Sunday, August 28, 2011
I met my teammate, Amy Lane, in the pre-dawn darkness in a neighborhood in western Massachusetts. She was with her fiancé, Brian (another ultrarunner) and the three of us drove to the airport together. We wore matching red backpacks full of spandex, and we stretched and hydrated almost compulsively while we traveled that day.
Amy is an engineer, vibrant and enthusiastic. She sat one row back on our flight and filled the plane with conversation. Amy found several runners in the surrounding aisles and made friends immediately. I sat one row up, looking out the window, quietly studying cloud formations. I didn’t speak to anyone, but I read 1.5 books. What a pair we made.
Peace Out, East Coast. Hello, Colorado.
We arrived and secured a swag wagon—a beautiful rental car of the Nissan species. Outside the city limits of Denver, we stopped by a Wal-Mart to pick up some food and supplies for camping. Guess whom I found?
Guess what else.
As well as: Philip Turk.
This is real life, and it happened in that order. Really, I went in there looking for mouthwash. This confirmed two things: Virginia Happy Trails Running Club members are ubiquitous, and Super Wal-Marts carry both non-comestible material goods and high-quality vegetation. (Thanks for the broccoli, you guys.)
Amy, Brian, and I drove up into the mountains to adjust to the altitude. We climbed a 14er, ran some trails, took a couple of naps, and practiced breathing. Together, we traversed the Collegiate Peaks, and much to my disdain, we camped out on Mount Princeton, even though Mount Yale was better-looking. That evening, we set up our tents on a dusty enclave along the side of the ridge. It looked like something out of Ezekiel, everyone. There were bones spread across the ground. Some still had flesh on them. We were inhabiting The Lion King in 3-D. I was nervous, and I sent “I love you” text messages to my parents just in case I was to be eaten that night.
In Colorado, breathing is a lot like fire-eating. It has a similar burn. At first, I struggled with hydrating while I ran because I have not yet mastered the ability to use my esophagus and trachea at the same time. You haven’t either. It’s called choking. So I would drink and accrue an oxygen deficit. Even walking around felt like an anaerobic exertion, and it weighed on our muscles in a deplorable sort of way.
The day before the TransRockies start, Amy, Brian, and I drove to Leadville to watch a portion of the Leadville 100. We situated ourselves at mile 22 and cheered for our friends. Again, I found VHTRCers—Neal Gorman, both Frasier brothers, and Phil, as well as TAC’s John Dennis. Way to go, you guys. You are so incredible.
This event has a lot of hype, but it is legitimate hype. It actually is an experience of a lifetime. GORE-TEX and Inov-8 do a tremendous job putting on this event, allowing runners to traverse trails from Buena Vista to Beaver Creek and to explore the White River and San Isabel National Forests. There was a mix of singletrack and forest road, and we climbed about 25,000 feet over six days. It was safe and as clean as living in the wilderness can be. We were well-fed and cared for by race volunteers. I have nothing negative to say.
Every day was a new race. Therefore, stage races such as this are an ideal location to grow in racing confidence and your ability to predict what you may need over the day. I loved our tent community. It looked like a Hooverville, one of the tent towns featured in The Grapes of Wrath (and real life, during the Great Depression. Steinbeck didn't make it up.) Life during the TransRockies event was a radical inversion of normal life. Rather than being an ultrarunner among non-runners, I was suddenly surrounded by 400 other people who do what I do.
The Hope Pass day was inarguably my favorite. They told us that llamas carried water up the mountains for us, so I loved it before we began. The misery of the ascent contrasted sharply with the beauty of the landscape. We paused for a moment, and lost the rest of our oxygen in breathless disbelief. Then we went back down. Amy and I were abetted by our technical trail running experience, and we recklessly descended the mountains, having the time of our lives.
We both required towing at certain points throughout the week, needing extra help from each other, and it bonded us. We’re good friends. Towing felt beneficent and motherly. At one moment, you are enervated and dessicated, wondering if you will survive the day yourself. Then your partner needs your help, so you tow. Suddenly, you have this new vigor. It’s similar, maybe, to those moms who push moving vehicles away from their children in parking lots.
Identify the weakest aspect of your body. That is what you will hurt at TransRockies. Ultimately, the mileage we cover over the 6-day event is not too much to handle if you have a high-mileage background. (I would have covered more or a comparable amount in a training week at home.) But the stress of racing every day can agitate even the healthiest body. Imagine you are a piece of paper being pulled east and west simultaneously. Your former injuries are perforations in that paper, more easy to tear. They are your Achilles tendon. I am inclined to shin-juries, so I iced and foam-rolled repeatedly for prevention. For some people, their Achilles tendon was a literal Achilles tendon. (Hi, Sean. Your ankle is looking particularly voluptuous today . . .) So identify your weakness going into the race, and anticipate. Check yourself before you wreck yourself. It is easier to prevent an injury than it is to recover from one.
I am certain that there are millions of more things to say about this adventure. I'm still processing. I did notice that every girl member of Inov-8 at some point wore the Roclite 268s. I wore them every single day and found them perfect for the rough terrain, and they were supportive enough for repeated wear. It was incredible to meet teammates Katie, Alex, Gina, and Peter, as well as Team Inov-8 Italy. I loved that. I loved meeting everyone. To all of my new friends: If you need me, I'll come running from a thousand miles away. When you smile, I smile. Those are Justin Bieber lyrics, but I mean them, probably in a more robust sense than he does.
Okay, happy running. School starts for me on Wednesday. Welcome to 18th grade.