It’s a bit mind blowing that I had never even seen the Grand Canyon before running it. Growing up in northern Utah I was only about 9hrs from the north rim. R2R2R stands for rim to rim to rim, meaning going from the south rim of the canyon, down to the bottom of the canyon, to the north rim of the canyon and then turning around and doing it again back to the south rim; a double crossing. While there are a fair number of people that do this run every year, this in no way means that it is easy. In many write-ups I have read it is considered the “right of passage” into ultrarunning.
|The near-full moon.|
When my crazy brother-in-law, Isaac, got into running he wasn’t messing around. Having been running increasing miles for the previous year, and a member of the family, made him the perfect running partner for a Thanksgiving weekend canyon crossing. There is always the tug from both the adventure end of the vacation and the family end of the vacation which sometimes gets me into trouble. When Kimber suggested that I run the canyon with Isaac I was all in. A few years ago I had planned to do it with the Utah gang but medical school didn’t really care about those plans and it didn’t happen.
It turned out to be a grueler, one of those runs where you just never really feel great. But, we couldn’t have asked for better weather, the trail wasn’t all the busy and we were pretty psyched to do it. So we ditched the family post-Thanksgiving festivities in Phoenix, AZ the night before and headed north.
Predawn stoke and chills. Man on a mission.
|Climbing the north rim wondering why it's taking so long to gain elevation.|
|Phantom Ranch, second time through......wasted. Mile ~35, just before having to climb out the entire south rim.|
· 3:20am – Awake and drive to Grand Canyon from Flagstaff, AZ.
· 5:15am(0:00) – 6780K ft elevation, Drop into canyon south rim via South Kiabab Trailhead
· 6:50am(1:35) – ~2100ft elevation, Reached Colorado River at bottom of canyon.
· 7:10am(1:55) – 2100ft elevation, Phantom Ranch, ~10min break
· 9:15am(4:00) - 4700ft elevation, North Side, ~10min break
· 10:15am(5:00) – 5200ft elevation, North Side, ~10min break
· 11:02am(5:47) – 7780ft, North Kiabab Trailhead at North Rim, ~30min break
· ??:??pm(??:??)- ~4000ft elevation, Cottonwood Campground, , ~15min break
o Coming down ‘Box Canyon’ into Phantom Ranch felt like it would never end, winding down next to the Bright Angle Stream.
· 2:55pm(9:40) - 2100ft elevation, Phantom Ranch, ~30min break
o We walked/stumbled up the entire south rim and finished under a near-full moon lighting the entire canyon.
· 7:17pm(14:02) – 6780ft elevation, South Kiabab Trailhead of Grand Canyon South Rim
*Elevations are from my Suunto watch and aren’t exact because I haven’t calibrated it, but the change in elevation is pretty accurate.
Isaac getting water at our first pass through Phantom Ranch (L), heading up the north rim (M) and at the north rim (R).
· - 14hrs 2min total time.
· - 10,710ft elevation gain, 21,420 elevation change
· - 41.8 miles rim to rim to rim (43 if you add in our crappy parking spot away from the trailhead).
· - Amount of sleep night before run: 2.5hrs(Nate)/1.5hrs(Isaac)
Ways to Improve Time (in order of importance as I see it)
· Dial in hydration and nourishment. I need to do a lot more research into this but I think I brought too much protein and not enough simple sugars. Late in the run my stomach started feeling nauseous and I stopped eating and drinking very much.
|I ate less than half of that. Protein overload!|
|Took in some Cod Liver oil and butter the night before per Isaac's suggestion|
· Don’t start with knee, foot and ankle pain. I had a minor muscle strain behind my left knee that was drastically exacerbated early on during the run. I twisted my ankle pretty bad the night before playing post-Thanksgiving sand volleyball and that combined with a weak headlamp and a horrendous trail wasn’t awesome. I wore prefab orthotics in my shoes to try to stop the pain at my left first metatarsalcuneiform joint which I hadn’t trained in long enough and they killed my foot bad enough that I took the right one out half way. When we prescribe orthotics to patients we tell them about a break in period. I need to practice what I preach.
· Do more long training runs. When I say long I’m not totally talking about miles, but about the amount of time that I spend moving on my feet. My longest training run since my 50 mile race(9hrs, 1.5 months previously) was only 5hrs and 29miles. I more than doubled my time on my feet which rocked me.
· More sleep. 2.5hrs isn’t enough simple as that.
· Get better acclimatized. Living at 0ft elevation in CA and only spending a few days at ~2K ft in Phoenix probably played a significant part.
· Load some music onto my MP3 player. I listened to Ultrarunner podcasts for much of the run. While the interviews with world class runners was interesting I noticed that I run much better and got a bursts of energy during the wrap up song at the end of each interview.
· Better headlamp for descent. The South Kiabab trail is not smooth at all with logs, boulders and steep drop offs along most of the entire downward switch backs. My light even died for about 20minutes where I had to run in front of Isaac, my shadow blocking the view of each step.
· Don't forget your lucky visor. Luckily Isaac had a hat for me to borrow that allowed us to be team Nike but I sure missed my visor. I have done a lot of great miles in that visor and it just wasn't the same..
I don’t like to ask myself if an adventure like this will ever be repeated for at least 2 weeks after the event, because I seem to forget all of the suffering and remember only the sheer awesomeness of the ordeal. But thinking about it two days after it is over, I am warming up to the idea and probably would give it another go if the opportunity arises. While the record for the course is an insane 6hrs, 53min and 38sec by Dakota Jones in Nov 2011, thinking that I could even do it in half that time during my first attempt was fun but a bit unsettling when I didn’t. While I am happy with my finish time I’m not content with it. Time will tell if in the future I will get to take another solid stab at it.
|The day before Kimber and her sister, Isaac's wife, ran their first half marathon. They rock.|