Wednesday 13 December 2023

"Give it a try" whispered the heart


3 years ago I rushed out of my shoe box sized apartment to try and skin up 800m in less than an hour on my ski’s something I had seen on Instagram. I did not have light kit at the time and carried a big backpack with all the things you need for an all day adventure rather than a time trial to the top. I spotted someone in the far distance and made it my goal to catch up to him. As I passed my target whilst sweating and panting heavily, he started following me “hello, I am Yann your landlords friend, do you remember me? I met you the other day” I had no intention to be social as my focus was to climb as fast as possible but Yann had no intention to stop asking me a million questions. Apparently there were not many females around that would “run” up the mountain for fun and it got his attention. 

The picture Yann took of me the day we met

I did not make the climb in less than an hour but I did meet my kindred spirit. Since meeting Yann I have climbed 15 x 4000m plus Mountain Summits including the highest in Mountain in Europe Mont Blanc 4809m. I have gone from never having rock climbed before to doing multi pitch routes following Yann along exposed  ridge lines and up vertical walls. I have skied several 45 degree “couloirs” and started competing in Ski Mountaineering races. Inspired by Yann’s 8 entries in one of the most prestigious ultra trail running races world wide; the UTMB, I started trail running and every year I added distance. This summer I finished the  famous CCC 100km at the UTMB trail festival. I went from mixing Dutch, English and French words in an attempt to learn French, to speaking the language fluently. I moved from my studio apartment to a one bedroom apartment and then to living with Yann in his beautiful Chalet at the foot of the stunning lake of Montriond. I have gone from avoiding Christmas (too many sad memories) to buying a tree the first weekend of December and filling the house with Christmas decorations. I have reconnected with my mother after too many years of silence and my sister and I are as close as ever before. Sometimes you meet someone who challenges you to always be the best version of yourself. Someone who inspires you to learn, to progress, to reflect and keep moving forward. Yann has been that person to me. 

ticking of the 4000m peaks in Europe
Multi pitch climbing


following Yann out of my comfort zone 

My preparation for the CCC 100km trail race this Summer was difficult with all the pain I experienced through my spine after finishing the Atlas Mountain Race in October 2022. Somehow everything seemed to fall into place on the start line with strong legs and a back which felt better than it had felt for months. So I went for it! After a year of battling pain, the pain bear was silent and I could push on the uphill as well as the downhill which felt like magic! I was heading for a solid performance. Unfortunately my inexperience made for a few mistakes on the nutrition front and with 40kms left to go I couldn’t hold anything down and finished the last 30kms on one cup of tea and everything I had ingested before that was left along the trail! 

Although I lost a lot of time, I was so happy I had a go at pushing my limits physically and then I had to push them mentally when I couldn’t take any water or food in. It was an experience which made me dream again and made me believe that I was not done yet. I did however need a break from racing and decided not to pencil anything in the calendar for the winter ski season and decide last minute what I wanted to race.

At the finish line of the CCC

Until I got an email from the team manager of the Dutch Ski mountaineering team inviting me to join the selection weekend for the upcoming Ski Mountaineering season. I had 4 weeks to recover from the CCC and train some speed in my legs again after a lot of slow endurance training. I had no expectations leading into the weekend, I decided I would be ok with not being selected. 

Run time trial

When the team managers started to explain the Winter Olympics dream, my head started to spin. Which athlete does not dream of going to the Olympics? With lack of pure speed I knew it was a tough ask to get selected but I gave it all I got. Getting selected was the first hurdle. The second hurdle was turning me from an endurance athlete into a sprint athlete to suit the Olympic Ski mountaineering format which was a 4min sprint condensing all the different techniques you need to have to be a good ski mountaineer and making it spectacular to watch at the same time.

training in Saas Fee with the world Champion Max Drion


So in the last couple of months I have gone from finishing a 100km ultra, getting selected for the National Ski Mountaineering team, to working with a new high performance coach and training for my first Ski mountaineering sprint race which counted as the French National Championships held last weekend. 

In all honesty I did not really want to race. “I am not ready” I said to my coach. “You will certainly not be ready but then we will have a starting point” he answered me. Lucky one of my closest friends Katie lived near the race venue and was the perfect person to have by my side to calm my nerves. When I first had a look at the course I choked. It was very steep. There were slalom gates. I had never skied around gates before. What was I doing???? I froze. I did not eat or drink all morning. I did not properly warm up. And suddenly I stood on the start line with a race official telling me “1,2, 3 GO!”

going around the diamonds
And off I went as fast as I could, skin up a vertical climb, around the “diamond” turns, first transition, skis off and on my back, run up as fast I could, second transition skis back on my feet, back skinning around the diamond turns, faster, faster, faster, third transition: from skin to ski, and down I went around the gates finishing with ski cross rollers, a tight right hand corner and into the finish line, 4min and a bit with the biggest smile on my face. This was fun!! 

first time around the gates
boot pack

The Olympic format, a standardised loop with 80m vertical gain, 3 transitions, a boot pack and a downhill. A 3-4min all out effort which is repeated several times through qualifying, heats, quarter finals, semi finals and finals. I never thought I would love this as much as I did as it is far fetched from the adventure that made me fall in love with ski mountaineering in the first place, however it is very focussed on all the techniques you need to nail to be any good at this sport and safe in the mountains. I have always gravitated to sporting disciplines which is so much more than physical talent but rewards skills and mental strength. 

This winter season it is all about getting as much experience as possible at world cup level, I will therefore race all the disciplines, from the sprint, the vertical km, the individual (a 2hrs loop with 1500m of vertical gain) to the mixed relay (a slightly longer version of the sprint with a male team mate). I will be racing 5 international races including the Dutch national champs from January to April. Going from a 10-20 hour effort to a 4min-2hrs effort will need a bit of adjustment and my only goal this season is to show improvement as the season progresses.

No photo description available.
lucky to have someone who pushes me every single day to be a little bit better than the day before 

Winter season 2024/2025 is where Olympic Qualification will begin and I will be committed to race all the World Cups to gain as many points possible to not only qualify the Netherlands but I will also try and be the person our national federation will send to the Olympics to represent the sport in Cortina D’Ampezzo 2026. I am fully committed to give this all I have got. 

Over the years I have represented the Netherlands in Equestrian (as a junior), in Mountain Biking and Triathlon and never did I think I would be chasing the Olympic dream this late in life in a sport completely new to me! People will think I am crazy, people will think I am too old, people will think I am wasting my time. But I am a dreamer through and through and although a lot of my aspirations and dreams disappear into thin air, the chase is worth the journey. Even if I fail to reach my goal at least I can say I gave it my all. This is my dream to dream and I will not die wondering. 

A huge thanks to James McCallum who has been my rock over the years and always said to me 'there is more to come'. And Rab Wardell who is missed every single day. I owe both more gratitude than I can ever express. Thank you does not really cut it but it will have to do for now.  

It's impossible, said pride. It's risky, said experience. It's pointless, said reason. Give it a try, whispered the heart.


Wednesday 30 August 2023

3 years in France; turning into an ultra mountain runner (shuffler)

When I was told back in 2017 it would be unlikely I would ever run again let alone race again, I made a pack with myself that one day I would run the Ultra Tour Du Mont Blanc, a 170km (100miles) ultra trail race with 10.000m (35000 feet) of ascend on an existing hiking route around the mighty Mont Blanc crossing the French, Italian and Swiss Alps. Regardless of my injury this pack I made with myself was completely unrealistic since I had never run a marathon on the road, let alone an ultra marathon through the mountains.

When I started working with a pain specialist in 2019, he gave me a running budget. It was as little as 2kms, three times a week and I could increase that with 10% each week only if I did not experience a pain flare up. At the time those 2kms felt like a marathon to me. I would spend the whole day motivating myself to do it and to not focus on the pain I would experience in my legs. Retrain the brain it was called. I went from being a 36min 10km runner to running 2km in 14min which was sobering to say the least and forced me to leave my ego behind. At times I got frustrated about my (for me) slow running speed  and my coach James would say to me "stop being such an ass to yourself, if you keep at it and keep running, you will only get faster" Instead of grieving the old me, I started working on rebuilding a new me.

I met Erin when I could barely do 5kms 

With the 10% rule, weeks passed and 2kms became 5kms,  5kms became 10kms, 10 became 15kms and although the progression felt like a cha cha cha, with multiple pain flare ups setting me back, I run my first ever marathon in the Scottish Pentland's during lock down in 2020. By no means was I running pain free nor was I running fast but I was running again, and I was running against all odds. 

Spending hours roaming the mountains with Mac

My move to the French Alps in the Summer of 2020 meant I was a little closer to realising the dream of running the UTMB living less than a couple of hours from the route. I quickly learned that trail running in the French Alps had a very different meaning than trail running in the UK. Running technical downhill was not my forte but as with everything in life, the more you do it, the better you get at it and I love a challenge and the feeling of progressing. I embraced the opportunity to improve with open arms spending most of my summer months exploring the mountains by foot with little Mac. The happiness that this gave me made me feel stronger whilst experiencing less pain as the months turned into years. 

trail running in France not quite the same as in the UK

I dared to run and finish my first ultra mountain marathon last summer in a local race. 50kms, 4500m of ascend over the most technical terrain in France. By running a couple more 50kms events during the Summer, I had collected enough points to enter the UTMB but I decided to enter its little sister the CCC instead. This way I could properly build up to the100miler and not get (more) injured in the process! It took a lot of self control and listening to people I trusted since all I wanted to do was enter the UTMB! 

Starting from Courmayeur in Italy the CCC covers the last 100kms off the UTMB route to Chamonix and doing the CCC instead was a great way to introduce me to the longer ultra distances. Because of the popularity of the race they installed a lottery system to allocate starting slots, the more points you had the bigger the chance you got to the start line. The draw was done in December and based on the last two previous running seasons. 

I knew people who had tried for years to toe the start line in any of the UTMB festival races so when I received the email in early January that I was offered a spot, my heart skipped a beat. May be I was not wise for entering the event whilst I was still dealing with nerve pain flare up and compressed vertebrae ever since the Atlas Bike Packing race in Morocco. At the time I entered the CCC I was not even able to run 20min let alone 20 hours which it would take me on a good day. Although I am someone who will not often put something I really want to do on hold, having lost a couple of close friends recently has made me even more aware that not everyone is lucky enough to have "later" or "next year". This thought process was part of my decision to run, well knowingly the real race was the one against time to get me physically pain free enough to be able to do it.

Going rogue with Yann 

After a difficult winter season battling the pain bear, I mapped out the Summer season with my running coach Alex. To be as well prepared and pain free as possible for the CCC which was run in September. This included physio on a weekly basis and working again with James for strength and conditioning training. James had been my rock through a lot of years and knew my hole injury history. A 5 min chat with him was enough to fill me with confidence I would once again crawl out of this pain hole. Alex was also someone I had known for a long time and she knew that coaching me involved accepting that from time to time I would go rogue and disappear with Yann for proper mountain adventures climbing and mountaineering at high altitudes. Alex understood that it was an important factor in my overall happiness enabling me to be able to do it all rather than being one goal focussed. For me this is one of the most important part of working with coaches, making sure they get what makes you tick.

making new friends whilst enduring torrential rain in the Gypeate 
The final kms of the Vanoise 

Every month from the end of April I was running an event, starting with the Tour Du Mole  35kms and 3500m of climbing, The trail Du Gypeate 60km and 4200m of climbing and finishing with Tour du Vanoise 75kms and 4000m of climbing at the beginning of July. I am lucky that I did not need to travel very far to get to these races and each one of them belonged to the 'classic' mountain ultras in France. They were known for their technical difficulty, toughness but incredible beauty. Each one of them pushed me to my limits in every possible way. From wondering what the hell I was doing trying to do these brutal events whilst battling nerve pain in my legs during the Tour du Mole, to being rained and thundered on for the final four hours of the trail du Gypeate having to run down mud rivers in the final 6kms. The tour du Vanoise was supposed to be the 'easier' one, but with 100 out of 500 starters not finishing the race it was clear it was not a very easy one at all! The first 30kms I spend what I would call my version of trail running hell, having to navigate rock gardens the size of houses whilst enduring cold, wet, foggy weather with no views to enjoy at all. During all these three races however there was the side I loved so much and why I kept on going back doing events despite of my physical battles. There were the fellow sufferers who you would spend hours in silence with bonded through a shared passion. I have never come back from a race not making a new friend. There were the (literally) breath taking views after a tough oxygen zapping climbs making my mountain heart sing. And where movement was my friend after hours of shuffling through rough terrain, the nerve pain would dampen towards the end in every one of the races and I could finish strong satisfying my competitive side. 

Mac was guarding us all night during our bivvy at 2200m

My final preparation for the CCC was a course recce with my best (human) friend Erin and my best (furry) friend Mac. The plan was 100kms over 3 days whilst carrying all we needed to camp out in nature. But I really wanted to do the full Tour du Mont Blanc which meant instead of 100kms, 160kms in 3 days. When I asked Erin what she thought (having never run a marathon before let alone 3 in a row with a loaded back pack at altitude) her response to me was 'I trust you'. Say. No. More.

Erin has been there through the good, the bad and the ugly 

No race will ever compare to the incredible 3 and a bit days Erin, Mac and I spent taking in all the beauty that comes with this iconic hiking route, running through France, Italy and Switzerland. Because of the added mileage we were under a bit of time pressure and I picked Erin up from the airport late afternoon to start running that Thursday evening and bag the first big climb before dark. We spent a very cold night sleeping out on the mountain at 2000m under a magical sky full of stars listening to numerous (somewhat alarming at times), animal sounds. Woken up by rain early morning we were relieved it was already 5am and we could start moving. This became our routine for the following days. We pushed in the quiet morning hours so we would be able to drop the pace in the afternoon when the legs started to feel tired and still finish at a reasonable time. We were lucky with amazing weather during the day but the afternoons turned wet and cold so we chose to stay in hotels instead of bivvying out. This meant we could have a hot shower, a hot meal and crawl tired but happy in our beds at 8pm to repeat it all again at 5am the next day. I am not sure how we pulled if off, with my painful body carrying a loaded backpack filled with Mac's kibble for three days along side my own kit and Erin had never eve run more than 30kms before let alone at altitude. But our mutual trust in each other made us embrace this mad little adventure and the sore shoulders, arms and legs that came with it. Mac in his own right became really popular on the trail and will be featuring in many holiday pictures all around the world! My little legend. 

 Although I did not do it in a race setting, nor in one go, I did run the Tour du Mont Blanc like I said I would after being told I would never run again in 2017, and for that doing this with Erin who had been there all along the way over those years, felt extra special.

I am days away from toeing the start line of the CCC on Friday the 1st of September and the only goal I have is the finish line. With the unpredictable nature of my pain symptoms I have no idea how the body will respond over a distance I have never run before. And when it comes to racing ultra endurance events there is never any guarantee. I do know however that I am as well prepared as I can be. More importantly my adventure with Erin and spending a week with my beautiful sister Martje has inspired my heart and soul more than ever to be brave, let go of my ego and give it everything I have, no matter how long it will take me or where I finish in the field, letting no room for negativity in my mind. I am here and I am doing it, against all odds.

May be an image of 2 people

As NZ triathlete and Olympic Medalist Hamish Carter used to say: Finishing is over the finish line.

A huge thanks to my coach Alex and  Jimmy, to my physio Louise, my close friends, my beautiful sister Martje and off course Yann without who's support I would be nowhere. 

And my last words of appreciation go to Rab, who is the one I want to make proud the most. I reckon this would blow his mind. He is the one who said yes I will help you when everyone said no. Missed for a year already but never forgotten. Thank you. 

Tuesday 28 March 2023

Adamello Long Distance World Championships Ski Mountaineering; Accept and Commit

After a restless night I woke up. I tried to sit upright and grabbed the side of the wall for support but the pain in my lower back and glutes was too intense and I laid back down. I pulled my knees up to my chest gently one by one to decompress my injured disc like my chiropractor told me to do. I could turn myself around now with my knees tucked under myself on my front. I rested for a moment. It was eight in the morning and I was already exhausted. Not helped by a stubborn cough and flu like symptoms which I had been battling for weeks. I pondered the why. This was not the physical state of an athlete. And an athlete I needed to be to be able to compete at World Cup level in ski mountaineering races with the first team of ski mountaineering athletes the Netherlands had put together. "what am I thinking" I spoke out loud. I pushed myself of the bed and waddled to the bathroom. It is just not happening this winter season. 

What was I trying to prove? I was now officially an "old (er)" athlete. So why did I always want to be with the very best. Why did I do this to myself once again. Why dealing with the disappointment of not performing at the level I knew I could and wanted to perform at. I knew this feeling all too well. I did not really have an answer for the why other than that quitting when things were hard, felt too easy.

Most of my fight was against my brain, settling down my over sensitive central nervous system. Reducing symptoms of persistent pain was a daily task even when symptoms were settled. This time however I injured a disc in Morocco adding to this daily challenge. But when I achieved it, when everything fell into place for even a single moment and I felt strong and pain free, it was the best feeling in the world. I was not willing to give up on this. Wether I chased extraordinary or not, my pain levels would be the same. Chasing extraordinary however gave me the bigger reward. That was my Why.

I am the happiest in races where athletes excel when they have a sense for adventure, an athletic ability and a skillset more advanced than others rather than pure physical talent. These are generally technical mountain sports like mountain biking, adventure races, mountain running and ski mountaineering is probably the toughest of them all. It was love at first sight for me but oh man how this sporting discipline has eaten me alive and spat me out! Beating me up mentally and physically on a daily basis during the winter months in the last couple of years!

After I canceled the world cups my whole season turned into a time trial to get my disc solid enough to race the Ademello Ski Raid in Italy which counted as the long distance world championships. When my female team mate pulled out two weeks before the event my heart broke in two. May be this was a sign. It was really not meant to be this year. The problem was that I did not believe in signs, nothing in my life had been straight forward. Ever. One of my previous employers once said to me, your existence is consistently inconsistent and it stuck with me. So I decided to see it as an opportunity. I asked Yann to be my team mate. I knew that with his experience I would learn bucket loads and although we would be competing in the male category since mixed teams were not acknowledged, it lit a new fire in me to give this race all I had to give even if I was not going to be at my best. 

There were two cut off times we had to make in order to complete the full distance, one was after the first climb of 1300m and the other one at half of the distance. I had only one plan and that was to race as hard as possible to half way point because these cut off times at world class level are not for the faint hearted nor for beginners, which realistically I was!


After eating a lot of pizza, pasta, cheese (we were in Italy after all)  and having a mild panic attack thinking we (me) had forgotten half of the compulsory equipment (including a climbing rope) which in the end was all found in the van, it was finally time to race.

Normally Yann was hard to wake before 9am on any given day but we were both right awake before the alarm went off at 4am. The atmosphere at the start was electric. I had become a fan of the stars of this sports some of whom where Yann's friends. So I found myself star struck trying to focus on what was about to begin. Staying positive and finishing over the finish line were the only goals I had. As the gun went off I was expecting to be left for dead but as we began the first climb, we were well placed and making the cut off times was never in any doubt.

getting ready on the start line at 5.30am

frozen hands and altitude makes Via Ferrata a lot harder than it should be!

From getting blinded by stormy snow flakes to bright sunshine the weather was ever changing. Winds were strong and cold on exposed parts of the course turning us into ice cubes. The crowds all along especially on the mountain passes were amazing. As soon as spectators and volunteers saw I was female their cheering became louder "Brava, brava, brava" they shouted. I would try to smile as much as I could. The first downhill was a slalom through a rock garden on a plaque of ice, not ideal for me! It felt like there was no end to it! After a couple of pirouhettes  and one somersault trying to keep up with Yann I was happy to attack the second climb. From a distance we saw a small group of people on the track, Yann looked back at me. An athlete on the ground, yellow Scarpa ski-boots sticking out from under a survival blanket, someone performing CPR. The man's skin looked blue. I hyperventilated. With his experience as a ski patroller Yann offered to help. We were told to keep going and that a helicopter was on the way. "He is dead" I said to Yann, my voice trembling. I struggled to get my head around it. "He is dead" I mumbled. The course got technical again and I had no choice but to focus back on the race. "Nothing we can do" I thought to myself.

Suffering from the altitude and our fast start I did not feel to great the second half of the course. Feeling the lack of oxygen at 3400m altitude, breathing heavily, nauseous and dizzy, I focused on Yann's skis in front of me and kept moving forward as fast as I could. But oh how beautiful it was skiing over glaciers and scrambling high over rocky ridge lines. The incredible views when the sun burned its way through the clouds. The cheers of the volunteers motivated me to keep pushing. Yann and I worked together as a well oiled machine which gave me energy when I needed it the most. 

running on ski boots 

When we were on the last downhill my legs were dead. A1650m descent is a dream for good skiers. That is not me. However snow conditions up high were amazing. We skied down very beautiful, steep and technical couloirs. As we descended lower the snow got tougher and tougher to ski and my legs were burning. In the last 6kms or so we started a run over steep slippy trail due to the lack of snow. Running on rigid ski boots with skis on our backs was not something I had done before. But the thought of the finish line made my heart sing. We did it. With 400m to go Yann grabbed my hand. All smiles. 8 hours. 40kms. 3400m ascend. We were far from last. Feeling of happiness. Fulfilment. Feeling of accomplishment. Despite the setbacks this winter, I had accepted where I was at and stayed committed. Which in the end led to success. Finishing this race was no small feat. I did something extraordinary together with Yann which made it even more special. This was my why. Never give up on something you cannot go a day without thinking about. My why; although my dreams and aspirations might disappear into thin air, the chase is worth the journey. 

Huge thanks to the organisers the volunteers, to Yann, to my friends, my work buddies, my coaches over the years and my support network, chasing dreams is what it is all about.

"Every morning you have two choices, continue to sleep with your dreams, or wake up and chase them"



Later that day we found out that the athlete in question Omar Ferrero died from a cardiac arrest whilst doing what he loved doing. A tragic ending to an otherwise perfect event. My thoughts go out to his friends and family.


Monday 30 January 2023

The aftermath of the Atlas Mountain race and diving into the winter season

Recently a friend of mine send me an interesting article about the health risks associated with endurance cycling and whether organisers should be responsible for pulling injured riders out of the race. There were also comments made about it being irresponsible applauding athletes pushing themselves to the absolute limits which have serious consequences to their health and celebrating these efforts on social media. 

We are three months on from the Atlas Mountain race in Morocco and both my hands still have tingly sensations from associated nerve damage. I still have major problems with my neck after experiencing Shermer’s neck and I currently struggle riding my bike for more than a couple of hours. The pressure I put on my spine by tieing my helmet to my backpack in order to keep racing has caused disc related symptoms in my lower back and pelvis which makes me look like an 100yo granny when I get up in the morning. Running is not much more than a shuffle at present. I already suffer from a sensitised central nervous system resulting in persistent pain and unfortunately the Atlas Mountain Race has caused a significant setback. 

As I am someone who is always preparing for the next thing, which in this case for me is the ski alpinism season in the French Alps, this setback has caused a lot of frustration. And then we are not even talking about the accumulated fatigue trying to function normally with a body which is continuously aching everywhere. Although the winter season is my favourite of all, I haven’t been the most pleasant person to be around in the last couple of months. 

my favourite season 

After a disappointing performance in my first ski alpinism race of the season, I decided to seek some help and landed with a well respected local chiropractor. “Let me start with that I can help you” he said to me after examination, followed by “but you have to accept that you are injured and it is impossible to perform at your best like this” . I find it very difficult to make excuses for myself, it is always easier for me to think I am not good enough and need to train harder than to accept injury or other factors in my life influencing performance. Hearing these words was good for me. I needed to accept that this was the state I was in and that I needed to work on getting better again.

I am going into my third ski season and my second season of ski alpinism races after having done only a handful of events last year. I dream of racing La Pierra Menta, a 4 day technical ski alpinism race in pairs with the best athletes in the world being selected to race. I supported Yann and his team mate and friend Antoine last year and it is a sport which literally makes me feel fire in my belly. I want to be able to master this discipline which will keep me occupied until I am officially to old to do anything.

For people who do not know, ski alpinism involves climbing mountains on skis or carrying your skis on your back depending on steepness and technical terrain and then descending those mountains on skis. The races are elitist, as you need to be able to move fast to get to tight check points on time. This is to reduce the risks of getting competitors caught in avalanches later in the afternoon. It involves back country skiing down steep technical slopes with all sort of different snow conditions, from deep soft powder, to crust, ice or thigh burning heavy sticky white stuff which does not resemble much to the snow find on piste in ski resorts! Because of the amount of climbing in these races, equipment used is as light as possible. This means descending on what can be described as noodle skis and ski boots which can move almost in every direction! Anyone who skis will know this does not feel the most reassuring going down steep gradients at high speeds. There is a lot of technique involved, having to change over from climbing to skiing and back again. Putting crampons on your boots and putting your skis on your back, using Via Ferrata equipment to “run” and scramble over exposed ridge lines attached to a rope with one hand and holding on to your ski poles for dear life (you do not want to lose them of the side of the mountain!) with the other hand. Although a good set of lungs, legs and a healthy heart is very beneficial, athletes who have it technically nailed will surpass ones who are physically more talented. It is a sport which blew my mind last year and has me dreaming of big things this year. But it is oh so tough. I have so much respect for especially the badass women in it who literally match it up with the men, with their grit, determination, incredible courage and skills to move through the mountains on skis as fast as they do it at.

Last year I attempted the Belle Etoile, a two day ski alpinism race which is a qualifying event for the bigger races such as La Pierra Menta. Due to lack of experience and skills my team mate and I did not finish on the big course due to not making the cut off times. Never the less the feeling of racing in this crazy ski discipline was an incredible adventure to witness first hand.

This year I was teaming up with Laetitia, a talented trail runner, who although not born in the mountains had a lot more experience in ski alpinism than I had but it was her first season racing. With my neck and back problems I made sure I would not make matters physically worse for myself lining up to race. Again my chiropractor reinforced to me “you can race but you are injured and simply will not be able to be at your best” 

I gave Laetitia the choice to race with someone more competitive than me but we decided that finishing on the main course would be our objective and it being Laetitia's first race it was fine with her.

Going at full speed at the start

This year the Belle Etoile designed an even more technical and bigger course to match the type of racing of its big brother La Pierra Manta. The organisation was faultless, the atmosphere buzzing, the mountains spectacular and although I am always someone who will be disappointed in my own performance when it is not at it's best, it was hard to be disappointed finishing a tough event like this. With 2700m of climbing, around 24 different transitions and a million kick turns it was a race which had it all and was suited to the technically flawless amongst us. (Not me!) It is always difficult to adjust to a new team mate and being the weaker link this was not easy for me! We had some equipment malfunction, some short lived hissy fits (me), transitions which did not go very smooth (again me), but overall we could be happy with how we managed all of it together.

I did feel the strain of a big and tough day that evening. I really dislike the feeling of not knowing if my body will show up the next day. I cannot control the amount of pain `I will be in and it robs me of my confidence. I find it the most difficult to deal with. In the morning I told Laetitia my doubts “just do your best” she answered. And so I did. We worked a lot better and positively together. Laetitia’s strength motivated me to keep pushing, my kick turns became smoother and although I made a lot of mistakes in transitions, Laetitia helped me get faster, made sure I ate, drank and that we kept moving forward. Unlike other teams our time on the second day was significantly faster than the first day. With less climbing this was to be expected but the difference between day 1 and 2 for us was more than significant compared to other teams!

Incredibly happy to finish the Belle Etoile with Laetitia and with a 12th place in the female pairs against some absolute machines we did not embarrass ourselves either. 

going down at high speeds on noodle skis 

I asked myself the question that if I knew what the aftermath of the Atlas Mountain race would be like, if I would have pushed as hard as I did to finish. Or if I would have liked the organisers to make that decision for me. I came to this conclusion; I believe we are adults, we are endurance athletes and suffering is what we know and love best. I would not want to have missed the amazing experience I had in Morocco with Katie. It was my choice to carry on when physically everything was failing and I do not believe the organisation should be held responsible for that. Neither would I have appreciated being pulled out of the race by organisers. Personally I do respect and reward mental strength and look up at athletes who have that ability to dig deep in endless amounts. My team mate for the AMR, Katie, is one of them. And as long as it feels inspiring to me, I will applaud these type of athletes on social media. We live in a society where people want life to be too easy and whilst at it have someone to blame when it goes all wrong. Endurance events are not easy, they should not be easy, the responsibility for when things do not go according to plan lays with the athletes preparation and knowing exactly what they are getting themselves into, which is not that hard to find out.

 sharing tough moments with Katie 

Therefore the only thing I would change now, is my preparation. I did not give the AMR the respect it deserved. I would make sure my body was ready for what I was about to ask it to do. When I traversed Nepal on the mountain bike I prepared 10 months for it with my coach James. And my body showed up day in day out. For that reason I decided to team up with my old Organicoach friends Alex and Nico to help me improve as a ski alpinist and also going into the trail running season in the Summer. I have an entry in the CCC a 100km mountain ultra which is part of the famous UTMB festival. Unfortunately James is not the one who can get me ready for those type of races but he will be always someone `I will seek advise from and when I get back on the bike he will be my man. (if he still wants me)

one of the people I admire for mental toughness

But first `I need some time to get my body back on track. I need to focus on structured and repetitive training to settle my central nervous system and aim towards some big races a bit later in the season. A little bit down because of this but never out!

A huge thanks to Laetitia for helping me achieve something which I doubted I could do! Watch out girls, this one will be on your heals soon!

"surround yourself with the dreamers and the doers, the believers and thinkers but most of all surround yourself with those who see greatness in you"