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:
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:
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.
Jake 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.
We finally traveled 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.
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.
We 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!
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.
For 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
With 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.
Continuing 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
Once at the top it was gorgeous!
I stopped and took some pictures.
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 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.
After 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 “Toco 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.
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 rest2 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.
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.
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.
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.
I also took the opportunity to get a photo with the TransRockies Yeti!
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.
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.
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.
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!
I had a little fun with a heel click in front of the photographers from Raven Eye.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 32ndplace overall.
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!
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.
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.
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 rondevued 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!
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.
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.
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.
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 tarted 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 concrete 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!!!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.