This Is Why We Do It: TransRockies Run 2023

This Is Why We Do It: TransRockies Run 2023

This Is Why We Do It: TransRockies Run 2023

For those unfamiliar with the TransRockies Run, it’s safe to say it’s unlike any other trail-running race out there. Dubbed “Summer Camp for Big Kids” TRR spans six days, covering 120 miles and 20,000 feet of elevation. It’s challenging, wacky, weird, unpredictable and life-changing for many of those who take it on. But what really sets it apart from other trail running events is its inclusivity. 

Programs like Dawn Patrol ensure those who may need a little extra time on course are able to finish each day. At the same time, organizers, crew and volunteers all work hard to make sure runners feel comfortable to challenge themselves no matter who they are, where they’re from, or their ability.

TRR’s determination to make running accessible is a huge part of why we’ve chosen to be a sponsor. As the Stage 4 sponsor, we’re beyond lucky to support a stage with such a close connection to our mission to help make the outdoors more accessible. Because it’s the only stage that doesn’t change locations, crew and volunteers can use the time they would normally spend packing up, moving and setting up to join racers out on the trail.

Connecting with the community

We believe it’s important to go beyond event sponsorship by connecting with and contributing to the TRR community on a personal level. Each year, we send a pair of runners to the event through our TransRockies Run Team Sponsorship, which is our opportunity to help a deserving team that wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to attend. For 2023, we chose Elaine, Tom and Adam. You can read their inspiring story here. 

Each year, we also give our Associates the opportunity to engage with the TRR community directly. There’s no substitute for being on the ground at inspiring events like TRR, where they can interact with the community, share stories, absorb product feedback and use the gear they are engaged with every day. This year, we put together our largest contingent to date: Austin Corbett, Events & Community Engagement, ran the full six stages while Emily Snelson, Sales Support, and Moonie Le, Finance & Accounting, connected with people at our vendor booth, cheered on runners and ran Stage 4. 

This was Moonie’s first experience at TRR, and while Austin and Emily had been before, they both attended in different roles this year. On their journey, they learned new things about themselves and each other, pushed their limits and connected with others in new and inspiring ways. 

There’s more to TRR than winning

In 2022, our Event and Community Engagement Associate, Austin Corbett, attended TRR to do what he does best (except for maybe running): engage with the community. There, he got his first taste of TRR culture, leaving him eager to return in 2023.

“Last year I was working on the vendor side of things,” recalls Austin. “I’d never been to a stage race before and certainly never seen anything like TRR. Before going, I sat down with Kahtoola Associates Emily and Rory, who have done the race, to try and get the lowdown and a feel for the overall vibe, but even then it was hard to know what to expect. Most days, I would spend time at the vendor tent talking with people about Kahtoola products or running short sections of the course shooting GoPro footage for social media.”

That year, Austin also got his first taste of running TRR Kahtoola Stage 4. Not knowing what to expect, he “quickly realized what TRR was all about and left with a huge appreciation for the race and why people go back year after.” 

So when the opportunity presented itself to go back, this time as a runner, Austin couldn’t pass it up. 

“I think what made me want to come back was really the community aspect of TRR,” he says. “And of course the running. I was curious how it would go and how my body would handle it.”

Austin running through a creek during Kahtoola Stage 4 – Photo: Alex Zauner

Over his six days of racing in 2023, Austin had the opportunity to challenge himself and connect with people in the community in ways only the camaraderie of the trail can foster. 

“I got to spend time with TRR Sponsorship recipients, Elaine and Adam,” recalls Austin. “While we didn’t run together the whole time, I was there to see them finish several times and share that with them. On Stage 6, I ran into the finish with them, and they let me help spread Tom’s ashes, which was really an honor for me.”

On top of reinforcing existing connections, Austin’s time on the trail was an opportunity to develop new ones.

“I think the idea that we’re all in this challenge together really deepens connections between people. For example, I kept leapfrogging with this other runner coming into Vail. He’s 49, soon turning 50, and as we chatted about racing and life, I learned about what a badass runner he is! At 20 years older than me, he’s running just as fast and still doing big things. That was really motivating for me, and I hope I can do the same.

Overall, Austin’s most important takeaway from the race is most people aren’t there to win, they’re there to challenge themselves and support each other along the way.

“On Stage 4, where crew and volunteers get to participate, one of the aid station volunteers was running, and I don’t think she had ever done anything like that before,” he recalls. “When she crossed the finish line, she was in tears. And even though she was the final finisher, there were tons of people waiting to cheer her on, dancing and giving her hugs. For me, those are the most inspiring moments—when people are able to overcome something they probably never thought they could do.”

And what did Austin learn about himself? That his body can handle more than he ever thought possible.

“Two weeks before arriving at TRR, I ran the Tushars 100k in Utah, which was probably the hardest race I’d ever done, but when I got to TRR I felt really good. It was the most I’ve run in a week—which is a very different experience—and I was surprised at how well I was able to do in the race. I was happy with how my body was responding to, not just my training, but eating right, cutting back on alcohol and sleeping well.”

A fresh perspective

Like Austin, our Sales Support Associate and three-time TRR finisher, Emily, had experience with TRR going into 2023. But this year, she had the opportunity to challenge herself and give back in a completely new way.

Emily Snelson at her first TransRockies Run in 2019

“In 2019, I signed up for the first time to celebrate my 40th birthday,” says Emily. “I was a half-marathon girl and had never done anything like TRR before. But the newer you are at it, the more it seems like the TRR community is excited for you. There’s no judgement, just the freedom to be yourself and tackle the event however you feel comfortable. The love and silliness are addictive, and it’s such an incredible production that I kept going back.”

But after running TRR two more times, Emily decided it was time for a change and returned as a Kahtoola representative in 2023. 

“As a runner, I found the support and love at TRR over the years so special,” remembers Emily. “It helped me to believe in myself. Take chances. Grow as a runner. This year was different as we got a chance to get out and celebrate the runners. I loved dressing in costume with Moonie and making runners smile and laugh, some questioning their sanity and whether they were hallucinating. We were thanked for the hugs, high-fives, and cheers and for just being out there! As a runner, it means so much to me to have others dedicating their time to helping us push through those tough moments, and I believe Moonie and I succeeded at giving back.”

During her time cheering on others, Emily couldn’t help but reflect on how the race’s inclusive, supportive atmosphere brings out the best in people.

“There are such incredibly strong and inspiring runners at TRR,” she says. “Two heroes of mine are Judy and Doug. This year, Judy completed her 13th TRR at 70 and Doug completed his 5th or 6th at 83.”

Emily is also stoked to introduce others—including co-workers—to a race that allows them to challenge themselves in their own way and comes with the support of an entire community. 

“I encouraged Moonie to try out Stage 4, and she absolutely crushed it!” says Emily. “It was such a fun experience and emotional run to the finish line with her. It was a great bonding experience for us, and it was awesome to introduce her to this event that’s given me so much. That’s probably one of my favorite memories from this year.”

During her years at TRR, both as a runner and representing Kahtoola, Emily has learned to believe in herself and take chances. 

“It’s also where I discovered my people,” she adds. “The types of people I want in my life, the energy I want to surround myself with. I’m a cheerleader by nature. I love to celebrate people, to encourage and to, hopefully, inspire.”

The first time’s a charm!

Unlike Austin and Emily, Moonie, our Finance & Accounting Associate, came to TRR in 2023 knowing little more about the event than their slogan: “Summer Camp for Big Kids.”

“TRR this year was my first event working for Kahtoola,” says Moonie. “As Associates, we’re encouraged to attend events, so when the opportunity came up, I threw my hat in the ring for TRR. Austin and Emily were very supportive, and my expectation going in was just to work the Kahtoola booth with Emily, build connections and support Austin. Before going, Emily mentioned running Stage 4, but I just thought, ‘Oh sure, maybe I can try and hike it or something.’”

2 female trail runners at the finish line of Kahtoola Stage 4 at the TransRockies Run
Emily and Moonie finishing Kahtoola Stage 4

Working in accounting, Moonie isn’t able to spend a lot of one-on-one time with Kahtoola’s product users, but through her interactions with people at TRR, she began to realize just how much being on the ground at events means to her and to others. 

“A lot of runners didn’t really stop by the booth to buy things,” says Moonie. “Instead, they would come up to us and tell us about how much they love our products and how those products have helped them. One gentleman from Utah even explained to me how MICROspikes saved his life during a race in Alaska, which immediately brought happiness to my heart. Those kinds of stories really solidify for me why I love working for Kahtoola—because we make products that we all really believe in.”

But Moonie’s time at TRR wasn’t all work!

“We only worked the booth for three out of six days,” she recalls. “We spent one day cheering Austin on, and then one day Emily and I dressed up in costumes and went out on the course to cheer on runners.”

Moonie spent the other day on Stage 4. Because she considers herself a beginner trail runner, she was initially hesitant about running a full 15-mile stage through the Colorado Rockies. 

“I run with my husband, but we probably do less than 5 miles twice a week,” she notes. “Emily also has a fun track running practice every Tuesday she’s encouraged us to attend, but the track is completely different from trail running. The longest run I’ve done is 18 miles in the Grand Canyon, which was a mix of running and hiking.”

But with some encouragement and inspiration from Emily, as well as the TransRockies community, she decided to jump in and give it a try.

“Emily was there to motivate me when I started to doubt myself. When I told her I thought I would need to leave early with Dawn Patrol, she convinced me it wasn’t necessary, I just had to trust in my ability. Then I got talking to Erin McConnell, TransRockies President Aaron McConnell’s wife, and she thought I’d be able to do it in under five hours, telling me, ‘Moonie, you can totally do this!’ Erin was so sweet and personable, and that really helped. So I decided to give it a try.”

As Moonie puts it, she was “living in her head” early on in the race, but as the day progressed, things began to improve. 

“Emily was running with me, and I think we were last on the course—even behind the sweepers—but she kept encouraging me to set a goal of just getting in front of them,” says Moonie. “And once we passed the sweepers, the goal was to catch up to the last pack of runners, then the middle pack, and we did! From there, I started to gain traction and crushed it on the uphill, thanks to those Grand Canyon miles. I was lucky to have Emily on this journey with me. She’s an amazing runner and was there to pace me and encourage me the whole time. After four and a half hours, we made it to the finish line at Mango’s where I broke down crying. It was really emotional for me!”

Among other things, Stage 4 gifted Moonie one of her biggest takeaways from TRR: there’s value in not overthinking things.

3 trail runners - Austin, Emily and Moonie at the finish of Kahtoola Stage 4 at the TransRockies Run
Austin, Emily and Moonie at the finish of Stage 4

“An experience doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful,” she says. “I don’t need to be perfect, I don’t need to be an elite athlete to go on these adventures. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, running is for everybody. It’s about being happy in what you’re doing, and you just need to start somewhere.”

And she’s hard-pressed to pick one favorite experience from her time at “Summer Camp for Big Kids.”

“Every moment was like a different color in a rainbow. Together, they created this beautiful picture in my mind. From interacting with other runners and vendors to getting to hear, and be part of, so many incredible, inspirational stories. Of course, I had highs and lows. It was exhausting at times, and there were moments when I thought, ‘I don’t think I can put on another costume!’ But the thing I learned about TRR is when you have a low moment, there’s always going to be someone there to help pick you up. And I love that.” 

And, if all goes according to plan, Moonie will be back to run all six stages of TRR, just like Austin did.

“Next year my husband and I are both turning 30, and I think he would love TRR as much as I did. If we could run it together for our birthdays, that would be so special.”

There’s no substitute for showing up

Like all of the runners, sponsors, volunteers and crew who make the pilgrimage to TRR each year, Emily, Austin and Moonie each had different reasons for being there in 2023. But, like those who choose to accept the challenge of trying something new, they came away enriched by the experience. And, as a result, Kahtoola as a whole has been enriched as well.