Running with the Hayneses

TransRockies Run Tips and Tricks

This post is mainly for those who want to know every detail of what running TRR is all about. Whether you’re interested in running the race in the future or are just curious to know more about the event, this post should answer any questions you may have. :)

 

Training

Long back-to-backs and lots of hiking experience are key. You can see what I did for training –> here. I think I was well prepared for the long climbs and consecutive long days, but I would do more next time to be prepared for many miles of steep, downhill running. For those of us in NH, where mountain trails are extremely technical and usually not very runable, I think the best way to train would be to pick a mountain with a long access road and do repeats hiking up a trail and running down the road.

On another note, train daily with a full hydration pack so that you get used to carrying it and don’t end up sore and chafed halfway through the race!

Altitude

Don’t worry if you live and train at sea level, so do most of the other runners that run TransRockies. There’s no way to know ahead of time how the altitude will affect you because even if you’ve responded well in the past, that’s not a guarantee that you will again. If you can get there early and do some hiking on the higher peaks, it will probably help, but it can take weeks for your body to fully acclimate. If showing up early isn’t an option, there are a few supplements you can take that should help decrease the effects of altitude. Hammer Nutrition has several great options: Race Caps Supreme (increases the body’s cellular ability to use oxygen), Super Antioxidant (helps with oxygen transport) and Xobaline (helps with the development of red blood cells). All three of these are also highly beneficial recovery aids. My husband and I took these supplements during our training and the race, and I think they made a huge difference.

Weather

In general, the weather is hot during the day and cool at night. You will want a lightweight down jacket, sweatpants, a sweatshirt and a warm sleeping bag for the nights at Leadville and Nova Guides, as the lows will be in the high 30’s-low 40’s. Buena Vista and Vail are not as cold, but definitely still chilly at night. It warms up super fast as soon as the sun comes up, so don’t worry about lots of layers for running. Plan on your typical summer running clothes, and if it’s still a little chilly at the start, you’ll have your mandatory jacket, hat and gloves in your pack anyways. The day temps are typically high 70’s, but the areas where you run during stage 1 and 6 tend to be hotter.

Also, the sun is intense out there at the higher elevations, so if you are at all likely to sunburn, bring sunscreen and apply it every morning before the start. There will be sunscreen at all the aid stations, and you’ll probably want to reapply at least once during your run (maybe more during stage 1, where the trail is exposed for the entire stage). I also recommend bringing sunscreen lip balm, a hat/visor and sunglasses!

It’s usually hot and sunny in camp during the afternoon, so shorts and a tank top after showering are the norm. That said, there is typically the chance for rain/thunderstorms every afternoon, so a waterproof jacket is good to have on hand.

Packing

I can’t recommend ziploc bags highly enough. Pack each day’s running outfit, plus any other gear/supplies you will need for that day (hat, sports drink powders, electrolytes, gels, ect.) in a 1 gallon ziploc bag and label it with the stage number. This makes it easy to keep your stuff organized and makes getting ready in the morning super simple. Plus, at the end of the day you can throw your dirty clothes back in the bag and seal in the stench. :)

For non-running clothes, think like a minimalist. You are going to have to carry your duffle bag to and fro every day, and it’s going to be heavy, so pack as little as possible. I brought one set of camp clothes (shorts, tank top, long-sleeve shirt, sweatshirt, sweatpants), and never wished I had more. Pack all of this in a 2 gallon ziploc bag to keep it contained and organized.

One more ziploc for a shower/toiletries bag, and that’s all you really need!

Space-Saving Items

A couple things that made a big difference for saving space and weight for us were travel pillows and camping towels. We loved these –> travel pillows because they weigh nothing, roll up super small and are actually comfortable! :) We also were really glad we had these –> camping towels because they save a ton of space, and they dry almost instantly!

Camping

You’re going to be sleeping in a small (7’x7′), two-person tent every night, and where your tent ends, your neighbor’s tent begins. Your tent will be cramped, and you will be able to hear the people snoring in the tents around you. There’s not a good way to solve the issue of the tiny tent, except to pack as little as possible and be super organized. I have a few suggestions for getting a good night’s sleep though. 1) Bring an air mattress. It’s way cheaper than a good camping pad and way more comfortable than a cheap camping pad. :) 2) Use ear plugs or a white noise app. Peter and I like to use a rain app on our Ipad–it’s calming and it blocks out other noises. Our neighbors probably thought it rained all night though! 3) Lots of people resorted to sleep aids to help them fall asleep, and if you think this might be a necessity for you, I can recommend a good one. I use REM caps by Hammer Nutrition, and they work really well. In addition to helping you sleep, they also enhance growth hormone release, support immune system function and help relieve tension and anxiety.

Drop Bags

Every day you will have the option of a drop bag, which you will bring to the start and pick up at the finish (it will not be available to you during the race). I recommend taking advantage of this service because almost every day you will have to take a shuttle either to the start or from the finish, and it’s nice to be able to have your necessities on hand when you need them.

For example, we preferred to pack up our duffle bags and drop them off before heading to breakfast, so having a drop bag meant I could wear my down jacket to breakfast, brush my teeth after breakfast, apply my sunscreen, and then throw all my stuff in the drop bag and leave it at the start. I also liked to pack my phone, my comfy sandals, and my Recoverite and Hammer supplements so that I’d have them as soon as I was done running.

Running

The terrain is mostly sandy ATV trails, smooth singletrack or dirt roads. There are some short sections with rocks and roots, but nothing prolonged or extremely technical. On at least one day your shoes will get wet, so bring a second pair to wear the next day in case they don’t dry.

There are two or three aid stations during every stage, spaced about 7 or 8 miles apart. This year the aid stations had the typical fare: bananas, watermelon, PB+J, chips, pretzels, candy, Gatorade, Pepsi, water and Saltstick electrolytes, but no gels. Always study the race guidebook to find out where the aid stations are ahead of time and plan accordingly because there are some sections where you need to be prepared to go without aid for 10+ miles.

Lots of people used trekking poles and swore by them. We didn’t, but I believe they would help. In my opinion the ones that are adjustable would be the best for this so that you could use them going either up or down.

You’ll probably get blisters, but there will be athletic trainers at camp, and they will work miracles for you. :) If you can, get your feet taken care of before going to bed at night because there will be lines in the morning and not much time to wait in them.

Food

Breakfast is not provided on the morning of Stage 1, so when you book your accommodations for the night before, keep this in mind. We stayed at Arrowhead Point Campground, and they offer a buffet breakfast for about $7 per person.

Lunch is not provided during any of the stages, though there are snacks (PB+J, chips, pretzels, candy and rice cakes) available at camp anytime. You can also get water, Gatorade, soda and beer anytime at camp. There is always the opportunity to buy lunch either at camp (cash only) or in the town where the stage ends, if you prefer.

If you tend to get hungry during the night, bring some snacks with you to keep in your tent. I didn’t do this, and one night I woke up starving and had to eat one of my gels! :)

Massage

You will have the opportunity to schedule a massage at camp after any of the stages. The cost is $40 for half an hour, and you’ll need to pay in cash. You can book an appointment during the pre-race check-in times or any afternoon at camp.

 

* * * * * * *

That’s everything I can think of, but if there’s anything I missed just leave me a comment! :)

 

 

TransRockies Run: Stage 6

When we woke up on the morning of stage 6, it was raining and looking pretty bleak, but the weather forecast predicted that it would clear by the time we started. We lingered in the food tent after breakfast hoping the rain would stop before we had to make our way to the start. We would be starting in the same place that we finished yesterday, but we had to walk about a mile to get there, and I wasn’t anxious to walk all that way in the rain.

The rain let up just in time for us to avoid getting wet, and by the time we lined up at the start the skies were blue and the sun was shining.

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Last day!

We started our final stage with a quick little up then down on the bottom slopes of Vail, then we ran through Vail village and crossed the interstate via pedestrian bridge.

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We climbed that hill behind the bridge and then further into the hills beyond!

From there we started our first big climb of the day to the top of Red and White Mountain. This stage was slightly shorter than the day before, but it involved a lot more climbing–5,100 feet in 22.3 miles.

The climb up Red and White Mountain was about 9 miles total with a few quick dips along the way. It started out with a long series of switchbacks up into the hills directly across from Vail, and we were able to look back at where we had started.

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I70 and Vail Resort

After a few miles of hiking, we were rewarded with a long trek through the prettiest aspen groves we had seen all week!

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As we made our way up a ridge on Red and White Mountain we were in and out of the trees the whole way, with beautiful views to either side.

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Looking back at Vail

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We hit our first checkpoint at mile 8, and from there we turned onto an ATV trail that took us the rest of the way to the summit. After one final steep push, we topped out in a grassy meadow and then started a 5-mile, steep descent. Going down, my knees were both stiff and sore at first, but they loosened up and felt better after a bit. This was a very narrow trail bordered by tall grass, and it was often hard to see where we were putting our feet! The trail was fairly technical as well, so we were careful on this descent.

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Heading back down!

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We wound our way down, following the course of a valley between two hills all the way back to I70, where we crossed the highway again, this time via tunnel. Shortly after this our trail popped out onto a paved road where checkpoint 2 was set up at mile 15. I had run out of water by this point and was grateful to guzzle a cup of Gatorade and refill my pack!

From there we ran down the paved road, through the busy city streets of Avon and then up into the hills beyond. This stretch on the road was about 3 or 4 miles, and it was not much fun. The concrete hurt our feet, and the heat in town was intense. We hit Checkpoint 3 at mile 19 as we were heading out of Avon, and I was planning to skip this station and just push towards the finish until I saw that they had POPSICLES! For 3 glorious minutes I forgot about the heat, my feet and the climb ahead and just enjoyed the best aid station treat I’ve ever had. Thank you checkpoint 3 volunteers for saving the day!

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On the climb towards Beaver Creek, looking back at where we had run through Avon and the hills beyond.

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Switchbacks on the Beaver Creek ski slopes

The final climb from Avon to Beaver Creek was about 4 miles, and it. was. a. killer. The sun was beating on us the whole time, our legs were completely spent and the fact that our last stage had the hardest ending just felt cruel. During our course briefing the night before, the course markers referred to this section as “one last gift from us to you”. I laughed at the time, but I was too tired to do any laughing now. We needed another popsicle station about halfway up that hill!

After a long and grueling hike, and a great deal of speculation as to how much further we had to go, we finally reached the turn onto the access road that took us blessedly downhill for the final mile to the finish line!

11887876_10100192105636974_5200349992145368233_nPeter and I crossed the line of stage 6 hand in hand after 5 hours and 35 minutes. We had just completed 120 miles and 20,000 feet of elevation gain in 6 days. The total time on our feet amounted to 28:49:53.4, to be precise. I was both immensely relieved to be done and devastated that it was over. I truly wanted to keep stage racing our way through the Rockies indefinitely (my knees, however, were glad this wasn’t an option).

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Swag: a short-sleeve shirt for starting, long-sleeve for finishing, and my first-ever buckle!!!

We relaxed at the finish line for awhile, eating and taking pictures with friends, before going about the business of packing up and heading home. Unfortunately, we had to fly out that night, so we had very little time to savor and celebrate our accomplishments before our departure. Leaving Colorado so soon after completing our race sent me on a roller coaster plunge straight from the highest high to the lowest low. In my physically and mentally exhausted state, I fell into a deep slump as we made our way slowly from shuttle to flight to layover to flight to shuttle to driving home. Once home, I felt better, but I still felt like I had left my heart in Colorado.

The TransRockies Run was a life-changing experience, so rich and fulfilling that the thought of returning to normal, everyday life seemed unbearable. I struggled with discontent until I read this quote, posted by Rivers a couple days after the race, which reminded me to have perspective:

“Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want, more than all the world, your return.” –Mary Jean Iron

Even now, over a week later, it’s still hard to let go of such a rare and perfect experience, but I am blessed to be currently enjoying normal days that are full to the brim with their own ordinary richness. I hope I’ll always be looking forward to the next big adventure, and I hope I have many more that are so incredible that they make my heart hurt, but I also hope I will always remember to see the beautiful in the mundane, and be thankful for it.

TransRockies Run: Stage 5

On the morning of Stage 5 we said goodbye to Nova Guides and shuttled our way over to Red Cliff to start where we finished the day before.

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Goodbye :(

Since I wanted to preserve the memory of standing in the starting chute every morning, I took this little video. It’s best enjoyed with your speakers turned up all the way to get the full effect. :)


AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” was played during the last 60 seconds before the start every day. It will always have a special place in my heart from now on. :)

Stage 4 is another long stage–24 miles, and it would also have a lot more elevation gain than any stage so far–4, 100 feet, with a max elevation of around 11,600 feet. During our training I had been nervous about the fact that our two hardest stages would be the last two days, but at this point I wasn’t really concerned. All the other stages had been amazing regardless of their difficulty, so I was looking forward to seeing what this day would bring! :)

We started out of Red Cliff on the same road that we had run in on the day before, gradually climbing right from the start. This climb would continue for the next ELEVEN MILES (!!!) as we made our way up the back side of Vail.

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We were on the dirt road for about 8 miles, and the pitch was gradual enough that we were able to run short sections of it. At checkpoint 1 we turned onto a singletrack trail, which was also fairly gradual, but unfortunately, by this point my legs were DONE with uphill running. So much for those new legs I got out of that massage yesterday!

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The trail was beautiful and the shade felt good, but I’ll admit I was a little grumpy during this section. I was feeling run-down, both physically and mentally, and for the first time all week I just wasn’t enjoying myself. Thankfully, we emerged above the tree line before long, and the scenery completely erased my bad mood.

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Vail’s ridgeline is covered with meadows and wildflowers much like Hornsilver.

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And, of course, incredible views!

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As the trail brought us into the back bowls of the Vail ski resort, Peter and I came across our friend Rivers. (We met him when he came to NH with the Iron Cowboy!) He was coming up the wrong trail and was absolutely covered in blood! Rivers is one of the elite athletes on a team with his brother, Jake, and up until this point they had been leading the race in every stage, so we were VERY surprised to see him! We joined up with him and did what we could to help him to the next checkpoint, which thankfully was only a couple of miles away. He told us how he had been cruising out ahead of everyone else when he unknowingly missed a turn and ran about 3 miles downhill in the wrong direction before realizing his mistake. On top of that, he caught a rock during this descent and crashed hard, bloodying his mouth and nose. By the time he regained the course, he had lost almost 2 hours and was badly dehydrated.

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Running along the back bowls with Rivers.

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The only real technical descent we had all week, and it was all of 50 feet. :)

We reached checkpoint 2 at mile 16, and left Rivers there to be treated by an EMT. His brother had been waiting for him there and was very relieved to see him! They later passed us on the descent and went on to finish the stage as if nothing ever happened!

From mile 10 to mile 18 we had been running up and down the various peaks along the Vail ridgeline, then we headed down the front side of Vail for a 6-mile descent to the finish.

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Our first glimpse of the finish down in the Vail village.

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Vail is enormous, and it took us an hour of downhill running on a mix of access roads and mountain bike trails to reach checkpoint 3, which was only halfway down the mountain!

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Halfway down!

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Singletrack through aspen groves

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Looking down at the finish (by the gondola), still about a mile away.

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We could see our camp! (In the big field next to the road)

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We crossed the finish line after 5 hours and 30 minutes, pleasantly surprised that it hadn’t taken us longer! It was nice to again have downhill all the way to the finish, but instead of feeling good, on this stage it was beating me up, and by the end BOTH my knees were hurting! The tendonitis in my right knee that had developed on day 1 was still nagging, and now it seemed that the bursa sacs around my left knee cap were inflamed. I think the problem was that I wasn’t prepared for the many miles of steep, downhill mountain running since our mountain trails in New Hampshire are so technical that our descents are more of a cautious scramble than a run. Oh well, there was only one more day so I wasn’t worried.

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Camping in Vail was a huge contrast to our two previous nights in Camp Hale. Instead of being out in the middle of nowhere, we were right next to a busy interstate! I didn’t sleep as well here thanks to the traffic noise all night. On the plus side, we got to use real bathrooms again! Vail was also special because it was our last night, so the catering crew went all out making an enormous, gourmet dinner for us! All the meals during the week were amazing, but this one was definitely the best! We ate until we couldn’t eat anymore and went to bed feeling fat and happy. :)

TransRockies Run: Stage 4

The start for Stage 4 is at Nova Guides, and since we would be returning that night to spend a second night there, for the first and only time during the week we didn’t have to take a shuttle OR pack our duffle bags! As someone who is not particularly a morning person, I really enjoyed sleeping in and taking my time with my morning routine this day. :)

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Stage 4 is another big mountain day, very similar to Stage 2 in terms of the elevation profile. We started out on the dirt road leading out of Camp Hale and followed that for about 2 miles. Then we turned on to an ATV trail to begin our ascent of Hornsilver Mountain. The trail starts steep and gets gradually steeper as you work your way up the 4-mile climb.

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 The climbing begins…

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Getting steep!!!

We walked every step of those 4 miles, and my legs were so tired that I had to stop to rest a few times on the steepest sections. After doing roughly 60 miles in 3 days, I felt like my whole lower body was full of lactic acid, and the lack of oxygenated blood was taking it’s toll. I decided during that climb to treat myself to a massage back at camp that afternoon in hopes of restoring my legs before our last two stages. :)

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Nearing the top of Hornsilver!

For this climb we were below the tree line for almost the entire climb, so it wasn’t until we reached the ridgeline that we had any views.

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One guy we were running with posed for a picture here while doing a handstand, so Peter got ambitious and tried the pose himself. :)

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I didn’t dare get involved in any of those shenanigans. :)

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Our first checkpoint was right on the summit of Hornsilver at 11,700 feet, but once again, this aid station was limited to just water because the spot was only accessible by ATV.

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From checkpoint 1, looking back

Once on the ridge, we enjoyed about 4 miles of rolling terrain through the high meadows with views to either side. It. was. glorious.

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My favorite picture of the entire week!

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Rolling hills along the ridge

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Red, white and blue flowers!

At the 8 mile mark we started heading down the other side of Hornsilver, which was a fairly rocky (by Colorado standards), steep descent, though nothing out of the ordinary for us. Once we got towards the bottom we had some easy running sections like this:

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The highlight of this stage was the half-mile section just before checkpoint 2 where trail and creek became one.

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Yes, this is the trail!

The icy Wearyman Creek completely overtakes the trail at this point, and it was impossible to keep our feet dry. The water was mostly ankle-deep with a few spots up to our knees! It was very refreshing, but by the time we emerged onto dry land my feet were completely numb!

Just after that we passed through checkpoint 2 and then turned onto the dirt road that would take us down into Red Cliff where we would finish for the day.

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It was nice to finish with a downhill for a change!

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We finished 14.5 miles in 3 hours and 45 minutes with a total elevation gain of 2,800 feet. I felt really good at the end of this stage, perhaps because the last 6 miles were downhill. Or maybe it was the ice bath. :) Either way, it was probably my favorite stage of the week, in spite of the grueling climb at the beginning! I absolutely loved the ridge run through the high meadows!

This stage literally ends at the front door to Mango’s Bar and Grill, and most of the runners stayed to buy lunch and drinks, but I had my heart set on that massage, so I took a shuttle back to camp. And it turned out that the few of us who did this got the best of both worlds because we didn’t have to endure the crazy long wait to be seated and served at Mango’s AND we enjoyed the luxury of having a quiet camp for a few hours!

No one in the shower line = nice, looooooong shower. No one in the tents = quiet, undisturbed nap. After that I got a half hour massage, which made me feel like I had new legs again! It was a perfect afternoon of pampering, and I didn’t envy anyone who came back drunk from too many margaritas at Mango’s. :)

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Our perfect day ended with a beautiful sunset over the lake. 

TransRockies Run: Stage 3

Our night in Leadville was pretty chilly with a low of 41 degrees, but it warmed up really quickly as soon as the sun came up. My knee had been feeling good walking around camp that morning, so as we lined up to start I was optimistic that the worst was over.

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 The starting line in downtown Leadville

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We ran through Leadville and out of town on paved roads for about 3 miles. There were some short ups and downs followed by a long down. I was discouraged to find that my knee was not so happy after all, and even the hills weren’t offering any relief at this point. The prospect of 24.5 miles was daunting.

We hit the trailhead at about 3 miles and immediately began a steep, 2-mile climb. We walked the whole thing along with everyone else in the race. :)

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View of Twin Lakes, where we finished Stage 2 and the mountains beyond that we climbed up and over.

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At the top of our first climb and ready for some downhill!

Two miles of equally steep downhill brought us to our first checkpoint at mile 7. By this point I had decided that the only way to survive this race would be to get some Tylenol ASAP. Thankfully there was an EMT at this checkpoint, and he hooked me up! :) I felt better almost immediately and didn’t have any pain for the rest of the stage!

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View from the checkpoint

From there we set out on our second big climb of the day, which was much longer but less steep. Some parts looked like this:

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Most parts looked like this:

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There was little running to be had, and since we were in the woods most of the time, we didn’t have the expansive vistas that we’d been spoiled with for the past two days. We were grateful for the shade though, and the lush greens of the forest were beautiful.

Eventually we came out on the backside of Ski Cooper, and from there it was a short jaunt up, then down their access road to our second checkpoint at mile 15. My plan for this stage was to start with enough water to last me until checkpoint 2 and refill there to get me through the rest of the race. Refilling only once worked well and saved time at the other checkpoints, so I continued to do this for the rest of the week.

For the next 10 miles, it was mostly easy downhill running on the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, and we loved every bit of it.

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Last lookout before our final descent into Camp Hale.

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Beautiful rolling singletrack

We came out onto a dirt road with about 3 miles to go and made a brief stop at checkpoint 3. Like Stage 1, this long section out on the open road at the end of the stage felt harder than it should have, and it was a tough finish.

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Approaching checkpoint 3

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We finished our 24.5-mile stage at Nova Guides in Camp Hale after 5 hours and 35 minutes. Our total elevation gain was 2,700 feet, and our max elevation was 10,800 feet. It was our longest stage, though with relatively little climbing compared to some of our big stages to come.

During the previous two stages I had been apprehensive and worried about how my body was going to hold up, but during this stage something clicked into place for me mentally, and instead of doubting myself I became calmly certain that I would finish. Suddenly the aches and pains and tiredness didn’t matter anymore, and I knew that the next morning (and the next and the next) I would get up, put my gear on, and head out to do my thing without giving it a second thought.

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Camping at Nova Guides

Nova Guides was by far the best camp site of the week, and we got to stay there for two nights! Peter and I were lucky to get a tent near the food tent, so we didn’t have to walk far for our most basic need. :)

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View from our tent

The highlight of the afternoon was the first annual TransRockies Run Beer Mile! This was not a TRR sanctioned event, but I’ve heard that it’s going to be on the schedule for next year. :) It was highly entertaining and definitely kicked off the party atmosphere at Nova Guides. This was also the end of the 3-day race, so the dinner tent that night was full of laughter and cheers as the whole camp celebrated together. I was slightly jealous of the 3-day runners and the fact that they were able to kick back and revel in what they had accomplished, but at the same time I was nowhere near ready for my own adventure to end yet!

TransRockies Run: Stage 2

The morning of stage 2 dawned with a beautiful sunset as we packed up our bags and headed down the hill for breakfast.

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 All our stuff for the week went into these duffle bags, which were transported from camp to camp by the race crew.

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The only bad thing about our first camp: the tents were at the top of this hill and the food and showers were at the bottom. :(

After breakfast we were shuttled to our start location, which was about 20 minutes away in Vicksburg. The road to Vicksburg is THE WORST road I have ever ridden on, and even at 15 mph we were bouncing all over the place in our shuttle van!

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It was cold waiting around at the the start, but we warmed up as soon as we got moving.

As we waited, I wondered about how my knee would hold up to the big mountain climb ahead of us. After finishing stage 1 the day before, I texted my athletic trainer sister (aka miracle worker!) and told her that the tendon on the inside of my knee was really sore. She immediately guessed that it was probably a result of my hips being out of alignment, and sure enough, I remembered that pinch in my lower back and realized she was right! She talked me through a couple of self-adjustment moves, and that definitely fixed the hip problem, but even after lots of ice and ibuprofen, my knee was still very tender come morning.

We set off on stage 2 with lots of fanfare and high spirits, but I knew within a few steps that my knee was going to plague me. We had a couple of miles on a flat dirt road before we branched off onto the trail leading to Hope Pass (12,600 feet). Running on level ground was agonizing, but I found that as soon as we started climbing, my pain disappeared. DSC01140

The trail to Hope Pass is about 2.5 miles long and so steep that we hiked in a single-file line the entire way.

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About half of the hike was below the tree line, and we enjoyed the lush greens and the tall aspens that were such a contrast to the desert scenes of the day before.

DSC01144As we came out above the trees, we crossed a short scree field and for about 2 minutes we felt like we were back at home in the White Mountains. :)

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From there to the top the trail cut through meadows of wild flowers. We couldn’t believe the abundance of color–we’re used to seeing a barren wasteland above tree line!

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And the view was pretty spectacular as well! 

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As we got closer, the trail made a series of long, sweeping switchbacks, and we could look up and see runners far ahead of us cresting the ridgeline.

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View from Hope Pass, looking back the way we came.

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Looking down towards Twin Lakes where we would finish.

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Peter and I on Hope Pass!

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Summit Flags

From there we had about 4 miles of steep, though completely runable descent, which also, surprisingly, didn’t bother my knee at all!

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Our second checkpoint of the day was at mile 5.5 and only had water because everything had to be carried up the mountain on mules. I didn’t plan well for how to use the checkpoints during this stage–the first checkpoint had been at mile 1.7, and I didn’t bother with it since we had just started. Then I didn’t bother with the second checkpoint because it was so limited, and for some reason I thought that we had a third checkpoint at the bottom of the mountain, so I decided to wait. Unfortunately, there were only two checkpoints during this stage, and I ran out of water a few miles before the finish. I learned my lesson and never started another stage without studying my race guidebook to find out where the checkpoints would be.

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Stunning look back at where we had been!

DSC01173Back below the tree line we ran on some of the most pristine forest trails I’ve ever seen.

When we reached the flat plains around Twin Lakes we were about 8 miles in and had a little over 5 to go. The remaining miles were mostly flat with some rollers here and there. It would ordinarily have been easy running, but our legs felt pretty dead as a result of the altitude. (Even down on the lake shore we were at about 9,500 feet.) Thankfully we never experienced any altitude sickness and only had to deal with shortness of breath and tired legs.

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Running across a dry plain alongside Twin Lakes

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This small hill stopped us in our tracks. :)

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The Twin Lakes trail was gorgeous, but those 5 miles were long and grueling. Add to that the fact that I ran out of water and that my knee was killing me again on these flat stretches, and this 13.3 mile run was definitely a test of endurance.

10509752_10100190821510374_8198891209019844260_nPeter and I finally finished in 3 hours and 52 minutes, with a total elevation gain of 3,200 feet. I was so thirsty that I immediately chugged two bottles of Gatorade recovery drink and then my own bottle of Hammer Recoverite. After that I started to revive. :) It was a hard day, but standing on the summit of Hope Pass was probably my favorite moment of the whole week. We thought stage 1 was amazing, but stage 2 was 1,000 times better. Mountains win out over desert hills any day! :)

After recovering at the finish line for awhile, we hopped on a shuttle to our new camp location in Leadville. This camp was unique because we were right in town and didn’t have much space. Our tents were set up on a baseball field, the porta-potties and showers were in the parking lot below, and our meals were served in a banquet hall on the other side of town. Don’t worry, we had shuttles for that, too!

We went about our usual afternoon activities and then went to bed right after the post-dinner briefing!

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Camping at 10,400 feet!

TransRockies Run: Stage 1

The TransRockies Run was, hands down, the best race experience I have ever had, and I never wanted it to end! I am currently petitioning the race director to create a 10-day race for next year because 6 days is just not nearly long enough. :) If you are a runner, or even dream of being a runner, put this race on your bucket list and start working towards it right now. It’s worth every penny and every second of hard work that it takes to get there.

For those who don’t know, TransRockies is a 6-day, 120-mile stage race in Colorado (there is also a 3-day, 60-mile option). It’s a fully supported event, meaning we were super pampered for the entire week, and food, transport and lodging were all provided so that we didn’t have to do a thing except run.

Going into this race, I literally thought it was going to chew me up and spit me out, but it turns out that I didn’t need to worry at all. While the race was undeniably hard, it was at the same time the simplest thing in the world. We had just one thing to do each day: climb a big mountain (or two) and run down the other side. It didn’t matter how long it took or how tired we were or how painful it was because all those things become super relative when you’re running a non-competitive stage race. Instead of a typical race atmosphere where the pressure to perform at your best is high, this was more like a vacation with an excursion each day out into the mountains. We were constantly buoyed up by conversations with other happy runners, and it was easy to forget our aches and pains in the midst of the indescribable beauty of the Colorado wilderness. Every day I would stand on the top of a mountain and be overcome with emotion, thinking, “How lucky are we that we get to do this?!” And now that it’s all over, I would do it again in a heartbeat.

* * * * * *

Our trip from New Hampshire to Colorado was long and agonizing. Though a series of unfortunate events, we ended up spending 7 hours overnight in the Detroit airport and then 5 hours the next morning in the Denver airport waiting for our shuttle. By the time we arrived in Buena Vista, our final destination, it had been 26 hours since we left our house the day before.

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Stunning view from the bus as we drove into Buena Vista!

I was exhausted and desperate to get some sleep, but we still had many things to attend to since the race would be starting the next day. We scurried about from race check-in, to campground check-in, to a very rushed dinner with Peter’s aunt, then to the pre-race meeting. After all that we organized our gear for the next day and settled into our yurt for the night!

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Our first time staying in a yurt! :) We had to arrange our own accommodations for the night before the race, but after that we camped every night in the tents provided by the race.

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We were treated to a fiery sunset! (Our yurt is the second light on the right.)

In the morning we caught a ride with a race volunteer over to the start, and things started to get REAL!

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Lining up for the start! Really excited to see what our first day would be like!

There was a lot of energy at the start for our first day. The music was blasting, people were dancing and taking selfies, it was a very festive mood. Once we set off, we had a short jaunt along the city streets and then we crossed a bridge over the Arkansas river and started climbing up a trail into the hills above Buena Vista. It was a slow start since all 500 of us quickly got jammed up on the singletrack trail, so we hiked for the first mile or so until we all spread out a little.

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Running alongside the river after crossing the bridge.

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It was very dry in this area, and we saw lots of little cacti.

We spent the first 5 miles gradually climbing up dirt roads, sandy ATV trails and some singletrack, all extremely runable compared to what we are used to in New England. Then we had a steep 2.5 mile climb to top out at our highest point of the day–9,300 feet. We walked quite a bit during those last couple of miles, feeling more out of breath than usual due to the altitude.DSC01119

Some nice singletrack!

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There were lots of those big rock formations all along this stage.

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  Looking back near the top of our big climb for the day!

Our first checkpoint was at the peak of the long hill, and we stopped to top off our water and slather on some more sunscreen. This stage was exposed the entire way, and the sun is FEROCIOUS at high altitude, so we were careful to protect ourselves as much as possible.

From there we had a nice, 3-mile downhill as we headed back towards Buena Vista.

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Finally heading down!

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There were a lot of bright wildflowers along this stretch!

We were about 10 miles in at this point and feeling good! Then, we hit a couple of “short” climbs, one mile each with a dip in the middle. These felt hard, and our legs were starting to get pretty tired.

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Peter really liked the big rocks!

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I loved the purple flowers!

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We hit the second checkpoint at 14 miles and were starting to feel the draining effects of the intense sun. We again stopped for more water and more sunscreen, then pushed on. From there we had 3 gradually downhill miles until our next checkpoint.

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We kept seeing deer legs along the trail, so I told Peter that the next time I saw one I was going to take a picture of it! :)

It didn’t take long at all to get to the next checkpoint, and from there we followed a dirt road for the last 5 miles to the finish. This road was slightly uphill, and after a long day in the sun, it nearly did us in. We were much more tired than we expected to be, due to the sun and the altitude, and the long slog on the road was pretty tough. I was also struggling with a pinch in my lower back and a tight tendon on the inside of my knee. Neither were terrible, but it made me worried to have trouble spots popping up on our very first day!

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We ran through a fun series of rock tunnels near the end.

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Back on the flats again and looking back at the hills we just ran through.

We finished with 21.2 miles in 4 hrs. 33 mins. The total elevation gain was 2,500 feet and the max elevation was 9,300 feet. It felt harder than we expected it to feel, but overall it went really well, and we loved the trails and had a ton of fun!

From the finish line we were shuttled back to Buena Vista and our camp at Arrowhead Point Campground. We spent our leisure hours in the afternoon arranging our stuff in the tent, EATING, taking a shower, stretching and watching the stage awards presentation. Dinner was served from 5:00-6:30, so we went as soon as it opened and then stayed for the race briefing from 6:30-7:00. After that we headed to our tent to get our gear ready for the next day and then went to bed!

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TRR tent city at Arrowhead Point