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

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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.