With our wake up being generally by 6am it was damn cold in the mornings and I would try to get dressed for the run in my sleeping bag and then pile on as much clothes as possible to walk over to the breakfast tent. The sun started to peak out over the mountains by 7-7:30 and I would wait as long as possible before discarding my clothes and doing a little warm up before the 8am start.
Steve looking a little chilly after breakfast
Stage 4 started with a gradual uphill on a dirt road that we had come down at the end of Stage 3 to the finish. I was starting to get used to the same issues I would have at the start of every stage. I always felt like garbage! It took me such a long time to get into it...usually about 4 or 5 km till I would finally start to feel better. Come to think about it...I think I start every race i've ever done pretty much feeling the same way...it always takes me a while to warm up and get going so the first 20 mins or so are usually rough. I think it was worse at Transrockies though as I could really feel the cold air on my lungs at the start of each day making it harder to breath as well as the altitude.
Anyhow, finally I started to feel better and got into a pretty good rhythm as the route turned from road to trail and we started to go up. I was surprised and thankful to find it was mostly runable stuff with limited walking and not like Stage 2 where we immediately started fast hiking. Each day we continued to find ourselves running with the same teams around us and it was fun to chat with some of them along the way.
At one point we were running with Dean Karnazes and his partner Helen Cospolich (another top ultrarunner) from Team North Face. As we finished so close to them the previous day and were not far back from them in the overall standings, I really wanted to stick with them or beat them today! Dean seemed to be struggling a bit and was farther back with me while Helen is simply a powerhouse and was running up farther ahead with my brother. I'm running along minding my own business and slowing down over this steeper section when Dean comes along and puts his hand on my back and pushes me up over this hump. I laughed and said thanks I needed that! Steve turns around laughs and says "oh no, does that mean I have to reciprocate?" and then does the same thing to Helen. It was pretty funny and helped take my mind off of the task at hand!
Dean dropped back farther and I continued on while Helen slowed to wait for him. I'm pretty happy we're making some time up on them when after a while I turn back and see that she has strapped the tow rope on him and is towing him up the hill...and is gaining on us. WTF?! She is a machine! Even if Steve was feeling like crap there is no way I would ever have been able to tow him! They tow on past us while Dean happily comments "it's like I have my own personal sherpa!". While many teams used the towing system...I really didn't want to go there and told Steve I wanted to do this thing on my own as much as I can. Maybe if we were in contention to win the whole thing then I would have thought about it more.
The last couple of miles to the top became STEEP....straight up...and I was bent far forward pushing off my knees with my hands trying to "power hike" up this thing. Steve helped in the really tough spots and would push me from behind to get my legs moving quicker and I was thankful as I was starting to slow down. The crazy thing was that this was some type of dirt 4 wheel drive road but have no idea how anything could drive up here and why they would have ever made it this way! A little further up we actually passed one of the jeeps from Nova Guides with aid station supplies in an interesting position...not sure if it was stuck or maybe the drivers didn't want to attempt to drive it any further up.
Finally we bust out at the top of this climb and get to run along an amazing ridge for a while with absolutely spectacular views. In a race I have a habit of not taking the time to check out the view around me...plus i've been known to fall and am always looking down so I don't trip over stuff. I look up all around me and immediately get a boost in spirits as it's pretty breathtaking up on this ridge as we run along at around 11,500 ft. We got to see several 14,000+ foot mountains including Mount of the Holy Cross, Mount Elbert and Mount Massive. We get to Hornsilver Summit and I feel relief as I know the rest of the run is entirely downhill...awesome!
Running for a long long period downhill is not as easy as it sounds though...especially when your legs are cooked from previous days of running with lots of descending. Steve and I could feel it in our quads pretty quick and my legs were getting more and more tired as I tried to keep up with his fast ass flying down. I knew towards the end there was to be a few river crossings which I generally hate as often they lead to blisters for me or make existing blisters worse with having wet feet.
We managed to avoid the first one by running up the embankment and around but then I came to the next one which was kind of unavoidable. I should have just said screw it and run right through it but decided I would try and keep my feet dry as long as I could as I had a pretty giant heel blister going on and really wasn't keen on getting it wet. So I tried to step on the bigger rocks that were sticking out of the water. I step up on the last one to climb up out of the river but it's wet and I slip off and go down HARD on my hip. Instantly I yelled out in pain (with a few choice words) and Steve stopped, asked if I was ok and was freaked as he thought I had hurt my knee pretty bad. I didn't even realize I had hit my knee even though it was bleeding as my hip hurt so much. I started trotting a bit with frequent cursing and finally the pain started to go away. That or the fact that I had to run down a river bed for the next half a mile took my mind off the pain. I was taking it pretty slow because I really didn't want to fall again on all of these wet rocks and the pain from the cold water on my feet hurt so bad. Eventually I couldn't feel my feet and when we were back on the dry path it was pretty painful running with them so numb.
At this point i'm really wanting this day to end as i'm pretty tired and am feeling beat up. We have about 5km to go downhill on a dirt road which I like as I don't have to think or pay attention to my footing so much. We pick up the pace and end up passing two mens teams during this time and really don't want them to catch us or any other mixed team to pop up out of nowhere and pass us at the end so we keep increasing the pace. Just like the previous stage we end the last couple of miles at a pretty sick pace close to 6 min/miles and are both left wondering where the heck this energy is coming from. We cruise in to beautiful Red Cliff satisfied with our 4th place finish in a time of 2:30:56.
Steve and I finishing up Stage 4!