Where to begin? I guess this adventure started about a year ago on a long run with Mel Bos. I had known of Mel for awhile but it was only recently that we had met up for a couple of training runs. At some point, one of us - we can't remember who - mentioned an interest in stage racing and we both agreed that it would be fun to try. So the seed was planted and a few weeks later we were signed as The North Face Ladies open women's team for the TransRockies (TR) 6-day stage race.
That was waaaaaay back in August 2012. At the time, we planned to do lots of training together; however, life, injuries, conflicting schedules, etc. got in the way and we only managed a few runs together so neither of us really knew what to expect when we arrived in Buena Vista, CO (separately, as Mel flew down and Dave and I drove). Fortunately, we got along well and didn't have any major blow ups like some teams we heard stories about!
Going into TR, Mel had been off running for a bit with injuries while I had been racing quite a bit through the spring and summer. As Mel is one of the strongest runners I know, I was secretly hoping that her time off and my consistent training would work as an equalizer so that I would be able to keep up with her. Not a chance! I had underestimated Mel's return to fitness and then had the misfortune of being sick with one thing or another for most of the week so I was definitely the "weak link" on the team. (Even 100% healthy, it would be hard to keep up with Mel. The woman is a machine!)
Now back to the start of the race...
Day 1: Buena Vista to Railroad Bridge (20.9mi/2,375ft gain)
The first stage was relatively uneventful. The most exciting thing to note is that we finished a mere 26 seconds ahead of the second place women's team - road (and trail!) speedsters Shannon and Alex of Team FITS Socks - who did a good job of keeping the pressure on us all week.
Several hours after the end of stage 1, I was hit with a horrible migraine that almost ended the race for The North Face Ladies. I spent most of the afternoon either curled up in the fetal position in our shared tent or scrambling to the nearby grove of trees to vomit up all the oh-so-important fluids and calories that my body needed for recovery and fueling.
Finally, I sent Dave a fairly pathetic text requesting a rescue. With only 12 hours until the start of stage 2, I knew that I needed to be somewhere cool, dark and quiet (i.e. NOT tent city!!) for the migraine to break if I had any hope of continuing on. Totally by coincidence, Dave showed up seconds after I sent the text and he whisked me away to a campground near the start of second stage. (On our way out, we stopped in for the awards ceremony and to let Mel know the plan and that I would - hopefully! - meet her at tomorrow's start.)
We got the campground around 7pm and I fell asleep almost immediately. I woke up around midnight to pee and was extremely relieved to discover that my migraine was gone and that I was REALLY hungry so I had some yogurt and a granola bar and went back to bed.
Day 2: Vicksburg to Twin Lakes (13.3mi/3,058ft gain)
I awoke this morning feeling grateful that my (and Mel's) race wasn't over, but I was wiped out from the migraine. It usually takes me a few days to get my strength and energy back after a bad one and at TR, that just wasn't an option so I carried on the best I could. Thankfully, it was a short day with a crazy, steep climb that wasn't runnable (at least for 99.9% of us) and a fun, long descent so I had the opportunity to get my legs back under me.
The view from Hope Pass was stunning and I couldn't help but think of our friend Jeff Plant from Penticton who in a few days would be going over it twice as part of the Leadville 100mi course during which Dave would be pacing him.
Again, The North Face Ladies took first in our category, slightly ahead our friends from Team FITS Socks, which meant that we would be wearing pink again tomorrow. (The overall leaders in each category receive a shirt to wear the next day. We ended up with six pink shirts!)
Being quite a short stage, we had plenty of time in Leadville where we stayed the night at Jeff's cabin.
Day 3: Leadville to Camp Hale (24.4mi/2,489ft gain)
This was a long stage nicely broken up by Dave and my friend Meggan with her two girls who were cheering us on at various points along the course and waiting for us at the finish. Seeing friendly, familiar faces gives me such a boost.
It was a solid, but not outstanding day for us and we managed to increase our lead a bit. We ran steadily; sometimes chatting, sometimes not. Because most of my long runs are done alone, I'm more used to running in silence than keeping up a conversation so I didn't mind the quiet times.
I was finally starting to feel better today and my appetite was improving too. The camping set up at Nova Guides was really quite nice and I was glad that we would have two nights here, which also meant that we didn't have to pack up in the morning - yay!
Day 4: Camp Hale to Red Cliff (14mi/2,786ft gain)
This was probably my best day of the whole week. I slept well and woke up ready to tackle stage 4 - another short one with lots of elevation change. Mel was similarly fired up and decided that we were going to go out fast and hard...only she forgot to tell me her plan!? :) Heading out of the starting area at what felt like a full on sprint, I did my best to stay with my partner in pink. Finally, when the the climb got too steep to run she turned to me with a smile and confessed that the fast start was no accident.
We hammered today both on the climb and descent, which was wicked fun and I'm not a big fan of downhill running, and by 11am we were drinking beers and eating fish tacos on Mangos patio in Red Cliff. By 11:30am, I was drunk. That's what one beer will do to a dehydrated ultrarunner! Pathetic! My hopes of ever winning a beer mile are crushed.
As I was getting ready for bed, I noticed that my throat was a bit sore and scratchy so I took some vitamin C and forgot about it.
Day 5: Red Cliff to Vail (24mi/4,088ft gain)
Today, I woke up with a head cold. Boo! Just when I was starting to feel healthy again after my stupid migraine. I felt pretty crappy during most of today's stage and just kept thinking about nice it would feel to be curled up on a couch, drinking tea and reading magazines. I did not want to be running and my negativity really put a damper on our team spirit (sorry Mel!). But we got through the day and it wasn't all bad.
The trails were really beautiful - great views and lots of single-track. Plus, we finished in Vail and had time to wander around and do some shopping. (I bought a big bowl of ice cream for myself and Mel bought gifts for her family. You can see where our priorities lie.)
We also decided to check into out Beaver Creek hotel a day early and I swear that there was joy in my heart when we pulled up to the Comfort Inn.
Day 6: Vail to Beaver Creek (22mi/5,200ft gain)
Woo hoo! The final day had arrived. As long as disaster didn't strike, we were in a good position to win the open women's division. Course wise, this was my favourite stage, but because of my darn cold, I didn't enjoy it as much as I would have healthy. The cold had entered my lungs and I didn't know how my breathing would be so we took it easy on the first climb and I was able to maintain a moderate pace. The downhill seemed to go on forever, and we were cruising along towards Avon with a few other runners until I caught a rock and went down hard, with my left knee and right elbow bearing the brunt of the impact. With no real injury other than some broken skin and trail rash, I picked myself up and kept going.
After running on the roads through Avon, we hit the trails again for the last push before the finish in neighbouring Beaver Creek. A combination of factors - heat, climbing, fatigue, illness - led to my next trick: a full on bout of hyperventilating. I was doubled over on the side of the trail completely unable to get my breathing under control and starting to panic. Oh, and the noises I was making - so embarrassing! Mel and the other runners around me were awesome in trying to help me but there wasn't anything anyone could do. After what felt like a long time but was probably only a couple of minutes, I was able to pull myself together and we continued on. At this point, we were less than five miles from the finish, but Mel wouldn't let us run any more of the uphills, which was probably wise, so we power hiked and I was feeling fine again by the time we were done climbing.
Then we flew down the hill to the finish. It was great to be done! I made my way to where Dave was waiting and then continued on to the Medical tent to get my wounds cleaned up. After that it was off to find beer and pizza - the best post-race combo ever! (And a tasty way to make up the extra 10,000+ calories burned this week.)
TransRockies is the premier stage race in North America and rightly so. It is incredibly well organized, covers beautiful and stunning terrain, and the staff and volunteers are AMAZING! They really go out of their way to ensure that everyone is having a good time. For example, want a toaster at the finish line? You got it! Hot water are 5am(!)? No problem! Full fat yogurt? Coming right up! Like I said, they're amazing.
Also impressive are all the people that we met. The event attracts runners from around the world and we bonded both on and off the trails with fun and talented athletes from all over...from Germany to New Zealand and Arizona to Alaska. Canada was well represented too, especially BC with podium finishes in almost every division.
Over the course of the week, we were fortunate to receive some fantastic prizes for our stage wins from TransRockies race sponsors: Nathan, Balega, InknBurn, Rudy Project, Skirt Sports and others. Thank you! I'd also like to thank my friends and family for all the words of encouragement before, during and after the race. Finally, I'd like to thank our team sponsor, The North Face Canada, for supporting us for this event and so many others.