L2P24

London to Paris 24 Hour Sportive – Stage One, England

What did you do for the Bank Holiday weekend? I joined 49 other cyclists for the adventure of a lifetime by cycling from London to Paris in just 24 hours, just over five years to the day after my heart attack and raising funds for the Pumping Marvellous foundation. I had entered the London to Paris 24 hour sportive organised by Sophie Radcliffe and the team at Cycling Friendly.

The adventure began at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park. I had arrived an hour early, having cycled there from a local hotel that I had stayed at the night before. I wasn’t expecting the view from the start, as I reached a statue at the end of a tree lined avenue the view opened up to a one hundred and eighty degree panorama of the park and London beyond, topped off with the skyscrapers of Central London and Canary Wharf on the horizon – I’d only just arrived and the views were fantastic!

L2P24
London and Canary Wharf Skyline from the Royal Observatory, Greenwich

Other riders started to arrive and soon a small group had started to form around the benches opposite a van selling coffee. I was a little worried as I entered by myself and therefore would not know anyone, I needn’t have worried as everyone was extremely friendly. Introductions were being made along with the normal questions in this type of scenario, such as have you travelled far to get here etc?

London 2 Paris 24hr cycle sportive. Photo credit : Chris Winter
Riders arriving in Greenwich – Photo by Chris Winter

The record distance travelled goes to Milton, he had flown into London the day before from Brisbane, Australia just for this ride and another rider had come from America. It was turning out to be a truly international event before a pedal had even been turned. With the introductions, registration and rider briefing complete it was time for the official group photo in front of the iconic Canary Wharf skyline before heading off on stage one and the ferry at Newhaven.

Rider briefing at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, London
Rider briefing at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich
London 2 Paris 24hr cycle sportive. Photo credit : Chris Winter
Riders of the 2016 London to Paris 24hr Sportive – Photo by Chris Winter

Stage 1 – London to Newhaven (58 miles / 93 km)

With the riders all assembled we set off for Paris, I started my Garmin at 3:29 pm (UK time) making the goal for the Eiffel Tower 4:29pm (French Time).

London 2 Paris 24hr cycle sportive. Photo credit : Chris Winter
Starting the adventure of a lifetime, Greenwich Park. Photo by Chris Winter

The busy streets of London were soon replaced with quiet country lanes as we made our way out of the capital towards Orpington, by chance the route passed my sister-in-law’s mother’s house and they had very kindly made a banner for me, encouraging me up the first main climb of the day.

Val and Ken's Banner
Val and Ken’s Banner
London 2 Paris 24hr cycle sportive. Photo credit : Chris Winter
Hawley’s Corner before the descent into Westerham – Photo by Chris Winter

After Westerham, the route climbed up onto the High Weald skirting Five Hundred Acre Wood, the scenery and views across East Sussex were stunning.

IMG_6425
Riding with Sophie over the High Weald in East Sussex. Photo by Sophie Radcliffe

I had hired a small GPS tracker for the ride from Open Tracking, this was sending my current position to a website every ninety seconds and displaying it on a map of the route for family and friends to track my progress. For UK based events Open Tracking use the detailed 1:25000 Ordnance Survey mapping, however as my event left the UK I had to use an alternative mapping partner.

Pumping Marvellous, the heart charity I was cycling in aid of, had also tweeted the tracking link to it’s followers before the start and was tweeting updates along the way, each one was appearing as a notification on my bar mounted Garmin. This was providing me with an excellent source of encouragement, knowing that others were following and supporting me along the way.

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 12.56.25

By this stage I had been cycling with a group of seven other similar paced riders and we were making steady progress towards our final stop of the evening. The sun was getting low in the sky, as it dipped behind the clouds and the horizon to leave us for the night we were rewarded with a fantastic sunset, unfortunately the photo below does not do it justice.

The setting sun on the approach to Newhaven
Sunset in Newhaven

We arrived in Newhaven at 8:11pm, having covered the 58 miles at an average speed of 13.5 mph with 3,570 feet of climbing, to be rewarded with a two course meal and the opportunity for drinks in a local hotel before riding to the ferry at 9:30pm. Whilst waiting to board the ferry I got talking to a couple of French cyclists who were on their return leg having cycled from Paris to London, on mountain bikes and mainly off road by the sounds of it – Chapeau!

Continued on the side of the channel in the next post

 

Advertisements

A Tale of Two Punctures

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…  for the first time this year the weather was warm enough to cycle in just shorts and a jersey, finally freed of the all extra layers I headed out on my road bike for a ride out to and up the Malvern Hills.

The first seven miles were pretty uneventful, the brand new Mavic wheels, tyres and tubes that I fitted in the morning were running smoothly and providing good levels of grip. That was until I cycled through some broken glass on the side road, a couple of yards down the road and there was a gut wrenching long loud hissing noise from the rear wheel and the inevitable puncture.  Not a problem I thought, I took out my tools and spare tube and set about repairing it, having located the piece of glass that had penetrated straight through the tyre, I removed it and fitted a spare tube. That was easy, just need to pump it back up and I’ll be on my way.

My mini pump/co2 inflator will work with both Schrader (car type) and Presta valves, as this was my road bike I needed the Presta option. It’s just a case of unscrewing the adaptor on the pump to extend it so that it will fit onto a Presta valve. Could I unscrew the adaptor? No, it was stuck tight, with no spanner or pliers to move it I was stuck on the side of the road. Luckily for me I had punctured 400 yards away from a bike shop (Malvern Cycles), I crossed the road and headed in to see if I could borrow a pump.

Malvern Cycles

The owner/assistant was extremely helpful and it wasn’t long before the tyre was fully inflated and ready to ride again. I also took the opportunity to borrow the tools needed to free the adaptor on my pump. The last thing to do was to buy another tube, unfortunately I was a £1 short for the tube – “not to worry, I’ve got some patches if I get another one”. With that the owner said I could have a £1 Sunny Day Discount and he let me have the tube at the discounted price.

Back on the bike I cycled up into Great Malvern, having lost some time fixing the puncture I decided to take a shorter route and headed back in the direction of home. Three miles later whilst descending a hill at 25 mph there was a loud bang from the rear wheel, this time followed by an instant deflation, the rear started sliding all over the place. I managed to get the bike under control and to a stop on the side of the road.

Having removed the tyre and tube, I looked for the cause of the blow out. I couldn’t find anything immediately obvious that had pierced the tyre, with the speed of the deflation and that the tube wouldn’t hold enough air to locate the hole I assumed that I must have pinched the tube between the wheel and tyre when I repaired the last puncture.   I fitted the spare tube and put the bike back together, as I started to pump the tyre up I could see the tube starting to bulge out of the tyre, there was a centimetre rip in the sidewall of the tyre! I knew that as soon as I put any weight onto the tyre it would burst the tube again.

Needless to say I am not very impressed for a that to happen on a brand new tyre with only 10 miles of use, unfortunately for Mavic it ripped right next to their logos. I wont be recommending the Yksion Elite Guard tyres anytime soon. Although I will say I am very happy with their Aksium Elite wheels.

Stranded in Malvern, I would be pushing the bike home now.  With the prospect of eight miles on foot in SPD cleats, I suddenly remembered reading about a mountain biker that used a ski lift pass between the tube and the tyre to retain the tube and stop the bulging. The only item I had on me that might possibly work was an SIS gel packet, I drank the gel and folded over the sticky gel packet and inserted it between the tyre.

I was expecting it to get me a couple of miles down the road as the corners of the packet were rather sharp and likely to pierce the tube again, but it was worth a shot if it reduced the walk.  To my surprise, it got me the entire eight miles home, although the wheel, tube and tyre were rather sticky.

Science In Sport, Tyre, Mavic, Boot, Puncture

Normally I wouldn’t blog about a couple of punctures, but theres a couple of key messages to this tale.

First – Without Malvern Cycles my ride would have been over at the first puncture.  The internet may be great to shop around and save a few pounds here and there, but it’s still next day delivery and they can’t lend you a pump/tool and they certainly won’t be able to help whilst you are out on your bike.  It’s important that we support our local bike shops (LBS).

Second – I see many empty gel packets on the road side, especially during sportives.  Please stick your rubbish in your pocket and take it home, it may just save the day.

 

Celebrating Life – MI +5

If you have read my blog before you will know that, at the age of 38, I suffered a myocardial infarction (MI, better known as a heart attack).  It was caused by a combination of bad habits – a sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, smoking and a general lack of exercise.  That was five years ago and I have come along way since that hospital bed in Scotland, completely turning my life around by taking up cycling and running.

I don’t want anybody to have to go through what I did on the fateful day in April 2011.  Through my involvement with the Ordnance Survey #GetOutside Campaign, I’ve been sharing my story to encourage others to become active, whilst offering hope and inspiration to other heart failure patients that there is a future after such life changing events.

To mark the 5th anniversary of my MI and raise awareness of Heart Failure I’ve set myself a few challenges for April and May: –

#ChampionsWearOrange

I’ll be in my bright orange OS GetOutside kit for all four rides, do please say hello if you see me!

The main event is London to Paris, I leave Greenwich at 4pm on Saturday 30th and need to arrive at the Eiffel Tower before 4pm on the Sunday (70 miles to Newhaven for the four hour night ferry crossing to Dieppe and then 120 miles to Paris).

Paris

Whilst awareness of Heart Disease/Failure and getting people more active is my main driving force, I would like to raise much needed funds for Pumping Marvellous, a heart charity that represents the needs of nearly one million heart failure patients and just as importantly the patients families, at the same time.

If you would like to help the fight against heart failure – 20% of the adult population in the UK will be touched by heart failure and heart disease at sometime in their life – please donate to Pumping Marvellous by visiting my Just Giving page www.justgiving.com/coeurcycliste

Remain active over the winter, get outside and enjoy yourself.

With the temperature starting to drop, the evenings getting darker and the sportive season drawing to a close many people will be thinking of packing the bike and cycling kit away for the winter.  If this is you, please think again, you can easily continue to ride throughout the winter, you just need to plan ahead.

The change in conditions means that you aren’t likely to get a personal best or be hitting your highest average speeds. So enjoy the slower pace, grab a map, a camera and go out exploring, turn down that road you always pass, find new routes and the enjoy the views and ride.

I came across this lovely little lane, with it’s tunnel effect of trees and leaf covered verges, completely by accident one day whilst out cycling.

Autumn Lane

Another day, I got to enjoy a frosty morning with the mist slowly being burnt away by the rising sun, casting long shadows as I cycled through this avenue of oak trees.

Autumn Morning

The low evening sun with it’s golden light illuminating the landscape, gives you that added incentive to climb up through the valley to find the highest vantage point.

The Meon Valley from Harvesting Lane, Butser Hill

“There is no such thing as the wrong type of weather,  just the wrong choice in clothing” – I can’t remember who said it or where I first heard it, but it is so true.

Plan ahead, check the weather forecast and dress accordingly. You may need to invest in some winter specific bike clothing, but it’s money well spent. I would say at a minimum you should have a windstopper jacket, lightweight showerproof jacket (that you can pack away into a jersey pocket), a pair of roubaix lined bib tights, overshoes, full finger gloves, neck warmer/buff and a windproof skull cap.   If you’re looking for a skull cap I would recommend the Pearl Izumi Barrier Skull Cap, it’s the best for keeping your head and more importantly your ears warm!

Talking about the wind, its generally going to be stronger during the autumn and winter months. Plan your route accordingly and head out into the wind, that way you will have a tailwind for the return leg making the second half of your ride easier. If you want a quick and easy way of checking the general wind direction and speed, take a look at Earth it’s a virtualisation of global weather conditions that is updated every three hours.

Earth: A Global Map of Weather Condtions

If you have the right clothing you can just about tackle any weather conditions, the only time I won’t ride is if it is icy.  Wear what you think is appropriate for the conditions, but think layers.  It’s easy to take off a layer if you get too hot.

I’ve even cycled to the top of Butser Hill (the highest hill in the South Downs) in the snow.

Selfie at the top of a snowy Butser Hill

Again, think layers, here I’m wearing bib tights, a thermal long sleeve base layer, a normal cycling jersey, windstopper jacket, lightweight showerproof jacket, buff and skull cap.  If anything I was probably too warm climbing, but remember it’s colder on the descent.

The top of Harvesting Lane, Butser Hill
The top of Harvesting Lane, Butser Hill

The last item to consider is your bike.  You can ride any bike over the winter, but think about the effect the water and salt will have on the components over time.  I rode my normal road bike over the first winter, but ended up having to replace the headset and a wheel (quick release skewer seized in the hub) so I generally do pack it away and use my old mountain bike over the winter unless it’s dry and sunny. The most important thing is to clean and lubricate the bike after every winter ride if you want to keep it running smoothly and maintain the components.

Harvesting Lane, Butser Hill in the Snow

With my London to Paris ride coming up in April next year I’m going to need to put the training miles in over the winter so ideally I need a road bike for the winter.  I could have gone out a bought a winter road bike, but over my time cycling I have gained a nice collection of spares as certain parts have been upgraded.

I went out I bought a second hand frameset, a cheap set of bars, a stem and a saddle for approx £95 and built up my own winter trainer bike, the only item left for me to do now is add some mudguards and maybe look for a good set of winter tyres.

My Winter Trainer
My Winter Trainer

If you haven’t got a collection of spares, look at the second hand market, there’s some great deals to be had.  Just check the frame is in good condition, look for any dings and dents, rust etc, ask the seller if it’s had any crashes and check the frame/serial number of any potential purchase against a database of stolen bikes, such as Check That Bike and Bike Register

Remember it doesn’t need to cost a fortune, it’s a bike for all those days when the conditions aren’t suitable for your best bike.

The main point is to remain active over the winter, get outside and enjoy yourself.

What’s your excuse not to cycle to work?

I once thought about cycling to work, this would have been sometime around 2009 and before my heart attack, I was living close to Heathrow airport and working in Central London approximately 20 – 25 miles away.

The thought occurred to me on one of my morning commutes – a short drive of about 2 miles to Hatton Cross tube station, park the car, jump on the Piccadilly line tube to Hammersmith, walk to the Hammersmith and City Line (just enough time for a Starbucks Double Tall Latte and cigarette) for another tube ride into Central London (going home was the reverse including yet another visit to Starbucks) – the thought lasted the time it took me to park the car and walk into the tube station. It consisted of the following points:

  1. I live too far away, so it isn’t really an option, what are you thinking
  2. The roads in London are far too busy and dangerous to cycle on
  3. I’ll get all hot and sweaty, there’s no showers at work
  4. Not enough time, I’ll be late.
  5. It’s cold this morning, imagine cycling in this…

Thought dismissed as completely impracticable, although with hindsight they aren’t valid reasons not to cycle to work and are just excuses, the lot of them…..

Fast forward five years, post heart attack, it’s now 2014 and I’m still working in Central London once or twice a week, but now I’m living 120 miles away in Worcestershire. By this time I had been cycling for three years, fully addicted to it and looking at increasing my time in the saddle. Then I got an email at work saying that the company had signed up to the Cycle To Work Scheme, the website had a big banner with “Save up to 42% on a new bike!” emblazoned across it.  It’s wasn’t long before that lost thought from 2009 resurfaced, You could cycle to work? After all you always need a new bike – except this time I really did live too far away.

As a cyclist and recovered heart patient, I took the time to find the solutions to all of the excuses on my list and started cycling to work.  If I can find a solution living 120 miles away from my place of work, I’m sure you can to.  You don’t need to be cycling in everyday of the week, twice a week will bring the health benefits – try it you might actually enjoy it and end up a regular commuting cyclist.

Life’s too short for regrets and if onlys, but if I did make a list of them dismissing that cycle to work thought in 2009 would certainly be towards the top – just take a minute to think about the health benefits 30 to 45 minutes of cycling a day would have made to my fitness and health, would I have had a heart attack at the age of 38?

As the saying goes – “Where there’s a will there’s a way” – if you really want to do something you will find the time and the means to do it.

Solutions to the Excuses: – 

1 – I live too far away?

Having moved to the Midlands my journey to work was slightly different now, but it still consisted of a short drive to a train station and tube journey across London.

Cycling the entire distance was obviously completely impracticable and out of the question, but I could ride to and from the stations removing the car and tube from my journey.

That was distance resolved, although it presented another problem with bikes on the train. My normal train would only take a few bikes and it was generally full each day, I ran the risk of getting to the station and not being able to get the bike in the carriage.  I had seen other commuters carrying folding bikes onto the train and their small sixteen inch wheels are a regular sight on the streets of London.   I’ve always been fascinated by the Brompton bicycle, especially watching other commuters folding them in seconds from a full bike to small neat square package.

Decision made I got myself a Brompton on the cycle to work scheme.

Folded Brompton
My Folded Brompton Bicycle

I can already hear the excuses starting – “That’s fine for you, I don’t travel by train to work, I have to drive in” – Well, I’ve thought about this one too and have a solution.  In fact, I even used it myself for six months.  The trains into London were getting expensive, I found it much cheaper (and surprisingly quicker somedays) to drive into London, park outside the congestion zone and cycle the last 3 miles to the office.  Admittedly the Brompton does make it easier to get a bike into the boot of a car.

If you are serious about wanting to cycle to work (you’ve read this far, so I take it you are) look at your current journey, could you park 3 to 5 miles away from work and cycle the last little bit?  As you get stronger and fitter you can start parking further away and cycle more of it, you might even end up cycling the entire distance.  You will also find that you start saving money, the further out of town you go the cheaper the parking charges will be and you will also be using less fuel.

2. City roads are too busy to cycle on.  

Once you take the plunge you’ll find it’s not that much different than anywhere else you ride, but the key is to find the quieter roads, cycle paths and lanes.

Take Oxford Street as an example, it’s packed with buses, taxi’s, pedestrians and set after set of traffic lights.  It was the most direct for me so I’ve cycled it many times and it’s certainly doable, although you do need your wits about you.  If you take the roads that run parallel to it, you will find there’s much less traffic making it so much easier. As you can see from the two Strava rides below, the quieter roads extended my commute by less than a quarter of a mile and just over a minute.

Oxford Street - 3 miles 19 minutes
Oxford Street – 3.2 miles in 19 minutes 28 seconds
Side Roads - 3 miles 21 minutes
Side Roads Parallel to Oxford Street  – 3.4 miles in 21 minutes 37 seconds

If you don’t know the area that well, take a look at a map from Ordnance Survey, check the route on a day off to make sure it’s suitable – you don’t want to find yourself cycling down a muddy bridleway on your way to work, coming home is a different story!

OS Shop

3. I’ll get all hot and sweaty, there’s no showers at work

The key here is to cycle at a slower pace, after all you are commuting to work and not racing for that PB (Personal Best) or KOM (King Of the Mountain) on a Strava segment.  Easing off the pace will still increase your heart rate and be beneficial to your health, you just don’t build up a sweat.  Take advantage of the time, it’s less stressful than driving and gives you time to clear your thoughts before you get to work, take the time and enjoy the ride.

Plan your week in advance, carry a change of clothes with you or perhaps drive to work on Monday with your clothes for the week, cycle Tuesday to Thursday and then drive back in on the Friday to collect your kit.  If you do carry your clothes try to avoid a rucksack on your back and opt for a bike that can carry your bag for you. Doing so stops you getting hot and sweaty behind the rucksack.

You could also try products such as Muc-Off’s Dry Shower that you can use to freshen up when you get to work if you can’t get a shower, you’ll smell of coconut for the day, but that is preferable to the alternative.

Speak to your colleagues and employer, if you can sell the benefits of cycling to work you might be able to convince them to install a shower. If they have signed up to a Cycle to Work scheme they probably already know the benefits a cycling workforce will bring them and may have already thought of adding showers. They might just need someone to show them there’s an actual need for them to do it.

4. Not enough time – I’ll be late

In my case, this just wasn’t an issue.  It was actually quicker for me to cycle the 3 miles through Central London than to take public transport.

One afternoon a colleague said that he could get from the office in Holborn to London Waterloo train station before me by taking the bus.  Unfortunately it was a day that I didn’t have my bike with me, not a problem I said I’ll use a Boris Bike instead (a public hire scheme for bikes in London introduced by the Mayor Boris Johnson). I was a member of the scheme and had my access token with me – challenge accepted! We both left the office by the main entrance at exactly the same time, he headed off in the direction of the 521 bus whilst I walked to the nearest Boris Bike dock in a road behind the office.

I didn’t do anything differently from normal and seven and a half minutes later I was docking my bike at Waterloo and texting my colleague to say I’ve arrived – I quickly got a text back saying that he was just about to cross the Thames and that he couldn’t believe I was already at the station. An easy win for me and the bike.

Office to Waterloo on a Boris Bike
Office to Waterloo on a Boris Bike

You will find taking the quieter side roads and cycle paths will avoid most of the rush hour traffic, if you do come across queuing traffic you can normally easily pass it on a bike anyway.

Having said that, you may find that it does take a little longer by bike, if it does the easy answer to this is to get up earlier!  You will better for it in the long run.

5. It’s cold this morning, imagine cycling in this… 

I’ve cycled in almost every type of weather there is, snow, rain, hail, sun, wind and even -3 degrees celsius at 3am in the morning on an overnight 100 mile charity cycle ride.  I can say with confidence that there’s no such thing as the wrong type of weather, just the wrong type of clothing.

Cycling in the Rain
Absolutely soaked to the skin, but loving it! – (Sportive Photo Ltd)

Investing in various types of clothing is money well spent.  The real tip is to wear layers, get a decent baselayer that will keep you warm and then add layers depending on what the weather is doing that day, such as a waterproof jacket if it’s raining.

A cycling adage springs to mind – dress for the ride and not the car park – by that I mean think about what the weather is going to be like once you’ve warmed up and into the ride itself, wrapping up at the start might make you far too hot later on.

I now love riding in the colder weather, it’s amazing how soon you warm up once you start exercising.  If you’re still cold, you’re not pedalling hard enough!

Now let me ask that first question again,  What’s your excuse not to cycle to work?   Tell me in the comments below or on Twitter and I’ll find a solution to it for you!

Identification for first responders

If you had an accident whilst out cycling or running, do you have means of letting first responders know who you are and your emergency details?   Would someone look through your jersey pockets or bags to find your ID?

Given my medical history (see previous posts) its important, no vital, that if the unthinkable does happen to me that any first responders can be made aware of my history, medication and emergency contact details as fast as possible.

Therefore, I’ve chosen to wear an engraved identification wristband, this is far more likely to be noticed before anything in your pockets.

My RoadID Sport
RoadID.com Sport Wristband (brighter colours are available)

All of my information can easily be made available to any first responder by entering my serial number and personal identification number (from the back of my wristband) onto a website or over the telephone.  If the first responder cannot access the internet or telephone, at least the first two lines of the wristband will let them know my name, age and that I have a heart condition.

I’ve had my wristband and shoe IDs for over four years now, hopefully I will never need anyone to use them, but for a small annual fee I have that peace of mind that I and my medical notes can be identified at the road side.

RoadID2
Shoe ID from RoadID.com

Various companies offer these types of wristband, who you choose is entirely up to you, I got mine from RoadID.com for less than £13, including the first years subscription. When you consider the price of most cycling accessories and components it’s next to nothing.

The sport band is unobtrusive whilst riding, I don’t even notice or feel that I’m wearing it, yet it’s easily accessible to first responders.

Even if you don’t have a medical history, I strongly recommend that you have some form of easily accessible identification for first responders.

Riding with a heart condition

First things first, if you have any kind of heart condition talk to your Doctor before taking up any exercise.  I don’t want to put anyone off, but all heart conditions are different and only you and your Doctor know your condition in any detail.  This post is about my experiences and what worked for me, hopefully it will inspire others to start cycling to improve their health, but PLEASE always seek medical advice prior to starting any new exercise regime.  I cannot stress this enough.

If you have read my first post you will know that 4½ years ago I had a Myocardial Infarction (MI), more commonly known as a heart attack, and that I took up cycling again as a way to improve my fitness and overall heart health.

I say took up again, that’s probably taking the phrase too far, as other than my morning paper round in the 1980’s I hadn’t done much cycling prior to my MI in 2011. My most active year on the bike prior to that was 2009 when I headed out just sixteen times over the summer.  This was in a time before the likes of Strava so I recorded my rides in Excel, looking back I had clocked up a wapping 260 miles with an average speed of 11mph.  I did actually ride with a heart rate monitor back then, my averages over those rides were: max heart rate (MHR) 172 and heart rate (HR) 140.

The longest ride that year was the 45 mile Palace to Palace (Buckingham Palace to Windsor Castle) in aid of the Princes Trust. My family were shocked when I said I was entering.

Palace to Palace September 2009
A 260lb me finishing the Palace to Palace ride –  Sept 2009

Return to the bike…

I took it easy for the first couple of weeks after being discharged from hospital before I started any real exercise.  Initially by walking around the garden, increasing the distance each day until I felt I could manage a lap around the block. Within a couple more weeks I was walking into the local town centre to pick up a paper and pint of milk.

It was twelve weeks before I felt comfortable venturing out on two wheels, I got the bike out of the shed, the first time it had seen daylight since Palace to Palace almost two years earlier.  That first ride was a venture into the unknown – I don’t know who was more nervous at the time, me or my partner.  I’m thinking, is this the right thing to do and would it bring on another MI, whilst Sue was at home thinking exactly the same whilst waiting for the phone to ring again…..    I cycled 3.3 miles in 17 minutes (average speed 11mph, MHR 155 and average HR 135) probably one of the longest 17 minutes of Sue’s life.

It’s not just about the person who has the heart condition, loved ones are affected just as much, if not more.

For me those 3.3 miles / 17 minutes were the start of my return to cycling, this time it was serious.  Over the next six months to the end of 2011 I was to cycle a further 1170 miles on my road to recovery, culminating in a 62 mile ride around the Isle of Wight (on a cold and windy day in December) in the Wiggle Wight Winter Sportive, details and full stats on Garmin Connect.

Tackling a 62 mile ride just 9 months after a MI might seem a bit irresponsible, I didn’t just decide to ride this distance out of the blue.  I had built up to this distance over time, regularly riding 11 miles during the week and 15 – 20 miles at the weekends.  Leading up to the event I did a couple of 40 milers and a 50 mile ride.

VeloViewer 2011
Distance over time – 2011 (Strava data presented in Veloviewer)

Riding with a Heart Rate Monitor

Obviously I don’t want another heart attack, so the most important item I ride with is a heart rate monitor. I bought a Garmin Edge head unit as I also wanted to record my routes as well as all the other stats.

Just having the heart rate monitor isn’t enough, you need to understand your own heart, so much so that I became obsessed with it.

I set about working out my MHR,  I didn’t know there were so many different ways and views on how to calculate it, having spent ages with the various different formulas, collating all the results and then taking an average of them all my MHR should be 178.6  If you want to know what your MHR is, save all the complicated formulas and just subtract your age from 220.  I’m 42 so my MHR is 178.

Having got my theoretical maximum, I needed to know my resting heart rate.  This is an average of your waking heart rate taken every morning for a week.  Rather than sleep with your heart monitor on all night just to see your waking heart rate I used a great smartphone app from Azumio – all you have to do is put you finger over the camera lens and hold there for thirty seconds.  I have found it to be extremely accurate. Yes, I’ve tested it by wearing my Garmin chest strap whilst taking my blood pressure (did I say I was obsessed) to my utter amazement all three had the same result.  My resting HR is 54

Azumio iPhone Instant Heart Rate App
Azumio iPhone Instant Heart Rate App

Having a resting HR of 54 bpm is normally a sign of somebody who is very fit or a professional sportsperson – prior to my MI my resting HR was in the 70 to 80 range.  I was doing a lot of cycling at the time, but I was still overweight with a 40 inch plus waist, so I wasn’t that fit!  Having spoken to my Doctor my lower HR is a result of my medication,  in this case a beta blocker called Bisoprolol Fumarate.

Before the calls of “doper!”,  I’ve checked all my medication against the WADA prohibited list for cycling in the UK and none of them are prohibited. Not that it matters as I cycle purely for fitness, but it’s nice to know I could compete if I wanted to.  Now, archery is a different matter as the slower heart rate means you gain an advantage as you will have a steadier hand to hold the bow, thereby increasing your accuracy.

I mention the effect of the beta blocker as if it effects my minimum HR I need to consider if it has a similar effect on my maximum.  Therefore and to err on the side of caution I’ve set my MHR at 171.  If you are starting out exercising speak to your Doctor, Cardiologist and/or Heart Failure/Rehab Nurse about what your heart rate should be.

Knowing your min and max heart rates allows you to calculate your exercise zones, I do this through Garmin Connect but there are numerous websites available that you can use to calculate yours.

Garmin Heart Rate Zones
Garmin Heart Rate Zones

When I started out cycling after the MI I would try and avoid going above 153 bpm (85% of MHR) which would give be a buffer up to 165 bpm and I would still be under by MHR.

I probably have too much data on my Garmin training pages, although you will notice that every one shows my heart rate.

My Garmin Screens
My Garmin Edge 800 screens all showing my heart rate

I normally ride with the last page showing the graph and HR in bpm and %max.  I’m quite happy to let it go up to the high 160’s now for short periods of time, but like to keep it below 85% for the majority of the ride.

The point I’m trying to make is I know what my limit is, if I hit 172bpm my Garmin will alert me and it’s time to ease off, if that means getting off and walking up a hill, I get off and walk.  I have no problem in getting off and walking, I would rather get to the top by walking than not at all.   It does not matter what other people/riders think or say, it’s my heart and I would like to keep it.

It’s only a hill, it will still be there the next day and the day after that, just make sure you are still here to attempt it again.

Knowing my limits and training has allowed me to enjoy my cycling and improve my fitness.  By pacing myself and utilising the gears/cadence to stay in the different heart rate zones I can now get up most hills without walking, occasionally one will still get the better of me.

The photo below was taken almost one year to the day after my heart attack, yes that is me 45lbs lighter and climbing Blissford Hill (25% gradient) in the New Forest whilst staying under my self imposed 171 MHR limit.

Me at 216lbs - New Forest Spring Sportive - April 2012
Me at 215lbs – New Forest Spring Sportive – April 2012

As I said at the very start of the post, if you have a heart condition please seek medical advice first, but I hope that my story has inspired you to consider cycling as a fitness option.  Remember you don’t need to be doing 60 mile rides with lots of climbing, a regular easy spin around the block for twenty to thirty minutes three times a week could do wonders for you, just speak to your Doctor before you start.

Garmin Ride Out – 2015

Garmin have held an annual Ride Out in the New Forest with their professional cycling team for at least the last four years.  The ride out is invitation only, after expressing an interest through links on Garmin’s social media channels, every year I have entered and every year I have been unsuccessful.  Its a very popular event and is always over subscribed, this year over 6000 riders applied for one of the 500 places.

This year the rider announcement date came and went with no notification, so I thought there’s always next year to try again.  Then out of the blue in early August I received this email from Garmin:-

Good news – we’ve been able to create additional places at this year’s Garmin Ride Out and you are invited to attend.

I was over the moon and couldn’t wait to sign up!

This year the ride out was on Friday 4th September, luckily I was already on leave from work so would be able to attend.  It was to be an early start to get to the New Forest from the Midlands so I had packed the car the night before.

The alarm went off at 04:55,  I made sure that I had everything I needed for the day, had a quick breakfast of porridge and a mug of freshly brewed coffee.  I was out the door and heading south for the motorway by 05:30 thinking I had plenty of time to get to registration at 08:00.

Turning onto the M5 I saw the dreaded “ROAD CLOSED” signs for overnight maintenance work, I quickly tried to workout a different route in my head to avoid the closure, ending up going down the M42 and A34.  As a result of the diversion and the normal queues in Lyndhurst I was one of the last to arrive at about 08:30, I parked up and headed straight to registration.

Having arrived late the majority of the other riders had already registered and were tucking into the free breakfast (bacon or sausage roll) and a hot drink, so it was quick and easy for me to sign in and collect my rider number, goodie bag and free jersey.

RideOut Jersey
Garmin Ride Out Jersey, supplied by Primal

The jersey is one of the best quality free jersey’s I’ve ever had as part of a give away at a sportive/ride and is now a regular sight around my local training routes.  It’s an Evo custom jersey from Primal and fitted me perfectly – looking around it appeared that everyone else had a perfect fit as well.

After getting my bike ready and having my second breakfast of the day, this time a bacon roll and coffee (5 hours after my first – so it’s not that bad) it was time to gather in the main marquee for the team presentation.

The morning was hosted by Daniel Lloyd and featured interviews with sponsors and the Madison Genesis and Cannonade-Garmin professional cycling teams who would be competing in the Tour of Britain that started on the Sunday.  I only had my phone and now wish I had taken a better camera with me.

Cannondale Garmin - Tour of Britain 2015 Team
Cannondale Garmin – Tour of Britain 2015 Team

After the interviews the raffle was drawn by Daniel Lloyd and Frances Benali (from Southampton FC).  The prizes were fantastic – Garmin Edge head unit, Cannonade Bike, Boardman frame, Southampton FC shirt signed by the entire 1st team to name but a few.  I had bought several tickets, but unfortunately didn’t win.

DL-FB-Raffle
Daniel Lloyd and Frances Benali draw the raffle

Now that the presentations and raffle draw were  complete it was time to take to the road.  With the increase of cycling popularity the New Forest has developed a cycling code to ensure the safety of not only the riders, but equally if not more importantly the wildlife and other users of the Forest.   The code does allow for large organised events of this type, but asks that riders set off in small groups rather than a mass start as seen at other types of sporting events.

Knowing that it would take a while to get all the riders off in small groups and rather than rush to the start, I took a look around the sponsors trade stands and got my bike ready.

At 11:30 I headed off into the Forest on the fully signed and marshalled 47.5 mile ride.  Unfortunately, being one of the last to set off I didn’t get to ride alongside any of the professionals (always next year!) but that didn’t spoil the day in any way.

As it was a Friday the New Forest roads were nice and quiet which made riding on them even more enjoyable.  The route took us to Brockenhurst, up the lovely Rhinefield Ornamental Drive and over the A35 to Bolderwood.

Video taken with my Garmin Virb (sorry I’m slow up hills!)

Crossing under the A31 we soon turned right onto the old RAF Stoney Cross runway, as we left the trees of the Bolderwood Aboretum behind us the breeze started to pick up, causing a headwind to cycle into, why do I never seem to get a tailwind?

Turning onto Roger Penny Way (every time I see that road name I think of the Beatles song Penny Lane – so much so that I’ve now got the tune going over and over in my head) I notice the clouds starting to build and I’m convinced I felt a drop of rain, looking down my Garmin Edge my thoughts are confirmed as I see little droplets of water on the screen.  Luckily, it was just that and the rain did hold off for the rest of the ride.

Garmin Rideout
Riders 353 and 394 on Roger Penny Way @ approx 20 miles (still taken from my Garmin Virb Elite)

From Roger Penny Way it was down through Godshill and on towards Blissford.  Having done several rides in the Forest I was expecting to have to climb the short but sharp 25% gradient of Blissford Hill, however today the ride took the easier route round and up to the feed station.

I decided not to stop and went straight past the feed station as I had an almost full water bottle, a pack of jelly babies and a couple of gels in my jersey pockets – I always end up carrying too much food, either that or I don’t eat and drink enough whilst riding – after the feed station it was a nice easy spin to Ringwood, Burley and then to the finish.

I was very pleased to roll over the finishing line in a time of 2 hours and 55 minutes, as with my current form I was expecting to be somewhere around the 3 hour 20 minute mark.  I had averaged just over 16mph over the 47.5 miles!

You can view the full route and my stats on Garmin Connect 

Overall an excellent day, extremely well organised and supported – I can’t wait to enter next year!

Shimano Neutral Support Car
Shimano Neutral Support Car

If you are interested in taking part in 2016 follow @GarminUK on Twitter and keep an eye out for the details (it’s usually around June) and good luck if you enter.

Why Coeur Cycliste?

18th April 2011 – A day etched forever in my memory.

I was 38 years old, eighteen and half stone (260 pounds) in weight, living a sedentary lifestyle, eating far too much, smoking too much, not doing any exercise, sitting behind a desk and computer screen working often late into the night.  All of this and not thinking anything of it.

On this particular Monday morning I was working from home, instead of the office in London, as I was due in Scotland the following day.  The plan was to work from home in the morning, fly to Edinburgh in the afternoon, hire a car, stay in a hotel overnight, work Tuesday and then fly back that evening.

I got as far as the hotel… 

I’m a keen photographer and that weekend I had bought myself a Panasonic Lumix GF1 Micro Four Thirds camera.  My flight arrived in Edinburgh late in the afternoon, leaving me with an ideal opportunity to grab the new camera and take some photos.  I hired the car and drove off in search of something to snap, it wasn’t long until I saw a signpost to the Pentland Hills Country Park – sounds good I thought.

Having parked the car, I took out my cigars and lit one up.  Whilst it’s only a short flight to Edinburgh, it had been at least four hours since my last smoke and I was craving my nicotine fix.   I set off camera in hand, puffing plumes of smoke into the atmosphere.

The view from the country park towards Edinburgh and the large rock formation known as Arthur’s Seat was looking great and I set about taking photos.

Edinburgh from Pentland Hills
Edinburgh from Pentland Hills

It wasn’t long after this that I started to feel some pains in my chest, thinking it was indigestion I continued onwards towards a reservoir in the distance.  As I got closer the pain was increasing, damn indigestion, I shouldn’t have had that all-day breakfast panini and large latte at the airport…  I was now starting to sweat.

Reaching the reservoir the sweat was pouring out of me, whilst I am normally a heavy sweater I didn’t think it had been that much of a strenuous walk up to the reservoir.   With the indigestion getting worse I started taking photos of Torduff Reservoir

Bonaly Country Park, Pentland Hills
Torduff Reservoir, Bonaly Country Park, Pentland Hills

The chest pains were increasing in intensity and the sweat was pouring off my head whilst I took the photo above.  Now starting to think this is something more than ingestion – “and why am I so hot” – I decide to head back to the car, with thoughts of getting to the hotel as quickly as I can.

Denial… 

As I walk back to the car, I start to think that I might be having a heart attack – now at this point I should have phoned 999 and got to hospital there and then – no not me!  Still in denial, I go back to the car and drive myself to the hotel, check in, drop my bags off and lie on the bed fully clothed – I’m still sweating, even after having the air-con full in the car?  It’s only now that I admit to myself that something is seriously wrong and I ask the hotel receptionist to call an ambulance for me.  The chest pain now feels as if an elephant is sitting on my chest and I look like someone has poured a bucket of water over my head.

I spent three nights in hospital (at the other end of the country from home!) and a further eight weeks at home recovering.

I had a suffered a Myocardial Infarction (MI) at the age of 38. An MI is generally referred to as a heart attack and occurred when the blood flow to part of my heart was blocked for long enough, that part of my heart muscle was damaged and died (the human heart is incapable of repairing itself).

That was four and half years ago and there have been some major changes to my lifestyle – I haven’t smoked since that day and I lost nearly 55 pounds weight mainly through dieting and cycling over 7000 miles.

Even though that day is etched into memory, I’m starting this blog as reminder to myself of why I cycle and the need to eat healthily.  It also serves to document my experiences, cycle rides and show everyone there is a future after a heart attack.

Coeur Cycliste is French for Heart Cyclist – I’m cycling to improve my overall wellbeing and keep my heart as healthy as possible.

Hopefully this is the first of many posts on my new blog …