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Have I Changed?

Friday, October 26, 2012

By Paul Willgoss

A month ago I joined a fairly small group of people; I became an Ultra-marathoner. I started at Point A and ran and walked the 31 miles to Point B.

Don’t let that flippancy fool you, it was hard work. A warm day, a long way, some minor navigational hiccups, a long way, excellent organisers, but still it was a long way… And I smiled for almost all of the 31 miles.

A few friends have asked if doing this has changed me as person, to which the answer is, not really—it was just a case of putting one foot in front of the other a lot of times. And then I start thinking about the training to get me to that start line—1,700 km/1,056 miles of training, fell runs, night runs, mile after mile. And then I know the answer isn’t “not really,” it’s “probably.”

I now know more about how hard I can push myself, know more about how well I can recover from pushing myself and most importantly can look myself in the eye and say “Yes, I can.”

What’s any of this got to do with me living with my congenital heart defect? Well, for many years I was told what I can’t do, was given dire warnings of the negative impact of exercise, and the risks I would face if I did any. Those demons have been strangely quiet since Nottingham—a small chip has been knocked off my shoulder, a bugbear has been beaten.

There’s also a little bit of sorrow in me too. I miss the target, and I miss the challenge.

So part of me has been lost that I don’t want back, and part of me is in mourning for pain, muscle aches and abusing my body.

I hope I can keep the first part well away. The second I can do something about…

After I’ve recovered, though—there were no injuries, not even a blister, no chaffing or hot spots to contend with, just the deep weariness you can feel in your bones. It takes time to want to run again, it takes time to relish the challenge again. And that time is coming to an end. Long walks in beautiful places are the order of the day, then building in the runs at work again and slowly starting to build towards next year’s challenge of 100 miles in three-and-a-half days. Now I need to find a mirror, and say yes to myself.

And that’s the change. This time last year I didn’t know if I could train for or complete an Ultra. Now I know I can, and I believe I can do more. Sensibly and slowly, I will do more.

We’re not all runners, we’re not all going to want to do things as borderline insane as I enjoy, but as a group of people, us adults with congenital heart conditions, often have more reason than most to look in the mirror and say “Yes, I can.” Go on, give it a try, just for a moment... while I go for a run :)

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