How I climbed a mountain with M.E

Standing on Loughrigg Fell looking towards Helvellyn which is 750m high
and a 7 mile walk.

I often struggle to walk up the road. So how is it that I can suddenly hike up Helvellyn?

Well, there’s a few obvious, to me, reasons why:

1) My body has endured pedalling mountain bikes up big hills every week for over 15 years, so I still have some strength from this.

2) Good fuelling and training beforehand, meant I gave my body the best chance.

3) My excitement plus stopping en-route for a tasty choc au pain, with a hit of caffein from my coffee, and then performing the walk all helped to release those feel-good hormones, endorphins. These helped boost my mood and lower any stress and pain to keep me moving.

4) An easy-to-follow route meant little cognitive energy was used.

5) The energy kick from regular snacks helped push through any fatigue dips. Especially that Kendal Mint Cake at the top…yummy!

The major factor though was…

6) The super slow pace. We may have been out for over 11 hours, but actual walking time was around 4 hours…that’s 7 hours of resting!

AP’s stats from the day. A rough guide to our walking pace.

I wasn’t without harm. A key feature of M.E is called post exertional malaise (PEM), an overpowering weakness. PEM had me in bed for 2 and a half days. Much longer than I have experienced before. Here’s why…

…When a healthy person exercises at an aerobic level their heart beats quickly and it uses oxygen to produce energy (e.g., running). If they keep going, that oxygen runs out and the heart switches to using glucose. This switch is at the ‘Anaerobic Threshold’ (AT) where lactic acid and carbon dioxide increase in the cells and endurance is reduced. A professional athlete has a high AT meaning the switch occurs after a longer period of running. A person with M.E has a 50-60% lower AT than a healthy person. It is found that our cells don’t produce oxygen properly. This means we switch more quickly to anaerobic exercise. This is why a short walk can feel as exhausting to us as a marathon can feel to an athlete.*

It helps to put some logic to what my body is doing. I knew walking slowly can help me do more, I just didn’t know why. Now I know it’s my faulty cells, ha!

I hope I have helped you make sense of this too.

Jacqui x

*Information is taken from Yorkshire Fatigue Clinic Ltd (2020).

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