Thursday, December 19, 2019

So this happened...

Remember that scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral when they wake up and realise they're late for the wedding. 

'F*^k!'
'F*^k!'
'Oh, F*^k!'
'F*^k!F*^k!F*^k!F*^k!F*^k!F*^k!F*^k!F*^k!F*^k!' 

That kind of describes what was going through my head when I woke up at 2am on Monday morning with some decidedly weird shenanigans going on in my chest. Half asleep it took me a while to realise what was going on, by which time it was too late - Afib had crept up on me in the middle of the night, curled up and settled in. 

Just how I'd wanted to start the week.

But, you see, that's the thing about atrial fibrillation - it's a bit like Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition in that nobody really expects it. At least I wasn't. It had been a good week with healthy food, lots of sleep, a bit of exercise and no alcohol. And, at about 3 or 4 years since the last episode, it was also the longest stretch I'd had without incident. I was so over this!

Yeah.

Anyway, so it was that a couple of hours later we ended up here...


... the delights of Addenbrooke's A+E at 5am. We've lost count now of the number of times we've done this journey but are incredibly lucky to have such a fantastic hospital just 15 minutes down the road. It felt quite apposite to be receiving first class primary health care, free at the point of contact, just when its very existence may be under threat. And, while the circumstances of each visit may be slightly different, the one constant has been the amazing staff who work there.

First thing after checking in was to have an ECG just to confirm what was going on. Here it is...



It's abnormal, but it's not exactly racing, which I can only put down to being in better shape than in the past. Usually at this point it's 120-130 bpm just sitting down, which is a completely different ball game.

Fast forward a couple of hours and it was time to have a little chat with one of the doctors...
Him: "How are you feeling?"
Me: "I've felt better!"
Him: "Can you describe the feeling in your chest?"
etc, etc
And then he came out with this:
Him: "Well, I know I'm supposed to reassure the patient, tell them everything's going to be OKAY, but really, we love zapping you guys. I mean, we zap people all the time and that's okay, but they're PLANNED, they're SCHEDULED, but a RANDOM zap, we're practically queuing up to push the button."
Me: "Well, I'm only glad to be of help. Christmas seems to have come early!"

He was very, very funny. Here he is wearing green. I'm the guy on the trolley.

"We LOVE zapping you guys!"

By zapping, he meant cardioversion where they shave your chest, give you a short acting general anesthetic, hook you up to the mains and shock your heart back into normal rhythm. It's a fairly straightforward procedure, but does have some risks, the main one being stroke caused by blood pooling in the heart and clotting due to the irregular rhythm. When they give you the shock those clots can dislodge and career their merry way around the body until they cause a blockage somewhere. If it's in the brain they cause a stroke, if it's somewhere else it's an embolism. Either way it has the potential to be rather unpleasant. Anyway, risks aside, once we'd decided to go ahead with it, Crocket and Tubbs came down from cardiology, all sharp shirts and pants (none of the scrubs of the A+E department) and looking about 12 years old. Introductions were made, electrodes were attached, the button was pushed and sinus rhythm restored. All good.

And then after a bit of faffing about, 13 hours after going in, we arrived back home as though nothing had happened.

Except it had.

So, what now?

Apart from the thought of being referred back to the cardiology people at Papworth to see if I need another ablation swirling around my brain, there a few things floating around in my head, namely:

1) This time was different. There was no warning, I'd been healthy and it came out of the blue. My heart wasn't racing, it was more of a slow rumble. All things considered it was a much calmer experience than usual. [I'm slightly weirded out by the use of 'than usual' here, but there you go.]

2) I didn't feel guilty. Every time this has happened before I've been racked with guilt that it was my fault: I drank too much, ate the wrong things, smoked, got stressed, etc etc. Not this time, and that lack of guilt was really rather freeing. Afib feeds on the stress that guilt breeds. If you don't feel guilty you don't feed it which makes it easier to deal with.

3) Don't let it define you. This happened on Monday and I was back in the gym on Wednesday, admittedly for a much more sedate version of my usual workout. Obviously you need to be careful, but it doesn't mean you can't do your normal thing. Just listen to your body.

4) Gratitude. 30 years ago this all wouldn't have been possible and the Afib may have progressed. That they have the technology to rebuild you is beyond remarkable and I'm eternally thankful for it.

5) We take the NHS for granted at our peril. I've had about 10 cardioversions (I'm not sure of the exact number) and one ablation. Under an insurance based system I probably wouldn't be able to afford the premium by now, if indeed I could find a company willing to take me on, which I doubt.

So, after all that, the scores on the doors are:

Weird shenanigans in the chest in the middle of the night - 1
Trips to A+E 1
Very funny doctor accidentally putting you at ease - 1
Amusingly shaved chest - 1
Rather nice drug they give you just before sedation - frankly not enough
Cardiologists - 2
Cardiologist who looked about 12 - 1
Cardioversions - 1
Wonderful staff who looked after me - loads
Intention to repeat the experience - zero



Thursday, December 12, 2019

Working out how to work out: principles of exercise


There's a guy who sporadically appears in the local gym and proceeds to engage in a frenzy of activity - let's call him the Whirlwind. He does a bit of this, a bit of that and he does it all at a fairly unremitting pace, never resting for long before moving on to the next thing. He's a bit like Hammy from Over the Hedge. I get tired just watching him.

Needless to say in this blur of pulling and pushing things can go a bit awry, your form can dip and it's not always the best use of your time. This 'bit of everything' approach to training is quite popular though - you feel like you're covering all bases and doing the right thing. You might get a bit stronger and feel better mentally, but think how much stronger and how much better you'd feel if you just slowed down a little and used the time more wisely. 

Work out what you want to achieve, and you can work out how to get there. 

Doing lots of everything, without too much focus on doing it properly, rarely works. It raises the question of what's the best way to get in shape? And the answer is pretty simple, namely that there isn't one - it really depends on who you are, what you enjoy and your fitness history.   

Basically, we're all different, so there's no one-size-fits-all approach. Having said that, while I always ensure that every client has a programme that's tailored to them, there are a few core principles that form the bedrock of what we do:

1) Combine improved cardiovascular fitness with increased muscular strength and mobility

By combining a cardiovascular base (e.g.: through running) with strength training, to develop your muscles and reduce body fat, you're going to get you a more rounded programme that delivers stronger results. 

Add to all this a focus on increased mobility through stretching and you have a pretty potent combination. The form this takes will differ from person to person, but it definitely works.

2) Focus on functional compound movements that move more than one joint

Unless you're a professional body builder, not many of us have time to concentrate on each individual body part, with the risk that other muscle groups can get ignored. Knocking out 100s of bicep curls will certainly do things to your biceps, but that's pretty much all it'll do. 

On the other hand if you knock out 10 chin ups or pull ups, not only will that work your arms, it'll also work the large muscles in your back, your abs, your forearms and your shoulders, so you're training multiple muscle groups at the same time. If you base the core of your programme around compound movements that train a number of muscle groups simultaneously such as pull ups, dips, squats, deadlifts, lunges and presses, etc. you'll get more bang for your buck, save time and work your whole body into the bargain.

And, in the same way that the Whirlwind isn't necessarily going to get what he's after, neither is Endlessly Pounding Away on the Treadmill. 
It will (probably) make you feel better mentally, improve your circulation and establish a fitness base, all of which is excellent stuff. But, on its own, cranking out the miles in a gym rarely gets the results people want - well, unless you want to get really good at running and are prepared to do it A LOT. Aaaaaand... spending 30 minutes running inside, not going anywhere can be really, really boring. Particularly when it's nice outside! 

3) Effective nutrition

'You can't outrun a bad diet', as the saying goes, and 80% of getting in shape starts in the kitchen. 

Proper nutrition enables you to work out better and recover more quickly and more effectively. 

But what does it look like? Here are a few nutritional pointers that I follow and recommend to the people I train:

- Eat complex, unrefined carbohydrates. Wholegrain unrefined carbs such as quinoa and buckwheat are nutrient rich, keep you fuller for longer and avoid causing your blood sugar levels to spike and crash. Refined, highly processed carbs such as white rice and pasta have inevitably had some of the nutritional value stripped away. They'll cause your blood sugar levels to spike quickly and won't keep you as full for as long. 

- Learn to love sweet potatoes, which pack an incredibly powerful nutritional punch. They're high in fibre and potassium and one medium sized potato can provide as much as 400% of your daily requirement of vitamin A. They also make really good oven chips. Simply swap them out for your usual spud for a quick and powerful nutritional shift.

- Go for a balance of lean protein and healthy fats. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in foods such as nuts, seeds, olives and avocados are good for your heart and can help reduce cholesterol, which is a sharp contrast to the transfats and saturated fats found in cakes, biscuits, meat and dairy, that do the opposite. The answer isn't to cut out fat - it's to up our intake of the really good ones and limit the ones that don't love us quite as much as we think we love them. Our bodies need fat - just try to make sure it's the good stuff.

- Cut down or cut out alcohol. Excess booze wreaks havoc on training, diet, motivation and mood. If you want to lose some pounds and increase your fitness levels then reducing (or removing) alcohol from your day to day life can be a great place to start. 

4) Enjoy it

Whatever you do, enjoy it. You're far more likely to achieve long lasting behaviour change and make exercise a part of your life if it's something you look forward to rather than see as a chore to be got through. And, if you can do that the benefits will be immeasurable.


Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Bare(foot) Truth

A while ago, as part of an ongoing transition to becoming full blown Californian (while living in the flat badlands of semi-rural Cambridgeshire), I decided to eschew the traditional running shoe for a more minimalist approach to protective footwear. So, now whenever I'm out 'jogging' I wear shoes that do protect your feet, but don't have any cushioning. These are commonly known as 'barefoot' running shoes, but it's okay in this instance, because they're not the ones with toes. Barefoot warrior or just a heinous w@^$er? We'll see.

Debate rages about the benefits or otherwise of the barefoot approach. In my case this is not merely the result of following some fashionable whim - because of course I wouldn't do that - but rather the after effects of a crippling 6-mile run that left me practically immobile for days and with other physical impairments lingering for months after. With two degenerated discs in my lower back, I should've known better - running (at least in 'normal' running shoes), whether on trails or pounding the pavement, leaves my joints and especially my back, wondering what's hit them.

Which is quite a lot, as it turns out.

When you look at the mechanics of running in modern trainers, it's not surprising increasing numbers of us are suffering from injury; joint pain, stress fractures, shin splints, dodgy backs, you name it. And, in an ironic twist of fate it seems the ample cushioning of today's shoes, which is designed to protect us, may well be part of the problem. Put simply, running shoes encourage us to strike the ground heel first, meaning a force of anything up to 2-3 times your bodyweight then travels straight up through your shins, knees, hips, pelvis and spine, wreaking assorted havoc along the way. And you're doing this up to 1000 times for every mile you run. Here's someone doing it...

Ouch

You don't have to be a genius to realise this is not a brilliant scenario for a lot of people.

Added to this is the debilitating effect of, essentially, wrapping our feet in cotton wool. As we seek to protect our feet, we don't allow them to do their job. Our feet are an incredibly intricate part of the body, containing a quarter of all our bones and a plethora of muscles and tendons - all of which atrophy and weaken when encased in a pair of Nikes (Reeboks, Asics and other brands are also available.) And, because we're not using our feet properly, our nervous system also becomes unresponsive. In short, we create a perfect storm of conditions whereby a massive, jolting force shoots up our body with no adequate resistance to it, so there is nothing stopping the jarring forces rattling us around every time we stride along.

It's stopping people who would benefit from running, lacing up and getting out there.

I've spoken to many people who have either given up running because of these kind of problems, or would like to run but are put off by stories of it being bad for you. Which is a shame because running is awesome.

The thing is that while humans have been running for hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years, the modern running shoe has only been around for about 50 years at most. Now, while many of the activities of prehistory humans are shrouded in mystery, there is one thing we can probably be sure of: namely, that when chasing down a woolly mammoth for dinner our ancestors weren't doing it clad in a 'lightweight and breathable construction with engineered mesh panels for targeted breathability.' - whatever that means. 

And yet there is evidence in their skeletons to suggest that our forebears were accomplished runners to say the least - whether they had shin splints is another question.


So, what happens when you remove the cushioning of the modern shoe? In essence you revert back to the running style you were born with, namely landing on your forefoot (or the balls of your feet) and using the natural spring of your feet and legs to absorb the impact. You can see the difference pretty clearly in this picture of two boys running. The one on the left is wearing trainers and is about to perform a classic heel strike. The one on the left is barefoot and landing on his forefoot. I know which looks better to me.



The proof of these things though, is always in the pudding - so, does it work? Well, it's now about 6 months since I ditched the Asics and I can run  4-5 miles without any problems in my back, knees or anywhere else. It also feels like a much more natural way to run, with a comfortable gait, a shorter stride pattern and more relaxed rhythm. Added to that, it strengthens your feet and gives you a killer work out for your calves. I wouldn't say I'm up there with the legendary barefoot runners of the Tarahumara tribes of Mexico as featured so vividly by Christopher McDougal in his book Born to Run, but I do feel much more connected to the ground.

My wife has also benefitted from using minimalist shoes as she was suffering from knee problems and shin splints whenever she laced up and headed out for a run. Now, she loves charging around the trails and paths near where we live and doesn't seem to have any problems.

All this is not to say transitioning from cushioned trainers to more minimal shoes is without its risks - you have to build up the distance you can run very gradually. This can takes weeks or even months, as your feet and leg muscles adapt. It's ridiculously easy to misjudge this as you don't realise the damage of doing too much too soon until after your run. So, rather than a sudden change, some people phase in the change to barefoot running gradually and build up in small increments of a few hundred meters. It's worth it, as if you bang out a one mile run straight off you might not be able to walk for the rest of the week.

And, if you're one of the lucky ones for who more traditional running shoes don't cause any problems, then it might not be worth making the change at all - why fix it if it isn't broken? For me, though, it's enabled me to keep on doing something I enjoy and for that reason alone it's been worth it. If you fancy giving it a go but you're not sure where to start, the Merrell 4 Vapour Glove is my shoe of choice, and they're so comfy I wear them all over the place. 

Friday, February 22, 2019

The Barrier Method... to avoiding exercise

Thoughts that go through my head when I'm cycling... No. 57

Have I turned the oven off?

Which way is the wind coming from?

Did I charge my phone?

Where am I?

I ride therefore I am

Alongside these deeply philosophical thoughts, I also often find myself wondering why there aren't more of us out on the road, getting our hearts pumping in the great outdoors.

We reap so many benefits from moving more: improved sleep, better mental health, more energy, feeling fitter, increased focus, etc. If exercise was a pill, we'd all be taking it and saving the NHS millions.

And yet.

Over 50% of people who begin an exercise programme stop within the first 3 months.

Seeing this statistic made me ruminate.

I know my own relationship with exercise has taken a hit in the past - times when I've felt less motivated to put in the effort, despite the fact I knew I'd feel better if I did it.


What exactly is it that gets in the way? 

Consider the gym membership...

We join. We buy the gear. We're all gee'd up. We go twice, possibly three times, and then... we stop.

We might not even know why. And then after a while the idea fades, until sufficient time elapses and we can try it again as though it was something new.

All this points to the fact that while we might not be that great at getting our kit on, we are totally awesome at rationalising reasons to avoid it.


Let's call this the Barrier Method. 

A bit like contraception for the brain, the Barrier Method is a great and highly effective way of not getting fit. It's where the barriers we put up stop the seed of an idea (getting in shape for example) fertilising the rest of our mind into making it actually happen. Here's a man practising it...
I just haven't got time. 
The handy thing about these barriers is that they are there just waiting for us to pick them off the rack at our convenience.

Don't want to go to the gym? Well, we are really rather busy, actually.

Rather not head out for a run? Who would, in this weather? And besides, who's got the energy? 

That cycle ride? Sounds a bit too sweaty for me, all that lycra. And isn't cycling dangerous?

Most of us have been guilty of putting up some version of these barriers at one time or another. Or, some limiting inner voice seduces us into thinking we're not allowed to be fit because we're not part of that group - we shouldn't be doing this; it isn't for us; looking in shape is something that happens to other people. "I'm just not that sporty", etc, etc, etc.


Research shows it's what we tell ourselves that makes the difference. 

A study by Allied Dunbar found that thinking "I'm just not the sporty type" is one of the main reasons we don't carry on exercising once we've started.

In fact, this emotional barrier is second only to a lack of time, or at least a perceived lack of time - though it's amazing how much room in our schedule we can find to watch tv, read the paper or sit in the pub. All of which I really enjoy doing, by the way.

There is a deeply ingrained belief that we need to focus intently on relaxing in our spare time, to make the most of it, The contradiction here is that tuning in to our body is relaxing in itself, and can make us feel considerably calmer than lying on the sofa watching telly. In this sense exercise can be a form of meditation.

Part of the trouble seems to be that as a nation, we don't traditionally view exercise as a relaxing thing to do.

A study by the Health Authority in 1993 (admittedly a while ago, but we are essentially the same creatures, just with better internet connection) found that sedentary people had a very negative view of physical activity, finding it difficult, unpleasant and pointless. Of course, some of us have very real physical barriers such as illness or injury that may prevent us getting moving, but for most of us this isn't the case. We just don't think we like it.

So, a lot of it seems down to perception; we don't think we're the sporty type; we think we need to relax rather than exercise; we don't think we have the time. Despite all this, the Allied Dunbar study found that 80% of us still think we're pretty fit, even though we don't really do anything physical.

Still got it.

The study also showed that while there are some differences in how men and women feel about exercise, broadly speaking, the barriers for each gender are very similar - and so are the solutions to resolve them.

Critically, no-one likes being made to feel guilty, or being told what to do.


So, what does get us moving?

The Allied Dunbar study ranked the motivating factors for exercise among men and women between the ages of 16-69 years old. In order:

  1. to feel in good shape physically
  2. to improve or maintain health
  3. to feel a sense of achievement
  4. to get outdoors
  5. to look good
  6. to control or lose weight
  7. to have fun
  8. to relax
  9. to feel independent
  10. to get together and meet new people


What is striking though is that nowhere in this list is there any specific mention of mental health.

'This is like being a kid again'

These were the words a friend shouted when we went for his first bike ride in years.

I think that pretty much sums up the whole point of exercise.

It's fun, or at least it can be, and it's as effective at treating some forms of depression as drugs.

We just aren't designed to sit around all the time. When we run, swim, cycle, walk a longer distance or do any challenging physical endeavour, people's reaction is often 'You must be mad!'


Understanding what really motivates us is part of the secret

Change or Die, a rather dramatically titled (but excellent!) book by Alan Deutschman, cites the example of a study of 37,000 people prescribed statins.

Nearly everyone took the pills for the first month or two but a year later less than half were still taking them.

Just to be clear, these were patients with severe heart disease, for whom taking statins was a potential lifesaver.

All they had to do was take a pill to help stay alive, but they stopped. Why? Well, it turns out that facts and fear don't make people change their behaviour. For a start we already know the facts, we just choose to ignore them. And if the fear we're facing into is too great (such as, 'I might die'), well then denial is a very powerful tool to make us feel safe and carry on as before.

If we apply this to exercise, we can see how laying on fears about weight or health or mobility simply don't help motivate us.

Plus, of course, if we feel pressure to change now, then why didn't we do it years ago? We resist change because it invalidates decisions made by our previous selves. Complicated creatures, humans!


The three Rs of change

According to Deutschman to make change happen, there are three simple stages:

  • Relate - you form a new relationship with a person or community that inspires hope.
  • Repeat - this new relationship helps you learn and practice the new habits and skills you need.
  • Reframe - ultimately the new relationship helps you think about things in a completely different way.

It's why exercising with others works so well.

Ever wondered why Park Run has been so successful? It hits all of the 3 Rs. People access a new community of runners (relate) who go every week (repeat) that helps normalise the activity (reframe). And it can have an enormous impact on how we think and feel - not just about running but our bodies, connections with others... everything.


And, the conclusion from all this rumination?

Essentially, how we feel about exercise - how we frame our relationship with it - is crucial to getting moving. And the truth is, we can change our mind-set. I see it around me everyday, with clients, friends and family members shifting their thinking to embrace exercise as a form of self-care and self-reward.

There are so many things that can influence how we feel about ourselves and our relationship with our bodies but for me it comes down to a simple truth...

While we all have different motivations, we are all fundamentally the same: made to move.


Scores on the doors

Genuine scientific studies referenced - three
Barriers I recognise in myself - several
Motivating factors - 10 + one
Books on change I'd recommend - one
References to cycling in a blog that's not about cycling - quite a few
A good cycle-ride peeping over the horizon - many


Saturday, September 15, 2018

Blazing Saddle - cycling to the Dordogne Part 2

Following on from an intense first three days recounted in Part 1, cycling to my niece’s wedding in the Dordogne, here's what followed...

Day 4 Chateau-Renault to La Roche-Posay

Friday morning. A bad start.

After much faffing about packing up camp and getting on the road I then confused Montoire-sur-Loire with Montlouis-sur-Loire (oh, how I laughed), and went back on myself for about 25 minutes, which is 50 minutes really - actually a whole hour if you factor in the uncontrollable weeping.


Then, just as I was getting back into the swing of things and enjoying going in the right direction for a change, this happened...

Route Barre near Tours in the Loire valley.
It's just a suggestion.
Obviously, I ignored it, like any right minded person would. In fact this was the second Route Barree I'd encountered. I ignored the first one very successfully and only had to lift my bike over a slight obstacle to continue on my merry way. Clearly these signs were only meant for other people and not for the likes of me.

Alas, no.


Rather than a small obstacle lying in my path, two or three miles down the road there was an entire bridge under repair. When I politely asked the gentlemen working on it whether I might be permitted to carry my bike over (as was entirely possible in theory) I was met with an emphatic 'Non.' 

Well, alright then.

Now, having already wasted time going in the wrong direction once that day, having to double back again felt a tad cruel, if completely deserved.

River Cher or Creuse Once finally back on course, the polite woman on google maps decided what I really needed was a tour of all the small tracks and paths in the area. Like I'd always dreamed of. She was also quite keen on me “turning left” when there was no 'left' - that kind of thing. So, lots of navigational shananigans ensued until, exasperated, I did things the old fashioned way, with a paper map, and ignored her.

River Cher or Creuse
It was also really, really, really, really, really, really, mind-blowingly hot - at least 40 degrees. Perfect conditions for having a scary afib moment. So I did.

All the farting about trying to find the right way over the Loire at Tours had left me hot and more than a little bothered, so I decided to stop in Montlouis-sur-Loire for a drink, some lunch, and to feel strange in a cafe. Maybe I was dehydrated, or maybe I was just knackered from the heat, but I felt decidedly odd.

After ordering food, I noticed what seemed like extra heartbeats, but not of the atrial fibrillation 300-bpm all over the place kind. I could actually see the t-shirt around my heart moving in time with them, which was unusualising to put it mildly. I drank some water and took a couple of Fleccainaide just in case my heart was contemplating a full blown descent into an uncoordinated conga. These pills don't normally work for me once the ticker's gone pear-shaped, but if I take them in time they can do the trick. I then got up and walked around a bit trying, and failing, not to look insane.

River Cher or Creuse
Feeling slightly perturbed in a 'I don't  believe this sh*t' kind of way I then thought to take my pulse, which I should’ve done in the first place. It was in regular sinus rhythym and pretty slow considering. Also, I couldn't feel the extra 'beats', which I would, if they were there.

The only explanation I could think of was I'd developed some kind of muscular twitch in my chest, right where my heart is. Obviously. Because that happens all the time.

Reassured it was nothing serious I calmed down a bit, cooled off in the shade, and as I ate lunch the twitch gradually subsided. And I started to look a little less nuts. All sounds a bit silly now in retrospect, but it was a genuinely unpleasant experience. At least I may have provided a curious spectacle for anyone watching.



Anyway, onwards...

Progress had been painfully slow. I'd gone the wrong way, headed down a closed road, got lost and then thought I was having a physical meltdown - and all before lunch. I'd covered less than 30km (60km off my daily target), so stopping wasn’t an option. So, I chose to carry on, which despite the heat and my increasingly painful backside was still a lovely thing to do as you get to cycle through places like this...

River Cher or Creuse
Not a selfie in sight.

And most wonderful of all, you get to pass establishments such as this...

Garage Bastard
You utter, utter...















S
























Seconds after taking this covert snap, monsieur Bastard himself drove out of the garage and, seeing me slowly marinating in sweat by the side of the road, offered me a lift - the fact I was on a fully-loaded touring bike seemed not to concern him in the slightest. So, I hoiked the bike in the back of his van and admired the numbers on his temperature gauge. 40.5 degrees. Did I mention it was hot?

Through a mixture of his broken English and my completely smashed up French I established he hates the heat and likes to give people a lift when he deems the conditions sufficiently unpleasant, like now. Very charitable. As it was clearly far too chaud to be doing anything, particularly riding a bike, he took me 8km up the road to the next town, where he lived. Apparently, this had been the hottest week of the French summer so far and it was going to get even hotter - great news!

Generous Bastard that he was, he even dropped me off on the other side of the river, on a road shaded by trees that took me straight to the campsite in the town I was heading for. I could've kissed him. Not such a bastard after all.

It was a genuinely lovely thing for him to do and I wondered whether I would have been afforded the same thoughtful kindness in Britain. I hope so.

It reminded me of a conversation I'd had with an older gentleman on the ferry to Dieppe a few days earlier. A true English gent, straight out of Antiques-Roadshow-Antique-Jewellery-Expert casting, he'd lived most of his life abroad, including a five year stint in Sicily. When his wife died a couple of years ago, he moved back to England to be near his daughters. But Brexit Britain proved a bit of a shock – with his Italian car and number plates he'd been shouted at as a 'F&^%ing foreigner' on a number of occasions, and even had things thrown at him whilst driving. Hmm. Who are the bastards now?


When I finally arrived at the campsite in La Roche-Posay it was about 7pm and still very much on the warm side...

wall thermometer showing 36 degrees in shade at 7.30pm.
36 degrees in the shade at 7pm.
And, despite my assertions when people had asked me why I wanted to cycle to the wedding, sitting astride a leather saddle, with a very sore arse, hauling myself, my panniers and my 20-year-old touring bike up hill and down dale in the heat, was becoming ‘not fun’.

I needed to decide what to do.

Before that, though, I had to inspect the carnage on my backside. And the only way I could do that was to use the camera on my phone. So, legs akimbo and looking very much like a character from a Tom Sharpe novel or something dredged up from the shadier quarters of the internet, I went about assessing the damage. How I would've explained what I was doing in the event of someone popping their head into my tent didn't bear thinking about.

'It's not what you think, HONESTLY!'

A likely story.


My phone camera contortions did, however, reveal the sources of my discomfort in all their purple glory...
Pic of one of the saddle sores
Satellite image of Olympus Mons on Mars.

Ouch. There were two of these angry twins, one on each butt cheek. As if that wasn't enough, when I went for a shower I discovered they were in the midst of an incestuous love affair, had mated and spawned a love child, currently residing front and centre just above my old chap. Added to this my body hair was enmeshed within it, providing the sort of lattice-like structural support metal rods give reinforced concrete. This was unexpected. It was also going to hurt, I'd been so carried away wincing about my bottom that I hadn't even noticed this new physical assault creeping in from a different direction - it was, as they say, decisive - time to call the cavalry.


I rang my wife. 
That was definitely not in the brochure!

Kms covered – too few to mention (about 100)
Purple pustules on backside - 2
Not quite so pustulant red bit in an unspeakable location - 1
Scary afib moment that turned out to be absolutely nothing - 1
Lifts with a complete Bastard - 1

Scenes from a Tom Sharpe novel - 2

Day 5 Le Blanc

Thankfully, my wife, son and father-in-law had sensibly decided to drive to the wedding. Crazy fools. As they were heading roughly parallel to my route they could, thankfully, come and get me. How we'd fit all my stuff and bike into a very small boot was... moot. It was either that or a very expensive taxi.


I gingerly rolled another 30 or so kms to the small town of Le Blanc, so my rescuers didn't have quite such a large detour. Not a ride I’ll care to remember. It was hard going with as much standing on the pedals as possible. Once there, all that remained was for me to lie by the river with a book, and watch the occasional canoe drift past... and apply more savlon. Frequently.

Camping by the river Creuse.

Surprisingly, I didn't feel too bad about ending my cycling journey there.


True, I hadn't quite made it all the way, but there was no chance I'd have managed to go 10 miles further up the road, let alone another 100 or so. And things were also about to get a lot steeper as I headed into the Dordogne proper. In the end I'd made it a bit north of Limoges, so more or less on track to get to the wedding on time. It wasn't a bad effort, but there had definitely been some lessons learnt, namely:

1 - Drive.
2 - Only joking about 1, I’d do it again in a (regular) heartbeat.
3 - Take as little as possible.
4 - So leave the bike at home and drive.
5 - Only joking about 4.
6 - Chamois cream. Enough said.
7 - Stay in hotels. And drive.
8 - Ignore 1, 4, and 7.

Most useful bit of kit? That's pretty much a 3-way tie between the Ravpower4 battery charger (invaluable for keeping my phone working), the Thermarest inflatable mattress (made sleeping a lot more comfortable, especially with sore bits) and the Vango Banshee 2-man tent (easy to put up and take down and reasonably roomy).

So in summary:

Kms covered - 487 + a few extra, just for the fun of getting lost
Pustulant red bits - 3
Actual afib – 0
Scary moment that turned out to be nothing more than a twitch! - 1
Good Samaritans - 4
Antiques Roadshow Expert look-a-likes - 1
Relief at not having to get on a bike anymore - palpable.

Oh, and the wedding was great.

Just don't make me sit down.

So this happened...

Remember that scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral when they wake up and realise they're late for the wedding.  'F*^k!' ...