Friday, September 02, 2011

The TransRockies Run Experience

At some point late last year a few people were talking about this event called the TransRockies Run.  They described it as a trail run done with a partner.  They indicated that they were going to do it.  I got curious and looked it up.  Upon cruising the website for a mere couple of minutes, I found myself entering.  No thought process, no idea of what it entailed, and no partner in mind.  After all I used to be a world class runner so how hard could this possible be!  At the time, I was not even able to run.  Really had not been running for 18 months, and the likelihood of running was not even in sight.  What was I thinking!  Read on as you will soon realize my awakening.  By the way, none of those individuals who originally talked about doing the event entered the race.

My first priority was determining how the heck I was going to heal a torn calf and a chronic gluteus medius problem.  My second priority was finding a partner.  The two kinda solved at the same time.  I needed to see my friend Dr. Sharisse Kyle for my calf.  The visit resulted in me blurting out that I was going to do the TransRockies Run.  My next sentence was something about needing a partner, and asking her if she would be my partner.  Now Sharisse is no stranger to adventure.  She has done some crazy things.  She basically said she would give it some thought.  Within 24 hours an email arrived from Sharisse indicating she would do it!

In February, I was able to start running. Had a minor set back for about two weeks in March.  The endurance factor did not seem like a problem as I seemed to be able to build up quickly.  However, the speed factor was completely gone.  I sucked.  My interval times were the slowest I have ever seen.  That was discouraging.  I kept reminding myself that I was older now but I still had this nagging presence in the back of my head that said I could make a comeback of sorts.  Delusional Sandra!

From the period of March through July, I attempted to balance my commitment to my road cycling team and my need to put in kilometers of trail running in the mountains.  By July, I came to the realization that I did not have the capacity from a time and capability front to do both.  Every time I bike raced, I realized how trashed my legs were from running.  I just could not push on the bike.  I was already facing the fact that my power level on the bike was going down due to age.  Just this added to the equation. 

My training through the summer months was pretty simple.  I did one session of hills and intervals each week.  My weekends consisted of alternating three consecutive long runs with a tempo run and long run.  Weekend one would be Friday 25 km on mountain trail, Saturday 30 km on mountain trail, Sunday 32 to 35 km on the road.  Weekend two consisted of Friday 25 km mountain trail or road, Saturday a trail race or tempo run, and Sunday 32 to 35 km on the road.  Every weekend,  I found myself tired but getting stronger.  I knew I was cramming things in, but it was what I had to work with.

June 28 bad news comes...I am volunteering at a bike race and get an email confirming that my partner for the race is injured.  I panic a bit, but get it together and formulate a plan.  I firmly know that I want to do this race and nothing is going to stop me.  I determine that I can always do the 3 day race instead of the 6 day journey.  By the way, doing the 6 day race as an individual is not an option.  After a few days, I decide that I should see if I can find another partner.  I send an email to Heather Johnson asking if she would be interested.  She spends a few days thinking it over, and decides that she will join me.  I am totally excited and relieved.

The day approaches for the departure to Colorado.  I meet Heather at the Denver Airport.  This is also where we meet our transportation to the start of the race.  Amongst the crowd is fellow Calgarian, Rosemarie Gerspacher.  Rosemarie appears calm as usual.  Heather and I appear as rookies, nervous as heck!

The event is extremely well organized by GORE-TEX.  I considered this is an experience of a lifetime. The race traverse trails from Buena Vista to Beaver Creek.  The course is a mix of single track, double track, water, and forest road, and has over 20,000 feet of climbing over six days. The race is safe.  The camps each night are clean, and the food is awesome.  The volunteers and medical staff are incredible.  There is nothing negative to say about this event!!

The mileage of 120 miles over 6 days is not too much to handle if you have a high-mileage background.   However, like a bike stage race, you have to get up and race every day.  This is hard, and is compounded by the fact that you sleep in a tent every night.  Not exactly getting the best sleep both from a surface perspective, and the fact that there are another 399 tents present.  Imagine, the zipping and unzipping of tents when the need of each person to go to the bathroom is different.  Further, the snoring sounds traverse through the camp louder in the wilderness than in a house!  There are also the heated discussions of some teams; mostly married couples who thought this would be a grand honeymoon?!  By day 3, I got used to things.  I even got used to Heather accidentally kicking me in the head in the middle of the night!

You would think that racing by 8 am in the morning and finishing daily by noon to 2 pm daily, that you would have lots of time to just "be".  However this is not the case.  There are things to tend to before the 5 pm dinner bell rings.  It goes something like this.  Finish.  Snack on some food.  Head to some cold river/lake and ice the legs.  Head to back to the location of that night's tent village.  Stretch, roll, get a massage, shower, and tend to blisters.  At 5 pm, it is meal time.  This is followed by stage awards and a preview of the next day.  I was in bed by 8:30 pm pretty much every night.  Wake -up was at 5:30 am.  Breakfast at 6 am.  Race start was 8 or 8:30 am daily.  Repeat.

The race starts in Buena Vista.  As this is the first night, we are able to stay in a hotel room.  Our hotel was the Mountain View.  Sounds nice, doesn't it.  We should have been concerned by the look of it from the outside.  I remember making the comment that it is only one night, and maybe it is nice inside.  The truth came clear by the sign at check-in that said "No refunds after 10 minutes of checking in"!  Oh boy! Heather and I sceptically go to our room.  We open the door, and both of us blurt out saying "f#$k" at the same time.  I immediately check for bed bugs.  The bathroom was a disaster with a rotting and mould infested ceiling.  This is our home for the night.  There is no alternative as everything is booked with the race and the Pro Bike Tour.  A tent would have been a better alternative!!

Day 1:  Buena Vista to Railroad Bridge Campground.  This leg was just under 20 miles.  It is the easiest leg from a terrain and climbing perspective.  We climb only 2500 feet.  However, the last 5 miles is on a gravel road which is fully exposed.  It is like a death march for this last 5 miles.  It was very hot!  What was difficult about this stage was the sand.  Yes sand.  It was like running on a soft sandy beech but only up a mountain.  My hips were very sore at the end of this stage.

Elevation start 7945 ft.  Elevation end 8261 ft.

Day 2: The Hope Pass day.  This is so steep and rugged that llamas carried water up the mountains for us.  The stage was straight up and straight down.  13.4 miles with 3200 feet of climbing.  The pool in Leadville was a welcomed site.  A shower at the pool; how nice is that!  By the way, Leadville is a pretty cool town.  This is also where I met Alistair and Kim.  Two really cool people from Toronto.  They quickly became a part of my daily routine at the camps each day.

Elevation start 9662 ft.  Elevation end 9488 ft.

Day 3:  Leadville to Nova Camp Hale. This leg was 24 miles with 2700 feet of climbing.  Heather and I thought this was the leg that would be well suited to us.  More of a rolling terrain leg.  However, this leg was very rooty and rocky.  Very technical I thought.  This is also the leg where I took a crash just after checkpoint 2.   I tripped and flew down and hit the ground hard on the descend.  I screamed in pain as all of my body weight was on my baby finger and the finger next to it which was situated under my waistline on the fall.  I got up looking at my hand and my baby finger was sideways. I grabbed the finger and popped it back into place.  Instinct.  Runners behind us stopped to try to help.  My palm was cut and blood was gushing out like a volcano erupting.  A runner from another team gave me her bandetta to wrap around the wound.  Within minutes it was soaking with blood.  A group of mountain bikers also tried to assist.  I was determined that it was minor but my hand began to really throb and the swelling set in.  I sent all those that tried to help on their way.  Heather and I continued. to make our way down.  Within a couple of miles we finished the descend; the final 4 miles were on a gravel road.  I started to get chills and started to feel dizzy.  I looked at Heather and said, "We have to try and run hard".  She did not ask any questions but responded.  We ran for about 3 of those 4 miles.  The last 800 meters was pretty much a blur.  We crossed the finishing line of the stage, and I went straight to the medical tent.  I was quickly driven to Leadville for medical treatment.  I had to get stitches in my palm which by the time they finished had been bleeding for eight hours.  In addition, a partial cast for my two broken fingers was required.  A splint was considered but would offer no protection for the remainder of the race.  They had to take an x-ray to convince me that my fingers were broken.  I did not even want stitches but was convinced otherwise once they applied the freezing to my palm and began cleaning the wound.  The cut was deep and I refrained from watching after they moved huge chunks of skin to the side to reach in to grab particles of grit.  I was lucky not to have any tendon damage.  By the way, my finger fractures are referred to as a boxer fractures.  It is the same fracture boxers get in fighting. 

I was given antibiotics and painkillers.  The morning of stage 5 would be the last time I would take the painkillers as they caused me huge problems.

Elevation start 10040 ft.  Elevation end 9226 ft.

Day 4:  Camp Hale to Red Cliff covers 14 miles and has 2800 feet of climbing.  Even though I thought this stage was a lot of fun, I was pretty much a nervous wreck.  I was in a lot of pain and my hand was very swollen.  Like stage 3 it goes pretty much straight up and straight down. This is a fun stage as there are a few miles of running in the water.  With the heat, this is so refreshing.  I think this stage was a favourite amongst all racers.  In addition, we finished in Red Cliff, and it was fish tacos at the local restaurant before heading to camp.  Heather and I had considered this a recovery stage.

Elevation start 9226 ft.  Elevation end 8657.

Day 5:  Red Cliff to Vail covers 23 miles and has 4100 feet of climbing.  Heather and I were determined to make these last two legs the legs that we would try to move from 5th in our category of Women's 80+ to 3rd.  In the end, we did not get there but that likely was due to what transpired on this leg as a result of my crash on leg 3.  I had a bad reaction to the medication.  My heart rate was uncontrollable.  I could barely walk briskly without it shooting through the roof.  This resulted in us having to walk 13 miles of this leg.  It was hard for both of us.  Heather was at a loss of what to do, and I felt horrible for not being able to control what was happening to me.  We were silent for most of this journey.  It took 13 miles for the medication to work its way out of my system.  Finally, we were able to run the last 10 miles.  We were able to move along well at this point.  Upon crossing the finish line, both Heather and I needed time to deal with our own feelings.  We went in separate directions for a couple of hours.  I went in to Vail and watched part of the Pro Bike Time Trail, and Heather found space elsewhere.  A few hours passed, and we met at our tent.  We hugged and knew that everything was okay.  It was just a hard day. 

Elevation start 8657 feet.  Elevation end 8162 ft.

Day 6:  The last stage covers just under 24 miles and climbs 5000 feet.  It goes from Vail to Beaver Creek.  It finished about 150 meters from our hotel we booked. I was determined to redeem myself and make this stage a great stage.  I could not live with myself if I put Heather through what I did on stage 5.  Stage 5 was a long day!  Stage 6 did turn out to be a great stage.  However, it had so much climbing.  Heather was the hero.  Every steep uphill, Heather pushed me up.  It was a saving grace.  It allowed us to keep momentum.  We never spoke about it.  She just did it and I accepted.  It was a silent gesture.  A true gesture of teamship.  I swallowed my pride and accepted knowing that this is what had to be done.  We raced this stage extremely well.  Even though we never moved out of 5th spot for the entire race, we finished knowing this was the best we could do.  We finished knowing that the last day is the way we would have liked to have raced throughout.

Our hotel was amazing.  The half hour shower, soft bed with fluffy pillows made me quickly forget about the tent.

Elevation start 8162 ft.  Elevation end 8100 ft.

The event was a truly unique, and amazing.  It is something I will not do again but I am certainly happy I did do it.  I met some great people, and got to know others much better than before.  Most importantly, I was humbled.  I gained a deal of respect for ultra runners that I did no possess before. 

Thank you TransRockies Run.  Thanks to Heather for teaming up with me. 

Finish was 5th in the 80+ Women.  I am proud of that!

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