The Breck Epic is a tough 6-day mountain bike race in the peaks surrounding Breckenridge, Colorado. And when one woman’s husband died before competing this year, she picked up his bib and headed to the starting line.
“I feel like I owe it to him to finish what he started.” — Dawn Whaley
Unlike most Breck Epic competitors, who spend 6 months to a year training for the race, Dawn Whaley didn’t decide to enter until 6 weeks ago.
It was not by choice. On June 27, Whaley was in the kitchen of her home in Hamilton, Montana, when her husband of 19 years, Marland, suffered a massive cardiac arrest and died. He was 60.
Marland had been a standout rider his entire life, first as a five-time motorcycle trials national champion and later as an endurance mountain biker. He’d won the masters title in the National Ultra Endurance series and this year planned to race the Leadville 100, then start the Breck Epic the following morning.
The day after he died, Whaley’s niece suggested she enter the races for Marland, who’d introduced her to mountain biking shortly after they met.
“I don’t even think I could ride my bike out of the driveway right now,” she replied. But it got her thinking, and the next day she says God told her in her bedroom: “You are going to do this, and you are not alone.”
Whaley dropped to the carpet and started sobbing.
Riding for Marland: Celebrating Life in the Mountains
She had struggled to schedule a memorial service for Marland. Doing the Epic suddenly seemed like a prerequisite to celebrating his life. She got permission from race organizers to transfer his entry into her name.
Training was condensed but cathartic. “It was the only thing that felt normal to me,” she said.
When she told her local shop, Red Barn Bicycles, that she wanted to race Marland’s new full-suspension bike, they installed a shorter seat post, new stem, new saddle, and 28-tooth chainring to adapt to the Epic’s monster climbs. Never mind that Marland rode a large frame and she rode a small.
As the race neared, Whaley grew intimidated by the 240 miles and 40,000 feet of climbing — almost all of it above 10,000 feet of elevation. She considered changing to the 3-day race instead of the 6-day but decided against it.
“I have something driving me to just try, even if I fail halfway through,” she said. “I figure I’ve been through the worst mentally and physically with losing him, and this race is going to be everything I can do just to survive and finish. But I have to do it.”
After the Epic concludes, Whaley will return to Montana and hold Marland’s memorial service on August 24.
This article originally appeared on the Breck Epic blog and is reprinted here with permission.