Well you couldn’t make this up….

Well here we are at the end of Week 8. So this week is massively notable for two things – actually it’s only really one thing, the Great North Run, but just ‘notable’ for the other (the half way point of our training) 😊.

So, the half way point to New York has arrived. We’ve done 288 miles in eight weeks. That’s an average of nearly 37 miles a week, or 5.3 miles a day. It doesn’t sound that much when you put it like that, but it feels like it is! There hasn’t yet been a time when I didn’t think I was going to reach the half way point too, and that’s a mighty good thing as well.

I’m (help me for saying this, please!!) so far injury free, and feel like I can do the other 307 training miles that the next 7 and a half weeks too. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, and let’s enjoy the present, as this week has been pretty much all about the world’s biggest half marathon, The Great North Run. The GNR ended up being very notable for reasons other than the run, but see further below for that……

Yes there were other runs during week 8 too: A six mile easy run on Tuesday to loosen the legs after last Sunday’s epic 20 miler; A seven mile tempo run (9 minute miles for me) on Wednesday; and a six mile fartlek session (with a four mile pyramid in the middle), but they were all just a prelude for me. Melanie didn’t do the Thursday run as she had a great reason (we don’t do ‘excuses’!), in that it was her birthday. We went out for a lovely meal in a village pub in the evening with her mum and her daughters. It was quite special :).

On Friday we travelled up to my homeland, a 260 mile from Cambridge. South Shields is where I grew up, and was the home of my parents (both sadly no longer with us) for just shy of 50 years. It’s also the finishing point of the Great North Run, and so as I may have said before along the way (!) it is rather special and nostalgic for me.

The Saturday schedule called for a 4 mile easy run. The Sunday run called for a half marathon race on the programme, and it fell exactly on the day of the GNR – so it was meant to be! But then, the real fun started……….

Upon getting up on the Saturday, and with one of us slightly the worse than the other after a few glasses of wine when we got to South Shields (I won’t say which one of us it was, but it wasn’t me!!!), we firstly decided not to do the Saturday run. SHOCK HORROR!! I was ok with this, on the basis that as we were doing the GNR the next day, as it would leave us both fresh for the run, and also we were going to go for a few walks, to the pier, and along the beach, and in Newcastle, so I figured we were getting plenty of exercise anyway.

And after a first lovely walk along the pier and the North Foreshore in South Shields in sunny if windy weather, we headed in the car to Marsden Beach and had a really nice walk along one of my favourite parts of our beautiful coastline. And then ‘it’ happened. We got back to the car and I couldn’t find my car keys! Now I’m sometimes a bit hopeless with keys, and can’t remember the number of times I’ve exclaimed “I’ve lost my keys”, but this time I think I knew I’d meant it. I had no idea, even though we’d only been out about 40 minutes or so, what I could have done with them.

South Shields is known for amongst other things for the ‘Weebles’
The Groyne in the foreground at the mouth of the River Tyne

Melanie down on South Pier – it was quite a bracing day with the wind on the Saturday.

And now on Marsden Beach, pretty close to where I believe my keys disappeared!

We thus (and Melanie had the patience and understanding of a saint it is very fair to say) retraced our steps, and walked along the grass, the steps and along the beach for another (more than) 40 minutes to see if we could hopefully see them. Talk about a needle in a haystack though on a beach with lots of pebbles! After at least three searches, and asking a local pub, and a couple of ice cream kiosks (the only places within physical proximity to the beach we were on), I knew they were lost, as in properly lost! We’d been down there now for over three hours all told.

Then the real fun started, as we had not only no access to the car, but also the keys for the house we were staying in were in the car too, and also all of Melanie’s running stuff and handbag were all locked in the car! Then after a lot of phone calls to either people I knew locally, or to the AA, to auto locksmiths, it became obvious that you cannot get access to a Mercedes Cabriolet for love nor money. Not without the official key anyway (or possibly a very large sledgehammer, but that I decided wouldn’t be very sensible as it wouldn’t help me to drive the car anywhere).

To cut what is a very long story short, the ultimate outcome was that I ended up hiring a car from Newcastle Airport (itself 45 minutes away, via a taxi journey) and making the decision to drive to my house to retrieve my spare car key. The only thing is, my house is 300 miles (each way) away, and I didn’t have my house key either (as it on the keyring that I’ve just lost somewhere on the beach!!). I did thankfully think that I had a spare key hidden in my garage, but wasn’t really sure, and so spent the whole of the five hour journey worried that I was going to have to break into my own house, to hopefully find my spare car key that I wasn’t sure where I’d put either! Nightmare!!

Thankfully when we got there I found both keys, which just proves how reliable I am with looking after things!!! Then of course we had to drive back straight away (when I say we, I mean me, as the hire firm wouldn’t put Melanie on the insurance) and also I drove back hoping that the lost keys hadn’t been picked up by someone who fancied nicking themselves a shiny new car – gulp!

The drive was over 10 hours in total, and we got back eventually (the car was still there, thankfully, along with all of the contents) at after 3am to Kate’s house where we were staying. So then after about three hours sleep it was up and out of the house to get a Metro train to Newcastle for the Great North Run. It’s safe to say that we were both a tad tired! And to show how tired Melanie was, when we got to the Metro station and I bought us a one way ticket up to Newcastle she asked me “how are we getting back here?”. The penny soon dropped that it might involve a half marathon 🙂 At least I think that was because she was tired……!

The run itself was hard work on three hours sleep and no proper nourishment (a grabbed sandwich and a bag of crisps from a motorway service station is not exactly ideal prep we discovered). It was however an absolutely spectacular day as far as weather is concerned. Cool at the start at around 11 degrees, but warming to 15 under totally cloudless skies, with little wind. It felt much warmer though, and we were feeling it.

After a bit of a long wait (15 minutes or so) to get over the starting line, we set out a bit too fast at about 8:25 pace (having intended to run it at about 9 minute pace as it was only a training run after all), and after about three or four miles we were feeling the effects. Melanie started to suffer a bit, and almost every mile from there to mile 12 got progressively slower. By mile 12 we were at about 9:30 pace, and I was trying to help her by getting water and gels and the like, and was a bit worried about her, as she said her breathing was suffering too. Thankfully she got her second wind for the last mile, and that was at around 8:25 pace again.

We finished in 1:56:02, and hand in hand, which was really nice. She’d told me at one point along the way to run ahead and go for my own time, but I said no. She’d been very patient with me losing my keys the day before, and we are a team irrespective. We are in this together, all the way to New York, and even if I had been interested in a time yesterday (I wasn’t) then I would have still stayed with her regardless of time or pace. As it is, 1:56 is still quicker than we had probably intended to run, and was her best time at the GNR, her third time there like me.

Getting ready to start the world’s biggest (and best!!) half marathon. Pity about someone’s finger in the photo, and don’t ask why Melanie is called Louise on her bib – long story too!!!
Just about to begin – this was our only chance of seeing Sir Mo!!
And all finished, complete with medals and the South Shields seafront behind us.

Regardless of outcome, we both definitely learned (as if we didn’t know already!) the huge importance of pacing/not going out too quickly on race day, and won’t be making that mistake in New York. I also realised that doing 9 min miles x 26.2, very much untried territory for me, is going to be a very tough gig indeed.

The GNR was otherwise as wonderful an occasion as it always is. It has more nostalgia and memory lane trips than I can possibly talk about here. It is true to say that as tired as I was then I wasn’t taking all of them in as much as I normally would, and certainly Melanie was so tired that I thought her eyes were actually going to close altogether at one point! The main thing is that we got through it all unscathed, did it together every step of the way, and chalked it off to ‘definitely one for the scrapbook’ after the adventure we’d had with the car. I also counted afterwards that I’d driven over 1,300 miles this weekend, and that might just be a bit too much for me!!

I can’t finish this week’s post without saying a huge and massive thank you to John Brown, without whom this run with Melanie wouldn’t have been possible, as he’s responsible for her being called Louise in the picture above! John and his wife Janine also came to try to help find my keys on the Saturday, without me asking them to. That’s wonderful in my book, and thank you both so very much from us both. Thanks also hugely to Kate and her husband Mark who put us up for two nights at their house in South Shields, even though they were away for the weekend. Very lovely to see you both, and will look forward to the next time very much indeed.

So that’s us half way then. Week 9 looks absolutely horrible by the way – 44 miles culminating with a 20 miler on Sunday. I’m already thinking that the two pairs of trainers I bought for training are not enough, and am realising that I have a long way to go in so many ways. My other lesson learned this week is that at £342 for a lost key repacement from Mercedes, that I’d better not be such an idiot and ever do that again!!

End of Week 7 – 43 miles!!

After last week’s somewhat epic blog (sorry about that :)) I promised to do a shorter one this week. So let’s stick to the running, mainly………

This week’s running was very notable for two reasons. Firstly it was the longest week’s running ever, at 43 miles in total, culminating in the longest run of my life at 20 miles. Secondly, and much more enjoyably, as it was the last week of the summer holidays for Melanie, she said she’d come over in the week and join me for the midweek runs too. So that was great!

The midweek runs this week weren’t too bad overall. The first one was 6 miles incorporating 11 lots of 30 second hill sprints. Melanie hadn’t got over to Abingdon for this one, and she didn’t fancy the hills (I think there may have been a longer, better, more justifiable excuse but in any case she didn’t do them :O) so I was actually on my own for those. They felt fine, and actually were helped by the fact that the temperature this week was considerably cooler than the previous week’s heatwave, which saw the hottest ever August Bank Holiday weekend in the UK (33 degrees C).

Wednesday saw an easy run of 6 miles. Again the air was a bit cooler, and the first signs of Autumn are in the air. The 9:45 pace is relaxing I find (mainly), even at 6am in the morning (!), and we both did the run just fine, although it was slightly harder than it might have been as we maybe had one or two (or was it three or four!) glasses of wine the night before. On the Thursday I thought it was going to be really tough. It called for four miles at 7:30 pace with two minute rests in between, as part of a 7 mile run.

I hadn’t actually thought I could run four lots of 7:30 miles (8 is normally round about my sustainable top speed), but it felt good and so I stayed with it. I got the first one done in about 7:45, and the others at similar pace, bar the last one, which was bang on 7:30. Melanie struggled a little bit, just not feeling at the top of her game, and did around 8:15 for the first three, but then had a great last mile at about 7:45.

It’s funny how some days you are on it, and some days you aren’t, and that’s all part of training and taking the good with the not so good.

At the weekend we both went back over to Cambridge for the weekend’s main event, the 20 miler!! Well we actually went to Cambridge just be in Cambridge really, but anyway, my mind was definitely occupied with whether I could get to do 20 miles or not! On Saturday, the prelude was just a gentle four miler, and then it was time for pasta and a restful night before Sunday morning.

20 miles is a definite barrier, physically and psychologically, and so many running tales I’ve seen talk about ‘the wall’ at 20 miles. As I’d never faced the wall (my longest run being up until three weeks ago a half marathon) this was very much untried territory for me. Not so for Melanie – she’s done four marathons before, and with all of the training for those is a (relatively speaking, before she kicks me under the table!) veteran at these things – certainly compared to me. It was thus interesting that the day before she was suggesting to me that maybe we should just do 16 and not 20! That told me that not only was I not looking forward to 20, she was dreading it!!

On Sunday morning the weather was simply stunning, not a cloud in the sky, a nice cooling breeze, and the temperature at about 17 degrees C. We ran into and out of Cambridge via Stapleford and Grantchester, a lovely route much like last Sundays (just longer of course). Also the run was at a slow (9:55) pace. It went great, and whilst I couldn’t say that I could have run much further by the time we finished (and despite nearly twisting my ankle on a kerb due to not paying attention towards the end), it was actually better than I expected. I felt the distance of the week’s running in my legs at about mile 10, but they got no worse.

Melanie was fine too, and although 20 miles (especially when it takes you 3 hours and 18 minutes to complete) is undoubtedly a monster distance, we’ve both trained hard and followed the programme so far pretty diligently (ok – to the absolute letter for me :)) and so there’s no reason why we couldn’t or shouldn’t have got through it.

So after 7 weeks of the programme (16 weeks in all), we’ve done 255 miles out of 599 training miles in total. I’m really pleased with how it is all going at this point, and although you can never rest on your laurels or take things for granted, I now believe that this thing is at least doable. On the flipside of that, I know that September is going to be really hard – we will get though 190 miles this month alone!

The very best thing about September though comes this coming weekend. It is The Great North Run. The GNR is the biggest (at 57,000 runners) half marathon in the world, but of course (to anyone who knows me) is massively special to me for much more significant reasons than that. Finishing in my home town (although I haven’t lived there in more than thirty five years) of South Shields, the GNR is a homecoming for me, and is uniquely special. It has everything – it starts near where I finished my schooling, runs past the place of my birth, where my grandparents and parents grew up, and has so many amazing sights, like the Tyne Bridge, and running along the Coast Road with wonderful views of the beaches and the sea, and the Red Arrows performing during and after the event. It gives me a headrush just thinking about it, and being there and taking part is almost totally overwhelming. The event is also really about memories of my Dad.

Every year, wherever I was (it has been held since 1981) my Dad used to ring me on the day of the run and tell me to look out for him on the TV – as the run went past more or less the street where I grew up, and he used to go and stand on the corner to watch everyone come past. He was always a big fan of the event; of Brendan Foster (who founded it all those years ago); and of the passion and pride that it brings to the people of the North East. I share every one of his sentiments and feelings, and more so now since he passed on five years ago. It will be incredibly emotional to run past the bottom of my street and look out into the crowd and see him not standing there. And perhaps he will be – as I pass the junction of the Temple Park Road I’ll have a tear in my eye as I look over in the direction of where he would be.

Next Sunday I’m so pleased that Melanie is coming up to do the GNR with me too. It is all part of the training programme really, and so we aren’t trying for times, but just to enjoy everything that it brings. She’s done the run twice like me, but is our first time together. More nostalgia then this time next week……Dad, here’s to you :).

The Red Arrows over the Tyne Bridge during the GNR.

Week 5 – No experiments please!

After last week’s somewhat fraught experience with water carrying running vests, I was definitely not up to experimenting with anything new this week. I also resolved to make sure I always (ahem) ‘cleared the system’ before I set out for a run, and also bought some extra jars of my favourite coffee such that when I am away from home I can take them with me, to make sure that I do the job properly (it’s very effective coffee!!).

I was also somewhat heartened to discover, on checking my very efficient, if rudimentary, wallchart, that there were a mere 38 miles to run this week. A step back from last week’s 39! And if even only one mile, it is a relief compared to the fact that every week so far has increased by about four from the previous week. It’s the little things!

Better still, this week there was no tempo/race pace running at all. That’s good for me, as I find that the most tiring and challenging overall. I don’t mind faster intervals, and (usually) enjoy the slower long runs, but the tempo ones mean I have to think harder, or be ‘in the zone’. It’s psychological of course, but that is often what running (or most sports for that matter) are all about – believe you can do something, and you are (almost always) at least half way there already.

Marathon training, I am discovering, is so psychological! Particularly when like me, you have never done one before. I still have no idea if I can even run 26.2 miles for example, but I set off on this programme thinking, no, believing (subtle but important difference there) that I could. And that’s where I still am. I have simple, but strong, faith that by following the Runner’s World programme that I have (to the letter, naturally :)) and meantime looking after myself in terms of nutrition, hydration, rest, alcohol intake, and trying to stay injury free (to name but five things!) then I have a good chance. It’s a huge undertaking though, and when you hear people saying that ‘it takes over your life’, they are right.

In fact, thinking about it more, marathon training already affects almost everything I do. It affects the time I get up, what I have for breakfast, the time I go to work, what I do (and eat) at lunchtime, what I do in the evenings after work, what I cook for my dinner, what I drink with my dinner and after it, and what time and for how long I go to sleep. And that’s not the end of it, far from it. It dictates what I do, and where I am every weekend, and affects any thoughts or plans of holidays I have. It affects conversations at work, my social media posts and things I look at online. I may in fact be living in a running bubble – and this is after just four weeks of the 16 week programme! I even bought a mug to reflect just what this has done to me in fact………..:

Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself……………..:)

So onto this weeks running:

It consisted of six miles Tuesday, including 10 x hill sprint repeats, 8 miles Wednesday at easy pace, and six miles Thursday including 9 x 400m sprints. Then Saturday was a leisurely 4 miles @ slow pace, followed by a half marathon on Sunday. I did each of the midweek runs at 6am or thereabouts, such a nice time to run in the summer if you can force yourself out of bed (not always easy for me!).

The Tuesday run went well, the Wednesday run was fine too, but so wet that I wouldn’t have been wetter had I run the whole thing underwater. I also got ‘puddle-splashed’ by some white van man who thought it presumably funny to do, but I was already so wet i didn’t care. On Thursday the 400m sprints were hard, and I really felt the pace (7min mile pace or thereabouts). I also got very distracted along the way by somewhat randomly singing (out loud at times) the words to “Making Your Mind Up” by Bucks Fizz. I have no idea why. It popped into my head, and wouldn’t go, earworm style. I haven’t altogether shaken it yet in fact some four days later!

I’m not sure why I felt the need to post this, but something compelled me to do so!

Thankfully the Saturday run called for just the gentle four miles at a jogging pace, and that was a big relief for more than one reason, the principal one being that on Friday night I had friends round for dinner, and let’s just say that a lot of drinking was done! In fact after gin and tonics, white wine, red wine, and vodka shots (to name a few) it was a miracle I surfaced into the daylight at all the next day!

For the Sunday we (Melanie and I) took things considerably more sedately on the Saturday night, as we had a half marathon to get through. And after being woken up early by a colossal ground shaking as the nearby Didcot Power Station cooling towers were brought down in a controlled explosion, we also managed to avoid a massive downpour (and a power cut which nearly put paid to my ability to make coffee!!) and get it all done without incident, in what was pretty much perfect running conditions.

So the week ended with 38.2 miles having been run, and me actually feeling pretty good at the end of it. I felt like I could have gone on further on further on Sunday in fact, which was a completely different outcome to the week before!

It’s now getting close to Great North Run time (in just under three weeks from now), and I can’t wait for that. As anyone who knows me will tell you, it’s the most emotional and exciting occasion of my year, or any year in fact, and currently I’m even looking forward to it more than the New York Marathon. I’m so happy also that Melanie will be joining me for it this time too, it is so wonderful to be able to do these long runs together, and it will be great to be in my homeland with her too.

Meantime the next two weeks gets much harder. There are 43 miles to run this week, with a 17 mile run at the end of it. It might be August Bank Holiday weekend, but there is running to do, and it will be done. We’ll fit in some fun around it too though, as we have managed to always do so far. Keep it coming………..:)

Setback!

Having been a bit on the quiet side for a month or more on my blog now, here’s an update as to why:

On the 16th September I competed in a half-marathon, the Great North Run. It’s the world’s largest half marathon, and I was running for a number of reasons, not least of which was the need to keep up fitness levels for my forthcoming trip to the Southern Hemisphere’s largest mountain, Aconcagua, in December.

I had ramped up my training to where I completed over 100 miles in the three weeks prior to the run itself. Excessive maybe (or it is for me), but I took the advice from various running forums and websites which said that that was the sort of distance I should be covering that close to the run. Sadly with one week to go, I developed a fairly intense pain below my left ankle. I self diagnosed this, after much frantic googling, to be tendonitis, and a subsequent visit to the doctors suggested the same. Armed therefore with a bunch of painkillers and some anti-inflammatory drugs, I decided still to do the run, and told my self that I could/would quit if the pain got worse during the event.

Myself, Dan and my good friend Mel, immediately prior to the Great North Run.

Not long after the start of the run however, something strange happened. My left foot, where the pain had been coming from, was basically sore, a dullish pain without being too bad. I thought to myself that I could live with this if this was the worst that it was going to get. My right foot however, after about three miles, began to scream at me. It was agony, and I could hardly place my foot on the ground at all. Now limping on both feet, I thought to myself how ridiculous, that it looked like I was getting tendonitis in my right foot as well.

By mile six, the pain was horrible, and I should have stopped, but just didn’t want to. Plenty of people had sponsored me to do this event, and I was running for Bowel Cancer, which means so much to me. I just didn’t want to let anyone down, didn’t want to quit, it just seemed like the easy way out. I told myself to grin and bear it. The second half of the run is all a bit of a blur, but to cut a long story short, I made it to the finishing line, and in a time of two hours and two minutes. The last mile felt like someone was hitting me on the bottom of my heels with a chisel, and I half limped and half walked in.

To cut then an even longer story short, I discovered afterwards, following first X-rays and then an MRI scan, that I had what in the medical field is termed bilateral calcaneus fractures. To the layman (which includes me) that means “two broken heels”. To boot I have a torn tendon just below my right ankle, and the right foot is considerably more sore than the left, as perhaps is illustrated more clearly by the pictures below, which are from the MRI scan:

MRI scan of my left foot

In the centre of the above picture you can see a dark serrated line jutting down from the middle of my heel bone. That is a fracture. Bummer, as they say.

MRI scan of my right foot.

Towards the right of the above picture you will see that the heel bone has basically split – the back part is apparently separated from the remainder. That might explain why it hurt so much! As if to add insult to injury, I also have post-traumatic arthritis in my left heel, and the torn tendon in my right.

So anyway, the upshot of all this is that I was unable to even put any pressure on either foot for about three weeks. It was just too painful, and I got around in a wheelchair, even in the house. The bigger upshot is that I have since been told that I need to wait a further six weeks before I can load bear at all, and then three months before I do any repetitive strain type activities on either foot. If I told you that I was gutted by all this then it would be a ridiculous understatement.

So the biggest setback of the above, apart from the immobility and the waiting around for what seems like a lifetime to be able to walk around unaided again, is that my trip to Aconcagua is off. There was no way I could have gone, as the trip starts in less than six weeks from now. There’s also no cycling, no nothing in fact, until probably January until I can dare doing something strenuous again, and that’s if I get the all clear on my next hospital visit, when they MRI scan me again in November.

Aconcagua will therefore have to wait. It’s not going anywhere of course, but the frustration is then that I have to wait another year for it to happen. The ‘window’ to climb is only open in December and January, which won’t now happen this season obviously.

It’s all too easy to feel a bit down when you are essentially housebound, cannot walk unaided, and have had to cancel the thing that has driven you all year, i.e. the biggest mountain, at 7,000m, that I will probably ever get to attempt. My overriding emotion through it all so far though, is that in overall terms I am lucky. I have my health in overall terms, and there are millions upon millions of people out there a lot worse off than I am.

I have been helped by quite a few people in my recovery period so far, and my thanks to all of them, but very special mentions to Anna and in particular to Mel for all that you have done. I’m extremely grateful, I really am.

It’s difficult to use time productively when you can’t really go very far or indeed stand and bear your own weight, but I am doing what I can, and trying to not let daytime television get the better of me. I have bought myself a home gym, and am trying to use it as diligently as I can to at least stop too much muscle wastage on the rest of my body, not that I was overblessed with muscles in the first place. I think I’ve come to the conclusion overall though that running is just not my sport!

Medical Screening on Aconcagua

I haven’t updated my blog for some time now about Aconcagua itself, so it’s about time that I did. Firstly, in case anyone is wondering whether I am still doing it, I can report that I most certainly am. I had a feeling a short while ago that I might not be though, and will explain more below.

West face of Aconcagua
Firstly though I can say that Aconcagua will happen this December. I am probably in terms of overall training more or less where I need to be. There are issues though. I have for example, done a lot less gym work this year than last, so my core strength and upper body strength are way behind where they need to be. This is a problem, because on Aconcagua the climb is not supported past the half way mark, and I therefore will have to carry around 20kg (or more, but basically everything that I need for the trip). Looking then at the picture above of the west face of the mountain fills me with a bit of dread, as it does not exactly look like a walk in the park (who am I kidding, it looks ridiculously hard). On the other hand, my legs are in pretty good shape, at least as far as performace on the flat is concerned, and that is essentially due to running.

Now running is not something that I thought I would ever be talking about on my blog. The simple reason for that is that (until this year) I have never run at all, and never in fact been able to. There were three reasons for this. Firstly, I could never, as far back as I can remember, run distances at all. Even as a kid at school, I was the one who hid behind a building somewhere when they did the cross country. I was just hopeless. Secondly I had asthma for most of my adult life, and when I tried to run I smply got out of breath and had to stop. Thirdly, I just never really tried. I had a sedentary lifestyle, and smoked too, and that’ll put the lid on most activities you ever try. Stopping smoking (about four years ago now) was the best thing I ever did for me. It simply changed my life for the better.

I now in fact find myself in serious training for the Great North Run, a half marathon (the world’s biggest I believe, with 56,000 participants), which takes place later this month. I’ll blog more about that in a later post, but am glad to report that I am now up to running about 50km a week (or should I more aptly say I ran, or jogged, a total of 50km last week for the first time).

Anyway, the reason for me talking about even the possibility of not going to Aconcagua, and indeed the title of this post, is blood pressure, and specifically, high blood pressure. I should explain quickly that I don’t suffer from it, or haven’t in the past, but was recently slightly alarmed by a letter that I received from Jagged Globe, with whom I am making the Aconcagua trip. The letter was titled “Medical Screening on Aconcagua, and went on to say that the Argentinian Park authorities have recently introduced a ‘superficial’ screening programme based upon blood pressure measurements at two of the camps on the mountain. It further explained that if you ‘fail’ the test on the mountain, then you will be refused permission to proceed.

This was a shock it has to be said. It seems it was to Jagged Globe too. The reason the test has been introduced is that the park authorities have ‘decided’ that high blood pressure is a precursor to potential altitude sickness. There seems to be some medical debate on this matter, and indeed a divergence of opinion altogether as to whether hypertension can be linked to altitude sickness at all. Jagged Globe even sent a medical paper along to support what they describe as an over zealous policy. However, regardless of whether they agree with it or not, they rightly point out that it would be rather a good idea to get your blood pressure checked out beforehand. Obviously if you have high blood pressure at sea level and not under the strain of either exercise or high altitude, then you are likely to have the trip end in severe disappointment without even a chance of attempting a summit of the mountain. More is explained in the link to the medical journal below:

http://www.wemjournal.org/article/S1080-6032%2810%2900295-4/fulltext
I therefore searched online to find someone who could do a full medical exam for me. Going to your GP is hardly going to give you piece of mind either way as far as I am concerned, and Bupa came up trumps. They offer a full fitness assessment, where they test blood pressure, VO2 max, and all manner of other oxygen intake/uptake levels under duress. The tests were pretty rigorous, and involved being on an exercise bike with various tubes in my mouth and electric diodes around my body for an ECG test at the same time.

I’m very happy to say that I passed the tests with flying colours, that my blood pressure was ‘normal’, and that my VO2 max (predicted, not a full test as it turns out) was 46.9. Furthermore, the ECG revealed ‘no irregularities’, even under duress at an anaerobic state. I was pleased with the results, and therefore it means that there are no reasons now why I shouldn’t go to Aconcagua, not that I was looking for one in the first place of course.

So meanwhile my training needs to step up a gear or three. I fly to Argentina in less than 13 weeks from now. It’s going to be the biggest, and hardest by far, adventure of my life. I need to get very seriously into the right zone……