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Nov 21

Posted by: ACHA
11/21/2011 2:31 PM  RssIcon

By Paul Willgoss

I’m officially middle aged!

I’m 40.

My friends have done me proud with their range of useful, delightful and just plain weird gifts. Being one of the last of my friends to reach this significant milestone of life means they get the chance to reap revenge for the various insults masquerading as gifts they’ve suffered over the years.

However, a sizeable contribution to a new heart rate monitor/GPS watch was part of the present. Which, trust me, I will be abusing over the coming months. I say abuse, as it’s a waterproof triathlon watch, and all I’m going to be doing is running, walking and climbing, often for a long time, and in rain, dry weather, snow—actually, abuse is about right!

The ability to record my runs has a couple of benefits. Personally, I like being able to see what I’ve done and where. It also counters the naysayers who say that I’m not actually doing what I say (trust me, there are some weird people out there).

The data has another use as well, as there is something delightful about turning up to my annual cardiology appointment with print-outs of long runs and hard climbs, calibrated by speed and height gain. It’s only heart rate information, but it does give a decent data source of me being active.

For my birthday, I also will get to spend a day brushing up my skills with machine guns, sniper rifles and in close quarters combat. Yup, a day spent at “spy academy”! OK, there may be an interesting discussion with the people running the course, as they have a dreaded medical clause—something about running around and doing a bit of jumping about.

My actual 40th I spent on the hills, doing a 15 mile walk in the Peak District. Normally the views on this walk are fantastic, but not this day, with the cloud base 100 meters lower than the hill. So it was a gloomy but exhilarating walk, during which I ended up helping a walker off the hill (they’d got lost, and were naturally quite scared), sank up to my knees in peat a couple of times and generally enjoyed myself...

Which I hope will be the themes for the rest of my 40th year. I never expected to get here, so part of my living of this year is going to be doing what I enjoy and loving the attempt, even if I don’t finish all of what I’m trying to do.

I’ve nicknamed this year my midlife crisis and have asked people for challenges; so far, it’s a marathon (with mountains in the way), a normal “flat” marathon, an ultramarathon (only a 50 kilometer, but that’ll do to start), losing 14 pounds, and for the first month of my 40th year to do 40 kilometers a week. So far so good—as I write this I’m three weeks in and 123 kilometers done. For those who don’t “do” kilometers, I’m pretty much fitting a marathon distance of 26 miles of walking and/or running in my weekly life. It’s not easy when you’re away doing charity stuff three weekends, and your birthday party is the spare one!

So what have 40 years taught me? To walk tall, to run slow, to care deeply, to do what I think is right (even if it costs me) and most especially to remember that I am me, not what anyone else wants me to be!

Being middle aged is going to be just the same as the last 40 years, and I think I’m as relieved as some people are going to be worried. Oh well—that’s their problem!

Marathon runner, GUCH (Grown Up with Congenital Heart Disease), long-distance hiker, charity trustee, patient advocate and whisky lover—Paul Willgoss is all of these and more. A member of the Most Honourable Order of the British Empire, his efforts both in front and behind the scenes for those with congenital heart defects have been recognized at the highest levels in his native U.K.

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