No one ever said love is easy. It’s all about teamwork, communication and compromise. So perhaps the best way to build a lasting relationship is to push it to the brink. Funny...that's also a great way to get in shape for ski season. Enter the Gore-Tex TransRockies race, a six-day, 120-mile team trail run that starts in Buena Vista, Colo., and ends in Beaver Creek. Inspired by the TransAlpine race—an eight-day event that takes pairs of runners from Germany to Italy—TransRockies isn’t for the faint of heart or weak of feet.
“Runners typically have one marathon under their belt,” says Aaron McConnell, President of TransRockies. What started out six years ago with 100 runners has now grown to around 300. “Not everyone can do an event like this,” says Gore’s Cynthia Amon. “Whether running to win or running to finish, these people are masters of the extreme.”
But perhaps more important than endurance is tolerance—teams of two run, eat and camp together (with little time for anything else) for six straight days. “Most [runners compete] with someone they know,” says McConnell, “though we do have people who meet online and pair up based on running ability. It’s kind of like online dating.” Amon adds: “We see it all, from fathers and daughters to spouses. Some teams get engaged at the starting line and some even get married at the finish line.” Talk about in good times and in bad.
While runners spend the daytime pitted against their opponents, nighttime brings a relaxed, social vibe. Volunteer crews set up the campsites and greet runners with prepared meals and massages at day’s end. “It’s a relaxed, casual atmosphere,” says McConnell. “It’s a very social and inclusive environment. Some people come just for the social aspect.”
“It is a life-changing experience,” says Amon. “You build this community over the six-day journey. People aren’t sure they can do it, and the sense of accomplishment when they do…it changes their lives.”
SKI caught up with two-time TransRockies duo, Allison and John Pattillo—who have also been married for 18 years—to learn what makes a great partnership and how to cover 120 miles without filing for divorce.
SKI: What made you decided to do the TransRockies Run?
John: It represented a new challenge that we could tackle together. In 2009 we volunteered for the finish line setup in Beaver Creek, and I think seeing it from that perspective reeled us in.
Allison: Plus, volunteering at the finish was hugely inspirational and emotional and we wanted to be part of it.
SKI: Have you done anything like this before?
John: Not as a couple. I've done a few Iron Man triathlons and other endurance events but nothing as a married team.
Allison: We had trained for and run a few marathons together and were on the same team for a 24-hour ski mountaineering race (John's had a LOT of concussions and doesn't always remember such things), but not for anything this long.
SKI: What made you decide to be partners in the race?
John: There was nobody else that I wanted to spend that kind of personal time with. Forget about the running, I just didn't want to share a tent with anyone else for a week.
Allison: Over the course of a week, you experience such highs and lows, we found it best to do that with someone you know really well. Our daughters want to do the race, and we would gladly partner with each of them.
SKI: What qualities should partners have for this race?
John: Compatible goals. It really doesn't matter how fast either of you is; but you should both feel good pursuing the same goal together. The only way to be sure that it’s a positive experience is to manage expectations from the start.
Allison: Knowing each other is a benefit, but teams who had never met before the race seemed to have a lot of fun as long as they had shared expectations. It's critical that people are honest about their strengths and weaknesses and communicate that to their partner. If you say you love running uphill when really you hate it, your race will be over before it even begins.
SKI: How important is communication throughout the race?
John: Clearly it’s a big part of it. Allison and I communicate very differently, no surprise there. I tend to talk a lot and try and get things off my chest, whereas Allison is a bit more stoic and reserved. You have to be aware of these tendencies so that the simple communication differences don't create problems.
Allison: Being able to communicate without speaking is critical when you are using all your energy on the course. We both start strong; I suffer in the middle and John often struggles toward the end. Knowing this, we’re able to help each other pull through rough patches. Plus, keeping track of yourself and your teammate with regard to food, hydration and blisters or tight muscles is important.
SKI: Was this a test for your relationship?
John: As great a race as this is and as big a hurdle as it may represent, I feel that we are a ways beyond letting an athletic event determine the outcome of our relationship. It is easy to say that now because we had such positive experiences together.
Allison: I agree. As demented as it sounds, this was our vacation, and we had a blast. Plus, this event is so well done; you have the opportunity to meet amazing, like-minded people from all over the world. The time running was great time spent together, and then you have fun eating with and hanging out with others. Any team needs breathing room and you are able to get all you want, plus good food, massages, and socializing and time together.
SKI: Did you learn anything new about each other while doing the race?
John: I don't think I learned anything new, but maybe it cemented some feelings that I hadn't actually expressed. Allison is one tough lady to be able to do a race like the GTTR as a mom to two great daughters and manage a successful freelance career - wow.
Allison: I wasn't doing anything John doesn't already do. Since having kids, we've both done so much stuff apart, it was just really nice to be able to do it together and be there for each other during the great moments and the crappy ones.
SKI: What was the most difficult part of the race to get through?
John: It is day three for me. Every inch of your body is screaming NO, but you push through. After that I think you resign yourself to the fact that you may have to run forever, so it’s ok.
Allison: The first year, getting up each morning and realizing you had to go run all over again was tough to grasp. But, by last year, you realize that's all you have to do.... no work, no laundry, no cleaning, no kids.... it’s actually liberating.
SKI: Was there any point in the race when you thought you wouldn’t make it?
John: The 2011 race was a challenge from the start. I had ridden the Continental Divide Mountain Bike trail the week before the race. I was exhausted and my electrolytes were wonky. I passed out on day one of the race and had to be helped off course. We took a penalty and kept moving. Finally, two days later, I started running well again. Then, on the last day, Allison tripped and really injured her arm. It turned out to be a serious hematoma, but at the time the instant swelling made us think it was probably broken. Somehow we were able to push through both of these incidents and keep going to the finish.
Allison: John passing out was terrifying. There was my husband and the father of my children lying on the side of the trail, but if one of us didn’t finish that day’s run, we’d be disqualified. So, after plenty of assurances from the medic that John would be fine, I left him in good care and kept running. He met me at the finish line that day. Those were long, lonely miles wondering if I had done the right thing.
John: That is the beauty of a race like this; when one partner is down, the other can potentially lift them up to perform better.