It was June. I was crying…again. I cradled my forehead in my hands and watched tears splatter to the ground of the bathroom at work. I was having another bad morning—my back was flaring up…the sciatic pain down my leg was burning…it hurt to walk around. I was 2 weeks post-SI joint cortisone injections, which helped a little, but I was disheartened that I felt like I was quickly falling back into a place of pain—the risk of any kind of intra articular injection.

I felt frustrated and overwhelmed. My injury had been going on for the better half of a year. I couldn’t understand why I was still in pain. I wanted to run and I wanted to feel normal again.

I emerged from the bathroom feeling drained, and walked to my computer. I quickly typed in, “elliptiGO bikes,” because I had heard they were an excellent cross training tool to use during injury. Summer—my absolute favorite time to run—was coming and I desperately just wanted to spend time outside. What did I have to lose by checking them out?

Fast forward 3 weeks, and I was the proud owner of a gently used pink elliptiGO. My pink Cadillac. And, suddenly, all of my anger and hate towards my broken body was resolved, because I could finally do something with my body again and feel amazing doing it. The elliptiGO allowed me to get outside in the summer and get a good workout in, even though the rest of my body wasn’t cooperating enough to allow me to run. Did I still miss running? Yes. But it was hard not to have a shit-eating grin on my face every time I went out on my elliptiGO. The elliptiGO was the first outdoor non-running cardio workout that truly taxed my heart and lungs as much as running did…and I loved every minute on it.

As the summer creeped by, I began to wonder: surely there are elliptiGO races, right? If so, I must participate in one. A few more google searches later, I found myself reading about the elliptiGO World Championships, taking place in October in San Diego.

“Bingo,” I said to myself while simultaneously posting this tweet:

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At the time, I thought there was very little chance of me flying out to San Diego to do the event. But like many things in my life: when I put my mind to something, it absolutely gets done. And the ElliptiGO World Championships was a perfect example.

I bought my plane tickets less than 2 months before the race and thought, “when else am I going to be able to ride an elliptical bike UP A MOUNTAIN?!? It’s going to be amazing.”

The Training
Alright. Admittedly, the training wasn’t great. Sure, I had been doing SOME workouts this summer (I now consider myself a connoisseur of creating haikus whilst aqua jogging) but the elliptiGO website included some training tips that I CERTAINLY should’ve taken more seriously:

The first thing to understand is that those higher gears [on the bike] you are used to riding in will go relatively unused, as the course’s route starts on an incline and doesn’t let up for the entire ascent.

I thought about this sentence all. summer. long. My elliptiGO has 8 gears, and I generally ride in 7 or 8 (out of 8) all the time, unless I’m doing a workout that requires a quick cadence. Even when I’m going up hills in CT, I generally find myself cruising at 3rd or 4th gear. But an ENTIRE race in those low gears? No way (spoiler alert: I was pretty much in 1 and 2 the entire trek up the mountain. Help.)

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Over a 4k ft climb and a 7% avg grade. It seems rational to ride an elliptiGO up this, no?

Do you have a two-mile climb that matches a section of the course? Do repeats up it and use the coast back down as your recovery.

In New Haven, we have East Rock Park. The length is 1.64 miles (a climb of approx 200 ft) and the average grade is 2.3%. We have no mountains. We have no free space to climb and climb and climb. To say I was severely underprepared to climb a mountain on an elliptiGO is a mild understatement.

I also recommend putting in some rides of 2-3 hours to help teach the body how to effectively use its fuel.

A funny thing happens when you’re injured from the sport you love for so long: you start prioritizing other things that don’t include the sport. The time that used to be spent running, lifting, and training…has now been replaced with time with Gabe, Wilson, and developing my athletes and business. I have poured my heart and soul into Lift.Run.Perform, and it’s something that I’m so incredibly proud of. But I have neglected any sort of extensive training myself. So in preparation for the World Champs, I did a few longer rides; but certainly nothing over 90 minutes…and DEFINITELY no hill climbs, which is what I should have been doing.

All that being said: at the end of the day, climbing up Palomar Mountain on an elliptiGO was, quite honestly, one of the hardest physical things I’ve ever done in my life (and I used to row crew in college…so I’ve experienced a lot of painful things). I’m not sure there was anything I could’ve done to truly prepare me for what was to come.

The Race
The weekend was awesome. I was able to stay at an Airbnb with some of the elliptiGO reps and another competitor. Not being on my own for the weekend was great, and the weekend’s elliptiGO celebration events were incredibly organized and fun. I really felt like part of the family.

Race morning started at 4:30 AM, waking up to “99 Red Balloons” that Chuck was blaring in the room next to me (hi, Chuck 🙂 ).

Not being a morning person, I had laid out everything I needed to the night before the race:

  • Race outfit (shorts + tank, sneaks + socks)
  • Charged up my suunto Spartan Trainer
  • Packed a camelback with 2 gels and filled the bladder with Nuun
  • Charged up my GoPro and packed chapstick and another set of clothes for the descent down the mountain, which I had heard would be chilly
  • Breakfast bar (has anyone had a Gluten Free Bar yet??? They are so. good.)

We loaded into the team van promptly at 5 AM and made our way to Palomar, which was about an hour away.

When we arrived, it was FREEZING, so I spent the hour leading up to the race attempting to get warm. After making sure my elliptiGO was ready to go (no Pink Cadillac, but it did the trick), I did normal pre-race stuff: went to the bathroom multiple times…ran a mile…etc. Even if this wasn’t a conventional race, it felt SO good to go through the motions of pre-race prep.

What I DIDN’T realize was that the starting line of the race was 2 miles away. So after going for a quick mile jog, I was told that I would probably miss my 7 AM wave start. I didn’t stress, and thank god for Jeff and the guys I was staying with, who all told me it was totally fine; I would be fine joining their wave at 7:15. Crisis diverted.

We made our way to the starting line a little before 7, and arrived in time to watch the wave I was supposed to be in take off. I remained relatively calm, and small-talked with the guys around me. I met Matt Fitzgerald and internally geeked out because I’m a big fan of his books.

As the start time ticked closer, I focused it in: my objective for the day was to survive and finish.

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I was told there would only be 1 hill…?

The Race
Our starting wave went off without a hitch and it was VERY clear that I was correct in thinking that the day would be about survival. My HR immediately jacked up to 185 in the first 15 minutes.

Sweet baby jesus, I’m screwed.

I stayed with the pack of guys for maybe a mile or two…but they burned me pretty quickly. That was ok. I actually prefer being on my own, especially in a situation like this, where my only goal was merely finishing. I knew that having people around me so early in the race would only make me push too hard too early, and I knew that it was going to be a long day.

Eventually, my HR did go down; but not by much. I settled into a rhythm and did my best to combat negative thoughts. I reminded myself to get comfortable being uncomfortable: something I’m used to doing…but it had been a while.

My right foot went numb around mile 3 and it remained numb for the entirety of the race. There was absolutely nothing I could do to regain feeling. I was already feeling toast; but I tried to take my mind off it but focusing as much leg drive into my hamstrings and glutes as possible.

I took my first gel about 35 minutes in, but after that point, I refrained from looking at my watch. I knew I would want to take my second gel a little after the 60-70 minute mark, but I really didn’t want to obsess with pace or time.

After about 4 miles, we hit the only flat portion of the race – a gentle half-mile stretch that felt like Christmas morning to my lungs and legs.

MARY YOU ARE SO AMAZING AND FIT AND GREAT, YOU ARE DEFINITELY GOING TO SURVIVE THE DAY

Fast forward 30 minutes, and I was screaming a much different tune.

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Pain.

One of the course descriptions on the elliptiGO blog states:

The final phase of the course…is arguably harder than the first phase due to its length and slightly less steady grade. This part of the course will take you up a series of switchbacks that will reveal more climbing head with each and every turn you make. just when you think it must be getting close to the end, you turn a corner and see a new peak in the distance.

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Accurate course description

I was passed by the elite guys about 7 or 8 miles in. They zoomed by me like I was standing still, and I couldn’t decide if seeing their leg speed was inspiring or demoralizing. I settled on the latter, as I suddenly started getting dizzy, and realized I needed more calories.

The difficult thing about eating gels and climbing a mountain on an elliptical bike is, well, it’s tough to take your hands off the handlebars to eat a gel in the first place, let alone when you’re trying to not roll backwards on said bike.

But, thankfully, I successfully choked down a second gel and immediately started feeling better. The numbness in my foot was now traveling up my calf, but the more pain my entire body was in, the less I felt the weirdness in my calf/foot.

…that is until mile 9: the only mile I looked down at my watch as the mile ticked.

MILE 9. IT’S ONLY MILE 9, MARY. YOU ARE NOT GOING TO MAKE THIS.

I still had 2.69 miles to go.

Unlike the end of a half…or even a marathon…2 miles honestly isn’t that much. But when you’re climbing a mountain (and the air is getting thinner and thinner), 2 miles is a fucking eternity.

HOLY SHIT. NONONONONONONONONONONONONONO.

I was averaging about 11 mph at this point, and knew I had almost another 25-30 minutes left. If I wasn’t in survival mode before then…I was now.

You’ve already gone this far. You can’t just stop. You HAVE to finish. You CANNOT get off this bike and walk.

I was in the 1st gear and my main objective was keeping my legs moving, even if the cadence was slow AF. I knew I couldn’t get off the bike and I knew I HAD to finish, no matter what happened.

My mind went blank and it felt like my entire body was shutting down. I had no control over pushing harder or less…I just had to keep moving and get to the top of the mountain. On each switchback, I kept looking behind me, in a bit of disbelief of the view and the fact that I climbed all that elevation by myself.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, I made it to the top. Seeing the ElliptiGO team cheering for the finishers seemed like a mirage, as I stumbled off my bike—foot, and now most of my entire right leg, numb at this point.

I stumbled off my bike and immediately bee-lined to the food to quickly gulp down Gatorade and chocolate milk. It was over. I DID IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It was an incredible hour and fifty-two minutes of my life. The views were unreal…the workout was intense…and that perfectly satisfied feeling of accomplishment after finishing a really hard effort made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. But above all: just finishing the race was the biggest achievement. I honestly think I was able to get to the top of that mountain out of pure will.

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We took a photo of all of the competitors and prepped for the climb back down the mountain, which took 78% less time than it did to climb up and felt a bit like skiing—a little scary, really cold, but SUPER exhilarating.

And just like that – it was over. We climbed back into the van and proceeded on our way to get a massive post-race breakfast.

This weekend was one of the most exciting experiences I’ve ever had, and I’m so thankful to have been a part of it. Thank you, elliptiGO, for inviting me and making me truly feel like family. Even though I have ZERO soreness after the race (like literally…none), I don’t think I’ll be doing hill repeats on my bike for a while…but I may be back next year. 🙂

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2017 Top Finishers