Stage 6 Report: Vail-Beaver Creek/ 21.4 miles/ 4607 feet climbing
Often, the last day of a stage race is a formality as the winning teams are usually decided long before the last stride is taken. The 2009 GORE-TEX® TransRockies Run flipped that on is head with a dramatic last day which saw the leads on both the Open Men’s and Women’s races in serious jeopardy. The route for Stage 6 covered a gruelling 21.4 miles from Vail to Beaver Creek Resort and included over 4600 feet of climbing including a final last 700’ grunt up to the finish line in the exclusive surroundings of Beaver Creek Resort.
While the distances are not extreme for elite runners, the relentless pace and difficulty of the TransRockies Run course began to tell after five mostly hot and dusty days high in the Colorado Rockies. Team RunFlagstaff had been the dominant men’s team since Day 1 of the race but Robert Krar had begun to suffer from cramps and seizing in his hip and back and would have likely quit the race unless there was a lead to defend.
On stage 6, the hip flared up and he was forced to spend time on his back during the stage until it loosened up enough to continue. It didn’t help that the third-placed team, The Two Joes (Adam Campbell and Aaron Heidt) blazed away from the start line in a death or glory attempt to take the final stage. They dropped their last remaining competitors at checkpoint 1 and kept the throttle pinned to cross the finish line in 2:53:32, almost six minutes ahead of the second-placed Team Nike Rogue Valley Running and over 7 minutes ahead of Team RunFlagstaff who fought through the pain to hold onto their overall win. Near the end of the stage, Aaron Heidt asked his teammate Adam Campbell when he decided that they were going to run that hard on Stage 6: “Last night, but I didn’t tell you because I knew you’d say ‘no way’” was the answer.
In the women’s division Team Salomon/La Sportiva (Caitlin Smith/Devon Crosby-Helms) held onto their overall lead despite the surging performance of the North Face Girls (Kami Semick/Nikki Kimball) who raged through the last stage to take seven minutes out of their nine minute deficit in taking the win. All they could do was watch the clock as minute after minute ticked by before Smith and Crosby-Helms appeared on the last downhill and crossed the line as champions. The gap was big enough and they had battled enough through Stage 6 that they waited for confirmation from the officials that they had maintained their lead before they allowed themselves to celebrate at the finish line.
The finish line of the GORE-TEX® TransRockies Run is a very special place. The full kaleidoscope of emotions is on display–from laughter and hugs to tears, to agony for those runners who have used up their last reserves to get to the line. Runners hang out waiting for old and new friends to finish so that they can share the moment as they have shared the efforts of the previous week on the trails and in the TransRockies village which supports them every day. It’s common for runners to describe the TransRockies Run as “summer camp for adults”: free from the day to day obligations of their regular lives, they play in the mountains every day and then share downtime with their campmates and the staff who support them. And like summer camp, the end is bittersweet as everyone goes back home with the adventure done for another year.
The final banquet to be held Friday night in Beaver Creek will be a celebration of the spirit and endurance of the over 250 athletes who took 113 miles of high, hard Rocky Mountain running and overcame mountains, creek crossings and adversity along the way. It might have felt like an eternity, but it was just the run of their lives.