We spent the night in a super8 motel in Beuna Vista, CO (ela. 8000ft) before our first run. Had our first 2 meals and debriefing in the local elementary school gym. Met a couple other people also from lower elevations which gave me confidence. Tried to deflect any comments about how fit and competitive we looked by telling people we are just here to train and survive! The first run took off down main street and quickly caught a single track trail that wound around and up a set of hills behind town. After discovering a leaky tube on my camel pack, finding a nice rhythm to the top of the hill where the first aid station was perched, and then cruising down to a severely hot, flat, rocky finish we iced in a river and caught a shuttle to our first camp site.
At camp we found that the shower truck was not as scary as one might expect, that the watch charging station can be quite stressful, and that earplugs are essential part of camping amidst 350 other people. We jumped in shuttle buses and vans to arrive at the start of our second run. A fast warmup to a trail that climbed straight up to Hope Pass at 12,500ft and then right back down to the finish near Twin Lakes. A shorter day of just 13 miles left our legs shot but with some extra time to recover at our new camp in Leadville (elav. 10,000ft).
Today we ran another big one from Leadville's main street directly to camp Hail. We paced ourselves better because after the first two days of everyone trying to prove themselves we were both a little sore! The new camp was beautiful. Entering it from dirt trails and roads gave it a very back country feel. Not to mention it's gorgeous location in a lush valley between some towering heights! The pond and scenery nearby camp made focusing on recovery a breeze. Steve was even tempted by the massage tent and got his muscles worked on a little. I took a nap on the grass and watched clouds grow...
Today we ran another short run of 14 miles. A climb up to treeless ridge and then a rocky risky descent into a riverbed which we navigated for about 3/4 mile to the finish in a little town called red cliff. With a storm brewing we caught an early shuttle back to camp where we iced and rested and helped keep the tents from blowing away in a gusty wind. At dinner we took the vegetarian line which was dependably shorter and provided fantastic fresh veggies and rice and potatoes. All the nutrients, proteins, and starches we needed to keep fueling for a high caloric expenditure the next morning. Feeling re-energized and ready to face the last two days we went to bed early.
We packed up all our belongings at 6 am grabbed breakfast and took an early shuttle back to Red Cliff where we waited in a local coffee shop for the start of the race. It was so cold outside that we didn't line up until 5 minutes before the start. Todays run climbed up 4000ft and then came soaring back down on trails that circled dry ski slopes. Our legs being completely shot from the climb and the previous 4 days had virtually no breaks left and made the long descent a painful one. It took mental focus to stay relaxed and keep careening downhill towards the finish in Veil. It was a rough one, but we tried to enjoy icing in the river and the beautiful weather in veil before catching as much sleep as we could before the final day.
At breakfast on the last day I didn't eat the usual pedigree of oatmeal, fruit, potatoes, and tea. Instead I chose just oatmeal and a banana. I had previously been eating more than I'm used to because I wanted to fuel myself for the entire week, not just each individual day. But having made it to the final run I wanted to feel light and fast over the 3 hills we were about to face. This last run has the most elevation gain of all of them totaling in all 5000 ft. We kept a good pace through town in order to start the single track trail in front of the walkers. It is a well-known strategy in many ultra-marathons to walk the uphills and sprint the downhills. But me and Steve prefer a more stable pace of jogging uphill and then controlling the downhill as much as possible. Inevitably we got stuck behind some walkers and tried to manage the boosts of energy it took to pass them on the skinny trails. But cruising to the top of the first hill and then quickly down to the first aid station at the bottom we found ourselves away from the pack and feeling good. Up the second hill we contained our anticipation and entered the forest at the top at a good clip. A lot of our speed today was helped by the cloud cover which made it much easier to manage body temp. When we started to descend the second hill however the wheels were beginning to rattle. By the time we reached the second aid station at the bottom we were beginning to feel quite exhausted. I was becoming lazy in my hydration and eating and it was starting to show. We crossed the highway and began the last climb of the TransRockies run. At first it was rolling. Up a small hill then around to the side and back down into a gully. Then up again. Some of the people we had been overtaking on the previous uphills were now teasingly crowding around. But as the climb continued endlessly up into the forest one by one they dropped off. Accept one couple who seemed very fresh indeed and over took us like it was day one. I knew half way up that hill that I was in trouble. I could feel that familiar last quarter of a marathon feeling where your legs turn to lead. My pack was running out of water and my mind was playing negative thoughts over and over that I could not deflect. I wished for the top of the hill. I begged for the beauty of the Aspens all around us to end. I wanted this forest and it's roots, logs, and rivers to be far behind me. But it wouldn't obey. So I just kept moving my legs. One after the other. My whole body hurt with every inch of ground I covered. Like when you have a fever and everything you do makes everything worse. Even stopping hurts. Steve was making great encouragement. It's so close! I can see the light through the trees! Just follow his feet. When he steps, I step. When he breaths, I breath. When he drinks, damn I'm out of water! And just when I thought the sweet relief of the top was there, we turned downward. Oh how could I wish for the downhill? It's so much more painful than going up. Even when you have nothing left up is always better then down. I don't know how long it took us to get from the top to the winding trails, past the horse farm, along the road, and finally to a couple switchbacks and onto the grass for the finishing line in front of the Beaver Creek Lodge resort but it felt like forever. Sweet relief was met with smiling faces of the family. I quickly forgot that moments earlier I was in an epic struggle between physical health and dehydration, between mental strength and fortitude, between finishing and not. But now we have done it. A small step across a line in the grass represented a whole weak of lows and highs, of effort, discipline, and focus. Just one more icy river and I can relax...