Trans Rockies — the Perfect VHTRC Event
There are so many amazing running events that my general rule is that if I need to get on a plane than I will only do that race once so that I can preserve my travel budget for new adventures.
Trans Rockies is the clear exception. I would go back in 2017.
So what is Trans Rockies. It is a six-day stage race across the Rocky Mountains with a three-day mini version. The three greatest days are the final three so I would discourage anyone from signing up for the three day. Do all six days.
The day before the race begins with a shuttle ride from Denver airport to Bueno Vista, CO. This is a small town that has capitalized on its access to a raging river, some great climbing opportunities, and lots of mountain biking.
When you check in you are given a duffel bag. This bag is big enough to fit my 12 year old son inside of — not that I tried that — and it has to hold all of your gear. Your original luggage gets stored in a truck until the final day.
Race day begins in a park by the river where check in occurred the night before. There is some amazingly strong coffee from Kicking Horse coffee, which is a sponsor. Everyone lines up to AC/DC’s Highway to Hell. This is the song that starts us every morning.
I was warned that Day 1 is the acclimation day. It is mostly in dessert-like mountains with lots of sandy and dusty trails. It is very runnable except for those of us who don’t do well at altitude. Within a mile of the start you are above 9,000 feet and you don’t really get below 9,000 feet until you get to Vail on Day 5.
When you finish these 21 or so miles, there is access to river to cool down in before you shuttle to base camp. Base camp is really amazing. Volunteers build an entire tent city. You pick a tent, drop your bag, find the shower truck and then hang out in Chillville, which is a few big party tents with coolers of endless beer (IPA, Ale, summer Ale and a wheat beer.) Plus there are snacks, stuff to make peanut butter and jelly and recovery drinks. And there are hundreds of outlets to recharge iphones, watches, etc.
This establishes the basic routine. You run. You soak in cold rivers. You return to camp and shower. You drink beer. Then you have dinner, get a course briefing and watch the winners get leader jerseys and then drink more beer before bed. It is a perfect VHTRC routine.
I won’t go over each day, except that the course and the camps get better with each passing day. To me, the best day was day five when you climb out of Red Cliff and then descend into Vail. That was followed by day four, which featured a great ridge run with amazing views and a 1/2 mile trek through a refreshingly cold creek. Day six included a climb through the Aspen trees, a run along the ridge, a very technical but fun descent into Avon, the first bit of road running in a week to get across the town, then a climb up Bachelor’s Gulch in order to descend to the finish at Beaver Creek. Next on my list was day 2, which involved crossing Hope’s Pass followed by day three along the continental divide and then the acclimation run on day 1.
There are aid stations every six to eight miles. Except for two at high passes, they are comparable to what you would find at any ultra aid station with a collection of sodas, energy drinks, water, sandwiches, gels, chips, cookies, and these yummy GU waffle bars. Volunteers dress up in crazy costumes and music is blaring.
It is not easy to cook for 550 folks, which is the size of the group for the first three days when you include volunteers. So you are not eating like you would at Palm steak house. That said, there is grilled or roasted chicken every night along with beef or pork. The beef brisket was really good. And they have a ton of veggie dishes including salad and potatoes every night. If you set your expectations appropriately given the location and logistics, you will be happy.
This is a camping event and that is where I really made a mistake. You need to assume the temperature will drop below freezing every night. My sleeping bag was not warm enough and I finally had to bail on camping for nights four and five because I was just shivering so much at night that I could not sleep. If you have a warm bag and you bring an air mattress — there is plenty of room in your duffel for it — then the camping would be just great. That said, I would probably recommend splurging for a hotel on either night 4 or 5 if you are coming from the flat land. Those hotels are at lower elevation so I did sleep better. And the bed are warm.
Which brings me to elevation. As some of you may know, I am terrible at elevation. I am the one who checked into the hospital after the Pike’s Peak marathon with altitude sickness. The North Face 50 miler in Park City took me forever because of the altitude. And I got terrible headaches a year ago near the turn around at Big Horn 100, which isn’t even that high. And guess what? I survived the elevation at this event.
Sure, it is frustrating that I get out of breath running up hills that are not that steep. And I am so much slower on the climbs than I would be out east. But I was never competing to win this event. So I just picked a low gear, stuck to it, and fared pretty well. As a result, I don’t think the elevation should scare away anyone who has experience running in our mountains.
There will be no doubt those who complain about the cost of Trans Rockies or who get offended because the event has corporate sponsors. These people are missing the forest for the trees. It costs a lot of money to provide for every need for a runner for six days, including five nights of camping in four different spots. There is transportation, food, tents, showers, entertainment, aid stations, snacks and permits. So you need to get over those complaints at the start. They are just not valid.
And there is certainly no way you can complain about corporate sponsors and then complain about cost. Absent sponsors, it would cost even more. Besides, the biggest sponsors were GU, a local brewery, a coffee company and Solomon shoes. That’s hardly an objectionable group of corporate sponsors for a running event.
So why do I want to return next year? It is because I think I didn’t fully get everything out of Trans Rockies that I could have or should have. I wish I spent more time around the campfire and less time worrying about the altitude. I wish I hung with more of the great personalties that make up the event, such as Houda who seems to be responsible for just about everything and who keeps everyone laughing. I really wish I brought a warmer sleeping bag so I could have been more comfortable. And I wish I latched on to the Trans Rockies Facebook page before the race so I could have connected with folks and realized I need to include my name on the back of my pack so everyone could say hello.
I guess that just means I need to return in 2017. Who is coming with me?