Saturday, 21 July 2018

Riding through post Sri Lanka blues

It has been a strange season for me so far. Where I started with incredible motivation racing almost every weekend through April and May, soaking up all the improvements with a huge grin on my face. To things turning quite quickly when I deleted a race off my calendar for reasons I won't go into; the Off-road Finnmark in Norway scheduled for the beginning of August. I had been eyeing up the Off-road Finnmark for a few years now, not being able to race it due to injury. It was my goal race for 2018 and the main reason I was really motivated to overcome my back injury and create speed in my legs again. In the attempt of becoming the first women’s team to ever complete the distance. The decision not to race Finnmark hurt where it hurt the most and I felt lost without it, not exactly knowing what to aim for.

The perfect Scottish summer

                           Although I am so happy to be able to run again it is a frustratingly slow progress

The sad experiences in Sri Lanka had made things even more unclear. Not really know where to go from here. My struggle with injury in the last couple years and the determination needed to get even a smidge of my old strength back started to fade. I had always been a veterinarian AND an athlete and did not feel quite myself without either one of them. But I equally struggled to successfully combine the two and started to wonder if the pressures I put myself under chasing dreams were worth it.

3 weeks after Sri Lanka, I travelled to Spain to race a MTB marathon together with Karin. We decided to do this during the saddest days in Sri Lanka, in memory of Narayan. But when I arrived in Barcelona it was very clear very quickly that neither of us were in the right frame of mind to push ourselves to the max during a race. So we decided to chill a lot instead. Going for rides with no other purpose then to enjoy riding the bike and our environment. Having long lunches mid ride and coming home when the sun was setting. Chatting endless about all aspects of life. Neither of us really knowing where to go from here. Mid life crisis?
enjoying mid ride lunches 

The one big adventure left set in stone on my calendar was The Ride The Dolomites. 900kms of riding through the Dolomites in 6 days, where Maan Klomp and I were leaders for the StrongHer team. As I was riding my bike without any direction or intention post Sri Lanka, a few things started to become clear in my head. The attraction of going to the Dolomites for StrongHer was being able to help and support the other team riders together with Maan. A completely different role to racing for myself, I would be there to offer advise, guidance and inspiration to hopefully give everyone an amazing experience whilst completing a challenge they could be proud of. Racing for me has always been about the places the bike has taken me and the people I have met along the way. To be able to use my race experiences to help others on their journey really started to excite me. To be able to be strong enough during The Ride in order to support team riders in need, meant I had to be really strong myself heading into the event. This suddenly felt like an awesome motivation which had nothing to with my own goals but with helping other people achieve theirs. Inspiring me to suck it up, get on my bike and get back at it.
With the best Summer Scotland has ever had, I had no excuses really, and I needed to put a stop to my self pity. With life’s endless curve balls this was sometimes easier said then done. But I have never been after easy. And I needed to remember that, this path I was on, was my choice, that these were my dreams and it was me who wanted to keep chasing.
enjoying a chilled ride with fellow METAthlete Laura 
With having my closest friends and especially my sister spread around the world far away from me it was quite easy to forget that I was in fact not alone. That we were all fighting our own battles. Lately I  learned that opening up a little, leads to some of the more interesting conversations I have had. Hearing stories I could relate to, connecting with people who had similar dreams and understood. Making me realise I have some real good friends who care. So here is a big thanks to you, Karin, my sister Martje, James, Cara, Corinne (to name a few) and of course Michael for making the last month a little easier. It is time to eat a rock and toughen up! 

                            “we know what we are, but know not what we may be” 

Friday, 15 June 2018

Sri Lanka Airlines Rumble in the Jungle; The highs and lows of racing

I have always been that kid at school. The foreigner with the strange accent. The girl who came from nowhere and never really fitted into any particular group. I did not stand out for being smart, beautiful or sporty for that matter. I just did my thing. I have lived in 8 different countries,  two different hemispheres and often it felt to me that I have gone through life anonymously. Not really belonging to a nationality, a country or even a family. I never really felt the urge to fit in if it did not feel right, and learned that the feeling of loneliness had nothing to do with the amount of people you surrounded yourself with. Always finding my happiness in the solitude of the outdoors. 

It wasn’t until I started racing adventure sports in my early thirties that I felt really at home in a group of people. A deep connection made by sharing the same passion with people from all sorts of different back grounds, nationalities, and walks of life. A shared love for adventure, for the outdoors, for exploring new cultures and countries whilst pushing our own limits to the max physically and mentally. Friendships made based on a fundamental understanding of what made you, you. Friendships which would last a life time. Connecting the dotted lines.  Every time I surrounded myself with these like minded people it felt like coming home and it made me happy in the truest of forms. A feeling which was very easy to get addicted to.

The amazing women of the Jungle 
I did not hesitate for one second when Phil invited me earlier this year to come and race the 5 day MTB stage race, The Rumble in the Jungle which was held in the Sri Lankan mountains. I had already made plans to race the Trans Pyrenees with my adventure buddy Karin Sloove which was raced in the same week. We very quickly changed our plans and signed up for an adventure of a lifetime with MTB World Wide in Sri Lanka. Phil and I had bonded high in the Indian Himalayas suffering through my first and one of the most brutal MTB stage races in the world, the Hero MTB Himalayas. And Phil’s better half Corrine, being the physio at the event, had kept my back in one piece during that time. We had stayed in touch ever since and the thought of catching up with them during another incredible adventure, filled my heart with joy. With Phil also being the organiser of the infamous highest MTB race in the world, the Yak Attack, in Nepal, I knew we were in for a treat!

With familiar faces coming to Sri Lanka in marathonMTB legend Mike Blewitt, Aussi legend Meg Carrigan and the always smiling speedy Karen Hill, plus other athletes I had met at events all over the world, I reassured my friend Karin that we could not have a nicer bunch of people involved when her lack of Mountain bike experience made her doubt her ability to finish the stages every day. 

The days were filled with Sri Lanka’s incredible beauty; From navigating thick jungle, climbing into the high mountains, passing breath taking waterfalls, to taking in the friendly supporting and beautiful smiles of the Sri Lankan locals whilst descending through working thee plantations and navigating exhilarating down hill trails. The organisation was second to none and as a group of riders we had become a tight knit as more and more stories started to unfold. Spare parts changed hands between riders to fix broken bikes and everyone made sure we were all on that start line the next day in the best possible way. Laughter curing the wounded bodies and empathy taking away any doubts of being able to continue. 
Old friends reunited 
Nothing could have prepared us for what ended up unfolding. Nothing could have prevented the tragedy which told the story of day 4. Where in a split second nothing would ever be the same again. Where we were brutally reminded of how precious life really was and that this could have happened to any of us, at any point in time. A freak accident with devastating consequences. A freak accident resulting in the death of one of Nepal’s National MTB legends; Narayan Gopal Maharjan. Putting a brutally sad ending to the 4th edition of The Rumble In The Jungle in Sri Lanka.
The beauty of Sri Lanka 
The way we came together as a group and the smooth progression of events in the following days was a huge credit to the sponsors Sri Lanka Airlines, Lanka Sportreizen and in particular organisers Phil, Corinne and Neil. Deep heartbreak laid within every single one of us, with the loss of one of our own. Equally we had an understanding that this was part of the way we choose to live our life’s in an adventurous but incredible beautiful world. And not wanting to have it any other way. The knowledge that Narayan would have felt the same giving us some form of comfort in the darkest of times. After a small but lovely intimate closing ceremony organised by Sri Lanka Airlines, we heavy heartedly went our separate ways travelling home, changed by a deeply sad experience which will forever connect us. 

Things had been a little cloudy in my head in the last couple of years. With my dearest friends dotted around the world rather than having them in my close proximity. Feeling like a bit of an outcast in my day to day environment. Not quite knowing which direction to take. But simultaneously always gravitating towards a life filled with real emotions. Accepting that with the incredible highs come the heartbreaking lows.  

Now more than ever am I determined to keep following my rocky path of chasing dreams, live the life which sets my heart on fire, in spirit of all the legacies who chose this exact existence but did not get the chance to follow it through. In the spirit of Narayan. A huge thank you to Sri Lanka Airlines, Lanka Sportreizen, Phil, Corinne and Neil for all their support and dealing with an impossible situation with such gratitude and grace. You are all wonderful human beings and I hope to see you very soon.

A beautiful tribute written by Neil;

You were always too quick for me brother, on your bike and with your humour.
On June 13th The global mountain biking community lost one of its own. Nepal lost a son. Many of us lost a beautiful friend. The night sky lost its brightest star.
Narayan Gopal Maharjan @narayangopalmaharjan, who’s cheeky laugh and goofy smile could light up a mountain, and often did, sadly passed away in a tragic incident whilst racing in Sri Lanka. He was a humble, modest, and funny friend to everyone. A ferocious and focussed combatant on a mountain bike, and both a humble winner and a gracious loser. A fine character of a man.
I have only positive memory’s of him.
He was my dear friend and my heart is broken. Many hearts are broken.
Rest in Peace my brother.
Ride swift and true.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Waking up to see another day

Earlier this year my sister was dealing with a serious health scare. For a long two weeks which seemed like an eternity we were awaiting test results, and specialists opinions. It felt unbearable to think about what this could mean for her and her young  beautiful family. Fortunate for us it ended up being the best case scenario coming with a warning to look after ourselves. For a couple of months it made me think about what was important to me and what it was I really wanted. As life can change so quickly.
Last week I heard the news of the passing of a childhood friend, I could not breathe. Her family living the exact nightmare I so feared for my sister. And which we managed to escape. 

Magic ride through my back yard 
I took my bike out that night. Caught up with a couple of friends and we head for the hills which are literally on my doorstep. We have been extremely lucky with the weather lately and a sunny Scotland is absolutely breath taking. This evening was no exception. Everything looked almost a little brighter, a little more colourful and a little more peaceful. I enjoyed riding my bike more than I had for a long time, soaking up the beauty of my surroundings and the positivity of the company I was in. As always happens on the best rides we had to chase daylight on the way home and as I walked into the door Michael asked  me “what are you smiling about?” It was a good ride.
I have had a bit of a love/hate relationship with my body over the last few years. First it was fatigue which I could not get rid off and then I broke my back. Frustrated with a body which simply did not cooperate. A body which in my eyes continuously let me down. I have often felt I was running out of time to do all the crazy sport related things I still wanted to achieve. With the increasing amount of wrinkles taking over my face and often getting out of my bed in the morning moving like an 80 year old women. Fighting the fact that I was getting older. I was reminded this week however that growing old is a privilege. And it hit home hard.

Next week I will be heading to Sri Lanka for a 5 day MTB stage race in the mountains with one of my best friends. My training has been mainly based around rehabilitation for my back injury and I am not entirely sure if I actually have proper endurance yet. But I also know that if I was asked to ride it tomorrow, I would and I could. The question being how fast? I have been struggling with accepting how much my injury has hacked into me and the feeling of not being competitive anymore.

I absolutely love training, and I love training hard. I love pushing my limits. And therefore I love racing. But what I love more than the actual physical aspect of it all, is the beautiful places my bike has taken me and the beautiful people I get to meet. I might never gain the strength I once had or the speed to be competitive. But as long as I am alive and mobile, the pure enjoyment of riding a bike through beautiful scenery or an exhilarating descent which makes me feel so very much incredibly alive, will always be there. And that really gives me more happiness than any podium ever will. 
Scotland has seen some amazing weather
How to prepare for a 5 day MTB stage race in a hot humid country like Sri Lanka? My advice would be just enjoy riding your bike as much as you can. I am not saying I don’t train hard to get ready for these events and I certainly do a lot of high intensity sets on the turbo and long rides to mimic the strain my body will endure racing. But I do these things because I love doing them, not just to prepare myself for races. Its a life style for me incorporated with a busy and demanding job as a veterinarian. 
Now more than ever I would really like to inspire people to not wait for life to happen but make life happen here and now. I often hear people say “I will do it next year, I am not fit enough yet, I am not ready” But what if next year won’t be there? Injury can strike anytime, circumstances change. If you love riding your bike go ride it, if you dream of doing an event, go enter it. And tell yourself you can do it. Because you really can. 

It has been a slow process letting go of my competitive mind and the disappointment that comes with not meeting my own expectations. But if I have learned anything from the last few months is to not take life for granted. I am here, I am living and I am still able to do what I love doing albeit at a different pace. I am looking forward for a trip of a life time to Sri Lanka and I will consciously enjoy every aspect of it.  For everyone  who has been taken away from their lives way to soon; I will laugh a little louder, smile a little bigger and walk through life a little slower.

"Childhood friendships are the most beautiful memories which can never be replaced "


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