Stage 5 report: another hot day in the mountains

Stage 5 Report
Red Cliff-Vail

23.6 Miles/4100 feet climbing

Any thought of bad weather for Stage 5 disappeared overnight with all the clouds and the runners gathered at the start line in Red Cliff under crystal clear skies. As soon as the sun cleared the surrounding mountains, the temperature began to soar and it was clear that a long hot day in the sun lay ahead.

Stage 5 is considered to be the “Queen Stage” of the GORE-TEX™ TransRockies Run and it takes runners high over Vail Mountain from the famous back bowls, across the China Wall and down a nearly 3000 vertical foot descent to the finish line at Golden Peak. After a hectic Stage 4 which saw Team Run Flagstaff retake first place and Team Bend’s Ryan Bak spill and bloody his ribs, Stage 5 promised to be another tough battle across the top of the Rockies with two significant passes and lots of singletrack along the way.

One of the more technical pieces of trail is Bowman’s Shortcut which was built and used by the soldiers at Camp Hale, training ground of the 10th Mountain Division who used this trail as a shortcut to the lights and action in Vail and Minturn. Hiking 20 miles over an 11000ft pass to get to a bar? Those guys really wanted a beer.

The runners who took on the 2011 TransRockies Run were thinking of any cold beverage as they hit the top of Vail Mountain under clear skies and a baking sum and the resources of the medical crew were supplemented by a large slip and slide and super soakers at the finish line to help cool over 250 runners down after most had spent five hours or more on the trails.

After taking the overall lead with a maximum intensity attack on Stage 4, Team Run Flagstaff weren’t going to take their foot off the gas pedal and they surged on the first climb up Shrine Pass and never looked back. By the time they reached the finish line Mike Smith and Jason Wolfe had opened up a big lead which grew at each of the three checkpoints. They crossed the line in a scorching 2:55:25, 20 minutes faster than the winning time in 2010 and over 13 minutes ahead of the second-placed Team Salomon. Running with injuries sustained on Stage 4, Ryan Bak of Team Bend gamely hung on with teammate Max King to hold onto second place overall. With a 15 minute overall lead going  into the final stage, they can run defensively and safely as they try to wrap up the overall win.

On this long day, there were few changes in the overall standings as survival became more of a priority than competition. With the finish just one day away, risks were forsaken for smart, safe race strategy. After three nights sleeping at over 9500 feet above sea level, even the air at Vail’s 8000’ elevation feels richer and thicker. That, warmer temperatures and a BBQ feast from Gourmet Cowboy catering should allow runners to get a final good night’s sleep in preparation for Stage Six and the run to the finish line in Beaver Creek.

Vail-Beaver Creek
23.6 miles/5000 ft climbing

In 2011, the TransRockies Run saves some real sting for the last day of the race with a 23.6 mile route to Beaver Creek which includes 5000 feet of climbing three major climbs and numerous smaller ones as the runners make their way  down the steep-sided valley to the finish line at Beaver Creek. After five straight clear, hot days, many runners would welcome the break from the heat that some overnight rain seems to promise. One more very touch stage remains before the remaining TransRockies Runner get to call themselves “finishers”.

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