Tag Archives: Physical exercise

It’s not the destination…

In 4 months time I will embark on my Euro City Cycle challenge.  As they say…

“It’s the journey, not the destination, that matters most.”

Even arriving in London to start the event will be a major milestone on my journey.  When I signed up for the event in August last year it seemed like a huge challenge… more of a distant dream, in fact.

It was just 2 months after my Heart Attack and I was still in Phase 3 Cardiac Rehabilitation, being closely monitored throughout my 30 minute work-outs.  I knew I needed to give myself something to work towards.

I was excited but very nervous at the same time… Was taking on too much?  Would I physically be able to do it  (ever even)?  Was I being too ambitious?  Foolhardy?  At that stage I wasn’t even sure that the Doctor would allow me to participate.

The sun always shines on the Euro City Cycle!

Now, having got 6 months of structured exercise under my belt I’m feeling a bit more confident.   According to the “Welcome Pack” I received for the event, as a Novice I should start my training today.  I should begin by cycling 5 to 10 miles, 3 or 4 times a week, and slowly build up from there.  I feel like I’m slightly ahead of the curve on this so for the time being I’ll focus on maintaining my routine throughout the worst the winter has to offer.

I can’t wait until the weather improves, the days lengthen and the temperature increases (to the extent it ever does in North East Scotland!) so I can safely get outside on my bike.  For the time being I’ll get the miles in on the Turbo Trainer.

Over recent weeks I’ve connected with other people that are doing more ambitious challenges; Land’s End to John O’Groats (854 miles), Southern Spain to Northern Norway (~4,000 miles).  To be honest I’m feeling a bit envious, but I am looking at this as a stepping stone.

Cycling from London to Amsterdam to Brussels in 4 days will be an accomplishment in it’s own right, particularly given I should complete it less than a year after the Heart Attack.  However, I’m not counting my chickens… I need to keep my head down and do the work so I can really enjoy the London to Brussels leg of my journey!

(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!

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!

Twice the satisfaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The “E”s

At Cardiac Rehabilitation, we were taught that many of the key factors that impact the workload on a Heart with an “E”… Exercise, Environment, Emotion, Eating… (I’m sure there were others, but I can’t remember them… please feel free to chip in!).

Many of the “E”s are impacted by travel to foreign lands… strange place, unusual climate, different food, etc.  As a result, I think going on a family holiday is a big step in the Cardiac Rehab journey.

A holiday obviously offers an opportunity for some Rest and Relaxation, away from the hassle of day to day life at home / work.  For me, it provides a chance to diversify my exercise routine and build on the base I’ve laid down.  However, I think it offers something more important.  I think it offers the opportunity to embed the change that we’ve been through over the past few months.  I say “we”, this definitely applies for me, but in a small way I think it’ll apply for Louise and the girls too.

The whole, “living with Heart Disease” thing was somewhat sprung on us.  We didn’t have any time to prepare.  One day we were “normal”, the next we were not.  In some way, leaving home as a “Survivor”, being away for a couple of weeks, and then returning a “Survivor” makes it more official, normal.  A little bit like moving house… you need a break of routine to really make it feel like home.

The Magic Kingdom… not sure my Heart could have taken the fireworks and the emotion of the whole thing!

Our holiday plans over the summer were severely impacted by my Heart Attack.  The plan had been to visit Florida and enjoy some of the theme parks we have all heard so much about… you could call it a “once in a lifetime” trip… but when you’ve got growing children, they all are aren’t they!

We decided that a long haul flight, the heat and humidity, the thrills and spills of rollercoasters, driving in a strange place, and the good old American cuisine probably wouldn’t be the best recuperation-aid five weeks after my Heart Attack.  So we spent the summer at home, making the best of what Scotland has to offer.

As it turned out, it had quite a lot to offer.  We enjoyed one of the best summers for many years, I certainly can’t remember a better one since I’ve been living in Sunny Scotland (and I’ve been there for over 17 year).


The main pool and hotel complex. Always strangely deserted.

To compensate, we decided to book a “special” trip over the October School Holiday (Now!).  The girls get two weeks off, so it’s enough time to get away… and really get away!  We are in Rhodes enjoying a healthy holiday of sun, relaxation and exercise (in that order).

The “E”s have played quite a major factor so far:

The Environment is much warmer than back at home.  The average temperature so far has been in the high 20 degree Celsius range.  It’s felt hot!  Perfect for lazing around and doing nothing very much!

The Environment impacts everything.  It takes time for your body to acclimatise.  Quite how and when it’ll make a noticeable difference is unknown, until it does!  So, in the short term at least, this provides a need for a certain level of caution.


The lounging pool. Beautiful, but treacherously chilly!

We have access to several Outdoor Pools and the Mediterranean Sea (I’m sure it used to be an Ocean when I was growing up!).  Both can best be described “refreshing”.  Again, perfect for a cool down if you’ve been lazing around in the sun, but they’re a little too bracing for my liking.  I’ve never particularly enjoyed swimming in cold water, but I suspect a fast immersion in any of these could be the last thing I do!  Definitely to be avoided!

There are guided Mountain Bike rides twice a day.  Definitely for me!  The temperature plays a key factors in these too, as well as the terrain over which we ride (I know this doesn’t start with an “E”!).  Being on the competitive end of competitive, the key thing for me is to ride at my own pace, to not worry about what everyone else is doing, and to listen to my body (and my heart rate monitor!).  My body has definitely reacted differently.  I guess I have to learn my limits again given the new conditions.


Dad’s pool… before the kids have woken up at least!

Given I can’t swim in the outside pools, the Indoor Pool has become “Dad’s Pool”.  Unfortunately there are some other guests that might also lay claim to it, so I have to pick my times carefully!  It’s not big, probably 10m in length, but it’s enough for me to practice my breathing. If it really were mine I’d keep the temperature a few degrees cooler, and get some fresh air circulating in the room.  It is as close to a sauna as I’m willing to get right now!  Hopefully it’ll serve its purpose.

We’re in a great place to chill out, relax and enjoy a break.  There is a lot to do.  I just need to make sure I don’t overdo it!

Tired and Grumpy

There are different sorts of tired:  Exhausted, Fatigued, Weary, Drowsy, Pooped, Jaded, Sleepy, Run Down, Flagging, Broken…

As predicted by people that know better than me, I was tired this morning.  Which sort of tired I don’t know exactly as it took me several hours before my brain had warmed up sufficiently to properly assess the situation. By which time the feelings had leaked away.

untitled (34)There are many days when I return from work feeling jaded.  A sort of dull fog gathers around my head and upper body as the work day wears on.  It’s not a positive tiredness, it’s one that grows despite you, rather than one you’ve actively gone out and earned.  Since the Heart Attack, I’ve found myself slightly more aware of this sensation, perhaps because I’m more aware (“listen to your body”) or perhaps because I’m affected more.

In the old days I would have poured myself a drink and the woes of the world would have drifted away.  Now, I choose exercise.  An hour on the bike is sufficient to blow the cobwebs away.  A post-exercise buzz, and everything is tickety-boo all over again.

I continue to sleep well, but occasionally wake up feeling sleepy.  Again, in the old world I would resort to chemical stimulants to liven me up.  A couple of strong coffees and I’d be “good to go”.

imagesCAFA5V8ZI’ve also eliminated caffeine from my diet, so I guess I’m a slower starter than I used to be.  This is, however, offset slightly by the fact that I am not impacted in any way by the after effects of alcohol and unhealthy late night snack-attacks!

As it turns out, the early morning sleepy feeling can also be accompanied by grumpiness.  Severe grumpiness on some occasions.

This morning was a case in point…

I had an introduction to the gym last night.  The 20:15 start time seemed fine when it was arranged, but as it happened, I got home from work feeling jaded.  I snuck in a very short period of shut-eye before getting ready, but not enough to make a real difference,

The introduction session was good.  It turned out that there is a lot I can still do in the gym, providing I’m sensible, and keep my feet moving.

By the time I finished, however it was 21:00, and I hadn’t actually done any exercise.  Having made the effort to get there, and inspired by the introduction, I figured there is no time like the present, and launched into a gym session.

Afterwards I felt great!  My exercise buzz wiped out my fatigue.  I was ready to take on the world.  By the time I got home, I was not however ready to sleep.

So I sat up for a while before heading upstairs…

“It was way past my bed time!”

“I would regret it in the morning!”

And I did!

So, sincere apologies to all the people who came into contact with me during the early part of today.  Lesson learned (again).

Louise – I’m sure your Fruit Juices are lovely.  It’s all very exciting!  🙂


Out and about

It was another cracking morning in the North East of Scotland this morning.  I marked it with my latest venture out on the bike.  It’s the second weekend I’ve been out early, not quite the crack of dawn, but certainly a good start to the day.  It’s definitely a routine to get into!

Beautiful Morning

A cracking morning to be out on the bike!

As a result of my recent “Sore Leg” post, I have received some guidance that the reason my legs have been hurting is because the cleats on my shoes were slightly at the wrong angle.  Having made some subtle adjustments to my shoes, it felt much more comfortable.  Hopefully problem solved… it’s good to share your woes!

This morning’s ride was the longest continuous effort I’ve put in since my Heart Attack.  We went at a steady rate and kept going.  We covered about 16.5 miles in just over an hour (including spending some time trying to correct a mechanical “knocking” sound that turned out to be the lid of my water bottle rattling against the frame!!).  It didn’t feel fast, but it felt quite tough.

Morning Ride

The first of many loops around Westhill – slightly more undulating than the Turbo Trainer!

I do have to remind myself that I’m recovering from a Heart Attack, and back this up with frequent checks of the Heart Monitor.  I am however also making up for about 20 years of physical neglect, so my of my body is at the limit, not just my heart!

It really is great to be out and about though.  It gives me confidence that I’m making good progress.  I’m just about to enter my last week of Cardiac Rehabilitation, so it’s a good time to start to (slowly) push the boundaries!

My poor old legs

I feel a little sorry for my legs.

After years of neglect, I have asked quite a lot of them recently.


My legs have been abused, but not this badly!!!

My legs had little, if anything, to do with my Heart Attack but they’ve been required to play quite a significant role in my road to recovery.  Walking, cycling, cross-trainer… I would have struggled to get this far through my recovery without them!

They have had little in the way of assistance.  Other than the occasional stretch, they’ve been left to their own devices.  Conversely, my Heart has had the assistance of lots and lots of drugs to help it recover, to make it more efficient, to help it out.  My legs have had none.

Over the past couple of weeks my legs have started to fight back.  Little niggles have made getting moving in the morning a slow process.  Aches and pains have come and gone.  Nothing bad enough to stop me from exercising, but sore enough to be a constant reminder.

I’m going to need to cajole my legs into coming along for the ride (quite literally!).  They continue to have an important part to play in my on-going recovery.  Hopefully the niggles will recede in time.  I certainly won’t be taking them for granted again!

It’s never too soon

No-one ever thinks they will get impacted by Heart Disease.  We live in blissful ignorance until one day, if they’re lucky, they get a “warning”, a “wake up call”.

Many aren’t that lucky.

In 2010, over 45,000 people under the age of 75 died of Heart Disease in the UK.

That’s certainly how it was for me.  I was bullet-proof.  Until I wasn’t.

Once a week, the Cardiac Rehabilitation sessions have an hour of education.  I consider this the “Community Service” session, where I do the time for the crimes I’ve committed in the past.  The same crimes as many people, but I got caught!

This morning we talked about the anatomy of the heart.  We covered much of the same ground when I was in hospital (see “You are what you eat“).  I’ve had 5 weeks to think about what I could or should have asked… our questions and concerns were on a completely different level back then.

What I learnt today…


  • The reason why atheroma builds up in some arteries and not others is not known
  • The build up can start early (in your teenage years)
  • Once it’s there, there’s nothing that can be done to reverse the build-up of atheroma
  • It can only get worse, not better (drugs can help reduce the associated risk, but don’t reverse the build-up either)
  • The only way of assessing the build-up is by performing an angiogram which itself carries a risk of 1 death in 1,000 from Heart Attack or Stroke
  • Prevention is the best strategy
  • It’s too late for me to adopt this strategy (but I knew that already!)

What’s happened to me could happen to anyone.  It’s never too soon to become aware.  Never too soon to take evasive action.

I know it doesn’t seem real, particularly if you’re young, fit and healthy.  It won’t.  Until it is.  And then it’s too late.

Try something new

Personally, I’m still waiting for the magic!

Apparently “trying something new” is good for you… keeping you young at heart, pushing back the boundaries of boredom, interested and interesting.

I don’t think the “Live a little… have a heart attack!” T-Shirts will fly off the shelves, but there’s certainly been quite a lot new in my life over the past few weeks.  You wouldn’t expect to find many of the things I’ve been introduced to on anyone’s “101 things to do before you die” list, but they’ve certainly set things in an unexpected and different direction,

Today was somewhat of an exception as there was an element of planning involved… I collected a Turbo Trainer and introduced a bike into my exercise regime.

The humble beginnings of a beautiful relationship with a bicycle

I continue to exercise regularly.  Having returned to work, and working my way back towards full days, I have cut back to one exercise session a day.  My staple exercise is still walking, but I’m slowly expanding my repertoire.  Cardiac Rehabilitation has introduced me to a range of exercises.  As I get stronger, I can (very slowly!) expand my horizons.

The whole exercise thing is strange for me though…

I was fit in my youth.  I did a lot of sport.  I  trained 5 days a week for athletics, travelling miles to train, compete and get fixed (at the physio).  I reached quite a high standard.  We trained properly.  It was fun but serious (to us at least).

Before I left University I got lazy as far as physical exercise was concerned.  There’s been the occasional burst of activity since (a tennis season in Bahrain, 5-a-side Football, a Squash ladder), but nothing sustained… few and far between.

Coming back to it now is bizarre.  Mentally I’m still where I was when I was a fit 18 year old.  Physically I’m a complete mess… weak and unfit… and that was before the Heart Attack!

I’m going to have to very slowly build my fitness back up.  Balancing the desire to do more, with the need to look after my heart.  One step at a time.

I’m still looking for a long term challenge… cycling is a tempting option: a weekend in the Alps with the boys, part of the peloton for a couple of days.

At the moment however I wouldn’t even be able to make it home if I headed out on a bike (our house is at the top of a hill).  So today I started putting in the hours (well half an hour at least).  Stationary.  In the garage.  Plodding (if it’s possible to plod on a bike!)


The road to our house is not quite as tough as this!

I would estimate I need to do a couple of thousand miles of conditioning before I’m ready to hit the open road… only 1,998 to go!!!  🙂