Off to the Races: Couples Compete

By: Kyle Wagner

A CBS News Poll last year found that more than half of us have been touched by cancer in our immediate families – in fact, 54 percent say “they or someone else in their immediate family has been diagnosed with cancer at some point.” Meanwhile, in the United States alone, there are 4,750 new cases of a cancer diagnosis every single day.

That means the vast majority of us know, live with or are friends with someone who is dealing with cancer in some way.

“When my dad was 51, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor,” says Caroline Haines, who along with her husband, Dan Patten, will compete in the Leadville 100 Race Series MTB on August 11 to raise funds for First Descents. “The surgery to remove the tumor went horribly wrong, and he was in a living hell for the following year. He died at age 52. I had just graduated from college when he was diagnosed, and instead of starting my next chapter, I was at my dad’s side through his struggle. I was holding his hand when he died, when his suffering ended. I was 22 years old. It was a defining point in my life, but not something I talk much about.”

Typical of most of us, though, they also have a dear friend who has been dealing with a diagnosis.

“Our friend Alix Berglund has a rare type of chronic cancer,” says Patten. “Alix and I went to business school together at CU-Boulder for our MBAs, and she and her husband live in Vail. We eventually moved to Vail for a while, and we all became good friends.”

Patten, 49, and Haines, 48, live in Boulder, Colo., now and have kids (ages 10 and 15) and crazy work schedules. But Patten had heard that Berglund’s husband, Hans Berglund, raced in the LT100 MTB two years ago, and they were inspired to do the same.

“The Leadville races are a known entity in our Colorado social circles,” Haines says. “I always thought, actually still do think, they sound crazy. I have been a passionate mountain biker for decades, but never a racer, really. But when Dan said he was going to do the Leadville 100 mountain bike race, I decided to do it also.”

Here’s how they’re making it happen:

How do you fit this into your busy schedules?

Caroline: While I have worked part-time over these years, my primary focus has been on raising my kids. I’m almost 50 years old and I decided that I’d regret not committing to the Leadville 100, so here we are.

Dan:  I have a stressful job in Denver, and what keeps me sane is to be out in wilderness or on a bike or skiing. So, that’s what Caroline and I do for fun. Even better when it’s with our kids. This past May, we did the White Rim [in Canyonlands, Utah] as a family thing, and it went really well. My 15-year-old just finished his freshman year on his school’s mountain bike team, and so we’re kind of a mountain biking family, I’d say.

What’s your training schedule, and do you have any advice for newbies?

Dan: Caroline took six weeks off and she’s been going up with the kids to our family place in Montana. I visit when I can, and we all ride together. So that’s a good way for us to get in miles and also spend time together as a family. After we did the White Rim, the four of us did the Half Growler (in Gunnison, Colo.) together, too.

We ride separately a lot of times, because Caroline, who’s a postpartum doula, has a different work schedule. I ride best after work; so, for instance, two nights ago I got on my bike at 6 and rode until 8:30, and then on the weekends I try to do a big ride on my road bike. We also did the Silver Rush 50-miler in Leadville. It adds up.

Caroline has also been doing a lot of strength training, to build up her core. She works out more in the morning, and then spends time with the kids. Because they have been up in Montana, I don’t see them as often, and so I actually have a little more time free to train.

I think the main thing I would tell people is to get on the bike, get those miles in, and make sure you’re doing some long, long rides in between the shorter ones. Also, I use Strava to track my stats, and my philosophy is that if you don’t Strava, it didn’t happen.

Have you dialed in your nutrition plan yet?

Dan: I learned this on my years of riding the Triple Bypass, to really make sure I have tested what I use during the ride. I’ve had only one DNF over the years, and that was from stomach distress. So now I currently use Hammer Nutrition products. I have religiously read their material and used their products, because the moment you get past four hours on a ride like this, it’s all about nutrition.

Your body will hurt – your feet hurt, your back hurts – but you can get through that. But when you hit six hours, nutrition is actually one of the scariest things as far as I’m concerned. Your body will rebel. Also, the longer I ride, the more I find I have to just go to all liquids. My biggest fear, actually, is becoming dehydrated, so I think that by finding a nutritional system that addresses that, too, is the key.

What motivates you to keep going when things get tough on the trail?

Dan: Well, Caroline beat me in the Half Growler by 6 minutes, so I worry more about me than her when it comes to finishing this thing. But seriously, I think that like most of us, I just don’t like to lose. It’s not that I want to beat other people – it’s really about pushing myself to the limits and getting to the end in one piece. I also can’t help but think about the people who are affected by cancer and who will benefit from the funds we raise. It’s inspiring, for sure.

Caroline: My love of mountain biking, my experience with my dad, and the opportunity to fundraise for First Descents all feel like a perfect storm of “do this!” The more I learned about First Descents, and tried to understand the struggles of the people living with cancer in the First Descents adventure programs, the more I motivated I became. I live a life full of countless blessings.

Attempting the bike race will be a challenge for sure, but compared to the challenges so many others face on any given day, I actually feel very, very lucky to tackle this undertaking, and fundraising for First Descents gives all the wonderful, good people in my life an opportunity to learn about an incredible organization.

Kyle Wagner worked at The Denver Post from 2002-2014 after nine years as restaurant critic for Westword. Kyle is an avid mountain biker and outdoors woman.  She has ridden the Leadville 100 MTB twice, both times during or following her own breast cancer treatments. Over the next six weeks, she will be following our Leadville runners and riders to bring you the inside scoop on how Team FD is getting #OutLivingIt like never before!  Keep up with the stories by checking back weekly on our Out Living It Blog.

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