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!