Monthly Archives: March 2014

Spring forward

Changing the clocks to British Summer Time seems to be more significant this year than just the loss of an hour’s sleep.  For me it feels like it marks the beginning of an exciting new phase.

Hopefully this isn’t your first notification!

The fast approaching Cycle extravaganzas are a big factor.  I’ve been working on my preparations throughout the winter, primarily putting in the miles on the Turbo Trainer.  I’ve already been getting outside regularly over the past few weeks, the time change and the lengthening days will hopefully make this an increasingly frequent and pleasurable occurrence.

The countdown clock for the first event, the Euro City Cycle, will soon tick down to days rather than months,  As it gets increasingly closer it’s going to be difficult to contain my excitement!  I am really looking forward to it! (Did I mention that already? 🙂)

It’s nice to be reaping some of the rewards from the hours of training over the winter.  As the saying goes, “It doesn’t get any easier, you just go faster.”, but at least I’ve established a solid platform for the summer’s activities.

We’ll be heading off to a Holiday / Activity Centre for a few days during the Easter break.  This time I’m really looking forward to the things I can do rather than thinking about the things I can’t.  This is a big change from the last time we went away as a family.  I really enjoyed our time away, but my Heart Attack was still a major factor, both psychological and physical.  It feels very different now.

OK, so there may be some activities that I won’t be doing!

It’s all a little bit more “normal” for all of us.  We all have much more confidence in what I am capable of doing and my lifestyle choices are no longer “strange”.  It should lead to a much more relaxed time away, albeit active!  Again, I’m really looking forward to it!

***

I’ve generally tried to maintain a positive outlook on life since the Heart Attack.  I’ve never really found this difficult to conjure up, but sometimes it was more to make me feel good rather than because I was feeling good.

At the moment it doesn’t take any effort at all.  Life is good and there’s lots to look forward to!

Does my bum look big in this?

I’m not the most tech-savvy person in the world, but over time I’ve become more comfortable with the internet.  Given my general dislike of shops, I have also embraced internet shopping for many of my (infrequent) purchases.

I am, however, still relatively conservative so there are some things that I believe should only be bought in person.  Shoes, for example, should be tested before purchase.  The thought of having to return shoes that are unsatisfactory just seems like too much hassle.  Why not make sure you’re happy with them before you buy and take a lot of work out of the process?

Whatever you do, don’t come back with shoes!

 

It turns out that bicycle saddles are also on my “must buy in person” list.

Up until now I have survived with the saddle that came with my bike.  Having initially experienced significant discomfort when riding, the level of discomfort has reduced over time,  Most of this is due to be unwittingly obeying Rule #5: I’ve “toughened up” (See comments for Bad Habits),

Given the amount of time I’m going to be spending in the saddle over the coming weeks, I figure that I should target “minimal discomfort”.  If there’s one area I can invest in to help accomplish this, it’s my rear.  So, being close to a Cycle Shop today, I decided to pop in to check out the range of saddles.

It appears that the key factors in selecting a saddle are (1) Posture, the more upright your position the more padding you’re likely to require, and (2) Sit Bone Width, the distance between the key pressure points when sitting.

Selecting the “right” saddle therefore required my seat to be measured… another new experience for me!  The Shop had a sophisticated, reusable measurement device (You can safely try this at home*).  It required me to sit on a piece of soft foam cut into a figure of eight for about 30 seconds.  The distance between the centre of the indentations were then measured.

Somehow the process looks even less dignified without flesh, skin and clothing! Surely a tape measure would do the trip!?

The first attempt resulted in an unconvincing reading.  When checked against the available seats my derriere was “off the scale”  (too small),  A re-measurement resulted in a slightly higher reading, but it was still on the very low end.

So, after having suffered the indignity of the process, I selected a saddle.  Unfortunately, there are no guarantees on comfort, but a money back offer will soften the blow.

However the saddle works out, I can be confident in the fact that irrespective of the answer to the question (“Does my bum look big in this?”), I’m a petite deep down inside!

***

* According to Bike Radar, to check your Sit Bone Width:

“Take a piece of aluminium kitchen foil and place it on a carpeted stair. Sit on the foil, lean forward a bit to approximate your riding position, then lift your feet. This should leave a good impression of your rear in the foil, and you can measure between the two points of deepest impression to get your sit bone width.

‘Narrow’ sit bone width would be 100mm or less, medium 100-130mm, wide over 130mm. “

Bad habits

I’ve recently developed a bad habit.  It’s not a habit that will cause me problems in the years to come, slowly building from a “habit” to a “problem”, but one that has the potential for immediate and catastrophic outcomes…

On three separate occasions now I have ridden off after a food / drink break without zipping up my saddle bag, only to discover my mistake several miles later.

On the face of it, it may not seem like it’s the world’s worst habit, but it’s already starting to ruin my life.  The bag is only small.  As a result, it’s usually stuffed with important items:  essential bike supplies, tools, food, emergency medication, mobile telephone, etc.

Extensive testing has proved the bag to be more reliable if you zip it up before moving!

 

The first time it resulted in a lost key.  It was a non-descript key, lost somewhere in the nether regions of Aberdeenshire, so more of a frustration than anything else.  On Sunday however the memory resulted in me going out for a ride without a house key.

It was a conscious decision:  I was only going out for a quick spin, the girls were sleeping, we were all due to go out together upon my return, I had plenty of time… I wouldn’t need a key.

Unfortunately, my reasoning proved to be flawed on a number of different fronts.

[So far my cycling career has been a series of slightly painful lessons.  I’m learning from all of them, however I fear there are a huge number more to learn before we’re done!]

I’ve given some thought to my saddle bag habit:  I could blame it on me achieving some level of transcendental trance while out on my bike, becoming at one with my surroundings, a different level of consciousness in which zips have little meaning.  However, I suspect it’s more likely to be due to tiredness (a little) and shear stupidity (a lot).  If Homer Simpson rode a bike…

My most recent lesson meant I had to “case the joint” when I arrived home.  I was desperately hoping one of the doors had been left unlocked.  Apparently I leave them unlocked “all the time”, but unfortunately not on this occasion.

Stuck outside, I didn’t have a huge number of options available to me.  A few desperate but unanswered calls later reduced my options still further.  I knew where the girls were, and it was within range.  Given I was starting to get cold, I decided I should catch them up on my bike.

Fortunately (for once!) my plan came off.  In the process I introduced my bike to a novel new use… transportation.  I did get a few strange looks for turning up at the Sports Relief Run with my cycling shoes on, but what can a man do!?

Fortune favours the brave

Last night, the forecast for this morning wasn’t promising.  It was looking ominously like winter may return.  This morning’s ride promised strong winds, icy roads and below freezing conditions.  Not nice.  Potentially miserable, in fact.

Who knew what weather this morning would bring!

The fact that we were planning an early start didn’t help.  It would mean a 5.45 alarm for me so I had time to eat and digest a decent breakfast.  Despite doing as much advance preparation as possible, there was always a chance that I’d disturb the slumber of other members of the household. This had the potential to add further misery to proceedings.

The worst case scenario was that I set the alarm, woke everyone up, and the weather was too bad to head out.  This would result in me being frustrated and extremely unpopular.

So, there was a suggestion that we cancel our outing.  Given there are just six weeks until the Euro City Cycle, and I’ve only recently started cycling outside again after a winter on the Turbo Trainer, I was really keen (bordering on desperate) to get out.  So we took a chance.

Fortunately I awoke to a bright, still day.  There was a bit of frost around resulting in a “crisp” morning, but it was far better than we had hoped for.  Result!

The River Dee from the bridge in Ballater this morning

Unfortunately we lost one of our group (of three) before our ride began (I must make a note to add my cycling shoes to the “essential items of kit” for the Euro City Cycle!).  However, Mr P and I enjoyed a nice ride which included a half-way coffee in the sun in Ballater, on Royal Deeside.

A bright morning in Ballater!

Today was the first time I’ve cycled over 50 miles.  The ride wasn’t fast, but it wasn’t easy either.  It’s great to get another decent ride into my legs.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to back it up with a short outing tomorrow to get more used to cycling on consecutive days.

Hopefully I’ll be able to get out early again in the morning.  What a difference the longer days make… let’s hope I’m fortunate with the weather again!

Confused

Every so often someone will ask me what I’ve done to lose weight, or what should be included as part of a Healthy Heart diet?

Over the past 9 months I have managed to get myself into reasonable shape, partly through exercise and partly through watching what I eat and drink.  I’ve taken a fairly hard line in determining what I should be consuming:  low saturated fat, lots of fruit and vegetables, no alcohol, no caffeine, low salt.  I have not dieted as such, when I’ve been hungry I’ve eaten.  However I have generally avoided processed food and stuck fairly religiously to the “good” stuff.

The problem is, having made these changes to my diet, I’m confused myself… what is the “good” stuff?

There’s so much contradictory information out there, new research is released on an all too frequent basis.  It’s difficult to know what to do for the best.  Since my Heart Attack I’ve been paying fairly close attention, and I’m confused.  What is it like if you just catch a newspaper or radio headline?  How is anyone supposed to follow a simple, healthy diet based on the “noise” that’s thrown at us?!

Here are some snippets from recent articles:

More research needed into fat guidelines  (The British Heart Foundation 17/03/14):

A study suggests there’s not enough evidence to back the current UK guidelines on the types of fat we eat.  But we think more research is needed before suggesting any major changes.

At the moment guidelines generally encourage us to swap out saturated fats – found in foods like dairy products – for unsaturated fats found in products such as margarine or sunflower oil.

But this analysis, by researchers including BHF Professor John Danesh from the University of Cambridge, of 72 separate studies suggests this change does not impact on our risk of developing heart disease.

So that’s clear then!  Bad fat might not be as bad for us as we thought!  Excellent!

Living and working near takeaways linked to obesity(The British Heart Foundation 13/03/14)

People who live and work near a high number of takeaways are more likely to be obese than people less exposed to these outlets, according to new research we helped to fund.

The researchers found that those who live or work near to takeaway outlets were almost twice as likely to be obese than those who encountered the fewest outlets.

Being obese isn’t good for you, I get that.  I’m assuming, although the article doesn’t mention it, that you need to eat the Take Away food in order to put on weight.

Apparently, giving people information to make healthy choices will reduce the risks of living in this sort of environment… assuming they know what a healthy choice is after they’ve absorbed the information!

Are we too sweet on sugar?  (The British Heart Foundation  04/02/14)

Added sugar is associated with increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease (CVD), researchers have claimed.

A US study used national health survey data to examine added sugar consumption as a percentage of daily calorie intake. Higher levels of added sugar were then linked to an increased risk of death from CVD.

And so it goes on… sugar, salt, carbohydrates, this fat, that fat, vegetarian diets, Mediterranean diets.  There is even news that chocolate might be the answer (or part of it, at least).  What to do?

For me, there are some basic guidelines that seem to make sense:

    1. You have to eat.  Not eating is not a great idea… not very sustainable.
    2. Things that look like they did in their natural state are generally better for you.
    3. It’s good to eat a variety of different things.
    4. Processed foods can contain a multitude of evils, beware!
    5. Don’t over-eat, manage portions sizes.
    6. Practice moderation and balance.
    7. Try to avoid obsessing over food, it’ll take a lot of fun out of life!

From my perspective, if you’re aware of what you’re consuming it’s a big step towards doing the right things.  I don’t feel like I’m in a position to suggest what to eat, or not.

As I’ve already said, there’s plenty of advice out there.  Good luck in deciding which advice to follow!

E-Minus 50 (days) and counting…

Crikey!  Doesn’t time fly!  It seems like only last week that I began to seriously start thinking about the Euro City Cycle and prepared my comprehensive “To Do” list.  Today it’s just 50 days until the challenge starts.  Definitely time to take stock and plan the finishing touches…

I really want to avoid any last minute panics.  I recognise that whatever I do, life may throw me a curve ball, I may hit an unexpected hurdle, or a good old fashioned screw up will make things more interesting than I’d want them to be.  However, I still have plenty of time to address any shortfalls so hopefully I’ll avoid any crises.

Euro City Cycle Jersey

Logistics:  Done!  Well, as much as I can do in advance, I think.

I have (return) train tickets booked for myself and my bike between Aberdeen and London.  I’ve paid a few extra pounds to go First Class so I should have power and Wi-Fi to allow me to be productive while en-route.  The tickets were cheaper than I was expecting.  I watched the website closely so I was quick off the mark when the tickets were released – they could have got eye-wateringly expensive otherwise.  (For the record, a request for assistance from the Train Company in the way of subsidised tickets was politely declined)

Pre- and Post-Cycle hotels are also booked, so the big ticket items are in hand.

The only segments of the trip that I haven’t organised in advance (and probably won’t) are the transfer between stations in London, and the final leg of the trip to the hotel in Brentwood.  There are a few options available to me (including Black Cab in Central London I think – Have any of you ever taken a Road Bike in the back of a Cab?), so I’ll just play it by ear.

I don’t think either of the outstanding legs of the journey are very long, so I will make sure I can comfortably carry my kit and manoeuvre my bike at the same time so I can walk if necessary (I am definitely not planning to ride in Central London with a rucksack on my back!).

Having taken some advice from hardened distance cyclists, I have come to the realisation that my life may have been spent subconsciously preparing for this trip;  I don’t have many clothes, I travel very light and I’m not a fan of “stuff”.  As a result, packing should be a doddle.  I’ll wear the only clothes I’ll take with me on the journey down, carrying my cycling kit and a couple of extra pairs of pants.  Simple.

Kit:  I say I don’t like “stuff”, but I have been slowly accumulating cycling accessories over the past few weeks.  I now carry spares and a repair kit with me everywhere I go.  I still need to get myself a medical kit and an array of essential Pre- and Post-Saddle cycling creams (Thanks for the advice!).  It feels a bit optimistic, but I also need to think about sunscreen!

As far as the cycling kit (clothes & food supplements) is concerned, the man from Wiggle is becoming very familiar with where I live.  I’ll have a final push in a couple of weeks, but I think everything is under control as far as kit is concerned.

Incidentally, if anyone has any further advice on essentials I should take with me (other than “don’t forget your bike” and “take lots of creams”) I’m keen to learn!

Fundraising:  I have decided to broaden the scope of this action to “Fundraising and Awareness“.  I have paid for the ride myself.  As a result, all the money I raise will go to the British Heart Foundation.  I will continue to raise as much money as I can over the Summer, but focus my efforts more on awareness.  After all, I have little control over whether people decide to sponsor me or not, but I do have some control over the messages:

  1. Everyone can personally take action to reduce their chances of experiencing the effects of Heart Disease; and
  2. There is hope after having a Heart Attack.  Life goes on.  You can still do things.  You can even do new things!

So, I’ll focus on the messages and hope that sponsorship will follow.  (http://www.justgiving.com/heartattackwaitingtohappen)

Fitness:  I’ve been able to get outside regularly over the past couple of weeks, which has been great!  I’ve slowly ramped up the mileage of each ride to my target distance (50 miles).  Now I think I just need to do more of the same and, in the process, avoid hurting myself.

There’s more work to do, but things are progressing well.  I’m increasingly confident that the cycling won’t be too much of an issue for me.  I guess the big unknown is the back-to-back mileage.  Realistically, I’m never going to do 300 miles over 4 days before the Euro City Cycle itself, so I’ll just have to rely on the Training Guidance I’ve been given.

***

In addition, I think it might also be a good idea to get my bike serviced before I head off.  After all, it’s going to play an important role in the trip!  I know I should learn to do it for myself, but one thing at a time!  I suspect that if I did try to do it myself at the moment it’d result in an expensive bill for someone who knows what they’re doing to fix my “fixes”!

***

So, all in all I think I’m in reasonable shape!  I’m sure the next 50 days will fly by.  I’m getting increasingly excited about the event, to the extent that I’m really happy I’ve got other events to look forward to after the Euro City Cycle.  I suspect it’ll leave a bit of a hole in my life when it’s done!

Homeward bound

We live at the top of a hill.  It’s a hill of reasonable stature that gets gradually steeper as you approach the top.  As a place to live it’s good it you’re concerned about rising sea levels or floods in general.  It isn’t so good however as a starting point for exercise if you’re recovering from a Heart Attack.

There are some other benefits of living at the top of a hill!

In the early days of my rehabilitation, when I first arrived home from hospital, I tried to avoid the slopes as much as possible (see An athlete’s pulse and “little” walks).  It was possible to do with a 5 minute walk, but I soon had to take them on.  My twice daily walks would incorporate slow, steady ascents, allowing me to gradually build my strength and confidence.

Since I’ve been riding my bike I’ve avoided the hill completely.  Instead, I’ve put the bike rack on the car and driven to a flatter area to start and finish my rides.  It’s been a pain, but it reduced the risk of pushing myself too hard.

Given the girls have never managed to scale the hill on their bikes either it has held fear for the whole family.  I have therefore had strong support for my conservative, risk averse approach.

Over the past few months the hill seems to have grown.  Like a volcanic island, it has risen a few inches every time I have driven up it.  Concern over the impact the hill might have on my health has allowed in to grow into a challenge of almost biblical proportions.

Yesterday, however, I decided to take it on…

The gentle ascent to our house

I finally managed to get away from work early enough to get out for a ride before darkness descended, taking advantage of another beautiful afternoon.  I did a reasonable mid-week ride (my first), but the majority of it was just a warm up for the final ascent.

As I approached the lower slopes I felt strong but a little anxious.  I applied the lessons learned at the weekend;  low gear, steady cadence, maintain momentum. always try to keep something in reserve.

It turned out to be a bit of an anti-climax.  I made it without any distress and not even a thought of getting off to walk.  An anti-climax, but another major milestone!  Overcoming this hurdle will take about 30 minutes off most of my rides.  It’ll make heading out in the evening more doable, and also finish them off with a cheeky little ascent.

It also served as a reminder of how far I’ve come since last June and my “little” walks!

Inverness, here I come!