TransRockies Run

Monday, September 17, 2012

The TransRockies Run

By Andy Ames

I’ve often thought about running TransRockies sowhen La Sportiva, my sponsor, wanted to put together some dream teams I jumped at the chance. Well, maybe not jumped at the chance, but was really intrigued by the idea. TransRockies is no ordinary race. It is a 120 mile stage race made up of teams of 2 runners. Each team must run together the whole way so choosing the right partner is critical. As luck would have it my preferred partner, Berni

e Boettcher, was in town for a few days so after a couple runs together we decided to go for it. The race andpreparation would require big challenges for us both mentally and physically. First off, we both prefer to run on our own so running with a partner would be a new experience. Also, we have different strengths and weaknesses. I am stronger on the climbs, Bernie on the descents. I’m faster on the smooth terrain, Bernie on the technical. I thought this could actually work to our benefit as pacing would be very important and we would both have to hold back over our preferred terrain. For me pacing would be a big adjustment. I tend to run like a dog, going out fast and holding on as long as possible. In my last marathon attempt I ran the second half 40 minutes slower than the first. After that, I vowed off the marathon and haven’t raced longer than a half marathon over the last 5 years. Needless to say, the thought of running 120 miles in 6 days was pretty intimidating.

Our goal was to win the 80+ division(combined age of the 2 runners) but after several days of running together we realized the biggest challenge would be foreach of us to arrive at the start healthy. It wouldn’t matter how much running we did before the race if we got hurt in the process. Moderation in preparation would be key as neither of us wanted to let the other down. Fortunately, after some up and down months of training we both came into form at just the right time.

 Stage one was 20.8 miles from Buena Vista to a railroad bridge north of town. This would be my longest run in over 5 years so I was very nervous. Could I really do this? Could WE do this? The race started faster than I expected over a twisty single track. Once it opened up, however, we found our pace and gradually moved up. I got a little concerned as we ran right past the aid stations, though. I was carrying a hydration pack but Bernie just had a little 10oz bottle. We paced ourselves well, but after leaving the final aid station Bernie began to fade. We had hoped to really push the last 4 flat miles but it wasn’t to be.  I tried coaxing and pushing but we continued to slow. Finally, I took off my pack and had Bernie hold one end while I held the other and towed him along. At the finish Bernie was badly dehydrated and discouraged. The problem wasn’t his fitness but would be getting rehydrated and recovered to race again the next day. Despite it all, this turned out to be one of our best days. We finished the fourth team overall, 1st in the 80+ division, and over 8 minutes ahead of the 2nd 80+ team.

 The next day was shorter at 13.4 miles from Vicksburg to Twin Lakes Dam. The course would take us above tree line to our highest point of the week as we crossed Hope Pass. The climb started steeply and we were all soon in a walk. This proved to be my downfall on this stageas I prefer to run. Even though we were mostly hiking, I got more and more tired as we climbed. By the top we could see the 2nd place 80+ team, Patagonia, was closing in on us and just one switchback behind. Once over the top, Bernie was in his element. He effortlessly pulled away from me as he danced over the rocks. I wished for his descending skills as I could tell it was killing him not to be able to go with other runners as they passed us on the way down. Once we hit the bottom of the pass we had the desperate job of trying to catch back up. Now it was my turn to struggle to keep my partner in reach. By the end, we caught back up and put another minute into team Patagonia. It was great to see Bernie back in high spirits again but man was I blitzed!

 Stage 3 was the longest of the race going from Leadville to Camp Hale over 24.3 miles. It also featured the least technical terrain which I appreciated after yesterday. We both ran strong from start to finish. It was a near repeat of the first stage as we finished 4th team overall again and put another 7 minutes into the Patagonia team of Rod Bien and Jeff Browning.  Even though we were gradually increasing our lead it felt anything but safe. Today we camped right at the finish line and would start the following stage from the same spot.

 Stage 4 was another short stage at 14.2 miles from Camp Hale to Red Cliff. After my performance on the second stage this day had me very nervous since it featured a similar profile. I decided to change my strategy a bit to try to make the descent as least important as possible. We went out a little quicker and this time I ran up the whole climb. Often Bernie could walk at the same pace but it felt much easier for me to keep my rhythm by running. By the top we moved up to 3rd overall team on the course and had 2nd in sight. Once on the way down, though, we were back to 4th. Bernie paced me over the rough terrain and once at the bottom we were able to come in with another strong finish. I thought this could be a stage where we could lose time but we ended up gaining another 3 minutes.

 Stage 5 had me worried again. I woke up with stomach issues and was afraid this could lead to dehydration later in the stage. I think lack of sleep was also catching up to me. I can never sleep well the night before a race so after 5 stages I hadn’t slept much. This stage would be our toughest yet at 23.6 miles and over 4,000 feet of climbing. The stage started with a long climb up the backside of Vail mountain before descending to the finish in Vail. Less than half way through, though, I felt my hamstring tighten up. We had worked so hard to build up a lead I was afraid now it could disappear in an instant. It never got much worse but was always in the back of my mind. We even moved into the #3 spot passing the Salomon team near the top before finishing once again 4th team by the finish. We added another 4 minutes to our lead but now I was worried how my hamstring would hold up our final day. I got my first massage of the week after the stage but once again got little sleep.

 I awoke the next day feeling better but still sore. I went with compression shorts for more hamstring support and was really glad we had built up a good lead over the Patagonia team. We figured as long as we didn’t blow up or cramp (either of which was possible) we should be ok. Stage 6 was advertised as 19.3 miles but turned out to be over 23. It was also the hilliest with almost 5,000 feet of climbing. After a couple miles through town it was almost all

 single track the rest of the stage, up and down the whole way. Nearing the top of the climbs it was looking like this could be our best day so far. We once again moved up to 3rd team on the trail. Just before we started our descent down into Avon however Bernie looked back and could see team Patagonia gaining ground. Nearing the bottom into Avon Team Patagonia came storming past and we suddenly found ourselves in a new position. We had never been behind so late in a stage. With one climb to go we were feeling the effects of the week and figured we better really pace ourselves to the finish. After all, we thought how much time could we lose in the last 4 miles?  Well, it turns out, a lot. We started walking near the base and had a hard time keeping a rhythm. By the top I wasn’t sure I could even get my legs to run the last mile to the finish. Get down we did, though, and we couldn’t have been happier to see a finish line. We lost over 6 minutes of our lead in those last few miles but held on to win the 80+ category overall. Unbelievable, we did it!

The race itself was incredibly well organized. It was an amazing production with start and finish areas and hundreds of tents set up each day. A mobile city was made up of a dining hall, massage tents, first aid station, and even a shower truck. Many days required shuttling of the runners to the starts and from the finishes. Breakfast and dinners were catered with plenty of healthy food. Dinners were followed by elaborate awards ceremonies and slide and video presentations, and course descriptions of the following stage.

Equipment-I went with the La Sportiva Vertical K on the 1st and 3rd stages and opted for the Crosslite on the other stages, the Vertical Ks for their cushioning and the Crosslite for traction and protection. Thinking back, the Vertical Ks might have been a little better option for the last two days as their light weight and cushioning may have kept my legs a little fresher. I used the Ultimate Direction Wasp hydration pack the first 3 days and then a single bottle waist pack the last 3. I thought the hydration pack had caused my back to tighten up on the Hope Pass stage but now I think it was more due to the walking. Each day I carried a gel bottle of First Endurance EFS liquid shot. We carried enough to run past nearly every aid station. This allowed us to not only gain time, but we figured with our old legs the fewer times we stopped the better.

 As I write I realize TransRockies was one of my most satisfying races ever. Not only was it by far the furthest I have ever run in a week but it also showed me that maybe I don’t have to be afraid of the marathon distance after all.

  I think running with a partner made it all the more special. Every step of the way we had to be aware not only if it was a pace either of us could sustain but one that both of us could sustain. After the race somebod

y asked if we would do it again. We just looked at each other like it was a taboo subject and decided we would have to wait at least a few weeks before thinking that far in the future. Both of us will be 50 next year. It was amazing that we both made it to the start none the less finishing. A lot of things have to line up to get through a race like this.



Tom Hall, Thursday, October 4, 2012

Awesome! And almost 50 y.o. A great tale of planning, perseverance, and endurance.

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