2009 Transrockies Run — Final Thoughts

Rocky MountainsLots of people have asked me if the Transrockies Run was everything I expected.  The answer is yes and no.  Yes, I expected an epic week of running and Colorado certainly delivered.  The views were stunning, the TRR staff was incredible, the atmosphere was electric.  But due to Kevin’s injury, we did not get to run hard everyday like we wanted to, so we didn’t get to experience the one thing we wanted more than anything–to push ourselves to the limit and see how we stacked up against a very solid field of runners from 10 countries and 29 states.  Am I disappointed?  Not in the least.  Most things in life don’t turn out according to plan.  I am grateful for even having the opportunity to participate. 

Kevin wasn’t the only one to run with a serious injury.  Ultra running legend Dean Karnazes took a hard fall on Stage 3 and cracked three ribs.  He ended up on a tow-line behind his partner Helen Cospolich (past women’s winner of the Leadville 100).  I ran a few miles with Devon Sibole on the very first day and watched her tumble ass over tea kettles twice right in front of me, putting a nice gash in both knees.  Aaron Heidt of the Two Joes from Canada fell in Stage 2, sustaining a broken tooth and split lip which required a root canal, stitches and glued tooth to fix.  They still finished in third place overall in the Open Men’s division.  There was plenty of carnage along the way.  As each day passed, more runners had bags of ice strapped to an appendage around camp.  And some unfortunate flatlanders seemed to never acclimate to the altitude and felt like crap almost the entire week.  Still, I am immensely proud of my teammate Kevin who ran the entire race with a torn muscle.  I have never witnessed anyone struggle through so much pain for so long in a sporting event.  I probably spent more time thinking of his condition than my own, but in a team event, an injury to one is like an injury to both.  Days after the event, I still wince at the thought of Kevin shuffling, staggering and plodding his way through the last few miles each day.  Every single step hurt.  Kevin is a stud.

Alpine flowersThe final results are humbling.  Kevin and I figured in our best condition, we might have covered the course in about 23 – 24 hours.  That would have put us in roughly 12th place in our division, exactly in the middle of the pack and right where we thought we might finish when we started the race.  I remind myself that our original goal was simply to finish injury free.  Well, at least we finished.  It took us 30 hrs., 57 mins., just edging out the California Old Goats, the oldest team in the field at 65 and 70 years young.  Right behind them were speed-inspiring names such as the Blazing Rocking Chairs and the Big Fat Cohibas.  Notice the lack of major brand names preceeding their team names.  Team names starting with Salomon, Nike, Montrail, North Face, and Nathan all led their divisions and were showered with schwag all week long.  The winnning time posted by Run Flagstaff was 14:59:59, less than half the time it took me and Kevin.  That’s just about the difference between running and going for a hike.

And that raises another point.  Most people think of the Transrockies as an ultra event.  It’s even called an ultra in some of the promotional material, but it really isn’t.  This year the course was 113 miles but we never ran more than 24 miles in a single day.  You don’t need to be an ultra runner to do the Transrockies.  In fact, just about anyone in decent running condition can complete it and fully enjoy the experience.  The cut-off times are very generous and you can walk the tougher uphills and still make the cut-off.  I trained by doing back-to-back-to-back long trail runs for 8 – 10 weeks.  I’m glad I did that but it certainly wasn’t necessary.

Clouds in ColoradoI think there was a big missed opportunity with the elite field that had assembled this year.  We had a fair amount of free time in the afternoon and early evening.  I thought it would have been great to have Hal Koerner do a chalk talk on how to run your first 100-miler, or have Anita Ortiz talk about her recent win at WS100.  Nikki Kimball has great tips on how to run down hills.  Dean Karnazes always delivers a captivating talk on any number of topics.  There were so many elite runners that have accomplished so much, it seemed like a wasted oppotunity not to have them share some of their knowledge with the other runners.  We were together for a whole week and never really had a chance to tap into their wisdom.  I chatted with a few of them during the course of the week, but you don’t necessarily want to jump all over them every time you see one of them.  It’s also nice to just have a beer with them and hang around the campfire.

I’m really glad I decided to use the Transrockies Run as a fund-raising event for the National MS Society.  The emotional boost it gave my sister was worth every step I took.  She spent the entire time I was racing in the hospital getting treatments for her MS.  It gave the whole experience much more meaning for me.  I have raised $7,000 and I still intend to reach my goal of $10,000.  The many other people I met who were also running for charities inspired me to do more and I am grateful for the example they set.

Bear Lake sunriseWould I do the Transrockies again?  I would love to but probably won’t, unless by a fantastic but improbable set of circumstances, several friends from my local running club all decided to do it in the same year.  If I could afford it and could make the time to do another stage race, I think I would choose the Trans-Alpine Run in Europe.  It’s eight stages instead of six, criss-crosses four countries (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy), with over 45,000 ft. of elevation gain over the Alps.  There are also countless other events on my bucket list, so doing the same week-long event again, as memorable and as it was, is unlikely as long as I have to work to make a living.

Others have asked me where the Transrockies ranks in all the events I have done.  Is it at the top of the list?  That’s hard to explain to non-runners or non-athletes without sounding like a pompous ass.  My first marathon, my marathon PR, my first ultra, my longest ultra, my best triathlons–they are all very special to me.  There is no hierarchy of good, better and best experiences.  I remember more of the good experiences than the bad, and each race and every effort adds to a lifetime of experiences.  I hold an unbreakable record in the pole vault at my high school which stood for over 20 years before the school eventually closed.  I’m pretty proud of that. 

The Transrockies clearly has its unique place.  For me, it was the epitome of trail running and a celebration of the sport.  It combined so many things about running you just can’t capture in a single event.  The views are spectacular; the competition is fierce; the atmosphere is fun and exhilirating; the support staff is uncompromising.   But the two things that make it unlike any other event is the 6-day stage format and the team aspect.  Getting up in the morning to do nothing but run for six days in a row is a very liberating feeling.  No work, no commute traffic, no email or voice mail, no family commitments, no responsibilities other than to get your ass over the finish line that day.  Now do it with your teammate and don’t separate by more than two minutes all week.  It was the adventure of a lifetime and I loved every minute of it.

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