Our summer is over and the race season is just beginning. Another October is upon us and I've already been completely taken over by the incredible weather and forgotten completely that it was 110 degrees just a month ago.
What miserably hot summer?
It's perfect out.
And running has never been easier.
No water bottle.
No dry mouth.
No getting back to your car after the run feeling destroyed and then five minutes later your body catches up and sweats through the cloth seats.
No more strategically planning your week of training around the sunrise because once it comes up it's like the Chronicles of Riddick...it's overbearing and ever present in the rest of the run. A monkey on your back waiting to pop you in the ear with those stupid symbols (that can't be spelled right....) I can run in the heat and I know many that actually enjoy it. Many go out at noon in August. But that doesn't mean it's smart or fun. In fact...I hate it. It's bearable through mid-July but the last month plus is always rough for me.
Now, you can run at any time of the day or night and it's perfect. I ran this morning at 5am without a shirt on, just a headlamp, shoes, shorts and the Disco Biscuits. It was incredible. Running up hills I've always walked in the past, cruising along at a solid pace without the interruption of walking to get my core temperature down to under 201 degrees. Running the the fall in Phoenix is a rejuvenation.
To test the rejuvenation I'm running my first race since the Mesquite Canyon 50K way back in March. March. Seven months ago.
It seems odd that I haven't raced since then, but I skipped Zane Grey this year, didn't run a 100 all summer and was focused on the Monster up until a few weeks ago. I ran a ton of marathon or longer training runs on the Mogollon Rim and a 85 mile jaunt on the Mogollon Monster course in May but nothing with competition.
So this will be fun. 18 miles up in Cave Creek Regional Park at the Cave Creek Thriller 30K, the first of the Aravaipa Running DRT Trail Series here in the Phoenix area. It has some trails I know, some I don't. But it's 18 miles and it'll be a good test of my fitness after putting in a couple decent runs the last couple weeks and one strong week last week. I'm still way short on training and being where I want to be in having a focused training plan but comfortable enough that I'm ready to head up north, run a few trails and hang with the fast guys. We'll see how long it lasts. Bret Sarnquist, Jay Danek, Tony Delogne, Jules Miller, Jeremy Schmuki and as usual in running and ultrarunning...a whole bunch of people that will come out of the group and crush a bunch of us. It's not a Dark Horse in running, it's a Dark Herd. So many unknowns that can pop up and put down a fast time. Which is part of the intrigue in running a race, especially one where it's around 50-100 runners. Just enough to know who is going into this with you and not so many you have zero chance of competing for a respectable place.
So I'll for the first time give it a shot up front of the pack and see where that takes me. I'll shoot for a spot in file behind Jay Danek as I know he's in the fastest shape of his life and after 10 miles see where each of us are and go from there. Eighteen miles is a perfect distance but I've never ran it without thinking I had another 13 to go. But as my races typically go, 18-20 miles is usually where I have a low spot before rebounding for the last ten miles of a 50K. Maybe for 18 I can hold a much faster pace and remain up front. If not...
I'm sure my ego will survive it.
R2R2R - 2012
November 2nd I'll be taking another trek down to the Canyon for a Bright Angel>North Rim>Bright Angel Double Crossing. I haven't done it since last fall and aside from a trip this February for a 50K route off the Tanner trail I haven't seen the Canyon since. So I'm totally oblivious again as to just how difficult and challenging this trip can be and always is. Jay Danek is going for his first go of the Double Crossing and of course Honey Albrecht who always makes it when it involves the Grand Canyon. It'll be my 5th double and probably Honey's twentieth or something. It's great to have done it and a once a year trip. Not sure I'd be up for multiple attempts in a calendar year. It's a lot like Zane Grey. Always sounds like a great idea until you hit about 30 miles and you're staring down 8 miles of switchbacks...
Either way...really looking forward to it and starting out at night Friday night we'll be up over 24 hours before we even start climbing back up. And we'll catch the sunrise which is worth a thousand gels.
San Tan 50K - February 4th, 2012
Am I even wearing shorts here??
My first "race" since the Cascade Crest 100 last August...I've been running but haven't raced anything since then. With this race being the only race I've ever dropped from I didn't want to miss it and going into it I felt really strong, fast and ready to "race" a 50K versus simply finishing through a dismal last ten miles suffering to the end. Jay had me convinced to shoot for a 4:30 finish despite never beating 5:36 in a dozen previous 50k's...so that's what we went for.
That's a 4:37 min/mile pace photo...that's called "proper pacing."
Three ten mile laps make up the course with a steep out and back on each one totaling 4,300 feet of climbing total. We shot for a goal of 90 minutes per lap and after one lap we were 3 minutes ahead of pace. Wearing the Minimus 110's for the first time for a run over 20 miles (see: stupid) the second lap was less fun and my feet really started to feel the pounding after 15 miles. Luckily I had my La Sportiva C-Lite 2.0's ready at the start of lap 3 and I told Jay to go ahead as I changed my shoes. I was still on pace going into lap 3 but running solo I struggled to maintain a 8 minute mile pace and was soon passed by Paulette (this is the last time she passes me I swear...ok, I can't back that up. She's fast) and then Chris Fall from Tucson. Getting passed when you're feeling down always sucks, drags you down but at the same time brings me back from feeling like garbage because I got so pissed Chris passed me I picked it up going into the last climb. My feet and calves were trashed from the 110's (extremely regrettable choice) going down the last two hills but I got a boost seeing Jay and the others on both the out and backs and knew that I was assured at least my place in the top ten and finished the mile strong, albeit cramping so bad I nearly collapsed at the finish.
Is that a Mogollon Monster 100 Shirt? Yes...yes it is.
In the end I finished in 4:54, a personal best in the 50K by 42 full minutes. I guess I could be disappointed by missing my "goal" by 24 and really struggling the last lap but it's still a good improvement and gives me at least an idea of where I stood and stand before Mesquite Canyon.
The event itself was a lot of fun, much more fun than last year when I was sick. I really like the course itself and realize more and more how much I love out and back courses and seeing other racers on the course while you are running. Often, especially on one big loop courses, you see the same 3-10 runners the entire race as you all switch positions. With a course like San Tan I saw every single person (almost) the first couple laps and knowing many of them it made it so fun to cheer each on and hear them cheer us on. I don't think I will miss this race again, it's a classic to me.
It was also fun to meet Jerry Armstrong from Boulder, CO who contacted me on Dailymile.com and asked for a ride to the race. I picked him up and got to hang with him pre-race and he went on to run really strong and capture 3rd place as he passed Jay & I on lap 2. Great runner, puts out some cool video's and always fun meeting fellow runners from other areas. He wrote a great race report on is blog here: http://www.jerryarmstrong.blogspot.com/2012/02/san-tan-scramble-50k-race-report.html
Grand Canyon- Tanner Trail Route - February 11th, 2012
Tanner Trail...you have to look hard to see the guys...
I was really excited for this one. Four times I've been down in the Grand Canyon, all four times running or hiking the R2R2R trails. While that is an incredible trip each and every time I was excited to see a different part of the Canyon. I had this opportunity when a few WMRC members invited me along for a 30 mile route that was to take about 10 hours...I didn't need to hear another word. I was in.
Colorado River along the Escalante Trail
Andrew Heard, Art Bourque and John Pearce started out with me on the Tanner Trail head on the eastern edge of the Canyon. The trail was steep, icy and covered in snow at the top and it switch backed its way all the way down until the Colorado River came into view. Writing about the Grand Canyon is hard for me, it takes someone with real writing talent to be able to fully encapsulate what really "is" a run in the Canyon. The walls pull you in, the Canyon goes from narrow and claustrophobic to massive and belittling. You lose control of what you previously thought you had control of. You become a part of it.
Art lead us along the Escalante Trail all morning, dipping down to the Colorado to refill bottles, then seemingly back halfway up the Rim towards what for miles looks like a dead end straight into the walls of the cliffs. Running along the ridge, the Colorado a thousand feet straight below, you look up ahead trying to see where the trail possible could be going. Not until you reach the cliff wall do you realize that it does in fact scale the cliff all along its edge, precariously close to the edge, drawing up the details of your life insurance policy you hope to God you kept paying.
Boucher Point starts the downhill towards the Colorado one more time before entering Seventy Five Mile Canyon. Art describes a story when he was 33 and on this route alone, in 105 degrees, and completely lost. Having already passed a dozen spider trails off into the unknown, unmarked, I can see how easily someone can be led astray. Art takes us up the canyon and right away we climb above what becomes this majestic canyon, twenty feet wide but fifty feet tall, taller with each step deeper up the canyon. Art purposely leads us up the trail past the real turnoff, a scree trail down into the depths of the slot canyon, nothing remotely resembling a trail but more of an avalanche zone. No human rightly would have left a worn path for that. Nobody.
Art leads us down the precipice, down climbing our way down the hundred feet to the canyon bottom, an ant among the giant walls. Running down this dry riverbed, the walls tight around us, hovering high above us. It was like nothing I'd seen before and it would only truly be the beginning.
Andrew stirring up the spirits in an Anazazi ruin.
The trail continued it's steep ascents and descents, rock climbs up Fifty Foot wall, passed along the Colorado several more times providing for ice cold foot baths along the way. Continually the trail would wander random directions, running in random directions to go in the direction we needed to travel. We took the Grandview Trail out of the Canyon that day, a 4,000+ foot climb up the Rim that went on for a couple runnable miles before turning into a staircase leading straight up the chute, a leg burning, energy sapping assault on some of the steepest, most aggressive trails I've experienced. Art hammered the climb like it was his last climb of his life, absolutely crushing Andrew and I, leaving me sapped for the last three miles and 3,000 feet of climbing. Up to that point I felt great, strong and capable. That quickly turned into weak, wobbly, possibly the next victim in a Grand Canyon fall to his death. The trail narrowed, the elevation climbed and in turn the terrain became ice, snow and rocks covered with ice and snow. Climbing up the pace went from a reasonable 20min/mile to the dreaded 30min/mile to a few minutes later...58. Never...I'm using the word "never" here...have I ever wanted to just plain sit. Sit down. In the snow. And just lay there. My legs didn't hurt. My feet were fine. Everything was fine. There was simply nothing left in the tank. I was so tired, the trail so slick with ice, every imprint of a shoe with Yaktraks on it I wanted to scream. Wouldn't those be convenient right now...
I've been in this mindset before and never stopped but plodded along until I found a good section of untouched snow. With Andrew behind me a bit below I knew he would be struggling just as much in this snow with the footing being so slick and wrote, "This Blows!! :)" in the snow. Just writing it made me laugh thinking of Andrew coming up the trail and seeing that. I headed up the cliff, found a seat on a tree branch and regrouped. Put down my last gel, put a long sleeve back on, gloves and hat now that we were back in the upper elevations and waited for Andrew to come on through. He wasn't far behind and within a couple minutes he was there and we pushed our way to the top where Art was waiting for us with a big smile on his face, standing among the tourists there for a view of the big "Hole in the Ground."
John would come on through about 45 minutes later on his own. He had taken a wrong trail, back tracked, found the trail but spent a few nerve racking moments working through the fear of being lost in the Canyon. A veteran of the area he ultimately made it out, with a story, but made it out.
Two weeks later I'm still thinking about this route, the Canyon and the great time I had with Art, John and Andrew. It's never just another run up there, it always have me leaving thinking grander thoughts, bigger dreams and totally blown away and waiting for the next adventure there.
Grandpa Jim's 50K - February 18th, 2012
Jay on the 8B...still complaining about his knee. "I don't care if the bone is through the skin. We have 28 more miles to go. Eat a gu or something..."
Yes...this is my third 50K in three weekends. Just the way it panned out on the schedule and I didn't want to skip any of the three. Grandpa Jim's 50K runs through my backyard, literally, and covers some serious climbing along the way so I wanted to make it, donate some money to the cause and see how it goes.
Atop of Squaw Peak, Jay complaining about his compound fracture. Cry baby.
I could go into a full on race report here but this post is long enough already isn't it? I agree. I'm taking the lazy way out. So go read Jay Danek's race report, we ran the whole thing together and finished in 6:32 tied for 2nd place. If there is such a thing as "placing" in a somewhat unofficial race. Either way I count it and it continues my domination at Fat Ass races that don't count with very few runners in it. Yeah, I'm really good at those kinds of races. Borderline elite really. (see: 1st Place at Tom's Thumb 50K, 5 total entrants. Still wondering when La Sportiva is going to start sending my free shoes...)
Sean, Jay and I at the Dreamy Draw aid stop halfway through.
Jay coming down North Mountain after we got our fix of radiation.
So in the end...three 50K's in three weekends netted 93 miles, 21,000+ feet of climbing and 21 hours of running. In between each week I ran a whopping 50 miles in the other 18 days...I'm getting dangerously close to a full sponsorship from WalMart or Wendy's. It's a battle right now, really just the paperwork that needs to be worked out at this point. If nothing else I should earn some kind of special shirt for "Laziest Training Program in Ultrarunning." The week leading into Grandpa Jim's 50K? Two miles pushing a stroller.
Eat that Anton.
Top of Shaw Butte. We started that morning on the other side of the far peak that morning. True story.
Next up...Mesquite Canyon 50k on March 11th. I'm going for a 4:30, I don't care if that's 66 minutes faster than I've ever done it.
Limits are for cowards.
Did I Really Just Do that AGAIN?!!
The Grand Canyon is a place to see. The Grand Canyon is not a place to see from the railing of the Visitor Center. You need to get in it. You need to be inside the belly of it. You need to spend a prolonged time in there, breathing, it. So many people come to that lookout at the South Rim, snap some photos on their nice little digital camera, eat at the lodge and head on out to Las Vegas or wherever their next stop is on their vacation thinking, "Hey, we saw the Grand Canyon!!" Sure you may have seen the Canyon, but you didn't experience the Canyon. The distinction is great and one that I've barely scratched the surface of.
A Double Crossing or Rim to Rim to Rim is fairly common now. I am by no means a veteran of the R2R2R but having done it four years in a row now I feel I’ve got a decent grasp on it. In just that short amount of time the number of runners seen on the crossing has increased, seemingly, tenfold. It has gone from taking the obligatory photo next to the "Don't Run Rim to Rim" warning signs to getting cheers from the Park Rangers along the way. With the explosion of trail runners, races and events this is only a natural occurrence given the enormity of the Canyon and it’s relative proximity to trail running Mecca’s like California, Colorado and the growing number of trail runners in Arizona. It makes sense, crossing the Grand Canyon is some of the most breathtaking, treacherous and humbling trail running in the country. Everyone wants a piece of it, everyone wants that experience, that bragging right, that accomplishment.
#4...Should be easier this time right??
R2R2R is no joke. It's pretty hard. Like, REALLY HARD. The first time I did the double crossing it was much the hardest thing ever I’d ever done. We did it in December, got 9 inches of snow dumped on us, freezing temperatures, and after 24+ hours, it basically became a Death March. The second time (surprisingly I returned) Perfect weather, and we hiked it in 20 hours, less misery, and more fun. My body actually functioned afterwards. (Kind of…) The third time? I ran it for the first time with some great Phoenix runners leading the way and finished a bit under fourteen hours. It was an incredible experience and one that only led to more and more. Like this year’s overnight excursion through the dark and the heat.
This year I’d be making the trip with fellow runners from Phoenix’s Wednesday Morning Running Club. An amazing group of seasoned ultrarunners that single handedly sold me on the sport the first morning I ran with them. Nearly every Wednesday morning since, I’ve been there and they’ve led me to adventure after adventure. This would be no different as leader Honey Albrecht took myself and five others to the South Kaibab trailhead in the Grand Canyon shuttle bus. Nearing the South Kaibab Trailhead you can't help but have this apprehensive feeling as you close in on the top of the Rim. You know that in just a few minutes you are going to drop off that ledge, hug that trail against the rock face and disappear into the rapidly dropping sun and not come back out for another solid 12 hours. None of it will be easy, not all of it will even be fun, but every step of it will be memorable. So we jumped off the bus and dropped off the lip of the Rim and started the long, steep decent to the Colorado River. It begins...
Is there a bat farm around here?!
Having never done the South Kaibab trail I was excited to see it and for a little change over the obnoxious steps of the Bright Angel trail. Sure, there are steps on the Kaibab but I loved the ridgelines in the dark and its own winding path leading down. Jody, Paulette and I headed down ahead of the other three ladies, in my mind trying not to hammer the downhill too much knowing full well how that will feel in 40 miles. We regroup several times until we all fill waters at the quiet cabins of Phantom Ranch before taking off for Cottonwood in the dark.
Phantom Ranch to Cottonwood
This section through “The Box” has gotten a bit easier with each trip down. Possibly just because I run so much more but the gradual uphill to Cottonwood is a nice run, very pretty in the daytime and very dark at night. Counting off the bridges along the way and closing in on the box canyon before reaching Ribbon Falls is a great run if sometimes it is lost in the bright circle of your headlamp. With only 4% of a moon we had nearly absolute darkness along the way. We had a brief break on a bridge with the canyon walls close to each other, the silhouette of the pitch black canyon walls on each side with the incredible amount of stars was nearly worth the trip in itself. I stared at that view, head leaned back in disbelief. You forget how much you don't see when you live in the city. But there it is. Proof yet again of why to run the Canyon.
Cottonwood to Jam On!
The ups and downs of ultrarunning have always amazed me. Sometimes more the up’s than the downs. Those times where I’m I'm cracked out on caffeine, headphones are blasting so loud I'm sure to create a new kind of cancer and I'm running at a pace that isn't sustainable in a 10K let alone running 50 miles. I'll probably never learn but it's those brief few miles that I'm having the most fun. The "fun" of course being clearly visible by my rock hopping air guitar as I pound out the drum solo with my Nathan's water bottle and free hand. Any bystander will surely think I'm on meth or some other narcotic but really, it's just music and running. It’s a marriage that was built to last.
The two miles from Cottonwood to the base of the North Rim were some of the most fun miles of this trip for me. I lead the way, hit a great Warren Haynes jam of "All Along the Watchtower" and having coincided with a Double Latte Powergel???....look out! There were more than five occasions where I literally said out loud, over my headphones..."almost fell.." Yet I kept going and it felt amazing. Like, really amazing. The kind of miles that you use in your mind to forget the other miserable miles that you want to become a professional piano player and burn your running shoes. Yeah,..those miles.
Slave to the Music
So after the water stop at the base of the Rim we started our march up the Rim. Head down, here it goes. Let's get it done. Paulette and I alternated pulling everyone up until the two of us switched at the bridge crossing and she pushed hard all the way to the top. She is a climbing machine and she was a great help in just maintaining pace and pushing hard to get there. The North Rim is gorgeous but in the dark it's more dangerous than fun given any slip and you're dead. And not like a "Jeremy's exaggerating dead" but more like "splattered on some rocks dead." After the bridge crossing though you'd probably just fall and break some legs or something so it's just pushing on and dealing with the incoming cold temperatures as you reach 8,000+ feet. I was cold at the Supai tunnel but didn't want to stop and put on my long sleeve. I put a hat on, threw on some tunes and followed the Sherpa to the top as my arms froze, hands went numb and I started to take a few steps down into my self-doubt dungeon and the surprise pity party that was about to happen. Right about then my headlamp with brand new batteries started to die, (probably made in China), so I was about to be lightless coming down the North Rim in 30 degree weather with 3 hours of darkness left. Where was my spare light? In my backpack. In Honey's truck. 23 miles away. I'm an idiot.
Paulette and I spent a cumulative 1.2 minutes on the North Rim shivering uncontrollably before we took the decent down. I went the first dozen or so switchbacks on my weak headlamp barely able to discern dirt from root from elk. Pitch black with my light on its last leg? Not ideal. I started to worry a bit as Paulette pushed on and I had to slow down to A) Eat this Powerbar before I crashed big time and B) Slow down so I didn't face plant into a rock. I worry a lot about taking bad falls yet I rarely, if ever, even fall.
Luckily I caught up to Paulette (she probably just stopped...) and we decided to go with her handheld flashlight as our light source and I turned off my headlamp to save what was left. Her flashlight was amazing and we took off down the Rim, me as close as I could so I could see the trail in front. Running with no moon and a light in front of you hidden by another runner is quite difficult. Often times if I fell behind a step or two I was running blind so I had to look far ahead and almost memorize the logs, steps, roots, and big rocks so when it came to me I at least knew it was there. It was a bit sketchy for a while but kind of fun at the same time. At the Supai tunnel I took off the long sleeve and took the time to put the extra batteries Paulette had in my headlamp and allow us to run separate the rest of the way down. Weird, someone brought extra batteries to a 12 hour night run? Again, I'm an idiot. I had extra batteries AND an extra headlamp in my backpack. In Honey's car. Again…20+ arduous miles away.
Enter the Dungeon...
I've yet to make it on a 6+ hour run without taking a trip to the Dungeon. What's the Dungeon? It's the place where my mind goes when I'm tired, hungry, sore, and 100% sick of running wondering why I stopped playing baseball and took up ultrarunning... It's the place of self doubt, regret, negativity and pity parties. I try to make each visit a brief one. Sometimes a sandwich helps, sometimes a banana is all it takes, and sometimes...it's just a random runner along the trail in the same situation. One way or another I always seem to take a trip to the Dungeon. This trip was no different as I made the decent down the North Rim, hungry, tired and now nauseous.
Luckily it would be relatively short lived as we ran into our friend Jon Roig about a third of the way up the Canyon. He was supposed to leave with us at 8pm but had to work and drove up separately, started at 10pm and ran solo in the dark until he met us. After running a 50 mile race last weekend. Stud. So coming down the Rim and running into a familiar face is always nice and quickly brought me a few steps closer to leaving the Dungeon. Jon turned around with us and Paulette, Jody, Jon and I finished off the North Rim with some nice downhill running. It took a little self drive to knock off those two miles into Cottonwood but once there you know you are just a gradual downhill to Phantom and then a steady, if not monotonous, climb out. Then you are done. Sectionalize the run and it's all simple. In theory at least.
Are we seriously going to Ribbon Falls??!
The four of us left Cottonwood in a walk hoping the other group would catch up to us soon. That was our excuse but secretly I think everyone just wanted to walk. It was 4:30am and we'd been at it for 8.5 hours and closing in on 24 hours awake since most of us left for work the day prior. As dawn started to break across the valley inside the Canyon I started to feel so much better. It had nothing to do with rest, nutrition or any caffeine but simply from the breaking light across the Rim. It was a new day, and we were closing in on the finish. I was nearly done with my pity party and would soon be feeling much better. But not yet...
We hiked our way to Ribbon Falls and when Jody asked if we had been there I foolishly spouted, "I've never been." That quickly turned into us making the short 1/2 mile hike to the falls. I hadn't said a word in an hour and the first words I say add mileage onto this trip? Again, I'm an idiot. I had zero interest in adding mileage or seeing a waterfall or hiking any incline or decline at this point in the trip. I was in full on "mute" mode. I wasn't speaking, I wasn't laughing, I wasn't contributing anything at all to the non-stop conversations that Paulette and Jon were having .(Which incidentally it was quite impressive how long they maintained a steady conversation. They seemed to have talked from the North Rim all the way to the South Rim. Non-stop. It was fun to just listen to them as I slowly made my way back into reality.) The door to the Dungeon was locked and I couldn't find my way out.
After a brief visit to Ribbon Falls (which as it turns out is pretty cool, at least what I saw) we started running again. Slowly at first as nothing was feeling particularly great. I didn't have any blisters, no bad chafing, and my stomach was for the most part pretty ok. It was just my motivation that was low but after a half mile my body got back into the rhythm, the music started feeling good again and away we went. The Box of the trail is one of my favorite and least favorite parts of the R2R2R. For one it's nice trail running, gradual uphill on the way up the North and on the way back it's gradual downhill to Phantom Ranch. Yet on that gradual downhill you are over 30 miles deep in the run and a good deal of it looks very similar so you find yourself thinking, "this bend of the river is the last one" or "this bridge is the last one." Your mind, or at least mind, gets ahead of itself and you get excited and let down, get excited and let down. Always looking for the bridges, counting them, waiting for the next. In the last couple miles into Phantom I started to feel really good again, my legs started to stretch out with the music and after Paulette stopped for a shoe tie I went out front. I pushed, on occasionally looking at my Garmin to see how far we had to Phantom and realizing that my watch said 5:15, 6:36, or 7:22 minute miles. Given we had been chugging along at 12 minute miles it was ridiculous to be going sub 6 minute miles, even if it was only for a hundred feet. But it sure did feel great and as I pushed on through the last bridge I briefly thought about slowing down for a jog into the Ranch but instead punched it and nearly sprinted into Phantom Ranch to the looks and bewilderment to the tourists and campers brushing their teeth and drinking their morning coffee. It would be, hands down, the most fun I had in the entire trip. Stretching out the legs, flushing out all that stagnant energy in the body felt so great. Sadly, that is probably how the Killian’s, Geoff’s, Anton’s and Koerner’s of the world always run but for me, for those brief miles, it felt fast and wonderful. The question would still remain though, would that brief spurt kill all remaining reserves for the last climb out??
Phantom Ranch Part II
The four of us all met back up at Phantom, Jon was right behind me the entire way in holding the same pace, and we started right out for the last 9.5 miles to the top of the South Rim. All of us having done this before, we knew it was a long slog to the top with no real way to take a lot of time off it with all the switchbacks and elevation gain. So it becomes a simple task of head down, plug away. And so we did.
Everyone's spirits, including my own, were much higher as the sun rose steadily and those rays of sunshine and Vitamin D hit off our faces. We hit Jacob's Ladder (if that’s what you call that devilish switchback hell leading into Indian Gardens) and we knocked it out non-stop and pulled into Indian Garden sooner than I had thought. We weren't there but 2 minutes when Liz came powering through, a member of our original party we thought was over an hour behind us!! As it turns out they were, but Liz kicked it up a few notches after Phantom Ranch and pushed on alone. Now there were five of us in our own kind of mule train power hiking to the top. It's a long haul but with all the tourists coming down in the morning there was more than enough interaction to keep me interested and off the annoyance of the high steps and erosion bars along the trail.
As we progressed up the mountain, closer and closer to our goal, the pack of five separated slowly and Liz and Paulette pushed to the top with Jon in front of Jody and I. We all finished within minutes of each other, past the hoards of international tourists, day hikers, unprepared hikers, mule trains, and little kids excited for their first trip into the Grand Canyon. We were grimy, dirty, salty, beaten, tired, weary and they all knew it as they passed. They knew we were not campers, we were not day hikers, we were not tourists.
Dozens of times people along the trail would ask where we started, and when we started. Often there was hesitation from the group in how to answer the question presumably not wanting to sound like we were bragging (or crazy.) Sometimes a generic answer of "we hiked down last night" or "a few hours ago" would come out of someone’s mouth. Other times a straight answer of "we left at 8pm last night from South Kaibab and went over and across, 46 miles ago." That answer nearly always draws immediate interest and disbelief from the casual hiker, sitting there trying to get their head around the concept of running that distance all at once, as they sit there with their 30 pound REI pack on their shoulders. They stand bewildered as most of us did when we first heard about people that did 50K's, 50 Milers and 100 mile races. "No way." "Not possible." "You can't be serious." Yes, yes we are.
As more and more people make the R2R2R trip I'm sure it will be less a surprise to people when you tell them just exactly what you are doing or have just done. More people are trail running, more people are making their way to the South Rim for their "Rite of Passage." So it will then become less impressive I suppose and a notch on the belt that more people have.
Until that day though R2R2R is still a bit of a novelty, at least to me. It's still that little something in the back of your mind, that knowledge of yourself and what you can accomplish. It breaks you down but builds you up. You can feel totally undertrained, beaten and broken during the run but by the finish you feel capable of anything, stronger than ever and more confident than you were when you first stepped foot of the top of the South Rim.
No trip to the Grand Canyon is like the last and no trip will ever match the next. They are all singular events, experiences in running, nature and friendship. Cliché yet true and reason enough we all forget that last climb out and the long winded excursion through the "Big Ditch." Instead we sign back up each spring, fall or year and repeat the endeavor. Somehow we forget just how hard it was the last time.
So I will again, quickly forget that trip to the Dungeon, that brutal decent in the cold and that long, winding, never-ending Bright Angel trail to the top of the Rim...
Because I want to be there again this Fall for a whole new experience.
Phantom Ranch Part II
I was invited to join a group of runners from WMRC during the run on Wednesday. South to North to South. 47 miles. Having done this route twice before hiking (24:37 and 20:22) I was excited to try the route running. It is very runnable for a majority of the trail minus the steep switchbacks on both Rims. There are two groups going, one departing Phoenix at 3:00pm Friday and one departing at 4:30pm with the first group probably finishing around the same time. I replaced my destroyed La Sportiva Crosslites with a brand new pair yesterday as well as a new headlamp and some new Darn Tough socks. I tried on the LS Wildcat, Raptor, Addidas Supernova trail shoe but all feel too bulky, heavy or "odd" on my feet. The Crosslite hugs so perfectly and the traction is unmatched by any other trail shoe I've tried so far. Not exactly the cu