This time 3 days ago I was winding my way through the depths of the Grand Canyon and to be honest, I haven’t been able to think of much else since. I knew this run would be a mind blowing experience but the term mind blowing seems to just scrape the surface. It was a day of extremes, awe inspiring beauty, bliss and friendship. On the other hand it was also a day of extreme heat(100+F), lung busting climbs and knee quivering descents.
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The day started by pulling up to the South Kaibab Trail head in our rental van around 4:30am. A nervous tension and child-like excitement was the general tone as we checked our gear awaiting the first of many steps through the great ditch. We arrived late the previous night in Tusayan and with just a few hours sleep, plenty of time sitting in the plane and van the day before, I had thought my body would feel less than fresh. But it didn’t, the body felt springy and light. Now as most early mornings when an intelligent decision must be made, I started by towing the party line and once again made a poor choice. I decided to run down from the South Kaibab with Adam Campbell. Hell, that didn’t last too long. He was descending as if he was being chased by a pack of zombies and to be honest – I suck at downhill! I stopped, watched the sunrise and waited for the next group to come taring down — the best decision I made all day. The rest of the morning was an absolute gift from God. I settled into a group of 4 runners: Myron, Mike, Kyle and Trevor. A very accomplished group of runners and as I discovered throughout the day, they are incredible human beings. Surely we looked ridiculous with smiles spread across our faces and giggling like kids in a candy store. It took us around 70 minutes to reach the Colorado river even with stopping every 3-4 minutes to snap a shot. Crossing the river I noticed my quads were shaken up from the 1450m descent in just over 10K distance. Passing through the historic Phantom Ranch and winding through the canyon floor the cliffs would jet out from the earth, extend its red arms up through the sky making a skinny runner feel like an ant in comparison. The cactus flowers were all receding knowing it was still the cool hours of the morning and that there would be plenty of opportunity to bath in the heat when the sun decides to offer it up. Now with a slight uphill and a moderate pace I noticed myself running slightly away from the group, not that I wanted to be antisocial but because I found myself deep in thought. Now this was a strange place I found myself in. At the best of times I prefer staying out of my head but there is something very special about that canyon. My thoughts resolved to gratitude, appreciation for Sharon, my kids, my family, my health and the general good luck and fortune I’ve seemed to come by all my life. Sad to say, the good luck ended there. Ahead of me was an 1800m climb up the North Kaibab Trail ending in the state of Utah. Half way up the ascent I looked upon my friends’ grimacing faces and knew that with strength in numbers we would all arrive atop the north rim and celebrate by collapsing in a grassy patch. Right then, I hear from ahead “Adam’s coming!” I know this sounds like a stretch but there blows Adam right passed me with a smile on his face! Yeah, a smile on his face (watch the video if you don’t believe me)! We passed through countless ecosystems on the ascend up, all distinctly different then the last. The vision of the cactus covered canyon floor was now replaced with the smells of the familiar fur trees now blanketing the 8000+ feet above see level landscape. The grind ended when the group crested the north rim. I so looked forward to the spoils of chilling and relaxing in the grass but what was unexpected was how bloody cold it was up there. I don’t know the exact temperature but what I did know was lying around was not an option. I mentioned to Myron that I needed to get going. He agreed so down we went.
Our spirits were lifted as we scurried down the 1800m canyon wall. Now with a new reference point, descending these narrow red rock cliffs was a very intimidating position we put ourselves in. I can see why they say to keep to the very inside of the trail as one trip may just be your last. Approximately 2 miles from the trail head we ran past the other runners from our group, Blaine, Ryan, Matt, Ed, and Andrew. In all honesty, they looked like they got run over by a car. At that same point of the climb I’m sure I looked the very same. We chatted for awhile, told them they looked wonderful and that the rim was just around the bend. As grade started to lessen and the cactus’s appeared the heat came upon us like a swarm of locusts. At this point I felt confident, my body felt good and spirits were high but within 30 minutes of enduring that 100+F heat, my head started to bobble and my vision blurred. I dropped from the group and began walking. With my head in a cloud I made my way, hunched over thinking of a way to overcome this melting heat I came across a gift from the canyon gods. A pipe under the trail must have burst and a man made 3 foot puddle now bubbles up from below…it’s my lucky day! I must have kneeled down aside that puddle for 20 minutes splashing myself down with cool, refreshing water. When I began running again I was a new man. I picked up the pace and was able to catch the group before crossing the Colorado river for the final ascent up the Bright Angel Trail. I started the climb with some relative speed but only a few miles in I decided to back right off, hike the rest of the climb, talked a lot with Mike, spoke a lot with other hikers and just take in the day. Now this was a new experience for me. A former self would have grinded it out and put my best effort in but I have to say: being a pedestrian runner, slowing down and enjoying the experience is definitely something I can get used to. Around 2 miles remaining I heard ahead “Adam’s aid station!” and there was Adam handing me a Coke and hot damn that tasted good. Adam ended up running a 7:20! One of the fastest times ever ran and here he was, with a case of coke hiking down into the canyon to help out his hurting friends, what a guy! The rest of the day and night we saw one after another emerge from the rim looking like they just had there ass handed to them. Yet when they were handed an ice cold beer the canyon struggles seemed to drift away and laughter ensued.
My time for r2r2r was just over 12hrs and I’m proud to say that this one running experience trumps any other that I’ve run before. I’ve got a new found respect for the Grand Canyon, taking pride in slowing down and smell the flowers and I feel confident in my running abilities going into this racing season.