Meet the WomenMTB Members Riding True Grit Epic

Ever wonder what it’s like to train for a brutal bike race? WomenMTB club president, Raeshell Sutherland, gives us some insight into one of the gnarliest races in Utah, True Grit Epic. Read below to hear more from each of the members of WomenMTB club about their approach to preparing for such a hellacious race.

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"True Grit Epic", if that doesn't sound intense to you then I don't know what does. I'm thinking John Wayne walking through the sunset dust with his clanking spurs and blinding sheriff star kinda intense. With over 6,500 feet of climbing over 45 miles of red dirt and sandstone, some of the most technical terrain in St. George, Utah and hissing Gila Monsters, this annual early season race is not for the faint of heart.


A few women, sitting around a camp-fire after a halloween costume night ride, egged each other on to sign up for this early season (2nd weekend in March) endurance mountain bike race. Those few women turned into 13 who registered and paid and have been training since December. The True Grit Epic is a new adventure for most of us. We are typically downhill junkies who pedal, but rarely longer than a few hours. This challenge is bringing us closer together and making us stronger, better riders. Take a moment and meet these rad and inspiring women.

Raeshell Sutherland: (WomenMTB president and founder)

My mantra has been, "I can do hard things." I can't explain why, but I needed to do something that was a major stretch for me personally and something I would be proud of when completed. There are so many people that 50 miles on a MTB is really no big deal, I am NOT one of these people. Signing up for a race, I knew, would be the only way I would train through the winter, a time when I usually get more sluggish and gain weight. To be honest, training over the winter has been the hardest part. I HATE the trainer, it's hard to get to the gym with my husband's work schedule, so I took up snow biking and so far, so good. Training is going well. I did get sick a few times, also a challenge of training in the winter (Flu season, bleck!), but overall I am on track. I feel like I could at least finish the race at this point so am now working on getting faster.


Angela Wright: (Bingham Cyclery owner)

I've been riding bikes for almost 30 years. I've never been a racer, but I do like to challenge myself. This is the second year that I've taken on stretch goals by signing up for races that scare me a little bit. I've done plenty endurance events and have wanted to do the True Grit race for a lot of years, but have always been intimidated by the Zen Trail section of the course. Since I signed up, I've made it my focus to master that trail. Each time that I ride it, I clear more obstacles and overcome more fears. I've actually come to really like riding it, which has translated in me taking more risks and getting better on other technical trails that I ride. The next part of my goal for this race will be to piece it all together and work through the different power demands of the course. Forty-five miles of singletrack and 6,500 feet of climbing will either kill me or motivate me to keep pushing forward. My real "race" goal: Complete it, not: Compete it. Either way, the journey has already been worth it!


Shannon Casson:

Why in the hell would I sign up for such a challenging race? That's a great question I ask myself at least once daily! It's really an excuse to get into better bike shape early season, a fun way to meet more ladies to ride with, escape to the desert in winter, to learn new trails in the St. George area and of course to push myself. Grateful to have a bunch of ladies training who are super motivating and help me to avoid hitting the snooze button (most mornings)!  

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Kelly Konopa:

I started mountain biking a year ago and have completely fallen in love with it!  Before that I did endurance races in other disciplines -- road triathlons up to Half Ironman distance and ultrarunning up to 50 mile distance.  When I was in St. George while the True Grit Epic race was happening last year the seed was planted, I could combine my love of endurance challenges with my newfound love of mountain biking.  I threw out the idea of doing it to the ladies in the group and was excited when a bunch jumped on board with me!  I'm currently in shape for medium distance rides after doing a ton of biking this year, but am ramping up training to handle the longer time/distance, so far it's going great!  My goal is to finish before the cut-off time, and not break any bones in the process!

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Danita Ritter:

I am a regular gym rat and always looking for something to train for. I love racing! I may not be the fastest or the best but competing helps me set goals for training and push myself to be better. When my WomenMTB buddy Kelly K asked if I wanted to race True Grit I said Hell Yes! I am turning 50 this year and I want to do some epic events to welcome this big milestone. My training for True Grit is weight training 3x a week, trainer or fat biking 2-3x a week and treadmill intervals one day a week. This training program has been intense but I have seen great gains in just 3 weeks.


Jenn Hess:

Hi! I'm Jenn Hess from Wyoming. Seeing as this year pretty much stinks for skiing, I have been focusing on some mountain and snow biking, gym workouts, and running. I'm probably not in tip top riding form, but I think I'll survive. I love riding in Utah and haven't been to Southwest Utah in a few years. I also really like riding with Shannon. I thought, since we live so far away, why not make it an adventure and join her in a race? I get to have fun with a friend, ride some rad trails, push myself, and hopefully make some new friends in the process!


Piper Sadler:

My fitness level? Fitness level = awesome sauce ;) not sure how to rank myself on that. Raced Enduro last season and some midweek series before that. Why would I sign up for such a challenging race? because I love a suffer fest! Also I like mental challenges and I know physically I can do this if I say and I can so I want to prove it to myself. Let’s crush it!!!


Andee Bouwhuis:

My name Andee Bouwhuis and I am still questioning what state of sanity I was in when I committed to True Grit.  My training to date has consisted of lifting heavy weights 3 days a week, riding my trainer a couple of days a week, running at least twice a week, and swimming once a week so I am pretty sure, my fitness level for mtn biking is probably sitting at the bottom of the sewer system somewhere... but hey, at least I don't have anywhere to go but up!  I am approaching this "race" as an opportunity to grow and see how my mental game tackles the challenge.  My ultimate goal..... finish the race within the time allotted and still have a heart beat when I cross the finish line.

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Sarah Kaufmann:

My name is Sarah Kaufmann, I am really excited to do True Grit this year. It has been on my radar since its inception but this will be my first attempt. I am a cycling coach and professional racer. I have been lucky enough to race my bike all over the world. I love technical courses, the more rocks the better! So True Grit is really appealing. I am approaching the race with excitement and an open mind after a different fall and winter training season. I am curious to see where my body is at and no doubt this will be a good gauge and test. I also love when it works out that my coaching athletes are lining up at the same start line. I have several athletes competing at True Grit and I am looking forward to learning from all of them, being inspired by them and experiencing the race through their eyes. Photo by Dave McElwaine.


Julie Morreale:

Hello!  I’m Julie Morreale and the True Grit is will be my first race ever.  Honestly, I’ve never ridden more than 30 miles on any kind of bike so the length of this race will be my toughest challenge.  I signed up for this event to for fitness motivation (I tend to avoid cross country riding like the plague).  I’m so thankful for the support network of the other WomenMTB ladies riding True Grit.  It’s been pretty exciting to see everyone’s training progress and I can’t wait to see what we are capable of on race day.  This is not something I would have tried to tackle on my own!


Jessica Ashurst:

Hi! My name is Jessica Ashurst. I am going into my 5th mountain bike season, and am not sure what got into me signing up for True Grit! Peer pressure I guess. 🤪 No matter the reason, it has helped me stay motivated to ride throughout the winter. Even though i haven’t been able to train as much as hoped, I’m still determined to ride on race day and go as far as my body will let me. The other ladies from womenMTB signed up to do True grit have been such a motivation! I’m so excited to start the season off on this crazy ride.

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Birgit Reeves, Nancy Russell

* And a major shout out to all the club members, friends, and family that have helped these women train!

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I have learned that there is strength in numbers. The True Grit Tribe has made a challenging race and off season training period, possible and even enjoyable. Not only do we motivate each other to stay dedicated, we also have had opportunity to get to know each other in a way we never would have. Through our training rides and chats about the race, I have made life long friends that I will always rely on for a little motivation to keep going, in riding or in life. The race will be over soon, but these friendships will last a lifetime.