.  Keen to test my fitness after hundreds of miles on the Turbo Trainer.

I immediately realised my judgement of the wind was over optimistic.  Rather than “light breeze” I re-assessed this to be a “fresh breeze”, potentially even a “strong breeze” (Isn’t the Beaufort Scale awfully polite!  I would describe the weather as being “bloody windy”. If there were a Cyclist’s Wind Scale it would have recorded something along the lines of “Liable to significantly disrupt forward motion, sideways diversions also possible.”)

However, I was out and moving (albeit slowly!).  The fact that the first 20 miles of so were going to be into the teeth of the wind didn’t dampen my spirit.  I was looking forward to fighting through and then flying home.

It was tough going!

Time to consider some alternative bike designs?

There were a number of options on my route.  I could easily add or lose 10 miles if I wanted to.  My battle against the wind resulted in me stopping to rest before the first major decision point.  By the time I reached it I had decided to get the miles in and not to worry about the speed, so rather than heading home, I headed out into the country.

The road was in poor shape.  Single track.  Rutted and covered in debris left by run-off from recent storms.  At my furthest point from home, the inevitable happened…  I picked up a rear puncture.  D’oh!

My options were limited.  Obviously I wasn’t carrying supplies.  Why would I do that?  I’d never need them.  Even if I had a new inner tube with me, time was against me.  The conditions were far from ideal, but more pressingly we had a lunch appointment with the in-laws that couldn’t be missed!

I felt helpless and frustrated.  (In reality I guess it was more along the lines of being hopeless and frustrating!)

Perhaps it’s time to get a dog?

Having quickly assessed the situation, I did what anyone would have done in my situation… I called home for assistance.  I was getting close to desperation by the time that the phone was answered on my third attempt.  I had got Louise (my wife) out of the shower. (I think the girls will need some more training before manning the phones in an emergency response unit.  It could have taken hours before they got off the sofa to answer the phone!).

Louise:  …
Me:  “Yes it is an emergency.”
Louise:  …
Me:  “No, not that sort of emergency.”
Louise:  …
Me:  “I have a puncture.”
Louise:  …
Me:  “I’m in the middle of nowhere.”
Louise:  …
Me:  “Can you please come and get me?”

Fortunately the promise of a Sunday lunch with the family had put her in a good mood, and with little persuasion Louise kindly agreed to come to my rescue.

I felt better immediately, but I was conscious that I would get cold quickly.  I wasn’t yet out of danger!  Putting my survival skills into action I found a nice bench to sit on, in the sun but out of the wind.  Perfect!

After what seemed like an eternity, Louise found me.  Still conscious.  In good spirits.  Safe.  My hero!

***

So what will I do differently in the future?

Well, firstly I guess I’ll have to practice repairing a rear puncture again.

And I guess it’s about time I started taking the repair kit and tools I received for Christmas with me when I head out.  I really don’t fancy having to test my workmanship out on the road, but at least it’ll make me a (little) bit more self-sufficient (little being the operative word!).

Of course, avoiding getting punctures would be a good move too!

Surf’s up!

There was a window earlier today… I was sitting in the office, looking out of the window at a perfect February morning, sun shining, a clear blue sky, not a breath of window and bone dry roads.  After the miserable weather of the past few weeks, it was ideal conditions to get out on the bike.

I felt like screaming “Surf’s up!” and heading home.  Screw the four o’clock Friday, it’s stopped raining and the sun’s out!  A spontaneously extended weekend…

But I didn’t… and the window was a short one.

A momentary glimpse of spring in Scotland!

Having spent part of the afternoon planning my weekend cycling route, I met the girls for a Valentine’s Day trip to see a film.  After a couple of hours in the dark, we emerged into a torrential storm!  To make matters worse, by the time we arrived home the precipitation had turned to snow.  Marvellous!

Momentum is starting to build to the Euro City Cycle now.  Having got the “all clear” from the cardiologist, I’m keen to break free of the shackles of the Turbo Trainer, get some wind in my hair and some real miles in my legs.

Recently I compared my performance today against what I was capable of in October – I’m so much stronger now.  I’m able to do more than 40% more distance in the same time now as I was then (following the exact same video workout).  I’m really keen to see how this translates onto the road, but unfortunately it looks like I’ll have to wait.

The view from our front door… and the snow keeps falling!

As the snow falls outside, I feel I need an injection of something to keep my spirits up.  My “Nordic Noire” Christmas Box-set didn’t really seem to fit the bill so I’ve cracked open my BBC “London Olympics 2012” extended highlights DVDs.  That should do the trick!

C’mon Chris (Froome)! C’mon Bradley (Wiggins)! C’mon Mark (Cavendish)!  I know it didn’t come off last time, but maybe there’s an alternative ending on the DVD version!!!

Cardiologist says “You’re good to go!”

Today, 235 days after I was discharged from hospital, I had my follow-up Cardiology Check-up.  Having waited for such a long time I had mentally built it up to being a big deal, and I was apprehensive as the time of my appointment approached…

Aren’t hospitals are strange places!  As I ran the gauntlet of smokers alley and approached the Main Entrance, it occurred to me how different this visit was from my last one.  Are there any other buildings where the various users can have such vastly different experiences?  As an individual, each visit can have such dramatically different purposes and impacts; births / deaths, delight / despair, mundane / eventful, excitement / dread, etc..

Fortunately for me, this visit was short and positive.  I had an ECG on arrival, again bringing back memories of my previous visit as my chest was shaved to improve the contact points.  One big difference this time, however, was that everything was a little more relaxed!

After only a few minutes, the Cardiologist was ready to see me.  He reviewed my notes, took my Blood Pressure and asked a few questions:

“Everything’s Perfect!”  Dr, Noman (My Cardiologist)

I took this to mean “Thing’s are as good as they could be.”  Which is also pretty good!

Again, everything was more relaxed, so I had a chance to ask some questions:

Dizziness?  Due to medication.  There are some options, but I am on the optimal dosage and should stick to it if I can.  The best approach is to take my time when getting up (See Golden Rule #1).

Sensations in my chest area?  Consider them normal, as long as it doesn’t feel like I did before I was admitted last time (i.e. as long as I don’t feel like I’m having a Heart Attack!).

Exercise?  To be encouraged, as long as I don’t feel pain in my chest.  Make sure I eat properly to minimise the dizziness.

How hard can I safely exercise?  The drugs should prevent me from going “over the top”, but keep an eye on my Heart Rate (120 is a sensible upper limit). 

My sponsored cycle, 300 miles over four days?  (This prompted a little more thought…)  I hadn’t previously had a Physical Stress Test, so we went back to the images of my Angioplasty.  [I should have realised, but the whole procedure had been recorded.  Not me on the hospital bed being brave, or the attentive staff, but the business end of proceedings (i.e. my Heart).]

My Heart (LAD)

My Heart post insertion of Stents

Last time I saw the images, I had a lot on my mind!  I’ve spent so much time thinking about what’s going on inside me since last June, it was amazing to see them again!

The conclusion was that the damage to my Heart itself was minor and the narrowing of my other arteries was not sufficient to restrict blood flow, so I’m good to go!  So good in fact that there’s no need for any further follow up visits unless something happens at my end.

So, the final “thumbs up”, I can really start training rather than exercising now, as long as I obey the rules…

Golden Rule #3:  Make sure I am properly fuelled before (and while) doing exercise.

Golden Rule #4:  If I feel dizzy while exercising, stop and refer to Golden Rule #3. 

Golden Rule #5:  If I feel chest pains while exercising, STOP!