Reaching new heights

November 26, 2017

One year ago I made a decision to do something about my lifelong fear of heights. Until recently it wasn’t something that I felt restricted me, it was more of an inconvenience. I could barely stand on a chair without holding on to something; I’d never been up in our attic; I have waited alone while my family have explored towers or treetop climbing on holiday; I’ve had panic attacks looking at pictures of people standing (or running) in exposed places.

My decision to address it was provoked by my increasing passion for running in the mountains. When I got the opportunity to go on a running and climbing trip to Chamonix in September 17 it seemed like an opportune time to do something about it. So I set myself the goal of going on the trip to Chamonix and participating in the climbing activities without letting my anxiety get out of control.

I suspect that for many, this doesn’t seem like a very ambitious goal – particularly in comparison to some of the other things I’ve done. For me though, it seemed like my most extreme sporting challenge yet. Exploring your physical boundaries is one thing, mental and emotional boundaries something else completely. The fear and anxiety (and their associated physical symptoms) are real and terrible, even if they are not logical. Even the anticipation of the anxiety provoked anxiety.

I needed help, and asked Christian Madsen – Fullperformance, who is a psychologist, runner and coach. Together we made a plan which included gradual exposure to heights on the one hand, and working on my general anxiety on the other. To be honest, I‘ve never thought of myself as an anxious person, so this part was like opening Pandora’s box. I was confronted with a rather weird range of phobias, some of which I realised had quite an impact on my daily life.

Christianshavn Tårn

Succesful ascent of a Church Tower with Christian

Over the next months I tackled a range of progressively challenging activities involving heights. These included exploring our attic, climbing a church tower, and jumping from a 5 meter diving platform. Sometimes it went better than expected and sometimes it felt like a total disaster – particularly the 5 meter dive was a truly horrible experience! Christian was on the side-lines throughout, helping me to work through my experiences. Despite setbacks my progress was steady and in June Christian and I went tree-top climbing and, while it would be an exaggeration to say I was relaxed, I did have control of my fear and had moments where I even thought it was fun. For the first time, I believed that my Chamonix goal was realistic.


19029673_10155429438369111_2368078095426999725_nThe next challenge was a “Try Climbing” event at Blocs & Walls (a local climbing gym) along with the group I was going to Chamonix with. To be honest this provoked a bit of a relapse and, on my first attempt, panic set in as soon as I got about a meter of the ground. However, thanks to the enormous patience of the instructor, Thomas, by the end of the session I made it about 2/3 of the way up the climbing wall without a complete meltdown. In many ways a success, but nonetheless it felt like failure as all the others in the group made it to the top.

But every cloud has a silver lining! If I had made it to the top that day, I would have been pretty satisfied that my preparation for Chamonix was complete.  What did happen was that my frustration made me arrange a series of personal training sessions with Thomas. From the start, we agreed that our goal was on height exposure and not on climbing per se.  Thomas was remarkably good at judging how far he could push me, while giving me the space to say no without it feeling like defeat, just a stage in the process.

The result was astounding. After the first couple of sessions, I was quite happily climbing to the top of the wall and felt quite comfortable hanging up there chatting to Thomas below. But the biggest surprise of all was that I totally loved it!

I was so hooked that I continued to train with Thomas, though by now the focus had adjusted from height exposure to climbing. In the middle of August I went on a trip to Kullen in Sweden with the Chamonix group to try outdoor rock climbing. I had been concerned that this would provoke a relapse, but it didn’t. On the contrary I loved it too.



Via Ferrata

From that point on I was really excited about the trip to Chamonix. Yet, as we stood getting roped up for the Via Ferrata de Passy on our first day there, I could feel the familiar anxiety about whether I would panic: there was a palpable tension in the group as a whole which didn’t help. So as we stepped out onto the small metal rungs hammered into the sheer cliff face, I was fully focused on clicking my carabiners in and out and resisted the temptation to look around on look down. Gradually though, I relaxed, found my flow and was quite happy to admire the view and chat with the others. When we finally clambered back up on to flat ground I was completely high and totally impressed with myself!


The following day we did a traverse of the Aiguilles Crochues. Again I could feel the anticipatory anxiety as we got going, but it quickly disappeared as we got into the swing of the climbing. And it was amazing! The climbing wasn’t difficult, but there were breath-taking exposure and amazing views throughout. I really couldn’t believe it. 10 months before I had set myself the goal of being able to keep my anxiety under control. But there was no anxiety to control, only exhilaration!IMG_0439

A couple of months on and I’m still totally hooked on climbing. I’ve joined the climbing gym and go regularly. I really hadn’t seen that coming a year ago!  If you’d asked me before I would have said it wasn’t worth the (significant) effort of addressing your anxieties or phobias unless they affect everyday life or stop you doing something you really want to do. Now I’m not so sure. I’d never, in my wildest dreams, imagined that I would love climbing. All these years, I’ve kept that door closed by not addressing my anxiety.

It hasn’t been an easy process though. I couldn’t have done it without the help I got from Christian Madsen and Thomas Gregers Bindselv from Blocs and Walls.  When facing your fears, you feel small, exposed and vulnerable. Both Christian and Thomas created a bond of respect and trust which allowed me to step outside my comfort zone, to be open about my feelings, and to reflect on them with their support, so that I could continually push my boundaries.

This time last year I was sitting here at my desk looking at pictures advertising the trip to Chamonix and I was dizzy, hyperventilating and sweating. I am so happy that I took those two first steps – sending a message to say I would go, and then asking for help. Today I’m sitting here looking at the pictures of me in the mountains and I feel really, really proud.


One of the things that originally attracted me to running was its flexibility. At that time I was a working Mum with small children and a demanding job which required me to travel frequently. I wanted to get, then later to stay, fit but couldn’t commit to having to turn up regularly at specific training times. With a bit of coordination on the home front though I could fit in runs and I always packed my running shoes when I was travelling.

I’m clearly not the only one who does that. Several times I have read articles that celebrate how wonderful running is for exploring foreign destinations. Clearly those people don’t travel to the same places I do! OK yes, I have travelled to places like New York, Washington DC or Paris with work and explored in my running shoes. Usually, though, my travels take me to places in the developing world where the crazy traffic or personal safety and security issues make running outside inadvisable.
So when I book hotels my first priority is whether they have a fitness centre!

As a result, over the years I have become something of an authority on hotel fitness centres and I kind of regret that I didn’t, from the start, record my experiences and write small reviews of them. From my, albeit, limited experience of fitness centres in Europe or north America, including those in hotels, they have a certain sameness, but hotels in the places I visit are often, what should we call it…..quirky? And their fitness centres are certainly that too!

The ones I like best are those that also have members from the local area, mainly because they are busier which provides entertainment as I pound out my kilometres on the treadmill. In some places people mainly walk, not run, on the treadmills. I guess this is because the middle/upper drive not walk around outside so they have to go to the gym for a walk. In those places I get a lot of attention when I crank up the speed – at home as a middle aged woman I’m never going to be a running star so I soak it up when I can! One guy jogged backwards on the treadmill each day – and told me that it was dangerous that I ran so fast! Danger is clearly different things to different people. Another time a girl was jogging next to me while chatting on her phone, missed her footing and crashed backwards of the treadmill landing on the floor – and never stopped talking the whole time! Oh, and I have many times seen people jogging/walking on treadmills with flipflops on their feet!

At the other end of the spectrum, I was once staying in a fancy, newly opened hotel in Kampala, Uganda which had a huge state of the art fitness centre only for hotel residents. I went every day during my visit and in that time never saw another soul using it. There was a very bored instructor there, who clearly had been told he wasn’t allowed to use the equipment himself. We chatted a lot and he told me he was a runner too and offered to take me one evening to the local airfield where they trained. I didn’t go because I had a work commitment, but I regret it to this day…….

However funny or interesting these experiences are though, they do not detract from the fact that I truly hate running on a treadmill. I know people who run on a treadmill through choice and I just do not get it. During a 30-60 minute treadmill run I go through more mental anguish and turmoil than during a whole marathon (or Ironman for that matter). I have to employ every mental and motivational trick I know to get me through it! But hey, at least it also trains my mental toughness!

So why do I do it? Well, the only thing I can think of that is worse than the treadmill torture is not running at all! I recall one two-week trip I had to Luanda, Angola where I was staying in a small guest house with no fitness centre and where I was advised that it wasn’t safe for me to run outside. It was terrible! I was desperate! (OK, the fact that my suitcase didn’t turn up for 10 days did also contribute to my general state of misery!).

I am writing this from Monrovia, Liberia. I was here for a couple of weeks in January and I’m here again now for a couple of weeks. My hotel doesn’t have a fitness centre but residents can use the one in an apartment block 100 meters along the road. Although the building is right on the edge of the ocean, the fitness room is in a damp, dark, basement room with no window. Oh, and the electricity supply is very unstable so the power keeps going off and I frequently find myself plunged into darkness and the treadmill suddenly stops. And there aren’t many users to distract me (I wonder why?!?) so I churn out my kilometres and train my mental toughness and dream of spring in Denmark and running in the forest.

As a runner it’s a privilege to live in Denmark. We have a moderate climate which means we can run outdoors all year round – it’s never too warm in the summer or too cold in the winter. It rains for sure, but rarely the torrential kind that would prevent running and rarely for a whole day so with a bit of flexibility you can avoid it. Sometimes it snows, but rarely very deeply and the public services are effective at clearly roads and bike paths to run on. It’s perfectly safe to run around outside – even in the dark, without risks of being attacked and the traffic is regulated and safe and as long as you take precautions to ensure you’re visible, there is no real risk there. And most of us live within easy reach of parks or forests or other pleasant natural areas to run.

I just hope I remember this the next time I’m faced with having to go out for a run on a dark, windy, rainy evening!

Well, the reaction from most people who know me when I announced that my next goal is an Ironman distance triathlon was “you’re crazy but I’m not surprised”.  Apparently I’m predictable!

One comment was a little different though, “good luck to you…. and to Erik” (Erik being my husband). That stopped me up a bit, particularly since the friend who wrote it presumably knew what he was talking about since his wife trained for a half-Ironman earlier this year.

It reminded me of an article in one of the national newspapers around the time of Challenge Copenhagen this year (here for those of you who read Danish) where a wife totally slags off her husband who she feels is neglecting her and their children due to his triathlon obsession! I don’t know the couple in question, but you could wonder which the worse sin is: obsessing with triathlon or publicly criticising your husband in a national newspaper, but that’s another issue…

At any rate, I did clear my Ironman Project with my husband prior to committing and I believe gave a fairly honest picture of what was involved. And, so far at least, he is 100% on board with the project. I wouldn’t be doing it unless he was. Honest!

I also wouldn’t be doing it if I had a proper job, a commute and small children.  At the moment my lifestyle provides a great deal of flexibility so, if there was to be a good time in my life to do an Ironman, that time is now.

First of all, I’m self-employed and I work at home. So I decide myself what projects I do (providing I get offered them of course), how I schedule my time, and I have my office at home so I don’t have any commuting time. I have a very relaxed attitude to planning my weeks/days. I figure out what I have to/want to do with regards to work projects, household chores, family life, friends and training and plan my time accordingly. If I feel like running in the morning then I might work a bit later in the afternoon. Or even take a whole day off work and work more on another day.

Secondly, my kids are teenagers so I have a lot more freedom/free time than I did say, 10 years ago. Mind you, it’s not that I don’t spend any time with them. Since I work at home I see them regularly as they are in and out throughout the day (more than they probably like!).

The one thing in my life that could prove to be challenging to coordinate with the training is my travel activity. I do usually try to get some training done when I am away on business trips but it is nothing like the amount I do at home. However I will take this as it comes. The peak training period will be next summer when I usually take time off anyway. Between now and then I’ll have to weigh up opportunities as they arise and figure out whether they can fit in with my training. I’m only going to do this Ironman thing once (and I mean it!) so as long as I can earn my keep between now and then, the training gets priority. Between now and the year-end I only have a one week trip scheduled so that is fine so far.

It’s going to be interesting to follow this side of things though as the training builds up. I guess the proof of the pudding will be whether you see Erik in a newspaper article next August with the headline “Frustrated Triathlon Husband: What the heck kind of wife did I end up with!”

The Ketchup Effect

June 8, 2012

When I decided to become a freelancer a couple of years ago one of my worries was whether I would be able to keep my travel activity at manageable levels. My line of work requires that I travel, there is really no way around it. In the years prior to the BIG DECISION I had typically been travelling around 80-100 days a year, albeit typically trips of not more than 1 week at a time. The problem with that was that I was usually expected to be wherever I was going from Monday to Friday which meant that many of my weekends were taken up with travelling, which really eats into family life.

If anything I expected my travel activity to increase as a freelancer and most likely to include trips of a longer duration. But I reckoned that at least 1. I would have control over what assignments I accepted and 2. My office would now be at home which would allow me more flexibility in my working hours to better fit around family life.

So far though I’ve been very lucky and the travel has by no means been excessive. While I have had projects enough to keep my busy full-time (and more if I wanted), the majority of the work has been home-based. In 2011 I only had around 30 work travel days spread out throughout the year which was definitely manageable! So far this year I have only had a couple of week-long trips.

Until now. Do you know the ketchup effect? (Shake, oh shake the ketchup bottle. None will come and then a lot will!).

Yes, well this week I’ve been in Amman, Jordan since Sunday and I head home again this evening (Friday). Then after less than 40 hours at home I head off again on Sunday evening to Windhoek, Namibia where I’ll be for 3 weeks.

I’m definitely NOT complaining though. While I am about as big a fan of airports and planes as I am of hospitals (a necessary evil!), these are very exciting projects which I’m delighted about working on.

So here I am in Amman and next week I’ll be in Windhoek, and life is good!

This Tuesday was 31st of May – one year since I was told I had cancer. I’m not sure what the “normal” way is to celebrate such anniversaries. I suppose it depends whether, like me, you have been lucky enough to kick cancer’s a** in the intervening year, or not. At any rate, I celebrated the day by running my first post-treatment race. It’s not like I haven’t been able to run races (I did in fact run a couple while I was in treatment), I just haven’t felt like it lately. All of a sudden, though, I got my racing mojo back and signed up for my local annual 5 km race, Rudersdalstaffet, with start and finish line about 50m from my front door (that’s me with #1016).  I was pleased with the result – 25:13. It’s a long way from last year’s result which earned me a second place and it’s also a long way from my 5 km personal record (22:54 from 2008) but it’s a mega improvement on just a few months ago!

Otherwise, on the surface of things, comparing this month’s stats with last suggests that it hasn’t been a great month running-wise, but I think that’s mostly I sign that I’ve been focused on other things, in particular my travelling at the beginning of the month. At 3300m (and hilly as hell), Cusco isn’t the ideal destination for runners unless you’re there for longer than I was as part of an altitude training programme! I did make one feeble and absolutely knackering attempt to run, which turned out to probably be my slowest run ever! Thereafter I decided to have a little break from running until I got to Washington DC, which, on the other hand is a great city for running in!

So here is the overview of progress to date:

Month #km Average pace min/km Comments
April 2010 132 5:07 Typical month pre-cancer treatment
October 2010 88 5:54 Last chemo on 18 Oct.
November 2010 100 5:46 First radiotherapy 15 Nov.
December 2010 49 6:08 Last radiotherapy 8 Dec.
January 2011 100 5:53  
February 2011 103 5:44  
March 2011 47 5:43 Injured!
April 2011 113 5:27  
May 2011 98 5:32  


So less mileage and slower than last month, but nonetheless  I think my fitness has improved – it looks like it if I compare the last week of April (23 km @ 5:26 min/km) and the last week of May 28km @ 5:23 min/km). And if we forget the stats and go by how I feel – I feel GREAT! I’m bubbling with energy and happiness and I love every minute I spend in my running shoes. It really doesn’t get much better than that!

Despite the fact that it is still almost 4 months until Berlin Marathon I have already raised 1,500kr for charity – thanks a billion to everyone who has made a donation (and if you haven’t and would like to you just click here. This month I was interviewed by a journalist from a Danish women’s magazine called Familie Journalen about my “running through chemo/training for Berlin” fundraising campaign, but I don’t yet know when it will be published. I will let you know when I do! If any of you have ideas or contacts that could lead to more publicity, then please let me know! The more attention I can get for the cause, the more money we can raise.

A related rather bizarre little story is that one of the Danish national newspapers ran an article last weekend about the phenomenon of women-only triathlons and chose to illustrate the article with the same photo of me that I have used on my fundraising campaign!  This photo was taken on the one and only occasion I took part in a triathlon which was in August 2009. Why they picked a photo of me out of all the thousands of photos of women participating in triathlons we will never know, but I guess I am flattered in some weird way! I almost feel obliged to sign up for an Ironman to prove I’m a real triathlete!

Up in the air

May 15, 2011

For the last many years I have travelled regularly for work, something like 80 to 100 days a year, to all kinds of destinations all over the world. That came to an abrupt stop with my cancer diagnosis last May. I had actually just been about to head off to Afghanistan for 4 weeks, which obviously had to be cancelled. Since then I have been grounded!

While I was in treatment I didn’t miss it at all. Dragging myself back and forth to the hospital was the limit of what I could manage, and when you feel ill it is a relief to be able to sleep in your own bed every night.

When I began to think about starting work again, I was a bit worried about how it would go with the travelling . As those of you who travel regularly know, it is an exhausting lifestyle and not at all as glamorous as others imagine – hours and hours spent in airports and on planes, sleeping badly in hotels, jetlag, weekends at home disrupted by arrivals and departures.  Although I felt ready to start working from January, I absolutely still wasn’t feeling 100% well.

However, for some reason I was extremely lucky, not only to have lots of projects land on my desk from 1 January, but projects that didn’t involve any travel in the first months! It has been great to be kept busy while at the same time have my strength return. Gradually, though, as my energy returned so did my itchy feet, and I was really looking forward to my first trip departing on 30 April, more or less 11 months after I had last stepped on a plane.

I’m now back from that trip: 12 days visiting both Cusco in Peru and Washington DC. It was an exhausting trip in many ways. 26 hours trip from Copenhagen to Cusco, 7 hours time difference, altitude of 3300m, long working days, then on to Washington for more meetings, before heading home again.  Yet I felt fine, and seemed to deal with all of it better than many colleagues. I also met a lot of people who I hadn’t seen for a year, some of whom didn’t know that I had been ill in the meantime. I was surprised how many of them spontaneously commented on how well I was looking! I suspect it is the new hairstyle, but no matter, it really was a boost!

My life and my health are definitely back on track!

Fit for fight…..

June 9, 2010

Happily I can report that my first meeting with the Haematology Dept. at Herlev Hospital yesterday instilled me with a lot more confidence in the Danish Health Service than my last encounter (see my previous post). There is a lot of debate in Denmark at the moment about closing small hospitals in favour of so-called “super-hospitals”. Haematology is a specialism that has already been centralised in only 4 or 5 hospitals in the country and I can only say that I have no problem travelling a bit further if I can be treated in a unit where they are deeply specialised in exactly my illness. Everyone I met in Dept. LA121 had just the right mixture of professionalism, warmth and urgency which bodes well for the next few months!

It suddenly occurred to me yesterday that hanging out in hospitals has now taken over in my life from hanging out in airports/planes! To be honest I’m not that keen on hanging out in either, but choose to look on both as a necessary evil to achieve an objective! And I had a bit of a warm up for hanging out in hospitals when I spent 5 days in a Swiss hospital in February with my daughter who had broken her leg.  

Both hospitals and airports provide excellent opportunities for people watching which is a pastime I do enjoy.  The public you come across in each is a little different, but I can’t help thinking that the ones you see in airports (particularly in business class or the charter tourists downing the beers before their 6 am flights) are just gearing up to be the ones that will later hanging out in hospitals (of course I can see the irony that I have ended up there too!).

Bizarrely, though, hanging out at the hospital makes me feel a lot better about myself. My pulse and my blood pressure provoked exclamations of admiration from both nurses and doctors and I realised they are just not used to dealing with fit people! I felt very pleased with myself when the young (dare, I say cute?) medical student who was having trouble giving me local anaesthetic in my hip (to take a bone marrow biopsy) exclaimed “it’s because you are so amazingly slim!” And as I sat in the blood test waiting room and looked around I felt out of place among the wrinkled, wheelchaired whining flock.

 Yes, I do feel that it is deeply unfair that I got this disease when I am so fit and healthy, but I do also deeply believe that my fitness and healthiness are going to serve me well in enduring and recovering from the coming months of treatment……

What the heck is going on! If I had suggested to anyone 6 months ago that I was worried about the effect volcanoes or illness would have on my chances as a freelancer (bearing in mind that I am the fittest, healthiest 40 something I know!)  they most probably would have thought I was totally paranoid!  

And then what happens? I start my business on 1 April and the work is rolling in all by itself – 3 assignments lined up each for April, May and June.

I already wrote about having to cancel assignment 1 because of our friend the Icelandic volcano

Assignment 2 actually went off without a hitch last week, phew – invoice in the post today!

Assignment 3 was due to be a 4 week trip to Afghanistan in June. And then this week I find out I have a form of cancer called Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and now I have to cancel Afghanistan, plus any other possible trips in the near future….

This, my friends, is not the perfect start-up for a freelancer whose business depends on delivering advisory services out in the big wide world! But to be honest, this does not feel particularly important now that I have bigger fish to fry. It is a total shock to be told you have cancer under any circumstances, but as 40 something health and fitness freak with no symptoms other than a swollen armpit, it is close to surreal. It is not an exaggeration to say that it pretty much dominates my every waking thought at the moment.  

It’s not all bad news. If you’re going to get cancer then Hodgkin’s is a good one to get – it has one of the best cure rates.  Right now I’m waiting for an appointment to go for additional tests to find out the stage of the cancer so as to plan the treatment, which will presumably be chemotherapy. I’m happy to say that all in all I’m feeling optimistic and positive most of the time. The theme of my blog is going to be a little different than originally anticipated now though…

Night sweats……

April 21, 2010

I’m not actually supposed to be sitting in my office at the moment – I’m supposed to be on the other side of the world working. My area of work depends on my spending a fairly large proportion of my time travelling to all kinds of weird and wonderful places. This week I was scheduled to be on my first trip as a freelancer – to a country in the pacific.

I guess everyone who contemplates starting their own business spends more than a little time worrying about the risks. My 4 am panic sessions have been focused around two main themes – “what if I don’t get any work?” and “what if I get too much work?” It never crossed my mind to spend time worrying about “what if I get enough work, but I have to let my clients down (and not make any money) because I can’t leave Denmark because a volcano in Iceland will erupt sending a cloud of dust into the Danish airspace”. 

I mean, what are the chances of that actually happening? And on my very first assignment?

So I spent the weekend glued to the screen following the tracks of the volcano dust, before finally throwing the towel in the ring. Luckily the volcano hype has reached the pacific even if the dust hasn’t so my clients are cool even if my bank account is suffering.

And I can devote my 4 am panic attacks to “will the volcano calm down before my next trip scheduled in 10 days??????”

Hello World!

April 12, 2010

Thank you for joining me for a coffee break! I’m now in week 2 of my new life as a self-employed consultant working from home. After more than 25 years of going out to work every day, I now just head into my home office!

My home office

 So far I’m liking it, but I do miss the social aspect of going to work. I’ve always had friends at work, not just colleagues, and the daily chit chat about life in general is one of the best parts of going to work! So I’ve started this Blog to satisfy some of my chit chat needs!

I’m expecting I’ll want to chat a lot about starting up my business, and the huge lifestyle change that this is for me. But one of the reasons for taking the plunge was to give me more flexibility in my life overall, so I  wouldn’t be surprised if I feel inspired to share on some of the other aspects of my life – my travel experiences, family life and let’s face it…running……..