Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Grand (Canyon) Weekend

Sometimes running isn’t about the races or the training but about where you are and who you’re with when you go for a run.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to go to the Grand Canyon and do a rim-to-rim-to-rim run again. This would be my fourth time doing a double crossing. I also had the opportunity to go with a group of running friends from the Ogden area. I can’t think of too many other things I would have rather done than do a run in this spectacular place with a bunch of friends. We had a great time. Doesn’t get much better than that.


We began planning this adventure last year and all sorts of people said they were going. What I’ve found out is that when the date gets closer, most people end up dropping out and the group ends up being two or three people. This time we had ten total runners that did all or part of the journey. For several, this was their first visit to the Grand Canyon as well as their longest run ever, by a long ways. Since I had done this run a few times, I became the defacto tour guide.

On Friday afternoon, most of us were able to get in a view of the canyon with me pointing out where we were going. There were several “wows”, “what did I get myself into”, “this is kind of scary” comments, but everyone was still up for the run. We agreed to start at 4am so that we would hopefully avoid most of the heat of the day in the inner canyon.

The last supper


We ended up starting at 4:20am on Saturday morning. The air temperature was about 32 degrees but there wasn’t any breeze. Generally a pleasant morning and we were excited. Since it was dark, no one could see the trail from the rim, let alone the canyon. One of our party went down the trail a ways so she could get pictures of the headlamp train coming down.

After about an hour we came to Indian Gardens. This is about half way to the river and is a campground, water stop, etc. We took a short break to refill on water, eat a little something, take some pictures, marvel at the scenery.

According to this sign, we’re all going to die if we attempt to hike to the river and back in one day

After that we kept going down and down and down. Finally we saw the river and began the short run to the silver bridge. Along the way us guys had to stop and throw rocks into the river trying to hit a large boulder. It’s a guy thing. We trotted across the silver bridge and a few minutes later came to the Phantom Ranch. Here we stopped, filled up on water, ate some, took a break and let everyone catch up. Everyone agreed that this was an awesome place to go for a run.
The motley crew at the Phantom Ranch

We began the run up Bright Angel Canyon as the sun was just hitting the upper walls of the canyon. The run up was pretty uneventful, just going along, marveling at the scenery, enjoying every minute of it. Eventually we got to Cottonwood Campground. Last year I did this run the same weekend and the water was on. This year it wasn’t. A few people were concerned, but I mentioned that the caretaker house was just a mile or two up the trail and the water was always on there. Sure enough, when we got there, the water was on and we were all able to tank up. By now our group was starting to spread out and I went most of the way to the north rim with a fellow R2R2R runner from San Francisco. I got to the north rim by 12:30pm.
Speedgoat at the north rim

Felt great and took about a 30 minute break waiting for the others to show. A couple of the faster guys in our group had already headed back down. Eventually I decided to head back down because I wanted to get back to the Phantom Ranch before they closed at 4pm and buy some lemonade. So Jerome (the runner from SF) and I headed down. We had to push fairly hard to make it before closing and we managed to do just that. When I walked into the Ranch, I was the last customer. I put down a $20 and told them I wanted to buy as many lemonades as I could. I ended up with eight and as each runner in our group came in, I handed them one. That was some good stuff. I ended up spending two hours at the Ranch waiting for people to come through. Jerome and I finally took off for the south rim at 6pm with a few of the others following a few minutes later.

As we went up the Bright Angel trail and the skies got darker, the frogs really started to croak. Huge sounds echoing off the canyon walls, but coming from these tiny little frogs about two inches big. The bats started to come out as well and would fly extremely close to us snagging bugs. We made it to Indian Gardens a little after 7pm, took a short break and pressed on. I was still feeling very good other than getting hungry. I was out of food and worried about bonking. I’ve bonked before going up this trail and it’s not fun. Next was making it to the 3-mile resthouse. That took us 45 minutes and based on that I told Jerome that it would take us another 1.5 hours to get to the top. We must have picked up the pace because we made it to the 1.5-mile resthouse just 35 minutes later and 35 minutes after that we were coming out of the canyon. So, after some 17 hours in the depths of the Grand Canyon, I was finally out. I ended up waiting at the trailhead in my car until 12:45am when the last person finally made it up.


As friends finished, several swore they would never do that again, it was the hardest or worst thing they had ever done. However, by the next day, most were ready to go again. Some of us spent Sunday just hanging out enjoying the scenery, watching the California Condors and eating, rather than driving home. It was a nice way to relax and relive the experience.

For me, doing this run was a reward for the training that I do as well as a break after directing the Buffalo Run. Doing it with a bunch of friends just made it that much more special.

I was a little worried about how I would do given my seeming lack of running, but I think the biking and swimming I’ve been doing more than made up for it as I felt great the entire day. I wish I had taken one more 1st Endurance flask for the calories. Next time.

I wore my La Sportiva Crosslites and they worked perfectly, but I think they’re ready for retirement as the coolest lawn mowing shoes on the block. I know I’m ready to go again. Maybe try some different trails next time.