Category Archives: Charity Bike Ride

What (not) to wear

My cycling wardrobe has been heavily influenced by the climate of the North East of Scotland.

To date any outfits have started with a base layer, a long-sleeved, tight fitting “second skin” that provides a last line of defence against anything the elements can throw at me.  I have then added layers for warmth and protection.  Usually many layers.  I’m used to cycling in chilly conditions!

I'm used to the cold, but it's all relative!

I’m used to the cold, but it’s all relative!

This has created a dilemma for me as I set out on the Euro City Cycle:

Before heading out today I need to make a two day wardrobe decision; what to wear over the next 48 hours.  An overnight ferry journey will restrict me to a small overnight bag that I need to pack now (well almost).

To complicate matters, the weather forecast is decidedly mixed.  However, it’s almost guaranteed to be warmer than I’m used to.

Rule #21 states “Cold weather gear is for cold weather.”

I clearly therefore need to dress (and pack) relatively lightly however I recognise I need to be comfortable (and take care of myself!).

The upside is that I may realise my dream to cycle in short sleeves.

A dilemma…

which I’ve spent way too long thinking about (and boring others with) so I’m going to take a punt…  please pray for good weather!

Jersey of the day: British Heart Foundation

I am proud to be participating in the Euro City Cycle to raise money for the British Heart Foundation.

BHF Jersey 2

On 16th June last year I had a Heart Attack. I was very lucky. I was treated immediately and haven’t experienced any complications. There are lots of people that aren’t so lucky: 1 in 3 people that have Heart Attacks in the UK don’t even make it to hospital. Unfortunately, heart and circulatory disease remains the UK’s biggest killer and affects thousands of families and individuals:

  • There are around 103,000 heart attacks in the UK each year
  • There are nearly 2.3 million people living with coronary heart disease in the UK 
  • Nearly one in six men and more than one in ten women die from coronary heart disease 
  • Every seven minutes someone dies of a heart attack in the UK
  • The UK spends nearly £2 billion each year on the healthcare costs of treating coronary heart disease.

As the nation’s heart charity, the British Heart Foundation plays a leading role in saving and changing lives through:

  • Investing in pioneering research into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of the heart, which has already saved thousands of lives and improved the lives of thousands more
  • Supporting and caring for heart patients through our Heart Helpline and over 400 great BHF Specialist Health Care Professionals
  • Providing vital information, through literature and targeted campaigns, that helps everyone reduce their own risk of dying prematurely from a heart or circulatory illness
  • Campaigning for change – to improve the lives of children, heart patients and their families.

Find out more at:  http://www.bhf.org.uk

Fighting back

Just over ten months ago I started my latest and most important attempt to get myself into physical shape.  Having just been discharged from hospital after suffering a Heart Attack it was long overdue.  Aged 42, years of neglect, complacency and idleness had taken their toll.

My quest for fitness started tentatively; a shuffle around the Cardiology Ward accompanied by daughter #1.  She was scared of her father’s mortality.  I was afraid of every twinge, every strange sensation.  We both pretended things were normal, trying hard to mask our fear.  Bravely, we managed a lap of the ward, perhaps 100 metres.  Afterwards I returned to bed, exhausted by the effort.

Tomorrow morning I will set out on a 280 mile journey to cycle from London to Brussels via Amsterdam.

I’ve come a long way!

***

So far there have been several distinct stages to my physical rehabilitation:

Stage 1:  Confinement

For the first 24 hours I was confined to bed, tethered to machines monitoring my heart, recording every beat.

Then I was cut loose of the wires.  I was free to move around but not in shape for physical exertion.  A shower was about all I could manage.

After four days of rest I was ready for the long shuffle out of the hospital to recuperate at home.

Stage 2:  Finding my feet

My journey really started with “Dad’s little walks”; shorts walks from the comfort of the house.  Five minutes was enough to start with, at a gentle pace.  Twice a day; morning and evening.  GTN spray to hand in case of emergency (fortunately never used!).

I added an extra minute each day as my strength and confidence grew.  Eventually I was able to venture out unaccompanied, walking further and faster, my independence slowly returning.  Occasional outings with Louise became a sociable evening stroll, slightly more relaxed each time, a pleasant change from anxious medical supervision.

Eventually I built up to 30 minutes twice a day.  A good walk at a strong pace.  The effort worked my heart, brought me out in a light sweat; proper exercise for the first time in a long time.

The results of the first 10 weeks

Stage 3: A helping hand

Eventually I was ready for Cardiac Rehabilitation, 40 minutes of supervised exercise twice a week. As part of a team, patients and staff, we worked together.  Week by week, for 8 weeks, the intensity increased.  My swagger returned as my stamina grew, as I was encouraged to (ever so carefully) push my limits.

My Heart Rate Monitor became my best friend, measuring my physical exertion, monitoring my well-being.  The magic number was 118 beats per minute, 80% of my theoretical maximum.

I started cycling.  Initially at home.  Stationary, In the garage.  I bought a Turbo Trainer and borrowed a bike.  At first it was painful in so many ways, the shoes were too small, the bike poorly adjusted, cleats at the wrong angle and the saddle… the saddle was a sadistic joke.

15 minutes was enough.  15 minutes and a walk, a stretch, some relief.  Day by day my tolerance levels increased.  I pushed myself.  Day after day:  “The Long Scream” over and over.

I invested in a bike of my own.

By the end of Cardiac Rehabilitation I could manage a full 30 minutes on a cross-trainer.  30 minutes of continuous exercise, at the upper end of my Heart Rate range.  It felt good.  I felt good.

It was time to sign up for a longer term challenge… the Euro City Cycle.

Before the winter hit we managed a few gentle outings, cycling’s equivalent of “Dad’s little walks”.  I was followed every mile by a good, caring and patient friend.  I started to find my legs; 17 miles became 25, then 30.

Cycling buddies… the early days

Stage 4: Laying the foundations

Continuity over the winter built my conditioning.  I exercised six days a week come rain or shine.  I rotated my cycling routines to provide a little variety;  The Long Scream, Angels, Hell Hath No Fury… “The Sufferfest” guiding every spin of the wheel, every turn of the pedals.

I ate well.  I looked after myself.  No alcohol. No caffeine.  Low fat.  High fibre.  I lost over 45 lbs.  A shadow of my former self, approaching my fighting weight.

I added swimming to the routine to provide some extra variety, to improve my flexibility and build my core strength.  Far from a natural swimmer, it worked me harder than anticipated.  It was a welcome rest for tired legs, and it’ll provide a challenge for another day!

Christmas came and went.  A brief relaxation of the strict regime allowed roast potatoes and gravy for Christmas dinner, a tasty treat!

Then back to the training, cranking the pedals, dreaming of warmer climes, of venturing outside.

Stage 5: Head for the hills

Emerging after a winter on the Turbo Trainer was literally a breath of fresh air.  The hours on the bike had prepared me well.

Flat and gentle at first, the weekend rides became increasingly long and challenging.  Hills were gradually introduced, providing a new challenge to my strength and stamina.

With reassurance from the Cardiologist, I became less obsessed with my heart rate.  I continue to monitor it, but focus more on the level of effort, my breathing.  Relieved of the tight constraints, my cycling has become less stressful, more relaxed, free.

Cycling has become part of my life.  It has made me strong and confident again.

Over 10 months of discipline, a new lifestyle, regular exercise have stood me in good stead.  It hasn’t happened overnight, no fads, it has taken time and effort.

With over 2,000 miles in my legs this year, I am ready to take on the Euro City Cycle.  A distant dream has become a reality!

I’ve come a long way, but my journey is not complete!

***

I am lucky.

I had a chance to fight back, a second chance.  A chance to make a difference, for my family and myself.

If I can do this anyone can.  I had a “wake up call”, but there’s no need for you to wait!

I’m ready!

My preparations are almost complete.  I’ve successfully completed my final training ride.  The dirty kit is in the washing machine.  The train tickets are printed.  Time to put my feet up!

If I needed convincing that I am ready to start the Euro City Cycle, today’s ride was enough.  A steady 60 miles, however it featured an ascent of the Suie (from the North, i.e. the hard way).

The hill has become a bit of a mythical beast over the past weeks, not helped by the fact that it’s the feature climb on the Ride the North.  It’s an elevation of just over 230 metres at gradients of up to 12%.  There are more challenging mountains to take on, I just haven’t cycled up them yet.

The nerves were jangling as we approached the lower slopes, but it didn’t take long for them to be wiped out by the physical exertion.  In the end there weren’t any major dramas.  There was a bit of huffing and puffing, but a successful climb was never in doubt!

The beast tamed.  My physical preparations are complete.  🙂

The view from the top. Worth the effort in so many ways!

Logistical preparations are also complete, although a Tube Strike in London promises to make the transfer a little bit less predictable.  I’m going to have to just suck it and see.  Hopefully a considerate cabbie will take pity on me!

A few hours of focused packing will complete the kit preparation.  Louise thinks it’s hysterical that I’ve given so much thought to the kit and associated packing.  I’ve never been one to spend a lot of time preparing for travel.  I’ve always taken the view that as long as I have my passport and a credit card then nothing can go wrong.

For this trip, there are so many items that could ruin (or at least significantly disrupt) the trip in so many different ways, that I’m a bit nervous.  In no particular order:  bike, passport, medication, rail tickets, wallet, cycling shoes, towel, laptop, helmet, etc. etc.

As I say, a few hours of focused packing is required!

To Do List 2

That just leaves me with the small matter of “raising money and awareness”.  I’m really grateful to everyone that has sponsored me.  Together we’ve raised over £2,500 for the British Heart Foundation.  It’s not too late contribute… just click here.

As far as awareness is concerned, I’m also very grateful for your help!  I’ve been working on the basis that if my experiences help one other person than it’s been worthwhile.  The more people that are aware of the risks of heart disease, or able to recognise the symptoms of a heart attack, or understand that a major medical incident doesn’t necessarily take away hope, the better.

I appreciate I’m very lucky.  I’m hoping we can give other people a little bit of luck too!

Time goes by… so slowly

When I was at school I was a keen sportsman.  I used to participate in pretty much every sport I had the opportunity to.  I enjoyed participating for fun, but I really enjoyed competition.

Out of school activities changed a lot during my time at school, as teachers reduced the amount of extra-curricular activities they supported.  However, I was lucky enough to have a few years in which we had a full fixture list of Rugby, Football and Cricket matches against similar schools in the surrounding area.

During the shortest days of winter, some matches were held on Saturday mornings, but generally they took place after school.  The afternoons building up to a match were the longest ever.  Time passed slowly.  Double geography passed at a glacial pace.  Chemistry dragged like the half-life of uranium.  I didn’t do patience well.  I would spend the afternoon looking out of the window, excited about what was to come.

I’m not sure where you’d put my day dreams on this scale!

Over the years I haven’t got much better at patience.  The bigger the occasion, the worse I tend to be.

This week has been slow!

It’s not that life is dull, but in a week’s time we should be preparing to board the ferry to take us to the continent, the first day of cycling under our belts, on our way to Amsterdam.  I’m just excited!

I know it’ll be over in the blink of an eye, but it’s taking forever to arrive.  Easter seems to have switched April into slow-motion and the recent cold spell has introduced a dose of suspended animation.  I suspect early May will be no better.

I need to dig deep and find five days of patience… wish me luck!

Please wake me up on Tuesday morning!

Please wake me up on Tuesday morning!

The unknowns

I am well aware that perfect preparation doesn’t necessarily result in perfect execution.  There are always the unknowns to deal with, the surprises, and the factors that are just out of our hands.

In my opinion, worrying about the unknowns is a waste of energy irrespective of whether they’re known or unknown!

As far as physical training for the Euro City Cycle is concerned I think I’ve done just about everything that could have been expected of me.  I’ve slowly built up my mileage and, while I haven’t done four days of 70+ miles in a row, I have done multiple consecutive days of cycling and tried to keep the intensity up by including some decent hills.

Even so, it’ll be interesting to see how my body physically reacts to the four days of activity.  What is clear to me is that I need to do what I can to ensure the unknowns don’t add to the physical stress of the event.  Simple things like sleeping in different places every night, “foreign” food, sharing a room and, possibly, a change in climate all have the potential to have an impact.

To be honest, a change in climate would be very welcome right now.  The past couple of days have felt like winter’s returned to the North East of Scotland.  On this morning’s ride I was concerned that the numbness in my feet was due to the cold… what temperature does it need to be to run the risk of frostbite?

During the event it’s going to be really important for me to remember why I’m doing it.  I need to give myself every chance of successfully completing it by looking after myself.

In the past I would have been comfortable getting by on adrenalin, I would have burned the candle at both ends without any concerns.  Those days finally caught up with me and I’ve had my wings clipped somewhat.

So, I’ll leave any shenanigans to other members of the party.  I’m going to look after myself and try to minimise the unknowns.  I know they’re going to be a factor, I just want to make sure they’re not self-inflicted!

***

As an early example of potential curveballs, a rumour has started that on the first evening of the ride, before boarding the ferry we will have access to a room to “shower and freshen up” for a total of 8 minutes each.  While this has the potential to be an issue for some, I’m going to practice my bathroom drill over the next week or so to make sure I’m fully prepared! 😉

 

Just outside Amsterdam

I woke up yesterday morning in a hotel room just outside Amsterdam. (It was fortunate really as that’s where I went to bed the previous night!). In 3 weeks time I hope to do the same thing, but under very different circumstances…

3 weeks today I should be half way through the Euro City Cycle. Having left the roads of Blighty behind us, and survived a night on a ferry, we should have made our way to “Amsterdam” at the end of the second leg of our journey.

I say “Amsterdam” as we’re actually going to be staying in Hoofddorp, an area on the outskirts of Schipol Airport. Ironically I’ve spent a lot of time in Hoofddorp over the past few years with work.  Even the hotel we’ll be staying in is very familiar to me, it was a regular haunt, located about 10 minutes walk from the office.

Amsterdam 1

Amsterdam… sunny and flat. That’ll do for me!

It made me smile when I saw the detailed itinerary. Rather like the fact the “London” leg of the trip starts in Brentwood, Hoofddorp isn’t quite Amsterdam. It’s pleasant enough. I’ve had some fun times there. It’s just not Amsterdam.

I guess circumstances are everything!

It will be a novel and, I’m sure, exciting experience rolling in to Hoofddorp under my own steam. I suspect we’ll be a little jaded, with 2 days cycling and a night on a boat under our belts. It’ll feel very different to the drudgery of working away from home, of endless Club Sandwiches, “healthy” chips (the fat ones) and too many Club Room beers.

The Hoofddorp I know and love! 🙂

Hopefully by that stage of the trip we’ll all feel part of a team; like we’re collectively achieving something.

It certainly feels like the collective excitement is building. Rooms mates have been selected / appointed and we’re starting to get to know each other; social media is good for some things!

For me it’s eyes down to the big event. Less than 20 sleeps. Final Wiggle order to place and assorted creams to purchase… I’m definitely looking forward to being back in the Netherlands again very soon!

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!

Back in the saddle

I’ve been out of action for three days since my toe trauma*. I’ve been fighting through the pain, hobbling from place to place, putting on a brave face.  Sympathy has been hard to come by.  It seems that comedy toe injuries demand laughter rather than sympathy, sniggers rather than tears, giggles rather than concern.  So be it!

Time to “Man Up!”.

Man-Up-Nancy

I’ve been getting lots of sympathy from the ladies in my life!

After three days of enforced rest, today was the day to get back in the saddle…

Over the past week I’ve “connected” with people doing both the Euro City Cycle and “Ride the North” events.  It’s all feeling a lot more real now.  There’s less than 3 months to the start of the Euro City Cycle.  Time to start getting focussed!

It’s clear from early interactions that people are at different stages of readiness and very different levels of experience.  I guess that’s always going to be the case.  Everyone will be starting from a different base level of fitness and stamina,  Everyone’s preparation will be different.  So I’m expecting a real mix of fitness levels for the event.

untitled (73)

Personally I’m keen not to hold anyone back on any of my rides over the summer.  I also want to make sure I’m fit enough to enjoy them.  This will obviously require me to be able to complete the events without pushing myself too hard, or putting myself in any physical danger.

I’ll be seeing my Cardiologist on Monday.  It will be our first meeting since I was discharged from hospital in June (technically it’s my 3-6 month check-up).  I’m looking at this to trigger a change in focus for me from “laying the foundations” to “getting ready to ride”.  I realise I need to spend more time on my bike, and get outside.

My preparation approach is:

  1. Start now.  Don’t delay any longer.
  2. Build up slowly; there is no need to go nuts. It’d probably do more harm than good. 
  3. Don’t panic!
  4. Make a preparation plan. Set targets.  Do your best to meet them.
  5. Re-plan if necessary.  There’s still time.
  6. Enjoy it!

Personally, I’m really looking forward to the switch in focus.  Bring it on!

***

I could show you, but you may find it too distressing!

Making connections

I’ve found Sunday mornings are much more enjoyable with a warm glow of satisfaction from some early morning exercise inside me.  This morning, having managed to drag myself out of my warm bed I spent a productive hour in the pool.

I may be deluded, but the pool seemed quieter and more business-like than it has done in recent weeks – perhaps the impact of New Year Resolutions is already being diluted.  We can only hope!  The fact that it was almost light at 8am also made a positive difference… roll on spring!

This morning my fire has also been stoked by increased levels of Social Media activity, which is always exciting…

The arrival of February saw the start of “Heart Health Month”.  The Press & Journal, North of Scotland’s local quality newspaper, kindly marked the event with a feature on my Heart Health story looking forward to the Euro City Cycle in May.

P&J

(Unfortunately at time of writing the Press & Journal online “Lifestyle” section is “down”, as is the British Heart Foundation Healthy Heart Month web page.  I’ll update the links when they’re up and running.)

The Press & Journal article was picked up by the “Ride the North” team and publicised on their Facebook page (which is up and running!) and has resulted in some fantastic publicity, and some sponsorship for which I’m really grateful!

Ride the North

“Ride the North is a two day, 170 mile cycle challenge through the beautiful scenery of the Grampian Highlands in the North of Scotland.”  It’s a fantastic and highly sociable way to see the area.  Given it’s held in Scotland in August, perfect weather is almost guaranteed!

The event started in 2011 with a group of 38 cyclists.  Since then it’s really caught the imagination of the North East Cycling community – this year there will be over 600 cyclists taking part.  The event works closely with its Charity Partners and Sponsors to raise some serious amounts of money!  It’s amazing what a few good people with a common goal can achieve, and I’ve a suspicion this is only the start!

Spaces for this year’s event are sold out however there may be some Charity places available if you’re interested.  If it’s the same as this year, entry for next year’s event will go on sale in November.

For me, “Ride the North” will be the third, final, and, I suspect most physically challenging cycle of the summer.  I’m hoping by that stage I’ll be over the feelings of “can I do it” and be able to focus on “doing it”!  Can’t wait!