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Well, I've withdrawn from the Fellsman - that glorious 60 miles of insanity that has driven me to some insane things the last couple of years.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:-)



Sunday, 16 November 2014

Time for a Rocky Style Training Montage...

After the disaster of my anniversary walk (two bikes in 30 min clipping me, more a precautionary stop than critical, but anti-inflammatories were needed) the time has come to knuckle down and do what I do well...

Start following the plan

Sixteen weeks to Cambridge, a training programme based around three runs a week (with extras for fun, and some long distance walks), the static bike work will continue (apart from anything else the stress relief is great from the combination of shortish intense work & an episode of something daft off amazon prime), the diet will have to improve, as will the hydration... The climbing will help with the core, and I've a sub-plan for what I want to achieve going vertical...

Why follow a plan? Partly its reassurance that its something I've done - though normally for marathons. So this is going to be fun, a lighter training load overlaid on the endurance I've retained should be good.

I'm also, for exercise, am fairly target orientated.  I use the plan to bully myself, I know I could walk a half-marathon now, but to run and enjoy it needs those miles in.  To run, and get close to my PB, I will need to train hard.

I'll be pre-empting the injuries - so the right foot will be strapped from the beginning, the orthopaedics are in the shoes, the compression leggings are ready for action.  The body glide is there on the side, the collection of running tops (no sleeve, short sleeve, long sleeve, thin gilet, wind proof, full water proof) are there for the inevitable weather changes.  I'll probably need a new pair of trainers about January, and some of my shorts and leggings are getting a bit worn... Oh dear, more gear shopping!

So, I apologise if my facebook & twitter feeds start getting (more) boring, this is about getting in the groove. 

It's also going to be a 16 week Rocky style training montage...


or something like that ;-)



Sunday, 2 November 2014

Sentimentality & Endurance

Thirty-Nine years and 51 weeks ago (give or take a few days) my parents handed me over to a team of near strangers.  Those strangers, including an Operation Market Garden veteran, one who would go on to be considered a legend and one who wouldn't...

I can't imagine what went through my parents minds as they signed the paperwork, what they felt as I was gassed up and sent down... or the frantic conversation that would've happened when there was a bleed and I had to be rushed back down.

There's a couple of trace memories from my time at Great Ormond Street - an odd dislike of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves - I think linked to a painting on the corridor down to the operating room.  There's my active dislike of clowns, trust me some clowns in hospitals when the kid is in pain don't make you laugh, or be happy... they scare the living shit out of you!

There's a more physical memory, a scar on the top of my left hand's middle finger - during a post-op check I remember waving at a friend, and then a door shutting... and me screaming... couple of stitches later and I have an amusing story...

I'm not the world's most mushy sentimentalist, I tend to live in the here and now, but there are some anniversaries that it seems appropriate to mark. 

Forty Years is a long time - and looking back I've done a lot, and hopefully done some good in there as well. I know some don't like me, or the lifestyle I lead - well to be honest, that's their problem. I'm stubborn, cantankerous and most importantly right more often than I'm wrong (at which point my friends smile, my critics point and say "arrogant" and those who really know me know that know that being right often causes me as much pain as pleasure).

That confidence has taken me into things that I know would make that cardiology/cardiac surgery team intensely proud and probably a little surprised.  They couldn't have known how far I'd be able to push this body of mine, otherwise I'd have been allowed to play more sports at school, and the less said about the advice I got about my education the better - but trust me it didn't include Uni, post-grads or doing distance learning degrees for fun...

So, I'm a recreational ultra-marathon runner who enjoys multi-day long distance walking.  And I have an anniversary to celebrate. So, 40 miles for 40 years. That's Saturday the 8th sorted.  Once and a bit around the Wirral. Though I don't do mush there will be moments of reflection, the friends who've died, the parents I know who've lost so much and as importantly my friends who will be spending a Saturday doing exactly the same as everybody else.

So, if you see a random status on FB or Twitter on Saturday saying my feet are aching a bit, ignore me - I've chosen to do this, a mile for every year I've been able to be me. All being well, I'll raise a pint to that team of 40 years ago as well...



Saturday, 18 October 2014

Twas the night before a run, and the next challenge...

The bowl of pasta sits steaming...

The trainers and socks sit at the end of the bed...

The shorts and top gently rotate in the washing machine (modern synthetics, and the amount I sweat are not a good combination)...

And I smile...

Tomorrow is Beat the Reaper, a 10k around a local park. The reapers wander through the woods, and silently stare at the runners, scythe in hand. It'd be easy to put too much meaning on any run where a GUCH is racing death, so I won't.  I'll go back to smiling and knowing I won't be fast tomorrow, I'll be again heading for a 70min 10k.

The last couple of weeks have been about getting back into the groove, feeling good when I run, irrespective of the time it takes.  The night jog last Sunday, the pop out dragging a mate from work out for a slow dash are slowly getting easier mentally.  Not great distances, not great speed, but the point is I'm getting back out there and I'm smiling when I do it.

Marathon, and Ultra, running is (according to much sager runners than me) as much mental as it is physical - and not just the 26.2 miles.  For months you run three or four times a week, pushing your endurance, your mental strength is in keeping it going accepting the bad runs, the good runs and majority in the middle. Time management is essential - I was running over 6 hours a week, come rain or shine, most of them on my own. in my own head. That's the bit that still tires me out when I think about it.  The loneliness of the long distance runner is a over used phrase, but for an out and out extrovert its very real.

Which brings me to the anniversary challenge... In three weeks time its the anniversary of the dicky ticker operation that has kept me going, without too many hassles, for the last 40 years.  It's also my birthday the day before. 

So, the Wirral Circular path beckons, I did it last year as a night hike and did 38 miles, so I need to overlap a little to bring it up to 40 miles.  There's no collection box, this is something I'm doing for me.  As it will daylight, I'm less likely to walk past quite so many active dogging sites and will have access to more shops.

The pasta is eaten, the trainers are still there, the washing stopped spinning... enough navel gazing, tomorrow I race Death himself... and get a cool t-shirt & medal:-)



Sunday, 5 October 2014

Not time for a chest shave yet…

The annual check-up, an event to get even the roughest and toughest GUCH to have a few collywobbles…

As I said last week I was 99% sure that everything is ok, hell it’s a year where I’ve run my two fastest marathons, my second fastest half marathon and done other mad stuff as well.  But paranoia is a great friend, and yet again my cardiologists are being sensibly paranoid about my pulmonary valve.

It’s a known weakness in those of us with Fallots, and various doctors have been paranoid about mine since I was 16… So whatever the outcome of the next six-months I’ve had a damn good run.

So there is some evidence that my pulmonary is weakening, and that my right ventricle is expanding a bit.  Is it a problem – not right now.  The exercise test (boo hiss on a bike), is form rather than function – when the cardiologist sits there and almost goads you with “you’ll probably beat everyone in the hospital, including the staff” you know it’s going to be fun.  It’s the MRI that’ll give the main chunk of data on what’s going on….

Possible outcomes – 1) I’m still within range, bugger off and come back in 12 months; 2) On the cusp, see you in 6 months 3) might need to do something about it…

3) is the odd one, clinically I’m nowhere near the point where something needs t be done – but thinking has changed and they’d prefer to things earlier these days to maximise strength for recovery.

If it is 3) then there’s more options depending on my quirky cardiac physiology a) traditional open heart b) transcatheter. I do so hope b) is an option… but if not, and there may be other reasons why not so be it.

If this all sounds cold, its because I’ve worked through these scenarios many, many times in my head.  And fundamentally nothing has changed from Wednesday night to Thursday lunchtime – none of my activities are restricted, I’m just another GUCH having a few tests to keep things plodding along!

Even I needed a distraction though, and this was provided in spades with the CHF Dinosnores sleepover.  The Natural History Museum is where my love of science started, on a trip following a check-up to Great Ormond Street as a kid of about 7. In my mind’s eye I can see mini-Paul looking up at Dippy and smiling in wonder.  That wonder is still there, topped up by my years at Liverpool Museum, enhanced by the friends I’ve taken around and (probably) bored with my tales… I also have gotten to use the collections at NHM, lingering over Darwin’s specimens of my bugs (literally true, hemiptera).  I’ve also bumped into Dawkins there, and heard him speak on science, rather than the stuff he gets muddled up in these days…

So, twenty odd young adventurers… a gaggle of volunteers and a night at the museum… I got 4 and a half hours kip, with a couple of minor interruptions… But the kids (and me) got to chase around the dinosaurs with only torches, made t-shirts (kids only), learnt about giant squid, sharks & angler fish and saw live animals from around the world as well as all of the great fossils.

And in the very early hours, if anyone else had been awake they’d have seen maxi-Paul standing looking at Dippy, and saying thank you very quietly.

For the kids, I hope (and know) that it was a magically night, life as a junior or full blown GUCH can be full of the dark side of life.  But if events like this one add a bit of lightness then they are worth the hard work, and as I've said on many occasions its a privilege to be trusted by the kids and their parents to do this sort of thing.  That it was at somewhere I think of as special is even better...

So, I have runs and walks to sort out – Beat the Reaper 10k is next and then I need to start planning.  I know I have one thing to do, the 40 miles to celebrate the 40 years anniversary of my surgery… Now, where’s my OS maps…