Tuesday, 22 May 2012


Well that wasn't the plan...

 I completed 4 climbs in the morning - The Road To Hell (47mins), Moel Arthur (15mins), Penbarras (18mins) and The Shelf (37 mins, including taking a wrong turn for 1km). Mindful of the shorter, more 'explosive' style of climbs to come over the following days, I adopted a very conservative pacing strategy for all 4 - only digging deep when I needed to - which, in this case, was anytime the road went above 20%. Heart rate wise, for me, this meant sitting at between 140-146bpm. Hard but sustainable. After a short break in Llangollen, I tackled No.29, The Horseshoe Pass.

After the break, the legs took a while to get going, so much so that they were the limiting factor - my heart rate rarely going above 135bpm. I didn't try and push through it though and just eased over the summit.

At which point (and in the same instant that I stood out out of the saddle to stretch my calves) I started to have very obvious palpitations. I've never had palpitations (apart from a 5 sec episode when I had 3 espressos in a row one rainy Bank Holiday in 1995!). I looked down at the Garmin computer and my heart rate was 180bpm. It's not unusual to get sudden high 'spikes' when wearing heart rate monitors outdoors - due to electrical interference etc., but you can almost always tell the difference what is real and what isn't.

This was unfortunately very real. I pulled over, sat on the grass and tried to stay calm. I had no other symptoms. No chest pain, no dizziness, no shortness of breath. Just a sensation that my rib cage was shuddering and my heart pounding at 178-182bpm. So I got back on the bike and freewheeled back down the Pass and back to the car which was parked just off the road from the base. Not feeling worse but no change in heart rate etc. Definitely an increasing sense of anxiety though which clearly wasn't going to help. I punched in 'Hospital' in the satnav and within 3 mins arrived at Llangollen Community Hospital. 

It's only a small part time facility but they were great and hooked me up straightaway for blood pressure and oxygenation which were normal. Heart rate still through the roof though and apparently I looked very pale. After 30 mins, the doctor insisted they get an ambulance to take me to Wrexham Hospital as they didn't have the necessary resources. I made a phone call to Helen C-W to explain the situation and during this call I noticed my heart rate finally drop to 85bpm and a sense of 'normality'.

The ambulance transfer took half an hour during which the excellent paramedics took a preparatory ECG. It didn't show anything obvious but there were a couple of small things which 'may or may not' be relevant when the more expensive and sophisticated hospital version was used later.

To cut a long story short, I had further ECG and blood tests over the next 6 hours and they showed nothing untoward 'mechanically' but I had had an episode of sinus tachycardia - the main jist being that the cause of the extended palpitations and high heart rate was more likely an external physiological influence on the heart as opposed to the heart itself. He was quite clear however, that to be 100% sure would need a further 'recording' test taken over the next 2 weeks and that for me to continue would not be a wise decision. His main reasoning was that it was an unusually long episode (45 mins) and because we don't know what caused it, it's possible it could happen again.

So there we go...no more hills for me...for now. As I type this, I don't feel any different to how I feel the past 4 days (other than the general fatigue). Resting heart rate ia a normal 56-60bpm. I just can't quite believe what's happened - and I can't deny the disappointment is difficult to deal with. Health always has to come first though - as I'm always telling my athletes - so I'll focus on that.

I will head home, have the tests and hopefully get the all clear. I'll then start again at No.30 and finish the job. We're not done yet!!




  1. Sensible decision Steve. Fantastic achievement to do what you have done so far but no sense in risking your own health.

    1. You're right David - I'm reasonably optimistic that my hydration & nutrition strategy on Monday may have influenced what happened. Although not disastrous it wasn't optimal and because of the cumulative fatigue, the impact could have been magnified I guess. Already making plans to re-start Part 2 but need to get the ball rolling first with the outstanding tests. Hope you're enjoying your holiday!

  2. Hi Steve, sorry to read about your retirement but health comes first as you said. You will be back in the saddle to complete the other 70 climbs or is it 71 ?....

    1. Thanks Paul - 29 down, 71 to go! The South West and Wales are now complete though and with the exception of Scotland are the most difficult sections logistically not to mention the amount of long climbs they contain. Not only are the majority of the rest much more grouped together but they're also of the shorter, sharper variety etc.

  3. Steve - really sorry to hear the news about the old ticker. Reading about all of the preparations you have made, I'm sure you are gutted but you made the right decision. Look forward to hearing about the other climbs when you're back up and riding

  4. Thanks Nathan - much appreciated.