Monday, November 5, 2018

Grand Canyon R2R2R

Bria and I took a week off in late October to go play in the desert.  We visited bryce canyon, zion, the grand canyon and spent several days climbing in red rock canyon outside of Vegas.  While at the grand canyon, I planned to tackle the classic double crossing of the canyon (R2R2R) in a day, one of the most iconic non-race ultra distance runs in the country.  Given the rest of our trip itinerary, we visited the more remote north rim.  My day started just after first light, running the 14 mile and 6000vert descent down to the colorado river.  
initial descent into the canyon
down down down
There was a 60% chance of rain/thunderstorms in the forecast so I started to worry about flash flooding when it started to rain as I was running through “the box” before phantom ranch but fortunately nothing more than ten minutes of a drizzle materialized all day.  I stopped to refill water at bright angel campground just before the river, 2:20 into the day, feeling great and excited for a change of pace, i.e. start climbing.  It felt weird and a little concerning to be 14 miles into a run with 11,000feet of climbing and having not yet done any climbing.   
unfortunately this is my only picture of "the box" north of phantom ranch 
the mighty colorado river 
I opted for the longer bright angel trail instead of south kaibab due to the presence of year round water halfway up the bright angel trail.  I crossed the river and ran another mile or so til the trail steepened and I switched to a primarily hiking cadence.  Back in 2012 I had visited the south rim of the canyon and done a hike to the river and back (down south kaibab, up bright angel) so I was now in slightly familiar terrain.  I stopped for more water at the beautiful indian garden oasis as the number of people on the trail continued to steady grow as I climbed towards the south rim. The upper three miles of the trail was downright crowded but fairly easy to pass as the trail is nearly 4ft wide for the most part.  I reached the S rim in 5:15, fifteen minutes later than planned but feeling well.  I hit the bathroom and water spigot and had a snack before starting back down.  
the trail construction in the canyon is a remarkable feat
half way..
pictures can't do justice the size and splendor of the canyon

approaching the river for the second time
I got a lot of interesting looks and comments as I ran down past people that I had passed earlier on my way up.  The descent to the river took longer than expected but I arrived around the 7 hour mark feeling tired and with heavy legs.  The approx. 7 mile stretch from the river to cottonwood campground was the low point of the day as I was forced to strictly ration my remaining calories to stretch for another 5 hours of exertion, the sun was out and beating down on me and despite the flat to low angle grade of the trail, my legs weren’t tolerating much running.  There was over an hour long period in which I gave up on my sub 12 hour goal and just plodded along.  I was surprised to see running water at the cottonwood campground spigot as it was a week past mid-october which was the stated time of this water being turned off for the winter season.  I was also glad to see the trail steepen so I didn’t have to feel bad about hiking instead of running.  
looking back at the trail above roaring springs 
At the junction for roaring springs (4.7mi from the N rim), a random woman from a group of backpackers sitting along the trail offered me some candy and my first instinct was to say no.  A moment later I realized I wasn’t racing and could accept aid so I gladly took a mini bag of skittles from her.  The skittles and her words of encouragement when she learned I was nearing the end of a R2R2R outing lit a fire under my ass and I mentally recalculated my remaining time and mileage and realized sub 12 hours was still within grasp.  I proceeded to drop the hammer as best I could, needing to power hike sub 20min miles up the steep remaining miles to hit my goal time.  I was feeling much better than the earlier section from the river to cottonwood so I cranked along at race-ish pace (last 15min in the dark), reaching the trailhead in 11:54 elapsed, happy to be done and thrilled to have rallied and hit my goal time.

Stats: about 48mi and 11,000vertical in 11:54 round trip 

This was my longest outing to date in a non-race setting and my second longest outing ever and my body seemed to handle it well.  Most of the suffering was self-inflicted with the stout pace at the end of the day and had I not cared about time, could have finished much more comfortably in 12:30

Rose: the beauty of the canyon as well as rallying the last couple miles to break 12 hours on this iconic outing
Thorn: mental low climbing from the river to cottonwood, not bringing enough food
Bud: I’m intrigued about pushing myself mentally and physically over longer distances/times and am excited to tackle a 100k race next summer as well as more 40+ mile non-race adventure runs                         

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