REI Presents the Mirnavator

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Imagine a trail-running vacation where you are shuttled every day to various trailheads that bring you to wild heights and stunning vistas. Imagine finishing your run or hike, and making your way to a comfortable tent that has already been put up for you. You gather your belongings, unpack what you need for the evening and next morning, and then head over to the humongous truck that has enough hot showers to help you and all of your buddies wash off all the dirt and sweat accumulated during your journey that day.

And then, once you’re all squeaky clean and warm and not smelling like the wet fur of the mountain lions and black bears that were quietly stalking you during your run, you walk into a large heated group tent, replete with a veritable smorgasbord of make-your-own taco ingredients, pasta and beautifully roasted veggies. After dinner, you saunter over to the massage table, where expert hands work out all the tightness and kinks in your muscles. You rest a bit before lounging in a comfy plastic Adirondack chair in Chillville, sipping hot chocolate or mint tea made with water you’ve carefully ladled from the big, institutional sized pot into a small paper cup. You wait for your devices to charge a bit at the charging station before you head back over to the group tent to hear a summation of the day, a briefing of the next (complete with this many million feet of vert plus that many million feet of altitude, which is totally normal), and some schmoozing and trail-jokes with your newest best friends.

Trans Rockies Course

Finally, if there is a fire that some beautiful soul got started in the fire pit, you hang out a bit, warming yourself up (because it is suddenly very cold), listening to one of the French guys sing and play on his guitar ever so sweetly. You warm up, eaves-dropping on the conversation between two shivering bystanders learning how to make s’mores. After a few minutes you stand up, bones creaking and muscles protesting, and shuffle slowly to your tent to bed down for the night. You wake up and repeat, only this morning you decide your left Achilles and calf muscle need taping, so you head over to the PT table before lining up at the start for another day of interminable climbs, dizzy and breathless forward movement, and panoramic vistas that many people have only seen in Outdoor magazine or on the National Geographic Channel.

Mirna in the Mountains

This was the rhythm of my days at the TransRockies Run, a three- or six-day stage race that takes runners through 120 miles and 20,000 feet of elevation gain on every type of terrain available in the Colorado Rockies. Sand? Check. Stream crossings? Check. Super-technical, rooty and boulder-strewn trail? Check. Scree? Check. There was everything, and this event required everything I had to not even finish. I ended up traveling 72 miles with 14,250 of elevation for the duration, completing two of the six stages, but learning something about myself and my own physicality every day.

Stage one started in the beautiful mountain town of Buena Vista, where we ran down a street, onto a bridge over the Arkansas River, and finally settling in on the trail that would take us up and over many sandy hills, through single-track surrounded by dark, claustrophobia-inducing rock. From time to time we dodged the occasional dirt-biker and couples on ATVs.

This was my first glimpse at the many mountain peaks that were still covered with snow. Those jagged and smooth apices would inform every moment, every view, every struggling step forward and upward throughout the week.

On day two, we started in Vicksburg, just under 2 miles from the Sheep Gulch Trailhead that would take us up steep, windy switchbacks across and up to Hope Pass. We hiked through towering aspen, rocks, bushes just below the tree line, and finally through a landscape that I imagine must be similar to the moon’s.

Mirna Stage 1 trans Rockies

At just about 12,500 of elevation I finally summited Hope Pass, almost five hours after I had started. A makeshift structure stood at the top with colorful prayer flags, both newish and frayed from the fierce winds and sudden changes in weather. The vistas from every vantage point were...they left me speechless. White, puffy clouds, some with gray shadows within, stood in contrast to the sharpness of the blue sky. The wind whipped ferociously at times and both Heather and Liz, the sweeps (who I would become fast friends with over the next few days) and I marveled at how cold it was, and did anyone need to put on their gloves?

I didn’t finish the course that day. After descending around 3 more miles from the pass and reaching a medical checkpoint, I decided along with the gentle encouragement of the medic, Barrett, that my day was done. I was in last place and traveling very slowly and it would have taken me at least two more hours to get to the finish. Heather and Liz were up for supporting me if I wanted to continue, but in the end, I decided to hike out a mile on another trail to a road where Barrett and I would be shuttled to the finish line. On that trail, which was deceptively easy at first, we talked about how we were meant to encounter each other in that moment—that, even though it had not been my desired outcome, we were destined to be on that trail, trading stories about our lives and how we happened upon each other, and traveling together with the shared purpose of finishing strong.

Even so, even with the uplifting spirit of our final mile, I questioned all of my reasons for participating in this experience. Was it worth moving on? Was it a waste of my time to have even considered embarking upon this journey that I knew would be rife with difficulty and the real, ever-present prospect of failure?

I pondered this as we waited in a trailhead parking lot in Twin Lakes. While I leaned against a tree feeling sorry for myself, my phone buzzed with an inbox from my mother. She had recently started going to the gym so that maybe one day she could do a Tough Mudder or backpacking trip with me and continue to fight the hypertension and diabetes that continue to be a scourge in the family. The blurry selfie of herself on the treadmill that she proudly sent to me and her message, I did 26 minutes, moved me to tears.

Mirna summit photo

It was then that my perspective changed. I was beginning to learn that I was no match for these mountains and this altitude. But I also learned over and over again that I could at least try, and that there were far bigger reasons why I was in the Colorado Rockies doing this crazy thing. I needed to see how far my body was willing to go, and I needed to prove to myself that I could train for and do really hard things. I also needed to continue to role model the idea of chasing goals, whatever they may be, even if you know you will fail repeatedly. Even if they seem impossible to achieve. Even if they are, in a sense, impossible. Why? For the learning and self-knowledge that occurs, future goal setting, and upping the ante on your own preparations for success. My mother’s message forced me to look outside of myself and appreciate the fact that I was even able to start this journey, one that many others cannot because of physical and/or financial limitations, or simply because they cannot envision themselves engaged in such acts.

I had begun the stage with a different set of goals on day three: Start. Do as many miles as possible. Bring my body to the edge. Be smart. The first inkling of altitude sickness crept in around mile 14 at Tennesse Pass, leaving my stomach a cramped, knotted mess and my head faint. With 10 more miles to go I decided I was done. I heeded my body’s needs, and rolled into camp early, enjoying some rest, a peanut butter sandwich a volunteer brought over to my tent, and looking aimlessly out to the pond and the surrounding peaks.

The following day, we climbed Hornsilver Mountain overlooking our campsite at Camp Hale. It was a slog, but I finished the stage, my second and final.

I found myself ugly-crying 6.2 miles into stage five, chest heaving and snot and tears running down my face. My body had failed me/I had failed my body. I swayed with each step, my body leaning forward heavily on my trekking poles. I can do this. I can at least get to the first checkpoint. I can do this. I swayed one too many times, dizzy to the point that I almost fell over.

I need to stop. I’m stopping.

Nature won. Nature, with her decreased oxygen levels at 9,000 feet of elevation. Nature, with her clever ways of reminding you that she is boss. Nature smirking in my face.

Maybe next time.

Mirna on Summit

The final day, I began our trek knowing in my heart and in my mind that I wouldn’t finish the 23 or so miles and 5,100 feet of elevation scheduled for that day, but I was excited to try. I still wanted to see what my body could do after having suffered through extreme dizziness, headaches, stomach pain and general fatigue over the previous 64 miles. At the first checkpoint 8 miles in, I called it a day (I would have been pulled off the course anyway), nibbled on some fruit and sipped on lukewarm water, and chatted with the medics and volunteers, enjoying my final foray into the wilds of White River National Forest.

Related: REI Extended Sizing Update: More Sizes, More Women, Right Now — Read Mirna's thoughts on REI's commitment to provide world-class gear that fits women of all sizes. 

  • Lynn Johnson

    Cheers to all the badass women out there. You do you!

  • Jane Langdon

    Mirna, you are an inspiration. Thank you.

  • Craig Carter

    Congratulations! Keep challenging yourself.

  • Craig Lloyd

    I love Mirna. I have had the pleasure to have known her (from a distance) for 4 years and I am proud to call her my friend. She is inspiring, beautiful, and incredible. Thank you REI for sharing her story.

  • smb

    The fact that you continue to challenge yourself continues to inspire me, (and so many others). The Trans Rockies will never be easy, (i hit some of those same areas on the Colorado Trail this month), but it would be great to see you out there again next year. Spending a week at elevation before the race would greatly improve your chance of completing all the stages, or whatever goal you choose.

  • Christa

    MIRNA IS A BADASS. Thank you for powering through and breaking stereotypes! Keep trekking on!

  • Sue Holden

    You are an inspiration.

  • Rawli Rodriguez

    This is the way a mini-series or short documentaries should be. I love the creative story telling, you had me the first second the Ad said, “You’re a Liar”… from that point on I was thinking; what kind of scumbag advertisement is this?” Dont tell me, what I dont want to hear!? Dont tell me something so negative!” I was already complaining about the #KarlieKloss #WIX commercial that comes up every time I want to check out a youtube video. I dont care [Karlie]. The True Hero is this beautiful woman Minerva Valerio with that big beautiful smile! Awesome #REI. You guys really outdid yourself and made me a customer. Thanks again. —

  • Ja Moon

    You are such an inspiration!

  • Holly Hester-Reilly

    Thanks for sharing your story Mirna, this is fantastic! It would be great to hear more about what led to you trying this intense challenge!

  • Christina Flores-Hinojosa

    Very inspiring Mirna!

  • JenniferSRoberts

    Wow! Great job and congratulations. Thanks for sharing!

  • Barbara Rombold-Gillies

    Incredible woman and story. These are the times we should be uplifting one another and encouraging all the people who push thru stupid stereotypes, Great job all.

  • You rock!! Loved this soooo much. Best wishes to you in all you do.

  • hoink_hoink

    Amazing and inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  • You are AMAZING, Mirna! Keep doing what you do, and being you!

  • Joanne Tirona

    You are an inspiration to all us women…big and small! Congratulations Mirna on a job well done!!

  • Rebecca Mitchell-Guthrie

    Beautiful! You go girl!

  • Cyn

    You are amazing!

  • Matt

    You’re an amazing runner!

  • Mark Vollmer

    Beautiful! Thank you Mirna. 🙂

  • Karen Sites

    I’m blown away. Honestly, there is no other term for it. I always felt like I’m the only one out there running with my body size, and now I know I’m not. You’re now my official running hero 🙂

  • Lynette O

    Mirna is a beautiful and inspiring person. We need more people like her in this world. Thanks for this video.

  • Kelly T

    I am so impressed by you Mirna! You made up your mind to be a runner and that’s exactly what you are. You didn’t listen to the haters (and there’s always going to be a few of them around). I’ve never been a “runner”, but I’m actually inspired to begin. Thank you!

  • Patricia Walgrave

    You are amazing! What an inspiration to all women.

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