Tag Archives: Heart Attack

Starfish on a beach

Although postings to the Blog might suggest otherwise, Ride the North 2014 didn’t finish me off.  It wasn’t even the end of a blossoming cycling career   However, in retrospect, it did mark the end of a phase of my life. 

The year after my Heart Attack was one of significant change.  Fortunately it concluded with everything in much better shape than when it started.  Although I tried to look forward and “fight”, I think there was a considerable amount of “flight” in the mix.

I think I proved something to myself by successfully concluding my first summer of cycling.  The fear slowly dissipated over time.

… and so I gave myself a break.

Despite taking things a little easier, I have continued to be active and keep fit   I have also managed to maintain some of the better habits I developed.  I’ve started 2016 in better shape than I was a year ago, and I’m excited about taking on some more physical challenges (some familiar and some new).

Occasionally I receive emails from people who have stumbled across the Blog, have recognised some similarities or warning signs, and decided to do something about it.  I’m really happy to be able to make a difference, even a small one.  As a result, I’ve decided to start posting a bit more regularly, even if it’s just to let people know that I’m still here.

Ride like a Pro

It sounds counter-intuitive, but having a Heart Attack has given me confidence.

My “episode” was the culmination of about 20 years of un-healthiness; relatively little physical activity, an overly relaxed diet, too many cigarettes and too much alcohol.  I have never generally lacked confidence, but having become a lapsed athlete it has been more focused on the office than the sports field.

The warning signs were there…

Having been physically “broken”, I’ve had to re-build my strength and fitness almost from scratch.  At the same time, I’ve had to re-build my confidence to do every day things that I used to take in my stride.  After being at such a low level, the only way was up, and increased awareness has meant every step forward has been a conscious one.

Along the way I’ve given myself many challenges.  Some of the challenges may appear more significant than others, but they’ve all been important.

Whether it was getting on a bike for the first time or heading out for a solo ride, cycling back up to my house or cycling from London to Brussels (via Amsterdam), they’ve all mattered.  They have each required a level of confidence to take them on (often combined with a healthy dose of nervousness), and each has been rewarded with a major sense of satisfaction and a confidence boost.

Tomorrow I’m heading out with a group to “Ride like a Pro”, a promotional event organised by Jaguar.  On the ride we’ll be accompanied (“supported”) by a “Jaguar XF Sportbrake in full Team Sky livery”.  It’s another step into the unknown, but I’m excited about it.  At 50 miles it’s within my range, but whenever you go out with a new group it introduces a number of unknowns.

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In my mind, we’ll be in a large peloton, eating up the roads as we roar through the Aberdeenshire countryside…

I really hope that I don’t lose contact with the group so badly that they call the support car through; having set out to “ride like a pro” I may well end up being “just a guy taking a ride”. Either way, it should be fun… and it’ll definitely be another step in the right direction!

Warning: Hills ahead

The summer has brought a change of routine for me. My established routine was rudely interrupted by a couple of weeks rest and relaxation. Since I’ve been back I have fallen into a new, arguably more balanced routine.

Fortunately I’ve been exercising more regularly than I’ve been updating my blog. Although I’ve not been training at the same level of intensity as I was earlier in the year, I have managed to maintain my level of general fitness and my weight.

Perspective and positive thinking!
My exercise regime has become more rounded again. I have returned to the pool and I‘m combining regular swims with cycling. Unfortunately I’m still a sinker rather than a floater; my break from the pool has not magically resulted in a step change in my buoyancy. I can’t swim any further but I do feel more comfortable; the minor drowning panics have become more occasional. I’m really enjoying the variety and I think it’s better for my body.

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Work has become more demanding, but in a good way. I am travelling more frequently, but not excessively and I’ve been testing the leisure facilities at a variety of hotels.  The days of Club Sandwiches and Fries washed down by a beer seem like a lifetime ago!

Generally I guess I’m just more aware of the various different aspects of my life, and work hard to make sure the “good” ones significantly outweigh the “bad” ones. It’s taken over a year to get to this point, but I feel more relaxed and in control of things.

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Ride the North

I’m really glad that I’ve signed up to the “Ride the North”. The two-day, 170 mile cycle from Inverness to Aberdeen is only three weeks away now. It’s been a target for me since I finished the Euro City Cycle back in May. It’s removed any slight temptation to kick back and take things easy.

Day 1 of the event is 88 miles (further than I’ve ever cycled in a day) and it starts with a challenging climb out of Inverness. I’m a little anxious about the climb. I’d like to take the whole ride in my stride, and I know the only chance of doing that is to keep fit and keep up the miles.

The Suie 1

It’s going to be another exciting few weeks. It’s not quite the Commonwealth games, but Inverness here I come!

Cruising

It’s not often that you get a chance to see into the future.  The long term impact of exercise and healthy living can be hard to quantify.  Conversely, it can be hard to understand the potential negative effects of poor life choices.

I have friends whose lifestyles have been heavily influenced by their parents prematurely suffering with poor health.  I am lucky in that my parents and in-laws are all fit and healthy, able to make the most of the opportunities the “Third Age” offers them.  They are reaping the benefits of an active lifestyle in which treats are still considered a treat and excess reserved for special occasions and grand-children.

You could argue that having a Heart Attack should have been enough to open my eyes; after all it could have killed me. To a degree this is correct.  However, death wasn’t necessarily the worst-case scenario, not for me at least.  Long term incapacitation would have been worse, my quality of life could have been compromised, and with it those around me that I care about most.  I was lucky.

Island Escape

The Island Escape… it’s not much but we like to call it home.

I am now four days into my first all-inclusive cruise, and it’s really helped bring things into focus.  A little close personal observation (nosiness!) has provided a unique opportunity to see both the negative impacts and some of the underlying choices that have may have contributed to them.

The passengers on the cruise are a different demographic than on our holidays to date; they are primarily couples and slightly older.  One of the overwhelming features is a lack of mobility; knee bandages and walking sticks are essential travel companions for many.  The general level of fitness appears to be extremely low with some of the physiques having been “carefully nurtured” over an extended period of time.

Even Cardiac Rehabilitation didn’t give me such a powerful insight; I was aware that only a small fraction of people take up the opportunity to participate in rehab.  That means that the majority are either unwilling or unable to attend, presumably choosing instead to rely on medication and / or luck for their recovery and future wellbeing.  I suspect some of the non-participants might also be on-board!

It’s scary… scary for the individuals who seem to be struggling to perform basic everyday activities.*  It’s also scary that until recently I was also on that course.

Fortunately everyone seems to be mobile enough to take full advantage of the “all-inclusive” part of the cruise… if you are unable to carry your plate or glass there always a helpful member of staff to assist.  Ironically, the only constraint I’ve discovered is on the Cardiac Setting in the gym… limited to 5 minutes… for health reasons presumably!

Cardiac Workout (Max)

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* I appreciate not everyone has a completely free choice, but most of us are fortunate enough to have at least some level of influence over our physical well-being even though it may frustratingly diminish over time.  I also appreciate that I am very lucky to have more choice than most having received my “wake up call” so early!

My London to Brighton experience

After all the preparation we almost missed it.  We had decided to take advantage of the option to “ride later than our allocated start time” to make the morning a little less frantic, to avoid the crowds at the start of the event and to ensure careful coordination of our arrival with lunch in Brighton.  Our plans were flawed on several fronts!

Our London to Brighton experience started smoothly.  We left the house at 09.06, just 6 minutes behind schedule.  Not bad!  We had even had time to capture the moment for prosperity…

Brothers - Before & After

Brothers – Before & After

 A “thumbs up” from “@LDNtoBrighton” (The official Twitter account for the event) reinforced our level of comfort as we set off for Clapham.  How were they to know where we were?  After all, there was a lot going on!

We abandoned the car (Thanks Michelle!) at the first sight of cyclists, just south of Tooting (09:46).  Crossing the torrent of participants to make our way to the start line on Clapham Common spirits were high.  The bubble was almost burst when we arrived at a rather deserted start area.

A few Marshalls were rounding up the stragglers, encouraging them to “Start ASAP!”  It turns out the final start time was 09:30.  A minor detail that had passed us by.  A schoolboy error!

Fortunately it didn’t take us long to catch up with the first tail-backs, perhaps not coincidentally in Tooting.

L2B Tooting

30,000 cyclists + London traffic + major junctions = Frustration!

It didn’t take us long to see the first of what turned out to be several accidents either… within a mile of the start, a chap (who, it turns out, wasn’t even participating in the London to Brighton event) managed to cycle into a stationary car at speed.  The result of the collision was a cut chin and, I suspect, concussion, as well as badly damaged wing mirror (on the car).  It was relief that we discovered that the carbon frame of his bike had also been broken as he was insisting that he was OK to ride on.  He clearly wasn’t!  We left him in the capable hands of a Marshall with Medics on the way.

Travelling through South London was a stop / start affair.  The Police were doing a fantastic job of clearing the roads of cyclists by sweeping up the rear to stop traffic, maintaining momentum one junction at a time.  It wasn’t until we hit the first hill however that our expectations for the rest of the day were properly set:

With so many cyclists even the smallest bottleneck can impact the flow.  Bottlenecks included narrowing roads, hills, accidents, traffic controls and confusion caused by refreshment stops (“Should we or shouldn’t we?”).  A combination of a narrowing road and a “steep” slope was enough to bring everything to a grinding halt.  It was annoying the first time, but became less so as we relaxed into the day.

Reigate Selfie

As we headed south, out of the hustle of London and into the countryside, the atmosphere changed.  Communities turned out in force to “make a day of it”.  Quiet villages took on a carnival atmosphere as brass bands played us on our way.

Refreshment stops were frequent and well stocked.  Even private dwellings offered “a free sit down”, sweets and showers from Water Pistols,  People generously came out of their houses to cheer us on our way; each cheer being greeted with a “Ping” on Philip’s bell.

It felt like we were part of something meaningful and positive.  A feel-good factor was capped by the way people ascended the final climb of the day;

Ditchling Beacon had been billed as the big challenge.  The most significant hill on the ride.  It was all downhill to Brighton from the top, but getting to the top would take some effort.  If it went the same way as the other substantial hills we’d encountered there would be no way of us cycling up it because of people walking.

Fortunately people seemed to decide to walk at an early stage of the Ditchling Beacon ascent, and then considerately moved to the left-hand side of the road.  As a result, despite arriving at what was probably the busiest time of the day, we were still able to cycle all the way up.

It wasn’t without it’s hairy moments, but we both managed to stay on our bikes.  For a few minutes, the other participants became vocal onlookers, like an over-enthusiastic Mountain-Top crowd in the Tour de France.  It was a special feeling to get to the top!

The thousands of people at the finish on the front in Brighton were the cherry on the  cake!

L2B Finish 3

So, a HUGE thank you to all the people involved in organising and supporting the event, the Marshalls, the Medical Staff, the Caterers, the Mechanics, the Supporters, etc. etc.  Thank you all for making it such a fantastic event!

A great way of celebrating life!

 

Father’s Day (Approx. 00:30)

What a difference a year makes… exactly fifty-two weeks ago I was having a Heart Attack.

Tonight I’m enjoying the early stages of England’s World Cup adventure*. In a few hours I’ll be setting off to cycle from London to Brighton as part of the British Heart Foundation’s annual flagship event.

It seems an awfully long time ago that I was whisked into hospital to undergo an emergency angioplasty. It was surreal at the time, and doesn’t seem any less bizarre an experience now.

Symptoms

The intervening twelve months have introduced many changes in my life; some were sudden and immediate, the aftermath of the event itself, others have occurred a little more gradually, new habits and behaviours that have fallen into place over time.

From what I’ve read, it sounds like many people who experience Heart Attacks, or are given stents as preventative treatment, do not make much of an effort to change their lifestyle. They abdicate all responsibility for their long term health to their Doctors. This is one of the main arguments against extending the use of statins. This definitely hasn’t been the case for me!

One of the things with Coronary Heart Disease is that it doesn’t get better; it stays the same or deteriorates. Modern medication is fantastic in reducing the risks of living with it by lightening the load on the Heart and thinning the blood, however they don’t treat the underlying condition. Stents also treat the symptoms, not the disease.

Despite increased awareness and medical advancements, Coronary Heart Disease is still the UK’s biggest killer.  (www.bhf.org.uk)

Personally, changes to my diet and regular exercise have resulted in dramatic changes. I am fit and, although I wouldn’t describe myself as healthy, my life expectancy has increased significantly (to be fair, it wasn’t looking that hot a year ago!).

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For me the London to Brighton Bike Ride will be a celebration and, hopefully, a fun day out. For others who have been touched by Heart Disease, it may involve an act of remembrance or gratitude.  Good luck to each and every one of them!

Hopefully it will also serve as a reminder or a prompt for others… just think about the thousands of people that will be impacted by Heart Disease before the next Father’s Day,  Each and every one of us can make a difference!

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*Actually I’m sleeping as I was too tired to stay awake any longer, big day tomorrow, etc.  Burning the candle at both ends is a thing of the past!  🙂

A heart attack waiting to happen?

The driver who collected me from the airport this morning was concerned about his health:

As I got into the car he was connected to someone at his Doctor’s Surgery who informed him that there weren’t any appointments available today. Apparently he had been waiting in a queue for 30 minutes. He seemed slightly disappointed but not surprised.

I don’t know what his symptoms were. Fortunately he didn’t volunteer any details and I didn’t ask. Even I have learned that’s not a question to ask close relatives let alone complete strangers. Given I was in his hands for the duration of my trip to the office, and that we were breathing the same air, I hoped it wasn’t anything too serious!

As he drove however I was treated to a monologue on his general state of health and associated concerns. One of the major factors seemed to be his father having a Heart Attack last year, something I could obviously relate to…

Driving a taxi isn’t the most physically active of jobs. Since he started driving about 18 months ago he has put on a lot of weight. In fact, he said he’s put on over 20 kilos. This seems an awful lot of weight to put on in such a short period; it just goes to show what a combination of negative factors can do for you.

Doritos are his major weakness. He eats two family bags a day; one to pass time while waiting on his car, and one at home as a pre-bedtime snack. He felt that he was “unable to give them up”.

There are plenty of more healthy snacks available!

Eating healthily is a challenge for him. He doesn’t like vegetables. Apparently he’s scared of them. To be more accurate, he’s scared of the idea of the taste of vegetables and therefore doesn’t eat them. As he continued to talk about his fear of vegetables, it transpired that due to this fear, he has only ever tried two types.

To his surprise, he actually liked both of the vegetables he has tried; grilled tomatoes and okra. I would therefore put him in the “likes every vegetable he’s ever tried, but hasn’t tried many” camp.

Over the weekend he had been required to help push a friend’s car. He struggled; feeling generally weak, he tired quickly and it wiped him out for the day. An ex-smoker, he doesn’t do very much exercise. He’s often exhausted after a hard day at work, and tends to relax in front of the TV to unwind.

It is recommended that we do a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week.

As our journey went on the number of risk factors increased. On one level I felt sorry for him as he was obviously worried and is stuck in a rut. Many aspects of his lifestyle are not that different to how mine used to be pre-Heart Attack.

On another level I wanted to shout at him; he seems fully aware of what he’s doing, not doing and the potential risks, but is seemingly unable to do anything about them.

I sincerely hope he does get an appointment with his Doctor, and I hope his Doctor is able to help him get back on track.

For me it served as a reminder of how easy it could be to slip back into bad habits. Any thoughts of skipping a trip to the hotel gym this evening due to fatigue were quickly erased.