Tuesday, September 01, 2009

TransRockies Run 2009: We Rocked It!

Brian and I ran the TransRockies Run (TRR) last week, and I can honestly say it was by far the most physically and mentally challenging thing I have ever done -- but it was such a rewarding and amazing experience. We crossed that finish line hand-in-hand, with smiles on our faces, and then came the tears streaming down my face as the emotion overflowed from the last six days of learning more about myself and experiencing all the highs and lows -- I would not trade that exhilarating feeling for anything. It is something I will never forget. 6 days, 113+ miles up and down the mountains of beautiful Colorado, taking on this challenge with the love of my life as my teammate...just WOW. Here goes the long story...

After spending a fun and relaxing five days with Brian's sister, Trish, and her family near Colorado Springs, we made our way to Buena Vista to get our race packet and go to the pre-race dinner. On the shuttle there, we rode with other TRR teams (Ashley and Fumi, Sarah and Elisa, Peter and Jeff, and Dan and Noel), which was fun and made the ride go by pretty quickly, filled with conversation about where we were from, our training, and our expectations for the race.

We walked to the race check-in from our hotel, and then began the swagfest, which would continue throughout the race, too. After we left check-in, we had our big duffle bags which we would be using for the race, a nice Windstopper jacket, 75-lap Timex watch, aluminum drink bottle, Nathan handheld bottle, race t-shirt, race hat, trail socks and a few nutrition goodies as well.

Race Swag

Race Swag = awesome!

Then, throughout the race we received Windstopper mittens, a metal Salomon mug, a cozy Windstopper scarf, lip balm and first-aid kit. They also gave out lots of swag to stage winners, middle-of-the-pack awards (sorry Team Perky dudes Dan and Noel , was really hoping you guys would win one of those days!! Loved the snarky Dan comments each day, though. ;-)), picture-taking prizes, free beer after each stage, and then some. This race has some pretty awesome sponsors and they really did take care of us.

A while later we returned to downtown Buena Vista to attend the pre-race dinner. Everything was really organized and the opening ceremony set the tone for all the rest of the nights -- very regimented with sponsor shout-outs, athlete recognition, and a course preview for each stage.

Brian and me at Pre-Race Dinner

Afterwards, Brian and I walked back to our hotel, got our stuff ready for the next morning, and then tried to sleep in spite of nerves.

Stage 1, Buena Vista to Railroad Bridge - 20.8 miles, 5hr 13min
One could definitely feel the nervous energy in the air on this first stage. The weather was starting to get warm and with a 10:00am start, we knew it would be a hot one today. The race organizers did not require us to have the safety items (jacket, hat, gloves, etc.) because the course was more desert-like and at a lower elevation (8000-9300ft), thus less likely to have extreme weather conditions. The starting gun goes off and off we go down Main Street, Buena Vista. We started out slow and then once we hit the trails, there was a little crowding but then we got into a decent rhythm. It was tough, though, right off the bat. I was hoping my legs would feel more fresh but then I realized that my legs normally don't feel "warmed up" until after few miles. The uphill section at the beginning was definitely an eye-opener and generated feelings of "holy @$&*!, what did we get ourselves into?!" much earlier than expected.

Stage 1 - CHUGging uphill
CHUGgin' uphill :-)

As the day progressed, the temperature went up, probably into the mid-80's. The sun felt HOT, and it was definitely affecting our progress. I started feeling better after about halfway, but then Brian felt worse because of the heat.

Stage 1 - Going downhill
Goin' downhill, beautiful clouds!

We took more walking breaks approaching Checkpoint #2 (14mi), making sure to get fluids in us for the remaining ~7 miles. During the last stretch of 3+ miles, which was basically pavement, we alternated between walking and running. Brian was struggling while I felt ok, which was a stark contrast to earlier in the day. Finally we saw the finish line and ran across, hand in hand. Stage 1 = Done! After the stage, we were shuttled to our camp at Arrowhead Point, where the tents were all set up. We chatted with other teams about our day, showered, were fed a great dinner, followed by a race recap, awards, and course review for the next stage -- this was our routine throughout the rest of the stages. We actually sleep pretty well each night, getting at least 8 hours, and then waking up to zipper noises around 6am from people getting out of their sleeping bags and tents.

Stage 2, Vicksburg to Twin Lakes - 10 miles, 3hr 22min
So, we woke up around 6am for Stage 2, and my body definitely felt like it had run a hard marathon the previous day. This was the theme for the rest of the stages -- varying levels of soreness, mostly in my quads. But you learn how to deal with it and keep moving, however slow. I mentioned my soreness to Brian and he said he felt fine. Seriously?! This guy is not human. ;-) After breakfast we were shuttled to the Stage 2 start in Vicksburg. It was much colder than the previous day, and we ended up wearing our jackets (now required to have with us for the rest of the stages) for the beginning of the stage. After a flat-ish couple of miles to get the legs warmed up, we then started our ascent up to Hope Pass (12,538 ft). This trail is also part of the Leadville 100mi that occurred just a couple days prior. It blows my mind that the 100 milers (Ben, you rocked it!) run this part TWICE after 40 miles and I was struggling right off the bat! It was during this portion that we clocked a blazing 51min for mile 3. Nope, that is not a typo! Luckily we didn't have too many of those types of miles. :-)

Fun times UP ahead...

We and other teams took turns "leading" up the single-track trail, and it was during this part where we began our friendly "rivalry" with Team Rubicon (Jen and Nic), whom we affectionately called "Idaho" and they called us "Chicago." :-) They were fun to chat with during the race and we would see them several times during this and the rest of the stages. Towards the top we were leapfrogging with Team 101+ (Shelly and Dennis), another nice couple that we saw during some of the stages and around camp. While taking "breathing" breaks here and there going up, I made sure to look around and take in the beauty. It was just awesome!

Day2 (18)
Almost to Hope Pass (located near the center of this picture)

While the altitude definitely was a factor getting up to Hope Pass, as I was definitely breathing harder and could feel my heart beating rapidly in my chest, I felt pretty good -- I didn't feel dizzy or nauseous. I was definitely looking forward to some downhill, though!

Day2 (21)
Woo hoo! We made it to Hope Pass, now it's all downhill from here

Now it was time for some serious downhill running. The first section was actually pretty scary for me as it was pretty steep and I hadn't quite gotten comfortable navigating the loose rocks on the trail. Brian just flew down as I took my time trying to avoid falling and rolling down the mountain. :-) Past the checkpoint (5mi) we had some really great miles, running with Idaho for a few miles. I just loved running in the pines. :-) After the descent, we ran in grassy fields and had fun with a few water crossings in the last mile. That water was COLD but felt good!

Day2 (28)
Brian navigating the first of a few stream crossings this stage

It started to rain a little bit as we were finishing up the last mile, running across the finish line in Twin Lakes. We luckily didn't have to wait too long in the rain to catch the shuttle to Leadville, where we would be staying that night. During the shuttle ride we met Team GORE/City Sports (Chrissy and Martin), a super cute couple from Boston. This was turning out to be such a great experience, made even better by the people we were meeting along the way.

That afternoon the middle toes on my left foot felt a bit strange and thought I might have a blister under one of the nails, so I made a quick visit to the medical tent. After waiting for the other two people get treated for massive blisters on their feet, I felt a little wussy getting my super small blister taken care of. ;-) That was my first ever "blister under the toenail" -- which I am not surprised about considering how many rocks I kicked with my left foot. That also was a recurring theme for the rest of the stages -- my left foot really took a beating with all that rock-kicking but it luckily didn't slow me down too much!

At dinner that night I finally was able to meet Deb Russell, who is on Team Pine Line with her brother. We've kept tabs on each other via our blogs and Facebook and it was great to chat in person with her. She and her brother did really well each stage, finishing near the front of the pack and ended up third overall in the Open Mixed division -- awesome!

Stage 3, Leadville to Nova Guides - 24.3 miles, 5hr 46min
We were up and at 'em again for Stage 3, climbing out of our tents at the Leadville high school football field. I had a slight sense of dread of starting this day since it was the longest leg. On the other hand, after this stage, we'd be at the halfway point, which was a nice feeling. The race started promptly at 8am and we were off through downtown Leadville and then onto the shoulder Hwy. 24, a pretty big stretch of pavement for the first few miles.

Then we got to the first big ascent of the day which lasted for a couple miles followed by a descent with a couple of stream crossings, which, while early in the stage, didn't not cause too much of an issue. I think Brian was actually able to avoid getting his feet wet at all -- not only do the descents not affect his quads as they do mine, but he also happens to be a good rock jumper/navigator. :-)

Looking behind us - first climb of the stage

It was on the second ascent, near halfway, that I had a really low point. Our strategy, for the most part, was for Brian to lead us on the trail. We noticed that if we ran side-by-side, I would slow down, but would maintain pace or speed up if he was a little ahead. I pretended that were was an invisible tether between us, but unfortunately I was really struggling up this second ascent and Brian got further ahead, to the point that was no way I could catch up. I started to feel pissed that he wasn't looking back and frustrated at myself for not being able to maintain a good pace up this hill. I just felt....overwhelmed by it all. The emotions started to rush in, and I started hyperventilating. I stopped, hunched over, and tried to calm myself down and BREATHE. Chrissy and Martin were nearby and saw me, asking if I was ok. Chrissy said some really supportive words (thank you!!) while Martin caught up to Brian to let him know what was going on. After a few tears and calming down, I felt better and told Brian that we needed to stay closer together, even if that meant that he would have to stop and look back more often to make sure we weren't too far apart. We were a team after all, and we knew that going in to this race that we are at different levels physically, and that Brian would have to be patient. We got into a good rhythm with this, but it was a learning process that was really highlighted during this short moment, midway through Stage 3.

My meltdown was a turning point during this stage, and thereafter we did really well on the downhill towards Nova Guides. I felt really good past the second checkpoint, on the Colorado Trail crossing the Continental Divide. The trail was pretty smooth and really runable during this part and we had good momentum. I was in a happy place again. :-)

Day3 (18)
Fun downhill single track trail...weeeeeeee!

After we ran down the fun single track, the last part of the stage was on gravel road and for a couple miles we could see the finish area. We passed a couple of teams as we made the final turn and ran the final stretch to the finish.

Day3 (24)
Finish is in sight, the final stretch

Whew! That was a big one, but we did it! Afterwards we had a beer (so refreshing!) at the Salomon tent and took a much-needed leg dip in a nearby pond. It was good to be done with this stage!

Stage 4, Nova Guides to Red Cliff - 14.2 miles, 3hr 56min
Stage 4 was a "short" stage, but definitely not easy. This stage had us climbing up Hornsilver Mountain into Red Cliff. I woke up this morning to the worst quad soreness of the race, but after a few miles in I loosened up. It was sloooooow going as we neared the summit of the mountain, where the road seemed to have inclines near 45%. I can't imagine non-ATV vehicles getting up those roads, and ironically one of the TRR jeeps carrying supplies to checkpoint #1 broke down, so we had a mini-checkpoint there to fill our water bottles. We finally got past the really steep part in the woods and the trail opened up to awesome views as we approached checkpoint #1.  

Day4 (9)
A little downhill before some more uphill to the checkpoint

The views were just awesome here at 11600 ft. We filled our bottles once we got to the checkpoint and then continued on along the ridge, admiring what we were seeing. I just loved this part of the course!

Day4 (12)
Brian and me on Hornsilver Mountain

Pretty soon we were on our way back down the mountain toward Red Cliff. This section went well for us and while my quads were screaming on the downhill, I got some good momentum going and we passed many teams on the way down. We then hit the fun part of this stage -- where the trail is actually a stream! A little treacherous but I felt like a kid splashing around in the water. :-) 

Day4 (20)
Running down the stream on the way to Red Cliff

Once we were out of the stream, we made a quick stop at the last checkpoint and ran strong in the last few miles to the finish into downtown Red Cliff. From the finish we went to a nearby stream (freezing!) for a nice post-stage ice bath which really helped my sore legs. After a verrrrrry long lunch (lots of hungry runners but the restaurant was woefully short on staff) we were shuttled back to the Nova Guides camp as we were going to spend a second night there.

Now that we were finished with Stage 4, I felt a little relief that we "only" had two more stages (44 miles total) to go. I was getting used to my legs being sore and somehow still being able to run anyway, but it was nice to know that in a few days I would be able to rest. :-)

Stage 5, Red Cliff to Vail - 23.4 miles, 5hr 55min
We awoke on Stage 5 morning and it was REALLY cold getting out of our warm sleeping bags to get ready. Luckily we were strategic with our stage preparation and we always slept in our running clothes to make the morning easier. This morning it was probably in the low 30's, but the day would warm up to the upper 60's by midday. After breakfast we got on a shuttle to go back to Red Cliff for the start. We hung out in the nearby restaurant and waited until a few minutes before the start to get back out into the cold and line up. 

The race began and we re-traced our route from the previous stage for a couple miles, then went the opposite direction towards Vail this time.

Day5 (04)
Having a great time on Stage 5

Another beautiful day in the mountains, I felt pretty good and had a good feeling about this stage. After the first checkpoint we entered onto a lovely single track trail that would lead up Benchmark Mountain.

Day5 (10)
On Benchmark Mountain, enjoying the panoramic views

Then began many switchbacks to the top. We were moving along pretty well, and it was at this point when Brian would be further ahead, he'd stop, outstretch his arms and yell out "run to the hug!" which of course was pretty decent motivation to speed up a little. :-) I was really enjoying this trail and was looking forward to summiting (11555 ft) and then picking up speed going back down. 

Day5 (12)
Switch-backing single track to the summit...run to the hug!

Once we got to the summit, which was the second checkpoint, we got our bottles filled by the awesome volunteers, watched a few teams getting their "dance" on, and then started on our 10-mile descent into Vail.

Day5 (15)
All smiles at the summit of Benchmark Mountain

My legs took a little while to get into the groove of the downhill. My quads were still pretty sore but eventually they warmed up. The miles flew by quite well at this point and we were passing teams who were encouraging and supportive along the way. Since we were running among the same teams each day, there was definitely a rapport built -- not one of rivalry but almost of teamwork in a way. Good, positive vibes in the back of the pack. :-)

The last four miles were really blazing (relatively speaking, of course!), we were going on 90+ miles for the week, so 9 min/mile pace was pretty good. :-) We passed more teams in the last couple miles as Brian was really pushing the pace, and luckily I was able to respond pretty well. I felt GOOD! Then we got to the last part which was a little rocky twisty single track and we were still doing pretty well until I turn around a bend and see Brian lying on the ground. Oops! Luckily his trail tumble wasn't too bad! I helped him up, he brushed himself off, and we ran the last quarter mile into the finish chute in beautiful Vail, hand in hand, so happy to have run such a strong stage!

After another "ice bath" in a nearby stream and an amazing post-stage cheeseburger and Blue Moon (heaven!), we hopped on a shuttle to the nicest campsite in Ford Park. The only downside was that it was along I-70 so it was a little noisier than the other sites. TRR organizers got creative and actually positioned all the tents to form the letters "TRR" -- very cool!

TRR Tent Camp in Vail (photo by Dan Hudson)

It felt good knowing that this night would be the last night sleeping in a tent. While we slept pretty well during these stages, I was definitely looking forward to sleeping in a warm bed! After a great steak and potato dinner and then the awards ceremony, we went to sleep that night happy to know we had just one more stage to go! My legs were actually less sore and my left foot was ready to do some more rock kickin' on the last day. ;-)

Stage 6, Vail to Beaver Creek TRR Finish! - 21.2 miles, 5hr 41min 
The last stage! We rolled out of our tent on the last night feeling ready to run...it was almost hard to believe this was the last day! We headed back into downtown Vail and were on our way at 8am.

Day6 (5)
Running in Vail at beginning of Stage 6

The first part of the course is on pavement until we hit the single-track trailhead. We had a good start on this trail but then I started slowing down a bit as we got closer to the high point of this run at 10511 ft. I was definitely looking forward to making up some time on the downhill which started at around mile 10 and would last about 6 miles.

Day6 (8)
Loving this single track and the trees

Now on the descent, we were really doing well, with Brian passing several people on the somewhat treacherous rocky single track and I was happy to be able to do the same! I had a good rhythm and was navigating the trail pretty well.

Day6 (10)
Time to descend into the town of Avon

We made it into Avon, through town, quickly stopped at the last checkpoint, and then began another 3-4 mile climb towards Beaver Creek. This climb was ROUGH for me. It was starting to get hot and I was moving at a snail's pace. One of the volunteers was running from the last checkpoint to the finish and he goes "need a little push?" and actually pushed me a little (more of a symbolic gesture, hehe) up the hill bringing a smile to my face and I thanked him. I think this was the same volunteer who during an earlier stage actually ran up to us from a checkpoint to grab our bottles and fill them. The TRR volunteers were awesome!

Day6 (12)
Up ahead is some brutal switch-backing uphill...

Once we finally hit the top of the trail, I was so happy to get some speed going again on the downhill for the next couple of miles. Things were going really well, switch-backing down the mountain until we came screeching to a halt to the sound of a woman yelling from above about seeing black bears on the trail. Seriously?! A half mile to the finish?! Then suddenly, I stop on the trail, look at a lower switchback to Chrissy and Martin standing, frozen, watching a young black bear ambling across the field.

Day6 (15)
Eeek! A bear delay in the last stretch of the race!

Woah! None of us knew what to do, so we just waited until he was in the trees again before moving on. After some more warnings but then assurances there were no bears in the direction we were going, Brian continued on and I followed. During this time some of the other teams made the decision to cut the switchbacks for fear of encountering more bears, a decision I totally respect even if it meant that those teams were now ahead of us. At this point we could see the finish area, it was so close....then yet another warning about bears! We decided to cut the last switchback (maybe cutting .1mi), holding hands for support down the steep hill, I slipped on my butt once, got up, and awkwardly made our way down to the road to the finish.

After we crossed the bridge, grabbed each other's hands, and ran over that finish line with a huge rush of emotion, smiles, tears, and awe of what we accomplished. What an amazing feeling!

Day6 (19)
We are so happy to be TRR finishers!

Team New Leaf Ultra, 6 stages - 113 miles, 29:56...Party Time!
After taking more pictures and congratulating those who finished around us, we made our way to our hotel for check-in. During our walk, we just looked at each other and cried, then laughed...I was still feeling overwhelmed about the last six days. Wow. We did it! I felt so happy to share this experience with Brian. He is a great partner, and this event was further validation of that! Now it was time for us to rest and celebrate. :-) 

Day7 (02)
Yay for Team New Leaf Ultra :-)

The TRR awards banquet started at 6pm and it was a great time to eat good food, talk about bear sightings and our overall TRR experiences. The energy levels were high, especially as more free beers were passed out. ;-) After watching the awards being handed out, TRR staff recognitions, photo slideshow, and video, we mingled a bit more, saying goodbye to those we hung out with over the last 6 days. 

Day7 (01)
Brian was really attached to his sleeping bag, hehe

The next morning we got up leisurely, had breakfast, and then began the long commute home -- first by shuttle to the airport, waiting at the airport where we were able to chat with Team Hot Chicks, Darcy and Amy, and then finally getting back home at 10:30pm. Ahhh, so good to be home!

Now what?
Recovery is going well and I'll be back running this weekend. My legs feel surprisingly good and my left foot is still a little sore but not too bad. I've got a sprint triathlon on September 27 that will give me an opportunity to do some cross-training and mix things up a little bit. Then October will be a big month! I'll be running the Chicago Marathon on October 11, then my first 50k at the North Face Endurance Challenge (Wisconsin) on October 24, followed by pacing Brian at the Javelina Jundred. It's going be a great fall season of running and I'm pumped about it!

View our TransRockies Photos

Brian's TransRockies Run Report

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