Monday, December 28, 2015

This is one way to celebrate a 5-year cancerversary

On January 25, 2011 I received the diagnosis of Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.  Here is a link to my first ever breast cancer blog post.  A lot has happened since 2011.  I had four surgeries and chemo.  Went into remission for two years before being diagnosed with an axillary recurrence.  I then underwent surgery two more times, more chemo, and radiation.  I have also ridden my bike for hundreds and hundreds of hours and over 10,000 miles!

On January 25, 2016, exactly 5-years from my first diagnosis, Shannon and I will be in Chile lining up for the TransAndes Challenge, a six-day mountain bike stage race.

I wish I could say that I am celebrating five years in REMISSION, but that darn 2013 recurrence has put a blemish in my record.  I AM celebrating being five years out, healthy, strong, and still in remission despite my recurrence!

There are lots of words I can use to describe my emotions about this, but mostly I am just feeling focused and determined to be prepared as best I can for a 6-day stage race in January while living in Park City, Utah with temperatures hovering sub-10 degrees right now!  That and a whole lot of excitement!

At TransAndes, Shannon and I will be racing as a co-ed duo team similar to how we raced at TransAlp in 2007 and TransRockies in 2008.  Although Shannon is much faster on the bike than I, we must stay within 2 minutes of each other throughout throughout the race.  Shannon's job is to help me go as fast as I can.  He will carry the majority of our equipment to keep my load light.  He will stop at feed zones and replenish water and food for both of us while I blow through; then he will chase me down and pass me food.  My job is to keep moving as fast as I can!  Our goal is to race hard, soak in the experience, and have fun!

I can honestly say that this race has intrigued me since I first heard about it years ago.  The inaugural TransAndes race was in 2009 and in 2012 they had a booth set up at Interbike (a trade show).   Shannon and I joked about doing it; maybe in 2014..... When my recurrence happened in 2013 I had serious doubts my body would ever recover enough to race a 6-day stage race.   Last year, as I gained confidence in my body, I started to watch airfare prices to Chile via daily email notifications.  Last June, prices dropped by a few hundred dollars and with the click of a button our joking about racing TransAndes became a reality.  It really was that easy!

Now for the harder part; preparing for a January stage race in the midst of a harsh Park City winter.  We are fortunate that St. George is a short 4 hour drive South and we've been able to do training camps over Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks. We have also had to put in our fair share of cold winter rides up North.  I am a cold WIMP!!!  I pretty much run cold all day long, but have figured out ways to make riding in sub 20 degrees pleasant.....well at least tolerable.  I will do a whole post on winter riding gear/tricks, but in the meantime, here are a few photos.....

The countdown begin.  We leave in just over 3 weeks!

Some winter riding photos

Snowbikes packed down the snow enough that I was able to ride my standard 29er hardtail on trails!

In this photo my 29er is converted to what I call a "chubby" bike.  
I used 27.5" rims w/ 3.0/2.8" tires. This works great for most snow conditions.  

With consecutive days of 2 feet+ of snowfall, 
dirt roads are now completely snow covered in Park City.  
On this particular day the snow on this road was a bit deep for my set-up.  

We traved to St. George, Utah for the Holidays and one final training camp before leaving for Chile

Dizzy always travels with us!  The hardest part about going to Chile will be leaving him.  
Fortunately one of his non-fur (human)  buddies will be staying at the house and taking care of him. 

Although temperatures are about 30 degrees warmer down South, 
we were still able to find some snow

I never tire of the views.  Southern Utah is truly a special place.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Purpose2Play interview

I was recently interviewed for the online magazine Purpose2Play.  Purpose2Play reports on "positive  and powerful stories based on good intention".  Editor-in-chief, Kim Constantinensco, interviewed me and the result was a detailed description of my diagnos(es), subsequent treatments, and how I continued to ride and return to racing as Pro mountain bike athlete.  I was honored to be interviewed and one of Purpose2Play's top October stories.  My story has already been shared on Facebook almost 500 times!  Here's the link and some recent riding photos on my beautiful Pivot Mach4Carbon.  As I watch the snow fly outside my window,  these beautiful Fall days a few short weeks ago seem like a distant memory!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

ESPN-W Story

A few weeks ago I received a message from Kelly O'Mara a writer with ESPN-W about doing an interview.  I agreed and we chatted on the phone for about 30 minutes on a Friday morning.   A few days later she contacted me asking if Shannon would be available to talk with her.  They spoke for another 30 minutes.

I have been interviewed a few times and it has always been question and answer.  This was different. Kelly was given the task to write my story, and I was interested to see how she interpreted the conversations.  Well, Kelly absolutely nailed it.  Not only was she able to accurately tell my story, but somehow she also captured an essence of who I am and how I feel about this whole breast cancer thing.  She didn't stick to the stereotypical breast cancer taglines like how I "beat" cancer or "won" the fight, which by the way, aren't terms that reflect how I feel.  Even the title "How Mountain Biker Jen Hanks rode out cancer, twice" is perfect.   And even though it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month aka October, the story wasn't pink washed.

So without further ado, here it is! 

I also provided a "typical" anti-cancer/healthy athlete meal.  Most of my dinners are some sort of variation of this.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Dipping the toes......

2015 has had its ups and downs.  I am going to focus on the ups because they are just more fun to talk about and certainly more on topic.

First, my routine MRI came back negative.  This means ALL CLEAR!  Despite this being "routine" I admit to having some (haha.  understatement of the year) scanxiety as I am at ~2 years out from my recurrence; approximately the same amount of time between my original diagnosis and recurrence.  It was a HUGE relief!

I also had some notable races this summer.  First up was the Brian Head 50 miler in Brian Head, UT.    7000+ feet of climbing over nearly 50 miles at 10,000 feet elevation was no joke.  The Pro class was devised of primarily strong Utah locals.   My race was fairly uneventful as I raced in 2nd place off the gun and finished in 2nd nearly five hours later.  The highlight was that my climbing legs were alive and well and my radiated lungs handled the high elevation well.  The challenging, rugged, and technical course added to my stoke!

The wildflowers in Brian Head perfectly match my bike!

Brian Head podium

Last weekend was the Park City Point to Point.  The PCP2P is a point to point race that climbs over 14,000 vertical feet over 75+ miles of single track while traversing 3 ski resorts (Deer Valley, Park City, The Canyons).  With a large pro payout it attracts some of the fastest ultra endurance racers in the country.

I know how hard the race is.  I raced it pre-cancer in 2010.  After my diagnosis and especially after my recurrence I swore off doing races this challenging.  As silly as it sounds with all the racing I do, for a while I truly didn't think my body could tolerate this challenge and a small part of me maybe thought it was not healthy for me.  Well Dr. Irwin put my 'bad for my health' concern to rest and I have come to the conclusion that the mind is stronger than the body.  I wanted to race the P2P so I was going to race it!

Despite the 4:45AM alarm, I slept solidly the night before the race.  While I love to sleep, I'm not sure this is a good thing as often my best races are after a crummy night of sleep.  Go figure!  I woke up happy, excited to race, and pleased that the overnight cloud cover resulted in a relatively warm Fall morning in the mountains.

It was still dark when I arrived to the start.  I was happy to be greeted by Shannon. 

While the temperature was mild, the wind was howling.  Unfortunately the wind was out of the West, which meant we would have a head wind for the majority of the race.  My race started down the Round Valley bike path at a mellow pace.  Once we hit the dirt, the speed ramped up.  I rode conservatively as I didn't want to redline this early in the race and sabotage finishing.   Round Valley is my least favorite part of the race.  The sun is still blindingly low and the Expert male racers are all amped up making sketchy passes.  Once we hit Skid Row and started heading to the ski resorts I found my climbing rhythm and started passing some of those over-eager dudes back.  I chugged along at a nice pace until the first feed.

My feed was super quick (huge shout out to my stellar support) and I was on my way climbing up Team Big Bear.  I immediately noticed the heaviness of my pack and food on the steep climb to Guardsmen (Note to self:  consider taking feed at Guardsmen instead of Silver Lake).  Additionally, my stomach became a bit angry and while not debilitating, it was annoying.  This lasted the next couple hours, but I marched along.  By the time I got to Shadow Lake, my stomach felt better, I had been refreshed by some cool mountain rain, and there was a nice, long downhill to look forward to.  Finally the wind was at my back.  I sailed into the 2nd feed at Park City Mountain Resort and was greeted and cheered on by my hubby, Mom, and support.  I had so much happiness to have made it this far and I was confident I could finish the race.
 Stocking up at the final feed of the day

I exited the feed and climbed the mean little kicker of a climb before I started ascending the final sustained climb of the day.

"mean little kicker of a climb" out of the final feed zone

At this point I was over 6 hours into the race and all the power was zapped from my legs.  I felt like I was crawling up Armstrong trail and rocky sections I usually glide over stopped me.  When the trail turned down, I let off the brakes and let my Pivot Mach4 roll. The last hour or so of the race I battled the climbs and then descended the rocky Canyons Resort trails as fast as my tired body would allow.  I arrived to the finish at the Canyons in 8:47; a little slower than my goal time of 8:30, but respectable and good enough for 8th place overall in a stacked women's field.  It only took me about 5 minutes after I finished to decide I would be back to try and better my performance.

It was great being greeted by my Mom at the finish! 

I have done quite a few 50-milers since my cancer diagnosis, but the P2P was the first time I have wet my toes in ultra endurance racing since 2010.  Although I was a few minutes shy of my goal time, what I am most excited about is my recovery after the race.  Recovery has been one of my biggest challenges since cancer treatment, and I feel that my post P2P recovery has been right on track.  With the 2016 race season around the corner, I am excited to wet my entire feet in some ultras!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Having a full head of hair never gets old

It's true.  After having lost my hair twice in the past five years, there have only been a few months  where the reflection in the mirror looks like me.   I'm just starting to get to that point again and it really doesn't get old!  Even though I love that my hair is growing out-chemo curls and all- Dizz still steals the show with his good looks!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


I often say that my race performance is a litmus test for my health.  Correlating race performance to being cancer free is such a bad idea on so many levels, I get it, but I can't help it.  Those deep thoughts can be the topic for another blog......Last weekend, I experienced a different litmus test.  I crashed my bike.  Hard.  On pavement.  About 30 seconds into a race.  And I didn't break a bone!

Crashing hard on pavement is brutal and can result in broken bones no matter how solid your bones are.  Due to cancer treatment my bones aren't the most solid.  I don't know exactly when I developed osteopenia.  Likely after my first round of chemo in 2011 or my second round in 2013.  I do know that in 2007 I had a bone density scan that showed beautifully strong bones and by 2013 I had osteopenia.  If you are a numbers person, here are my numbers:

11/2007 11/2013 11/2014
Lumbar spine T-Score: 1.2 T-Score: -.8 T-Score: -.9
Total hip T-Score: .4 T-Score: -.3 T-Score: -.3
Femoral neck of hip T-Score: no score T-Score: -1.6 T-Score: -1.5

What do T-Scores mean?

Normal:  T-Score: > -1
Osteopenia: T-Score: -2.5- -1.0
Osteoporosis: T-Score: < -2.5

Fast forward to 2013.  I had undergone chemotherapy in 2011 and again in 2013.   Bone loss is a side effect of chemo AND I was also about to have an oophorectomy and start an Aromatose Inhibitor (AI) which can result in rapid bone loss.  So we did a bone density scan to get a baseline prior to surgery.  My numbers had tanked from 2007.  My lumbar spine and hip thinned significantly and the femoral neck of my hip now had osteopenia.  Darn it!  I hadn't even had the oophorectomy or started the AI.  The good news is that one year later, after adding consistent running and weights to my training regimen, my bone density remained steady despite the oophorectomy and AI.  Clearly what I am doing is helping.....

Back to my litmus test.  If there is any upside to a high impact crash that left me with (temporarily) debilitating road rash is the fact that I now know my body is still strong enough to sustain a high impact crash.  That said, I have no intention of going out and crashing hard anytime soon. After my crash,  I dug deep, ignored the pain, and went on the finish the two hour race!

Here are some photos from the race.  I raced my brand new Pivot Mach4.  Fortunately the bike was not injured in the crash:)

All smiles before the start

I was pretty emotionless this race.  Trying to suppress the pain from my crash.

The rock garden was the most fun part of the course on the Mach4 

Smooth as butter

Duking it out with my good friend 

 Moved up from dead last 30 seconds in to 4th.  One minute off the podium.  

Friday, April 17, 2015

A day on the bike is always better....

I am in the midst of 3-consecutive weekends of traveling and racing.  I usually try to limit my traveling/racing to two weekends/month max.  Working, traveling, and racing can be a bit exhausting and my performance usually reflects this.  At the same time there is no other way I would prefer to spend my time, and I was soooo bummed after missing out on True Grit last month due to my untimely 12-hour flu.  Since there are 3 super fun races all within a 5 hour drive, I decided that I would just go for it in April.

Weekend 1:  ICUP #2 (XC):  Cholla Challenge

I went into this race feeling great.  Training was solid and I slept perfectly the night before.  The course was quite possibly the best Green Valley race course ever put together.  After a solid start and a series of mistakes that may or may not have cost me a few positions, I finished a respectable ho-hum 4th.  I had very little time to reflect on this performance as I barely had enough time to finish my recovery drink before my family arrived to town for the Easter weekend.  We spent the rest of the weekend hiking around Zion and Snow Canyon with some early morning rides thrown in.

The Pivot Mach429 is smooth as butta' on the rocky desert terrain Photo: Lori Leger
 I spend a lot of time in the desert and the scenery continues to blow me away
Photo: Angie Harker
Yeah!  Droppin' the 'A' line
Photo: Angie Harker

 Photo: Angie Harker
Photo: Angie Harker
Not my best race, but still a smile on my face!
Photo:  Lisa Palmer Leger
Photo: Angie Harker

Weekend 2:  ICUP #3 (EXC):  Thaw Massacre:  

My post race recovery plan of hiking after the Cholla Challenge didn't exactly feel ideal and all week, despite an easy training schedule, my legs were throbbing.  After a mediocre night's sleep before the race, my legs were still throbbing before I even got on the bike.  Despite this, I have enough experience to know that there is not always a correlation between pre-race legs and race legs so I was optimistic for a turn-around once the racing began.  Since this was my first marathon distance race (40 miler) of the year and I didn't have an opportunity to pre-ride the course, my plan was to keep my pace manageable off the start and focus on looking ahead and scanning the technical trail.  Smooth, efficient, no costly mistakes.  The plan seemed to work because just a few miles in I found myself in 2nd where I remained for the rest of the 4-hour race.  The 2nd lap was crazy hard as the rough terrain was taking a toll on my body and fatigue was setting in, but I was able to clear my mind and zone out the pain and fatigue, until I crossed the finish line, where I basically was non-functional for ~20 minutes!  My experience with cancer has taught me to keep moving forward no matter how I feel or what my body is going through.  No matter how my body feels, it is always better to go for a bike ride than not go for a bike ride.  On the worst days, it is always better to get out of bed than to stay in bed.  In comparison, finishing a hard bike race is actually quite simple.

Looking pretty serious on the start line
Photo: Angie Harker
Looking forward to a long, rough day in the saddle
Photo: Angie Harker
 My Pivot eats up Moab's rocks
Photo: Angie Harker
Check out my baby pony-tail.  This is very exciting for me!
Photo: Angie Harker

 Sticking to my plan of looking ahead and scanning the terrain.
Photo: Angie Harker
The 7 consecutive miles of slick rock on Circle 0 felt especially rough lap 2, 
but the scenery certainly made up for it!  
Photo:  Angie Harker
Podium!!!  Yes that is a hard earned wad-o-cash!  
Keeping my winnings close:)  
It has been interesting paying for everything with singles this week.  

Weekend 3:  Today Shannon and I are heading back to St. George for the 6 Hours of Frog Hollow where we will race as a duo relay team.  The course is crazy fun, the competition stiff, and it is yet to be determined how my legs will feel.  No matter what the results, a weekend on the bike is ALWAYS better than a weekend off......

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Racing is hard. Not racing is harder.

Last weekend I headed to the Desert for the first ICUP cross-country race of the year.  The season is still young, and this was a tuner for this weekend's 50-miler True Grit Epic.

The tuner went great!  It was a relatively large Pro Women's field and my expectations were, well, I didn't have expectations.  I just wanted to ride as hard as I could, have fun, and see where I ended up.    I ended up in 2nd place which was a solid start to the season!

Photo: Angie Harker
Photo: Angie Harker
Photo:  Angie Harker

On Sunday, feeling surprisingly recovered, I dialed in my favorite parts of the True Grit race course.  I returned home to Salt Lake for a few days of work that were relatively unstressful and felt good on the bike everyday.  Wednesday night I went to bed feeling great only to wake up five hours later feverish, nauseous, and vomiting.  It was an ugly 12 hours; uglier than chemo!  By Thursday afternoon, my fever had broken and I was able to eat some food, but the damage was done.  In less than 12 hours I lost 3 pounds.  Not good!  Nor ideal prep two days before a challenging 50-miler in the hot desert!

I spoke to my coach and she asked me what my thoughts were about racing.  Honestly, at that point I couldn't fathom racing 4+ hours in 48 hours.  I responded that if I woke up Friday feeling good I would consider it.  She shut me down:)  Heck, it's March.  There is so much racing (and training) to be done.  I don't need to start the season in a deficit!

I have no idea why I got sick.  All I know is that it was bad timing.  As bummed as I am to miss True Grit, I am equally excited about the rest of the season.  I have put together a super fun and exciting 2015 race season and I am really, really looking forward to the April racing!  Bring it!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

24 Hours of Ole' Pueblo

I'm the first to admit that I'm not the biggest fan of 24-hour racing.  I like to sleep at night almost as much as I like to race my bike.  Almost......  24 Hours of Old Pueblo may be the one exception.

With over 3000 people congregating in the middle of the desert just north of Tucson, Arizona, 24 Hours of Old Pueblo is the biggest 24-hour race on the planet.  Ok.  I don't know for sure if it is the biggest 24-hour race on the planet, but it just may be!  And the race vibe was fantastic!

Shannon and I flew into Phoenix Thursday night.  We ended up staying at a hotel in Phoenix and getting some much needed sleep before driving the two hours to the race venue on Friday.   We spun out our legs on the race course and quickly learned that what the course lacked in technical terrain, it made up for in precarious cacti just waiting for you to let your guard down, get too close, and impale you.

There are no meadows of flowers at Old Pueblo.  Just meadows of cacti!  

Totally not kidding about the danger cacti.  Our race bag came with a cacti extractor (aka hair pick).

It's all about technique.
The proper way to use the cactus extractor to extract a cactus.  

Shannon and I teamed up with some of the Pivot crew on a 5-person co-ed team.  And while we didn't know who our teammates were until the morning of the race, we couldn't have asked for a better team dynamic or more fun crew to race with!  

After 24 hours of racing, perfect weather, jockeying between 2nd and 4th, and some late night strategizing and calculations that was downright comical with our fatigue, we rolled in in 3rd place.  While the result was fun and exciting, the highlight of the weekend was most definitely spending time with new and old friends alike.

The course was lined for the Lemans start
The Pivot Pro posse on the podium

Another highlight of the weekend was visiting Pivot headquarters in Phoenix.  I have no photos because what goes on there is top secret (not exactly:), however I will say this: A LOT of heart, soul, love, and pride goes into every single bike.  It is no wonder that Pivot bikes ride so well!  I am honored to be a small part of this extraordinary family!

In other news, I received this message after Friday's "routine" mammogram:

I think I will have a great weekend!