Not finishing Grand Traverse was never an option for Vail woman’s team
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — You won’t find her name at the top of last weekend’s Gore-Tex Grand Traverse results, but for Laraine Martin and teammate Morgan Landers — who tested their physical and mental strength in the 40-mile ski and mountaineering challenge — quitting was never an option.
By the time Steamboat Springs’ Martin and Vail’s Landers had reached the top of Aspen Mountain Saturday, the official clock for the race had expired, the crowds at the finish had started to disperse and there was no good reason to finish the race, which was disguised as a 40-mile trek through the Elk Mountain Range from Crested Butte to Aspen.
But nobody could tell them to quit.
“There were so many points where we could have, should have quit,” Martin said. “We had so many opportunities (to give up) handed to us. I think we were given that option like 17 times, but there was no way we were going to give up — no matter what.”
For some 17 hours, the pair endured the elements, the terrain and their own inner demons. They had hoped to finish in 12 hours and should have been enjoying lunch in Aspen by early afternoon.
But instead, they were forced to overcome a host of challenges including losing half their water after Landers’ Camelback failed early in the race. They also had close calls at checkpoint #1 at Friends Hut seven hours into the race, and then again, at the Star Pass checkpoint eight hours into the race.
They only had 15 minutes to spare at Star Pass, and Martin felt the push to make the cut impacted the team later in the race.
The all-terrain gear they were using made for some wonderful downhills, but it was heavy compared to the equipment their competitors were using. Martin admits the choice was a lesson learned, and if she attempts the race again, she would look for lighter bindings and skis.
She also said she could have trained more, but her busy schedule and late invitation didn’t give her time.
By the time Martin reached the final checkpoint, volunteers were taking down the station and advised the skiers not to continue. But Martin and Landers had made it to the final descent, and they were not about to stop, even if there was no way they could complete the final two miles of downhill in time to get an official finish.
This race wasn’t about the places or the times.
“It didn’t matter if there was a big crowd at the finish line,” Martin said. “I don’t think, in my mind, it made any difference. The only finish line that matters is in your head anyway.”
By the time they reached the bottom of the mountain, more than an hour after the last official finisher, Martin and Landers were greeted by their support crew that included Audrey Dwyer and Pavla Mertlíková dressed in tutus and armed with Champagne, chocolate milk and Jimmy John’s for the hungry skiers.
#Lander’s boyfriend was also there along with her dog and one remaining volunteer who had finished tearing down the finish area by the time the skiers arrived.
The volunteer walked over to Landers, who said she was crying uncontrollably, and put the whole experience into perspective with a few words.
“There are only a few people in this world who could have done what you just did,” she said as she handed the pair the medals that go to athletes who have finished the Grand Traverse — a reminder of the journey that had pushed Martin and Landers to their limits but failed to break them.
“I think we learned that it is OK to be in a bad place,” Landers said.
She said she leaned on Martin at times, and there were other instances when Martin leaned on her. The two worked through the tough sections, and despite the problems they faced and periods of crying, they expected to finish the race the entire time.
“Bowing out was never an option,” Landers said. ‘We never talked about it.”
She said the toughest moment may have been Taylor Pass, where the breathtaking beauty seemed to contradict the pain they were feeling as the trudged to the next high point.
“Between Barnard Hut (the second to last checkpoint) and the top of Aspen Mountain, I was so ready to be done,” Landers said. “But I just kept putting one foot in front of the other.”
The best part she said came as she made her way to the top of Star Pass and watched the sun rise.
“That was the best moment for me,” Landers said. “That made the last part worth it. It was a really cool thing.”
Landers had been training for the race since signing up in December. She brought Martin in after the woman she had originally planned to race with dropped out.
Martin and Landers have been friends for more than six years, and before teaming up, they sat down and had a long conversation about what they were getting into and how they would handle it.
“I owe her my life, not everyone is crazy enough to do something like this,” Landers said. “I would not say she is stubborn — maybe strong-willed, and that’s the biggest reason we finished.”
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