Start line… Day 1 of the TransRockies Run 6…. Training - check, mandatory kit - check, water - check, mojo - check… Gulp…what lay ahead was almost too big to comprehend so for now, buzzing with excitement and anticipation, we resorted to dancing to the very appropriate AC/DC tune ‘Highway to Hell’…
When the girls completed the gruelling Everest Marathon in 2015 they were already planning the next challenge before they had returned home. Possibly a result of the difficult conditions they had endured for 3 weeks, one of the key criteria for the next event was basic comforts such as a toilet and maybe even a shower! …and what would be the trade off for these small luxuries? Ahhh …to times the effort by SIX. The TransRockies Run 6 is an event which starts in Buena Vista and finishes in Beaver Creek, Colorado. 6 days, 120 miles and 20,000 feet of ascent (just over 193Km and 6,000m)… they had better be good toilets!
The plan had been to arrive in Denver on the Saturday to give ourselves a couple of days to rest, travel to Buena Vista and adjust to the height gain (7,965 feet / 2,428m) before starting on the Tuesday. An unfortunate problem with the conveyer belts at Heathrow Terminal 5 subsequently meant our luggage failed to make the flight. Our ‘R&R’ thus turned into 3 quite stressful days of charging around Denver & Buena Vista trying to pull together enough kit! As if the challenge wasn’t enough on it’s own we now had girls in new trainers, borrowed shorts and no poles or bags! But in true Billy Ocean style… ‘When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going’! …ahem
Day 1: Buena Vista – Arrowhead Camp 20.8 miles / 2,500 feet of elevation (34 Km / 762m)
It is a funny feeling starting a marathon distance when it is one of six! The mind games range from ‘omg a marathon at altitude’ to ‘am I fit enough?’ (standard) to …’well you need to be finishing fresh today or you’re not going to make it’. Although the majority of us live in Chamonix at just over 1,000m, I for one had totally underestimated the impact of consistently running at around 3,000 meters (crazy in hindsight). The short training run the day before had left us gasping for air and reiterated the enormity of the days to come…. Day 1 actually started at a relatively low elevation in comparison and didn’t include some of the monster climbs of the other stages. However this did not mean we were given an easy ride… the running surface varied from gravel, rock and sand meaning only those who had invested in gaiters were not shaking out their socks at the check points!
Once we were off there was no more time to wonder what it would be like, we dug in and started doing what we know and all love… running in the mountains. The scenery was amazing, big landscapes, quite baron and almost desert like. A few of the group were sure they heard rattle snakes and the odd bush looked exactly like a bear for those of us already ‘on watch’… which only added to the elated debrief once we had all trucked home.
The organisation of the event was remarkable. Having finished the first day with a good leg dunk in the icy river we were shuttled to our first campsite. Each competitor had been issued with a 120 litre duffle bag which was to hold everything required for the 6 days… On arrival at camp 1 the bags were laid out in numerical order according to our competitor numbers and all the tents had been put up. We were each issued with tags so all that was required was to find an empty tent, attach the tag and roll out our mats.
In line with checked criteria we were delighted to see an artic lorry containing showers, a relaxation area with snacks, a food hall, medical tent and massage area… this was positively luxurious…. !
Vicksburg – Twin Lakes 13.3 miles / 3,200 feet of elevation (22Km / 975m)
At the end of our evening meal each day we would be briefed on the course and what to expect next. Day 2 started at around 5 am with breakfast, packing, token stretching, a trip to the medical tent for those who already needed to be patched up and at least 24 nervous visits to the portaloos. Although this was going to be a shorter distance it was one of the highest climbs reaching just under 13,000 feet (4,000m) and there were plenty of warnings around the challenges facing the suitably named ‘Hope Pass’.
As we bounced our way along a rough steep track on buses which looked like they had been taken from the set of ‘Greece’, many of us were quiet, trying to ignore the already achy muscles and looking for that dose of ‘man up’ that may be required… The start line was chilly and in the middle of nowhere. The remoteness heightened the senses of those already anxious about the wildlife that would inevitably be waiting behind every bush or rock with the sole intention of sabotaging our effort. There is was, the ‘Highway to Hell’, it was time to dig in.
The trail started with a lung busting climb along a forest road not far from the turnaround point of the iconic Leadville Trail 100. After the first checkpoint we moved onto singletrack where we started the 2.5 mile (4 Km) climb to the summit of Hope Pass. The reward at the top was worth every ounce of effort and short breath as we stood and absorbed a panoramic view of beautiful mountains, the Rockies certainly knew how to make the average trail runner smile. A few elated star jumps, a quick energy bar and congratulations to our fellow runners and we were soon off skipping, whooping and typically singing our way down a steep and technical descent with MC Hammer providing the perfect soundtrack - ‘U Can’t Touch This’. From the second checkpoint we were blessed with rolling singletrack which weaved through a forest and seemed to last forever until eventually reaching the shore of the Twin Lakes.
The height gain and reduced oxygen had taken its toll on a few sets of lungs and our legs were tired but ultimately we all made it home and were pleased to have day 2 in the bag. Once again we were efficiently shuttled to our next camp spot in Leadville where we had time to relax, exchange stories, indulge in trail running paraphernalia and eat lots of ice cream!
Leadville – Camp Hale 24.5 miles / 2,700 feet of elevation (40 Km / 825m)
Day 3 was our longest stage but with not too much climbing it was a case of getting stuck in and clocking off the miles… so much easier to say whilst sat at a computer! AC/DC once again set us off out of Leadville where we had to style out a climb through the town in front of a number of local supporters. The first few kilometres were getting harder each day as our bodies fort against the mental request to run again and there was no denying that each of us were picking up niggling signs of the ongoing demand. Driven by the open lush surroundings, day 3 took us through various ski areas with gradual climbs and rolling descents on the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail which eventually dropped us into Camp Hale.
Alongside the Run 6 was a shorter race which involved the first three days, the end of day 3 therefore marking the achievements of those who had completed their race. The people we met on our journey were undoubtedly a significant part of the overall experience. The race had attracted people from far and wide who were open, friendly and supportive of one another. As the stages continued and we found our pace, we learned about a multitude of personal achievements, different stories, backgrounds and journeys which developed solid friendships with those around us. The Neverest Girls were also starting to make their mark and a number of our fellow competitors subsequently supported our charity KDUK. I will never forget the ‘great jab’, ‘you go girl’ and ‘there you go’ that were so genuinely delivered by runners and supporters along the way.
Nova Guides Camp was one of our most remote camping spots where we were to stay for two nights. Nestled at the foot of an amphitheatre of mountains our tents were lined up next to a misty lake making for atmospheric photo opportunities. While this was an idyllic location it was too remote for any phone coverage or internet connection thus removing the support from home or the ability for the organisers to update the race website. The sudden cut off from the outside world added another dimension and made us realise the value of the messages we had received. 3 down and 3 to go…
Nova Guides – Red Cliff 14.5 miles / 2,800 feet of elevation (24Km / 855m)
Day 4 was by far one of the most fun days. Our bodies were starting to submit to the routine of getting up early, attending to our cuts and blisters, eating a healthy breakfast and then going for yet another run…! Dawn broke into a lovely sunny day and we danced about on the start line waiting for our well known cue. We were now starting to eat in to the latter half of the race and there was a feeling of excitement that ‘we got this’!!
Day 4 was short and steep, topping out at just under 11,700 feet (3,570m). Starting almost immediately with a killer climb which worked its way up Hornsilver Mountain, the relentless ‘up’ was a sufficient test of our ability to dig deep. Weary muscles and challenging head games made us thankful to one another for keeping each of us going. However, once at the top we were treated to an extended run through meadows of wild flowers and along a ridge with views of the infamous Mount of Holy Cross – ‘Nights in White Satin’ by the Moody Blues… an interesting choice. As if the ridge line was not enough to make someone want to join the Transrockies Disco, the descent through the water filled Wearyman Creek had us giggling like children. Tired and soaked we reached the final check point only to find we had just missed a wild moose who had decided to try and take advantage of the snacks on offer! What a day.
It is hard to believe we are at the end of day 4 and have not yet mentioned the volunteers who supported the Transrockies event. Each of the check points were allocated a team of volunteers of all ages who gave up their time to feed, water and encourage the competitors over the 6 days. On occasion the checkpoints were so remote that supplies had to be carried up by horses and the volunteers hiked up to support us. The atmosphere at each station was incredible where, on top of the usual fuelling and hydrating, we were often encouraged to stop for a quick dance or a photo. A special mention has to go to one of our youngest supporters of 13 who invented the perfect trail snack involving bananas, m&ms and peanut butter. Similarly, to possibly the oldest gentleman who gave us each a plastic pink flamingo to attach to our rucksacks so that we would never run alone… It is most certainly these touches that keep you going when you want to bail and go home… and for that we were all eternally grateful.
Red Cliff – Vail 24 miles / 4,100 feet of elevation (40 km / 1,250m)
So the Day 4 euphoria was a little short lived. As we sat around the camp fire back at Nova Guides that evening the enormity of what still lay ahead started to sink in. Pick a part from the waist down and it hurt… out of 10, probably a good 8. All of us were eating like horses and continuing to lose weight and some of us were carrying injuries which were threatening to stop play. Day 5 & 6 were two of the longest days… the last bit was going to be tough. But hey, that’s why we were here, going for it, pushing on when we wanted to stop and achieving the goals we had set ourselves… Oh yes, ‘Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves’ …. thank you Eurythmics.
The photos of us on the start line at Red Cliff paint a true picture of a cold and tired start…well and truly on the highway to hell! As we headed off up a false flat it was impossible to imagine getting to the end. After almost 8 miles of climbing we reached the first checkpoint and little by little we were eating into the distance. Whilst wishing for a bear to come and end the misery the tune ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ - Survivor was on loop. From here we were back on singletrack and running through the forest with several steep climbs and descents. The trail finally opened out onto meadows at the back of Vail Ski Resort where a beautiful ridge line took us to a technical descent. To finish, the trail dropped us on to the front of the ski hill heading down into Vail.
The feeling of completing day 5 was phenomenal and well celebrated, we were so nearly there, so nearly done and now it all seemed totally doable. Vail is quite an affluent area and we were aware of a few odd looks from tourists as we lowered our achy legs into a stream running through the village….ahhh this was a Take That moment ‘Could It Be Magic’. A big old ice cream, an exchange of everyone’s stories and comparing injuries whittled away the rest of the day at the finish line before walking round to our final camp. A special mention for Steph who was consistently up the front and completed overall 4th woman, amazing achievement. Back in the land of coverage we were blown away by the messages of support which flooded in and made us feel like the luckiest ladies in Vail.
Vail – Beaver Creek 22.3 miles / 4,900 feet of elevation (36 Km / 1,500m)
Today AC/DC could go jump… this was not a highway to hell… this was the motorway to the finish line. Every step would take us closer to the end, the goal, the banquet, the hotel bed. Eating had become such a predominant past time that it was hard to think what else we would do once we had finished! Similarly, what would it feel like to not run tomorrow??
Day 6 may have started with a positive outlook but there was still a fairly significant distance and height gain which was not going to run itself. The route was tough and finished with a sting in the tail and there was a good bit of pain which we were trying to ignore. We set off running through Vail to the sound of footfall on tarmac and clapping from passers by. We then had a steady climb up Buffehr Creek Trail and over Red and White Mountain. The descent from here was long, steep and technical, at times running through long grass where ‘don’t fall, don’t fall’ took up a lot of concentration. After what felt like forever we dropped into Avon town which we had to cross before the final climb into Beaver Creek. The sting in the tail certainly stung but it could not retract from the fact that we were nearly there, nearly done. As I broke out of the forest and started on a switch back trail heading up an open meadow, I could see a man in a cap. He made me stop, turn around and look across the valley to the place from where these legs had carried me. He then pointed to another man about 2 switch backs away ‘that there marks the end of your climbing on the Transrockies 6, great jab’… wow, there was an emotional moment I wasn’t expecting!
All that was left was a short easy downhill to the ultimate finish line… I remember all the funny thoughts that went through my head as I ran down the last descent, ‘what should I do as I cross the finish line? Should I practice a little jump? Did I actually do this? …and there it was, a giggle, a practice, a laugh, the end… all to the back drop of Whitney Houston - ‘I’m Every Woman’ - hell yeah!!!