First, the short version: nervous energy, great people, delicious food, stunning routes, dialed execution, bountiful blisters, wicked ITB pain, first-rate support, sleeping under the stars, s’mores with new friends, catching up with old friends and a week of quality time with my husband/teammate. And we cannot wait to do it again!
For some completely illogical reason, I’ve felt a connection to the GORE-TEX TransRockies Run (GTTR) since it began four years ago, and it’s been at the top of my to-do list since. The race takes place in Colorado, we live in Colorado. The first year, it finished in Aspen; we live just down the road. In subsequent years, it’s finished in Beaver Creek; we used to live just down the road. Syl Corbett created the first training program for the event; she also happened to be our coach at the time. Sound reasoning (or not), I had to do the GTTR.
John and I signed up, trained, cross-trained, had physical therapy and kept on running. As a training note, I followed a program that alternated weeks with 2-day long run bricks and 3-day long run bricks, in addition to hill work, tempo work, cross-training and rest. This was effective, but, if you’ve never done an event longer than three days, I highly recommend mixing in at least one week, maybe two depending upon timing, with a 4-day long run brick. While there could be a physical impact trade-off, it would provide both mind and body the chance to grasp the challenge ahead. Or you can do as I did and develop mental stamina as you go!
John’s parents were in town to watch the girls and John’s dad was kind enough to take us to Buena Vista, for check-in. Do you remember what it felt like being dropped off at camp, standing on the side of the road with a bunch of gear, as you watch the tail lights fade in the distance, with that giddy mix of excitement and “oh my God what have I gotten myself into”? Rest assured it comes on just as strong at the age of 40 as it did when you were 10. And that was even before I knew Frank was leaving with my brand new Smith Pivlock V90’s, with the sweet violet lenses, which I mistakenly put in the extraneous gear bag in the back of the car. Thankfully, I also packed my ever-ready Zeal Zests, which served me well on yet another adventure.
The craziest thing about our pre-race jitters was that we had them every single day. The GTTR is such a well-oiled machine, every start and finish had a big arch, corrals, sponsor banners, music, announcers and the CLOCK—all the components of a race that make my knees go weak and my sphincter get tight.
After sound training and choosing a compatible partner (SO important—although dysfunctional team drama is rather entertaining to watch, in a sadistic, thank goodness that isn’t us sort of way!), getting dialed with your gear is critical. Know what you need, test it beforehand and be intimate with how to use it.
Essentials were a pack (I used the Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab Hydration Pack. John used the Camelbak Octane LR. Reviews will follow.), poles (we both used Lekis, Travellers for me and Super Makalu AERGON’s for John), 2 pairs of shoes (I took three – Salomon SpeedCross 2, Montrail Rockridge, and Vasque Mindbender), debris gaiters (Dirty Girl Gaiters seemed to have a lock on the market at our race. The Mountain Hardwear SETA Gaiter is another good option), comfortable sleep set-up (Big Agnes Edna SL bag and Big Agnes Dual Core pad for me, and GoLite Adventure 3-Season Vario Semi-Rectangular bag, with Nemo’s Cosmo Air and Pillowtop pad, for John), running clothes that work for you, comfy socks and camp clothes. There are other items on the must-bring list, but these are the biggies to figure out in advance.
As for camp clothes, it was a veritable hip/active lifestyle/hot body fashion show nightly. Who knew? Certainly not us—we went for practical comfort, but didn’t look bad either. John’s fashion statement was capri long johns with a Patagonia Nano Pull Pullover, and mine was SmartWool NTS Midweight bottoms longs, worn under running shorts. I was also sporting the new Patagonia Special Edition Women’s Down Sweater, but so was Jenny Hadfield—excuse me, would the two Women’s Running writers in the house please raise your hands? Oh, never mind, you’re dressed alike! But I must say, it’s an awesome piece! Next time, John will bring a pair of jeans or his Mountain Hardwear kilt, and I’ll pack jeans and a sporty dress to wear over my long johns.
The run itself was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Convincing yourself to get up and get dressed, go through your pre-race routine and line-up at the start day after day was a big exercise in mental strength, especially when I knew what was going to hurt (my ITB) and how badly (like bitch). It’s a good thing I didn’t do this race when it first started because, despite completing marathons, half IM’s and century rides, it would have left me in a sniveling heap on the side of the trail. As it was, I sniveled, but I never forgot my mantra of ‘constant forward motion’—actually I may have forgotten it once or twice, but thankfully John never did!
The interesting thing though, is by day 4 or 5, it all became routine. You get up, go through the motions, chat with folks while brushing teeth at the sinks (the shower and sink set-up was awesome!) and then head out for your run/hike/slog as the case may be. I realized quitting was not an option, and took each day mile by mile. There was even more comfort to be had in the post-run routine. Finish a run to hugs and hello’s, soak in a creek or the provided cold pools, grab a shower and a snack, have blisters bandaged, head off to your massage and then…relax.
The rest of the evening actually played out like a date night (maybe we don’t get out much!) with a delicious dinner, fun presentation, prizes and then a slide show and film recap of the day along with an overview of the day to come. Any evening involving a campfire, roasting marshmallows and singing camp songs is a winner.
Looking back at the GTTR, the people are what made it so memorable. When you are sleeping in tents, eating communal meals and hanging out together for a week, it no longer matters if you are winning the race or bringing up the rear. Everyone has covered the same miles, climbs, descents and creek crossings. Sure some have put the effort out on the front, but being faster. While others, like myself, put in the effort of long hours on the trail. In the end, what matters isn’t so much what you did, but how you did it.
The winners did an amazing job, but, so did everyone at the GTTR, from the race organizers, to volunteers, sponsors and everyone who had the courage to step up to the line in Buena Vista. As for us, we will definitely do it again, it took us only 6 hours to go from “once and done” to “next time”. Until then, we’ll be the ones wearing goofy grins along with our 2010 Gore-Tex TransRockies Finisher shirts.