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"













Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is just show up (Brene Brown)





I love stories, and it is one of the reasons why I love sport so much, it is filled with inspiring anecdotes on every level. I do not necessarily love the stories about the best athletes, but about the ones who dare to fail, who are brave and willing to fight it out. Because if you never try, you will never know.These athletes inspire me to keep on improving myself. Progress is my addiction. For 5 years now I have been entertaining a love/hate relationship with my body and only in the last year have I realised how big my own mindset influences the levels of pain and fatigue I experience. With the help of some key people I have learned  what my triggers are, what I should and shouldn’t do and what a fine balance it is for me to stay healthy. 

One of my favourite stories in sport and the definition of courage; Jenny Risveds comeback 
About 6 weeks ago I tipped myself over the edge just wanting a little too much to soon which resulted in my back giving in, painful muscle spasms and 5 days of couch time. As frustrating as this was, I had been here plenty of times before, I knew it would pass and with the help of my coach James I had no choice but wheel it all back in and go into rehab mode. Of course I felt very sorry for myself in the first couple of days but the difference was that I was very aware that my mind would have a big impact on how quickly this episode would pass. It was important to stay positive. So as soon as I could walk a bit more freely I went to the pool and started swimming, I ventured out on very gently bike rides and where normally I would push and push and push, this time I let my body guide me. And day by day I felt improvement, every time I went out, I could do a little bit more. 
Back at it, long rides
It took about a month to feel semi normal again which was followed by a meeting with James to plan our next phase of training for the up coming Nepal expedition. We had still plenty of time so this little physical hiccup did not have a massive effect on the long term plan. But it did make me think a lot about the triggers which causes my pain. For 3 years now I was battling pain flare ups and it certainly did not get any easier getting through daily life as a veterinarian dealing with it. And when my coping mechanisms have always been the outdoors and exercise, the motivation to keep moving whilst in pain had faded a little over the years, making matters worse. It was during these last few weeks whilst I was struggling getting in and out of a car, let alone vaccinating a needle shy horse, that I decided that something had to change. And my health was more important to me than the uncertainty of my professional future. After a long chat with Michael I gathered all the courage I had left within me, went to work the next day and handed in my notice. It was one of the hardest things I had to do in my career. Turning my back on a profession I was once so passionate about and had been working so hard towards from my first childhood memories . And when I drove home that night I felt grief and relief at the same time. 
facing uncertainty in my professional future, I have only ever been a vet.

Although I still had to work my 3 months notice, my decision made my head feel a lot clearer heading into the Saikalako expedition. I did not have to worry about going straight from Nepal back to work with the necessary on call catch up over Christmas. Not having a job to go back to meant time for proper recovery, probably for the first time in my athletic career and it felt mentally great. And with a clear mind, my body followed.

“Time for some volume” James response was to that, which meant a two week block of long rides with the Kirroughtree 10 hour MTB race right in the middle of this training block. I can’t say I am a huge fan of racing laps for 10 hours, there is not much adventure in that for me. On top of that it was logistically difficult. Run on Saturday meant I had to rush out of work on Friday to pack up and drive 3 hours prepare everything and ride for 10 hours the next day. Not ideal. But as James said  ”this is part of the process, you need to be able to ride tired in Nepal for days on end and mentally learn how to work through that”. So off we went, with already 18 hours of bike riding in my legs over 8 days and a tough week at work,  loaded the van with dogs and bikes, Michael and I arrived late at Kirroughtree Forest on Friday night.
never without these guys!


Waking up early morning I knew I had nothing to give but sometimes you hope that once on the bike things will feel better. It did not! We started with a big climb and I felt every single minute of the 18 hours of training in my legs and for the first two laps there was a mental battle going on in my head. Simply put, I wanted to pull out. I did not see the point in this. But that was my racing mind talking. Because what was the point in this? It was riding my bike for 10 hours, physically and mentally battling it out. Not racing. I knew I could ride for 10 hours whilst fatigued, I had done it before. I had to stop trying to be a competitor. So I dropped the pace and tried to get into some sort of rhythm. The course was pretty awesome, even for a lap race! Lots of natural technical single track, cool flowy descents, and gazillion of short punchy climbs (not my strength!). My fellow competitors were equally awesome, the front of the race politely passing whilst sharing words of encouragement without any of the race aggression I had witnessed in similar events. Even Kyle Beattie who was chasing a course record took the time to be supportive! And after 5 hours of racing I finally started to find my groove. In the pit was my friend Marie Meldrum who was racing in a team and has a great way of making me smile “ "just keep on going" she encouraged me "one pedal stroke after the other”. And it simply became a battle between me and myself. I decided 6 laps was enough and then I went onto the 7th lap, calculating time became difficult with a tired mind but I figured out I still had two hours to be able to finish an 8th lap. I was mentally fried “Karin would do another lap” I thought about my best friend who was joining me in Nepal and off I went for another lap. When I finished I had ridden my bike for over 10 hours and felt intensely happy. 
more volume after the race!
This was where my satisfaction of racing came from, not beating other people, not winning, not being the best out of a group of people, but beating myself and being the best I could possibly be on that day. At Kirroughtree I succeeded at getting the best out of myself even when circumstances were not ideal. On the day this was good enough for 2nd place solo female and even for a little race this felt awesome because I showed up, toughed it out and I won the battle against my own demons. Huge thanks to all the organisers  and volunteers for a great event, the vibe was simply awesome!! 

At this point in time I don't really know what my future holds. I don't really know what I want other than beat this chronic pain thing and it has my main focus. Getting my mind happy and healthy again is the goal, and I feel confident that the rest will follow. 

"Choose courage over comfort, choose whole hearts over armor. And choose the great adventure of being brave and afraid. At the exact same time" Brene Brown













Monday, 24 June 2019

A mini mountain expedition in the Alps





 It has been two weeks since Karin and I went on a mini epic traversing through the Alps. Almost everything which could go wrong went wrong; starting with missing my bus from Geneva airport to Chamonix and Karin running out of fuel 100kms from Chamonix. Setting us both back a few hours whilst we were under time pressure to do the full 180km Tour de Mt Blanc loop already. Add a broken bike and last minute repairs at a busy bike shop (who were kind of us to prioritise us) in the mix and we set off at 6pm heading for the hills (aka mountains). Following an already eventful day, a less than ideal route choice meant that we ended up having to turn back down the mountain in the dark. Crashing at the first hotel we could find only 5 km’s further from where we started after 5 tough hike a bike hours.



Karin and I both have the ability to see humour in situations when no one else can,
which is one of the big strengths of our friendship. Both being stubborn and opinionated we can have the most heated discussions but there is also a mutual unspoken trust and respect through which we can support each other during the toughest of times. Karin was therefore my first choice when I was getting a team together for the Saikalako Expedition. On top of our ability to work well together under pressure which we proved by unexpectedly jumping on the podium during the Grandraid Nisramont adventure race in Belgium, Karin also adds great navigation and problem solving skills to the team which will be detrimental to the success of our expedition having to face extreme circumstances in remote parts of Nepal not many people have crossed yet.

The Saikalako expedition 
In our three day adventure in the Alps we learned a lot. Our fully loaded bikes felt a few kilo’s to heavy when we were pushing it up 40 degree gradients over technical terrain for hours on end. Pulling and pushing over tree roots, squeezing in between trees and navigating big rocks. It was simply madness. We had one day of pure weather bliss, with blue sky’s and endless mountain views which did make the suffering a little easier! After careful negotiation and local’s advise we redirected our route away from the col’s which were covered waist deep in snow and proved impossible for us to safely pass without ice axes and crampons. Even some of the lower slopes proved quite a challenge having to overcome dangerous sections covered in snow. At one point we were faced with a 300m traverse over 45 degree angled snowy slope with only room enough for one foot at a time. If we had to turn back it meant at least 6 more hours to civilisation when we probably had only 3 hours of daylight left. If we traversed we would have only two more hours to a bed and some chill time. (by this point we had been moving for 8 hours already) But a slip meant a hospital visit, or at best losing a bike. When I look back I find it quite amazing how very quickly we came up with a plan. Actually let me rephrase that, Karin came up with a plan and I completely agreed. We took all the kit of the bikes and brought that over to the other side first. Then we went back and brought the bikes over on our backs. I still struggled with proprioception in my left leg after my back injury. And although I knew both my legs were so much stronger, I still didn’t trust my stability to carry 10-12kg of wobbly load on my back over slippery narrow terrain. Without any hesitation Karin said she would do both bikes. I would meet her where the snow line stopped carrying the bike to the top from there, whilst she would go back for the second bike. We managed to turn quite a tricky situation in something reasonably simple by breaking it down in segments. And we felt quite impressed with our own problem solving skills and strength to make it happen.

The mighty traverse 

The day was not smooth sailing from here though, having to climb up what seemed to be a river and negotiating fallen trees in the most inconvenient places. A little exhausted we arrived at a little village searching for a bed at the cheapest rate doing a full loop of the town, with our smelly clothes and sun burned faces, only to repeat that loop again to find a kitchen that would still serve us food! 

making things difficult in the final kms of the day!


The weather forecast for the next day was atrocious with thunderstorm and rain for most of the day. We knew we could not cross over to Courmayeur because of the snow so we decided to go as far as we could go and from there ride back to Chamonix over the road. It was supposed to be an easy day out with relatively little climbing. When we were faced with a massive landslide only 2km from our turn around point we could only but laugh and like we had been doing all weekend face the challenge with a smile! Soaked, tired but satisfied we reached Chamonix in the evening with enough spare time to find a pub for great food and post adventure celebrations.



The last obstacle of the day, an avalanche landslide!
A LOT of hike a bike
Too much snow high up

Although our mini expedition was full with laughter and incredible moments it did create a fair amount of doubt and a small wobble for the Saikalako expedition. It also gave me the time to think about what the expedition meant to me. So often I get labelled "crazy" because of the adventures I choose to do and the dangerous situations I get myself into. The interesting thing is that the fear I feel when I am facing these situations is very different for me than the daily anxiety I feel from the pressures to try and fit into society. The fear I feel in the mountains turn me into a better version of myself, whilst the fear I feel in daily life turns me into someone I do not really want to be. That anxiety suffocates me, whilst the feeling I get whilst searching for my limits liberate me. 


Incredible views

The two hour climb we casually forgot about!!

I was asked by a friend what I would do if I would get a pain flare up during my time in Nepal. It is interesting that in my day to day life it is a continuous struggle to keep my chronic pain under control but I am very confident that I will not have that problem in the Himalayas. The dream of crossing the Himalayas by bike started after having to let go of racing due to injury. For me the project is about being in the mountains for days on end, facing challenges which will push us to our limits. Creating that feeling of not being able to go any further and then taking another step. A journey which will tell the story of three women who all are battling their own demons and have come together through a shared passion. And although a "world first" will attract sponsors, I realised during the days in the Alps that that wasn’t what it was about for me. I actually did not care about the attention it could attract. All I wanted to do was go to Nepal, start the project with Usha and Karin being as well prepared as possible to ride our bikes through the most beautiful and remote terrain the world could offer us. I wasn’t worried about the outcome, I did not want the pressures we put on ourselves to succeed, to not let others down. I did not want the fear of failure. I was interested in the process, the skills we needed to develop, the preparation, the team work during the expedition and if we managed to complete that to the best of our ability, it could never end up in a failure no matter what would happen.


Happiness in the Himalayas 
There is something about the mountains which makes me feel instantly at peace. Life becomes so simple during these type of expeditions. My mind becomes quiet. I am more than ready to step up the training for Saikalako and put everything in place to be the strongest I can be at the end of October when we start our traverse from West to East Nepal by bike.  45 days, 1700km 70.000m ascend non stop and unsupported. Lets do this.

"It is impossible" said pride "It is risky," said experience "It is pointless" said reason. "Give it a try" whispered the HEART" 





Thursday, 9 May 2019

Body in mind; My journey with chronic pain


Pain is complicated in nature and after so many years dealing with it, it has become very personal to me. This is my journey to experience, no one els’s. 
One of the hardest things I have found is when people are trying to make me feel better by saying “just race for the fun of it” or “I have bad weeks in training as well”. If only things were that simple.

Explaining what it feels like to live with chronic pain is not easy and I think it is a different experience for different people. Being an athlete, the pain you feel in your body after a hard week of training or the burning sensation of lactic acid in your legs during high intensity sessions, I call that good pain. Chronic pain is a whole different sensation. It feels like something is very wrong.  The best way I can describe it is like a bad tooth ache in my whole body. I call it bad pain. The worst pain is in my legs. It takes the fun out of everything I do. My philosophy however, is that I would rather be on my bike in pain, or be in the outdoors in pain, than be sitting on the couch or laying in my bed in pain. It is this motivation which keeps me going.
Meeting Rob racing Dukes Weekender 
When I look back at my training diary I started having symptoms after the 2013/2014 season when I tried to combine my career as a veterinarian whilst racing at elite level. I got myself into a chronic state of overtraining and depleted my parasympathetic nervous system. Of the back of that I fractured my back in 2015 in a rather benign bike crash. I ignored the pain until symptoms had become so bad in 2016 that I was told not to run for 12 months and only ride my bike at low intensities. Not being mentally ready for this, I stopped running but kept on riding my bike and started training for MTB stage races guided by coach Rab Wardell who tried everything in his power to slow me down. 
Riding the Dolomites with people like Siegrid easing my chronic pain symptoms

I landed at Whatsyourmeta through Rab, where I started working together with James McCallum and physio Morgan Llyod on getting my strength back after 12 months of what I considered as taking it easy.


Running trails is my chicken soup for the soul
My biggest complaint to my coaches both Rab and James, was that I felt like I could not push myself through threshold intensity in training. Looking back now I was never honest to them or myself about the amount of pain I was in during these sessions. I did not want to be told I had to rest because rest days made me experience more pain. No professional could really explain to me what was going on. It was like my body was blocked. With my primary injuries being kept under control with the help of physio Morgan, I felt that there was only one way to beat it and that was to try harder and fight against it.

Last Summer I experienced the worst pain flare up to date which left me mentally and physically broken. I started having difficult conversations with my coach James questioning if the effort was worth it, and what I was trying to achieve. I was so lucky James got never negative and kept me believing there was a way out even if we could not see it yet. Although he always worried about me, he never gave up on me.

It was during this time Rob Friel reached out to me after having read my blog about racing  an awesome event he organises; The Dukes Weekender . He educated me about chronic pain and it was like a light bulb went on. A million messages, a few phone calls, and a couple of meetings followed. To me Rob is worth his weight in gold. It was like a whole new world opened up. The three key things which made me understand my pain were these;

 1: The brain produces pain as a response to anything that can form a threat to the body, not just physical stressors but also mental stressors, it produces pain in an attempt to protect the body. It relies on previous experiences to decide how much pain to produce.

 2: Pain is not directly related to the amount of physical damage 

 3: Chronic pain often leads to central sensitisation. Which means that the nervous system gets regulated in a persistent state of high reactivity. This state of reactivity lowers the threshold for what causes pain and comes to maintain pain even after the initially injury might have healed.

The way I had been dealing with my pain only caused for more symptoms. On top of a stressful job as an equine veterinarian I had been overloading my body with high intensity training sessions in an attempt to “overcome” my lack of performance. With a central nervous system which was screaming at me to slow down by producing more and more pain. Once I realised that there was a reason for what was going on with me which had nothing to do with my ability, (or in my head lack of ability) as an athlete it was much easier to accept that I had to change my approach.

one day I will get back to this
Understanding where my pain was coming from was the easy part, how to desensitise my central nervous system is the tricky part. Rob and I call my pain “the bear” and the key is to poke the bear enough to make him pay attention and stimulate adaptation but not poking the bear to much, waking him up growling causing more flare ups. 

I started to learn about my pain triggers. My job as a veterinarian being a huge trigger, running was another one, and riding my bike at high intensities/race pace. The cold Scottish climate was not hugely beneficial for my overactive central nervous system either. Once I knew this I tried and adjust to prevent flare ups as much as I could. Backing off my training after a stressful day at work. Choosing turbo over riding outside on cold days and being kinder to myself on bad days. On the bike we started doing consistent sub threshold power sessions, giving threshold power and over a gentle nudge every week.

Although running was a huge trigger. Giving it up was not an option for me. So with Rob’s guidance I started with a 2km run 3xweek rehab program. That distance was increased by 10% each week. I was in quite a lot of pain when I first started. Barely managing the 2km. But with Rob’s support I persevered. 2kms turned into 3, 3 into 4, 4 into 5kms. All the way to 10km’s where I am at now. Once I started to run over 5km’s I started to feel less pain. I was able to lengthen my stride and produce more power. The more I enjoyed it and relaxed I run the less pain I would feel. Interestingly with decreasing pain in my running, my overall pain decreased.
My succes at Ten Under The Ben does not mean by any means that I am "fixed"
This is where I am at now. Finding the right balance is a work in progress. I still get growled at quite a lot by the bear but he is not as loud anymore. I am not sure if I ever will be pain free. Which makes me sad from time to time, because all I long for is to be able to move freely. But as frustrating as it gets, I now understand what is going on. And instead of telling myself to "try harder and push through it” I tell myself to “chill out and stop fighting against the bear" And hopefully one day the bear will stop fighting against me. 

A huge thanks to Rob, James, Morgan and Carol and the team at Whatsyourmeta for the endless support and positiveness. You really have been my rock. Here is to baby steps forward because I am simply not giving up.

“Sometimes the strength within you is not a big fiery flame for all to see. It is just a tiny spark that whispers ever so softly “You got this. Keep going”













Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Ten Under The Ben; putting things in perspective


I wanted to write an upbeat blog about overcoming my racing demons at Ten Under The Ben last weekend but after the devastating news of Chris Stirling’s passing, I find myself staring at my computer screen lost for words. But I am going to try.


I have always felt that my ability to turn adversity into something positive was my biggest strength, always looking for a silver lining some how, but lately with age and some of the more recents happenings I have found myself often wondering “what good can come of this?” 

I entered Ten under the Ben, a 10 hours lap format MTB race in Fort William in an attempt to get my racing demons under control. Chronic injury had managed to wipe out my confidence bit by bit and continuous disappointments in my own performance over the last few years had progressed into a lost battle before I even made it to the start line. How could something I loved doing so much make me feel so low at the same time?

I woke up early listening to the rain clattering against the window on race morning with that familiar sinking feeling in my stomach. And the excuses I have used to pull out of races so many times started to accumulate in my head. “My longest ride has only been 3 hours over the winter and now I have to do 10, I am not fit enough” “I am too tired” “I dont feel well” and the thought of the pain I had to endure riding my bike for 10 hours started to make me feel anxious. So why line up? 

 I knew that if I did want to get back into racing I had to overcome this. That the only way to get some race fitness back again was racing. That ultimately this was my passion and I wasn’t ready to let go of it. If there was such a thing as "racers block" I was certainly suffering from it.

Michael who generally does not interfere with my racing had heard this all before, but he also knew how much it meant to me and that I would be disappointed with myself if I pulled out once again. “ just start” he said, “ride your bike for 10 hours and do not care about anything else” He made me promise I would not pull out when I wasn’t performing even if I was coming last.

And whilst Michael was getting ready for a day in the hills, I made my way to the start line. I was so happy to see Paul Cooper’s smiling face when I was aimlessly wondering around trying to find a spot for my box of supplies for the day. He kindly offered his pit. Paul and I had known each other through triathlon racing from when I first moved to Scotland and he knew about my long standing injury history. He had been a good friend to me over the years. “Just go and have fun” he smiled. “you have nothing to prove” 


enjoying the only smooth part of the course!
The course was absolutely brutal, 9ish miles with 350m plus elevation gain per lap, there was only a small section of fire road and the rest of the trails were up, down single track with lots of technical sections to navigate through. No real recovery anywhere. I started at the back and really all I did all day was ride my bike. And I loved it. There was no urgency in my riding and I tried to focus on staying smooth and relaxed. It stood out to me how all the women I met on course were so supportive and I enjoyed riding in their company. At times I wondered if I was coming last and if I was coming last, if I would care, but dismissed the thought quickly because I was quite happy with how I managed to consistently ride lap after lap after lap, hour after hour after hour without slowing down much and really that there wasn’t much more that I wanted to do. It felt nice to just be out there on my own, without any support and just do my thing. 


Chicken soup for the soul
Going on to my 9th lap after 9 hours of racing I was told I only had an hour to complete that lap for it to count. Having ridden a lap in over an hour all day I did not think I had it in me to smash out a last lap in under an hour so I decided to call it a day. Only to find out that I had till 8.30pm to complete the lap when it was only 6.30pm when I finished. I had two hours, not one!! The first thought that came into my head was that I did not stick to my promise to Michael of finishing the full 10 hours and felt a little disappointed!! Luckily he did not mind! Just shy of 120km and 3000m of ascend was a great day out!
suprise podium
Strangely when I found out I had won my category and came 3rd overall female the anxiety I had felt in the morning returned. I did not want to go to prize giving. Preferably I wanted to go home straight away and I struggled to get the negative thoughts in my head under control. What was wrong with me??

I realised that I did not want my performance to be associated with a win or a podium position. For me finishing Ten Under The Ben meant so much more than that. For the first time in a long while I was not disappointed in myself when I crossed the finish line regardless of results. The achievement for me was in showing up, pinning on a number, riding my bike and forgetting about everything else. And I had done exactly that. I did not get caught up in racing, stayed in my comfort zone, nailed the technical descents on some laps, and not so much on others! I had laughed with the volunteers, chatted with fellow riders and shared the pain in the legs over the final laps. Most importantly I had finished with a smile.
Ten Under The Ben training; ski touring in Norway
Earlier this month I made a conscious decision to stop fighting the things which were beyond my control, and try to look at my world in a different light. Be more acceptive. One of the first things I did with that new mindset was reconcile with a friend who I had lost partly through my own negativity. And it felt so good having done that and being able to cherish that friendship again. High level sport often attracts high achieving personalities and we can be so brutally hard on ourselves often not seeing or believing the excellence that other people might see in us. Equally any criticism or feeling of failure is something I know I personally and athlete friends of mine really struggle with. Lacking the ability to just brush it over the shoulder. I see my life very much as a work in progress, taking small steps towards the path I want to be on and turning myself into the person I want to be. 

If Chris’s death can teach us anything, let it be kindness. Kindness towards ourselves, and to others. We never really know what someone is going through. What demons are being fought. Compassion, empathy, kindheartedness is some of the best medicine you can give to someone else and one of the qualities Chris was known and loved for. 

A huge thanks to my coach James who keeps on believing in me when I am not, Michael who never gives up on me, Keith for going out of his way to help me get my tyres sorted the night before the race and all my friends for inspiring me to keep on working on becoming a better human. 


“the human soul does not want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed exactly as it is” Parker Palmer


                                                           RIP my friend