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!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

24 Hours of Ole' Pueblo

I'm the first to admit that I'm not the biggest fan of 24-hour racing.  I like to sleep at night almost as much as I like to race my bike.  Almost......  24 Hours of Old Pueblo may be the one exception.

With over 3000 people congregating in the middle of the desert just north of Tucson, Arizona, 24 Hours of Old Pueblo is the biggest 24-hour race on the planet.  Ok.  I don't know for sure if it is the biggest 24-hour race on the planet, but it just may be!  And the race vibe was fantastic!

Shannon and I flew into Phoenix Thursday night.  We ended up staying at a hotel in Phoenix and getting some much needed sleep before driving the two hours to the race venue on Friday.   We spun out our legs on the race course and quickly learned that what the course lacked in technical terrain, it made up for in precarious cacti just waiting for you to let your guard down, get too close, and impale you.

There are no meadows of flowers at Old Pueblo.  Just meadows of cacti!  

Totally not kidding about the danger cacti.  Our race bag came with a cacti extractor (aka hair pick).

It's all about technique.
The proper way to use the cactus extractor to extract a cactus.  

Shannon and I teamed up with some of the Pivot crew on a 5-person co-ed team.  And while we didn't know who our teammates were until the morning of the race, we couldn't have asked for a better team dynamic or more fun crew to race with!  

After 24 hours of racing, perfect weather, jockeying between 2nd and 4th, and some late night strategizing and calculations that was downright comical with our fatigue, we rolled in in 3rd place.  While the result was fun and exciting, the highlight of the weekend was most definitely spending time with new and old friends alike.

The course was lined for the Lemans start
The Pivot Pro posse on the podium

Another highlight of the weekend was visiting Pivot headquarters in Phoenix.  I have no photos because what goes on there is top secret (not exactly:), however I will say this: A LOT of heart, soul, love, and pride goes into every single bike.  It is no wonder that Pivot bikes ride so well!  I am honored to be a small part of this extraordinary family!

In other news, I received this message after Friday's "routine" mammogram:

I think I will have a great weekend!  

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Green means go!

We all should know by now that exercise reduces risk of breast cancer and recurrence.  Study after study has proven this and even mainstream media has reported on it must be true:)  But is it possible to exercise TOO MUCH and INCREASE the risk, especially the risk of recurrence if you have already undergone treatment for breast cancer? Now, what sort of crazy person possibly exercises TOO much? In my opinion no one, but some may say you're lookin' at her!  I'm not just talking about exercising, I'm talking about doing epic things.  Prior to breast cancer my cycling career was gravitating toward challenging, ultra-endurance type events.  I competed in multi-day mountain bike stage races including TransAlp Challenge, TransRockies, and Breck Epic.  I raced ultra-distance events such as the Lumberjack 100 and Park City Point to Point.  In fact, the year of my diagnosis, I was planning to race the BC Bike Stage Race with a friend.  

Breast cancer changes things.  Although I have successfully returned to racing and even competed in some longer distance events (True Grit 50, Moab Rocks Stage Race), I haven't felt the gravitational pull to do ultras.  I have been feeling so good and believe I am physically capable.  And after undergoing cancer treatment twice, I KNOW I am mentally capable.  So why haven't I done any ultras?  I think in the back of my mind I have wondered if perhaps such grueling events are bad for my health.  Health comes first.    

Recently,  I have been feeling the urge to do something epic, and although I don't have a clear picture of what event(s) I want to do and how I will get there, I needed an answer.  Would this be detrimental to my health and increase my risk of recurrence?  The theory being too much or too intense of exercise causes inflammation in the body making the environment more favorable for cancer cells to proliferate.  I have had people I respect 'suggest' this to me. (Note: I have had many more people I respect say excessive/intense/extreme exercise is perfectly safe for me). Regardless, the thought that training and racing could possibly increase my risk for recurrence lingers in the back of my mind. To get a conclusive answer I contacted Dr. Melinda Irwin, Professor at Yale, who dedicates her profession to studying breast cancer and exercise. Note: Who knew it was so easy to find an email for a Yale professor and to get a response within a day!!!!!  

Dr. Irwin's response:

"Thank you for your email!!! Sounds like you are doing everything right!!! Since you have been active for many years, you can exercise at levels much higher than the average person…so you are less likely to experience any detrimental side effects of intense exercise. Any risks would simply be muscular injury related, but you are very likely lowering your risk for recurrence and mortality".

Basically Dr. Irwin just gave me the green light to do as I please with my cycling career!  

Hmmm.......dreaming of just so happens that this race is in January and in 2016 will be exactly 5 years from my original diagnosis....

Sunday, February 1, 2015

4 years

January 25, 2011 was the day we received the news I had breast cancer.  While I don't think about that specific day too often, Shannon and I do acknowledge it by taking a January "trip".  In 2012 we went to Hawaii.  In 2013 we went to Mexico.  In 2014, we went to the OR for surgery which definitely doesn't count.  and this year we traveled to Nicaragua.  We are celebrating health, building memories, and getting out of Utah in the midst of winter!

Why Nicaragua?  We are interested in traveling to places off the beaten path.  Where there is unspoiled natural beauty; and since I can only tolerate laying on a beach for about 5 minutes without getting bored, adventure must abound.  I also love learning about new cultures and since I know un poco Espanol, practicing is fun.  We don't need 5-star accommodations, but we do need good food.  Warm is good too:)  Central America fits the bill perfectly; and we chose Nicaragua.   The photos really do say it all!

After a day and a half of travel to the pacific coast of Nicaragua, we were greeted by this sunset. 
 It was really special; little did we know that every night would be equally beautiful.
On this trip, Shannon informed me that we have been together for 20 years.  20 years!!!!!  I think he is mistaken, but regardless it is a loooong time!
After all this time, we still kinda like each other:)

The beeches seemed deserted and it felt like we had them to ourself
We didn't miss a single sunset
I took a lesson and surfed for the first time.  I quickly learned that no matter what, surfing ends with a crash.  Sometimes it was more graceful than others:)  
I could get used to the beach bum lifestyle if it involved Nicaragua and surfing!
We surfed till dusk
and explored the beach rocks.  you never know what is around the corner...
It was a bit of a sketchy hike, that could only be done at low tide, 
but the payoff was a beautiful sand dune.  
The locals called this area "Shark's Bay".  I was told the sharks in Nica are gentle.  Hmmm. 
Bikes are a primary means of transportation in rural Nica.  Our condo came with bikes for us to use.  We rode these bikes to nearby Playa Gigante which is a town that is actually on the map.  I guess I was putting out mega wattage; I broke the rusty pedal at the axle.  
Food at the government controlled grocery stores is very expensive in Nicaragua.  For this reason, many Nicaraguan's live on self-sustained farms where they grow all of their food.  This particular farm used an adapted bicycle to supply power to their irrigation system.  RAD!
We then traveled from the Pacific coast to Ometepe Island on Lake Nicaragua.  There are two volcanos on Ometepe.  This is Maderas.  It is not a live volcano.

Ferry ride to Ometepe.  It was a bumpy ride.
My mantra was "I will not get seasick, I will not get seasick"!
Afterwards, Shannon said he thought we were going to capsize.  It was rough! 

Ometepe is full of monkeys.  There are Congos, White-faced, and Howler. 
 If you look closely, you can see the baby monkey on momma's tail.

We immediately starting exploring with a kayak tour
Concepcion from our kayak.  There is always cloud cover at the top of the volcanos.  
This particular volcano is live.  
We were living dangerously on a small island with a live volcano. 
 It has not erupted since 2009.  
Beauty was around every corner on Ometepe

These palmas are over 200 years old.  
Mayan petroglyphs on Ometepe Island.
On our 8+ hour hike up Maderas, we came across leaf cutter ants.  The ants use their incisors to cut leaves.  They then form a procession and carry the leaves back to their "home" where the leaves are used for compost.  In the moist environment mushrooms grow which the ants eat.  
Leaf cutters are self-sustained ants.  I found them fascinating.  
The Maderas hike was the hardest I have ever done.  It was steep, rooty, muddy, and slippery.  
Going down was just as difficult as going up.  
It was like a whole different damp world up there!
Once we summited, we descended for another 20 minutes to this lake.  
Green is my favorite color.  So many shades of green on Maderas!
It was a typically, foggy day at the top of Maderas.
Like I said, the hike down was treacherous
Concepcion from a lookout on Maderas
We hiked, and hiked, and hiked for 8+ hours!
At the base of Maderas is a coffee farm.  These are the coffee trees that supply much of Seattle with boutique coffee.  The coffee was just harvested in December.
This is the equipment that cuts and removes skin from the coffee beans.
The beans are then spread in the sun to dry and the best beans are selected
We became adventurous with our eating.  
This was a hidden treasure we found with excellent smoothies and homemade Nutella! 
The sunrise on Ometepe was just as spectacular as the sunsets!
Nicaraguans love bikes just as much as us!
The day after we hiked Maderas, we circumnavigated the volcano.  
We rode these fine steeds for over 40 miles.  The bikes held up fine until 9 k to go where my freewheel broke.  We tried to use vines to fix it, which actually kind of worked for ~3k.  
A Nicaraguan girl doing her own laundry.
The homes are simple and modest; clearly there is much poverty.  But the people of Nicaragua are some of the nicest and happiest people I have ever come across.  
Something to be said for simple living and that money doesn't necessarily buy happiness.  
Hard at work on a Sunday building a church.
No need to wait for a driver's license; 
the local children use horses and bikes for transportation 
just like their parents.
Checking out the volcano we hiked on our last day on Ometepe. 
 I love the consistency of the cloud cover at the top.
Horses wandering the beach just outside our casita
There are very few cars on Ometepe.  This is what a traffic jam looks like!
The white-faced monkeys like to beg for bananas
Cooking up plantains like a local.  They call them tostones.  
The local laundromat.
Concepcion and Maderas from our ferry leaving the island
On our return to the airport in Managua, we made a short stop in Granada.  Granada is a colorful and beautiful city and is considered the most historic city in Nicaragua.  
Although we only visited for an hour, the city clearly had a great vibe.

Nicaragua exceeded my expectations in every way possible.  It is beautiful, the people are kind, the food is off the charts healthy and delicious, and adventure abounds.  My post-cancer treatment body also exceeded my expectations.  Despite many "normal" people experiencing illness and digestive issues when traveling to 3rd world countries, I was delighted that my body held up just fine.  

Here's to many more years of celebration and adventure both on and off the bike........