SEPTEMBER 5TH 2015

BY COACH STUART MUNRO

RUN-CATION 2015 – TRANSROCKIES RUN 6

Coach Munro is a lifestyle-athlete and a running coach based in Brisbane, Australia. He is certified by the Athletics Australia as a Level 3 Middle and Long Distance Running Coach.

Day 6 was another long stage with an elevation profile matched to our training, including a steep uphill towards the finish. In addition to knowing it was the last day, there were fewer photo opportunities and the downhill included more solid ground, I released the shackles and made good pace, enjoying the day. We covered 22 miles, with 4,900 feet of elevation gain in 6 hours and 13 minutes, finishing faster than we started and finishing healthy, according to plan. 


Day 4 was another steep day. My foot was sore when I woke up. I typically use a variety of shoes in a running week, but for the trip I packed two of the same model of shoes, so I my foot was stressed along the same pressure points. I used some anti-inflammatory gel and ibuprofen to ease the pain, and, again, internalized the discomfort. The day before we had won smaller, lighter running hydration packs, and today we were tempted to make a change. I always trial something in training before races, so it was another case of “Stick with the plan.” As I warmed up and started to feel good and breath better, I was able to start to scratch the itch in terms of my desire to run faster. I’m still adjusting to lifestyle athlete pace and having people go past me. Indulging my urge to run fast, I played with some intervals running ahead or running to catch up after photo opportunities. I used these intervals to test myself running at altitude. After the stream segment I stopped to change to dry socks. Again foregoing time in the interest of long term preservation I repeated, “Stick with the plan.” We covered 14 miles with 2,800 feet of gain, which peaked at 11,500 feet, in 5 hours and 5 minutes, and were healthy to continue. The stage finished at a bar, known for a party involving fish tacos and margaritas. We faced another temptation here, but ultimately decided that foam rolling and massage were a higher priority than partying.


Day 5 started with another challenge. I hadn’t slept well due to people staying up late partying. I was tired and irritable, and faced with another 24 mile stage. We focused our anger to produce our best 2-hour segment for the week: 8 miles uphill. While others were now started to feel the effects of injuries, our preservation plan worked well. I started to hit somewhat of a groove. Once at the peak of this stage I was once again tempted to push the pace. “Stick with the plan,” I repeated, as I switched back to run-cation mode. I took more photos and a steadier pace ensued. We were fortunate to be positioned to help some of our friends along the way. As the fatigue from my disrupted sleep took effect, I focused on the scenery to regain a positive mindset. We covered 24 miles, with 4,100 feet of elevation gain, which peaked at 11,500 feet in 7 hours and 32 minutes.


Day 3 was the longest day. We started to feel more comfortable at the altitude, and were able to achieve good momentum, with more jogging. Around the 10 mile mark I faced my biggest challenge to date. I had pressure soreness and swelling on the top of my left foot where my laces tied. I did a self-check, noting that I had dealt with worse previously. I knew from racing how to hide pain, so I internalized it and pushed on. As long a I could make the stage cut-offs, we would still be able to accomplish our goal. The scenery and terrain provided a welcome distraction, and I switched focus to the outdoors, as had been the original intention. “Stick with the plan.” We covered 24 miles with 2,700 feet of gain in 7 hours and 10 minutes, and were mostly healthy and positive about the stage.


Day 2 had the steepest climb and the highest elevation. We climbed to Hope Pass, known as a feature of the famous “Leadville 100”. Again I found that the altitude was limiting. While it was possible to maintain momentum and pass other people, the few quick steps took my breath away. I stopped to take photos, regaining breath and composure in the process. As Felicity and I made steady progress to Hope Pass, the group surrounding us was very social and encouraging.


Life at the back of the pack involves people working together for the achievement rather than competing against each other.


After some photos at Hope Pass, the steep descent again involved letting people pass us, while keeping in mind the mantra, “Stick with the plan”. Once we finished our steep descent, we were able to jog parts of the lakeside path to the finish of the stage. We covered 13 miles with 3,200 feet of gain, which peaked at over 12,500 feet in 5 hours and 20 minutes, and were healthy to start the next day.


I developed a training plan designed to be as simple as possible: a beginner ultra-marathon plan, which would involve walking the steep parts, jogging the easy parts, and listening to our bodies in between. I planned for an approach that would get us through the 6 days injury-free as we have the Chicago and NYC marathons later in the year. Our trip to Ecuador gave us experience carrying packs uphill and taught us that even slight gradients could be challenging at altitude. We deliberately carried plenty of water as this is how we had trained, and the course guide mentioned there would be days where the refill opportunities would be sparse. In Ecuador and throughout our training, we found that Huma gels and Clif Organic Energy Food pouches worked well for us, so we took enough for the week.


Two weeks before we left for Colorado we hit a major challenge. Felicity’s foot hurt to walk on after a training session. This could cost us a few weeks of event-specific preparation and dictate an amendment to our event goals. We doubled-down on rehabilitation leading up to the race and luckily her foot was OK to start. During the pre-event activities we met other people who were likely to be at the more social end of the field, which gave us good confidence that we wouldn’t be alone.


Day 1 was tough. The stage is typically dry, dusty, and hot. Overnight rain took care of most of the dust, but the dry air and heat were still factors. The event started with an uphill and the altitude took my breath. I found that we could maintain better momentum with a deliberate walk than by run/walk. Many of the downhill segments had loose surfaces, something I simply hadn’t trained for. I assessed the risk of downhill – including the potential of falling and stress on our quads and IT bands – and decided that a fast walk would be the approach that best matched our preparation and goals. Resisting the temptation to run with people running past us was definitely a challenge. The mantra for the day was “Stick with the plan”. We covered 21 miles with 2,500 feet of gain in 6 hours and 20 minutes, and were healthy to start the next day.


“Stick with the Plan”


At the start of 2015, I decided that I wanted more time on trails and in nature. Soon after, I attended an info session for Transrockies at Finish Line Physical Therapy, and realized that a running vacation, or run-cation as I like to call it, would help me implement this intention. Throughout 2015 I have implemented my ‘Lifestyle Athlete’ plan, which gradually built up to Transrockies as a run-cation. I entered to run as a team with my wife, Felicity


Overall, the event was a great experience. We made many new memories and friends. There are plenty of encouraging people to chat with towards the back of the pack, and I was able to plan and adapt within the overall plan. I finished the week blister-free with only one soreness concern. I also identified many opportunities for performance improvement, and learned a lot about trail racing and stage racing. We finished healthy and happy because I heeded my mantra – “Stick with the plan”.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Coach Stuart Munro

Coach Stuart Munro details his epic journey over rocky mountains in Colorado – 120 miles and 20,000 ft of elevation gain over 6 days.


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