Sunday, 4 December 2016

A head full of dreams; Christmas is almost here with new plans for 2017

Many years ago, whilst I was finishing my 3rd year veterinary medicine at the Belgium University in Ghent, I decided to take my future in my own hands and follow my dreams to move to New Zealand and finish my veterinary degree there. I remember watching a program on New Zealand and falling in love with the green hills, the amazing glaciers, beautiful beaches, and the promise that my life would be better on the other side of the world. I took the opportunity to escape a dark past. I was 20 years old. And as many people were trying to talk me out of this insane idea of mine that I could transfer my veterinary studies to Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand, lecturers at the Belgium University telling me I would be throwing my future away, friends not quite understanding what motivated me to leave all I knew behind, my persistence that this was going to happen regardless of what everyone else thought grew stronger with every objection I got. When I look back on my veterinary career and the way my life has panned out, it was the best decision I ever made. “why can’t you just be happy with normal” I have heard these words from frustrated friends and people close to me many times when my restless existence pushed me to chase another goal or dream requiring me to leave all familiarity behind once again. Change. Chaos. Challenges. Chasing the impossible, searching. I hardly ever see a reason not to attempt something I really want to do, pushing boundaries, feeling a little scared at the thought of the possibilities. It gives me freedom. It is what drives me. It is who I am.

Racing is in my blood

It has been 3 months since I decided to concentrate again on my veterinary career by taking a job at the Dick Veterinary Equine Practice at the Edinburgh University and let go of my elite athlete dream. As much as I loved working at Thrums, I had not realised how much I had missed being in proper equine practice.  When it comes to career goals, my job at the vet school has so many endless possibilities that I can see myself working here for a very long time. And although every job has its downsides, I feel like I have reached a point in my veterinary career at which I am very happy with where I am at.  (big statement from a gipsy like me)

Before I discovered bikes there were horses

There is always another side of the coin however and for the first time in a good 6 years I had absolutely no athletic goals for 2017. No plans on how to improve, no coaching programs, no calendar with races scribbled all over it, no crazy challenges. And as much as I tried to convince myself that this was exactly what I needed, I also started to feel constricted, as much as my body needed to recover from the 3 years of bashing I put it through, mentally I started to feel more than recovered from all the pressures I had put myself under. It is funny how “never again” post-race turns into “what's next?” pretty soon after. With the end of 2016 fast approaching the passion to be working towards something for 2017 started to take over most of my thoughts.
The best part of my sporting aspirations are the people I have met through sport; Ashmei team mate Owain and me after a run
I decided that if I did want to challenge myself in a race again at some competitive level or on extreme courses, I needed to go and see a medical professional and deal with my injury properly instead of being stubborn about it and ignore all serious symptoms. I went to based on great feedback I had received from fellow athletes and considered myself lucky to be teamed up with David Ryan, an experienced Sports Physiotherapist with a very black and white approach but who also understood the frustrations of a side-lined athlete. I am not sure if the feeling of luck being teamed up was mutual since I have probably become one of his most demanding clients.
There is something incredible liberating about pushing yourself to your limits
As frustrating as it was to cut back my running and cycling and being given a sporting budget, it was good for me to hear from a professional that if I kept pushing myself, the damage to my sciatic nerve would become irreversible and I would never get the power back in my legs. He also made me see that I was not "doing nothing" as I put it, but that I was working on a long term plan of getting injury free. So instead of interval sets at certain wattages or speeds, I was doing physio and strength exercises which were equally as important.
By talking to Dave, I also realised that it was not just the physical activity I was missing, or that the lack of goals was the issue. I was also missing the whole world that surrounds being an athlete, the one on one attention from a coach, chatting to fellow athletes about dreams and aspirations, being understood by people with a similar mind set, and all the friendships I had made along the way. By having taken a step back, I felt so distanced from what was not that long ago all I lived for.
Sharing the amazing feeling of achievement at the finish line with Jantiene
I have always felt torn between my career as a veterinarian and my dreams of being an athlete. The thirst for knowledge and science in my veterinary career and the desire to be pushing myself out of my comfort zone as an athlete, travelling to remote places whilst physically and mentally achieving the unachievable. There is something so incredible liberating about running, cycling or climbing over amazing mountain passes in search for your absolute limits. Both passions are such a big part of my personality and more and more I have come to realise that I don’t feel quite myself without one or the other.
Trying to perform at elite level whilst maintaining a full time job as a veterinarian took its toll on my body
So here I am, leaving an emotional 2016 behind and standing at the beginning of a lot more stable 2017. Whilst working with the physio I have enabled myself to dream a little again, it will all still depend on how I recover from injury but in the last month on our wall calendar in the kitchen a couple of races have appeared in pencil. The first one is an adventure race in March with the lovely speedy Karin Sloove (she will probably have to attach a lifeline to me in order for me to keep up!) which I think will be a giggle from beginning to end and I am very much looking forward to a weekend of craziness!!
Thanks to Nicholson cycles I am ready for what 2017 throws at me with a brand new bike!
The other one is a bigger project, an 8 day Mountain bike stage race in the Indian Himalayas, 650km with over 16.000m of climbing. The thought of a race like this, the preparation, the training, the travel and adventure has caused such a fire in my belly that I had forgotten what it felt like to be really inspired by a race. For me it will be a bucket list adventure and something I have been dreaming about for a while. I have 9 months to prepare. I will be ready.
The ability of Michael to dream my dreams with me makes us strong
It will be my 3rd Christmas in Scotland, how time flies. I am endless in debt to a few people who have been by my side through some roller coaster times. Biggest thanks to Nicholson Cycles especially Colin Murray, for supporting me no matter how bad my results have been and making me feel like all my Christmases have come at once lately with my new Specialized full suspension MTB. Big Bobble Hats for always making the Scottish winters (and summers) a little warmer for me. Aloha racing for always inspiring me to be the best athlete I can possibly be. Nico and Alex from Organicoach for having an incredible believe in me. Jantiene from Altijd Sporten for keeping me honest when it is necessary but always being there to dream of the impossible.  Finally, Michael and dog Fynn for completely accepting me for who I am and support me in whatever I would like to achieve, even if it is a little extreme. Here is to 2017! Never stop dreaming!!
"I'd rather lose myself in passion, than lose my passion"

Monday, 17 October 2016

Limone Sky running Extreme, a world series race counting as the Dutch National Championships

3 Months ago I decided to turn my back on racing at elite level and take a more laid back approach. With that in mind one might wonder what I was doing on the start line of a World series sky running race which counted as the Dutch National Championships Sky running. I must admit that I was asking myself that same question over the weekend whilst enduring heavy rain, lightning and thunder racing up a mountain and fearing for my life on multiple occasions scrambling over rocks as fast as I could at insane heights above the beautiful blue waters of lake Garda in Italy.
I had plenty of time to give it a lot of thought during the sky race which took me a good 6 hours to complete out of  which I spent probably 99% entirely out of my comfort zone pushing myself to limits I had never been before. And it was that exact reason that gave me the satisfaction when I crossed the finish line within the time allocation at the highest level of this to me new sporting discipline. I realised no matter what I do, racing or not racing for a podium, I would never stop reaching for the stars and that I'd rather be a little fish in a big pond than a big fish in a little pond. Someone ones told me, if you want to better yourself you have to surround yourself with the best and you will improve beyond your imagination.

After the MTB World championships I admittedly fell in a bit of a hole, I needed a lot of recovery, sorting out my back but the questions "what next, what now?" kept on popping in my head. The Evergreen Triathlon 2 months after worlds was an amazing experience and I felt my body had something to give for the first time in a long while. Through Jantiene I learned about the Dutch National Sky Running Championships and I immediately thought that it would be the perfect challenge to finish a roller coaster racing season. I was put in contact with Alke Staal who was the organiser of the Dutch team, a lovely guy with a contagious passion for the sport and before I knew it I was all signed up and my flights were booked. Now the only thing I had to do was learn how to run technical terrain down hill fast!!
Fynn enjoying my focus on running!
I met my fellow crazy Dutchie Jantiene at the airport in Verona from which we rented a car to Limone, in the last 3 years I have had to squeeze my bikes in small tiny cheap rental cars all over the world and never once I got offered un upgrade. Of course this time whilst we were travelling only with a pair of running shoes we got offered a nice roomie car which would have fitted a descent number of bikes quite easily!! The irony of it!

Both Jantiene and I had only one thing on the agenda when we arrived in Limone which was sleeping!! I had had a hectic month behind me, packing up my life in Kirriemuir, selling my house in New Zealand, buying a house in Edinburgh and starting a new job whilst Jantiene had her own personal reasons to feel exhausted which included the decision to immigrate to France. So sleeping we did, and a lot. Luckily the weather was horrifically wet and windy so we had no feeling of guilt hiding under our blankets in our hotel room. The thought popped in our head that may be the weather would end up to be to extreme and this crazy running holiday would turn into a nice and relaxing sleeping trip. Nothing could have ended up further from the truth!!

A rather stormy Limone

My mind had not been on this race at all and I had forgotten almost everything there was to forget for a trail run race (except my shoes) including race nutrition!! Suddenly we were standing in the dark on the start line ready for our vertical km race which entailed a 6.5km run up a mountain with 1200m of elevation gain. And with all this focus on sleeping we realised as we were about to set off that we had lived on one yoghurt all day. Oh well to late to do anything about it!!

I felt quite happy on the vertical km and after many months running with shooting nerve pain down my legs I felt comfortably pain free. Absolutely saturated and muddy I reached the top in one of the coolest mountain huts I have ever been in. I am not sure if this was because it was filled with cookies, cake and hot tea which was perceived like an oasis for my very hungry body!! 6th female in Dutch Vertical KM Championships made me extremely happy after so many months of struggling with injury and not having been able to really push myself. Jantiene finished not long after me and satisfied we made our way down.

The vertical km took a bit longer than planned as we never gave it any thought that the 6.5km we run up we also had to go down and to save our legs for the sky race the following day we easily jogged back. We arrived back at the hotel at 10pm and there was no food left. All we really wanted to do was sleep (which had become a recurrent theme on this trip) so after a hot shower, a few more yoghurts we turned out the lights.

We seriously paid the price for our own stupidity of not eating the next day during the sky race!!! My garmin told me my recovery was poor in the first 10 minutes of the run, not ideal! This was going to be a long day out I thought to myself. Without carrying any race nutrition I was hallucinating off giant burgers and pizza's between feed stations and turned into some sort of an octopus grabbing as much nutrition I could, filling up my pockets in a minimum amount of time staggering through the areas they offered food. I had done some pretty extreme things in my time but this race was absolutely insane, I felt utterly alive with adrenaline flowing through my veins whilst having to focus every second of this 6 hour long adventure making sure I would not disappear off the steep cliffs. " I was thinking about you a lot during the race" my coach Nico said afterwards "the crazy downhill's and traverse ridges, Nienke is going to really suffer!!" he laughed. It was one unbelievable experience! I run up and down things I never thought I was capable off ignoring the thoughts in my head that a slight mistake would end up in a visit to the hospital.

 Jantiene and I crossed paths the whole length of the race with me catching her on the climbs only for her to pass me again on the descents!! with 10km's to go I was sent in the wrong direction by a very friendly smiley Italian which added a very unwelcome climb to an already very hilly race, after which I had to really push to reach the cut of times for this race designed for world class sky runners!! After 27km and close to 2600m of climbing it was one of the most satisfying finishes I had had in a long time. Jantiene who crossed the line just before me welcomed me with a huge smile. "Apparently it does not get much more extreme than this" she laughs, what an introduction to sky running!!
Proud of our well deserved medals!!
Although we had big plans to take the dance floor by storm that night, our legs had very different idea's and there was not much more energy left than for eating pizza and recapping the adventures of the day with great friends.

A big thank you to Alke Staal for impeccable organisation of the Dutch Sky Running Championships, and everyone else involved creating another unforgettable weekend!! I am quite looking forward to build on my MTB mojo over winter but who knows, I might be back next year!!

"Dream the impossible dream, fight the unbeatable foe, strive with your last ounce of courage to reach the unreachable star"

Enjoying some relaxation at last!

Sunday, 18 September 2016

An adventure in the French Alps : The Evergreen Endurance 118

Laughing so hard tears roll down your face, cramps take over your stomach and almost no sound comes out of your mouth, no words can be spoken, the ultimate feeling of joy shared with someone with whom you have a deep connection.
I found myself doing exactly this on a terrace in the middle of Chamonix enjoying the sunshine and a drink with my Dutch friend Jantiene. Sharing pure laughter with someone was  rare for me and one of the reasons why I valued our friendship so much. Having known Jantiene for only a year it was amazing how close we had become and even though we came from completely different background’s our life’s and views seemed so paralleled, including sharing the same bruised big toe, a broken drink bottle cage on our bikes and identical body aces!!
Enjoying laughs in Chamonix

It was already clear at race briefing that both of us wanted to escape the compression socks, aerodynamic haircuts and all the rest of the triathlon hype these races were associated with. We lasted an hour. Neither of us had paid attention and as two giggling school girls we went to Nico for a briefing of the briefing and before we knew it  we had done what we needed to do and were relaxing and laughing in the centre of Chamonix not giving the huge day ahead any room for thought.

Jantiene taking the piss out of my lack of strength pumping up my tyres!
Although it was probably one of my most relaxing pre-race days, I did not sleep very well. I was not often worried about a course but this run course was brutal. I had done minimal amount of running since February and although I did feel my injury was getting better and better, the worry of breaking myself completely during the race was on my mind. On top of that I was not a good technical downhill runner so I was looking at a 5-6 hour run time over this course. I started to doubt if my decision to race was the right one but I wanted to do it so badly.

We had to leave the house at 4am on race morning and Jantiene calmed my nerves down by saying “I am expecting around 11 hours, 40min for the swim, 5 hours for the bike and 5 hours for the run” In my head I added another half an hour for the run and her saying it oud loud somehow made it seem more doable.

What a magical morning it was, transition from night to dusk, the atmosphere was electric, the lake calmly awaiting about 500 triathletes. After setting up in bike transition I caught Jantiene on the way down to the lake start and we passed a whole lot of yellow race bags, “what are they doing here” I asked as we both had them set up at the bike transition “teams may be?” She answered without giving it too much thought. Turns out we should have paid  more attention at race briefing!!!
We were about to start!!
I was not really nervous before the swim, I had never been able to match the speed I can swim in the pool  in a race so I was not worried about how fast I would swim, I knew I was fit enough for the distance and that was all that mattered. When I came out of the water and looked at my watch I could not believe how fast I had swam, I had smashed all my personal records!! Super excited I run into transition which added even more to my excitement as I saw glimpses of Alex and Jantiene who are both great swimmers and I finished only just behind them! Excitement turned into panic when it occurred to me that people were heading to tents to get changed and were given the bags which we had seen on the way down to the lake! Oh crap!! We got that all wrong, while volunteers were yelling at me I run to my bike whilst giggling to myself as I knew Jantiene was in exactly the same awkward situation!!
“My swim!!” I yelled in excitement to Michael whilst jumping onto my bike, both Jantiene and I were now racing in the top 5 female overall!! This was beyond expectation for both of us!!
Finding my legs on the bike and enjoying every minute of it (even descending with a loose headset!)

I found to have great bike legs and was loving the race. I decided to keep my HR low which I could do as I felt so amazing and cruised up the climbs as if they were road bumps it felt that easy!! A small mistake in building my bike after the flight ended up in me having to descent with a loose headset (not ideal in the Alps) but even that error I decided to laugh away. I felt like nothing could get my mood down. The course was not always marked that easily and I found a couple of times that I had to turn around and retrace my tracks but it did not feel like I lost a huge amount of time doing that. The coolest experience was that I was in the race with Jantiene and also Sarah from Organicoach changing position all the time at the pointy end of the field. And we were all smiles. Michael was the best support crew ever charging around in a little fiat 500 which put a smile on my face every time he came screaming past!!
Quick chat with Jantiene and Sarah in the bike/run transition tent and on to the run I went, I knew that this would be the end of the race for me but I here I was hoping, I run through in 6th place overall and within one km I moved into 5th place, my legs were ok, I was ok!! This was great!! The first 4km’s were flat so I tried to take advantage of that well knowingly that my nightmare began on the uphill. Both Jantiene and Sarah caught me on the first climb. I had been struggling with my stomach the whole race and suddenly it felt like my stomach folded in half and I had to throw up, not ideal. Jantiene’s concerning words were encouraging and I tried to overcome my ill feeling. This will pass I thought. This will pass. And I kept moving forward trying to take in the breath taking views.
Spectacular course through the Alps
The run was indeed brutal, an extra climb and 2km’s was added to the course and as I reached the top I was completely empty and knew the downhill would only add to my fatigue and injured body with the technical rocky course. I did my utter best to hold on to the top 10 female overall running downhill like I never had before ignoring the pains shooting down my legs but reluctantly I had to let go in the final km’s  of a 10 hour race!! Mixed emotions at the finish line being ecstatic about completing this insane event with the lead up I had had and disappointed at the same time because of my bad run. I needed to work on shutting up that ridiculously competitive little voice in my head because before the race there was no way I would have thought I could actually perform that well and be at the pointy end of the field for such a big part of the race!!
Team Organicoach plus Altijd sporten!
Super proud of my friends, Jantiene who finished strong in 9th, Sarah in 6th and last but not least Alex who won the female’s race, as modest as they come, no nicer person completely in sync with the Evergreen spirit could have won this race!! A few magical days in Chamonix with great friends, racing the way I love it, on a course which ended up one of the most beautiful courses I have ever done. Big thanks to all of the volunteers of Evergreen and Bruno for organising an awesome event. One for the bucket list for sure and I will be back next year!!

"laughter is the shortest distance between two people" Victor Borge

Thursday, 25 August 2016

3 years in Scotland and the beginning of a new chapter

3 years ago I made the decision to leave all I knew behind in Australia, put my veterinary career on the back burner and pursue my dream of becoming a professional athlete. I quit my job and took the leap of faith travelling with my mountain bike to Europe to race the 2013  Xterra European Series and a few MTB Marathon’s as an elite athlete. When I look back now, I was never really happy with any of my achievements. Always looking ahead putting huge amount of pressure on myself instead of looking back and be happy with how far I had come in a small amount of time. I wanted to be better, stronger, faster and the concept of being proud of finishing a race was a foreign concept to me. Since I only discovered the sport in my thirties I had no time left, it was now or never, all or nothing.  There were no excuses. I did not allow it.
I made life long friends racing the European series in 2013
Whilst racing in the Summer of 2013 money became scarce and I was looking for a low profile job where I could be a veterinarian to support my dreams but also having enough free weekends and holiday’s to train and race hard. I was not looking for anything else, I was not looking to make friends, or gain a social life and I was definitely not looking to settle anywhere. I had one vision and one vision only, to become a successful elite athlete, wether I had to work full time or not. I accepted a job at Thrums Vet Group in Kirriemuir, Scotland, thinking it was in an ideal location to train in the beautiful Glens with good working hours in a friendly environment. (I managed to overlook one minor detail being the extreme  Scottish weather conditions!!) Within the first two weeks I found myself a great swim club with DCA Masters in Dundee, a great bike shop in Nicholson Cycles willing to give me support for my bikes and a running club in Dundee Hawks Harriets proven to produce champions. Sorted. All I needed to do was train and the results would follow. And so I did, day in day out, 2-3 times a day whilst working full day’s, early 5am swim starts, lunch time run's, late evening long rides, in the dark, in the rain, in the snow and freezing conditions, every week I ticked off the sets presented to me on my program, nobody could stop me. 2014 was going to be my season.
I have always been able to count on Colin and the team of Nicholson Cycles in the last three years
People who read my blogs know that it did not pan out this way. One of the things I was confronted with was that this low profile job I chose did not really work the way I had intended it! Turned out I was not the person who could just see a job for a job and leave it at the door came 5pm. I loved the challenge to improve the level of horse care offered by the practice and raising the level of expertise by helping my colleagues and clients. Although the working hours at Thrums were much more controlled than in my previous jobs, being a vet was as much part of being me as it had always been and I realised it did not mean any less to me as the desire to be an athlete.
Standing on the start line with sporting hero's like multiple MTB World Champion Annika Langvad almost felt surreal at times!!
Slowly but surely I started to feel torn between my professional world as a vet and me wanting to break into the professional world as an athlete, and unfortunately there was not much if not to say no overlap between the two worlds. At work I was seen as crazy spending 5 hours on the bike in temperatures below zero, and to my fellow athletes it was hard to explain that I had to work weekend duty and on call shifts, which sometimes meant I had no days off for two consecutive weeks, that I had no choice in missing important races due to work commitments or that I was replying to work emails about sick horses just before the start of a race. I tried my hardest to combine the two worlds, it was my dream, it was my existence, it was what I came out to do moving back to Europe but I learned that it was simply unrealistic.
Training paradise
As my sporting plan started to unravel and the strength in my body started to fade dealing with disappointment after disappointment I realised that my life in Scotland was not anonymous like I planned it to be, I realised that my colleagues were not just work mates but they had become close friends and my training buddies were not just people I trained with but people who cared and supported me and reached out when things got tough. Somehow in this roller coaster life of mine I found a home and the people surrounding me had become my family.

I began to wonder if I had the right personality to become a full time athlete when given the perfect circumstances, and if the diversity in my personality would have been able to handle the 100% focus required to reach the top. I read about athletes suffering from mental health issues after retiring from elite level racing as the one thing they had always lived for and focussed on was no longer there. I realised that with my disappointing athletic career I was lucky to be able to fall back on a profession I was equally as passionate about.
From a young age horses have been a huge part of my life
And as most things in my life seem to have a way of working out for the best, an opportunity to work for the equine department of the Edinburgh Veterinary University presented itself at a moment I needed it the most. When one door closes another one opens.
I am looking forward to going back into specialised equine practice and focussing on my veterinary career again, that is not to say I have closed the door completely on my athletic dreams. I still need to work on overcoming the feeling of failure as an athlete and be proud of the results I have achieved. Giving my mind and body time to recover from the pressures I put it under over the last three years. As the feeling of speed and strength have occasionally returned during my training runs, rides and even swims in the last couple of months so has the desire to keep on improving as an athlete, in what way, shape or form I really am not sure, but I will never stop dreaming of the impossible.
Scotland stole my heart
3 years ago I came to this little place called Kirriemuir owning not much more than a few bikes, a bag of clothes and my loyal 4 footed friend Fynn. I asked for nothing and in return I got given a world filled with adventure, laughter, friendships and love, a place I could call home. Scotland truly stole my heart. Catching me when I fell, dusting me off in Sottish manner and putting me back on my feet again. Many thanks to all, not just in Scotland but all over the world for the support over the last crazy 3 years, here is to the next exciting chapter!!

“Only as high as I reach can I grow, only as far as I seek can I go, only as deep as I look can I see, only as much as I dream can I be”

Monday, 25 July 2016

St Mary's Loch Triathlon: a new approach to racing

I seem to engage a love/hate relationship with everything I am passionate about. The amount of times people have said to me “why don’t  you just see it as a job” at times I got frustrated with my profession as an equine veterinarian or “why don’t  you just race for fun” in relation to trying to combine my veterinary career with the elite ambitions I have in my sporting life. It is hard to explain sometimes that I am just not that kind of a person, I don’t do anything by halves, I like moving forward in everything I do and sitting still or taking it easy is not my strongest side.

My choice to let go of my elite athlete dream after the MTB World Championships was the right one for me. I have been feeling relieved simply not having to train hard after a busy day at work always thinking ahead of the next tough race on the calendar. But this is a new territory for me, so what now? I still have the Evergreen Endurance triathlon in September on the calendar. To race or not to race. I had taken a descent hit at the MTB World  Championships, mentally and physically. The first obstacle I had to overcome was my broken body, I had ignored my lower back and sacro-iliac problem for so long, it had now settled well and truly into my gluteals with a very angry left sciatic nerve. It almost felt like all the power had disappeared out of my legs which was very frustrating. The second issue was my brain, it had been a month since we returned from France and my MTB was still in my bike bag. Although I truly meant it when I said I was ready to let go of my athletic dreams, sometimes it made me feel like a failure that I had given it up.
I love my job as an equine vet, it is more than just a job to me
Over the last month I have worked with good friend and remedial massage therapist Judith on a weekly basis to get my legs sorted. I also entered an Olympic Distance triathlon which was about 6 weeks out from the Evergreen triathlon in Chamonix.  It would be the test for me to see if I mentally wanted to race Evergreen and physically could push forward to start working on the endurance I needed to be able to finish the “2000m swim, 97km bike, 22km run with a total elevation of 3500m” in one piece.

I deliberately chose a Durty Events triathlon because I knew it would not be a simple time trial over a 1500m swim, 40km bike and 10km run. The bike was an out and back but there was enough climbing in it to make it more interesting and the run was a trail run instead of a fast 10km on the road. Having raced quite a few of Paul’s events now I also knew that regardless of the outcome it would be fun. It had been a year since I last raced a triathlon, I could not remember the last time I run off the bike and I had done minimal training since the world champs and during the sessions I had been doing I had felt pretty poor especially on the bike. There were no expectations, none. Probably the first time I could actually say that and believe it. For the first time I really had nothing to lose and only things to gain by racing.
The best adventures are shared with the Fynnster!

So there I was at the startline with dog Fynn and Michael by my side and the only fear I felt was for the cold water temperature and sliding into a state of hypothermia after the swim. For the first time in many years there was no fear of failure.

The water was indeed mind numbing cold but I found myself in a little group swimming at a pace which was probably a little too easy for me but it felt good. Surprisingly good! I completely forgot how to do transitions quickly made worse by numb fingers!! I got passed by a few women early on the bike and I talked to myself, basically just with just one word : RELAX. I was surprised when I started catching people on the first climb and even more surprised that my legs did not hurt! Yes!! I decided not to go wild, but stay in the pain free zone and just ride. Even the torrential rain and wind could not change my happy mood. The transition zone was back in sight before I knew it and although I felt like my power was back on the bike I knew I would have nothing on the run. I did not feel any negativity at any stage, I stuck to the plan of staying in my comfort zone and after 10min running I felt more comfortable and relaxed.  The run was a proper trail run, technical in parts with slippery roots and off camper trails. It was a good course. I finished with a smile on my face with so much left in the tank it almost felt too easy. I managed to squeeze into the top 10 female overall over the swim/bike legs but had to let a few girls pass me on the run for 17th female overall in a decently sized field. Michael was surprised how happy I was “I have never seen you like this” he said “Not even when you have won!”

relaxing into the run
I showed myself that I could race, have fun whilst not being competitive. Somehow racing so easily was a huge confident boost and it made me happy. Evergreen was back on the calendar and I was looking forward to sharing that experience with some great friends!

“What races if any would you like to do next year?” Michael asked me. And I really had no answer, I am for sure done with racing competitively but I will also never be someone who just cruises, it is not in my nature. But the good thing is I am not really worried about it at this stage, a challenge will come my way, it somehow always does, and in the mean time I have a couple of races ahead of me which will be really all about the people I am doing them with.
"Whatever I believed, I did, and whatever I did, I did with my whole heart and mind as far as possible to do so" Jean Toomer

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Every teardrop is a waterfall : The Marathon MTB Worldchampionships Laissac 2016

I almost decided to pull out of the world championships after I raced my heart out to qualify and my body not recovering adequately afterwards. I was left feeling fatigued with a sacral iliac injury I was struggling to get rid off. It had extended into my gluteals with shooting pins and needles down my hamstrings. I had not been able to run pain free and therefore cancelled Xterra France, but World Champs was a tough one to decide. The only reason I would not start was out of fear of looking like a fool being so far of the pace of the top athletes. I knew I was more than capable of riding the course, I was just aware my body was in no shape to actually race it.

I was still undecided when I travelled to the airport with Michael. Our holiday was booked and paid for and since we hired a camper van we could easily change our plans and direction. It was when we were waiting to board that I received an email from my uncle Aede with the subject "Alger" which is my fathers name. Immediately my heart sank as this usually was bad news. I had not seen him since 1999 when I left everything behind in search of a happier future on the other side of the world, New Zealand. He would only be mentioned if there was news. He had been suicidal for a long time now with several failed attempts and may be this was the final call. But it was not the case, he was diagnosed with Korsakov disease, a condition which damages the brain cells most commonly due to chronic alcoholism. An immediate feeling of anger took over my thoughts. This was not the future I had in mind for my father. He was supposed to live till 110 like he always stated he would. He would be spending his days all alone when everyone close had abandoned him after finding out the truth about his life. About the hurt he had inflicted on my sister and me from a very young age. About the darkness around his narcissistic personality and the ruthlessness he would go about destroying any one who would get in the way of his ambitions. Including his own children. Instead of being punished for what he had done through loneliness and isolation he was now spared from this living the remainder of his life being cared for in a psychiatric hospital.
My older sister and I were inseparable
I have always refused to be defined by what happened to me in my past, no matter what, I would aim for the stars, following my dreams and living life to the fullest. I always felt that the darkness I had seen, turned me into a stronger person.  But sitting on the plane high in the sky letting the news of my dad find a place in my thoughts I also realised I had become exactly what I never wanted to, a victim of circumstances. I am not sure if the return to Europe after having been away for over 15 years confronted me with so many dark memories and the reconnection with family had opened many old wounds. I felt a certain sadness which I had tried to avoid all my life had creeped into my veins some how. There and then I decided I was going to race the world championships.

I was going to race it as a symbol for what my sister and I had achieved in our lives despite of our history. I was riding for him, my farther. As his brain cells were slowly disintegrating so was his personality and the man who he once was, was no longer in this world. In a strange way it made me feel free. 

Although nerves did take over leading into the race including that horrible feeling of not belonging, I kept holding on to the thought of racing it purely for me. With the strength I gained through life. And as we set off cheered on by many spectators on the side line the race became my journey. I embraced every corner, every drop, every hill, every technical obstacle (even a crash!) with positivity. Overcoming pain, struggles, anxiety and anger, km by km I conquered the course. I thought of my life, my sister, my future and this race suddenly did not matter to me anymore, it did not matter I could not keep up with the main pack, suddenly I felt good enough by just being me. Without having to prove myself amongst a bunch of elite athletes. I knew myself what I was capable of. I simply did not need it anymore, and although it had taken me a long time to get to this point I was finally able to let go. At every aid station I was greeted by Michaels smiling face and encouraging words. The crowd was amazing and every now and then I was overwhelmed by the buzzing realisation I was racing in a world championship in my Dutch National kit

Mission complete finishing in 48th place
The last 10km I struggled and I must admit there were some tears, my body was now pretty much done and on such an unforgiving course I was aching all over. But I was there, and I made it, I saw the finishing chute and Michael, the sound of my name through the speakers telling me 48th elite female. Although relatively speaking this did not mean much since I was so far behind the front pace, it still felt like an achievement. Little old me 48th in the world. Everything came to a halt and the sense of relief was immense. More tears.

I rode the world championships in the name of my father, leaving all the sadness he caused behind on the trails of Laissac. As the world championships course there still will be endless ups and downs to come in future but I will be a victim no more.

one of Michael and mine life time plans is climbing all 4000m peaks in Europe

I am looking forward to lots of adventures with Michael, a new job at the vetschool in Edinburgh and lots of new challenges without putting a huge amount of pressure on myself, it is time to have some fun! I feel like a whole new world awaits me as I am stepping into this new exciting chapter in my life!

 "You never know how strong you are, until being strong is the only choice you have"

Saturday, 11 June 2016

"I would rather be a comma than a full stop" Coldplay

One week to go before going on  what was supposed to be a racing holiday with the MTB Marathon World Championships and XTERRA France offroad triathlon race back to back. I was supposed to be super fit by now, that was the plan. After having had August-January off, my body would have been fully recovered to start training properly after spending a week with Nico in France. Which I did for a month and it was great, I was back, or so I thought. Then the nasty flu hit me and I was drained from all my reserves, feeling floored for close to a month. It is ok I thought, many people go through this, it is just the flu, I will bounce back. But I did not. My body had nothing on the flu. Training became a chore, my running pace was so slow it was crazily frustrating. My back, my glutes, my hamstrings protesting my every move. You had to literally peel me off the bike after a 5 hour session with my lower back seizing up in riding position. Stretch, stretch stretch. This is what it’s like to be unfit and get back to fitness I thought, I just have to push through this and it will get easier I thought. But training with a sore and tired body was not much fun. Wanting to be as fast as I used to be but being slow was not much fun. Not being able to do anything about it was the worst part. Because pushing through, training harder, ignoring the signs, I knew out of experience was for me the biggest enemy.

Playing on the bike
I actually needed to learn how to move again, slowly, efficiently, smoothly without any objectives, get the frustrations out of my head. Look after my body, be happy that I could still move even if it was slow. I had to give my heart, lungs and muscles what they needed, find the balance between training and recovering and accept that this year it would be all about moving. Not about pace, power or performance, but about completing, finding flow, joy, passion and overcoming a very negative mindset.

So here I am two weeks from probably my last (and only second) World Championships as an elite athlete, the opportunity to wear the national kit with pride, in an Olympic year.
Such a good feeling wearing national kit
Something quite special. Can I complete this world championship course? Yes, probably without too many problems. The question is if I can accept another mediocre performance, can I go into this race with my eyes wide open. There will be 70ish very elite strong female mountain bikers and I will be battling it out at the back. Even in top peak condition I would only be aiming for a top 40 finish, so really what does it matter? It is not like I am going for the win!! “it is all about how you view things” were Michael’s words. And I am doing my utter best to get myself in the right head space.

Two weeks to go.

“it is not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you are not”