I’m feeling less foggy about TransRockies Run and the whole experience now. My desire to do something other than sit on my butt and eat bad food is returning and thoughts of the next great adventure are starting to dance in my mind.
Shane may have said it best when telling someone about my experience… In short, because the last 2 stages were a bit of a struggle for me, and the final night in Beaver Creek I didn’t really sleep, I came back a bit grumpy and unsure about my experience, but as the days have passed and I’ve been able to look at the experience without a clouded or tired mind, I can truly and honestly say, I had an absolutely amazing time.
I find myself pouring through the photos and video slideshows from the event. Reading articles and race reports and smiling my way through each and every one of them.
TransRockies challenged me in a huge way, but it also left me super stoked on trail running, and I must say, I’m pretty proud of what Kirsten and I accomplished. Kirsten definitely pushed me beyond my limits a few times, but that is how you grow right?
Anyway, rambling mushiness aside, let’s see if I can remember the particulars about each stage now that they’ve passed.
Stage 1 seems so long ago now. The nerves in my stomach as we made our way into the start corral were pretty huge. About two minutes from go-time, AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” came on over the loud speaker and all the runners got pumped up to head out on this amazing journey. This would be the first of many times we’d hear this, as each day we were sent off to this song. Toward the end, it almost became soothing.
Anyway, Kirsten and I took it out pretty easy on this stage and just tried to relax and have fun. We snapped lots of photos and chatted with other runners and just cruised along (we did this a lot the whole week actually). I definitely felt the altitude a bit on this stage, mainly in that I felt like I had trouble regaining my breath after any sort of effort. I remember one time in particular where Kirsten and I got a bit separated on some single track. When I was finally able to pass the people I got stuck behind, I put in a little extra effort to catch back up to Kirsten, but by the time I got to her, I was panting so hard that I needed a walk break on the next little hill. Mostly, it was pretty manageable though.
The aid stations were like a little oasis and never failed to give a nice mental boost.
The final stretch was pretty grueling. I think it was about 4 miles on a false flat uphill dirt road. It seemed never ending. I was cramping when I ran, and Kirsten was cramping when she walked, so we were definitely a bit of an ugly pair, but somehow we managed to get each other to the finish line, and just like that, stage 1 was in the books.
Stage 2 was a little tougher. It was Hope Pass day, so the one with the highest elevation. We got to ride the “special bus” to the start line, and then spent our time waiting for the start in the porta-potty line up. Just before we checked-in for the day’s stage we met Martin Parnell for the first time and took a few photos.
In no time, “Highway to Hell” was pumping, and we were off.
The climb up Hope Pass was tough, but went pretty well for the most part. Kirsten and I tucked in behind a couple from Texas, which was awesome, as the pace was just perfect for me and kept Kirsten reigned in a bit.
The top of Hope Pass was quite the reward. It was breathtaking. Literally. (I was definitely still feeling the altitude – more so than on Stage 1 – but that was to be expected I guess).
Coming down from Hope Pass, Kirsten let loose and was flying. To put it honestly, she totally left me in her dust, and well, I got a bit frustrated. I think I tried pushing a bit too hard to catch up with her and about 2 miles from the end, I had an asthma attack.
Obviously that was a bit of an unwelcomed surprise. I used to suffer from stress/exertion triggered attacks as a teenager, but it has probably been 10+ years since my last attack, so I don't carry an inhaler or anything anymore. Luckily, I could feel it coming on, so was able to stop and get things somewhat under control after a few minutes, but it made for a very scary (and wheezy) end to the stage. Admittedly, it also left me a little less-than-excited for the prospect of day 3.
On the morning of Stage3 I found the director of the medical team and had a little chat with him – both about my asthma attack, as well as some other wonkiness that was going on with my oddly high INR level (aka. my anti-coagulated blood). With a somewhat worried look on his face he made a comment along the lines of “I’m not going to pull you from the race” but told me to take it really easy. (I think I scared him ~ oh, just a little, haha).
So, we headed out at a pretty mellow pace and just took our time getting nicely warmed up (more photos, more chatting, etc. etc.). Thankfully, as we got going and got warmed up, I felt really good. Probably the best I had yet in the week actually (I think I was finally starting to adjust to the elevation a bit).
We were rolling down a nice hill toward check point one, when I came upon a stopped Kirsten. She had been stung 3 times (along with a number of other people). This was a bit of a worry, as Kirsten has (had?) an allergy to bees/wasps that she had been treated for with allergy shots. This was one of the first times she’d been stung since her treatment, so we definitely pushed hard to the check point, just in case she had a reaction. It was a bit of a scary mile or two, but we made it to aid without further incident and she was able to put some cream on the stings and onward we rolled.
Through the second half I had some highs and lows and we each spent some time on our own, cruising along at our own paces. There was A LOT of downhill that left my legs feeling pretty sore and beat up, but in the end, I feel like we finished feeling strong and happy, and the surroundings of Camp Hale were pretty beautiful.
It was a LONG day, and the final few miles were a bit of a grind, but on the grand scheme of things, it was one of the days I was most happy with.
Stage 4 was a shorter day, with a tough, tough, tough opening climb. It was steep and I was slooooow. But, we chugged along and made it to the top and were once again rewarded with some absolutely stunning views (a common theme throughout the week).
I was a bit scared for how the downhill was going to feel after the previous day, but we had to do it. So, we crested the top and started our descent and well, it was freaking awesome!!! We both just kind of let go on the downhill and even pushed it a bit. It felt so great to really let the legs open up. It was just the two of us for a pretty good portion of this stage, and we chatted and goofed around like any old training day, and I just loved how the day felt and the miles flew by.
One other fun part of this stage was a “mandatory shoe wash” where we spent some time running down the middle of a creek. The cold water felt so good on tired feet, and while it made the ol’ tootsies a little numb as we left the creek, having swam in some pretty chilly lakes throughout my triathlon career, it was a somewhat familiar feeling. Running on stumps, haha.
I felt like we crossed the finish line with confidence this day and from a FUN perspective, I’d say this was my favourite of the week... and it was good boost going into the final two days.
Stage 5, sadly, was not my favourite (oh how quickly the tides turn eh?). I think it gathered this reaction from a lot of people, but there were some who absolutely loved it. It was one of those stages with no middle ground ~ it was certainly a “love it” or “hate it” day.
For me, it probably had the most mental ups and downs in one stage and left me the most emotional at the end.
“Highway to Hell” sent us off from Red Cliff and we began by climbing the same hill we had come down the day before. The start was a grind, as the uphill was steep enough that it was hard to run, but at the same time, it felt like it should be easily runnable (unfortunately, for me, on that day, it was not).
Thankfully, it was one of those stages that I felt like I got stronger as we got farther into it, and about 1/2 to 3/4 of the way through, I felt great. There was a large portion in the middle where I felt on top of the world and like Kirsten and I were absolutely crushing it.
The start of the downhill into the finish was feeling awesome, but eventually it just started to seem like never-ending switchbacks. The trail was sort of a 'V' shaped mountain bike trail that was really hard to get any decent footing on and I could feel my wonky ankle lock up with about 5km to go. With each step, I could feel my ankle bones jamming into each other and the pain started to consume my thoughts.
Confession time: I cried.
[Side Note: I now know that the Highway to Hell is not paved. In fact, I’m pretty sure it is a single track mountain bike trail on Vail mountain named “Fred’s Lunch”].
At one point Kirsten glanced back and said “Are you crying?” to which I replied with a sob and a simple “Yes”.
“Do you want to stop?” she asked. Sob “No” I said, like a petulant two year old.
I really didn't want to stop because I just wanted this fricken stage to be over! So, we kept pounding along. When we crossed the finish line I was totally spent and my foot was in a fair amount of pain. Not my finest moment, but I think I swore, sat down on the soggy wet grass and immediately burst into full on crying.
Mentally I was a bit cooked, and physically I was feeling the aches and pains a lot.
Thankfully though, my ankle had held up this long, and I was sure happy it locked out on the second to last stage and not the second stage. Also, a nice little reward (and surprise) for the effort was making the podium that night, as we came 3rd on the stage. Go figure.
The start of Stage 6 was bittersweet. I could tell I had maybe left a bit too much out there on Stage 5, but figured the lure of the finish line would pull me through. It did to an extent, but my body was arguing hard with my heart. My knee which had been swollen for a couple days now screamed on every uphill and my ankle was a lot more messed up than I thought causing a lot of trouble pushing on the downhills (which was where we made up a lot of our time on previous days), so that was a bit frustrating.
Other than that, I'm not really sure what to say about this day, other than it is kind of a blur. I allowed myself to ignore my nutrition for the first time all week and was definitely in a bit of a fog the whole time. By the end, I was in the beginning stages of a bonk and was kind of cranky. Still, Kirsten and I crossed the finish line, hand-in-hand and I was truly happy, even if it was hard to tell from the outside looking in.
Mostly though, I was sure happy to sit down and be done with running for a few days, haha.
Overall, TransRockies was an incredible experience. To have the Colorado Rockies be your playground for a week and to get to meet so many awesome people who share the same passions, is beyond doubt *magical*. The staff and volunteers worked so hard for all of us runners, and I can’t thank them enough for everything they did. It truly was an all-inclusive, running summer camp for adults and an experience I will never forget.
“If you never never go, you'll never never know!” – Kevin “Houda” McDonald
A huge thank you to my amazing sister (and running partner) Kirsten for roping me into this awesome adventure. You’re the best!