Friday, July 26, 2013

Epic Rocky Mountain Relay - Canyon City, CO to Crested Butte, CO - 07/20/2013

Watching the runners at Garden of the Gods
Wednesday I took off from RDU and arrived at Colorado Springs with a bit of time on my hands.  I knew I had just a few short hours to pack in as much sightseeing as I could so instead of waiting til Thursday, I started in as soon as I arrived.

I went to see Garden of the Gods – wow. What an awesome place.  Saw a couple of folks running there and I REALLY wanted to go for a run.  I didn’t though, knowing that I had some work to do in just a day and a half… Later that night I found a great BBQ place in Old Colorado City and had dinner. 

Thursday I had all day to tour whatever places I could.  I started the day by driving to the top of Pikes Peak.  What a beautiful, yet crazy drive!  The little Ford Fusion I had rented did a good job, but it sure was winding up getting up the mountain!  Some of those drop offs were pretty significant, wanted to keep that little car ON that winding, mountain road!

I got to the top and put on my jeans and hoodie – it was 42 degrees and WINDY!!  Brr!  Took several pics, and had some folks take a couple pics of me as well.  I went inside, found the famous donuts, got 2 of them and a coffee and sat down to eat my snack.  I was a bit light headed up at that elevation (yes, more so than usual – lol!).  While I was finishing up my donuts, I heard someone right next to me talking about being Dutch, whose parents came in off the boat right from the Netherlands etc etc…. and I was thinking, wow.  I cannot get away from my heritage, even up here at the top of Pikes Peak.  So, I started talkin with them – the discussion included southwest lower Michigan, being raised Christian Reformed, and marrying someone who *gasp* was not Dutch!  Lol!!  Told them my maiden name and they were like “oh yeah, that is Dutch”  anyway… randomness at the top of the mountain….  I got 2 more donuts to go and started on my way back down.

A few thousand feet down the mountain I decided to pull off at one of the parking spots and do a bit of a jog up to a big rocky outlook.  I ran about 1/10th of a mile and it felt like my lungs were ON FIRE…  not good…  I walked the rest of the way up, sat on a rock to recover and enjoy the view, then went back to the car.  I was hoping that this was not an indication on how it was going to go for the relay… 

After descending Pikes Peak, I changed back into my shorts and t shirt as it was 83 degrees when I got to the base.  Whew!  What a difference!  Went to this little gem shop at the base and picked up a few trinkets for the kids.

I went back to Old Colorado City, had lunch, did some shoppin, and had to hit the first ever Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory – woo!

Went to visit the old ghost town museum.  That was pretty cool.  Favorite part was the old newspaper shop – had the old linotype and printing press in there.  Yeah, I have a degree in printing and this was cool to see old school printing!

Went for a visit to the Olympic Training Center.  Had an hour guided tour.  Again, very cool.  Great facility.  Best of the best from the US are training there!

One last stop at Seven Falls before heading over to dinner at the Airplane Restaurant.  It was cool to hear the thunder echoing in the canyon at Seven Falls.  It never rained but the thunder was awesome.  At the restaurant, I was able to sit in the airplane section and have my meal. 

Seven Falls
While I was at dinner Jess arrived at my hotel room.  She and I were going to be picked up later on that evening by the rest of the ultra team.  I told her to see if the front desk would let her into my room, and after a couple texts they let her in – lol!  Now there was someone I have never met in my room.  

I had to drop off my rental car and the hotel came to pick me up in the shuttle.  Jess let me in when I got there and we laughed at the idea of some random stranger in my room.  She later said next time we did this, she would rearrange my things – lol! 

We chatted for a bit until the rest of the girls arrived.  They all came up to the room and I met the ultra team for the first time.  I could tell right away that it was a great group of girls and that it was going to be a great weekend. 

We packed up the Expedition with all our stuff and headed over to Canyon City.  When you see a sign that says "dip" it is recommended that you slow down.  We hit one of those dips, and everything went flying.  I think it was Kelly who hit her head on the roof, then landed hard on a seatbelt.  ow!  :s  It was hilarious though....  Great ice breaker - lol!  

We arrived at this questionable hotel right near the start of the race.  All 6 of us were in this tiny room.  4 of us were sleeping in beds, 2 on the floor.  (do I dare say that I slept with someone I just met? – lol!)  We used up all the real estate in that room!  I think we got about 3 hours of sleep before we had to get up for the 5:00 start. 

We were a bit behind getting to the race and just missed the 5:00 start.  Luckily there was another wave that was starting at 5:15.  Of course I was runner #1 and was a bit frazzled with missing the first wave.  I think it was 6 of us that toed the line at 5:15 – and we were off!  All I could think is that I did not want to get lost and wanted to keep up with the group.  I looked down and saw an 8:10 pace and knew that was way too fast for the difficulty of the leg that was coming up.  So I backed off some and got into a pretty decent rhythm for a bit, or until it started climbing.  I powerwalked the steeper inclines and ran the rest.  I was pretty winded, and did the best I could to keep my heart rate down and keep a “decent” pace. 

See that trail?  I climbed it :)  What a view!
The view was beautiful.  This section was a lot like a desert.  Lots of cacti, hearty evergreens, and rocks – lots of tough earth for things to grown in.  I had a beautiful sunrise to enjoy as well.  Best part was the nice downhill to the exchange point – woo!

Leg 1 – All I kept thinkin is “you are the weakest link”.
“Very hard” paved / dirt – (some of the dirt road was pretty washed out).
7.7 miles
Average pace 10:54
Elevation Gain:
1,110 ft
Elevation Loss:
607 ft
Min Elevation:
5,313 ft
Max Elevation:
6,376 ft

We stopped and snapped a few pics.  While we were chillin we saw one guy hurdle the cattle gate.  It was a site to see!  I took a different approach with taking small steps across them, but since it was early and he really was feelin good, he just sailed across it.  It was cool!

White girls can kinda jump :D
We stopped at one of the exchanges where there was a great view and got a really good pic of us jumping.  The scenery at that station was beautiful as well.  It was here where I borrowed someones garmin charger from the other purple cobra 12 woman team.  When I was running my first lap, it read low battery after just a few miles…  I found it ON when I opened my bag from the flight.  No telling how long it was on before I turned it off.  THANK YOU for letting me borrow your charger!  It kept the watch going for the rest of the relay!

me right before leg 2. 
Leg #2 was another toughie.  In the noonday sun, on asphalt.  Yes indeed,  I am the weakest link!  Hey, one good thing though is that I did not become “roadkill” (when you get passed by someone).  I held my own.
“Very hard” Paved
3.7 miles
Average pace 11:45
Elevation Gain:
1,153 ft
Elevation Loss:
0 ft
Min Elevation:
6,441 ft
Max Elevation:
7,599 ft

after my fast leg 3
Leg #3 was by far my favorite.  3 miles on a dirt road in this nice Aspen forest.  It was awesome to do some cruzin!  Smoked the downhill starting at 10,000 feet  AND I got my first roadkill – woo!  Sorry, she didn’t stand a chance ;)  Felt like I redeemed myself from the first 2 legs!
“Hard” dirt road
2.9 miles
Average pace 7:28
Elevation Gain:
0 ft
Elevation Loss:
1,003 ft
Min Elevation:
8,823 ft
Max Elevation:
9,848 ft

We nearly missed the exchange for #21. The sign was so far off the road, we couldn’t see it! Alyssa took control of the situation and moved the sign closer to the road.  Problem solved! Ha!

Leg #4 gets a little crazy again.  It was getting later on in the day and we were all tired of snacking on pb n j tortillas, cereal, chips and water.  We dropped Jess off at the last exchange and raced off to find real food in the town.  This was also where is rained briefly.  We were leaving the store and Jess called wondering where we were – agh!  Hindsight, I should have been dropped off at the exchange and waited for her while the others went for food.  We lost about 5-10 minutes there and once again I was the late one getting out on the course.  I managed to down some chocolate milk before the run, but not much of anything else.  This section was nice, flat and runnable.  I did not much care for it being on a major highway at dusk, but at least I felt more like a runner.  It was not as fast as I was hoping for, but not bad all things considered.  Saw a doe and a fawn along the side of the road grazing.  That was cool to see so close up.
“Mild” paved
3.6 miles
Average pace 9:30 per mile
Elevation Gain:
207 ft
Elevation Loss:
0 ft
Min Elevation:
7,052 ft
Max Elevation:
7,262 ft

After leg 4 I ate part of a sandwich and downed some more chocolate milk.  Trying to get some calories in!!  I probably would have done better during leg 4 had I had something more to eat about an hour ahead of the run.  After leg 3, I was snacking on just about everything in the van tho – ate everything in the packet that they provided just to get some calories in. 

Leg 5 I knew was going to be a really hard one.  We were going through Cottonwood Pass.  Huge elevation gain.  I took off down the road in the dark.  I went well over a mile and didn’t see any other runners or any crew cars, or the cones that mark each mile.  I started to have a *slight* panic moment wondering if I missed a turn or something.  I stopped and made a couple calls to my team but no one was answering.  I turned around and started to backtrack when Nina called and said they stopped to pick up some things and they were on their way.  She also assured me I was going the right was as there was no turns on this leg.  I got off the phone with her, turned back around, and within minutes, 2 crew cars passed me and I saw the cone off in the distance.  *whew*.  Ugh I was mad though for backtracking!! Lost some time there too… So it goes… I trudged on as the elevation became steeper in the dark of night.  I saw a sign for hot springs, and I could hear a river and could see just a little bit from the nearly full moon above.  It was really cool at night, but I know it would have been amazing to see in the day.  I made it to the exchange point completely winded.  I was not defeated, but was exhausted.  As a reward to myself that I ‘owned this hill’ I did a brief crow pose at the exchange. 
“Very Hard” paved
Supposed to be 7 miles but I was having so much fun I made it 7.6 miles :P
Average pace: 12:50 per mile *really?* ugh!
Elevation Gain:
1,294 ft
Elevation Loss:
67 ft
Min Elevation:
8,131 ft
Max Elevation:
9,384 ft

After leg 5 I ate the rest of my sandwich, chips and some more milk.  I was not feeling well at all after that leg.  I was lightheaded, had a headache and my stomach was upset.  I laid down in the back of the “van” and slept for about an hour. I was not sure that I even slept, but someone said they heard snoring – lol!  Might have been me – ha!  Was runnin on 3 hours of sleep the night before and just the one hour in the “van”.  We were all a bit tired!

rainbow in the fog
Leg 6 was the hardest one as it was another climb to the highest elevation yet for me.  I was feeling lousy but knew I had to get it done.  I started out in a cold foggy dirt road – had my long pants and long sleeved shirt on.  No gloves but I should have had them – my hands were freezing!  About a mile into the run/walk my team pulled up next to me and asked if I needed anything.  I handed them my jacket and I asked them to give me one of my coffee drinks.  I downed it and handed the bottle back.  They were surprised I drank it that fast – lol!  I continued on towards my exchange point – my finish!  The best part of this run?  I had an awesome downgrade to the exchange.  :D  By that time the fog had mostly burned off and there was a rainbow in the mist.  I quick snapped a picture (while still running) and brought it in strong :D
“Very Hard” dirt
7.5 miles
Average pace: 13:36
Elevation Gain:
978 ft
Elevation Loss:
269 ft
Min Elevation:
9,695 ft
Max Elevation:
10,617 ft

I was ecstatic to be done.  First one of the team to finish and now it was time to cheer the others in.  I took another baby wipe bath (yes, they work, at least good enough) and changed into some dry clothes.  Finished up the half gallon of milk I bought the day before (it wasn’t too curdled yet – lol!).  I still was not feeling that great – my stomach was still really messed up and I had a headache, and my throat was burning, but it was great to have the sun up, the fog burned off, and the end of the relay in sight! 

One of the gals on the team was unsure if she was going to be able to run her 6th leg because of the pain she was in after her 5th.  She was one tough girl – she ended up going out there and rocked it. 

these gals like yoga as much as me - woo!
 We were waiting at one of the exchanges and we all took turns doing yoga poses on random rocks.  We had been doing this randomly along the course, but we snapped some pictures this time. 

Soon we saw Jess off on her last leg and the last leg of the relay.  We drove into Crested Butte and waited on her to come around the corner.  When we saw her we started cheering her in, and we all ran the last few yards in together.  We made several friends with the other teams out there and we had plenty of high fives as we were crossing the finish.  Many of the teams we met were like “oh, you are the 6 woman relay team, wow!”  We kinda made a name for ourselves ;) 

Results:  191 miles – 32 hours 3 minutes.   
1st in our division (woman's only ultra team).  25th out of 41 total teams (only 4 of those teams were ultra teams, the rest had 12 people per team).  Results can be found here.  you can also see some of the funny names of the teams there as well – lol!

plenty of high 5's at the finish - awesome!!
We hung around for a bit listening to the music.  I had a burger and a beer and it was very good. 

We did not stay too long.  We had a 4 hour drive back to Colorado Springs.  4 hours?  How did we get so far away??  Lol!!  We grabbed a bite to eat (yeah I ate again) and hit the road. 

I rode along with 2 girls from the 12 woman purple cobra team.  At times I was dozing off, but along the Monarch Pass it was some insane driving!  Pretty serious drop offs with no guard rails!  We started descending from the pass and my ears never unplugged.  Ugh!

We made it to Colorado Springs without a problem and I got checked back into my room.  Showered - Best. Shower. Ever, and chilled before calling it an early night. 

By morning my ears had cleared up – woo!  I went down for breakfast and ate my fair share then took another plate upstairs for lunch.  I didn’t feel like going out before my flight so I had breakfast for lunch too.  Spent the day watching a Chevy Chase Vacation marathon on VH1 and uploading pictures to FB.  Very chill day trying to recover.

2:00 came and I had to check out.  The shuttle took me to the airport where I found out there was an hour delay on my flight to ATL due to weather in the ATL area.  I was ok with it.  I got to look out the window for another hour at Pikes Peak.  My connecting flight was not til 10:30 so I had plenty of time anyway to catch the next flight to RDU. 

When I arrived in ATL, the airport was packed!!  Lots of upset folks waiting around because of delayed flights.  I looked up at the screen for when my next flight was supposed to leave and it read “12:30am”  wow.  The flight  above it was to RDU and was currently boarding… at the other end of the terminal…  well.  Here goes nothing!  I worked my way down there as fast as I could.  I get to the gate with a 3 minute warning.  I tell the attendant that I am on the next flight to Raleigh, but were there any seats on this one?  He tells me in a flamboyant voice “yes, I gots seats!  You want a window or isle?”  wooo!!!!   I tell him window, and he hands me my seat assignment and I proceed to the plane – yeah!!  Getting home sooner than if there had not been a delay!

I had a nice “single serving friend” on this flight (anyone remember what movie that is from?)  We talked NC, running and family then parted ways.  Didn’t catch her name… 

Arrived in RDU and filed a claim with Delta for my bag that was not due to arrive until 2:30am….  They later delivered it to my door the next day – oh yeah!  :D

My ears were giving me a fit again.  They were fine up at altitude in the plane, but were horribly plugged at sea level.  This has gone on for several days now, and in addition I ended up with a bad cough…  so it goes…

I learned a LOT running this race in CO.  One that running at elevation is no joke.  It was humbling.  You can be a decent runner at sea level but then have your tail handed to you on an elevation climb. How does one go from running a 3:49 marathon a few weeks prior, to toughing it out for a few miles up a hill?   I have a whole new respect for races like Leadville.   I also have a *slight* envy of those who live in the mountains and can hill train in elevation.  They have a gift of being able to get out there and train that most of us do not have.  I have some mountains 3 hours from me.  They are beautiful, hilly and I love going there, don’t get me wrong, but they are seemingly “cute” when it comes to the elevation out west.  I had run what I thought was a tough marathon a week ago at Grandfather, but at least I did not have the altitude problems like I had in CO. 

The team I ran with was amazing: Nina, Mary, Kelly, Alyssa, and Jess.  What a fantastic, funny, tough, fun, bada$$ group of runners. Everyone had great attitudes, were fun to talk with and had a great competitiveness. They even liked yoga as much as I!  Everyone was always encouraging each other as well as cheering on the other teams along the course.  Thank you for including this sea level chick on your team!  Hindsight – I would pick a different leg as opposed to not picking and ending up with the leg that was left – lol!  I really liked the 2 legs that were runnable – the flat one and the downhill one.  I felt I held my own there, but felt like I was slowing the team down with my other slower legs… 

Happy finishers - what an awesome team to be part of!
The course was beautiful!  What a great way to see this part of CO than on foot.  We covered a lot of miles and went through many different areas. Some were desert like, others were forests, and others were near the tree line.   We saw small towns and other areas we didn’t have cel service for hours cause we were so far out in the middle of nowhere.  The race swag was great.  Good stuff to snack on in the bag, and a nice tech shirt.  Couple things that could be improved are: they needed more port a johns at the exchange stations, as well as volunteers.  They also said that food trucks would be at some of the stations and there was not. 

Would I do this again?  Yeah, I would, and no I wouldn’t.  I would want to go into it better trained, but I am unsure how to go about that.  I ended up with altitude sickness.  I took this definition from Wiki:  "People have different susceptibilities to altitude sickness; for some otherwise healthy people, acute altitude sickness can begin to appear at around 6,500 ft above sea level.  Symptoms often manifest themselves six to ten hours after ascent and generally subside in one to two days, but they occasionally develop into the more serious conditions. Symptoms include headache, fatigue, stomach illness, dizziness, and sleep disturbance.  Exertion aggravates the symptoms."

Ya think??  I think I did ok only because the legs were relatively short and there were breaks inbetween, but to attempt a 50 or 100 miler for me at this altitude would not go well. 

I have a whole new perspective on running after this adventure.  I have a deep respect and admiration for those who live at elevation and train there.  A little running envy as well. 

Til then, anyone who lives at elevation want to come run with me at Umstead in the heat, humidity, and horseflies?  I plan on doing hill repeats on powerline til I puke ;)


1 comment:

  1. Well, no one else will leave a comment so I will. Great report cause you are Awesome !