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Frozen breath, aching body, enduring heart

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Tori Shearn
  • 27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Lucy, 56th Special Operations Intelligence Squadron commander and 27th Special Operations Wing A2 (Intelligence) director, sat on his bicycle at the starting line of the 41st Annual Mt. Taylor Winter Quadrathlon in the below-freezing temperatures of Grants, New Mexico, on the morning of February 17, 2024.

As he waited for the four-sport race to begin, Lucy trusted that his lifestyle of maintaining physical readiness had prepared him for the obstacles he would encounter throughout the quadrathlon.

Living a life centered around physical readiness, Lucy competes in endurance races to integrate physical activity into exploring the area around Cannon Air Force Base.

He has competed in numerous endurance races including the Santa Fe Century, the Valley of Tears and the Bataan Memorial Death March he takes the opportunity to make connections with people.

“Every time I move to a new area, I like to do a lot of endurance races, and it helps me explore the new area that I’m in,” said Lucy. “I’ve done that every assignment I’ve been to.”

While looking for another race on the New Mexico Cycling Event Calendar, he discovered the Mt. Taylor Winter Quadrathlon, a four-sport race to the peak of Mt. Taylor, the highest point in New Mexico’s Cibola National Forest.

The quadrathlon begins with a 13-mile bike ride leading up to Mt. Taylor, a 5-mile run, a 2-mile ski uphill, and a 1-mile snowshoe to the summit. Once at the top of Mt. Taylor, racers turn around and do it all in reverse downhill.

Lucy signed up for the event a month prior, leaving him only a few weeks to train. However, due to his consistent training and the invaluable resources provided by POTFF, Lucy placed 20th out of 155 competitors.

Lucy starts his every morning by breaking a sweat on his indoor bicycle training in aerobic exercises. In addition to cycling, he capitalizes on the unique resources provided at Cannon Air Force Base by strength training with a Preservation of the Force and Family (POTFF) coach.

POTFF is a Special Operations Command initiative focused on enhancing the resilience skills of Air Commandos and their families. It’s responsible for implementing a holistic approach to maintain and improve readiness, operational effectiveness and the immediate and long-term well-being of the Special Operations Airmen.

“The POTFF team here at Cannon is really amazing, they’re all experts in their respective fields,” said Lucy. “Without having those resources I think my training would’ve been a lot more haphazard and I may not have been able to fine-tune it enough.”

During the four-and-a-half-hour drive to the Mt. Taylor Winter Quadrathlon in Grants, New Mexico, Lucy used the time to mentally prepare himself for the race by practicing mindfulness.

“Mindfulness is understanding not only how you’re physically doing, but how you’re mentally doing,” explained Lucy. “It’s an assessment or self-check on what you’re thinking about, how you’re doing, and really it’s maintaining that level of awareness.”

Once at the quadrathlon, he started the race with a strong 13-mile bike ride on the steep road leading up to Mt. Taylor, climbing 1,700 feet in elevation.

“I probably went out a little too hard on the bike,” said Lucy. “The initial bike uphill took me about an hour.”

Between each of the four components of the race, were transition stations manned by volunteers from Grants who aided competitors in exchanging their gear in preparation for the next part of the race.

Once finished with swapping out his cycling equipment for running shoes, Lucy began the icy and steep 5-mile run up Mt. Taylor. During the run, Lucy began to feel some pain throughout his body but persevered regardless.

“I was hurting a little bit, but I was able to run the whole way,” said Lucy.

In the steep 1,200-foot uphill ski, the lightweight skis he used gave him an advantage over other racers in the quadrathlon. As a result, Lucy passed many of his competitors, boosting his position in the race.

In contrast to the previous leg, the 1-mile snowshoe was much more difficult than originally anticipated. While the views as he climbed the summit were breathtaking, the snow was deeper than what Lucy had planned for.

“The snow was actually pretty deep on top, and I didn’t have very broad snowshoes so I was sinking in,” said Lucy.

After finishing the uphill snowshoe and the first half of the quadrathlon, Lucy stood at an elevation of 11,301 feet at the top of Mt. Taylor. At the summit, he realized he had run into an issue.

“I got to the top and at the turnaround point I realized I hadn’t been fueling properly on the way up,” said Lucy.

Throughout the downhill portion of the quadrathlon, Lucy addressed his fueling issue by taking advantage of the aid stations along the course for food and energy drinks.

As he snowshoed down Mt. Taylor, Lucy appreciated no longer having to fight gravity, but maneuvering through seemingly bottomless snow added another obstacle to the already physically demanding race.

“The way down is challenging from a mechanical perspective because there's a lot more pounding on your joints when you’re running down in snowshoes,” said Lucy.

As he worked closer to the finish line, Lucy realized the downhill ski course varied from its uphill counterpart. In addition, the steep corner and icy conditions were harder to navigate with his lightweight skis.

“When you’re going downhill on cross-country skis or a lightweight setup you don’t have much ability to dig into the snow and maneuver,” said Lucy. “You’re going down a winding road, where I saw a lot of people on the side who had fallen.”

18 miles from completing the quadrathlon, the run contributed to more pounding on Lucy’s legs. The physical demands of the labor-intensive of the quadrathlon had caught up to him.

“At that point, I couldn’t feel my quads which was probably a good thing,” joked Lucy.

In the race's final stretch, Lucy enjoyed the 13-mile bike ride from the bottom of Mt. Taylor into the neighboring town of Grants.

“The bike down back into town was amazing,” said Lucy. “You’re going down this winding mountain road at 30-plus miles per hour trying to apex the turns, so that was really fun.”

Having used his strengths to his advantage and following a detailed plan, Lucy discovered that he had placed 20th overall out of 155 competitors after crossing the finish line. Although his ultimate goal was to do well in the Mt. Taylor Winter Quadrathlon, Lucy was more than pleased to learn of his achievement.

“It feels great,” said Lucy. “It’s always exciting to be able to finish a large event and look back on the process of getting ready for the event and all the training that you’ve done. You realize that when you put in the work and you’ve put in the thought and effort into something, then you can achieve real great things.”

Lucy’s lifestyle of consistent training and readiness on and off duty was key in him performing so well in the Mt. Taylor Winter Quadrathlon despite only having a month to train for the event.

Cannon’s Preservation of the Force and Family team were instrumental in Lucy’s ability to develop and maintain his active lifestyle.

“The POTFF team here at Cannon is really amazing, they’re all experts in their respective fields,” said Lucy. “Without having those resources my training would’ve been a lot more haphazard, I may not have been able to fine-tune it enough and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to recover as quickly from some of the minor injuries that come up when you do these kind of events.”

For his next endurance race, Lucy plans to compete in the Pikes Peak Marathon in ​Manitou Springs, Colorado in late September. The Pikes Peak Marathon has a 7,800-foot vertical climb, taking runners from Manitou Springs to the summit of Pikes Peak at 14,115 feet, and back down totaling 26.2 miles.

Airmen interested in experiencing their own outdoor adventure can contact Outdoor Recreation at 575-784-2795. Outdoor Recreation offers a vast array of adventures such as snowboarding on New Mexico’s snow-capped mountains or horseback riding through the Lincoln National Forest.