Written by Jennifer Ashton, M.D., FITNESS advisory board member and "The Doctors" co-host
Today I completed a 67-mile bike ride. It was, hands-down, the most difficult physical thing I have ever done in my life. It was also the most amazing, fun, emotional, inspiring, frightening and exhilarating feat I have ever accomplished. I had the privilege of riding along with an incredible 17-year-old girl named Lauren Sepanske. Lauren was born with clubfeet and had so many problems with her right foot, that one year ago, she made the decision to have her leg amputated below the knee. Soon after that decision, she appeared on “The Doctors” TV show, where I am a co-host, to share her story. During her segment, she announced on national television that she had planned to ride 100 miles in the Elephant Rock Ride in Castle Rock, Colorado in June! I vowed to do it with her (even though the farthest I had ever ridden was just 21 miles).
When the time came to confirm our race registration, I had just 6 weeks to really train for this ride. I was really only trained to one hour of strenuous cardio at this time, so I decided to sign-up for the 62 mile race part of Elephant Rock. For 6 weeks, I worked with my amazing triathlon coach, Andres Herrera, doing a combo of interval rides, endurance rides and threshold rides. Oh, did I mention that I was doing all of this training INDOORS ON MY SPIN BIKE??? I knew this wasn’t wise, but my schedule and fear of being hit by a car on my road bike told me that it would have to suffice. As the race date drew closer, I was feeling confident, but also was clearly in a state of denial. This ride was in Colorado, at an altitude of 7,500 feet! It was in a very hilly area south of Denver, I was using clips on my pedals for only the second time, and it was forecasted to be a very sunny day, with temps in the low 80’s. When I contemplated all of these separate challenges, I actually wondered if I would even finish the race. In fact, I was so nervous about the physical challenges that I asked my husband, who is also a doctor, to ride with me, because I thought there was a significant chance that I would need medical attention during or after the race!
We got to Colorado 40 hours before the race in an attempt to adjust to the altitude. I pre-hydrated and carb-loaded for 3 to 4 days in advance, like it was my job! For the maximum benefit of increasing glycogen stores, increased carbs need to be consumed for 3 to 4 days prior to an athletic event. When the race started, I took one look at Lauren, with her prosthetic leg, and thought, ‘If she can do it, maybe I can too!’ Early on in the race, I decided to stay with Lauren on the 100-mile course, and just try to make it as far as possible before I had to leave to catch my flight back to NYC and return to sea-level! The race was incredibly challenging on all levels: there were very strong headwinds, steep up-hill climbs, high altitude, hot weather and glaring sun. I managed to keep up with the priority of nutrition and hydration while on the bike, but I also managed a low-speed fall on a turn while forgetting how to use my pedal clips (rookie mistake). The spill left me bruised, scraped and embarrassed, but also left my bike gears badly bent. They were so damaged that I only had use of TWO gears (and sadly not the lowest ones) for the remaining 25 miles of the race. When I had reached the time in the race when I knew I had to leave for the airport, we had made it to mile 67! It had taken us 7 hours, including 3, 15-minute breaks at rest stations to use the porta potties, refill our water bottles, and grab some bagels, bananas and more sunscreen.
According to the heart rate monitor, my HR ranged from 130 to 175 during the race, with an average around 150. I knew that this ride was a massive stress test for my heart, my kidneys, my muscles and my lungs. But it was also a test of my spirit. There were hills that were so steep, I doubted if I would make it to the top. I thought of my children, and of Lauren, and their spirit and strength. At one point, as I reached the top of a 45- minute climb, I started to tear-up thinking of what I had just accomplished. And now, as I sit on the plane, sore as hell, I realize what an amazing machine the human body is, but also how powerful the human will is. I did something that was WAY out of my comfort zone, and I will never forget it. I am a total beginner rider but I didn’t let that stop me. I took the appropriate medical and athletic precautions, and then pushed my body to a place it had never been. I think I can hear it whimpering, ‘Thank you!’
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