www.Hypersmash.com Beating Lyme: 2013

zondag 15 december 2013

Dutch tower running championships...

Today was the 2013 Netherlands tower running championships. I had been targeting
this race for a while and my training had been going well, with a fair bit of specific stair
training in our 28 story head office building (which coincidentally was the same height as the building we would be racing in).

The evening before the race I was biking to pick up my daughter from a friend's
place when BANG - my front wheel slipped out on some wet cobblestones and I
fell heavily on my right hip and elbow.

I was gutted. Nothing was broken but my hip was bruised and it hurt to walk. I
spent the rest of the evening applying ice, heat packs and tiger balm. Hopefully
something would kick in and get my hip right for the next day!

I woke up early this morning and gingerly tried walking around. The hip was stiff
but not too sore. I really ummed and ahhed about going but eventually I decided
to give it a go. I'd trained so hard for the race and I would be gutted if I had to
miss it.

The race was in Enschede, about 90 minutes train travel from my house. The trip
went fine. I arrived, picked up my start number and then shortly thereafter I was
lining up at the start ready to go.

My strategy had been to start off easy focusing on my arms and breathing for the
first 8 floors. Then ramp it up a bit for the next 10. And then gradually crank it up
for the last 10 finishing with a sprint.

A sound plan, but the idea of starting off easy does not compute with the
endorphins and adreneline coarsing through your body at the start line! On the
positive side, any thoughts of my sore hip went out the window along with my
pacing strategy!

The first 8 floors felt easy. That got me down to 20 floors to. The next 7 or 8
floors also felt OK. But with about 10 floors to go; BOOMPH!!! I hit the wall, my
hip started to make itself felt, and my pace started to drop off big time. I didn't
really feel like I was suffering that much but it just wasn't possible to coax any
more speed out of my legs and lungs. I managed to clamber up the rest of the
stairs and stagger into the finishing area.

After a few minutes of chest heaving, lying on the ground, I felt well enough to
have a look around. There was a screen showing the interim results and, at that
stage, I was sitting in 3rd position. The top 20 seeded athletes (the toppers as the
dutch call them) started last so I was under no illusions of maintaining this
position but I was still pleased to put in a good performance.

I got the lift down to the 24th floor and stayed there for the next 2 hours
cheering on the rest of the runners. There were all sorts; firemen in full gear,
disabled athletes, children and the super fit 'toppers'.

I waited until the last athlete had gone past then made my way down to the
results area. My time had been 2 minutes 29 seconds which was good enough for
15th overall (out of approx 80). The winner did it in 1.59 which was a course
record. I was only about 16 seconds off the podium.

I was super motivated by this result. I really think that if I train hard, lose some
more weight, and come to the race injury free next year then a time under 2.10
is achievable.

I'm proud of myself for giving this race a go. 3 years ago when I was being treated for Lyme disease I was told by a neurosurgeon that I might end up wheel chair bound and back then even the idea
of being able to walk pain free seemed an unlikely dream. So to be able to reclaim
my health and fitness and compete well in this race is a great result and
something I'm very proud of.

Next month the recumbent racing winter series starts so I want to focus on that
for the next few months. I'll aim to build up my running with a view to competing
in some of the bigger tower running races in Europe next year.

zondag 27 oktober 2013

losing fat

13 years ago I moved from New Zealand to London and into a lifestyle of long hours at work fueled by caffine and junk food. To unwind I used beer and partying. Within 4 months my weight had gone from 78kg (172 lbs) to 96kg (210 lbs) and things that had seemed easy 3 months before were a real struggle. It gave me a wake up call and I moved away from London partly to try and get my health and fitness back.

But even with an improved lifestyle, my body seemed to have chosen 96kg as my new 'norm' weight. There was a couple of brief periods where I was able to lose a significant amount of weight but it always came back on again after a couple of months and settled back at 96kg.

When I got sick with Lyme disease my weight continued to go up even though I was taking much better care with my nutrition and exercise. It seemed like my tolerance for certain types of food and drink (namely sugar and alcohol) had been affected and even consuming a little bit of these caused me to gain weight.

My weight topped out at 103kg (227 lbs) in January 2012 which gave me a BMI of 33 (obese). This was also when I was really struggling with quite a few Lyme disease problems including insomnia and low energy and I felt terrible.

Since then I've been on a mostly positive trajectory with regaining my health and losing fat.

In April this year I got down to 87.5 kg (193 lbs) but over the next few months I slightly fell off the healthy eating wagon which caused my weight to balloon out to 97.8kg (216 lbs) 4 months later (August 2013). As well as the weight returning, my problems with insomnia and low energy also returned.

In the 10 weeks since then I've been super strict with my diet and am now down to 89kg (196 lbs). My goal is to get down to 84.5kg (186 lbs) by December 15th 2013. That's 8 weeks away.

Getting below 85kg is a significant milestone for me. The last time I was down to that weight was at my wedding 9.5 years ago. And the last time I was consistently down to that weight was more than 13 years ago.

Here are the strategies that are working well for me in losing weight. I believe everyone is different in the sense that what works for me may not be suitable for someone else. But I'd like to share what worked for me in case it can help you. I don't see the points below as a diet that I'm following. More a lifestyle change that I hope will allow me to be able to maintain a healthy weight for the long term.

- Plant based

The food I eat now is more than 90% whole plant food. My diet now is based around green smoothies and salads. I make a large green smoothie each morning which is my breakfast and 3 small meals during the day. I also have a large salad for lunch. For dinner I eat what my wife makes which is always delicious but not always plant based.

- No alcohol

For me I've found that when I drink even one or two glasses of wine or beer it's almost impossible to lose weight regardless of how clean the rest of my diet is or how much I'm exercising.

So although I really enjoy a glass of red wine, it doesn't form a regular part of my life anymore. It was hard to give up at first but I don't miss it anymore.

- Cutting out the naughty treats

I've got a real sweet tooth and often used to snack on chocolate, biscuits or nuts. It's so easy to take on unnecessary calories that way so I've cut these out. Again, not easy at first but after a few days the cravings go away.


So what motivates me to lose fat?

- Firstly I find that I can manage my lyme disease problems when I eating cleanly (as outlined above) and exercising. I sleep much, much better. I've got more energy, am more focused and can get more out of each day.

- Secondly being at a healthy body weight means I'm much less susceptible to a whole host of diseases (diabetes, heart disease, cancer).
- I feel better when I'm at a healthy weight.

- I can perform in the sports I do much better when I'm at a healthy weight.

zondag 13 oktober 2013

4 things I wish I'd done differently with Lyme...

This is sort of a continuation of the theme from my last post. Whereas there it was about things I wish I'd known, this is more looking at a few key things that I would have done differently...

Better Prevention and awareness

4 years ago I was only vaguely aware of lyme disease. I had no clue about how it was transmitted or what the symptoms were. I did a lot of walking in the bush (forest) back then but I never took any precautions in terms of the clothes I wore, etc. So things I would do differently if spending time in forests or other tick prone areas are:

- Wearing appropriate clothing (shoes/boots in place of sandles, long sleeve shirts and trousers in place of t-shirts and shorts)

- Using effective insect repellent (such as one containing deet)

- Avoid walking through high grass or bashing through leafy areas

- Check myself (and my family) daily for ticks or rashes

- Check my dog daily for ticks and make sure he has an combined anti tick/flea treatment

Go to the doctor sooner

I got sick in late May but it wasn't until late July that I went to the doctor. Initially it seemed like a flu and then the symtoms were so weird and varied that, for some reason, I decided to try and ride them out hoping they would come right by themselves. This was definitely not the right thing to do!

I was very lucky in that when I did eventually go to the doctor it was only a matter of a couple of weeks before I was in the hospital and getting treated. I fully appreciate how fortunate I was in this regard (for many, many people it's a nightmare to try and get treated).

So what would I do differently? Go to the doctor much, much sooner. I really feel that if I had further delayed going to the doctor or hospital it's unlikely I would have made a full recovery as the severity and frequency of my problems was exploding just when I was diagnosed.

Think holistically (sooner)

I needed the antibiotics to recover but I wasn't able to recover by solely relying on the antibiotics.

It took nutrition, alternative treatment, supplements, visualization, among other things. My doctors in the hospital rubbished these alternative approaches to healing. For them it was at best a waste of money. But it wasn't until I began exploring some of these options that my symptoms began to fade and I slowly began to reclaim my health.

Take it easy!!!

When I was first undergoing treatment I had the idea that Lyme disease was not that serious and that I should be back at work. Not only back at work but back studying (I was doing some extramural study) and doing the other day to day things that I was preoccupied with prior to lyme.

Rather than try and rush back into my pre-lyme busyness, I should have just tried to relax and focus on getting my health right. And just to give myself more of a break rather than continually pushing myself to achieve things when I was still trying to recover.

woensdag 9 oktober 2013

4 things I wish I'd known when I was diagnosed with Lyme disease

This post is dedicated to Amber. My best wishes for a full and speedy recovery.

Recently I had a message from someone who was recently diagnosed with late stage lyme disease and who is about to begin treatment. Reading this made me think back to that day 3 and a half years ago when I was diagnosed with late-stage lyme disease and the weeks and months that followed.

Recalling this time I remember feeling scared, confused and depressed. I felt worse during the treatment than when I started and had no idea why. I would trawl through lyme disease forums and read that I would never recover. Regaining my health and positive feelings was a journey that took many months and years. There are so many things I have learnt during that time.

When I think back about the things I wished I'd known at the beginning of the treatment these 4 spring to mind:

- Herx reactions
In short, when the bacteria die off from the antibiotics toxins are released into your blood stream that can cause really nasty reactions (big flare up in symptoms for example). I herx'ed like crazy but had no idea what was happening. I just figured the antibiotics weren't working.

Google 'herx reaction' and learn about what may happen when you're undergoing the antibiotic treatment. The worst aspect for me was a feeling of helplessness that nothing was working. If I'd known about Herx, it would have been easier to summon the mental fortitude needed to grit my teeth and get through the day knowing that it would subside.

- Nutrition

Eating predominatnly vegetable and fruit whole foods has had a huge positive impact maximising energy and minimising my Lyme diesease problems. Everyone needs to find what works best for them but for me personally this plant based way of eating had changed my life.

Note that when you first start this diet it may be hard initially. But, at least in my experience, if you perservere you will grow very quickly to love the new way of eating and start to crave those green smoothies and salads and the way they make you feel!

If you have Netflix check out 'Fat, Sick and nearly dead'. It illustrates the tremendous positive effect eating a plant based diet can have on health.

- Acupuncture

When I was being treated I went about 6 weeks without any decent sleep. I was drugged up to the eyeballs and still not able to sleep for more than 20 minutes. After my first session of acupuncture I slept for 5 or 6 hours. Bliss! I would have paid 10,000 euros for that sleep!

Acupuncture is very dependent on how good the practitioner is so if it you're not seeing benefits after a few appointments I would suggest to try someone else.

Stay positive - you can get better!!!

When I first got sick I was so sick and in so much pain I could never imagine a time when I might feel human again let alone have energy. And it took a long time to reclaim my health and it's still an ongoing journey with insomnia but I'm getting there and I can honestly say I feel much better now than I did before I got sick.

I don't want to give false hope as everyone is different and some people do not respond to the treatment. But statements that Lyme is incurable and that you'll always suffer are heart-breaking to read and frankly bullshit. Don't give up hope. Even if it gets super bad (and I had some days where all I could do was crawl up in a ball on the floor) cling to hope, do the things like nutrition and acupuncture to give your body the best chance of healing.

zaterdag 5 oktober 2013

ramping up the battle against lyme

I haven't written much in the last few months. Here's why...

For about 7 months from September 2012 I slept well and by early 2013 I felt I had really beaten Lyme once and for all.

Then from about June 2013 onwards I started having persistent problems with sleeping. I went from getting 6 to 8 hours a night back to between 3 and 5 hours a night. As I've said previously, the insomnia I suffered from with Lyme disease was by far the most insidious of the problems I had. So to go back into a pattern of not being able to sleep that dragged on for months was pretty soul destroying.

Recently (over the last 2 weeks) things have improved. And I've now had 3 days of decent sleep in a row. It's far too early to think I've got the sleeping sorted but at least getting a couple of decent night's sleep in a row is pure bliss :-)

So what happened?

From April onwards I slowly slipped back into a pattern where I wasn't putting the focus and discipline into my nutrition and exercise. Having a beer or two at night became the norm. Prior to that I'd spent about 6 months booze free. Although I still ate really clean (i.e., a focus on plant based whole foods and little or no sugar and processed foods) it became a habit to have snacks in the evening. It didn't seem like much at the time but the little things add up and before I knew it I'd piled the weight back on again (in 6 months went from 87kg to 98kg).

As I lost focus on nutrition and exercise my sleep suffered which meant I struggled to perform during the day leading to stress and anxiety at work leading to even poorer sleep and so on.

And before you know it, it's a vicious circle...

Breaking out...

A couple of weeks ago I committed myself 100% to going back to the principles that worked when I first got over my sleeping problems in 2012.
- A diet based on whole plant foods
- No alcohol
- No drinks other than green tea or water (and one coffee in the morning :-)
- Exercise

It was not easy the first week or so but now I'm loving the process and have so much more energy. On days when I have only had 3 or 4 hours sleep I can cope. On days when I've had 7 or 8 hours sleep I feel amazing!

I really feel that Lyme has been a great teacher in terms of my own self-development. For example, to maximise my energy I need to really be aware of the foods I'm putting into my body.

Prior to Lyme I never really thought about it. It took Lyme to really knock me off that mindset of complacency.

dinsdag 16 juli 2013

ups and downs

Next month it'll be 3 years since I was diagnosed with lyme disease.

The first two years were hard. The most persistent problem was insomnia. The pain, brain fog, etc was tough but not being able to sleep was, for me, the worst thing.

Gradually over time my health improved and for most of the last year I've felt fully recovered. However recently I've really struggled with sleeping problems again.

What I've found is that to maintain my health I need to eat super clean, exercise consistently and try and be stress free. But when you're getting by on 2 or 3 hours sleep a night it becomes really hard to do those things. You take an extra coffee or 3 to get through the day, a few glasses of wine to unwind at night. And that can quickly become a self-fulfilling negative spiral.

So what I'm going to do is relax about it, take it easy and just look at what's worked for me in the past. During my recovery from lyme disease I always had cycles of ups and downs. Getting better was never a linear progression. There were always ups and downs. The key for me then was to stay positive during the down times and eventually over time the progression was upwards.

If anyone reading this has any tips that worked for them I'd love to hear from you...

zondag 19 mei 2013

Racing goals and training plan

Since completing the stair running race last week I've been busy seeing what other races I can do in Europe over the next few months.

I found two that I want to aim for; a tower race in Vienna, Austria on 31st August and a tower race in Barcelona, Spain on 6th October.

There's also an event in the Netherlands at the end of June so the events are close enough together to be motivational but not so close that I can't recover and improve between events.

As for my training I was thinking of something along these lines:
--- Monday:
- Bike to work and back (this is 75km total)
- Run 2-3 times the head office stairs (27 flights)

--- Tuesday
- Bike to work and back

--- Wedneday
- Bike to work and back

--- Thursday
- Bike to work and back
- Tabata workout on my stepper machine in the evening (this workout is very short but excruciatingly hard!)

--- Friday

--- Saturday
3 hour bike ride

--- Sunday

As well as the above training I want to do stretching, yoga and core strength exercise 2 or 3 times a week.

I'm a little bit worried about the risk of knee injuries from stair running. I read an article today that claimed running stairs could really damage the knees. What I've found is that running (or walking) down stairs puts a lot of stress on my knees but I've never had any problem with running up stairs alone. Because I'm always taking the lift downstairs I'm only ever going up.

But in any case I'll limit the actual running on stairs to once per week (at least initially).


The impact of carrying excess weight is massive when running up stairs. Massive in terms of how much it slows your down but also significant in the extra stress placed on your muscles and joints.

So I really want to buckle down over the next 3 months and lose a fair bit of weight. I had my fat percentage measured a couple of months ago and it was 21%. In the next 3 months I'd like to get that down below 15%. That definitely won't be easy. Lets see how I do. The strategy is to cut out all processed food, alcohol, sugar and to base my diet primarily on vegetables and some fruits. I'm doing that already for the most part, the next 3 months is about going hard core and cutting out any cheating.

That will be tough.

vrijdag 17 mei 2013

The sufferfest that is tower running...

Tower running is hard, unbelievably hard. I did a race last night, my first tower running race in 14 years and all the pain from that event come flooding back last night.

At the start I had a strategy all worked out. I was going to take the first 10 floors easy, then ramp it up in the next 10 and then sprint the final 14.

Unfortunately I fell victim to the novice mistake of starting too fast and by floor 8 I was suffering like a dog, I still had 26 floors, 520 steps, to go.

My legs were the first to go. The lactic acid build up happened so fast and was so relentless that I couldn't push through it and in the stairwell there's no opportunity to ease off. There's no option of getting a rest on a downhill section. If you blow up on the stairs there's no respite, you just need to grit your teeth, curse and drag your half dead ass to the top.

So that's what I did. The longest 3 minutes of my life.

After the legs the lungs were next. Controlled breathing wasn't an option. Gasping for air was the best I could do.

And then after that the brain seemed to take over and start shutting down. The pain in my legs and lungs subsided at that point but it didn't do my speed any good, by that stage it was all I could manage to keep on moving up the stair well. And then it was over, I'd reached the top of the building.

It was 20 meter run from the top of the stairs to the finish line but I was in no state to run this. I hobbled across the finish line and sat down. And stayed there. For about 20 minutes.

But for all that pain and suffering I loved it. It's one of the ultimate tests of physical fitness you can do. There's no variables with the weather or with gear. It's just you versus the stairwell. And to push yourself that hard does feel good in some strange way. Or maybe I'm just a masochist :-)

Sitting on the train on the way home last night I reflected about how I can improve for the next event. Here's what I reckon:

1) Lose weight

The race last night had a vertical gain of something like 150 metres. Dragging a beer gut up that height does not make things easy. Losing weight is the biggest improvement I could make. I had been doing well with the weight loss but a recent holiday to New Zealand (with the obligatory pies and beers whilst I was there) put a few kilos back on so I've definitely got 10kg or so to lose.

2) Practice on the stairs
I had done a bit of this beforehand but only a few time and I didn't have the experience to pace myself properly. I need to get into that stair well at least once a week.

3) Build endurance through running

Back in the late '90's I was doing a lot of running and that fitness from that gave the endurance to do really well in tower running. I missed that endurance last night.

4) Learn to suffer more

The best tower runners can push through the pain, push through and keep on running. There was no way I could do that last night. It'll take time and conditioning to get there but being able to endure the pain and push through it is crucial.

5) Do some more races
I loved it and luckily there are coming more and more new race each year.

I'm sure keen to try some more race. My time was 4 minutes 37 seconds which placed me 15th overall (out of 130 runners). I reckon in a years time I could go more than a minute faster. I'm looking forward to the journey to see if that's possible....

Race report card

After each race I do I want to grade my performance on a number of criteria (A+ = Great through to D- = abysmal). Here's the report for the 2013 Almere WTC run up:
- Feeling prior to race: A- (felt good, lots of energy, a bit nervous but that's to be expected).

- Strategy: B (Strategy was to run first 10 floors easy(ish), next 10 all out and survive the last 10. Strategy was good but I didn't have the fitness to execute it).

- Execution of strategy D (I took off too fast and was buggered by the time I got to the 10th floor. From then on it was a matter of survival and strategy didn't come into it. In hindsight I could have walked a few flights slowly to recover but I think that would have led to a slower overall time. I should have gone out much slower.

- Overall feeling C - I did a reasonable time (4 mins 35 seconds) but really feel that with better conditioning, more time training on the stairs, not going out hard and with losing a bit of weight I could go at least a minute faster. So that is really motivating to see what improvements I can make over the coming year.

vrijdag 12 april 2013

tower running....

Now that I'm sleeping well again I've got loads of energy and motivation to take on challenges that seemed impossible a couple of years ago.

One of those challenges is tower running.

Tower running is a sport that involves running up the stairs of skyscrapers. 15 years ago I competed in my first tower race, 1267 steps of Sky City tower in Auckland, New Zealand. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life! The following year I did it again. This time I trained for it and managed to get 7th out of a field that had some of the best stair climbers in the world.

After that race I had plans of training hard and competing in the mecca of stair climbing, the Empire State Building run-up.

However over the 15 years that followed I gradually lost sight of all my sporting goals and ambitions.

Even before I got sick with Lyme disease I would never have thought that I could give tower running another go. It's a horrendously hard sport and I never thought I could recapture the fitness that I would need to be competitive.

But now life is different. I feel much, much fitter and mentally able to take on things that would have been too daunting a few years ago. This applies not only to sport but also to work, leaning languages, dealing with difficult people, etc.

So recently I started training for stair climbing. My first event will be a run up the Almere WTC tower. This is relatively short (30 stories) but definitely still hard enough for a first challenge.

Yesterday I ran up the 30 flights of stairs in our head office twice. I was fairly pleased with my fitness but of course it's nowhere near as good as it was 15 years ago.

But rather than feel disheartened I'm looking forward to the training and improvements in my fitness that are to come.......

My goal is to compete in some of the world cup stair climbing races and ultimately I want to compete in the Empire State run-up. And I want to be competitive, at least top ten in the big races.

It won't happen overnight, but lets see how it goes over the next year or two....

zaterdag 23 maart 2013

yeee haa I'm racing bikes again!

My first love affair with cycling...

I first fell in love with bicycle racing almost 25 years ago. I had a couple of friends who were mad cyclists and eventually I decided to give it a go. Right from the first minute I loved it! I loved that it was a individual sport. I loved the training, the camaraderie between the cyclists and above all I loved the racing; the tactics, the pain, the sprint for the line. I very quickly became obsessed.

Two years later I was progressing fast through the cycling ranks in New Zealand when I badly injured my back. This was before the days of MRI scans and I was never able to get a diagnosis; the most likely explanation was a herniated disc caused by a bad neck and head trauma I'd suffered the previous year in a cycling accident.

It was 1991 and I just turned 17 and through my back injury I was forced to stop cycling. On one hand I was gutted. But as I had progressed through the ranks the pressure to perform and the seriousness of the sport had also increased. I missed the care-free days that were the norm when I first began cycling so, subconsciously at least, I was relieved to have a break.

Rekindling the love..

4 years went by without racing. I got right into swimming as therapy for my back and later, as my back healed, I began to dabble in running and triathlons. I always struggled in the swim and run leg of a triathlon and always blitzed the cycling. One day I made a decision to get back into cycling and give it my all. I missed it. From then on it was clear to me what my direction was and I thrived on the training.

For the next few months I trained hard (largely by myself) and loved it. I was rediscovering cycling all over again. There was no pressure, no expectation, just the joys of riding and getting fitter. When you cycle everything is amplified; the surface of the road, the different smells, the birdsong, the way the setting sun lights up a nearby paddock. Each of these things that pass by unnoticed in a car are sources of joy for the cyclist. I began to rediscover and love the simple pleasures of cycling.

After training hard by myself for a few months I entered my first cycling race, the Palmerston North to Wellington classic in New Zealand. The field contained many of my cycling heroes. I had never seen these guys before in the flesh and now I was lining up to race with them!

The first hour of the race went well and, just before arriving into my home town, I managed to get into a breakaway with two of my cycling heroes; one of them was an olympic medalist, the other a professional cyclist who'd ridden in the Tour de France. I had a grin from ear to ear!

Just before beginning the big climb of the day (see photo) I suffered a puncture which put an end to my chances of getting a top result. I still chased hard and ended up getting 8th which I was super pleased with.

That race was an awesome experience and after that I decided to get right into cycling. It became my life for the next two years and I enjoyed some good results. However I was impatient to win big races and become a professional cyclist.

I put far too much pressure on myself. Physically I was able to compete with the best guys in the races I entered but mentally I was really missing those 4 years out of competition. I didn't have the race 'smarts' and I used to get far too nervous and worked up before races, even ones that were fairly insignificant.

Eventually this pressure, coupled with having no money and no life outside of cycling, got too much and I gave the sport away for a 2nd time. I moved to the big smoke of Auckland, New Zealand and stopped cycling altogether.

the big smoke of Auckand, New Zealand

The next 15 years went by fast. There were a lot of great times: I travelled a lot, lived in 4 different countries, returned to university, carved out a career, bought a house, got married and had two kids. There were also negatives: I put on 25kg (55 lbs), my back injury returned (this time it was confirmed as a herniated disc), and I became very sick with late stage Lyme disease.

Eventually I was able to overcome both the Lyme disease and my bad back. This involved a lot of changes to my diet and lifestyle to ensure that my body had the best chance possible to recover. A positive side effect of these lifestyle and dietary changes was that I began to have much more energy and began to have the mental space to think about doing fun, exciting and physically demanding adventures again!

And so in September 2012 I decided to do a race again. I decided to enter Lelystad-Enkhuizen-Lelystad which is a 51km time trial in the Netherlands for recumbent cyclists. It was a super hard experience but I loved it and ended up getting 5th.

It's been 5 months since then and I've been training hard and lost 10kg (22lbs) and am much fitter than I was.

I'm really loving my cycling and am planning on doing some more races this year. I've learn't my lesson from my previous two love affairs with cycling so am approaching things differently this time around.

This time I'm cycling pure for the love and joy of the sport and for health and fitness. I have no desire to be a professional cyclist. Each time I line up on the start line of a race I'm going to try and remember to reflect on where I've come from and what I've overcome to be there. I'm going to focus on cycling purely for the joy of cycling, for the joy of being in that moment.

I'm just super happy to be healthy and fit again and to have energy for cycling and other fun adventures!

vrijdag 15 maart 2013

Drugs and time...

In my last post I wrote that the three things that I believe enabled me to overcome late stage Lyme disease were:
- the antibiotic treatment
- minimizing stress
- time

In the last post I delved into the subject of minimizing stress. It wasn't until I was able to reduce stress, especially nutritional stress, that my recovery kicked into top gear.

But without antibiotics and without allowing sufficient time things would have been different.


I was very lucky to be living in the Netherlands when I became sick with Lyme disease. I was stupid when I first started getting sick as I assumed it was something that would come right by itself. So I put off going to the doctor. For months. When I finally got around to going to the doctor I was very quickly referred to a neurologist and within a matter of a week or two I was in the hospital starting IV antibiotic treatment.

In those last few weeks before I began treatment the range, severity and frequency of the problems I was experiencing started skyrocketing.

For example I when it came to issues with my vision the problems initially happened about once every two weeks and, although disconcerting, were not that severe. By the time I was diagnosed I was losing my vision 5 or 6 times a day and the severity of the 'attacks' were getting worse and worse. Once I started the antibiotics my problems stabilized.

Herx reactions aside all of my problems, aside from the insomnia, subsided a month or so after starting antibiotics. By the way a Herx reaction is a common reaction that can occur when the borrelia bacteria die off from the antibiotics. Basically it means you feel a helluva lot worse before you feel better. It's good to know about this in advance otherwise you may feel the antibiotics aren't working and become discouraged.


By the time I'd finished my 3 week course of IV antibiotics most of my Lyme disease symptoms were vastly improved. However a few such as insomnia and nerve pain in my feet persisted for months or, in the case of insomnia, years. The recovery was definitely not linear - it was very much a case of 3 steps forward, 2 steps back. Although progress was very slow, and very up and down, gradually over time I improved. I found ways, especially through nutrition, to maximize my energy.

And I began to accept and understand that rest and taking things easy was vital. I wanted to work, I wanted to be productive but it was only when I consciously allowed myself the time to really take it easy and focus on recovery that I began to sleep consistently well again.

- If you think you might have Lyme disease go see a doctor!!!!

If you're feeling sick and experiencing 'weird' symptoms do not ignore it like I did!!! Go to your doctor. It's much, much easier to treat Lyme disease and to make a full recovery if you catch it in the early stages.

Be proactive in requesting a test for Lyme disease. I appreciate I am extremely lucky to live in the Netherlands where Lyme disease is recognized and treated. In some countries it is much harder to get diagnosed and treated. The Lyme Disease forum at MD junction has some good info on 'Lyme literate doctors' in the US and other countries:

Don't stress with the ups and downs
At least in my experience, full recovery took a long time and the recovery process was very up and down. It was only when I was able to accept these ups and downs and not get (overly) stressed by them that I could really make progress towards a complete recovery.

Eat well, exercise and take steps to minimize stress

I talk about this in my post on minimizing stress.

vrijdag 8 maart 2013


Stress - what is it, how did I minimize it, how did that help my recovery....

The three things that had the biggest positive impact on my recovery from late stage lyme disease were:
- the antibiotic treatment
- minimizing stress
- time

In this post I want to talk about minimizing stress.

A couple of years ago when I thought of stress I had in my mind a picture like that above. I saw stress as an unpleasant feeling that could be brought on by too much work pressure, money worries, relationship problems, etc. To be honest I never really gave stress that much thought and never thought I suffered from it.

My view now on what constitutes stress is completely different. Looking back, stress was a major inhibitor for my recovery from Lyme disease. And it was also something that held me back in the decades prior to getting sick with Lyme.

I see the following points as the main forms of stress I needed to overcome to recover from Lyme disease:

- Physical stress
I see this as the stress my body was under in response to the Lyme bacteria and to the antibiotics I was being treated with.

- Nutritional stress
When I first got sick I wasn't paying much attention to my diet. I was eating a fair bit of processed food, sugary food and drink, alcohol and cafine. Dealing with this and trying to extract nutrients from this food was putting my body under stress.

- Sleep stress
My worst Lyme disease problem was insomnia. For two years it felt like I had lost the ability to sleep. Often insomnia is caused by stress but for many people with lyme disease it's the other way around.

- Work stress
Now we're getting into the types of problems people typically associate with stress.

- Life stress!
Most days, due to lack of sleep and pain, just getting through the day was a struggle.

What I now realise is that these stress types were reinforcing each other. I wasn't sleeping so I was taking extra caffeine and sugar to get by at work. This led to more sleep stress. Because I wasn't sleeping I was getting stressed out by trivial problems at work. This work stress was adding to my sleeping problems. And so on, and so on, and so on..... I found it a vicious cycle that was extremely hard to break. And my recovery from Lyme disease didn't really kick into top gear until I was able to break it.

What worked for me was to focus on what I could do to minimise each of the stress types I was experiencing.

For physical stress I found acupuncture helped a lot. I drank lots of water. I took probiotics and natural remedies such as cats claw to help improve my immune system. I made a real effort to consistently exercise. Initially just getting out of the house and walking around the block was a real effort but over time it got easier.

For - Nutritional stress I completely overhauled my diet. You can read more about the details in some of my other posts. I cut out processed food and other high glycemic index foods such as white bread, white rice and pasta. I introduced more vegetables and legumes into my diet.

- Sleep stress I found natural sleep aids Melatonin and Valerian helped a lot. I did a mindfulness course and learned about and used meditation, yoga and other techniques such as body scanning. I also found exercise (especially weight training) helped a lot in terms of improving sleep quality so I put a real priority on exercising.

- Work stress and life stress I found that as the other stresses in my decreased then my work stress and general life stress also decreased. Things that seemed like unsolvable issues when I was getting by on 2 hours sleep a night could be easily resolved with the presence of mind and energy I had when I was sleeping 5 or 6 hours a night.

It didn't happen overnight but over a period of months the vicious stress cycle slowed down and then reversed turning into a positive reinforcing cycle. As I ate better I experienced less nutritional stress therefore I slept better and could function better at work thus having less work related stress. I didn't need junk food and caffeine to get through the day and, as I could see the benefits, it was a no-brainer to stick with my dietary regimen.

The breakthrough for me was in August 2012, exactly 2 years after I was diagnosed with late stage lyme disease. After that I began to sleep consistently well and the rate of my recovery skyrocketed. It's now 7 months later and things are still going great. I actually feel much less stressed and much more productive and confident than what I did prior to getting sick.

zondag 3 maart 2013

14 hours (400km) cycling in a day!

Last friday I had a day completely to myself as my wife and kids were in Scotland visiting 'granny'.

In a moment of madness a couple of days earlier I had decided to try and cycle the 'rondje ijsselmeer' which involves cycling a loop of the ijsselmeer, the largest lake in western europe. The course (see map below) was 280km (174 miles). I had never cycled that far in my life and in the past 12 years I had only cycled more than 100k once so it was definitely a step into the unknown!

I bought a Netherlands GPS cycling card for my Garmin and then spent Thursday evening planning a course and getting my food, drink and bike ready for the next day. I packed a few bottles of cheap supermarket bought energy drink, some bananas and an energy bar. I figured this would be enough to last the distance (oh how wrong I was!!).

Thursday evening I went to bed relatively early, very excited about the following day. I had my alarm set for 4:45am and woke up a bit earlier feeling full of energy and ready to go.

I gulped down a couple of large fruit smoothies, some energy drink, took the dog for a walk and by 5:30 I was on the bike and off.

My strategy was to break the ride down into 3 sections (marked on the map above). Up until point 1 on the map I planned on taking it super easy, keeping my heart rate under 115 beats per minute and conserving my energy.

It was quite a brisk headwind on the first section of the journey. It was dark and cold when I began but after an hour or so the sun began to rise. The most amazing sight I saw along this stretch of the journey was a small herd of wild deer who ran alongside me for a short while.

The only problem on this first section was that the course I had mapped out on my GPS device didn't work. Even though I knew I was following the right road the device still told me I was off course. I had never used a bike GPS device for navigation before so it was probably something wrong with my preparation rather than the device itself.

About 3 hours after setting off I arrived at my first checkpoint. This was really the go or no-go point. At this stage I had the option of turning back or taking a shorter route back through Amsterdam. If I kept going there was no turning back. My mind, body and bike were all working fine and I didn't even consider turning back.

However with my GPS device playing up I wasn't sure of the route I should take in order to get to Den Oever. On the map above it looks straight forward but in reality I was slightly inland, unable to see the lake and had no idea where to go (lesson = take a map!). I programmed in Den Oever into my GPS and set off. After following an extremely indirect and narrow cycle path I eventually made it to Den Oever. I was still feeling fine although I was starting to worry about my GPS which was getting pretty low on battery life.

I hadn't even considered running out of batteries and I hadn't taken a map as a back-up. So I switched off my GPS and began the approx 32km crossing of the Afsluitdijk that links Noord-Holland with Freisland.

The crossing of the dijk was awesome. The bike path was smooth, fast and as I'd been cycling 5 or 6 hours I started to get into quite an awesome zone. I was sitting on 40km/h with a heart rate of about 125 beats per minute and felt great.

Once I reached the other side of the dijk that's where my difficulties began. I had no idea what roads to take and got completely lost in the maze of water ways below Sneek. I tried to use the GPS again but it was taking me on bike paths which required ferry crossings. Unbeknownst to me, the ferry's only run from April to October so I had to retrace my steps a number of times.

Eventually I found my way to a town and managed to get directions on how I could get to my 3rd milestone and beyond. At that point it was getting late, I was out of food and drink and I was under a fair bit of time pressure as I'd promised to meet my family at the airport later that evening.

It was a matter of putting my head down and going for it. On the plus side I felt remarkably good, the bike was running like a dream, and I had a beautiful strong tail wind helping me.

The last couple of hours flew past. Although I was woefully underprepared in terms of food and drink I never once 'bonked' and over the last hour I was able to cycle easily above 40km/h. My GPS had run out of batteries by then but I was on familiar roads and going for it!

I arrived back home at 19:30. I had just cycled pretty much non-stop for 14 hours. As my GPS had died I'm not sure of the distance but I reckon it was at least 400km.

I grabbed a bit to eat, jumped in the shower and then the dog and I rushed off to the airport. I got there just in time to buy some balloons for my girls and then there they were coming out of the arrival gates.

What a day!

As I'm writing this it's now Sunday, 2 days later and I'm still very tired from my adventure. My muscles are sore but sore in a good way. I have no concerning knee or back pain, just a bit of muscle soreness.

Here a few observations and learning points from the ride:

1) I loved it!!!

I totally loved it. It was an awesome adventure and I definitely want to do more long distance cycling. I'm harbouring a desire to ride Paris-Brest-Paris in 2015 (it's a 1200km cycle event) and after this ride I'm really motivated to pursue that dream.

2) I felt fit and strong the whole way

The distance and time on the bike was a real step into the unknown but I felt good the whole ride.

3) Plan the course and take a map!!!!!!

Next time I need to be better prepared in terms of understanding how to better use the GPS navigation and knowing in advance the route I want to take. And I need to take a map!

4) Take more food and drink

I should have taken twice as much. I was riding my quest velomobile so I had plenty of room. There were not many opportunities to buy food along the way so next time I need to take at least twice as much.

zaterdag 23 februari 2013

a typical day

In this post I want to outline what a typical day is for me, nutritionally speaking.

I've found that sticking to this way of eating and drinking maximizes my energy and recovery. Recovery both in terms of recovery from Lyme disease and recovery from sports training.

06:00 - Breakfast

My focus here is on fueling up my body for the 38km (24 mile) bike ride in to work and for the day ahead.

I have a green smoothie already prepared in the fridge so I have a large glass of that.

Generally the smoothie (which is enough for 3 portions) consists of:

- Green vegetables such as beans, brocolli, brussell sprouts
- 1/4 cup almonds
- Sprinking of Spirulina
- 1 cup Blueberries
- Fruit such as bananna, pineapple, apple
- a few dates

As well as the smoothie I have one of my home-made blueberry energy bars. These bars are my staple snack food and are great for fueling up for a training ride or for providing energy after a ride.

I blend together the following ingredients:

- 1 cup dates
- 1 cup (frozen) blueberries
- 1/4 cup almonds
- 1 scoop protein powder
- 1/4 cup cacao
- 1/4 cup sunflower seeds

After blending the above ingredients together I make about 6 'balls' out of the mixture, wrap each ball in plastic wrap and store in the freezer. They never completely freeze so you can eat them almost immediately after taking out of the freezer.

07:30 - Snack 1

Immediately after arriving at work I eat another blueberry bar and sip about half a glass of green smoothie.

Between starting work and lunch I generally don't eat anything but will drink about 1.5 litres of water (approx 6 glasses).

11:30 - Lunch

I bring my lunch from home. Generally it consists of green vegetables, some meat (usually chicken), a carbohydrate source (usually brown rice) and legumes (lentils, black beans).

13:00 - Snack 2

Usually around 13:00 I'll have a bananna or an apple.

15:00 - Snack 3

This snack is the same as the early morning snack; a blueberry bar and about half a glass of green smoothie. The aim is to fuel me up for the ride home.

Right throughout the whole day I'm drinking a lot of water.

18:30 - Dinner

My wife's a great cook and dinner is pretty varied and always delicious :-)

There's usually lots of veges or a large salad. Usually we have a meat dish such as salmon or chicken.

20:00 - Snack 4

For my last snack of the day I'll take a glass of green smoothie. If I'm feeling beat up after my cycling I'll sometimes have a few more carbs (such as another blueberry bar or a bananna).

So that's a summary of typical day's eating for me. On a typical day I'll ride my bike almost 80km (50 miles) so I need to take on additional calories compared to a less active person.

My diet is continually evolving as I learn more and experiment. I'm interested in pursuing even more of a plant based diet and perhaps cutting out meat altogether.

donderdag 21 februari 2013

What food/drink works best for me...

Over the course of my Lyme disease recovery journey I've found that what I eat and drink has the biggest impact on how I feel. When I eat well I have enough energy, I sleep well and have practically no pain.

When I eat poorly for a few days my energy levels decrease significantly, the quality of my sleep declines and pain, such as nerve pain in my feet, returns.

Because, at least for me, there is a strong correlation between what I eat and how I feel, I'm very motivated to eat well every day.

What I want to do in this post is run through the general guidelines that work the best for me. In my next post I will run through the specifics about what I eat in a typical day.

Note that I'm still learning a lot about nutrition and my diet is continually evolving. I'm tending towards much more of a plant based vegan type diet but currently I'm still having some meat and dairy products.

In general I stick to the following eating guidelines:

I eat (drink) lots of:

- Vegetables
- Berries (personally I eat a lot of blueberry's)
- Legumes (lentils, black beans, etc)
- (Water)... loads of it. I found often when I have food cravings it's really a sign that I'm thirsty and the cravings will go away after a large drink of water.

I eat a fair bit of:

- Lean meat (especially fish and chicken)
- Nuts (especially almonds)
- Brown rice
- Fruit
- Cottage cheese
- (Coffee) - not that I'm advising this mind!
- (Diet coke) - I definitely don't advise this and am in the process of giving up!

I eat (drink) occasionally:

- Cereal
- Bread
- Pasta
- (Wine and other alcoholic drinks)
- (Milk)

I try and avoid:

- White bread
- White rice
- Processed foods
- Chocolate
- Ice cream
- Other foods high in fat and sugar (e.g., donuts, etc)
- (Full Sugar soft drinks)

For me, giving up sugary/fat foods such as chocolate bars was hard. But it was only hard for a few days. After that the cravings wore off and now I don't even want to eat that food anymore.

woensdag 20 februari 2013

Can Lyme disease increase your (sports) pain threshold??

I'm currently training for some recumbent bike races in 2013. Up until today I've been focusing on building endurance and aerobic capacity, primarily through steady, fairly low intensity rides.

But with my first race just over 4 weeks away it's time to start mixing in a bit of speed work and interval training. Today I did my first serious interval training session in years. Actually decades! The last time I did a session like this was back in 1997 and I can still remember dreading it.

Today's session was not easy. Two 5 minute intervals at a heart rate of between 168 - 172 bpm. I had a good breakfast, a good warm-up, psyched myself up and then let it rip... and it was surprisingly easy!

I accelerated until just over 50 km/h (30 m/ph) and then just held it there. My heart rate was in the right zone so I was definitely working hard, but it didn't really feel hard. My form was good, my breathing was fine. In The last couple of minutes of the interval I ramped it up even more, pushing towards 175 bpm. At the 5 minute mark I eased off, but I felt like I could have kept on going. I rode easy for a while to recovery and then repeated the interval with the same results.

I was very happy and curious after the session. Why had it seemed so easy and how will that translate into racing performance when I start racing later in the year?

One good training session doesn't make a season and it could just be that I was having a great day. In any case it was a great session and I'm amping to get out there in a few days and try it again!

dinsdag 19 februari 2013

Tips for creating good habits

When I was trying to recover from Lyme disease I knew that some lifestyle changes, such as better nutrition and more regular exercise, would maximise my chances of recovering. Even though I realised this it was hard, initially, to make these changes a part of my life. At least in terms of good nutrition and exercise I was able to develop positive habits. Once that happened I no longer had to rely upon willpower to eat properly and exercise. Working out and eating well turned into a habit, if I didn't do them it didn't feel right (just like it doesn't feel right if you don't brush your teeth before you go to bed).

Here are some tips that worked for me.

1 - Learn what you need to change and why

Make sure you understand exactly what the benefits are of changing. And what the potential negative consequences are of maintaining your current habit. For example, regarding nutrition figure out exactly what you should be eating to maximise your recovery chances.

In the beginning there will be some periods when you want to revert back to your old habits. In those times I found it powerful to recall the reasons why I was trying to change.

2 - Fit it into your life

I knew I needed to exercise. But with two young kids making time to go running or go to the gym was difficult and stressful. But I found I could bike to work in pretty much the same time as what it took door-to-door with my normal commute on the train. This meant I could get in two hours of quality exerise each work day without any additional impact on time with my family.

For me this was key to being able to develop exercise into a habit.

3 - Get organised, get prepared

I find it hard to be organised. My room and desk are testament to this. But being disorganised was a killer to establishing good nutrition and exercise as habits. What I do now is make all my lunches and snacks for the coming week at one go in the weekend and then freeze them. This takes less than an hour and afterwards I have my lunch and snack food for the whole week sorted.

When I comes to exercise I make sure I get the gear I need for biking to work (clothes, wallet, work access card, etc) packed the night before. I make a green smoothie for breakfast and put it in the fridge. Based on the weather forecast I work out what cycling gear to use and lay it out the night before. Because of these preps, when I get out of bed at 05:30 in the morning it doesn't take any mental energy to get myself dressed, have breakfast and out on the road.

4 - Use willpower to get through the first few days Before I made change to my diet I used to have a fair bit of sugar, fat and processed food in my diet. My diet wasn't awful but definitely I had the more than occasional chocolate bar to fight off the mid-afternoon dip and used to 'help' my kids finish their ice creams, etc. Giving up sugar was hard. But it was only hard for the first few days. It took a lot of willpower to get through those first few days but after that the cravings wore off. Now I don't crave sugary foods anymore.

5 - Focus on one thing at a time

It's easy to get swept away in a 'New years resolution' type fever and find 10 or 20 things you want to change. In my opinion (and experience with my own resolutions!) that's just setting yourself up for failure. What works best for me is to focus on just one thing. One change. Once you embed that and it becomes a habit then focus on something else. But not two things at one time and definitely not 5 or 10.