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Endurance racing and motherhood — Erin Huck’s new adventures

The Olympian and XC pro is making her way back to the races, starting with the Leadville Trail 100 this weekend

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Olympian and World Cup mountain bike racer Erin Huck is quickly becoming an endurance specialist — in more ways than one.

Nearly five months ago, Huck gave birth to a boy, Brennen, and is in the early stages of the lifelong endurance effort of motherhood.

And, she’s back on the bike. Originally slated to be part of the Life Time Grand Prix, Huck withdrew from the series after a stress fracture in her foot meant that Unbound Gravel wasn’t an option (she’d already missed Sea Otter due to Brennen’s birth).

However, the 41-year-old will be on the start line at the Leadville Trail 100 this weekend, and she’s eyeing other long-distance races like BWR Utah and marathon nationals later in the season.

Huck said that the pivot from XC to endurance wasn’t calculated per se, nor is it because she now has the responsibility of motherhood to contend with. As the Grand Prix has progressed and she’s seen peers like Sofia Gomez Villafañe and Haley Smith take to longer efforts with relative ease, Huck has come around to the idea.

“From my perspective, even if I hadn’t become a mom, there just aren’t any other choices,” Huck said. “If there were an XC series, I’d be tempted to do that, but there’s not. So I think endurance is our option if we want to keep racing bikes.”

And — Huck wants to keep racing bikes.

Saturday’s race above the treeline will be her first major effort since Brennen’s birth, and she hopes that it’s the first of many opportunities “to do some things that we’ve never done before. A lot of cool races and experiences that we’ve always had to skip. I’m looking forward to adding those back onto our horizon.”

‘A change of pace’

Huck’s return to the bike since childbirth has been an educational experience. From navigating the challenges of nursing during long efforts to balancing her race ambitions with those of her husband, Andrew Clemence, Huck has had to maintain an open mind about it all.

So far, that’s been the key ingredient to any kind of success.

“It’s a change of pace for sure,” she said.

Trailside pumping – the new norm

The physical changes — more so than the logistical hurdles — have actually been the easiest to navigate.

“I have not been focused on the numbers,” she said. “I’m not as fit and have a greater sense of fatigue. I get back from a ride and I’m not stretching and making a smoothie, I’m sitting in my chamois feeding a small human. It’s definitely not an easy thing, but I haven’t really had any issues with my body.

“I think I have a lot more appreciation for it now. I’m not my race weight but I’m also feeding another human. And I’m able to ride my bike for, so far, 4.5 hours, and still feed a human so I don’t have any issues with that per se.”

Huck said that she had a good recovery after her C-section and was able to ride her trainer three weeks post-op. Then, she transitioned to riding outdoors rather quickly. However, she wasn’t eager to get back into “training” by any means.

“The sleep deprivation and breast feeding takes its toll,” she said. “You’re on a schedule that’s not your own. I decided I was going to put training on the back shelf and use the bike as a happiness booster. So that was the priority for the first six weeks.”

Unfortunately, Huck got a stress fracture in her foot after those six weeks of feeling good on the bike. That set her back and prevented her from going to Unbound Gravel. It also triggered feelings she hadn’t necessarily had about returning to race — and her progress.

“That sucked,” she said. “I was feeling good. People were racing again, everyone was on social media, and it had been such a long time since I’d ridden my mountain bike on a trail.”

Fortunately, the fear of missing out hasn’t derailed her.

Huck said that watching racing from the sidelines has actually given her a greater sense of appreciation for where she’s come from.

“It’s like, that was our life once,” she said. “Watching the Lenzerheide World Cup was like, ‘oh it’s so beautiful there, and I remember that section,’ or ‘of course they got a dry course and we only got a wet course.’

“I guess it’s going through a bit of a grieving, saying goodbye to a part of my life that probably won’t happen again. But it’s mostly a joyful celebration of ‘I’m so glad I got to experience that.’ And I’m pumped to see the US women continuing to do so well. Shit, I’m glad I stopped when I did because I wouldn’t be able to contend with these girls!”

Huck, Brennen, and her nieces after USAC Mountain Bike Nationals

‘A family adventure as opposed to a stressful thing’

Huck is taking a nuanced approach to her return to racing, and so far it’s going well. Ned Gravel, the 60-mile race she won near her home of Boulder, was a good first test.

Not only did she learn how her body would react, she got to go through the paces of how her mind would act as well.

“It didn’t feel like the old days, that’s for sure,” she said. “I started the race feeling like my old self, ‘I got this, I feel good, I feel strong.’ Then, I royally blew up halfway through. ‘This is stupid, why am I doing this, everything hurts.’ But it was good because I didn’t even know if it would be possible. So it was good for me to be like, ‘oh we did do a race.'”

Huck — and Clemence’s — experience at Ned Gravel also helped the couple further hone in on details that will help the family of three racing into the future. While Huck’s stress fracture was part of the reason that she didn’t go to Unbound, she said there were also simply too many logistical hurdles.

Furthermore, if both she and Clemence wanted to race, who would watch the baby?

“I think we both had to take a step back when we realized that being a parent is more complicated than we thought,” she said. “It’s hard to balance who gets to ride on certain days. Trying to ride together? That’s a rarity.”

Huck out for a rainy training ride in Telluride while Clemence races.

Again, being open-minded, compromising, and bringing in additional support have been key. The couple has hired a nanny to help on Saturday’s, namely for racing and riding purposes. And, Huck and Clemence have struck a balance with their racing schedules.

For example, Clemence recently raced the Telluride 100, and Huck will be at Leadville. She said that being direct with their goals is tantamount to the compromises working out.

“I’m kinda approaching it like that, he gets one race, I get one race,” she said. “It’s a matter of saying ‘this is really important to me’ and the other person will try and make it happen vs ‘this would be really nice to do.'”

Nevertheless, Huck knows that her race schedule will be different than it was before having Brennen. It’s another reason that she believes the current model of off-road endurance racing ties in nicely with motherhood.

“I’m pretty happy with where things are at,” she said. “I was excited about the Grand Prix just having a series, a string of races to look forward to. I’m not going to be doing the series anymore but getting a taste of that, I’m starting to add some races onto my prospective calendar. I’m looking forward to driving to races, bringing Brennen with us, making it a family adventure as opposed to more of a stressful thing.”