On the Road Again: The Palm Springs Tram Road Challenge 6k

by Cherie Gruenfeld November 21, 2019 6 min read

Cyclist on a paved road riding with trees near by.

If we’re honest, there’s a part of us that yearns for a good old-fashioned road trip. Hitting the open road is a chance to see the lay of the land and take in unfamiliar sights along the journey. Willie Nelson said it well in his catchy tune…

On the road again
Goin' places that I've never been
Seein' things that I may never see again
And I can't wait to get on the road again

My own wanderlust was recently satisfied when I decided to hit the road from Colorado Springs to Palm Springs in our 2006 Honda Element. My wife Shelley was already scheduled to join her mom for a conference in North Carolina which gave me an opportunity to make the 1,150-mile trek en route to the 34th edition of the Tram Road Challenge.

This race bills itself as “America’s toughest 6k” with its vertical gain of nearly 2000 feet from start to finish. This is precisely what attracted me to this iconic little uphill road race which has attracted some serious competition through the years, especially when a prize purse is offered. No such purse has been offered since 2015, although the new race director is considering it again for future races.

With my love for lung-busting uphill races, I decided the Tram Road Challenge was worth checking off the bucket list. It was an opportunity for “seeing things that I may never see again.” A trip to the desert would do my soul good.

It would be nearly 16 hours of driving each way which provided ample time to listen to all 10 hours of Alex Hutchinson’s Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance. Highly recommended for those of you who love geeking out on the science behind endurance in sport.

My route to the city of palms would take me through Albuquerque (NM), Gallup (NM), Flagstaff (AZ), and Kingman (AZ) before the final push on some barren stretches of highway. This part of the country is no place to allow your fuel tank to get low with stations being fewer and further apart.

Along this route, I was able to make three different stops at various Whole Foods Markets which I absolutely love for the variety of healthy food options available. Sure, you pay a little more but it beats settling for the plethora of fast food options. Consider it an investment into another form of health insurance.

My original plan had me leaving Colorado Springs on Thursday, October 24th but I decided to leave at noon on the 23rd in light of a major snowstorm pummeling the Rockies and eventually hitting our city. This turned out to be such a blessing as I wasn’t as rushed on my drive and felt well-rested for my race on the 26th.Snow would be the furthest thing from my mind upon arriving in Palm Springs where it was 90 degrees with virtually no humidity.

CJ Hitz overall winner at Palm Springs Tram Road Challenge 6K 2019

On Friday morning the 25th, I woke up to a beautiful sunrise, palm trees, and clear blue skies. My 4-mile easy shakeout run felt surprisingly good after sitting in a car for so many hours the previous two days. In fact, at 46 years young, my legs have responded better than ever over the past three months of training. I can attribute this to a few tweaks I’ve made to my lifestyle…

  • Drinking more water – being intentional about drinking at least half my body weight in ounces has allowed my muscles to feel more supple and ready to perform. I can’t overestimate the importance of staying well-hydrated by always having a water bottle within arm’s reach.
  • Getting at least 8 hours of sleep each night – at no other time do our bodies recover better than during the deep REM sleep. This is when the most growth hormones are released. Taking one Healthy Sleep Ultra capsule has really helped me get to sleep faster.
  • Cutting out refined sweets – those may seem like fightin’ words to some of us and I can certainly understand. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a ravenous sweet tooth. Whether donuts, cookies, cakes, and pies (oh my!), I’ve had more than my share. As a result, I’ve also had my share of added inflammation due to all that refined sugar. My body (and recovery) feels sooo much better since making this change. I’m finally at a place where I now crave fresh fruit rather than the junk food above.
  • A scoop of PerfectAminoXP before bedtime – I’m convinced that this nightly habit helps add a “recovery shield” in conjunction with a good night’s sleep. I’m giving my body an added rebuilding tool (without unnecessary calories) in order to be ready to perform at a high level the next day. When I take those first few steps out of bed the next morning, I no longer feel like a 46-year-old putting in 60-mile weeks. I have much less soreness and stiffness which I also attribute to the other changes I mentioned.

Weather conditions couldn’t have been better with no wind and temperatures hovering around 70 degrees at race start. Veterans of this race said conditions have been much worse in previous years with heavier winds. There’s a reason the valley below is dotted with windmills.On race morning, I was like an uncaged animal with all the extra oxygen I had available at near sea level (I live at 6500 feet elevation). I was also excited to toe the starting line of a race for the first time since the end of June. Like a kid in a candy store, I thought about the glorious 6k grind ahead!

The gun went off at 7 am and we were off and running on the steady uphill paved road. A couple of guys went sprinting out of the gates only to fizzle out less than a quarter-mile in. I began at a more controlled pace while gradually reeling in those who had started faster. By the time we reached the quarter-mile mark, one other guy was hanging with me but his breathing was growing more labored with every step. At 1/3 of a mile in, I began to pull away and by the time I reached the 3/4 mile mark, I could only hear my own footsteps. The race would turn out to be a solo effort as I won the race in 30:49…over 4 minutes ahead of 2nd place.

This 6k course is no joke with the first mile being an average of 8% grade, the 2nd mile being 9.5%, the 3rd mile being 10%, and the final 2/3 of a mile being 13%. The steepest grade is saved for the final 400 meters and is a lung-busting 16%. To say we earned our finishing medals would be an understatement.

CJ Hitz and Cherie Gruenfeld at the 2019 Palm Springs Tram Road Challenge 6K

After the race, I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting age-group triathlon legend and fellow Team BodyHealth ambassador Cherie Gruenfeld who ran the race along with several students who are supported by the Exceeding Expectations Foundation. This program seeks to “encourage at-risk children to move their lives in a positive direction, using the sport of triathlon as a vehicle.”

It was the icing on the cake when both Cherie (75-79) and I (45-49) also set new age-group records for this race. Cherie will be inducted into the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame on January 24, 2020. She’s currently the #1 ranked 75-79 female in the world for Ironman.

After the awards ceremony, I rushed back to my hotel to grab a quick shower before my checkout deadline and then began my journey back to Colorado Springs where temperatures would be much cooler and a fresh layer of snow would blanket the landscape.

My heart is full of gratitude after this grand little adventure. As Willie would say in the final verse of his memorable song…

And our way is on the road again
I just can't wait to get on the road again
The life I love is makin' music with my friends
And I can't wait to get on the road again, break free
And I can't wait to get on the road again

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.