Mary Decker Slaney goes the distance at alpine Death Ride

Mary Decker Slaney, 56, of Eugene, Ore., is ready to hit the road in Woodfords as she looks ahead to a climb up Carson Pass on Saturday at the Death Ride, Tour of the California Alps.

Mary Decker Slaney, 56, of Eugene, Ore., is ready to hit the road in Woodfords as she looks ahead to a climb up Carson Pass on Saturday at the Death Ride, Tour of the California Alps.

During a legendary track and field career that spanned the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, Mary Decker Slaney was accustomed to running before crowds that numbered in the thousands.

Since then she has exchanged her track spikes for an elliptical bicycle, and on Saturday, was one of 3,500 registered participants in the non-competitive Death Ride, Tour of the California Alps. She was one of at least 13 ElliptiGO Inc. riders who came to Alpine County for the 35th annual Death Ride.

Slaney, a four-time U.S. Olympian, who now lives in Eugene, Ore., and is just three weeks shy of her 57th birthday, couldn’t have been happier. After all, she finished the challenging five-pass Death Ride route aboard a red, white and blue bike painted by her husband, Richard Slaney, a British Olympic discus thrower.

Well, there was still one more goal to achieve when she spoke during an early afternoon break at the Woodfords aid station. Having already completed ascents of four mountains passes, she was on pace to finish the 129-mile distance in under 12 hours, but still faced 8,580-foot Carson Pass.

“I haven’t done the last one yet,” she said.

The odds were in favor of a woman who is the only athlete to hold every U.S. track and field record from 800 meters to 10,000 meters. She qualified for U.S. Olympic teams in 1980, ’84, ’88 and ’96 and was the 1982 James E. Sullivan Award recipient as the nation’s top amateur athlete.

Having run from the time she was 11, however, injuries and the onset of arthritis finally forced Slaney to seek an alternative to running. Three years ago, she found that alternative thanks to ElliptiGO.

The elliptical trainer “delivers a high-performance workout experience that closely mimics running outdoors while eliminating the impact,” according to the ElliptiGO website. Has it been a good replacement to running?

“Absolutely,” said Slaney, adding she has had 40 surgeries in her lifetime.

“The concept of this is for people who can no longer run. Runners developed it for people that didn’t cycle and couldn’t run but still want to run.”

ElliptiGO CEO Bryan Pate noted that the company has had participants in the Death Ride since 2009, and this year had nine attempt the event for the first time. Slaney was one of 10 to complete all five passes. Another, who accompanied his young daughter, only planned to do two or three passes.

The fastest ElliptiGO rider was Rick Bienias who completed the Death Ride in under 10 hours, Pate added.

“The bike handles the downhills great because it has a really long wheelbase, which makes it quite stable,” Pate explained. “Plus, the additional drag created by the standing position naturally keeps speeds under 50 mph even on long steep descents.”

Oh, by the way, Slaney is still highly competitive and is gearing toward the sixth annual Founders’ Cup, the World Championships of Elliptical Cycling, on Oct. 17 in San Diego. She has been a top-three finisher in the open women’s division the last three years.

“My favorite part of the race was the starting line because it was the first time since 1996 that I had the opportunity to start in an event of any kind,” she told after racing to second-place at the 2012 world championships. “I hope this sport takes off big time because it’s so fun and it gives people with injuries like myself the opportunity to pursue another sport and be competitive again.”


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