www.Hypersmash.com Beating Lyme: maart 2013

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.