If you didn't take the time to look at the entire six day race profile in advance of day one, and strategize around what you saw, then day five would surely be about the time when your body started dropping incessant f-bombs on you. The final two days just happened to have the largest climbs of the entire race, both at over 50% bigger than anything we'd tackled in the first four stages. In fact in the final 48 hrs you would end up covering approx 40% of the entire races mileage, and 40% the entire six days worth of climbing. The real race was about to begin!
Stage 5: Red Cliff - Vail
Distance: 23 miles / 38 km
Climbing: 4407 feet
Descending: 4868 feet
Low/High Elevation: 8191/11787
We'd instituted and followed a great race plan up until this point in the week. Anytime I started getting carried away and trying to chase down people in other categories Tamsin would be quick to respond,
"Gary, it doesn't matter if such and such is ahead of us, we're not racing against them. Nothing to gain, everything to loose. Chill out, stay smart, we're ahead of everyone we need to be ahead of right now!"
Although Julie and Peter of team Nike/Gore-Tex, who we'd gotten to know and really liked, were over 20min back of us, they'd run every edition of TRR and finished second each year. I knew they'd put in a big push on stage five to try to change that fate. Taz and I however were feeling really good and I felt it was our time to shine.
The race started with a bitterly cold morning and most were wearing their mandatory jackets rather than stuffing them into a waist belt or backpack. Again we started smart but this time we made a push earlier than the prior stages and within fifteen minutes we were the lead open mixed team and running strong with Nikki and Kami.
The terrain on this day was a mix of fire road and single track, as it had been for most of the race, but as we climbed higher the trails became steeper and more technical until we basically crested the Vail Ski Resort. The views were the best we'd had all week with panoramic exposed alpine mountain tops as far as the eye could see. The singletrack narrowed to more of a goat path up high and I was constantly struggling between checking my footing and trying to take in as much of the scenery as possible.
(Dan Hudson Photo Credit)
Due to the grade of the climb, which was entirely runnable, it greatly favored us again. The only hiccups we faced on the way up were of my own internal workings. Not to go into too much detail here but although Tamsin had dealt with her nose bleeding issues I had blood coming out the other end. It started late on day three and after checking with the med staff after stage four I was told there was little that could be done. The most likely cause seemed to be simple stomach distress from all the new (and delicious) foods I was consuming throughout the week. Maybe my food allergies were just flaring up a bit on me? At least that's what I convinced myself of initially. Half way up the climb on day five however it had only gotten worse, and painful. Tamsin was worried about me and like any good teammate I totally played it down and pretended all was good. In my own head though I was left wondering if I was doing any serious harm to myself.
By the time we'd crested the huge climb up Vail mountain the vistas had erased any short term memories I'd had of my somewhat serious stomach pains. We even paused for an entire four seconds and asked one of the photographers up top to snap a shot of us!
(Dan Hudson Photo Credit)
What lay ahead was 9.5 miles of entirely downhill running. I knew Tamsin's knee would be bothering her and simply hoped that the grade of the descent would favor us. Yet again it was a lengthy fire road towards the end of the stage and after about thirty minutes of torturous downhill she started vocalizing how slow she thought she was moving. I knew otherwise and my response consisted of,
"Taz, how many people have caught us in the last half hour?"
"How many people do you see behind us?"
At that exact moment we spotted Nikki and Kami just a switchback ahead. They'd topped out on the climb just in front of us but we hadn't seen them in over 45min. They were still locked in battle with Devon and Caitlin and were pushing hard to try to close their time gap before they ran out of race course. Shortly after this I pulled off the trail for the fourth time on the stage, and when I glanced back I spotted Devon and Caitlin charging hard down the fire road. Although they still possessed a lead of close to ten minutes over Nikki and Kami they were awarded zero breathing room or downtime.
"Go get em girls, they're just up ahead!"
Within two miles of the stage finish we hit some wonderful, flowing, technical, singletrack which lead us home. It was the perfect end to another beautiful day of running through the Colorado Rockies! As was becoming the norm, the four women doing battle finished just a minute or two ahead. As was evidenced over the last few days, we collectively got faster as a group and the teams behind us faltered ever so slightly. Our lead over second grew by another twelve minutes. We had accomplished what we'd set out to do at the start of the day and there was now but one final stage standing between us and an overall victory at one of the most prestigious running races in North America!
The most exciting news, for me at least, was watching who finished second on the day. Deb and Steve Russell of team Pipeline crossed the line just ahead of Peter and Julie from Nike/Gore-Tex. Why was this exciting for me exactly? Especially given that I'd just officially met them five days prior? Because they are a brother-sister combo originally from Newfoundland as well! If this means nothing to you, and chances are that's exactly the case right now, bare with me for thirty seconds. I was born and raised in Mount Pearl, Newfoundland Canada, in a town of <30,000 peeps. I/we come from the second smallest province in Canada with a total population of just over 500,000...for a Province, equivalent to a State...not a city, not a section of a province but the entire thing, and it's not like there's a huge running scene there either. That night at Trans Rockies exactly half of the podium in the open mixed category would hail from Newfoundland! Chances are this still means zilch to you, but to me it was something special. I gave them a huge hug when we were up there together and I was proud of all of us. Especially given that Deb is a complete newbie this year and I'm only into my sixth season of endurance sport (adventure racing), first as a runner specifically.
(Julie, Peter, Tamsin, Me, Steve, Deb)
I have to quickly add that randomly enough there also happened to be a fourth Newfoundlander down at TR this year. I'm hard pressed to think that anyone from Nfld had ever even run TR before? Blaine Penny was 1/2 of the 9th place open men's team 'Evan Can Run' and someone we shared quite a bit of 'trail time' with during the event. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE do me/him a favor and briefly hit up this link. He was running in honor of his son and it's a truly tragic and unbelievable story. I was getting regular nightly massage after each stage to help loosen up the body and flush out the lactic acid. Once I heard his story I took my massage money for the evening and stuffed it in his pocket. It was a quick reminder that although all of us Trans Rockies runners were locked into an epic battle against nature, each other, and our own (perceived) limitations...it simply paled in comparison to what real life can sometimes throw at you.