Exercise, the only thing that has been shown to delay disease progression in Parkinson’s, should, in theory, be easy to commit to doing on a daily basis. Yet at times it can still be difficult to find the motivation to exercise, particularly on a cold, wet, windy winter’s day.
In the autumn of 2019, signing up to do The Raid Alpine the following summer, gave me a goal that would help motivate me to exercise over the winter months. A gruelling six day challenge, cycling 770km from Geneva to Nice over the Alps. Climbing 18,000m (over twice the height of Everest) during this time and tackling some of the highest Cols in Europe seemed like a good idea at the time.
This of course was before Covid wreaked its havoc and lockdowns meant that The Raid Alpine challenge was postponed in 2020 and again in 2021 and a nine month training programme turned into a two and a half year training programme. On an optimistic note, this gave me plenty of time to train. The reality although of course, was that these two years also gave Parkinson’s the opportunity to progress and add to the physical challenges.
The Raid Alpine did however continue to motivate me to exercise. I even embraced the turbo trainer, something which I had previously avoided at all costs. I surprised myself be even enjoying some of theses rides too.
However, at times, it felt akin to trying to run up the ‘down’ escalator, when every step forward with training was met with a corresponding step back in my physical health, with balance, reaction time, stamina, fatigue and posture all became more problematic to varying degrees in a frustratingly unpredictable manner.
I began to accept early in 2021, that the six day challenge that was always going to be a big ask, but might just have been possible, was out of my grasp. So, when a friend suggested we do it over ten days instead, it provided the perfect solution. Still challenging, still fun, still a commitment to training, but importantly still potentially possible to achieve.
A challenge of this scale required commitment, time, energy and at times became all consuming. But, what I gained in fitness, confidence and having an incredible experience far outweighed any of the difficulties encountered during training.
There were many highlights but for me, the following will stay with me for a long time.
The 47km climb up to the top of the Col d’Iseran, the highest paved Col in Europe was gruelling. It was incredibly hot, with no shade, the air was still until about 3km from the top, where a blustery wind added to the challenges of staying upright. I was slow, really slow and when I got to the top, the others had understandably gone on and only Rory was waiting patiently to greet me. The sense of achievement was great and a sense of getting one over on Parkinson’s was greater still.
The Col d’Izoard was a fantastic climb. I loved every minute of it. My medications worked their magic, my stamina was good, my legs were strong and it was such a joy to cycle with the others rather than training several km behind. My symptoms were as good as I can remember for a long time. For that one day alone, all the training was worth it.
Sharing the experience with my eldest son, Callum, who with his friend, Rory, provided all our logistical support. Every time they drove past me cycling slowly uphill, I would hear Callum yell ‘Go on Mum you’ve got this. You’re doing brilliantly. Keep going.’ He can have no idea just how much his words spurred me on or how much his support meant to me.
With my rose tinted spectacles on, there were of course no down sides – except perhaps the saddle sores and fatigue!
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat! Perhaps easy to say, now it’s all over. Except it’s not all over……..The memories will stay with me forever, the sense of achievement. the people I met, the support of family and friends, the fun, the sense that I’m doing something positive for myself and the wider Parkinson’s community and the overall buzz from being part of an amazing adventure.
Now this challenge is over, I’m already organising next year’s adventure – cycling to Barcelona from the UK for the World Parkinson Congress next year. I’ll keep you posted…….