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Putting Your Heart Into Your Dreams

Understanding and monitoring your Heart Rate during exercise can give you amazing insights into your general health and performance

Advice on these pages are taken from my own personal experience and do not constitute professional advice. Everyone’s experience and ability is different. Before starting on any new physical activity it is a good idea to consult a Doctor. It may also be beneficial to work with a Coach or a Guide to develop the necessary skills to support such activity.

We were still in the early stages of our ascent out of Glencoe when we made our first brief stop. My watch had beeped and vibrated to let me know that my heart rate was approaching Max Heart Rate. As soon as we stopped and took in the amazing scene around us my heart rate began to drop. Within a few minutes I heard another beep which told me it had dropped by 30 Beats Per Minute (BPM). That would give me ample time to work before we had to stop again. Soon we were off and ascending the steep rocky path above Glencoe.

Measuring Heart Rate

“Accurately measure your heart rate during and after training.”

Even with a healthy heart, there are still a few things it’s good to know about your heart as you start your journey into training. It is definitely worth the investment of getting a smart watch or some device with which you can accurately measure your heart rate during and after training.

Heart Rate measured on my watch

Of course it is also possible to physically measure your pulse if you do not have a device. If manually measuring your pulse rate, I would recommend measuring for a full minute while standing still. More information on how to measure your pulse can be found here.

In order to make sense of your heart rate, there are some rates that you should become familiar with. The basic two are Resting Heart Rate and Maximum Heart Rate.

Resting Heart Rate

“Your Resting Heart Rate can give you an idea of your fitness level for your age and gender.”

Resting Heart Rate (Sometimes known as Resting Pulse) is your heart rate when you are stationary and relaxed. It is best measured just after you get up in the morning as even just wandering around the house or the office may raise your heart rate somewhat.

A time and place to take your resting pulse. Bed in a tent in the Serengeti Sep, 2018

As it varies dependant on age, gender and general fitness level, it would be very difficult to say any rate is good or bad. Some indications are given here but, at this stage, it is enough just to know what it is when you are in good health.

Your Resting Heart Rate can give you an idea of your fitness level for your age and gender. In very general terms, fitter people tend to have lower resting Heart Rates. Taking your resting Heart Rate regularly can also give an indication of your health. Noticing an unexplained rise in Resting Heart Rate can be an early indication that you are becoming unwell. In my case, colds and stomach bugs have been preceded by a rise in Resting Pulse Rate.

Max Heart Rate (MHR)

“I feel breathless, anxious and my brain is generally screaming at me to stop.”

A Max Heart Rate moment at the top of Scafell Pike, Aug 2018

Max Heart Rate (MHR) or Max Pulse Rate (MPR) as it is sometimes known, is the maximum heart rate that you should work up to when exercising. The rule of thumb to calculate it is to subtract your age from 220. I am 53 years old so, in my case, my MHR is 167 (220-53) Beats Per Minute (BPM). When I am exercising I should try to avoid allowing my heart rate to exceed 167 BPM and, when it reaches this level, I should try to slow down a little in order to let it drop.

Even without measuring my heart rate, it is easy to tell when it is at or around MHR. I feel breathless, anxious and my brain is generally screaming at me to stop whatever physical activity has taken my heart rate to this level. I normally want to slow down as much as I need to slow down.

Whether exercising or not, when we are stressed or anxious, we enter into a cycle which tends to increase our heart rate. Sensing danger our brain releases adrenalin to prime our body for action. Our breathing becomes quick and shallow and our heart rate starts to rise… which triggers our brain to sense danger and so the cycle continues. If you are in good health however, it is possible to control your heart rate simply by reversing that cycle.

Slow down. Just like, when driving, the first action to slow down is take your foot off the accelerator, when exercising the first action you can take to reduce your heart rate is slow down. If you are running, walk or if you are walking stop and sit down if possible.

Stop and sit down if possible. My brother, Abel, ascending Stob Na Broige, Mar 2017

Your heart rate can be reduced further by slowing your breathing. For me, even just three slow deep breaths in and out can drop my heart rate by 10 BPM. Whether you’ve slowed to a walk, standing still or sat down, make a conscious effort to slow your breathing and, as your breathing slows and deepens, your heart rate will drop.

Another bonus of deep breathing during some form of a rest is that you have a better chance of getting more oxygen down to your legs and thus reducing muscle pain and avoiding cramps. This shall be discussed in more detail in the next post in this series.

To fine tune your heart rate, it’s all about your state of mind. As anyone who practices mindfulness or meditation can tell you, picturing positive images helps release serotonin in the brain which has the effect of reducing your heart rate… which tells your brain the world is good and so the cycle repeats.

In summary, whenever you become breathless, anxious and in need of a rest during exercise, this is a good indication that your heart rate may be approaching or at MHR. In order to reduce it;

  • Slow Down
  • Take slow deep breaths
  • Think positive

Taking frequent rests during exercise and applying the techniques above will help you to maintain a healthy margin between your current heart rate and MHR. Maintaining this margin will enable you to work safely and enjoy the activity more.

Click on the image below if you would like to read my previously published article – Relax And Count To Five – which explores how to control your heart rate during a 10K Race.

Relax And Count To Five, Stride Magazine, 2009

Performance Measured Through Heart Rate

“It’s worth looking at some aspects of your heart rate which can tell you about your performance during a physical activity.”

Now you know how to control your heart rate, it’s worth looking at some aspects of your heart rate which can tell you about your performance during a physical activity. This can be looked at in more detail referring to the image below from a recent Training Session.

Training Session involving a series of walks and short jogs

What the image is showing is my heart rate measured during a short training session which involved a series of walks and jogs. The data is taken from my Smart Watch which is a Suunto Trainer. However this is just one of many watches and Apps available to measure performance during sports.

Looking at the coloured Heart Rate zones between the graphs shows that there was no time during the session when my heart rate registered in the red zone which represents the highest heart rates. This means that I was training well within my capabilities. Of course, had I been covering a more intensive session such as sprint training, there would be no problem with seeing some of the session at the higher heart rates.

Heart Rate follows Pace

What can also be seen from the image is what I would call a healthy correlation between the charts measuring heart rate and pace. Every time my pace dropped from a jog to a walk, my heart rate dropped by about 20 to 30 BPM. This is a good indication of recovery from an activity.

Steady Heart Rate over Varying Terrain

Whether running or hiking over varying terrain, a good practice to remain comfortable and cover long distances is to vary your pace according to the terrain such that your heart rate remains relatively constant. Hence you can maintain a healthy margin between your current heart rate and MHR. This is illustrated below.

Measurements from my trek to the Sloy Dam from Inveruglas on Loch Lomond side. Mar, 2020

As can be seen, despite a climb and descent of 300m each way, my heart rate sat relatively steady and never came close to MHR. This an ideal margin for endurance activities.

Heart Rate And Altitude

“Our Heart Rate and our Raspatory Rate (Breaths per minute) may start to rise in order to bring in sufficient oxygen.”

A final subject to touch on while discussing Heart Rate is to look at the effects on Heart Rate, Raspatory Rate and Oxygen Saturation (or SpO2) at Altitude.

Typically above 3,000m above Mean Sea Level, our bodies will start to react to the reduced amount of Oxygen in the air. This means that our Heart Rate and our Raspatory Rate (Breaths per minute) may start to rise in order to bring in sufficient oxygen. This means that we need to reduce our physical work rate in order to maintain a healthy margin between our current heart rate and MHR. I found that the importance of maintaining a slow enough pace not to push my heart rate up was absolutely paramount at altitude in order not to feel sick or as if I was going to pass out.

Measuring the oxygen saturation in your blood using a device called a Pulse Oximeter, is a great way to see how your body is coping with altitude. At sea level a healthy person would expect to see levels of around 97% or above. Below 95% would be a case for some concern and anywhere near 90% and you may want to seek urgent medical attention.

Pulse Oximeter showing Oxygen Saturation and Heart Rate

At altitude however, with so much less oxygen in the air, the rate will inevitably drop. On Kilimanjaro our Guides would only let us continue up the mountain as long as our SpO2 level was 80% or above. At Gorakshep, on the return from Everest Base Camp, my SpO2 briefly dropped below 70% and I was suffering a lot of the early symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Fortunately we were on our descent which is the only cure for symptoms of AMS.

You can find out more about AMS and how to cope at High Altitude by clicking to my Blog Post here.

Next Post

Stretches and warm up exercises.

Now that we have covered the most important muscle of all, the heart, the next post will look at stretches and warm up exercises. These make sure the rest of our muscles are kept in the best condition to support us through our activities.

Read The Series

This post is part of a series of posts which provides practical hints from my own personal experience to help overweight people get into adventures such as Mountaineering, Distance Running or Open Water Swimming. To read the series from the start click here.

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It’s A Stretch But You Can Do It

The importance of stretching and relaxing your muscles before and after exercise cannot be over emphasized.

WARNING: Advice on these pages are taken from my own personal experience and do not constitute professional advice. Everyone’s experience and ability is different. Before starting on any new physical activity it is a good idea to consult a Doctor. It may also be beneficial to work with a Coach or a Guide to develop the necessary skills to support such activity.

On a rainy, late autumn, day last year I plodded slowly up from sea level out of Dunure Harbour towards the village of Fisherton. The climb was about 300ft, relatively steep and I was going to use the lamp posts in Fisherton as markers for my first hill sprint session in 20 years. I felt freedom and exhilaration as I exploded into my first sprint of the session. A sudden sharp pain at the top of my left leg had me pulling up before the end of the third sprint. I was soon limping back to the car with a pulled hamstring. It would literally be months before I would run pain free again.

For any athlete who takes part in any sport, it is vital to work through the ritual of stretches and warm up before any training session or events. For those of us carrying weight it is even more important to work through those routines. For work on your feet such as running or hiking, the more weight you carry, the more strain you put on the framework of bones and muscles supporting you. Muscles need to be kept supple and the blood needs to be easily circulating to carry the necessary oxygen to them to enable you to keep working.

Pulled muscles, weak or grinding knees or lower back pain have all become everyday obstacles for me to have to overcome through years of physical work whilst being overweight. The thing is the onset of such conditions can be delayed or removed altogether and the effects of them reduced by making stretching and warm up/down a routine part of your exercise.

Focussing on stretches, the exercises below are the ones which I tend to do as I find them most achievable and comfortable for me. It’s worth noting however that there are loads of different stretches that can be done for the different muscles in your body. You should explore these widely and find the best exercises for you. To assist I have added lots of links in the exercises mentioned which open up the wide and varied world of stretching and warm up.

Stretch Exercises

Warning: Care must be taken not to overwork or overstretch muscles during these exercises. Move slowly and gently into all positions described never jerk or swing yourself suddenly into a change of position. If you feel pain at any time, stop immediately and seek qualified medical advice before continuing. It is best to work with a qualified Gym or Sports Coach when first doing stretches.

The video below shows a demonstration of the full exercise routine encompassing all stretches described in this post.

All stretches are shown in this video and described below

Lunging Calf Stretch

This exercise stretches the calf muscles. This is the large muscle that runs along the back of your leg from your heel to the back of the knee.

Lunging Calf Stretch
  • Find a wall and place your hands on the wall
  • Extend one leg behind you
  • To achieve the stretch on the calf muscle on the extended leg, place that entire foot on the floor with the toes pointing forward and bend the non extended knee
  • You should feel the area behind your extended leg, between the heel and the knee, tightening
  • Hold for a count of approx 10 sec
  • Switch legs and repeat.

Hamstring And Calf Stretch

Here, we stretch both sets of muscles running up the back of the leg. Calf, as previous exercise and hamstring. Your hamstring runs up the back of your leg from your knee to just below your bottom.

Calf and Hamstring stretch
  • Stand, hands on hips, both legs together, toes facing forward.
  • Place one foot in front of the other to prepare for the stretch
  • Keeping your rear foot flat on the ground, raise the toe of your front foot off the ground
  • The stretch is achieved by raising your front foot off the ground and then slowly pushing your bottom back
  • You should feel a general tightness along the back of your extended leg and may be particularly tight behind the knee
  • Hold the stretch for approx 10 sec
  • Extend the other foot forward and repeat

Hamstring Stretch

Another stretch for the hamstring. This one is slightly deeper than the previous stretch and focuses on the hamstring. The stretch is developed over 2 parts.

First part of the Hamstring Stretch
  • Stand with your legs shoulder width apart
  • Clasp your hands behind you
  • Slowly lean forward extending your clasped hands above your back
  • You will start to feel the tightness in both hamstrings at the back of your legs above the knee
  • Hold this position for a slow count of five before extending into the second part of the stretch
Second part of the Hamstring Stretch
  • Maintaining the forward leaning posture unclasp your hands and stretch your arms down towards the ground
  • Keeping your knees straight, gently push down towards your toes as far as you can go
  • Do not worry if you cannot reach your toes (I can’t) you can still benefit from the stretch by extending as low as you can
  • If you are able to easily reach your toes, you can extend the stretch further by touching the ground out in front of your toes
  • Hold the lowest point of the stretch for a further count of 5 before slowly returning to a standing position

Quad Stretch

This is the final exercise I do for the legs and it covers the Quads. These are the large muscles at the front of your legs above the knee and they work especially hard supporting your hips and your knees during hill descents.

Quad Stretch
  • Lower yourself onto one knee with one knee on the ground, leg extended behind you and one knee out in front with the knee bent and foot flat on the floor.
  • Hands on hips
  • Gently shift your weight forward onto the leg extended in front of you.
  • You should feel the muscles at the top of the leg in front of you tighten.
  • Hold the stretch for about 10 sec
  • Switch legs and repeat

Lower Back Stretch

This exercise is especially good for opening up the joints at the base of the spine and releasing tension. Hence this exercise can help to relieve lower back pain.

Lower Back Stretch
  • Lie face down on the floor with your hands close to your shoulders, hands flat on the floor
  • Straighten your arms and lift the top half of your body up off the floor whilst leaving your legs flat on the floor
  • Once your arms are straight and your upper body is arched, move fully into the stretch by clenching your buttocks and gently pushing your hips into the floor
  • You should feel the stretch across your lower back
  • Hold for approx 3 sec, lower upper body back down and repeat
  • Repeat for 10 reps

Figure 4 Stretch

The Sacroiliac (SI) Joint is where your hip bones (Ilium) join to the centre of your back below the spine (Sacrum). Inflammation in these joints can cause ongoing and debilitating pain in the lower back which can radiate down through the Sciatic Nerve to the buttocks and the top of your legs. The pain is called Sciatica and you can find out much more about it and the SI Joint here.

This exercise stretches the Piriformis Muscle which, when tight, can aggravate the SI Joint. I was introduced to this stretch when I visited my Physio with Sciatica and I have found it was great for relieving the pain. Note this stretch can also be done sitting.

Figure 4 Stretch (Lying)
  • Lie on your back, hands by your side and legs flat on the floor
  • Lift one foot and bend your knee to place that foot on the top of the opposite knee and relax
  • The weight of your bent knee hanging down should initiate the stretch of the Piriformis Muscle on that side
  • You can deepen the stretch by gently pushing down on the bent knee
  • Hold the stretch for approx 10 sec
  • Change over and repeat with the other leg

Bridges

This is more of a very gentle stretching exercise to strengthen your core rather than a stretch.

Bridge
  • Lie on your back, hands by your side with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor
  • Gently and slowly raise your bottom off the floor until you have created a straight line from your knees down to your shoulders
  • Relax
  • Repeat for 10 reps

Deltoid Stretch

Deltoids are muscles behind your shoulders which get extensively used during lots of activities. They are extensively used in any swimming stroke, when carrying a pack or using walking poles on a trek and scrambling. Even holding your arms up during a long run requires use of the deltoids. This stretch keeps them supple.

Deltoid Stretch
  • Stand facing front, hands by your sides.
  • Raise one arm and extend it across the front of your body
  • Bring the other arm up to touch the elbow of the extended arm
  • Gently push the elbow of the extending arm in towards your body achieving the stretch
  • You should feel tightness at the back of the shoulder of the extended arm
  • Hold the stretch for approx 10 sec
  • Change arms and repeat the stretch

Hula Hoop

Now we are getting into a little fun and flexibility to finish off. The idea of this and the next exercise is just to loosen off a bit and increase flexibility around the hips. You can use a Hoola Hoop to get the most out of this. I just do the hip movements.

Rotating hips Hoola Hoop style
  • Stand hands on hips.
  • Gently rotate your hips as if you were rotating a Hoola Hoop
  • Do 3 rotations in one direction and then change direction
  • Repeat until you have done five rotations in each direction

Twists

Another exercise to move the hips and shoulders.

Twist Starting Position
  • Stand facing front with your hands flat in front of your chin
Twist extended
  • Extend one arm
  • Keeping your legs facing forward, swivel round on your hips to bring the extended arm behind you
  • Gently increase the stretch to bring the extended arm towards the other side of your body
  • Relax until your extended arm is pointing straight back
  • Repeat the extension for another 2 reps
  • Bring your arm round to the front and repeat by extending the other arm
  • Continue switching arms until you have extended 5 times on each side

Loosening Off and Warming Down

After any exercise session it is always good to just gently relax and shake off all of your muscles. This can be done by gently bouncing on your feet whilst shaking off your arms, rotating your head and anything which instinctively feels like you are relaxing and shaking off your muscles.

If it makes it any easier or fun, just picture yourself as a boxer dancing around the ring ahead of the fight.

Jab n move

Next Post

In as much as stretching is a great routine to prevent pulled muscles or strains in the first place, they are almost an inevitable part of the life of any active person. Unfortunately this is even more true for overweight people. The next post shall look at specific stretches, tools and practices to help your recovery from the inevitable aches and pains of the adventurous and amazing person you are becoming.

Read The Series

This post is part of a series of posts which provides practical hints from my own personal experience to help overweight people get into adventures such as Mountaineering, Distance Running or Open Water Swimming. To read the series from the start click here.

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I’ve Rolled The Rover Over… Over…

On the weekend where we celebrate 100 years of the Royal Corps Of Signals, I reflect on the 10% of that time I served among her ranks.

Remembrance Day 2019

We crouched in silence in the shadows, in the darkness on the remote ridge above a small country village. Soon the sound we were hoping for started to grow louder as a helicopter approached. This was our lift home and a rare commodity in these parts. As the helicopter made it’s final descent towards us we were blasted in the powerful downdraft from the rotars. I lost my balance and fell over. Then my backpack blew away down the hill. I got up and chased down the hill after it. Suddenly everyone was scattering in all directions and the helicopter promptly lifted off and disappeared. The area my backpack and I were heading towards was mined. The irony is that the mines were there to protect us. This was one of my final actions in the Signals. I think they were glad to be rid of me.

I’m at the back in the centre. Back when I had black hair and weighed a lot less. Trade Training Catterick Garrison 1985

I didn’t join the Signals. I joined the Royal Corps of Transport but after just 5 hours behind the wheel of a vehicle I was banned from ever driving anything and shipped out to the Signals in Catterick Garrison. There was a recommendation to issue me a truck as a weapon of mass destruction.

There were only a few times I found myself facing disciplinary action and they were all for losing things. My ID Card and my Arms Card and then there was the time on exercise when, in the space of 5 minutes, I lost everything except the clothes I stood up in.

I’d been lying in a shell scrape in the woods in the dark. A truck pulled up and we were all told to take our backpacks and load them into it. I decided to leave what’s called my fighting order, or webbing, in the shell scrape. This was against the rules but I figured no one would notice in the dark. On my way towards the truck I heard someone else being screamed at for doing the same so I put my backpack down and headed back to my shell scrape to get my webbing. I couldn’t find my shell scrape. I went back for my backpack but couldn’t find it either. In the end up the entire Platoon had to search the woods for my gear.

I’m front row far right. On exercise in Catterick 1986

As to driving, although I was banned, it didn’t stop me. In Northern Ireland we had been working all night and the guy I was working with was driving tired so he asked if I was able to drive. I said yes though still a learner. We swapped seats and he went to sleep. A short time later he was awoken by me screaming, “How do I f’ng slow down?!” as we screamed towards an Army Checkpoint. I don’t think he was able to sleep for about a month after that.

Then there was the time I did the shower run on Exercise in Norway. This time I did manage to stop but the Rover skidded and nudged the corner of the shower tent. As terrified people ran for their lives I had created the worst possible scenario. Wet naked soldiers running about in the snow in the Arctic.

I also crashed a 2 Man Sailing Boat on Lake Chimsee in Germany (West Germany at that time). Due to my inexperience at sailing I’d been told to drop my sails and row into the harbour. Instead I went in under full sail at very high speed from the centre of the lake. The last thing I saw before impact with the harbour wall was a wee guy screaming, “Achtung!” at me and waving frantically. The impact launched several of his paddle boats right out of the water.

I’ll just finish with a story I’m often reminded of when I meet the guys I served with at 7 Sigs in West Germany. I had been training for a Boxing Competition at the time which involved about 6 weeks of constant training and significant dieting. The OC Squadron decided to give the team a pep talk in the last few hours before the competition but I was absent. As soon as I had got off the scales from the final weigh in I made a B-Line for downtown and was in a local Schnel Imbis cramming in some Gyros and Chips before the fight.

Gyros and Chips gave me a mean left hook. 7 Sigs Boxing Competition, Herford, West Germany, 1988

I wish all the best to everyone who’s served past and present. The very nature of the job meant there were dark times and scary times but there were so many good times. I count my decade in the Signals as one of the best of my life and those who served with me as family. I’m proud to have served even if it was possibly a safer place after I left.

Sergeant’s Mess RAF Brize Norton 1992

Click here to see other posts and videos about my imaginary girlfriend, how I managed to fall out of the window whilst Self Isolating and the giant vagina I thought I’d found in The Louvre.

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Spot The Difference

As soon as I sat down to start filming I realized my mistake

The picture from Track 1 of the Music Video

I am currently trying to film a Music Video for an EP of love songs I’m recording. I recorded the video for the first track last week. In order to make the whole thing look like it was done during the one night, I went to the trouble of looking out and washing the T-shirt I had on last week. Then I set up the lighting to look exactly the same as it had done last week. As soon as I actually sat down to record however I spotted my mistake.

The picture from Track 2 of the video supposedly only a few minutes later

During the weekend I inflicted a wicked haircut upon myself. So now my choice is to either wait 3 months until my hair grows back or re-record track 1.

Check out the haircut here.

Check out my video of Track 1, The Power Of smile. If you like the music, please Like and Subscribe to my Youtube Channel and this Blog.

The Power Of Smile, the first track I recorded for my new EP

Click here to see other posts and videos about my imaginary girlfriend, how I managed to fall out of the window whilst Self Isolating and the giant vagina I thought I’d found in The Louvre.

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About Our Ancestors

March to change the future because, no matter our actions, we cannot change the past.

Our ancestors are dead. Their lives are done and cannot be undone. My belief is that they have already atoned for the wrongs in their lives through the judgement of God. My hope is that they are at peace. My sadness is that, in their name, we are not.

Race, football team, colour of skin or sexual identity have never been factors in the respect I offer every human being. I was brought up to respect people and I have learnt that respect tends to be received as it is given. Such is my belief in the right of everyone to freely be who they are that I risked my own life to defend that freedom.

I refuse to take responsibility or apologize for what was done before my time. Instead, I believe history is something we can learn from. Sure we can topple statues, burn books and march on the streets for justice. But march to change the future because, no matter our actions, we cannot change the past. There is no point in trying to deny or erase it.

You may wish to reply to this and I have no issue with that. Just remember, if you do, that respect is given as it is received. Choose your words carefully. Every word you speak cost the lives and huge sacrifice of our ancestors. Yours and mine.

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Lockdown Locks

Time to face my fears and expose my head to the shears.

The ‘Before’ Picture
The ‘Just Before’ Picture
If your clippers battery runs out now, self isolate for 3 months!
Maybe I should have just kept it long.
Hope it’s ok at the back…

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The Power Of Smile

This is a song I wrote about depression and it goes out to anyone who has suffered or is suffering. The song is especially dedicated to those amazing people of light who are able to reach into the darkness and help. The power that radiates from a smile is truly amazing as are those who smile and can reach you with it. I hope those people in my life know who they are and how blessed I feel to know them.

You always seem to smile when I’m around

You can hear the rest of my music on YouTube here

The songs I have made videos of
My recording studio showing yamaha keyboard and lenovo PC
Click on the image to view my music profile, listen to my playlist or order music for your project

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How The Tortoise Won ‘That Race’

It’s more about taking part than looking the part.

Capturing the pain of climbing in the Campsie’s, Mar 2014

If I asked you which is faster, a hare or a tortoise, you’d probably laugh and think it was a trick question right? For sure, you’d know the answer. But did you know that, on average, Tortoises outlive hares by a factor of about 20 times the lifespan? Perhaps there’s a lot to be said for taking your time and moving at your own pace.

We all know the story of The Hare And The Tortoise. The slowest of the animals takes on the fastest in a race. As the arrogant hare takes a nap close to the finish line, the lowly tortoise plods past and wins the race.

Slow and steady wins the day. Credit – Bedtime Stories Collection

Very often in my experience the proverbial hare is all you can see or hear from when looking into a mountain climb, a run or a swim. All too often, I feel very like the tortoise. The fact is however, you can be the tortoise and still reach the summit or cross the finish line. All it takes is a sense of adventure and some humility to accept your physical limits and work within them.

Perceived Marathon

“People who were nothing like me doing something which would be impossible to me.”

Lets look at the London Marathon as an example. I was ecstatic when I got the letter last year telling me that I had got through the ballot to run in this year’s London Marathon. I eagerly started watching videos on YouTube to see everybody’s stories of the previous runs. My screen was full of pictures of Athletes and advice on how to run a sub 3 hour marathon. The London Marathon, as depicted in those videos, was for people who were nothing like me doing something which would be impossible to me.

Even searching ‘London Marathon in 7 hours’ you still see nothing but athletes and even a video of someone completing a sub 3 hour marathon. Credit YouTube

Real Marathon

“You could finish that marathon within your own capabilities and with time to spare.”

If you search beyond the videos however, the fact is that those who complete the London Marathon before 7pm on race day qualify for a medal. With a start close to 10am that’s almost 9 hours to complete the course. My training runs often have as much, or more, walking than running in them. Certainly one of the paces I will describe and demonstrate in a future post covers a 7 hour marathon. You may feel like the proverbial tortoise watching the videos online but you could finish that marathon within your own capabilities and with time to spare.

Find Your Own Pace

“Having the humility to accept your physical limits and work within them … can bring you to some of the most amazing moments of your life.”

Walking at the back, Kilimanjaro Sep 2018

It was on the second day of the Kilimanjaro Trek, as we climbed out of the jungle into the long grass towards the Shira Plateau, that I started to fall behind. I knew that a 30 second burst of pace would take me back to the main group. Previous experience of endurance events helped me to stay where I was, walking within myself, at a pace I knew I could manage. Had I pushed to catch the group and struggled to stay with them, my trek would have been over as soon as we reached altitude.

Experiencing the breath-taking views from Stella Point a few days later, on one of the most incredible mornings of my life, cost little more than swallowing a wee bit of pride and finishing 3 to 5 minutes behind the main group each day of the trek.

Having the humility to accept your physical limits and work within them, even if other people seem more physically capable than you, can bring you to some of the most amazing moments of your life. More to the point, high up in the mountains, it can actually save your life.

Slowly, Slowly

“I’ve learnt to say “Slowly, slowly” in Nepali, Swahili and Arabic.”

I’ve learnt to say “Slowly, slowly” in NepaliSwahili and Arabic. These are the languages of the countries in which I have climbed over 4,000m above mean sea level. I’ve seen people race ahead only to be lifted off the mountain hours later or the next morning suffering from Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). In the meantime those of us plodding along at the back get to reach our goals.

At altitude, you may have to stop for a rest and a breath after every single step. The longest mile I have ever covered in my life was the mile from the Mera La to High Camp, a climb of 500 vertical meters on the Mera Glacier and it took 5 hours. A general rule of thumb for ascending at high altitude is that it takes around 1 hour to cover 100 vertical meters.

Head Above Water

“I was swimming ‘head up’ breaststroke.”

Open Water Swimathon Course, River Mersey, Liverpool, Sep 2017

Almost immediately after the start of the Open Water Swimathon 2017, I found myself last swimmer by a good distance. By the time I reached the first Safety Boat they were asking if I was ok. Same as I completed the first of three 500m laps of the Open Water Swimming area of the Liverpool Water Sports Centre on the banks of the River Mersey.

The fact was that, where most of the swimmers were cutting slickly through the water swimming front crawl, I was swimming ‘head up’ breaststroke. Some people told me afterwards that the reason there was concern shown for me was that the stroke I was using is generally used when swimmers either tire or get into trouble.

I had decided to swim breaststroke because I knew I could cover a distance with it. My front crawl was clumsy and no way I’d have completed 1,500m with it. In the end up, slow as I was, I finished the course, got my medal and was proud as punch.

Slow And Steady

“We can still venture into the realm of the hare and finish the race.”

Walk every time you have to on a run and you’ll complete a Marathon. Slow down high on a mountain to save vital oxygen and you can reach the summit. Swim whatever stroke you’re comfortable with on an Open Water Swim and you’ll cross the finish. We may move slow and steady like a tortoise but we can still venture into the realm of the hare and finish the race. Whether the hare falls asleep and we win or not doesn’t really matter that much. It’s the taking part, as they say, that counts after all.

Open Water Swimathon Finish, River Mersey, Liverpool, Sep 2017

Next Post

Despite the magic we can achieve regardless of our weight, being overweight comes with it’s own physical challenges. Especially when we take our bodies into an environment or a challenge designed to test stamina and fitness. Starting with Heart Rate, my next few posts will deal with the physical challenges I have experienced in my journey and show some simple exercises to overcome them. It will be fun!

Read The Series

This post is part of a series of posts which provides practical hints from my own personal experience to help overweight people get into adventures such as Mountaineering, Distance Running or Open Water Swimming. To read the series from the start click here.

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Categories
Adventure Beer Life and Wellbeing Mental Health Recovery Running Travel Trekking Weight Loss

Worth Your Weight In Gold

Learning to carry your excess weight can be just as amazing as managing to lose it.

I looked across at the summit of Everest glowing in the newly risen sun and caught my breath. From my vantage point, just over 6,000m above sea level, high on the Mera Glacier, I was seeing the world as only Gods and Elite Mountaineers tend to see it. I am neither God nor Elite Mountaineer. In fact I am quite overweight. But I have long since learnt that the realms of adventure and incredible achievement are there for anyone regardless of your weight. You just have to know how to carry yourself into them.

Everest in the sunrise from the Mera Glacier, Mera Peak, Oct 2017

Body Mass Index (BMI)

My Body Mass Index (BMI) has been in the obese category for the past 20 years. I’ve tried every weigh loss plan on the planet, resolved to change my life every January 1st and obsessed over everything I’ve put in my mouth for years. The only lasting loss seemed to be my happiness.

Click on the image below to learn more about Body Mass Index (BMI)

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a measure of your body weight in relation to your height. The above image is from the NHS Website where you can find out more about BMI

Amazing At Any Weight

I’d often thought about the person I’d become once that excess weight was gone. Confident, sexy, fit, healthy and jogging through life. Yet it seemed like an impossible dream because I kept trying to lose the weight but never managed. Somehow I realized that I can run that Marathon, swim across the sea or climb in the mountains. I don’t have to lose weight to be that person. I’d been that person all along and just didn’t realize it.

The power of that realization was incredible and lead me into adventures and achievements I had never thought possible. I’ve listed some of the high points in that journey below. Everything on that list was achieved whilst my BMI has been between 37 and 40 (Well within the obese range for an adult male).

Click on the links in the list to find out more about the events listed.

  • Summited 54 Munros (Scottish mountains over 3,000ft)
  • Completed 3 trips to the Himalayas reaching Everest Base Camp and a height of 6,140m on Mera Peak
  • Reached Stella Point (5,685m) on Kilimanjaro
Stella Point, Kilimanjaro Sep 2018
  • Reached the highest point in North Africa. Summit of Mt Toubkal (4,167m) in the Atlas Mountains
  • Completed the Trossachs Plod, 31 miles across country in Scotland in 14 hours.
  • Completed the Great Glencoe Challenge (26.2 miles across rough terrain from Glencoe to Fort William in Scotland) twice in under 12 hours (11:22 and 11:52)
Top of the Devil’s Staircase in Glencoe, Great Glencoe Challenge, Jul 2017
  • Completed a cumulative Channel Swim over 12 weeks in a swimming pool three times (max distance swum 1.75 miles in one swim)
  • Swum a mile in the open water in the Mersey in Liverpool, UK
Open Water Swimathon. Mersey, Liverpool UK, Sep 2017
  • Jog Scotland Jog Leader for 2 years, completed the Great Scottish Run Half Marathon twice and the Men’s Health 10k four times.
Great Scottish Run, Glasgow, Sep 2007

You don’t have to put the achievement of your dreams off until the weight comes off. My story is evidence of that and, by telling it over a series of blog posts, I am going to use it as a framework of practical tips to help anyone who wants to follow a similar path.

Breaking Down The Barriers

  • First we’ll discuss humility, knowing your limits and setting achievable goals. There’s no point in watching an 8 stone athlete on Youtube telling you how to run a sub 3:30:00 Marathon. You’re just watching someone you’ll never be telling you how to do something you know is impossible. It’s the guy in the mirror, not the guy on the telly who’s going to do this stuff and I assure you, you can do a Marathon!
  • Next is to look at the physical aspects of carrying your weight. I suffer from High Blood Pressure, have pulled many muscles and often have lower back pain. I’ve taken it all onto the roads, into the water and the mountains. We will look at stretches, warm ups and easy physical steps to deal with these problems. It will be fun!
  • It can be difficult turning up at the start of a run or meeting the team for a trek for the first time when you know you don’t ‘look the part’ and you think everyone is looking at you. This post will talk about finding the magic inside of you and believing in it despite the looks, comments and events going on around you.

Starting Your Adventure

Start of The Great Glencoe Challenge, Glencoe Jul 2016

After reading the preceding articles you may have discovered your inner warrior and have limbered up, stretched off and be rearing to go and do something amazing. This being the case, there are three articles you can choose from to get you started. Read them all, find the one that fires you up the most and let’s go!

  • How to get started towards your first Marathon, Half, 10K or 5K. It’s not so much as going for a run where every walk’s a fail. In the early days it’s about going for a walk where every jog’s a bonus.
  • Getting into the water. Whether completing one of the distances in Swimathon, completing a cumulative Channel Swim over a period of time or heading into the open water, there’s organizations, events and holidays which you can enjoy.
  • The call to the mountains. Many of the mountains in Scotland have terrain or stretches which compares closely to the treks and climbs on some of the highest mountains in the world. Then there’s The Lakes in England, and Snowdonia in Wales. The initial call for me was the call to Everest but there’s many Treks in Nepal, Kilimanjaro and Toubkal in Africa and many more around the world. This post will cover the main practical aspects to get you started. I have also written a series of Mountaineering articles which you can start to follow here.

It’s Still Good To Lose Weight

I will always continue to try and lose weight. Even a 5% loss of bodyweight can have tremendous benefits to health.

Click on the image below to see 15 benefits of losing 5% of your bodyweight.

15 things that losing 5% of your body weight can do for you. Taken from WebMD

The fact remains however that many of the health issues and mental challenges associated with being overweight can be managed or overcome. Click here to read my next post where we’ll start on the journey by looking at knowing your limits and setting realistic goals. I hope you stay with me through this journey.

Great Glencoe Challenge 2017
Guides and Porters (and Will and Clair) dinging the Kilimanjaro Song, Kilimanjaro 2018

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Life and Wellbeing Military Running

Finding A Way To Run

On nights when it’s hard to get out and train, I use a change of mindset. Instead of going for a run where every walk is a fail, I go for a walk where every run is a bonus.