Tuesday, May 15, 2012

12 Hours of Mesa Verde

Last weekend Shannon and I traveled to Cortez, Colorado for the 12 Hours of Mesa Verde held on the world famous Phil's World trails.  We raced in the co-ed duo category which is basically a 2-person relay race; Shannon races a lap, passes the baton (or clothespin in this case) to me, and I race a lap, and so on for 12-hours.  The team that races the most laps with the fastest time over 12 hours wins.  Although we were gunning for the win, in the end, we came up two minutes short.

In my opinion, though, the weekend was a success.

For me and Shannon, just getting to Mesa Verde was a victory.    This race is incredibly popular and  registration sells out quickly in December.  In 2010, Shannon and I had pre-registered, but we both succumbed to a vicious case of food poisoning the week before the race.  We tried again for 2011, but my cancer treatment interfered with our racing plans.  This year, once again, we added it to our race schedule way back in December and were both determined to not only get to the race, but to race well.

Here's how it went down from my perspective:

Friday we arrived to the venue for an easy pre-ride of the course.  We rode really, really easy.  So easy, in fact, that I tipped over on a ledgy section and have some fun, new bruises as proof.  The course seemed less technical and bumpy than I remembered, but I would regret thinking that by my fourth race lap on the course.  I had two busy and stressful days leading into the race, but race morning I woke up feeling rested, ready, and psyched to race.

We didn't know who our competition was, but I had seen on facebook (the source of all important information) that Jonathan Davis and Eszter Horyani were teaming up so we knew there would be some formidable competition.  Additionally, there were over 400 teams and some 1700 racers all jammed onto a 16-mile singletrack course, so passing became an added element to the race.

Shannon raced the first lap and he turned in a respectable 1:17 although I counted 5 girls go out in front of me, Eszter included, so I knew I had some work to do.

Shannon's quads are still angry that he got to run the LeMans start

I went out hard and within a few minutes I could see two girls in front of me.  I got around Eszter first and was following another girl when she blew a corner and came to a complete stop.  It was easy to do, as the dry spring made the course especially loose and dusty.  I was able to get around her and proceeded down the trail.  A few moments later, she was on my wheel asking if she could get around.  I thought about letting her, but the new, tougher racer in me reconsidered.  I had just caught her and passed her.  I was pretty sure I was riding faster, so I think I mumbled something, accelerated, and proceeded to drop her.  Even though I had pre-ridden the course, a few turns and rocks caught me off guard.  Additionally, I had to contend with a bunch of fast duo-male teams catching and passing this first lap.  Slowing to allow guys to pass this first lap gave me extra sympathy for the solo riders who must have been passed a hundred times by team racers each lap.  I finished my first lap passing four girls.  The one girl I did not catch ended up being in a different team category.

Shannon chillin' with Dizzy between laps

My decent but not astoundingly impressive first lap put us in the lead and gave Shannon a little less than a 2-minute buffer on Jonathan and from here on out our race was pretty exciting.  Shannon came in after his second lap right ahead of Jonathan so Eszter and I were jumping on our bikes and taking off for our second lap together.  I knew I wanted to hit the singletrack first so I attacked right away and was able to gap Eszter pretty early in the lap.  I ended up coming in with about the same gap as after my first lap and Shannon was off with Jonathan not far behind.  This time, though, Jonathan would come in before Shannon.  While everyone else was showing some fatigue and lap times were slowing, Jonathan kept putting down consistent 1:17 laps.  Who does that???

Trying to pump Rib Cage
Photo courtesy: Wild Cat Studios
Smiling after one of my laps

So for lap 3 I was chasing once again.  Just as I was starting to think that I wouldn't catch Eszter this time around, I saw her up ahead on the final climb of the lap.  I attacked as hard as I could and passed her as we were cresting the climb.  It was a pretty narrow spot and she could have easily stuck an elbow out or swerved in front of me to block me, but she did not.  I rode the last downhill smooth, safe, and efficiently and then time trialed the final flat section to the timing tent.  As I handed Shannon the baton (er, clothespin) I told him he only had seconds and to ride fast and smart.  I know Shannon raced his very hardest, but that dang Jonathan put down another 1:17 and gave Eszter a 5-minute head-start going into what would be our final lap.

Sprinting to my bike for my 4th and final lap

I knew a five-minute gap would be difficult to close, but I enjoyed the chase and never gave up as I desperately passed what felt like a zillion solo racers who at this point had been riding in circles around Phil's World for eleven some hours and were probably pretty sick of being passed.  Thank you everyone for appeasing my desperate pleas and allowing me to pass!  In the end, I came up two minutes short.

The first time we saw each other all day (besides transitions)

Podium shot

Even though we didn't 'win', the weekend was pretty incredible.  The battle between me and Shannon & Eszter and Jonathan was well fought and made for the most fun and definitely exciting team race I have ever done.  I'll take an epic battle with a second place finish over a boring win any day.  It was also a weekend full of friends.  We had a group of about fifty Salt Lake City racers who traveled down to Cortez to race; some raced solo, some duo, and some mostly hung out and drank beer between the occasional lap.  The mutual support was incredible.  But, when I reflect, what was the most meaningful about the weekend was the contrast from last year.  This same weekend last year, I underwent my 2nd chemotherapy treatment, my hair was falling out in chunks so we shaved it, and I could only day dream about racing my bike.  This year, I was duking it out with some pretty amazing racers (and people for that matter) for the top step of the podium.  My journey back to racing has not been easy.   It has taken self-reflection, dedication to a new lifestyle, belief in myself, lots of support from my awesome hubbie, and a whole lot of hard work.  Definitely worthy of a future blog post.


  1. Woohoo! So happy for you! :)

  2. You don't know me but I found your blog since I was searching for athletes and cancer. I am a runner and a road biker and was diagnosed with breast cancer December 2011. Right now I am a bald breast cancer patient who is almost done chemo. A far cry from who I thought I was last year! So many of your thoughts resonate with me! Just wanted to say. . . YOU GO GIRL! Your pics look awesome and I love your dedication and zeal for life! I would love to hear from you over email sometime. . . . KEEP THOSE WHEELS TURNING!

    1. Renae, I'd love to chat via email, or telephone, or whatever! My email is jennshan1@msn.com. Hope you are doing well and take care of yourself! Jen.

  3. This was a great read Jen! Way to go, I think I was one of the solo people you had to pass so hopefully I moved out of your way swiftly. Congratulations on all your accomplishments this year. I'm so glad you are on the bike and loving it, you're an inspiration!!!!