TransRockies Run 2014- Part Three (Half Way Point)

In this multi-part series, contributor Aaron Maas will take us on his journey from preparation to (we hope) completion of the 2014 Transrockies Run. A 6 day multi stage race that takes place in Colorado in August.

Need to catch up? Read more in parts one and two.

In today’s installment, we are introduced to pre-travel hiccups and the first days of the event.

Before I start I should admit something.  Good or bad I run around 50 miles a week. Sometimes more,sometimes less. I run 8 miles on Tuesday and Thursday, then long on Saturday and usually an uncomfortable andSloooow “recovery” (more like “death march”) run on Sunday.  This puts me somewhere between “RunnersWorld subscriber” and “avid Runner”. 

On Saturday, before the Tuesday PepsiCo TransRockies Run start I had my packing list ready and went to the store for a nylon bag that could double as a drop bag (to leave at the starting line at the race with jacket, food,or whatever else I might need) and a shower bag around camp (there was to be a “shower truck” which may or may not be a dude with a hose on an F150. To be determined…). While perusing the miniature hygiene products I got a text that my teammate was out – complete with a picture of a punctured foot and swelling which could only be described as “ewwwww”.   In that moment only one thing was certain: I wasn’t sure what I was doing.

Matt had asked me to run this race with him early in the year.  The timing was perfect because I had a big race in the fall I was passionately training for.  March’s Spartan Race wasn’t the podium smashing hit I had hoped for and I was concentrating on my longer runs.  I had been dedicated to the ultra plan for dummies I had written myself (read:“by a dummy, for a dummy”).  Aside from two weeks I took off to convince myself I had a broken foot or not, I had stuck to my plan increasing weekly mileage from 30 miles to roughly 100k (my October A-Race is a 100k).  That all being said – a 120 mile mountain course over 6 consecutive days was NOT something I felt “ready” for.   The only calm in this torrential uncertainty storm was my buddy was going with me and we’d take a lot of silly pictures.  Now – there was no teammate, and no creative direction.  I was proverbially “in a bad way”.

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Already long story short – I got on a plane to Denver.  I found a burrito place at the airport I deemed my “Last Supper” and found a group of runners waiting for the TransRockies shuttle to Buena Vista, Co (About 2.5 hours from Denver). Know how to find a group of runners? Forget body type – you’ll know because you’d find a bunch of grown up adults in flip flops or sneakers, backpacks or duffel bags in lieu of nice luggage, and nary acollared shirt in the bunch. These were MY PEOPLE. I met Turbo (raised as “Ryan B.”) and he rounded up thisgroup of international misfits and took us on a charter bus to Buena Vista (pop. 3,660) for registration/check-in. The weather outside was inversely proportional to the storm inside of me.

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I know what you’re thinking – “Aaron – get on with it already – How was the race!” So I’ll tell you, check in was the same as any other, bib, swag, body bag, and massage sign up.   You know, “the reg”.  We had amandatory pre-race meeting where I was sure they were going to line us up and take bets on whether we would finish – Something in between the lines of a Vegas Casino show and “The Most Dangerous Game”.  Then we were introduced to this week’s puppeteers – including Adam the First Aid coordinator, Kevin “Houda” our program director, and Aaron the race director.  We would be hearing from these leaders nightly as well as receive a course overview from the two guys that were marking the trails DAILY to make sure no one got lost. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits and we departed with clear direction on where to leave our bags, our luggage we wouldn’t need, and what to expect the following morning.
Day 1 was a long day.  We had 21 miles to cover on the same trail that had a Burro Race the day before and many people saw Anton Krupikca training on.  I met up with a Women’s Run6 team (Laura and Kelly from Idaho) who were on the shuttle and in the same hotel as me the night before. We talked shoes and shades and laced up for the big start.  As you can imagine, the views were already beautiful as the sun rose over the mountains and onto our starting line. Tessa from Boulder, CO  was there to cover the race and she informed me that the trails would warm up soon and not to worry about the cold morning air. We hit the single track out of town and it guided us through the next 21 miles of jeep road and single track to Railroad Bridge. After the first long day we made way across the finish and found a finishers tent with Gatorade Recovery drinka bunch of Lay’s snacks and coolers of Michelob ULTRA (“Something for Everyone”). In truerunner/outdoors/hippy fashion we all took a soak in the cold river and then headed on shuttle to Arrowhead Campground for dinner. There were signs and volunteers guiding us around everywhere we had to be – they left no decisions to be made by the runners which was great because I was on auto-pilot after the long day in the sun.
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The following days came and went in similar fashion, only instead of emerging from our hotel rooms we all scooted out from under out tents and dragged ourselves to the dining tent for breakfast.  Every morning we had a full breakfast spread with pancakes and eggs, cereal and fruit – WAY MORE than I would ever eat before along run – but great choices when you have a bout of morning indecision.  On day 2 we climbed to almost 12,500 ft to Hope Pass – the tallest point of the infamous Leadville 100.  I could have stopped there.  If you had asked me if I had “done enough” I would have said yes.  To get to run (at that point) 30 miles in Colorado and follow the course from the Leadville 100 was a dream come true.  I’m no slouch, but I’m not a 100 mile guy or a mountain climber or anything. This was a huge moment, an accomplishment, and a dream trail that I had only ever seen glossy photos of in race ads. I couldn’t be happier (see terrible smile below).
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In that moment, however, I was cutting myself short. I had no idea how much the second half of every hill climb could be.  The descent from Hope Pass to Twin Lakes and again on Day 4 from Hornsilver Mountain to the town of Red Cliff (pop. little league team) was a whole new experience.  Mountain Bombing (as I will now affectionately call it) is an awesome experience where your body is on fire and your soul is on ice (to steal the motto from rowing teams everywhere).  I tuned out the pain and my feet became wheels while I blasted down the mountain.  All of those Georgia trails with roots and rocks had become the perfect training partner.  There was no course “too technical” and the long stretches of descent let me lengthen my stride and enjoy the downhill.  This was, and may forever be, my favorite part of trail running.
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We saw off our Run3 friends at the end of the third day. There was the nightly awards banquet and slide show with professional photography from the previous three days. This night was a celebration and a loss because we had become friends with so many runners during the event. I was fortunate enough to dine with Matt Hart (Team Montrail, Stage 1, 2, 3, and Overall Run3 Champion) and Kyle Dietz (Outdoor Research Athlete andgenerally cool dude). The end of Run 3 meant many runners had to head out for other obligations and back to the real world. I was prepared for the mass exodus. I was SO wrong. Only ¼ of the racers left – we still had a 300 person party going on and some of the Run3 racers even stuck around as volunteers to see us through to the end. The next 3 days would be quite different from the first. Has anyone ever told you that the “halfway point” of a Marathon is closer to mile 18 than it is to 13.1? What I didn’t realize was following day 3, I had run around 57 miles which was up their with my longest 7 day stretch EVER- let alone in 72 hours. What happened next was unexpected, thrilling, and downright painful.
*Photos By: Aaron Maas
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Aaron is a cautiously optimistic runner from Atlanta, GA. He spends his time searching for answers and trails, sometimes simultaneously. Along with ORM co-founder Matt B. Davis, he is half of Team “Dr. Bob’s Nightmare” that will participate in the Transrockies Run. He has recently begun blogging on his own site run1more.com
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