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My 67-Mile Bike Race: FITNESS Advisor Dr. Jennifer Ashton Recaps Her Epic Ride

Written on June 2, 2014 at 12:32 pm , by

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!’

More from FITNESS: 

A Glimpse Into Downhill Mountain Biking with Red Bull Athlete Jill Kintner

Written on September 26, 2013 at 10:37 am , by

Interval training is the name of this speedster’s training game. Keeping her challenging workouts outdoors helps Jill improve and more importantly, happy! (Photo courtesy of Red Bull)

Written by Alena Hall, editorial intern

Most days Jill Kintner prefers two tire treads over her own two feet. She fell in love with the family hobby of BMX biking at age 10, and won the National Bicycle League’s National Title only a decade later. She then steered into four-cross mountain biking, leading her to a career in downhill racing where she continues to compete across the globe today. We caught up with this badass biker to hear all about her extreme biking, professional training and race-day preparation.

Congratulations on taking 4th place in the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships earlier this month! How did you train?

Thanks! Yeah, this was a good course for me. I tend to gain time on most of the other girls when there is pedaling, just from having efficiency and power from my BMX days. I also raced in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa last year, so I knew what to expect as far as the speeds to push for and how hard the sprint in the middle was going to be. Even still, downhill has so many variables that we have to train to be balanced, powerful, focused and fit to attack a 4-5 minute race in changing conditions. Red Bull helps get me dialed in by improving my reaction speed and increasing endurance.  These benefits plus specific training programs and intervals really help me prep for all of downhill’s variables. Training for this particular race was focused on intervals and timed recovery from a max effort. I have a section of road near my house marked by two mailboxes 20 seconds apart that caused me a lot of pain.

What are your favorite parts about the training process?

Riding, or trying to figure out how to get better and seeing it work. My least favorite: taking vitamins.

What do you find to be the most challenging when prepping for a competition?

Physically, I enjoy challenges so the harder the workout, the more entertained I am. I find monotony to be the most difficult part of anything. Being outside and riding makes me the happiest, but I’ll do whatever I have to do to get better.

How do you calm your nerves before a big race?

I like to sit somewhere and remember the days that were hard that got me to where I am. When practicing at home, I pretend that I am at a World Cup with all the best people, and when I’m at a World Cup, I picture being at home by myself pushing as hard as I could have, so it’s all the same.

What is the most difficult obstacle you’ve come across thus far, and how did you face it?

When my dad passed away, that was the hardest thing I have ever had to go through in life. He was a key player in my success and my biggest supporter. I was lost and went through a lot of emotions trying to fill the void. It doesn’t really get filled, but I have dedicated a lot of what I have done for him and what he taught me.

Do you have any pre-race or workout songs that help you get in the zone?

Usually I just listen to a couple of Pandora stations. Snowboarding music is really quite good for working out—sort of an indie dance station or hip-hop. My favorite artists: Ratatat, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, Muse, Macklemore, Kid Cudi and Kanye West.

What are you looking forward to most now that your competition in South Africa has come to an end?

I still have two more world cup rounds to go: Norway and Austria. But after that, I am getting married, so we are gonna party it up and have a month off!

Now You Tell Us: If you could try a new extreme sport, what would it be?