After taking a short three day trip to Boulder, Colorado in January 2011, I made it a point to come back and run a race. My good friend and teammate Chris Foccaci ran TransRockies years back and described it as one of the best organized and unique races he has ran. I thought this would be a great opportunity to experience the backcountry of Colorado. TransRockies has a three day option cumulating 59 miles and over 8,600ft of gain or a six day that consisted of 112 miles with over 20,000ft of gain. Both options allow you to run solo or with a partner. I had no goals for this race nor specifically trained for this event. I just wanted to have a great time with friends and be in nature while taking on my first stage race.
I wasn’t sure how acclimated I would be with only two days prior to the race, my personal schedule didn’t allow me to come out to Colorado earlier. I just preyed that come race day I wouldn’t have major complications to the altitude. I stayed with my friends Rob and Laurie outside of Leadville which was approximately at 10,000 feet of living. The first night I felt the elevation which was new to me. I was out of breath just walking up the stairs. Reality was settling in and big question marks fluttered my mind about running at altitude.
August 13th, Tuesday – Stage 1 Buena Vista to Railroad Bridge
When I got to the race start my body felt better and my breathing was definitely better than Leadville. This was a really good sign and my butterflies from the prior days were gone. I was about to start my first stage race!
Stage 1 is a mix of single track and jeep trail with ample sand, no tree cover and plenty of heat. This made covering the days distance challenging. The trail, despite the terrain and heat, reminded me of my favorite Star Wars planet Tatooine (Episodes I, II, III and IV). The first 7 miles is a gradual climb peeking a little over 9,000ft. After reaching the peak, the rest of the day is rolling terrain until you get to mile 17. The last 4 miles are pretty much flat road where lots of time can be made up.
I was amped throughout the first day because this was my first long run in the Rockies. Trail running doesn’t get any better than this! This was a side of Colorado that I haven’t seen and I was enjoying its diversity.
August 14th, Wednesday – Stage 2 Vicksburg to Twin Lakes
I’ve heard so many stories both good and bad about Hope Pass since I started running. This was the stage that challenged you as you climbed to 12,600ft. This was the stage that was only 13 miles but had 3,250ft of vertical. This was the stage that had the steepest climb that made every breath precious. This was the stage that determined how fit you were. This was the stage that made you love the outdoors.
I haven’t climbed anything like this before but I was ready. Before hitting the climb there was one last chance to gather what you needed at the aid station. I had everything in my race vest but grabbed a drink and ate a banana before setting off on the climb; I was going to need every calorie.
The climb was all singletrack with multiple switchbacks. There was wasn’t much room for passing but that didn’t matter, nobody was in any position to pass anyone. My breathing wasn’t too heavy but I sure felt my lungs burn. I had to stop a couple moments to rest and fuel up. When I did I made sure to look around and enjoy the views. I honestly wanted to just sit on some parts of the climb and really look around at my surroundings but that was for another day.
I finally got to the top of Hope Pass in under two hours which made me happy. It’s really an indescribable feeling when you reach the top it simply puts a huge smile on your face.
After my moment at the top, I finally went on my descent to the finish. Running down Hope Pass is great however it does get hairy at times with the rocks so footing is key. As I was cruising downhill I started feeling pain around mile 7 on the outside of my right knee. It was something I never felt before and I was concerned. I tried to tough it out but the pain got worse which eventually forced me to hike. After hiking a couple of miles hiking became painful. At this point, I just hoped to get to the finish without a serious injury. I kept my composure and focused on tackling one mile at a time. I would eventually finish the stage in 4hrs 19mins.
When I crossed the finish I made sure to go over to medical to get checked out. They looked at my leg and examined what the problem was. The medical unit determined that it was my Iliotibial Band, aka ITB in runners term. Stage 2 was finally over and I didn’t know how the next day would pan out.
August 14th, Thursday – Stage 3 Leadville to Leadville
During Wednesday night race briefing the TransRockies staff went over the details for Thursdays run. Stage 3 was almost a marathon long with two big climbs and spectacular scenery. It was hard for me to focus on anything besides my knee. I faked a lot of smiles and laughs but deep down I knew that my journey through the Rockies was over. I made a call to Elizabeth Azze owner/coach of Mountain Peek Fitness to get some advice. She gave me great instructions on how I can possibly deal with my setback. That night, I went back to my tent with her advice and just did the best I could in hope I could bounce back. I could tell my friends were bummed and they gave me so much hope and encouragement to continue.
I awoke in my cold tent at 5am staring at the ice crystal that formed on the ceiling top. My first instinct was to move my injured leg to see how bad the pain was. But before I attempted I just laid there in silence without any emotion. The seconds felt like hours and when I finally moved my right knee the pain was present. Their was going to be no stage 3 for me. I told my teammate and friend Chris that I was going to drop. He really gave me a lot of encouragement to stick it out but I told him I would be moving to slow and continue to hurt myself.
I went to the start of stage 3 and watched my friends jump in the coral with the other runners. It was really exciting to see them take off to tackle the final stage. I was amped to hear their stories when they crossed the finish.
TransRockies is not just a run but an opportunity to be in the backcountry of Colorado with friends, share laughs, meet new people and take on new running challenges. I encourage everyone to do it!!
Thank you to everyone at Mountain Peak Fitness, my family and friends for their love and support.