PERSONAL STORY OF MUSCLE GSD
HIKING MACHU PICCHU IN PERU
My name is Deborah Corcoran and I was diagnosed with McArdle’s at age 33. It was not until a heart attack in 2011 that I realised I had to get fit. I learnt about second-wind, started walking locally and built up to climbing mountains in Wales. In 2022 I fulfilled a long held dream of hiking the mountains in Peru to visit Machu Picchu.
Name: Deborah Corcoran
GSD: McArdle’s (GSD5)
Diagnosed at age: 33
Age at writing: 54
Diagnosed after rhabdomyolysis
I was diagnosed with McArdle disease at 33 years of age after ending up in hospital following a holiday in Spain, where I became ill with what I now know to be rhabdomyolysis. Luckily for me I was under a great rheumatologist who referred me for a muscle biopsy for McArdle disease and it came back positive. I had always thought of myself as a lazy child, but now I had the answers and knew this was not the case.
A heart attack pushed me to get fit
I still never really got much fitter after that until I had a heart attack in 2011 and realized I had two options, give up or get fit. I opted for the latter. I live in North Wales and started walking and going up local hills. I found I could get into second-wind and there was no stopping me. I even climbed Snowdon. Then I walked the London Marathon and raised over £3000 for McArdle Disease.
I built fitness post-heart attack and this is me on Snowdon summit.
A long-held dream
“What next?” I thought. I had a long-held dream of seeing Machu Picchu in Peru, but rather than just visit on an excursion, I saw an advert for our local hospice to trek the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Myself and my husband signed up immediately.
I knew I would have to be mountain fit as we were due to trek 42 km over four days, at altitudes up to 4300 metres. We purchased our new boots and set about wearing them in. We walked up local hills, we climbed Snowdon, at Easter this year we stayed in the Lake district and climbed Scafell Pike (that was a hard one, very rugged and uneven, coming down being as bad as going up!). It took me a long time to get into second-wind when ascending and I paused many times, on the flat or going downhill was no problem. We just walked whenever we could. I also walked a few 13 mile trips on the flat on my own to keep my legs strong.
Deborah and John at the start of the Inka Trail.
Covid delays, then we were off
Due to Covid the trip was delayed several times until on 1st July 2022, we finally set off with 18 other intrepid trekkers from Wrexham. I was excited but nervous at the same time. I was going to be doing this trek with people who did not have McArdle’s and I knew I was going to stick out like a sore thumb. Our group was a mixture of young people and people who were around my age or older. People were all different sizes, and it soon became apparent that maybe I would not be the only one to struggle at times.
Inspiring scenery while acclimatizing on day one.
Acclimatizing to the altitude
We travelled for over 36 hours on three separate flights until we arrived at Cusco. On day one we were taken on a bus to do an acclimatization trek back to our hotel. This was meant to be easy as it was to help us to adapt to the altitude, which was 3600m. I found this first day quite difficult as it was more hilly than I had anticipated. Fortunately for me, the altitude did not affect me at all, unlike some of the others who really struggled and required support from our doctor who accompanied us during the whole trek.
Not the odd one out, they all took a break too!
I spoke to the guides and doctor
The next day the trek itself started. After a two-hour coach ride we found ourselves walking along a river in-between mountains, and we were off! I found this day particularly OK. Although I was at the back for most of it, so were others and I did not feel ostracized. I was so grateful to see our campsite at the end of that day.
Thinking back to previous advice, I spoke to our guides and the doctor as I had not really mentioned McArdle’s yet. It was decided that on day two, when we stopped for breaks or lunch, I was allowed to set off 10 minutes before the rest of the group. This worked so well that when we climbed to the highest point at 4300m over Dead Women’s Pass, I was the third person from our group to reach the summit. I was crying inside, tears of joy, tears of exhilaration – me with McArdle’s had made it to the top of the highest point ahead of 17 other people. No one knew how I was feeling as I stood with the fitter people, we waited over half an hour for the next people to arrive. Go me!
Getting in my stride with my walking poles.
A tough day, into camp just before dark
Day three I thought I had it conquered. How wrong I was. I struggled so much that day, it was over 18 km and up and down, not as high as the day before but still pretty high and very rugged and hard.
They were also pushing us this particular day because we had to arrive before dark and I think we had set off later than planned. Our group was really separated with some people arriving a long time before others, myself and my husband just made it before dark. A small group at the back finished in the dark with the help of our guides. I was thoroughly exhausted but also happy.
So steep we used our hands... and our Guide carried our poles!
The final day to the Mach Picchu
The final day was the trek to the Sun Gate and our destination of Machu Picchu. They told us it was “just around the corner from camp”. It was actually over a two-hour trek, but it was ok. Not too difficult apart from the Monkey steps (see photo) which were terrifying for everyone. You could not walk up them, you had to clamber. I kept having to rest as I was using my arm muscles as well as my legs and it was really hard.
Once up them it was plain sailing and we were an incredibly happy bunch of people arriving at the Sun Gate, which overlooks Machu Picchu. We then walked downhill for around 45 minutes to arrive at Machu Picchu itself and had a lovely tour.
We made it! At the Sun Gate, looking down on Machu Picchu.
An amazing experience
I am so glad I did this and feel really proud of myself, as it was not easy but I managed it. Luckily for me, I know how to exercise with McArdle’s and I know what my weak points and my positives are. It was an amazing experience and I loved every minute of it.
What next? Well, I am hoping to climb Ben Nevis but not until next year. I think my fitness work for the next few months will consist of walking on the flat, maybe a few hills, but definitely no mountains!