Extreme marathon: Trail runners run the Rockies

Heather Johnson and husband Chris Kent are heading to Colorado to run a marathon lasting 6 days and covering 120 miles.

Running 120 miles in just a few days doesn’t seem like a vacation to most, but Heather Johnson and her husband, Chris Kent, are hopping a plane to Colorado to do just that.

Starting on Tuesday, the couple will be embarking on a journey called the TransRockies Run, lasting six days and covering 120 miles, and they will be running the whole way.

Johnson has done the race before, but it will be a first for her husband.

“I did it a few years ago with a friend of mine but now I am going back for more with my husband this time,” she said, adding that her first run came as a surprise. “I had done a marathon and a bunch of half marathons in the past, and my friend had a different partner (who backed out) so she called me up…and it sounded amazing.”

The race runs over different terrain from desert-like climates to a 20,000 feet elevation gain to the top of the Colorado Rockies and to train, Johnson and her husband run, run and run some more.

“Basically we run about six or seven days a week,” she said. “We do two really long runs on the weekend anywhere from two-to-five hours and climb as many hills as we can and just beat ourselves up.”

Part of their practice includes running at high altitudes to train their bodies.

“When you are running at high altitudes, there is less oxygen and your blood chemistry kind of compensates for it,” she said. “You make more red blood cells and your body gets better at removing lactic acid from your system.”

Lactic acid is the chemical that makes your muscles burn during and after a hard work out.

Johnson says the high altitude training helps when they comes back down the mountains.

“When you come back down to regular altitude, then all of a sudden, you feel more fit than you would be if you hadn’t been up there,” she said adding they do most of their runs up on the Seven Summits Trail and the surrounding pathways.

Not only does the run require physical endurance, Johnson says she’s learned a few other skills to help her through the 120-mile course.

“Patience is a big one, and dealing with obstacles,” she said.  “When you are out there for that long, there are things that can go wrong, and obviously things that do go wrong.  You just have to deal with it at the time when you are out in the middle of nowhere, get through it and then just forget about it and have the best race you can after that.”

While the run may seem daunting to runners and non-runners alike, Johnson says that anyone can do it, it’s just a matter of preparation.

“You don’t have to be some crazy, hardcore elite runner to do it,” she said.  “Anybody can go out and do it. You have lots of time, you basically just have to put in the effort and get through the training and the race is the reward for doing that.”

Crossing the finish line is the reward for Johnson.

“It’s unbelievable,” she said. “You’re so happy to be done.”