Thursday, January 01, 2015

One year later and I tempt cycling (and ischaemic) fate...

You may recall that despite having cycled some 300,000 kilometres in this tired old body of mine I still managed to have an ischaemic event (yes, a heart attack) on this very day, New Year's, 2014. As I was doing over 200km a week up to that point it came as something of a surprise to feel a persistent, dull ache that said "stop now" as I crested a familiar hill. Of course being a hardened racing cyclist I pressed on anyway, gasping and yawning, determined to "ride through it".

Until, of course, I just had to stop. I knew, deep down, what it was. Still, I didn't accept it. It seemed so unlikely. So I struck a compromise and turned around, slowly, and crawled - grovelled - home. About 15 minutes after stumbling in the door, I accepted my fate and embarked on a 6 day medical adventure involving 2 hospitals, a late night ambulance ride, 2 cardiologists and 3 stents. A month later I blogged merrily on the topic of not ignoring the bleeding obvious.

So here I am, a year later, still acting the goat. I have just tempted fate and re-lived that epic New Year's Day ride, retracing the exact route and soaking up the pain. Fortunately without the hospitalisation, touch wood. I'd like to say that I've spent the past year steadily recuperating, building up the miles and strengthening my weakened heart. But I haven't. Mind you I started well, with good intentions. I kept to a gentle, progressive plan that got me onto the indoor trainer and then out the door, building gradually. And then the confidence grew. This reconditioned heart actually seemed just as good, if not better than the old one! I set some tougher goals and pressed on. Until I started to tire.

It seemed like I was repeating the very mistake that had got me into this predicament: if in doubt, double the training. Despite the still-fresh memory, I was doing it all again. The training was going up but my form was going down. And then I caught a cold.

Now colds may slow you down but they don't have to stop you, so I backed off and came back. But the cold "freshened up". So I repeated the formula - back off, come back. And the virus came back too. It reminded me of a six-month bout of a "mystery virus" that hit me back in the late 1980s, effectively ending my club-level A-grade racing career. I didn't get a blood test then, sadly, so I'll never know for sure, but a GP reckoned it was mononucleosis. The prescription was "rest". So taking a leaf out of that same book I have had a long, long rest since the end of May.

Which is not to say I haven't ridden. Once a week I've given the bike a spin and tested my form. And mostly my form has been lousy. Given that riding every day is my long-term habit, riding just once a week - and for only 20 minutes or so - hasn't been an easy pill to swallow. And it hasn't been the ideal way to make a post-ischaemic comeback, either.

Which is why re-living my "2014 first-ever heart attack ride" today hasn't been without its measure of risk - or even fear. Sure, I took it easy. Sure, I've done the distance a few times in the lead up. Sure, it's not a century ride. But I'm not nearly as fit as I was then, and the hills are unrelenting. I live on a hill. Getting home is hard enough without worrying about blocked arteries and damaged heart muscle as well.

Anyway, I made it. It could have gone horribly wrong but it didn't. The monkey is off my back (I have avoided riding that route for a full 12 months). Hopefully I will listen to my own advice from here on and build the miles up again - very, very gradually. Fingers crossed.

For the Strava data fan... 2014 vs 2015.
It's nice to see a difference, even if I haven't actually been "training" per se. As you'd expect today's ride was faster, a tad more powerful and I even picked up a cup (going downhill of course!). And it was done without that annoying dying-heart-muscle pain ;-)