So Much More Than Running

Wow. I don’t even know where to start when describing TransRockies™ Run. It’s such an absolutely amazing experience that one cannot put into words. It’s one of those moments in life where you have to experience it yourself to understand the excitement and awesomeness of this event.

But if I were to start somewhere, I think the only way I can describe TRR is from the beginning of my running life two years prior. I still remember this day clearly. I woke early in the morning to take a short walk to clear my mind. Being a rancher my whole life, running was nothing new, so I decided to run home. Once I got to the intersection, I decided it would be my turnaround point, which was roughly half a mile. Looking back now, I hadn’t the slightest idea a whole new world was about to open up—all from a morning walk turned run.

After I completed my run that day, I decided to do it again the next, and after a week straight I decided to fully commit. The weekly miles got longer, and by the end of the month, I decided to sign up for my first trail half marathon. I went into it with zero knowledge or experience about races. Also, I had never attended a race, not even as a spectator.

Pre-race sign-in was a bit of a scary experience, but also very exciting. That was the day I finally saw what real runners looked like. Up to that point, I had no idea what a runner should wear, eat, or even what gear to bring, but deep down I didn’t care because I knew the most vital parts about a race: running and determination. In hindsight, it wasn’t the smartest idea to do a race with less than a month of training. My mind was more ambitious than my body. That’s where I suffered my first running injury—stress fractures. But that was also the day I got my first taste of what the trail running community was like and got hooked as if it was a drug.

Eli running in the canyons near his home on the Navajo Reservation.

Within a couple months after, my injury had healed, I found myself running again, but this time determined to do better and start investing more into training and gear. Being a rancher and constantly working outdoors, you learn through years of experience to use the right tool for the job. There’s never a universal tool, and even if there is, it’s nowhere near as good as having the appropriate tool. It’s no different with running. Every piece of gear has its special purpose, so I had to start investing more and more into gear that would keep me safe and injury free. Eventually, I found myself signing up for all the local trail races, but that only got me so far. I wanted to experience new races, so I found myself driving hundreds of miles throughout the Southwest to do just that, and at times even snuck into a few because I couldn’t afford entry fees, which we all know can be expensive.

Being a rancher also gave me the flexibility to work around my new running life. Every week I would prepare and take care of all the necessary work needed. Once I was done, I would hit the road and run every new trail I could find, and pretty soon I found myself living out of my truck and traveling thousands of miles a month just to run and see the open country.

In my other career as a welder, I traveled all over the country with my father. I always enjoyed our long drives to get to work, and often I would look at mountains and major landscapes that stood out, always curious about what was on top or on the other side, and if there were trails that could get you there. I kept mental notes of all these places. Years later, after I started dedicating a lot of my time to running, I went back and ran as much of them as I could. With most of my money going to gas, I never ate out, all my food came from a grocery store, and I slept in the back of my truck. If that isn’t the definition of a “dirtbag” then I don’t know what is. If you’re passionate about something, you’re going to find a way to do what you love, no matter what it takes. I was passionate about the outdoors and running, and it became my new lifestyle.

Eli with his dog, Tractor, looking out over the Colorado Plateau.

Eventually, about a year went by of living this lifestyle on the road and running. One of the greatest things about traveling are the people you meet along the way. Along my journey, I’ve met some of the best people who’ve became great friends, one of whom introduced me to Kahtoola. I had no idea what “Kahtoola” was and didn’t know they were based so closely to my home on the Navajo Reservation. From the very beginning, I knew they would be a great company to work with—not many companies are willing to invite a regular athlete and listen to stories about their dirtbag running life.

Months later, they asked if I’d be interested in doing TransRockies™ Run. Up to that point, I thought TRR was an event only for top athletes because of the pricey entry fee. I was hesitant on giving an answer and asked them to give me some time to think about it, because I was nowhere near being a top athlete and was still recovering from an injury. But I also I thought to myself, I might be able to do well the first couple days, but running all out for six days in a row and over 120 miles is way too much. So, I arranged for a second meeting.

I told them, “If you’re looking for a good top athlete to send and expect them to shoot for the podium every day, that isn’t me.”

They responded with one of the greatest replies I could have expected. “No. We want to send you to enjoy yourself and just have fun.”

I was sold with that reply and responded with a “heck yeah, I’ll go then!”

Still, I had no idea what TRR entailed, even after all the research I had done. I thought it was a competitive wake up-eat-run-eat-sleep kind of race, but it’s way more than that. It’s literally a vacation for trail runners.

The day before the start of TRR, having done dozens of races through the Southwest, I got to the event for race briefing and bib pick up. At first, I was in awe of the amazing view of the Colorado Rockies, and the scenario didn’t feel much different than any other race. But 15 minutes into opening ceremonies, my thoughts completely changed. I listened to the commentator, race director, sponsors and other runners, and thought to myself, Wow, this is much more than just a race. I immediately had a whole new thought: These are my kind of people.

Many of the runners were veterans of the event, so a lot of them had already known each other from previous years. Me being the new guy and not knowing anyone, the amazing people of TRR made me feel very welcomed. Within just a couple days, I felt as if I’d known the entire TRR community for years. Every day was filled with excitement, great conversation, and you always looked forward to what’s ahead or just around the corner. It was always something new and interesting—especially for me, because up to that point my life was pretty much dedicated around running. Most would dedicate their run around work, but running was my life, and my days were planned according to my runs.

From start to finish, there was never a dull moment at TRR. I think the only part that’s not enjoyable is the last day. That’s when everyone starts heading home and you say your goodbyes—a bittersweet day, but also a happy one knowing you made some great friends and lasting memories while enjoying what you all love the most: running amongst nature. It can be argued that any run through nature is a great one, and I agree. But to do it with so many strangers who all love it just as much as you do is a whole different feeling. Every runner or person at TRR has an amazing background and story, and to be able to share that with them was incredible.

Eli holding the Navajo Nation flag at the 2019 TransRockies™ Run finish.

TransRockies™ Run felt as if I were in a library. Every book on the shelves represents a person, and every single one is unique, full of knowledge and stories, and none of them are the same. It is much more than just a race. It’s about learning new knowledge, caring, nature, compassion and much more.

We learn so much through traveling. It’s where we experience new things, languages, cultures, careers and lifestyles. But, most importantly, it’s through these experiences that we learn to appreciate each other and show respect for our differences and opinions.

If there was any time this year that we need to respect each other more—especially amongst this pandemic and chaos—it’s now. TransRockies™ Run gave me a bit of everything, and it was definitely a learning experience where I learned about so much more than running.

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