TransRockies Run – 2014

* From: Josh White
* Event: TransRockies 6
* Date: August 11-17, 2014

* Event Details

* Race Details
TransRockies 2014, 6 days, 120 miles

General Thoughts –
One of the most impressive race experiences I’ve ever had. Absolutely incredible routes and amazing race organization. I would do it again in a heartbeat if I didn’t have other races / experiences I want to do. I probably will anyways. The biggest downside of the whole event for me was being away from my family for such a long time. Many thanks to Fabienne Pattison, my awesome teammate!

Because this is a stage race, people moving at the same pace end up running near/with each other every day. You make new friends, get to know runners from literally all over the world. This year there were 18 countries & 33 states represented. Pretty much everything is taken care of for you, such that when you finish each day in the early afternoon, you’re left with not much to do but take naps, drink beer, and hang out with new friends. Add to that great food, campfires, people passing around tequila, and you’ve got the makings of a really good time.

The altitude, for whatever reason, doesn’t bother me much. I showed up 3 days early, had one day of a mild headache and nausea, and never really felt it again. The race tops out at a little over 12,500 ft, probably averages between 9 & 10. Don’t know what to say to those worried about this. Altitude also makes it really easy to burn … LOTS of sunscreen daily.

Spend extra $ & time making sure you are comfortable in the tents each night. I would DEFINITELY encourage staying in the tent city. It’s part of the experience and I think doing otherwise (there is a hotel package) would detract. It would be like being part of a high school sports team and rather than riding the bus with the team to away games, driving behind the bus with your mom & dad. Sort of uncool and definitely less fun, even if more comfortable. There are hot showers daily and everyone is really well taken care of, but it does get quite cold (read: freezing) at night and you are sleeping on the ground. So go with thick sleeping pads and warm sleeping bags, a pillow & whatnot. I had a 20 degree bag and a relatively thin thermarest, no pillow. It was fine, but I could’ve done better. The organization provides you with a HUGE duffel bag that you can pack whatever you want into and they will haul it from camp to camp for you.

Cut-offs for the race are very, very generous. It would be really hard to DNF this thing unless you simply couldn’t move forward due to injury. I suspect that you could power hike the whole thing and still make cutoffs. So train hard (it is a lot of mileage), but don’t stress. You can’t run all of it anyways … there are days with ridiculously steep climbs & days with 10 mile long climbs where anything other than a lot of power-hiking means you’re either a pro or an idiot. Tip: I would strongly suggest getting trekking poles and learning how to use them. Go with super light, easy to pack and unpack. Using trekking poles efficiently is NOT obvious. I saw lots & lots of people swing them forward and plant the poles 2-3 feet in front of themselves. You can’t push yourself forward on a pole that’s in front of you. If you’re doing it right, the triceps should be sore after a really long climb. Also, consider the math. If you’re traveling uphill (of whi
ch there are probably ~50 miles of climbing in this race) and you are able to reduce the exertion on your legs by 5% or so … that’s ~2.5 miles that your arms have now taken off of your legs. Not insignificant. Similarly, there were times when I was starting to hurt a lot and having the poles took force off of the joints on the downhills.

Aid stations are really well stocked and generally plentiful, but there are occasions with 10 miles between them. There are also multiple days with required gear (jacket, hat, gloves, space blanket). Thus, you’ll more or less need a hydration pack/vest of some sort. You’ll also need to bring some sort of trail food that works for you. Gu or whatever.

Historically, TR6 was only a team race (teams of 2). There is now the option to solo it. Team racing is fun, but quite a bit harder. It seems that rarely both you and your teammate have simultaneous ups and downs, such that somebody is always waiting for the other (you’re not allowed to go thru an aid station unless you’re together). It can be quite easy to get angsty over 6 days and many hours in the backcountry as it’s frustrating to feel great and want to go when your partner is suffering and moving along slowly. Having a partner won’t speed you up, but will almost certainly slow you down. We witnessed this a number of times & I know of at least one team that more or less refused to speak to each other by about halfway through the race. Team racing can be super fun & we loved it as a shared experience, but consider all of this when signing up for a team & choosing a partner.

If you are at all concerned about your race time (which is by no means necessary … I mean, in the end, who cares?), work on your downhilling. This seems to be a general weakness amongst 90% of the mid & back of the pack crew, at least this year. Can’t say about the front of the pack … never saw them beyond the 1st minute of every day. Not that I expected to, as the race is always peppered with a few pro’s. Rob Krar has run this race 3 times & told me he plans to be back next year. Anyways, I don’t know why, but it seems that good technical downhilling skills are a relative rarity (while in Vermont they’re a necessity). Fab & I blew away dozens of teams moving really slowly on the downs. On day 5 we gapped our closest competitors in our division by 13 minutes in the last 5 miles, after they had been leading us for over 19 miles.

Incidentally, there is also a TR3, meaning that you only run the first 3 legs. In general, I would recommend against this unless this is all you have the time for. The last 3 legs aren’t any harder than the first 3, the scenery on the last 3 is outstanding, and I certainly would’ve left feeling that I had sold myself short.

Organization –
Can’t say enough about how well run this race is. It’s crazy to run away from last night’s camp of 350 tents, only to arrive the new camp a few hours later and find that all of the tents have been taken down, moved, and put back up. TransRockies is a well oiled machine that fosters an incredible culture. Two quick illustrations – 1) First night my thermarest delaminated when I blew it up in my tent. Imagine my horror as we’re at a campsite in the middle of nowhere and it’s around 5pm. They got me a new one within an hour. 2) On day 3 I stopped for less than 5 minutes to help a woman who was having trouble with her hydration pack. Seriously, less than 5 minutes. Race management found out about it and gave me a new Nathan hydration pack as a “thank you”. A $179 thank you. Undoubtedly provided by a sponsor, but daaaaaammmmn.

Was it expensive? Yes, quite. Something like $1100 for early sign-up. Was it worth it? Totally. You get tons of shwag, an amazing course that’s incredibly well marked, a tent which they set up and take down for you every day, hot breakfast and dinner (and really good), all the beer you can drink, entertainment every evening, shuttles all the h*ll over the place, hot showers, daily foot care if you need it, etc., etc. Every night after dinner there are awards, over-views of the next day, slide-shows with photos of the current day, etc. I’ve done the math a bunch of times in my head … without sponsors, I’m pretty certain the organization would lose money.

Day 1 – Buena Vista to Arrowhead – ~21 miles
Around 2500 feet of climbing on day one, mostly in one gradual push … mellow. The day starts from a park in Buena Vista from the gates (which they also move to every finish, becoming the next day’s start) with AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” blasting over the loudspeakers. Very cool. Most of the day is a mix of single track and jeep road, very runnable. Most of the day is also in the desert, however. I did not manage this well and lost a lot more fluids/electrolytes than I’m used to. The result was bizarre groin cramping and a stiff legged robot-like walk out the last 4 miles for me. Particularly nasty as the last 4 miles are an arrow straight stretch of gravel road through the desert. Prolonging this was a bit like engaging in a lively round of roshambo with a eunuch. One clear loser here. Manage your fluids & electrolytes well.

Day 2 – Vicksburg to Twin Lakes – ~14 miles
This was one of my favorite days, going up and over Hope Pass. It’s shorter, but still takes a good bit of time as it climbs 3200 feet, all in one shot. Think “2 hour conga line”. There is a 2 mile gravel road to the single-track & it may be worth trying to get ahead of the pack here, but it would also be pretty bad to be blasted when starting the climb to the pass. Moreso, the summit is only a little over 4 miles in, so if your downhilling skills are good, you can make up huge amounts of time on the back. Not sure what the best strategy is here.

The climb to Hope is long but gorgeous and pretty much everybody stops at the summit for photo-ops. Bring a camera or cell phone. Coming down the other side of Hope Pass is gentler and far more runnable – great fun! Hope Pass is part of the Leadville 100 course, which adds to the mystique, but on the far side you’ll take a hard right and run along both of the twin lakes instead of heading into the town of twin lakes. This section was fabulous gently rolling single track which cuts through a ghost town in the middle. Loved it.

Camp after day 2 is in Leadville on the high-school baseball field. You can wander into town and shop or goof-off.

Day 3 – Leadville to Camp Hale – ~23 miles
Day 3 starts out of downtown Leadville, kinda fun. Then follows 3 miles or so of road running, less fun, but still a good time. The next 20 miles are alternate jeep road, single track, gravel road, rinse, repeat. There’s about 2700 feet of climbing, feels minor after day 2. Some of the single track in this section is incredibly beautiful, eminently runnable, and pretty much trail porn. There wasn’t any single part of it that’s worthy of note, but taken as a whole was spectacular, and was one of my favorite days. Unfortunately, this day also ends with a 3 mile trek along a gravel road. The road sections are clearly necessary, as trailheads rarely leave from town, but they’re still kind of a kick in the teeth at the end of a long day. The day finishes with a run into Camp Hale, site of the original training grounds for the 10th Mountain Division in WWII. The run treks past their old bunkers, which was awesome. Camp is at Nova Hale, a guide site in a stunningly
beautiful valley surrounded by trout ponds. I sat by the campfire working on more than a few beers watching the trout hit the surface of the ponds and the sun go down over the high peaks. Hard to beat. No cell service here, so let anybody expecting an update know. Camp stays here for 2 nights.

Day 4 – Camp Hale to Red Cliff – ~14 miles
Day 4 starts with a mile or so of road and then cuts to a jeep trail that climbs for 6 miles & 2800 feet. It’s rougher than it sounds, as the last mile or so is really, really steep. Frankly, I would NOT want to be a in a jeep on this road. We passed a jeep or 2 and I wondered if I would be willing to get in one if badly injured … still can’t say. From the top of the climb, you can see Mt. of the Holy Cross on one side and the Vail back bowls on the other. Lots of obligatory photo-ops. The backside is an 8 mile downhill, generally everything I love. It’s a mix of jeep trail, single track, and even roughly a mile of running in a stream. Rather entertaining, and feels particularly nice if it’s hot & you have sore feet. By this time, the cumulative trauma of the race was starting to make itself known to me. I could feel my toenails going one at a time. Urgh. Were I to do the race again, I might very purposefully downhill hard and lose my toenails a month or
so in advance. Having freshly wrecked toenails by day 4 caused me to run funny. A tendonitis started by day 5 from running funny, but at this point I wasn’t going to quit. So I ran 46 miles with terrible form trying to protect my toes & fostered a nasty tendonitis … winning myself a temporary cast by the time I got home. Ahh well. Fortunately, at the end of day 4 you break out of the single track onto a gravel road and run a quick 2 miles into Red Cliff, CO, tiny and very quirky little town in the middle of nowhere. The finishing gates here end quite literally on the steps of a Mango’s, a Mexican Restaurant. Helluva a lot of fun to end your running with a pitcher of Margaritas and fish taco’s. Turns out tequila is an outstanding remedy for sore toes.

Day 5 – Red Cliff to Vail – ~24 miles
Day 5 is probably the most scenic day of the bunch. Lots of climbing (4100 ft) & lots of photos to be had. It starts out out with a 10 mile climb, although quite gradual, such that it doesn’t feel too bad. The 1st 8 miles of the climb are gravel & jeep road, meaning no conga. From there, it breaks onto single track & pretty much remains that way for the bulk of the remaining 16 miles. Pretty much every bit of the single track is amazing. Much of it is above tree-line with 50 mile views. You pass through towering pines, aspen groves, huge fields of wild-flowers, cliffs, ski runs, you name it. Ridiculously fun. The trails cut through the back bowls of Vail and finishes down the face of Vail’s ski runs, right into the resort. There are a lot of hikers & mountain bikers who give you funny looks when they figure out how far you’re running. The finish is another 8 mile downhill … good times!

Dinner on day 5 is worthy of note. They break out the grills & you’ll get brisket, chicken, asparagus, zucchini, etc. There were actually several days on this little excursion that I pushed myself away from the dinner table wondering if I might not get a 2nd look at my dinner …

Day 6 – Vail to Beaver Creek – ~22 miles
Day 6 is another long one and runs through Vail, climbing 4900 ft with 2 big climbs. The first climb heads more or less right out of Vail and takes you through some gorgeous single track onto a plateau north of Vail. It switches to jeep roads for a bit, before heading back down on some very steep single track to Avon. By this time, my ankle was sore enough that I couldn’t downhill like I would’ve liked. Disappointing for me. In Avon, there are a few miles of road while crossing the valley before returning to trail heading up to Beaver Creek. This climb is long and exposed (read: Hot), but by now everyone can smell the proverbial barn. Near the top of the climb you start to catch the sound of the loudspeakers through the trees, calling out numbers and names of finishers. Only a half mile down into Beaver Creek village and done!

At the finish is a big banquet, followed by an after party. I’ll readily admit, it only felt like a slightly more formal version of the previous 5 days! It’s worth noting that Rob Krar, winner of Western States & Leadville this year, enjoys the organization enough that he came by for the banquet. His interest in doing so generally reflects the good times to be had at this event!

Get on it and sign up!

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