Sunday, August 26, 2012

TransRockies Run ~ not just a vacation in the mountains

At the final finish line, Stage 6 ~ photo by Klaus Fengler.
My friend Sue Lee and I travelled to Colorado a couple of weeks ago to settle in and prepare ourselves for the ultimate "vacation" for ultrarunners ~ the Gore-Tex TransRockies Run.  Many of the folks at TransRockies call this "summer camp for adults", and we were hoping to have an enlightening experience.

After driving about 5 hours in the car, we reached Grand Junction, and decided to stop for gelato (we needed to fuel up on pre-race calories since we would be in calorie deficit for the upcoming week of racing).  After consulting the gear list and Sue sent a couple of emails, we stopped by Summit Canyon Mountaineering store to pick up a camp towel for me (no towels would be provided by the race, and "towel" was not listed on the gear checklist).  Unfortunately, Summit Canyon Grand Junction only had small towels, so they called ahead to the Glenwood store, and set aside an extra-large towel for me.  Crisis averted.

We made the quick stop in Glenwood at the store, then settled in to the Comfort Inn in Beaver Creek for the night. A rain shower had passed through in the afternoon, and the temperature was a cool 70 degrees.  Delightful.

Start of Stage 1 in Buena Vista, CO
We woke the next morning, ate breakfast at the Avon Bakery (amazing!) and proceeded up the hill to Beaver Creek to catch our shuttle to Buena Vista (the race start was in Buena Vista, and we would leave our car at the parking garage at the Beaver Creek resort so that we would have it at the finish).  Much to our despair, no one in the town of Avon or at the resort (we asked about 5 people) knew where the "Centennial Bus Station" was.  The resort garbage man was out best resource and he pointed us further up the hill to the base of the Centennial ski lift.  We unloaded our gear on the sidewalk (creating an obstacle that many of the mountain bikers were not sure how to deal with getting around) and I made a call to Marit Fischer from the team to see if she knew where the meeting point was.
Above Buena Vista, Stage 1

Marit had gotten off the freeway at Lionshead, Vail, or thereabouts, and I directed her up the hill to where we were waiting.  At least if we were in the wrong place, we could all wait together.

The shuttle did come, and the driver of the van had been a bit confused about the location as well, but we all got packed into the van:  me, Sue, Adam, Karmen, Cathy, and Marit, and our driver "Turbo" drove us not so smoothly on Highway 24 south to Buena Vista.  Marit and I had some car-sickness issues in the back of the van, as it is a really windy road...  thankfully Turbo let us all out in Leadville for a quick bathroom break and some fresh air.

Sue on the false-flat, final miles of Stage 1
After a bit of confusion about how and wear to drop us all off at our respective accommodations for the night, Sue and I got settled in to the Lakeside Motel in Buena Vista.  We hung out in Buena Vista for a couple of days and rested, took a couple of short runs in the trails east of town above the Arkansas River, were graced with a visit by our coach, Ian Torrence.

Check-in on Monday at the museum went well enough, and we picked up our gear bags and booked our massages for the upcoming week of racing.  We had dinner with the other racers at the elementary school gym on Monday night and watched slideshows and videos to get us pumped up for the race.

Race start came dark and early Tuesday morning.  We set our bags out at the motel office for the luggage van to pick up and take to our finish camp later in the afternoon.  I'm sure we were both nervous about how the day would proceed, but Sue and I had an understanding that we would both race within our limits, kind of get a feel for the whole thing, and not get too worked up about things.  After all, we were on vacation, summer camp for adults, right?

Stage 2, nearing Hope Pass
Breakfast at the school gym, and several bathroom breaks later, we were ready to start the race.  Stage 1 ~ Buena Vista to Railroad Bridge, 20.8 miles, 2,400 ft elevation gain.  It took us 4 hours and 14 minutes to run this stage.  Along the way, we met a lot of really great people.  The aid stations were totally stocked, efficient, and supportive.  Stage 1 is notoriously a "hot" one, because it is lower in elevation compared to all of the other stages, but we lucked out and I felt like it was actually quite cool out there (which was false ~ the temps had actually reached into the low 90s...  well, it was cooler than running in the heat of the day in Salt Lake City, anyway).

Sue and I were happy with our time and happy with how we felt (other than the last 3.9 miles of the course which was a false-flat on a dirt road... but I just put my head down and pretended that I was doing an interval workout in Liberty Park to get through it.  Sue said her hamstring was seizing up, and so we backed off the pace a bit for the last couple of miles.)  Wow, was I excited when we came around the corner to the finish chute by the Railroad Bridge.  Cynthia, from the Gore-Tex sponsor team greeted us into the finish with cups of cold water and electrolyte drink (GU Brew) and after chilling out at the finish with some ice packs for a few minutes, we went down for a soak in the Arkansas River.
Sue killing the downhill off Hope Pass
to Twin Lakes, Stage 2

While waiting for the shuttle van to take us to Arrowhead Camp for the night, Karmen (from the pre-race shuttle) had to move off to the side to puke (ugh, the heat had gotten to her) so we didn't ride with her and Adam.  After settling into camp and having a nice hot shower in the shower trailer (a full-sized semi trailer with a dozen showers powered by propane) we waited what seemed like an eternity for dinner to start (it started at 5pm).  TransRockies did a great job to give us lots of healthy snacks and drinks while we waited though, and if you were game, there was all of the Micholob Ultra that you could consume.

Start of Stage 4, the lake at Camp Hale
Sue heard a rumor that we had finished in second place, so I went to the results board up the hill to confirm.  Yes, indeed.  "Running within our limits" and at our own pace had earned us a second-place finish for the Womens' 80+ Division.  Not bad for two ladies on vacation.  After dinner we were called to the podium when our turn came and received our prizes ~ new Nathan vest-packs.  I was pretty psyched because I had gifted my previous Nathan pack to my pacer from Wasatch 100 last year, Ashley, so now I had a replacement.

Sue at start of Stage 4, Camp Hale to Red Cliff
To cut to the chase and as to not let this blogpost get too lengthy, I'm going to summarize the next five stages for you.  Suffice it to say, that this was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and I reached and attained running goals far beyond what I thought my limits were going into it.  The level of camaraderie was unbelievable, and people that I didn't even know were cheering me up the hill.  I have no doubt that the support of my race partner, Sue, and the support of the race volunteers, along with the incredible positive energy of the other racers, propelled me to three stage victories and second-place overall in our division.  We were visited by friends who were not racing (Billy Simpson and Ian Torrence) along the course, and their happy dispositions helped to take some of the pressure off of racing.  And each night that we reached the podium, we got sweet prizes from LaSportiva, Gore Running Wear, YurBuds, and Rudy Project to name a few.

Sue and I went into the event thinking we would just run our own race, and honestly that's what we did (except for the end of Stage 3 where we over-took the French ladies in the last 2 miles of the day's 23 mile-course.  That was a race!).  I felt like I ran at red-line several days, and we avoided major injury (we both had injuries, it's just a matter of dealing with them appropriately so as not to make them worse).  We had daily massages each afternoon which helped us immensely to recover.  We were fed delicious, nutritious food every morning and every evening.  We even had ice cream one night for desert!  Watching the slide shows and videos in the evenings was one of my favorite parts of the event. Every night, we sat by friends and would "Ooh" and "Aah" at the scenes of the day:  "There you are!" and "There I am!" each night.  It was a fabulous way to end each evening.
Finish of Stage 4, start of Stage 5, Red Cliff

Being on the winners' podium each night was an unexpected surprise.  I knew I was a strong runner, but I didn't know that I was a strong, good runner.  The winning team was a pair of ladies who were officers in the French military, Valerie and Marielle.  Each morning we would greet each other at the start line and wish each other good luck (the hugs got more numerous as the days went on).  And each evening, we would congratulate each other in camp and on the podium.  If we passed each other during the race, we would give each other thumbs-up and encouragement, telling each other "good job" and "magnifique".  It was really amazing to be battling it out with two women who were so gracious.  I would have loved to just run with them all day too.

It's not to say that I didn't have some difficulties along the way.  After our strong finishes winning Stages 2 and 3, I pulled a groin muscle on Stage 4 running down into Red Cliff.  Massage that night hurt like hell, and I was really afraid of what day 5 would bring.  I had a really tough start to the day on Stage 5, and found myself, although dressed in the overall leader's jersey, falling far off the pace.  I got really frustrated with the 8-mile climb on the dirt road.  The more frustrated I got with myself and my hurt leg, the slower I got.  Then I saw a smiling face bouncing down the road ~ it was Adam from the pre-race shuttle!  Karmen had sent him back down the route to pick me up and pace me back up to Sue (a good mile ahead of me by now... ) and that is exactly what I did.  I couldn't talk, and my breathing was so labored that I'm sure some of the other racers thought I was going to have a seizure and pass out.  They cheered me on anyway, "Go get 'em, Missy!  You can do it!"  They believed in me, and I started to believe in myself.  By the time we got to the first aid station, I had caught up to Sue, and Adam had re-joined Karmen.  I really couldn't have gotten there without the help of Adam.  Sue and I reached the top of Vail Mountain, and I found myself rejuvenated and running strong at 11,000 ft elevation.  We pounded down to the finish and found ourselves only 5 minutes behind the French ladies for the day.
Atop Vail Mountain, the Back Bowls, Stage 5

Our stages went back and forth like that with the French ladies.  Although we won three stages, we only got to wear the leaders' jerseys for one day (Stage 5).  There were days that our teams were only separated by two and a half minutes for the overall time.  By the end, we finished 19 minutes behind the French ladies for all six days and 120 miles.  The third-place team was almost three hours behind us, and the fourth place team was three and a half hours behind.  At the final dinner party at Beaver Creek, surrounded by about 300 of our newest, closest friends, we got up on the winners' podium for the last time.  The French ladies gave us their bottle of champagne from the finish line, another example of their gracious generosity, and congratulated us on giving them a good race.

Missy's got her groove back,
Stage 5 on Vail Mountain, 11,000 ft
Will I do it again, the TransRockies?  I'd like to think that I would.  But honestly, I don't think I could ever duplicate what a dream of a week this first TransRockies, my rookie stage event was.  Sue and I went into it thinking we would go on a running vacation and it turned into a real race and a battle.  The good part is, that although I was racing and winning, and feeling the pressure of being on the podium and holding our place each night, I was not overwhelmed with the pressure of competition, probably because the support of everyone around us was so immense.  I think I will bask in the glow for a while before I decide.

Finish line of Stage 5 ~ Vail Resort

On the week:
Stage 1: Buena Vista to Railroad Bridge:  20.8 miles, 4 hr 14 min, 2,400ft gain:  2nd place finish
Stage 2: Vicksburg (over Hope Pass) to Twin Lakes:  13.23mi, 3 hr 16 min, 3,110ft:  1st place finish
Stage 3: Leadville to Nova Guides, Camp Hale:  24.23mi, 4 hr 53 min, 2,550 ft gain:  1st place finish
Stage 4: Camp Hale to Red Cliff: 14.03mi, 3hrs 1 min, 2,746 ft gain: 1st place, attained leaders' jerseys
Stage 5: Red Cliff to Vail Resort: 23.9mi, 5hr 14min, 4,200ft gain: 2nd place finish, lost leaders' jerseys
Stage 6: Vail Resort to Beaver Creek Resort: 23.1mi, 5hr 22min, 5,150ft gain, 2nd place, 2nd overall

Total:  ~123 miles, 26hr 3min, ~20,500 ft vertical gain

Final podium at Beaver Creek ~ (l to r):
3rd place Cathy and Verna "MAD",
1st place Marielle and Valerie "Resilience",
2nd place Missy and Sue "Titanium"
(and Cynthia from Gore-Tex cheers us on)

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Dream Loop

I had the day off from work on Thursday, and decided to take the opportunity to run a loop that has been brewing in the back of my mind for several years now.

Mile 23 ~ top of the Pinecone Trail.
A few years ago, I rode mountain bikes with a friend from the Guard Road near Brighton, Utah on the Crest Trail (well known in the Wasatch as one of the ultimate must-do trails) over to the Canyons Resort near Park City, then on the Mid-Mountain Trail, a trail that follows the 8,000 ft elevation line over to Park City, then up over the ridge back to the car.  We got waylaid in Park City Mountain Resort by a hail and lightening storm, and it turned into quite the epic adventure.  Thankfully, we both had jackets with us, but after huddling under a metal roof near the yurt half-way up the mountain in Park City, I talked my friend into continuing, for fear of being struck by lightening.

As we rode up the trail the final 5 miles or so, lightening cracked overhead and I remember my friend whimpering behind me something about, "We're gonna die out here... " and I called back over my shoulder to her, "At least we will die doing something that we love."  She was not impressed nor convinced.  I rode faster so that I would be out of earshot of her complaints.

When we finally got back to the car, we were quite frozen, and I recall fondly that we ate meatloaf, french fries and mashed potatoes with bottomless cups of coffee at the Silver Fork Lodge in Big Cottonwood Canyon.

I think that ride must have taken us the majority of the day, and honestly after running a similar route this past Thursday, I can't for the life of me figure out what took us so long, except for the fact that we must have been waiting out the thunderstorm for a good 45 minutes or so.

I ran the first 6 miles on Thursday with my friend Liz, who coached the Girls on the Run program with me this past Spring.  She also just ran the Speedgoat 50k race, a race that I helped organize this year and the previous 5 years, which is well know as a really tough trail race up at Snowbird, Utah.

Obviously Liz was not tired after her race last weekend, because we chatted easily moving up the trail, and I felt as though I might be holding her back!  Ahh, to have 20-something legs again.

After the trail split above Desolation Lake, I said goodbye to Liz because she needed to get to the airport to pick up her sister who was coming into town for a visit.  I spied a couple more runners moving up the ridge in the direction that I was going, and quickly caught them.  We ran together for the next three miles or so, until they headed back down into Millcreek Canyon, and I headed down to the Canyons Resort.  It turned out that they were training for the TransAlpine stage race, a sister race to the TransRockies that I will be doing next week with my friend, Sue.

The descent down into the Canyons seemed shorter to me than it had the previous trip several years ago, and I was happy to look at my watch see that I had averaged 13 minute-miles up until this point (about 9 miles).  Things started to get a bit warm on the east-facing Mid-Mountain trail moving across the Canyons, but I kept my thoughts on the fact that I would soon be at the Red Pine Lodge to refill my water bottles with cool water.

As I was running along this section of trail, I was passed from behind by a summer Patroller, out for a ride on his mountain bike with his yellow lab.  He would pass me again about 30 minutes later, and I decided that he must be doing laps with the dog with the aid of either the gondola or the chairlift.  His dog was really cute and well-behaved, and the patroller wished me a good run as he went past.

I got to Red Pine Lodge (mile 11.2) and dodged the walkers and hikers there (it's a popular stepping-off point for folks who don't have a lot of miles planned for the day, but want to take in the scenery) and bummed not only some water from the drinking fountain in the lodge, but talked the cashier into letting me fill a couple of my bottles with ice.  Aaaah... the cool water tasted really good.

Several miles down the trail, I was passed by a forty-something father (with a distinctive "Texas" riding kit on) and his tween-aged son.  We talked the local trails (they were visiting from Texas) and the heat, which he said "compared to Houston" was not really that bad.  I told him that I was at mile 16 of my 24, so was heading into the home-stretch.

We ended up leap-frogging each other for probably about 5 or six miles on the trail, and it was at about this point that I realized that since I had ridden the trail approximately 5 years ago, a newer section of the Mid-Mountain has been built, taking out the more technical ascent of Iron Mountain from the northwest.  Bummer that I realized this change in the trail only after passing the trail junction, because the east-facing Mid-Mountain trail was really starting to heat up (around noon).

I toughed it out, and also gave the Texas-tween a little pep talk too, because he was starting to whimper a little bit on the last climb up to the Iron Mountain junction.  The only sympathy he got from his dad was that he was allowed to walk his bike up the hill if he couldn't stay on (he did).  That kid was tough!  I don't think I could have done what he was doing when I was his age.  Of course, we didn't have bikes quite that nice when I was a kid, either.

I was really bummed that this new(er) section of the Mid-Mountain Trail bypasses the nice meadow at the south Iron Mountain pass, but was happy to experience an absence of crazed sage-grouse, who in years past have attacked my ankles and made me scream like a little girl to outrun them.

I got to the junction of Armstrong Trail and the Mid-Mountain just to the north of Park City Mountain Resort, and decided that it would soon be time to make up my mind on how I was going to ascent PCMR to get back over to the Guard Road.  It was my original intention to go past the yurt (the same one I had huddled under those years ago in the thunderstorm) and then proceed up to Shadow Lake near Jupiter, but then I passed the junction to the new Pinecone Trail (dubbed "the Gem of the Wasatch") and decided to check it out.

Before proceeding up Pinecone Trail I again met up with the Texas father-son duo, and a 50-something man from Missouri, who was on vacation and on a mountain bike rental.  The fellow from Missouri was super-psyched to be out on the trail and was proud to tell me of his health and strength compared to his overweight, smoker friends back home who "couldn't walk from their cars in the parking lot into the Post Office".  I was truly impressed by his good-nature, and after explaining a couple of his trail options to him, wished him well on the day.

I soon met up with a couple more bikers, one who was late 40s or so and one 50-something (it seemed to be a trend... ) who also seemed to be content to ride in his granny gear, staring at my ass, and asking me questions as I tried to find the strength to continue running up the 6% grade of the Pinecone Trail.

After a mile or so, I sent him on his way (politely, mind you) and put my head down for the climb.  Pinecone is, indeed a gem of a trail, but I couldn't help but think how nice it would be to ride *down* it on a mountain bike, rather than hike *up* it after 18 miles of running, especially after two ladies passed me going the other direction doing just that ~ biking downhill.

The climb is approximately 4 miles in length and tops out on the Crest Trail at the top of "Puke Hill".  About a half-mile from the top, a cute 30-something mountain biker came up from behind and said hello; asked me if I was training for something.  I told him about my TransRockies race in a week or so, and he knew it and sounded genuinely excited for me.  He told me I was looking strong and that I would certainly do well at my race.  His confidence in me helped give me the strength to run the last couple-hundred yards up to the top of the hill.

At the top, I saw the two guys from the start of the Pinecone Trail (the one who had been staring at my ass) taking a break in the sunshine.  The talker wished me well on my downhill back to the car and assured me that I was almost there.  I replied, "I can't wait! [to be back at the car]".  Indeed, one mile later, I was stopping my watch for the final stats...

On the day ~ 5hr 55 min, 24 miles (exactly), 3,940 ft elevation gain.

It was the perfect distance, speed, and amount of elevation gain to prep me for the TransRockies which starts on August 14th.  I was so happy to be able to do this loop that I had been thinking about for several years, and finish it strong.  It really is a Dream Loop with some tough climbs, smooth descents, and rolling single track nearly the entire way.  I felt so fortunate to meet so many great people on the trail this day.  I will fondly look back on this day for so many reasons, and for many years to come.

GPS link to my route and stats is here.