The Beartooth Challenge – Montana

June 28, 2006 · Print This Article

by Renee Coppock

While Jackie and Tina were out trying to avoid sleeping on the bike at 24 Hours of Rapelje, fellow Bella Kathy Aragon and I were giving the Beartooth Challenge a whirl. The Beartooth Challenge is a two day event, comprised of running the Beartooth Pass the first day and then biking it the second. An athlete can do either day’s event or sign up for both–both is the Challenge. The first day’s event features an 8.2 mile run, starting at 7,000 feet and ending at 9,000 feet, and a 21 mile cycling time trial on the second day, climbing from about 5,600 feet to 9,000. This was going to be my first running event in 5 years. Strictly speaking, I’m not supposed to be running much since being struck by a car, but the Challenge was too tempting. Kathy, on the other hand, is a 6 time Olympic Trials qualifier in the 10,000 meters and the marathon and is relatively new to cycling. She is fabulous to run with, but can really put the hurt on you. I opted to limit my damages in the run and not “race”, but run moderately hard. When the 340 runners toed the line, the weather was spectacular with no wind, quite unusual for the Pass. With the tree pollen count high, it took me at least a mile to get into a good pace and get my lungs cleared out. I was running in third place for much of the race, thinking “What’s up with that?” Lately, my training has consisted of running 3 miles right after cycling races. At about the 6 mile mark I could still see Kathy, when a young gal passed me. She asked me to help her catch Kathy, but I wasn’t even going there…. I declined and told her I needed to run moderately so I could bike the next day. She looked at me like I was plum crazy! (There may be some truth to that.) Kathy kept her at bay, but the last two miles seemed like a death march to me, as I was not mentally prepared to run that distance. Perhaps a person should actually do some 8 mile runs before attempting 8 miles straight up a mountain, but a gal only has so much time in a day. I finished and felt pretty good about my time since I hadn’t injured myself. Kathy took second place with a time of 1:09:47. I was fourth with a time of 1:11:05. Not a bad run, considering.

No rest for the weary after the race, however, as both Kathy and I had family duties awaiting us (clean house, yard work, run kids around…..) That evening, I remembered that I had not cleaned my bike after riding with Jackie in a deluge earlier in the week. [Note to self: remember that Jackie rides through anything.] I cleaned the bike and debated for a long time whether or not to use the aero bars. There would be a ride through the canyon for 12 miles, which is usually windy, before the climbing began. I opted for the aero bars, since we rarely use them in Montana, with only two time trials in our state all year. Hey, you might as well look fast, right?

I arrived in Red Lodge to sunny, warm weather, with a breeze blowing in the canyon. Yes, the aero bars were a good idea. The race director decided to start riders in the order of registration. I didn’t want to be the first one to take off, so I tried to find as much “stuff” to do in my car as I could prior to finalizing my registration. I was to start 13th out of 41 riders. Kathy was going to start around 25th.

I tried to warm up to get the crud out of my lungs (asthma related to allergies). I could tell during the warm up that this was going to be hard. I had my bike in granny gear up the first hill during the warm up, which was really not much of a hill. I stood at the gate coughing and the guy behind me thought I had pneumonia or something! Poor guy. When I told him it was normal, you could tell he didn’t believe me…. He probably thinks I smoke! Anyway, I had a good start and rode hard through the canyon, passing 6 people before the climb. My legs felt a lot better once I really got moving. Adrenaline is a fabulous thing! I could use my aero bars for 10 miles or so, so it was good to have them. I climbed well, without really breathing too hard. Every once in a while I’d have to wake up and remind myself I was in a race. It was tough to do since I couldn’t see anyone along the switchbacks. With about 4 miles to go I could see the first person to start, so I rode hard to pass her. She could hear me breathing by that time and didn’t even turn around before she gave me some encouragement. With about 2 miles left I could see a guy far ahead, so I focused on him. I didn’t catch him, but it helped to see him out there. I finished in 1:26:11. My goal was under 1:30. Kathy finished in 1:28:08. We both agreed that the best thing we could have done was to run the course the day before. It made the ride seem incredibly easy. Now, we had to wait to see how other Cat 3s, a Cat 2 and a Luna Chick were doing. One Cat 3 professed to be a real climber, so I was a little worried. She finished strong, but wasn’t telling her time…. We had to wait until the awards ceremony for even a hint at the results. Much to our relief, I was first and Kathy was second. The third placed gal was a good 10 minutes behind. What a great feeling to have that done! The first place male flew up the mountain in 1:14:58, with the next rider at 1:17:19.

As for the Challenge times, I was excited to have taken first with a total time of 2:37:16. Kathy placed second at 2:38:05, and a guy from the area in third with a time of 2:41:43., almost 4 minutes back. Yes, the Bellas beat the boys in the Challenge! Now that we ordered our Bella skinsuits, we can ride the Challenge next year in real style!

Kathy will be participating in the Death Ride in California in August, and has been diligently training for the event. If any of you have ever done it, I’m sure she would welcome comments.

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