Saturday, September 10, 2011

Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim - Part 1

Travel and Logistics

So we flew out at about 8:30 am from SJC to PHX. That means a 5 am wake up call for me, to get everything ready, pack the last minute things I forgot (like a flipping toothbrush!) and prepare myself for an hour’s worth of traffic. We met the rest of our party at the gate, and we were on to PHX! When we landed, we had some logistics to deal with (such as car rental, and dealing with a gaggle of people). We finally got it all together, and with my poor navigation skills, we made it to the meet up at Phoenix Ranch Market.


Holy Mexican Heaven! Nothing prepared me for this place. Shaun said it best with “Wow, I’ve never felt like shopping AND dancing before!” This place was an awesome Mercado, and had everything from awesome Mexican dulicitas, to every Mexican delicacy ready to be plopped on a tortilla and headed for my mouth. Smartly, I decided to take it easy and I chose a modest plato fajitas de pollos, para llevar, por favor! I was hoping to get mostly rice and beans and less chicken/peppers, but I ended up with quite the opposite. Oh well. After about 45 minutes of nomming, we scoured the store for hike-able/run-able goodies. My list included water, peanut butter, honey, bread, and one FRS. I also added an “Hecho in Mexico” coke to that for the finish line. It just sounded so tasty.

Packing the Bag

This is actually harder than it sounds. Part of this is because I stuffed a 100-oz camelback bladder into a 70-oz Nathan backpack… When it’s full, there’s not too much room for anything else. I also managed to stuff a PB&H sandwich in there, a Vespa (my current drug of choice), various Gu-type products, a few 5 hour energies, not one but two MP3s (I had a feeling that I might need them, plus one was loaded with mega funk (feel-good) hits, and one was filled with podcasts (helloooo distraction), a baggie of sunscreen (seriously effective), a baggie of bag balm (same), 4 butt wipes (I was feeling lucky), powdered Gatorade/Carbo Pro, a snake venom extractor (non-negotiable item), bug spray towlette, ALCIS packet, Chamois Butter packet, chapstick stuff, animal crackers, sunglasses, whistle, GPS watch, head torch, and awesomeness. I left my heat blanket and my dried mangoes. I only missed one of those.


I keep it no secret: I get AMS pretty badly. Once you get it the first time, it never gets better. This year alone I have experienced AMS at 10,000 feet (thank goodness for reusable pack-out bags), and I began to have it at our grand elevation of 6,800 feet. It starts with an unquenchable headache. As ibuprofen is a running no-no, I usually combat it with extreme hydration, but I was unsuccessful. In addition to the bone-chattering headache, I was also extremely nauseous. Shortly before I called it a night, I was pretty much useless.

Sleep is for Pansies

I was fortunate enough to conk out earlier on our 2 hour plane ride, so when we headed to bed around 6:30 pm, I was okay with whatever sleep we were going to get. I put a wet washcloth on my forehead to combat the AMS and keep me cool. I was really worried I was going to spend this precious downtime in the bathroom puking, but I lucked out. I also popped 3 mg of Melatonin. I probably actually got about 30 minutes of solid sleep, which is more than I can say for anyone else. Our 9pm “wake up” was … rough.

Pre Run Prep

The morning goal of every ultra runner is the accomplishment of the pre-run “sense of clear.” Please don’t make me explain that in more detail. I usually get up, eat immediately, and then get ready whilst things… brew. I was not successful in this task, but I had no fear that a few miles in I would probably need to find a bush. I will briefly mention that one of our runners DID accomplish his goal, which was narrated by another runner to my amusement with “Ah… these are the moments.” A week later I’m still laughing.

During this time, I double checked my packing, ate as much PB&H as I could, tried not to puke on anything. I taped up my feet with band-aids and duct tape (runner’s trick), and tucked my gaitors down.

Trailhead/ I’m a wimp

We convinced another runner’s wife to drive us to the start (we were like .5 miles from the start… and frankly, I’m a wimp). If I were in the market for a wife, Sally would surely be it!

At the trailhead, I visited the porta-potty (no successes), stretched a little, and took a few pictures. I also took a second to mentally focus before the run. Yeah, it didn’t help. Pre-run nerves snuck up on me without my notice…

breathe in, breathe out

Holy Cow I’m running the Grand Canyon

Everything started off perfectly (except for the fact we were about ½ behind schedule). The weather was a cool 78*, the stars were out in full force, and the turf was soft and seriously downhill. We spaced out a bit to avoid dust, and we were just hauling along. Every step reminded me of how much my head was hurting, but the farther we descended, the farther I was from AMS. I figured at about 3 miles in, I’d start to feel better.

There wasn’t much for us to see at this time of night, save what the head torches illuminated in our immediate path. This was probably a good thing. We ran into a few hikers coming up (poor babies!), and our biggest obstacles were the rhythm ripping logs holding the trail in place (dubbed “The Stairmasters”).

Again, not much to see, but the sound was OVERWHELMING. The air around me was completely still, with that latent quality that heightens your senses and makes you keenly “present.” The sound of my soft footfalls echoed a little on the canyon walls, accompanied by a full orchestra of crickets, and somewhere below me a few bullfrogs were singing back up. This singular sonic event will be my favorite memory of the Grand Canyon.

breathe in, breathe out

That’s not a mud puddle

Had we waited until first light, we would have probably met the trail’s most famous hikers: the burros. Actually, they’re mules, used to pack in and pack out supplies, garbage, and people. They definitely leave quite an imprint on the trail. After about two miles of dodging mule-pies, I just gave up. Life is too short, and I wasn’t planning on getting out of this whole thing squeaky clean anyways.

I lunge for mud puddles like a dog lunges at a squirrel. They bring me sheer, unabashed joy. When I see one, it’s “game on.” In the dark, they were hard to spot, but I did my best. Then it occurred to me… I hadn’t seen a mud-puddle source yet. No running water, no springs, no telltale stream-lining brambles… In short, this wasn’t naturally made mud. Where there are mule-pies, there are probably mule-puddles, too.

Day Over

In addition to the “Stairmasters,” the trail (at this point) was a good combination of sand and cue ball sized rocks. The hidden gems were little pieces of rebar sticking out of the Stairmasters, or sometimes, hiding in the soil just below them, conveniently out of the head torch’s illumination. Sneaky bastards.

Somewhere after the first water opportunity, and before the second, I took one fated step. I heard all the canyon sounds stop, and the air was once again still, and pregnant. I felt my under-foot grip go. I heard a loud “pop.” I saw the ground rushing towards me. In pain and utter disbelief, I pulled myself into a seated ball. I audibly told myself to “suck it up” and began to assess the damage. I was terrified to look under my running gaiters.

breathe in, breathe out

In a few minutes my running mates caught up to me, ready with advice and (most importantly) patience. We spent half an hour at mile 2.6, and I am forever grateful for their cool heads, their patience, and the time they allowed me to make my decision. I longed for the bed I had just left behind. I longed for sweets and caffeine that I given up months before. I longed for air conditioning. I had an excuse as to why I didn’t finish that everyone would believe, and that would allow me to enjoy these things without sacrificing too much ‘face.’ I longed for ibuprofen.

Eventually I realized my day, at mile 2.6 had to be over. I spent all my monopoly money on this trip, and I was also hoping it would be a really important turning point in my personal life. Now I was going to have to make the fateful (and lonely) trip back to the Bright Angel trailhead. But again, I had that ‘excuse’ that made it okay. Was this the person I become?

Sitting there on that rock, I heard my running mates go on. I heard their in-sync steps shuffling down the trail, and I thought of how many steps it would take for me to get back to the top. I heard them jumping off the Stairmasters, and I thought whether it would be easier to get to the bottom and nap before going back up. After all, I did want to see at least SOME of the Grand Canyon. I heard them stop and start like a two-man centipede over unseen obstacles, and pictured myself reclining in the hotel room, having a pity party with my pillow-padded pede. I heard their steps synch once again, and pictured what the ground looked like rushing past their feet. What untold worlds would those heels strike? What airs would those tongues taste? What would the eyelets behold? What earthy delights would the toe-balls grip and crush? What pure, unfettered freedom flows at the canyon’s bottom?

I got up. I ran on.

breathe in, breathe out

Monday, September 5, 2011

Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim Run: Pre Adventure Post

How I got to this point:

So sometime last November, my buddy TC came to me (via Facebook) and said “Hey, I think we should run the Grand Canyon.” As usual, I threw caution to the wind, and clicked “I’m attending” on his spiffy FB invite. It sure sounded like a good idea at the time….

Training for this Run:

I often get asked “Holy guacamole; you are running what? How do you train for that?” My answer is usually “Well, um…. “(trail off for dramatic effect). The truth is that I love running and loathe training. So when I get asked about training plans, my answers are usually a bit vague. Let’s call this skill a “work in progress.”

I was injured for most of the summer, so I didn’t actually start training until July 24 (with an “I haven’t run in two months” 10k at Wharf to Wharf – amazingly, I PR’d). So that’s a solid 5 weeks of training and taper. My longest run was Aug 13 at 37 miles. I ran from the Saratoga Gap to Rancho San Antonio Parking Lot and back in 95* heat. I purposely ran myself out of water just to see what my body would do. Overall, the run was AWESOME and I’d definitely do that run again. In between that and now have been some consistent 7 milers, and 20 milers for long runs. I also did two training days (plus one long bike ride) at about 9000 ft.

Saratoga Gap to Rancho:

Great Run: 37 miles of up and down and up and down, rinse (in the creek), and repeat.

Olberman’s Causeway in Mt. Shasta:

A few little hill repeats:

The Game Plan:

We had originally thought to start at 5am, like normal R2R2R Runners, but watching the weather, we pushed it back to a 12 am start, so we would avoid a lot of mid-day heat. As of last week, we have pushed this back to a 10pm start. Dan thinks it will takes us <16 hours to complete, TC is aiming for a 17 hour finish, and I’m thinking it’s going to take me all sassafrassing day. TC’s wife, Sally, her sister, Lindy, their brother-in-law Alex, Shaily, and Shuan will all be hiking down to the bottom and back. I hope they are still on the trail when we head back up Bright Angel.

There are several choices of trails to take down from the South Rim, but we are going to take the tried and true Bright Angel Trail. We’ll come up the North Side on North Kaibab trail. Water stops will include Phantom Ranch, Indian Garden, and Cottonwood Campground. I am hoping all will have water flowing!

I should say that when I initially conceived this run, I thought we would have/need some support. I definitely thought that someone could meet us at the other side (North Rim) with drop bags, and maybe even have someone to see down at the bottom, if only for a few GUs and a high five.

Packing for this Run:

Things I brought:

· 100oz (not to be confused with liters) Camelback bladder (which is stuffed into…)

· Nathan running backpack

· The Extractor (looks like a miniature version of something out of Austin Powers; It is theoretically used to extract snake and other venoms from your body)

· Heat Blanket – Not that I’m thinking I’m gonna need it, but I always travel into the backwoods with it as a safety precaution

· Whistle (another backwoods essential)

· Handheld bottle

· Knife

· Sunscreen in a baggie ‘cause I can’t find my little tube of it

· Watch w/ intervals

· A borrowed GPS watch that I was assured would last the whole run

· 2 iPods (because they don’t have a very long battery life)

· iPhone (so I can take pictures!)


Breakfast: 1 PB/Honey Sandwich, 1 FRS if I can find it, 1 Vespa Pouch


· 100oz of Water (to be refilled)

· 20 oz bottle of Gatorade/CarboPro Mix

· 1 PB/Honey

· 1 Baggie Animal Crackers

· 1 Baggie Dried Mangoes from TJ’s

· 2 5-Hour Energies

· 4 GUs

· 2 Shotblock Packs

· 2 Packs Sportsbeans

· Thermolytes

· 3 baggies of Gatorade/Carbo Pro Mix

· A few FRS chews

· 1 Vespa

The plan is that the majority of my food will be consumed at the top of North Rim, or at Phantom Ranch at the second trip down.

Things I thought I’d bring and decided not to

· Pepper Spray (another thing I never leave home without)

· A burrito (what I usually train with)

Things I’m worried about:

Heat, Altitude, Lack of Sleep, the headache I’ve had for 2 days, and the Mexican food I un-wisely consumed for lunch

Things I’m super excited about:

I’m not going to lie; I’m really excited about the 20% chance of thunderstorms. I am also secretly itching for the chance to separate from my running buddies and have a few miles of running on my own. I love running. I hate being constrained by time, tempo, and other people (awesome though they might be). I just want the chance to experience the Grand Canyon and form my own opinions. Regardless, this is going to be a special experience no matter how it plays out.

Last things:

When I made the decision to do this run, it was largely in response to the relationship I was in at the time. Basically my former flame told me I wasn’t allowed to do this run. When I said “yes” to this run, I felt like I said “yes” to myself, and an emphatic “no” to him (and promptly began packing my bags). Weather I finish this run, or even live through it, agreeing to run this was absolutely the right decision! My nerves are giving way to excitement as the minutes pass!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

New Blog!

Hey! I started a new blog. My hope is to chronicle my everyday adventures, be they grand or mundane. I also want to put some training related posts up that will hopefully answer gear and training questions that I often get. If you have any ideas for blogs, please let me know!