When I first started writing about my pulmonary embolism, I looked around the web for blogs written by fellow sufferers, in the hope that I’d be met by dozens of tales of people conquering the condition and continuing to lead a normal life. What I found was a few blogs written by people immediately after they suffered the attack, and then silence after a few weeks recovery. What happened to these people? Were they dead? I wrote to them and found that they weren’t dead, they had simply stopped writing as they recovered.
And that’s what happened to me. I wrote for a while, but as I returned to normality, I began to realise that the early blog posts were simply a form of therapy. They were painful to write, and now I can’t bring myself to look at them. It seems like that was a different person who was able to share that raw emotion, and thankfully I’ve returned to my default status of internalising Welsh bloke who is deeply uneasy about sharing anything that may reveal a weakness.
But when I did write that blog, I was struck by two things. Firstly I was blown away by messages of support by all manner of acquaintance, and secondly I was humbled and shocked by the number of private messages I received from boozy, forty-something football lads who shared their own private health problems and deep, personal fears about their health. Us boys don’t normally talk about stuff like that, see.
And so here I am nine months later, meeting that commitment to chart my recovery, as I aim to achieve my life-long dream of riding a bike up the Alpe D’Huez. There’s a reason why I haven’t posted anything for six months. It’s easy to be public about your intent and aspirations, but when you fail to meet your promises and targets, you feel like you’ve let everybody down. And when I weighed in at 18 stone 12 lbs at Christmas after sitting on my arse feeling sorry for myself during the Autumn, I felt more than a bit ashamed.
Yes, I have barriers, but I was using them as an excuse for not achieving my goal. Let me list them here and get them out of the way.
1. I’m overweight (BMI of about 37).
2. I have two torn cartilages
3. I have a rare neurological condition called transverse myelinitis.
4. I’ve got 2 blood clots in my lungs
The order of those barriers is important. By far the biggest issue stopping me from climbing to the Alpe D’Huez is the 7 stone extra weight I’m carrying on my bike. You give Alberto Contador a 100lb trailer and I reckon he might struggle a bit to get up there. But that’s great news. I can do something about that – and in 5 weeks since that Christmas weigh-in, I’ve lost 23 lbs, and now take the scales at a svelt 17 stone 3 lbs.
I was called into hospital last month to undergo surgery on the torn cartilages, but after discussions with the anaesthetist, we decided to call off the operation. There remains a danger of clotting during the procedure which could be life threatening, and I think there are other things I can do to ease the pain in my knees before taking that risk.
The transverse myelinitis is a hidden barrier. It’s been 17 years since the attack that sent my lower body numb and I’ve forgotten what it feels like to have normal legs. Yes, my legs often feel heavy and fatigued, and my spine is stiff, but that may be the case for every other 44 year old bloke carrying too much weight. I’ve ridden 100 miles before now with these lumpy legs, so that excuse can’t be readily given.
The good news about the clots is that I don’t seem to have suffered any damaging scarring which causes pain during activity. I haven’t pushed myself to the edge yet, but I’m confident that the clots won’t be a barrier. The only thing I have to worry about is the effect of the warfarin that I take daily. My blood is thin, and any crash on the bike would be awkward. A head injury could be fatal.
So here we go – from now on this blog will catalogue my attempts to train for that ride up the Alpe D’Huez. It will be self-indulgent, egotistic and narrowly focussed, but I don’t care. Part of the reason that I’ve been able to get back out on the bike and even consider the possibility of completing the challenge was the public peer pressure I felt after making so many promises back in March. And this blog will help me carry on towards the goal when I might otherwise retire quietly.
After a month watching The Wire, and 24, while sitting on on the exercise bike since Christmas, I ventured out on my old faithful 1994 mountain bike, an Orange C16 which I’ve often tried to replace, but have been unable to find anything which suits me better. After a 6km circuit completed solely in the granny gear, I’ve progressed slowly to a 15km undulating ride, which has been really encouraging. For the first time, my thighs have been hurting more than my knees, which shows me the Alpe D’Huez is a real possibility.
I include the stats from today’s ride not as a matter of pride – the timings are embarrassing – but to show how far I’ve got to go.
Ride Time: 1:06:05 Stopped Time: 8:10 Distance: 15.74 km Average: 14.29 km/h Fastest Speed: 49.90 km/h Ascent: 209 meters Descent: 215 meters Calories: 770
Her are the stats for the Alpe D’Huez:
Bends : 21
Departure : 716m
Arrival : 1,859m
Difference in height : 1,142m
Length : 8.89 miles
Average steep : 7.9 %
Highest steep : 14 %
March 1st, 2012 : Under 16 stone and progressing from mountain bike to the road bike.
May 2012 – under 15 stone – ride over Snowdon Pass
W/E June 9th 2012: Ride (Bangor to Cardiff?) to celebrate National Transverse Myelinitis Awareness Day July 11/12, 2012: Tour de France bypasses Alpe D’Huez – my 1st possible attempt
August 2012 – more realistic date for Alpe D’Huez attempt