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Does this look like a man with a heart condition?

Sometimes as ultra runners we are required to prove that we are fit to race, sometimes it’s enough to highlight your experience over a specified distance or terrain and sometimes it’s to prove that you have no health issues that might affect you on the course. I don’t have any trouble confirming that I can run distance and ice covered most of the available terrains now but there is a medical problem and has been since my idiot brother died about 6 years ago.

Let’s not bother with the sympathy about my brother, we did not get along, hadn’t spoken in years and when he died I really wasn’t moved by it at all. Why am I telling you this? Well because from the grave my brother haunts my running and this is how.

It was early 2015 and I needed to get my medical certificate signed for the CCC – I was just returning from a stint on the sidelines it’s some glute problems but this seemed to be working its way into the background. I went along to the doctor and asked if she would sign my mandatory form.

‘I see that your brother died of “heart complications” at the age of 29’ she said. It was here that I knew I was going to have some trouble, ‘and your father has some heart conditions?’

I confirmed that both of these were true but that my brother died because he lived on frozen pizza, beer and a range of unhealthy activities that ultimately lead to him dying young. My multiple marathon running father I explained had developed relatively minor heart problems in his early 60s but was still hiking and running to a reasonable level and had even completed large swathes of a 96 mile walk less than a year previously.

‘You’ll need tests,’ she said and with that sent me on my way.

I assume I’m going to die pretty hideously, a bus smashing into me, falling off a cliff edge, one of the nastier cancers and I’ve always been okay with that because I’ve not waited for life to find me – I’ve gone out and found life. I’ve fought to have my life and in my opinion I’ve earned it but I’ve always said that when my time comes then my time will have come and I don’t need any forewarning.

This doctor wanted me to have forewarning of any health problems I may have, what she failed to realise is that death doesn’t scare me, I’m into making positive life choices that aren’t determined by the boundaries set out for you.

However, she wouldn’t sign the form without the tests and so they ran a decent set of tests and told me to give it 10 days. Turns out, despite abusing my body for years doing all the things I’ve done, I was fine.

Signature, medical certificate and stamp acquired.

With those I disappeared off to the CCC. This same certificate covered me for the SainteLyon as well but had run out by the next time I needed one.

I assumed that it would be a fairly simple process to get a second one signed. Roll up, pay the fee, get the certificate, run. This was not the case. I was told that not signing my medical certificate was not about me, but about the doctor – he didn’t want to be held responsible for approving someone with a heart condition to race.

I don’t have a heart condition

He cited Fabrice Muamba as the reason why – the footballer who collapsed in a game between Tottenham and Bolton. I explained that the echocardiogram he was insisting I have would be no were near the levels of medical care that a professional footballer received, therefore surely we should consider the other more relevant evidence. He stood firm that he wouldn’t risk his career on a man whose family have heart problems.

Bellend

My immediate thought was to go out the car park and take my fists and the rocks liberally littered around the place to his Mercedes but instead I settled for shouting abuse at him from outside the surgery ‘useless cockbag’ and ‘cunty features’ were certainly issued. The truth is that had he looked at me at all he would have been able to see that I was in no way up to running. I had limed into the surgery as I’d injured my calf pretty badly the week or two previously and I’d put on weight after my retirement. Both of those alone should have been enough to disqualify me from running but no he used the ‘family heart problem’.

I went home and resolved the issue. I signed my own certificate and produced my own stamp – the benefit of being a graphic designer – then I submitted it.

About three weeks before the race start I received my echocardiogram date and of course I went because otherwise I would struggle to get a medical certificate anywhere. They prodded and probed my like I was a lab rat and I lay there angry that I was going to be given information I really didn’t want either way. I’d also missed the cut off for submitting another less fraudulent medical certfiicate and so I was feeling a little down when I left the hospital.

The hospital told me to call my doctor in a day or two. I did so and I did so for a further 12 days until the receptionist said, ‘I’m afraid I can’t discuss this with you, the doctor will need to see you’. By now I was the kind of fucked off that I reserve for those times in my life that I’ve actually had to hit someone and I responded rather curtly, ‘that is unacceptable’. Little Hitler told me the doctor would call me, I said that would be ‘acceptable’.

I don’t sleep well at the best of times but I really didn’t sleep well that night and spent much of it wondering if I would get to see UltraBaby run her first ultra or even her first 10km. I could hear the sound of my heart, I was listening for anomalies and I was replaying in my head over and over the letter of complaint I was preparing.

At 9.07am the doctor called, ‘You’re heart is as strong as an Ox’.

I assumed that was a good thing.

And so in theory I should be clear to have my medical certificate signed for the Madeira Island Ultra Trail and I know that the doctor was only doing his job, attempting to give me peace of mind while at e same time sating his own appetite for security that he was sending me to my doom in the best possible health. The problem for me comes in that I didn’t want to know whether my heart was healthy or not, part of me likes that idea that one day on a trail or a mountain somewhere I’m just going out drop dead and yes that possibility still very much exists but not so much from my heart failing me.

Ultra running and my health are deeply connected but I like to face them as an unknown – too much knowledge really can stifle you and in my case at a time where I am trying to up the ante this medical drama seemed pointless, I don’t feel better for the information that my heart is strong, I feel like something has been taken from me.

I know that the response to this I will receive is that the doctor was simply doing his job and I can accept this but his rationale was way off, he didn’t appear to adequately take into account my experience, training or my own lack of health issues. When I pressed him about the 40+ other marathons or ultras that I didn’t need a medical certificate for he seemed disappointingly nonplussed, he admitted he was covering his own arse and that says a lot about the way the world is these days.

Perhaps we should all be able to take a little bit more responsibility for ourselves and then I/we won’t run into a chain of red tape that was more about filling out forms, crossing ‘t’s’, dotting ‘i’s’ and avoiding legal action than it was about my health. Humph.

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I know I’m going to die, I have no idea how and I have no idea when.

I’d love to make sure I’ve read all the books I want to, seen all the movies I wanted to see, admired all the art I’ve always desired to pore over and run all the races I’ve dreamed of partaking in. The reality is that this is unlikely to happen, there’s too many books, too many races, too many movies and way too many art works to see, experience and absorb before I end my time on earth.

UltraBaby
Having a child has changed my perspective on life a little, but not in the way I imagined. I always thought it would make me realise how precious and fragile life is and in fact the opposite is true. I’ve come to the realisation that the thing I have often thought, ‘we get a limited time allocated to us, so bloody well use it’ is true. However, the arrival of UltraBaby gave me rise to realise I have responsibility to myself and those around me to give it my all, every single day and not accept second best. Second best will sometimes occur naturally but I must strive to experience the best I can and I want to instil that into UltraBaby.

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Death?
Weirdly, I used to have a ‘death fantasy’, perhaps I still do. It went something like this; I would send out an invite to a party on my 40th birthday, somewhere cold (Iceland), flights and the like fully paid for and the attendees would be all the people I have hated in my life – my mother wold be the top name on the guest list – for those who might be wondering. They would all arrive to my specially hired out mountain retreat and in my mind they’d be having a fab time – I would not be there. No. I’d be on the mountain above – snowboarding down it with a shitload of high octane explosive strapped to my chest and as I sauntered over the precipice I would unload the fiery package setting off a gigantic avalanche that would, along with my entrails, devour the mountain retreat and killing the specially invited guests.

Barkley
Now since this idea first came to mind I have mellowed somewhat, not completely but enough to realise that my idea might be considered a little unorthodox as a way of smiting others and bring my own life to a conclusion. Now my ‘death fantasy’ would be to die at a race, a very special race – I’d like to die aged around 75 or 80 having just completed the Barkley Ultra Marathon, at the third attempt. Because I would want a couple of RTCs because of the iconic nature of it.I’d die as I crossed the finish and I’d die with a smile on my face.

Why the gloom?
Recent events have forced further analysis of what it means to be alive and the gift of living that we all possess. However, my conclusions that I came too all those years ago are even more firmly ingrained in me. When bad things happen you begin to understand that everything you take for granted now might soon be taken away from you, so you learn to value every single experience, good or bad.

If you feel your life is not going the way you want it to at the moment can I urge you to change it, even the tiniest little bit of change can have huge ramifications. I’ve always maintained that dying is the easy part of life, its the living that’s the tough bit – but be selfish and do this for you – because by living for you you’re helping everyone else.

Live Well.

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