Mark Pinales took on the Under Amour TransRockies Run, a multi-day point-to-point trail running race across the rugged Rocky Mountains

What happens when a former Longhorn track and cross-country star decides to tackle a serious mountain race? He excels, of course! Mark Pinales, the 2017 3M Half Marathon champ, who ran a speedy 29:32 10K last May at Austin’s Sunshine 10K, took on the Under Amour TransRockies Run, a multi-day point-to-point trail running race across the rugged Rocky Mountains.

Competitors had the choice of racing the three-day, three stage version at 60 miles, or go six days for six stages for 120 miles. Pinales decided to give the three-stage event (August 13-15) a go. Stage 1 started in Buena Vista, Colorado, and covers 22 miles. While lacking the really difficult climbs, it does have an elevation gain of 3,000 feet, which is no joke. Stage 2 starts in Vicksburg, CO, not far from the turnaround of the Leadville Trail 100, covers 13.3 miles, and has an elevation gain of 3,200 feet. Stage 3, by far the toughest, starts in Leadville, CO, and has an elevation gain of—look out—27,000 feet over 24.5 miles before finishing in Camp Hale, about 15 miles from Vail.

Pinales, who trains with Austin-based RAW Running, found out that Under Armour wanted to send some athletes up to the race about one month before the race. It was a very quick turnaround but when he heard about it, he jumped on the opportunity. However, he had to cram in a mighty quick build-up.

“Since I found out about it only a month before I didn’t have much time to train. I was only running 20 or so miles a week,” said Pinales. “I bumped it up to 70 miles and tried to do back-to-back 18 miles to simulate racing as much as possible. I definitely wish I could have done more rigorous trail runs and longer runs with the hydration pack to adjust to that extra weight.

“Adjusting to the trail was very interesting. I had to slow down my pacing considerably and learn how to fuel over an extended period of time,” he added.

During Stage 1, Pinales said that he felt relieved that the altitude wasn’t affecting him at the start of the race. “I was confident and felt strong. However, in hindsight, feeling good and pushing it five miles into a 6-day race is ill advised,” he said.

After hitting a few sub-6 min miles halfway through the 22-mile run, he walked the last 4 miles and saw his 2nd place lead turn into 15th place overall.

Lesson learned. For Stage 2, he was able to regroup and take it easier up to Hope Pass. Pinales walked up that entire hill and then tried to fly down the backside without falling over the edge.

“Easily the most terrifying experience I’ve ever had,” he said. “I got into the woods and started hammering sub-7-minute miles to catch the only 3-day runner ahead.”

The strategy worked as he nailed a first-place stage win and closed the gap.

“After State 2, my quads and back were completely shot,” said Pinales. “I was hobbling around the rest of the day and didn’t know how I was going to manage on day 3.”

No question, Stage 3 was tough. He went in very nervous and with significant with leg and upper body pain.

“Each step I was just focused on not toppling over myself. I was able to get into a groove, but the longer distance took a toll on me around mile 20. I walked a couple miles towards the end and lost my second-place spot as I struggled to climb the last few hills,” said Pinales.

Still, he was rewarded with a fine third-place effort.

“It was such an honor just to finish and take a spot on the podium! I was very excited for the third-place finish. I think that I could have done much better with training and the experience of those distances under my belt,” said Pinales, who plans to race several half marathons this fall, and is planning on another marathon as well.” Note: Michael Morris, the San Marcos High School track and cross-country coach, who won the 3M Half marathon this year took first place in the three-stage event.

Upcoming Races: Saturday, August 31 at 8:00 a.m., Labor Day 5K/10K Dash at San Gabriel Park in Georgetown. Saturday, August 31 at 8:00 a.m. Oatmeal Festival Run for your Oats 3.3 Miler in downtown Bertram.