This Friday evening, exhausted but elated runners will head to the awards ceremony in the plush ski town of Beaver Creek. They’ve just completed the 115-mile, six-day TransRockies Run, enduring searing afternoon sunshine, high altitude, and rugged mountain climbs.
The last day of TransRockies wrapped up with no change for the leaders of the pack. Krissy Moehl and Bryan Dayton took the mixed open division by 12:01. Max King and Andy Martin continued to dominate the men’s open, ending up with an impressive final lead of 40:20.
Melody Fairchild and Ellen Parker remained on top of the women’s open division. The Quebec ladies, Amelie Fournier and Danielle de Guire, won the sixth stage by less than a minute, but it wasn’t enough to make up the gap Fairchild and Parker had already opened up on the prior days.
The final stage of TransRockies proved difficult for many runners, as tired legs must navigate two long, steep climbs, exposed sun baked ridges, and steep descents through technical, overgrown grassy fields. Most felt relieved to think that they wouldn’t have to stomach energy gels, bananas, early alarm clocks, and well worn running shoes for a seventh straight day.
I traveled to TransRockies this year as both a journalist and a runner. I teamed up with friend and running partner Caroline Ly, who I met on the trails around Seattle. We started running ultramarathons together several years ago when we both entered the White River 50 Miler, so we already knew we’d be compatible on the trail.
Neither of us felt we could have asked for a better partnership, given the challenges TransRockies presents as a team race. Even with our similar mind frame, a partner challenge isn’t easy. The first day, Caroline became ill due to heat and altitude, and walked the last four flat road miles. I worried that she’d feel sick the entire week.
Thankfully, being the robust athlete she is, she bounced back and ran strong every day after. We steadily moved up the rankings, nabbing fourth place in the open division by the end of the week. As the days went on, we discovered new ways to work together as a team and play on our own running strengths. I’d take off ahead of her on the climbs, and then she’d come barreling down the descents.
I found the mental aspect of a partner race more challenging than the typical ultra, and at times it reminded me of pacing at Cascade Crest. I paid less attention to my own body and worried more about how she was feeling.
We both felt eternally grateful, however, that we enjoyed running with each other so thoroughly. We never argued, encouraged each other constantly, and reminded each other to appreciate the incredible Colorado mountain scenery. For us, summiting Hope Pass, splashing through creek beds, and running along single track mountain ridge trails proved some of the most amazing moments of the trip.
I first became interested in TransRockies after hearing rave reviews from friends Matt Hart and Sean Meissner, who formed a Montrail team a couple of years ago. Though I have yet to develop a strong interest in tackling a traditional 100-mile race (mainly because I love sleeping at night too much), the idea of a stage race seemed intriguing. Pushing oneself hard each day, recovering in the evening, and then doing it all again the next day seemed a unique challenge.
I wasn’t disappointed. Many TransRockies participants refer to the event as “summer camp for runners,” and the title fits. After a hard trail run each day, we spent the afternoons and evenings hanging out with fellow race participants. Unlike a typical marathon or ultra, where you run just once, TransRockies means you see the same people again and again on the trails. We looked forward to running with “The French guys,” “The Doctors,” and the other teams with similar speed to our own.
The event also proved impressive on an organizational front. When the race directors told us a shuttle would arrive at 7 a.m. or dinner would begin at 5 p.m., they meant it. Except for two nights at Camp Hale, The Gourmet Cowboy Catering Company prepared all meals, and the spread of food was amazing and delicious, with ample vegan, gluten free, and vegetarian options.
OK’s Cascade Company brought shower trailers and portable hand washing stations, enabling runners to clean up every afternoon at camp. The trailer’s chief staff member spent all afternoon and evening wiping up any grime or water, keeping the station immaculate.
TransRockies crew took down and set up tents for the runners each night. GORE-TEX handed out free goodies at dinner, including running gloves and blankets. Salomon provided beer and snack food each afternoon, a bonfire with S’mores at night, and gear giveaways. iCool Sport brought ice baths to ease aching legs, and a massage tent tended to runners every day.
Indeed, this was summer camp for runners, but it was a highly pampered summer camp.
For most of us, the scenery proved one of the biggest highlights. We ran through high desert, rock tunnels, meadows, and forests. We climbed above the tree line, giving us panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains. For Caroline and I, who have never been trail running in Colorado before, each day proved a new visual treat.
As expected in any endurance event, runners suffered as well. Some required medical treatment for altitude sickness or heat stroke. One runner broke a wrist, and another knocked out an already loose front tooth by biting into a tortilla. A bout of stomach flu swept through the tent city, knocking out more than one runner for a day or more. Some racers dropped out because of ever worsening injuries.
But nearly every TransRockies runner I talked to said they wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. The hardship of completing a stage race made summer camp that much more meaningful.