I’m a fairly seasoned runner — I’ve completed several half marathons, marathons, and even a few trail races — but my most recent challenge, the TransRockies Run, was unlike any event I’ve ever been a part of. A six-day, 120-mile trail race through Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, TransRockies is truly “summer camp for big kids,” with over 300 athletes running, camping, and playing along the thin air of the Continental Divide.
Though the whole week was much too physically, mentally and emotionally complicated to distill into a single blog post, I share my experience with the hope that as you prepare to run your next event, whether 120 or 1.2 miles, you feel inspired to push your body and mind to new limits, and have fun in the process!
For starters, this experience would not have been possible without my awesome TransRockies teammate, Lisa. Though we live over 1,000 miles apart, we trained “together,” checking in via text or phone call after every long (and short) run. Her commitment to training despite juggling work, two young kids, and a new home was inspiring, and I couldn’t imagine a better woman to share the trails with than her.
Going into the week we had two goals — have fun and finish the race. So with our duffels packed full of all the gear we’d need to recover, sleep, and run (including my beloved Balega Enduro socks!) over the next week, we set out for the biggest race of our lives.
Day one was a long 22 miles at “low” elevation (8,500 feet) from Buena Vista to Vicksburg. We did a lot of running thanks to fresh legs and a relatively flat course. But around mile 15, as a result of some over-eagerness at the final aid station, my stomach decided it had other plans. The last portion of the day one was spent alternating running and walking, all while trying to keep down the watermelon, Goldfish, and Skittles I had recently consumed.
I vowed that I would take it easy on the snacks moving forward, which thankfully made day two much more pleasant. The second stage of our adventure promised plenty of vert as we climbed over 3,000 feet in just a few short miles to the top of Hope Pass. We hiked quickly and steadily upward before a fun but exhausting nine-ish miles down through loose rock, muddy singletrack and some tree roots that left me with bloody knees and hands.
Day three was our best day yet. Despite facing the longest run of the week (24 miles) and with the grueling previous two days in our legs, we both felt surprisingly fresh and upbeat.. We crossed the finish line at Camp Hale and enjoyed our time in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever had the privilege of spending an evening.
Unfortunately due to a prior commitment, Lisa had to return home the following morning. Knowing this in advance, I had originally planned to only participate in the three-day version of the event, but promptly decided I would stick it out and run the last three days of TransRockies solo.
Heading into day four without my trusty partner by my side was nerve wracking, and I wasn’t sure how I would feel about pushing through the next three days without someone to help keep me going. Thankfully, some friends I had made earlier in the week took me under their wings and helped me cruise through day four’s 15-mile course which included some super fun technical downhill and a section straight through an ice cold creek.
By day five, despite being tired and sore from the 80 plus miles I had already completed, my body and mind were pretty used to the whole run, eat, sleep, repeat routine that I had established. That said, day five was tough. As we reached the top of Vail Resort, temperatures dropped to below 40 degrees and rain poured. Fellow runners dropped right and left, some puking from the cold and others too weak to focus on moving their legs even another inch down the trail. I wasn’t exactly enjoying my time out there but compared to my trail mates I was doing alright — that is, until the final stretch of downhill that tore up my quads and knees. I nearly collapsed across the finish line in Vail, my legs screaming at me to stop running. But with nearly 100 miles under my belt so far, I wasn’t going to stop here.
The morning of day six brought on a lot of emotions. I was excited by the thought of giving my body more than 24 hours to recover from the day’s activities, but also incredibly saddened by the thought of leaving all of my newfound friends and the simplicity of life in the mountains. So as “Highway to Hell” blasted at the starting line one final time, we took off toward Beaver Creek. The climb was relentless and grueling. Relief came in the form of a steep, technical downhill section leading into the town of Avon. I was sure I had hit rock bottom emotionally during the uphill climb but boy, was I wrong. The final five miles from Avon into the finish line at Beaver Creek was up, up, and more up. I alternated sobbing and pep-talking myself through these last few miles as I chugged along by myself on the trail. The moment I heard the finish line in the distance, I took off as fast as my achy body would allow — I knew I had made it.
If I could sum up my feelings as I made my way into Beaver Creek, I would say one word — grateful. Grateful for the opportunity to spend a week doing the activity I love more than anything, grateful for the wonderful trail running community I get to be a part of, grateful for a body and mind strong enough to complete 120 miles on foot through the Rocky Mountains -- and grateful for a blister-free week in my Balega Enduro socks!
The post-TransRockies blues are real, and several weeks later I’m finally coming to accept that my reality is no longer spending every day running, camping, and laughing in the mountains. Reentering the “real world” was a challenge, but I am incredibly thankful to be able to carry these beautiful memories with me for miles and miles to come.