Monthly Archives: April 2014

Living life on the edge

Don’t tell anyone, but yesterday I went on a Water Slide. Given my Heart “Condition” it was an illegal act, but one that was considered at length (well, considered at least) before I took the plunge.

I’m not sure exactly where the perceived risks lay; it certainly wasn’t too frightening nor particularly exhilarating, it didn’t require significant physical exertion, and it didn’t expose me to dramatic changes in my environment. Still, it was forbidden and I did it, and it felt good (apart from slightly battered elbows).

If the exhilaration doesn't get you, the stair might!

If the exhilaration doesn’t get you, the climb might!

Following the Heart Attack, it took me a while to get comfortable re-exposing myself to life’s risks. What I’ve discovered is that they generally fall into one of two categories:

  1. Sudden trauma; “one off” events that don’t happen on a day to day basis. Accidents would fall into this category, events that are outside our direct control. I would also include extreme sports where the activity, situation or environment is a factor.
  2. Steady decline; day to day behaviours that are detrimental to our wellbeing or our health. The things we do where the numbers conspire against us over time. A single occurrence is unlikely to get us, but the compound effect might.

I’ve come to believe that the second category is most dangerous. It takes no effort, no thought but is guaranteed if you’re on that path.

Of course, there’s a third category… the risk of doing nothing; opting out, becoming irrelevant, out of touch. Becoming so cautious that life loses excitement, hope.

For many years, I was in steady decline, arrested only by the Heart Attack. It kicked my behind and prompted me into action.

Now I’m back on the right course, I’m not going to throw it away by taking silly risks, but at the same time I’m going to live my life. I will think about what I’m doing, weigh up the risks, and from time to time live life on the edge!

OK, so I won't be doing that any time soon!

OK, so I won’t be doing that any time soon!

Back to nature

Monday marked the beginning of a short family break; few days of exercise and fresh air in the middle of forest in Northern England. The boys (our cats) had been captured and checked in to the Cat Hotel, happy to spend a week in the lap of luxury; heated beds, over-eating, wild parties and the kind of attention that only money can buy. We, on the other hand, were heading back to nature; five days of living off our wits, pitting ourselves against the best that the forest could throw at us. Center Parcs.

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The illusive Red Squirrel

Having fought through torrential rain and heavy traffic, we eventually arrived at our destination. To celebrate, we passed it several times as we desperately searched for the nearest supermarket, in urgent need of “essentials” to sustain us for the days ahead. The first few hours followed a familiar pattern, excited children running amok and stressed adults trying to get over the journey, slowly coming to terms with the speed things are done around here. This was particularly evident in the bicycle hire queue where frustration builds and the tension is palpable. As the third “Expert” is called to help the Cycle Hire Attendant fix the uncooperative till, the same thought is written across the face of all in attendance…

When can I start having fun?

Freshly equipped with their personal weapons of mass destruction, the newly crowned cyclists wobble their way away from the Cycle Hire Centre. To spice things up, they quickly come into mortal combat with cars (for one day only), desperate to end their tiring journeys and start having fun too.

***

For the first time ever, I don’t feel quite so much of a fitness fraud. Our bags are bulging with sports kit, but it’s all in regular use. We’ve even brought our own bikes. For us, any wobbling will be due to ineptitude rather than lack of familiarity. We are ready! Within minutes, we start to experience nature; a mother duck leading her new-born ducklings, pheasant, wood pigeon, the promise of red squirrels (at least signs warning of the promise of red squirrels) and a baby rabbit. And then the tranquil forest was disturbed by a dreadful shock… a blood curdling scream followed by the sound of two feet landing after having jumped high into the air. Then silence. Louise’s eyes were full of terror with her discovery… the boys had left a little present inside her shoe, a small keepsake, a tiny wee mouse. Perhaps nature can be fun after all! Mouse 1

Epic journeys

There are just 31 days until I start the Euro City Cycle (London to Amsterdam to Brussels, 300 miles over 4 days) and I’m entering the final stages of my preparation.

When I originally signed up for the event it really was a stretch target.  No-one was in a position to tell me I would be able to do it.  I was still in Cardiac Rehab.  The medical professionals weren’t going to encourage me to push myself too hard, and the rest of us had no idea what I’d be capable of.  I really was heading into the unknown.  To be honest, it would have been considered a challenge even without the Heart Attack given my lack of physical activity.

Committing to the event was scary too.  It set a hard deadline.  If I hadn’t been able to do it due to medical concerns it would have said something about the impact my Heart Attack was going to have on the rest of my life.  It would have been much easier for me to “wait and see”, to only to commit to something I knew I could do, but that’s not really me, and certainly not how I want to live.

***

Yesterday’s  cycle served as a reminder of how far I’ve come…

80 Miles

Having got a solid winter’s training under my belt, primarily inside on the Turbo Trainer, I’ve been slowly building the distance outside.  Yesterday saw a big jump to 80 miles!  If the truth been told, it was probably too big a jump (from just under 60 miles).  We weren’t really monitoring the miles, we just followed a route.  It was a tough ride, but good to complete!

A few weeks ago I took on “proper” hills for the first time.  My initial hilly cycle resulted in me walking for part of two of the three main inclines.  I hadn’t considered that I would need to develop a strategy for hills, to learn how to cycle up them, but that’s exactly what was required.  Now I’ve got to the point where I enjoy a good climb.  Each one represents an honest, visible and tangible challenge, laid out right in front of me.

Over time I’ve also become less obsessed by my Heart Rate.  I constantly monitor it, but I’m more relaxed.  The last time I visited the Cardiologist he was comfortable with me cycling and was happy that the medication would prevent me from pushing myself too hard.  It’s therefore become less of a concern for me, less of a constraint.

The drugs are working.  My short term recovery is amazing.  It’s a combination of the medication and my improving fitness but, after having pushed myself hard, my Heart Rate can drop off by 30 beats per minute in a couple of minutes.  I feel it too.  I enjoy regular breaks to eat / drink, but I don’t need long before I’m good to go again.

***

Having completed yesterday’s epic cycle I’m going to take a few days away from the Road Bike.  Instead, I’ll have some fun on the Mountain Bike, a machine that has been horribly neglected over the past few months.

MTB

There are just four more Saturday outings before I head south for the Euro City Cycle itself.  It’s just a milestone on my rehabilitation journey, but it’s an important one.  My key goals at this point are to stay fit and healthy.  Fingers crossed!

Everyday life

I had a rare dinner appointment this evening, so I decided to get my exercise via a lunchtime outing on the bike…

Now we’re moving towards “Summer”, I’m hoping to replace my regular Sufferfest workouts with short loops starting and finishing at home. I’m targeting 90 minutes as a basic outing, more ambitious trips will be saved for special occasions, predominantly weekends.

I’ve already ridden most of the likely circuits; they represented my early cycling challenges, back in the days when I was just starting out and very low on strength and stamina.  Variations have been added over time to increase the distance and create some variety, but they are based on the same basic routes.

Today’s ride, however, felt a little different.  Familiar landmarks came alive. The lunchtime outing made the cycle a whole new experience.  As it was a week day, things were happening… there was activity and people. It caught me quite off-guard!

As I wound my way through a sleepy little village, I encountered my first surprise… a funeral procession. From a distance, the bagpipes should have made me suspicious, but I was in my “meditation” zone. I turned a corner to find quite a gathering of people and a hearse approaching the graveyard.

Before I knew it, I was adjacent to the hearse, unsure of the etiquette but fairly sure I’d already blown it. With few other options, I slammed on my brakes and proceeded in what was intended to be a sedate, respectful manner. Once I was clear, I accelerated swiftly away, hoping I had gone unnoticed.

Overtaking slow moving traffic isn’t always the best course of action!

In retrospect, I probably should have stopped to pay my respects, but for how long? And, is it possible to pay respects in Lycra and light-enhancing glasses? On the bright side, I could have collided with the hearse, or panicked and toppled over, both of which I suspect would have been much more intrusive.

The school car park, which normally serves as a pit stop location, was also compromised today. Being lunchtime, the kids were outside playing. Once again, I didn’t consider school gates a particularly appropriate place to hang around dressed in Lycra. To avoid any risk of “incident” I carefully selected an alternative place to have a short rest.

As I headed home, fighting against a strong head wind and a persistent mizzle, I encountered a sign containing possibly the most dreaded six words for a cyclist (for me at least) “WHEN RED LIGHT SHOWS WAIT HERE”.

The road works themselves appeared insignificant, but the bollards disappeared far into the distance. I have several major fears regarding road works like this: a drag race with cars off the line when the lights turn green, increased pressure when “re-cleating”, the lights changing too fast leaving me in limbo with traffic approaching in the opposite direction. Overall they exacerbate many of my concerns with cycling generally.

Nooooooo!

When I’ve encountered road works at weekends, I’ve often felt like I was featuring in a hidden camera comedy show, sitting patiently at the lights waiting for non-existent road works. At least today there was some activity however pathetic.

Fortunately, and much to my relief, I was able to negotiate the road works without incident, and I was free to slug out the remainder of the trip in relative peace.

So… another quiet, uneventful ride completed. What will tomorrow have in store?