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Gore-Tex TransRockies Run: The Running Experience

Posted by on Aug 20, 2012 | 12 Comments

Wow.

What an adventure! I’ll write about the experience in another post when I have time to collect my thoughts, but I wanted to get something out there. Here’s some early thoughts on the actual running experience:

The Dirty Stats

This info comes from the TransRockies website. I haven’t had a chance to download the GPS data from the Garmins.

  • Total miles: 120-ish miles over 6 stages (approximately 21, 13, 24, 14, 23, and 23 miles)
  • Race takes place between an altitude 7,400′ and 12,500′
  • Total elevation gain: 20,000 ft
  • Roughly 50/50 split between roads and trails

Results

Shelly and I did fairly well. Our total time was a bit under 30 hours, which was good enough for 12th place in the “mixed open” division (male/female teams with a total age less than 80) out of 23 teams that started stage 1. At least two teams dropped from the race. For each stage, we placed anywhere from 11th to 16th.

Our Strategy

Since Shelly and I  don’t have the chops to hang with the leaders, we decided to run hard enough to get a great training effect but also make the experience enjoyable. We ran about 60% of each stage together. If we came to a big climb, I’d usually run ahead. I was trying to get as much hill training as possible. I’d wait for her at the top. The rules required us to enter aid stations at the same time or incur a penalty, so we never got more than two miles apart.

As far as actual running, we used our ultra strategy of running flats and downhill and walking the uphills. We ate a fairly large breakfast and about 200 calories per aid station (three per stage). We both used two handhelds filled with water. Shelly took an occasional S! Cap; I didn’t use any electrolyte replacement.

How it Compares to Ultras

I didn’t know what to expect. A long time ago, I ran one 100 mile week. I have never run more than 10 miles a day for three days or more. The best comparison I had were 100 milers.

As it turns out, stage races are far different than ultras 50 miles or longer. The rest period between stages allowed us to correct issues and problems before they became severe. For example, I never hit a low during any of the stages. The distances were short enough to fuel with a good breakfast and a little bit of aid station food.

The difficulty came from the rigors of running longer distances day after day in race conditions. Shelly put in more effort than I did (I took around 700 pictures). On day five, she could barely walk from new blisters under the old blisters from the 60 miles we ran at Grand Mesa two weeks ago. I had a few minor problems, including scrotum chafing (it sucked) and a few small foot blisters.

Experimentation

I was eager to run the race because it would allow for a bit of experimentation.Here are some things I tried and the results:

  • Pre-race meal (breakfast): The organizers have exceptional meals twice per day. For breakfast, I elected for about four eggs,the equivalent of one diced, fried potato, and five pieces of bacon or sausage. It was a protein-heavy breakfast. Result were not significantly different than my traditional pre-race breakfast of Pop-Tarts or a big muffin. I did feel slightly less sluggish… at least until the cumulative fatigue of the stages set in after three days.
  • Clothing: Going off my theory that moisture-wicking material sucks in hot, dry weather, I wore cotton shirts exclusively. As expected, I did not have issues with overheating at any point during the race. It was rather cool for the last five stages, though. I don’t think the temperature topped 75°.
  • Shoes: I alternated between a pair of Merrell Mix Master AeroBlocks and two pairs of Merrell Trail Gloves. The terrain was pretty tame for the vast majority of the course, so protection was never an issue. The MMAB’s DID allow me to bomb down hills a little faster with a pace that occasionally dipped below six minute miles. The MMAB’s were also awesome over wet rocks. The zero drop Trail Gloves were better for the too-frequent roads. Shelly preferred her Mix Master 2′s because they offered more protection for her blisters.
  • Hydration: Even though I carried two bottles, I ran the entire race using a “drink-to-thirst” strategy. I never emptied more than one bottle for any one section between aid stations (usually about 5-8 miles). This strategy worked great! I didn’t waste time pissing excessively, and I never ran into dehydration problems. It helped confirm my overheating problems I’ve experienced a few times this last year.
  • Pacing and heart rate: I’ve been tracking my heart rate when running mountains for about eight months. I’m attempting to find a “sweet spot” in efficiency for running 100 milers. The goal is to run as fast as possible with the lowest possible heart rate. If I can keep my heart rate below about 155 beats per minute, I can run comfortably longer.
  • Volume: Since this race totaled 25% more mileage than I’ve ever run in a week, this was going to be a test case for making a move to higher-volume training. I was surprised my body handled the volume as well as it did. Had I not pushed hard going up and down the climbs, I probably wouldn’t have any ill effects. My goal is to continue training about 80-100 miles per week for a few more weeks.

Conclusion

The actual running part of the event was challenging and fun, though the frequent roads sucked. We did adapt as the stages progressed, though. We had fun spending time together and were really pleased with our results. I was proud of Shelly; she overcame some pretty significant obstacles to continue running day after day. We got some great training for our upcoming ultras (Grindstone and Chimera for me; Pumpkin Holler for Shelly), and we were able to do plenty of experimentation.

The actual race report could be book-length, so I’ll have to do some work to organize and shorten my thoughts. We met a ton of cool people, saw breath-taking scenery, and had a great time. I’ll get that report up as soon as possible.

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12 Comments

  1. Mary
    August 24, 2012

    This sounds awesome! I told my husband this is what I want to do to celebrate my 50th birthday. That gives me 3 years to prepare…
    QUestion: was it ever crowded on the course? Did you encounter a lot of wildlife/bad weather? I can’t wait to read the whole writeup.

  2. Chris
    August 24, 2012

    Lots of great advice. I run in trail gloves and they seem pretty indestructable. The pre race meal is also fascinating, I guess you need to get the calories in. I have pointed people towards your advice on my blog. Thanks

  3. WeaZel
    August 20, 2012

    I think this is my favorite blog post of yours do date. Congrats on 12th place! I especially like the having to enter aid stations together bit.

  4. Rob Y
    August 20, 2012

    I think for most running cotton isn’t that bad either. After all when I first started running we didn’t really have all these fancy technical/wicking shirts. I ran in mostly cotton shirts for the better part of 5-6 years. The real downsides were that they got very heavy when soaked and they’d tend to stretch out quite a bit and they’d really provide very little true sun protection. But they are cheap and easily replaced. What I learned from running through the beginning years of technical shirts on into today, having gone through and tried A LOT of different shirts is that there is a HUGE variability in the quality and effectiveness of each with respect to heat retention. I can honestly say that MOST of the shirts I used to wear didn’t do the best in the real heat. However, I now rarely run in any shirt that isn’t “silk-weight” or lighter. Made a bit difference to me. NFI, but the Patagonia line of sun shirts are the bomb. They have built in SPF protection that I can honestly say works well. Wore them all through training for and including the Badwater 135 last summer. I couldn’t imagine running in anything else in that kind of heat. Sold me. I know there are probably other brands and newer technology out there that is good but I’ve found something that works really well. Another thing to look at for cooler times of year is Merino wool clothing. I really love the stuff, definitely seems to regulate your temperature quite well and they do well even when soaking wet. Something to consider.

  5. Brad waterson
    August 20, 2012

    My biggest question as a non-rockstar who wouldn’t be sponsored would be that if you had to foot the bill out of pocket, would the experience be worth it.

    i know this is a question of economics but I’m curious.

    b

    • Jason
      August 20, 2012

      Depends. For us, we get to run in mountains all the time. I don’t think I’d pay to do it unless I was competitive. We were a little too pampered for my tastes; I prefer the more grass-roots races.

      However, the event itself was spectacular. Awesome support, amazing organization, incredible views, good trails. It’s a great opportunity to run in the Rockies.

  6. Shane D.
    August 20, 2012

    The cotton shirts you wore Jason, were they those newer “performance cotton” shirts or were they just a regular big box store cotton shirt? Great job to the both of you!!

    • Jason
      August 20, 2012

      Just regular, cheap cotton shirts.

  7. Bob
    August 20, 2012

    Can’t wait for the full report. Just one question, in my ignorance what do you mean by ‘Drink to Thirst’ Strategy. I am still trying to figure out the proper hydration rate for longer races, because I really hate pissing all the time on the side of a trail but I don’t want to dehydrate myself either.

    • Jason
      August 20, 2012

      Basically just drink when you’re thirsty. It took about a month to learn to discriminate the difference between being thirsty and being hot, tired, hungry, etc.

      I believe it’s the central idea from Noaks’ new ‘Waterlogged”, but I only read the Cliff Notes. :-)

      • Bob
        August 20, 2012

        Simple enough, thanks that’s what I do now, and people tell me I am not drinking enough. Seems to be working for me though.

        • Jason
          August 20, 2012

          If it works, stick with it.