Monthly Archives: September 2015

Running The Grand Canyon Rim To Rim To Rim – R2R2R – A Guest Post

In May a group of current, retired and former military endurance athletes and I are heading to the Grand Canyon to run Rim to Rim to Rim (R2R2R). Just what does a R2R2R run encompass? Running R2R2R means crossing the canyon twice while covering over 48 miles (depending on route) with 20,000 feet of elevation change. Why would we want to run R2R2R? It’s the Grand Canyon…millions of people stand on the edge and stare down into the great expanse. We plan to run from the south rim, down into to the very depths of the canyon floor climbing up to the north rim and DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN….and in one day.

Paul Gand canyon(The Grand Canyon, a wonder of this world)

Such a run can’t be undertaken without getting educated on the challenge. In doing research I came across Paul Baltutis on the Grand Canyon crossings Facebook page. Paul has made seven crossing of the canyon. With his impressive history, I knew I had to reach out to him and gain from all of his experience. I also wanted to share his insight and experiences with my readers.

Thank you Paul for taking the time to take part in this blog interview, I see you’re gearing up for your 7th Grand Canyon crossing, “impressive” when did you run your first crossing and how did you come up with the idea of running the canyon?

I ran my first Grand Canyon crossing (R2R) in 1981. It was an official race set up by the Flagstaff
Running Club- I saw an informational flyer for it at one of the Flagstaff road races. The race course started at the North Rim and took the entire length of the Kaibab Trail – 20.6 miles to be precise and finished on the South Rim. A day before the race a white van would be our transportation to the North Rim. At the Lodge on the north side I remember the group of runners gathered up as “Juke Box Hero” by Foreigner was being played being played

At daybreak the white van transported us the two mile drive to the North Kaibab trailhead. It was a bit chilly with a light rain so everyone was anxious to take off- I held back and I lagged behind the whole field just so I could keep an eye on my footing. I knew this was a race, but I also knew this was survival with many unknowns ahead of me.

As we ran to lower ground the temperature got warmer and the running was incredibly fun. I do remember some course volunteers that gave out water- we didn’t carry water back then.

When we started following the Bright Angel Creek I felt great and I was passing several runners. Then we hit the Colorado and then started the climb up the South Kaibab. I said to myself- run every step, run every step – and I did. I passed every runner except one – Dave Knutson, who kept a two switchback lead on me. I knew Dave and a called out to him “I’m catching you!” and I think that probably kept him going to the end. We finished at the top and there was that white van again – it was a marvelous sight! Finishing in 3:21 is a tremendous memory for me. I thought that it was slow- after all I was a 34 minute 10K guy, but looking back that was a tremendous effort and one that I am very proud of. My legs were very sore for the next 4-5 days, I remember they felt worse than the marathon in September- but seeing how we just covered about 10,000 feet on elevation change in 20.6 miles it made sense.

With all of your experience, if you could pass on only one “lesson learned” what would that be?

Prepare like you would prepare for a marathon. When you decide to do it, your attitude will dictate your focus, conditioning, endurance and attention to detail.  A positive mindset will go a long way. As far as mileage is concerned, I feel you need to be running 30-50 miles a week and either a long run of 2 plus hours or go for long hikes on the weekend for 4-5 hours. Finding some long gradual hills to train on will also help. Since everyone is different and is coming from their own specific backgrounds- it is really a case-by-case basis how things will go. But if you look at Rim to Rim (to Rim) like training for a Marathon, then you will have a good frame of reference.

Paul grand canyon1(Why do people run and hike the Grand Canyon,
to be part of it, not simply to stand on the edge.)

In your previous crossings, have you always run the same route? Which is your favorite and why.

Here is a recap of my Grand Canyon hikes.

June    1971 – South Kaibab to Bright Angel
October 1981 – North Kaibab to South Kaibab (R2R)
June    1999 – Bright Angel to South Kaibab
August  2005 – South Kaibab to Bright Angel
June    2006 – South Kaibab to North Kaibab (Day 1)- North Kaibab to Bright Angel (Day 2)- (R2R2R)
June    2013 – South Kaibab to North Kaibab (R2R)

Meanwhile- I will be attempting another R2R2R in October 2015.

Every route is interesting and unique and since they all connect up – they are part of the journey- all parts adding to the whole.

My Favorite, South Kaibab Trail:  I especially like going down this trail – it gives you the most spectacular geological views and gives you a sense of the grandeur. Going down the South Kaibab also gives you the best vantage point of what lies deep into the canyon – the Colorado River. The Colorado is hidden by sight on the upper views – so you have to hike quite a way down before you see a sliver of it – it is with much anticipation that you see it grow larger and larger as you get closer to the bottom. At the bottom of the river you are consumed with the water and can only think of the river- the Canyon has disappeared- you just marvel at the majesty of the Colorado.

If someone is considering running R2R2R for the first time advice to you have for them?

If you are crossing for the first time, it would be helpful if you travel in a group., It is helpful to do this with someone with experience because this run/hike is unique – a guide could help alleviate some concerns you might have of the unknowns.

Do you have a R2R2R specific training plan?

No real specific changes to the marathon training plan – except to skip long runs occasionally
and go for longer hikes, in the 4-5 hour range. If you can find some long climbs or can get to train at elevation, great – but it isn’t absolutely necessary.

What type of items do you carry with you during the crossings?

Equipment/Gear:  It’s pretty basic: Besides what you are wearing, Trail Shoes, shorts, and shirt with a cap with neck protection you should carry extra pair socks, two extra tops (base layer long sleeve and a light jacket) Camelback backpack with room for nutrition (power bars. gu’s, trail mix, PB&J sandwiches, etc….) (There is a general store at Phantom Ranch to re-supply the basics) Travel light! What you bring iswhat you carry.) Spring and fall more necessary to bring rain gear or a heavier jacket.

What months did you make your pervious crossings? In your opinion what is the best month to run the canyon?

I’ve done the crossing in twice in June and once in October. I would pick April/May and September/October to be the best times. The Colorado River is at 2500′ – so the during summer months June, July, and August it is well over 100 degrees and desert hot. The N. & S. Rims are nice that time of year- but the best of all worlds would still be April/May and Sept/October. October- bear in mind there might be snow that time of year- so it’s a fine line which months to pick!

What’s the funniest thing that has happened during one of your crossings?

I have a video of a group of us cooling off in the Bright Angel Creek- it is pretty funny,
The other humorous thing I remember is trying to keep up with a female French tourist going
up the Bright Angel Trail- she was wearing a pair of short- shorts, so we had motivation to keep
up with her because of the view. (Anything to keep on moving forward – Brian)

What would you consider the most important piece of gear to take with 
on a crossing? 
We will talk about Water later in other question- but all your gear is important!
Shoes and socks- tried and tested
Backpack for nutrition and food – tried and tested
Shorts and shirts and jackets – tried and tested
Hat and with neck covering and sunglasses and sunscreen – tried and tested

Paul Grand Canyon6(some sights you’ll never see again)

To get ready for the amount of climbing and descending, what exercises or running drills do you recommend for a first time runner? 

When I trained in Flagstaff I had all the necessary terrain to train on, But in San Antonio I could not replicate the elevation changes so I went on long runs and tried to find the longest and steepest hills to climb-all of them were woefully short of being long enough or steep enough
but you have to train where you live.

Paul Grand Canyon3(Where else but the Grand Canyon)

In your opinion what is the absolute hardest part of the R2R2R run? 

The last 2-3 miles on the climb up to the North Rim seems to be the steepest and you are running low on gas- same can be said for the return trip up the Bright Angel, you are tired and the switchbacks seems ENDLESS! The desert bottom trek can be grueling during the summer – with temps hitting 110-115. 

I’ve heard horror stories about runners getting stuck behind the mule trains, has this happened to you? What is the best way to avoid this? 

I’ve never been stuck behind a mule train- they are usually going in the opposite direction-so you just stay off to the side and let them pass- Not sure what we would do if we were stuck behind- I imagine that could be a problem

Water is life, what hydration plan works best for you? Do you hand carry, have a camel back or fuel belt? 

Figuring out what method of water carrier is your most important piece of gear- during the summer – I believe a Camelback backpack (72oz or higher) is necessary for hydration. During the Spring and Fall a 3-4 bottle waist belt 32-48 oz) should be sufficient. It’s important to practice with this gear beforehand to see how the fully weighted equipment feels on your back or hips. 

Paul Grand Canyon5(I hope I’m up for the challenge, Brian)

What is your average time it takes to cross the canyon? 

I ran North to South in 3:21 – I was a sub 2:40 marathoner back then! I would say my average has been 6-8 hours with a max of 10 hours due to the heat.

I have never attempted R2R2R in one day – I believe it is a waste of scenery to use your headlamps and miss out on one of the greatest natural wonders of the world. Slow down – relax – take two days – or watever time it takes! Take your time and soak in all in! You will create memories that will last a lifetime! Who wants to bee constantly looking at the ground or running at night?  The adventure will make it all worth while. 

If I keep doing R2R’s I might consider the 4 day trek – staying at Phantom Ranch or Indian Gardens.

Good Luck and Peace!


Running Failure – 24 Hour Race – 100 Miles – Ultra Marathon

Running Failure


I have no idea what went wrong. In less than 15 minutes I went from completing lap 44, (66 miles) grabbing something to eat and walking through the food tent. I was tired, beat up and my feet/legs hurt but overall I was feeling pretty good and ready for lap 45. My GPS watch told me it was 14 hours and 5 minutes into the 24 hour race. I had 34 miles remaining to reach my 100 mile goal and 10 hours to do it.

Hinson Lake 24

Then I felt a little dizzy, light headed and I wondered if a previous bout of vertigo (June, 2015) had come back.  Before I knew what was happening to me, I was sitting in my car, all my stuff packed up and I had quit the Hinson Lake 24 Hour Classic.

My Facebook friends and Twitter followers supported me with love and kind words when I posted that I was having issues..

My daughter told me she was proud of me when I posted my 66 mile update.

When I called my wife to break the news, she told me it was okay and I did the right thing.

AND yet I was (still am) crushed. I had suffered the worst injury an endurance runner can suffer.

I know the feeling of injury. I know the feeling of running out of energy. I know what it’s like to save my body for another day.

What I felt like driving away fro Hinson Lake I have not experienced before. I have never lost confidence in myself.  Heading North on highway 1, I questioned the future of my running career. I wondered if I still had the ability. I wondered if I would quit again.

24+ hours later I’ve accepted that truly quitting is never toeing the starting line again.



Ultra Marathon – 24 Hour Endurance Run – Race

Running A 24 Hour Race – How is it different?

Leading up to a 24 Hour Race, my family, friends and co-workers are always filled with questions. How do you do it, why do you do it and how far do you plan to run. I thought I would address some of the items that make a 24 hour endurance run a little different than your orddifferent then a marathon.

387311_448428958573351_1088049550_n(Five hours in and I’m on the leader board, VA 24 Hour Race 2013)

First off and the most obvious is the time. Elite runners/racers finish a marathon in little over 2 hours. The world record being set in Berlin at 2:02:57. The stand out local runners will finish the 26.2 mile race running something under a sub 3 –hour time. The most amateur runners will finish just under or be slightly over 4 hours…but a 24 hour race is just that 24 hours, 1440 minutes, and or 86400 seconds. No matter if you’re and elite racer, the stand outs and the amateurs…regardless of your standing in the runner/racer hierarchy, the race is what it is; a 24 hour endurance challenge.

Second, you have to eat. You can be the fastest. You can be the middle of the packer or you can be the slowest, but at some point you have to eat. Much of your success in a 24 hour race is not so much in how fast you can cover the ground beneath your feet, but how well you refuel your body. Proper nutrition or lack thereof takes out more runners at timed endurance events than anything else. When you Run over four hours you have to refuel. At some point around the four hour mark the demand for energy is going to surpass the energy stores in the liver and muscles. This loss of fuel is going to rear its ugly head in the form of a severe lack of energy and muscle fatigue (AKA pain.) How you fend off this depletion of fuel is what can make or break your day. How you meet the needs of the machine that is propelling your body around the course will spell success or failure.

Third, is your feet. You must take care of your feet. Without a solid base underneath you you’re doomed. Blisters, rocks, sand, swelling and fatigue are just a few of the challenges to a successful race. Being able to run, walk or crawl without intense pain is key. You’re going to get tired, you’re going to be hungry, you’re going to get bored…add into that the burning sensation of blistered feet and it could be the straw that delivered failure to the camel.

24hrrun2014 60 miles(Heading out into the darkness, VA 24 hour race 2014 at 60 miles)

And finally fourth, is your mental state. 24 hours of anything is a long time. Compound that day long length of time with continuous work, overcoming physical challenges, hunger, thirst, weather and the constant mental gymnastics while counting down the miles to your goal distance and staying in a positive mental state may just be the biggest obstacle during the race.

554234_10201182644234956_2106556552_n(Team Anchor, Steve S, has it figured out
he runs 100+ miles & is always smiling)

A 24 hour race is both rewarding and crushing at the same time. I’ve run six 24 hour races. It has been my white whale. I have tasted victory, felt pain, relief, and devastation. If I could accept the time require to finish, kept myself fueled, protected my feet and stayed positive I had a wonderful time.

If your up for a challenge give a 24 hour race a try.

My Running White Whale – 24 Hour Race – Moby-Dick – Ultra Racing

My Moby-Dick…the 24 hour race.



There will be singing and dancing in the streets.  They will write stories about braving the beast.  They might even name a town….okay maybe I’ve gone to far.  But let it be known to all that read this post.  A post that until this historic day had only been filled with my short comings at 24 hour races.  In the midst of a sweltering heat wave (heat index of 106f) I ran the entire 24 hours and logged over 96 miles to finally slay the beast.


There will be more to this race report in the upcoming days…I’m going to sit back bask in my glory, my sore legs and enjoy the V I C T O R Y

UPDATED: 20 Sept 2016, It’s four days from the 2016 running of the Hinson Lake 24 Hour Race and again I’m faced with my white whale. This post was originally written weeks before the 2015 running of this same event.  Unfortunately, the whale won again when I quit at mile 66 with more than 8 hours left on the clock when I got dizzy.  Being 4 hours from home, alone and combined with a case of vertigo earlier in the year and I got scared.  This dizzy bout made it easy to give up and before I knew what happened I was in my car heading home.


This year I hope to finally slay this monster….#100milesorbust.  I WILL not stop until I reach 100 miles or 24 hours whichever comes first.


I first ventured into ultra-running at a timed race, The Virginia 24 Hour Run For Cancer and the results were a mixed bag of success and failure laced with an introduction to ultra-running. The success I found was running 52.5 miles in my first voyage beyond the traditional marathon distance with very little ultra-know how. The failure was in that, I could have done more. I suffered greatly in the later stages of the race after “going out to fast.”  I failed in that I did not get past the 17 hour point. In that first timed race outing I did not make the 24 hour finish line and that failure has followed and haunted me ever since. I’ve run six 24 hours races and have yet to reach the clock established finish line. The 24 hour race is my Ishmael, my Darth Vador, and my Wile E Coyote

In less than one week I’ll toe the starting line again with aspirations and hopes of running the complete race. I feel prepared for whatever lurks beneath the surface and for whatever the dark of night brings. I want to be running at the 24 hour mark, I want to be in it for the length of the event.

To have success I’ve had to ask myself…why? Why have I failed to reach the 24 hour finish line for these timed races. I’ve had to compare that answer with why I’ve been able to run and finish two 100 mile races in under 24 hours?

UPDATED:  My 24 hour race results:

24hr2012(Reached my 75 mile goal)

2009 VA 24 Hour Run / 52.5 miles, ended the day when I ran two marathons (wanted to run 24 hours, but really had no idea what that meant)
2010 VA 24 Hour Run / 50 miles, set a much lower goal and just did not have the drive to run any farther (never intended to run 24 hours)
2012 VA 24 Hour Run / 75 miles, reached my goal (never intended to run 24 hours)
2013 VA 24 Hour Run / 72.5 miles, massive blisters (failed to reach 24 hours)
2014 VA 24 Hour Run / 71.25 miles, massive blisters (failed to reach 24 hours)*
2015 VA 24 Hour Run / 82.5 Miles, Achilles pain (failed to reach 24 hours)*
*Ran and finished 100 mile race in the month prior
UPDATED: 2015 Hinson Lake / 66 miles…a case of dizziness came on at mile 66, gave me reason to quit.
UPDATED:2016 VA 24 Hour Run / 56.5 miles…plan going in was to only run 50 miles, I had the Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim run two weeks after.
2016 Hinson Lake / 96.192…the whale is dead.
TOTAL/ 528.75

If I had to sum up why I’ve failed at landing this whale…there are the two tipping points that I believe have worked against me.

#1 The repetitive nature of the course dishes out a pounding – Most timed races are conducted over short, closed looped courses. The VA 24 hour race is set on a 3.75 mile loop course. It’s very flat and an easy trail to run. The problem is that over the course of 50, 75 or my PB of 82.5 miles you’ll run 30+ laps over the same terrain. I’ve had to bail out of this race two years in a row for blisters. I’m not talking little blisters or even multiple blisters; I’m speaking of massive on the scale of the Grand Canyon layers of skin ripped away from the balls of my feet blisters. 2015 I had to drop with intense Achilles pain…pain that felt like two knifes being stabbed into my left Achilles with every step, running, walking, shuffling or otherwise.

achilles(Oh the pain…)

In both cases the sheer pain pounded me into submission. I believe that since most timed races are run over looped courses the repetitive nature of the race finds a weak spot in your running game, body, or form and beats it into submission.

#2 No one puts expectations on you – With races of defined distances…everyone knows you’re running a predetermined, well defined, carefully measured and certified distance. If you run 25 miles in a marathon, or 5 miles at a local 10k your family, friends, Social Media followers and maybe co-workers will know you came up short. With a timed race the objective is to run whatever distance goals you have established for yourself. Simply put, there is no finish line. If you run 50 miles you still finished, if you run 75, 80 or 100 its a finish, there is no DNF.

That finish line is such a motivating factor for me… For my first 100 mile race at Umstead, I downloaded every Umstead 100 finish line photo I could find. During the months leading up to the race that image was burnt into my mind, it was the mental picture I focused on from the very first step. In timed races there are no true finish lines…everyone has a finish line of their own. For some that is great….for me it makes it so easy to quit at my second tier goal. It also makes it easy for me to give up when it gets really ugly out there.

In less than a week, 26/27 Sept 2015, I’m set to once again board the Pequod and do battle with the 24 hour leviathan of a whale at the Hinson Lake 24 Hour Ultra Classic. Physically I’m in great shape…I’ve been logging solid miles the last two months, I’ve been able to put the few injury/illness issues of the spring behind me. I believe my body is strong enough, and rested enough to withstand the miles and the repetitive nature of the challenge. Mentally there is nothing standing between me and the 24 hour tempest but me. Will the 5 inches between my ears hold up? Will my drive and mental strength be enough to reach a finish line that is only defined by the slow movement of the black hands on the white dial of father time. Will I finally be able to stab the razor sharp barbs of my running harpoon into the tormenting flesh of the white monster?

MY GOAL for Hinson Lake, 100 Miles or lost at sea…Call me Ishmael

Drink Chocolate Milk and help Ashley run the strip at night

Drink Chocolate Milk and help Ashley run the strip at night.

One of my Twitter followers has a chance to scratch off a bucket list item and she needs your help!

From now until September 17th, Chocolate Milk (@chocolate_milk) on Twitter will be re-posting her video EVERY SINGLE DAY. How can you vote to help get Ashley to run the #stripatnight? It’s simple, RETWEET her video EACH day! This opportunity may never come around again. When Ashley found out that she was part of the final three, this was her reaction!

Connect with Ashley on Twitter (@ashleylynn411) or instagram (@agregory11) and be sure to retweet her video on @chocolate_milk Twitter every day.
“It would be SO incredibly awesome to be able to connect with them in-person at the Rock N Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon this November.  ALL THE LOVE AND CHOCOLATE MILK!” – Ashley
So PLEASE take a few minutes to help out Ashley…..its as easy as 1.2..3…Visit @chocolate_milkFind  video on thier timeline

and retweet her video to your followers and drink chocolate milk!

Thank Brian

Running – Five Ways You Can Be Safe – Marathon

Unfortunately most runners don’t live in a perfect world where winding paths, endless trails and lonely desolate roadways are located right outside our doors. I’m not sure of the number, but I would guess a high percentage of us are forced to run on crowded, busy and at times very unfriendly roads. Sharing your run with a 4000 pound plastic and steel monster can be very scary and down right damaging if your encounter gets a bit too close for comfort.


Unfortunately I’d like to say that all encounters between runners and traffic are the fault of the vehicle operator but I’ve witnessed many a runner who could have done more to be safe while they shared the open road.

Five ways runners (and walkers) can be safer while running on roads (with traffic).

  1. RUN FACING/AGAINST TRAFFIC. Running facing traffic is a fundamental safety rule.  As basic as this sounds…I’ve seen a number of runners who discount the most basic running rules and put themselves in great harm by running with the traffic. Running facing traffic provides a clear visual of the traffic that is approaching you. Plus facing traffic also allows you to see if the driver is doing something that might compromise their ability to see you, i.e. texting, eating, or fidgeting with the radio. I want every chance I can get to avoid an encounter with traffic and running facing traffic provides an eyes on target approach to avoid a close encounter.
  1. WEAR BRIGHT COLORS. My son once asked why I was so bold to want to wear bright and neon colors when I ran. I told my son my color selection had nothing to do with style, fashion or being bold and had everything to do with being seen. My favorite street running apparel is whatever color and degree of brightness will give me a better chance at being seen.
  1. MAKE EYE CONTACT AT INTERSECTIONS. Anyplace where my path and that of an oncoming car, truck or horse draw carriage may cross, I make it a point to establish “eye to eye” contact with the operator before putting myself in harms way. I want to make sure they see me and my “I’ll sue you if you hit me face.” If I cannot establish good eye to eye contact, where I truly know they see me, I step to the side of the road and stop running until they pass.
  1. DITCH THE IPOD. I saved this one for near the end because I know it’s not going to be popular. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve avoided being hit because I could hear the world around me. I could hear the road noise, or the sounds of the gravel being displaced. If my ears where filled with Bon Jovi’s “Running on a prayer” a prayer may have been just what I needed after I was hit. The sounds around you play a vital role in keeping you safe, don’t block them out.
  1. REMEMEBER THE CAR YOU DON’T SEE IS THE ONE THAT IS GOING TO HIT YOU. When I have talked with people who have been hit or nearly hit while running, they nearly always tell me “I never saw the car that hit me.”  The majority of times runners are hit by something they never saw coming. I remind myself of that at each and every intersection I come upon. “Okay Brian, you see the easy cars look for the one you don’t see…”

Running is a great way of life, an outstanding community and maybe the best exercise for weight loss. Running can also be very dangerous…take these five steps to help ensure your safety while running on the busy, crowded and often scary streets we must share with the world around us.