Tuesday, August 30, 2016

TransRockies Stage Race, August 2016

Trans Rockies Six Day Run was a first-rate stage race event held August 9-14, 2016 in Colorado. 

TransRockies is a race of 120 miles from Buena Vista to Beaver Creek, and includes a stop in Leadville, the traverse of Hope Pass and one spectacular view of the Rocky Mountains after another.  This was the 10th year for this race.  It was extremely well organized, challenging and fun for the 550 runners who competed.  For me, the best part was sharing the venue with my nephew, Adam Goucher and his best friend and business partner, Tim Catalano, AND with Tim and Linda O’Brien and many other Florida running friends.  A huge bonus for me was running every step of the entire first five days with Tim O’Brien. We supported each other and kept ourselves moving forward, with the occasional reminders to drink, eat and not to forget the electrolytes.  For us Florida “Flatlanders”, the nearly constant climbing and altitude—the entire race was run between 7,880 and 12,536 feet—were great challenges that certainly reminded us of the value of oxygen!  (55% of the race was run and staged between 9,000 and 11,000 feet.)

TransRockies was my third stage race.  It was by far the most “luxurious”, and the shortest of the three.  Unlike “Marathon des Sables” and “Grand 2 Grand” (which averaged 155 miles each), we did not have to carry all our gear, including food for the entire week, on our backs each day.  At TransRockies, breakfast and dinner were prepared for us, and very good food it was, too!  Further, the race transported all our gear from one camp to the next, except for four required items and anything else we wished to carry during that day.  (A 2-liter bladder of water is one such item.)  So, my Nathan pack averaged about 7-8 pounds and not the 25-plus that characterized my other wilderness stage races. It was perfect for holding all my stuff in a compact and efficient package that was a huge help in managing the inevitable roots and rocks on very steep and unforgiving terrain. Also, for the first time in a race I wore Skechers "Go Trail Ultra 3" trail shoes, and they were fantastic--very comfortable and never failed to grip on any surface! Skechers is now a personal sponsor, but I had never raced in their trail model. I certainly made the right choice! With my Black Diamond "Z-Poles" trekking poles, I had the right gear to meet each day's climbs. 

Each night we arrived at camp—either running to the finish line there or being transported from the finish line to camp.  One to 2-person tents were set-up and ready for occupancy when we arrived. While nominally first-come, first served, my nephew, Adam and buddy Tim, snagged a tent for me next to them since they generally finished a couple of hours before me!  After grabbing our duffels, we’d hit the tents and lay out our inflatable mattress, sleeping bag and other night gear, and a change of clothes.  Then—and here is another MAJOR difference between this race and other stage races—we would visit the hot-water showers that were set-up at each camp for our use.  Luxurious, I said. Luxurious, I meant!
After clean-up, the goodies continued: “ChillVille” was the big tent area where we could charge our phones, watches and other electronics, help ourselves to snacks from the considerable offering tables and even grab a cold beer courtesy of race sponsor, Crazy Mountain Brewery, Vail Valley, CO, before finding a chair to relax.  After dinner there was live music and a campfire to complete the scene.  Thirty or forty years ago I would have been out there dancing every night too!!

Nights were cold—very cold for this South Floridian.  I wore three layers of clothing from head to toe, climbed inside a sleeping bag on top of an inflatable mattress and was still shivering most of the night.  It wasn’t until fellow Florida resident, the saintly Jessica Oldfather, offered me a fleece sleeping bag liner that she wasn’t using that I finally warmed up! Jessica, IOU BIG

In the morning it remained cold until the sun peaked over the mountains and then it warmed-up immediately.  Nearly everyone would wear jackets, pants, gloves and hats until a few minutes before the start each day, then place everything in a personal “drop bag” that would be transported for us to the finish line. (Yet another race luxury.)  Then off we would go, running distances from roughly 14 miles to 24.5 miles, depending upon the day.  Daily elevation gain varied from 2,500 feet to 5,250 feet.  Climbing up or running down was nearly constant.  There was one unbroken climb of 7 miles.  The fourth day featured running (or walking) for a full mile through a very cold ankle-to-calf deep rocky stream.  It was unique and beautiful.  It was also initially very refreshing, then totally numbing before exiting the water.  With three miles to go from there to that day’s finish line, our feet actually had time to thaw before arriving and enjoying that day’s special tradition-- Margaritas and fish tacos at the bar in the little town of Red Cliff.

My trip to Colorado actually began a week before the race.  I spent those days in the Boulder area visiting family, including daughter Meleah, son-in-law Greg and granddaughter Adeline, sister Lois, brother-in-law John and quite a few nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews.  It was a terrific week, but combined with the race, itself, was far too long to be away from Suzanne at one stretch.  We’re actually pretty fond of each other.  I don’t think there will be any more two-week separations.

Stage races in general are very social, relationship-building experiences.  Runners spend many days together, often in close quarters, running substantial miles in very challenging venues.  The camaraderie is palpable, and unforgettable. While TransRockies was neither the most difficult nor Spartan of the genre, it was certainly difficult enough, and in a most beautiful setting.  I highly recommend this race to any runner who would like the challenge of a very different, and first-rate long-distance racing experience.

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