Heart Attack to 10K (part 4.1) - Getting FFITer and Harefield & Heartbreak hill revisited

(Phase VI –
sustaining a healthy life-style)

I already knew I had an enlarged prostate, but during early April that I noticed that I was having to visit the little chairboys room a bit more frequently and it was becoming more difficult to pass water. I thought this might be due to a change in medication so mentioned it to my GP on one of my many visits. This prompted the doctor to get a more intimate with me than I was comfortable with as he gave my prostate a little tickle (I don't even let the wife do that!) and he then referred me to the Urologist. A blood test showed my PSA (Prostate-specific antigen, a protein released from the prostate gland into the blood stream) to be 6.2, this was cause for concern as anything over 4.0 could indicate the presence of cancer cells. Normally, I believe the next stage would be to go for a biopsy, this was not possible in my case as I was on anticoagulant tablets and these have to be taken for a full year following an angioplasty to prevent the blood clotting around the stent. So, though it was worrying, it was left to check again in a month's time.

As the cardiac rehabilitation came to an end I was already looking for something else to do as I felt that I would find it difficult to keep up my motivation to continue exercising on my own, I had no real problem going on longer walks but they were intermittent depending on available time and the weather and I knew I needed a bit more than just that. I was really looking for some form of regular circuit training similar to what I had been doing during the rehab. classes.

It just so happened that the same day I graduated from rehab, Wycombe Wanderers Sports & Education Trust were advertising something called FFIT (Football Fans In Training) [web page]. This was a free 12 week programme which offered diet & nutrition advice to help the participant make healthy lifestyle choices as well as the physical exercises I was looking for, it was aimed at overweight male football supporters of 35 to 65 years old to lose weight and gain fitness by making lifestyle changes through using the resources of their local football club  – God! this was made for me!. It had initially been rolled out in Scotland in previous years and proved highly successful, and now it was being piloted by a few clubs in England, luckily for me Wycombe Wanderers being one of them and the timing couldn't have been better. 

I admit to being a little cautious to start with, it wasn’t particularly aimed at heart patients and I wasn’t sure if the exercises would be too strenuous so soon after my heart attack, plus it would be without the safety net of a cardiac trained nurse. But with reassurances from Sam, one of the FFIT instructors, that the exercises would start gentle and you could work at your own pace plus with the support from the cardiac rehabilitation nurse who thought it a good idea but reminded me to never work-out above 13 on the RPE scale [see part 3], so I sent in my application.

The Hearts & Souls London Bridge sponsored walk that the ex-patient had talked so warmly about [see part 3] was also still on my mind, it sounded really tempting but I didn’t fancy doing this with just a bunch of strangers so enlisted my youngest daughter Kaitlyn to keep me company on the day. It seemed to me that this would an ideal target to aim for and as it wasn't until Sept. I had plenty of time to work on my fitness & stamina. To walk the approx. 13 miles from Putney Bridge to Tower Bridge seemed a good incentive to keep up the step count plus it was an ideal opportunity to give something back for the help, support and encouragement I had received from the marvellous cardiac rehabilitation team.

As if cardiology and urology wasn't enough to get on with, I developed a tooth abscess that required another visit to the dentist. This won hands down over a heart attack in the pain stakes, the pain was excruciating and I wasn't sorry once the root canal treatment was finished.

My revisit to the Urologist in May eased the worry a little as a repeat blood test showed that my PSA was now down to 4.4, no real explanation as to why this was so but as it now seemed more stable and as invasive tests were out of the question, it was left to monitor later in the year, the consensuses being that there was more risk in stopping the heart medication than me actually having prostate cancer.

The first challenge at FFIT was to establish your base step count and then increase it week by week - bugger! I had already gone through a similar exercise with cardiac rehab. going from 5500 to 10,000 and was by now averaging about 11,000 - now they want me to add another 1500 steps per day - each week!

Looking to get FFIT
FFIT was more than just counting steps though and although the classroom part covered much the same subjects on healthy eating as the cardiac rehab, it had far more time to dedicate to each subject. This gave the advantage to go into greater depth and encourage the group to work in teams for short quizzes or put forward ideas and share experiences & problems, after all we were all in the same boat and a great camaraderie soon developed within the group. One of the lessons that did strike a chord with me was 'excuses', how we all find reasons not to do something or put off doing it until another time and I'm as guilty as anyone. Most of the time there is no real reason why you can't do another 1000 steps (it's just a 10 minute walk) but it is all too easy just to sit in front of the TV after a day at work snacking on a packet of crisps or drive to the local shop instead of walk.  For the exercise element, the whole group were encouraged to help and support each other and to instil a team identity each member received a kit with our name embellished on the shirt; the white shirt since becoming a mark of my own fitness crusade which I still wear on all physical activities (photo collection). One of the first training sessions was to jog between some cones and shoot at the goal, who would have thought that I would pick up a football injury by twisting my knee at 59 years of age taking a penalty on my debut on the Adams Park pitch!

A good motivator throughout my recovery has always been looking for and hitting small milestones and I did just that on the 6th June when I recorded my first 7 consecutive days of over 10,000 steps per day with an average of 12,813, another came on the 19th June when I weighed in at 93.1kg meaning that my BMI was below 30 for the first time, I was no longer obese!  - these may seem small accomplishments but they demonstrated my continued progress and motivated me in my crusade towards a fitter me.

FFIT encouraged the participants to set at least one new SMART goal each week [see part 3]. One of my better goals which I'm still achieving, besides the normal eat more fruit, limit the consumption of beer & coffee etc., was to walk at least 4000 'aerobic steps' per day averaged over the week. These are recorded on my pedometer and to achieve this you have to walk at least 10 minutes at a brisk pace (60 steps per minute) and carry on without stopping for more than 1 minute for a continuous reading. This was particularly useful for exceeding the recommended 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate intensity exercise per week and helped me meet the Frequency Intensity Time Type (FITT) principle that was also encouraged at the cardiac rehab.

Another SMART goal which I have since set myself that probably initiated in FFIT is 'not to eat for the sake of eating', this might seem an obvious thing to do but has become a golden rule I live by. Particularly at work, but it can apply elsewhere, treats are always left out and you fall into a habit of just picking at them just because they are there when you don't really need or even want them. This is a simple SMART goal to remind me to stop snacking on tit-bits which really add up unnecessary calorie in-take over the day.

The mid-point on the FFIT programme coincided with my 6 month check-up at Harefield and I came away with slightly mixed emotions. We had had our half-way weigh-in at FFIT and the weight lost was represented by bags of sand (an extremely effective idea), first we all took turns to pick up two fairly heavy carrier bags which was an impressive combined 27.7kg in weight lost for 13 of us and then from these we were handed individual bags. Some of the group obliviously did better than others but overall there was a tremendous positive feeling to being able to feel that actual weight, mine was one of the smaller bags weighing in at 1.4kg but I wasn't too despondent as I was looking for a slow & steady weight lost anyway and it did give a real sense of what had been achieved in a reasonably short period of time. Although my visit to Harefield wasn't negative, I did come away feeling that I had moved back a square or two. I was experiencing touches of angina, particularly when exercising with FFIT and mentioned this during the consultation. To my surprise the Cardiologist recommended coming back for another angiogram to reassess the narrowing's in my arteries, assuring me this would be a far more relaxed procedure than the emergency 6 months previous though it did have a slight feel of 'here we go again'.

Meanwhile I set up a JustGiving page to start collecting towards the Hearts & Souls London Bridges sponsored walk, initially I set the target amount to £250.00 but with the first donation coming in at £100.00 had to quickly reconsider and increase the target to £500.00, which I felt this was a realistic amount [see part 4.2 for the final astonishing total].

In the Cath Lab
I exceeded the original target of £250.00 by the time I revisited Harefield for my 3rd angiogram on the 25th July. I had been told to bring an overnight bag but on arriving discovered they were piloting a new day procedure and it was more like a visit to the dentist than a stay in hospital. After an ECG I was taken into a lounge where you could read magazines and relax in a comfy chair while nurses chatted and checked your blood pressure etc. for the pre-op. When your time came it was a short stroll down the corridor to the Catheter Lab, it was a little poor that I had to get changed in the lobby between the corridor and Cath. lab but from there it was jump up on the operating table and lets get on with it. There had been mention of a coronary pressure-wire test, this is where a sensor on the catheter measures the blood pressure either side of the narrowed artery to determine if the blood flow is severely restricted. I'm not sure if this actually took place as the lab was suddenly required for an emergency, I had to quickly get dressed in the lobby while this poor bloke waited outside in the corridor. The results again were good with the restricted areas not expected to cause any real problems (the current thinking is not to stent unless absolutely necessary) however I was prescribed a new nitrate tablet to help with the angina pains I'd been experiencing. After tea and cake back in the lounge, I was eventually sent home with just a sticky plaster (seemed a little dodgy) to show for my day.

Again, I was not allowed to drive and had to take it easy for a couple of days, this meant missing my penultimate FFIT session which was a real shame as the Handy Cross Running club were invited to take the training and put the team through their paces, however I was to meet up with these guys later in the year which was to become another whole new chapter in my recovery story [see part 4.2]. 

Like the cardiac rehab., FFIT came to an end way to quickly and again I was left wondering what to do next, probably not so much over the summer months as I still had the sponsored walk to look forward too but certainly once autumn sets in. My grateful thanks go to Andy Homent and Sam Parker for delivering what is a life changing opportunity that I believe had an impact on every participant with a total group weight loss of 44.5kg. I know all the team would hold FFIT as a defining moment in kick starting their healthier lifestyle but for me it was a natural continuation of the cardiac rehab, extending and expanding the lessons I learnt then (not that I would recommend anyone having a heart attack first!). But as we were told FFIT doesn't end there, it's a way of life, and we were invited back as 'legends' to share our experience with the next group and I hope this blog goes some way to achieving that - we will never forget those basic golden rules that it's all about "small steps" and "calories in v calories out!" and as Tom, one of my fellow FFIT contemporaries pointed out ... "The FFIT journey isn't just about losing weight, it's about losing the mind-set and attitude that got us to where we are"

There was one little nagging doubt growing in the back of my head and I had to put it to bed, and that was getting back in the saddle of the horse that threw me. So, on the 10th Aug. I set out to retrace the footsteps that started this whole story in the first place [see part 1], to face up to 'heartbreak hill' once again - but this time it was personal!

Drums & tea at St Marys
Despite inviting others to join me, like the first time, I had to face my demons alone.  

So, on a beautiful summer's day with the Red Kites flying in clear blue skies, butterflies on wild flowers in the meadows and poppies billowing in the wheat fields (have I painted the perfect summers day?) it was just an idyllic walk. On passing through St Mary's church there was a summer workshop community activity day going on so on my return having completed the same loop up and down hills, through woods and along valley's [see part 1] I stopped off to take that long awaited look inside the church before tackling 'that' hill. It's a fascinating historical church built by the Knights Templar in the late 12th century with medieval wall paintings and a vibrant congregation and I sat there for a while sipping a cup tea listening to some local families trying their hand at African drums, it seemed a pity to leave.

Heartbreak hill
On leaving the church it was time to face up to the challenge of that dreaded hill through the Yoesden nature reserve [link], this was by far the steepest I had faced since that day, climbing about 200ft (68m) over 0.5 mile (900m), and I have to admit to feeling a bit anxious looking up at it. But it was a lovely spot with the path winding its way up the hill through the long grass and foxgloves peppered with numerous little exquisite blue butterflies [Adonis blue], about half up a large dragonfly flew right across my path (family members might see some deep significance here) before disappearing into the trees, it was if my late sister Bernice was watching over me ensuring all was calm and right with the world unlike my last visit. I reached the top without any problems and felt relieved, if I can manage 'heartbreak hill' then the London Bridges Walk would be a doddle.

I was still hitting those milestones and in the following days reached 2,000,000 steps (since my cardiac rehabilitation heart assessment), the equivalent of almost walking to Iceland (but without getting your feet wet)! This led to the idea of setting myself SMART challenges and decided to try and complete 2.5 million steps before the sponsored walk in 32 days' time. This meant I needed to keep up an average of 13,260 every day which was a little above what I was actually achieving. To give an added incentive, my youth football club, Totteridge FC, offered me a £100.00 bonus donation to Hearts & Souls should I complete the challenge.

With a nice steady flow of donations coming in, by the 18th Sept. I surpassed the £500.00 target so for the 2nd time increased the target, this time to £675.00, this equalled the amount I raised on my last sponsored walk some 10 years previous. I was constantly being pleasantly surprised by the generosity of some of donations and the unexpected sponsors so I think secretly I was starting to hope and dare for £1000.00

I felt that my fitness levels were improving by the day and together with the new improved eating habits and a little help from Isosorbide Mononitrate (nitrate tablet) was even adding in some short jogging in my walks! - I hadn't jogged in years!!

Thank-you for reading and I would love to hear from you, please leave your comments below.

Part 1 - That fateful day. (Phase I - cardiac event)  click here
Part 2 - Back home & drama at White Hart Lane. (Phase II - home recovery)  click here
Part 3 - They tried to make me go to rehab, I said yes, yes, yes please. (Phase III - cardiac rehabilitation)  click here

To come:
Part 4.2 - Putting heart & soul into walking & jogging (Phase IV - sustaining a healthy life-style)  click here
Part 4.3 - End of year round-up and assessment (Phase IV - sustaining a healthy life-style)  click here
Part 4.4 - Falling heart rate: fitter or hibernation? (Phase IV - sustaining a healthy life-style)  click here
Part 4.5 - Pain in the bum, going senile and sub 30! (Phase IV - sustaining a healthy life-style)  click here 
Part 4.6 - Sub 29, attack of the AKI and 1 year old (Phase IV - sustaining a healthy life-style)  click here
Part 4.7 - Pushing the boundaries (Phase IV - sustaining a healthy life-style)  click here


The rest of the story

Heart Attack to 10K (part 1) - That fateful day.

Heart Attack to 10K (part 3) - They tried to make me go to rehab, I said yes, yes, yes please

Heart Attack to 10K (part 4.4) - Falling heart rate: fitter or hibernation?


Heart Attack to 10K (part 4.5) - Pain in the bum, going senile and sub 30!

Heart Attack to 10K (part 2) - Back home & drama at White Hart Lane

Heart Attack to 10K (part 4.6) - Sub 29, attack of the AKI and 1 year old!

Heart Attack to 10K (part 4.2) - Putting heart & soul into walking & jogging