Author Archives: Paul Squire

About Paul Squire

At approximately 00.30 on 16th June 2013 I awoke with a severe tightening in my chest. I was having a Heart Attack. I was 42 years old, happily married with two beautiful daughters. It was a shock! I guess you could have described me as "a heart attack waiting to happen". Isn’t the benefit of hindsight a wonderful thing! Since the Heart Attack a lot has changed!

Fruity favourites

I don’t remember nectarines featuring in my early years. If they existed, they were probably a little exotic for the mainstream supermarkets.

From what I can remember, fresh fruit used to consist of the basics; Apples (Granny Smith, Golden Delicious or Cooking), Oranges and Bananas. It was regularly supplemented by the tinned variety in syrup, a healthy desert option, with cream or ice-cream.

Other fruit appeared on special occasions only; Grapefruit was a regular feature at my Grandparents; Satsumas appeared at Christmas; Grapes were a special treat (usually lasting minutes “post shop”). Soft fruit was a seasonal delight; sometimes hand-picked, occasionally home grown, always tasty.

You can’t go wrong with fresh, ripe soft fruit!

Peaches used to appear in summer, but they never quite did it for me. While I have always enjoyed the ripe, juicy flesh, I was never that big a fan of the texture of the skin. For me it always has undertones of a dropped sweet, too good to waste, reluctantly recovered from a hairy lie. While skinning a peach is always an option, the riper the fruit, the more messy the task. My tactic has generally been avoidance.

Nectarines are another kettle of fish! A smooth skin and tasty, succulent flesh; they have all the benefits of Peaches without the downside. Where were they all my life?!

Since my Heart Attack I have been eating a lot of fruit. As well as being good for me, it has filled a gap left by my abstinence from evening nibbles; crisps and nuts used to be one of my main food supplements. While the basics are good, a bit of variety always goes down well; Nectarines, Blueberries, Kiwi Fruit and Plums have all become favourites.

Fortunately the all-inclusive buffets over the past couple of weeks, while we were on holiday, featured lots of fruit. Although it was slightly limited in variety, it allowed me to keep up my fruit intake.

nectarines

The illusive nectarine… what’s not to like?!

The buffet even featured Nectarines on Day 1… a result! Unfortunately, it flattered to deceive, despite much anticipation they didn’t make a further appearance (perhaps they were too popular!), replaced instead by plenty of hairy Peaches. It was all very disappointing! Never mind… it just provided another reason to look forward to getting back home!

 

Catching up

Having arrived back from holiday there’s a lot of catching up to do…

We’ve had a lovely couple of weeks of relaxation, chilling in the sun in a variety of locations around the northern Mediterranean. For me it’s back down to earth with a bump as I prepare for the red-eye flight to London tomorrow morning.

It’s easier to catch up with some things than others; snail mail and email were dealt with in the small burst of energy that I experienced when I arrived home.

I guess the pile of mail could have been worse

To be honest, the burst of energy almost wasn’t enough. Having dug our way through the mail at the front door we discovered that the house was experiencing an ominous lack of power… while we were away the main fuse had tripped.

On the up side, the freezer needed to be de-frosted anyway. We had been saved the pain of conjuring up innovative meal ideas from the assorted remnants and left-overs in the freezer. However, we did have to decant the contents, in various states of “fruity” degradation, into bin bags. So although the timing was far from perfect we did more than catch up, if anything we got ahead!

I’m sure we’re not the first to discover the “auto-defrost” setting on our freezer

One thing I don’t have energy for today is exercise, but it’s definitely another area in which I have some catching up to do. I would describe my athletic pursuits over the past few weeks as “staying active” this is on the scale of:

  1. Sedentary
  2. Staying active (Often reserved for the older generation who wish to remain “sprightly”)
  3. Regular exercise
  4. In training

With only 6 weeks to go until Ride the North I need to redouble my efforts to prepare for it. I have managed some exercise over the past few weeks, but the level of intensity is far from what is required. I’m confident I’ve got a good foundation, but the training I do over the next few weeks will make the difference between it being a tough slog and a fun outing.

The girls have catching up of their own to do, although it appears to consist mostly of TV programs that were recorded while we were away. I’m sure it’ll take some time for them to work their way through this too, but until they do we’ll only be able to guess at the full extent of the carnage caused by the power outage!

 

 

Cruising

It’s not often that you get a chance to see into the future.  The long term impact of exercise and healthy living can be hard to quantify.  Conversely, it can be hard to understand the potential negative effects of poor life choices.

I have friends whose lifestyles have been heavily influenced by their parents prematurely suffering with poor health.  I am lucky in that my parents and in-laws are all fit and healthy, able to make the most of the opportunities the “Third Age” offers them.  They are reaping the benefits of an active lifestyle in which treats are still considered a treat and excess reserved for special occasions and grand-children.

You could argue that having a Heart Attack should have been enough to open my eyes; after all it could have killed me. To a degree this is correct.  However, death wasn’t necessarily the worst-case scenario, not for me at least.  Long term incapacitation would have been worse, my quality of life could have been compromised, and with it those around me that I care about most.  I was lucky.

Island Escape

The Island Escape… it’s not much but we like to call it home.

I am now four days into my first all-inclusive cruise, and it’s really helped bring things into focus.  A little close personal observation (nosiness!) has provided a unique opportunity to see both the negative impacts and some of the underlying choices that have may have contributed to them.

The passengers on the cruise are a different demographic than on our holidays to date; they are primarily couples and slightly older.  One of the overwhelming features is a lack of mobility; knee bandages and walking sticks are essential travel companions for many.  The general level of fitness appears to be extremely low with some of the physiques having been “carefully nurtured” over an extended period of time.

Even Cardiac Rehabilitation didn’t give me such a powerful insight; I was aware that only a small fraction of people take up the opportunity to participate in rehab.  That means that the majority are either unwilling or unable to attend, presumably choosing instead to rely on medication and / or luck for their recovery and future wellbeing.  I suspect some of the non-participants might also be on-board!

It’s scary… scary for the individuals who seem to be struggling to perform basic everyday activities.*  It’s also scary that until recently I was also on that course.

Fortunately everyone seems to be mobile enough to take full advantage of the “all-inclusive” part of the cruise… if you are unable to carry your plate or glass there always a helpful member of staff to assist.  Ironically, the only constraint I’ve discovered is on the Cardiac Setting in the gym… limited to 5 minutes… for health reasons presumably!

Cardiac Workout (Max)

***

* I appreciate not everyone has a completely free choice, but most of us are fortunate enough to have at least some level of influence over our physical well-being even though it may frustratingly diminish over time.  I also appreciate that I am very lucky to have more choice than most having received my “wake up call” so early!

Kick into the bend

Many years ago, when I was training seriously for the Long Jump, I used to travel into London each Sunday for training sessions. During the winter these trips featured a Monthly Test designed to monitor our progress.

I was part of a large “jumps” group used to congregate from a number of different clubs. There were exponents of Long Jump, Triple Jump and High Jump; both Male and Female; representing a range Age Groups (of which I always felt I was at the bottom end).

Most weeks we met at the glamorous setting of Wormwood Scrubs (at what is now known as the Linford Christie Sports Centre) but on special occasions, we met at Crystal Palace, the centre of UK Athletics at the time.

Wormwood Scrubs

Wormwood Scrubs… a great day out!

The monthly tests focused on strength and endurance. Each set of tests culminated with the dreaded 300 metre run: To be a good jumper you need to be able to run quickly and in a controlled fashion for about 30 metres. 300 metres was therefore way over distance, and a real test of stamina. It was quite different from a straight sprint both physically and mentally. If done properly, it hurt… a lot!

My strategy for the 300m tended to be to go out fast (down the back straight), to cruise around the bend, and then to use what I had left in the home straight. It was conservative, but guaranteed that I’d have strength to finish in one piece.

On one particularly memorable Sunday we had met at Crystal Palace for a technique session with a specialist Jumps Coach. After the technique session we prepared for a 300m test to round the afternoon off. I was in a small group of athletes from my home club which included a couple of junior internationals and my coach. We were highly competitive, but we all knew our place in the pecking order. I was comfortable being at the bottom end, the youngest and weakest.

The pain and exhaustion of a typical 300 metre race!

As we made our way to the starting line, my Coach had a quiet word in my ear:

Coach: “Lead them out fast and then kick into the bend.”

Me: “But…” (The idea was scary!)

Coach: “See what happens. Kick into the bend.”

So, that’s what I did. I led the group out, running hard down the back straight to hold my position, to stay ahead. As I hit the 200 metre mark I kicked again, accelerating as I entered the bend. I drove my arms hard to keep my legs turning over. As the bend unwound I remained in the lead, wondering when people would start to come past me.

As I approached the home straight I felt great. My confidence grew with every stride I stayed in the lead. As we straightened up I stood tall, feeling strong and relaxed, striding out smoothly. Rather than tying up and dropping back, I stretched my lead, crossing the line in first place.

***

We didn’t talk much afterwards. The usual banter was missing as we all tried to recover. From my perspective not much needed to be said. In the great scheme of things the race didn’t matter, it was just a monthly test, one of many, but for me it was significant. The time wasn’t important either, it was all about how I felt, and I felt like I’d arrived, I felt great!

I think it felt significant because I had put myself in the position to succeed through hard work (training up to 5 days a week) and because I had taken a risk that had paid off. The fact that I had performed well while in the spotlight was a bonus!

It’s a feeling I remember to this day, and one that has rarely been repeated since.

***

accomplishment

As we get older, it gets increasingly easy to “cruise around the bend”, to take things a little bit too easy and fall into bad habits. Unfortunately there are few people that will take us to one side and have a quiet word, to instil confidence in us, to encourage us to push ourselves, to “kick into the bend”.

Try it occasionally… you might just surprise yourself!

 

My London to Brighton experience

After all the preparation we almost missed it.  We had decided to take advantage of the option to “ride later than our allocated start time” to make the morning a little less frantic, to avoid the crowds at the start of the event and to ensure careful coordination of our arrival with lunch in Brighton.  Our plans were flawed on several fronts!

Our London to Brighton experience started smoothly.  We left the house at 09.06, just 6 minutes behind schedule.  Not bad!  We had even had time to capture the moment for prosperity…

Brothers - Before & After

Brothers – Before & After

 A “thumbs up” from “@LDNtoBrighton” (The official Twitter account for the event) reinforced our level of comfort as we set off for Clapham.  How were they to know where we were?  After all, there was a lot going on!

We abandoned the car (Thanks Michelle!) at the first sight of cyclists, just south of Tooting (09:46).  Crossing the torrent of participants to make our way to the start line on Clapham Common spirits were high.  The bubble was almost burst when we arrived at a rather deserted start area.

A few Marshalls were rounding up the stragglers, encouraging them to “Start ASAP!”  It turns out the final start time was 09:30.  A minor detail that had passed us by.  A schoolboy error!

Fortunately it didn’t take us long to catch up with the first tail-backs, perhaps not coincidentally in Tooting.

L2B Tooting

30,000 cyclists + London traffic + major junctions = Frustration!

It didn’t take us long to see the first of what turned out to be several accidents either… within a mile of the start, a chap (who, it turns out, wasn’t even participating in the London to Brighton event) managed to cycle into a stationary car at speed.  The result of the collision was a cut chin and, I suspect, concussion, as well as badly damaged wing mirror (on the car).  It was relief that we discovered that the carbon frame of his bike had also been broken as he was insisting that he was OK to ride on.  He clearly wasn’t!  We left him in the capable hands of a Marshall with Medics on the way.

Travelling through South London was a stop / start affair.  The Police were doing a fantastic job of clearing the roads of cyclists by sweeping up the rear to stop traffic, maintaining momentum one junction at a time.  It wasn’t until we hit the first hill however that our expectations for the rest of the day were properly set:

With so many cyclists even the smallest bottleneck can impact the flow.  Bottlenecks included narrowing roads, hills, accidents, traffic controls and confusion caused by refreshment stops (“Should we or shouldn’t we?”).  A combination of a narrowing road and a “steep” slope was enough to bring everything to a grinding halt.  It was annoying the first time, but became less so as we relaxed into the day.

Reigate Selfie

As we headed south, out of the hustle of London and into the countryside, the atmosphere changed.  Communities turned out in force to “make a day of it”.  Quiet villages took on a carnival atmosphere as brass bands played us on our way.

Refreshment stops were frequent and well stocked.  Even private dwellings offered “a free sit down”, sweets and showers from Water Pistols,  People generously came out of their houses to cheer us on our way; each cheer being greeted with a “Ping” on Philip’s bell.

It felt like we were part of something meaningful and positive.  A feel-good factor was capped by the way people ascended the final climb of the day;

Ditchling Beacon had been billed as the big challenge.  The most significant hill on the ride.  It was all downhill to Brighton from the top, but getting to the top would take some effort.  If it went the same way as the other substantial hills we’d encountered there would be no way of us cycling up it because of people walking.

Fortunately people seemed to decide to walk at an early stage of the Ditchling Beacon ascent, and then considerately moved to the left-hand side of the road.  As a result, despite arriving at what was probably the busiest time of the day, we were still able to cycle all the way up.

It wasn’t without it’s hairy moments, but we both managed to stay on our bikes.  For a few minutes, the other participants became vocal onlookers, like an over-enthusiastic Mountain-Top crowd in the Tour de France.  It was a special feeling to get to the top!

The thousands of people at the finish on the front in Brighton were the cherry on the  cake!

L2B Finish 3

So, a HUGE thank you to all the people involved in organising and supporting the event, the Marshalls, the Medical Staff, the Caterers, the Mechanics, the Supporters, etc. etc.  Thank you all for making it such a fantastic event!

A great way of celebrating life!

 

Father’s Day (Approx. 00:30)

What a difference a year makes… exactly fifty-two weeks ago I was having a Heart Attack.

Tonight I’m enjoying the early stages of England’s World Cup adventure*. In a few hours I’ll be setting off to cycle from London to Brighton as part of the British Heart Foundation’s annual flagship event.

It seems an awfully long time ago that I was whisked into hospital to undergo an emergency angioplasty. It was surreal at the time, and doesn’t seem any less bizarre an experience now.

Symptoms

The intervening twelve months have introduced many changes in my life; some were sudden and immediate, the aftermath of the event itself, others have occurred a little more gradually, new habits and behaviours that have fallen into place over time.

From what I’ve read, it sounds like many people who experience Heart Attacks, or are given stents as preventative treatment, do not make much of an effort to change their lifestyle. They abdicate all responsibility for their long term health to their Doctors. This is one of the main arguments against extending the use of statins. This definitely hasn’t been the case for me!

One of the things with Coronary Heart Disease is that it doesn’t get better; it stays the same or deteriorates. Modern medication is fantastic in reducing the risks of living with it by lightening the load on the Heart and thinning the blood, however they don’t treat the underlying condition. Stents also treat the symptoms, not the disease.

Despite increased awareness and medical advancements, Coronary Heart Disease is still the UK’s biggest killer.  (www.bhf.org.uk)

Personally, changes to my diet and regular exercise have resulted in dramatic changes. I am fit and, although I wouldn’t describe myself as healthy, my life expectancy has increased significantly (to be fair, it wasn’t looking that hot a year ago!).

logo

For me the London to Brighton Bike Ride will be a celebration and, hopefully, a fun day out. For others who have been touched by Heart Disease, it may involve an act of remembrance or gratitude.  Good luck to each and every one of them!

Hopefully it will also serve as a reminder or a prompt for others… just think about the thousands of people that will be impacted by Heart Disease before the next Father’s Day,  Each and every one of us can make a difference!

***

*Actually I’m sleeping as I was too tired to stay awake any longer, big day tomorrow, etc.  Burning the candle at both ends is a thing of the past!  🙂

A heart attack waiting to happen?

The driver who collected me from the airport this morning was concerned about his health:

As I got into the car he was connected to someone at his Doctor’s Surgery who informed him that there weren’t any appointments available today. Apparently he had been waiting in a queue for 30 minutes. He seemed slightly disappointed but not surprised.

I don’t know what his symptoms were. Fortunately he didn’t volunteer any details and I didn’t ask. Even I have learned that’s not a question to ask close relatives let alone complete strangers. Given I was in his hands for the duration of my trip to the office, and that we were breathing the same air, I hoped it wasn’t anything too serious!

As he drove however I was treated to a monologue on his general state of health and associated concerns. One of the major factors seemed to be his father having a Heart Attack last year, something I could obviously relate to…

Driving a taxi isn’t the most physically active of jobs. Since he started driving about 18 months ago he has put on a lot of weight. In fact, he said he’s put on over 20 kilos. This seems an awful lot of weight to put on in such a short period; it just goes to show what a combination of negative factors can do for you.

Doritos are his major weakness. He eats two family bags a day; one to pass time while waiting on his car, and one at home as a pre-bedtime snack. He felt that he was “unable to give them up”.

There are plenty of more healthy snacks available!

Eating healthily is a challenge for him. He doesn’t like vegetables. Apparently he’s scared of them. To be more accurate, he’s scared of the idea of the taste of vegetables and therefore doesn’t eat them. As he continued to talk about his fear of vegetables, it transpired that due to this fear, he has only ever tried two types.

To his surprise, he actually liked both of the vegetables he has tried; grilled tomatoes and okra. I would therefore put him in the “likes every vegetable he’s ever tried, but hasn’t tried many” camp.

Over the weekend he had been required to help push a friend’s car. He struggled; feeling generally weak, he tired quickly and it wiped him out for the day. An ex-smoker, he doesn’t do very much exercise. He’s often exhausted after a hard day at work, and tends to relax in front of the TV to unwind.

It is recommended that we do a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week.

As our journey went on the number of risk factors increased. On one level I felt sorry for him as he was obviously worried and is stuck in a rut. Many aspects of his lifestyle are not that different to how mine used to be pre-Heart Attack.

On another level I wanted to shout at him; he seems fully aware of what he’s doing, not doing and the potential risks, but is seemingly unable to do anything about them.

I sincerely hope he does get an appointment with his Doctor, and I hope his Doctor is able to help him get back on track.

For me it served as a reminder of how easy it could be to slip back into bad habits. Any thoughts of skipping a trip to the hotel gym this evening due to fatigue were quickly erased.