Category Archives: Cycling

Back to normal

After the excitement of last week, the past few days have been all about settling back into everyday life.  Any concerns about coming back to earth with a bump have alleviated.  Instead, the whole event has left me somehow feeling a bit more “normal”.  It’s really good to be home!

The Euro City Cycle (ECC) had become a very big deal for me.  Understandable I guess given I’ve been working towards it throughout the winter.  I signed up for it early in my rehabilitation, it was a real “stretch goal”.

At that time, no one really knew what I would be physically capable of, now or ever, so it was a bit of a risk.  Not being able to complete it (or more likely, start it) would have been a real blow, and could potentially have caused a major re-think of life post Heart Attack.

Windmill Selfie

My favourite selfie from the ECC

From my perspective, the level of risk has reduced with every mile I’ve cycled over the past 10 months.  I’ve been confident over the past couple of months, but it was great to back up that confidence with a strong ride, and a quick recovery.  I was fine throughout the event and have had no ill effects subsequently.

Having arrived in Brussels I had a couple of days rest.  Time for my legs to recover, to warm up and dry off after the final days of the ECC.  A sniffle flirted with me for a couple of days, but I managed to fight it off.

Someone else’s selfie caught me taking mine!

Getting back on the bike was interesting.  It’s amazing how much more comfortable I am on it having been inseparable for four days.  Just spending time together has made a big difference, it feels natural again, like it did when I was a kid.  The key thing now is not to get complacent, particularly as I’m back on the roads rather than having the luxury of dedicated cycle routes.

The cycling routes on the continent were something else!

The biggest relief, perhaps, is that I’ve got the London to Brighton bike ride to look forward to in mid-June.  This will give me a continued focus, a reason to keep going out on the bike and keep myself in shape.

The ECC was a journey within a journey.  Fortunately it was a successful one.  It marks the end of an important phase of my life, and the beginning of a new one.  No time to stand still!

Time for a service

With under two weeks to go until I start the Euro City Cycle, it seemed like a sensible time to get a pre-ride check-up for myself and the bike.

I was due a check in with my GP anyway.  It’s been almost 3 months since my last visit.  In fact, I hadn’t seen him since I went to the Cardiologist, so it was an opportunity to get some more feedback on that.  One of the potential side effects of my medication is diabetes so we had fasting blood test results to look at too.

You may feel a little prick!

You may feel a little prick!

It’s funny but, after everything I’ve been through, one of the things I look forward to least is giving blood.  I know it doesn’t really hurt, but I don’t enjoy the anticipation of the “prick”.  What a wimp!  The only good news is that my veins are a bit more prominent now so the whole process is a bit less traumatic than it used to be.

My check up was unremarkable.  My Blood Pressure was “perfect”.  My Cholesterol levels are under control (Total = 3.2 mmol/L, LDL = 1.8 mmol/L, HDL = 1.1 mmol/L) and there are no indications of diabetes.  In summary, it’s all good!

The Doc was, however, keen to remind me that I have recently experienced a cardiac episode, and I should bear this in mind when doing my various activities and challenges.  I recognise he had to say it, but I don’t think I hid my excitement about the fast approaching trip very well!  I guess he has to trust (or hope) his patients follow his instructions otherwise he’s fighting a losing battle.  He has little to worry about as far as I’m concerned!

***

I really haven’t done very much work on my bike since I got it.  Apart from a couple of puncture repairs and fitting a new saddle, I have used it, but done little to maintain it.  I know I should really learn, but I also recognise my limitations.  At this stage I think I would struggle in terms of knowledge, skills and perseverance.  The last thing I want to do is intentionally “break” the bike and not be able to ride it.

This is about the extent of my bicycle maintenance skills!

The main objectives of the service are to tune the gears and check the brakes.  The gears have become increasingly temperamental and noisy over the past couple of weeks.  It’s been helpful in telling me which gear I’m in (some are particularly noisy), but I have the distinct feeling that its an indication that all is not well!

So, the bike is booked in for a service tomorrow.  Hopefully it’ll come back feeling like a new machine, with the gears purring and the brakes secure.

If only it was as easy to tune ourselves up!

Ne’er cast a clout

“Ne’er cast a clout till May be out”  (Traditional saying)

I’ve been struggling to think of a pursuit that requires more items of clothing than cycling outside in the North East of Scotland during the Winter.

Over the past couple of months, preparing for a ride has been a bit of a rigmarole.  A typical outing has required:  cycling helmet, warm hat, snood, base layer top, short sleeved cycling jersey, long sleeved cycling jersey, wind-proof vest, jacket, underwear, cycling shorts, full length tights, winter socks, cycling shoes, shoe covers and thick winter gloves.

Yes, it was possible to get a little warm, to overheat.  There was certainly a tendency to get damp from the inside during a long ride. but I would rarely describe myself as “hot”. The elements and the nagging cold were powerful enough to fight their way through.  Fingers and toes would suffer most, a combination of restricted circulation and the persistent chill.

Saturday Ride

View from the top of the climb on Saturday’s ride

This week, has seen a bit of a change.  An increase in temperature has seen the acceleration of Spring, new leaves are emerging, there are flowers everywhere and cyclists have emerged in abundance.

Today in particular has got everyone excited.  Easter has been accompanied by a beautiful day.  There isn’t a cloud to be seen.

The nice weather has resulted in people throwing caution to the wind… people have been casting clouts left, right and centre!  I have to admit, I am also guilty.  For today’s ride I discarded no less than 5 items of clothing.

Benachie across Loch Skene

Benachie across Loch Skene this morning

The ride itself was lovely.  The sun was out, the birds were singing, lambs frolicking.  I think this is what cycling was invented for.  The lack of protection also made me feel somehow more connected to my surroundings, more free.

I appreciate the advice, but I say forget May, live a little, cast a clout!

Snow on the Hills

Be warned! There is still snow in them there hills!

Davina got me up this morning…

Having lacked energy and enthusiasm, yesterday turned into little more than a “duvet day”.  A mid-afternoon snooze set me up nicely for the evening’s golf.

Given there’s a little over three weeks until the start of the Euro City Cycle, I felt a bit guilty about not getting out on the bike.  The guilt was exacerbated somewhat by stories of epic training rides and sportives in the sunny south from other Euro City Cycle participants.  However, it was a good decision to take it easy, to save it for another day.

***

It seems as though Sports Relief has been a real inspiration this year.  As well as raising huge amounts of cash for good causes, the feature challenges have set the bar high for those of us looking to do something remarkable ourselves.  In particular, the courage and stamina that Davina McCall showed on her “Beyond Breaking Point” challenge (incidentally, when did they come up with that name?) is a real motivator as we each look to “channel our inner Davina”.

I know the feeling... but for me it usually only lasts a few hours! Photo Credit:  Alex Walker / Comic Relief / PA Wire

I know the feeling… but for me it usually only lasts a few hours!
Photo Credit: Alex Walker / Comic Relief / PA Wire

This morning was very similar to yesterday (bright and blustery), however, Davina’s inspiration was enough to get me out of bed and out on the bike.  Cycling is much easier in a group, not least because peer pressure gets you to the start line.  Today I was cycling solo.

Fortunately, the hardest thing was leaving home.  Any doubts were left behind.

I’ve slowly ramped up the miles over the past few weekends.  Today I took on my longest solo ride, at around 62 miles.  I also took on the climbs that I last attempted during my “Introduction to climbing“.  Having walked on two of them last time, I was keen to stay in the saddle this time.

The view from the top of the Suie this afternoon, the "high point" of my ride.

The view from the top of the Suie this afternoon, the “high point” of my ride.

It was tough going, not helped by strong gusts of wind, but I managed to rattle off the hills without any particular dramas.  Four and a half hours after heading out I crept up my final climb and home.  The “laziness” of yesterday behind me, satisfied, and back on track for the challenge.

***

So, a big thanks to Davina!  I’m sure she had a huge sense of satisfaction when she finished her challenge and counted the money, but she should also be proud of her legacy; whether people are raising money for charity, or simply looking to get themselves in shape, she has shown us the way.  No excuses!

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?

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. “