Tag Archives: Exercise

Life is an endurance sport

Endurance events look easy when you watch them on from the comfort of your Living Room.  We get used to watching professional athletes performing amazing feats, it becomes the norm.  We tend to overlook the hours of training that go into the preparation and the effort of the event itself.  They make it all look too easy.

Last weekend I watched my first “real” triathlon.  It was a bit different to watching the Brownlee brothers!  It looked much more like the kind of activity I might be able to participate in!

Historically there were lots of reasons why doing a triathlon was a crazy idea, not least the fact that I was a physical wreck.  Having got myself into some sort of shape it seems a lot less crazy now, and given my exercise regime includes both swimming and cycling, I’m almost there as far as the training is concerned.  My most compelling arguments for not doing one would largely come down to my ignorance, so I decided to educate myself.

It all looks a bit brutal to me!

It all looks a bit brutal to me!

The swim held the biggest fear for me (and still does to be honest).  I have never been much of a swimmer.  When I’m in the pool, much of my effort is invested in the avoidance of drowning; little energy is left over for propulsion.  The thought of having to battle with hundreds of other participants for space was a scary one (although this was perhaps naïve, and based on watching too many open water events on TV).

As it turned out, it all seemed rather civilised, down to the staggered start, the coloured hats (to tell the athletes apart), and the polite overtaking (requested by a tap on the foot and offered willingly). I found the range of swimming strokes, techniques and speeds reassuring too. You don’t have to be an ex-Olympian to participate (although I’m sure it would help if you were!).

I was particularly heartened by the over-exuberance of some of the participants that resulted in them going out a bit too quickly on the swim. Some were even kind enough to give us a running commentary on their level of fatigue at the end of each length as they struggled to catch their breath and summon the energy for the next 25 metres. I’m sure some people were caught out by false confidence gained from watching too much TV!


Having selected a triathlon as the target “goal” for this winter’s training, I plan to balance armchair reconnaissance with some solid physical effort, building on the base I’ve built over the past year or so.

With just 10 days to go until the final big event of the summer, Ride the North, it’s exciting to look to the future again and identify some challenging goals. However, first things first…

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!

Back to nature

Monday marked the beginning of a short family break; few days of exercise and fresh air in the middle of forest in Northern England. The boys (our cats) had been captured and checked in to the Cat Hotel, happy to spend a week in the lap of luxury; heated beds, over-eating, wild parties and the kind of attention that only money can buy. We, on the other hand, were heading back to nature; five days of living off our wits, pitting ourselves against the best that the forest could throw at us. Center Parcs.

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The illusive Red Squirrel

Having fought through torrential rain and heavy traffic, we eventually arrived at our destination. To celebrate, we passed it several times as we desperately searched for the nearest supermarket, in urgent need of “essentials” to sustain us for the days ahead. The first few hours followed a familiar pattern, excited children running amok and stressed adults trying to get over the journey, slowly coming to terms with the speed things are done around here. This was particularly evident in the bicycle hire queue where frustration builds and the tension is palpable. As the third “Expert” is called to help the Cycle Hire Attendant fix the uncooperative till, the same thought is written across the face of all in attendance…

When can I start having fun?

Freshly equipped with their personal weapons of mass destruction, the newly crowned cyclists wobble their way away from the Cycle Hire Centre. To spice things up, they quickly come into mortal combat with cars (for one day only), desperate to end their tiring journeys and start having fun too.


For the first time ever, I don’t feel quite so much of a fitness fraud. Our bags are bulging with sports kit, but it’s all in regular use. We’ve even brought our own bikes. For us, any wobbling will be due to ineptitude rather than lack of familiarity. We are ready! Within minutes, we start to experience nature; a mother duck leading her new-born ducklings, pheasant, wood pigeon, the promise of red squirrels (at least signs warning of the promise of red squirrels) and a baby rabbit. And then the tranquil forest was disturbed by a dreadful shock… a blood curdling scream followed by the sound of two feet landing after having jumped high into the air. Then silence. Louise’s eyes were full of terror with her discovery… the boys had left a little present inside her shoe, a small keepsake, a tiny wee mouse. Perhaps nature can be fun after all! Mouse 1

Gaining inspiration

I’ve been fairly motivated to get myself in shape since my Heart Attack.  It gave me the “kick up the behind” I needed to get of the sofa and start exercising.

After building some initial momentum at Cardiac Rehabilitation, the Euro City Cycle has given me the focus to keep pushing through the winter.  Having something to work towards has really helped maintain my motivation through the cold, dark days.

Despite this, I sometimes find my work-outs tough.  I stay within my limits as far as pushing my Heart Rate and Stamina is concerned, but at the same time I try to work hard enough to push those limits further, to slowly build my strength and endurance.

Today marks 10 weeks until I head south to start the Euro City Cycle.  I really need to start upping my training to ensure I’m properly prepared.  To do this, I have to push myself a little harder.

I would like to avoid feeling like this on the Euro City Cycle!

When I’m tired it’s tempting to take short cuts, to give myself a break, to find an excuse to ease off or slow down.  Often the tiredness is mental rather than physical.  It’s difficult to keep pushing.

On Sunday I fortuitously stumbled across “Race across America (with James Cracknell)”.  I joined the story as he arrived in Death Valley, during his attempt to travel from West Coast to East Coast in 18 days.  Having arrived by bike, he had to cover about 80 miles on foot, the equivalent of 3 marathons in temperatures of 120+ degrees.  It was brutal!  If his challenge wasn’t great enough, he had an injured foot that made every step painful.

He lost 35 litres of sweat during this little stroll!

To be honest, the whole thing was bordering on nuts, but the effort and mental strength was amazing, a real source of inspiration.  Since I saw it, whenever I start to feel tired I compare my position with what he had to deal with.  It’s never failed to give me an extra boost of energy so far!

I also liked the fact that he really didn’t enjoy his ice bath afterwards.  I’ve always wondered how pleasurable they must be.  The answer appears to be “not very!”.  I understand the rejuvenational benefits an ice bath may have, but I’ll be giving them a miss if that’s OK.  If I were to have one it could literally turn out to be the last thing I did!

The part of the James Cracknell story I wasn’t expecting was that he got knocked off his bike and suffered a serious head injury from which he’s still recovering.  Ignoring how the injury happened, I also found his recovery inspiring.  It certainly helped me put my rehabilitation into some context.  Again, what he went through in the months after his accident was on a different scale to what I’ve had to deal with.  I am very lucky!

So, over the coming weeks I’m going to knuckle down and do the work.  No excuses.

Surf’s up!

There was a window earlier today… I was sitting in the office, looking out of the window at a perfect February morning, sun shining, a clear blue sky, not a breath of window and bone dry roads.  After the miserable weather of the past few weeks, it was ideal conditions to get out on the bike.

I felt like screaming “Surf’s up!” and heading home.  Screw the four o’clock Friday, it’s stopped raining and the sun’s out!  A spontaneously extended weekend…

But I didn’t… and the window was a short one.

A momentary glimpse of spring in Scotland!

Having spent part of the afternoon planning my weekend cycling route, I met the girls for a Valentine’s Day trip to see a film.  After a couple of hours in the dark, we emerged into a torrential storm!  To make matters worse, by the time we arrived home the precipitation had turned to snow.  Marvellous!

Momentum is starting to build to the Euro City Cycle now.  Having got the “all clear” from the cardiologist, I’m keen to break free of the shackles of the Turbo Trainer, get some wind in my hair and some real miles in my legs.

Recently I compared my performance today against what I was capable of in October – I’m so much stronger now.  I’m able to do more than 40% more distance in the same time now as I was then (following the exact same video workout).  I’m really keen to see how this translates onto the road, but unfortunately it looks like I’ll have to wait.

The view from our front door… and the snow keeps falling!

As the snow falls outside, I feel I need an injection of something to keep my spirits up.  My “Nordic Noire” Christmas Box-set didn’t really seem to fit the bill so I’ve cracked open my BBC “London Olympics 2012” extended highlights DVDs.  That should do the trick!

C’mon Chris (Froome)! C’mon Bradley (Wiggins)! C’mon Mark (Cavendish)!  I know it didn’t come off last time, but maybe there’s an alternative ending on the DVD version!!!

I’m a Swimmer not a Fighter

… actually I’m not much of a swimmer either, but I’m doing my best!

This morning saw a new low in my battle against all that is frustrating about January.  When I arrived at the pool at around 7 a.m. it was busier than ever.

So it could have been worse!

The Swimming Club were using 4 lanes leaving just 2 for Public use.  Each was packed with people trying desperately to mind their own business and enjoy their morning exercise.  I hesitated before heading into the Changing Room to get ready, but decided that I’d come this far so I may as well make the most of it.

I’m still very much at the “confidence building” stage of learning to swim.  I can make it up and down the pool, but I know I’m not relaxed and recognise that is a major reason why I find each length so exhausting.  I think just spending time in the pool will help, but under the right conditions.  Having other people in close proximity does not help create the right environment.

I’m not sure whether it’s purely the fact of avoiding people that makes me uncomfortable.  I certainly don’t find it easy to time my lengths to prevent me catching up with people in front of me, or holding up people behind me.  I also find it off-putting watching out for people coming in the opposite direction.  All too often I end up snagging on the lane ropes as I try to take up as little space as possible.

Maybe this is the way forward!

I sometimes think it would be easier if I was a fighter.  I could swim over the top of, or around, other people without a care.  As it is, I spend a lot of energy avoiding the worst scenario of all… touching someone!!!

Let’s face it, human kind was not designed to be in such close proximity to so many other “strange” human beings wearing so little.

Perhaps I would benefit from seeing a sports psychologist to get help relaxing under such circumstances?  Maybe my issues are more deeply seated!  For the time being I’ll continue with the good old fashioned British approach… stiff upper lip, look ahead and pretend it’s not happening!

September; A good month to join a gym

Today I did my first early morning, pre-work swim of 2014.

I haven’t been too hard on myself up to this point.  The dark, cold mornings are difficult enough to deal at the best of times.  Having thoroughly enjoyed the long relaxing Christmas break, getting up for work has been enough of a shock to the system without trying to get to the pool.  I therefore gave myself a little time to ease back into the routine.  Given most of December was spent trying to fight off colds and sniffles, it’s been a while since an early morning swim was part of the routine.

The pool was very busy.  Some say it’s a myth that January is the busiest month at gyms, but I put the new faces down to New Year Resolutions that are yet to fall by the wayside.

If you are planning a “get fit” campaign, I would strongly recommend you do not start in January.  No wonder people find it difficult to stick with their Resolutions… everywhere is crowded, it’s really not pleasant!

Now, if you could just find yourself a space…

Apparently Gyms rely on over-subscription and a significant drop off in attendance as the month / year goes on,   If people only experience a gym or swimming pool in January, I can completely understand why they don’t enjoy it.

Wouldn’t it be great if, rather than doing New Year Membership Promotions, your gym focused on its existing members.  They could re-open admissions in February.  I know New Memberships are 50% higher in January, but it would send a good message. 

To existing members it would say:  “We care about you.  We want you to have access to the facilities you have paid for,”

To Prospective members it would say:  “We want you to take your membership seriously.  We know that if you join in January, chances are that we won’t see you again.  Wait a bit.  Think about it.  If you’re serious then we’ll welcome you with open arms…  Oh, and when you are a Member, we will look after you too!” *

Of course, (in the Northern Hemisphere, and particularly in Scotland) the issue is exacerbated by the winter weather… heading outside isn’t exactly the most appealing of propositions.  The weather is made for a onesie, a roaring fire, a box-set and a glass / mug of something to warm the insides.

Instead of January, I’d suggest you start your fitness campaign in September.  Get the Summer holiday out the way and then get yourself fit.  The gyms will be quiet, the weather temperate, the days long.  You’ll have a natural head start, you’ll feel great and you should be in the swing of things by the time January and the winter blues come around.

Anyway, I managed to fight my way through the crowds for a reasonable swim.  With a Turbo Trainer session this evening I’m feeling tired but satisfied.  Time to kick back in my onesie!


How can a man look so cool and so cosy at the same time?!


*  I recognise this is selfish and elitist.  It is also largely irrelevant for me and the many thousands people that use Public Facilities.  We just have to suck it up and make the most of it.