TransRockies Run

6 day 120 mile stage run across the Rocky Mountains

Brad’s tale of TransRockies

 

Back in October 2014 at Jeremy and Brenda’s wedding reception, Carlie told Jake and me about a fantastic run across the Rockies. She had moved away to Colorado a few years earlier, and was working her craft giving massages at a variety of events. The TransRockies run was not to be missed. What she described was a 6 day intense challenge with a great atmosphere and the BEST people. While I couldn’t commit to 2015 since
Maria would be giving birth to number three a couple months prior to the event, I put it on my list of athletic events that require serious consideration.

 

Over a year passed and we started thinking about 2016. Communication below:

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The months that followed were filled with family, work, travel and a LOT of training. Coach Mark at GPP
wrote a terrific training program tailored to a multiday event. Volume started lighter in the beginning to give our bodies a chance to snap back into shape. As the weeks progressed, Mark increased the overall volume with Friday, Saturday and Sunday being the heaviest days. The goal was to fatigue the body Tuesday through Friday. Have a long run while tired on Saturday then make Sunday something of an exercise in willpower. It was hard to lace up the running shoes since my body was really tired from the week and the really long run Saturday.
Monday was a much coveted rest day. On Tuesday it all started back up again.

 

Screenshot of TrainingPeaks where coach posts the workouts, I leave my comments and my Garmin syncs in the details:

 

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As an aside, for longer races, I believe the training journey needs to be one of the reasons for doing it. When I really think about “Why” I do longer events, a large part is that I enjoy building or rebuilding my body to a point where it can handle the event.
Training schedules, while they take precious time away from family, also keep me focused and challenged during the week. On the weekends I enjoy the time alone driving to the trailhead and the solitude of the miles (not to mention all the audio books I easily consume). I like seeing my body respond and I know
that each workout I complete will pay off when the race arrives. … But I digress. On to the trip!

 

We decided that we wanted to get to Colorado a few days early and do our best to acclimate to the elevation. The race officially started Tuesday morning at 8am so we decided to leave early Saturday.
I spread the packing out over the week knowing it was a CAMPING trip AND a running event where the weather varies from 30 to 100 degrees. It also required good nutrition and the food they would provide was unknown from the cryptic e-mail they sent back. By Friday night at 9:30 PM I had the Subaru
loaded down with everything I thought I’d need plus some miscellaneous things I wasn’t sure about.

 


Image3Jake arrived at the Pope house on Saturday morning at 4:10AM. We were both PUMPED up for our adventure. We parked Jakes truck in the driveway, loaded Jake’s stuff into the Subaru and headed for the hills. Then we drove and drove then
drove some more. Our conversations ranged from finances to dating but we kept coming
back to the ominous Rocky Mountain run in our future.

 

 


Image4We finally travelled through Georgetown, Colorado where we made a brief pit stop. On our way out of town we received a call from our great friends, the Guitar family. Their family had moved to St. Louis from Northwest Arkansas earlier in the year. They recently resigned from employment, sold their stuff, moved into a camper and drove off to Colorado. It turned out they were living just above Georgetown and were close as we spoke. Without hesitation we turned around and met them for dinner. It was GREAT to see them again! They regaled us with their story of downsizing and their adventures thus far.

 

After dinner we pushed on to the last hour to Leadville. We chose it as our destination since it was at over
10,000 feet of elevation and seemed as good a place as any to acclimate. When we arrived we checked into the Silver King Inn and Suites. With some peanut butter burritos we resigned ourselves to our room for the night to relax after our drive.

 

Throughout the day I could tell I was starting to feel the onset of a cold. I started slamming vitamin C and
tried to eat extra fruit to no avail. By the evening my head was foggy and I started having to blow my nose. Nooooo! I really didn’t want to get sick before the race.

 

Sunday 8/7/16

 

The next morning I went to the urgent care to see if I could nip it in the bud. After an interesting check-in
preamble I finally saw the Doctor. She turned out to be an endurance athlete herself and opted to not give me a quick fix to my impending cold. Instead she told me to take 2 Aleve in the morning and evening leading up to the race. When the race arrived only take 2 in the evenings. She also recommended I start out with 60mg of pseudoephedrine to dry out the sinuses but warned me about that the weather in the Rockies is dry and dehydrating by itself. With this in mind I took her advice on the Aleve and took 2 each night after
running. I passed on taking the pseudoephedrine. The cold with incessant snot rockets and nose blowing plagued me for the next three weeks.

 

When I described the cold to Maria after my visit she told me our baby Caroline had the same thing and that I probably caught it from her. What a parting gift from baby Choo Choo! Regardless, I decided to not let it ruin our trip and didn’t mention it again (nor will I dwell on it in this story).

 

We decided to spend Sunday rafting the Arkansas River’s Royal Gorge. We packed up and headed off with
plenty of time get there. We managed to miss a turn due to Brad’s poor navigating skills. When google recalculated it was 15 minutes past when the rafting company told us to arrive. I made a quick call to the rafting company and they told us they would “try” to wait. The rest of the drive there was somewhat frantic and, at times, we exceeded the recommended maximum speed for the road. While Jake drove, I was scrambling to change into my swimming suit and get the rest of my stuff in a dry bag for the river. It was pretty intense and we arrived just minutes before the bus left – Nice job Jake!

 

The Royal Gorge was simply fantastic. Jake and I were at the front of the boat and took the brunt of the cold water from the rapids in the face. The back of the boat was crewed by a foursome from
Michigan. The parents still lived there and their 20 somethings just graduated and moved to Colorado to find jobs. Another testament to the value the Unions continue to provide to the once great state of Michigan.

 

The rapids themselves were levels 3 and 4 and we worked well as a rafting team… Not to mention our guide Ringo had done this for 10 years and his commands to both sides of the boat were spot on. The water level was perfect and it pushed us through the rapids at the perfect clip. As we were going down the more intense sections, passenger trains would pull up on tracks alongside the river and snap pictures. When we went over the famous section of the Royal Gorge we looked up and saw the bridge spanning the top nearly a thousand feet above us.

 

With our need for adventure satiated for the day went decided to head back to Leadville through
Salida. Once back to Leadville, we made a brief appearance downtown to check out the night life on a Sunday night. We checked out the “Legendary” Silver Dollar Saloon. Jake and I attempted to play shuffleboard as a thunderstorm mounted outside. As we did so we listened to the locals talk about how it, as
well as some other establishments in town, were haunted. As if on que, the power went off and we were left in the dark. While we traded attention between the storm and finishing our game by mobile phone flashlight it was actually pretty a little spooky. We finally called it a night and closed our bill with
cash just as the power returned.

 

Monday 8/8 – Race Check-in

Next morning we packed up our things and said good-bye to the Silver King Inn and Suites. We grabbed Jake a breakfast sandwich in downtown Leatherwood. Since there were no options for pure plant eaters, I ate the last of Maria’s banana bread and a few choice items from our last grocery trip. We sat next to the Subaru and enjoyed breakfast in the cool mountain air… One of my favorite meals of the trip.

 

Image5We made for Buena Vista in high spirits and arrived close to 11:15. Our plan was to get to registration early (opened at 12), get our duffel bags and have plenty of time to pack them prior to the pre-race talk at 6PM.

 

The instructions in our race manual said: South Main Square (across the street from the Eddyline Restaurant and Brew Pub at 926 South Main) – open air park beside the Arkansas River. We
found the exact spot and… there was nobody there! So we checked and double checked the descriptions, intersection, restaurant, date of the race, etc. Finally at 12:15 with nobody else there, we decided to have a look around. As we started our search I saw a couple ladies that had duffel bags for the run! I chased them down on foot and asked for directions and told me about a site a couple miles away… by the OTHER Eddyline Restaurant in town!

 

 

In no time we arrived at the right race check-in location and it was quite a production. Flagging, banners,
tents, music, a beer garden and more! We got in line, checked in, received our huge bags, a t-shirt, race manuals, etc. We booked massages, took a few token pictures, mingled and tried out some of the inflatable couches they had set up for racers. Once we found the right location it was the best race check-in experience I’ve had!

 

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From there we drove to the edge of town 10 minutes away. We were staying with a friend of Jake’s and local Fayetteville, AR runner Natalie. She and her husband Scott bought a second home with another couple in Buena Vista a couple years ago and spend a few months a year there. She was kind enough to give us
a place to sleep for the night. She even held her lovely Weimaraners back long enough for Jake and me to migrate all our “stuff” from suitcases and bags over to our newly acquired duffel bags. As it turns out she was a long distance runner herself, completing the Leadville 100 and other century runs. In addition, she was a fantastic person!

 

Deciding what to bring was quite an ordeal for me since I hadn’t done the race before. I laid everything out on the table and spent the next two hours poring over my checklists to make sure that I didn’t leave anything out.

 

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Image11For some reason I also have somewhat of an emotional attachment to old clothes that have served me well. I tend to wear them until long after the threads start to fray and the areas with permanent stains are more prominent than the original colors of the shirt. When it is time to get rid of my old athletic clothes I like to give them something of a last hurrah and trash them after a final memorable event. Since this event was my big one for the year I brought a queue of clothes that were ready to take their final bow. This included old shirts,  socks and tri-shorts. I jotted down the shirt line-up (for the record, Branson  was in 2010 and my first shark sprint triathlon was in 2008 but you get the point – old shirts)

 

 

By the time we finished packing  our bags it was time for the prerace talk. We went back to the race check-in
area just as they were starting the ceremony. Since the Rio Olympics were taking place at the same time they decided to do a parade of nations to kick things off. They then went on to give us the breakdown for the next day and walked us through the 20+ mile course we’d race the next day. Finally we had a safety talk and they emphasized how we should leave the wildlife alone – don’t pet the bears. All in all it was a lot for the boys from Arkansas to think about!

 

We met Natalie out for a nice dinner and headed back to the Weimaraners and bunk beds at Natlie’s house. I
went to bed shortly thereafter and Jake worked on setting up a blog so people
could track progress.

 

Tuesday 8/9/2016 – Race Day 1 –
It finally begins. 

Morning came early but was welcomed nonetheless. I love RACE Day! It is such a whirlwind of activity
with a unique combination of anticipation and focus. I ate my pre-race breakfast, prepped myself, packed my duffel bag and packed my final luggage to be returned after Day 6 in Beaver Creek.

 

Breakfast each day was very similar. I learned my lesson during a three day mountain bike race in Costa
Rica called La Ruta De Los Conquistadores where I bonked partially due to lack of calories. Eating only plants, this time around I was hypersensitive to the quantity and quality I needed for proper nutrition. I packaged up 6 days of Maria’s “muesli ” Oats, raisins, goji berries, walnuts in individual bags. Each day I poured them in a square Tupperware. Then I had six individual servings  of almond milk I’d pour over the top. Some days during the race they’d have fresh berries I’d bring back to my tent and pour them over the top. Other days I’d just supplement the mixture with additional trail mix I’d pour on top. I also brought six individual 8 oz. V8 fusion Pomegranate Blueberry Fruit and Vegetable juice for each morning that I’d take with my vitamins. It is a poor substitute for my vegetable smoothie but better than nothing!

 

Each day as I ate breakfast I’d working on prepping my body for the race. Starting with the top half, I’d
apply sunscreen first then put a little lube on the nipples. Then the HR monitor went on followed by an old running shirt. Last, I’d don my running hat with sunglasses and a jacket to fend off the cool morning air.

 

From there I’d turn my attention to the bottom half and put sunscreen on my legs and a little lube in sensitive areas. Then came the tri-shorts which I prefer since I never chaff wearing
them. Next I’d tape my feet which became more time consuming as the race progressed. I started out by using surgical tape and two layers of socks to try to avoid blisters (as I had during training). Next the compression calf sleeves went on followed by shoe “gaiters” to keep the gravel out of my shoes. Finally I attached the timing chip around my right ankle which would ultimately go under my gaiter. Last I put on long pants to keep me warm until dropped them with my jacket in the drop bag later in the morning. Once done, my body was prepped and I could focus on the remaining logistics and stretches.

 

But I digress. Day one had some  extra logistics since we needed to drop our long-term bags, our big duffel bags and park the car in a lot where we’d leave it for the week. Once again wepiled everything into the trusty Subaru and were off.

 

The first stop was to drop all the bags so we didn’t need to tote them around town on foot. Volunteers  throughout the race were incredibly nice and helpful. At the bag drop a young lady in a volunteer shirt came over to get my bag. I told her I’d carry it over to the truck but she insisted. She tried to pick it up and promptly called out for help from another volunteer. It was REALLY heavy! With all my food it must have weighed over 70 lbs. at the start of the race. So began lugging around an ultra-heavy bag for the week. The only silver lining was that it was noticeably lighter each day.

 

 

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We drove to the designated parking lot and said “goodbye” to the Subaru and walked to the race start with plenty of time to spare. With a last trip to the bathroom I did some glute stretches and chatted with other athletes. We were so excited to race! We moved into the race chute and listened to the upbeat music while we waited. Finally “Highway to Hell” started to play which turned out to be a long-standing tradition at TransRockies. The race starts when the song ends. We collectively counted down the last ten seconds together then “BANG “the gun sounded followed by cheers and whoops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Description from the TransRockies brochure:

The running surface varies from gravel and rock to sand on a mix of trails, four-wheel drive roads and Forest
Service Roads. You may want to invest in a pair of gaiters for your shoes. From the start, you climb steadily to the high point at Checkpoint 1, and from there it’s mostly downhill to Checkpoint 2. Be ready for the last 4 miles, which is a grueling false flat on County Road into the finish at Railroad Bridge.

 

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The race started on pavement for the first block or two. Before we knew it we were crossing a bridge and
merging onto a single-track trail then which caused the field to pile up. We ended up in a single file line as we headed up the mountain. This made for a fast hike but definitely not a run. Secretly I was pretty happy about this. My heart rate (HR) was higher than it should have been and my head hurt. I wasn’t
sure how much of that was due to was anticipation, my cold or elevation. Regardless I wasn’t in a hurry to open it up early in the first stage.

 

A short time later the course opened onto a service road. As my pace increased so did my heart rate. I focused on controlling my breathing. Three steps breathe in then three steps breath out. When I
needed to I changed my breathing cadence to be two steps breathe in followed by two step breathe out. I kept my pace moderate and my HR lower regardless of what the other runners were doing.

 

I battled to keep my HR the rest of the day. Overall the course was very hot and dry the first day. I wanted
to make sure I didn’t blow up on day one and accumulate too much lactic acid and muscle debt. Jake was up ahead at this point and I see him on most straightaways. The first third of the day there were clusters of people on the single track in single file line which made it hard to pass. I’d fall in behind them for a
time then pass them when I could. Extra effort beyond my normal pace would
send my HR soaring.

 

I finally arrived at check point 1 which was 7.3 miles in about the same time as Jake. I drank water and ate
watermelon and oranges. It was fabulous the aid station had things I could eat! Not to mention it felt great to be a third of the way done.

 

After check point one we had our first experience with one of the downhills. I opened it up a little. Once again I had to be very cautious about my HR which floated up very easily. To stay in the same zones I’d slow it way down on the flats and walk some of the ups. I generally passed people on the downhills and they passed me right back on the flats and uphills.

 

One of the nicest parts of the race was mingling with the other racers on the trail. Generally people were
going in the same range of paces each day so you tended to see the same athletes again and again. The first day I met a guy from Indiana that sold recycled plastic. I jogged alongside friends from Salt Lake City, Utah. A
strong team of ladies from Alaska and a veterinarian originally from Sydney, Australia currently living in Portland. Along the way we’d make brief, panting introductions and start conversations that would abruptly start and stop in the hours and days to come.

 

A short time later I rolled into check point 2 at mile 13.9. I topped off my water, ate some fruit and kept
moving. From there the trail was rocky and sandy in some places and reminded me of some of the trails I’d ridden in Moab. As my body fatigued I slipped on my headphones and listened to some Avett Brothers to take my mind off the heat and get me to checkpoint 3 some 16.9 miles in.

 

The final four miles was interesting. It was a long exposed loose dirt and gravel road under the
pounding sun on something called a “false flat.” The road looked flat but was slightly up just enough to make it more of a challenge. As we approached we could see the finish area about three miles away but it took an eternity to get there in my race HR zone. Several racers were walking the length of the flat.
I changed my song selection to Great Big Sea and rocked out. It was probably pretty funny to watch me. I’d run for 200 – 400 feet until my HR would jump up into zone 5. Then change to a fast walk until my HR dipped into low zone 2 then I’d repeat the sequence.

 

Elevation and Heart Rate from my Garmin. Highlighted part are my intervals on the false flat!

 

I finally came around a corner, saw
the actual finish chute and made one final push to finish the day in 39th
place in the Men’s 50 and under open with a time of 4:20:43. By itself day one
was epic and, while it felt like finishing a long race, I knew it was only one
of six. I immediately worked on recovering. I didn’t know we could use a drop
bag for the first stage so I didn’t have flip flops or spare clothes. I
enjoyed some of the salty snacks they provided at the end of the race.
Specifically potato chips and pretzels along with the fruit seemed most
appetizing. They also had candies like peanut M&M’s and GU recovery
products but I steered clear of these.

 

Another great part of the race is
that we had access to very cold water at the end of each stage. The first day
the water was the coldest as we ended next to a river fed with the melt-off
from the mountains. As I walked down to the bank I could see runners putting
their legs in to help with the recovery. I sat next to the team from Alaska in
the freezing water and lowered my legs in. It was unbearably cold and my arms
kept my legs hovering half way in. The ladies from Alaska told me to bear down
for 3 minutes then you get used to it. I did and they were right. My legs
became somewhat numb and it felt amazing. I even laid down and put most of my
upper body in the icy river, too. I stayed in close to twenty minutes which
was about ten minutes too long. When I tried to get out by body silently
rebelled and refused to move the same way I asked it to. It even threw a few
uncomfortable cramps my way as if to say, “not so long next time.” I spent a couple
hours shivering until I could get some warm clothes from the campground!

 

I ran into Jake and congratulated
him on his finish. After a while we made our way to the shuttles which took us
to the Arrowhead Campground where we’d spend the night. Once we arrived we got
our first experience with TransRockies camping. Here is how the sequence goes.

1. Arrive at the campsite where
all the tents are pitched (at Arrowhead this was on top of a formidable hill).

2. Check in and receive a
ribbon.

3. Find a tent without a ribbon
on it in a suitable location (away from the main location so you can’t hear the
speakers and within 100 feet of a bathroom and next to a fence or a tree where
you can air your stuff out.

4. Put a ribbon on your tent to
claim it then get your bag and bring it to your tent.

5. Go back and get your duffel
bag and lug it over

6. Unpack and unfurl all camping
gear for the night!

 

So Jake and I found a tents in “tent
city” then shuffled off to the shower trucks. The shower trucks are amazing inventions.
They had about 9 individual stalls housed in the back of a semi-trailer. From
the inside you could hear the generators outside heating hundreds of gallons of
wondrously hot water. Pressure was adequate and privacy was provided by
individual curtains. The fact that we could enjoy a hot shower every evening
was simply an awesome perk. After I finished I changed into running shorts
covered with warm clothes since it cooled down considerably at night in the
mountains.

 

Each night at about 4PM they
would announce winners of the day. They would get a round of applause and a
kiss from one of the volunteers or fellow racers. The DJ made it a fun
ceremony and Jake and I attended the first night. Crazy Mountain Brewery
sponsored the race and there were always coolers full of complimentary beer
available. Each day I’d usually have one after the race while we went through
our evening routine and potentially one at dinner. Given the physical demands
I was putting on my body there no way I could overdo it with beer.

 

From there we headed into the
dinner tent. With a check mark on our TransRockies ID they let us into the
dinner tent. Each night there was a very similar selection on the
“vegetarian” table with the exception of Day 5 where they had roasted
veggies. Essentially they had beans, beets, salad, seeds, olives and a bread.
They had a few other miscellanies raw materials without a main course. I’d
jump between the vegetarian line and the regular line and pull out things like
taco shells, refried beans, etc, in order to get some variety. Regardless I’d
fill my plate to the point of overflowing and eat everything to make sure my
body had enough fuel for the next day.

 

From there, went to a massage
with Scott. He went to work on my hip which was really bothering me in the two
weeks leading up to the race and helped move some of the lactic acid out of my
legs. I don’t generally get massages after events but in a multi-day stage
race where you need to focus on recovering they become much more important. I’ve
been accused of being cheap when it comes to athletic niceties. I have a hard
time buying the newest athletic fads or chachkies and accessories at any race, but
I don’t have an issue dropping $200 to get massages on most nights during a
multistage race like this. It really does help performance. I scheduled Scott
for the first night and Carlie from day three onwards.

 

Each night at six we had another
gathering where we recognized the winners for the overall race in each of many
categories. Then we went through the race course turn by turn for the next day.
After that Houda, the operations manager, would also regale us with fun stories
of the day and give miscellaneous fun awards like the “jackass”
award. We’d transition to a quick video and a slideshow of the spectacular
views and racers doing fun things during the course of the race.

 

Overall, the flow and all of the
activities and the awards helped nurture a really fun and light culture in camp
and out on the course. There was plenty of pain and discomfort so this crazy undertone
was very welcomed by the racers.

 

After the race announcement
racers went their separate ways. Some would stay in Chillville and enjoy the
company of other racers. Others went back to their tents and got situated and
made preparations for the next day. I was nearly always in the latter group. The
first night I chose to get situated for the next day, replenish my race pack
and relax with a softcopy of the book Pollyanna which I briefly read each night
before I went to bed.

 

Wednesday 8/10/2016 Race Day 2 –
Up then down and my rude introduction to blisters.

 

Description from the TransRockies
brochure:

 

Starting from Vicksburg, not far
from the turnaround of the Leadville Trail 100, you will start climbing gently
on gravel Forest Service Road. The first Checkpoint is at only 1.7 miles at the
Sheep Gulch railhead, where you will enter the singletrack and start climbing
steeply for about 2.5 miles to the summit of Hope Pass at over 12,500 feet.
After this outstanding photo opportunity, you will descend toward Twin Lakes.
The trail is steep and technical until the aid station at 5.3 miles, and then
descends more gradually down to the altitude of the lakeshore at about 9,200
feet. From there it is a beautiful rolling singletrack trail on the south shore
of the lake and through the historic village of Interlaken. The last few
minutes are on dirt road to the finish. Remember to bring enough water for the
entire stage, since supplies are limited at Checkpoint 2.

 

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This time of year in Northwest
Arkansas it is hot and humid. You can go out and mow the yard at 7pm and it is
still hot and humid. Nights cool down appreciably but not enough to open the
windows in the dead of summer to cool down the rest of the house. This is NOT
the case in the Rockies. By the time the sun went down it was in the 60s with
the temperature dropping fast. I love sleeping in the cold and enjoyed the
reduced temperature.

 

And then there is tent camping.
I generally prefer to lay a tarp on the ground, lay my bedroll on top of it
then fold the tarp over the top. It is a much more efficient way to camp
though it does lack in the privacy department. While I’ve slept under the
stars many nights before mountain bike races in this fashion it has been years
since I’ve slept in an actual tent. The tents themselves were in fine
condition AND a team of people had already set them up and tore them down each
day for us. That part was hard to beat.

This was our first morning waking
up in tents with a new routine to complete and on this particular morning we
were getting shuttled to Vicksburg and the shuttles started at 6:45. I woke up
before 6 AM, shuffled to the port-a-potty then started in with my breakfast and
race prep routine in my tent. It took me quite some time to get organized in a
confined space surrounded by all my stuff. Once complete, it took me more time
to deflate, zip, repackage and shove all my stuff back into the duffel bag. By
the time I poked my head out at 7:00 there were already people walking through
the campground telling us to hurry up! Jake came out of his tent and we went
down the hill to the breakfast area. I grabbed a cup of coffee and Jake
grabbed a quick bagel with peanut butter. We then joined the short line of
folks waiting to be shuttled to the start.

 

On the shuttle we sat behind the
young ladies on the Nike off-road race team. They were nice twenty somethings and
regaled us with their running stories of Western States and international
competitions they’d done. Did I mention there was a strong field doing the
race?

 

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First part of the Van ride was
great on the blacktop roads. We then turned onto a rutted gravel road which
tossed Jake and me around in the back of the van. By the time we arrived I was
more than a little grateful and somewhat little sick to my stomach!

 

When we arrived we had a few more
minutes to do some token stretches and take one last trip to the port-a-potty.
On the way to the chute we passed our drop bags to the volunteers then waited
for the start.

 

The race started with a couple
quick miles on a road then turned off into what seemed like a semi wooded campground.
It seemed strange to come to the first aid station 1.7 miles in. Very few
people stopped.

 

Immediately after the aid station
we piled onto single track that simply went up. We shuffled along in a single
file line. Given how narrow the trail was it was very difficult to pass people
so we all just focused on grinding out the trail in front of us.

 

It was the first time I had used
my trekking poles in my life and I was really enjoying them. In Leadville, I
watched 4 or 5 videos on the best way to hike and run with poles and this was
trial by fire. The guy in front of me was using poles as well. I made sure I
didn’t poke him and that I didn’t get poked myself. I employing the limited techniques
I knew. Right pole left leg. Left pole right leg. Repeat. The mule line continued
straight up.

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Image17With pounding hearts we finally cleared the tree line. From there the steep uphill continued but it was easier since we had an amazing view to glance at between breaths.

 

 

Image18Continuing our 3,200 feet ascent 2.5 mile ascent!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is not much else to say other than we climbed, chatted a little with those around us and climbed some more.

Here is our final ascent to Hope Pass

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Once at the top it was gorgeous!
I stopped and took some pictures.

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I was elated that the downhill
was next. With my trekking poles strapped to my back and kicked up my feet and
went… fast!

 

The first part was a rocky
mountain face and I sprinted down it and ran off the trail around folks in the
way. This part was fun and a little reckless. It wasn’t long until I came
upon the second aide station 5.2 miles in. I briefly grabbed some water and continued
on. The trail was soon engulfed by the tree line and became a wooded single track.
I still had sunglasses on and continued to cook along at breakneck speeds. The
ground was moist and there were roots that stretched across the trail. My legs
were tired and not always doing exactly what my mind told them to and I tripped
and recovered a couple of times. You would think with all these warning signs
it would be enough to slow down.

 

Then it happened… my foot kicked
a root on a steep decline and my weight went forward. Usually in these situations
like this I instinctively do a forward roll to save my hands and knees the road
rash. This time my body executed a forward roll but, for the first time ever, I
had trekking poles hooked across my pack and over my shoulder. As I went over
they dug into my shoulder with all my weight and forward momentum.

 

I went through the rest of the
roll but could tell I hurt my shoulder. My trekking poles had come undone too
and I “pulled over” on the side of the trail and assessed the damage. I bumped
my knee and I had a hard time moving my right arm up. It felt similar to when
I tore my rotator cuff during my undergrad. My poles seemed to be alright so I
re-stowed them and vowed to go a little slower.

 

Down went the trail and me on it.
I turned on some Loreena McKennitt of all things and let the slower Celtic music
slow my pace down. I was passed a couple times and passed about half a dozen
folks as we descended. The Velcro had come off of my right gaitor and I felt a
rock in my shoe. I stopped twice on the way down and couldn’t find it. I assumed
it must be between my socks somehow and that I’d need to fish it out after the
race.

 

Eventually the wooded trail
turned into more of a ragged jeep trail then it turned into lovely single track
that went across a meadow and jumped up and down along Twin Lakes. It
eventually dumped us onto a windy road that poured out in the finishing chute.
I passed a few more people just before the finish and felt better about my
performance knowing that I’d pushed harder. I ended day 32nd with a
time of 3:05:42. Overall that upped my standing to 35th place!

 

At the finish line I grabbed some
water, fruit and potato chips and found a quiet place to dig out the rock in my
sock. After laying down for a few minutes I pulled off my socks and shoes and
searched. I quickly realized that I didn’t have a rock in my shoe but a silver
dollar sized blister on my right heel. As far as I can recall I’ve never
blistered there before and had no idea what it felt like!

 

Not sure what to do I walked over
to the medics so they could take a look. They took a look and told me it is in
a challenging spot but they could help once I got cleaned up. With that I
headed over to the lake, waded in and soaked my legs to begin recovering for
the next day. Then I caught a shuttle to the Leadville campsite.

 

Back in Leadville I started the
tent routine. That night we camped on Leiter Field. Moving slowly with a bum heel
and shoulder I found some tents for Jake and me, and went back to retrieve my
bag. When I found bag number 691 in a huge heap on the ground I just stared at
it for a couple minutes while I strategized on how I could pick it up. Finally
I heaved it onto my right (good) shoulder and limped towards the tents. About
50 yards in a hulking volunteer took pity on me and took it nearly all the way
to my tent. A VERY kind gesture on his part. It reminded me how quickly we
can go from being strong to being weak and need the help of others.

 


Image22After I showered I went over the medic tent for their promised TLC. They worked through the range of motion on my shoulder and told me it would be okay to run if that motion didn’t hurt. They also treated the blister. They drained it and injected it with zinc in to help dry it out. They told me to come back the next morning so they could tape it up.

 

From there I met up with Jake and we headed over to enjoy “Taco night” and watch the race instructions
for what promised to be a daunting third day. I walked back to the tents wondering what it would be like to run the next stage in somewhat of a battered state.

 

As the sun was setting we has some fantastic views from tent city.

 Image23

 

Thursday 8/11/16 Race Day 3 –
Wrestling with Demons

 

Description from the TransRockies
brochure:

Our
longest stage, stage 3, has moderate elevation gain, with the largest climb out
of the way early in the stage. After 2.5 miles on pavement out of Leadville
you will climb steeply on four-wheel drive road to the summit of the first
climb. Descend again on double track into the first checkpoint. A more gradual
climb on doubletrack takes you onto Ski Cooper, where you descend to Checkpoint
2 in the ski area parking lot. You will cross the highway at Tennessee Pass
onto the Continental Divide. From there you can look forward to a long rolling
descent. You will be running on the Continental Divide National Scenic Trial
into Camp Hale. Once you hit the gravel flats in Camp Hale you have about three
miles of gravel ahead of you, which will test your mental toughness. You finish
at Nova Guides, where camp is waiting.

 

Image24

 

I woke up at 5:20 and visited the
Port-a-potties then stopped by the dining tents to grab some coffee and hot
water to warm me up. Leaving the dining tent on my way to the medical area I bumped
into Carlie! She got in late the night before to work at the event and it was
great to see her again. We briefly caught up and I continued on to see the
medical staff.

 Image25

 

The strategy of the medical staff
early on was to elevate the areas around the blister to keep the stress off of
it. They cut the foam in donut shape then taped over the top of it so I could
run. Once this was done I headed off to complete the rest of my morning
routine in my tent. As I did my final check I couldn’t find my MP3 player. It
is usually not a big deal but I had really been enjoying listening to it later
in the race each day. While it wasn’t a hugely expensive nor critical piece of
equipment I was still beating myself up for losing track of it.

 

We were ready with plenty of time
which gave Jake enough time to eat breakfast. The race started in downtown
Leadville so we made the three block walk. It was fun to walk through the side
streets of the famed high altitude town. Once we arrived we stretched, did our
last minute preparations, threw our drop bags in the TransRockies van and
headed for the chute.

 

There was a big pileup of people
trying to get into the chute and the race start was minutes away. Then I
remembered I forgot my race bib in drop bag. I ran back and dove into the van
that held hundreds of drop bags. After a time I miraculously found mine,
pulled it out and went to find Jake again. I caught up with him just where I
left him… stuck in line. So with 10s of people in front of us “highway to
hell” started playing and the race started. We patiently waited and realized
that they were doing a gear check for the first day so both volunteers and
athletes were trying to get the process down. Jake and I were finally admitted
and jogged towards the start line. We were under the impression that it was
chip timed and that it didn’t matter when you crossed the start line. Note:
Later in the day we found out that was not the case when we saw we lost ~3
minutes compared to our Garmin run time! It is probably better at that point
that we didn’t know.

 

The stage started off with a run
on the main drag of Leadville. I’ve read snippets about the town and its
history in several books before and it was very cool to get to run through it.
After the run through town there was a great paved downhill that made us feel
fast despite our tired legs. After about 2.5 miles we moved off the paved
trails onto something of a jeep trail. We ascended… then ascended some more.
I was using my poles and pushing through it but I could tell that my legs were
tired from the intense downhill pounding the day before.

 

One we summited the first hill we
had a nice downhill run to the first checkpoint at mile 7.2. I was feeling fine
but felt pretty fatigued at that point. As we started doing the downhills I
could feel it in my heel and took a conservative approach compared to what I
had done the day prior. Going into mile 8 I really didn’t feel like racing
and 24 miles seemed like a huge day. This is the point that I had to wrestle
with my demons and the rest of the day became something of a mental chess match
against myself. I prayed a few more times than usual and that helped as well.
I decided not to race but simply to enjoying the day, the mountains and the
run. In this way I made day three into something of a sightseeing day with
plenty of pictures.

 

Image26

 

 

The uphill sections had great
views. I practiced using my trekking poles which I used for ~70% of the day.

 

At the second aid station 14.3
miles in I decided to unleash Coca Cola. In past endurance races I’d used
drinking it as a last resort for late in the race. Since it is a sugar and
caffeine boost you run the risk of bonking if you don’t continue to feed your
sugar rush. That stated, it is a magical experience to drink Coke during an
endurance race! That specific combination of carbonation, sugar and caffeine noticeably
kick start the body. That coupled with my prayers and the fact that the rest
of the race was mostly downhill helped me get my head back in the game.

 

I gritted my teeth, picked up my
pace and let gravity do most of the work. As we arrived on the bottom of a
long downhill the trail had a great single track section that spanned across an
open field. I stopped and struck up a conversation with a runner named Carlos
from Costa Rica. We ended up running together part of the day and crossed
paths many more times over the coming days.

 

Image27

 

 

I also took the opportunity to
get a photo with the TransRockies Yeti!

 

Image28

 

After a few more ups and downs in
the physical and mental sense I came out at 21.6 miles at checkpoint 3. I
promptly consumed a couple more cups of coke and mentally hardened myself to push
through the last 3 miles. Most of it was on a gravel road leading up to the
NOVA guides camp. My body was tired but I started out with a fast jog. I
stopped to get a stone out of my shoe and had a hard time getting started
again. I had my trekking poles out and did some fast trekking then did a fast
jog then walked then repeated the sequence.

 

We could see the NOVA guides camp
on our left for most of the three miles and it seemed to take forever to get
there. Finally I reached the last hill and alternated between a fast walk
and a jog. When I reached the top I jogged down to the bottom and into the
chute to complete the third stage. Wow what a stage it was! I was exhausted
from the first three days and emotionally drained. It was also the first time
during the race that I felt physically hungry when I was running. I ended the
day in 44th place which dropped my overall position to 37th
in the men’s under 50 open.

 

I spent the third night focused
on relaxing and recovering. I did the usual tent routine and found Jake and I
a couple tents on the edge of tent city. We’d be at this campground for a
couple nights so I wanted to find a good spot. I was able to soak my legs
since there was a wonderfully cold lake in the middle of our campground. There
was a group selling burgers and veggie burgers in which Jake and I indulged.
It tasted delicious though the veggie burger hit my gut like a bomb.

 

Once again I enjoyed the shower truck
then headed over to see the medics. The blister on my right foot expanded a
little but the skin didn’t break so they took everything off to let it breath
in the open air. I also stopped by the lost and found (50 gallon Tupperware
bin) to see if anyone was kind enough to turn in my MP3 player. At the very
bottom of the bin it was there – with my headphones still attached! Hurray!

 

Next I went to see Carlie for a
massage. She worked on my shoulder and stretched out some tired leg muscles.
That girl works just as many miracles as Coke! It was great to catchup with
her again and that may have been as good as any massage.

 

Image29

 

The folks at TransRockies hosted
the annual beer mile event the night of Stage 3 as well. Essentially the
participants chug a beer every quarter mile and see who has the fastest time.
With the entire TranRockies field there to watch the participants they fired up
the clock and the beer athletes went to work. The group of ~20 chugged their
first beer than ran a quarter mile up the road to a table set up with their
next round. At each stage the leaders tended to drop some clothes until the
finisher came in without any on. The whole thing was very entertaining. I was
a little disappointed that I didn’t have enough gas in the tank or skin on my
heels to participate but the thought of chugging a beer at that point in the
race was repulsive to my body (physical gag reflex).

 

After we reviewed the Stage 4 course
with the group I settled my gear in the tent for the next two nights. Unlike
some of the other places we’d stayed, we were in the back of the beyond and
there was no connectivity while we stayed there. By this point I’d been away
from my family for about five days and I really missed them. Not being able
to make contact somehow made it worse. Perhaps that is part of our human
condition. When we really can’t have something we want it even more.

 

Image30

 

As I read my book in my sleeping
bag the temperature continued to drop outside. The country singer employed by
the event was playing some great classic songs that were naturally amplified by
the lake and projected out through tent city. About 150 of the athletes were
doing the three day event and their race had officially come to a close with
this stage. They were swapping stories and living it up. I put my ear plugs
in just before ten and drifted off into oblivion.

 

8/11/16 Race Day 4 – Back in the
saddle

 

Description from the TransRockies
brochure:

Like
Stage 2, stage 4 is short and steep, although it tops out a little lower, at
11,700 feet. Starting with a rolling run on gravel roads for about 2 miles, you
will then start climbing on a jeep road, which gradually gets steeper as you
work your way up Hornsilver Mountain. Remember to bring enough water for 12
miles, since supplies are limited at Checkpoint 1. Once on top, you are treated
to an extended run on the rolling meadows along the ridge with views of Mount
of the Holy Cross before starting the descent into the Wearyman Creek drainage.
Watch for loose footing on the way down, as this stage has claimed a few ankles
and bloodied a few knees. Once you turn left at Wearyman Creek, the creek is
running down the middle of the trail. There is no way to avoid getting wet, as
this water section goes on for about half a mile. The water is never more than
knee deep and is cold, which is refreshing for hot feet.

 

Image24

 

That was the coldest night we had
so far on the trip. I had a sleeping bag rated for 20 degrees and a mat that
kept it well off the ground. With this I was still a little cool. I ended up getting
up and unfurling my camping blanket and putting it inside of my sleeping bag. I
then slept very well which also makes it harder to get up. I finally got out
of bed past my alarm at 5:28.

 

I hit the dining tent for coffee
and hot water to warm me up then headed off to the taping table for the two
blisters on my right foot. To give you an idea of the experience picture a
small line of athletes six to eight people deep all bundled up waiting to get
tapped. It is dark outside but the medical tents are aglow with headlamps and
the medical staff buzzing back and forth between their patients and their totes
of supplies. Most athletes have stoic faces while they wait for the coffee to
kick in and the sun to come out and take the cold edge off the morning. Dew is
on the grass and the padded tables are cold and hard with the exception of the
spots warmed up by the previous athlete.

 

At this point I knew most of the
staff by name. With a handshake and a pleasant exchange I pulled off my socks
and shoes and laid back and chatted for the next 5-10 minutes while padding and
tape were applied.

 

The morning of this stage was
nice since we didn’t need to break down our gear or get shuttled to the start
of the race. It started exactly where it finished the night before which was
squarely in the middle of our camp. Since we lost some time the previous day I
made sure I was in the chute 20 minutes early and had plenty of time for the
gear check. In addition I walked right up to the top of the chute next to all
the really fast runners. I figured time was time and it probably cut 15
seconds off my time for free.

 

I stretched and walked out of the
chute to use the “restroom” one last time. Back in the chute “Highway to Hell”
was playing and before I knew it we were off yet again.

 

As expected I was being passed in
droves. It really didn’t bother me as it actually made me keep up a brisk pace.
As per the usual the first couple miles were on gravel. We ran up the brief
down we had ran the day prior to get into camp. From the onset I felt “off.” My
gut and body in general weren’t right with the world but I was keeping a fine
pace so I let it ride. Note: when I say “fine pace” I mean a pace adequate for
a 6 day 120 mile run. To calculate it for yourself take a pace that you would
be disappointed with in a flatland marathon then add a couple minutes per mile.

 

This is a good time to add that the
training that Coach Mark at GPP had me do was very effective. In the mornings
I felt tired but I was very used to this feeling during my training so I didn’t
give it a second thought. Thanks Coach!

 

After some turns we pulled off
the gravel road and the jeep trail began in earnest with the climbs. At first
the angle was gradual and I really enjoyed doing it with trekking poles. As we
hiked up the four mile incline it became steeper and steeper. The good news is
that the crew of folks that I had been running with most days caught up to me
so the conversation was good. I also met
Nikki Kimball who was
on a team pulling her partner up the hill with a rope and a lanyard. I had
seen her in a documentary my brother sent me earlier in the year. When I first
saw her at the race I was scratching my head trying to place her. Then it came
back me! They were very nice.

 

While they warned us the night
before that the trail was steep, I wasn’t mentally ready for just how steep it
became. There were sections of this that I didn’t think a 4 wheeler could get
up!

 

At last we were at the top of the
tree line and we left the steepest part of the day behind us. From there it opened
up to some amazing views!

 

Image31

 

I had a little fun with a heel click in front of the photographers from Raven Eye.

Image32

It wasn’t long before we arrived
at Checkpoint 1 at mile 6.1. From there the majority of the rest of the day
was downhill which turned out to be great terrain. It is hard to describe the
trail. It was similar to a much worn jeep trail with lots of ups and downs.
It would have been fun on a mountain bike. I didn’t fly down due to my heels.
I couldn’t go to slow without doing more heel strikes so I chose a moderate
pace and kept it steady. My left heel was starting to light up the same way my
right was.

 

Image33

At the bottom the trail merged
with an extremely cold stream. Amazingly cold. In other words, we needed to
run with the current down the stream to stay on the race course. The water
was never more than knee deep but it was moving pretty quickly which made it
hard to see all the rocks underneath the water.

 

At first it was physically
painful to have water that cold on my feet. That coupled with all the rocks
I was kicking put me in a foul mood temporarily. After a few minutes my feet
went numb and I just went with the flow so to speak and it made everything
much easier. We ran in the stream for about a mile after which our feet were
thoroughly numb.

 

 

As soon as we came out of the
water we were greeted by the second checkpoint some 11.7 miles in with only
three miles of downhill left. With a couple token cups of Coca Cola I dug in
for my last three miles. They were great and felt awesome! Nothing like
gravity to help at the end of the race.

 

With my Garmin telling me we were
getting close I started passing some buildings, then a house or two and then I
was in the quaint town of Red Cliff. As I rounded the corner the race chute welcomed
me and I put on one last burst of speed to cross the line in 3:01:25 in 33rd
place for the day and 35th place overall.

 

 

I caught my breath then enjoyed
my new post-race tradition of water, fruit and potato chips. I crossed the road
where a few athletes had positioned themselves in that same icy stream that had
frozen our feet a few minutes earlier. I lowered myself down and put in my 10
minutes. Here is Jake cooling his legs:

 

 

From there we went to Mango’s and
ordered their famed “fish tacos.” It was setup like a small buffet so I
ordered one then scooped on all the vegetable fixins. It was nice to sit in an
actual facility and eat. The last 4 days had been tents and folding chairs.

 

Before heading back to NOVA camp
I tried to get on the internet but it was slammed with all my fellow racers
trying to do the same. I was really missing my family so I went across the
street to the Green Bridge Inn and called them on the Inn’s phone and left a
message and let them know I was fine with no access to a phone for the next 24
hours.

 

Then it was back to NOVA camp to
start the routine for the night. Once again I received a great massage from
Carlie. At the medical tent we found that my blister had indeed spawned a twin
on my left heel albeit a little smaller. Medic Mark told me that the blister
on the right foot was looking good? “Really,” I said earnestly? “No, good in a
bad way.” The downhills had taken their toll for the stage and my blisters had
clearly employed a land and expand strategy. So they taped them up for the
evening and I went about my other tasks.

 

The next day we were going to
move to a new campsite so I spent some time getting my gear things dried and organized
for the next day. Let it be said that much time is wasted finding things while
one is camping. When no countertops and drawers with exposed surfaces exist,
things get misplaced twice as quickly as they can be found.

 

By 9PM it was downright cold
outside. I bundled up in my sleeping bag with my camping blanket on top and
was plenty warm. I spent some time reading before I finally shut the lights
off. Then at 9:30 I felt the need to poop. I had to make a decision that
every seasoned camper has had to make. Hold it or get out of your warm
sleeping bag, put on cold clothes, walk outside the comfort of your tent and
go. I figured I’d be able to hold it until morning and fell fast asleep.

 

So at 12:30 I awoke with a
thunderstorm raging inside my body. I had to get up and follow the sequence laid
out above. I once read a facebook post about how the “asshole” was always in
charge and this episode reaffirmed this for me personally.

 

8/13/15 Race Day 5

 

Description from the TransRockies
brochure:

From
Red Cliff you start with almost 8 miles on dirt road climbing moderately to
Checkpoint 1. From there you will enter singletrack through the forest with
several steep climbs and descents until you come to the open meadows on the
back of Vail Ski Resort. Once on the ski resort, you will traverse the long
ridge mostly on road and double track, but with one technical descent where the
trail drops through a cliff band. After leaving checkpoint 2 you will continue
on the ridge line for a few miles before dropping on to the front of the ski
hill, descending towards Vail on a mix of access roads and singletrack. Pay
close attention to marking as there are many intersections and trails on the
resort. Descend to the finish at the Vail Athletic Fields.

Image34

 

Sleeping with the emergency
blanket on definitely kept the sleeping bag warm. I had a hot and cold evening
as I alternated covering and uncovering body parts. Despite this and the
excursion in the middle of the night I slept reasonably well. I woke up at
5:14 to start my routine. As I left my tent there were ice crystals formed on
the outer layer.

 

For Stage 5 we needed to shuttle
back to Red Cliff to start the race. The shuttles left early with the first
one leaving at 6:30. Athletes that got there early could stay warm in Mangos
before heading outside to the start line. The only problem was that the
capacity at Mangos was just over a hundred and there were still 450 athletes
doing the 6 day race. Jake and I planned to leave early on the first shuttle.

 

I started my morning drill by
using the port-a-potty, grabbing my hot water and coffee and hitting the line
for the medical tent. While in line we were remarking over the number of feet
injuries and the gentleman in front of me who does quite a few distance events
told me of all the things he does to keep his feet healthy for races like
this. He spoke of rolling his feet over a golf ball under the desk in his
office and mentioned a book his friend had written called “Fixing Your Feet:
Prevention and Treatments for Athletes.” Its focus is on athletes and he
described some comprehensive ways to avoid getting foot injuries. As you might
imagine I was leaning into the conversation figuratively and literally since my
heels were sore. I vowed to get a copy when I arrived home (which I did). It
is important to note that he was waiting in line to get his leg taped and
didn’t have a foot injury of his own
J

I headed back to my tent to
finish the morning routine. Jake was ready to roll at 6:30 but between the
cold and the folding up the camping blanket I couldn’t make it in time. It
turned out alright and we caught the 6:45 shuttle to Red Cliff with plenty of
time.

 

Image36

 

When we arrived at Mangos athletes
were packed in like sardines! Folks were sitting at the tables, around the
parameter and making human islands in the middle of the floor. We waited in a
dazed patience on the floor and in line for the bathrooms. More than anything
we were grateful to be warm!

 

As the minutes ticked by we
started to shuffle down the stairs to the chute to get ready for a long days
run.

 

There were no major holdups
getting in and when our favorite song stopped we jogged the chute and crossed
the start line. We plodded back up the hill we had run down the day before.
Before long it had changed from paved into something of a service jeep trail.
It was largely uphill for the first 10 miles. My body felt tired so I opted
to use poles and employ a walk run strategy. While I had used this approach in
past races when my heartrate was high I had never really consciously thought of
it as a strategy until my conversation that morning.

 

I was moving at about the same
pace as the 50 plus women’s champ Vicky Oswald. In longer runs with heavy
hills she employed a 10/10 run walk strategy. Essentially you run ten steps
then walk a fast 10 steps. While I tended to run for a few more steps and walk
a few less I more consciously employed that as a strategy when I needed to. At
the beginning I kept leapfrogging with the same people. Vicky, the Brazilians
with the crossfit shirts and a couple other distinct teams and individuals.
Even though I used trekking poles and a run/walk strategy, the constant hills
were tiring!

 

At about 8 miles in we came to
the first checkpoint and I briefly stopped in for water and watermelon. From
there the trail narrowed to a singletrack which had some pretty steep, heart
throbbing sections.

 

Image37

 

We started having a few random mountain
bikers riding and pushing their bikes up the same trail we were racing. They
weren’t really moving faster than we were. Given some of the growth around the
trail using poles was difficult so I stowed them on my pack for the rest of the
day.

 

We had a few more ups and downs and
made it to the Vail Pass. From here the mountain biking activity increased
quite a bit. The miles that followed were my favorite of the entire race. The
views of the mountains were simply breath taking and the trail was perfect
single track. It was really neat to run through a ski resort in the summer
time. You could see all the rocks that are hidden in the winter as well as all
the ski lifts and ski signage. It is such a different experience without copious
amounts of snow and skis strapped to your feet.

 

Image38

 

As we ran along the long pass
there was a steep section we needed to carefully pick our way through then we came
up to Checkpoint 2 which was 14.2 miles in. I started in with my coca cola, pulled
out my headphones and selected the “The Cars” greatest hits. Most of the
remaining race was downhill and it helped to get in a good mood for the upcoming
heel strikes.

 

After a couple miles on service
roads we traversed across ski slopes and started to make long switchbacks across
the slopes as we descended. The field of athletes was pretty spread out at
this point and I had to keep looking for flags to make sure I was on the right trail.
The zig zagging continued as we made our way down fields and wooded sections.
Most of the time we could see the ski town of Vail in the distance. It looked
small and picture perfect like a postcard.

 

The descent to Vail from my
Garmin:

 Image39

After descended down a grassy field
we came upon Checkpoint 3 which was 19.1 miles in. At this point I was making
good time so I grabbed a couple more cups of Coca Cola and headed down the
gravel and dirt road. While the road was downhill and steep in parts
(especially the turns), there weren’t too many tripping hazards. I picked up
my feet and let gravity do the work. The service road continued to zig zag
across the face of the mountain and Vail was getting closer and closer. I did
my best to point my toes and take the impact on the balls of my feet but the
large heels of my New Balance Leadville shoes managed to catch the lion share.

 

As we approached the bottom of
the hill the course directed us off the service road to another trail. There
was a kids outdoor adventure event underway at the same time. Kids were riding
mountain bikes with race numbers and going up the same trail we were going
down. I was grateful for it since it gave me something to think about. Just
as we came to the mouth of the trail I was passed by a couple runners I’d
leapfrog with for the next few days. One was from Indiana and the other Kansas
City. They were in the same Men’s Open bracket so of course I chased after
them. The trail gave way to a paved sidewalk followed by a paved street. We
were making good time and the course finally directed us right onto soccer
fields with the open gates of a finish chute there to reward us for our
efforts. One final push and we were done for the day. With a time of 4:43:23
I finished 29th on the day which tucked me into 32nd
place overall.

Image40

I was happy with the day but my
heels were really not happy with me. I took my shoes off and surveyed the
damage. Not good. I put on my flip flops and tried my best to walk on the
balls of my feet. Only one day left.

 

I staked out some tents and went
across the street to soak my legs in the river. I grabbed a shower, saw the
medics and received yet another great “Carlie Mock” massage.

 

The next treat of the day was
that my mobile device worked! For the first time since I left Arkansas I was
getting a reliable network. It took some time for it to pull down the ~300
work e-mails, personal e-mails and phone messages. More than anything I was
excited to give Maria and the kids a call. It was great to hear their voices
again.

 

Dinner at Stage 5 was also by far
the best. There were roasted vegetables for all! I ate my fill as we waited
for the nightly recap to start. Once they had gone through the agenda and
described the race for the next day, Jake and I decided to go check out Vail.

 

I was in no mood or condition to
put on more miles. The good news is we found a bus stop on the edge of the
soccer field where we were staying. As the bus pulled up I jumped on and asked
how much it was to get to downtown. The bus driver responded that it is
“free!” Yet another treat!

 

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We ended up in The Red Lion
restaurant in downtown Vail. It was quite nice and quite expensive. The good
news is that we were able to watch the Olympics for the first time on the
trip. We also took pictures for a fun bachelorette party and enjoyed people watching
in general. We didn’t stay out too long since we had one more day of racing in
front of us.

 

One of the most challenging parts
after we finished our race earlier in the day was to stay mentally “checked in”
and focus on healing, eating and preparing for the next day. It was hard not
to succumb to the “we are almost done” mentality. Even though I knew it by
heart by now I went through each thing on my checklist to make sure I was ready
for the last run.

 

 

Sunday 8/14/16 Race Day 6 –
Finish strong!

 

Description from the TransRockies
brochure:

Stage
6 features a route from Vail to Beaver Creek with 4,900 feet of elevation gain.
This route runs from the start in Vail Village on pavement, uses an overpass to
cross the Interstate, and shortly enters the singletrack of Vail’s North Trail.
From there, it’s a steady climb up the Buffehr Creek Trail and Red and White
Mountain. Then a long descent down the shaded Buck Creek will bring runners
into the town of Avon before the final climb into Beaver Creek, and a short
downhill to the ultimate finish line. 

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The morning of day 6 came quick. I
felt a different kind of excitement than the other days. It was the excitement
of finishing the journey. I found myself mentally using the expression “It is
the last time I’ll” statement for many of the activities. It is the last time
I’ll roll up my sleeping bag for a long time. It is the last time I’ll need to
use a port-a-potty. It is the last time I’ll need to tape my feet and so on.
Focusing on the race and making sure I finished strong was at odds with these
questions so it continued to take conscious thought to keep the goal of the day
top of mind.

 

When it came to the blister taping
I had challenged the medical team with trying a different approach after my
blisters expanded the day before. That morning we huddled up under the
headlamps and decided to try not to pad around the blisters but use tape to
keep them tight in place. We’d put lube between the tape and my socks and then
I’d put lube in my shoe. The point was to keep the heel firm and let the
layers do the shifting instead of the skin on my heels. We did it and I
crossed my slimy fingers.

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I was more aggressive with
trashing my stuff on the last morning and threw away more of my temporary
clothes and gear. By that point my bag was much lighter and easy to maneuver.
Since we were staying at the Park Hyatt I actually dropped it in a different
line and was informed it would be brought to my room when I checked in the next
day! It seemed pretty extravagant after lugging it around campgrounds for the
last few days.

 

Jake was planning to run to some
tunes on his phone so I lent him my portable charger and we rondeaud at the
start line. He and the rest of the racers were in the same place I was. It is
the last day! We are almost done! Let’s get this done!

 

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We entered the starting chute
for the last time and I euphorically took some pictures of some of my
favorite fellow athletes. Carlos from Costa Rica and I passed and repassed
each other each of the last few days. His English was as good as my Spanish
so our conversations were short and sweet. It reminded me of the language
barrier when I did La Ruta De Los Conquistadors in Costa Rica a few years
earlier. I knew what it was like to do a race with people but feel isolated.

 

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There were the ladies from the
Virgin Islands. Kat (left) and I raced at about the same speed. She had an
interesting story and it was fun that she rallied her three other friends to
come do this race. We chatted on the trail a few times and she took a
similar spill that I had. She ended up scraping her hand and knee.

 

 

Highway to Hell ended, the gun
went off and we made our final shuffle through the chute. We started on the
pavement and wound our way through the streets and trails in Vail. My body was
tired so I was grateful to have so much to look at while my body was warming up.
The course took us on an overpass over the top of a highway down a frontage
road on the other side. Soon we were on an overgrown single track with a
fairly steep and steady climb in front of us.

 

 

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As we entered the tree line we
were surrounded by what looked like Birch trees to me but it turned out to be
Aspens. I’d never been a forest like that before and it was amazing to be
running on single track through it.

 

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I bumped into Jake and we ran /
walked together for a mile or two. I’m was glad to have shared the trail
with him for at least that long. It was fitting that it happened the final
day. Other days we’d pass and repass each other but we had a hard time going
the same speed. Here is a picture of Jake going through the Aspens.

 

 

 

After nothing but more uphill I
came to the first aide station 7.6 miles in. The day before as I was breaking
down my gear I accidently removed the trekking pole strap and must have secured
it incorrectly as my poles were flapping around behind me. Luckily Carlie was
at the aid station and I gave her my poles which was a weight off my
shoulders. Thanks Carlie!

 

After the aid station the climb continued
on something of a of jeep road. Once again there were some very steep
sections. Regardless, I had been mentally ticking off the miles in my head.
Looking back it amazing how relative things are. I started they day saying –
one more day! Only 22.5 miles and 5K feet incline to go. Any other day I
would go in saying I had a huge challenge ahead. So as the uphill went
underfoot I kept thinking about how small the remaining distance was. Whether
it really was a long way to go or not the reality I created that day was that
it was nothing.

 

A few miles later the downhill
started in earnest. More so than other days the trail varied greatly. Part
was a lopsided Jeep trail, another was a tiny rutted path, overgrown so you couldn’t
see your feet, and other parts were very technical steep downhill. Depending
on the terrain I’d either pass other athletes or get passed if they were more
comfortable. I was trying to pick my line carefully since it hurt my heels the
most when I’d misstep or roll off a rock or root.

 

Next we moved to primarily single
track across open and wooded stretches. The nice part was that much of it was
through natural prairie that came up to my chest and I enjoying running through
it quite a bit. It reminded me of the natural prairie I had run through a few
weeks earlier at Pope Farm Conservancy. The backdrop was mountains instead of
sun flowers but each are beautiful in their own right.

 

Part of the section was actually
a rut or single groove about 5 inches wide which made it very tricky to run
in. It was like running on a balance beam as you had to run in a straight line
with one foot in front of the other with the natural prairie on each side
ensuring that you stayed on the trail.

 

On other days it was possible to throw
caution to the wind and fly down the trail. Stage 6 was physically draining
but it was also mentally challenging as it required constant focus as well.

 

After one more technical downhill
we finally made it to checkpoint 2 which was 15.3 miles in. We were less than
10 miles from the end and I was getting excited. I refilled my water, put down
a couple cups of Coca Cola. My heels ached from the downhill so I took off my
shoes and applied copious amounts of Vaseline from the aid station to the heel
of each shoe to reduce the friction.

 

The road that left the second
checkpoint quickly became paved and we had a GREAT downhill in front of us. I
could see Kat and some other racers I knew in front of me and I picked up the
pace and let gravity do the work. I changed over to Brian’s music and enjoyed
some of Alan Jackson’s greatest hits while I tuned out the throbbing heel
strikes.

 

With about four miles left the
road dumped us out in the lovely town of Beaver Creek. The course and crew did
a masterful job of zig zigging athletes down streets and across intersections.
With all the traffic and pedestrians around I felt “observed” by those in
town. Regardless, the course wound on and before long we were making our way
to another significant uphill. It started out on concreate then switched to a
very warm blacktop road that rose to a ski resort. I had to run/walk sections
of it but made good time for the most part.

 

At the base of what I believed
was a ski hill we found Checkpoint 3 which was 18.1 miles in. I had been
putting down more water during stage 6 than I had on any other day of the
race. I actually had to fill up part of the 1.5 liter pack on my back that I’d
used primarily for reserves. I drank a couple more glasses of Coca Cola and
threw myself at the last three and a half miles.

It started with a dusty uphill
single track section that zig zagged across a large slope. At this point I was
pretty drained from day and didn’t realize how hard the last three miles were
going to be. I did a very aggressive run walk and passed quite a few
athletes. The final uphill varied quite a bit between the dusty single-track
to a more sporadic jeep trail to a flat but steep service road. As the race
went on it was harder and harder to run the steep sections. I fell in behind a
guy in his mid-50s going a moderate pace and stuck with him. We’d passed each
other a few times that day so I figured I’d follow his lead for a spell as I
was mentally exhausted at this point.

 

We finally summited the last ski
slope and the trail pointed downward for the last 1.5 miles of the race. I let
gravity do the work and focused on getting my feet up. It was exhilarating and
exhausting to get some speed again. At this point in the race I REALLY wanted to
be done running for a long time. I was on the lookout for anything that looked
remotely like a finish line. I passed a few folks on the way down and the road
finally flattened and gave way to a well-manicured grassy stretch in Beaver
Creek. Exhausted, I focused on finishing strong and asked a passerby how close
we were to the finish. He told me this was the home stretch and the finish was
just on the other side of the bridge.

 

So I ran across the bridge, past
our baggage and into the well-marked finish chute… To be DONE!!!

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I left it all out there and was
completely exhausted. They tried to take my timing chip but I was too tired to
stand still. I walked to the first tent with shade. Not caring what I looked
like I asked the Nike girls to move over a little and laid down in the shade
underneath a table. And there I laid for about 10 minutes until my body could
recover after finishing the day in 4:48:57 in 33rd place with a
final place of 30th overall for the men’s under 50 open. It was a
challenging bracket and I was happy I ended in the 38th percentile.

 

 

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It is really hard to describe
the feeling that follows such a long event. It is such a strangely wonderful
cocktail of exhaustion, accomplishment and euphoria. I’d wager it is better
than any drug on or off the market.

 

I eventually peeled myself up
off the ground and drank water. That is where Carlie found me, still taking
in the finish. We grabbed some pictures in the finish chute between high
5s. Here I am, rocking my finisher’s medal and my Team GPP shorts

 

 

 

I found my drop bag and luggage.
I went over and had the medical staff take one more look at my feet. They said
I had the award for the biggest blisters on the six day course. We were all in
good spirits as I posed with my medal. The whole TransRockies staff was
amazing but I was especially grateful to Chris and Mark for their work on my
blisters as well as Carlie for her work healing the rest of my aching body.

 

 

Between high fives Carlie, Jake
and I took a few more pictures. We did it!

 

The race basically ended behind
the Hyatt Park where we were staying for the night. We walked inside and
checked in. Being in such a nice hotel was so different than being outdoors or
in tents. We took the elevator up to our room and our bags were delivered shortly
thereafter. We treated ourselves to long showers and clean clothes from our
luggage.

 

After some napping we sent a few
messages and made our way to the final banquet. It was fun to see everyone
cleaned up. The food itself was setup in a buffet style. It was good and
plentiful. It was the ten year anniversary for the event so there were quite a
few speakers. While we were all tired from the week’s events and could have
done with a few less words, it was over soon enough.

 

After the last presentation ended
an 80’s cover band called The Goonies played. I was tired and my heels hurt
but I couldn’t help dancing to some classics for about an hour and a half. Either
the music was very loud or I’m just getting old.

 

I met Jake for a night cap at the
Hotel Bar before we retired to our room for the evening. We burned a lot of
calories so we opted to order a veggie pizza and watched a terrible movie about
grizzly bears hunting people. The pizza finally arrived and we chowed down.
Carlie eventually came back to the room and we called it a night about 1:30am.

 

Monday 8/12/16 the wind down

 

We stirred at close to 7:45 and
attempted to get packed up and go. What happened instead was more of a slow
rise and gradual migration towards the door. I was exhausted from the week and
from staying up late the night before. We eventually converged on the door at 9AM.
Even though it was a day later the same cocktail of exhaustion and euphoria
remained strong.

 

We took the elevator down to the
parking structure and found Carlie’s little Volkswagen. It was already loaded
with Carlie’s stuff and we layered on ours. Jake tied his bag to the roof and I
stuck mine in the backseat next to me. We briefly stopped at Loaded Joes for
some coffee and said goodbye to Beaver Creek.

 

After some good conversations we
arrived at Buena Vista where the Subaru was patiently waiting for us. We said
our good-bye’s to Carlie and bid her farewell as she turned back towards her
home in Golden. Jake and I took a few minutes to download our e-mails on our
laptops the pointed the nose of the Subaru East.

 

We drove all day and alternated
between e-mails and driving. It was still my turn at midnight but I was
exhausted so Jake took the last couple hours and we arrived back at the Pope
house at 2AM.

 

I brought my bags in, took a
shower, brushed my teeth and passed out. 6AM rolled around with Alana at the
foot of our bed ready to go! Back to life and back to reality!

 

FAQs

Is this something you’d do
again?

Potentially. There is a lot to
love about the race. That stated I’m only able to do one big race a year and
there are others out there that seem interesting, too. The TransRockies group also
puts on a mountain bike series and has a similar run across the Canadian Alps
that looks interesting

 

Did you ever think about
quitting?

Not really. But I did wonder if
my body could take it. I also wondered if I’d be able to do it if the skin on
my heels broke.

 

Misc Notes:


I really didn’t
take too much salt on the trip. When I met with the Urgent Care nurse in
Leadville she cautioned against too many electrolytes. The only time I got
sick / threw up in training is when I was taking my sea salt pills.


It was very
interesting that my HR was low after the first couple days. It was almost as
if my cardio was in much better shape than my body. I could do more cardio
wise but my body wasn’t really allowing me to go faster. It was very strange.


Chap Stick turned
out to be hugely important. I started the race without really thinking about
it. By the time day six rolled around it was with me everywhere. I’d apply it
12 or more times a day given how dry the air was. I found a Chap Stick pocket
at the very front of my vest.

 

Pros:


I was glad that
Jake and I did the event together. While it can be done alone, sharing the
journey was a heck of a lot of fun.


While it was
heavy, I would definitely bring the same amount of food along. I had to get
creative at night but the mornings are really busy and I needed my nutrition
available and easy


I’m very glad
that I got the massages. They became even more important after my shoulder was
injured.


I’m grateful I
did the training with Coach Mark at GPP. I was physically ready for the
challenge.


Buying and
bringing a MP3 player a couple days was a good move


I’m glad a
brought the trekking poles (thank you Carlie). They helped on the steepest
days and gave me something to think about and learn on the long days.

 

What would I
have changed?


I would have not
brought the blow up couch along. It was too much weight and it didn’t work.


I should have
practiced more with my trekking poles in advance. I would have learned how to
stow them in the pack and take them out. It worked out okay but it was
stressful.


I would have put the
Velcro from my gaiters on my shoes as soon as I bought them. I had to put on new
Velcro each night because it didn’t stick to dirty shoes


I would have
brought two different types of shoes along. Having two pairs of tried and true
Leadville shoes along made sense leading up to the race. In hindsight they
were the wrong shoe and the sole was too thick. If I had another option it
might have saved me some heel.

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As a father, husband, plant based athlete and life-long student, I love continuously learning and reflecting on things that contribute to long, healthy, successful lives. All our choices on nutrition, physical fitness, community, spirituality and finding our purpose make a difference in living long, fulfilling lives. Thanks for reading - feel free to reach out with comments or questions!

Brad

As a father, husband, plant based athlete and life-long student, I love continuously learning and reflecting on things that contribute to long, healthy, successful lives. All our choices on nutrition, physical fitness, community, spirituality and finding our purpose make a difference in living long, fulfilling lives. Thanks for reading - feel free to reach out with comments or questions!

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