Whatcom County high school cross country coaches Collin Buckley and Jay Sloane have always told their athletes running is a life-long sport filled with unique opportunities.
"I think that's one thing Jay and I share in common," Buckley said in a phone interview. "We love our sport and want to convey that and show (our kids high school running) is not the end. (Running) is a whole lifetime of cool experiences. It's a sport where you're never at a loss for competition."
Buckley and Sloane are putting what they preach into action.
The pair is competing in the GORE-Tex TransRockies Run - a 116-mile adventure course through Colorado's Rocky Mountain terrain. Combined, Buckley and Sloane will ascend 20,000 feet of elevation. The race begins Tuesday, Aug. 14, in Buena Vista, Colo. and ends Sunday, Aug. 19, in Vail, Colo.
"It's pretty overwhelming just thinking about it," Buckley said. "I have done adventure races before, but this is definitely the longest and probably the most challenging thing I've ever done."
He'll at least have his good friend and local running mate by his side.
Buckley, Nooksack Valley's cross country coach, and Sloane, an assistant with the Mount Baker program, decided to enter the race after Sloane's daughter told Sloane that Erin Baker's Wholesome Baked Goods, based in Bellingham, was looking to sponsor a team.
"Jay and I have been friends for over a dozen years," Buckley explained. "We coached together at Baker for eight years before I went to Nooksack Valley. We talked to people in town who have done (the race), and it sounded like a good idea, so we went for it."
Buckley, 38, met Sloane, 49, running for Western Washington University years ago. Sloane belonged to a group of runners Buckley often ran with and the duo struck up a friendship, which has lasted since.
When Buckley accepted the head coaching position at Mount Baker High nine years ago, he immediately knew who to enlist as his assistant.
"I talked to Jay, and in classic form, we went on a 13-mile run," Buckley said, "That was our job interview. We've constantly talked about doing (races) the last five or six years. We did the Ragnar Relay. We're always looking for new adventures to do."
Buckley and Sloane found one.
The Colorado race tests endurance, strength and ability to breathe in high altitudes. Buckley said snow on Mount Baker has prevented him from testing his running abilities in thinner air. He likes to think he's in good running form, though.
"I'd love to say I feel great," Buckley said. "My body feels good. I don't know if there's a lot more I can do at this point."
Buckley said he's been running 100 miles a week, and Sloane has been covering 115 to 125 miles. In the past months the pair has dropped those numbers to 90 to 100 miles.
Though they'll be running though mountainous terrain, Buckley said accommodations such as showers, food and tent set up are provided.
No matter the pain Buckley may feel during the final days or hours of the race, he has plenty of motivation.
Four women in his life have recently battled various forms of cancer.
"My wife just had brain surgery to remove a benign tumor and is recovering," Buckley said. "My mom and aunt both had breast cancer and went through chemo and radiation. Those are two women in my life who have really battled back. My teenage cousin in New York had leukemia and had five rounds of chemo before she's been able to go back home. I'm going to think about them when I'm hurting. It's a real testament to what a person can (overcome)."
When Buckley does finish his six-day excursion, he's already got a few things planned.
"I'm probably going to want three of four double cheeseburgers - the bad stuff," Buckley joked. "I will miss my family, so it'll be good to get back in the swing of things."
Buckley will have to "back in the swing of things" quickly.
An 8:30 a.m. flight will take the pair from Denver to Bellingham the morning after the race. Nooksack Valley's first cross country practice starts six and a half hours later.
"It's going to be terrible," Buckley admitted, referring to how worn out he'll be the first day at practice.
He'll, at least, have textbook proof running continues far beyond the high school ranks. Nooksack Valley runners won't be able to argue that.
Buckley said anyone interested can follow Sloane and him during the race at transrockies-run.com, where pictures and videos are posted daily. Buckley laughingly said people can "witness the pain" he's in.
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862.
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