TransRockies was easily the best running experience of my life. I've had many, many, many really cool running experiences in all sorts of different places with all sorts of different people. By day 2, somewhere up on Hope Pass, TR had risen to the top.
I was super stoked to be TRing with my buddy and fellow Montrailian Matt since we found out we were in sometime in early Spring. We had both planned on this being an "A" race, and we were going to kick some butt.
Matt picked me up from DIA, we had an uneventful drive to Buena Vista in the nuun van, and the party was on! We checked in, got our gear bags, checked out the town, and found a great camping spot outside the community center, where dinner and breakfast would be. Perfect.
Dinner was fun...seeing all of the uber-fit teams, talking smack to old friends, being nice to new friends, everyone dashing inside when the sky opened up in a sweet, late-afternoon Colorado monsoon. Those are cool.
Day 1 was a 13 miler on gravel roads, with a slight uphill the whole way. I liked it. Matt didn't. At the 7 mile a.s., he got behind me and hung on almost until the finish. With only 1/2 mile to go, I had a slight mentally weak moment, where he began to pull away. I realized this, kicked myself, and we finished in 1:34, 9th on the day. I think we could have run closer to 1:30, but was happy with our first day's effort.
After a nice soak in the Arkansas River, we took a shuttle to the first of 5 camps / tent villages. Camp is where we got to meet some of the coolest people ever. On this first night, we also got to see Goat's 18 gear bags!
Day 2 was only 10 miles, but I knew for me, it was going to be the toughest stage. After running the first 2 flattish miles waaaaaaay too fast (just over 14 minutes), Matt and I began our ascent of Hope Pass. I was already in oxygen debt from the first 2 miles, and the 2.6 mile, almost 3,000' climb didn't help. I was breathing hard and working harder the whole way up. Matt could see I was in difficulty, so he just got behind me and pushed. And pushed. And pushed some more. He pushed me a lot that day. I was really glad he did that! I was happy when we reached the top, you know, in an oxygen-deprived sort of way. Tony was up there cheering, and that gave me a little boost for going down. Now, normally I'm not a great downhiller, but I am okay at it. Today I wasn't even okay. My leg muscles had absolutely zero oxygen in them, so I was basically a weeble-wobble the whole way down. Not much better than going up. And I even got a gusher of a bloody nose on my way down. We finished the day in 1:57:08, 12th on the stage, and me looking like Matt had beat me up.
A whole gaggle of us then enjoyed a lazy afternoon in downtown Leadville, with Tony even stopping in to tell us a bit about his possible future plans. We also heard and talked more about the cheating that happened going up Hope. It seems that Saab / Salomon boys didn't like the switchbacks, so they cut 'em. Apparently a lot of 'em. They ended up crossing the finish line first that day, but I wouldn't call it a win. There was never an official protest filed, so they didn't get the 2-hour penalty that the rule book clearly states they should have. Plus, it just put a bit of a damper over camp for a few days. Bad Saab / Salomon boys...Bad.
Day 3 was the long stage - 24 miles of mostly rolling terrain. Matt and I were hopeful to start catching up here. Despite me getting a bloody nose at like mile 3 (and it staying with me most of the day), we ran fairly solid the first 14 miles. The funniest moment of the whole race happened around mile 9. The Salt Stick boys, one of the teams we duked it out with all week, ran by us up a jeep road. A mile later, they were stopped at a creek crossing (probably 15' wide and 5" deep), clearly searching for a way across. They saw us, started to ask how we were going to get across, but before they were 1/2 way through the question, Matt and I were on the other side, running and laughing. It was pretty funny. However, they did go on to beat us that day. Hm, maybe we should have kept our feet dry.
Somewhere on this day, we hopped on the Colorado Trail for a good section of sweet singletrack. My nose was gushing and legs were tired, my it was some of the best running of the week. So, so, so beautiful. It's too bad the last 3 miles of that day were in a big, flat, wide-open valley, run on a dirt road, where we could see the finish line for a loooooong time. We finished up in 3:40:09, 10th for the day.
This night at Camp Hale was easily the best night of the week (well, maybe expect for party night, but that doesn't count). We were camped out in a big, beautiful valley, completely surrounded by big mountains, with no cell coverage or internet access. Everyone actually had to talk and hang-out together. The campfire that night was pretty much attended by all. Clif Hot Chocolate recovery drink is really good.
Day 4 was a good, tough 14 miler, and as it turned out, Matt and my best stage. I took off running slightly ahead of Matt on the mellower sections of the big climb, but he caught up on the steeper section. As usual, we were bouncing back-and-forth with Wings of Glory and Salt Stick, and we found ourselves on top of the climb between these 2 teams. Wings was up front, and as they had proven throughout the week, they were the best downhill team between the 3 of us, and they flew on down all the way to Red Cliff ahead of us. I really enjoyed this downhill. It wasn't too technical, so was fun to just pound down. Well, until we hit the freezing cold creek we had to run through multiple times, and for really long periods (I think the last time was 1/4 mile stretch). My feet hurt so bad I thought I was going to cry. Much to Matt chagrin (good word, eh?), I had to slow down...I couldn't help it. But then we eventually popped out onto a sweet hard-packed, smooth, gentle downhill, dirt road for the final 2.5 miles. We flew down it, easily at sub-6 pace, using the studly coed LaSportiva / Goretex team as our rabbit. It felt awesome to fly across the finish line in 2:15:48, 8th on the day.
That afternoon in Red Cliff was a nice, lazy, sunny day. I decided to add a little excitement to my life by doing a little shave-down. I figured since we were in cowboy country, I should shave off the chin part of my goatee and leave a sweet handlebar mustache. Oh yeah, I was a looker. The worst part of it, though, was that some people thought it actually looked good on me (or so they said). No! Absolutely not! Mustaches are not cool and they do not look good. Well, unless you're old. Then maybe. But I'm not old, and the handlebar 'stache looked lame. Really lame. And that's the reason I had it - to look lame!
Day 5 was set to be my best day. At 23 miles, it started with 10 miles of climbing on mostly jeep roads, gaining 3,000'. The perfect, runnable, Sean-type, grade. I was pumped for it. I took off pretty much from the gun. I felt great and was 100% committed to run with the Fluffy Bunnies. After a few miles, I looked back to see how Matt was doing. Oops, Matt was in difficulty. So I cut back until he caught up, then reminded him to eat. That didn't do much for him, so finally Matt made the decision to get towed. So I tied our pants together, another pant leg to my pack, then the last pant leg around Matt's waist. We ran as a little choo-choo train for the next hour, most of the way up the mountain. I felt like a sleddog. We eventually hit some good downs, so we unlatched and Matt seemed to be doing better. Finally we topped out on Vail Mountain. It was so beautiful up there! I arrived and left slightly ahead of Matt, which was fine because he then caught me on the down. This was another fun down, but also very, very loooooong. We passed a couple teams who had blown-up that day, and tried to hammer to last few miles. With about 1.5 miles to go, I kinda blew-up. This was a bummer, since it was on such an easy, fast, downhill grade. So we slowed down a bit, almost caught a team, then basically jogged it in, finishing in Vail Village in 3:52:06, 9th on the day.
It was crazy to finish the posh little Vail. After being out in the middle of nowhere, with basically only other stinky, dirty runners for a few days, I think we all felt a bit out of place amongst the masses. But we got over it and enjoyed our cell phones again, and even a trip to get ice cream! The awards ceremony was slightly tainted that night by a team who got lost, adding probably 30-45 minutes to their time, then they ended up in 3rd in their category for the day. They were, oh, uh, not so happy about this and felt their time should be adjusted accordingly. This is a race in the mountains, girls...open your eyes. Their time wasn't adjusted, rightfully so, and so they did a lame mini-protest during the awards by not going up when they were called for 3rd, but instead, waiting until the studly, always smiling, and sometimes showing their butts (at least one of them) Banff / Yellowstone Trail Trash team was called up for their hard-fought 2nd place podium position. So YAY to B/Y TT for not beating up the pissy girls, and BOO to the pissy girls.
Day 6, 21 miles, within 4 minutes of Wings and Salt (both of them ahead of us)...it was going to be an epic day and it was going to hurt. Matt and I talked of letting it all out and trying to hang with the Bunnies for as long as possible. Well, that didn't work. They started quite a bit faster than we did. So, as usual, we ran near our arch-nemesises, Salt and Wings. Today, Matt and I decided to separate a bit more than normal (but staying within our 2 minute allowance). I would go ahead on the climbs, then he would catch and pass me on the downs. This seemed to be a good tactic; too bad it took us 6 days to figure it out. We ran hard. We ran our guts out. So did Wings and Salt. And unfortunately for Matt and me, the other guys ran faster. They beat us on the day, and thus, for the race. We crossed the final finish line in Beaver Creek in 3:25:11, 7th on the day. I was very happy to be done. Goatboy joined us at the finish for a nice little group hug. Matt and I finished in 16:44:36 overall, good for 9th overall and in the Boy's Open Category. We were both definitely hoping for top-5, and hey, if we would have, well, run faster, then we would have been there. But we didn't, and others did. But what we did do was race our guts out against a whole slew of really fast, tough people. It was very impressive to see how tough some of those adventure racers and mountain runners really are.
Congratulations all around to the Salt Stick boys and Wings of Glory boys. You 4 helped make this race truly epic. It was definitely way better to be racing so close to you guys, rather than us all being 1/2 hour apart. It was much more of a race this way. Thank you.
The awards ceremony / party on Saturday night after the final day was really fun. Lots of food was eaten, lots of beverages were consumed (I even had some beer!), nuuntinis were concocted and drank, sombreros were worn, war stories of the week were shared, hook-ups were hooked, tequila was shot, hugs were given out freely, ugly-feet contests were had, and lots of friendships were solidified. It was an unforgettable evening after an unforgettable week.
Thank you so much to all who made this week the bestestest ever running experience of my life...with special thanks to: Bryon, Martin, Erin, Jeannie, Jonathan, Chris, Tyson, Kevin, Duncan, Mark, Max, Erik, Adam, Michelle, Courtney, Leslie, Meghan, and of course, most of all, Matt.
I look forward to it again next year!