Monday, November 17, 2014

Grand Canyon R2R 2014

After completing Ironman Arizona in 2010, 2011 and 2012 I was tired of racing.  I was ready to do more adventures and events than races.  So in 2013 I started hatching my plan to run Rim-to-Rim of the Grand Canyon.  This was cut short in 2013 as I came down with a pretty good case of plantar fasciitis in my right heel.  Happily (I guess) the government shutdown of 2013 also masked my chosen weekend, so it was on to planning 2014.

Since this was to be an adventure, I was sure I didn’t want to do it alone.  So I called up on some friends: some old, some new / some near, some far.   Eventually we had six ladies lined up to participate.  Our plan was to run North Rim to South Rim in one day.  It’s 23.5 miles and gains quite a bit of elevation.  Here is the profile:

The itinerary would require some surgical planning.  I had to ask for three days off of work.  Without producing the body of a dead relative, this is a big ask.  It got approved; so I was on to arrange logistics.  For Oct 2-5, 2014 we needed:

Air Travel to Phoenix
Rental Car
1 Nights Stay at South Rim
Shuttle to North Rim for 6 people
1 Nights Stay at North Rim
1 Nights Stay at South Rim

The lodging at the North Rim fills up fast.  I thought it was a year in advance, but they actually book out about 55 weeks in advance.  By the time I got around to checking most of the rooms were gone, so we were going ‘rustic’.  Two small cabins with a double and a twin-sized bed. 

After that was all booked it was all done except the training.  Three of the four of us from Oregon signed up and completed the Southern Oregon Outback 50k at the end of July. 

Another three of the four of us signed up for the Mt. Ashland Hillclimb run which seems to always be run on the most inhospitable weekend of the year.  There is either heat or humidity, and sometimes both.  Lucky me!  The Mt. Ashland Hillclimb starts at 1900’ and finishes at 7500’ only thirteen miles later.  It’s a sufferfest, but excellent R2R training.

Later in the summer I parked my car at the top of Mt. Ashland and ran down and then the next day hiked back up.  I’m not going to lie and say I ran back up, because I did not.  There was also a 32.5 mile training day somewhere in there.  With that and a few other adventures I felt almost ready. 

Before traveling to AZ, there were two hiccups.  While 2013 my right heel had planter fasciitis 2014 saw it appear in my left heel.  Knowing what the initial symptoms were I was able to make it manageable thru training.  Second hiccup is we lost DR’s friend, who had been recruited to help a relative move.  So we were to be a team of five.

Travel to South Rim and shuttle to the North Rim went smoothly. 

We made it to the South Rim!
Shuttle crossing the river

I may have had a hangry meltdown moment when we arrived at the North Rim, but otherwise everything went well.  A few hours later DR arrived.  Thankfully she had set up the dinner reservations.  Food service was slow, but the food was good.  At 9p we got back to the cabins and turned in.  Alarm was set for 4:30a.

Sometime after midnight I heard a mouse in the rafters of the room.  A few minutes later, I felt it run across my feet and the feet of my bunkmate.  I decide not to alert the room to this development. 

At 2:30a I woke up.  Like not going back to sleep.  I tried to relax for as long as possible.  Finally at 3:50ish I got up and started getting gear on.  I found out later I wasn’t the only one to sleep poorly.  We were all in for a long run on 2-4 hours of sleep.  Sleep deprived we took an ‘Angry Girl Band Photo’

Before we caught the 6a shuttle to the trailhead we all weighed our hydration bags in the lobby of the lodge.  Nine to Twelve pounds per person.  I was carrying two-20 ounce bottles (one for Sustained Energy, one for EFS electrolytes), and a half-full 100-ounce water bladder.  For food, I brought six GU, a few servings of Ritz Toasted Crackers, some jerky and extra Sustained Energy, EFS packets. 

We arrived at the trailhead at 6:10a and waited for one of our party who was jogging to the start.  Temperature was in the low 40’s at the start, but would be warming up quickly as we descended into the canyon.  We took one before photo.

Adela, Amy, Gwen, Mallory, Ali

And at 6:18am we dove into the canyon.  The decent was full of one breath-taking view after another.  Our group spread out and we took it easy.  The first mile dropped 800+ feet of elevation.  Paying attention to footing was important.  The steps were made of small logs across the sandy trail.  Sand along the top of the logs was slippery.  I can’t imagine how horrible the footing would be if it were raining.  Scary. 

It was about 10 minutes into the descent that I remembered to start the GoPro.  My dad had heard I was doing R2R and he sent me one.  Plan was to video the descent until the first of three batteries ran out, and then take a photo a minute for second battery and video the ascent on the other side.  I have 32 GB of photos and video and haven’t had the opportunity to cull thru them much.

Here’s a little video as we regrouped for a photo op on the descent.

And an awesome photo of what we were plunging into.

As we got to Pump House station we started seeing the very ambitious R2R2R’s coming up.  They were the elites and they looked like they meant business in groups of one or two.  Our group reformed at Pump House and agreed to meet again at Phantom Ranch.  I forgot to mention that we happened to bring along short-range walkie-talkies.  We had enough for each person to carry one.  The range was short, about a clear mile, but helpful in assuring that everyone was safely having fun.  Ali and Amy were taking the lead and DR, Mallory and I were in the second wave.  The run along the riverbeds was cool and so much fun. 

Along this section there were frequent rocks placed on-edge along the trail to divert water.  Somewhere around mile 7, I barked my shin squarely on one of these, as my vertical leap is nil.  It hurt like a S.O.B. and I didn’t look down for several minutes, as I didn’t really want to know if I was bleeding.  Turned out it was a good ding, but no blood, just a nice sized blood bruise.  A souvenir! 

At 14 miles we regrouped at Phantom Ranch!

Ali mugging for the camera
Me checking the map

Adela and Mallory chatting.

After a little break / refuel, we were off again.  We regrouped about a mile later at the river:

Photo Op!

With that the real work started.  Lots of photos here as the pace was slower and the photos came out looking better.  After the river it starts with ¾ mile of deep sand:

Then some more runnable sections:

And some steep ass-shit:

Mallory led me into dipping my hat and bandana into the cool stream:

We had been warned about getting trapped by the mule-trains, but we only ran into two trains for a total of 3-4 minutes.  So no big deal and good timing on our part.

Just below Indian Garden (4.5 miles to go), I took this shot of Mallory.  What an incredible view!  And look at what awaits us behind her.  Gulp!

After Indian Garden, the foot traffic started to get heavier ahead.  Next markers were Three Mile House and 1.5 Mile House.  This part of the climb, the walkie-talkies came in handy.  It was like being on Mt. Everest to a degree.  Those of us lower on the climb were able to keep track and celebrate as each person came over the radio with their report of summiting.  Ali made it first in under six-hours.  Next was Amy in about 6:40.  Mallory, Adela and I were ganged together over about a ¼ mile for the last hour of climbing.  With a ¼ mile to go, I took this video:

Almost exactly seven hours of running later:

About a minute later Mallory finished and we had a gal-pal moment:

We took several celebratory shots after finishing 23.5 miles of fun, sun and pain.

After a HUGE food fest and much drinking we were all in bed and asleep before 8pm.  It was such a blast.  I suggest every runner have this on their bucket list.  One final shot of the sunrise the next morning:

Thank you for reading.