Some runs stretch your limits.
Some runs make you doubt yourself.
Some runs push you past your physical abilities.
And some runs teach you important lessons.
Running the Grand Canyon – Rim2Rim2Rim – And what I learned from it.
To the North Rim.
(Read my initial post to find out how
we got to this point)
LOGISTICS/RUNNING KIT - Fellow canyon runner Eric H. is going to write a detailed post about the logistics of our Rim2Rim2Rim run so I’m lightly going to touch on this subject. Eric was responsible for 99% of the ground work for our adventure, he is in a much better position to talk on this subject. Read Eric’s post here. (Thank you Eric for all your work.)
A Rim2Rim2Rim attempt is normally a self supported run. Our only outside aide was snack lunches we ordered from the Phantom Ranch Cantina and park service provided water stops along the trail. All other food or support gear (i.e. extra clothes, lights, poles etc.) we carried in and out of the canyon.
For an adventure like this I only wore items that I had 100% confidence in. A double canyon crossing is not the time for new shoes, new food choices or to test drive the latest gizmo. Some words about the key players in my gear selection.
OPEDIX Compression Shorts – Using Kinetic Technology, these compression shorts support the natural structure of your body. With such a demanding run I needed something comfortable and supportive as my legs were going to take a pounding.
Race Ready Long Distance Shorts – Carrying all my food/gear was (for me) the most intimidating prospect of this adventure. The storage pockets built into my LD shorts provided extra space for easy to reach fuel along the run.
Black Diamond Poles – Initially I was against using poles, “I’m a runner not a hiker” but looking back I could not have completed this without them. They were light and simple to use, after a few minutes I got the rhythm down where I could run fast while using the poles to provide stabilization on some of the technical parts of the trail. (Thanks Gayle!)
Ultimate Direction AK Vest – I found this to be the perfect size for me. Although I would have packed it a bit different, instead of rolling my extra clothes and storing them vertically, I believe they would have carried better and provided greater access to my trail food if stored in a horizontal position much like a sleeping roll is carried. Hindsight is 20/20. The AK vest allowed me to carry two 24 oz bottles up front which was plenty of liquids to get to each water stop.
Nathan Handheld - I started this adventure with three 24 oz water bottles, two in my AK vest and one handheld but that was over kill. I dropped my hand held at the North Rim. The Nathan handheld held my bottle firmly and provided extra food storage.
Running Buddy Pouch – I wanted easy access to my cell phone for pictures and this was the perfect place. Carried right up front, it fit secure with no bounce and was easy to access.
Julbo Eye Protection – The canyon beat the tar out of me and my trusty sunglasses protected my eyes without any hassle. Between sticking my head under water faucets, splashing water on my head and face at creek crossings, the impact of low lying branches and my forgetfulness once I got super tired I’m sure these sunglasses saved my eyes.
Food – I lived off of GU gels, Cliff bars, Gatorade drink mixes and gummy blocks. I also carried trail mix with M&Ms, Beef Jerky, and Chex Mix. To combat stress I used Hammer Endurolytes and Advil. I had no stomach or GI issues the entire day with only one short term bout of cramping of my inner left thigh around midday.
Now on to the run…
SOUTH KAIBAB TRAIL TO COLORADO RIVER, 7 Miles/4,780 feet - The day started early and everyone was filled with excitement of running this great adventure. Exiting the van and taking my pre-canyon selfie, I called my wife and told her the group was ready and already talking about returning “next year” to run the canyon again. I told her that I missed her and that I loved her. Eric then said it was time for our group picture and to get running.
The five of us smiled for the camera and headed to the trail head. In the still dark morning hours we switched on our headlights and in the blink of an eye we were off. The decent is hard to explain, as the rough cut mule rutted trail drops off quickly and narrowly from the south rim. Running by headlamp over the rugged terrain was an exercise in proper foot placement. Concentrating on the trail before me diluted time and it wasn’t long before the sun began to appear as the world around us came to life.
Daylight illuminated the wonder and beauty of the canyon. Above us on the south rim visitors will awe of the wonder of the Grand Canyon, but that perspective highlights just a fraction of the stunning world beneath the rim. The on coming day light also called our attention to the fact that we were not alone on the trail. Earlier under the dark skies we passed a few hikers who made it to the trail head before us. It was not long into our adventure that w we came upon our first and hopefully only mule train. Nothing prepares you for the smell of a pack of mules taking a “break” alone the route to the bottom.
As we approached the mules, our lead runner Speedy Lori “the mule whisper” talked to the lead rider of the train who asked us to turn off our headlamps. He said he would make room for us to pass but warned us “I’ll only do this once.” Making our way around the mules was a bit unnerving as the rider advised us to pass on the right. The mules were safe on the left side of the trail nestled up against the canyon wall, we passed on the narrow side with a sheer drop of a few hundred feet for a misplaced foot fall.
After leaving our mule encounter behind us the trek to the bottom was unencumbered and rapid. Going into the event I told myself that I had to conserve my legs early on for fear of losing them later in the day. The decent was easy to run as the drop in elevation made it easy to run fast and light.
Around mile three I noticed my legs felt heavy from all the breaking action and I started to fear our paced to the canyon floor may be to rapid for me. I tried to slow myself down but the excitement, ease of effort and the distracting views that surrounded us drew my attention away from backing down my pace.
We made the base of the canyon in 1 hour and 45 minutes. Our group of five linked up there and topped off our water bottles and embraced the fact that we were “RUNNING THE GRAND CANYON.” At this point in the run it became obvious to me that being the “old guy” I was going to have a hard time keeping up with the pack. And I was okay with that. It was also at this point that I caught the first glimpse that this was going to be a long day. Starting off from the river beginning our advance to Phantom Ranch and the North Rim my legs felt heavy and I could feel the effects of all the breaking action coming down the south trail. At only 7 miles in, this would be telling tale of the day.
WHAT I LEARNED:
- All the planning, reading all of the R2R2R blog posts, watching all the YouTube videos, did little to get me ready to run in the Canyon.
- Going in I felt like I was in the best shape of my life. Yet living at Sea level yet with little opportunity to run
hillsmountains my legs were ill prepared for the elevation changes of R2R2R. The near constant breaking action and thigh busting up hills put a drain on energy reserves and took a toll on my quads.
- I need to do more hill repeats and extreme climbs to be ready for this again.
NORTH KAIBAB TRAIL (NORTH RIM), 14 miles/5,734 feet - After our well needed break and water bottle top off the group was in good spirits and moving fast. I knew I needed to go into some energy conservation mode so I settled into my Ultra run plan, running the flats and downhills and fast hiking the uphill portions.
The terrain changed as we made our way to Phantom Ranch, offering some cover from the approaching sun. Our plan from the night before was to try and make up some time on the “flat” portion of our adventure…the false flat of Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel campground lead to the beginning of the climb to the North Rim.
(Making our way to Phantom Ranch, before the fall)
My legs came back to life during this portion of the run, yet I knew that they had paid a price on the initial decent. At one point along the trail paralleling bright angel creek I was within eye shot of the group and decided to press my pace to catch up. Insistently I knew I made a mistake. It wasn’t a sharp pain in my thigh, or a cramp in my calf. It wasn’t shortness of breath that spelled disaster. It was the realization that my toe had caught a rock and that I was now tumbling out of control to the edge of the trail. I impacted the trail on my left side with my arm, chest, and shoulder adsorbing the majority of the blow. Coming to a rest in a cloud of trail dust I waited to hear a loud pop. With the force that I had impacted I thought for sure something was going to give. The sound I waited for I was sure would be the pop of my shoulder breaking or becoming dislocated.
It took a few seconds but I realized I had dodged the big one. No pop, no pain and only a slight burning in the palm of my left hand. The fall tore back some skin and I was bleeding but noticing my proximity to the edge of the trail and bright angel creek, like a driver who makes it out of the crash at Talladega I missed the big one. Getting up off the ground I walked a few steps making sure everything was still functioning properly then I proceeded to run again. Gone were any thoughts of catching up with the group until our next water stop.
The mixture of terrain on the North side was stunning. You have the shear beauty of the colored rock formations that make the canyon famous. The North side also offers beautiful trees, magnificent overlooks, thunderous water falls, and cascading creeks with pools of water so inviting that I thought of jumping in many times. I’ll never forgot how on one side of a switchback the canyon was quiet and calm and on the other side just a few feet away the sounds of Roaring Springs water fall came to life. The North trail is a wolf in sheep clothing. Beautiful to the eye while treacherous to run all at the same time. Portions of the trails leading up the North Rim were some of the most technical trails of the day, no guard rails, switchbacks with hairpin turns and lose rocks just waiting for a misplaced step.
During our ascent up the North Rim our group (except for Lori, she was out pacing us by a good margin) reconnected at all the major water stops along the route, Cottonwood Campground, Pumphouse residence, Roaring Springs, Supai Tunnel, Coconino Overlook and finally at the North Rim.
(Making way up a trail and reconnecting with the group)
I was trailing behind the group and it was nice to see them at these locations but our plan after the North Rim was for each runner to do their best to complete the run but no one was going to be waiting around on the way out. Being the old slow guy I was resigned to spending much of the day battling the canyon alone, and I was good with that.
I estimate I made the North Rim around eight hours after pushing off from South Kaibab trail earlier in the day.
WHAT I LEARNED:
- Going in I knew the risk of injury or that someone (maybe me) might not be able to complete the adventure was high. I did not realize that major injury and even death was a real option. Without being over dramatic, sections of the trail left very little room for error.
- I did not fully appreciate the ruggedness nor the shear remoteness of our situation.
- I did not realize how much of the trail would involve stair step type climbing.
- The water on the north rim was some of the freshest and coldest I’ve ever tasted.
Part 2 of my Grand Canyon Post “North Rim and Beyond” can be read here.
For more information on running/hiking or visiting the Grand Canyon click here.
Thanks so much to Eric, Joshua and Jami for allowing me to use the photos they took…I got next to zero pictures I had GoPro battery issues.
Enjoy these awesome videos by Eric:
(Full lenght 36 minutes)
(Condensed video 13 minutes)
Enjoy some more Photos from our run:
(The Colorado River and the descent)
Part 2 of my Grand Canyon Post “North Rim and Beyond” can be read here.