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GU Stage 3: Leadville to Nova Guides at Camp Hale
24.5 miles / 2,700 feet elevation gain
Wednesday night at Leadville consisted of TWO beers (we were celebrating an engagement after all) and another amazing dinner. I’m back home now, day dreaming of the awesome catering TransRockies Run provided us with. More guacamole, please! After dinner, Geoff and I got a couple of call outs from the TRR staff, including a hilarious moment where Houda, director of all of the race magic, made us reenact the moment Geoff proposed. There are videos on my facebook page, but for the life of me I can’t figure out how to add them here. I think you have to be a friend to see them, so you know, send me a friend request. It’s not creepy or anything, it’s Facebook. Anyway, the TRR staff and sponsor of that stage, Salomon, gave us certificates for a free pair of shoes each. Thanks for the engagement gift!
Now, as mentioned in the last post, sleeping in Leadville was an adventure. First, Geoff and I were initially stoked to be assigned to one of the brand new Eureka! tents, figuring they HAD to be warmer than the old tent we slept in the night before. That is, until we unzipped the rain fly and realized (surprise!) the tent didn’t have walls. No, just mesh screens. It was a two season tent at 10,500 feet up a mountain. Did I mention it’s been about 100 degrees every single day this summer in South Carolina? I know this is a personal problem, as demonstrated by the fact that so many of our fellow athletes were strolling around each morning in shorts, while Geoff and I would dressed like we were about to summit Everest if we could.
Fortunately, my amazing now “boyfriend plus” (that’s what I’m calling him, the word “fiancé” makes me cringe a little. We may also go with one-day-husband. Or just Geoff. Yeah, Geoff works.) traded sleeping bags with me, so now I had the zero degree rated bag, leaving him with the 15 degree bag. I cocooned myself in that bag so well, only my eyes and nose were exposed. Sleep did NOT come as fast this night, as the altitude started to mess with me a little bit. My mouth was so incredibly dry, it felt like it was stuffed full of saltine crackers. Like that one time Mr. Wizard said you can’t eat more than 6 or 7 saltine crackers at once before you completely run out of saliva, and I tried it. He was right. But here I was, 28 years later feeling like I jammed too many crackers in my mouth, and to top it off, I was starting to feel nauseaus, with a bit of a headache.
Crap, crap, crap.
These were all symptoms of altitude sickness, and again, this sea level girl was attempting to go to sleep at 10,000+ feet above sea level. I knew the only way to cure altitude sickness was to go to a lower altitude. This wasn’t really a possibility without dropping out of the race. I also knew if the medics had to treat you for altitude sickness with oxygen, they would pull you from the race (they already warned us). I had been chugging water all day, so I didn’t know what else to do. Fortunately, while contemplating my fate, I fell asleep. Thank you body. Thank you Tylenol PM.
I awoke around 11:30 pm to the sounds of a passing thunderstorm (it rains a lot in Colorado), and the sound of an oversized diesel pickup truck revving it’s engine and squealing tires up the road past our tents. Turns out teenagers are jerks no matter part of the country you live in. I pried myself out of my sleeping bag to hit up the port-a-potty, something I would come to dread every single night. Fortunately, after I returned, I fell right back asleep.
Let’s get to stage 3 already, right?
Downtown Leadville was literally a 1/4 mile walk from our tents, so no shuttles to miss while Geoff was pooping this morning. I don’t know that I had ever stopped to contemplate WHAT Leadville might look like, but it surely was nothing like what I may have expected. An old mining town, it is incredibly quaint, rustic, and unique in it’s own right. Buildings with false fronts that conjure up images of cowboys and gun fights, and even “the Best Wild West Saloon in America”, left me feeling like I should be wearing spurs and chaps instead of running sneakers. Sorry for the blurry shots, I was shivering.
I’m kicking myself for not taking a photo of the man who was casually walking down the street in a top hat, full length jacket, and a walking stick, sporting a massive white beard. It reminded me of Brattleboro VT, the odd little town I lived in while in Vermont.
It was so cold (I’m sure you’ve noticed one of two themes by now: either it’s cold in Colorado, or we’re a bunch of wimps), and I kept my drop bag layers on as long as I possibly could before being called into the corrals.
On this day, volunteers were checking for our mandatory gear. Gloves (already on my hands), a hat or buff (already on my head) a jacket, and an emergency blanket (in our packs) were required for this and the other remaining stages. We were not allowed into the corrals without them.
(Get to the running already, will you Heather?)
“Highway to Hell” plays, and we are off, down the streets of Leadville. Almost immediately, we pass a police officer loudly lecturing a driver he had pulled over, who apparently wasn’t a huge fan of the race nor the runners blocking his path. Thank you, Leadville PD, for ensuring our safety and for the little moment of entertainment.
2.5 miles down the pavement we go. And I mean down, we descended out of town dropping quite a few hundred feet of elevation.
As any downhill tends to do, the 2.5 miles went by fast before we take a right onto a gravel jeep road, and begin climbing.
And climbing and climbing.
For some reason, this climb destroys me. Watching the quick clips from the GoPro, that is, the clips that weren’t 5 minutes of the inside of Geoff’s CamelBak pocket, reveal my incredibly poor, hunched over posture. I have no idea why I was so freaking tired, nor why I struggled up this hill (mountain?) but I did. Perhaps it was because we were going on day #3 of this nonsense. Perhaps it’s because the entire beginning of this stage was over 10,000 feet, and my body just wasn’t acclimating well. I pouted, a lot, fortunately I kept it all inside (I think). I also questioned what the hell I had gotten myself into. I still had about 22 miles left in just this stage alone, not to mention another 60 + miles to run over the next three days. Was I capable of this? Did I belong here? The doubt consumed me for the first time in three days, as I struggled to catch my breath while slowly trudging up the climbs.
Per usual, the views made the climb worth it, but it didn’t make the climbing hurt any less.
Eventually and finally, we hit some sort of plateau and began descending. Thank you, running gods. Down, down, down we went. Yesterdays quads? They were SCREAMING, but my lungs were grateful for a break from climbing. We ran through an absolutely breathtaking stretch of Aspens. Fun fact: it took my 6 whole days to realize these weren’t birch trees, but were in fact aspens. All these years I thought an aspen was a type of fir tree. Ha.
Eventually we hit the first aid station/check point. In reality it was at 7.2 miles, but it felt nearly twice that long since we started. It was such a welcome and relieving sight. Give me the potato chips! Give me the Stroople! Give me all of the snacks!!! I think all three of us took our sweet time at this aid station, filling up on snacks, adjusting shoes, putting on extra layers of sunscreen. Finally prepared for the next stretch of this stage, we headed off down a dirt road.
Not much to see here, until we start to crest a small hill. From a distance I see an all white creature standing in the middle of the road. “A YETI!” I yell, and take off running. I’m not sure where the hell it came from, but I have this odd obsession with bigfoot/yetis. And I totally blame Disney World for instilling the belief that I must pose for a picture with anyone dressed up like a fictional character. Doesn’t matter who is inside the costume. Doesn’t matter what their intentions may or may not be. I need a picture.
So of course, I got one.
We head into the woods, back on trail again. The trail winds along the side of a stream (brook? I’m not sure the classification here) that eventually we need to cross. We somehow manage to circumnavigate the first crossing, keeping our toes dry. But very soon after we reach the stream again, and the second true crossing. Being only maybe 8 or 9 miles into a 24.5 mile day, I really didn’t feel like getting my feet wet quite yet. Call me a chicken, tell me I have “soft” feet, but I didn’t have any blisters or hot spots nearly 45 miles into a 120 mile race, and I planned on keeping it that way. After observing countless other runners trying to pick their way across exposed rocks, only to end up falling into the stream anyway, I had the great idea to take off my shoes. I didn’t even contemplate the decision for more than a few seconds before I was barefoot and ankle deep in the water. It was SO COLD and felt SO GOOD on my feet. I made it across the stream with no problems, and sat down on the opposite side of the bank to dry my toes and put my shoes back on, with my feet no worse for the wear. Totally worth the few extra minutes.
According to the elevation profile, we climbed some more. I honestly don’t remember this part of the race, and I don’t have any pictures to refresh my memory. I think it was a jeep road in the woods (there’s a surprise) that passed a bunch of high-end resort like yurts. I remember thinking that I should stop and take pictures of them, but I didn’t feel like actually stopping to take pictures of them. Yeah, we’re getting to that point in the race. Eventually we arrive at check point (7 miles from the last one) which is in a parking lot of Ski Cooper, a small (by Colorado standards) ski resort, and apparently one of the oldest in the state.
There was a shark at the aid station…
…and more stroople.
Speaking of stroople, my hydration and nutrition was going MUCH better today than it had the day before. I promised Geoff and Jen that it would. I was taking one Hammer Endurolyte per hour. I had started the day thinking I would time my nutrition, but then realized that I was burning through SO many calories, I should just eat every time I even THOUGHT of eating. So I did. And it worked well.
Down a long, paved hill (the access road to the ski resort), across a highway where the friendly police officers were discussing their gym leg day versus the “leg day” we were currently undergoing, and into the parking lot of another trail head. When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a REAL BATHROOM! Well, sort of real. It was still a toilet sitting over a hole in the ground. But you see, for the last 2.5 days, not a single port-a-potty was to be found on course. All “business” was to be taken care of in the woods. And while I’ll still squat in the bushes with the best of them, a private stall where I didn’t have to try and hide my bare ass from other runners was a welcome sight.
We headed into a gorgeous forest that started off with an incredibly gradual downhill on a flat, wide, dirt road. I joked that I would LOVE to do a one mile time trial on this road. I imagine you’d just fly. But not today. No, we were certainly not flying by this point.
Down, down, down we go. A nice long run where the three of us were able to pass quite a few people. Not too shabby for sea level Myrtle Beach legs. We ran through a gorgeous field and hit some single track that eventually came out to a road crossing.
After a quick break to avoid playing frogger on the road, we had another short climb, followed by the most magnificent desecent you can imagine. At this point in my 6 day recap, you’re probably wondering what happened to the fancy new iPhone with which I took this killer snail photo. Well, my friends, turns out the camera *is* indeed good, when you stop in perfect lighting and stand really still while taking a picture of a snail, which as we all know, doesn’t move very fast. It turns out the focus doesn’t work quite as well when trying to take photos while barreling down hills in a dark forest. Who would have thought. So instead, here’s a mediocre photo that does NOT do the scenery justice.
It was immaculate. It was so green. It was full of wildflowers, and it smelled amazing. It was everything I pictured Colorado to be, and a stark difference from the terrain we encountered on stage one. We flew through that section. Jen was in the lead, and we kept joking with her about putting her foot to the floor. The beautiful scenery and mostly downhill course was certainly a part of it, but this was also her last day (as she was running the 3 day option) and she admitted she just REALLY wanted to get to that last aid station. None of us could blame her!
The last aid station at mile 21.6 appeared as we entered the back side of Camp Hale. Camp Hale was a U.S. Army training facility constructed in 1942 for what became the 10th Mountain Division. From what I was told, during WWII, the 10th Mountain Division trained here because the high altitude was similar to where they would encounter fighting in the mountains of Italy. If you looked around, you could see the occasional remnants of the camp. But what was more prevalent, and alarming, were all of the warning signs of the undetonated munition that was apparently everywhere. In fact, as we passed through to the last check point, there were a dozen or so people out with massive metal detectors, searching for these weapons. All the more reason to stay ON trail.
At the last check point/ aid station, we found Max King offering up shots of whiskey. He had run (and won) the first two days of TransRockies, but had stopped, because he would be racing the Leadville 100 the following weekend. Apparently, I need to pay more attention in the world of this sport I love, because I had never heard of this guy before. Turns out he’s a mega fast professional ultra runner. But all that mattered at that moment was the fact that he was a killer aid station volunteer. He was rushing around, helping people fill up their hydration packs, grabbing food for them, and throwing down whiskey shots with participants. Another thing I just love about the trail/ultra world: everyone is so awesome and humble, from the elites to the back of the packers. High five, Max, thanks for the support!
We grabbed our fill of water and snacks (and whiskey for Geoff) and headed out for the last 5K. In what I’ve learned now by day 3 to clearly be a tradition of the TransRockies Run, we would finish the day on a long, flat, wide open, dirt road. The kicker about this one, however, was that you could actually SEE the finish line and camp from three miles away. Talk about a tease.
We briefly ran with a wonderful woman from Canada who said that she had never run more than a 30K in her entire life before. Oh those Canadians, always using the metric system. A quick calculation (actually at that point, an estimate of sorts, my brain was just as tired as my legs) let me know that a 30K was roughly was 18 miles. This woman had never run more than 18 miles before, and here she was finishing up three days of 21, 13, and 24.5 miles consecutively. That kicks ass, woman from Vancouver! There were so many inspiring people out there, I can’t even begin to describe how amazing it was to be in their presence.
Commence run walk intervals to get to the finish line. Fortunately, this stretch was mostly flat/downhill, so there was more running than walking. Hey look, it’s my Yeti friend again!
The finish line FINALLY appears. Jen gets her medal and finishers shirt, and I’m equal parts jealous that she doesn’t have to run again tomorrow, and really stoked that I still have three days left to run. I definitely am not ready for this adventure to be over, no matter how tired my legs are.
We hit the showers and immediately get our “chill” on in “Chillville”. Nova Guides is hands down the best camp location of the week.
At some point, Kara Goucher shows up, which I found equal parts kickass and amusing. Kickass because she seems to be a very down to earth person, and of course an incredible athlete. Amusing, because she is an Olympic 5K to marathon runner, and here she is talking to a bunch of fun loving ultra runners with beer in their hands. It almost felt like comparing apples and kumquats.
I caught the first two minutes of her talk, where the emcee welcomed her, and said something along the lines of “so, we all can’t help but notice that you are here in Colorado and not in Rio at the Olympics right now.” Awkward! Poor Kara handled the sucker punch intro gracefully, however. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear anything past that, because it was my turn to go here:
OH. MY. GOODNESS. Believe it or not I’ve made it an entire decade of running and racing without ever putting my legs in one of these things. That includes that one time I was on a triathlon team (I know, right?) and one of our sponsors, Recovery Pump, was going to send us a FREE pair to demo for the duration we were on the team. My then chaotic self had two babies at home, was working two jobs, and going to school full time, so the prescription needed to fulfill the freebie pair was too much of a hassle to obtain.
Stupid 25 year old Heather, you have NO IDEA what you were missing out on.
Anyway, these recovery boots were pretty cool. They would fill with air, similar to a blood pressure cuff, only around the foot and ankle. The pressure would increase until it was *almost* painful, then it would move up to the lower leg, and repeat. Then the upper leg, until the entire boot was squeezing your leg firmly. Then the entire boot/sleeve would deflate, and the process would repeat, for twenty minutes. The idea is that the sequential compression helps stimulate blood flow, therefore increasing waste removal and speeding up recovery. I’m not sure how well it worked, but it felt like a massage on my sore legs, and that was good enough for me.
After my massage, I rallied to attend the beer mile that most definitely did NOT happen. On record. So they say. (It totally happened.) To say it was highly entertaining would be an understatement. There was beer. There was nudity. There was an impressive finish line cartwheel. There was surprisingly no puking, even though these rock stars were beer-miling with higher ABV% craft beer. Geoff, surprisingly, did NOT participate. But I can’t say if he was more jealous of the beer mile itself, or of that one guy’s purple shorts.
And then we had tacos. Dinner was fan-freaking-tastic as always.
After dinner and the obligatory “what to expect the next day” talks, we watched the nightly video and photo slide show. This night, the photos put me into a full on sob. Not just tears, but an emotional, Hallmark commercial-style sob. There were so many pictures of people helping others, people celebrating other’s accomplishments, and all of that feel-good-stuff that makes me so happy to be a runner. I’m sure it was partially the exhaustion of the last three stages that brought on the tears, but it was certainly also a realization of the fact that I was currently in the middle of an opportunity of a lifetime, something that would truly stay with me for the rest of my life.
I looked around and realized I was FAR from the only one with tears in my eyes, so I felt less silly for being so sappy. But now, already crying, I asked Jen if we had to say goodbye to her tonight, because I was already a mess. I didn’t want her to go. I needed to sleep this off. Thankfully she said no, she’d be there to send us off in the morning.
Time to go freeze my South Carolina butt of in the tent for another night…