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)


  1. That is an awesome race! Way to go, you deserve to "bask" for a bit!
    Love ya, Stefan

  2. Missy you are crazy, but what a wonderful area to run in. Congratulations on your success, especially for not entering to win.

  3. Awesome! It was so fun being out there with you awesome ladies. You're right, it'll be hard to outdo that experience. Loves to you and to Sue Lee too!

    1. Thanks, Marit! It was so great running with you and Cathy too!

  4. Dammed cool. I'm very impressed, Missy. Congratulations!

  5. Congratulations on your second place. You're awesome!
    /Sofie (from Finland)

  6. nice work missy b!

    billy boy