Stage 1Buena Vista to Railroad Bridge—20.6 miles
- Total Elevation Gain: 3029 feet
- Total Elevation Loss: 2703 feet
- Starting Elevation: 7939 feet
- Finish Elevation: 8265 feet
- Average Grade: 4.8 percent
I woke to a cool, crisp Colorado morning in Buena Vista and packed my bags, separating what I needed for the race from what would be stored until the finish. The amazing support crew would be working day and night to set up and take down the competitor tents, transport our baggage and cook our meals as the event made its way to Beaver Creek.
To say I was nervous toeing the line at the start of the race is an understatement. I knew I was well trained, but the altitude is a wildcard: it can play havoc on even the most seasoned mountain runner. Combine this with epic climbs and mammoth descents, and I couldn't be sure how my body would react.
Stage One was the second longest leg of the race, but as it snaked along at the lowest altitude, I hoped it would be gentle. As I began to make friends with the foreign terrain, my anxiety quickly dropped away. I was mesmerized by the desert-like mountain scenery that greeted me at every switchback. You can't see this in a plane, train or automobile; this view could only be earned with my own two feet.
I ran conservatively the first day, respecting the altitude, and trying to concentrate on the fact that I had two more days of racing ahead. The narrow single-track trail wove through the high desert and wide-open terrain, leaving competitors at the mercy of the heat and sun. Although I was challenged by the onset of long hills, the heat seemed mild as it lacked the humidity I'd trained in. I let the trail's grade dictate my pace, running most of the flat and downhill sections and power walking the significant inclines.
Conversations with nearby runners sprung up like tulips in springtime, and I soon realized running in the solo division wouldn't mean running alone. Ultra running is a social sport and one that invites new friendships and unites kindred spirits.
I finished the first stage in the middle of the pack. I quickly made my way to the river for a natural ice bath to help decrease the inflammation in my tired legs. I made even more friends while soaking. It was only day one and I felt like I'd known these people for years. I was strangely at home in the most unfamiliar of places.
Stage 2Vicksburg to Twin Lakes—13.5 miles
- Total Elevation Gain: 3617 feet
- Total Elevation Loss: 4062 feet
- Starting Elevation: 9660 feet
- Finish Elevation: 9214 feet
- Average Grade: 10.4 percent
Stage Two was deceptively short in distance, but packed a punch with its brutal climb above the tree line to the highest point in the race at 12, 534 feet (roughly ten times the height of the Empire State Building).
This stage was vastly different than the first and would test my skills on technical rocky terrain. The medical team warned us that the weather could change in an instant, and we were required to pack a shell, hat and gloves for safety. My breathing became more labored with every step, and the temperature dropped over 20 degrees.