Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The night before a check-up

So, the tests are done...

The 24h ECG - with as ever the surprised look when I hand it back an explain its been for a climb, a walk, a chilli based dinner... oh and a 5 mile run.

The MRI - with the need to raise the issue of treating patients like humans

The Exercise test - 8 days after a half marathon, apparently I'm as fit as someone my age and weight should be...

and its the night before the chat about how its gone and what the pictures of the inside of my heart say.  What I do know is I'm climbing well and back to running three times a week, so there's little externally up with me, which makes the night before more fun and confusing than ever.

A running friend recently asked me what the night before a check up is like - and I thought and said its like a taper.  The taper is period of time between the last training run and the race you've trained for months for. Runners during this period have every niggle, every ache and pain that you fear will mean that you'll under perform on race day or worse miss it all together. 

But its a taper compressed into an evening, the slight twist from the cruciform move on a new traverse at the climbing house - is that a dickey ticker symptom?  The heaviness in the legs - a product of a 90 mile (total walking and running) week - or another symptom.  And so it goes on... the indigestion, the headache...

And so I revert to what I do when I'm in the taper, eat well, try and relax and fondle the race bling from the last year.  Remember what I've done and where I am and that's where its possibly going to be an interesting discussion if they want to do much more than care and maintenance....

That's not me going into denial, its me being pragmatic - four weeks ago with minimal training I ran a half marathon, slowly but I ran the vast majority of it.  My climbing is getting back to where it should be, my vexed moves of compression and pinches still are vexatious but I'm climbing 6a's again.

And so I plan my day off...

Up, run 5 km... Go for breakfast, then read a bit, head to the hospital, wait around, probably wait a bit more, see what the cardiologist says, go and find some new running shoes, have lunch and relax...

Nice and easy when you write it quickly



Saturday, 28 March 2015

Something about work and something about gear

I don't often blog about my day job, mainly because I suspect its rather boring.  However, every so often I'm involved in something I think may be more interesting, or I'm particularly product of.

One of those things was launched this week, the Civil Service's Talent Action Plan.  As some of you know I'm the Vice-Chair of the Civil Service Disability Network and Chair HSE's own network (known as Equal). These roles are ones that I fit in with the day job, which as some of you are probably thinking "What does he do?" is being a Senior Scientific Officer in the Corporate Science Unit of HSE, leading on Knowledge Management and Futures/Horizon Scanning and liaison with the Government Office for Science (told you it was less than riveting).

Behind the scenes over the last six months the CSDN, and our sister networks on other protected characteristics, have been working with Cabinet Office to try and turn a loose concept into something that can work for all civil servants. 

Which is the point some wag would normally point out "what about the white, male able-bodied?" and someone else would say "I just want to do my job, what's this got to do with me?"

To which my answer is a simple one, the Talent Action Plan does contain elements to support the progression and development of under-represented groups though it should be emphasised that there's no golden tickets for people to progress, anyone on a scheme will still have to pass panels etc.

However, the majority of the Talent Action Plan is about making the Civil Service a better and fairer place to work, for everyone.  It's about championing what makes us so good at what we do, the difference perspectives and ways of working that we bring to help us do what we're meant to do.

If anyone thinks I've swallowed a happy pill, don't worry the cynical Rottweiler hasn't been patted on the head, given a Scooby snack and is now curled up in his den.... The Civil Service have said a lot of this before, but they've not given the networks as much input into the developments nor have they given the permission to challenge so explicitly.  As they put it we have to :

The official lunch stuff is here:

So, that's the next couple of years taken care of then....

On to gear...

I have a new Fitbit!!  After two years with my beloved Fitbit One the battery was beginning to drain very quickly so it was time for a refresh. 

The Fitbit range has expanded a lot since I first got my One, and I spent a fair amount of time agonising over the pros and cons of each device, reading reviews and laughing as they obviously didn't understand Fitbit's eco-system or the brain of a runner.

So, I went all in and got the top of the range Surge, the self styled "SuperWatch".  The short version of the features lists is: pedometer, altimeter, constant HR monitoring, and GPS functions.

The pedometer and altimeter give you the classic Fitbit steps taken and floors climbed figures.  The HR is based on light beaming into your skin from the back of the watch so isn't ECG accurate (though to be honest with the amount of scar tissue I have the Garmin wasn't brilliant) but is close (based on a couple of carotid artery measurements at various levels of activity).  I feel duty bound to say I didn't get the HR thingy because of the dickey ticker, but because I'm a data nerd.  The GPS unit is fairly good, I've had faster and slower lock on to the satellites by my other GPS's and the accuracy is as good as many others.

And it all works together, it seamlessly has taken over my old Fitbit account, it links into Boints (free money for exercising - including in the form of vouchers for food!), the runs appear in my Fitbit dashboard and give quite a lot of information.

The "smart" features also work - I can link it to my phone when I'm too lazy to control music playing (I don't run with headphones on, so this is mainly for when I'm in the gym on my wireless headset).  The call notification etc I really don't see the point of, if I'm running I'll pick the call up later.

Are there bits I don't like... Not many, but two worth mentioning - first up, battery life.  GPS is a power hog, and Fitbit reckons you'll get five hours out of the watch in GPS mode.  My marathon PB is just over five and a half hours.  Will it stretch?  I don't know, but I do know I won't risk it, so will pack the Garmin for long runs.   Data downloads, will someone (Fitbit or Garmin) get it sorted so one will upload to the others platform? They even save to the same format, they just don't talk to each other!

Are there extra bits - the silent alarms, the automatic detection of sleep, the food diary built into the app are all being used and used well.

Overall, its £200 that after a month I'm very happy with spending, and Fitbit have themselves a huge fan.

Other than that I seem to be running again,

Trot in London

From Lab to Station

The important thing about these runs is that they were on days when I was away from home, and the easiest thing would have been not to run... The mojo is back, the fitness is coming back (slowly) and the run into the Liverpool Rock and Roll half and all the fun of that has begun:-)

So, time to go... The rain is hammering down, I've a new camera to play with, and the fun of a night run around the local National Trust Tudor House - Speke Hall :-)




Sunday, 15 March 2015

Dress for Exercise

Tomorrow, Monday, I get to do something new... an exercise test.

I wish I could tell you if I was walking, cycling or walking... But no one has told me.  All the information I have is that I should "Dress for exercise".

As I look at my boxes of technical gear I'm left in a bit of a quandary, do I go minimalist and turn up in skimpy shorts and a running vest. Or generic and a pair of tracksters and a technical top from one of my long runs. Or take the piss and turn up with full on winter walking gear, with a confidence rope over my shoulder and crampons and ice axe...

Why am I thinking of taking the piss?  I've campaigned too long and too hard for decent, patient orientated services for any of us to get a letter saying "dress for exercise".  If I could swim, I'd turn up in a wetsuit and snorkel.

Am I making too much of this, I don't think so - I have been asking for more information about this test since October.  I've checked the hospital website for some more information, there's not even a basic patient information leaflet.

I'm fortunate, if they stick me on an exercise bike I've trained enough on them not to be phased. If I'm on a treadmill and I'm running or walking then I've been there and done that.  Cross trainers and steppers the same.  However, I know I'm fortunate and would be worried for someone whose never used a bit of gym equipment before confronting this - the equipment can look, sound and feel uncomfortable on its own, and that's before they strap an o2/co2 exchange monitor on your face and stick ecg cables on your chest.

And as with my blog from earlier in the week, this isn't about complaining it about getting a good service and trying to ensure others get a better one. 

As for the results, well we'll see - but it does feel odd that I'm doing this and running...

As for what I'm going to wear - I'll be going climbing straight after so the generic approach will be taken; with a harness, chalk bag and carabineers - which I may jangle to make a point 

An irritated TTFN


Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Hello my name is...

There's a very good campaign going on the in NHS at the moment, reminding our healthcare professionals of the importance of introducing themselves, and how this can help patients to feel less intimidated by the surroundings they find themselves in.  The campaign homepage is here:

Knowing about the campaign and the positive impact it had I was surprised when a recent MRI didn't include the introductions, either in the formula of "Hello my name is" or any variant. Which is where being a stroppy soul kicked in, whilst its a nicety for me, for others it can make a real difference.  So I emailed the patient services team, and very quickly got emailed back by the head of radiology.  At no point did I say this was a complaint, it genuinely is feedback on how they could provide a better service.  A couple of emails latter, and a telephone chat, I know the team has been reminded of the importance of these little things.  I've also been asked to send in a patient journey to act as a case study for them to use. Which I've copied below - noisy my usual blog-fare but hopefully an insight for those who've not had an MRI.

And its also a plea, the current crop of managers in the NHS do seem to get the need for treating patients as people, as don't berate, educate.  Unless it is truly poor, then berate as much as you need to..



The Patient Journey – MRI

I’m an expert patient, I’m a peer-group advocate, and I’m a confident mid-career professional. In some parts of the interweb I’m loved, in others I’m hated. I’ve been recognised for my efforts with an MBE, and I get the most “reward” out of my role as an expert patient by working behind the scenes on expert groups trying to set standards and guidelines to improve my impairment group’s care.

So, why does it matter to me that a team in my local hospital didn’t introduce themselves.

The MRI is the most lonely of tests, the echo you can have a chat with the person grinding the probe into your chest to get a good angle, the ECG it’s the usual joke about a hairy chest, the 24h ECG is the bemused conversation about is it ok to go for a run/climb/walk wearing it.

The MRI there is none of that. It’s you in a tube.

The pre-scan process is almost designed to make you vulnerable, you give your name to a stranger, another stranger calls your name and tells you to strip to your underwear and put on a gown flappy bit forward, and sit in a small room and wait. However confident you are that wait in your underwear is an age. Then the nameless stranger comes and you places all of the material goods that identify you as you in a locker and you enter a room that looks like the cross between a Bond villain’s toy of choice and a torpedo launcher.

The analogy with the Bond villain continues as you’re wired up – experience tells me what some of the attachments are for, but nothing else.  I’m then Velcro strapped to the deck, a large plate holding me down.  My legs are elevated, again I think this is to help me to be comfortable, but I’m not sure.

There’s a brief discussion about whether you can have some music to distract you, I’ve been here before, 40 minutes of breathing in, breathing out, and hold… any distraction is good, even indi-pop.

I’m slid in, and the process starts, the clunks, the inability to scratch the itch, the slight crick in your back… Then after minutes the deck slides you out again,  The machine needs resetting, something has gone wrong.  There’s surprise from my radiology team as I ask if I can sit up, and stretch my back out.

And so we start again, this time there’s no music, just the whirrs and clunks, the mechanical woman’s voice is getting irritating, the time between breathing out and holding seems to be getting shorter – I’m also a runner so have a reasonable lung capacity – and I’m trying to hold on a ¾ breath.

Time stops, the itches multiple, you try not to move as you know that will mean a repeat and more time in this damn tube.  For those with an interest in class eco-SciFi, this is my Gom Gabbar , the test of a humans ability to defeat their own instincts for the good (Dune is a classic, please read it!).

I lose count of the breathe in, breathe out, and hold cycles. My thoughts turn to fears, have they found something they want a closer look at, they get less rational – have they gone for lunch and are leaving me here as a prank.

And still I want to scratch my nose, my knee, my chest…

And then it is over.

I’m slid out, un-strapped, taken to my locker and given my clothes back. I ask if I can see the pictures, some evidence of what’s been done, and am told no the consultant will talk me through them.  This misses the point, these are photos of my heart, a heart that been operated on when I was kid and who keeps going through multi-day hike, marathons and all of the other adventures I’ve had. I also have access to a 3D printer, and I’m sure I’d be able to get an interesting paperweight made up!

That afternoon though it was back to work, straight into the final meeting before delivering a workshop for 30 colleagues, the confidence had to come back quickly.

Would someone telling me their name help? Yes. It’s a professional courtesy that would allow me to ask the questions about what’s going on, would give me a smidgeon of confidence back, allow me to think of myself of a person rather than a slab of meat in machine.

Paul Willgoss MBE BSc PgDip

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

? + ? = 26.2

I need structure... I need something that scares me just enough...

Half marathons are fun, enjoyable romps around cities...

Ultras are fun, in that gruelling, terrifying way that makes me laugh in that slightly mad way...

And then there's the Fellsman, that glorious insane quest that looms large every year and this year is not going to happen.

So, I need some base training for Fellsman 2016.

I need to get back to knowing that I have to put one foot in front of another, putting the last couple of months behind me and smiling as I do it.  I need a plan to follow and to challenge me to getting up and out three times a week.

October is a long way off, but close enough to feel real. 

It fits in with what I've got coming up - the fun run on Sunday, the start getting myself back into some sort of shape for Liverpool Half, then the long summer of long runs, the GNR will be perfect for the last flourish before the taper.  The planned walks are the toughening up...

So, I head to Chester in October, 26.2 miles.



Sunday, 22 February 2015

Realism and Hope...

Well, I've withdrawn from the Fellsman - that glorious 60 miles of insanity that has driven me to some insane things the last couple of years.  I just know that given how crap my training for a half marathon has been, picking it up and adding in hills by the end of April just won't be enough to make me feel comfortable in pushing the envelope that far...

This is one of those times where I will not regret not doing something, partly because I know the pain I could cause myself, and more importantly taking on that course in less than 100% confidence that I can give it a good go is a risk not just to me but to the excellent (and volunteer) organisers and safety teams.  I never want to be the muppet who gets into trouble due to bravado and arrogance and ends up drawing a team off from someone who needs more help.

So, the dynamic duo of me and my walking mate will not be doing the hard work that weekend, but the thoughts are turning to training, some proper long walks and hopefully an injury and flu free year.

Which brings me to hope, a week of gentle walking in North Wales didn't bring on a relapse, a week in London with little time to run did involve some longish walks to blow the cobwebs away from my gently melting brain (two days on a course on horizon scanning and futures... anyone's mind would've melted). 

Long walks yesterday, followed by a proper run - a real live run, taking in one of Run England's new routes - all I will say is that in 13km I managed to get 170m of height gain in, not great height gain for one of my fell jogs but for an urban jog on tarmac as prep for the Cambridge Half???? (That's 8 miles, and 500ft, and for those who don't know the Cambridge Half has no hills, it has two small bridges).

I've had false dawns in this weird series of misadventures which seem to stretch back to the middle of last year... Let's hope that this is the real one, apart from anything else I should be getting my exercise test through shortly.



Saturday, 7 February 2015

Doing the Awareness thing & planning like a terrorist

It's the beginning of Heart Week, and it is glorious for those of us in this game for a long time to see the scars and the red tops and the t-shirt with "I survived heart surgery" on them.  So thank you, you've made an old cranky GUCH smile!

As ever there's been Facebook spats on the appropriateness of some of it, some preferring the good news story variant of life to the reality of a mix of great highs and lows. I can understand the former, but relate more to the latter - if life as a GUCH, or a kid with a dickey ticker, or the family of any of us with congenital heart defects was a good news story then none of us would put the time and effort in that we do to make the world a better place, not just for ourselves and our kids, but for all of them.

So, what am I doing?  I'm doing the stuff that often doesn't get seen in the see of scars and the red assault on the eyeballs of the nation - I'm talking quietly and with purpose, the quietness is because this is personal, the purpose is to raise awareness in people who may never have heard of us before... not overtly fundraising (I'll come to that) but just the trickle feed of what life is like.

A lot of the time these quiet conversations do end up with donations down the line, but if they don't then as long as when they meet another one of the dickey ticker club or a mum or dad they remember something of what I said, and acts with a little more concern, then my job is done.

Which brings me to my overt fundraising activities for the year, and planning like a terrorist... GCHQ & NSA will be reading this as I'm also going to say I don't plan like a suicide bomber... What's the difference?  I plan my exit and return home in great detail - often the last night and trip back is booked long before anything else.

So this year I'm going to undertake four multi day walks, one each in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  Simple logistics means I have to plan Scotland first, and tie it into my annual trip to the Fringe.  So the last night and the flights back to Manchester are booked.  I have 6 days to walk the Speyside Way and get to Aberdeen. 

Wales, could be a chunk of the stunning coastal path. I'm going to have a look this week:-)

Northern Ireland I'm not sure if its going to be my loved North Antrim Coast or something around the Mournes.

England, the plan was always to do St Cuthbert's Way after the Great North Run - why, because I've always liked the name, and I've always wanted to go to Holy Island (not because I'm religious, just cos it looks insane).

There will be other walks and challenges in the year, starting tomorrow with the Mad Dog 10k - the challenge being I've not run a lot in 3 months.  So I will be slow, but stubborn and proudly wearing my CHF top in the face of an inevitable gale! And yes I know how I'm getting home... its that planning thing ;-)



Saturday, 24 January 2015

Well that was the flu...

So, in the seven weeks since I walked up Skiddaw I've jogged one five KM and walked a bit in the Peak District.

My least active day barely crept over 1000 steps.  That was for a loaf of bread and a tin of beans.

Before the anti-vaccination people start up, the flu jab is never going to be 100% effective the bastard thing mutates far too quickly for that.   If that was the one time its got through in the decade I've had the jab, then great, I escaped relatively lightly and although I did see the doctor (my fear is a chest infection), I was ill and it's taken a couple of weeks for me to feel like me. Ok that wasn't helped by going back into work after a week and walking into rather a lot of urgent stuff... but hey ho.

I've emails to answer, calls to return and worryingly not long until I'd hoped to be in tip top racing condition. 

Trust me I'm not.

I'm a stone and a bit heavier than I prefer to run at, as noted above I've not run (pretty much at all), and so it's time to recalibrate...

The Mad Dog is now a 10k training run, with friends.  The Cambridge Half is a long training run, with very good friends.  The Fellsman is, and always will a huge challenge, but is three months away, followed by the Rock and Roll Half marathon.

So, the positive is this is this year, not last year.  If I been this out of sorts running into London six years work would've have felt at risk.  So this was always going to be a walking and shorter run year and the planning for my Scottish adventure has begun in earnest - the maps are out, the choice of campsite or B&B being juggled with miles.

Apologies if you're awaiting me to work through my to-do list, I will get there...

Here's to a bug free, injury free rest of the year.



Wednesday, 24 December 2014

So this is Christmas... a runners retrospective

Christmas is one of those times where I take a breath, look back and reflect...

and when reflecting its very easy to concentrate on the bits that are worst, or closest - the lingering cold that won't shift, the months with an injured foot and ankle, the grumbling intermittent attempts to get back into running...

Which would be doing myself, and this year, a disservice - the near perfect execution of a training plan, and then a PB marathon and my second fastest marathon and then a two-hour PB on my favourite ultra. It would be forgetting the second fastest half marathon and trekking across Hadrian's Wall in three and a half days. Oh, and the fourth highest mountain England.

And most of all it would be forgetting my friends, those who run, those I run with, and those who look on in horror. 

Looking back there's only one run that continues to frustrate me, the Fellsman - that dangerous obsession I've acquired for every April.  I've tried training specifically for it, and I've tried marathon training for it. I've got lost and injured respectively - will the third time be the charm? I don't know, but we will find out:-)

And thus with a single remembrance I've gone from reflective to prospective, the thoughts of building my fitness levels are making me smile... Yes, my weirdness remains intact:-)
So thank you for reading my inane mutterings, may your Christmas' be excellent and bring you whatever you wished for.  If you're looking for a more active Santa, then may I recommend the Keswick variant...


Sunday, 30 November 2014


A blog inspired by a spat on Facebook, who ever would have thought it...

As some of you will know I had a 24 hour ECG tape on during this week and someone suggested that it was unlike me I wasn't planning to "push" it - I reacted with a modicum of sarcasm, mainly because the individual involved should know more than most my approach to exercise.

However, as they obviously didn't get it I spent the 5 and a half hours I spent wandering up Skiddaw either itching the re-growing hairs on my chest, looking at the awesome views, panting and working out a new model of fitness.

This may not be completely new, so apologies to whichever guru I'm ripping off... I give you the balloon model of fitness.

I have one big fitness balloon - that's me in total, all of the walking, running, climbing, gym work etc. Each of those elements is a balloon within the bigger one.

My baseline fitness, my usual get up and go stuff is what the Fitbit tends to measure - its the minimum 10,000 steps I do, expect when ill, its the two climbing sessions a week.  Basically, its what I'd call a normal week.

When I'm following a training plan, I'm basically expanding the specific balloon I'm training on and as that grows the big overall balloon grows as well.  So if I follow a marathon training plan, my cardiovascular fitness and leg muscles will improve.  Gradually, and this is the frustrating element for me. I would say I have very, very rarely "pushed" my limit.  Over the years I've have blown the balloon of my general fitness up a lot, but that only takes me so far - say a 70min 10k - to overlay a training plan takes time.  So I follow, for the runs, a classic periodization pattern - I slowly build up distance, and try and increase speed. And surprise, surprise, the sports scientists are right - it works. How do I know, because if I train I get faster, and don't feel as tired at the end of a run.

My first run of this "year" was a 10km on the 31st Dec - it was the start of the London Marathon training plan, and it hurt and it was slow, a 78min 10km is a full 16 min slower than my PB.  It was cold, bleak and painful - and I remember it 11 months later.  Because it was the start, and 41 runs later I destroyed my Marathon PB - by doing the plan, blowing up the balloon little by little expanding my running balloon to the best its ever been.
That balloon, with little top ups and some specific training on hills, kept me going through the Liverpool Marathon and the Peak District Ultra.  Then the balloon started leaking, I got injured - my ankle, and a touch of plantar fasciaitis, which meant limited running.  So the balloon started shrinking, it wasn't being topped up.  Rest, recuperation, orthotics, friends giving me inspiration to keep focusing on the future rather than dwelling in my fugue of being unable to do something I enjoy.
But the balloon shrinks slowly, and the baseline fitness I had by the end of the spring was much better than I had at the start of the year. So when I started back from injury it was knowing that I had the endurance, but probably little of the speed was left... a slow GNR followed by 3 and half glorious days walking along Hadrian's Wall proved that.

Then comes the planning for next years adventures, the concentration on half marathons and endurance walking - what do I need to do to my balloons... Another training plan, this one for a half marathon in Cambridge.  I know I can do half marathons, I could do one tomorrow. It'd be ugly and it'd be slow but I could do one. This is about trying to expand the speed balloon - Cambridge is pancake flat and as close to a to a PB course as I've ever run without getting a PB (2 minutes and 30 seconds over 13.1 miles!!!).

The training plan is printed and on my desk - each run, each expansion of the balloon, is ticked off. They are run sequentially, specifically so no run is pushing it.  If you push too much air into a balloon too quickly it bursts, springs a leak through an injury.  Hence my sarcastic reaction to the suggestion of pushing it.  I've built my fitness over the last decade, with periodization for events, and I can only remember one or two occasions of "pushing it"; the mad headlong sprint for the PB, the exhilaration of chasing down another runner on the home straight... but they are the sort of "push" that anyone who straps a number of their chest will feel from time to time and just let rip.
But on a damp day in November, pushing it is not on the agenda and the suggestion that I push myself is deeply irritating, I blow up the balloons with deliberate care, long practice and dedication.  Pushing it is an instantaneous action, instinctive, everything I suggest any runner can only do so often and runners with dickey tickers should be more wary of than some.  If my deliberate care and dedication looks like pushing it to you, then remember for how long I've been balloon blowing, expanding them specifically and generally with the implicit and explicit agreement of my cardiologists.

Enough of the rant - I had a delayed birthday weekend of walking, and it was glorious...

And then as Sunday looked as good...

Castlerigg Stone Circle - Just after dawn

Derwentwater & Bassenthwaite from Wall Crag


So, I hope the balloon analogy works, and reminds people that pushing it is often not the best way of doing things.  Most of all, enjoy the photos - I loved taking them and strolling through one of my favourite places - it may have been late but it was good birthday treat:-)