Wednesday, 6 August 2014

And then the wheels came off

 I was born with a heart murmer . I never had any symptoms until things took a turn for the worst in my early teens when I developed endocarditis because of a neglected Streptococcus throat infection .This ended up damaging  the heart valve further which already had a small defect causing the congenital murmer. I was in for 6 monthly-12 monthly echo’s  at the Cardiologist during my teenage years. At this time I was also diagnosed with Wolf Parkison White syndrome. WPW is caused by the presence of an abnormal accessory electrical conduction pathway between the atria and the ventricles of the heart. Electrical signals traveling down this abnormal pathway (known as the bundle of Kent) may stimulate the ventricles to contract prematurely, resulting in a unique type of supraventricular tachycardia referred to as an atrioventricular reciprocating tachycardia. In my case this resulted in heart rate’s close to 400 beats per minute which could lead to cardiac arrest. The definitive treatment of WPW is a destruction of the abnormal electrical pathway by radiofrequency catheter ablation, which I had done at the age of 16.
I never really mention my heart condition. I am someone who tends to ignore serious things to make them go away. I figured that if I was able to race at elite level on the MTB and in Cross triathlon, there couldn’t be much wrong me. I hadn't been to a cardiologist for over 15 years. Any heart patients would agree however, that once you have had a problem with your heart no unusual heart beat will go unnoticed, and it has always been on the back of my mind. When the wheels started to come off this season, without (for me) any obvious reasons, I decided to confront my fears and get my heart and health checked out. I am relieved to say that there wasn’t any evidence of my WPW syndrome on ECG’s and my heart has adapted well to training, beating in an appropriate manner under stress. My heart valve lesion is something which will always be present and I have to be aware off but I am not using it as an excuse for my under performance. More than anything the tests showed I should be more than capable racing at elite level. In my opinion, a 20min test at high intensity doesn’t mimic a 3-4hrs race though and a lot more comes in to place. Great performances are not always related to good test results and hard training alone.
How it all began with Karen Holmes
This year hasn’t been exactly easy, I came to Europe with the idea of finding a part time job as a veterinarian and training as hard as I could, trying to be the best I possibly could be as an athlete. For financial reasons though I didn’t have much choice and had to stick to a full time job. I looked for a job with enough holiday allowance and an easy enough on call roster to be able to race and travel at least two times a month. I found a great job, with great people in an awesome location in Scotland. For me it ticked all the boxes. With the approaching season on my mind I really wanted to bridge that gap to the better Xterra female athletes and gave it my all during winter training. Rain, hail or shine. That saying brought a whole new meaning to me trying to stick to it living in the North of Scotland. But I did it whilst adjusting to a new job, new country, and new people with my loyal dog Fynn by my side. With the help of coach Nico Lebrun I felt I was getting stronger and faster and ignored all the signs of fatigue, ignored the stresses at work and in my personal life and kept to the plan. Nothing was going to stop me. I wasn't really prepared for what ended up happening. In my job I am as much as a high achiever as I am in my athletic life and when I feel like I am not able to do the best I can for a client/animal, it upsets me. In the same way I feel stressed when I cant fit in a training session or when I feel like I haven’t achieved my training properly.  Early into my racing season it started to become apparent to me that I had been over ambitious when planning my racing calendar with races all over Europe. The time away from work, the travel and the pressure I had put on myself to perform well started to cause a state of constant stress which made me extremely tired. Being a stubborn person, I kept on pushing through, trying to accept poor performances, trying to cope with the feeling of failure in my attempt to combine my veterinary career and athletic career. When the wheels came off properly during Xterra France I decided that I needed to be honest with myself and accept that this was not working. My body was exhausted, I had pushed myself physically and mentally to my limits. I needed to stop, breathe and start again.
Exploring the Scottish Highlands with my favourite boys
There is nothing worse for an athlete then to stand on the side line, to not being able to compete, to let the season slip by. With social media so present in our lives, there is no escaping the confrontation of races being won, athletes putting their dreams into reality and records being set. As much as I enjoy people I know doing well, it is difficult letting it all happen whilst not being able to contribute. It’s hard not to be disappointed. And whilst people are insinuating I am taking this all way to seriously, this is my dream, my goal, my plan, and at this point in time it has fallen apart.
Finding some peace
Somewhere along the journey I have lost my spirit. It is time to do some soul searching and remember the way this started. With a passion for the outdoors, with a passion for the bike, sharing it with friends and being inspired to challenge myself to become strong, fast and skilful. In the next few weeks/months I will go back to the basics, exploring Scotland’s beauty, learning how to relax again, let myself recover. Rediscovering the feeling of joy it used to release in me.  Trying to find some peace. Instead of hard core training I will be playing on the mountain bike with mates, running along the Scottish Glens with Fynn and gliding along in the pool with the great girls from DCA. Why? Just because I can.
"The greatest efforts in sports came when the mind is as still as a glass lake.” Timothy Gallwey











  1. Maybe you could come and hang out in NZ for a bit to relax and run in the wonderful hills here!

  2. Enjoyed reading this blog Nienke. I have found it hard at first adjusting to 'mother hood' without my daily exercise... Went for my first MTB ride in ages the other day and although my legs hurt going up, I still enjoyed every bit of it! Whenever you are back over this side of the country would always love to go riding with you!