Sunday, 13 May 2018

Getting ready to Rumble

Only 3 weeks to go before heading to Sri Lanka for the 5 day MTB stage race, the Rumble in the Jungle. I still have to pinch myself when I think about this opportunity given to me by the race organiser Phil Evans from MTB World Wide, together with the support of Sri Lanka Airlines. To make this dream even better, one of my dearest friends Karin Sloove will be joining me for a trip of a life time and the lovely Karen Hill who made me smile during the toughest parts of the MTB Himalayas stage race will be there as well. Other familiar faces in Mike Blewitt from MarathonMTB and Phil's better half Corrinne who kept me injury free during the MTB Himalayas makes this race feel like a little reunion of some of the awesomest people I have met in the sport so far.
From day one in India it was all smiles with Karen Hill!

My preparation for the Rumble  has been very different from my preparation for the MTB Himalayas stage race I did last year. For the Himalayas  I was still injured and I ticked of my training slowly but gradually every week to gain the fitness I needed to complete the race. At the same time I had to let my back heal. It was a fine balancing act and standing on that start line last October was a massive win itself.
One of my biggest adventures to date : the Hero MTB Himalayas

In November I started strength and conditioning training together with James at Whatsyourmeta whilst physio Morgan keeping a close eye on things. By this stage I had been getting weekly physio sessions for 12 months with a no running policy. (I threw in the odd run myself for mental health reasons) I can honestly say without sounding hard on myself, that when I started strength training with James, I was pretty much hopeless. There was not much proprioception in my left leg. Anything I had to do using one leg and I would fall over. Simple things like pulling my left lack backwards, such as in a backwards lunge or stepping on a block with one leg and I had to really concentrate to make it happen. Wobbling from side to side. With my gluteals and hamstring muscles simply not engaging. Thanks to Morgan who would almost snap my legs off during physio (or at least it felt that way!) stretching my shortened hamstrings and pelvic flexors muscles, "flossing my sciatic nerve, and continuously working on mobility, proprioception and balance with James; slowly but surely things started to progress in the right direction.
The one and only Karin Sloove, who I can always count on to say yes to my crazy adventures!

My training for the Rumble in the Jungle has not really been about getting fit enough to do the race but it has been about being a happy athlete again. Getting the confidence in my body that I can do this, instead of hoping it will be ok. Therefore we have been training in the here and now rather than working towards the second week of June. One of the high lights of my sessions with James wasn't an increase of power on the bike but it was being able to do the box jump during my strength sessions. Something I mentally really struggled with but after a month of really putting the  hard work in, I managed to nail it! Finally feeling like there was still an athlete somewhere left in me after all.

In the same token James pushed me to line up some races, to pin up a number for the sake of pinning up a number and go out and race. No expectations, no pressure, just go out and do it without reading into my results too much. Getting used to racing again. Two weeks ago an email came through with participants event details for the Glen Affric offroad duathlon, I had completely forgotten I had entered this!! 7.5 miles run, 18 miles MTB and a 2.5 miles run, all offroad. I immediately added it to my racing calendar, which had been pretty busy already with the Dumferline Women's road race, the Dirty Reiver Gravel race and the Selkirk MTB Marathon all within a time span of 4 weeks. But this one I really wanted to do. Although I had absolutely no running fitness or speed for that matter, I was running pain free for the first time in 2 years. And I could actually use both of my legs again!! So other than being slow I felt like I had no excuse not do it.
Dreaming of being able to run this fast again; XTERRA NZ 

I remembered vaguely that the lovely Cat Sutherland had mentioned she entered it as well so I immediately send her a message to see if we could catch up. She was in a similar situation having been injured and not really fit so we found ourselves giggling on the start line. Off we went at what I thought was a very easy pace for a race and for the first time in a long long long time I backed myself and followed Cat to the pointy end of the field, thinking "I can do this" A cool story would have been that I was as fast as the wind and smashed the field for an impressive post injury win. But that did not happen!  I have never seen myself as a natural athlete. I am not saying I can't be fast but I have to run a lot and I have to do a lot of speed work in order to be fast. Half way up the first MASSIVE hill and I was going backwards in the field as fast as I had been going forward in it at the start. "I will make it up on the bike" I thought positively but once on the bike, my legs had forgotten how to cycle after running. It was a proper and utter suffer fest, I was feeling every single muscle in my body and I had forgotten how fit you have to be for these races in order to be fast. The final run was an out and back and I was so happy to run into Cat's smiling face saying it was not long to go and it was pretty!! I laughed, my god this was brutal, but brutal in a way I had not been able to feel for such a long time. And although I was worried about some of the niggles I started to feel in my back and hamstrings, I also knew that going from a 6km run every now and then  to a total of 17km at full on race pace it was a given I would be sore. Cat (who had a smashing race) was waiting for me at the finish line and we spend the rest of the day laughing about how hard it was and chatting in the sunshine about up and coming events and adventures. The weekend ended in style with lots of smiles riding some awesome trails near Straphpeffer with Cat and her partner Donald.
Suffering through the Glen Affric Duathlon

It was such a great weekend with so many positives to take away from it. Even though I finished a long way from the front, I had the confidence to try and go with them at the start trusting my body, something which injury had robbed me from. The fact that I could suffer so much again pushing my heart rate the highest it had been for over 3 years. All which made me very happy. I have been struggling re-inventing myself as an athlete, not really knowing what it was I wanted. Other than that I wanted to be fast again. Not to climb on podiums or win races, just to have that feeling of being fit and fast. For me. I have been forced to stay on the bike due to injury but the duathlon created such and excitement in me which I had missed so much. My heart was in multi sport races, my strength was in multisport races because being able to run and ride and do lots of other crazy disciplines through incredible beautiful terrain,  made me the happiest. Happy athletes are fast athletes.

Two very happy athletes 

For the next 3 weeks leading into my trip to Sri Lanka I will work on some endurance and do some long rides to add to my fitness, but mainly I will keep on working on my confidence to keep my head as positive as it has been this weekend. With so many cool inspiring people on the start line of the Rumble in the Jungle and organisers who know how to turn an event into something truly special, I have no doubt it will be one of those once in a life time experiences! 

"Beautiful things happen when you distance yourself from negativity"

Monday, 23 April 2018

The Dirty Reiver; Riding it out

When I left Kirriemuir 18 months ago to start a new life in Edinburgh I never thought it would be as hard as it ended up being. I am not someone who easily gets attached to a place or even people for that matter. Although I would not define myself as uncommitted and have close friendships all over the world, I am aware I pack up and leave a lot easier than the average person does. And feeling homesick is an unfamiliar concept to me. Over the last year however I started to realise how kind Kirriemuir had been to me. When I appeared out of nowhere 5 years ago with a few bags, lots of bikes and my dog Fynn. The support of my bosses at Thrums and the friendships I developed with my colleagues and clients is something I have learned to treasure. Having moved every 3 years since I was 10 it was easy to think I was just a voyager. But the messages of support I received in the last few months, former clients and colleagues raving about me to my new employers. Friends getting in touch with lovely messages, has made me feel that may be I did not make as much of a mess of my life as I think I had in the pursuit of realising dreams. And may be I was not just a voyager after all.

Missing outing like this; close friend and colleague Helen and I on one of our post work runs 
The last few months have been an enormous learning curve. Starting a new job for one. But also training I have been approaching differently. Naturally I am a goal oriented person, I am very black and white and don't like grey areas. I have never liked it if I am unsure in what direction I am heading. At the moment though I really havent got a clue. The only goals I have is to enjoy my job again and do it to the best of my ability. And to rebuild myself as an athlete, why? because I can.

I am often homesick for my close friends spread around the world, rather than place
Karin and I after obtaining our British Cycling Mountain bike Leader Award
I have been working really hard with coach James at the M.E.T.A pain cave. Without actually working towards any races, we have been focusing purely on making me stronger again. What I want to do with the results in training I have not really decided yet. Sure I have a calendar full of races ahead of me in some amazing destinations and I want to be strong for them. But instead of training towards specific events week by week, I am now almost doing the opposite. Concentrating on my own improvement in the here and now and line up local races where they will see fit, not worrying about the specifics of training for a race.
The coaches hard at work 
Last Saturday I found myself on the start line of the Dirty Riever; A 200kms gravel race with close to 4000m of ascend. Having just started a new job, I felt mentally a bit drained. When I questioned wether this was a good idea since I had not obtained any endurance for months and had actually never been on the bike for more than 7 hours, James answered "so just because you have been working on high intensity sessions  you don't know how to ride a bike for 10 hours??" Case closed.
I chose to ride mt Ridley CX bike, added with Maxxis 40C tyres

So there I was in between all the bike packing guru's slightly intimated by all the professional looking bike set ups! I was riding my X-Bow Ridley cross bike, which very unfitting had "done in 60 minutes" written on it referring to a cyclo cross race. Sandy Wallace Cycles team boss, John had very kindly put 40C Maxxis tyres on my bike which made it look a little bit more appropriate for the task ahead of us; which would take a little longer than 60 minutes! I felt relieved when I spotted a friendly face among the crowds; the lovely Marie Meldrum. She still introduces me as "This is Nienke who beat me at the Aviemore triathlon and took the overall female win" something which happened 3 years ago!! Running into Marie made me feel a lot more relaxed and as she rolled to the front she turned around and said "don't compare yourself to other people, you don't know what they have been doing, just go ride your bike and enjoy it" and that sentence stuck by me the whole 200kms.

Marie and I winning the overall win in the female pairs at Ten Under The Ben in 2015

I found myself far at the back with in my opinion way too many people around me. It was a battle for good lines avoiding sharp rocks. The first 12km was mentally really hard for some reason. My bike was not set up for the grinding climbs so often I had to stand up instead of being able to spin up the hill. I kept on repeating to myself to just ride and not race and to see it as a good day out on the bike. The sun was shining and there was no reason not to keep going. Although there were little groups of people around me who would say friendly hellos as we were repeatedly passing each other it was a long lonely day out on the bike for me. Especially in the second half of the race I spend what seemed hours on my own. Worrying I had missed a turn somewhere. I was told to be careful on the descends so I would not puncture which turned out a lot harder to do than it sounded. My forearms cramped up and I developed blisters on my thumbs as I learned that slowing down a cross bike was much harder to do than a mountain bike!! I was almost sad to descend so slowly and imagined how much fun it would have been going full gas on a mountain bike. Overall I was happy I was riding easy and to my surprise I rode the first 100kms in less than 5 hours. This was good progress I thought, well knowingly that at some point the lights would go out. And they sure did! Multiple times in fact from about 70kms to go.

Training has been great at M.E.T.A head quarters
The last 30kms were the most scenic and fun part of the course looping around a stunning loch on smooth fun rolling trails. But even the littlest of ascends felt like mountains by this point and I was happy to hear the cow bells coming from the castle. Smiling my way up the final little climb cheered on by enthusiastic spectators. Done, dusted, over; 200kms in the bag. 10hrs10min on the bike.

My aim was to do it in under 12 hours so to come home in just over 10 was a huge surprise to me. Especially since I wasn't racing anyone, and just rode my bike, with no intend other than to keep moving. Not to beat people or put a smashing time down. I knew I did not have the endurance to feel comfortable the whole 200kms but I came pretty close. And it showed me that if you trust your training and especially your coach, things will fall into place no matter where you are at in the process. James himself was amongst the racers as well and when I heard at the finish line that someone "unknown" was pushing a ridiculous pace very early on, I could only think of one person who that would be!! Under 8 hours for James though, not too shabby for a roadie!!
It was lovely to see Marie absolutely destroying the female field finishing in under 9 hours showing what a truly remarkable and diverse athlete she is! I think she will be the one to beat in the Celtman this year.

A big thanks to the organisers and volunteers for putting up a very smooth run, great event. The feed stations were amazing and I did not manage to get lost which means the course was very well marked!!

Personality wise I am someone who always expects the worse, so that when it does happen I am prepared for it. On top of that I am my own biggest critic. I am learning by trial and error that that is pretty much setting myself up for failure. Going into the Dirty Reiver I had no expectations, there was no pressure, I just kept on turning the legs for a very long time. After a long haul of feeling disappointed with myself for various reasons, being able to finish the Dirty Reiver in a respectable time left me feeling very satisfied. It showed me that sometimes you just have to ride it out.

"you drown not by falling into a river, but by staying submerged in it" P. Coehle

Friday, 23 March 2018

Navigating through the winter blues

I have been coached for almost 9 years now. I remember my first ever run session on the track. I was told by head coach Alister Russel to stay on the heels of the guy in the blue shirt at all cost. When we finished the set, Alister walked towards me with a big grin on his face "we are going to have some fun" he said. Not because I was running some record times or had an incredible running technique (quite the opposite) but because I was asked a task and I committed  to completing that task "at all cost" To the point of stupidity as I found out the next day when I could barely get out of bed!
I still remember my early triathlon days as if it was yesterday. It was such a steep learning curve and I loved every minute of it. I was addicted to progress and progress I was making. Patiently ticking off everything which was asked of me with great results at races being the icing on the cake. Combining my sporting ambitions with a job, a (almost non existing) social life and a relationship was something I was pretty much accustomed to. I loved training so I have never felt like prioritising my sport was an issue.  For years this was my life until it all ended up falling apart about 3-4 years ago which I have documented in many of my blogs.
Eating, breathing and sleeping triathlon whilst living in Sydney

I love writing, it is my way of processing my thoughts. Over the last couple of years I have revisited the same topics multiple times. Finding my way through my own mind. I have real difficulty figuring out what I actually want but exactly knowing what it is I do not want. Three months ago I quit my job at the university. After close to two tough years I put an end to my attempt of fitting into a world which was not mine. I have had a gypsy kind of lifestyle moving around hemispheres, countries, jobs, leaving almost every two to three years for over a decade. My job at the University should have been the end to that kind of life style, that was the plan. And when I handed in my notice in it felt like I failed not being able to stick to the plan. Especially after having already had to close the door on my sporting aspirations two years previous. Failing once again. 
After I resigned  I was worried about the reactions and comments I would get from the people around me such as "Are you changing jobs again?" "You can't have it all" "Will you ever be happy?" "You are expecting to much" Including my own destructive thoughts "your life should be sorted by now" "may be you need to change" "you will never be good enough" All creating doubts in my mind about the decision I had just made. 
I withdrew myself from my environment and went back to the things I knew would make me happy. My bike, my running shoes, my dogs, the outdoors and a small group of close friends spread around the world who understood what made me, me without any judgement.
Spending time with in the Mountains with my best friend for over 30 years

For the first time in, well, my whole working life I had the chance to give myself space to breathe. Sort my head and really work out what I wanted. I discovered that that would take a lot longer than the 2-3 months I had before starting a new job!! But by going back to the basics I did rekindle my relationship with my sport. The routine of training and the simplicity of it gave me stability. The one thing guaranteed to make me feel good. It also made me realise how much I had missed it. I recall friends of mine who turned their backs on racing saying they were so relieved that they did not have to motivate themselves to stick to a training routine anymore. I have never struggled with motivation. Only the Scottish weather would throw me a curve ball from time to time! But even so I have never been one of those people who needed a push to get out and train. Quite the opposite. I love training. And I love training hard. I am a worker. What I love most about training is the feedback you get from your own body or the feedback from a coach. To give me the confidence I am moving forward and progressing to something better. I hate standing still, in any aspect of my life. Through injury I was forced to take a bit of time away  from a regiment training program. But when I decided to step away from elite level racing, I also thought that it was overkill taking training so seriously. What I have discovered in the last couple of months though is that for me, it wasn't the races I missed most. It was the proper preparation for a racing season, leaving no stone unturned, working on every little detail. Feeling strong and prepared was what I missed the most. I missed the athlete lifestyle.  And I realised that it was not necessary to be aiming for a world championship to incorporate that back into my life. 
I loved spending a week with coach Nico and his wife Alex back in 2016, living the dream

I was lucky with James MacCallum and Whatsyourmeta on my doorstep giving the opportunity to work closely together with a coach again. James had helped me prepare with high altitude training for my trip to the Himalayas and had been my strength and conditioning coach after I had the ok from Physio Morgan to start proper rehabilitation post injury. I worked well with James and having the time to invest to get stronger under his watchful eye I have found extremely rewarding. I have been improving with leaps and bounces, which for someone like me is pure happiness! On top of that, I have been surrounded again by likeminded active people, all working towards a goal, how big or small that might be. That in itself I have found inspiring and reenergising.
Training at M.E.T.A and being inspired by incredible athletes such us Eileen Roe

In two weeks time I will be starting a new job at a specialised equine practice once again. 
Just like in my sporting career I have always given everything I have towards my veterinary career. I am passionate about what I do. I love learning, improving and I am committed  to be the best veterinarian I can be. Just like in my sporting career I have had my fingers burned in the last few  years. I have wondered how much disappointment one can take, it starts hurting after a while. I have lost a little confidence in my own ability along the way. Luckily I was born a dreamer, and I have pushed myself through plenty of heart ache before in the pursuit of dream chasing. It has taken me a little longer to bounce back this time but  things are beginning to fall into place and with that I dare to dream a little again. Sometimes hitting rock bottom is a beautiful start.
 "May be its not always about trying to fix something broken. May be its about starting over and creating something better"

Monday, 22 January 2018

And here is to the fools who dream

I remember vividly the last day I spent in Belgium, before I jumped on a plane and started a new life in New Zealand. I was twenty years old and there was a heat wave at the time. I travelled to the Ardennes to enjoy the local rivers for a swim with my sister and a few close friends. I did not want the day to end. On the way home Tanita Tikaram was singing "little sister leaving town" at full capacity through the loud speakers of my fathers green Saab convertible. I was holding tight to my sisters hand and tears were running down our faces. Up to then my sister and I had not been apart for more than 2 weeks at a time. My decision to leave half way through my veterinary degree to the unknown on the other side of the world was not made from a secure, loving and safe place. I was simply running away from sad complicated stories which were my childhood. I was running away from darkness in search of a happy future. I have always had a strong intuitive compass for where I needed to head, seeking opportunities where ever and whenever I could find them. Selfishly sometimes. I still remember vividly how I felt the months leading into making the decision to leave. Feeling trapped, stuck, suffocating in negativity. The realisation that I did not want to live my life like that. That it was simply not enough, that I wanted more. The anxiety, the turbulent waterfall of thoughts, the fear of losing my way in all the sadness, all the grieve, all the pain which was beyond my control. New Zealand became my dream and New Zealand became a reality.

I finished my veterinary degree in NZ and worked with some of the best race horses, a dream had become a reality
Through my journey I have learned that if I really wanted something it was achievable but it did require a huge amount of hard work and trust that it would all work out somehow. Where all those years ago the alternative of staying in Belgium felt unbearable, it never felt like bravery leaving everything behind and changing course. As I have become older it has become harder to take that leap of faith and chase dreams and opportunities although it might have appeared to the outside world that things came easy. Having had no safety net in the form of family, I have always felt huge responsibility for every action I took. When I messed up, it was entirely up to me to bounce back on my feet. Things are a bit more secure now and I know I have people around me who will have my back when things go wrong. Still I hardly ever make big decisions on an impulse.

I developed my passion for sport and outdoors in NZ's beautiful playgrounds
The last couple of years I have lost my way a bit it seems. Where I shared an equal amount of passion for my job as an equine veterinarian and my sporting pursuits, I had lost both whilst overcoming obstacles which were presented to me. Wether these were real obstacles such as injury or a fabric of my own imagination such as the inability to see progress. The more I started to fight reality the cloudier it got in my head.
searching for my own path

I am not sure where my inherent drive comes from but I have always wanted to really love my life, I have always wanted to love my job and the path I chose to be on. Live my passion. I never wanted to just exist, I wanted to live. After having had my fair share of ugly,  I wanted to go in search of beauty. Breath taking experiences, moments of true happiness, moments where every cell in your body would come alive. I wanted a life with all of that. I wanted the possibility to truly feel and not get numbed by the expectations of society. And the more people were insinuating that feeling miserable in your day to day life was all part of it, that work was just work, that what I wanted did not exist, that I would never be happy wherever I ended up, the more I started to fight my surroundings. Feeling like I felt so many years ago, trapped in a world I did not fit in, following a path which was not mine. Urging for freedom, the freedom to dream.

Mountains wherever they are feel like home to me
Following your dream, living your passions, leaving 9-5 jobs, its all so cliche nowadays with people all over social media doing exactly that. Or is it? Staying true to my dreams has been no easy road. All my life my drive has steered me in different directions, sometimes not knowing if I was coming or going. I have lost my way more than once in the process. I have also been criticised for the choices I have made, criticised for who I am in subtle, passive aggressive ways. I have always been foreign in every sense of the word. Truth is, I don't know how to be anyone else, neither do I want to. Even if it takes me a life time to figure it all out, I will keep going, I will keep searching, I will keep exploring, I will keep dreaming.
A combo of bikes, mountains and horses and I am as happy as can be

After a tough past 18 months I have been given a great new job opportunity in which I hope to rekindle with my passion for equine veterinary medicine in an environment better suited to me. Different working hours means creating more time to pursue my passion for sports and outdoor adventures in an attempt to combine the two in a way I have not been brave enough to try before. It is very exciting and scary at the same time. And although it is not how I wanted things to turn out 18 months ago when I made the decision to work for the University (which was a dream in itself), having made the choice to leave has liberated me from a version of myself I really started to dislike. You try, you fail, you learn, you move on. There is no such thing as wasted experiences.
lucky that the most important men in my life share my passion
I feel very lucky that I have people in my life who often give me that final little nudge I need in order to have courage, to take a leap of faith, to trust it will all be ok. My sister has been there all my life always knowing what to say when I fall silent. My partner Michael who just sticks by me no matter what. And friends spread all over the world, Karen Holmes, Karin, Jantiene, Suus, Naomi to name a few, who inspire me on a daily basis to be strong, keep my head held high and march on, to show the grit needed to create a path of my own. Here is to all of you, here is to the ones who dream.
                                                 "And here is to the fools who dream
                                                  Crazy as they may seem
                                                  Here is to the hearts that break
                                                  Here is to the mess we make" Lalaland

There is no better feeling than living your passion even if its just for a day

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Starting 2018; What’s next?

After I returned from my incredible journey in the Indian Himalayas a few people asked me the question “what’s next?”
Racing the Hero MTB Himalayas and the challenges I was faced with at the time made it one of my most extreme adventures to date. It was a bit of adjusting afterwards when I returned to "normal life". Spending almost 3 weeks pushing my limits on the rooftop of the world, it was all about the here and now, living in the moment, nothing else really mattered.
Incredible experience racing the Himalayas
When I spoke to my coach Rab planning the next 12 months, he said to me “can you please choose something a little less extreme for 2018” but I am pretty sure he knew that that was never going to happen!!
I have always been a true racer at heart, not to beat people, not to stand on the podium but to search for my own limits, to find out how deep I could really go. And then try and go that little further the next time. Being injured for close to two years and struggling with a body which simply did not cooperate, that mindset had changed a little. And the desire to race everything and anything I could find had been lost in my recovery period.

After been given the ok to run again in November I very ambitiously entered a duathlon which was my last great performance for an overall female win two years ago. Being held in January my multiple layers of ashmei clothing was neatly packed away in my gear bag and my bike was ready to go. But when my alarm went off very early in the morning, I felt sick to the stomach. This was not a bug I had inconveniently caught pre-race but it was simply anxiety. The last couple of years I had raced and trained with continuous pain, pushing every day. The thought of dragging myself through 3 hours of discomfort racing other people made me feel sick (even though my body was on the road to recovery). So I turned off my alarm, rolled over and woke up 2 hours later. It was a glorious winter’s day and although part of me regretted not standing on the start line it felt like the best decision when I took my dog Fynn (who was very happy) to explore some new trails high in the hills near Peebles. I ended up running for 2 hours which after only managing 40-60min in the last 2 months and almost nothing in the last 18 months this was a huge improvement. And with running fitness slightly lacking, I showed myself I was still quite happy to suffer. Just not always with the clock ticking .
 running in the hills with dog Fynn after 18 months of being injured

So with the racing spirit slightly lost what’s next for me in 2018?

 Offroad Finnmark 27thJuly- 4th August

Last year I met Naomi Freireich for a coffee to see if I could convince her to race Offroad-Finmark with me. Although it did not fit in her schedule last year and I was probably too injured to give that one a proper crack, Naomi and I got on like a house on fire and have been riding and racing together ever since. When she suggested a few months back that we should do it in 2018, I jumped at it. 700kms in a maximum of 5 days in the North of Norway and no women’s team who have reached the finish line to date, this felt like the perfect challenge for both of us.
A week after meeting we went on our first (of many) MTB adventure together
The ride : Dolomites 16th-21st September
Not long after I entered Offroad Finmark I got an email from StrongHer if I was interested in being part of the StrongHer team and ride 900km in the Dolomites with 15.000 meters of ascend in 6 days. Although I had done one road cycling race in my whole sporting career, this was a no brainer. I already did a lot of road cycling for my MTB events and although new to stage racing, I was hooked on multiday adventures with the scenery to match! On top of that, being part of the StrongHer team it meant encouraging other women to join us in the challenge which I really enjoyed doing.  I sincerely hope I can inspire anyone, especially women, through my writing and shared experiences to get on bikes and sign up for The Ride or a similar adventure. Don't die wondering.  
Racing on the skinny tires will be a new challenge
The Yak Attack 3rd-15th November
I fell head over heels in love with the Indian Himalayas last year and would love to go back to the Nepalese side this time. I still have to find a way to do work it out financially and being able to get the right amount of time off from my job. But having met the lovely organisers Corinne and Phil I have no doubt it will be another experience which will be engraved in my soul and something I do not want to miss.

Training in Scottish conditions will be good practice for the icy conditions on the high passes of the Himalayas
These are my 3 main projects for 2018. I have always used other races to find form and fitness and together with my coach Rab we will put a schedule together which fits in with my day time job, keeps my body sound and will keep me mentally fresh to enjoy the process. I am lucky to be located in Scotland with lots of endurance races available over demanding hilly terrain which can prepare me for anything. Such as the Strathpuffer  The Dirty Reiver Selkirk MTB MarathonGlentress Seven to name a few. And may be an international MTB marathon such as the Roc D'Ardenne. On top of that Naomi and I have locked a weekend every month to prepare us for Offroad Finnmark and get used to our individual pace, mind set etc We are looking at riding Scottish classics such as Capital trail, Cape Wrath trail and others to be as tough as we can possibly be on that start line.
Fynn will benefit from my recovery!
With brand new shiny skis staring at me in my living room I am also planning to make the most of the Scottish winter months by exploring the snow-capped Cairngorms and Highlands whilst ski-touring including a little trip to the French Alps for some powder fix. And with my running legs coming back to me, dog Fynn will be spoiled stretching his legs over hilly trails in future.
Finding the love for skitouring 4 years ago in Chamonix
So my answer to the question what’s next? More of the same really, but with a more adventure focus rather than a competitive focus, with people who are likeminded, whilst still pushing my own boundaries wherever I can!  
 Here is to a jam-packed adventurous  2018!

                                              "One can make a day of any size"John Muir

Sunday, 31 December 2017

The Drenthe 200; a hol-land of mud and a few days with close friends

I regularly get final year (veterinary) students out in practice with me who feel anxious about their future. They either have no idea what they want to do with their lives or they know what they want but have no idea how to achieve it. Or they feel like they have to be on this accelerated 10 year plan to reach their destination in time. The expectations of an academic environment. It leads to interesting conversations in the car when I tell them about my varied experiences. Having worked in lots of different fields of equine practice in several countries all over the world. Combining a driven career with passion for the outdoors, adventures and my racing pursuits seems to work as a huge eye opener. I love it when sharing my life stories can make students realise that their options are in fact endless. When I can see the realisation in their eyes that at no point in time the decisions they are making are final. I enjoy relieving some of the pressures these young veterinarians face and it is what gives me the most satisfaction in my job. Something which actually has nothing to do with veterinary medicine. The days leading into Christmas I could have used some of my own advise. Struggling with the lack of direction or goals in my life. Where in the past I easily escaped the gloomy days of the festive period, it seemed that with age my thoughts got darker with shortening of the days.

a white Boxing Day

I decided to break Christmas and New Year up with a 200km MTB race in the most Northern (and flattest) part of Holland. I thought this was an excellent idea to have something to focus on during a time I generally felt like hiding under a big rock. It was also a great opportunity to catch up with friends I had not seen for a while. I managed to talk my close friend Karin Sloove to do it with me. But oh boy was I wrong in thinking this was a good idea! After my adventure in the Himalayas I had no interest at all on focussing on a 200km MTB race on a cold dark winters day. And I did not do much, not to say NO, specific training for it. Lucky Karin had been busy preparing a move to Spain with her boyfriend Onno and not spent much time on the bike either. When we stood on the start line at 6am in the morning freezing our butts off we both had something like; "this seemed like such a good idea at the time" 

I left a beautiful white Scotland behind to spend some days in Holland
Quite quickly it became apparent this was not an adventure we had thought through properly. The course was so saturated with horrible sticky deep mud, there were sections which were simply unrideable. Within a couple of hours the bikes had accumulated so much dirt they were barely functioning. We also started at the back of the pack meaning that we were battling with hundreds of other riders stacked close together. This at times had a domino effect of crashing cyclists and in my case ended up in a head first dive into a very cold smelly ditch!! Although not ideal I could not stop laughing about the whole situation, my rescuer fishing me out of the water was wondering why I thought it was so funny which added to my amusement. Now wet and cold (at least my bike was a bit cleaner after the swim), the mud continued. 

Occasionally we were rewarded with some cool flowy single trail but these were few and far between. Things went from bad to worse when my eye became the target for an aggressive clump of dirt which caused a strange glaze over my pupil. It made me see in different fields of vision, as if I was cross eyed. I could not see any depth anymore which was not great when trying to navigate through mud, mud and more mud. 

We were making great progress in the field though and riding strong in the top 10 of the female field. But after the half way point we started to seriously think about what it was worth finishing this race. We were looking at 14 hours on the bike in soul destroying conditions. Physically I felt absolutely fine and where in the past I would have battled through, this time I felt like I had nothing left to prove. On top of that, after having raced over the most spectacular courses all over the world with the Himalayas freshly ingrained in my brain, this course for me was simply uninspiring and with lack of views or exciting descents I felt somewhat bored. When Karin suggested to call it quits I had no hesitations. My eye was getting worse and it had now started to pour down in temperatures close to zero celcius, freezing us to the core. After a good 7-8 hours and over 115kms of riding, we found ourselves happy in Onno's (absolute legend for supporting us) warm car on the way back to the comfort of our little rental house in the forest. 

Best racing buddy
It was an interesting experience for me not to make it to the finish line but not to feel bad about it and actually being quite satisfied about the performance to that point. Karin felt exactly the same way which made for a relaxing post race dinner with lots of laughs, planning adventures and conversations about dreams and aspirations I felt so at home in. How I had missed this.

I spent the following days with some key people in my life. Being shown some really cool Dutch MTB trails (they do exist!!) drinking hot chocolate and chatting the day away with a close friend in a cosy pub whilst the snow fell outside. The realisation I did have somewhere I could go home to whilst staying with my lovely uncle Aede and Aunty Gerby. And last but not least spending 24 hours with one the few people who has known me since I was 9 years old, my best friend Suzanne, leaving absolutely no secrets between us. We chatted till deep in the night like teenagers until I had to leave for my flight at 4am.

Where normally my mental batteries got charged through adventures and wilderness, this time my batteries were charged through spending time with people who were dear to me. 

And as I travelled back to Scotland I came to the realisation that for me the truth of my happiness always falls back to the same thing. No matter what age or stage of my life I am at, I believe that chasing opportunities and aspirations should always be endless. As cliche as it sounds, when people ask me “why?" I immediately think “why not?” And although this view often gets perceived as a lack of commitment or an inability to settle, I never see it this way. Wanting the freedom to dream, to challenge myself and to keep on evolving into a richer bettered version of myself is fundamentally who I want to be and what inspires me and makes me happy. How to engage to this on a daily basis I have not figured out just yet. 

So here is to a healthy, happy 2018, to endless amount of adventures and inspiring experiences accompanied by the loving people who share this roller coaster life of mine with me. 

                     "it's the possibility of a dream come true that makes life interesting" Paolo Coelho
My best moments of 2017

Catching up with one of my Uni friends Karen in the snow

New York with Michael 

MTB adventures in Utah

Catching up with my sister after 5 years 

Meeting Naomi together with Michael, Charlie and Rachel

Bike love!

Grandraid Nisramont with Karin, an absolute surprise podium!! 

My backyard

Surprising myself with a 7th female overall on the skinny tires in the tour the Borders

many adventures with Naomi

The Engadine Bike giro in Switzerland, catching up with the lovely Sarah Riley

Surprise podium in Glentress 7, solo female

exploring Scotland

3rd year being sponsored by big bobble hats

Karin joining me on a MTB leaders course in Scotland

the Himalaya Bunch, what a dream come true

riding 650km, climbing 17.000m in the Indian Himalayas

2 day MTB expedition with Jantiene

Riding the French Alps

My favourite adventure buddy