Racing my Own Personal Race on Team PHenomenal Hope – Part Two

September 17,2019

Making it personal with my own personal Colorado Epic Race Series

Somehow I had put three major events on my calendar in August. It started with the Breck Epic, a six-day mountain bike stage race, continued with the Vail Octopus, an epic road ride that I didn’t finish in 2017 due to mental and physical fatigue leading up to the Silver State 508, and ended with a return to the Grand Traverse, a 41-mile mountain bike race from Aspen to Crested Butte. Each race taught me something about racing and the meaning of Team PHenomenal Hope.

The meaning of riding as a team. Breck Epic, Breckenridge, Colorado

The Breck Epic is a six-day mountain bike stage race averaging 30-40 miles and 6000 feet of climbing each day. If that isn’t hard enough, the whole event is above 9500 feet, traversing mountain passes on rocky terrain, and it is 100% the toughest mountain bike race I’ve ever done. My goal was to enjoy and finish this week of mountain biking, and I was excited to be back with my teammate, Hap, who came up from sea level in Boston to take on this event. He was also coming back from his injury last year, a mountain bike accident that led to a fracture of C2. He recovered from this amazingly without neurological compromise, and his neck is solid. He was also fit and strong, with a crazy power-to-weight ratio after all of this.

We registered for this as a duo, which means we race together every stage. So that means that my focus was not on just myself, but more on how we rode as a team, which is ultimately more satisfying. It also meant that I got to witness physical and mental strength in my teammate, who overcame hypothermia on the first day (a steady rain and 54 degrees on the mountain), to ride a great stage the next day, albeit with a few crashes and lots of bruises which required a couple of recovery days to heal as much as possible, and then take on Wheeler Pass on Thursday (the highest and hardest point in the race), followed by the last day where he overcame nausea and the inability to keep food down, but still managed to ride and finish. His determination inspired me at the Breck Epic, and reminded me why we’re in this race to begin with. In fact, the events leading up to the race definitely reminded us why we’re in this race to begin with. Hap had to miss his flight coming out here because one of his longstanding patients came to clinic in heart failure, with his family at his side. He admitted him, did a right heart cath, and tried everything, however his patient did not survive the night. We made adjustments, despite issues with Hap’s bike and a critical missing piece, we got to the starting line with the help of the SRAM racing guys, and Myron, an awesome mechanic (of the guy who actually went on to win the Breck Epic), who loaned Hap his bike! We were overcome with kindness (who lends someone his bike?!).

The Breck Epic reinforced the awesomeness of the mountain bike community, showed me strength in my teammate, Hap, and reminded me of the joy (and challenges) of mountain biking.

GoPro QuickStories from the Breck Epic:
Stage 1
Stage 2
Stage 3
Stage 4
Stage 5
Stage 6

Riding for patients. The Vail Octopus, Eagle County, Colorado

One week after finishing The Breck Epic, I had signed up for the Vail Octopus, which is a road ride up the eight major climbs in Eagle County. I was back to riding on my own, but now with this amazing group of fellow crazy riders. The ride started at 6:30 a.m. and we rode until 8:30 p.m. at night, conquering 165 miles and 17,000 feet of climbing these epic climbs out of Vail Valley. When I asked Scott Bandoni, the organizer, early in the ride why he started this (now in the ~10th year of the Vail/Boulder Octopus), he said that after racing epic mountain bike races for years (The Vail Ultra, Leadville 100, etc.), he was looking for a new challenge that would be equally hard. Why did I ask that?

It proved to be challenging, and the key was to pace oneself in doing this ride. You can’t race the Octopus, especially on Breck Epic legs. But it was also extremely meaningful, as I had named each of the 8 climbs in honor or patients, and my friends had sponsored these climbs in honor of patients as well. This was my most difficult climb up Vail Pass I’d ever done (with the miles in my legs), but I rode each climb and never felt alone. Logistically, the ride was mostly in cell range, so I was able to update my friends on social media after each climb, and also felt a huge amount of support throughout the ride – both in cheering, and in support of our fundraising effort to help patients and our research fund. It was incredible because my friends and the PH community made it incredible. Check out my GroPro video recap of the Vail Octopus here.

Just keep going. The Grand Traverse, Aspen to Crested Butte

Finally, this personal Colorado Stage race of events ended with the Grand Traverse, which is a race over 41 miles, and 7,000 feet of climbing, with time cut-offs. Logistically, it means leaving the starting line, and leaving my keys for a company (shout out to Maroon Bells Shuttles!) to drive my car the 173 miles from Aspen to Crested Butte so my stuff is there at the end. This means you have to make the time cutoffs, or they send you back to the starting line in Aspen.

It was a perfect day, weather-wise, and I had worked hard on recovery the week before (light spinning) so my legs were as good as they would be. The race was hard. Really hard. For the first half of the race, you’re gunning up Aspen Mountain to make the first time cutoff just 5 miles in, then the race is over 10,000 feet for the next 15+ miles, and then there is this sweet long descent into Crested Butte. The climbs over the mountain passes (Taylor Pass and Star Pass)are rocky and steep and technical, so there is a fair amount of places where it’s hard to even push your bike up the hills. My focus this race was that it was all about “just keep pedaling” the way my patients and PHriends keep pedaling in a much harder race, that against pulmonary hypertension. In terms of results, the race went well. I beat the cut-offs by 20 min, then 30 min, then close to an hour at the third, faster than last year’s time by 17 minutes, despite the physical and mental fatigue of this third event. I would definitely label it as Type II fun, but man, I’ve already looked several times to see if I can register for next year’s race with the early bird discount. It is just epic Colorado Mountain biking. See my GoPro video recap of the Grand Traverse here.

The race is not yet done: Racing to make a difference

Along the way I’ve made GoPro videos to share these races and events with patients who cannot travel to the mountains, much less race crazy stuff like these events, and to help tell the story of Team PHenomenal Hope and what this insanity means. It has been a privilege to ride with Team PH this summer, and share this personal epic quest with you along the way.

Still I’ve found that fundraising is harder than ultraracing. My use of these extreme events has been not only for personal race/life goals, but to use them as a lightning rod to get people’s attention and hopefully inspire people to help us in our larger race: supporting our research fund and unmet needs fund. We funded our first grant to a talented researcher at Vanderbilt this year, and have the only patient needs fund in this space to help PH patients when they hit hard times with needs not covered through insurance. I set a huge goal – $10,000 – and am just over 3/4 of the way there. Each time someone donates, I cannot tell you how much it means to me and to our organization.

This would not be possible without you.

Finally, I’d like to thank some pretty awesome people, who helped make this quest possible:

  • The race organizers and volunteers of these amazing events. Thank you for making it possible to ride our dreams and write pages in our own legacies.
  • Big Ring Cycles. Thank you for working with me to keep my bike in shape and for supporting Team PHenomenal Hope as well as our local cycling community.
  • Lee McCormack. Thank you for the Kung Fu skills coaching and reminding me that riding is fun.
  • Turner Bikes. I love my Turner Czar and riding it over mountains. Thank you for a beautiful bike.
  • Broken Carbon. I love my Turner Czar. Thank you for fixing my beautiful mountain bike.
  • Cervelo Cycles. I now ride the Cervelo R3d and love it especially on mountain descents. I’ve been a Cervelo fan and rider almost since I started racing my bike back in Pittsburgh.
  • Peloton. My winter and indoor training was so much fun with organizing Peloton rides to fit in with my time crunched life. #gingercat5280
  • GoPro. I use the GoPro Hero7 Black, and this camera has changed my experience on the bike. The motion stability is amazing (no more camera shake), and I enjoy making post-ride QuikStories on my iPhone to bring my friends in to the race, and hopefully introduce people outside our PH community to pulmonary hypertension.
  • Denise and Dr. Jeff Stanley at Virta Health. I follow the medically-supervised ketogenic diet to help make my body fat adapted and able to do long rides and races without sugar highs and lows during the race. It has been a journey, but one that is the healthiest for my own “n of one” experiment.
  • My Teammates on Team PHenomenal Hope. Seeing what you all do everyday and every weekend helps keep me going. Thank you so much for contributing to our team!
  • My Teammates at National Jewish Health. Thank you to our PH team and to my colleagues who help us take case of complex patients and also cover our service when I’m in Breckenridge or elsewhere living this dream. Working with you makes everyday a joy.
  • Last but not least: My family and friends and PHriends. Thank you for supporting me and for your generous contributions to Team PHenomenal Hope, making this about way more than any one day on the bike, but about helping patients with this disease.
  • Feeling inspired by the story to help in our race to make a difference? Click here to donate to Team PHenomenal Hope today!

    Story Photos

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