After descending the steep rocky section down Hope Pass the trail levels out into a grassy meadow. The narrow trail is partially hidden by the tall grass waving in the mid morning breeze. The Garmin chirped the 6 mile mark and I began predicting my final stage time. Just over seven downhill miles to go and stage 2 will be in the books. I should finish in about 3 hours. Not bad for the slow climb over Hope Pass. FUDGE (in my best Ralphie from Christmas Story impression). A sharp pain shoots through my right ankle as it rolls over a rock buried in the trail. It immediately swells, and my ankle looks like someone surgically implanted a tennis ball. Any pressure on my right foot is excruciating, I know finishing the race much less the stage doesn’t look good.
The check-in process at Buena Vista was seamless. After receiving my gigantic duffle bag I signed up for an hour massage each day. Off to Eddylines Brewery for pizza and a beer, pre-race meal of champions. After lunch I get dropped off at the hotel and move my gear from my suitcase to the duffle bag. Several items won’t fit and I have to make the decision on what to take and what goes directly to the finish line. Shorty thereafter I begin the half mile walk towards the town square for the pre-race briefing and enjoy meeting my fellow racers along the way.
Day 1 – Buena Vista to Arrowhead Campground
After a mind racing night with little sleep I get out of bed to get ready for stage 1. The race director gives a warning about going out to fast and “Highway to Hell” begins playing during the final countdown. The start gun goes off and the journey that is TransRockies begins. The race begins with a neutral start being lead by a local police car. We hit the trailhead and it’s game on. The pre-race nerves are gone as now it’s simply a run through the woods. The next mile is fairly steep and regardless of what you want to do everyone walks this section as the trail is single track and there will be someone walking in front of you with no room to pass. The next 3 miles or so the gradient lowers to something manageable. It’s fairly easy to run this section with a few places steep enough to need to walk. From mile 5 to mile 7.5 the gradient again increases as we go over the mountain peak of the day and into the first aid station. Even though I didn’t train in power walking I seem to gain on my competitors when we’re in walking sections. I take that as a pretty good sign. The altitude doesn’t seem to be affecting me, only the gradient does. Heat training and getting into Denver 4 days early was a great decision. Down the mountain and I can let the legs rip. At mile 10.5 my troubles begin as I get a quick hamstring cramp in my right leg, followed by calf cramp. While I had no cramping issues in the Captain Karl’s series I’m worried. After 2 smaller peaks to climb I ease into aid station 2 around mile 15. I’m feeling good and passing teams at regular intervals even though the quick cramps are still happening every once in awhile. There are enough uphill sections that need walking to prevent full blown leg cramps. After the final aid station the mainly downhill section finishes and it’s a false flat to the finish. While the road appears flat it’s actually a 3 or 4% grade. This is where my troubles start. My right calve begins to cramp more frequently and I’m forced into a run/walk strategy. Run for as long as I can, usually a quarter to half a mile, then walk about the same amount. With the long straight road ahead I can see several teams and solo’s fighting the same battle I am. Many are on the side of the road stretching. As I noticed earlier I seem to be gaining on them with my power walk and maintaining the separation during the run phase. I notice a Scooby Snack up head and make it my goal to gobble him up. He must have had the same strategy as I had and right when I began my final push to close the half mile or so gap he begins to run again too, beating me to the finish by a minute or two. Even with the cramping I feel good about the day. Later that night I found out I finished in 6th place overall which really surprised me. After the stage several of us head down to the Arkansas River for a natural ice bath. After a minute or so the legs, and toes, go numb and after a 20 or 30 minutes we get out and take the shuttle ride to Arrowhead camp grounds for massages, dinner, and recovery for tomorrows big push up Hope Pass.
Day 2 – Vicksburg to Twin Lakes Dam
After another sleepless night the general consensus is to get up around 5 am, get ready, pack up camp, and head to breakfast for the rickety bus ride to Vicksburg. The tension is high as we have to climb the infamous Hope Pass, roughly 3200 feet of elevation gain in two and a quarter miles to an elevation of 12600 feet. If there’s not enough oxygen for trees to grow, there’s probably not enough for us to run either.
While the course map shows the first 2 miles are relatively flat, they are anything but. I think the gradient (my guess is 6ish%) was a shock to many of us. Knowing I would be walking the steep climb up to Hope Pass I push a decent pace to the climb. The climb up Hope Pass is simply something you have to experience. The steepness of the climb, nearly 40% grade in parts, is every bit of brutal that others describe it to be. My original plan was to walk half mile segments and take thirty second stop breaks. That quickly changed to hoping I could make it a quarter mile before I needed a break and there were several places I pushed hard to make it 0.05 miles (that’s not a typo) before I was forced to stop. Once above tree line the straight up climbing of the single track changes into a series of switchbacks lowering the gradient to what was a nice 10-15% grade. From here to the top is was quite hikeable, without the tree cover the wind picked up and the temperature dropped. Along with many others I was forced to put on my running jacket and beanie for the final trek to the peak. There are very few achievements in running which give me a sense of pride and accomplishment. Making it up Hopes Pass is easily up there with my first marathon and my first 50 miler, and every bit of difficult as described. At the top we all take turns taking pictures for one another from the summit. Everyone is feeling the elation of making it to the top. Now the race begins as it literally is all downhill from here. The next 4 miles are the very steep, and we get flying. I seem to be pretty good at navigating the downhills, passing many people, and making pretty good time down the rocky downhill section. After descending the steep rocky section down Hope Pass the trail levels out into a grassy meadow. The narrow trail is partially hidden by the tall grass waving in the mid-morning breeze. The Garmin chirped the 6 mile mark and I began predicting my final stage time. Just over seven downhill miles to go and stage 2 will be in the books. I should finish in about 3 hours. Not bad for the slow climb over Hope Pass. FUDGE (in my best Ralphie from Christmas Story impression). A sharp pain shoots through my right ankle as it rolls over a rock buried in the trail. It immediately swells, and my ankle looks like someone surgically implanted a tennis ball. Any pressure on my right foot is excruciating, I know finishing the race much less the stage doesn’t look good. My immediate thought is that I surely broke my ankle. For the next half mile I limp along knowing there is no way for medical to come get me. At this point everything from my calf down is numb so I decide it’s time to run/walk as best I can. For the next 4 miles I make surprisingly good time considering my condition. With around 2 miles until the finish the pain is unbearable and I’m forced to walk the remainder of the stage. As people pass from behind everyone is encouraging, yet they all can tell my ankle is messed up without me even saying anything. Coming out of the trees around the second lake we finish on a dirt road for the final third of a mile. Nothing makes me feel more worthless than walking a finish. A team passes me giving some encouraging words and I decide my ankle is messed up already I might as well run it in. Crossing the finish line in 14th place I head directly to the medical tent. The doctor tests it out and determines I probably didn’t break anything, and “more than likely you didn’t rupture a tendon”. He orders me to see the doctors back at camp after I shower.
Back at camp the Leadville doctor assess me and confirms my race is over. He tells me they won’t physically prevent me from starting the next day but to know if they have to medevac me out they’ll charge me since they don’t think I should run. The next morning the mind wants to run, yet I could barely walk or put any weight on my right foot. Twenty-four miles of uneven terrrain isn’t a good idea. I phone home and get a ride back to Denver, ending what was an awesome experience and getting my first ever DNF.
|At the end of Stage 2|
|Three days latter still swollen|
|Trying to pretend running doesn't hurt|
I learned a lot in the two days of running I did do.
- Next year focus more on hill training and less on total miles.
- Practice power walking at various high inclines.
- A support crew would be invaluable for before/after each stage.
- Pack much lighter.
- Getting a very public massage in just your underwear isn't as awkward as you'd think.
- I'm pretty sure I was one of the heaviest guys in the race.
- Looking at the finishing times I think a top 10, and maybe top 5, finish next year is possible.
- As time passes the decision to drop from the race is harder to swallow.