I joined in a line of competitors as we made our way up steep switchback trails, all of us drawn to unveiling the mystery of the summit. I was filled with gratitude at the top and spent a few minutes taking it all in. What a gift to be able to run in such deep wilderness, while having a safe support system every step of the way.
As I started the descent, I began to silently whisper my mountain running mantra, "slow and steady," willing my tired legs not to slip on the difficult terrain. I ran the bits I felt comfortable on and power hiked the rest, making my way down the steep 10k descent. It is easy to get caught up in the drama of the uphill climbs, however, it is the screaming declines that really punish your legs.
Although it took me over four hours to complete Stage Two, and I had slipped back from my middle of the pack position, I felt empowered by tackling the trails and taming the mountain in my own way.
Stage 3Leadville to Camp—24.3 miles
- Total Elevation Gain: 2737 feet
- Total Elevation Loss: 3662 feet
- Starting Elevation: 10147 feet
- Finish Elevation: 9222 feet
- Average Grade: 10.4 percent
On the morning of Stage Three, just getting up and walking out of the tent felt like a Herculean effort. My legs were sore from the long descent in Stage Two and my gait felt awkward and stiff. I wasn't sure whether I'd be able to run very strongly in the final stage. Although I'd conserved my energy by taking it slow the first days, the impact from the downhill left my quads shot. I couldn't help but think about the Trans-Rockies teams lined up next to me that would only be half way through their journey at my finish line today.
I found solace in the knowledge that the thought patterns of an ultraendurance runner fluctuate greatly while racing. One moment, you can conquer the world, the next you're wondering how you are going to take the very next step. This was my last stage, and I relied on my mind to take the lead and guide my body through the fatigue and pain.
Although it was the longest distance at over 24 miles, it proved to be my favorite leg of the race.
Stage Three started in North America's highest city, Leadville, Colorado. We'd slept through the storms that had rolled in the night before, and the morning was now perfectly sunny and crisp. I took a few photos of the legendary mining town, dropped off my gear bag and toed the line with determined focus.
After only the first few miles, I started to feel that the end was near. I knew that I was going to finish.
The course included two challenging mountain climbs in the first half and ended with a gently rolling descent. I used the first major incline to warm up and find my tempo, and then let loose up the second and final ascent.
It was freeing to run with such conviction. The terrain began to roll more gracefully through shaded trails and meadows, and crossed the Continental Divide at Tennessee Pass. Then the course opened up, and I could see the finish from a mile away. Volunteers came out to cheer, and as I took the final turn, I could almost hear my legs screaming with gratitude.