OH BABY: Pregnant Colorado Springs woman becomes 1st-ever female to climb 1,000 Inclines in a year
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - By any measure, Rachel Jones has an incredible resume.
She’s the female world record holder for most elevation gain in a year, the first-ever woman to climb 1,000 Manitou Inclines in a year, the 2022 female winner of the nationwide Max Vert Challenge.
Most astonishing of all: she accomplished all of this pregnant.
Jones started her Incline journey like anyone else, doing a lap or two once every couple of weeks or so, all while watching others in amazement and thinking she could never do what they do.
“I was just in a place in my life where the idea of doing [hundreds of Inclines] was just such a huge, impossible goal. I felt like I would need to improve my life in every aspect: physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, financially. I was a single mom back then with a 5-year-old, and just getting to the Incline that many times to do that many laps was a challenge. So, it just kind of became a thing, like a goal: one day, when I finally get my life together, I’ll finally do this crazy thing.”
Years went on, and Jones’ strength and stamina grew. In 2021, she finally decided she was ready to tackle what is known locally as “The 500 Club.” The requirement for membership: 500 Inclines in a single year.
“To do 500, you have to hike it about 10 times a week, so 10 times a week all year long and that averages about 500 a year,” she told 11 News reporter Lindsey Grewe.
Incredibly, that started to feel too easy.
“I’m doing doubles consistently and getting stronger and eventually I just got to the point where I felt like I was going to reach my goal and I was going to reach it early.”
So Jones decided to try something only a few others ever had accomplished.
“There’s a really small club called the 1,000 Club, and only three people have ever done it a 1,000 times in a year -- all men, all phenomenal, incredible, strong men -- and I thought, ‘Why not?’”
A big part of her desire to push for more:
“I wanted something that would push me more, that would stretch me more, that I would have to sacrifice more.”
She just never guessed how much more.
So at the end of December 2021, Jones officially started the clock on her 1,000 Incline challenge. She would have 365 days to complete it. She faced the usual hurdles early on.
“I was working full-time throughout this whole challenge, and I do have a 16-year-old son. So managing life around this challenge was a challenge within itself.”
The Incline is a mile-long scar in mountains overlooking Colorado Springs. It’s 2,768 steps of what was once a short, vertical railway taking tourists up Mount Manitou. The train shuttered decades ago, but the tracks remained and soon gained a second life as an endurance challenge for locals, and eventually, people around the world. It gains more than 2,000 feet of elevation within a mile, averages about 40 percent grade, with a max of nearly 70 percent.
Jones walked Grewe around a typical day on the Incline while on the road to 1,000:
“Of the 365 days that I hiked, I was on the trail 239 days, and that’s because I was working full-time. So, I really had to fit laps in around my work schedule, so sometimes it was a lap or two before work, or on my days off I would be there all day long. I did as many as 13 laps in a day.”
The 13 laps were actually part of another challenge within the challenge she was already doing: an Inclination, when people attempt 13 Incline laps within 24 hours, which comes out to about a marathon. So more than halfway through her challenge, Jones was doing multiple Inclinathons to help get her to 1,000.
She was stronger than ever, fitter than ever, her body was remaining injury-free -- no small feat for an endurance athlete -- her family was supportive: everything was going about as smoothly as it could.
Then with less than four months to go:
“I’m noticing my heart rate is elevated, I’m noticing that I’m more tired. I thinking maybe I’m overtraining, because that’s when I really started doing multiple Inclinathons -- in fact, I did three in a week. My body was just starting to feel rundown, and I’m thinking maybe I’m overdoing it, I don’t know what’s going on.
“Come to find out, end of September, I discover that I’m pregnant.”
Jones was thrilled about the pregnancy.
“But the timing wasn’t the best, obviously.”
Unsure if it was safe to continue towards 1,000 Inclines, Jones sought out her doctor.
“I spoke to my doctor, told her what I was doing, what was going on, and because I had already hiked so much leading up to the beginning of the pregnancy, my body was accustomed to continue going, so she was fully on board with me continuing, just said I would need to work around my symptoms of the first trimester, which were brutal.”
When she started the challenge, she had asked for something hard. She wanted adversity. Now, she would dig deep within herself to finish it.
“There were days where I planned on hiking, there were days where I planned on doing six, eight, 10 laps that day where I just couldn’t get out of bed, so I didn’t. The health of my baby and myself, they always come first. ... So it really was one day at a time, one hour at a time, one lap at a time. And I just didn’t even know if I could finish it, but I thought, ‘As long as I can do my best, I’m just going to try.’
“The first trimester, like I said, it was tough. Mainly it slowed me down a lot. Had I not become pregnant, I would have finished the 1,000 early, before the 365-day deadline that I had picked. However, I was okay with it because I started this challenge because I had wanted to dig deep within me and to push through adversity, and I wanted that struggle. That’s why I did this, that’s why I started this. So even though this made it harder, it was like, ‘Okay, this is what I asked for, I asked for it to be hard, I asked to not know if I could accomplish this.’”
All the while, no one but her family knew she was climbing for two.
“And not many people said anything, not many people noticed, but I did go from doing 10-13 laps a day to my max was about six.”
At times, it was frustrating for a woman who had been like a machine:
“Before that I could do a lap in about an hour, up and down, and now some of these laps were taking, two, two and a half hours to get through. The frustration of knowing I’m here twice as long and doing half as many laps, mentally that was kind of frustrating.”
But it also brought her back in touch with the woman she had been when she climbed those steps for the first time all those years ago.
“It was almost like I teleported back to Day 1, doing these slower laps and it being harder, and it was kind of a really neat and humbling experience to end in that way, to not end feeling like I’m my strongest and fastest and on top of the world; instead I felt like when I started in the beginning. It was a really cool feeling. It was like a whole circle of the Incline journey.”
Dec. 31, 2022, rolled around. It was the final day of the challenge, and Jones had 998 Inclines under her belt at the start of the day -- and still no one suspected she was pregnant.
“I took kinesio tape and I wrote 19 weeks on my belly with the tape, and when I got to the top, I lifted my shirt up and showed everyone and kind of announced, ‘Hey, I’m pregnant, I’ve been pregnant.’”
She completed her 1,000 laps -- plus another three in honor of her mom, who she calls her biggest cheerleader.
“Her birthday is Oct. 3, so I thought as a cool tribute to her, I could end on 1,003.”
As it would turn out, the day celebrated three generations of females in her family. Because on the same day Jones was crowned the first-ever “Incline Queen,” she discovered she was having a little girl.
And her little Incline Princess is already quite the climber before she’s even born.
“At the time of the 1,003 laps that I hiked,” Jones said, “she was with me for 440 of them.”
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