Friday, 6 December 2013

No change, no progress - my new website!

No change, no progress! Same holds true for my coaching. So from now on, all my blogs will be posted on my new website . You can find all old blogs here, too. Have a look and tell me what you think!

Hope to see you at my new site :)

Monday, 18 November 2013

Work hard, play hard

As athletes, we are a bit like a children. Happy when the sun shines and you can go play outside. Sulky on a rainy day.
Summer days, time to play outside
For the last few weeks, I have been more like a toddler in its Terrible Two period. No to everything I should do but don't want to. What is lacking is me lying on the floor of the supermarket screaming for candy even though it's only Thursday. The only reason that hasn't happened is the timely realisation that I am the proud owner of a bank card. So, no, I don't want to train. No, I don't want to eat vegetables. No, I don't want to go to bed early - or get up early. No, I don't want to do my prehab exercises. No, I especially don't want to go swimming at 7 AM. No, I don't want to follow my schedule - or any schedule at all. No, I don't want to...

Children need vacation. My summer break is in October and November. Last race done and dusted means no homework and no curfew, no prehab exercises and no strict training schedule, at least for a few weeks. This is the (my) assigned period for being recalcitrant. A dedicated time period to be undedicated, if such can exist.

'Bike? What bike'

It's not as if I don't go out and exercise. I love training so I wouldn't be a very smart Terrible Two toddler if I would be denying myself that. Key is to pick the cherries on the cake. I will go out for a morning run but won't go to the swimming pool. Go to the spinning class but really only to have fun with my training buddies. Won't go if it's raining, I'm tired or my favourite TV show is on...

But slowly, slowly the time has come to get off the floor of the supermarket and go home, pack my training bag and go to the gym. Not that I will leave that two year old in me behind. She can peacefully co-exist with the slightly more mature side of me, eager to learn and if necessary, listen to a teacher. I'm sure she will be poking around for some  new adventures and places to play next season. Good thing there is not much rain in South Africa's summer.

(Photo courtesy Eric Wictor and Cape Epic photographers)

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

'A few truths about diet and training on an empty stomach'

Last week, I wrote a blog for Running Sweden about training on an empty stomach. Does it work, how does it work and what's it good for? What, if any, performance improvements can you expect? Read the full text here:

Monday, 14 October 2013

The female athlete triad – also an interesting read for guys

I have one more race and then I call it quits for the season. My motivation is low and my body has been complaining, nagging me with small pains, poor sleep and stiff muscles. 

So I will be writing a few blogs about the end of season and recovery. To kick off properly, I’d like to give an example of what can happen if you don’t give your body enough rest and nutrition. It’s a cluster of symptoms called the Female Athlete Triad and is, indeed, seen most often in women. Nevertheless, men can suffer from a similar condition, so I strongly encourage you guys to read on.

Female Athlete Triad – what is it?
The Triad is a cluster of 3 symptoms that are seen particularly in young female athletes: disordered eating, amenorrhoea (loss of periods) and osteoporosis (loss of bone mass). Its prevalence seems to be higher in sports emphasizing leanness and physique, and where body weight is important for performance (running, cycling, swimming, XC skiing etc). Together these symptoms can obviously pose a serious threat to health.
This condition is considered to start with disordered eating. Poor nutrition then triggers the other two symptoms. ‘Disordered’ doesn’t necessarily imply an eating disorder like anorexia nervosa or bulimia, but merely that energy intake and expenditure don’t match. This might be unwilling, when the athlete is eating too little without knowing, or, more seriously, the low energy intake is the result of a diet to lose weight. Since both voluntary and involuntary energy restriction can lead to the other two components of the triad (amenorrhoea and osteoporosis) it is important to realise that someone doesn’t necessarily have an eating disorder to have the other two symptoms. One can think of women on vegetarian or vegan diets, or people who have a bowel disease, food intolerance (lactose, gluten) or food allergy, all conditions that might complicate adequate intake of essential nutrients.

Leanness is considered important for performance in weight bearing sports such as running.

The disordered eating can lead to a fertility problem, reflected in the absence of menstruation for 3 consecutive periods, also called amenorrhoea. Low body mass and/or low energy intake is a signal to the body to go into an energy conserving mode, which, not surprisingly, does not include being able to conceive and grow another little human. Thus, fertility is reduced. Problem is, birth control measures like the pill can mask this symptom very easily. Osteoporosis is the loss of bone mass from the body. Up to the age of about 30, bone mass should be build and bones get stronger and stronger. But, when intake of nutrients essential to bone mass, like protein, calcium and vitamin D, is too low, bone mass will actually decline. Also, the change in hormone levels that accompany menstrual problems compromises bone mass increases. Stress fractures as well as ‘real’ fractures are often a warning sign of low bone mass. Sure, you break a collar bone in a failed attempt to avoid your neighbour’s dog on your bike, but frequent stress fractures and other recurring injuries should get you worried over your bone density.
A stress fracture in the hip bone, surgery was needed. Source:
While (voluntary) disordered eating can and should be treated with psychotherapy, the loss of fertility and bone mass might not be as reversible, thus potentially leaving huge consequences for the rest of one’s life.

A myth?
Science wouldn’t be science without a controversy. The definition of the Triad as stated by the American College of Sports Medicine is rather broad, meaning that many female athletes (>60%) might fall into this category. And what if an athlete, for example, has disordered eating and no periods, but her bone mass is not (yet) in the danger zone? Studies investigating the prevalence of the syndrome are also ambiguous. The symptoms of the Triad are, after all, also seen in non-active women –and perhaps even as often as in athletes. All in all, some scientists fear that focussing on the negative effects of sports casts a shadow over the positive effects, and might scare women away from activity. In a society where overweight and obesity rates are sky high, this might not be the right direction to take.

The female triad in men
Okay, guys don’t have periods. But they do have sex hormones. And these levels can be disturbed, just as in women, and with similar consequences for fertility and bone health. And, not to mention, adaptations to exercise such as muscle growth, protein synthesis and production of red blood cells. Indeed, male endurance athletes often have lower testosterone values. Problem is that not much research has been done on the prevalence and consequences of disordered eating (or downright eating disorders) in men so it’s hard to say whether disordered eating is a part of this.

Take home message? It’s worth remembering that too much of a good thing might not be...good. Don't restrict your energy just because it makes you a little faster. Ask for a bone scan if you think you are at risk (have had stress fractures, have bowel disease etc). And, dare to talk to a fellow athlete (or his/her coach) if you think someone is at risk. But don’t use this syndrome as an excuse to open another bag of chips.

Interested in reading more? Click on the text for a link.

- Andrological aspects of physical exercise and sport medicine.

- American College of Sports Medicine position stand. The female athlete triad.


Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Places to run

One of the great things about running, is that you can do it anywhere. So I always throw a pair of running shoes in my travel bag. Whether travels are for vacation or for work. It's a nice way to get to know the city you are in, and, in case of travel for work, it's an excellent way of getting some fresh air in between boring meetings.

For those of you wondering why it's been so quiet on the blog, I have been travelling. And thus, running. Last week I was in Nova Scotia, Canada. The day after I arrived, I went out on a run. I had just recovered from a nasty cold and after 4 days of full rest, it was great to be out and running again. Especially if you consider Nova Scotia's beautiful environment. Snif fresh air and feel strong again. Whilst running, I realised I have run in quite a few places and wondered what my top 5 would be...

So here it is. What's yours?

1. Nepal (Himalaya region)

OK, major cheating here, because strictly speaking I didn't run here, but walked. We were at an altitude of at least 3500m and my body didn't cope with more than a brisk walk. But anyway, it felt as if I was running. Or perhaps it was because of the breathtaking views. Wanna go and run? Nepal has an ultra trail run

2. Nova Scotia, Canada

As said, what a beautiful place. The same Ice Age appearance as Sweden with loads of rocks, water and pine trees. Every second you expect to see the acorn obsessed squirrel from the Ice Age movie. I saw a few squirrels but they weren't carrying acorns. Very quiet and lots of unpaved roads to run on.

3. Keystone, Colorado, USA

My first real run at altitude - and in snow. How bad can it be, I thought? Well, pretty bad. I suffered throughout the whole 90 mins 'easy run' but the views and runner's high were worth every second of it. I think I slept during the afternoon's conference session, though.

4. Archipelago, Sweden

No place like home. And what better than to spend midsummer with some running buddies? So in between drinking alcohol, playing kubb (forever) and singing songs, we got out in the forest and just ran. We lost the path but who cares, if your on an island it's hard to get lost. Perhaps hangovers from the night before helped in more reckless behaviour?

5. Melbourne, Australia

This was fun because I have never been greeted by so many runners before.  I was still jetlagged (didn't think I would ever get over it, either) so I was running slow for about an hour or so. It struck me how happy people looked. Which was not surprising, given that it was 30C at 10AM (or was it 9PM?), the sun was shining and the ocean was beautiful.

So next time you travel, don't forget to pack your shoes!

Saturday, 7 September 2013


And so... I won my other/second A-race of the year. Winning in Sövde was fun, but, since I kind of hit the wall after 10K on the run, I had felt my victory had been more the grace of my fellow competitors than thanks to my own power.

Winning in Cologne, on the other hand, felt really, really good. I had to fight for it and I turned out the strongest. That feeling of having the bike with "1st female" just in front of me, updating me on the distance between me and nr 2 (also a very strong, Australian girl, with whom we spent quite a bit of time chatting after the race). That feeling is just worth all the training efforts, the blood, sweat and tears. Oh well, you fellow athletes know what pain (and happiness) I am talking about.

So what went right? Well, for me to win this kind of event, everything has to just click. To start with, I wasn't as bl**dy nervous as at the Nationals the week before. I also felt strong and recovered. I had taken it easy during the week, with only 2 short interval trainings (5x30sec sprints, 5mins recovery) and 2 easy evening rides. That all made me and my start a lot more relaxed.

The swim was on a regatta track (sort of a sprint track for rowers). There are lanes for each boat, which means the lines of the buoys are visible under the water and it was just to follow that line out - and then back. I found a good pair of feet to draft on (not stinky, not sweaty and reasonably fast). I came up from the water after about 25.50. By far my best time ever.

Then the bike. A decent amount of rain had made the roads slippery so I couldn't make the turns as fast as I would have wanted. But hey, nobody said it was easy...

And then the run. Have I ever run 42 mins on a 10K in a triathlon? In April I had struggled running 41.30 on a flat, easy 10K course... So, no. But now I did. I had recovered from the off-road tri the weekend before, and had not run anything to give my body time to recover. Which it did.

 So, there I was, with 3L (alcohol-free) beer to celebrate :).

Thank you Eric, for support, pictures and finishing the beer. Thanks SPIF for sponsoring and being such a great club to train and race with. Thanks to everyone who follows me, reads this blogs and inspires me to keep testing my limits.

Friday, 30 August 2013

National Championships Off Road Triathlon in pictures

Signing up for the National Championships Off Road Triathlon, I knew I couldn't compete for any title, as I have a Swedish Triathlon Licence. No problem, I thought, it's a nice way of getting to know the level of competition in this niche of triathlon - which, by the way, seems to be the perfect niche for me, given my background in mountainbiking.

On Friday morning, 2 days before the race, I got an email saying the organisation just realised the rules had been changed for 2013 and, since I have a Dutch passport, I could still compete in the official competition. In my mind it made a big difference. Give me a bib number and a chip and everything changes. Butterflies in my stomach. Me, competitive? Hmwah, maybe a bit...

Well, I got a taste of how it is to compete in a field with former Olympians, XTERRA podium finishers and the like.

Here's my race report. In pictures, because pictures are worth a thousand words...

Serious face... I'm nervous.    
I struggled the whole 1500m to find the right position in the field.
Out of the water after 27.02 (?) minutes. At this point, I thought it had been much more than that and was irritated (with myself).

Can you see me smiling?! Definitely (back) in my element. The girl behind me wasn't as technical, but faster, so we alternated position for 25K, when I finally got rid of her in a few technical corners.

Just cruisin' :). With an average pace of 20k/h, I am satisfied with my time and performance on this technical course. From a tactical point of view, it would have been better to push hard on the long stretches, keeping me ahead of my competitors with less technical skills. Now I ended up behind them on the technical sections, where it was hard to overtake them (and thus, gain time).
Some of the obstacles we faced...

Run! Vlaardingen (Google!) is at +1 over sea level, mostly flat (and ugly), but the dikes are steep...

Last lap! My only goal was to maintain my position, so I am taking it easy, saving my legs for the triathlon in Cologne. Finishing 8th overall and 5th age group, I am happy with my results but most of all, for the experience of starting in such a high-level race. There is definitely a difference - particularly in mental stress levels. Me, competitive? Mwah, maybe a bit...

Photo courtesy Eric Wictor (and, thanks for the support)