Wednesday, September 14, 2016

2016 race season wrap-up

I recently wrapped up my 2016 mountain bike race season.  This one was special for so many reasons.

It started with a trip to Chile for the 6-day TransAndes stage race.  This happened to coincide with with the 5-year anniversary of my original breast cancer diagnosis.  I have already written about this trip so I won't repeat myself, but Chile was quite the memorable experience.  I hope to duplicate the adventure many times in new (to us) countries!

After Chile, I didn't miss a beat and pushed through 8 more months of racing.  Total stats for the season were approximately 800 miles of mountain bike racing in ~80 hours!  4 wins and lots of podium finishes.  While the season results were great, I am most proud and pleased that my body held up beautifully.  I did not succumb to a single illness or injury all season....not even a cold.  I am grateful for good coaching and nutritional support.  I am most grateful for a body that has been poisoned by chemicals, radiation, and surgeries, yet keeps bouncing back.   I love this resilient body of mine!

It would be misleading to say that nothing has changed with my body from cancer treatment.  I have had two rounds of chemo (2011, 2013), radiation, and countless surgeries.  I need to take lymphedema precautions and some body parts don't work the same.  I was also forced into surgical menopause at the tender age of 38 which comes with its own set of challenges.  I continue to take a cancer medication that depletes my body of estrogen and thins my bones.  However I have not been good at just accepting the new normal.  I strive to defy it and push my body to be its old self.  

While I don't like to give unsolicited advice to others, here are a few mantras I find useful for myself:  

Never give up.  Never give in.  
Be kind to my myself. 
Winning lies in trying more than results. 
No excuses.
Find peace and happiness in what I do everyday.  

My short off season will be full of beautiful Fall mountain bike rides, skills practice, hiking and trail running with Dizzy, weight workouts to balance out the imbalances from the repetitive action of riding/racing my bike for thousands of miles this year, stretching, and after a long season of training a welcome lack of structure.  

Spending time with my BDF during the off season

Here are some memorable photos from the season:

 On the start line of the Park City Point to Point  
My final race of the season
75 miles, 10,000+ feet of elevation gain.  8.5 hours race time. 

 Crossing the finish line at the Park City Point to Point in 6th place Pro Women

 Shannon and Me after Pierre's Hole 100k in Grand Targhee, Idaho
 On my way to the win at the Wasatch Back 50.  Jordanelle in the background
Top step of the podium for me and my Pivot Mach429SL at the Wasatch Back 50

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Learning about Lymphedema

As an Occupational Therapist, I learned about Lymphedema in school.  As a breast cancer patient, I became at risk.  This past week I attended the continuing education seminar, "Practical Applications of Manual Lymphatic Therapy: Enhancing Patient Outcomes in a Variety of Care Settings".  Not only did I get some CEUs for my OT licensure, but I brushed up on current research and treatment for lymphedema.  

What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is a condition of localized fluid retention and tissue swelling caused by a compromised lymphatic system, which normally returns interstitial fluid to the thoracic duct and then the bloodstream.

What does it look like?

Here are 10 take-home points from the seminar:

1. Lymph nodes serve as a vacuum to pull fluid through vessels. They also cleanse and purify our body and stimulate WBC production. When compromised through removal and/or radiation fluid build-up can occur.
2. Lymphedema occurs in 25% of breast cancer patients.
3. There is no cure for lymphedema. There is treatment.
4. Manual lymph massage can be very effective. To a certain extent, fluid can be re-routed to other, stronger lymph nodes. I do a quick lymph drainage massage every night.
5. The latest research supports no limit on exercise! The key is to gradually build the duration and intensity of any new exercise.
6. If swelling is present, wear a compression garment while exercising. If no swelling, compression is optional. Yay me! I hate compression sleeves when it is hot out.
7. Protect affected area from sunburn, abrasions, and constriction. I will continue to wear my sun sleeve while mountain biking. Partially to protect my arm from the sun, partially to protect it from abrasions from rubbing up against trees/crashes.
8. Clean and apply antibiotic cream immediately to any cuts/abrasions to reduce infection risk.
9. Stretch the crap out of affected limb. Scar tissue build up and adhesions will further compromise any remaining lymph nodes after surgery/radiation
10. A great position paper on exercise and lymphedema:

**If you do have lymphedema secondary to breast cancer treatment, I recommend seeing a Certified Lymphedema Therapist (CLT). They have over 100 hours of specific training whereas a "therapist trained in Manual Lymph Drainage" can have as little as 6 hours of training**

Monday, May 16, 2016

3 years, my soapbox, and all things bike!

Today I am celebrating 3 years of remission! Three years is a HUGE milestone, but my motto is every single day that ticks by that I'm in remission is worth celebrating!

What's not worth celebrating is the (too) many women who are not in remission and have progressed to Stage IV breast cancer, for which there is NO CURE.  I am finding myself becoming more and more of an advocate and supporter for increased awareness and research funding for Stage IV breast cancer and here's a few reasons why:
-30% of early stage breast cancers will progress to Stage IV (metastatic breast cancer).  So while this affects me personally, it also affects many of my close friends that I have met through breast cancer.  I will repeat.  There is NO CURE for Stage IV breast cancer.
-While 30% of early stage breast cancers will progress to Stage IV, only 2% of all breast cancer research funding goes toward investigating Stage IV breast cancer.
-Each year ~40,000 women (and men) die from Stage IV breast cancer.  Despite progress in treatment, this number has remained virtually unchanged for 30 years!

Ok.  Off my soapbox and back to bike racing!

This Spring has been exceptionally full.  Since my last post I got a new race bike, raced a ton, bought a travel van, and was featured on Reebok's blog!

I'll start with the new bike since everything seems to be centered around biking.  I am the lucky new owner of a Pivot Mach429SL.  This is quite possibly the fastest and most fun bike in the world and I am so grateful to Pivot Cycles for their support.

My new ride is a sweet one!  Pivot Mach429SL

I am also grateful to my other supporters including:  DNA Cycling, Stan's NoTubes, Go-Ride bike shop, Xpedo pedals, Kask helmets, Ergon, Bliz eyewear,  HoneyStinger, Shimano, and Carborocket!

In addition to the new bike, Shannon and I purchased a travel van.  We weren't exactly in the market for a new van especially since one of my personal goals is to declutter and simplify.  Having a driveway full of vehicles isn't exactly in line with that, but this particular van was a better deal and in better condition than I thought possible so we are chalking it up to a 'happiness investment'.  It already has seen many adventures!

Our new 'home' on wheels.  2012 Nissan NV high top.  
#vanlife is freakin' awesome! 

Over the past few months racing adventures have taken me back to St. George and Moab, Utah as well as Prescott, Arizona.   I have even had a few podium appearances!

 3rd place podium at NUE True Grit Epic 50 miler.
My legs were just okay for this race, but strong enough for a podium! 

 Finish line high 5s

 2nd place podium at Moab's Thaw Massacre marathon race

 Carving between the rocks at Thaw Massacre

 Dizzy dog enjoying Moab's desert

 Post-race shenanigans  in Moab

20 miles into Epic Rides Whiskey 50 where I finished 17th in a heavy-hitting pro field
Prescott, Arizona is unique scenery and nice climate,
although it rained most of the weekend we were there

Finally,  Reebok contacted me wanting to share my story on their fitness blog.  Over the course of a few weeks I put 'my story' into words.  I won't deny that this process was emotionally taxing, but hopefully my story will help dispel the myth that women should sleep and rest through cancer treatment.  I can't tell you how many people encouraged me to do just that!  And it's not just little 'ol me telling folks to exercise, there is solid research showing that exercise not only helps you tolerate treatment better but also reduces risk of recurrence.   And for folks not undergoing cancer treatment, maybe my story will motivate a few to get out and exercise!  You can read my story here:  Reebok blog

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Off to the races!

At TransAndes my body proved that it is now able to recover from consecutive days of racing.  Post TransAndes my body proved that it wouldn't shut down after a stage race.  You know how sometimes you are able to will your body through something just to have it crash and get sick once the event is over.  Well, that can happen post big races.  Cancer treatment exacerbates it.

The week after TransAndes I took it easy, but the following week I was back on the road to compete with the Pivot Burrito Factory team at 24 Hours of Old Pueblo in Tuscan, Arizona.   While I wouldn't say that I was 100% recovered from TransAndes, I was pretty close, and good enough to help our team win the overall in the 5-person co-ed category!

Photo:  PinkBike

While the racing at Old Pueblo is fun, the vibe of the venue is unmatched.  Old Pueblo's "24-Hour Town" is home to over 3500 people in the middle of the desert for the weekend.   The scene is often compared to mountain biking's equivalent to Burning Man.  I'm still working on getting the campfire smell out of my clothes.....

Here are some photos from the weekend:
 The LeMans (running) start is mayhem

 Sunsets in the desert can't be beat! 
24-Hour Town games:  Tire toss

After Old Pueblo, I had two weekends back home to recover and train before traveling to St. George for the Intermountain Cup season opener.  My early season fitness paid off with a convincing win in the Pro Women category!  

 This was my first ICUP (Intermountain Cup) win since before my recurrence in 2013!
Game face

 While there were a few rocky sections, the majority of the course was fast and smooth 
making it the perfect course for a 29er hardtail.
After winning the first lap prime and the race, I was rewarded with a fistful of $$!  
(Note: sneak peak to my newly build Pivot Mach429SL.  I am in LOVE!!)

While winning is exciting, I think I am most excited about the fact that my body is tolerating and responding to my ambitious early season racing.  I was concerned that I may come back from Chile broken, but instead I returned with an early season fitness that I have not experienced before.  2016 is off to a great start!

Monday, February 8, 2016

TransAndes: The Race

I have been racing for a long time and have had the opportunity to compete in some great events in amazing places.  TransAndes was such a great experience that it has shot right up to the top of my list! Read on for the race story or just check out the photos!

Stage 1:
Shannon and I didn't really have a strategy going into the race. No expectations.  Just have fun.  We kind of talked about not going too hard on Day 1 to allow ourselves to get our bearings and not burn all our matches from the get-go.  We got to the starting line early and lined up toward the front.  We had a clean, safe start for a few minutes until someone swerved into me and I swerved into Shannon causing him to crash off the side of the road.   Oops.  I could tell he was okay and kept going telling him to catch up.  Maybe not the most compassionate thing to do, but definitely the best strategy.  Despite what felt like a solid start, we had enough racers in front of us to cause us to come to a complete standstill as we hit the single track.  Things were slow moving for the next 20 or so minutes as minutes ticked by and racers who got a clean line through the single track were riding away.  Things got downright ridiculous when we got to the first suspension bridge.   On the far side of the suspension bridge there was a wood ramp that was too slippery to ride.....and even to walk down.  This was causing a traffic jam on the bridge where we were essentially stopped for minutes.  All we could do was wait in line, take the time to recover, and enjoy the beauty that surrounded us.  With ~30 riders on the bridge, I am glad that I didn't find out that the maximum weight capacity was 6 riders until later that night! Yikes!

 The 6-person capacity suspension bridge lined with racers. You can't tell from the photo but when there are more than a few riders on the suspension bridges they
sway from side to side so much they are impossible to ride!

The view from the suspension bridge.  
These are the only two photos Shannon took while racing the entire week.
After this it was all business.  

Once we got across the suspension bridge, the trail widened up and the real racing began.  Not long after, we caught up to another co-ed team of Chilean's ChiChi Garcia and Claus Plaut.  We raced with them for a couple of miles until they attacked and ultimately dropped us at the top of a climb.  That night we learned that it was ChiChi and Claus' 8th TransAndes.  Note to self: When they attack on a climb it means a downhill is coming up.  They did this to us time after time throughout the week.  After 72 kilometers and over 2300 meters of climbing, we ended up finishing the stage happy, hungry, and surprised to be in 3rd place.  TransAndes does not ease you into the racing.....but there was a hearty lunch waiting for us at the finish!  

Stage 2: 
Day 2 was another cloudy day.  We knew getting a solid start would be important as the suspension bridge once again came early in the stage.  Today's stage was a mere 47 km with 2150 meters of elevation gain in one big climb.  My legs were a bit flat on this day which wasn't really a surprise because Day2 of stage racing has historically been the hardest for me.  My body seems to be fatigued from a hard day racing but not yet adapted to the stage racing routine.  After a mediocre start and some bad luck letting racers get between us and our competition we spent the first half of the stage chasing down another Chilean co-ed team of Maria Paz Lizama and Eugenio Parra.  We finally caught them midway through the stage and climbed them off our wheels.  Soon after we overtook ChiChi and Claus only to have them pass us back on the descent.  Once again we finished the day on the podium in 3rd.  

The first few days of racing were overcast and chilly.
I actually think this benefitted us to acclimate to warmer temps.
(Photo: TransAndes)

Day 3:  It started raining in the evening and didn't let up all night or morning.  Today was to be the longest stage of the race where we raced 97 km from Huilo Huilo over a volcano to Catripulli.  Shannon and I left our cabana dressed in all our rain gear and rode the 2km in the pouring rain to the venue.  We then packed up our race bags and loaded them in the race truck to be transported to Catripulli.  It never occurred to us that the stage may be cancelled, but as we hung out in the breakfast tent we heard rumors of "suspension".  Soon after, the race director announced that Stage 3 would be postponed to the following day.  We would continue the stage race one day behind schedule and the final stage, a 12 km time trial, would be cancelled.  Although I was geared up for a long day of racing in the the rain, as soon as it was announced that the stage was postponed I happily went back to the cabana and sat by the fire to warm up. Since we were now a day behind schedule I had to figure out how to contact our cabana in Pucon (where the race ended) so they would not cancel our reservation when we did not show up.  
Cozy by the fire in our cabana  

Stage 3:  We woke up Thursday to blue skies.  Our 'rest' day had served my body well and I was feeling fresh and ready to race.  Today we were actually going to get to race from Huilo Huilo to Catripulli.  We once again packed up our race bags and hauled them to the race truck for transport.

Teamwork goes beyond racing
(Photo: TransAndes)

The first 8km  of the stage was 'neutral' as we traveled a gradual downward sloping gravel road with construction randomly scattered throughout.  It was sketchy and felt dangerous.  I mentally shut down
a few times and wanted to back off but Shannon would 'encourage' me to stay with the leaders.

This photo shows the racers haulin' down the road and running into construction
Photo:  TransAndes

As soon as we hit the 'safe' trails my legs were on fire and I immediately worked my way around the Maria and Eugenio and then ChiChi and Claus.  Midway through the stage we caught our Portuguese friend, Pedro, and rode with him up the enormous climb.  I thought perhaps we would stay away from ChiChi and Claus, but their tactical savy and descending speed once again got the best of us.  We rolled into the finish once again in 3rd at in 5hours18minutes just a few minutes behind ChiChi and Claus, however the damage was really done on Maria and Eugenio who finished almost 40 minutes back.

Sucking wheel
(Photo: TransAndes)

Catripulli was beautiful....and warm.  We found the perfect tent in the shade and chowed down a big lunch.  After awards we settled into our tent and quickly fell asleep only to be awakened by these crazy noisy birds.  Even with my earplugs, these were the noisiest, most rambunctious....and nocturnal birds I had ever heard.  I joked that I was going to yell all day to keep them up in revenge.  Surely they must sleep sometime!  Needless to say, we (along with most the other campers) did not get a restful night sleep.

Not a bad view from the camp

Stage 4:  We were warned that although Stage 3 was the longest, Stage 4 would be the hardest.  While there was a boatload of steep climbing, I respectfully disagree.  Stage 3 was harder!  The day started with us heading out of Catripulli with another long 'neutral' start.  Once again it was sketchy.  We were traveling along a road shared with cars and were supposed to stay to the right of cones.  Impatient racers trying to improve their position would swing outside the cones, play chicken with oncoming traffic, and then swing back into the group causing it to be a dangerous mess with cones flying everywhere.  The group was still tight together once the real racing began and I narrowly missed a pileup.  I was sitting on someone's wheel and decided to move to the left of him.  A second later another rider hooked bars with him and they both went down.  Soon after we hit what was referred to as "The Wall", a 1.5+ km hike-a-bike.  I don't really consider myself good at hike-a-bikes, but on this day I was; perhaps all the hiking I do with Dizzy is paying off!  We passed handfuls of racers up the hike-a-bike including both the co-ed teams that we raced closely with each day.  Despite getting a bit of a gap early in the stage, ChiChi and Claus caught up with us somewhere along the descent and once again finished just a few minutes in front.  Maria and Eugenio once again finished a few minutes behind. This stage was especially cool because we rode a trail that is exclusively opened for public use exactly one-day-per-year.  For the TransAndes!

 The Catripulli race venue
Free beer was provided at an impromptu afternoon gathering
while early finishers cheered racers still coming in

Stage 5:

The final stage of the race would take us 60km with a relatively mild (by TransAndes standards) 1300 meter elevation gain.  Today's start was not neutral and in my opinion it felt safer as groups splintered apart much more quickly.  I made some solid passes early on and once again we found ourselves in front of the two Chilean teams.  The first 25 km ticked by quickly as the terrain was fast and rolling, however I was busting my butt to stay in a draft so this is possibly the hardest 25km of the race for me.  I was pretty spent by the time we reached the climb, but we were in a good position, and I recovered nicely.  The forest was dense and dark making it difficult to see.   At around kilometer 35 we missed a turn.  We weren't off course for long, but it was long enough for ChiChi and Claus to catch up.  We put up a good fight, but once again came up short of 2nd.  Highlights of Stage 5 include getting up and personal with Villarica Volcano, an active volcano that spews smoke, and riding over solidified lava flow reminiscent of Moab Slickrock.

 Solidified lava flow from Villarica Volcano
 We crossed 5 suspension bridges over the course of the week.  
Some were only 20 feet above water, one was over 200 feet high.  
This one on the way to Pucon was relatively mild and sturdy.

After 5 days of racing we covered 228 miles with over 34,000 feet elevation gain in 21 hours 21 minutes! What an awesome week of racing!

Podium (l-->r) Claus Plaut & ChiChi Garcia (Chile), Mary McConneloug & Mike Broderick(USA), Jen Hanks & Shannon Boffeli (USA)

Up next:  Post-race thoughts......

Sunday, February 7, 2016

TransAndes Stage 0: Getting there......

We left our house for the airport at 4:00 AM.  After flying Salt Lake City---> LA---> Houston---> Santiago---> Temuco we bummed a ride to our Temuco hostel from the super nice race promotor who happened to be at the airport coordinating shuttles.  We arrived at our hostel after 6:00 PM the next day.  The following morning we took the 2.5 hours shuttle to Huilo Huilo, Chile aka the middle of nowhere!

 I have not mastered the art of packing light for a stage race.  
We had about 200lbs of luggage between the two of us!  

Our hostel in Temuco was very comfortable.  No one spoke English, but I was able to understand our host well enough to understand that she was very worried about how we were going to travel with all of our luggage. This was also the last time we had good wifi for the week.  At first not being 'connected' made me nervous.  What was going on in the world?  I had no idea.  Not being able to check work email also made me uncomfortable at first.   By the end of the week I enjoyed it..... 

The TransAndes folks arranged shuttles for the racers from Temuco to Huilo Huilo 
where the first three stages of the race started.

The closer we got to Huilo Huilo, the more beautiful the scenery became.  We drove past lakes, mountains, and volcanos.  

The transfer to Huilo Huilo also gave us the opportunity to meet some of our fellow racers.  We became friends with Argentinian Pablo whose enthusiasm was infectious as well as Pedro and Luis from Portugal who became our good friends over the week (photos to come).  This was Pablo's 2nd time racing TransAndes.  He told me, in broken English, that the last time he raced the power from his legs caused a volcano to erupt.  He was funny!  

Our shuttle delivered us to our first cabana in Neltume, 5km from the race venue.   

 The cabana was actually quite large and very clean, 
both which came as a surprise to me as I had no idea what we were booking.
Neltume was also the closest thing to a town to the race venue.
We were able to pick up some groceries and cooked rice and veggies the first night.
It cost less than $5.
We built bikes up before spinning over to the venue

 We rode over to the the race venue, registered and got our race bag.  
Registration was a breeze and everything was very well organized.  
 I'm sure the volcano museum was very interesting, 
but it was also important to the racers because that is where el banos were located.   

Our first day in Chile was a picturesque 80 degree day.  Before we were 'disconnected' I had seen that the forecast was going to take a turn for the worse the following day.  

 Chile is known for its woodwork.  
We thought it was super cool how the roots remained attached to the rafters of this building 
and how logs were used as insulation. 

This canopy hotel is very close to the race venue.  It also was super cool.  

The day before the race we moved to our new accommodations, 
a cabana that was only 2km and a big hill away from the venue.

Since we didn't have a vehicle we kept our race bags in our tent at the race venue.
We would load up our backpacks and just bring the essentials to the cabana. 

We were thankful for this cabana as the skies opened up and temperatures cooled off for the first three days of racing.  Our wood burning stove kept us cozy warm.  

 It was a soggy start to the race.
I wasn't too disappointed though as the mild temperatures helped us acclimate.
 Most of our training took place in 20degree weather.  

The opening ceremonies included traditional Chilean dance.

 Every night (as well as lunch) we were fed a feast of all-you-can-eat fresh local fare.
There was always pasta.  Lots and lots of pasta.
There were also dishes with lentils and garbanzo beans.  Sometimes there was rice.
The veggies and fruit were fresh and a variety of meats were served.
Free Chilean wine and beer were also a highlight.
I easily consumed upwards of 10,000 calories/day, but I needed it,
stage racing puts my metabolism on overdrive!

On Monday January 25th we awoke to cloudy skies and damp dirt for the first stage of TransAndes 2016.  On the same day 5-years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  
Over the past 5 years I have thought many times that my racing days and especially 
my days of epic adventures like TransAndes were over.  
Despite the overcast skies, what a glorious day to be lining up healthy, strong, and in remission.

Up next:  The Race!