Monday, 23 April 2018

The Dirty Reiver; Riding it out

When I left Kirriemuir 18 months ago to start a new life in Edinburgh I never thought it would be as hard as it ended up being. I am not someone who easily gets attached to a place or even people for that matter. Although I would not define myself as uncommitted and have close friendships all over the world, I am aware I pack up and leave a lot easier than the average person does. And feeling homesick is an unfamiliar concept to me. Over the last year however I started to realise how kind Kirriemuir had been to me. When I appeared out of nowhere 5 years ago with a few bags, lots of bikes and my dog Fynn. The support of my bosses at Thrums and the friendships I developed with my colleagues and clients is something I have learned to treasure. Having moved every 3 years since I was 10 it was easy to think I was just a voyager. But the messages of support I received in the last few months, former clients and colleagues raving about me to my new employers. Friends getting in touch with lovely messages, has made me feel that may be I did not make as much of a mess of my life as I think I had in the pursuit of realising dreams. And may be I was not just a voyager after all.

Missing outing like this; close friend and colleague Helen and I on one of our post work runs 
The last few months have been an enormous learning curve. Starting a new job for one. But also training I have been approaching differently. Naturally I am a goal oriented person, I am very black and white and don't like grey areas. I have never liked it if I am unsure in what direction I am heading. At the moment though I really havent got a clue. The only goals I have is to enjoy my job again and do it to the best of my ability. And to rebuild myself as an athlete, why? because I can.

I am often homesick for my close friends spread around the world, rather than place
Karin and I after obtaining our British Cycling Mountain bike Leader Award
I have been working really hard with coach James at the M.E.T.A pain cave. Without actually working towards any races, we have been focusing purely on making me stronger again. What I want to do with the results in training I have not really decided yet. Sure I have a calendar full of races ahead of me in some amazing destinations and I want to be strong for them. But instead of training towards specific events week by week, I am now almost doing the opposite. Concentrating on my own improvement in the here and now and line up local races where they will see fit, not worrying about the specifics of training for a race.
The coaches hard at work 
Last Saturday I found myself on the start line of the Dirty Riever; A 200kms gravel race with close to 4000m of ascend. Having just started a new job, I felt mentally a bit drained. When I questioned wether this was a good idea since I had not obtained any endurance for months and had actually never been on the bike for more than 7 hours, James answered "so just because you have been working on high intensity sessions  you don't know how to ride a bike for 10 hours??" Case closed.
I chose to ride mt Ridley CX bike, added with Maxxis 40C tyres

So there I was in between all the bike packing guru's slightly intimated by all the professional looking bike set ups! I was riding my X-Bow Ridley cross bike, which very unfitting had "done in 60 minutes" written on it referring to a cyclo cross race. Sandy Wallace Cycles team boss, John had very kindly put 40C Maxxis tyres on my bike which made it look a little bit more appropriate for the task ahead of us; which would take a little longer than 60 minutes! I felt relieved when I spotted a friendly face among the crowds; the lovely Marie Meldrum. She still introduces me as "This is Nienke who beat me at the Aviemore triathlon and took the overall female win" something which happened 3 years ago!! Running into Marie made me feel a lot more relaxed and as she rolled to the front she turned around and said "don't compare yourself to other people, you don't know what they have been doing, just go ride your bike and enjoy it" and that sentence stuck by me the whole 200kms.

Marie and I winning the overall win in the female pairs at Ten Under The Ben in 2015

I found myself far at the back with in my opinion way too many people around me. It was a battle for good lines avoiding sharp rocks. The first 12km was mentally really hard for some reason. My bike was not set up for the grinding climbs so often I had to stand up instead of being able to spin up the hill. I kept on repeating to myself to just ride and not race and to see it as a good day out on the bike. The sun was shining and there was no reason not to keep going. Although there were little groups of people around me who would say friendly hellos as we were repeatedly passing each other it was a long lonely day out on the bike for me. Especially in the second half of the race I spend what seemed hours on my own. Worrying I had missed a turn somewhere. I was told to be careful on the descends so I would not puncture which turned out a lot harder to do than it sounded. My forearms cramped up and I developed blisters on my thumbs as I learned that slowing down a cross bike was much harder to do than a mountain bike!! I was almost sad to descend so slowly and imagined how much fun it would have been going full gas on a mountain bike. Overall I was happy I was riding easy and to my surprise I rode the first 100kms in less than 5 hours. This was good progress I thought, well knowingly that at some point the lights would go out. And they sure did! Multiple times in fact from about 70kms to go.

Training has been great at M.E.T.A head quarters
The last 30kms were the most scenic and fun part of the course looping around a stunning loch on smooth fun rolling trails. But even the littlest of ascends felt like mountains by this point and I was happy to hear the cow bells coming from the castle. Smiling my way up the final little climb cheered on by enthusiastic spectators. Done, dusted, over; 200kms in the bag. 10hrs10min on the bike.

My aim was to do it in under 12 hours so to come home in just over 10 was a huge surprise to me. Especially since I wasn't racing anyone, and just rode my bike, with no intend other than to keep moving. Not to beat people or put a smashing time down. I knew I did not have the endurance to feel comfortable the whole 200kms but I came pretty close. And it showed me that if you trust your training and especially your coach, things will fall into place no matter where you are at in the process. James himself was amongst the racers as well and when I heard at the finish line that someone "unknown" was pushing a ridiculous pace very early on, I could only think of one person who that would be!! Under 8 hours for James though, not too shabby for a roadie!!
It was lovely to see Marie absolutely destroying the female field finishing in under 9 hours showing what a truly remarkable and diverse athlete she is! I think she will be the one to beat in the Celtman this year.

A big thanks to the organisers and volunteers for putting up a very smooth run, great event. The feed stations were amazing and I did not manage to get lost which means the course was very well marked!!

Personality wise I am someone who always expects the worse, so that when it does happen I am prepared for it. On top of that I am my own biggest critic. I am learning by trial and error that that is pretty much setting myself up for failure. Going into the Dirty Reiver I had no expectations, there was no pressure, I just kept on turning the legs for a very long time. After a long haul of feeling disappointed with myself for various reasons, being able to finish the Dirty Reiver in a respectable time left me feeling very satisfied. It showed me that sometimes you just have to ride it out.

"you drown not by falling into a river, but by staying submerged in it" P. Coehle


  1. I was the guy Marie introduced you to - didn't realise it was 3years ago! :-D Great job and write up!

    1. haha!! yes!! still not forgiven haha!! Thank you, hope you had a great ride yourself :)