Last week was anything but routine for Billy Brown. From August 21 to 26, he was competing in the TransRockies Run, a trail running race over forest roads and singletrack from Buena Vista to Beaver Creek, Colorado. Brown planned to run the six-day event with his partner, Kevin Fonger, covering 120 miles and 25,000 feet of elevation gain. Instead, he had to pull out after the third day with a pulled hamstring after 58 miles and 8,600 feet of elevation gain, the course for the solo 3-day event. Mountain caught up with Brown while he was recovering at home in California to talk about preparing for the race, tricky terrain and camaraderie on course, and tips on nutrition and gear.
Why did you want to run the TransRockies and how did you prepare?
I’ve done marathons before, but I thought 120 miles through the mountains would be a lot more epic. I committed and then got totally intimidated. I’ve been doing a lot of singletrack and getting used to really gnarly stuff. The only thing I couldn’t prepare for was the altitude, because I live at 500 feet, so that was the part that really freaked me out. [On the TransRockies] you get to about 12,500 when you summit Mount Hope. But I had no altitude sickness, no nothing. I got fatigued quicker, but you can push through that.
Was the TransRockies more of a physical or a mental challenge for you?
There was definitely a mental intimidation to it. I’d think, okay, five more days of this and I’m exhausted already. But the trick was just to finish that one run and get to the finish. [At camp] I would try to just shut down completely and relax the entire night. Then the next day you’d have to be up all over again.
What was the terrain like for TransRockies?
The terrain was gnarly. The majority of us were just fast hiking up it—or slow hiking, as the case may be. But what was really crazy was the descents, because they get you on a lot of singletrack. If you lose control or get your speed up too fast, you bomb. I’d see a lot of people coming in with bloody knees—it seemed like half the people coming in had a dripping knee. Even one of the winners, he broke his big toe and took a digger and had to get stitches in his hip. It was awesome. Their team got second place in the men’s open.
What worked for you in terms of nutrition?
I would point out salt tabs, like a salt stick or something like that. I’m a big salter when I sweat, so the first day I didn’t take anything in for the first two hours and I cramped for the last three hours. Then somebody hooked me up with a bunch of salt sticks and I was fine. Nutrition-wise, keep eating and keep drinking. That’s an easy thing to neglect, because you get intimidated and want to run and not stop, but eating is just as important as all your training.
For TransRockies, I went minimal because we were sleeping in tents the whole time. So I brought all this lightweight stuff because I heard we just get a duffel and that’s all we have. Well, the duffels are enormous—Kevin had an air mattress, a full-size pillow, and a thirty-degree bag. I had this self-inflating pad. I was freezing while this sucker in the tent is sleeping in total luxury. Don’t worry about bringing too much for the TransRockies because there is room for luxury. At the beginning of the day you just pack up your stuff, and they move it to the next location.
What was your experience like in terms of camaraderie between competitors?
It was exact opposite of what I thought it would be. I was ready to be intimidated, and everybody was amazingly cool—from the pros that were winning it to the walkers at the end, it was like a big family. There’s a lot of mutual respect, because no matter what your level is, everybody knows that you’re going through the same thing. It really did feel like summer camp. You’re making friends from all over the world, and on the last day everyone’s got their phones out and they’re getting names and addresses. —Olivia Dwyer