At dinner after Stage 4 there was lots of talk about the two stages that remained. They were both super long with the most elevation gain. I found that throughout the race the best thing to do was to just think of the next stage that we had to do and try not to worry about the stages that remained. It definitely helped! So...Stage 5 was to be a big day...the second longest stage and the second highest in elevation gain. Whew...I was a little worried but excited. Generally, I tend to do better with the longer stuff...especially since it takes me so long to get going...so I was looking forward to another day similar to Stage 3.
We took a short shuttle ride back to Red Cliff where we ended Stage 4. It was so cold that morning...I think 28 Fahrenheit they said when we woke up and when we got back to Red Cliff we still had an hour until race start. Luckily Mango's Mountain Grill (known for their world famous fish tacos) had opened it's doors for us runners to hang out in and keep warm for the hour. Steve and I sat on stools at the bar and I was tired. I didn't want to move. I didn't want to think about what we had to do today. I didn't want to go outside and warm up in the freezing cold. Ugh. I was cranky and sore and not looking forward to the day.
I was feeling a little better after warm up and once the race started I went through my usual routine of struggling to breath for 20 mins or so before finally settling into the start of the 10 miles of running uphill that we had to do out of Red Cliff. The day was taking us "up and through the legendary back bowls of Vail Mountain and then down into the village itself". I've heard a lot about Vail and was excited to hang out and spend the day/night there after the stage! We got into a good rhythm and started passing teams and quickly seemed to move into 3rd place for mixed. I was thinking, holy shit, this hasn't happened before...do not get excited...it's so early in the day and you're in 3rd already? We had passed Dean and Helen (Team North Face) early on and I assumed that I would see them again shortly.
The first 8 miles on dirt road seemed to go on forever... and we were both getting cranky and just wanted to get to the first aid station already to fuel and take a bit of a break. Finally we arrived...ate, drank, took some salt pills and were on our way for the remaining 2+ miles of the first big climb on single track and summited Bowman's shortcut trail!! Wahoo! Then we got to enjoy some fun, technical downhill for a while and i started to feel good again.
I knew we had another big climb ahead of us after the downhill ended. Two Elk Pass had a lot of long switch backs and luckily they were mostly all runnable. It was pretty sunny though and I was feeling the heat on the way up. I looked up and was happy to see the second place team...Nike/Gore-Tex not far ahead...I couldn't believe how close they were! That helped to boost my spirits and before we knew it we were at Benchmark summit which was the second aid station...and we were standing there fueling up with Team Nike/Gore-Tex. I was stoked and we had 10 miles to go...all downhill!!
The girl (Julie) from that team left before us and we quickly followed but the guy (Peter) left a little after. Eventually she stopped to wait for him and we continued on...and now were in 2nd place. Steve was running balls out and I couldn't keep up with him but he wasn't getting too far ahead either so I just concentrated on what I was doing and making sure I didn't trip and fall. We were pulling farther ahead from Nike/Gore-Tex and even though we were in 2nd, I would not let myself get excited that we might podium that night. There was still a lot of running to do! I was getting more and more tired and Steve promised me that if we podiumed today that I could walk the whole Stage 6 tomorrow if I wanted. I've gotta say...that was a pretty good incentive! :)
The last aid station came and went and they had caught up to us there. Damn it! We left before them and they did not spend much time there before following us. There was a little over 5 miles to go. I don't think I've ever run so fast or hard in my life as I did during the last 5 miles of this race. They were on our ass and we couldn't shake them. I felt sick and hot and crappy and wasn't sure how much longer I could keep this up.
I would say with about 2 miles to go as we're rounding a turn I hear Julie yell out as she slips on the loose rock and falls. I couldn't help but be relieved because I was really getting tired of them chasing us and didn't think I could hold them off. I didn't dare look back though as I knew it would be the time that I would trip and fall as well. They seemed to start catching up to me again pretty quick and finally we had a little bit of single track to run down to get into Vail. I'm completely out of control and don't know how I didn't wipe out. Steve was already down through it waiting for me and I was all over the trail and just running scared from these guys. I guess this tactic worked as I ended up pulling farther away from them. Steve was waiting for me as I busted out of the single track and he said they were no where in site. We didn't have far to go and we flew through the finish line in 2nd place in 3:59:10...with Team Nike/Gore-Tex crossing about a minute after! It was the most stressful day of racing i've ever experienced and it was AWESOME!!
On a side note...I had also been running almost the entire day scared from Team North Face...Dean Karnazes and Helen Cospolich....always afraid that they were going to catch up to us any second and pass us. That night we found out that they actually had to drop out of the race at the second aid station that day. Dean had fallen in Stage 3 and had cracked a rib. WTF? Guess he finally decided he needed to go to the hospital! I don't know how he managed to still race as much as he did after that but hats off too him.
On the podium!! 3rd place - Team Nike/Gore-Tex (Julie Leasure, Peter Courogen), 1st place - Team Montrail - NSA (Tamsin Anstey, Gary Robbins) , 2nd place - Team Pine Line!
Tent City set up in Vail - ours is at the top of the second R :)
After the crazy downhills of Stage 4, I ended up with a giant blister covering my heel. The awesome guys in the medic tent fixed me by draining it, pumping some zinc oxide in there and bandaging it up. After today's Stage 5 with 10 miles of downhill at the end...the blister was enormous covering my entire heel pad. It was a giant flap of skin that the medic had to completely cut off and told me he'd never seen anything like this. The only thing he could do for me was put on tons of vaseline and wrapped up the whole thing. He literally told me it would hurt like a bitch tomorrow and wished me luck on Stage 6. How nice :)