Tuesday, 23 February 2021

6 Months in France; La vie en rose


A few weeks before my father passed away last summer I wrote him a message. We had had no contact for over a decade and I had been notified by his legal representative that he was dying  which he wanted my sister and I to know. I wrote to him that I hoped that he was not in  any pain, that I hoped he was not scared and was at peace. I wrote to him that my sister and I would take all his good qualities with us and we would try to let go of all the abuse, sadness and grieve. I wrote to him that we were the only living proof of his success despite his harrowing failures. I let him know we would come and see him if he wished us so. A few missed calls from him followed and a message thanking my sister and me for the offer to come and say goodbye but that that was not necessary. He said he was walking again and getting some fresh air. He said that he could see from my social media account that I was doing well. It was the last time I heard from him.

I am not sure if seeing him or talking to him before his passing would have made any difference to us, the apology we so longed for would have never been spoken. And as a proud man he did not want us to see him so weak. For him to say it was not necessary for us to come was not meant to be hurtful or distressing. There was simply nothing left to say. This ending was typical for the person my father was and for us it felt fitting. He did not want a funeral, no cards to let people know he had passed. He wanted to disappear without any bells or whistles because for different reasons than ours, his life had been a failure to him also. My sister and I wanted to let go of him this way, without any celebrations of his dark, painful and complicated life.

I have a strong belief that in life you always have a choice. A choice to pursue happiness, a choice to not become a victim of circumstances you can not control. A choice to move on. My sister shares that same belief and we have lived our lives (albeit on different hemispheres at times) with the same passion and determination to surpass our childhood demons and become better, kinder, and a hell of a lot more inspiring people than the ones who put us into this world. I look at my sister and I think she is the most wonderful human I know and without her in my life, I would not have had the strength and believe to achieve the things I have achieved. That feeling makes me very proud of her, that despite it all we managed to rise above.

I also believe that there is some beauty in all things ugly, and my father was no exception. I feel that because we really knew who he was and have seen all of his darkness, we are also the ones who can decide to hold on to his beauty and his strengths. The good experiences we had with him as our father also influenced us on who we have become as adults and some of the strong positive Oostra traits were very present in our lives on a daily basis. After his passing it was our choice to hold on to this beauty.

My recent move to France has felt a bit like coming home to me, reconnecting with my European roots and remembering my childhood in a more accepting, loving way. Especially with the winter and snow arriving, I fondly remembered our ski holidays when we were children and I let myself cherish those happy moments without it being overshadowed by all the sadness which came with it.

Moving to a new country during a global pandemic and a second lockdown meant I spent an awful lot of time solely in the company of my little adventure pup Mac. I used that time to focus on being comfortable again in my own company. `To let go of all the white noise in my head. Through this solitude I regained my confidence, my happiness, and my self worth. Just like the mountains in Nepal had a healing effect on me, so did the mountains in the French Alps. I felt my energy returning, my optimism, and enthusiasm for all the things I loved so much.

It is funny how you attract the right people in your life when you are in a position to be completely yourself. Slowly but surely I started to get surrounded with like minded people from French neighbours to Dutch landlords and English adventure gurus who made me feel accepted and would applaud my restless feet and thirst for adventures. I started to live the life I wanted to live, surrounded by mountains and outdoor pursuits and people who inspired and challenged me to always look forward and progress. 

Learning French from Lucille during a ski tour

I have fallen on my feet with my landlord Gerard who takes me skiing and introduced me to Yann who is equally as mad as me in adventure pursuits 

For many years in Scotland I felt that there was something wrong with me, that the way I looked at life or what I wanted from it was simply a fairytale and that I had to change my views and face reality. For years I really struggled coming to terms with that and yearned for a different life than the one I was living. It felt like a continuous battle to stay true to myself in a world where I did not feel accepted. My journey with chronic pain did not really help that situation and I am aware that my negative feelings towards the UK also stemmed from getting injured and having to give up on my dream of basing my life around a world of outdoor sports and adventures. 

My best friend Jantiene coming over was a week of big smiles

I am not someone who is easily proud of things I have done, being the eternal self critic,  but when I look at myself today and how happy I wake up in the mornings living a life I have always dreamt of, I feel pride that I simply never gave up and kept on working hard at achieving it.

I am grateful for the people who have come into my life since I have moved to France.  People I now call my friends who have immediately accepted me, made me feel welcome and have given me the confidence to just simply be me.

I feel grateful for the company I work for, Joii Pet Care, through which I can work remotely to make this lifestyle happen and who have given me enough working hours to be able to piece my dream together financially. I feel grateful for my friends spread all over the world who have been there for me through the good, the bad and the ugly and inspired me to keep chasing my dreams. And I feel very grateful for the strong bond I have with my sister, who always knows what to say when I fall silent. I believe that with gratitude, happiness has a chance to flow.

The best adventure pup in the world 

During lockdown we got very fit in our vertical km radius

Joii who helped me chase my dreams

Managing my pain levels will always be a bit of a balancing act, but I have found a great physio who understands the complexity of it all and with whom I will continue on from what I have been doing in the UK with the Meta team. My body feels stronger than ever with energy levels I have not felt for many years. 

This made me want to challenge myself and I started started 2021 with a ski challenge where I wanted to ascend the height of Mont Blanc (4809m) in one day and I surprised myself by climbing 5500m in 10 and a half hours. 

On my way to my final ascent during my skimo challenge with my cheer club Gerard and Yann joining me for the last climb

I have been able to do solo ski tours high in the mountains which I never thought I could do in my first season here because of my lack of experience and skill set but skiing with Yann and learning from him has progressed my skiing to another level. I have a few more ski adventures on the bucket list before the snow disappears making me feel anxious and excited at the same time!

This summer I have a few bike challenges on the radar and running an ultra trail through the mountains is also something I would love to do. Other than that I simply love exploring the incredible nature which I can call my backyard. I might do the same loop day in day out but somehow it never looks the same and it always literally and physically takes my breath away! 

living the dream

Yann challenges me on a daily basis to progress in every possible way 

Through a Skype call my sister told me “I am so happy I have Nienke back” Which is exactly what it feels like, I am truly, utterly, honestly, and happily, me again. 

My North, My South, My East, My West

My father always used to say that life should be one big party but that you have to decorate it yourself. Ironic coming from a man who suffered from depression and endured several suicide attempts. It is however something which I often think of when I am standing in front of difficult decisions. Both my sister and I inherited a never ending optimism from him, as sense of humour for when things go horribly wrong, a stubbornness in our pursuit of happiness and an ability to see beauty and experience joy even in the most difficult of circumstances. And we can find it in the littlest of things like a beautiful view, a great song, or simply a funny situation. It is something which has helped me battle through in life whilst keeping my head held high and it has made me resilient. It got me to where I am today and I want to hold on to that as something good he did. 

I had given myself to May this year to financially make it work and it was also the time frame I was offered the little apartment I am living in. Recently I have been asked to stay on for another year in my apartment and at the moment I have enough work through Joii to be able to pay my bills, which has been a huge relief. I am here to stay.

A room with a view 

I am looking out of my bedroom window at the beautiful mountains in front me and my normally itchy feet feel tired but calm and my normally wired brain feels inspired but settled. I never thought I would say this but my gypsy lifestyle might have come to an end because I have finally found a place which is home to me. 


"To be nobody but yourself in a world that is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else, means to fight the hardest battle any human being can fight. Never stop fighting" EE Cummings 

Tuesday, 3 November 2020

A life of choices ; always choose courage over comfort

When I was asked to write a blog for the active vet movement to try and inspire more veterinarians to become active, I immediately said yes. And then it took a while to actually get words down on a page. These days there are so many books out by people doing extraordinary things and there are thousands of blogs available online of people sharing their experiences. I had the pleasure of meeting someone recently who made me question the need to share a story. Whether the words written were interesting enough to read and truly inspiring or whether they were instead a self fulfilling prophecy of being liked and accepted. I love stories, hence I love reading blogs, but with social media so present in our lives I have often questioned the originality of a written piece. I am always searching for the real story, the honesty of the person behind  the words they have written and ultimately what makes them truly tick. I have found however that those stories don’t often get told or don’t get the exposure they deserve, because it is not what people like to read.

lucky to have worked with the best of the best

I read a book recently in which there was a beautiful paragraph about people not liking messy. Society asks for the happy endings, the feel goods, the affirming and uplifting reports. “Come back when you have something positive to say” But my life has been nothing but messy. Most of it related to a childhood I could not control. I am still working it all out. Personally I have found comfort in other people’s messiness so to speak, those are the stories I have always been interested in. 

once I found the mountains I was hooked 

I have never really belonged anywhere, I moved around a lot as a child which did not help that matter. But I also believe it is partly me, because I love to be free. To try a thousand things and become a jack of all trades rather than a master at one. And although I chose horses as a specialty in my veterinary career, I did not choose one particular interest in that field and ended up working in all most every aspect of equine practice. The same counted for my athletic career, so often I was asked to choose. “choose the bike and you will excel, keep doing multi sports and you will never reach your full potential on the bike” But I wanted to run, ski, kayak, get lost in the mountains, I wanted it all. The same counted for combining my job as a veterinarian and pursuing my sporting career. Other than the financial reasons for finding it difficult to leave my profession, I loved being a vet, it was challenging, it was exciting and I was lucky to have learned from some of the best veterinarians in the world. When I was asked to choose, I did not want to do that. It often was perceived as being uncommitted or never being happy, but it was neither, I just loved progress and progressing often meant jumping at opportunities given. But my chase in wanting it all came at a huge cost. It has taken me years to climb out of the hole I dug for myself. I get frustrated when I read quotes like “hard work always pays off” “you will achieve it if you want it bad enough” “just follow your heart and it will all work out” because that is simply not true. If it was then all the hard workers would be world champions and anyone with a big dream would be able to achieve it. And believe me at the pointy end of the field everyone works their asses off to try and succeed at living their dreams. 

Before I discovered fast bikes, there were fast horses

Turned out I was good at suffering giving everything I got during a race getting me into the elite within 12 months of discovering the sport

I am not someone who easily lacks motivation or is scared of big dreams. I am weirdly wired where I will suffer massively from the imposter syndrome, I felt this especially during my short stint of racing at elite level, but at the same time I have an attitude where I would never settle for mediocre when there is an opportunity to strive for excellence. I have never needed motivation to train around my working hours, it is what I loved doing. Sure the temptation to stay in bed on the cold and wet winter mornings instead of going out training was there, I am only human after all. but I always looked at the bigger picture and improvement is my addiction. Staying in bed would not get me any better, faster or stronger. 

My drive and the idea which has been preached around the world on social media that if you want something bad enough all you need to do is work for it, took a physical and mental toll on me. When it did not work out, I felt like a failure. But during the last few years whilst trying to get back on track I have had a lot of time to reflect and work out what ultimately is most important to me. And it comes down to my freedom. The freedom to be myself,  in my work, my friendships and my relationships. I left veterinary practice because I did not feel I could feel do that. I felt that I was continuously pulled in different directions and I was never good enough. For a long time I felt stuck, not knowing what direction to head in.  When you look at my profile you could say I have done it all, I worked at some of the best equine hospitals in the world, I became a lecturer at one of the best veterinary universities in the world and I raced at elite level with the best athletes of the world in multiple disciplines (al be it at the back of the pack) And I have not regretted anything I have done, but I would not recommend doing all of this unless you have an incredible support network! 

Racing at the world championships in the Dutch national kit was quite something

Last year I made a choice, it came with the dream of challenging my physical and mental limits traversing the Himalayas in Nepal from West to East on the mountain bike. When I researched it, I discovered it had never been attempted let alone done before. I planned everything from choosing a route studying a million maps endlessly, to all the logistics needed for something this big. I paid for the expedition and everything that came with it out of my savings. The project was completely mine, It was my idea, it was my dream and although nothing went according to plan, it was the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life because I was in control of what was controllable from beginning to end and I tried to execute that to the best of my ability. The icing on the cake was achieving a world first. 

As vets we are born high achievers, heck just getting into University means you have to stand out, we are also generally people who want to fix things, save animals, help out where we can, which often results in working around the clock. The expedition in Nepal taught me that I am the one in control of my life, that it is up to me to dictate my own boundaries. Unfortunately I had to leave equine practice to realise that but I am keen to find a balance. Search for a (part time) job where I can dictate my own freedom with people who respect that so I can chase my so many numerous goals on my ever growing bucket list!

“Freedom in any case, is only possible by constantly struggling for it” Einstein 

Thursday, 1 October 2020

When life throws you lemons; be more Mac

The last few days I have started this blog countless times only to have multiple unfinished blogs saved on my computer. I felt they were either too critical, too negative, too fake or soaking too much in self pity for me to be comfortable sharing the words I had written. So here I am, plenty to write about, I just haven’t really found a way to process it all. 

Last Saturday I raced my first UCI sanctioned race in 3 years, my first MTB marathon in two years and my first MTB race in over a year. I entered in an attempt to meet some like minded people in my new country of residence, France. Because yes, I decided to move countries during a global pandemic, a bit more on that a bit later. My friend and super adventurist Katie and I were going to do a bike packing trip of the back of the race to see if we would be a compatible team for future bike packing adventures. Since my move to France late July, the weather had been incredible sunny with endless blue skies. A week before the race I cycled in shorts and t-shirst struggling with the heat. This was all going to change very quickly the week leading into the race with snow forecasted down to the lower mountains, my track record for good race weather or race luck in general is not great and this was certainly no exception. First of all Katie fell ill and had to pull out of the race and our bike packing adventure which meant I was heading to Villard de Lans a little ski resort near Grenoble only accompanied by my 4 footed friend Mac. Needing a bit of social contact after many weeks hanging out by myself I was looking forward to a race day with fellow bike riders after which I would head to Bozel to spend some time with Katie and talk all things adventure.

On Friday morning I woke up to white flurry stuff falling from the sky and the top of the mountains looking beautifully white from my bed room window. Absolutely stunning but not ideal for a bike race. A little apprehensive I packed the van and headed to the race village, a 3 hour drive from Montriond which I now call my home. Late afternoon I arrived at registration whilst it had become quite snowy on lower grounds and the race started around 2000m. This was going to be interesting. The plan was to camp out in the van but as I parked up in a quiet spot, the heavens opened, thunder, lightening and hail the size of ping pong balls fell from the sky. A quick look on booking.com and I had found a super friendly aubergement as the French say it, to spend the night, Mac was welcome as well and even got his own bed, I tried to relax as much as I could.


I woke up to even more snow and freezing conditions. When I took Mac for his morning walk my motivation dropped to an all time low. It would have been so easy to head to Katie’s and not race but when I commit, I commit and a couple of hours later I found myself shivering on the start line with about 400 other shivering riders. The course had been cut to 45kms because of the extreme weather conditions. I was expecting a European type MTB marathon with plenty of long non technical climbs but this course was a whole different story. Because of lockdown I had not really ridden any natural forestry trails and unknowingly I was getting myself into 3 and a half hours of slippery, muddy, snowy, frosty technical single trails with climbs not quite long enough for me to make up for my lack of technical speed on the descents. It was never the plan to be competitive but on the start line my brain always disagrees so I went out and tried to ride as best as I possibly could. With the result that for two thirds of the race I found myself in a little group of 3 leading the female field, I even had one of those drone thingies zooming around my ears, but they never used the footage! Haha! I led the climbs only to be dropped on the descents.The weather was horrendous with proper snow bucketing from the sky and it was getting colder and colder. Although not really enjoying it as such I felt reasonably happy with how I was going until with 10kms to go I had a back brake malfunction (stopped working). This resulted in me coming down hard on a collection of rocks perfectly placed to break my landing. I ignored blood seeping through my jersey and although a bit shaken I got back on the bike trying to chase my two new friends disappearing into the distance. Already lacking in confidence on the downhills, the crash and a non functioning back brake brought me to a halt, my body went into shutdown and I crawled all the way to the finish line with my body uncontrollably shivering so much I actually thought I would break my jaw at one point. 5th overall female. I have no idea how big or how small the female field was but from a performance point of view I can’t remember the last time I was actually in contention of winning a race, let alone a UCI sanctioned one and that was enough for me to be happy about my physical performance. I felt strong, I was just lacking technical skills. As I drove to Bozel wearing all the clothes I had brought to try and get warm, the sun came out.Typical. The rest of the weekend was spent enjoying Katie and her partner Lee's company, talking for literally hours on end, planning new adventures together whilst exploring the beauty of their backyard.

Like most people I have found Covid pretty tough,  although I think for very different reasons than the general population. Just before we went into lockdown, I was notified that my father had only a few days to live. My father’s life was not one to be celebrated as he had made a mess of it in the worst possible way, something which will take my sister and me our whole lives to process and come to terms with. My fathers death caused a confrontation with our past which was difficult. It sent  us both on an emotional roller coaster ride which we are still trying to somewhat control. With the borders closing we haven’t had the chance to be in each other’s company to grieve our childhood together and when this will be possible is still a big unknown. During Covid I have witnessed my friends flying home from all over the world to be with their family confronting me with the fact that other than my sister I don’t have a place I can go “home” to. That feeling of belonging somewhere unconditionally was lacking from my life. For some reason this made me feel more and more disconnected from the UK and the urge to reconnect with my European rootes made me chase my long time dream of living in the Alps. Being born in the Italian mountains, I found  that mountains wherever in the world have always felt like home. It was not a decision I took lightly but it was one I needed to make for my own sanity.

That’s where I am right now, I found a home in the French Alps. I expected the feeling of stress related to only just piecing it together financially but I underestimated the feeling of isolation I would get due to the pandemic. The when, how and if I was going to see the people I loved and the difficulty of starting a new social life with all the restrictions in place has made it a little tough. But I am here, and I am battling on and I am not one to give up easily, and hey after 4 years of beating injury I actually managed to race in 2020 with more power in my legs I have had for years!! 

Every day I have this little dog called Mac who gets me out of the house on those days I preferably would want to hide inside and he always manages to show me that even in what seems the worst circumstances at the time, there is always beauty all around us to enjoy. And if you greet the world with a smile, the world will smile back at you.

“Remember, remember, this now and now and now. Live it, feel it, cling to it. I want to become acutely aware of all I have taken for granted” 

Friday, 20 December 2019


There is so much to write about the last 8 weeks in Nepal and so much to process, lots of things to share which is beyond this blog. But I wanted to document this feeling I have at the moment, a certain pride, a certain amount of energy and excitement related to 3 simple words : I DID IT.I feel so different than 8 weeks ago when I left for Nepal, and never knew that so much change could happen in a person in such a short time. Only now have I realised how disappointed I was in myself, as a person, as a professional and as an athlete. Warranted or not that feeling of not wanting the life I was living consumed me. I just did not know what it was that made me feel that way and how I could change it. Michael would often say to me that it was the way I looked at things I had to change. I figured out in Nepal it was the way I looked at myself I had to change.Saikalako ended up my dream, my way out, my turning point. I put all my energy, money, spare time and trust into it. It was never really about completing the traverse for me, or a world first. It was about going there and trying every single day to do what I planned on doing to the best of my ability. For weeks on end. It was about not giving up when things got tough. To keep moving forward. And I did exactly that. 

When in the first week it was clear that it was going to be extremely hard, almost impossibly hard and my team mate Karin decided to leave, I thought I had made a huge mistake in pursuing this crazy dream of mine. I felt devastated that it was such a disappointment right from the start. But the more Karin was talking about going home, the more I felt resistance. I had no reason to go home, I wanted to keep going even though we had lost a lot of time and getting to the Eastern border was almost impossible. I wanted to keep going even though being ill had taken a lot of strength out of my body. I wanted to keep going day by day until my time was up and I had to get back on a flight home. Why? Because I felt comfort in the beauty of the mountains, because I was prepared to physically and mentally suffer, I was prepared to dig as deep as I possibly could, because this was the journey I wanted to be on. Because Nepal had captured my heart. 

Beautiful people of Nepal 
By having to go solo I had to step up. I had to face my fears of navigating, and not only navigating but doing that on incredible tough terrain. Overcome my fear of narrow off camber trails,  vertical land slides, steep rocky down hill hike a bike. And do this on my own. I had to believe I could do it. And so I did. And as the days went on, my confidence grew, my strength grew, and my body responded. I can not explain why my chronic pain disappeared during my time in Nepal. Why the strength I knew I had in me but had been lacking for so many years returned. I can not explain why at no point did I feel weak or not fit enough other than the incredible preparation I did with James. And I am not saying that I did not have bad days or that it was all a bed of roses. It was crazily tough, there were tears, there were hissy fits, there were moments of despair. Being so isolated at times, where no one speaks your language and you don’t understand theirs. The physical exhaustion, the mental challenge, it was relentless. But there was something magic in being able to keep moving forward, step by step, pedal stroke by pedal stroke, mountain pass by mountain pass. 

that's me, I did this!
The expedition started to change me, I felt grateful. Grateful for the life I was living, grateful for my friends and Michael and for being able to do what I was doing. The life I felt so disappointed with before Nepal, was now something I really cherished. Thanks to the kind people of Nepal, the beauty of the mountains, the simplicity of being and the hardship I endured during Saikalako I started to feel happiness again. Why? Because after many years of feeling I had failed me, I started to value myself again.

Where as an athlete I felt I had never been able to do what I knew I was capable of doing, during Saikalako I proved to myself what I was physically and mentally capable of. My coach James put it into words for me on return “what you have achieved is indisputable” 7 weeks non stop, roughly 1600kms of technical terrain, 85.000m ascend and multiple passes between 3000-5415m altitude with a loaded bike. I look at pictures from the trip and I think to myself still in a little disbelieve “I did it”

I was asked recently what I learned most from doing this. I learned so many things on so many different levels but after a little bit of processing time I think the most important thing for me is this; I learned that I am very fortunate to live in a country where I am in control of my life and therefor I am in control of my own happiness. I am the driving factor to change things for the better. With that in mind I am going to do things differently professionally to help manage my chronic pain levels and I will keep on working hard to keep on improving physically and mentally in order to be able to keep on chasing my dreams.

Missed these nutters so much!

A huge thank you to anyone who has supported me and believed in me over the years especially Michael, James and my wonderful sister Martje, without a good support crew I would be nowhere! There is loads more to share from this journey but I wanted to write this down for days to come. 

 “It is not the mountain we conquer, it is ourselves” Edmund Hillary 

Monday, 9 September 2019

The Dukes Weekender 2019; Making the UK great again

Exactly 12 months ago I showed up at a little place called Aberfoyle with my van loaded with my dogs and my bike to meet my friends Kerry and Lewis to race the Dukes Weekender. I had been hiding from the world after coming back from a MTB stage race in Sri Lanka called the Rumble in the Jungle where we were faced with tragedy when one of the Nepalese riders lost his life in a freak accident. But from the first minute driving into Aberfoyle my spirits were lifted with a positive vibe radiating through the whole of the Trossachs. Racing Dukes Weekender last year changed my life when organiser Rob Friel read my  Race blog about the race and reached out to me sharing a lot of his time and knowledge about chronic pain a complicated condition he recognised I was dealing with. Rob opened a whole new world to me where I learned to understand why my body reacted the way it did and how I could find a way to deal with it. 

Fast forward 12 months and I drove again into the little village of Aberfoyle, renamed #Gravelfoyle for the weekend (which made me laugh) to meet my friend Kerry. Kerry's life had been turned upside down after the passing of her soulmate Lewis. Although Kerry had mentioned she did not feel brave or courageous in her attempt to get her life back on track, for me she was one of the most inspirational people I knew. Her grit and her determination to keep on showing up even if her whole being wanted to opt out was something to live by. There was nothing fake about Kerry and her honesty and realness always made me feel at home in her company, like she was family. I was very much looking forward to a weekend of bikes and being surrounded by inspiring people like Kerry.

Kerry and Lewis at Dukes 12 months ago, his company was going to be missed.

After a solid winter of doing a lot of smart training to get my chronic pain under control things had been very up and down in the last couple of months. Partly because I pushed myself too hard on the good days and partly because it was is just the nature of the bear, the name we gave my chronic pain. As preparation for my upcoming Nepal expedition I had to get my vaccinations the week leading into Dukes Weekender.  My overactive central nervous system ended up giving an overreactive response resulting in very painful muscles and joints. I was that sore that I spent most of my time in bed between work hours! “may be just ride the Sunday” coach James said, but there was no way I was going to miss the most awesome hill climb in the world!!  

The race had attracted some super stars like world record holder John Archibald
The entries had doubled in numbers and it was super exiting to see so many women on the start list! This was proper racing. I immediately felt uplifted when I saw Amber’s smiling face, Rob and Caroline and the electric energy at the start line of the Dukes Pass Hill climb. The road was closed for cars so we could feel like pro athletes cheered on by screaming crowds the whole way up. Before I knew it, it was my time and cheered on by supporters I made my way to the top. Where normally nerve pain would kick in during a high intensity session preventing me to go hard enough to go lactic, this time I could push through. Very unattractively with my mouth wide open and my legs on fire I reached the middle of the climb where tons of screaming supporters making incredible noise, and life music greeted me. The enthusiasm of everyone there actually made me laugh out loud, although hurting like hell I was buzzing. I saw the girl in front of me and with  200m to go, two guys screamed at me from the top of their lungs to catch her  (I wonder if those blokes have any voices left!!) spurring me on to completely and utterly empty the tank and beating my time from last year. I was one big smile. It felt like my whole body was smiling. To feel lactic again felt absolutely awesome, to be able to push this hard even better. I rolled back down to the start to support Kerry, catching up with equally big smiling familiar faces on the way.

Like last year the Dukes Gathering was filled with inspiring speakers including Kerry talking about her Hebrides heritage and obstacles she had to overcome to get into bike racing. Which explained her independence and "just go for it" attitude chasing her dreams. We stayed in a lovely little cottage on Dukes pass kindly offered by the organisers for Kerry speaking and ended up solving the worlds problems till late in the night until we decided we better had to get some sleep with a big day of bike riding ahead of us! 

When you are a racer at heart it is difficult to have no expectations and it has been the biggest obstacle for me entering events for fun. The great enduro format for the Gravel race made it possible to ride with your pals and smash 6 different the stages at your own pace which made it a lot easier to relax and race for fun of it. Our little group was at the back of the pack and consisted of a very speedy 17 year old Mieke, Kerry and Kate McKay who I had the pleasure to get to know over the following 4 hours. 

Our little tribe 
The whole day was just buzzing, the volunteers were awesome, the route was beautiful and the stages were so much fun. I really got inspired to keep up with the speedy company I was in and to my surprise I had no nerve symptoms at all. The bear was deep asleep. My legs were pretty empty like probably every one out there who had done the hill climb but as a typical endurance athlete I felt better and better towards the end. I was so impressed with Kerry’s power when she would storm passed me and watching Mieke’s ability to turn herself inside out when I managed to stay in her proximity on one of the stages. At 17 years old she could really put herself in the hurt box!! I loved being chased by Kate who pushed me on to ride my bike like a competitor, gasping for air with legs screaming at me. “I am going to get you” she yelled at me on the last stage whilst I was skidding around the trees and flying down the steep hills when I missed a corner and landed straight ahead in the grass. Giggling like a child I got back on my bike as fast as I could finishing the Dukes Weekender with the biggest smile I have had after a race for a long time!! 

the beauty of the Trossachs (photo credit Dukes Weekender)
There was cake and tea, banter and more smiles before we rolled back into race village after a brilliant day in the Trossachs. I was nervous to hand my timing chip in because I did not want to be disappointed. But when I got my results my smile got even bigger. I was 2nd Fvet on the Gravel and in the Full Dukes and Kerry had won the overall in both, we were absolutely buzzing!! 

They say hard work always pays off. But it was my dedication to hard work which got me in a state of overtraining and chronically injured. I have seen very sad things happen to hard working, undeserving people. In my opinion it is resilience which pays off. Showing up day in day out fighting for your believes, dreams and happiness regardless of what life throws at you. I have so much love for this event where I was surrounded by incredible inspirational positive people who each have their own amazing story to tell. It lifted me up to dig deep and try my best, and a body which was willing, making me smile all the 70km through the Trossachs with Kerry, Kate and Mieke. This event changed my life last year and it was so great to be back, in less pain, as a better competitor and finishing at the pointy end of a great field of women. 

Thanks to everyone involved especially Rob, Stu, Amber and Caroline, I will be smiling thinking about this event for days to come and it will keep on inspiring me to never give up.

"Courage is contagious, every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver"