Monday I not only learned the meaning of "you pay for what you get" I had it beaten into me by 11,000 feet of elevation gain and 11,000 feet of elevation loss over 43 miles and temps reaching a high of 90 degrees. Going rim to rim to rim in the Grand Canyon always makes "you pay for what you get!" Oh... I paid.
I started Monday, up at 3 am. I had all my stuff packed the night before (took only 20 minutes-gotta love the simplicity of running) and ready to go so I was out the door by 3:20 am. A god awful early start but necessary if I was to make it to the rim and be ready to start running by sunrise (about 5:15 am).
The drive there was a little bit more lively than in recent weeks. The elk have been out the last few months on my early morning drives to the canyon but this morning was different. It felt like a video game with elk all over the place. I only had to slam on the brakes once but I lost count of the times where I would see an elk 10 feet away standing on the side of the road. I even saw a quite large heard of deer or antelope about half way. The only reason I noticed them was the car headlights shining into their eyes (easily 100 eyes lit up) as I passed their stance in a meadow. Pretty cool to see all the wildlife but a little unnerving to say the least.
I reached the canyon at about 4:50 am and, still in the dark, decided to take my time liberally applying sunscreen and getting my stuff organized. I ended up committing to having 3 shot bloks, 14 gu, a cliff bar and a bunch of nuun electrolyte tabs for food and shorts and a couple long sleeve shirts for cloths. It was pretty warm, even at this hour, so I almost didn't bring one of the long sleeve shirts (I really only thought I might need it on the north rim if it was still chilly when I got there. For a hydration system I used a nathan pack and one small hand held.
By about 5:10 it was light out enough to see without a headlamp so I was off. I jogged the little bit from the parking area to the rim and start of the S. Kaibab trail to warm up. When I reached the trail head I chatted it up for a minute with a couple that was about to go down to catch the sunrise at Cedar Ridge then started my watch and was off.
It was really exciting to be going to the north rim and back. I hadn't done R2R2R in a year and was really psyched to see what I had in me. It was obvious, as I had a bit of the nervous rubber legs going on for the first mile or so.
By the time I had reached Skeleton Point (about 3 miles in) I had warmed up and got past my earlier jitters. I was moving fast and felt good. The rest of the run down the S. Kaibab was smooth and enjoyable. I saw and awesome sunrise and counted only 2 people on the whole S. Kaibab. Some kind of record for me. I always see a bunch of people on this trail! Pretty amazing running in the still of the early morning with not a soul around.
I made it to the river in 1 hour exactly, only took a couple minutes to fill up on water, and was off through Phantom Ranch and the barely rising campers.
A few minutes up the N. Kaibab trail I spotted a packless runner (no hand held either) bounding quietly up the trail a few hundred yards ahead of me. I went through a few scenarios in my head as I followed him in the early morning light along the rolling, creek side trail. Wondering just how far up this trail he intended to go and where he came from. I finally settled in on the idea that he came from Phantom Ranch (an employee or tourist) and was headed up to Ribbon Falls or Roaring Springs and then back to the ranch. Time would tell.
He did give me a great pace to follow as he was moving at a perfect pace for me to give chase. My goal was to try and keep him in sight for the duration of his run up the N. Kaibab.
I was able to keep him in view for the next several miles until he cut off left to go to Ribbon Falls. I was right...whoopity doo. Where's my prize...oh yeah, no prize, just keep running and hold that pace I have been keeping so far. I was hoping to reach Roaring Springs in about 2:45 from the car and at my pace I was looking to do it.
As I went through Cottonwood Campground (2:25) I noticed that nobody was camped there. Weird. I have always seen a few tents at this camp. Man, the canyon was really quiet. I also started noticing little tiny rock cairns along the trail in artful arrangements. I don't want to go into my normal long winded rant about how lame rock cairns for art in the wilderness are (I'll save it for another time when we are talking about Sedona..they are everywhere there..arg...I get grumpy just thinking about these eyesores). After seeing about 10 of them I made it a goal to knock down as many of these things as I could along the way. I did good on my goal by the time I reached Roaring Springs as I knocked down at least 20 of those wretched little things. Very satisfying.
I reached Roaring Springs in 2:38, filled up on water, and was off toward the big climb to the N. Rim. Time to get worked...and time to knock down more rock cairns...who had the time to build all these things? Oh well, they are getting knocked down! Again, very satisfying! Over the next mile or so past Roaring Springs I knocked down at least another 20 of those little pesky cairns. Ha.
About the same time the cairns stopped the work began. I ran well up to this point but from here on out to the N. Rim I had to be satisfied with walking the hills and running the flats. I was making great time for me (in fact, way better than expected) so I was fine with the pace.
After a few bouts with snow (not much up there except for the multiple feet still on the N. Rim itself) and a run in with another R2R2R runner I made it to the north rim with a time of 4:21 and feeling surprisingly great. I have always felt like crap up here on past runs but this year seemed different. It became obvious that I was in much better shape this year. I was really getting excited to put in a good time. If I could push hard on the way back and match my time I would finish in less than 9 hours! Very fast for me.
I got to it right away, reaching the N. Kaibab trail head and immediately heading back down the to the river and the S. Rim. I didn't want to wast any time.
I made good time again, moving well down the steep trail back to Roaring Springs, pausing once in a while to take a cooling shower under the many seasonal waterfalls in this section and keeping a sharp eye and foot out for kicking over the few cairns I missed on the way up. Again...very satisfying.
Made it down to Roaring Springs in a time of 5:15. Still moving well and feeling very good.
I kept moving well until about 3 miles from the river when I noticed I was starting to loose my spring. I had a harder time keeping pace, definitely slowing down. About the same time I noticed my energy levels dropping I also noticed the morning was turning into afternoon and the temperatures were rising quickly in the bottom of the canyon. The last few miles to Phantom Ranch were much slower than I hoped for and I was getting really hot. At least I was doing a good job of hydrating and fueling myself (I was trying to get ahead of my hydration and energy before the big climb up the S. Kaibab that was coming shortly).
By the time I reached Phantom Ranch it was easily 90 degrees and I was slowing down big time. I reached Phantom Ranch with a time of 6:50. I didn't hang around down there to be microwaved to death, instead I filled up on water, covered myself in water to cool off and weakly jogged across the bridge to the S. Kaibab. I knew that I didn't have a lot of energy at this point and it was hot. Getting back up to the S. Rim was not going to be fast.
Normally, I can comfortably get out of the canyon in about 2 hours. If I could do that on this run I would make it out in less than 9 hours. Sadly, I already knew the writing on the wall and that I would have to have a big time energy boost somewhere along this final climb if I was going to break 9 hours.
I resigned myself to moving as fast as I could. Sometimes slowly walking, sometimes shuffling and even a few times (about 10 minutes of the whole climb out) flat out running. Mostly though, I was just trying to stay ahead of the people I passed hiking on the trail. One lady gave me a good run for my money near Cedar Ridge!
Somehow, however slowly, I managed to near the S. Rim with a chance of still breaking 9:30. I had given up on getting out in 2 hours long before... On the final semi flats and steep switchbacks I jogged and power hiked my ass off fighting some serious fatigue and pain (amazing how there was still a little bit of competitive drive to be found in my broken down body) past a traffic jam of tourists and finally stumbled around gasping for air on the flat rim for a few minutes. I had finished.
When I had stepped onto the rim my watch read 9:29:30, barely squeaking in under 9:30. The S. Kaibab took me almost 2 3/4 hours to stumble up. Oh, the horror.
I was psyched with my time though. It was a full hour faster than last year and with a little more fitness I may be able to get into the 8 hour world, something I never thought possible a few years ago.
Another great run in the canyon. Now to recover and on to running the Paria and Zion Traverse in May... I am psyched.
Note: I have been really inspired by some recent efforts by others in the canyon and don't think I would have tried to push so hard otherwise (I don't think I would have tried to get to N. Rim in less than 4 1/2 hours! that's for sure). I may have ran out of gas at the end but realize now that a lot of running fast is just believing and trying. I knew I wouldn't do anything stupid in the canyon-I would slow down if I was in serious danger- but running fast is a bit intimidating to commit to in such a remote place. Thanks for the inspiration guys. Next year I'll be shooting for under 9! Thanks for giving me something to chase!