Category Archives: Exercise & Fitness

Going solo

This morning I was presented with a dilemma.  Due to a combination of (1) an unexpectedly  heavy night and (2) a communication break down, I found myself all ready to go for a ride but no-one to cycle with.

So far, whenever I’ve cycled on the road I have done so with a wing man to accompany me.  Initially this was as a safety precaution.  Cycling as a pair provided comfort that any unforeseen Heart issues could be attended to quickly, and also meant that I could rely on someone a bit more experienced to help with any more “run of the mill” cycling problems (flat tyres, minor accidents, getting lost, etc.).  It therefore helped build confidence; mine and everyone else’s.

The risks of cycling alone…

Up to this point I have not really considered cycling on the road by myself.  It’s just not been a factor.  This morning I was ready to ride, but alone.  Hence, my dilemma.

***

There were plenty of reasons not to head out… besides all the reasons I prefer to cycle with company… it was a bit cold and clouds were gathering (a hint of  snow perhaps?).  There were plenty of flimsy but credible excuses if I wanted one.

Having had one abortive trip already this winter due to cold weather, I now have all the kit necessary to keep me warm. So, the decision came down to whether I was up for it or not.  As it turned out, it really wasn’t that much of a decision.  It turns out that cycling is just something I do now.

So, I headed out.  I followed a route I know well.  I kept my cadence high, gears low.  I stayed well within my physical limits and I had a rest en route.  I returned safely after an uneventful ride, feeling good.  No biggie!

I felt good as I approached the end of my ride!

I feel like I’ve moved beyond the stage where I cycle as part of my Cardiac Rehabilitation.  Now I just cycle.  Of course it’s good for me.  Of course I constantly monitor my Heart Rate to keep in “in the range”.  However, I think I’ve graduated beyond being a Heart Attack Survivor that cycles a bit, to being a “Novice Cyclist”.  A small but significant milestone!

One of those weeks

It’s only Wednesday, but it’s already been one of “those” weeks…

We had our first dusting of snow on Monday.  Winter is definitely on its way.  This means frosty mornings, traffic chaos and general disruption.  Great!

Snow Deer

Fortunately the snow wasn’t quite as deep as this!

The cold is one thing my medication doesn’t help with.  Whether it’s the blood thinners, my weight loss or something else, I feel the cold much more than I used to.  Gone are the days of me being a one-man, furnace with  unlimited internal heating.  Reluctantly, I have had to invest in extra layers to keep me warm.  Perhaps I’ll even be “ne’er casting a clout” come next May!

Tuesday was my birthday.  Another year older.  I’m grateful for the gifts and cards, and it was nice to be the centre of attention for a day (at home at least!).  I guess it’s natural to have some sort of emotional reaction to my first post-Heart Attack Birthday… a reminder that I’m well and truly in the “lucky to be alive” club!  To be honest, I’ve just found myself feeling a bit colder and older.

Birthday

To compound matters, it feels like I’ve hardly done any exercise recently.  I think this is largely because the grind of the week has made the days seem longer.  I was therefore looking forward to my swimming lesson on Wednesday evening.

As I arrived at the pool it looked like there was a gala on and my plans would be ruined (“Please, not those pesky Brownies again!!!”).  There were cars everywhere.  Just my luck!  Fortunately the pool was just busy, “Zigzag down the pool to find some space” busy as I had a quick swim to warm up (in more ways than one!) in advance of my lesson.

Although my swimming has improved, and the distance I’m covering in each session is gradually increasing, I’m still finding it exhausting.  I guess this is positive as I want it to be good exercise, but I’m not progressing as I hoped I would.  Discussions during my lesson focussed mostly on this… and we concluded that I’m a “sinker”.  I have not been naturally blessed with buoyancy.  As a result, I’m generally too tense, and a lot of my swimming effort is spent preventing myself from sinking (or drowning, whichever way you want to look at it!).  I am therefore inefficient, using much more energy and “puff” than I should need to.

Swimming Unbderwater

My natural swimming position!

Short of getting floats installed, the only way I can see of addressing this issue is through patience and practice.  So, more of the same.  Onwards and upwards (to the surface of the pool at least)!

Only 30 days until the days start getting longer!  🙂

Earning my 100m badge

Our dining table was oval… a rectangular table tennis table was a dream!

As a child I did lots of sport.  When I was young we tended to organise our own “events”.  We’d play football into the dark winter evenings, play cricket through the long summer holidays, compete in “do it yourself” athletics challenges, play table tennis on the dining room table and participate in epic snooker matches on our child-sized tables, and participate in any other sport we had the chance to.

As I got older, I did more and more organised sport providing structured competition, regular training and coaching.  In summary, Sport was an important part of my life.

One sport I never did competitively was swimming.  After having been taught to swim by my parents, it was strictly a “fun” activity.  While my evenings and weekends were fairly busy, my morning activities were limited to getting up, eating breakfast and getting myself to school.  For me, there was no pre-school training that swimming seems to require.  Swimming “competitions” were limited to low key school galas and attempts to gain badges and / or certificates to record my achievements.

Having never really got into it as a child, swimming has never been a feature of any previous attempts to get fit as an adult.  It always seemed like too much work.  An inefficient, and potentially embarrassing, way of getting exercise that I could get much more easily on dry land.  As a result I have never swum any significant distances.

Turning isn’t a strong point for me either! It all tends to be a bit hit or miss!

Things have changed a little in recent weeks as I’ve added swimming to my regular exercise regime.  I recognise that I’m not getting any younger, and now seems like a good time to overcome my prejudices and inadequacies (in relation to swimming at least!) and learn to swim properly.

Having decided to take on Freestyle first, my initial goal was to learn how to breathe properly…

My first few weeks were spent doing single 25m lengths, in sets of one.  I tended to reach the end of each length short of breathe and needing a rest.  Stepping up to doing sets of 50m was a big deal.  Again, the second (and final) length always seemed to be more difficult than it should.

For some reason moving beyond 50m proved to be a big psychological barrier for me.  Perhaps it was because I’ve never swum 100m without stopping before (at least as far as I can remember).  The chances of successfully turning after the second length seemed slim.  Completing a further two lengths seemed almost a physical impossibility.

untitled (54)So, my successful attempt to get my 100m badge on Friday morning resulted in a fair amount of satisfaction!  It wasn’t easy, but I’m hoping it will mark the beginning of a new phase of my swimming career.

I’m not looking to compete competitively, but it would be fantastic if I could build up to being able to swim for an hour without stopping.

Next goal, 200m!

Twice the satisfaction

I’m a believer in the principle that exercise counts twice as much if you don’t want to do it than it does when you do.  As a result, I almost look forward to days when I lack motivation because you get so much more satisfaction after your work out.

Today was one of those days.  Work was busy.  The weather was grim; cold, wet and windy. I arrived home from work a little late, feeling a jaded.

I’ve got into a good exercise routine over the past couple of weeks:

  • I swim first thing on Sunday, Tuesday and Friday
  • I cycle Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday
  • Wednesday alternates between swimming lessons and a visit to the gym
  • On Monday’s I rest.

So far, I’ve had no trouble getting up and out in the mornings.  I don’t have much time to think about it, I just grab a quick bite to eat and head out the door.  I’m finding a swim a good way to start the day.  It makes me feel different… good different.

I’m not the only one to enjoy an early morning swim!

Depending on the day I’ve had, the evenings are more difficult.  Fortunately, once I’ve started, it only takes a few minutes for the fatigue of the day to dissipate and for me to get into my exercise.  I generally feel great afterwards too – clean, healthy and relaxed.

The overall routine is definitely doing me good.  I’m getting stronger and fitter all the time.  I have the continual challenge of staying within the safe working range of my Heart, but it’s satisfying to see my work rate slowly increasing over time… twice as satisfying after a hard day in the office!

An “and” day

Recently I’ve been trying to be more of an “and” person rather than an “or” person…

We spend a lot of time and energy making difficult decisions, forcing ourselves to choose between different options, working around the constraints.  Often we forget that there may be an option that allows us to do both…  “and” rather than “or”… all we need is to be positive and think a bit differently.

Working on the principle of “and”, today was my first double exercise day…

Monday’s have become my designated rest day – I’m always tired after the weekend.  It takes me a day to properly get back into the swing of a working week.  So, I don’t do any exercise on a Monday.  Hopefully this allows my body to properly recover and set me up for the rest of the week.

A cold, dark and very frosty start to the day!

Having had a day off, I set my alarm early this morning so I could swim before work.  I left the house to be greeted by a heavy frost, the first of the winter.  As well as double exercise, it turned out to be a double scrape day – I had to scrape the windshield before I could head to the pool, and again after my swim before I could head off to work.  Great!

Louise (my wife) was also faced with a frozen car as she set off to take the girls to school.  I have agreed to clear the garage to create space for her to get the car in, making the school run as straightforward as possible.  Unfortunately the arrival of winter has beaten me to the punch.  I now need to pull my finger out and clear space for the car… space that is currently occupied by my bike and Turbo Trainer.

It did turn into a beautiful day… if a little chilly!

Using the principle of “and”, this does not mean that I will lose the use of my bike.  I just need to find the next best place to locate it.  Fortunately, there are a couple of options inside the house.  The main considerations will be (1) to keep it out of the way and (2) to minimise the chances of me over-heating when riding.  There’s the minor consideration of sweat and oil pollution too, but I’m hoping a couple of towels and some carpet offcuts will do the trick there!

In the immediate term the bike will stay where it is.  Shifting the kit around can be something to look forward to doing at the weekend.  So, I successfully completed my ride, and my double exercise day – a ride and a swim.

Pushing the boundaries

“You can learn new things at any time in your life if you’re willing to be a  beginner. If you actually learn to like being a beginner, the whole world opens up to you.”
Barbara Sher

Difficult as it has been, since my Heart Attack I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I am not immortal, and I’m far from super human.  I have become much more aware of my limitations and more willing to admit to myself and others that there are some things I can’t do (or can’t do yet).  As a result, I have started to be more open to, and take enjoyment from, trying new things.

Some might view this as me enjoying the comedy factor that being a beginner often provides.  Perhaps there’s a degree of truth in this, but I think there are two other factors that are more important:

  1. Doing new things adds variety and interest to my life.  As I tend to become a little obsessive about things, why not become obsessive about doing new things, and expanding my horizons, rather than focusing on only one activity and narrowing my focus?
  2. I’m really looking forward to developing my capabilities, progressing to an “intermediate” level, and exploring the opportunities this might bring.

So, as the days shorten and the winter weather starts to kick in, I’ve looked to try different types of exercise that are suitable the dark, cold days.  This has required me to dig deep, to admit I’m a beginner to a bunch of strangers, and to begin…

I have already added swimming to my fitness regime, and I’ve been  practicing my Free-style breathing for a few weeks, but I am still very much a beginner.  The combination of  my “agricultural” technique, my general fitness level and coming to terms with not being able to breathe when I want to, means I need to briefly rest after each 25 metre length.

untitled (51)Friday saw me setting my alarm extra-early and heading to the local swimming pool for a pre-work swim.  This meant swimming in a lane for the first time… with other people.  Four other people, in fact.

I was comfortable with the principle of swimming in a lane, but uncomfortable with the finer details;  Was there some etiquette that cannot be communicated via the arrows on a small, white board?  Was it OK to rest?  (I’d be in real trouble if it wasn’t).  I guess the nightmare scenario would have been if I had come into contact with another swimmer!!!  Surely “touching” is not acceptable, particularly given the general lack of clothing.

As it turned out, I needn’t have been worried.  Everything was very civilised.  We all pretended each other didn’t exist, of course, but the swim went off without incident.  In all, I managed 800m in total, 32 times 25m lengths.  Of course, I’ll try to build my stamina over time.  I might even try for my 50m badge in my next visit to the pool!

***

My regular cycling companion has been under the weather this week, so rather than setting out for our weekly Saturday Cycle, I headed to our local gym for an RPM Class.  Louise (my Wife) has been encouraging me to go to an RPM class pretty much since I started cycling.  Today was my first.

I have to admit, I spent most of the class wondering whether Louise is aware of what I have been through, and what rehabilitation from a Heart Attack entails!  I found the session “intense”.

I hit my maximum Heart Rate after about 5 minutes, and struggled to bring it down  throughout… and I sweated… profusely!!!  And that was without standing up to cycle.  By the end of the session, the pool of sweat beneath my station was substantial.  There was little evidence of similar levels of effort from other participants despite the fact that they all worked a lot harder than I could!

There were a number of contributory factors to me finding the session tough.  Not least that, although I’m getting fitter, I still have a way to go.  The fact that I didn’t know the routine meant that I wasn’t able to effectively moderate my effort to increase / decrease on demand (I hit “Maximum” about three notches on the dial too early!).  Apparently this will all come with practice.

My big take-away for the next session is that I should take a towel with me!!!

The Joy of Winter Training

When I was in my youth I used to do athletics fairly seriously.  For a few years I trained up to 5 days a week, trying to build strength and speed to enable me to run faster and, in particular, jump further.

images (11)It was an exciting time for me.  I was blessed with the physical attributes to allow me to compete at the National level.  It helped me build self-confidence and it also taught me that the world (or the UK at least) isn’t that large a place.  Being the fastest runner in my school, or even my home town suddenly wasn’t such a big deal.  I was very lucky.

As I was growing throughout this period, my athletic development was also assisted by my physical development.  As a result, I was almost guaranteed to improve year on year.  If all other things had stayed equal I should improve over time because I was getting bigger and stronger.

If I had been competing continuously throughout the year it could have resulted in a slow, steady improvement requiring patience on my part.  As it was, the annual cycle of training and competition created natural breaks that generated the potential for “Step Changes” in performance.  A few months could make a big difference.

There were some key milestones during the year that were always eagerly anticipated.  They included:

  • My first competition of the season – always a highlight although it was slightly nerve-racking as my expectations were always set on the high side,
  • The major competitions / events (notably County & National Championships),
  • My final competition of the season.  The last chance to make an impact, and the start of a well earned rest.  The final effort before a few weeks off training.  Often the relaxed atmosphere produced unexpectedly good results.

Possibly the most notable, and least heralded milestone was the start of “Winter Training”.  This marked the end of the “rest” and the beginning of a long, cold and often miserable period of training that had the potential to make all the difference to performance levels for the following season.

imagesCAWG5BI0Winter training was different from the summer.  It was much more focused on strength and endurance  rather than speed and technique.  “Favoured” sessions included Circuits, Weights, Hill Runs, Fartlek Runs, 300m Repetitions.   Most of this was designed hurt, and it was often  completed in cold, miserable weather adding an extra reason not to do it.

We worked in a tight group.  Pushing each other to dig deep and push harder.  You had to believe you would reap rewards for the effort you put in, but there was also the sadistic satisfaction of completing each session.

***

Today, for the first time in twenty years, I started a Winter Training campaign.  Having returned from work and changed into my cycling kit, I left the warmth of the house and braved the chill of the garage to get on my bike.

It was a low key event, but significant.  A strong winter’s exercise will play an important role in my on-going rehabilitation.  Given my general physical neglect over the past few years I have high hopes of significant improvements in strength and stamina.  I don’t have any real points of comparison against which to measure performance, however I have a clear goal… to cycle into Brussels on 11th May 2014.

(Inside and Outside) My comfort zone

Inside…

I suspect our Time Trial would have been a little more serious than this!

The official organised ride today was a “Time Trial”, an organised race along the sea front.  To the victor, a certificate and the honour of being the “Fastest cyclist to have turned up and competed in the Time Trial”, to the other participants, humiliation.

We all declined to participate.

This is probably the worst type of cycling for me.  At home my legs and my heart seem to be in an eternal episode of “The Weakest Link”.  In warmer climes my Heart Rate seems to be about 10 beats per minute higher.  As a result, I generally have some extra strength in my legs, but my Heart Rate is bouncing around at or above my limit.

Given my tendency to compete, I would have found it very difficult to stick to my Heart Rate limit in a competitive situation.  Not competing was the only safe option for me.

Fortunately, no-one else was particularly bothered about participating in this prestigious event either.

Instead, we headed up into the mountains for a leisurely climb, beverage and descent.  Approx. 26 km (with a climb of ~200m) in total, but done at a relatively sedate pace with frequent stops (mostly to get my Heart Rate under control!).

As is customary with these events, the conclusion of the outbound leg was marked with a refreshing beverage  🙂

A refreshing stop after a climb into the mountains!

Outside…

For some reason, every time I come on an “activity” holiday I experience the need to remind myself that I’m not a sailor.  This holiday is no different.

It was a beautiful, calm day. What could possibly go wrong?

Despite the fact that I wasn’t particularly comfortable that the temperature of the Mediterranean fell within “reasonable” limits, and that a sudden submersion may be “shocking” to the system, I had reluctantly agreed to have a sailing lesson with Daughter #2… it would be “a nice thing to do together”.

Our instructor was called Emily.  She appeared to have recently joined the Waterfront Crew and was learning the ropes, presumably to get some experience before doing a full season next year.

By the time we started to think about getting on the water the weather had become “blustery” (not sure if this is a nautical term, but it’s a more polite version of the thoughts that were going through my mind as we prepared to launch!).

The intention was to avoid shocks by staying upright and dry.  This wasn’t a sound plan!  Due to the waves hitting the shore, I was required to do a “fast launch” from the beach.  Daughter #2 would accompany Emily in another boat and we would practice our tacks and reaches.  It all sounded so simple in theory!

Emily:  “Sail towards the buoy and we’ll catch you up”
Me:  “OK.”
I headed off towards a buoy, and a bunch of other boats.
A few minutes passed…
No Emily.
Guy in Safety Boat:  “The start line is just over there.”
Me:  “Thanks, but I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
It turned out that there was also a race for the Sailors.  (Another race I’d decline to participate in).
Still no Emily.
I decided to tack to see if I could find Emily (& Daughter #2), resulting in…
Capsize #1.

As time passed the wind seemed to be getting more blustery.  The race started, but appeared to descend into chaos as boats capsized left, right and centre.

I learned that if you do a jibe, and you aren’t watching, you get hit on the head by the boom.  Hard!  (Fortunately I was wearing a helmet).  I wasn’t supposed to be doing a jibe.  I didn’t know I was doing a jibe.  I capsized again… and again!

I was not in control.  I am not a sailor.

Eventually Emily decided the wind was not appropriate for an introduction to sailing lesson.  She decided to drop Daughter #2 off on the beach and then return to assist me in getting to shore:

Emily:  “OK.  I’m going to drop Daughter #2 off.  I’ll be back.”
Me:  “OK.”
Emily:  “If you feel scared, I can go and get someone to sit in with you.”
I may have been completely out of my comfort zone, but I was not about to respond in the affirmative to this.  What was the worst thing that could happen?  I had already been beaten around the head, and de-boated on multiple occasions.  I was more than capable of sitting in a boat and waiting for a few minutes… wasn’t I?

When Emily did return, the master plan was for me to head towards the beach and shout to people to let them know that I didn’t know what I was doing.

Emily:  “Tell them you don’t know what you’re doing.  Someone will help you.”
Me:  “OK.”

Eventually I got the attention of one of the safety boats.  Purely the fact that I was upright meant that I was 3rd in line for assistance.

Me:  “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Guy in the Safety Boat:  “OK, but we need to deal with them…” (pointing to an upturned boat) “then them… then it’s your turn.”
Me:  “OK.”

I didn’t need the safety boat.  My next capsize proved to be fatal.  We abandoned the boat and I joined Emily in hers for the final trip to shore, slightly battered and bruised but relieved, I have to say!.  That’s what you call quality family time!

It turned out to be a beautiful evening with a cracking moon!

Post Script:  Apparently my rudder wasn’t locking into place.  This would have created an obstacle to effective steering or control.  This sailing experience may not have been a complete success but perhaps all hope isn’t lost!

Rain stops play

I am not good at patience.

An all too familiar scene!

I have always known that there are some professions that just aren’t for me.  I would struggle to be a Cricket Umpire, for example, not only because my eye-sight is rubbish, and getting worse, but because I would find it impossible to make decisions on when to stop / start playing because of weather… with me in charge, bad light would not be a factor, and only the heaviest of downpours would warrant a break for rain.

I remember being at school and looking out of the window, hoping and praying that the weather would improve so that we could compete in whichever sport was lined up for that afternoon / evening.  Whether it was the frost releasing its hold on the Rugby pitch, or the clouds dissipating so we could do athletics, there would often be doubt, and all too often, disappointment.

How the America’s Cup Race Director was able to make the calls he did is beyond me… wind too strong, wind too weak, wind in the wrong direction, even a perfectly reasonable race taking too long.  I know he had strict rules that he was enforcing, but they didn’t always feel like they were in the spirit of the event, particularly for the spectators.

For me, if there are two teams present and ready to compete, that’s exactly what they should do!

This would be a handy device for today’s conditions!  Unfortunately I didn’t pack mine!

Today is one of those “rain stops play” days.  A storm has blown in from Africa and thrown a spanner in the works of the resort we’re in.  Water sports have been suspended.  Even the cycling has been abandoned due to risk of being blown off or being struck by lightning.  To be fair, the weather is fairly severe; strong, gusty winds, heavy rain, thunder and lightning.  Safety first!

Today is therefore going to be a different day.  All activities have been moved inside.  There is significant competition for stations in the gym and in the indoor pool.  There seem to be groups of children in every nook and cranny around the hotel.  Everyone seems to be having fun!

I need to take a deep breath, wait patiently for my opportunity to do some exercise…

Wait a moment… it looks like there’s a break in the clouds… maybe, just maybe, I can get out for a ride, even if it is a quick one!!!

Man versus Brownie

You may be disappointed to hear that this isn’t an epic tale of one man’s battle to resist the temptation of a tasty chocolate treat; an exhibition of self-discipline and restraint to resist the lure of the sweet, warm cake, deliciously gooey in the middle with just a hint of nuttiness… It’s not that exciting I’m afraid.  No, this evening I had my first swimming lesson.

Tasty… but not on the menu today.

I didn’t really know what to expect.  Having signed up several weeks ago, all had gone quiet.  I assumed I was on a list, participating in a local authority lottery… my number would probably never come up!  Well, last week it did.  I received an SMS message.  8 pm on Wednesday.  My exercise horizons were about to be broadened.

Bovril… or Chicken Soup?

I learned to swim as a child.  We used to have regular family trips to the (not so) local pool, splash around for a while before getting changed and having a cup of Bovril and a Bag of Crisps from the vending machine.

I have been able to look after myself in and around water for as long as I can remember, but I would never describe myself as a swimmer.  Exercise in my youth was almost entirely gained on solid ground.

More recent attempts to swim for fitness have consisted of rather inefficient thrashing around with the occasional, slightly panic-stricken gasping for breath.  So, I decided that if I am to include swimming in my new exercise regime, I should do it properly and have some lessons.  Hopefully this will get me to the point where I have the technique and confidence to make it a beneficial, and perhaps even enjoyable, pursuit.

Cute… but best avoided!

So this evening I arrived at the local pool feeling a little self-conscious and a little more nervous.  These feelings were exacerbated by the pack of Brownies, lining up two by two,  preparing to enter the pool.  So much for my quiet, low key introduction back to water!

It was the first time I’m been in a pool since my Heart Attack, so even submerging myself for the first time was slightly nerve-racking.  I had been warned to watch out for pressure changes… I might feel “strange”.  Fortunately I felt fine, I was able to crack on with the “swimming” unencumbered.

All I had to do was steal the occasional breath and avoid bobbing Brownies (both easier said than done!).  Heaven only knows what badge they were practicing for, but it all seemed rather chaotic.  Avoiding them was more of a feature of the evening than I could have ever anticipated.  As far as I’m aware, we all came away unscathed, but definitely more by luck than by judgement!  I’d like to say that Man won… but let’s call it an honourable draw.

No Bovril or Crisps for me this evening.  Just a nice cup of decaf tea.  How times change!