Thursday, April 29, 2010
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!
Susan leading pitch 4.
Showing our trad faces at the end of pitch 4 cuz we so hard!
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
I ran the Hermit/Tonto/Bright Angel loop last October and had some issues with the heat and just plain not running very fast. It was a great run but I suffered a bit on that one. I finished the loop in about 6 hours and was surprised I didn't come in a little faster. I really didn't move very fast on the Tonto and that is where you make up the time as it is mostly flat with some rolling hills.
Sunday, when I repeated the loop, I had a much better experience. I was able to keep a good pace down the Hermit (sometimes tricky as there are some steep, rocky sections and boulder piles to maneuver through), move relatively quickly along the Tonto and then power hike and jog up the Bright Angel in good time.
I finished in a decent time for me of 5 hours, a whole hour faster than last October, and felt pretty good doing it. This really excites me as I believe that I could push well below 5 hours the next time.
This gives me some confidence going into running the R2R2R next week and maybe snagging a PR. Last year my fastest time was around 10 hrs 30 minutes. With my faster times in the canyon this spring, I am hoping to definitely break 10 hours and maybe even push toward 9 hours. Who knows what will happen...all sorts of things can slow a runner down like mules, bad weather or just having an off day... or I could crush! We will see. I'm excited to find out. I love it down in that canyon!!!
Note: It is pouring rain and cool temps in Flagstaff right now and is supposed to rain off and on for the next few days. This is great because it means snow will be melting fast on the North Rim while also keeping it cool in the bottom of the canyon. With less snow on the N. Kaibab and cooler temps at Phantom Ranch, it could create great running conditions next week...
Below are a few photos from the run...
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
I knew of a couple guys from Colorado that were going to run it this last Saturday so I patiently waited for their reports. Boy, did they give great reports on their blogs. Very thorough and great reading! After doing the "double crossing" a couple times myself, I felt like I was right there with 'em. Thanks guys!
Check out their reports below...
JV's Upill Adventures
After reading their reports and how fast they ran it, I got pretty psyched to go for it snow or not. Especially, now that the weather is cooling (it has been 90 degrees at Phantom Ranch the last few days). It looks like the temps are supposed to be in the 70's at Phantom through the weekend and into early next week. I think I'm going to take a shot at it on Monday if all goes well.
I would say that I'm prepared with many long runs in the canyon this spring (at least I don't have an excuse for not doing it anyway...). I just got in another one a couple days ago, the Hermit/Tonto/Bright Angel Loop or the Hermit Marathon as a Grand Canyon Ranger called it (the run is 27 miles). I'm going to report on this run hopefully in the next day or two...it is another classic run in the canyon. To get an idea of what the loop is like check out an old report of mine from doing it last Fall here.
Now... time to take it easy the rest of the week and get psyched...
Friday, April 16, 2010
This real "backcountry" loop that I did Monday is called the Hermit/Boucher Loop and is roughly 22 miles. I had been wanting to run off the beaten path of the S. Kaibab and Bright Angel for some time and I finally felt up to the backcountry riggers of tougher trails and trail finding and a general lack of water (There are only a couple water sources right now on the whole 22 mile loop and none of them are treated).
The whole thing started off with a sunrise ride on the rim bus system (cars can't drive to the Hermit Trailhead during the busy months in the canyon). It was a very pleasant ride, chit chatting with the driver and the other two passengers, seeing elk and deer and watching the sun rise over the Grand Canyon. Once I reached the trail head and while getting dropped off, the driver gave me the standard warning to be careful as "young male hikers that hike by themselves are at the greatest risk to die in the canyon." Very comforting...
I thanked him for his concern and information and assured him I would be very careful during my run. I felt confident in my training and abilities and that I had prepared properly with having enough water (full bladder and full handheld (with nuun electrolyte tabs)) and enough energy (8 gu and 1 cliff bar) to get me through. I would only need one stop at Boucher Creek, half way through the run, to refill my bladder and handheld. About as light as I can make it and still stay hydrated and fueled.
Started down the trail, the sunrise was in full effect and it was a good one. There is something special about how the shadows and the golden sunlit cliffs contrast each other to make a surreal scene. Probably my favorite time to be in the canyon.
It was a bit hard to fully absorb the early morning beauty as I had to stay focused on the trail from the first step down from the parking lot. The Hermit Trail is one of the steeper trails in the canyon and there are many boulders and rubble to maneuver through along the way.
Luckily, after the first couple miles of steep rubble, the trail traverses along a sandstone layer and offers some flatter, easier running. Apart from a few sections of boulder piles to poke through, this section is great running. I even got some nice views of where I would be in another hour down on the Tonto Plateau and crossing the Hermit Creek.
Shorty after the junction with the Hermit Rapids and Hermit Creek I reached Hermit Creek Camp and a couple of older guys camped out. I pretty much ran right into them as the trail led right into their campsite. Realizing that I couldn't see where the trail left their camp spot and continued along the Tonto Plateau, I immediately asked them where the Tonto Trail continued from their camp going west. I didn't realize my folly until too late...
The trail became immediately less obvious on the Tonto west of Hermit Creek. This is where trail finding was going to be more work (Note: I never seriously thought I was going to loose the trail along the whole loop but I will not say that it is "easy" to follow).
After many miles of flat running on the Tonto, I reached the Boucher Trail. If I went up I would be heading back uphill to the Hermit Trail and the rim but I was out of water and it was time to refill. Boucher Creek (.4 miles below me in a narrow canyon) is an annual flowing creek and I had planned from the start to refill here as there would be no more water after this point. Good timing.
Once back on the Hermit Trail, all I had to do was power hike my butt back up the steep final switch backs to to the rim. It was refreshing to be going up a steep trail that was actually easy to navigate. The Hermit is by no means a smooth trail as I stated at the start of this post but it is like heaven compared to the brutality that is the Boucher.
Monday, April 12, 2010
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Sunday, April 4, 2010
I'm pretty excited about the time as it means I am continuing to improve in my running and have the ability to go faster but I know that there are many runners in this town that would crush a time like this. I'm not, for a moment, thinking I am doing something important in the running world but in my little world I'm pretty psyched!
Friday, April 2, 2010
(Matt, nearing the river)
(Me, crossing the Colorado River. It's always a great feeling crossing this bridge knowing your in the thick of it, deep in the canyon)
The trip back up the Bright Angel Trail was more work than going down but it was made a bit easier by the numerous mule trains and the extreme hordes of people slowing us down. I got a lot of rest stops waiting for mule trains to move to the side. Not great if I was trying to break a personal best on the trail but for today it was just fine. In fact, because of the slower pace I was able to see how far I could run on the trail. Usually, about 3/4 of the way up the Bright Angel Trail I resort to a power hike but because of the rests I was able to stay pretty fresh and I was able to jog to within the last 1/2 mile before settling in to a walk with all the tourists plugging up the trail. Note: It was particularly touristy on the trail this day...I think it was still spring break for some people.
(Matt, just after passing another mule train)
(Looking back at the final sections of the Bright Angel Trail. Still snow covered!)
All in all a great day. To the S. Kaibab trail crew...sorry about the late arrival on the beer and thanks for the work on the trails.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
After living in Flagstaff for over 10 years, I am used to this occurrence (late spring snow fall). It happens pretty much every year. That known fact doesn't stop me from living in denial every spring when April is upon us and the birds start to chirp and the grass and flowers start to grow.
It still manages to surprise me every year...that pesky late snowfall.
No matter, I still had one of my most memorable runs of the winter this morning (even though it's spring). It snowed all right but not enough to stop a run up the Elden Lookout Road (Elden Lookout Road has been something of a weekly running rutual for me this winter to get some vertical). There was only about 2-5 inches on the road with only a few drifts to pound through and the snow was all light powder making for a reasonable pace up hill and pleasant "floating" on the way back down. I made first tracks up the road that morning adding to the pleasure. It was extremely beautiful in the early morning light with all the fresh snow everywhere. I tried to really enjoy the scene as I knew that it was probably the last time I'd run in snow like this for many months.
Note: As I write this it is warm and sunny outside and all the snow is melting! It could all be gone from town by afternoon, today. Welcome to Flagstaff weather!
(Matt and I running down the S. Kaibab Trail)