Sunday, 17 May 2015

Restaurant Review - Maritime Dining Rooms; Liverpool

I do so like a challenge, so following a text from me saying how good my Sunday lunch was a mate sent the challenge back that he "Expected the Jay Rayner style review soon"... So with apologies to my favourite restaurant critic.

The Maritime Dining Rooms at the Liverpool Maritime Museum could easy be yet another National Trust style "tea and bun emporium" with tacky links to the latest displays and a creeping sense of lavender impregnation. 

Almost hidden on the third floor of the converted dock building, the best seats are those either looking at the iconic Three Graces, only recently spoilt by the black monstrosity of a new build, put up with all the sensitivity of a sledgehammer through an Old Master, or the Albert Dock, surprisingly busy with a range of sailing boats, narrow boats and the occasional giant swan pedalo.

With unfussy, pleasant efficiency the table is taken and menu arrives, only tea as I've a run tonight, and the roast beef is ordered. 

And arrives, no fuss, no condiments - rapidly sorted with a small pot of English mustard, of the type made 24h beforehand with double the recommended amount of mustard.  Hot, but flavoursome, with a viscosity that drapes over the beef like a velvet curtains in a Rubens painting.

The beef is just the right side of pink, thickly cut with well cooked darkened edges. It is appropriately resistant to the knife, textured like beef should be looking like a cross between slowly setting lava and well cut marble.  Robust flavours hold up well against the mustard, the onion marmalade adding body and a slight cut to the rich gravy. The roast potatoes are as they should be, crunchy and brittle on the outside, encrustations of roast potato on the sharp edges braking off at the merest touch, and under the thick layer the innards are steamingly yielding.  The quenelle (are they still called that?) of mashed, buttery swede adds smooth to the crunch and the perfect bitterness of the broccoli.

If the meat on a Sunday roast is the masterpiece, then the Yorkshire pudding is the cartoon.  Sharp edges, soft and succulent bottom (Rubens would be proud), absorbing the last of the gravy, meat bits and remaining encrustations of potato like a luscious edible mop.

Perfection on a plate? I'm not really qualified to say, but it works for me, and for £10 it is very hard to think of anything better.

TTFN I've a five mile run this evening


Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Giant Boobie Blog

It's been a weekend of good running, managing to get out to my running club's monthly 5km - it's still a little odd to think I've joined a running club, but these guys and gals are amongst the friendliest bunch of lunatics you can ever meet...

So, a good 5k, my sixth fastest ever...

Liverpool has a couple of very good 10ks, the Mad Dog up in Southport and the Spring 10k.  A flattish, fastish 10k with excellent organisation and a decent t-shirt, medal and goody bag... complete with a tin of salmon... Not sure why, but hey ho, its protein!

And so on to the giant boobies...

In my runs I've; tangled with Chinese Dragons in Manchester, been tripped up by a banana, been given a dead leg by a dog, chased someone carrying a Angel of the North made out of 4 by 2, been overtaken by a 9' foam nurse and was almost given a horn enema by someone running the London Marathon as a rhino.

Today, however, was the first time I've been sideswiped by a giant boobie... and then almost ran in to the back of another one... The Cop A Feel running boobies are giant boobs, worn like a rucksack and they tend to sway from side to side as the runner carrying them runs...

Which is fine when you know that's what has sideswiped you, that momentary distraction of something cold, mildly fluffy and yielding bumps into your side is an unusual feeling until you can work out what its is...

And despite the obvious distraction it was my 8th fastest 10k.

So all in a good weekend of running, boobs and tins of salmon... next week is back to work, which takes me away and the challenge that running when shacked up in a hotel brings...



Sunday, 5 April 2015

Situation normal... well normal for me...

As some people may have picked up I had a check up this week, to hear the results of the MRI, the 24h tape and the exercise test I had following the last check up.

Well, there are two sides to the data...

The MRI confirms the echo that I have severe pulmonary regurgitation... and also confirms there's no sign of anything getting worse since the last MRI (4 years ago).

The ECG shows very little change.

The exercise test says I'm as fit as a 43 year old without a heart condition.

And I've run a half marathon, a 10k and a night trail run so far this year and am back up to running three times a week.

So, the docs are going to have a case conference, and I'm in the same position as I've been for the last 27 years.  One set of data says there's a need to seriously think about open heart surgery to replace the valve and one set of data says leave well alone - he's running frigging marathons!

So, I shall wait for the docs to have their "Multi-Discipline Team" meeting and then we may have another chat, if that happens in the next six months great, if not my next check up is scheduled for the week after the Chester Marathon. Ok, between then and now I've got at least one 10k, a couple of half marathons and a long distance path or two, but that's normal.

So how did I celebrate this return to normality - in the only way I know how, a decent lunch followed by buying some running shoes...

As ever Natterjack Running did me proud, I tried four brands, six shoes... and the one's I loved I had to be dragged off the treadmill to stop me wearing them out.  I don't have particularly odd feet, I'm an heavy overpronator with mildly duck-like feet.  Given the miles I run minimalist shoes aren't very sensible, and I like a reasonable amount of ankle support.

So, the ones that won my hard earned cash...

Gel Kayano 21s... The upgrade from last years shoes.  The only thing I don't like?  The inner sole, which is fine I have a gently orthotic foot bed that fits :-)  And boy do they come in a bright colour

I can justify the literal glow-in-the-dark scheme by the number of times cyclists have almost taken me out... but really I just like they, they exude a glow as I run in the dusk that warms the cockles of my heart.

And despite my three a week limit for runs, I cracked in under 24h and took them out for a 5k... and it the fastest 5 k of the year, and a clear sign that things are progressing.  I paid for it on today's run - the hills were deeply unpleasant, but I run a lot more than I did even a fortnight ago.

Which is good news, I'm building up slowly to the Spring 10k and the Rock and Roll half in Liverpool to make them more enjoyable than the Cambridge Half and the Mad Dog (both runs I love, but I don't recommend doing either on bugger all training).

So new shoes, a new zip in my legs and a "hold until called" from the cardiologists all is good :-) So on with the OU essay and back to the miles... And it feels good to say that!



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 ;-)