As a child, I suffered badly through hay fever, which turned into asthma when I was around twelve years old. After an incident when I blacked out, I was prescribed two inhalers and told not to take part in school sports. I was not particularly good at team sports, so was happy to avoid the football, but I did miss the cross country running. I can’t remember how I discovered this, but I was able to cycle without difficulty. Eventually, I noticed that during exercise I had no hay fever or asthma symptoms. I was able to come off the medication and the following year, I joined the local bike club. As I grew older, my asthma never resurfaced, except for an tendency to persistent upper respiratory tract infections; although this only occured at times when I had allowed my fitness levels to fall.
By 1990, I was cycling thousands of miles per year, as well as making regular visits to the gym, swimming, playing squash and running. I was extremely fit and healthy, eating well and totally alcohol-free. Several times a week, I used to run six miles or longer and completed a couple of half marathons.
At the time, I was working for a company who were exploiting a new business opportunity in Ireland. They had made a decision to sponsor the following year’s Dublin marathon. One of the directors was a reasonable runner and offered several of us the chance to run the marathon as a works team. I was very enthusiastic and started to gradually increase my running in preparation. All was good for a month or so, my mileage was steadily increasing, as was my average speed.
Eventually, I started to feel a little pain in my knee. I eased off the exercise a little, but the pain was getting worse. I took a few days break, but the pain was still increasing, so I made a doctor’s appointment. The doctor asked me if I took regular exercise and how much over the last week. He seemed shocked at my answer: three days in the gym, 150 miles cycling, 24 miles jogging, 64 lengths of the local pool and two games of squash. “And you’re surprised you’re having problems?”, he responded. His advice was to stop exercising entirely and take a few Ibuprofen, which seemed to make sense.
Unfortunately, this put me into a downward spiral of discomfort and pain and I ended up back at the surgery three weeks later. Luckily, this time I saw a locum with a specific interest in sports injuries. He considered that my sudden increase in running and reduction in cycling had allowed my quadriceps to atrophy resulting in my kneecap wobbling in its guide and causing inflammation. His recommendation was that I go back to the gym and concentrate on leg extensions and also return to cycling. This was surprisingly successful and had me back to normal within a fortnight. I never jogged again.
Ten years later, I was at the Glastonbury festival. I was kneeling in the tent cooking some food. A few hours later, I had incredible pain in my left knee which felt the same as my previous exercise induced problems. Luckily, I recovered from this the next day. Over the last fifteen years, I have had just a few mild instances of this, always connected to kneeling, but nothing that has caused problems over an extended period of time.
In November, we had a lot of carpet replaced; two flights of stairs, a landing, three bedrooms and an office. Prior to fitting, I had to remove all the old carpets and accessories. This took a long time and involved a lot of kneeling. The recovery then took a long time and involved a lot of paracetamol; ibuprofen would have been better, but I have since discovered it is not safe for those with arrhythmia. I have also had a light but persistent productive cough, which I think is related to the relatively light level of exercise I have had since November. My Garmin account has certainly noticed and informed me of a drop in my VO2 max. I am now actively exercising while still being wary of the roads.
Overall, I seem to be in a position of dependency; if I stop cycling, I will develop knee problems and asthma. This is not a problem at this stage of my life, if anything it is a good excuse to get out on rides. I am concerned about what will happen as I age; if something happens to prevent me exercising, will I fall into a spiral of pain, asthmatic and unable to walk?