Rim2Rim2Rim - My Journey from Couch to Grand Canyon
As I walked to the edge of the Grand Canyon I started to question myself. What had I gotten myself into? What in the world was I thinking when I said yes? How was I ever going to finish this run?
I was short of breath, my eyes started to water and my heart was pounding. And this was only the day before I was to attempt a double crossing of the Grand Canyon...
My journey from the couch to runner has taken some interesting twists and turns.
As I struggled to complete my first mile with out stopping ,just six years ago, I would have never imagined I would be able to run for thirty minutes straight. When I completed my first half marathon, just five years ago, I would have never imagined running a full marathon. After running several marathons and even ultras I still could not imagine that I would be trying to run across the Grand Canyon, let alone trying to do it over and back!
Yet here I stood. Watching others take pictures of this amazing site. Looking at my running group take it all in, seeming so relaxed and happy. Wondering how in the world I had gotten here.
Well, last year around September I received an email from a running friend (Chris). It started out innocently enough:
"I'm planning on a Grand Canyon double crossing in the Spring. Noah, this sounds like something you would do so I though I'd include you on the invite. Greg, you seem smarter than this but thought you might know some other idiots with this on their bucket list."
With an invite like that how could I refuse?
So I of course sent an invite to my running partner (CSR). She responded with, "Hmmmmmmm" and then "I'm in!"
I spent the next few months working on a training plan which included the two marathons CSR and I were already planning on running. We added in some crazy hill repeats (on the Cooper River Bridge) and some Lowcountry trail running.
But in the end, we had done all of our training at sea level for a 47 + mile run that would start at about 6,000 feet and go down to around 2,000 feet, back up to over 8,000 feet and back.
The day before our run most of us flew into Las Vegas and rented a 15 passenger van. The trip to the park was so much fun it could fill up this entire post. That night we all checked into our rooms at the Bright Angle Lodge and ate dinner together. Our group consisted of me, CSR, Chris, Brett, Kristin, Scott, Mary Ann, Lee Ann, Jay, Beth, and Bill.
Each of these people have their own stories and they are pretty amazing people. I will not try to describe their run, only what I observed. Chris, Brett, Scott, CSR and myself were planning on running the entire R2R2R; Kristin, Mary Ann, Beth and Bill were planning on running from the South Rim to Phantom Ranch and back to the Rim; and Lee Ann and Jay were planning on running from the South Rim to Indian Garden and back.
All of these runs would be challenging.
That night I tried to sleep, but got up every few hours to check the clock. Can you imagine training months for a run, flying all the way to AZ and not waking up in time to run? I'm guessing someone would have come to my room and made me get up (CSR).
We all met at the South Rim (Bright Angel Trailhead) at 4:00am. It was dark and we could barely see the Canyon, but we all had headlamps and flashlights. There was an attempt at a picture in the dark and then we were off!
Going down the trail was amazing (I may use that word a few times). It was an incredible feeling to know that we were going into this massive place and that we were so high up. The trail is in great shape on the South Rim, but it's dusty and has steps for the mules. CSR was having trouble seeing during this part (mistake number one - we needed better headlamps). As the Sun came up and we could see the trail better our pace picked up and we went past Indian Garden Camp Ground. There was water available but we didn't need any yet so we kept going.
As we made it further into the Canyon we hit Devil's Corkscrew. Amazing! This area was so freaking cool we could not believe it! Running down the switchbacks was like being in an adventure movie. Freaking crazy!
From this area the trail leveled out. We came around a turn and there before us was the Colorado River. The sun was up and the water was beautiful. There were several hikers in the area and I noticed they all looked at us like we were crazy. There's a short bridge crossing at this point and we stopped to take a few pictures.
From the bridge it's only a short distance to Phantom Ranch. We were feeling pretty good, but I could tell it was going to take us a lot longer to finish than I had expected.
I constantly do math in my head when I'm running to figure out pace and finish times (its a curse). I let the feeling of dread leave me and worked on refilling my bottles and hydration pack.
While we were refilling our packs I saw Antone Krupicka, a big time ultra runner! Kind of like running into Ryan Hall at a marathon. Anyway, I watched him refill his tiny water bottle and then take off like he was running a 5K. Crazy!
From Phantom Ranch we started our run to the North Rim. CSR and I were feeling pretty good and running strong. We made it through some pretty amazing places and saw some cool water falls, cliffs, and even an area that looked like swamp.
Although I did see a lizard and a mule deer (I guess that's what it's called), there was not much wildlife wondering around.
I did, however, hallucinate a little and thought for sure I saw a kangaroo in front of me...
After Ribbon Falls the incline started to gradually increase, but after a few miles you really start to notice it. We passed Cottonwood Campground and finally made it to the Pumphouse Residence and refilled our water for the last time before the big push to the top of the North Rim.
I knew that there was no other stops for water after this point, but felt pretty good knowing it would "only" be five miles up and five miles down. How much water would I really need???
We also saw a sign for people to leave notes and noticed that Brett, Chris and Scott were close to two hours ahead of us (damn!).
As we were heading out there was an older guy running just ahead of us. He had actually run the Canyon several times over the years. I asked him how long it was to the top and as he ran off he said, "usually takes me about four and half hours round trip". Hmmmm. I was like, maybe I misunderstood him. Four and a half hours to run ten miles? No way.
Oh, if we were only so lucky...
The trail immediately started to get worse as soon as we left the last water stop. We passed by Roaring
Springs and saw more amazing views. The elevation change was really starting to quicken and we had to climb over some trees and rocks as we got higher.
I could tell I was sweating a lot more and my heart was really pounding. This was going to be tough...
A mile or so before we reached Supai Tunnel we ran into Brett on his way back down. He was feeling pretty bad and was trying to get back to Phantom Ranch to meet his wife Kristin. He didn't make us feel very good about what we had left in front of us.
About forty five minutes later we ran into Chris on his way back down. Again, he didn't make us feel like jumping up and down for joy at the prospect of what was ahead.
We finally made it to Supai Tunnel, after what seemed an eternity, only to find the end of the tunnel was blocked by a rock slide. After climbing over the rocks we just kept on going.
At this point I realized that I was going to run out of water before I even reached the top of the North Rim. There's no water at the top so I was going to have to figure something out for at least the next three hours. I have a huge problem with calf cramps when I'm dehydrated so I was really starting to freak out.
Just then, we saw Scott coming down from the top. He had run out of water as well, but told me there was snow at the top to refill bottles. Huge relief, but we still had to get there...
It was so weird how my brain just started to shut down. Even though I knew I could get snow at the top I was still trying to save my half bottle of water. I was in a fog and barely remember this part of the trail.
CSR ended up pulling me to the side of the trail and made me stop in the shade until my heart rate slowed down and I drank the rest of my water. It seemed like oxygen finally made it back to my head and it started to clear up a little.
I was feeling better at this point, but if another runner came down saying "almost there" I would have killed them!
We saw some pretty amazing sites and right before we made it to the top we ran into a funny squirrel sitting on some rocks. I even took a picture just to make sure it wasn't a hallucination.
We pushed one more time and made it to the top of the North Rim! I was still breathing hard and felt like I could have just stopped there for days.
We talked to a couple of guys who took our picture and then we filled up my water bottles. Snow, dirt, grass and bugs have never tasted better!
There really was not time to enjoy our victory, we still had to get back down and then back up to the other side...
The run back down the trail was a whole lot more fun. The views were even more spectacular than I thought going up (well, what little I remembered).
CSR started having a lot of foot pain as we made our way back. I knew we were way behind our predicted time and knew we were going to be finishing our run at night.
After stopping to refill our bottles and packs we headed back towards Phantom Ranch. I really started to worry that my wife, Jen, was going to be freaking out when we did not get back in the time frame I had told her, so I tried to get a text out to her. Not so easy in the Grand Canyon. Just as I was about to give up trying, the text went through.
Just getting through to Jen and letting her know I was okay was such a big relief. She may not know it, but her encouragement at that moment made me feel a million times better and was just what I needed.
Now that I was not worried about when we were going to finish, I was just determined to finish this damn run!
We took it easy until we got to Phantom Ranch. Once we got there I went to pick up our sack lunches (which sucked) and CSR went to find some Motrin. We spent about 15 minutes eating, refilling water and talking to some of the campers. CSR was feeling a lot better after the Motrin started kicking in so we headed out for our last nine miles to the top of the South Rim.
We were both feeling pretty good and made good time running back to Devil's Corkscrew. We saw the last of the sun and turned on our headlamps and flashlight as we started the last five miles.
Those last five miles took us hours...
We even made a few rookie mistakes. We thought we were closer and skipped eating for an hour. I realized it when we got to the Three Mile Rest House. That's when you know you have three miles left (hmmmmm). Well, we thought we had about a mile left.
We stopped and ate and once again my brain starting working. CSR was crashing pretty fast. Her feet were killing her again and she looked rough (shh, don't tell her I said that). I was actually really worried that she could fall off the trail and really get injured. We were both tired and our headlamps were just not bright enough. We stayed close and just kept going.
With just a little ways to go we saw a flashlight that we knew was Brett's (he had sent us a text). That was such a big lift for us that we really started pushing the last half mile.
Side note: Brett actually got pretty sick on his run and had been puking for six hours! Crazy that he actually got out of bed and came out to see us finish. Of course it could be that he just wanted to take a video of us and see just how crappy we looked at the end...
We finally came around the corner of the last switchback and finished at the top of the South Rim.
It was such a surreal moment. It was hard to believe that it was real. We had made it!
Had it not been so late and I had not been so tired I would have been jumping up and down and yelling. As it was, CSR and I simply hugged Brett and then walked back to Chris' room for pizza, the best cold pizza I have ever eaten.
So as I look back as this amazing adventure and I think of where my journey began I remind myself of just how lucky am I that I took that first (hard, painful, sweaty, slow, awkward) step...
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