Jersey of the day: Euro City Cycle

For the final day of the Euro City Cycle, it felt appropriate to sport the team colours of the tour.

Euro City Cycle

According to the organisers, Global Adventure Challenges, the Euro City Cycle is…

“An exciting charity cycle combined with breath-taking city sights make this a European charity challenge extravaganza! This superb charity bike ride caters for every level of cyclist.  It takes in the rolling countryside of Essex, the plains of Holland and the sleepy lanes of Belgium.  One of the best cycling challenge experiences in Europe!”

So far we’re about 200 miles into the adventure.  Our itinerary has included:

Day 1 – London to Harwich – ferry to Hook of Holland
Day 2 – Hook of Holland to Amsterdam
Day 3 – Amsterdam to Breda
Day 4 – Breda to Brussels (Today’s challenge)

So far it’s been a blast… and it’s not over yet!

ECC Day 3: Why are we here?

Why are we here?  This isn’t intended to be a grand philosophical question, but some days you have to ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing.  Some days everything seems to be against you.  Today was one of those days.

The Day 3 route promised to be long; the longest of the Euro City Cycle.  It was further than many of the participants (including myself) had done before.  As well as being long, the route was complicated, circuitous and fiddly.  It required navigation through the backstreets of towns and travel across several bodies of water by various means.

As it happened, the weather also conspired to make the day even more challenging.  It had been suggested that it would be wet throughout; wet and windy… joy!  So it was with some trepidation that we set out to make our way from Hoofddorp to Breda.


Time to cover up… here comes the rain (again)!

Each participant has their own unique reasons for participating in the challenge.  As we battled against the elements, driving rain and near gale force winds, it would not have been unreasonable for some of us to question why we’re here.  It wouldn’t have been a surprise is some of the group decided that catching a lift in the support van was a sensible move.

Every time we crossed open ground the elements seemed to re-double their efforts to make the day difficult, to make us miserable.  We slowly made our way along the route, back-tracking on many occasions as our guide grappled with the finer points of navigation.  Ferry crossings required patience, breaking any rhythm we may have built.  Even the railway crossings seemed to conspire against us, waiting for us to approach before flashing warning signs and bringing us to a halt.

In particular, the Moerdijk Bridge tested our resolve:  The bridge spanned about 700m of open water.  It was positioned perfectly to expose us to the worst the day could muster including gusts of wind of over 55 km/hr.  The wind carried rain that was being propelled with almost enough force to draw blood.  Each crossing was long and dangerous as we leant into the wind at a precarious angle, trying to adjust for every gust and lull.  It was really windy, painful and more than a little bit scary!


Relief at reaching the other side!

Despite the challenges, everybody made it.  Everyone made it across the bridge, and everyone made it safely to Breda.  I didn’t hear anyone suggesting that they had had enough, they couldn’t do it or that they were going to pack it in.

There was relief at reaching Breda.  There was a real sense of accomplishment (despite the route being slightly shorter than advertised).  Individually and collectively we overcame the challenges the day could throw at us.  Together we had made it!

Rainbow 1

Somewhere, over the rainbow… almost there!

It turned out that everyone’s answer to the question “Why are we here?” was enough to get them through.  For me it is because I can be, because of all the hours I’ve spent on the Turbo Trainer over the winter to get myself in shape, because there is life after a Heart Attack, because I’m lucky, I’m alive.  Not doing it isn’t an option.

Tomorrow promises to be another challenging day.  I am confident that it will be another successful and rewarding one.  Bring it on!

Jersey of the day: The Sandpiper Trust

Today I am proud to be representing the Sandpiper Trust, a charity dedicated to saving lives by improving immediate care in across Scotland.

Sandpiper Trust 1
The aim of the Sandpiper Trust is to help save lives in Scotland by improving immediate care especially in the remote and rural areas, through the provision of appropriate standardised and uniform medical equipment, known as Sandpiper Bags, for use by specially trained GPs, community nurses, paramedics and A&E Consultants, all of whom operate on a voluntary basis.

The administering of rapid and appropriate medical intervention to a patient during the critical “Golden Hour” not only contributes to an increase in positive patient outcomes but also raises community confidence and resilience especially in remote parts of Scotland.

Such has been the success of this initiative that it has been endorsed by the Scottish Ambulance Service and incorporated in their 999 Emergency Response network, thereby helping reduce response times. In simple words – more lives are now being saved.

Over the past 12 years they have raised over £1.5 million pounds to improve pre-emergency medical care in rural areas of Scotland, and not just the Highlands and Islands where there is an obvious need for enhanced kit, but Stonehaven, Inverurie, Banchory.

Every £1,000 that is donated buys a Sandpiper bag that contains equipment to save a life.

For more information visit:


The Sandpiper Trust will be supporting Ride the North with the provision of medical support throughout the weekend.  As the person most likely to need their support, we are very grateful for their continuing assistance!

ECC Day 2: The 7 Ps

Today saw the short hop from the Hook of Holland to Hoofddorp, just outside Amsterdam.

After a relatively hard day in the saddle yesterday and a night on the ferry in a four-berth cabin, the day offered a gentle, largely wind assisted roll through the Netherlands followed by an afternoon of R&R.

Today was the first day of “many” (as in one is one, more than one is many) days in the saddle, and as such posed a bigger challenge than it’s distance would suggest to some of the less experienced and more physically “damaged” cyclists in the group.

We were fortunate to have the wind at our backs for much of the day as we took our detour towards Amsterdam on our way to Brussels.  We made the most of this as we recognised the same helpful wind is likely to become our worst enemy tomorrow as we take on the 85 mile leg south to Breda.

Oh, I do love to be beside the seaside…

The greatest challenge today’s cycling posed was navigation.  The Netherlands has a fantastic cycle network including both commuter and longer distance signage place at regular intervals along the route.  Unfortunately, these rely on (1)  doing the preparation required to plan the route in advance (2) spotting the route markers and (3) a little bit of luck in ambiguous or poorly sign-posted sections.

It’s easy to become reliant on something and abdicating responsibility for understanding how it works, or being willing / able to do it ourselves.  Having done no preparation for our journey (as far as navigation is concerned at least) It would have been easy for us to have complacently followed the basic guide that had been prepared for us and got completely lost fairly quickly.  I could easily have foreseen a situation in which splinters of the group ended up strewn across a vast area of Northern Europe, tired, frustrated and in need of rescue.

Instead, we all stayed together in close groups and followed our Human Guides as they followed complex sections of the route using the guide, the route markers, a map, gps systems and a little guile.  Fortunately this was enough to bring us all in safely.

Cycling in the Netherlands is a very different experience

Cycling in the Netherlands is a very different experience

There are several points that I learned about navigation from today’s experience:

  1. Know specifically where you are heading to; general destinations such as “the bar by the canal” are not sufficient.  If you know exactly where you’re heading to, at least you can re-plan your route if necessary.
  2. Know where you’re starting from;  it sounds obvious, but getting lost is often compounded by multiple failed attempts to get un-lost
  3. Review your route in advance so you have a general idea of which direction to head in
  4. Pay extra attention to critical junctions / turns that could really make the difference between success and complete disaster
  5. Don’t blindly rely on someone else for directions, take some personal responsibility for navigation
  6. If you are unsure, go slow until you can validate your route.

This afternoon we (three of us) proved these points by setting out on an abortive attempt to cycle into Amsterdam itself.  Keen to make the most of a free afternoon in the Netherlands (with bikes) and a relatively easy morning’s ride, we decided to head into the city to experience more of the real Netherlands…

With little preparation we headed out into a grey afternoon (which quickly became a very wet, very windy, grey afternoon) for a spin.  Just over an hour later we returned; wet tired and slightly embarrassed (but far from disheartened).  We had proved the importance of most of the points above by heading out into the teeth of the wind, in the completely wrong direction.  We can point at a number of coincidences and elements of misfortune that resulted in our mistake, but fundamentally we screwed up.

Having warmed up and dried off, I’m going to get my head down and study the course for tomorrow… as well as being the longest, it’s apparently the most difficult to navigate too.  With more ropey weather forecast we could be in for a long day!


The 7 Ps:  Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance

Jersey of the day: Ride the North

I am delighted to be taking part in Scotland’s premier cycling event in August this year:

FerryRide the North is a two day, 170 mile cycle challenge through the beautiful scenery of the Grampian Highlands in the North of Scotland.  The route will follow the scenic back-roads through the Grampian Highlands between the cities of Inverness and Aberdeen.

The 2014 ride will take place on Friday 29 and Saturday 30 August. Ride the North 2014 work closely with their charity partners and, as always, looks to celebrate the best of what the North-East of Scotland has to offer including hospitality, community and camaraderie (banter is guaranteed!).

It’s not a race nor a sportive, it a challenge ride which celebrates the love of cycling and the scenery in this part of Scotland. The ride welcomes everyone – whether you are fundraising for the charity partners, your own charity or simply taking part for the fun of it.

It’s is a supported ride, with mechanical support, support vehicles, route signposting, lunches provided, mobile coffee stops, refreshments, luggage transfer, transfers from finish point to local accommodation and all the encouragement you will need!

Ride the North 2014 is Sold Out, but look out for the 2015 event on

ECC Day 1: Finding the right group

So, Day 1 of the Euro City Cycle experience is coming to an end (or Day 2 has started depending on whether you’ve re-set your clock to Central European Time) and we’re all settling in to life on the open sea for the next few hours.  As we rest (hopefully sleep!) the ferry will take us from Harwich to the Hook of Holland, where our adventure will continue.

Team photo prior to departure

Day 1 saw us ride from Brentwood to Harwich, 65 – 70 miles (depending on how many times and how badly you got lost) into our journey.  We have had a day cycling along meandering lanes through, picturesque villages, on our way to the coast.

It wasn’t the longest day ever in terms of physical miles travelled, but it’s seen a big step forward many of the participants; Introductions have been made, general nerves have been laid to rest, cycling groups have been formed (based primarily on pace)… we’re under way.

For some people there are still many questions to be answered:  Will the ferry make me ill?  Which cycling group suits me best?  How do I work these brakes?  I haven’t spotted the berk yet, does that mean it’s me?  Have I made a huge mistake?  These will be answered as our journey unfolds.

The weather held out during the day with only a few spots of rain.  As a result, there were some pink faces this evening (including my own) where the sun and the breeze had worked their combined magic.  Much more rain is forecast… it could dampen our spirits as we hit the continent.

For me, any concerns about general fitness are gone.  I was comfortable today, the training has been worth it!  There is still a question about the cumulative effort over the four days, but I’m trying to pace myself (both on and off the bike) to give myself every chance of a successful outcome.  If this means I need to be selfish and just look after myself from time to time then that’s how it has to be.

Tomorrow we head to Amsterdam and a whole new set of challenges… wish us luck!

The view from just up the road from the Holiday Inn, Brentwood. Definitive proof that Brentwood counts as “London”.

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:

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!