Tag Archives: Exercise

The biggest hurdle

Recently my training has revolved around four different Turbo Trainer sessions.  Each is quite different, and I rotate them, using a shorter one when time is limited, a two-hour “marathon” once a week to help build my stamina, but generally alternating the other two.

As a result of the limited repertoire and frequent repetition, I have become very familiar with the various courses, and comfortable with the work-outs.  I know what’s coming and I can effectively pace myself to get the most out of each session (factoring in how I’m feeling on any particular day)*.

That all sounds good, and probably is on some levels, but it’s not real life.  Wouldn’t it be great if we always knew what the future held in store for us, if we always knew what was waiting for us around the next corner.  Wouldn’t life would be easy!

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As we all know, life is full of surprises.  No matter how much we dislike them, we have to be able to deal with them.  We can get better through practice, but that requires work and sometimes more than a little bit of courage.

Today I selected a new work-out, something different.  I was surprisingly nervous given I wasn’t going to be moving from the same spot in my office.  For the first time in some time I was going to expose myself to something quite new.

As it happens, the new work-out didn’t work out, but that’s another story (equipment rather than health problems so nothing to worry about!).  So, for the time being I’m going to take some satisfaction from the fact that I tried… the biggest hurdle has been overcome.  I’m sure actually completing the session will be no trouble at all!

***

* Thinking back to winter training during my days as an athlete, I remember some of the Fartlek sessions we did as a group. 

I used to love them when I was calling, when I was the person who decided what came next.  Simply knowing what was coming made it easier in some way.  I’m sure everyone else used to hate it because I think I made the sessions much tougher.  

When I was in the group following someone else’s instructions, the glove was on the other hand, and I used to find it much more difficult.

Hanging around the pool

Nephew #3 was the highlight of our New Year gathering… just two year’s old, he’s a cheeky chappie and full of life.

Constantly on the move, he alternates between bouncing and running, vigorously waving “Hello” and “Goodbye” at each end of his frequent journeys.

He’s at that wonderful stage where he wakes up every morning with no idea what is going to happen during the day but confident that whatever it is it’s going to be great!

He’s almost talking, but not quite.  He can communicate with sound but with few words.  He makes himself understood… mostly… he makes himself heard… always!

He’s a real star and more than happy to be the centre of attention, selecting different members of the family to accompany him as he goes about his business of the day.

New Year really wouldn’t have been the same without him around!

Brother & Nephew, Father & Son

With the weather hampering plans to visit play parks, we decided to go swimming together – a favourite pastime of Nephew #3 and also a chance for me to get some proper exercise.

Abingdon Leisure Centre has a large Toddler’s swim area next to a wide, shallow main pool, all within one huge open area.  It was a bit different to the claustrophobic box (relatively) I normally swim in.  The width of the main pool accommodated 6 lanes with room left over for a recreational section next to the Toddler’s Pool.  Although there were a quite a few swimmers, there seemed to be ample space, it certainly didn’t feel crowded.

I was to arrive early, about 45 minutes before my Brother and Nephew, so I could have a “proper” swim first.  They were to join me for the fun bit at the end.

A simple plan.  What could possibly go wrong?

After 45 minutes I started looking out for them.  They hadn’t arrived yet, so I did a few more lengths.

50 minutes passed, then 60… more lengths.

“What could possibly go wrong?” I thought to myself again… this time actually looking for answers.

The lengths were becoming more challenging as I got increasingly tired.  The rest breaks became longer and more frequent… I was definitely now “waiting” rather than “swimming”.

It then struck me how difficult it is, as a middle-aged man in this day and age, to innocuously “hang around” a swimming pool…  I began to feel increasingly paranoid and self conscious.  Parents appeared to be getting uncomfortable too, at least one eye on me at all times.  I’m sure an extra Life Guard was drafted in specifically to watch me.

Time continued to pass…

Having considered my options (at length by this stage), the only two viable alternatives appeared to be (1) to continue to swim, doing lengths for as long as I possibly could or (2) to leave the pool, get changed and start again when the rest of the party arrived.  I really couldn’t see anything good coming from waiting in the Changing Area, the Toilets, or in the Showers.

So more lengths it was.

Eventually, after 80 minutes, Brother & Nephew #3 arrived, chirpy and raring to go, without a care in the world.  After an indeterminable further wait they emerged from the Changing Area… I could feel everyone breathe a collective sigh of relief as I joined them.  The additional Life Guard returned to do whatever member of the Life Guard SAS do when they’re on a break… Threat Level Green.

Abingdon Leisure Centre

After a few minutes of splashing, Nephew #3 started to cry.  Not being able to say exactly what was wrong some frantic pointing ensued.  It was not clear what the issue was.

I’m no expert, but I could sense he was not happy.  The crying continued…

Brother:  “He’s never usually like this.  He loves his swimming”

Not today!

And so, after about 7 minutes of fun family swim time we called it a day.

Eventually a packet of Quavers managed to quell the flow of tears.  The trauma receded, finally being laid to rest by a pre-lunch nap… and Nephew #3 got over it eventually as well!

Positive Feedback

I broke my personal best for 40km on the bike today.  Actually it’s the third or fourth time I’ve done it over the past month.  In reality I know it’s all relatively arbitrary as all my recent cycling has been done on the Turbo Trainer so, to a degree, I can control how easy or hard the miles are.

That said, I’m always eager to see how far I’ve managed to “get” when I finish each session… to see if my Garmin Bike Computer has any new records to report.

Competitiveness is a bit of a double edged sword for me.  I will only get stronger and fitter if I push myself, but I have to make sure I stay within safe limits… my maximum Heart Rate is still only 118, and I don’t think will ever change.  So, I find myself in a constant balancing act between my Heart, my Legs and my Head… which will be the weakest link on any given day is anyone’s guess!

For me, having a Heart Attack hasn’t dampened my competitive spirit.  In fact the exercise I have been doing as a result has probably made me more competitive, if only by the fact that I am now fit enough to compete again!

What I really need to do now is to focus my competitiveness on going long rather than deep… I need to build stamina rather than power, for distance rather than speed.  This is not what I’m naturally inclined towards but it’ll benefit my “engine” (Heart Healthiness) and lay the foundations for the challenges to come in 2014.

A funky seat will make all the difference!

For the time being, there’s plenty of scope for me to set many more personal bests… I’m still very much at the novice stage.  In time my rests will get shorter and the need to give my derrière a break will (hopefully!) abate.  As a result, I should improve without having to dig too deep.

So I will continue to watch the Garmin with interest, because despite the fact that we know it’s a little childish it’s always good to get a bit of positive feedback, even if it is from a Bike Computer!

Little Questions

untitled (64)Life has posed me many new questions over the past seven months.  Despite major “life” events, there been surprisingly few significant questions with real long term implications.

I have discovered that some big decisions are made from a series of small questions that are posed on a frequent basis.  I have to make decisions on what to eat and drink, for example, many times a day.  Decisions like this are easier because some of the big parameters have already been set… low fat, no alcohol, low salt,  no caffeine, low sugar… generally healthy I guess,

The same goes for exercise; I’ve already committed to doing it.  The question of “swim, cycle or gym?” is usually answered well in advance of the actual event.  I know I’m going to push myself, but not too hard.  So it’s all a bit of a “no brainer”.

Today I was posed a new question that I would not possibly have dreamed of before the Heart Attack…

untitled (65)I received a pair of underwater headphones for Christmas.  I’m still struggling to extend my swimming range, and I don’t imagine the ability to listen to music while swimming will help, however I am hoping it will help make the experience of trying more enjoyable.

So to the question… what music is best to swim to?

Today was my first attempt to answer it.  Overall it was a little less successful than I had hoped.  The “lunchtime swim” was a popular event, the pool was very busy.  Organised as ever, I only had time to upload a single album.

In retrospect I could have chosen more wisely… it turns out that some of Eminem’s lyrics are not entirely appropriate for a lunchtime swim in a community pool.  I am a big fan, but there’s definitely a time and a place.  This was neither.

Of course I was the only person that could hear the music but the imagery wasn’t “right” (or even close to being right!).  I found it difficult to look some of my fellow swimmers in the eye, and it’s not acceptable to look at them anywhere else!  As a result, the trial run with the headphones was successful, but it didn’t last long.

imagesUXL0IA3YNext I’m going to try a little Beethoven.  I hoping that if I can get the genre right I’ll take a huge step towards answering the question.

In the mean time, any guidance, advice or recommendations would be much appreciated!

(Not) Hitting the wall

I sometimes worry about the frame of my Turbo Trainer failing and me being catapulted into the wall of my office at 25-30 miles an hour…

… but I’ll take my chances.

I am definitely an indoor cyclist at the moment.  I’m clocking up the miles on my Turbo Trainer, without moving an inch (and long may it stay that way!).  Cycling standing still.

Not the most glamorous location, but it works!

I’m sure the cyclist purists wouldn’t approve, but it’s a convenient way for me to get regular exercise.  It will also help build the strength in my legs and my “engine”.  Given I had precisely zero miles under my belt in July, every little helps.

The weather really hasn’t been conducive to getting outside either, so this is what it has to be.  Having negotiated the winter solstice, the days will start to get longer again offering the promise of evening outside on the bike… in time.

Working out on the Turbo Trainer is different to cycling outside in many ways:

Firstly, you have to pedal continuously as you don’t get any benefit from free-wheeling.  This means continuous pressure and continuous effort.  A good, controlled work out is guaranteed!

Unexpected Turbo Trainer incidents to one side, it’s obviously safer.  It’s very hard to fall off a fixed bike, and there isn’t any traffic to negotiate.  Being seen isn’t an issue and there’s no need to navigate pot-holes, ice or any other obstacles that may present themselves.

A very high tech set-up… the picnic table and cardboard box work a treat!

When you’re standing still you obviously don’t get any wind resistance or experience any friction from the road.  This makes clocking up the miles a bit easier.  The difference when cycling outside amazing, particularly the impact of dodgy road surfaces.

It feels much hotter cycling inside.  That sounds a bit silly as it is much warmer, but without a cooling breeze to help moderate the temperature, the only outlet is sweat.  I sweat a lot.  A variety of towels have been commandeered to help fight back.  It’s really not a pretty sight!

One of the areas that concerns me a bit is that I’m not getting a chance to build my bike handling skills.  As a result, I’m less elegant and generally more of a liability when I get outside.  I just have to gain comfort from the fact that this will come in time.  The more time I can spend outside when I finally get there, the better.

Finally, and importantly for me, working out at home eliminates all concerns about me experiencing issues when I’m out and about cycling on my own.  Fortunately I haven’t experienced any problems yet, but the concern is always there (for others as well as myself).  Being within earshot gives everyone an increased level of comfort.

The Euro City Cycle in May has given me a real focus.  When I first decided to do it, it seemed like a HUGE challenge.  I’m feeling increasingly confident that I’m going to be physically capable of completing the 300 miles over 4 days.  The fact that I can continue to train despite the worst the winter weather can throw at me is a real bonus.

Happy cranking!

Seven day hang over

Last Saturday Louise and I were invited to a Christmas Dinner Dance by one of my clients.  It’s an event we’ve enjoyed for the past few years, and has become a highlight of our Social Calendar.  I’d like to say our “busy Social Calendar”, but as the saying goes, we really don’t get out much!

Christmas-PartyThis year the event was a little bit different.  A “Work” Christmas Party without any alcohol was a new experience for me.  Usually I would expect the night to follow a predictable course, with me reaching a comfortable state of inebriation and spending the evening “in the middle of things” (or that’s how it felt!).  It isn’t unheard of for us to be the last to leave the Residents Bar of the hotel following the “after party”… whether we were staying or not!

This time was a bit different.  I drove and stuck to water.  I was going to have an Appletiser as a treat, but the moment never arrived (what a waste of a free bar!).  I spent the evening on the periphery, looking on at all the shenanigans.

Despite not drinking, and slightly to my surprise, I had a good time!  Louise even got me on the dance floor a couple of times!  Another strange experience for me… for some reason my “Dad Dancing” was a bit more sedate and under control than normal, my natural “fluidity” deserted me, but I felt like I fitted in OK.

We even rounded off the evening by leaving at a sensible time… before we were asked to!

***

Annoyingly, I woke up on Sunday morning feeling rubbish.  I had a stonking headache, and felt generally pooped.  Depressingly, I felt like a had a good old-fashioned hang over.  I initially put this down to having had a late night, but as Sunday rolled on I deteriorated.

Since then I have experienced many of the symptoms of flu.

  • A runny nose     Check!
  • A sore throat     Check!
  • Headache     Check!
  • A fever     Check!
  • A cough     Check!
  • Muscle aches and pain     Not so much actually,

imagesCA2QW4WZI had a flu jab a few weeks ago, another first for me.  It’s also another reason why it’s frustrating to get ill.

Despite my illness, I have valiantly battled on all week.  Each day I woke up feeling rubbish, improved a little during the day and then collapsed in the evening.

As a result of feeling rough I didn’t even attempt to exercise last week – the longest time I’ve “rested” since I was in hospital.  I just didn’t feel up to it, and knew it really wasn’t worth pushing myself.

I’m sure there are plenty of exercises and activities that I could have been doing to strengthen my core, or my legs, or other targeted areas, however my focus is primarily on building the strength and endurance of my “engine”.  Without it I’m nothing, and I started from a fairly low starting point.  So, I recognised that I needed to rest, get better, get strong and then get back to it.

***

After a week without exercise and a nagging cold my insides needed a good clean-out!

As the week went on, I slowly progressed through the various stages of the bug, headache, sore throat, cough, runny nose… and after a full day of relaxation yesterday I felt strong enough to get back in the saddle this morning.  I’m still not ready for anything serious, just a few miles on the bike to blow the cobwebs away and ease myself back into it.

About 45 minutes and 15 miles later I was done.  Hot and sweaty, but alive and feeling strong(ish).  An easy session to start a new week in the right way.

I’ve hopefully left enough gas in the tank for the major challenge of the day… some serious Christmas Present shopping.  Wish me luck!

***

The many benefits of swimming

Friday morning in North East of Scotland was cold; “Baltic” as we’d describe it.  Having braved the conditions to get to the swimming pool I was greeted by a large “Information” board.  Apparently there had been a problem with the heating at the pool, and the water temperature had been up to 34 degrees C…

“Don’t pay your entrance fee if you think the temperature will be too warm!”

…was the message.

I thought nothing of it and headed in to the changing room to get ready.  As usual, I was in the pool just before 7 am and started my swim.  Also as usual, just after 7.30 am the swimming club members started to leave and a number of “Silver Swimmers” (presumably retired members of a slightly older generation) entered to begin their slightly more relaxed session.

untitled (60)As he entered the pool, a gentleman sporting a well maintained, military-style moustache (let’s call him “the Colonel”) greeted me with the words…

“Lovely and warm isn’t it!”

To be fair, the pool was indeed lovely and warm.  In comparison with the temperature outside I think anything would have felt warm.  However, the Colonel’s comment, together with the satisfied look he had on his face got me thinking… what if the “Silver Swimmers” were also “Silver Surfers”?

Perhaps they had hacked into the Aberdeenshire Council computer systems and updated the temperature settings to create a warm haven, thereby saving money on the heating bill at home.  The Colonel was definitely on the inside and, recognising me as friend rather than foe, decided to share his delight!  You certainly shouldn’t judge a book by its cover!

***

One of the reasons I was keen to get into swimming was that it’s exercise you can do for life.  It’s a low impact, cardiovascular workout that is great for mobility and fitness, which all bring additional health benefits.

Not everyone appreciated the super-heated water!

My interaction with the Colonel reminded me of some of the peripheral benefits of swimming too… access to warmth (the whole building tends to be warm, not just the pool), access to a hot shower (the best bit about a visit to the pool according to the Colonel) and, social interaction (the Colonel certainly wasn’t operating alone!).

The other thing is, it’s never too late to start.  So, no excuses really.

Whether it’s to get out of the cold or to get yourself fit, swimming has to be the way forward.  Just watch out for the organised crime!

Dinner suit disaster!

Yesterday we discovered that my wife used to be married to a fat man.  It might sound strange, but it was as much a shock for her as it was for me.

It all happened quite innocently…  a work Dinner Dance offered a rare opportunity to wear my Dinner Suit or, more correctly, one of my Dinner Suits (as I have accumulated several “emergency” suits over the years).

I’ve always thought I looked good in a Dinner Suit too!

I’ve always felt good in a Dinner Suit.  I’ve enjoyed getting dressed up ever since I bought my first one from a Charity Shop to attend my first “Ball” when I was at school.  Yes, it is easy for men; we always get to wear the same outfit, no particular thought is required, and we can accumulate accessories over time.

Generally the key pre-requisites have been to (1) remember to get the suit cleaned after particularly heavy / boisterous nights out and (2) make sure the Dinner Suit is in the right location for the Bash (this has been the primary contributor to me owning multiple suits).  On top of this, there is the concern of whether the suit will still fit – the irregularity that the Dinner Suit is usually donned means it provides a good commentary on the (usually expanding) waistline.

My latest Dinner Suit was my favourite.  A simple, single breasted Ted Baker Suit with a light grey lining.  Nothing special, but it was a good fit and I always felt very comfortable in it.  I looked after it, and it looked after me.

Organised as always, at around midday on the day of the Dinner Dance, I got out my favourite suit for a last minute readiness check.  I knew I had lost some weight but I anticipated a belt or, in the worst case some braces, would be all that was required to make it “fit”.

This used to be a snug fit!

When I tried it on I was shocked!  Louise was shocked!  The suit was HUGE!  How could it ever have fitted me?  It looked absolutely ridiculous!

With growing desperation, I tried on the other suits in the wardrobe… they were all way too big!  Even a made-to-measure suit I had made about 5 years ago, when I thought I was fit was way too big.  A disaster!

It takes a lot to get me to visit a shop, particularly a clothes shop, but even I had to (reluctantly) admit that an emergency visit to the Menswear Shop was required.  Fortunately, thanks to the help of a very understanding Assistant Manager, I found a suit that would meet my immediate need.  It’s not quite my old favourite, but I think he’s history.

Now all that’s left is for me to do is to pluck up the courage to go through the rest of my wardrobe and get rid of the clothes that in all probability I’ll never be able to wear again.  Even packing some of the clothes away “just in case” is too depressing a thought… that would mean all my hard work has been in vain, and wouldn’t augur well for my future health.

Just the three of us

The maintenance work at the Local Pool finished yesterday bringing the week-long closure to an end.  I don’t usually swim on a Saturday, but I was keen to get back in the pool, particularly as we have visitors this weekend and an early morning swim seemed like a good way of getting some exercise without impacting our plans for the day.

Not being a regular on a Saturday, I didn’t quite know what to expect.  Given it had been shut all week I assumed the pool be busy.

I arrived to find 6 lanes marked out.  Normally the swimming team would have been using 4 of the lanes but today they were all available to the public.  There were some early comings and goings, but shortly after my arrival there were only three of us in the pool, and it stayed that way for the duration of my session.  What a difference it makes to have a dedicated lane.  A rare luxury.  Bliss!

Sharing a lane can be frustrating!

After the session, one of my fellow swimmers asked me a question:

“What are you training for?”

I thought this was a fantastic question to ask in a Swimming Pool / Gym type setting.  There’s no real downside… if you’re not training for something you’re likely to be pleased that someone considered you might be, and if you are it’s obviously a good conversation starter.

Personally, I was really pleased to be asked.  It’s the first time anyone’s openly mistaken me for someone who’s fit for a long time.  I took it as a sign that I’m making progress.

As it turned out, the chap I was speaking to is training for an Ironman event in South Africa in April next year (2.4 km Swim, 120km Cycle and a 28km Run).  Clearly he has a little more conditioning under his belt than me!

The delights of competitive Open Water Swimming!

I have to admit, I was a little bit jealous.  I suspect I’ll never be in a position to take on such a gruelling challenge.  I’ll continue to set myself challenging goals, but they will always be within the context of my medical history, long term medication, etc.

I was recently asked a question about what I can’t do as a result of my Heart Attack.  The list of things didn’t extend much beyond “some rides at Disney” and “scuba diving”.  I suspect in reality the list is much longer, but I’m not going to add Ironman events to it just yet.  Instead I’ll focus on doing what I can, taking it one step at a time.  Who knows where the journey will end up!

Probably a step too far for me right now!

Make time to play

I think most of us spend much of the day being pushed for time.  As a result, exercise tends to get “fitted in” around the other commitments… a class in the lunch hour, or a run between dropping off / picking up the kids, a pre-work swim.  It’s admirable that so many people keep it up, but I’m sure it didn’t used to be that way.

The pressure’s generally on!

Personally, when I’m under time pressure I will tend to only do what I know.  I repeat exercise routines that have been tried and tested, that I know will get the job done and won’t take too much time.  I’m keen to get the work under my belt and move on.  The problem is, this approach doesn’t allow me to try new things, to practice new techniques, or to have “fun”.

When I was at university we occasionally used to get a day pass to a leisure centre.  The pass allowed us to do everything for the day.  We’d spend hours “playing”… squash, badminton, in the gym and in the pool (actually, not so much in the pool!).  We had mini-leagues and long running grudge matches to keep the interest levels up.  We didn’t ever have an exercise programme, when we were there we just played and the exercise came for free,

It was certainly a different way of approaching exercise than today.  I understand why; We have different levels of responsibility; Time is precious; It’s not all about us; Exercise is a means to an end.  Personally, I think it’s a shame.

The pool I usually swim at is closed for the week for maintenance. As a result, I will spend a little more time at a gym where we’re family members.  Usually I would only visit once every couple of weeks to fit in a weights session around the more focused cycling and swimming routine.

Today I spent an hour in the gym and then hit the pool.  The pool is shorter than my usual one… not idea for swimming distances, but good for practicing turns.  It was also busy… again, not great for swimming long distances, so I also took the opportunity to practice some of the drills and strokes that I’ve been shown at my lessons.  For once I didn’t worry about the effort I was putting in or how my body was reacting – my heart rate wasn’t a concern.

Make time to play in the water!

I enjoyed trying some things out.  I practiced floating… still not close to cracking it, but the drills are getting easier!  I also went back to the breaststroke kick that I’ve been struggling with… I just couldn’t get any “oomph” into it without it twanging the tendons in my legs.  After some playing around, I think I may have discovered the missing ingredient.  It definitely felt like I was being propelled more effectively.  This definitely wouldn’t have happened in my normal pool during a pre-work swim.

I also enjoyed my time in the water.  I ended up being later than I had anticipated, but it was time well spent.  It’s not something I can afford to do every day, but once in a while it’s something I’ll throw into the routine.

I think “making time to play” is something everyone should do from time to time.  Try new exercises or a new class.  Think of it as an investment… learning new things that may become part of your future routine.  If you can, free yourself from your normal constraints and time pressures (even just for a few hours).  You may even enjoy it!