I sit here, still on a complete high from such an incredible experience I had last weekend in the Grand Canyon. What ended up being the entire Rim 2 Rim 2 Rim loop, was so much more than saying I completed this Ultra. It was so much more than the run or the miles or just finishing... This experience was one of the best days of my life.
In 2009 my father and I hiked half the loop, Rim 2 Rim, it took us all day, and I barely made it to the top of the South Rim alive. When a good friend, Walter Brown, invited me to join in on a group him and Steve Anderson were organizing, I knew this was something I had to do… I had a vendetta with that canyon.
The Friday after Thanksgiving, our group, which ended up being 12 people (8 finished), got into our Fun Bus RV and traveled down South. Road trips are not road trips without some obstacles... few blown tires made it interesting. The group I was with was great through. Everyone was easy going, willing to jump in and help out, and Steve, being the awesome person he is, ended up forgoing his R2R2R trip to fix the RV for the group - amazing guy.
Going into this I knew I could handle the distance and had the mental focus it would take to complete this trip. Truth though - I was still nervous as shit!
- Fact - I am the Queen of Tripping
- Fact - I've never 'run' any real trails
- Fact - No Ultra Training
- Fact - Head lamp? What's that... Camelbak? What's that...
- Fact - I am determined so all above I needed to just Man UP and go.for.it.
I didn't get much sleep that night and was ready to go just before 5am at the top of the North Rim, 8,300ft, 17 degrees. We started in some snow and I found myself at the very back – scared of slipping. 'Seriously?... already falling behind?' The snow only lasted about a quarter of a mile and we were in the clear. Descending down into the canyon was amazing. I remember just tuning everyone out, looking at the bright stars, feeling one with the canyon, and just wanting to scream with excitement... it was surreal.
By the time we reached the ranger station we were split into our groups that would pretty much remain for the remainder of the day - I found myself with Walter and Clyde. Talking with a friend whose tackled this in the 8 hour range gave me pointers, one being - this is a long day, pace yourself. So, that being said, I made Walter and Clyde let me run in front so I could pace at my speed to not totally crash at the end. I probably held them back because both of them are super strong runners.
Within the first two hours, I had stripped down to shorts and a tank; the weather was perfect and we were at Phantom Ranch before I knew it. This was our first real break, enough time to eat (PB&J for me which was freaking delicious), refill water, and head back out for the first real ‘work’ to be done going up South Kaibab.
Heading up Kaibab was hard, and freaking cold/windy! Like...
I want to punch someone in the face cold. Run/power-hike method with a mini sprint to the top (Clyde won... I took 2nd), got us to the South Rim in 4:29:19. People kept saying 'good morning,' which was throwing me off. It felt like it was afternoon but it was barely 10am! We were WAY ahead of my anticipated schedule. We took the shuttle, refilled water, ate a little something, and got ready to finish our trek back. – I used the hand dryers in the bathroom to dry my sports bra and shirt… best.idea.ever. It was so much colder than I had expected because of the fog and later, we would learn that the fog trapped in the Canyon was a rare weather occurrence.
Heading back down the South Rim via Bright Angel was fun! Walter took off, I knew he would right here, and I could tell he was loving this section. A lot of travelers clapped, made some you are insane comments, we ran into the rest of our group who were heading up, and I kept telling Clyde I feel so good still – ‘bottle it up for the North Rim assent.’ - yes sir! You could really let yourself get carried away on this section, but we made sure to hold back so our quads were not completely beat up. Once we hit the river I started to mentally prepare myself that after Phantom Ranch the suck was going to start.
At Phantom Ranch, again we refilled water, ate, and got ready to do work. This sounds so lame, but while at Phantom Ranch, in my head I repeated some of my mantras that I use in races over and over until we left…Teresa has taught me how important the mental aspect of endurance racing is, so no reason not to use it today.
Clyde decided we would run at a nice, steady pace to the ranger station, then power hike the rest of the way up. This section was nice because it was runable (ie didn’t have those mini logs that prevent erosion) From Phantom to Cottonwood was the only section that I had a series of mini mental battles. I’d look at my watch and we’d be running 9-10 pace and I’d think why the hell does this feel so dang hard! Every time a negative thought would creep in, I’d use some vulgarity to push it back out and carry on :) This section is where Walter’s legs were starting to give him some issues and he started to struggle - I got worried. I think he didn't take in enough calories and then the 5 hour energy drink he took just pushed him over the edge.We got him my compression socks on and continued.
Just after the ranger station I saw Steve and he looked like he was just skipping down the canyon having the time of his life! He had all of our warm clothes we had shed and some more nutrition. I took Walters backpack for him, and Clyde and I headed up for the final miles while Steve and Walter stuck together.
I don’t really remember these last miles but this section was hands down my FAVORITE. Clyde and I could have really hammered out this last section, but instead we power hiked most of it and mini jogged some sections.... just really enjoying and taking in what we were about to accomplish. There was an amazing view when we hit just above the cloud cover and finished just as the sun was setting. I kept thinking the last mile, HOLY crap we are really doing this.…under 10 hours... NO bonking… holy crap why do I feel good? When we came around the corner and saw that North Rim sign, it was a flood of emotions… I felt such a sense of accomplishment and all I wanted to do was call my father and tell him I freaking did it… healthy… and strong!
Finishing this still feels surreal… I needed this day in so many ways. Seeing everyone’s faces and senses of accomplish that night in the buss was the best... you are capable of so much more than you can ever think! So thankful to have had the opportunity to join this group. THANKS GUYS!!!
Nutrition: I think my nutrition was KEY to me not bonking this trip. Oatmeal and a banana for breakfast. I made sure I was taking in ~120 calories an hour from the very start consisting of GU/ Chomps/ PB&J/ Powerbar, and sipping on my PowerBar Perform Water mix all day long. 2 caffeine pills (1 at Phantom Ranch and 1 at the ranger station all on the way back). Took a total of 12 hammer electrolites pills throughout the day. Increased carbs 3 days prior
**For those reading looking for suggestions/advice a few things:
- Recommended route would be Down South kaibab, Up North Rim, then loop back going up Bright Angel
- Do this early/late in the year. It WAS cold but I can not imagine doing this in the heat
- Stay on top of your nutrition from the very first hour
- If I were to 'train for time', VERTICAL training would be top priority
- Have some Zoot Compression pants to put on the second you get done - Legs will thank you :D