Sunday, 12 February 2017

Life (un)limiting conditions

This is not a blog which will head of into new age clap trap, nor is it one that will say that all change come from within.  This is one of those blogs inspired by a conversation with a younger person with a dicky ticker, and yes they're happy with me to post it... Its a conversation that we've had over a couple of years.

It starts with a simple statement - I am a dinosaur.

My surgery was in the first 300 of its type at Great Ormond Street.

It was done 41 years ago - the machinery used to keep me alive during that surgery is quite literally in a museum. If you walk into the Science Museum in London, walk into the gallery of scientific progress, (its a right turn after the entrance), you'll get to a big hall and on the right there's a heart bypass machine from the late 60's... It looks like a piece of industrial kitchen equipment.  Nothing is digital, nothing seems to be automated.  In short it looks crude.

That's because it was.  That's not a criticism, its a statement of scientific progress - the surgery I had was based on echoes, catheters, x-rays and guess work.  MRI scans weren't patented until 1977, real time MRI scanning of the heart - mid 80's.  3-D printing a heart so a surgeon can handle it - last couple of years.

Throw in the advances in medication, the changing attitudes to exercise, the better care all round the developed view that we're not fixed and we need life long care and the rationale for crude, is I hope apparent.

So, where is this going?  This isn't a a woe-is-me post.  I'm too old and grumpy for that.  Its an attempt to show that the youngsters and children of today shouldn't be limited by what they see my generation of dicky ticker people able to do or not to do.  And that rolls down the generations, those who are 35 aren't the same as those who are 25, and 15 and 5 and not yet born.

If you younger dicky-ticker people can be bothered to look at us, look at us as we look at things in museums, things to wonder how they kept going, occasionally admired because they still work, but never, ever to be limited by.

If you, as a younger model want to test your limits then ask what's safe, ask what's the issue is - the most powerful word in the vocabulary is "Why?" Especially when paired with "not".   I know the answer to some things - for me, as a dinosaur - so I adapt and find other ways of having fun (indoor skydiving), but I only know because I've asked.

So, when my young friend asked me how do I live with a  life limiting condition, I asked them what they meant.

Life is to be lived, no-one, not one single person on the planet can do everything they want to do.  As a dinosaur I know that asteroids hit, I've seen too many take out too many friends.  I chose to view my life as opportunity, as a life to be lived - with its scars, tablets, tears and laughs, hugs, kisses and experiences.  I am sensible and don't go, too far, beyond the boundaries I set with the help of my medical team.

As a wise person once said sometimes - you must unlearn what you have learned (thank you Master Yoda) - which in this case means define your own limits, find your own adaptations and leave the dinosaurs to their own... They may by some fluke be the same, but they are likely to be different...

Which is enough should searching - Mad Dog 10 K - my nose still isn't fully functional, and I pretty much didn't run from the half marathon to the 10K - funnily enough I was slow... 10min slower than last year. Still loved it though, the route is an old favourite, the bands excellent (Elvis is getting worse, and he wasn't good, but he is a feature) and the goody bag was beyond compare - t-shirt, medal, buff, sports towel - and a decent rucksack to keep them in!

Happy Congenital Heart Disease Awareness month!



Sunday, 15 January 2017

Battling Back... and being stupid

There's many ways to start a training campaign... There's plenty of advice on how to start... There's the apps that will take you from couch to 5k.

Or you can end up not running for the best part of two months, and not running consistently for six and decide to kick things off with a trail half marathon.


There are is a mild arrogance amongst a few of my friends, and indeed myself, who know deep down that on the day, with a medal at end, that we can strap on the shoes and churn it out.  We've lost count of the runs we've done of the years.  Our medal collection has reached the point where we only keep the ones that mean something; the ultras, the marathons, the firsts and ones that just caught on our souls.

These runs with nothing behind them aren't, normally, the miracle runs you read about in the magazines - the ones where someone whose never run before runs an 80 minute half marathon.  These are long, slow and gentle.  The sort of runs that you run because... just because... and although the smile may slip into a grimace more often that it should you are smiling.  Your body doesn't respond quite as it does when trained properly, your legs don't rotate as quickly as they should.  But the body does respond and the legs do rotate... and you do smile.

13.1 is a long way, and as a shock to the system its worked.  The shock is threefold; I'm a lot slower than I can be, I can still bang out a half marathon and most importantly it didn't hurt... well didn't hurt too much.

The timeline is well known to me now - the initial shock passes, the runs become more frequent, I start getting bored with the walk breaks and will start running through.  The legs will start to rotate faster and slowly, oh so slowly I will move from being a plodder to a runner... and I will transition to a training plan, and the strength will start coming back and at the end of May I'll add another one of those marathon medals to the collection.

That's the plan, and if I can plod 13.1 along the Wirral Way then there's no reason why it won't happen.  Injuries will happen, illness will happen and no plan survives first contact with real life.  But I'm coming back...




Monday, 2 January 2017

The 2016 Medal Haul

I've said before that I'm a medal whore... show me something shiny and I'm there... Not for me the Gold, Silver or Bronze of the Paralympics, or Olympics, but something more tangible.

Headstones (from beating the reaper), Rudolph's from Santa Dashes, representations of Mad Dogs, Countries, Romulan WarBirds, drum kits, the Liver Buildings and not forgetting Sefton Park and Scousers!

In piles, its shows five x 5ks, one 8kish, six x 10k, two x Half Marathons and one Marathon... And then the bonus medals - two guitars with spinning plectrums, a juke box, a pair of headphones and a giant globe (if you too like medals check out Rock and Roll runs - always well organised and bonus medals galore for the dedicated whore).

The medals are tangible, solid memories of the firsts - first fancy dress race, first overseas race, first virtual run, and my first 10k under an hour.  They clank as a reminder of what I have done and hint at what I will do in 2017.

Something's are set for 2017, the Liverpool Rock and Roll, the Sefton 5 & 10k, the Mad Dog, The GNR, and next weekend the Wirral Way Half Marathon - a new race, its first running and me barely keeping the dust off my trainers.  My only "advantage"... Many years ago when unsure if I could survive running a marathon, I did the Wirral Way as a there and back... With a few added miles it was my first marathon.  No medal, no t-shirt, just a memory as strong as a medal induced first.

Yes I need a longer arm on my sofa!

So, I hope 2017 is great and look forward to seeing some of you on the hunt for medals!



Thursday, 3 November 2016


I’m not a runner who runs everyday or every week, I move in and out of desiring the feeling that running gives me… That desire can be generated, when I am facing a run or a distance that genuinely scares me – a marathon will do that.

Or it comes back naturally, softly insinuating itself in the back of my head.  I catch myself wondering how to take my kit on a work trip, wondering where my Garmin is and whether its charged.  I start thinking about what I’m eating, not changing much, but just thinking…

It must be infuriating to watch, as I seemingly go into running hibernation, still turning out for runs and not doing horrendously – nowhere as good as I should be, nowhere as good as I had been six months earlier.

Which brings me to my first race of 2017 – an mixed terrain half marathon along the Wirral Way – I printed the plan, and I followed it for a week and then I didn’t.  The desire wasn’t there… So plan B is going to kick in, I know I can run halfs with little or no training – not fast and not prettily – but I start and I finish.  As its mixed terrain, but flat, the target will be to try and complete it in the same time as the GNR or Dublin – c2:45.   My training is going to be rather specific – I’m going to walk/run the route… Not sure how many times, but it shall be done in a way that I’ll enjoy – so expect the night running tracks from endomondo, the weird times and odd photos will kick in soon.

If the desire comes back then that will be great, and I can feel the tingling, the itch is beginning to come back. For now I’m going to keep getting my steps in, if the average person only gets 7000 steps a day then I’m double the average as minimum – my fitbit is set that I don’t get the gamification reward until 14,000 steps (about 10k) each and every day.

It some ways it would be nice if I had one of those personalities that meant I could keep steady on things like running, but I know I’m a neophyte about a lot of things so “starting again” as some of my friends call this is what I need to do.

Now, where is my garmin???



Monday, 17 October 2016

Fat and Flabby

Elite athletes have a concept known as periodisation - they organise their training around key events; there's the four year cycle of the Olympics, the Worlds, the Diamond League and so and so forth... They will plan their lives, marriages, children around these cycles.

I'm not an elite athlete, I'm not genetically predisposed to that, nor do I have the single minded determination to make that.

What I am is someone who can train hard for a focused period of time, push myself in that time slot and then get distracted afterwards and do other stuff...

So, after the Dublin Rock and Roll Half, and if I'm honest with myself since the Liverpool Rock and Roll Marathon I've been closer to competing in an eating competition than bothering any of my PBs, the desire to get out there and run has been minimal and the weight has come back - I'm back to my pre-marathon training weight and feel it (uncomfortably in some trousers).

But I've not been inactive -  I cycled the Leeds-Liverpool Canal... Well, I cycled half in one day (65 miles) and then 9 miles into day two I had the choice between landing on my knee, going into the canal or squashing a dog...

The knee lost... Which may sound like a daft option, but it wasn't the dogs fault...

However, I had done 65 miles in one day on a bike that folds in the middle:-)

The Great North Run was its usual packed insanity, 13.1 miles of festival... Just for once it would be nice if it was a cool run.  The objective, on the back for 5 training runs was to run it faster than Dublin... Which I did, by 8 minutes so I was happy.

The Reaper was beaten, a 10k... 1:13 is slow, but it was a course best - last year I'd been 48s slower...

And that's what gives me heart - last year I ran the Reaper Race in 1:13... and through that focused dedication ended up smashing my 5k & 10k PBs.  Yes I could wallow in the fact I ran a 10k 16min faster in May - but that was on the back of near miraculous training - destroying training PBs at every distance up to 18 miles and a race in perfect conditions (wet, cold and a little breeze).   Marathon's are tough, and in the heat of the late MAY Bank Holiday its no surprise that it took a lot out of me, and that was psychological as well as physical.  Any normal person would've stopped running a long time before me on that day...

So where am I - I'm where I was this time last year.  But with more confidence of what my body can take, and how to push it.

I'm also on new adventures - my pedalling jiminy cricket also covers one of my long standing issues - why can't I swim.  So to the pool I have been, a nice 95cm deep training pool.  This is not my natural environment, but the drills have started, the glides, the breathing exercises... And drills I understanding, they're the equivalent of one foot in front of the other.

It's not going to be a simple or easy process, I have an uncanny ability to head in the wrong direction, normally down and will be trying to swim before I can float...

And as normal when I'm not running a lot I'm not good at keeping this blog up to date... I have no idea why there is a connection between the two - so, the other bits and bobs - I have the BA to go with the BSc (Hons) and I'll be working up to the BA (Hons) this year.  It does give me a ridiculous set of letters after my name:

Mr P M Willgoss MBE BSc (Hons) BA Open (Open) PGDip

I might limit myself to three of them there letters...

I also appeared on stage with Marcus du Sautoy, well he was on stage I was a lemming, playing musical lemmings... When the video is up I'll share (that was the day job!), enjoyed another trip to the Fringe, saw the history of England on a rainy hill in Northumberland, walked the 100 steps in Whitby, and started that last course for the Hons bit of my BA - Languages and Culture... I don't think it'll teach me why I can't learn languages, but I'm happy to learn new stuff...

Behind the scenes the dicky-ticker work continues, pushing the NHS to make the service we get to be world class wherever in the UK we are - I'm not in the business of being popular, I'm in the business of making sure people do what they said.

So, where do I go from here??

January 8th - a half marathon along the Wirral Way... I don't know if my head and my body are ready for a heavy training plan, but if I'm going to do it, without it hurting too much I need to do something...

So reader, I promise there will be more blogs, and I promise that there will be more miles.  There should also be less food of the unhealthy kind... That I can't promise!



Thursday, 11 August 2016

An international adventure…

Running in foreign lands holds a mystique, and for this dicky ticker runner a few problems – across continental Europe some race organisers ask for ECGs, others for positive approval from medics for undertaking an event.

Whilst I’m sure I could get a copy of my ECG, I’m not sure it would help much – let's face it there’s plenty of general cardiologists who wouldn’t get my ECG and what it meant, let along alone if it's was flaky.  The positive approval thing is an interesting one, I’m encouraged to exercise – indeed welcomed as a shining light (on the exercise if not the volumes of food I consume, but as I’ve often said I’m no saint and definitely no angel).  However, in an increasingly litigatoius age would any cardiologist risk saying I’m positively fine to pound the streets for a number of hours???

Which made the choice of international run easy – I needed somewhere that didn’t ask for ECGs, and a run organiser I trusted to have the right support in place.  Roll up Rock n Roll Dublin.   The added advantage was if anything bad did happen I’m fairly sure one of my old cardiologists is based in Dublin.  Yes, I know this is all ridiculous, I’m an ultra runner who defies convention… But in the small hours planning these adventures these things play on your mind…

The added bonus – being another Rock n Roll run, my descent into being a medal whore was facilitated to its highest level.  Like Liverpool in May there was a medal for the 5k, a medal for the long one – a half in this case – a remix medal for doing both and then… And then… A world rocker medal for doing runs in more than one country…

The runs themselves I’d prefer to forget – hilly, hot, humid, slow… But the main things is I did them, finished them and will smile each time I look at the medal which means I’m an international runner:-)

And now the hard work begins - I've just over a month to get myself in better shape for the GNR... Then a Scouse Run... Hmmm... More medals;-)



Tuesday, 26 July 2016


I suppose it had to happen... A near perfect marathon training period, only marred by the heat of the run itself.  A cracking month of learning to ride a bike again and then doing my first big bike ride... And then I should have switched back to running... and I did for a whole week...

The plan was to start building the hills in for the Ultra in mid-Aug.. So off to the Peak District I went, a merry walk to the youth hostel from Edale station - some of my favourite miles in the world...

However. somewhere along the way I jarred or twisted my knee... and spent a painful 2km walking down the backside of Losehill...

Now an injury should be a massive bruise, a whole body scrape or something which is spurting blood... Mine is a dull ache, an awareness of something not quite right, a pressure that nags at me when I'm walking.

RICE has been engaged, as has ibuprofen internally and externally and a week and a bit later its still there, a pressure on the inside of my right knee that niggles, makes me narky, and really means I don't feel like chancing  a run on it.

And so its strapped, and I'm being sensible - no runs, no bike rides, bend and stretch, keep the strap on... try not to eat too much.

It might take a few days to get better, or it might take weeks... If the former, then Dublin for the rock & roll half will be my first long run before the Ultra.  If the latter its will be my test to see if its worth starting the Ultra - if I can't get through a Half marathon without minimal pain then I've no place on the start line of a 30 mile ultra ...

Yup, that's an injury!



Monday, 18 July 2016


Hello Reader,

it's been a while - sorry, it's been busy...

So the highlights for those who go TL/DR (too long, didn't read)... I've cycled a fair way, started to pick up the running again, walked my favourite 5km and managed to twist my knee a bit... Oh, and I've added some more letters to my name.

Last, first - The OU is weird, OK, I'm coming from a bricks and mortar Uni background - but the idea of giving a degree then allowing people to do a bit more and get an honours is a tad... Well... Odd to me.  So with another 80% I've passed my Renaissance Art History, which in OU terms is a 2:1 (another oddity, in brick uni world 70%+ is a first)... However, when I started my OU journey I said I was doing it for fun and interest, and my choice in modules would be driven by interest and my approach would be to have fun with the issues - rather than playing the game... On that basis I'm astounded by my scores, and impressed with my application.  In the last few years I have roamed the arts and humanities like a lost soul hunting solace - or in my case knowledge - from the destruction of World Heritage sites in Afghanistan, through the Braque/Picasso dialogues in pictorial form, onto how planning legislation can impact on multiculturalism and this year knowing I can write 4500 words on something most would not look twice at, but I fell in love with 20-odd years ago when I first saw it...

I'll add my own pic in a bit - linky to an official one....

So, next I wander off to language and culture - for fun, and interest, I'm useless at languages, as my German, Finnish, Swiss-American naturalised Canadian, married to a Norwegian friends, will testify having mangled their languages for many a year.  However, this is a course I just need to pass to convert from a BA to a BA (Hons), and I'm interested in seeing if there's anything that gives me a clue as to my inability to do languages.  So we will see, starting in September.

That's the brain cells, now the body.  The usual post-Marathon fatigue set in, tempered by a challenge set by a friend, who may just be madder than I am.  She knew I had a new bike, and was determined to get me to use it... So "suggested" that I should do the Liverpool-Chester bike ride... No worries, I thought I used to do that... "And back" she added... That's 52 miles, on a bike that folds in the middle... Good job I bought a decent bike that folds in the middle!

To the amusement, well they were smiling, of my friends at work, my discussions about running gear mutated into discussions about padded shorts, saddles, panniers... And I trained, well instead of long runs I did long rides... 30km, 50km, 75km and then 80km... The Liverpool-Chester-Liverpool bike ride is fun, for a re-learner like me a good starting point, though I wish I'd learnt my gears more.  The sheer terror of going down the tunnel, the grind of coming out... The madness of other riders (if you've got a light bike, you don't want to stop in front of me - indestructible bike mets carbon fibre, could be expensive - for you!).  The hills were interesting, but with Jimminy Cricket on my shoulder (she disliked that nickname in minutes;-)) shouting instructions at me, and yelling "pedal pedal pedal" I didn't stop on a hill, in fact - one pit stop at half way for the loo and a mini-stop to stretch my toes out were the only stops in 80km, on a hot day...

Liverpool - Chester & Back...

Since then I've bought more gear (it's me, what did you expect) - spd pedals (with flats on one side), and shoes, and practiced my gears.  Will I ever be a proper cyclist?  That's a bit like being a proper runner - I cycle therefore I am.  My plan always was to use the bike as a bit of a tourer... And doing 80km in under 5h is better than I'd planned to do - so the books have been ordered for my late summer couple of days in the saddle, and the training continues - 22 miles in an evening, along a Sustrans trail, that sort of thing:-)

Which is being combined with the running - I have a half in three weeks and an ultra in five.  A couple of runs have shown that I've not lost all of my fitness, but have added some poundage - so the plan is to build up to 10 miles before Dublin (my first international race), and to try and get some hills in for the ultra.  The latter is dependent on my knee settling down - no idea why it started aching after five miles along the Great Ridge yesterday, but it's painful to walk down stairs this morning - so ibuprofen gels, ice wherever I can get it and take it easy for a couple of days.

So, the Renaissance is both over in terms of studies (well for now) and starting (in terms of cycling).



Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The Marathon

This is going to be a race review and a rant... I should apologise for the rant, but it happens almost every run I go on, and I'm grumpy about it...

The Rock and Roll Marathon was hot; 20 degrees of heat, 26.2 miles with the added fun of the humidity of a couple of parks.

The first half was a dream, I deliberately (because of the heat), ran well within myself, sticking to the 5:15 pacer like glue up out of town, around Goodison and Anfield and up the terror of St Domingo's.  Coming down back into town I had to allow my legs to run themselves, to run slower than felt comfortable would've have been harder and more likely to get me tripping over myself than the risks of being over exuberant. However, one eye was on the Garmin and I was still clocking 30s a KM slower than normal on the downhill, the flat was fine and took in the front, a couple of awesome bands and the Chinese Arch (complete with Chinese drumming group) and the second really nasty climb up Upper Parliament Street was fine - apparently I was sweating rather a lot, but that's to be expected.

Princes Road, and I was chugging along, still slower than training pace, but still well ahead of PB territory, a quick shimmy into Princes Park, and the humidity started to have an effect, I slowed a little more... Still on target, but beginning to feel it.

Through Princes Park, and the unpleasant little hill of Ullet Road, and the wheels started coming off...  Instead of slowing a bit, I walked a bit... and then Sefton Park happened... I tried structuring the walking into 200m blocks, followed by 800m run... which lasted all of four miles... because at mile 20, on Penny Lane, I was reduced to walking.

Six miles of walking... with a sprint finish...

As ever the Rock and Roll organisers and volunteers deserve medals for their efforts.  Every water station was well stocked, every fuel station well stocked - but even with taking on 4l of fluid I stopped sweating, and I know at that point to slow and take it steady.

Which moves me on to my rant... I said, and texted, and post on social media the same simple message - Well I can train well, I can hydrate as much as I can but I can't beat the heat - 5:49:43... And I hurt!

Those runners out there commiserated with me, those who know me best told me not to beat myself up, because no one can beat the weather.  All congratulated me on finishing what is beyond most runners, and most wished me well on my next adventure... Which if they didn't know I had one planned, they had assumed there would be.

So, why am I grumpy... Because about 10 people, have asked variants of "you alright?", "was it too hard for you?" or in one really irritating case "Should you tell your cardiologist you had a bad run?".

Now I know these are all, I hope, coming from a place of caring about me... But this is a marathon... I've done more than a few of them, I am as I often say tongue in cheek, but now in deadly earnest - I am a recreational endurance athlete.  I'm one of those people who enjoys pushing his body beyond what most people would consider normal.  I'm jealous of friends who spent the weekend doing a 145 mile ultra marathon, because I know its beyond me.  Some will be shaking their head at that, and considering me mad - but its true.  A normal day for me has a minimum of 14,000 steps (as counted by my fitbit), that's roughly 10k of walking in a day.  My baseline, e.g. walking to work, pottering around the office and back is about 4k... so it's 5 miles extra walking a day.  My average for the year, so far, 19,300 (give or take a bit of rounding).

So, think of the questions from my perspective - I avoid being the inspirational disabled person in the inspiration porn context as much as possible, if people are inspired by me to get up and do something then great. But I have never done a race, a run, or any of my other activities with the first thought of "if I do this, then I'll be inspirational".  I do events because I want to, because they challenge me and give me some headroom with what I can eat.  And above all other things because they are fun, and I enjoy them!

So, what do the questions focused on my health relay to me - they bring back all of the crap I've had to deal with in my own head.  Am I alright to do this, I know I am - I've been tested every way that the best in science can do, and more, more than that I know my body.  I've not run because I've felt crap, had colds etc.  I've pulled out of challenges with injuries and often get asked advice by others on how to do things... or not do things.

So, am I alright? Yes - I ache, I've done a marathon, if I didn't I'd be more worried.  Was it too hard for me? No - I've done harder, further and hotter.  Should I tell my cardiologist I had a bad run - Yes, he will know I ran a marathon, and it was hot, and he will, probably, ask for a photo of him beside me wearing my medals...

So, think on this if its inspiration porn to eulogise on a disabled person doing normal stuff, what is it when you focus on the health of a disabled person doing, what they think of as, normal stuff?  I can't think of a term, but there should be one...

So, I ran a marathon.  It was hot.  I ache.  I'll run another one in a bit.