Welcome! The intent of Anecdotes from the Trail is to share my experiences while trail running or racing (occasionally on the road too.) And to feature other trail runners and their accomplishments. You may see the occasional gear review or even contest. Please visit from time to time. Happy trails!

Friday, August 23, 2013

TransRockies Run 08.13.13 - 08.18.13: "If you never ever go, you'll never ever know"

Mike and I at the top of Vail Mountain on stage 5 of the 2013 TransRockies Run
I am starting to write this as I lay in my sleeping bag in tent city in Leadville. Everyone around me is busily organizing there things and getting ready for tomorrow's stage 3, 24+ miles from Leadville to Nova Guides/Camp Hale. When we finish tomorrow, we'll have no cell coverage and no connection to the outside world. So I thought I'd start to record my experience of this adventure called TransRockies Run and then hopefully write a daily account of each stage to finish with a full report at the end.

After a fun weekend climbing Grays and Torreys last Saturday, Mike and I spent the rest of Saturday in Breckenridge and then on Sunday drove to Beaver Creek to catch the shuttle. When we arrived in Beaver Creek, we realized we didn't have clear instructions on where to meet. We met two other runners, Linda and Maria, who also were having trouble. After some phone calls, we found the spot but learned that the shuttle was overbooked. The race staff who was there, Kevin also known as Houda (one of the coolest guys you'll ever meet), asked me if I would be willing to drive a van. I said, "Sure!" Mike, Maria, Linda and I jumped in the van and headed to Buena Vista. That's how our TransRockies Run experience started. We dropped Maria and Linda off at their hotel when we arrived and we went to ours. The next two days was spent hanging out in Buena Vista where on Sunday afternoon we saw a burro race, had beers at Eddyline, ran a short run to test the legs on Monday and even considered tackling Mt. Princeton, a 14'er near town. It was a good thing we didn't. Anyway, come Monday afternoon we picked up our TransRockies Run race packets and attended the pre-race briefing.

It was interesting to see all of the other runners. There were runners representing 19 countries. It was surprising to learn how many were running the event for the first time and also how many of them didn't regularly run at altitude. Several representatives from the staff addressed everything from medical to logistics to the course for the first day. Kevin, who we met on Sunday with the shuttle, closed the briefing in what we've come to enjoy as the comic relief every evening. The guy works his ass off managing 87 staff and volunteers that take care of everything from transporting our bags to setting up the tents and other behind the scenes stuff we probably don't fully appreciate. Anyway, when Kevin finished we got together for a group photo then went back to our hotels for our last night in a bed for five days. The next morning, it was go time!

Mike on the dirt road during stage one with Mt. Princeton in the background (slightly to the right).

 Stage 1: Buena Vista to Rockbridge, 20.8 miles, 2,500 ft. elevation gain (Route Map)

Nice views on day one.
We woke up early to make sure we had time for breakfast and to get our bags ready for pick up. The race gives each runner a giant duffel bag for all of the gear. The duffel is transported each day and our regular luggage is kept for us until the last day. We walked to the start in Buena Vista near the Arkansas River and waited with the other runners for the start of the race. Everyone was obviously excited and there was nervous energy all around us. A little after 8am, we all filed into the chute and at 8:30am sharp the race started with AC/DC's Highway to Hell blaring over the PA. We ran for a short distance on asphalt until we crossed the river and hit single track trail. We bottle necked for a moment and it was slow going up the trail as we slowly climbed up to a county dirt road. As we kept going up, we started to have a wonderful view of the city below us and of the collegiate peaks due west. Mike and I ran this section the day before to test out the legs (and lungs) and we were familiar with it. We could clearly see Mt. Princeton in the distance. Once on the dirt road, every one started to finally spread out.

Check point #2 stage 1.
When Mike and I first registered for the race, we had done so as a two person team. However, we later realized that it would probably be a good idea to switch to the solo category. For day one, we decided to run together which was a lot of fun without the pressure of pushing or holding each other back. At several points during the stage, we took pictures and enjoyed the amazing scenery all around us. I was surprised at the terrain on day one. It was more like high desert than mountain running.

Rock tunnels last few miles.
On the dirt road, we made our way south then east around the hills that overlook Buena Vista. We eventually made it onto single track trail for a few short miles before then jumping on double track trail that the locals enjoy by driving their ATV's. We also started climbing for a while until we hit the aid station at mile 7.3. Mike and I were feeling pretty good at this point and we stopped to refuel and enjoy sliced watermelon at the aid station. Sliced watermelon is amazing as a long run food! Leaving the stop, we descended for the next couple of miles. On our way down, we met Pablo and Rodrigo, two runners from Puebla, Mexico. We ran with them for a bit and chatted with them while we ran. We also met Densie Maylin, who was wearing a Marathon de Sables buff on her head. I couldn't resist asking her about it. Turns out her husband, Russell, who was also running TransRockies had run the famous seven day Sahara Desert race twice. I made a note to meet this guy.The double track trail continued on the way down and then leveled out for a bit. We ran past incredible rock formations and through big open meadows with wild dandelions. It wasn't long before we arrived at aid station 2 at around mile 14. Among the usual aid station fare, they had bacon which I gladly grabbed a couple of strips. The aid station came at the right time for Mike as he seemed to need the boost from refueling. The next section of trail was the most fun of the day on ATV trails that twisted and rolled up and down. Mike and I found ourselves running with two other teams through this section, all of us making good time.

Mike and I at the finish of stage 1.
We then ran a couple short sections of dirt road before we arrived at the last aid station of the day. We stopped, grabbed something to drink and left rather quickly. We left the aid station with a team who had run the race a couple of years earlier. We ran through some rock tunnels and then stayed on what seemed the longest stretch of packed dirt road ever. It was only three or so miles to the finish but it seemed like twenty. I was having trouble mentally during this section, but Mike helped me get going. To make it through those last miles, we sang old Iron Maiden lyrics. Finally, we could make out the tents of the finish line and then we could hear the music. We ran into the finish line and finished around 4:02. We later learned that we were 7th and 8th among the male six day solo runners on our first day. Not bad!

We went down by the creek and sat in the cool water for a bit before taking the shuttle to the campsite. Day one was in the bag.
Mike and I at the start of stage 2.
Stage 2: Vicksburg to Twin Lakes, 13.4 miles, 3,200 ft. elevation gain (Route Map)

The next morning, we were on a bus that took us to Vicksburg on a rutty dirt road to the start of stage two. Stage two is a short 13-ish miles, but it has an intimidating climb up to Hope Pass at 12,500 feet. We arrived at the start really early and had to wait for a while before they finally let us check in and get in the chute. It was cold too, so everyone tried to stay in the sunlight. After a few announcements and with music blaring through the PA, we were off. The first mile and a half of the course was on a wide dirt road and it was my intention to get out ahead of the pack in order to start the climb up the single track trail without getting stuck behind a huge train of runners. Mike and I got separated and I wouldn't see him again until the finish. We turned off the dirt road about two miles in, skipped the first aid station and went up the single track trail that immediately went upward.

Climbing up to Hope Pass.
My strategy of passing the majority of the crowd on the initial dirt road worked and during the climb up I passed a few more folks until I settled in with a group up to the top of the pass. The toughest part of the climb was at the beginning which had the steepest sections. Later as we cleared the tree line somewhere above 11,000 feet, the grade wasn't as bad but remained steady going up. The views below were incredible and when we looked up or down, we could see the other runners on the switchbacks.

Top of Hope Pass.
I've heard so much about Hope Pass. It's a pivotal point for the annual Leadville Trail 100 miler (which is actually this coming weekend). Those runners run over the pass not once, but twice. We only had to do it once on a much shorter run. It was still neat to get to experience running over the pass and to think of all the legendary ultra runners who had been here before. When I made it to the top, I exchanged smartphones with another runner, Sammie, and we took each others photos. Sammie then looked at me and said, "alright, it's time to go downhill!" She took off and I went after her. Coming off the pass is not overly technical, but the first 500 feet or so are on trails with loose gravel and rocks and can be quite tricky. We were flying and I was trying to keep up with Sammie. I was holding my own. We ran past the aid station and kept going down. Down and down we went and even under tree line, we were still cruising. We passed several other runners and then she started to widen the gap. I knew too that I wasn't going to be able to hold this pace once we flattened out, but it was fun while I could hold it. In the back of my mind I was thinking my quads were going to hate me the next day. I lost sight of her and in a way that was a good thing. I got into my own pace and soon got behind a couple from Wales who I would end up running with for the rest of the way into the finish, some four or five miles.

The climb and descent over Hope Pass was only about six miles of the course and the run down the mountain was a blur. I can't recall my surroundings of the descent that well, but the run along the last few miles were along the Continental Divide scenic trail through beautiful sections of aspen trees and with views overlooking the Twin Lakes. It was rolling with short inclines and we kept a good pace. I could tell that I was running out of steam a bit and I was glad today's stage was short. We stayed on single track and continued to make our way around the lakes until we came out through the ghost town of Interlacken and then out the trailhead onto a dirt road. We could see the finish but it was still about a mile away. The couple I had been running with got out ahead of me but after taking a quick look behind me, I realized there was no one that was going to surprise me in the last few yards.

Finishing stage 2.
I crossed the finish line at 2:54 and I was really pleased to finish sub-three hours for the day. I was also
pleasantly surprised to see a good friend, Tom Wilson, there at the finish to greet me. He was in the area with other GUTS friends from Atlanta getting ready for the Leadville 100. In true Tom awesomeness, he provided me with a beer, an Upslope IPA, and had me sitting down in a camping chair. While chatting with him, Mike came in about 15 minutes after me and he had a pretty good stage two. We finished fourth and fifth for the day among men's six day solo. We're starting off the week well, but let's hope we don't pay for it later.

Enjoying an Upslope IPA
thanks to Tom Wilson!
The race organizers had insisted we run with extra water for this stage due to the fact that the first check point was very early on in the stage and the second checkpoint was in a precarious spot just after Hope Pass and the few supplies at this station had to be brought there by burros (or in the case of the Leadville 100 by llamas). I ran with my Nathan HPL20 hydration vest which had a 2-litter bladder and I carried a hand held too. When I was done with the stage, I realized that I could have easily ran with just my Nathan vest even though I skipped both aid stations during stage two.

We picked up our drop bags, agreed to meet Tom in Leadville later that afternoon, and got on the shuttle to our tents waiting for us in Leadville. The TransRockies Run folks had everything set up for us in a baseball field just a couple of blocks from Harrison Avenue, the main street in Leadville. Here on out, I'll try to recap each day at the end of each stage.

 Stage 3: Leadville to Camp Hale, 24.3 miles, 2,700 ft. elevation gain (Route Map)

Mike on Harrison Avenue in Leadville
before the start of stage 3.
Today's stage was to start right on Harrison Avenue in Leadville. This was an anxious day for the Run3 runners since it was their last stage. For the first time all week, there was a crowd of spectators including runners who were in town for the Leadville 100. Mike and I arrived in time to leave our drop bags and check in to the start line chute. Every day we're required to carry a pair of gloves, a cold weather cap, a jacket and a space safety blanket. These items are checked before entering the chute. While waiting I saw Rock Creek race series director, Randy Whorton, and I had a chance to chat with him before the start. He was in town with other Chattanooga runners for the Leadville 100. It was good to see him.

The race gun went off and we ran down the avenue eventually onto the shoulder of Highway 24. The field had a chance to really spread out. Mike and I once again were separated. It was interesting to fall in line with many of the same runners from the prior two days. We ran on asphalt for a couple of miles before heading off on trail on the climb to Mt. Zion. A modest climb that would take us up to approximately 10,900 feet. During the climb, the field thinned out and I was running with just a handful of other runners. In the distance, I could easily make out Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert, the two tallest peaks in Colorado.

We reached the crest of the climb and ran along double track trail and dirt road. We turned off the dirt road and started to descend. I was feeling good and decided to take advantage of the descent to get by a few runners. It wasn't long before we reached the checkpoint. I refueled on watermelon, bananas and Coke. Some of the runners I had passed on the way down arrived at the checkpoint as well. The next mile or so was on asphalt. I fell in step with two other runners on the road and we all hit the next section of dirt road and double track trail together. We crossed several muddy puddles before starting another climb. There was little to look at as we ran passed pine trees on either side. After a couple of miles, I was running almost alone with a female six day solo runner, Carrie, up ahead who I would run close to the rest of the way. The course up to the next aid station was along a rutted out dirt road with parts that had muddy puddles. It had a gradual climb at first along the Tenneessee Creek and then once we crossed it, went along rolling terrain through pine trees and to the next aid station. Carrie stayed within sight in front of me most of the way.

I couldn't help remarking how well I was adjusting to running at altitude. I felt it most on the steep climbs, but for the most part I was moving well. On those climbs, my heart rate would get so loud that I could hear it in my ears. I did notice that I felt more fatigued than usual at the end of the stage.

After the next checkpoint at Tennessee Pass about 14 miles in, we hopped on the Colorado Trail and enjoyed a long section of gradual downhill trail running. Soon we reached what would be my favorite portion of the course on tight single track trail into a broad open meadow with wild flowers. The sky was clear and the sun was out, but it wasn't hot. It was also an area where the night before during the course briefing, the race organizers told us to be ready to come across herds of sheep and the accompanying dogs. They told us that if we were confronted by a shepherd dog, the command to make the dog go back to the herd is, "Back to sheep!" We didn't encounter any sheep or dogs, but it was amusing to think about. We ran along for a couple of miles weaving our way down to a road crossing and the last climb of the day. At the road crossing, there were a group of spectators that I had seen earlier. They were obviously following one of the runners. As I ran by I joked that if I kept seeing them that I would start to think they were my personal cheering squad. They laughed and joked back that they would help kick my ass to the finish. That didn't sound bad to me.

After crossing the road and hitting the climb, I was still with Carrie, but we now had caught up to a guy who I later learned was the six day solo leader. Apparently, he was having a bad day although he managed to stay ahead of us for the rest of the stage. The three of us got through the climb and up and over a few rolling sections of trail and then started the descent into Camp Hale. We came off the trail and onto dirt road arriving at the last checkpoint of the day. I was definitely feeling the day's effort and spent a bit more time at the check point than I should have. The other two runners took off and I left the aid station after them.

Finish of stage 3.
The last three miles were really difficult, mainly due to head winds along the straight wide dirt road. I once again saw the group of spectators I joked with earlier and told them that I could use the ass kicking right about now. They laughed. The guy that we had caught up to earlier, picked up the pace and widened the gap and Carrie who I had run with most of the day also widened the gap. I was slowing down and looking forward to ending the stage. The toughest part of this section was being able to see the race camp and finish line from a distance. Two other runners caught me before the end. I crossed the finish line happy to be done.

Mike soaking his legs after stage 3.
Interestingly enough, I came in fourth again among male six day solo runners. If I had more in the gas tank at the end of the day, I may have been able to get third, but not the case. The end of stage three brought us to Camp Hale, a beautiful area surrounded by hills and where we would call home for two nights. Our tents were set up on a lawn over looking a pond. At night, the half moon lit up the sky and the stars pin pointed it.

I spoke to Mike and told him that after coming in fourth the last two stages, that I wanted to give it a go on stage four and see if I could get on the podium. Regardless of the outcome, I told him that we would run together on stage five or six. He encouraged me.

Panoramic of tent city and the finish area at Nova Guides/Camp Hale.
Stage 4: Camp Hale to Red Cliff, 14.2 miles, 2,800 ft. elevation gain (Route Map)

Mike and I at the start of stage 4.
Last night I slept the best I had so far. I finally got comfortable in my sleeping bag and I was able to ignore the sounds from my neighbors. I woke up and met Mike at breakfast. A few of the Run3 runners were still in camp including friends from Atlanta, Choo Choo and Joyce. It was sad to know that they were leaving camp. Both were incredibly supportive and Joyce had been a big help the past two stages helping secure a good tent spot.

Mike and I checked into the start and I was feeling anxious. If I was going to get on the podium, I needed to have a plan. I figured if I could keep one of the top runners in my sight for the first half of the stage, that maybe I had a chance. The stage was a short one but it had a big climb with a long descent through a creek and finishing with a gradual downhill dirt road into Red Cliff. I needed to play it right.

The familiar notes of AC/DC's Highway to Hell started playing and Mike gave me some words of encouragement. The gun went off and out of the start line we went down part of the same dirt road that finished the stage yesterday except we took a turn that had us going up a hill before descending and then getting on double track trail straight up the mountain. In the group of runners around me, I was surprised to see another male six day solo runner obviously trying to stay in front of me during the climb. This was messing up my strategy since I knew Russell, the British runner who had done Marathon de Sables and who was currently third in my category, was just slightly up ahead. If I was going to catch Russell, I had to deal with this other runner first.Up the climb we went and it got steeper and steeper. I kept a good tempo walking the climb while the other runner would try to walk then run the slightly more level sections. About a third of the way to the crest of the climb, I finally passed and dropped him. I also soon came in contact with Russell and one of the German teams who had been on the podium all three of the previous nights. Now it was a matter of holding on. We reached the top and the dirt road took us along the top. Besides Hope Pass on Wednesday, this part of the race course had the best views so far for the week with mountains to the east and west. However, I was in race mode and I didn't have much time to appreciate it. We all skipped the first check point and kept going.

When we reached the top of the descent, that's when I went for it. I think I surprised Russell when I passed him and I just took advantage of it and did my best to quickly put a gap between us. On the initial part of the descent, I also passed the Germans. Down I went and I was navigating the switchbacks in the dirt road with no problem. There were some rather large rocks but I managed to keep my footing and continue to descend. Before long, I came across the first creek crossing once it started to level out. I looked up the road and I couldn't see anyone behind me. I kept pushing. I crossed one creek crossing after another until basically running in the creek was the only option. The water was cold, but it felt good. Eventually I crossed a wooden bridge and suddenly I was at the second and last check point of the stage at about 11 miles in. I didn't stop. The volunteers called out and asked if I needed anything. Thanking them I said I was fine. I just wanted to keep going.

I was alone and there were no runners that I could see either in front of me or behind me, but I knew that if I messed around it wouldn't be long before Russell would be within sight. The next couple of miles to the finish were all on a dirt road with the perfect grade to keep a good pace. I kept looking over my shoulder but did not see anyone. One mile went by and I thought surely I was going to be caught soon. The next mile went by and I started thinking that maybe this was my day. Last mile and I came in contact with the first homes of the little town of Red Cliff. The dirt road changed to asphalt. I came around a bend and I could hear the music of the finish line. I took one last look over my shoulder and I still didn't see anyone. "Holy shit!", I was going to get this done. Finally, I reached the finishing chute and crossed the line ecstatically and in a respectable 2:34:48 to take third place for the stage. I got some high fives from the other runners that had already finished and then I stopped to get something to drink while waiting to see when Russell would be coming in. It wasn't long before he came around the last bend and made his way into the finish line. By his pace and the look in his eyes, I was glad that the stage wasn't another mile longer.

At the finish of stage 4.
Russell was a good sport about it and I think he was even excited to have additional competition for the stage podium. We high fived when he finished and remarked about the stage and how it all worked out. Russell may have been a bit disappointed when I told him that the rest of the weekend I planned to stay with Mike and just run, rather than race hard.

On the podium!
(Photo: TransRockies Run)
That night it was fun to get up on the stage with the other top three stage finishers. It was even more fun at the end of the evening when Houda got on the mic and had us all in stitches making us laugh. He told us some story about when he was traveling the world and he was in Vietnam. It involved a girl and he was to meet her some where. He was hesitating, but someone told him something that stuck with him. "If you never ever go, you'll never ever know." Advice that he bestowed on us for our running.

Mike along the ridge of Vail Mountain on stage 5.

Stage 5: Red Cliff to Vail, 23.6 miles, 4,100 ft. elevation gain (Route Map)

Camp Hale.
Wow! This stage was by far my favorite. Leading up to TransRockies Run, my friend Roxanne, who has run this race a couple of times, shared that this was her favorite stage and now I know why. Even though the first eight miles are dirt road, the following ten miles contained the type of trail, the views and the running experience that I was hoping to find when signing up for this race. Just stunning! But I'm getting ahead of myself.

After two nights at Camp Hale, it was time to say goodbye to a great spot. The set up here was ideal and with the additional night stay, it really allowed for everyone, race crew and runners alike, to really settle in to the event and to create camaraderie. The nightly camp fire, the evening sky, the surrounding landscape, the other runners and the fact that we were disconnected from the outside world due to lack of cell service or internet connection really made it seemed like an adult summer camp for trail runners. A fantastic sensation!

Start of Stage 5.
(Photo: TransRockies Run)
In the morning, Mike and I packed up our duffel bags, dropped them off and shortly after breakfast joined the others to get on the shuttles to return to Red Cliff where the previous day's stage finished. We were to start from there to tackle Vail Mountain and arrive at Vail Village some 23 miles later. I was looking forward to this stage and even more to run it with Mike. When we arrived in Red Cliff it was chilly and most of us piled into a local restaurant called Mango's (hung out there yesterday after the stage and enjoyed some good food and beers before heading back to Camp Hale) and waited there until it was time to check in to chute. When we did finally gather in the chute, we all waited patiently to get going. A local Red Cliff resident, I think his name is Marco, had showed up to fire a real pistol as opposed to the usual race gun that fired blanks. Pow! We were off.

On the dirt road out of Red Cliff.
We headed up the same dirt road that we had finished on the day before. Except this time, we passed the bridge that led to the creek and water crossings and kept going. It was a long, very gradual, but steady grade up hill along the dirt road. After the initial shuffle of runners taking their positions along the pecking order, Mike and I got into a comfortable pace and spent much of the time talking about various things. It made the miles go by and soon we reached the first check point. Another runner, Mikael from Sweden, passed us on the dirt road and we would later learn that he had a shot at third place against the second overall leader, only to lose in the final sprint of the stage. Just goes to show that everyone can have a really good day even five stages into a multi-day race.

Good times on stage 5.
Over the first part of the week, we'd learn after a couple of stages that each checkpoint has a designated crew which allowed us to get to know and to expect the same familiar faces at each checkpoint. Today checkpoint one had a luau theme and the volunteers were dressed in grass skirts and danced with a hula hoop. One of the guys had on a coconut bra. It was a fun station! This station also marked the beginning of some of the best trail we'd experienced all week.

Wildflowers along the trail.
We refueled on watermelon, some other munchies and Coke and then hopped on the single track trail that was to take us up the mountain. Right away I knew this was going to be special. The trail wound and cut along the side of the mountain with switchbacks that steadily took us up. We climbed with one of the women's team and we all maintained a nice tempo. When we reached the ridge, the next several miles were nothing but amazing views, some even in a 360 degree perspective, and all on the most wonderful, pine needle laden single track trail that Colorado has to offer. To the southwest, we could make out the range of mountains that included the Mt. of the Holy Cross and in the other direction, we could see another mountain range. Parts of the climb were steep, but then we ran along a ridge trail that cut through beautiful, open sections with a mixture of pines and other local trees. I absolutely loved this part of the stage. Mike and I took tons of pictures, not caring much about actually racing.

On the back bowl of Vail with
Mt. Holy Cross in the distance.
I have to comment that Mike ran this stage in a pair of Vibram Five Fingers after blowing out his Inov8's on stage 2 and not caring too much for his Altra zero drop shoes on stage 3 and 4. Everyone we passed or that passed us seemed to make a comment about his shoes. I had run in my Salomon Mantras all week and they had worked well except for my heel was one big blister, but I think that was more due to all the descending the day before rather than the shoe itself. My Salomons had good traction and were holding up despite the beating they were taking day to day.

Cliff descent.
The ridge trail came down off the side of the mountain and into the back bowls of the Vail ski slopes at first into an area called Outer Mongolia. The trail got tighter here and we ran through beautiful sections of wild flowers and soon started to climb again on several switchbacks that brought us back up to the ridge and further into the Vail ski resort area. The views remained spectacular through this section. We ran along the ridge until we came to a short, but technical, climb down a rock cliff formation. Once down, the trail lead into check point #2. This station was set up right under one of the major ski lifts of the backslopes of Vail and from here on through the next miles we were to run on dirt road. As always, the volunteers at the checkpoint were incredibly helpful and were eager to assist.

Coming down the mountain
bike trails.
Mike and I at this point were still feeling pretty good. We left the checkpoint and made our way down the dirt road passed other ski lifts, but still able to enjoy an incredible view to the southwest. On the dirt road, the grade varied from sharp downhills to flats to a couple of climbs before we made it to the west end of the ridge and ski resort then the course took a turn onto single and double track trails that locals used for mountain biking. The trails had names like Lucy's Loop, Grand Traverse and Fred's Lunch. At first the trail descended through pines and aspen trees, but then it cut across and made its way up again until we reached an open section with more wild flowers where the trail began to switchback downward. We came out onto a short section of dirt road, then picked up more mountain bike trails and continued to descend. Down and down we went and here's where we were started to feel it. Some of the trail was on sharp descents that hurt the quads and stressed the toes in our shoes.

Finish of stage 5.
When we came into the last aid station of the day, we were glad because we knew we only had three or so miles to go. But even though we were descending, those last few miles would take forever as our legs had been punished with all of the earlier descending. Mike and I managed to stay together while a couple of other runners actually caught up to us and passed us on the final portion of the descent. We could make out the buildings of Vail Village below. Down and down we went with switchback after switchback. Finally, the course turned onto a final section of dirt road and as we ran down we could hear the music and then see the finish line. Mike and I came across together in 5:02 and change in 6th and 7th for the male six day solo runners. Despite the hurt from the long descent, this was by far our favorite stage of the week. The views that we enjoyed at the top of the ridge and the top of Vail Mountain out did anything we had seen earlier in the week including the views from the top of Hope Pass on Wednesday.

After spending some time at the finish area catching up with the other runners, we took the shuttle to where tent city was set up on a baseball field  just outside of Vail Village. This was going to be our last night in a tent and there was a bitter sweet sensation about that, at least for me. It made me realized that this wonderful adventure called the TransRockies Run was coming to an end. Only one stage left to go.

Stage 6: Vail to Beaver Creek, 21.7 miles (the course book claims 20.6, but several people had this on their Garmins as a mile longer), 5,200 ft. elevation gain (Route Map)

I had a hard time falling asleep last night, so when the alarm went off this morning I struggled to get out of my sleeping bag. Then the thought hit me, this was going to be the last time crawling out of my tent and getting ready for another fun day of running in Colorado. It was going to be hard to say goodbye to what had been a fabulous week. I met Mike and others for breakfast, then went back to my tent to pack and drop off my duffel bag for the very last time.

I haven't mentioned enough how grateful I am to all of the behind the scenes work of the staff and volunteers at the TransRockies Run. It really does take an incredible amount of work to move everything. There are so many people that work this thing that I am grateful to have met including Houda who manages the crew, Carlos from Madrid who was involved in taking down and setting up our tents every day, Memphis Joe who transported our duffel bags and gear, Burt who drove, set up and cleaned up the shower truck every day, and on and on. Best part about it is that they all do it with a smile and a sense of humor. Thumbs up from this very appreciative participant!

I dropped off my bag and Mike and I walked into Vail Village back to the area where yesterday's stage finished. We were to start from here and run to Beaver Creek some 20 miles on trails and dirt road. When we arrived at the start, it was interesting to see the looks on everyone's faces. While some showed signs of being tired, most had a look of anticipation as if realizing that this was all coming to an end. A few I think were actually excited that this was the last stage. We checked into the chute, heard the intro to Highway to Hell and heard the race gun go off all for the last time. Off we went up a hill at first then down and into Vail for a mile or so on asphalt before going over I70 on a pedestrian bridge. Everyone ran quietly for the most part.

Mike coming around the bend
passed the aspen trees.
Stage six went from Vail to Beaver Creek on a course that was to prove challenging and which contained a mixture of everything from asphalt to single track to dirt road. And there was plenty of climbing, perhaps more than any other day of the week long race, or maybe we were all just feeling the effort of having run up and over mountains for the last five days. We got off the asphalt and hopped on a trail that took us up and up to the top of Red and White Mountain on the north side of Vail. Tall grasses and plants lined the trail and came up to our chest in some parts. The trail wound up and up. Mike and I fell in step with the same women's team we had run a portion of stage five with from checkpoint two to the top of Vail Mountain. Steadily upward we climbed, switch back after switch back. At times, the tall grass would give way to short trail sections lined with aspen trees. On the climb up, I noticed Mike was not keeping up as he had the day before. I was determined to stay together though and as a result let up on my pace slightly. We reached the top and came out onto a dirt road. A short time later, we hit the first aid station.

At this point, we were running with several folks that we've come to know over the last few days. Two couples, Ashley and Emma who were from Wales and Chuck and Katy Hazzard who had run all week wearing running kilts and who also ran tethered to each other during the climbs. Ashley and Emma had run well on stage 4 and took third place in their mixed group category that day. Chuck and Katy had also run well all week even though they did not get on the podium. Another runner, Moises (he was the guy who had surprised me during the first half of stage 4 when I was trying to keep up with Russell), was also yo-yo'ing between us. We all ran along the top of Red and White Mountain together along mostly double track trail and dirt road. When we arrived at the second aid station, Mike and I took some time to refuel and get something to drink. This time check point two had bacon. Ever since they first had it on days one and two, I had been asking them for it, but they hadn't had it again until this stage. Nothing like a couple of strips of bacon to get you going. Ha, ha!

Mike coming down the trail
passed the tall grass and
 aspen trees.
The couples had run up ahead of us and Mike and I left the aid station knowing that the next couple of miles were one long descent. We took off down the hill and soon caught up with Ashley, Emma, Chuck and Katy. This part of the trail, although a little rocky, actually had a good grade that allowed for some fast descending and Mike and I took advantage of it. We passed the two couples and kept flying down the hill. We caught up to another runner right at a brief s-turn that put us on a narrower single track trail with tall grasses that made watching wear you plant your foot difficult. We were also slowing down from the earlier effort. When the trail started to level off, we came into a ton of thistle that was chest high. I found myself running with my arms in the air so that I wouldn't smack the thistle as I ran by. We crossed a couple of small creeks and then went under a road through an underpass. The trail eventually came out onto an asphalt road that would continue going downward into Avon, CO. Mike ran ahead of me and set the pace the rest of the way down until we came into town and I think after that he was ready to be done except we still had another six or so miles and a hefty climb to go to the finish.

In the town of Avon, we ran on the road for a couple of miles until we crossed highway 6 and ran up to the last aid station. This was it. Just four or so miles left to the finish but it would all be uphill except for the last mile or so. We were both tired, but I had a bit more left in the tank than Mike. I tried to encourage him. Chuck and Katy were the first to catch up with us and then Ashley and Emma. They would put a gap on us and we wouldn't see them again until the finish. We climbed along a double track trail at first, then dirt road, then trail again. The sun was out and for the first time all week heat was playing a part in the race. We weaved in and out of cover from the sun when ever we were under tree canopy, but much of this part of the course was out in the open.

Mike and I with our medals shortly after finishing stage 6.
We eventually came into the outer edge of Beaver Creek even running one section that was a series of tight switchbacks on a hill side with a ski chair lift. We eventually hit a dirt road and started descending. This was it. This had to be the last mile of the TransRockies Run. As we made our way down, we could see the resort area of Beaver Creek from above, but it wasn't until the dirt road started to level off that we started hearing the music and then the cheering. We picked up our pace as we crossed a bridge and then saw the finish line chute. Mike and I ran in together with 4:40 on the race clock. We high fived, posed for a photo, hung out, ate a little and sat down.

In the men's six day solo category, I managed to hold onto 4th place for all six stages with a total time of 23:35:46. Mike finished in 7th with a total time of 24:41:08. The fastest finishers were in the men's open teams category with Rob Krar and Mike Smith finishing in a blistering 15:22:59 (remember, that's over 118 or so miles. Wow!) The most creative team name or my favorite was "Scrambled Legs and Achin'". Pretty funny!

Beers to celebrate the finish!
Our hotel was right around the corner, so when we were ready, we grabbed our duffel bags and other gear and checked into our room for showers. Admittedly, it was nice to get into a real shower. Once refreshed, we then came back downstairs and grabbed a table at a restaurant across the way with a view of the finish line. We toasted with a couple of beers while we watched other finishers still coming in. It was really cool to see the happiness on finishers' faces as they crossed the finish line. For us and for them, it was done. The 2013 TransRockies Run was in the books.

Post Race

With Densie and Russell Maylin from
New Zealand before start of stage 5.
It's hard to put into words what exactly this event meant for me. I know that I gave an account of mostly the running part of the event and the daily stages, but this was more than just the enjoyment of trail running. It was also about the camaraderie and getting to know the other runners. There are so many amazing people that Mike and I met. I could have easily filled this blog with tons of stories about each one of them. There were experienced ultrarunners all the way to runners who had at the most run a few half marathons and marathons. One guy, Martin Parnell, had recently run 250 marathons in a year in an effort to raise money and bring awareness to a cause called Right to Play. There were also Ironman finishers and athletes of all skill levels and abilities. Of course, Russell Maylin who twice finished Marathon de Sables and placed top 50 both times. The elite field for this race was very impressive with the top men's team, Rob Krar and Mike Smith, just smoking the field. Rob had also finished second at this year's Western States. There was a Run3 runner we met earlier in the week who after finishing the three days at TransRockies Run headed up to run the Leadville 100. I'm not sure how she finished, but just the fact that she attempted it was impressive to me. I met and made many new friends, many who I mentioned already Pablo, Rodrigo, Densie, Carrie, Moises, Ashley, Emma, Carlos, Houda, Mikael, Memphis Joe, on and on and on. There were even several friends from home including Choo Choo, Joyce, Pablo, Silas and Liz. I hope to run across them in the future soon.

I've been asked a several times now if I would run the TransRockies Run again. The short answer is an unequivocal YES. I would love to once again take part in this event in the future. The long answer is more complicated since taking a week to ten days off away from my family is very valuable time and as a result, if I had the time again I would probably move on to other adventures that I would also like to do.

The whole idea of running the TransRockies Run was born several years ago when I first heard of the race, but it wasn't until last year that I finally found a partner to do this with me. I can't thank my friend, Mike, enough for joining me on this adventure. It was an amazing week to reconnect with an old friend. I think we both discovered new things about ourselves and each other. It was a real joy to not only take part in the race together but to also spend time together from climbing 14'ers on the first weekend to grabbing the final round of beers on the final night of the race. Mike, I hope we get to do something like this again soon.

I have to thank Tim Tatarka at Salomon Running, Nate Price of Nathan Performance Gear and the staff at Big Peach Running Co. in Decatur, Georgia for gearing me up for this fabulous adventure. Thanks guys!

I also need to thank my friend, Roxanne Zobava, who had run this race a couple of times before and who designed my training plan and gave me advice over the last year or so leading up to this event. Thanks Rox!

Lastly, a very special thank you to my wife, Stacy, who supports me and has told me time and time again how proud she is of me. Stacy, I love you!
Hanging around the camp fire at Nova Guides/Camp Hale at the end of stage 4.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Hitting the 14'ers: Mt. Grays and Mt. Torreys 8.10.13

Mike and I taking break on the way up to Mt. Grays' summit.
I arrived in Denver on Friday night a little after 7pm. I was excited to be back in Colorado and eager to meet up with my friend, Mike. Next Tuesday, we're both taking part in the TransRockies Run stage race, but before that we wanted to take advantage of our time in Colorado and get in a couple of 14'ers. Since we were short on time, we picked two of them that were very accessible, Mt. Grays (14,270 ft.) and Mt. Torreys (14,268 ft.). We drove to Georgetown, CO and spent the night in a modest mountain village inn only about 10 miles from the trailhead with the plan to get up early for climb.

Mike shortly after leaving trailhead.
The 5am alarm clock went off and we got our things together. We'd stopped the night before to get some breakfast items and some food for the hike. Driving off the interstate, we immediately got on a dirt road that made its way 3 miles up to the trailhead. Luckily, we rented an all wheel drive and we navigated the rutted out road just fine. It was pretty steep in places too. As we neared the trailhead, we quickly realized that we were definitely not going to be alone on the way up. There were a ton of people there all gathering to go. We parked the car and by 6:15 or so we were on the trail.

The sun was already up but it was rather chilly, probably in the upper 30's or lower 40's. We were well layered and I had my fleece buff, fleece hat and some gloves. I also had a light wind resistant poncho in my pack which I'm glad I did as it came in handy later at the top. The first mile or so was very gradual. We met another hiker and her dog. At first, it wasn't our intention to pick up another hiker but after a while Julie and her dog, Toby, would accompany us the whole way. It was Julie's original plan to hike with a friend, but her friend had bailed on her that morning and she came out on her own. She was glad for the company and we enjoyed hers and Toby's.

We made our way through the valley until we clearly had the profile of both summits well in view coming up what is the east face of both. There were a ton of people out and we could make them out on the zig zag switchbacks all the way up to the top of Grays. We could also see people already on the summit of Torreys. While we would have preferred a more solitary climb, we were just happy to be on the trail and enjoying some beautiful Colorado scenery.

We took the left fork that was the trail up to Grays. It was rocky and some what technical in sections but not too bad. Some where around 12,500 ft. the trail turned right and headed up at steeper grade. We stopped here to snack and to turn and look at the view at the valley below. Looking eastward across the valley, we had a ridge on our left crowned by Torreys and another ridge on our right that bent northward on the other side of where our car was parked at the trailhead. We all commented on the weather and how lucky we were to have clear, blue skies. It was a bit warmer at this point and we put away our fleece cap and gloves. After the snack, we started up the steeper trail.
Summit of Mt. Grays at 14,270 ft.
Through out the hike, it was fun to see Toby, Julie's dog, going up the trail ahead of us and then circling back. I admired the dog's ability to make the climb seem effortless even above 12,000 ft. He also seemed to handle the rocks and scree with no problem. The dog must have some well conditioned paws. Julie did say that she runs and hikes with Toby quite a bit.

We hit the switchbacks on the final approach to the summit. Most living things were not growing at this elevation. It's August, so there were very small patches of snow, but none in significant amounts. During the rest of the year, I'm sure there is plenty of it especially at this altitude. We reached the top and there must have been 30 to 40 people on the summit. Mike and I searched for the USGS marker, but we couldn't find it. We did however pick up a cardboard sign on which some one had hand-written in marker, "Grays Peak 14,270 ft." We took the mandatory summit photos with the sign and then looked across to Torreys Peak, our next goal.

On the saddle with Torreys behind me.
We left Grays summit on the north end to get on the saddle trail between the two peaks, a less than a mile journey. It was a decently sharp descent for a couple hundred yards until gradually leveling off. I was ahead of Mike and Julie while Toby stayed with me. Another hiker passed us on the steep portion hopping from rock to rock like a frog. Obviously, he was a regular on these trails. The trail leveled off as we neared the trail fork with the trail that made its way back down. We passed it and before we really started climbing, we stopped to marvel at the scenery around us. Grays summit seemed less intimidating than Torreys from this view point. We took pictures for a few minutes before continuing the climb. The last few hundred yards to the top of Torreys was definitely steeper. Plus there were even more people descending this summit than there were coming down Grays earlier. I reached the top first and after once again not being able to find the USGS marker, I took a seat on the pile of rocks that seemed to be the highest point. Mike, Julie and Toby soon made the summit as well.

Sitting on top of Torreys.
I sat there and was amused by the fact that I had just reached the top of my fourth 14'er with another 30 or so individuals. Still, it was a feeling of accomplishment. I was feeling the altitude but other than a very light pressure in my head, it wasn't too bad. We pulled snacks from our packs and sat on the summit for a while. Julie shared a peanut butter sandwich with Toby that he eagerly ate up. While we refueled, we debated about taking an alternate trail off the mountain that followed a northeast ridge, but decided against. We were to descend down the trail from the saddle and join up with the original approach trail. After a couple photos, we left the summit.
The descent was mostly uneventful. Clouds had moved in and few of them did not look friendly. Seeing them made us glad that we were on our way down. When we reached the approach trail, there were several hikers that were just making there way up.
Mike, Julie, Toby and me at the end of our hike.
We reached the trailhead after a while and high fived each other. After all, no climb is a success until you make it back safely to the bottom. The whole hike had taken us about five and a half hours with rest breaks. That's not a bad pace considering the 4,000+ feet of elevation gain, maybe more. We said our goodbyes to Julie and Toby before getting in our rental car and leaving the trailhead. We gave a ride to a pair of young hikers that had left their car down at the bottom of the forest road. Good karma for us since we had been given a ride years earlier after descending Mt. Elbert.

Grays and Torreys were 14'ers number three and four for me and I hope not the last. The climb was probably not the best idea given that we were about to take part in a six day stage race covering 120 miles with its share of climbing. However, we don't get too many opportunities to be in Colorado and couldn't resist the urge to knock off a couple of summits. I hope to do it again soon.
Mike and I on summit of Torreys.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Running Shoe Review: Salomon Sense Mantra

My Salomon Sense Mantra trail running shoes

A little over a month ago, I was heading up to Chattanooga to take part in the Rock/Creek Stage Race, a three day trail running event in the surrounding Chattanooga mountains. Sixty miles over three days on mostly single track trail. And I was on my way there without a decent pair of trail running shoes.

My trusty Brooks Cascadias had run their course (sorry for the pun) some time before and when I went to replace them I purchased the Montrail Bajadas. Big mistake! With less than 150 miles on the Bajadas, I blew out the upper on the medial side of both shoes. Now I have Hulk feet, that is true, but I've never had that happen before in a pair of shoes. I didn't get around to going back to the store to replace the Bajadas when the stage race came up. I grabbed two pairs of my road running shoes and that's what I was planning to run with in Chattanooga. Except that at the race, I stopped by the Salomon vendor tent and the rep was giving runners the opportunity to test run in their shoes. I know it's the golden rule to not try something new on race day, but on day two and three of the stage race, I ran in the Salomon Sense Mantras and I was hooked.

Rockin' the Mantras at the
Chattanooga Stage Race
Fast forward a bit and I now have a couple of pairs of the Salomon Mantras thanks to the guys at Salomon.  Along with 42 miles I put on the shoes at the race, I've put about 75 trail miles on my current pair and they've been great.

The shoe is advertised as "A trail shoe for midfoot strikers", but I'm more of a heel striker. Less on the trail, but definitely when on the road. Being used to the Cascadias which have a higher heel drop, I thought this would be a feature that would give me some trouble. At least at first, but that hasn't been the case. In fact, I feel it has helped in my foot strike transition and I have had no calf or shin trouble. The Mantras do fit a bit narrow for my foot, but so far that has not been a problem.

Two features of the shoe that I really like are the gussetted tongue (or "Endofit sleeve" as Salomon calls it) and the unique lacing system. The tongue or sleeve snugs up well to my forefoot and is immediately comfortable. The lacing system works well to provide a snug fit without it being too tight. It's also a plus that I never have to worry about untied shoe strings (something that Brooks Cascadia are unpopularly known for, as much as I love them). I like that you can took the plastic end of the lacing into a hidden sleeve on the top of the tongue too.

We've had quite a bit of rain in our area the last couple of months, so running on trails recently has been a bit of a slippery affair. Any feedback I would have on the traction provided by the shoes would be unfair until I had a chance to get in a few more miles in drier conditions. Having said that, I also run on quite a bit of granite in my area and the shoes have responded well with good grip on the rocky surface. Also in regards to the rain and considering sweat from summer running, I have finished several recent runs where my shoes are drenched. I've found the Mantras to have really good ventilation and they also have the ability to dry off relatively quickly.

One feature of the shoe that I would like to see improvement with in future versions of the shoe is better protection from the trail. The trademarked "profeel film" in the shoe is a thin carbon fiber sleeve that is embedded in the midsole. While I agree with not wanting to loose "feel" with the terrain, I have had a couple of cases on rootsy or rocky terrain where I felt it a little too much. For you true minimalist runners out there, you may think that's no big deal, but for someone like me who is used to a beefier shoe I realy notice it.

Overall, I really like the shoes, especially the light weight aspect of them. As mentioned, I really like the fit with the help of the inner sleeve and lacing system. I'm looking forward to taking them through a serious week of trail running at the 2013 TransRockies Run in Colorado. If they continue to do well for me, I'll most likely run in them during the Pinhoti 100 in November.

Disclosure: Salomon Running provided me with two pairs of the Salomon Sense Mantras to test wear. Opinion of the shoes are my own. For the manufacturer's tech page listing the shoes features, click here. Below is a Salomon Running produced video on the shoes.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

TransRockies Run: T-minus 13 days until the start!

Runners at the start of a TransRockies Run stage.
(Photo from transrockiesrun.com)
Yep, 13 days to go! In less than two weeks the 2013 TransRockies Run will be underway and my buddy, Mike, and I will be there. It seems like forever ago that we were talking about this and deciding to register for this year's event. I remember hearing about it in its inaugural year, I think around 2006, and immediately placing it on my short list of races to do some day. Well, that some day is practically here and I am ready.

I've written about it before, but last year was a doozy of a year for running after having a great 100K in March to having to deal with a minor ankle injury and then a more significant shoulder injury and two surgeries. I'm happy to share that all that is behind me and my running has been strong of late. Close friend and a trailrunning beast, Roxanne, put together a training schedule for me about five months ago and I have followed it closely. You can see from the graphic where a year ago I was barely running, if running is was what you call hobbling the few times I attempted to get out there last July and August. Now, I've cracked 200+ miles for the last several months.

In June, the Chattanooga Stage Races were a good indicator of how I was doing and those races went really well. I've done plenty of hill climbing in my training, even doing repeats on Kennesaw Mountain and Stone Mountain. I know those won't compare to what's waiting for me in Colorado, but it's the best a busy dad can do to be prepared with out going up to north Georgia for some Appalachian foothills running. I can't do much about the altitude other than get there a few days early and hope to acclimate as best as possible. So going into TransRockies my confidence is up and I'm looking forward to a stellar week.

I'm also looking forward to spending time with Mike and we have a plan to knock out a double 14'er the weekend before the race. We both hiked Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive a few summers ago and we're glad to add to that list. Here's what our week will look like:

Friday, August 9: Arrive in Denver
Saturday, August 10: Hike Mt. Greys (14,278 ft.) and Mt. Torreys (14,275 ft.); spend the night in Breckenridge
Sunday, August 11: Take race shuttle to Buena Vista
Monday, August 12: Hang out in Buena Vista and pick up race packet
Tuesday, August 13: Stage 1 Buena Vista to Railroad Bridge, 20.9 miles, 2,500 ft. elevation gain
Wednesday, August 14: Stage 2 Vicksburg to Twin Lakes, 13.3 miles, 3,250 ft. elevation gain
Thursday, August 15: Stage 3 Leadville to Nova Guides at Camp Hale, 24.2 miles, 2,800 ft. elevation gain
Friday, August 16: Stage 4 Nova Guides at Camp Hale to Red Cliff, 14.1 miles, 2,900 ft. elevation gain
Saturday, August 17: Stage 5 Red Cliff to Vail, 23.6 miles, 4,200 ft. elevation gain
Sunday, August 18: Stage 6 Vail to Beaver Creek, 20.9 miles, 4,900 feet elevation gain
Monday, August 19: Return to Atlanta

What a week and a half, huh? You can find more details including route maps and elevation charts here. I'm particularly looking forward to stage two when we get to go over the infamous Hope's Pass at around 12,500 feet. In fact, we'll be between 7,000 feet and 12,000 feet for the entire race. I am also looking forward to stage five as I understand that it is the most beautiful of the six stages.

There you have it six days of trail running in the Rockies. Mike and I are set for an incredible journey. We're each signed up as six day solo runners, but we still had shirts made up as Team Los Guapos. It should be quite the adventure.

I have to take this opportunity and thank my wife for her support over the last year. I'm off trail running in the mountains for a week while she stays in Atlanta. I'll have to make it up some how. I'd also like to thank Salomon Running for providing me with a couple of pairs of Salomon Sense Mantras. The shoes are great and I'll be posting a full shoe review here soon.

I'm going to try to blog from the race every day too if internet access allows, so plan to visit back and check my blog. You can always follow me on Twitter at @aReyoUiN too.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Rock/Creek Stage Race: Day 3 Signal Mountain 06.16.13

3 days, 3 mountains, 3 stages. Only appropriate that I ran with #33 all weekend.
Gosh! Where to start? I'm sitting here, showered, fed and relaxed but trying to look back at a jam packed weekend with old and new friends doing something that I love to do...trail running. "60 miles, 3 mountains, 3 days" with good camaraderie and wonderful trails is hard to beat. Before diving into today's recap of stage three, I have to thank Rock/Creek, Wild Trails, Randy and Kris Whorton, Jeff Bartlett, Mike Scott, the Ultrasignup crew, Tim Titarka from Salomon and all of the race volunteers, staff and fellow competitors for yet another fantastic Chattanooga Stage Race weekend! I am looking forward to doing it again soon, whether it's the Stage Race again or another of the Rock/Creek race series. Top notch!

Coming up the steps at Signal Point.
Photo Jeff Bartlett, Rock/Creek
Day three didn't start much different from the other two days. I showed up, picked up my bib number, visited with friends, stopped by the Salomon tent to pick up the test pair of Salomon Mantras and got ready at my car. Everyone was walking with a little stiffness, some more than others. My quads were sore from all the downhill running yesterday, but otherwise I was feeling pretty good. Everyone seemed ready to tackle day three. There was talk about the difficulty of today's course. The veteran stage race runners were explaining to the new ones that while today's stage was technical and difficult, it was easily also the prettiest of the three stages. With a few minutes to go, everyone gathered at the start and once again at 8am sharp, we were off!

We started off through the gravel parking lot and immediately onto the trail. Although it did bottle neck some, it wasn't the same traffic jam of day one. There was a bit more room on the trail and somehow things spread out pretty quickly. I did notice right away that the poison ivy was out in full force and it would be something to be watchful of over the rest of the course. The first few miles are a long descent past Mushroom Rock and down to a cable bridge. At first I ran with Brian from Indianapolis who I had run several miles with on both days one and two, but once we crossed the bridge and started the climb over the ridge to then go down into Suck Creek, we got separated. This portion of the trail is an out and back from Suck Creek back to Mushroom Rock and it wasn't long before we saw the front runners led of course by David Riddle. This guy is impressive to watch as he looked liked he was gliding along the trail. He set the course record on day one, barely missed it on day two and I would learn later that he would set a course record for day three. The guy is an unbelievable athlete. The guys behind him were cruising as well. I arrived at the first aid station at the bottom at Suck Creek, refilled one of my hand held bottles (I stuck with my two bottle strategy all weekend and I'm glad I did) with water and turned around to make the climb. It was fun to see everyone coming down and to cheer each other on. Lots of "Good job!" and "Looking strong!" comments being exchanged.

I made it back over the ridge and I was by myself when I heard some singing behind me. I knew right away that it was John Dove and he caught up to me in no time but then settled into my pace. I really respect John and I also enjoy hanging out with him, so when he decided to run with me, I was happy for the company. We made our way down to the bridge and John and I started talking and exchanging stories. We made it across the bridge and then back up to Mushroom Rock and took the right turn onto the trail that led to Emerald Point.

This part of the trail is beautiful with incredible views of the valley to our right and with trails that while having some degree of technical difficulty were still very runnable. We caught a few runners while we continued to talk and catch up about various things which made the miles go by relatively quickly. The weather was cooperating and I was glad it was. Earlier in the week, the forecast called for hot temps in the 90's but it would never get above the low 80's at any point of the race. It was definitely a bit more humid than the previous two days, but it wasn't suffocating.

We were cruising along and when we were starting to wonder when the next aid station would appear, we strolled into it at Emerald Point. I was feeling good and enjoying running with John, but I was also anticipating what was coming next. In 2011, it was at this point that I started feeling crappy and I was hoping to avoid that this time around. I had kept up my hydration in these first nine or so miles, but I hadn't been paying attention to my eating. I ate a salty potato, a small PBJ and a gel at the aid station. John and I then headed out on the next section of trail.

We heard church bells from the valley and realized it was ten o'clock. We were two hours into the race. I didn't forget my watch this time, instead I left it in my bag on purpose. I found from the first two days that running without the watch helped me run my pace and didn't stress me out to try to run a certain time. This was working well for me. It wasn't long before we hit some of the more technical parts of today's course. John was in his element and he soon took the lead in front of me and then proceeded to drop me. He got farther and farther away from me until he disappeared around a turn. I saw him briefly at the next aid station and then I didn't see him again until less than a mile to the finish. I found myself alone, but in good spirits and even more importantly feeling strong. The rocks along this part of the trail are huge and tough to navigate, but I was making my way over them pretty well. I caught a few runners before the climb up the stairs at Signal Point where the next aid station was located.

Me and Blaine on the short road section.
Photo: Jeff Bartlett, Rock/Creek
Once at the top of the stairs, my buddy Jason was there to greet me and refill my water bottle. It was good to see him (you should check out his blog sometime, click here). I refueled on some potatoes and fig newtons and took off up the road. It was on this road in 2011 that I went straight across and ran a few minutes off course with another runner, so I was sure not to miss my turn this time. I caught up to a runner from Johnson City named Blaine and together we ran for a bit. We ran in front of what seemed like an assisted living home and there was quite a crowd on the porch. Everyone cheered us on and it was uplifting since it's unusual to get any cheering while on the trails. After passing the cheers, the turn back onto the trail came up quick. Blaine got out in front of me while the trail stayed relatively smooth, but once we ran along a creek bed, the trail became much more technical and I was catching back up to him. We crossed a couple of cable bridges and then I passed him. The next couple of miles were tough due to the terrain. It's funny how in my head I was dreading the section between Emerald Point and Signal Point, but I had forgotten about the difficulty of this section along the creek. I caught up to a couple of other runners and as I passed them, I also went by these cool cliff sides that were dripping with water. It really was amazing to run by them. A creek stayed to our right for the rest of the way before the next aid station. I did a gut check and all systems were running fine. Maybe the conservative running of the first two days was paying dividends now.

I arrived at the last aid station. Refilled my water bottle and asked how much was left. I was told 3.6 miles. Sweet! Not much left to go. I was now on a double track trail that climbed up and I knew that meant we were heading back to the school where the finish was set up. I was still running much of the climb which gave me some more confidence. The double track turned onto a single track trail and I caught up to two more runners. I didn't pass these two guys right away, but I could tell that neither of them was feeling all that great. We also kept climbing until we came out onto the last section of trail which was identical to the Stump Jump finish and so it was very familiar. I managed to get by one of the guys and the other one was staying out in front of me. We crossed a road turned onto the last section of trail. I saw a tall guy a few yards ahead and realized it was John. I caught him and we both patted each other on the back. The other runner that was in front of me then all of a sudden stopped and put his hands on his knees. He was taking a quick breather I guess as I went by him. I knew the finish was really close. I could see two female runners in front of me and although I thought I could catch them, I never did. We came out from under the tree canopy, crossed a road and ran on the grass along the soccer field fence towards the finish. I crossed it with my arms up in the air. I was tired, but happy.

At the finish holding my sweet Marmot finishers jacket.
This year the race offered a new finishers award, a sweet Marmot ultralight running jacket. You even had a choice between two different colors, black or off white for the guys and blue or green for the ladies. I gladly picked mine up and then went to grab a bite to eat and something to drink before making my way to the kiddie pool with ice water to dip my tired legs. What a great day on the trails!

I finished the 20 miles in 3:53 which was almost 20 minutes better than my 2011 stage three time. However, I only beat my 2011 cumulative time by three or so minutes. I finished with a cumulative time of 10:23.

I'm leaving the stage race with several positive things going into my next event, the TransRockies Run in August. I learned to manage my effort better over consecutive days of running and finished feeling well on day three. I also learned that I could run on tired legs which will serve me well in Colorado. The next few weeks are going to be tough with lots of miles, but my confidence is high with just about two months to go. I just have to hang in there, train well and stay injury free.

My race results for stage 3: 3:53:16, 67th overall, 61st male, 168 official finishers
My race results for all three stages: 10:23:02, 81st overall, 72nd male, 168 official finishers

Stage three course map and elevation chart, click here.
Stage three race results, click here. 3-day cumulative race results, click here.
View race photos courtesy of Jeff Bartlett and Rock/Creek, click here.

Other 2013 Chattanooga Stage Race reports:
Hot Wing Runner: http://hotwingrunner.blogspot.com/2013/06/chattanooga-stage-races-2013-pool-balls.html
The Ale Runner: http://thealerunner.com/2013/06/19/chattanooga-mountains-stage-race-recap/
Run, Lala, Run: http://runlala.blogspot.com/2013/06/joyful-chattanooga-mountains-stage-race.html
Jason Green: http://bestpacescenario.blogspot.com/2013/06/dnf-chattanooga-mountains-stage-race.html
David Riddle: http://riddleruns.blogspot.com/2013/06/rockcreek-chattanooga-mountains-stage.html?showComment=1372079863291#c2630176842924214721