Leaving SFO 12 days ago, I had some serious butterflies about completing all 6 days of TransRockies. 120 miles, 6 days, altitude, no partner, I may have actually found my limit here. Every day was another battle proving to myself that I belonged here just as much as anyone else did. Each night at the daily ceremonies/dinner, I looked around and saw tough, super trail runners. This time a year ago, I had just signed up for my first trail race. What did I get myself into?
But somehow I was in (almost) 1 piece, standing at the starting line in Vail, ready for the victory lap, stage 6, of this insane adventure. I’ve often heard the quote “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start” but it never appealed to me until this moment. Just lacing my shoes up and getting to the starting line, I knew I’d succeeded and this final day would just be a celebration.
I spotted the Canadian ladies, posed for a few photos and hopped into the corral. Just before the gun went off, a guy in front of me yelled “To real showers and beds!”. After 5 nights of tents and mobile showers, that was definitely worth running 19ish miles for.
We ran across Vail and hopped onto a single track trail headed west. I passed a bunch of the pack I’d been running with all week and caught up with a few new faces. The gradual climb out of Vail was beautiful- skinny Aspen trees, wildflowers and grasses all around, and the occasional view down to the city. About 7 miles in, I was ready for a break at the Aid Station, but it didn’t seem to come. 3 miles of hill climbing later, we were at station 1. I was pretty confused about the difference between the map/ course instruction from the night before and what I’d run, but I spotted my friend Sarah who seemed to be having a tough morning, so I shrugged it off and decided to stick with her for a bit.
After a mile or two with Sarah, she seemed in better spirits so I took off on my own and set a good pace through the rolling single track. I was anxious to get into Avon and Aid Station 2 before it got too hot out. Again, the Aid Station was a few miles later than I expected and by stop 2 I already had 16.7 miles on my Garmin. Weird, the course officials had told us today’s route was 19 miles..?
I asked the volunteers how far to the finish and a sweet woman said “a little over 2 miles to the next Aid, then 4 more until the finish”. WHAT? I know I’m tired, but simple addition tells me that means 23+ miles, this has to be a mistake. I wasn’t in the mood to try to figure it out, so I grabbed some pretzels and headed towards town. Sure enough, 2.5 miles later (19 miles in), I heard music and cheering. Fabulous, this must be the finish, the other woman was joking.
Not so much, I’d found the last Aid Station, but the cheering was just a really enthusiastic volunteer who shouted “Sorry, the maps were wrong, you’ve got 4 more to go! 3 miles up, 1 mile down!” I was speechless. The last stage of a 6 day journey and the course was mis-marked by more than 4 miles? I thought this HAD to be some sort of a sick joke by the funny race crew. I plastered a smile on my face and hiked up the last long hill (1,500 feet!) behind the couple from London. It only took a half of a mile or so before I accepted that this really wasn’t a joke, they’d made a mistake and just because the course was long didn’t give me any excuse to give up now and not push to the finish.
I perked up and kept climbing. 3 miles later, I was finally at the top and decided to just fly down the hill to the finish. What do I have to lose? I zoomed down the path and could hear noise in Beaver Creek below as my legs moved faster and faster. All of the sudden I spotted a course marshal ahead of me yelling “Stop! Stop!” and throwing his hands in the air. I thought it was weird but assumed a car was coming or I was going to need to cross onto another trail. Screeching to a halt, I looked around and spotted the culprit- a little brown bear on the grass to my right.
Uh-oh. All week, we’d gotten wildlife instructions, what to do if you see certain creatures to stay safe. But I was drawing a blank. Luckily, after a minute of silence, the bear scampered off into the trees and I ran in the other direction just as fast. It was only another 1/4 of a mile to the finish, but probably my fastest 1/4 mile of the entire 120 mile journey. I was relieved, thrilled, proud and amazed to be done, but I also just wanted to get the hell away from that bear.
Just like every other day, I found Taylor yelling with camera in hand and smiling. She was such a great cheerleader and supporter, especially camping all week with me. It’s one thing to bring your friends and family to the finish line of a marathon in a cool city, it’s a whole different ballgame to drag them into the woods to camp for a week. We celebrated with burgers and beer at the finish line as we watched our new friends from the week finish their journey too.
I still can’t believe I survived (and actually enjoyed!) all 6 days in the Colorado Rockies. I was one of a small group of individual runners without a partner, and looking back I completely understand why runners are required to sign up in pairs. It’s a long haul with emotional and physical highs and lows, and having the support of another runner really helps get you through the tough spots. I wouldn’t change anything, but I hope I can go back to TransRockies again someday with one of my amazing trail-loving friends from the Bay Area.