Bundled up and knowing that we would be peeling off the layers within the first 20 minutes we started our initial trek out of Red Cliff with a very subtle climb. This was our warm-up to get us ready for the brutal and unforgiving 11 miles of climbing to checkpoint one. There was no approach to the climb this morning as we climbed from the start line. The elite runners ran the entire course while the rest of the pack settled into spurts of running where possible mixed in with power hiking. The air was thin and talking was minimal. You could feel the weariness beginning to take its toll on the runners. We encouraged one another as we could and continued to march forward looking for some downhill relief.
After checkpoint one we jumped on some of the most beautiful singletrack we have run this week. We were surrounded with thick evergreen trees with intermittent epic views of the Gore Range through the trees. The beautiful rolling singletrack soon gave way to a steep final pitch that we were all confident was the end of the climbing. But much to our chagrin as we left the forest we found ourselves at the base of one of Vail’s famous back bowls. It was then that we knew that more climbing was to be had. The climb was relentless and forced us to literally push our thighs into the dirt with our hands to forge up.
All of you skiers out there you know Vail’s back bowls as long wide-open runs that you take from top to bottom. Our experience was quite different. Ours was just an endless march of switchbacks to the Peak of Vail Mountain and checkpoint two. From checkpoint two we made a 9.5-mile rolling decent into Vail Village. The descent took us down an unpaved road for 9 miles and the last .5 was back to technical, narrow singletrack that eventually dumped us out at the base of Vail’s famous VistaBahn lift.
Five days in and this was the first day that we both started to feel the fatigue. It was a long day for the legs with 80-plus miles in them in the last four days. No matter where you finished today, front, middle or back, we all felt the accumulation of elevation and miles. We walked our weary muscles to the Steadman Hawkins mobile medical clinic and received blister care and some much-needed stretching.
On the Diabetic front, today was the first day that I felt I had a “diabetic” day on course. One of the frustrating things about this disease is you can replicate the same nutritional strategy every day but realize different outcomes. The last two hours of our run today was a struggle to keep my energy stabilized. Based on my blood glucose readings post-race, I was in a low blood glucose state. Post-race recovery has been slow today. With day six looming and over 4,600 feet of climbing, the most of all six stages, I had better get it figured out quickly.
There is no question that our bodies are ready to be finished but the week has been incredible. Not only have we performed well beyond our expectations, but we have truly enjoyed the journey to get here and the entire experience. The staff has been so supportive of us, as have the elite athletes and sponsors of the race. Day six will take us to the base of Vail Mountain, where we finished stage five. We will climb our way to Beaver Creek and end at the Beaver Creek Resort. We can feel it and see it. What a ride.