Annual reviews at my CF hospital in Oxford have been particularly fun for the last five years.

In the build-up to my transplant, they had become depressing chores that just served to highlight my steady, inexorable progress towards oblivion; the only question each year was “How bad is it?”, although in the last couple of years it graduated to, “How long left?”.

But post-transplant, things started to take a significantly different turn.

Annual reviews became something I looked forward to, a chance to measure the progress not only of my new lungs, but of how well my body was adapting to the new challenges it – and I – was facing.

The Test

The biggest marker, as it always had been for me, was the shuttle-walk test. It’s an adapted version of the much-hated ‘bleep’ test for athletes, but over shorter distances and at a slowly pace.

You start out walking the 10m between cones at a snail’s pace and gradually build up to what would become a full-tilt sprint, if you can last that long. Every minute of the test represents a new level and if you fall more than 3 bleeps behind, you’re out.

Before my transplant, I would get somewhere approaching a fast-walk before needing to collapse. I vividly remember the final test I did before my transplant, where the physio had to walk it with me just to hold the oxygen cylinder for me.


The whole test is measured in total distance covered, rather than level reached etc. In my first year post-transplant in 2008, I reached 640m, the following year 760m and in 2010 I hit my fastest level yet at 870m.

By this time last year I was relishing the challenge of the test; each year I was getting stronger, fitter, leaner (after all the weight I put on through the steroids after the transplant) and faster.

In 2011 I managed a record 940m with around 50m of all-out running if not quite sprinting. I was so, so proud of myself.


This year, however, was something of a wake-up call.

I set off as normal and determined to push myself as much as I could. I misjudged the levels and thought I’d moved further ahead than I had and when the level increased to what felt like a sprint, I bowed out.

My physio brought the results over: 880m.

Not impressed.

I was even less impressed, though, when she pointed out that part of the reason I was probably slower and finding it harder was because I was carrying over 4kg of extra weight – I’ve gone from 67.8kg in 2011 to 71.9kg yesterday.

I’ve spent a long time post transplant being lazy and I don’t know why. Yesterday made me realise it’s time to stop taking all this for granted and get off my arse.

A Wake-Up

I’ve been complacent, I’ve been lazy, I’ve been suffering the superman complex in a big way.

The steady progression over the last 5 years where I’ve managed to get stronger and fitter just by going about my daily life has finally tailed off.

I’ve talk about fitness, about challenges and about things that I am now able to do that I haven’t been able to before, but I’ve taken them all as read and never really stretched myself to try.

I’ve been full of excuses.

If you pardon the language, I’ve been full of shit.

Understanding my psychology

I don’t know why I’m like this. I don’t know why I seem incapable of sticking to a workout regime, completing challenges I set myself or seeing things through from start to finish.

Steven Pressfield calls it Resistance, which is as good a name as any for that form of self-obstruction that plagues many creative people, but the barriers I stumble at aren’t creative, they’re mental.

Perhaps I’ve never really, subconsciously, believed I’m capable of doing these things. Perhaps I associate training and being out of breath with the negative things I used to experience with it.

Or perhaps I’m just making excuses for the things I’m not willing to put the work in to achieve. I may be trying to rationalise all of these thoughts and subsconscious feelings to make myself feel better about my own laziness and apathy.

The funny thing is, apathy is the thing I hate most in the world. It’s the one human trait I most deplore, largely because people’s apathy in relation to signing the organ donor register is one of the reasons I’ve lost so many friends over the years.

A grand pledge

I’m not going to make any promises.

I’m not going to tell you that the diet and fitness regime starts today.

I’m not going to tell you that in 3 months time I’m going to be doing all the things I’ve thrown onto my List of Infinite Possibilities.

I’m not going to do any of that because, right now, I don’t know if I can.

I don’t actually know any more if I’m capable of sticking to my goals, of hitting the targets I set myself, of doing the things I set out to do.

All I know is the profound feeling of failure I feel inside my right now and the fact that what I most want in the world is for my donor and their family to be proud of me. And right now, I’m not sure that they would be.

I want to do so much and I want to promise so much, but until I can somehow get my head around the way my mind and body are working, I know I’m going to struggle.

I joined a community started by blogger Joel Runyon called the Impossible League. It’s a group of people dedicated to pushing their limits and trying to achieve the “impossible”. Even with them attempting to keep me accountable, I don’t seem to be able to stick to things.


Reading back over this post, I realise it’s not my normal, up-beat self. But I guess it’s hard to be when you feel you’ve let down yourself and those most important to you.

I do, however, have enough perspective to see that things will get better. I know for one thing that failure only serves to make us stronger – I just need to learn the lessons and try to stop myself making them again, despite some of them becoming almost habitual.

I know the time will come when I’ll be able to look back on this and see it for the blip it was on my road forward, but when you’re this far into the tunnel, however much you understand that there’s a light at the end of it, it’s still just a very tiny spec!


I would love to hear what you think about goal-setting and achieving the impossible. How do you keep yourself on track? How do you make sure you hit your goals and targets, no matter how hard? Leave a comment or email me with your thoughts.

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