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Find Your Finest Moments

Subscribe here and learn how to find, and live, some of the finest moments imaginable

Find Your finest Moments is a series of monthly Premium Posts covering the planning, preparation, equipment required and completion of 2 of the most iconic treks in the Himalayas.

Feel the motivation as you follow my preparation and training from now until I depart for Nepal in April 2021 to complete the Annapurna Sanctuary and Everest Base Camp Treks during the Everest Climbing Season.

Follow my journey and receive live updates from among the highest mountains in the world as I complete the treks. This will include a VLOG from Everest Base Camp as I live there for 2 nights among the teams who will be looking to summit the worlds highest mountain.

By clicking the button below and committing to a small monthly subscription fee, you will receive access to all Premium Content as it is released which will include:

  • Monthly Inspirational Article about the routes and mountains I will be ascending as I train in Scotland’s spectacular landscape
  • Monthly Kit Check which will discuss in detail the equipment I will be taking and the pro’s and con’s of this equipment as well as how and when to use it with handy links to buy it on Amazon
  • Monthly training hints and tips related to how I am preparing myself for these iconic treks and how to prepare yourself if you are planning on making one of these or a similar climb
Everest Base Camp 2016

Over the past 6 years I have completed 3 trips to the Himalayas reaching Everest Base Camp in 2016 and a height of 6,140m on the Mera Glacier in 2017. I have also summited over 50 Scottish Munro’s, including some in Winter Conditions and have reached the rim of Kilimanjaro and the summit of Mt Toubkal.

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6 months to go. Starting my training for Annapurna and Everest Base Camps.

Find Your Finest Moments Training Tips #1

I know from experience that you don’t have to be an athlete to reach Everest Base Camp. It definitely helps to enjoy walking on a relatively rugged trail for a few miles at a time. You also need some determination to be able to push on when the going gets tough, through the effects of altitude or a 24 hour bad stomach. I chose a 5 mile undulating trail in the remote and beautiful Highland Area of Assynt as my first training session. I carried extra weight and pushed through some high temperatures for Scotland which helped with the determination. On this trail, as in the ones in the Himalayas, the striking raw beauty of the mountains around me made it all worth while.

Subscribe or Log In to read this article as well as other Premium Posts including Equipment Reviews and Training Tips

Read more of this content each month from now until May 2021 as I plan and complete two iconic Himalayan Routes of Annapurna Sanctuary and Everest Base Camp. Get exclusive Blog Posts on the climbs and treks I cover to train as well as equipment reviews and training recommendations and tips to prepare for Everest Base Camp or a similar Trek.

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Find Your Finest Moments

Just as the light from a star shines out in the night sky long after it’s gone, the magic of a single moment, not even as long as a second, can shine in our hearts forever.

Subscribe here and learn how to find, and live, some of the finest moments imaginable

Find Your finest Moments is a series of monthly Premium Posts covering the planning, preparation, equipment required and completion of 2 of the most iconic treks in the Himalayas.

Feel the motivation as you follow my preparation and training from now until I depart for Nepal in April 2021 to complete the Annapurna Sanctuary and Everest Base Camp Treks during the Everest Climbing Season.

Follow my journey and receive live updates from among the highest mountains in the world as I complete the treks. This will include a VLOG from Everest Base Camp as I live there for 2 nights among the teams who will be looking to summit the worlds highest mountain.

By clicking the button below and committing to a small monthly subscription fee, you will receive access to all Premium Content as it is released which will include:

  • Monthly Inspirational Article about the routes and mountains I will be ascending as I train in Scotland’s spectacular landscape
  • Monthly Kit Check which will discuss in detail the equipment I will be taking and the pro’s and con’s of this equipment as well as how and when to use it with handy links to buy it on Amazon
  • Monthly training hints and tips related to how I am preparing myself for these iconic treks and how to prepare yourself if you are planning on making one of these or a similar climb
Everest Base Camp 2016

Over the past 6 years I have completed 3 trips to the Himalayas reaching Everest Base Camp in 2016 and a height of 6,140m on the Mera Glacier in 2017. I have also summited over 50 Scottish Munro’s, including some in Winter Conditions and have reached the rim of Kilimanjaro and the summit of Mt Toubkal.

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Inspiration For A Monday Episode 5 – Be Who You Are

It’s time to stop worrying about who you were, or what you’re not, or who you might become in the future. Just look inside yourself. Right here, right now. This is who you are. And it’s ok to think you’re amazing.

Inspiration For A Monday, Episode 5 – Be Who You Are

Previous Episodes

Inspiration For A Monday Episode 5 – Be Who You Are Inspiration For A Monday

This is a podcast about self. Self awareness, self acceptance and self love.
  1. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 5 – Be Who You Are
  2. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 4 – The Words Of Life’s Journey
  3. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 3 – High On Mera Peak
  4. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 2 – Summit Night Kilimanjaro
  5. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 1 – The Dream Of Everest Base Camp
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Return To The Himalayas

Find Your Finest Moments Part 1

My first two trips to the Himalayas, to Poon Hill and Everest Base Camp, were magical yet inexperience and fear held me back from living them to the full. During my third trip, this time to Mera Peak, I gained all the confidence and experience I needed. That’s why I’m going back next year to cover two iconic Himalayan Treks and live them to the max.

I sat in the darkness in my Teahouse shivering in the freezing cold of the pre-dawn and waiting for my guide to knock on the door. It was 4am in the small Himalayan settlement of Ghorepani and we were due to make the short climb to see the sunrise from the nearby summit of Poon Hill. When the knock on the door came, my guide convinced me that the weather was not clear enough for us to expect a decent sunrise on the summit. He persuaded me to abandon the idea of making that ascent. We both knew the weather wasn’t the problem. It was my lack of fitness.

Subscribe or Log In to read this article as well as other Premium Posts including Equipment Reviews and Training Tips

Read more of this content each month from now until May 2021 as I plan and complete two iconic Himalayan Routes of Annapurna Sanctuary and Everest Base Camp. Get exclusive Blog Posts on the climbs and treks I cover to train as well as equipment reviews and training recommendations and tips to prepare for Everest Base Camp or a similar Trek.

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The Dream Of Everest Base Camp

When you’ve seen a place in your dreams, and 100 times on YouTube, it’s truly special to then see it in front of you. Indeed few things compare to the realization of a dream.

Kumar, my guide, was concerned so he stopped me and reminded me to be careful, that we were walking on ice. In fact we were walking on 1000s of tonnes of ice that formed the spectacular Khumbu Ice Flow spilling down from the foot of Everest. I’d just seen Everest Base Camp in front of me. I was walking on air.

If you want to listen to the rest of this story as a Podcast then listen to Inspiration For A Monday Episode 1 below. If you prefer to keep reading just scroll down and enjoy the Blog Post.

Inspiration For A Monday Episode 5 – Be Who You Are Inspiration For A Monday

This is a podcast about self. Self awareness, self acceptance and self love.
  1. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 5 – Be Who You Are
  2. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 4 – The Words Of Life’s Journey
  3. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 3 – High On Mera Peak
  4. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 2 – Summit Night Kilimanjaro
  5. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 1 – The Dream Of Everest Base Camp

I finally caught up with the main group who’d been out of sight ahead of me all day and stood beside a stone with the words ‘Everest Base Camp, 2016’ painted on it. One of the guys, I think his name was David, took the picture I’d been dreaming of for the past 2 years. Despite the fact I couldn’t keep pace with the group, I’d earned their respect. I may have reached the Base Camp after they did but the magic of reaching it was just as special. You see when you’re overweight and don’t look the part, you have to find the mindset to compensate, that knows you can still do it.

Dare To Dream

Take the risks, experience the pain and disappointment along the way and, for sure, you will find moments of true joy.

Summit of Everest taken from the Everest View Hotel. Everest Base Camp Trek Oct 2016

It may be the case that you feel your dreams are just that. Fantasies that entice you when you’re sleeping or just not paying attention to anything in particular. The realist in you tells you that reality is something less. More within your grasp. Safer. If that is the case then I’d like you to try something just for one minute. Picture that realist as an over protective friend. Someone who loves you and wants to protect you but doesn’t really know you. Imagine the things you might consider doing if they weren’t trying to keep you safe. Who would you be? Where would you go? What would you achieve? Welcome to a dream you just might realize!

I believe that life is something so much richer when our dreams are chased. Take the risks, experience the pain and disappointment along the way and, for sure, you will find moments of true joy.

Yes You Can

Those words became a mantra which answered every moment of doubt.

A few years after I’d gone to Everest Base Camp, I came across a mantra that helped me keep believing in myself. High up on Kilimanjaro as we approached the summit, our lead guide, Abraham, kept repeating the words, “Yes you can!” Those words became a mantra which answered every moment of doubt. Though I found myself again behind the main group on Summit Night, those words sung out in my heart and mind every time I wanted to stop. A few years previous I’d have never have thought like this.

I’ve not always believed that I could climb in the high mountains, run marathons or swim in open water. That fact alone held me back for years. Having had the many dreams of adventure, I had to gather the resources that I did have. Book the holidays, raise the money, tell people what I was planning. Slowly but surely I started to realize that I might just do this.

Then I’d start to train and the doubts would rise all over again. Every bad training session, every injury would drive me back to the embrace of my overprotective self. That side of my thinking that was ever present, waiting for me to see the error of my new found ways. Time and again I had to recover and rebel and go back out until I started to feel fit enough to do this.

Training For Everest Base Camp. Ben Vorlich Summit. Oct 2016

I always remember the excitement of sitting with my fried breakfast at Edinburgh Airport ready to board a flight to Abu Dhabi and on to Kathmandu. I’d trained with my brother for months in the Scottish Mountains. He’d seen me exhausted and down hearted. Stuck with me as I moved at a snails pace wondering if we’d ever get safe back to the car. I’d lost count of the number of times the whole idea of heading to Everest Base Camp seemed like a bad joke. But somehow, helped by my brother and our training, I’d held onto a belief that I could do this. And then, at last, I did.

Abel, My Long Suffering Coach On The Mountains Ben More Summit, Oct 2016

Making It Real

I had earned the right to be here.

When I first met the group of my fellow trekkers at our hotel in Kathmandu my doubts started to return. They were friendly and polite and they tried their best but I could see the surprise on their faces. I could see that I was by far the most overweight person in the group. They were all young and mostly looked fit. Their very appearance suggested that this trip to the mountains was their domain. Not mine. I had to quietly remind myself that I had climbed a lot of mountains. That I had earned the right to be here.

After a spectacular flight into the mountains, we soon set out from the small town of Lukla along the trail to Everest. On that first day the pace of the group was fast in the mix of excitement and the perhaps a subconscious need to establish a pecking order of fitness. I was soon well established at the back of the group. Fortunately on that trek there were two others who walked close to my pace so we were never alone.

Runway at Lukla, gateway to Everest. Everest Base Camp Trek, Oct 2016

As our altitude increased and the air grew thinner over the next few days, I learnt the hard way that maintaining a slow and steady pace was vital for survival as much as enjoyment. I’d put in a burst of pace just over 4,000m to catch up with the main group. Suddenly the mountain began to spin and I almost passed out. By the time we reached our Teahouse in Dingboche that afternoon, I was shuffling along way behind everyone.

It was during the acclimatisation climb out of Dingboche next day that I realized, despite my slow pace, that I’d earned the respect of the group. On one of the many stops, I wearily plodded up to where the group were resting. One of the fitter guys who was always at the front commented that every time he stopped for a rest I always managed to walk in before they set off again. He said I just kept coming, like the Terminator. The nickname stuck with me for the rest of that trip and the one the following year to Mera Peak.

Dingboche. Everest Base Camp Trek, Oct 2016

A few days later, past the settlement of Gorac Shep with only a few miles of barren rock between me and Everest Base Camp, I finally thought I would have to stop. I was completely exhausted, the main group were out of sight and there was no one around me. Every single step was followed by a stop and several deep breaths. Suddenly a voice piped up at my shoulder, “Geez! Sean, are you alright?” It was Mel, an Ozzie who lived in London, and Kumar, our main guide. Mel was fine walking at my pace and Kumar re-assured us we could make it. That was all the encouragement I needed and we were soon looking down on Everest Base Camp from the rocks at the side of the Khumbu Ice Flow.

Khumbu Icefall flowing down from the foot of Everest to Everest Base Camp, Everest Base Camp Trek, Oct 2016

Dream It, Believe It, Achieve It

When we put that dream in front of us and push ourselves towards it we can experience exhilaration and joy.

You may have heard the phrase, “Dream it, believe it, achieve it.” accredited to author and Life Coach Tony Robbins. I first came across this phrase at a Slimming World Meeting when I booked a few weeks membership. To me, it serves as a framework for an amazing life.

If you dream it, it’s a part of you, however deep or achievable and whether you like it or not. You just have to believe you can achieve your dreams no matter what anyone else thinks or tells you. Then, sometimes despite the people around you, sometimes with their full support, you need to be determined and humble and do whatever it takes.

Our world has a perception of overweight people. They think we are lazy, irresponsible and impulsive. That exercise and hard work are beyond us. Yet I know we dream like everyone else. When we put that dream in front of us and push ourselves towards it we can experience exhilaration and joy. Such is the joy of walking in the mountains free from the box they put us in.

Everest in the distance on the trail from Namche Bazaar. Everest Base Camp Trek Oct 2016

Learning to carry your weight can be just as amazing as managing to lose it. Learn how by reading this series, Worth Your Weight In Gold, from the start here.

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Summit Night – Kilimanjaro

Atmospheric reflections on the climb

“How do you feel?” My Guide asked as I sat hunched in the darkness panting heavily.

“Absolutely…. exhausted.” I gasped back at him between pants.

“Are you sick or do you have a headache?”

“No… Just…. exhausted.”

We were sitting at a moment of truth high up on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. If my Guide told me to go down, I’d turn round. If he asked me if I think I should go down I’d turn round and start heading down.

“No headache, no sick, you can still go on.” He said. “We are so close to Stella Point now. Just keep walking and follow me and I’ll get you to your dream.”

That was how close the call was and that was the logic which made me wearily haul myself back onto my feet and stagger another agonizing few feet up into the darkness. 

Listen to the rest of this story as a podcast on Inspiration For A Monday Episode 2 or scroll down and keep reading to enjoy the Blogpost.

Inspiration For A Monday Episode 5 – Be Who You Are Inspiration For A Monday

This is a podcast about self. Self awareness, self acceptance and self love.
  1. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 5 – Be Who You Are
  2. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 4 – The Words Of Life’s Journey
  3. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 3 – High On Mera Peak
  4. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 2 – Summit Night Kilimanjaro
  5. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 1 – The Dream Of Everest Base Camp

Leaving Barafu Camp

Barafu Camp – Kilimanjaro Sep 2018

My journey had started about 9 hours earlier and close to 4,000ft lower down the mountain where our tents nestled among an inhospitable pile of rocks on a steep slope at Barafu Camp. At 9:30pm I sat in the Mess Tent decked out in all my winter gear reluctantly forcing down a ‘breakfast’ of porridge, coffee and biscuits. Myself and one other, a lady from our group, were the slow walkers and were heading out an hour ahead of the main summit party in order to get the most time and best chance of summitting.

I stepped out into the rocks, knowing there was a steep rocky climb of about 100ft just to get up to the Reception of the Campsite and get started. The adrenaline was pumping and I wanted the nervous, sleepless waiting to be over. My guide asked if I was ready, I said I was and we were off. I launched myself into the climb and was soon bounding through the Campsite heading for the next pitch. Another steep and rocky climb would take us onto a plateau 1,000ft above the Campsite where others were camping by virtue of special permits they had purchased. 

Soon after we started, I heard the lady who had also left early shouting into the darkness for me to wait up. I had given her some electrolytes and some words of encouragement in the Mess Tent but no need to wait up for her now. She had a Guide and a Porter to look after her. For days, they’d had to take an arm each to guide her over the rocky pitches. If I had waited for her, we’d both been off the climb before long. As my own guide and I started across the plateau towards the higher camp, we were joined by the other Guide and Porter. My friend had already turned back.

Seamless Multifunctional Headwear Bandana Scarf

Biscuits At 17,000ft

We started at around 15,000ft above Mean Sea Level, I’d hardly noticed as we passed through 16,000ft and as we took one of our regular short breaks at 17,000ft I was feeling great. By all accounts our pace was encouraging and the night was still and clear. There are always hundreds of trekkers ascending through the night on this route on Kilimanjaro (Lemosho Route) but most of them had only just set out and I could see their lines of headtorches steep and far below me as they headed up into the darkness.

I resolved to get to 18,000ft as easily as the rest of the ascent so far and cause an upset by reaching Stella Point (The first point on the rim of the volcano that is Kilimanjaro) in a very fast time.

Storm At 18,000ft

As things turned out, Stella Point is not at 18,000ft but almost 1,000ft higher. What I did find at 18,000ft was that I was moving incredibly slow, that every step was complete exhaustion and a ferocious wind was tearing across the mountain chilling the temperature well below the ambient -20C. The lines of walkers ascending the mountain were now trudging wearily past me. 

My Guide had fallen and broken his wrist. We tried to strap him up in a sling using bandages from my First Aid Kit but it hadn’t helped too much and he had to turn round. He went down to pick up one of the other trekkers from the Main Group who we had been told had also turned around. I headed on up with a Porter who turned out to have the strength of an ox and the patience of a saint. A replacement Guide was heading up to us from the main party and would be with us in due course. 

Switchbacks

I joined the lines of climbers heading up a steep and seemingly endless slope of loose scree through a series of zig zags (Switch backs as the locals called it) but the altitude was starting to get to me for sure. I was becoming less aware of where I was and, more to the point, where I was going. At the end of each traverse of the slope, where the others turned back on themselves and traversed back across the slope, I kept wandering off into the rocks where I would lose my balance, stagger about and need to sit down. The climb across the rocks to get back onto the slopes with the others was confusing and completely exhausting.

The Porter who was with me kept hauling my arm to bring me back on course and telling me we were almost at Stella Point. All the while I knew that even a descent of 100ft and my head and my breathing would start to clear. It was whilst sitting wondering if I should, or could, continue that our replacement guide arrived. He soon established that I was fit enough and close enough to Stella Point to continue. And so we pushed on up ending a very long night on the long, steep slope at the top of Kilimanjaro’s rim.

Sunrise Far Above The Plains Of Tanzania

With the rising of the sun my breath was taken away for a whole new, and much more positive, reason. The slopes around the rim of the volcano, towering back cliffs rising above and around me with huge patches of ice, looked spectacular. Far, far below, the Plains of Tanzania spread out forever. Everything in the beautiful, silent pink glow of the early morning.

Meeting Above The Clouds

A short distance further along the track I took another rest in a small rocky inlet watching the world walking past me towards the top as I gingerly sipped at my water feeling too exhausted and sick to take on anything more substantial. Among the countless climbers passing me, the main party from my own tour who had left for the summit an hour after me soon came into view.

“Mr McBride. How are you?” Called Abraham, our Main Guide, as he saw me.

“Absolutely exhausted!” I replied.

“Remember tiredness is not an illness.” He beamed, “See you at the top.”

His character and his comments caused a broad smile to spread across my face and at that, one of the girls from the group came over and gave me a huge hug. This mountain was a turning point in her life as we had discussed on the way up while she had battled through the emerging effects of the altitude. She sobbed into my shoulder overcome with emotion and in that moment I felt like somehow I was helping and it felt great.

Stella Point – 18,885ft

Group Photo at Stella Point with Kandoo Adventures – Kilimanjaro Sep 2018

For the next hour we labored on up the slope. The Main Group were ahead of me but never got too far and I could always see them. By this stage the Porter who was with me was pushing my back or my hips just to keep me upright every time we moved off. I guess I didn’t look too good on that final ascent, That Porter was a hero and there was no way I would have got up without him. At last the wooden slats of the sign for Stella Point were there in front of me among crowds of excited climbers.

The main group from my tour were already sat in a line to the side of the sign for Stella Point and I collapsed in a heap beside them. We congratulated each other, shook hands, hugged and patted each others backs. It was a bright sunny day now around 6am local time. My last action with the group that morning was to stand among them posing at the Stella Point sign. Stella Point – 18,885ft above Mean Sea Level.

Turning Back

Abraham pulled me to the side, explained what an amazing achievement it was to get to Stella Point and suggested that I start back down the mountain rather than heading on up to the highest point at Uhuru Peak. I could see Uhuru Peak along the rim just above us. It didn’t look too far but I was exhausted. 

Abraham was asking if I agreed with his suggestion to turn back. It would have been foolish not to and would have put either him or his team under more pressure. I wasn’t really ascending under my own steam by that time anyway. I could only have reached Uhuru peak if they carried me and they had enough to carry without my 250lb frame on top. Reluctantly I agreed to head back down.

The Descent

We soon descended into the loose steep scree past the line of weary walkers still making the climb. My guide bobbing up and down gently and gliding down the slope as he ‘scree skied’ through the loose rocks. Me behind him staggering about and hanging onto my trekking poles with legs like water feeling a world of pain below my waist. I could see the campsite looking something like a million miles below us. Sadly I realised even that was the high camp about 1,000ft above our campsite at Barafu.

I was soon sweltering under the African Sun as we plodded on into the bright morning. We stopped, de-layered and plodded on. Eventually, completely exhausted, I found myself clambering down through the rocks from the high campsite down to Barafu. I crawled into my tent at 11:45am and slumped into an exhausted sleep. I’d been on the go for 14 hours into extreme altitude and both hot and cold extremes of weather. I’d climbed 4,000ft and descended 4,000ft. 

When the others arrived back at camp some 3 hours later, there was time for some hot chocolate and lunch before we continued our descent along a gruelling 9 mile dried riverbed to Mweka Camp a further 5,000ft below Barafu. 

The Song Of Kilimanjaro

The song of Kilimanjaro. Thanks to Clair and Will featured here 🙂

Reflecting

Stella point with Uhuru Peak over my right shoulder – Kilimanjaro Sep 2018

Back in civilization and tagging a safari into the holiday, I had time to reflect. At first there was a sense of relief. No more climbing, an hotel room instead of a tent and cold beer once more. Then there was the feeling of achievement at reaching the top of the highest free standing mountain in the world. Well the rim of the volcano at least. Then the doubt and disappointment that I could never say I just reached the top. 

Not simply, “I climbed Kilimanjaro.” but always then the story which qualified what I’d actually done. “…I got to the rim…. I got to the top but just not the very top…” These notes I have written here. That is my full story of Kilimanjaro. it was amazing and I am proud of what I did.

Sunset on the Serengeti
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If You Love Mountains Visit Scotland

If there’s one thing I love about my homeland of Scotland, it’s her mountains and, if there was a picture to capture the loneliness of being away from them during isolation, this is it. The Scottish Saltire flying high in the clouds above Ben Lomond, an iconic Scottish Mountain.

Taken from the return to Inveruglas from the Sloy Dam in April 2019, a Scottish Saltire appears in the clouds above Ben Lomond

From mountains like Ben Lomond to welcome walkers to their first Munro (Scottish Mountain 3,000ft or over) to the Rannoch Wall on the Buchaille or the North Face of Ben Nevis offering the serious climbers some of the wildest unaided climbing in Europe and everything in between, there’s something for everyone in the Scottish Mountains.

Ben Nevis North Face taken from the CIC Hut Jul 2019

Even the commute involves breath-taking beauty that you’ll remember forever. I must have been to Glencoe a hundred times in the past 5 years and I still catch my breath when I see her. Then there’s the walks, like the Glenloin Loop heading out from the shores of Loch Long at Arrochar and meandering among the spectacular Arrochar Alps or the wild East Side of Loch Lomond.

Looking across Glencoe from the foot of the 3 Sisters Sep 2017
Looking across Loch Lomond from her East Bank near Balmaha Mar 2020
Record your adventures on Scotland’s Munros

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Inspiration For A Monday Episode 4 – The Words Of Life’s Journey

Lonely Vulnerable Silence Shadows Tearful Tender Sad Afraid Invisible Cold Sleepless Love Prayer Sunrise Courage Fight First Light New Day Hope Energy Smile Movement Success Belief Dreams Me You Here Now True

Inspiration For A Monday, Episode 4 – The Words Of Life’s Journey
Watch Words Of Love on Amazon

Previous Episodes

Inspiration For A Monday Episode 5 – Be Who You Are Inspiration For A Monday

This is a podcast about self. Self awareness, self acceptance and self love.
  1. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 5 – Be Who You Are
  2. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 4 – The Words Of Life’s Journey
  3. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 3 – High On Mera Peak
  4. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 2 – Summit Night Kilimanjaro
  5. Inspiration For A Monday Episode 1 – The Dream Of Everest Base Camp
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9 Ways To Get Moving Again After a Muscle Strain

As an overweight person who trains regularly, I’ve pulled a lot of muscles over the years. Here are the ones I’ve encountered and what I did to keep moving.

WARNING: Advice on these pages are taken from my own personal experience and do not constitute professional advice. Everyone’s experience and ability is different as is everyone’s treatment for, and recovery from, an injury. If you experience an injury during a sports activity, please seek professional medical advice before proceeding to treatment or commencing training. Before starting on any new physical activity it is a good idea to consult a Doctor. It may also be beneficial to work with a Coach or a Guide to develop the necessary skills to support such activity.

I was in the middle of the road, crossing it on the walk back to my work after the lunchtime Gym Session when I collapsed. A sudden sharp pain burned across my lower back and I suddenly couldn’t stand up. I lurched towards a nearby lamp post and hugged it in an attempt to stay upright until someone from a delivery van stopped to help.

On that occasion the Doctor concluded that I had overworked my upper body in the gym which had weakened my stomach muscles. This put extra strain on my back trying to keep me upright and the muscles in the lower back pulled up. With minor pain killers and rest I was up and about again in a week. Over the years I’ve had to deal with pulled calves and hamstrings, steadily weakening knees and, yes, lots of other episodes of lower back pain.

The root cause is often the same. Training whilst being overweight. I’ve learnt to accept these as a hazard of my passion. What the Doctors and Physio’s have taught me over several visits is how to overcome these and get moving again.

Know your limits and work within them

As they say, prevention is better than the cure and the best way to prevent pulled muscles and strains is as follows:

  • Stretch and warm up before exercise
  • Know your limits and train within them
  • Stretch and warm down after exercise

The occasion of my first pulling the muscles in my lower back came after a year of inactivity and a job overseas which involved lots of restaurant food and alcoholic drinks. I had gained a significant amount of weight and my fitness had almost completely disappeared. On my return to training, a sense of guilt and unease about my declining fitness had me trying to train at the fitness level I had been at 12 months previous. This was way beyond the capabilities of my new body.

My alternative to training was a job with restaurant foot and beer

I now find it’s best to cover some light exercise to gauge the level I am at any time I start a new training program. It’s ok to be less fit than you used to be. The fact that you have started training again should be enough to encourage you.

Warm Up/Down

My last post entitled It’s A Stretch But You Can Do It gives a detailed description of the daily routine I use to get my muscles ready for exercise. This is one of two aspects of the warm up. The next is to raise the heart rate a wee bit and get the circulation going. This can be done simply by a small very gentle jog for 100m or so, or doing the warm up exercises the big events tend to organize before the start of big road races.

A good Warm Up:

  • Loosens the muscles
  • Kick starts the circulation which will keep muscles supplied with oxygen during your activity
  • Helps reduce the strain associated with the rise from Resting to Working Heart Rate by initiating this before the activity begins

Warming down is normally a much gentler repeat of the warm up exercises. This helps the muscles relax from the strain of the activity. I also find a bath and some deep breathing helps a lot.

Regulate your heart and lungs during activities

During the activity try to work below your Max Heart Rate (See my post entitled Putting Your Heart Into Your Dreams). Try and regulate your breathing. Slow deep breaths are better than quick shallow breaths for feeding the muscles with oxygen.

Try to work below Max Heart Rate

In addition, slow deep breaths have a tendency to slow your heart rate giving you more of a margin to work in between your current heart rate and Max Heart Rate.

Never work through pain

Never push through the pain. Learn to recognize the normal discomfort of pushing yourself physically and stop if you feel any pain beyond that.

If you are training hard, there will be a certain amount of acceptable and manageable discomfort. Your heart may be pounding, lungs bursting as you draw in heavy, deep breaths and muscles may ache slightly as lactic acid starts to build in them as a result of your exertion. You can find out a bit more about Lactic acid here. These are all feelings you will already be, or will become, familiar with as your training progresses.

Occasionally however, muscles can suddenly pull. You will normally then feel a sharp pain which could be accompanied by a lack of free movement or even a loss of support in the affected area. This is likely an indication that a muscle group has gone beyond the rigours of physical activity and has become damaged in some way. Pushing on through the pain will only increase the damage.

Remember also that your heart is a muscle which gets put under strain with the rest of your muscles when you train. You would be well advised to be familiar with the symptoms of heart distress such as chest pains, excessive breathlessness or dizziness. The British Heart Foundation has some more detailed advice on symptoms of heart problems and what to do if you encounter them. You can read their advice here.

Apply Hot/Cold Treatment

Whenever I start jogging again after resting for a while, I tend to pull the muscles at the back of my legs. My calves (at the bottom of my legs) are the most common to go but I have also pulled a hamstring (at the top) especially if opening my stride or sprinting.

As with any pulled muscles, rest is essential until the pain has completely subsided. Hot and cold treatment is another method I find helpful. Apply some heat pad or cream (I use a cream called Deep Relief but most people are familiar with Deep Heat) over the inflamed muscle. A few hours later, apply an ice pack. This can be a bag of frozen veg (Remember to ask Mum first 🙂 )

Frozen Mojitos were a great Ice Pack for me when I pulled my hamstring
  • Never apply an ice pack directly to the skin. Keep either a layer of clothing or a towel between the two.
  • Apply for about 20 minutes.

Foam Roller Massage

It is also helpful to deliver some form of deep massage to the affected area. A great way to do this for calves and hamstrings is with the use of a Foam Roller. A Foam Roller is a tubular device about 4ft long normally with some form of dimples or indentations on the outer surface to help massage muscles.

Foam Roller. Great for a deep massage of calf or hamstrings
  • Place the Foam Roller on the ground and sit with your legs over it.
  • Cross your good leg over your bad leg with the bad leg resting on top of the Foam Roller.
  • Position yourself so that the Foam Roller is sitting below the bottom of the affected muscle.
  • With your hands out behind you raise your bottom off the ground so that your weight is being supported by the Foam Roller.
  • Push yourself forward over the Foam Roller.
  • Your affected muscle will now be pushed into and rolling over the Foam Roller which will deliver a deep massage to that muscle.

Use Elasticated Supports

Before leaving calves and hamstrings, it’s worth discussing support as you ease back into training. There are lots of different types of elasticated support for the different parts of the legs like the ones shown below.

Elasticated knee supports

For overall support of all the muscles in the legs, you can get a set of Support Leggings. These are tight fitting leggings with a slightly elasticated material and they provide some support over both your legs. I am wearing support leggings in the stretch video below.

As far as my knees are concerned, there has been a steady decline in the strength of them over a number of years. On the final day of the Everest Base Camp Trek in 2016 I needed one elasticated support on one of my knees. Now, if I’m going for a jog or onto the hills, I need 2 quite heavy neoprene Knee Supports like the ones shown below. I need one on each leg. It’s not so much that my knees are particularly sore, just that they are getting steadily weaker which means it is very hard to balance on rough terrain or steep descents.

Heavier Knee Supports with metal side braces as well as elasticated support

Again, if your knees become sore or swollen, hot and cold treatment as described for the calves and hamstrings can bring down the swelling and ease the pain.

Regularly stretch your back and hips

Lower Back Pain has been something of an ongoing problem for me. This is normally due to an inflammation of the muscles in the Sacro-Iliac Joints in my hips and the most effective pain relief I have come across is through stretching exercises that my Physio worked with me. They are described in the Lower Back and Figure 4 Sections of the post It’s A Stretch But You Can Do It. You can also see a demo in the video below.

Stretches to get ready for exercise

It is worth noting that back pain can radiate down into your legs and actually be the source of pulled hamstrings or calves. When my physio introduced me to the Back Stretches I have discussed, these exercises ended an ongoing spate of pulled calves and hamstrings I had been experiencing throughout the summer.

Use Trekking Poles

If you are trekking as opposed to jogging, a set of Trekking Poles will help support your back and your knees. Adjustable is better so that they can be shortened for ascents and lengthened for descents and folded away when not in use.

Trekking Poles shortened and stowed on my backpack

A couple of things I have come across when using trekking poles:

  • My personal experience with trekking poles with built in springs to absorb impacts has been dire. They just fall apart on me and I don’t find any benefit in the shock absorbing action
  • Never attempt to scramble with Trekking Poles. Always pack them away until you are able to walk on the trail again (Sounds obvious but it is an issue I have come across)
  • Always remember to still use your legs, especially on a descent. I had a tendency at one time just to lean on my poles and then step down. All this does is decrease your natural ability to balance.
  • If your lifestyle is such that you are mostly sitting down at work or rest, try and do a few short walks during the week without trekking poles. For a few years my only walking was on the hills with trekking poles. The rest of the time I was sitting down. Over time I started to find that I could not walk very far unsupported.
  • Remember trekking poles are not walking sticks. That is to say they are designed to help someone with healthy legs and upper body in rough terrain. If you find you need them just to stay upright, it’s time to take a rest if you can or, if this is a longer term problem, seek medical advice.
Walking with Trekking Poles above the Baranco Wall, Kilimanjaro, Sept 2017

So there you have the extent of my own aches, pulls and sprains and what I have done or used to keep moving. I hope you don’t suffer nearly as many as I have but also hope this has been useful if you have done.

It’s not easy taking on difficult physical activities when you’re overweight. You need to keep convincing yourself that you can do it through injury and bad training days and especially when those around you aren’t so sure. On the event you need to ignore the surprised and concerned looks from other participants and believe in yourself even when you have problems. I experienced all of this on my way to Everest Base Camp. Read about the barriers to self belief and how I overcame them in my next post here.

Learning to carry your weight can be just as amazing as managing to lose it. Learn how by reading this series, Worth Your Weight In Gold, from the start here.

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