Climb every mountain?

I struggle sometimes.  Well, I struggle a fair  bit actually.  One of the things I struggle with is finding that happy balance we need as we get older, between giving up on physical activity and going for it in ways that might just cause a heart attack, injury or worse.
Let me give an example.  I write this while I am on holiday in South Africa.  A beautiful country, by the way, which I would not have visited had it not been for my oldest stepson falling in love with and marrying a lovely South African woman.  We came over for the wedding.  While staying in Cape Town, my husband and I agreed we wanted to walk up Table Mountain.  The last mountain I walked up was Ben Lomond in Queenstown, New Zealand in February 2016 – so roughly 19 months ago.  On that occasion, I got a laryngeal spasm, for the second time in roughly a week (the previous occasion being on a fairly steep but familiar hill, Queenstown Hill, when I was still recovering from a virus).  My first experience of a laryngeal spasm was a couple of years before this, walking up a very familiar hill in the UK which I had previously taken in my stride (pardon the pun).  On that first occasion, we were walking with some particularly fit friends.  I was embarrassed to be lagging behind, and so I pushed myself.  Nearing the top I got breathless and thought at first it was an asthma attack, but I found myself making a very scary rasping noise, unable to talk without sounding as if I might be breathing my last.  I know, I know, I am being dramatic.  My inhaler didn’t touch it, and my GP later diagnosed the incident as a laryngeal spasm.  
So, having now a history of laryngeal spasms when exerting myself on hills, and knowing I had not trained for this mountain hike, I was a little apprehensive about Table Mountain.  I made sure my husband knew where to find my inhaler in my backpack should I find it impossible to talk,  and warned him I would be taking it easy.  But let me tell you, the Platterklip Gorge is steep, with almost no relief from the constant climb.  

I took rests, drank water and ate frequent small amounts of chocolate.  However, I knew that if I was ever to reach the top I must get going as soon as possible after each brief rest.  My husband and I were the oldest people climbing that day.   The young people we passed were all very sweet, telling us we were doing well and bless them, openly amazed that such an old woman would even attempt such a climb.  
But sure enough, I spotted the early signs of a laryngeal spasm as I found myself clearing my throat repeatedly and swallowing frequently.  When I stopped, I was suddenly aware that my breathing had got a whole lot worse and when I tried to talk my voice had that familiar sound of someone with a very nasty throat condition.  By now we were about an hour and a half from the top, but the way down looked even more treacherous than the way ahead.  And so I went on, cross and embarrassed that I was holding us both up.
As I continued, I was also aware that I felt dizzy (especially if I looked round!), and after a while all four limbs began shaking.  But the views were to die for (I hoped I wouldn’t!), and eventually as we entered the gorge about 45 minutes from the top we encountered some welcome shade.  Here, I sat and ate one of my two sandwiches.  It tasted like the food of the gods.  
Finally, we reached the top.  I felt elated, high fived my husband, and we wandered around the top marvelling at the 365 degree views.  It had taken us two and a half hours to get there (including a stupid half hour detour).  Average time, in fact, though my hubby admitted later he could have shaved half an hour off that if he hadn’t been with me.  It was one of those peak experiences that I will never forget.
I wonder what my doctor would say?  Would he say I was foolish to attempt it, given how manifestly unfit I was, and my age?  Or would he secretly want to high five me?  My arthritic hip was painful for days afterwards and still has not fully recovered more than a week later.  It gets caught and clicks, painfully.  Have I made my arthritis worse?  Was I close to having a heart attack or stroke, given that my BP was probably through the roof?  Where is the advice for people my age who want to get fitter?  
Where is the line between a failure to accept the limitations of ageing, and giving up?  I am not yet ready to put on my slippers and watch daytime TV.  I want to live.  I want to have adventures while I can.  Should I worry, or just carry on doing crazy things?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I suspect I will keep on keeping on.  I am currently planning how I might get more used to hills and train to walk up to Scafell Pike next year, maybe doing the Yorkshire Three Peaks in one week (not one day, and not even consecutive days, in order to give my hip a break).  I am not daft (though my family might disagree with me).
I would love to hear your comments below.

Are you over 60, fit and healthy, or battling against physical limitations?

Do you find yourself wondering how to strike the balance between doing yourself harm through exercise, and doing yourself harm by not exercising?

Do you have specialist knowledge that might be useful to people in my situation?
Looking forward to hearing from you!


6 thoughts on “Climb every mountain?

  1. Firstly, well done Bon, what an achievement! Secondly, I know what it’s like to battle between knowing what one can/can’t do and being sensible – not necessarily because of age but because of body limitations, for whatever reason. Our sister will also know. And we all have memories of our Mum’s struggles. With my sensible hat on I suggest checking with your GP before you do anything else – not only for yourself but also because you have a husband who loves you and it wouldn’t be fair to him if you keeled over without having had the all-clear from your doc! And then of course there’s also your family; you are not an island in your life Bon, others are also part of the whole you, and they also love and care about you. You are the sum of all those parts – wife, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, daughter-in-law, friend, counsellor etc.
    Of course I understand that you may be reluctant to consult your doc again because s/he may tell you something you won’t want to hear, e.g.setting some limits on what you can do, not because of your age but from what you’ve said in your blog, because of your body. However, arthritis isn’t necessarily age-related, it can happen even in childhood, and clearly it’s quite advanced in your hip and you know you’re likely to make it worse if you do something it can’t cope with; not what YOU, who happens to be a certain age, can’t cope with, but your hip. Ditto re the laryngeal spasm.
    Age and activity. It’s always difficult to accept the fact that age can impose some restrictions on activity but sometimes we have to and we do naturally slow up as we get older, however we can seek other ways to keep active and vibrant; so in effect, we can change course – might not be what we’d prefer to be doing but that’s life. Equally, it’s important to live life because we only get one shot at it and no-one wants to look back with regret. Finally, you’ll never be a ‘slippers and tv’ girl, because above all you’re a Meekums/Coverley and these family genes mean we’re always busy and on the go even in older age! I often dream of getting really fit again and running a half marathon but even after just one yoga class 5 days ago my hips still ache and my left knee has ‘gone’, not helped by being forced to walk a lot because my car’s in dock, and I’m fed up so basically I’m metaphorically walking alongside you on this sis!
    Have fun but also take good care.
    Gilly xxx

  2. Love this blog. It reminds me too of work with clients with chronic pain. For some it’s very difficult to know where the line is beyond which they’ve gone too far and will pay for it the next day. Others know very well when they’re crossing the line but do so in pursuit of activities that they love – a quality of life pay-off. As I was reading the blog I was worried you’d have to turn back and so it was lovely to discover you’d made it to the top – I can just imagine the feeling of elation!

  3. Hi Bonnie, catching up on your blog and saw this. I gave up on walking any great distance when I had a very painful shoulder five years ago, meaning I wasn’t able to carry the lightest bag, let alone a rucksack. Thanks to the Osteopath and retirement, this isn’t such a problem any more, now sadly I have trouble with my feet and hip. I also get very breathless though I’ve not smoked for years, and to be brutally honest I was never the keenest walker anyhow! So I’ve found yoga, and it helps me such a lot, since I’ve started two years ago I’ve been able to give up the painkillers for my back and generally feel much more supple, of course the hills aren’t big here, but I’ve noticed I’m better at getting up them in Cornwall and I do walk into town and back quite a lot, the swans on the river help. Well done to you for your Stirling efforts though, and best of with the three peaks, I’ve only ever managed Pen_y_ghent!!

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