On Saturday, October 25, Audrey Huffman of Waitsfield became the women's champion of the O2x Summit Challenge Series, a string of adventure races that took place at ski resorts across New England this past fall.
After the first race, which took place at Sugarbush Resort's Mt. Ellen on September 13, "I was surprised that I won... because I'm not the youngest person out there," Huffman said. "But I love competition and I love being in the woods," she said. "And this type of experience wasn't new to me."
Huffman, 48, used to race mountain bikes professionally, and she spent 10 years competing on the World Cup Circuit. "Mountain biking was a lifestyle," she said, but "since having kids, I didn't want to take that time away from my family." The mother of two boys, ages 5 and 10, Huffman now works as a graphic designer at Sugarbush Resort, and she stays in shape by riding her mountain bike to work on the trails off of Tucker Hill Road in Fayston.
When Huffman heard about the O2x Summit Challenge, "I thought it sounded really cool," she said. "It came at a good time for me because I'd been dealing with some back pain for the last year-and-a-half and was getting really frustrated by it," Huffman said. When she decided to sign up for the race, she went to a physical therapist and started exercising more.
The O2x Summit Challenge Series, which started at Sugarbush and travelled to Sunday River Ski Resort in Maine, Loon Mountain Ski Resort in New Hampshire and Windham Ski Resort in New York, is physically demanding. All four races included between 1,500 and 2,500 feet of elevation gain over four to five miles of rocky, wooded ski mountain terrain, and "They used so much of your body," Huffman said.
In addition to riding her mountain bike, in training for the races "I made sure I ran like once or twice a week," Huffman said. Perhaps because of The Valley's hilly terrain, Huffman often found herself chasing people on flat sections of the O2x Summit Challenge races and passing them on steep sections.
After finishing the first race, which started at the base of Mt. Ellen and finished at the top, gaining 2,500 feet of elevation over five miles, "I knew I had done well for myself personally," Huffman said, but she didn't know how her time would stack up against the other competitors. At the end of the day, Huffman's 1:08 finish earned her first-place for women and eighth-place overall in a field of 180 competitors. "After that, my goal was to come in top 10 overall," in the upcoming O2x Summit Challenge races, Huffman said, and she did.
Travelling to Maine, New Hampshire and New York to compete in the O2x Summit Challenge Series was cool, Huffman said, "because each mountain had a different character," and she had fun meeting and connecting with people from all over New England. "It was such a great community," Huffman said of her fellow racers and of the O2x Summit Challenge Series founders and organizers, "who wanted everyone to have the best experience possible," she said.
Because O2x Summit Challenge Series courses made use of so many natural features, such as ledges and streams, running the race "was like being a kid again," Huffman said, explaining that it reminded her of going out the woods with her children, "who look for every rock to jump around on and every tree to climb," she said.
Huffman plans to do the O2x Summit Challenge next fall, "because exercising is one of the things that balances me out," she said. "I finished those races and I felt so good."