Thursday, August 28, 2014

TransRockies Run6 - Stage 1

Buena Vista, CO to Railroad Bridge (just north of Buena Vista). 
Distance: 20.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,672ft

When my alarm went off at 6am, I was focused and ready to go. I showered, got the baggie labeled "day 1", put on the running outfit that was in it and packed my hydration vest with the nutrition I had previously prepared. The hotel in Salida had breakfast available at 6:30, but luckily they were all set up by 6:20. We hit the road and arrived in Buena Vista at 7:05am.

While the TransRockies crew arranged for trucks to drive around town and pick up duffel bags from the hotels, I had to personally drop mine off since I had stayed in Salida the night before. It was fast and easy. I walked from the Heritage Museum over to the start line (roughly a half a mile away). People were slowly showing up and you could just feel everyone's excitement. I found a good place to sit and relax... even stretch a little bit and pulled out the elevation profile for the day to figure out a run strategy.

T-minus 41 minutes until start time! 
As we were getting ready to start, the announcer asked that we seed ourselves based on what we thought our pace would be. There were 3 main starting "corrals" and I placed myself in the middle of the pack. The race started promptly at 8:30am and off we go! The day started with a half a mile paved section as we made our way out of town and across the Arkansas River. Once on the other side, we were immediately on a single track working our way up.

After 2 miles we hit a wider road where we were able to enjoy some better views (well-earned views!) The uphill continued but it was a milder slope and a slow, easy jog made the trick for me. It got slightly steeper close to mile 6 where I was forced to power-hike for a mile before we hit the first aid station at mile 7 after 1500ft of gain. Grabbed a couple potato chips and continued on. All downhill from here!! For a while at least.

One of the last climbs before hitting the aid (behind those big rocky things in the middle)... you can even see some runners if you squint! :) 
After a 4-mile and 1000ft drop, we hit 2 more "biggish" climbs with their respective descents. At the end of the second one I saw the 2nd aid. Pounded some gatorade and continued on a rolling course until aid station 3. I didn't get  much stuff here but I knew the hardest part of the course was about to start.

The weather had been nice this day so far... it was mid to upper 40's at the start with not a cloud in sight. The day slowly warmed and by noon it was already in the mid-80's. While the heat didn't feel so bad up until mile 17, I was about to run the last 4 miles of the course on an exposed dirt road with a slight incline. The second I jumped on this road, I felt it; it was extremely hot and extremely dry. Thankfully there were some tunnels...

Only two of these though... :( 
I walked through these just to cool off a bit. The rest of the 4 miles were slightly uphill and it was getting to EVERYONE. I decided to maintain a slow pace and while it was legitimately a VERY slow jog, I managed to pass a whole bunch of people walking. Sooner than expected I heard the music, then the announcer and then I saw it; the finish line was right around the corner.

I finished Stage One in 4 hours 11 minutes 19 seconds for 13th place. I was stoked since I was aiming for mid-pack (my usual) and shortly after I finished, I realized there were 59 ladies in my category. This was WAY better than mid-pack.

The day didn't end there... I jumped in a shuttle and was taken to our campsite. These people KNOW what they're doing. By the time we got there, they have all the duffel bags lined up in numerical order and 400 tents set up. You just grab your bag and pick a tent. I set up all my camp stuff (air mattress, sleeping bag, etc), grabbed my little "drop-bag" and went over to take a shower. I hung out at the relaxation tent with a beer, met some people and charged my phone and ipod.

Tent City
Dinner started at 4:30pm and I managed to meet up with Marna and Mark (her husband) right before dinner time. It was Greek night! Dinner was delicious!! By 6:00pm, everyone was in the dinner tent and there's an award ceremony to recognize the top 3 in each category followed by a medical briefing and a course briefing for next day. At that point, Houda took over the microphone who made us all laugh with all his stories of the day (and some random announcements!). The evening ended with 2 slideshows of pictures of the day and a short video. I went to bed shortly after 8pm.

Up Next: TransRockies Run6 - Stage 2

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

TransRockies Run6 - Stage 0

It all started on August 21st of 2013. This was the day that I clicked on the TransRockies website and registered to run the 6-day run with my all-time training partner Theresa. While I was under the impression that I had signed up for a 6-day adventure, little did I know I had signed up for a whole year full of adventures that would end with a 6-day race filled with excitement, emotions, pain, joy, tears and smiles.

Many things happened in the last 12-months to make me a stronger runner and a better person... and a lot of lessons were learned, but the biggest thing was that I lost my partner to an injury. Unfortunately, it was probably 3 months before the race that Theresa approached me to let me know she could not make it happen since an injury had her side-lined. After a lot of thought, I decided to continue the journey on my own instead of differing or cancelling the race. I had already put on a lot of time into training and I figured that while I'd miss my friend a ton, it wouldn't really change the actual race.

After I finished the race, it seems like it has taken a while for me to put my thoughts together about TransRockies and it's been hard to figure out how to best describe this experience without having to write a whole book about it (because so much happened!). Following the TransRockies newsletter format, I've decided to write one day at a time starting with Stage 0 and as I go through each one, I'll try my best to explain the pro's and con's of not having my partner and best friend with me.

The weekend before race week I had a ton of work, therefore I decided to fully finish packing on Thursday night. It was time to run through my checklist one last time and put everything away. I carefully planned each day's outfit and nutrition as well as all the extra gear for hanging out at camp.

Gear ready to be packed
On Friday I drove up to Vail to get one last run in before the race. While I was planning a not-so-long run, my brother was in town and getting ready for his marathon on August 31st... so we ended up running some 18 miles... luckily, they were all downhill!

Pretty views from the top of Vail Pass
After my run in Vail I went up to Leadville to meet up with the RaceRite crew. We timed the Leadville 100 MTB race on Saturday which meant my work day started with a 4:45am wake up call. After an 11hr work day at 12,000ft and a quick dinner I drove back to Boulder to work at the Outdoor Divas Triathlon in Longmont. After going to bed at midnight, I somehow managed to be at the race venue by 6am. Thankfully, this day was a tad shorter and I was back home by 2pm.

On Monday, I woke up early (again) and drove up to Vail to pick up my mama. We then had a big breakfast at the West Side Cafe and then drove to Buena Vista. Arrived at 2pm to go pick up my race packet right away. Finally, it was time to get this adventure started. Packet pick up was at the Buena Vista Heritage Museum and it was quick. I got my duffel bag, goodies and bib number with chip. Yikes. Things were getting real.

It's really happening
We went to the hotel to check-in, I took a nap, finished packing and went back to the race headquarters. I met with my now good friend Marna, who was introduced to me by Theresa over email. They met at a race in Oregon and she learned that Marna and her husband were going to do TRR and she thought it would be a great idea to introduce us... let me tell you, it was THE BEST idea!

The pre-race briefing was not too long and very informative. They introduced the course team, the medical team and race director extraordinaire, Mr. Houda. They all had some words of wisdom for us as well as some helpful pointers. After all that, they gathered everyone at the front, took a pre-race picture and they sent us back to our hotels to enjoy our last night.

All TRR runners the day before the start
And with that I went to bed... a little nervous, but not too much. I had a good night's sleep... I was at peace with my training and I was looking forward to start the adventure.

Up Next: TransRockies Run 6 - Stage 1

Thank you, Courtney!

The weekend of August 2nd and 3rd was a big one around here in Boulder. It was the inaugural Ironman Boulder.. sort of a big deal.

While the Boulder community was submerged in this madness, my better half and I drove down to Ouray. Despite the Ironman excitement and a teeny tiny desire of checking out the finish line, we had a bigger mission down south: Our crazy friend Courtney was running the Ouray 100 and Chuck and I were two of her 3 pacers.

I'd never paced for anyone before and I was slightly scared of not being able to keep up with her but she assured me time and again that I'd be fine. Anyway... we took it easy on Friday and went to bed early. Alarms went off at 3:00am and at 3:30am we were out the door. Courtney decided to walk the 15mins to the start line while Chuck and I drove. The start was at 4am sharp and off they all went in the dark...

Athletes lined up at the start... 29 athletes to be exact! (First year race). 
We went straight back to bed since we couldn't really access the athletes for the first 32 miles. Courtney estimated 6ish hours for the first 32 miles... and she was right on the money. She came back to the start/finish area (mile 32) right around 10. She was first female and roughly 7th overall. She was in great spirits and quickly continued on. Kev (her fiance) and I met her at mile 41 where there was a "self-service" water station. She had moved on to 5th overall. She mentioned those last few miles were tough, but we knew she had a nice 9 mile dowhnill that wasn't too steep either.

We drove off to Ridgeway where Chuck would meet with her to start pacing... this was mile 50. She arrived in Ridgeway in 4th place! Beast mode: ON. Had a full change of clothes and continued on. As Kev and I started driving towards the pass we found her in 3rd place and moving along nicely, but the heat was getting to her. The guys in front of her were also moving slow and steady but were also struggling with the heat. After 18 grueling miles of hot uphill, they hit the top of the pass, where Courtney arrived in 2nd place!

Court and Chuck at the top of the pass taking a break. Courtney still in great spirits at mile 68.
Kev took over from here and they were just gonna run the same 18 miles, but downhill... and in the dark (way cooler). Chuck and I drove back to Ridgeway where I attempted to take a nap. I think I slept between 11:15pm and 12:30am when Kev texted to let me know they were a mile away. Oh snap! It was my turn to run. Courtney showed up in 2nd place again to the aid station in Ridgeway at mile 86. She was still in great spirits.

We started with an easy jog, but 3/4 of a mile into it, she wanted to walk. The same 9 miles she had run down after that 41-mile water station were the ones we were running up. While Chuck went home to sleep for a while (smart man), Kev decided to drive up the road and stop every two miles.

I bet that was nice for Courtney to break down the run in 2-mile segments, but for me it was AMAZING. It's no secret that I'm insanely freaked out of running in the woods in the dark and having that car with lights on every 2 miles was amazing. The first few miles were still good cause Courtney was still chatty and we were on a dirt road... but as we kept going up, the road narrowed, it became more "woods-like", and Courtney wanted to talk less and less.

We finally made it up to the water station at mile 95... that was the last we'd see of Kevin. It was 4am on the dot and Courtney was falling apart. I wasn't sure if I was being a good pacer or not, but I tried to do everything she asked. It was impressive to see her so "broken" so to speak. She was doing great, yet she didn't seem to acknowledge that and just kept saying how tired she was and how she couldn't really eat anything. Once we left Kev, he had to turn around and we hit an even narrower trail which kept going up. I thought that'd be the end of the "up". But no. Just kept going. She was hiking at a nice steady pace and didn't really want to talk. I was FREAKING OUT. I kept looking up for bears and mountain lions who I SWORE were out to get us.

Every once in a while she'd stop and ask where the flags were. I honestly DID NOT KNOW! The flags were pretty spaced out and at times I had NO IDEA if we were on the right track, but I always assured her we were. I'd keep my eyes open for the next flag/LED light and I'd point it out to her. While she'd only nod and say: "ok", I was SO RELIEVED every time I saw it. Can you imagine how crappy it'd feel to get us both lost at that point!?! Geesh.

As we got to the highest point, the sun was wanting to rise. You could see a lighter sky (although not bright yet) and I said: "look, you can see the sun wants to come out soon!" Courtney looked up and said: "Ahh, the meadow! This is what I was talking about, now we go down." While the sun was the biggest relief in my eyes, cause then I get to see better (and see those bears ready to attack from far away), Courtney was relieved to see the downhill. We jogged, for the first time in a while. It was a slow cautious jog in a very over-grown, tight and technical single track.

The sun eventually made a real appearance and it was time to take off the headlamps. I had a smile on my face again... BUT I had NO IDEA how far we were from the finish. I texted Kevin a few times to say: "We're 1 mile away from the trail head", no wait, "1 more mile... for real this time". "Ok, maybe another mile? Not sure anymore." He just replied: "All I know is that it's 2.3 from the trailhead to the finish".

Yikes... we were past mile 100 at that point!

We soon saw Kevin and Chuck on these steep rocky downhill switchbacks. I knew FOR SURE we were close (they were both wearing flip-flops). She didn't say much to either one and continued on. We hit the road that was slightly uphill, but not steep.. very runnable. She took off in a 9:09 min/mile pace (that 9:09 on my garmin is an image I can't get out of my head). I had a hard time keeping up. She ACTUALLY ran 9:09 the last 2.3 miles (she thought it'd be one mile ALL ALONG!).

When we were 1/2 a mile from the finish, I started to cry... I couldn't help it. I tried to express how inspired I was by her. I truly was. And that finish, was the strongest finish I'd seen from a person that had been so broken only hours before. She is truly a rockstar. She finished 2nd overall in just under 27 hours even though the course added up to 104 miles.

All done! Courtney with her pacing and support crew. 2nd overall, 1st female. 
So now, on to the title of this post: Thanks Courtney, for being such an inspiration. Your hard work and your amazing ability to dig deep has taught me SO much. Thank you for letting me be part of this amazing race of yours. Thank you for making me step out of my comfort zone and run at night... with no one to talk to. Thank you for showing me what it means to finish strong. And thank you for being such a good friend and training partner. CONGRATULATIONS!! You're the best runner I know.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Getting ready for TransRockies

It's been a while since I posted... and while TransRockies is now a memory, there were a few big weekends that helped me prep for this one big week. I won't spoil the story just yet though, so first, I will tell you all about my biggest training week pre-TransRockies Run (TRR).

Machine Courtney and I had been planning this for months! As she was prepping for Ouray 100 and I was prepping for TRR we decided to have a big "training camp" and head up to the mountains, just the two of us, and run... and then run some more.

Chuck and I headed up to the condo in Avon on Thursday July 3rd in the evening. We caught the 4th of July firework show in Avon (which was on the 3rd) and still went to bed fairly early. Court arrived Friday morning. Without further ado, we started out run #1 of the weekend:

Summer Training Camp Run #1: 
Since Court arrived on Friday, we decided to stay "in town" and not drive anywhere to save time. Per Chuck's advice, we went straight up "the rock" behind the condo and along the ridge until the trail dumped us in Beaver Creek... yeah, that was pretty hard! It was a gain of 1,000ft over the first mile. It was basically a climb on all 4's.

Regardless, once at the ridge, the views were outstanding...

Views of Avon from the top of "The Rock" 
The run on the ridge was no walk in the park. I was hoping it'd be a little more rolling, and a little less uphill. It was mostly uphill. We eventually dropped into Beaver Creek where we decided to continue to go up a service road. I turned around sooner while Court went a little longer. In the end, my run was 10 miles (the first 3 miles were so hard, I figured I'd save the legs a bit for day 2.

Summer Training Camp Run #2: 
On Saturday, we left the condo early and drove all the way to Leadville. I had suggested we did the marathon course all over again. Not sure why I thought MAYBE Courtney would say no, but the thing is... she NEVER says no. The course was too fresh in my mind and I was scared. We went for it anyway. We cut off the road part of it (3/4 of a mile) and were aiming for a 25 mile run. It started pretty good and I was taking it WAY easier than on race day. As we went on, it was time to go up towards Mosquito, I  told Court to tag the summit and turn around and I'd turn around when she got to me. She wasn't far ahead of me so I ended up dragging her back up so I could tag it again. It was chilly up top but as we started going down, it started getting hot.

At the top of Mosquito Pass
We were out of water and I was doing everything I could to try and get water from random tourists. In the end, after 7 hours and no more water, we decided to turn around and cut our run short. Instead of the 25 miles we'd planned, we ended up running 23. Not bad. We were exhausted and extremely dehydrated. The rest of the evening consisted in lots of beers including a trip to Eagle, CO to check out Bonfire Brewery.

Summer Training Camp Run #3: 
Our last day, we decided to go after the Vail Uphill half marathon course. It starts at Golden Peak runs straight up to the top of the mountain (Top of Chair 4) and then traverses out back to finish at the top of the Gondola (the old one). I was surprised to still have the legs to do a decent run/walk the whole way up. Once at the top, I was sketched out by the clouds which looked stormy. I convinced Courtney to just run down as opposed to staying on the ridge. We did... Once again, the views coming down (when you're not facing the mountain) were amazing. The wildflowers were going off with all the rain we've gotten over the past few months!

Views from the top of Vail
Our run ended up being 15 miles which added up to a good 50 miles over the 3 days. Not bad at all if you add it to the 20 I had done earlier in the week. The rest of the day, we spent chilling at the condo after a big big breakfast with bloody mary's.

I started the weekend trying to focus on "hot spots" or potential blisters. I tried to focus on nutrition both during and after the run as I prepped for a run the following day. I focused on potential aches and pains that would trigger after long back-to-back runs... aside from one hot spot, nothing huge happened. After this weekend, I felt slightly more confident that TransRockies was within reach for me.