Mera Peak Planning/Training

After my trip to Kilimanjaro I wanted to go for something a bit more technical and challenging. I had doubts about going back to Nepal because even though I love the country I was a little nervous about the flight into Lukla. However after doing some research it seemed to be the best place to take the next step in altitude.

As with most mountain hiking you need a general level of fitness, add into that altitude and walking for 19 days in a row you need more than your average weekend hiking fitness.

Mera Peak is 19 days on the mountain, with 14/15 days from arriving in Lukla to summiting and then 5 days back to Kathmandu. A high level of fitness is required for these trips as most days involve 8 hours or more trekking on a daily basis and most of this is at high altitude.

My main training for Mera Peak is aerobic fitness, mainly running. I was enrolled in the Paris Marathon which was to take place a couple of days before I flew out to Nepal but due to running injuries in February I pulled out as I did not want to risk ruining my chances of walking. I also try and get out walking as much as possible, but with weather in the UK being very stormy this year, time on the fells has been limited.

I am currently supposed to be on a strict diet to try and lose a bit of weight before I go and to detox my body. However its not gone to plan. I am currently at t-minus 21 days before I fly out so I am going to try cut out more alcohol and fatty foods and try and eat healthy for remaining of time.

When booking with a well established and highly recommended company like Jagged Globe you’d expect the best advice and support. Which is exactly what you get with them. From the moment you book to before you go any questions you have you can phone and email them and they will bend over backwards to help you.

As soon as you book you are asked if you would like to join in with the pre trip weekend. It is not mandatory however but it is in my opinion worth going. You tick the box to indicate you are interested and then they send an invite out closer to a time when a date is arranged. They also have an expedition shop, which if you book a trip with them, you get 15% off RRP. The guys in the shop have done some of the trips and know what they are talking about as well.

Another recommendation before Mera Peak was to go on a winter skills course. Just so you get an idea on ice axe and crampon use, as well as avalanche awareness and ice axe arrests.

Pre Trip Weekend in Peak District

The pre-trip weekend was the first weekend in February and it was extremely informative. Jagged Globe provided all the information you could think of and more from kit you are definitely going to need to different types of kit you can use (B3 boot variety), altitude sickness, food, welfare facilities, first aid, conditions and experience. Information such as delayed flights to and from Lukla, the famous airport which is renowned for delayed flights was discussed. I was more concerned about getting out into the mountains rather than getting back however we were notified that there were provisions in place, in such circumstances as it was not an unforeseen circumstance to them as they were well experienced.

They had opened the shop to sell items that we hadn’t bought yet, or in my case tempted me with a few extra midlayers.

After the morning presentations we headed out for a walk in the Peak District which was really good as it gave us an opportunity to walk and talk with those on the same trip as others or a modified version (Mera Peak and Mera and Island Peak trips). There were also a couple of guys on Everest South Col Expedition who were great to talk to for advice as well. That night we headed back to the offices for a traditional Nepali meal with a few drinks followed by a presentation.

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On the Sunday we headed out to Peak District again to practice ascending techniques, rope work and abseiling. This was really good practical advice session with the ability to test out the skills needed on the trip, especially for those like me who have never used rope work to climb before and very little experience abseiling.

The group seemed to bond really well, especially six of us on the Mera Peak Expedition. We also got on with the group doing Mera and Island Peak as we will all be heading off up Mera Peak together. We set up a WhatsApp group to keep in touch with each other.

 

Scottish Winter Mountaineering Course

Although not mandatory Jagged Globe and other providers do suggest competence in winter mountaineering, (ice axe use, crampon use, experience in long cold days). I chose to do this course with Jagged Globe for ease and because they offered the best structure over the week.

The course was based in Ballachluish between Glencoe and Lochabar. It consisted of 5 full days training followed by presentations at night. It was extremely well put together and was appropriate to the skill level and competence of the groups. There were seven of us in the group and all of us (except one) were beginners when it came to winter skills.

The first day was an introduction into avalanche risk assessment using apps and weather conditions while at the hotel and then using knowledge developed on the slopes assessing type of snow and slope angles. Another skill was the basic use of crampons, walking techniques, cutting steps, ice axe arrests. It was not an overly long day however the skills learnt would set us up for the remainder of the week.

ice axe arrest
Photo credit – M Duffy

The second day was a longer day using skills gained to assess avalanche risk to assess which side of the mountain would be safe to climb and which areas should be avoided. Assessing weather conditions forecast to ascertain if it would be safe to go out and attempt a munroe with factors like wind speed, visibility and precipitation taken into account. We headed out to Glencoe to climb Buchaille Etive Beag – Stob Coire Raineach. I have climbed this before in winter conditions and I knew it was going to be a tough hike. The snow was extremely deep going uphill and I was carrying an injury from running so it was tough going for me and I fell behind. I did feel a bit pathetic as mu calf muscles were burning up with the constant steep uphill but I kept plodding on.  From the ridge we put our crampons on and got ice axes out and continued towards the summit. I was not confident in coming back down with crampons on as it was steep however the guides were very patient and helped me along. The view from the summit was spectacular, one of the best views I have seen from a summit, as everything as far as you could see was covered in snow. After the summit we built a snow cave suitable for all of us. We were split into two teams, one starting at entrance and exit and making our way inwards before turning to create a U shape.

On the way back down towards the vans we had a bit of fun going down on our backsides as some sections were quite steep and it was safe and deep enough to have a laugh. There were some sections on the way down were set up for small avalanches which our guides decided to set off to show us how they occur and what signs occur just before. A note to say that this was done in safe conditions without risks to others.

Day 3 was a right off for hiking out on the fells due to severely high winds and heavy rainfall/snowfall. However as this was a course the guides went through other options of things we could do that day such as a lowland walk or a day in the Ice Wall and Climbing Wall in Kinlochleven. We chose to spend the day in the ice wall/climbing wall. Although this was not winter mountaineering as such this was a fabulous day and I learnt a lot of new techniques such as belay work, rope work, figure 8 knots, ice climbing, crevasse rescue, prussic loops, general rock climbing and abseiling. I really enjoyed the tuition from Ed and Mark which was fun and yet informative.

Crevasse self rescue using prussic loops

Day 4 was a little better weather wise, still high winds and heavy snowfall however it was safe enough to try and get out on the fells. It was decided to try part of the West Highland Way from Glencoe over Devils staircase and into Kinlochleven. It was really interesting as all features that you would use for navigation were covered in snow and so we were shown how to get round this, as well as avalanche and drift assessment enroute. The wind was very strong gusts upto 40mph at some point which was enough to bash me around. It was a beautiful walk and a lot of fun as we got to enjoy winter walking and safety.

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west highland way – photo credit C Wood
C WOODS 2
weather improving – photo credit C Wood
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white out – photo credit A Howarth

Day 5 – I didn’t go out on day 5, I wasn’t feeling well and my calf muscles were screaming due to the running injury. The rest of the group headed out back to Buchaille Etive Beag to summit a munroe and to practice snow anchors etc. I headed back to the hotel and had a chat with Ed about Mera Peak and training etc. Then I headed for a slow gentle walk at the back of Ballachluish which was lovely. I enjoyed the walking at my own pace without feeling rushed and the peacefulness.

Overall the course provided a good background knowledge for winter walking, I would however state that a high level of fitness is required to do this course. I would like to repeat this course next year and gain more skills but my fitness would need to improve a lot.

 

Virgin London Marathon 2017 – Stroke Association

As I am sure most of you will agree, every April when the London Marathon comes on, I used to sit in awe and watch the thousands of people run for charities, some dressed in amazing outfits and some not so much. I always had a desire deep down to run the London marathon but never got around to trying to train for it or even trying to enter it. There are a lot of things you have to give up to do a marathon and I just couldn’t be bothered – not even going to try and make excuses.

So obviously I did the London marathon otherwise this would be a pointless blog. Back in 2016 I remember watching the end bits of the general mass marathon and thought it’s now or never. I had to keep my fitness up as I had booked to go on trip to Kilimanjaro, so I entered VLM ballot in May. I also decided that the odds were slim, so I entered in for a couple of charity places close to my heart. One being Cancer Research – though the amount required was a lot more than others, I have a close friend who has suffered with cancer, as well as other people I have known at work. The other charity was Stroke Association in memory of my Grandma.

To get a charity place it seems the biggest sob story wins. It’s sad but true I’m afraid. I think the basis in this is if you are emotionally attached to the charity you will do your upmost to raise as much money as possible. As I said, Stroke was a charity which did mean a lot to me as my Grandma suffered a few strokes in her life. The first one I remember I was in high school and she phoned me mum up in the morning to say something wasn’t right. She was as good as she could be and was refusing to go to hospital. From that day she was on stroke medication, there were a few lapses, but she never let it slow her down and stop her. My Grandma was a massive part of my life, she was there from day 1 and I saw her almost every day. When I went away to University I called her almost daily and when I went backpacking around New Zealand I was on the phone to her weekly and sending her gifts and photos back. She was my best friend, someone who was always there for me whenever I needed her, someone who wouldn’t drop me as soon as a better thing came along. I went off to Australia for a year and telling my Grandma she wouldn’t see me for a whole year was heart-breaking, we were both upset but she encouraged me to go and live my life. Unfortunately, this would be the last time I would see her. My Grandma passed away in February 2013 while I was in my final months in Australia. It has been almost 5 years and it still hurts as if it was yesterday. I want to call her and tell her everything I have been up to. The idea of running in memory of my Grandma was because I knew she would find it funny, me trying to run 26.2 miles when I have never been a runner, and I knew she would support me all the way.

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Anyway, moving on. Stroke Association liked my reasons for wanting to run for them and I was selected to be a part of Team Stroke in July 2016. I was shocked at first, I didn’t know what the hell I had just signed up for and I was also excited. I told my parents and my Uncle and got onto booking my hotel in London before the prices shot up.

First things first, I had never run before, never even tried that hard to run, as I used to get really tired very quickly. I started with 0-5k concept but in my own way. I had a stretch of quiet road I could run along with my dog where I felt like no one could laugh at my pathetic attempt at running. I started with running 30s and walking for 1min over 5k distance. Over time I reduced the walking time so that I was running 30s walking 20s and then one day I more or less managed to run the full 5k, with a few little walking breaks in the middle. My trainers were not the best that I was running with, so I went out and got a new pair from a local (ish) running shop. The guys in there were great and really helped me out. I knew I was an over-pronator, but they advised me to get a neutral shoe and some insoles. I went with Asics Nimbus 18s which were a fantastic trainer, wide fitted and unbelievably comfortable.

Team stroke set up a Facebook page for all its runners which was a really good source of information and encouragement. There were a lot of amazing people on that page, all running for the same charity but for very different reasons and one of the best things we did was to share all our stories on why we are running. I asked permission to share these stories on my Facebook page, as I found it hard to get donations in from friends on Facebook. I thought that sharing other people’s experiences with stroke and how the charity helped them might show people how amazing the charity was. It didn’t work but at least I showed people anyone can be affected by stroke.

I continued to run every weekend slowly increasing my distance and occasionally I did the odd 5k during the week after work, but it was getting dark and as usual wet in the North of England, so I tended to shy away from training. The more I trained I started to get excruciating pain to the side of my knee. I went to the doctor to get referral to physiotherapy where they diagnosed me with ITB syndrome and I was told to stop running for a while. It didn’t help that I had a sprint triathlon to do and a total warrior. I still did these, and I don’t regret doing them, but it did push my recovery back as I seriously messed my leg up. The physiotherapy was OK, but I didn’t seem to be getting any better with the exercises. I continued to get as much mileage as I could under my belt without hurting myself, and continued to do the exercises given to me.

After Christmas I was struggling to do anything passed 10k which is not great considering I was going to have to run over 40k. I decided to ditch the physiotherapy and go to a private sports therapist to try and sort my issues out. I ended up black and blue in my first session as I also had Piriformis syndrome which can cause ITB. I was given stretches and massage techniques to do before and after exercising and told to go easy on the foam roller as it can cause knots as well as release them.

I seemed to improve a lot under my sports therapist, and my mileage started to increase again, but then I had another setback and had to return to treatment. My sports therapist was not convinced that it was just piriformis causing my ITB and started to look for other causes and found out that I had flat feet, more so on the right then the left and gave me a company near me to go and see to have specially made insoles to correct the pronation and flat feet. After I put these insoles in I had no issues at all with ITB and to this day I am still ITB free. However, I do a lot of stretches before and after running.

The longest run I did was just over 13 miles and that was in March. With all my injuries and time off etc I should have been up to at least 18 miles as my longest run, but I was far off that. However, I was determined come marathon day I would push myself and get over that finish line. What was a bigger motivation as well was the fact that my parents were coming down to support me and my uncle and his partner were also making the journey to cheer me on.

The night before I was due to leave for London we went to visit family friends as it was their youngest daughters 18th birthday, unfortunately I over-indulged a lot and was a tiny bit ill that night and the next day. I woke up drunk still and had to get to the train station which was a 50-minute drive away – enter super dad who I had to wake at 6am to drive me to the station, drive back and then drive himself and my mum there a few hours later. Getting drunk was not the greatest idea I have ever had but I was enjoying the night.

I was staying in Greenwich as it was close to the start and easy enough to get to (once I had figured out the tube system). I had to go to the VLM convention which was on the other side of London and grab all my gear. It was a nightmare, there was so many people trying to get there the trains were rammed and getting into the hall to get your stuff was not great for someone who doesn’t like large crowds. The convention itself was very good but I didn’t stay too long as people were pushing and shoving, and others were just stopping mid walk.

I did get to meet one of my fellow team stroke members in the convention which was great, it was really nice to meet someone I had been talking to on the Facebook group for months. After here I went back into the city centre to meet my parents and grab a bite to eat before I went back to my hotel for a goodnights sleep.

The next morning, I was a nervous wreck, I got up early and went for breakfast at the hotel, it wasn’t the best breakfast, no cereal, no porridge, so I ended up with just toast. I headed back to my room put the news on to watch the build-up, I managed to eat the porridge I got free from the convention the day before. I started stretching and foam rolling to do everything possible to make sure I made it through the race in one piece. I checked and posted an update on my fundraising page this morning and shared on Facebook, I had almost reached £2000 by the start of the race.

I headed towards the start, the energy in the atmosphere was amazing, everyone was in a great mood and you could see people start to make the way to line the streets. At Greenwich park I met up with fellow Team Stroke Runners, I handed my bag into the coaches and went to queue for the toilet with my energy drink, met some really nice people in the queue all running for different charities. It took almost 20min to get to the toilet and when I left there were still lots of people queuing and it was 9:50am. I headed to the starting pen and met up with Mark a fellow Team Stroke runner who had lost his running partner and also a rhino and a guy running in heels.

The buzz in the pen was fantastic I was nervous and excited at the same time, over 30,000 people were running with me to complete one of the best-known marathons in the world, I just couldn’t believe I was there with them. Mark and I agreed to run with each other until he could find his running buddy which was good for me as I had someone to pace with at the start to make sure I didn’t set off too quickly. Ten o’clock approached and we could hear those at the front counting down as it started to filter back, then a loud claxon and we were off – kinda. We were at the back of red start, right at the back. It took us 35 min to get to the start line where we had to step on the starting mat to activate our timers.

The support along the route was fantastic, live music loads of people clapping, giving people high-fives, it was great. It is hard not to pick up your pace at the start as you’re on a high, but Mark kept slowing us down to make sure we were running a comfortable pace. The amount of people on the side of the roads didn’t diminish much in the first few miles. I started to need the toilet after the first couple of miles but everyone we went past was packed with people and the lines weren’t moving very quickly. Just after a Lucozade sport station there was a single portaloo at the side of the road with just 2 people queuing, so Mark and I joined that. I have no idea what the first person was doing in the toilet, but they were in there for about 5 min. In total I lost 10 minutes waiting for the toilet. The Cutty Sark was great to run past and first time I saw any photographers, it was slightly disheartening as we were still in Greenwich and about 10min walk from where I stayed last night, and we had been running around 45 min with an average pace of 11min/mile. My target was still in sight which was a finish of between 5-6hrs.

We were approaching Tower Bridge which I was really looking forward to, the bridge is between mile 12 and mile 13. We saw Team Stroke cheerleaders at the side of the road which was really great. As I got onto the bridge I did a live video stream onto Facebook to tell people to donate to help me reach the target. As I got half way along I heard a scream of my name which could have only been my parents. I turned and there they were with my aunt and uncle. I ran over and jumped on them, tears in my eyes, I didn’t expect to see them anywhere on the course as my mum hates the Underground, so I arranged to see them at the finish. It was a great boost to see them. Mark had waited for me while I said hello, and I ran to him and we carried on.

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This stretch from mile 13 to 24 is the hardest. As you cross Tower Bridge you can see people on the other side of the road on mile 23. It’s a long 11 miles, the crowds dissipated, and my body was aching. We started to walk from mile 13 onwards as it was faster than running, my body was aching. The Isle of Dogs was hard, there’s not much London scenery. My parents and aunt and uncle met me again coming back down to Tower Bridge. The crowds are fabulous cheering your name on telling you, you can do it gives you such a rush, it’s also emotional. The miles seem to be going up slowly. I remember passing Adam Woodyatt as he was running, and we were walking.

Coming into the city centre at mile 24 was great, there were loads of people, all with beer in hand and Haribo which were needed. Hearing “Kayleigh you can do it, it’s so close” was fabulous, I did have a few moments where I had tears in my eyes. Coming down Victoria Embankment was great the London eye was on the left and I could see Big Ben in front of us. As we turned right at the end of Victoria Embankment Big Ben was on my left there were so many people screaming and cheering everyone one, we were still walking at this point and I tried to get into a run, but I was in so much pain. The clock was ticking down we were approaching 5hr50, I started to jog as we started to run past St James Park. I could see Victoria Memorial approaching and I started to speed up around the corner. The finish line was in my sights, I could see we only had 3 min to get to the finish line to finish before 6hrs. the photographers were there, and I put my hands up in celebration of getting there, crossing the line I grabbed Marks hand as we started together we were finishing together.

I was so happy I had finished a marathon, I may not have run it all, but I participated, I raised over £2000 for charity and I loved it. Having the medal put over my head I thought, I am never taking this off. I went to have my finishers photo taken and we went to collect our bags from the coach. I had a message off my dad, he had missed me finish as apparently, I was going faster than they had anticipated and we were going to meet at the Team Stroke after party. In total I ran 27.4 miles as its only 26.2 miles if you stick to the yellow race line.

Mark went off to meet with family and friends and I headed off to the after party which was across the Thames near the London Eye. It was a tad far from the finish line. When I got there, I booked in for a free massage and went and sat down with family and had a large glass of wine, followed closely by another one. We all went and had a nice walk around to London Eye but for some reason it was closed on Sunday in April, so we couldn’t go on it. We had some really nice pictures taken by the London Eye overlooking parliament. My aunt and uncle left to go back home to Worthing and me and my parents had a little walk around, and then I head back to my hotel for a hot shower and a well-earned McDonalds.

The support I had from the Team Stroke Facebook page and family and friends was amazing. I wouldn’t have raised £2000 if it wasn’t for the generous guys I work with at BAE, with them paying for the many cakes I brought in and also just in general donating their money for a great cause.

I would recommend running London Marathon to anyone, it was a fabulous experience, something I would love to do again in the future. The crowds make it extra special.