Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Magical Mountains

Everyone has a favorite place to go. A place that seems to take all your worries away and make you forget about everything but the here and now. Some people gravitate to the beach. Others go to the lake. For me, the mountains have a magnetic pull that is difficult to explain. There is something magical about sitting on top of a peak, staring down into the world below. For me, there are few things in life I’d rather be doing than bombing down mountain singletrack, just me and the critters that live there.

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to spend a couple days in the mountains of West Texas (yes, there are actually mountains in Texas). Although they pale in comparison to the mighty peaks of Colorado, West Texas offers a nice change of scenery from San Antonio, with much less humidity. The elevation ranges from about 5000’ up to close to 8000’ and is only a 6+ hour drive away, making these mountains more accessible than most.

Heading into the weekend, my legs were already pretty sore. Between my workout with Joe (heavy emphasis on legs) and hill repeats on “The Wall” in Stone Oak, my quads and glutes were shot. Not a good feeling when you have 60+ miles to run over the next 3 days. I awoke early Saturday morning (3 AM to be exact) and headed to Exxon to meet the gang for our weekly Bandera fun. A little after 5, Chris, Troy, Rachel, Tim, Robert, and myself hit the trails for the first of 2 loops. Much of the first hour was spent in the dark, allowing us to ease into the run. While there was ample cloud cover, the humidity was really oppressive, soaking my shirt within the first mile. The forecast called for temps near 100, so I was glad I was only doing 16 miles and would be long gone before that hit.

The first loop (Boyle’s/Cairns/Lucky’s – about 10 miles total) passed fairly quickly, and I enjoyed catching up with everyone. I hadn’t seen Troy since our Grand Canyon trip, so it was nice to chat with him. He was getting in one last long weekend (35+ miles on Saturday) before running his first 100 mile race in June, the Mohican 100 in Ohio. We cruised into Crossroads to re-fuel and head back out for a second loop. A few miles in, Robert and I left the pack and headed back to the cars since we were only planning on doing 16 miles for the day. Overall my legs felt pretty good, but the humidity zapped my energy, and I was glad to be done.

I drove home, showered, finished packing, and was soon on the road again, headed for the mountains of West Texas. The clouds had parted, and the blazing sun was out in full force. At one point, the car thermometer read 109 degrees. Not fun. Upon arriving at the park, I noticed a car pulled over and people hanging out the window. Sure enough, there was a bear on the side of the road, digging around for food. Not counting a trip to Alaska I took with my dad (bears are as common as people there), I had only seen 1 bear in the wild in my life. This was pretty cool! We took a few pics and headed off to unpack and get ready for a long day in the mountains on Sunday.

(Bear on the side of the road)

After some breakfast, we headed in to register the car and get a permit (glad I bought that National Parks pass). On the way in, we saw another car pulled over and a guy with his camera. Now there were 4 bears! Definitely not the same one as the day before, there was a mom and her 3 little cubs. A couple of the cubs were in the trees, totally fine with having people take photos of them. My bear total was now at 5 for the trip, and I hadn’t even been there 12 hours.

After getting the necessary paperwork, I was ready to hit the trails. No sooner had I loaded up my bottles and taken a couple steps onto the trail than I stopped in my tracks. Up ahead, no more than 100 feet away, were 4 bears on the trail. I assume it was the same 4 I had seen earlier, but I’m still counting them as numbers 6-9 on the trip. 9 bears so far. After all of this, I hesitate to say the run was uneventful, but the most exciting thing I saw was a large group of boy scouts watching a snake (not sure what kind) slither off the trail. This section of trail is about 4.5 miles roundtrip (run as an out and back), with a net elevation change over 2000’. Definitely steeper than anything you’ll find in SA.

(Bear in the trees)

After enjoying a leisurely (for me) hike/run, I was ready to head out on my own for the real adventure of my day – another 24 miles of mountain fun. While the humidity was certainly not present, the oppressive heat was. It didn’t help that I started my solo journey at noon. I had planned on running a 12 mile loop, stopping to re-fuel and cool off, and then do it in reverse, giving me close to 30 miles total for the day. I headed off in the direction of the trailhead (close to where multiple people had spotted a large mountain lion earlier in the day).

This first section of trail was nice, with some runnable sections mixed in with a gradual ascent. I erred on the side of restraint, as I wasn’t sure how much of a toll the heat would take on me. Plus, I still had close to 25 miles to go. So, I ran anything that was flat or downhill and chose to power hike most anything that went up. If I were doing this run in cooler weather or as a shorter day, I would have run a bit more. The loop essentially climbed for 5 miles, leveled out for a bit, and then came back down. In all, it boasts close to 5000’ of elevation change over 12 miles! The climbing was made tougher with all the heat. It had to be 100 degrees, and much of the trail was exposed. Once I reached the top, I sat down on the rim and soaked in the views. I was hot and thirsty, but I was now on top of a mountain, my “happy place”. As I mentioned earlier, this is what I love to do. Oddly enough, I am afraid of heights, but this is somehow different. Being in the mountains lets me clear my head and think about the good things in life. Up here, everything seems to make sense. I could sit up there forever and solve all the world’s problems, or so it seems. It’s here that I look at my life and know what I want, what makes me happy. I love this place.

As much as I wanted to stay forever, I had more running to do, and I knew the descent would be fast and furious. The run down did not disappoint, but I was really glad to be at the bottom, as I was hot, tired, and in need of liquids. I had drained my 70 ounce Camelback bladder as well as my 2 handheld bottles. I quickly guzzled a couple bottles of cold water, ate a turkey sandwich, and re-filled my pack and handhelds. Up until that point I had eaten only gels, drank water, and popped 2 S!Caps every hour. For the 2nd loop, I planned on drinking some Powerade in addition to the water and eating solid food (turkey, Clif Shot Bloks, peanut butter crackers).

(Saw several deer on the trail)

As much as I love the mountains, the thought of going out for another 12 miles didn’t sound too appealing as I sat there baking in the sun, but I knew the sooner I started, the sooner I could finish. The climb up to the top of the ridge was brutally sow this time, as I was really exhausted. My legs felt ok, but my energy was gone. Heat always does that to me. Luckily, what goes up must also come down. After (what seemed like) an eternity of climbing, I touched the top of the mountain, turned around, and headed back home. After a fun 5 mile descent, I was in need of more fluids. I probably drank 100 ounces of fluids in the 30 minutes after my run, and it took me some time to get cooled down. Total for the day – just under 28 miles, with over 12,000’ of vertical gain/loss. After a much needed shower and dinner, I sat under the stars and stared up into the mountains, nursing a good organic beer that I had received from my beer of the month club.

I never sleep well after a long day in the mountains, and Sunday night was no different. The dry air always creates a case of the mountain boogers, and running so long gives me the 100 mile cough. Sounds pleasant, huh? Anyway, I arose early and debated going for a quick (relatively speaking) run before heading home. After much internal debate, I decided I would head back to the first trail I ran yesterday and do a couple hard repeats up and down. When I pulled into the parking lot, I was alone. There were no cars, and yesterday the lot was full. This was either going to be a great run, or I was going to wake up all the sleeping bears and lions.

Since my legs were a little stiff from the day before, I decided I would power hike as fast as I could going up and run hard coming down. The cool morning air felt awesome, and I had no problem settling into a nice hiking rhythm, something I will do a great deal of in most of my 100 mile races. It took me 37 minutes to climb to the top, while the descent took just under 24. On the way down, I passed several people hiking up the mountain, so I felt better about my chances of not meeting the lion today. Once at the bottom, I switched out water bottles and turned around for a second trip. I got a few weird looks as I passed people again (and once more coming down). My legs felt pretty good, and my second repeat was actually a bit faster than the first. At the bottom, I jogged a mile to cool down, giving me a solid 10 miles (and over 4,000’ vertical gain/loss) for the day. Not a bad weekend.

I showered, changed clothes, and bid farewell to the mountains. Normally I am sad when I leave the mountains, but today wasn’t as bad. I knew that I would be heading out to Colorado in a couple weeks, where the fun is only beginning.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

No Motivation

Some days the motivation comes easily. Other days it is non-existent. The past several days fall into the latter category. As I've mentioned in previous posts, my mental state plays a huge role in my running. If I feel good mentally, I usually have no trouble getting up for a run. If I am stressed or just mentally foggy, as I have been lately, running doesn't come quite so easily. It doesn't help that it is 90+ degrees and SUPER humid. Running for me is a release and usually a way to clear my head, but this weather has just dampened the fun. I am really looking forward to getting into the cool mountain air of Colorado (and many other places) this summer. Just me, my car, and miles of open road and mountain trail. Until then, I will do my best to slug it out here in the heat and humidity of the impending Texas summer.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bandera and Buddy Taping

Usually the weather in San Antonio in mid May is hot and muggy, with temps often in the high 90’s with plenty of humidity. This past weekend was a pleasant aberration. Chris, Tim, myself, and Rachel (new to our group) met at Exxon at 4AM to drive out to Bandera for 15-20 miles. Robert met us there, and we donned our headlamps and hit the trail just after 5. The plan was to do our “usual” 10 miles loop in reverse, meaning we would climb Boyle’s, then Cairns, then Lucky’s Peak. Back to the car to refuel and out for 5-10 more miles. On trail 8 and 9. I was scheduled to run 15 easy miles, but the morning was so cool and comfortable that I decided to wait and see how I felt after the first loop.

We settled into a nice rhythm of hiking the uphills and running the downs and flats. Considering I had done 50 miles in the Grand Canyon a week prior, my legs felt pretty good (not super fresh, but certainly not sore). Robert and Rachel ran off in front, while Chris, Tim, and I lagged a few minutes behind. As Tim and I were descending Lucky, we chatted about how neither of us liked to run down this section because of the steepness and all the loose rock. As we talked (and I ate a gel), I lost my footing momentarily and reached out to brace myself. In doing so, I bent my finger awkwardly. It hurt, but I’ve had worse and didn’t think much of it. We ran the mostly downhill 3 miles back to our cars and re-filled bottles and grabbed some food.

My legs felt decent enough to tackle another 9-10 miles, so we headed off to link up to trail 8, a nice uphill start with some fun running towards the end. As usual , once Chris put on his headphones, he took off and left everyone behind. He’s going to be dangerous with his lethal concoction of pickle juice and Roctane gel! The sun was up, but there was a light breeze that kept things comfortable, making this a great day to be on the trails. Robert left us to take a different route and finish with 15 miles, while Chris, Tim, Rachel, and myself headed to the field section and a 19 mile day. I love Bandera on a bad day, but days like this make it that much better.

Sunday found me up at 3:30 AM (that was sleeping in compared to the day before). As part of my entry requirements for the Tahoe Rim Trail 100, I need to fulfill 12 hours of volunteer work. I decided to knock out half of that by working an aid station at the final race in the Rogue Series, a 3 race series in/around Austin. The final race (10K and 30K options) would be held at Reveille Peak Ranch in Burnet, just under a 2 hour drive from my house. Despite the lingering fatigue and concentration needed to avoid hitting deer on the side of the road, I made it to the race site just after 6AM and was shuttled off to my aid station.

I would be working with a guy from Austin named Corey, and we would see runners at the 4 mile mark and again (for those running the 30K) at mile 11. Apparently there was quite a bit of confusion regarding the course, as many runners remarked on the first time through that they had difficulty following the correct path. The second loop was much worse, as only 25 (of 75) runners ran the correct route and passed through our aid station again. Despite this, I had a great time hanging out and chatting with al the runners. Although I did it primarily to accrue hours for Tahoe, I enjoy giving back to the trail running and really need to do more of it. I just love running so much that I find it tough not to run these races myself. On another note, Reveille Ranch is absolutely beautiful. The trails are rocky and twisting, the climbing plentiful, and the possibility of outdoor activities endless. I will definitely be going back one day.

As I was driving home (why don’t I have a time machine to transport me to/from places), I noticed that, in addition to my being incredibly tired, my finger was really swollen, much worse than yesterday. It also hurt, and I couldn’t really bend it. I go home, took a monster nap (almost 4 hours), and awoke to a throbbing finger. I know really there’s nothing you can do for a broken finger, but I decided it would be wise to go to Texas Med Clinic just to be sure. I called ahead to see if there was a wait, and the person who answered the phone assured me there was no one there. Either he lied or 8 people arrived before I did because the place was packed when I got there. 3 hours later, I walked out with my non-broken finger buddy taped together, which has become a nuisance. It is much better today, but playing the banjo hurts. Oh well.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Grand Canyon R2R2R Report

Wow. That’s really all I can say about my R2R2R experience this past weekend. What an unbelievable journey, both physically and mentally. I had the pleasure of doing it with good friends, which made it that much more memorable. I have tried to put into words what I saw and felt, but for anyone who has ever had the chance to accomplish this feat will tell you, words cannot possibly do justice to the experience. I’m sure I will leave out someone or something, but it’s hard to remember it all. In any case, here is my report.

Part 1 – The Idea

I think most ultra runners look at running the Grand Canyon from rim to rim and back again in one day (R2R2R) as a “must do” adventure, a bucket list item. I had never really entertained the idea until I had the chance to visit the Grand Canyon last summer with my friend Chris. Upon first catching a glimpse of the canyon, I was awestruck. No words can adequately capture the beauty and awe that such a sight induces. It really is breathtaking. Chris had run R2R2R before, but we didn’t have enough time while we were there to do it, so we settled on a 35 mile run that took us as far as Cottonwood Campground, at the base of the big climb up the North Kaibab Trail to the North Rim. Although I am more of a mountain guy, I really enjoyed our run and knew then that I wanted to attempt R2R2R. Around the same time, Tom Bowling had taken a family vacation to the Grand Canyon and ran a little of the trail too. Soon after, he concocted a plan to get a group together to make the trip to Arizona to run across the big ditch. We decided to plan our trip to coincide with the weekend that Joe P was taking a group out from Austin. It would be fun to share the experience with others like-minded runners. Tom set about the task of booking rooms and organizing the weekend. When all the dust had settled, we had a solid group of 8 representing San Antonio. In addition to Tom and myself, we were going to be joined by Kelli, Joe T, Darren, Troy and his wife Kerry, and John.

(Looking over the South Rim)

(Elevation profile from South Rim to North Rim)

Part 2 – Leading Up To the Run

Most of our group was flying into Phoenix early Friday morning, but I opted to head out Thursday evening with the hope of getting a good night’s rest before meeting up with the others. Unfortunately, the 2 hour time difference made sleeping in almost impossible. The sun was up, and I was wide awake by 5:30 AM. Oh well, at least we would all be tired. I grabbed a bite to eat and took the hotel shuttle to the airport, where everyone was waiting on Kelli’s bag, which had been misplaced by the airline. The bag was eventually found, and Tom and I headed to get the minivan. John found a ride with a friend (Troy and Kerry had flown in the day before and were meeting us at the Grand Canyon), so we had plenty of room. After a stop for groceries, we set off for Sedona, where we would stop for lunch.

Sedona is a beautiful place, nestled between giant red rock formations and cliffs. There are miles of trails all around, and I had to fight off the urge to throw on my shoes and head out for a run. We found a good restaurant, grabbed sandwiches, and set off in search of one key piece of the weekend’s festivities – BEER. Few things beat a nice cold beer after a long day on the trails. Our search took us first to a local brewpub, which didn’t sell beer to go. Not wanting to waste a good opportunity, we sampled the local brews and decided to find a store that sold their brand. We ended up finding a place with a great selection and bought everything from Moose Drool Brown Ale to a Belgian Ale called the “Three Philosophers”. Having procured the necessary beer and food, we made the 2 hour drive from Sedona to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, where we would spend the next 2 days.

(Lunch in Sedona)

Tom had booked 2 rooms at the Maswik Lodge, located a few hundred yards from the Bright Angel trailhead, which would mark the beginning and end of our R2R2R journey. We checked in and tried to organize and assemble the gear we would need for a 15+ hour day in the canyon. The logistics of such an ordeal can get tricky, as one will encounter temperatures ranging from 30 to well over 90, meaning we would need to pack both cold and warm weather clothes. You need enough food to last almost an entire day (close to 5000 calories for most people attempting this). We would start and finish in the dark, so headlamps and flashlights are needed. Everything that you take in must also be carried out (just ask Kelli), so we needed room to store our trash as well. On the beds were spread out a variety of gels, sandwiches, shot bloks, and enough trail mix to feed a small army. Once finished, we headed over to the South Rim to snap a few photos and to see the monstrosity that we would be crossing in a few hours. Until you’ve seen it with your own eyes, words and pictures can’t do justice to the Grand Canyon. It is both magnificent and ominous, beautiful and frightening. After the obligatory pictures, we ate dinner (steak and potato for most of us) and retired to our rooms to take care of a few last minute packing details and to crawl into bed for a few restless hours of sleep.

Part 3 – The Run

I had set my alarm for 2:30, but I was wide awake well before that. I rolled out of bed and began my normal pre race (or long run) routine. I don’t like to eat anything before a race, choosing instead to start consuming gels early in the run. A quick trip outside told me it was chilly, but not unbearable. I knew things would warm up as soon as we dropped below the rim and escaped the wind, so I decided to only wear a short sleeve shirt (my new favorite polyester button down with pockets!), arm warmers, and gloves. Just before 3:15, we all met in the hallway and made the short walk together to the trailhead. There are 2 routes you can take to get down to the river at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. We chose the Bright Angel Trailhead because it was much closer to our hotel (you need to take a shuttle to the South Kaibab trailhead) and because it has several places to fill up your bottles/packs with water, something the South Kaibab Trail lacks. This route makes the trip approximately 23 miles each way (rim to rim), but we would tack on a couple side trips to make it closer to 50 miles total for the day, with over 20,000’ of elevation change. Although I wasn’t concerned with time, I initially thought we could complete our run in 15-16 hours, getting us back before dark and in time to eat at the cafeteria.

(Kelli, Troy, and Joe geared up and ready)

We arrived at the trailhead to find at least 15 other people waiting to start their R2R2R effort. We would later learn that 37 people from Texas (that we know of) would complete the full R2R2R, a pretty amazing number. At 3:30, our group of 6 (John Sharp would start with other friends but would finish with Tom, and Kerry would meet Troy at Indian Gardens later) plunged into the darkness and began the 4000’+ descent to the Colorado River. Our pace was very relaxed, and no one got too carried away, which is easy to do when you start on a downhill. It can be difficult to establish any kind of running rhythm on the upper portions of trail at the Grand Canyon, as there are hundreds of “steps”, pieces of wood (or in some cases rock) designed to ease erosion. These become annoying, as you have to really pick up your feet to step over them. These, combined with all the dust runners were kicking up in front of me, forced me to move slowly and deliberately so I wouldn’t make a misstep and fall off the trail into the abyss below. We chatted with each other and with other runners, and it was fun to look below and above and see tiny headlamps in the distance as people made their way down.

Since it was cool, and I knew there were several water stops before we hit the river, I only carried 2 handheld bottles with me at the start (I wore my Ultimate Direction pack but left the bladder empty). We blew through the 1.5 mile water station and kept going. My plan was to consume 1 gel every 20 minutes until I couldn’t stand them any longer and then switch to solid food. I would try to drink at least 20 ounces of water an hour as well, more when it got hot. In addition, I would down 3-4 Endurolytes an hour to get my electrolytes and stave off cramping. I kept my eye out for the next water stop (mile 3), but I must have been talking and distracted, because before I knew it we were at Indian Gardens (mile 4.5). Here we all filled up our bottles, and I hit the restroom and removed my gloves and arm warmers. You could see light creeping up from the canyon floor, and it was hard to imagine that it was still barely 4:30AM.

The next couple miles were fun to run, and we didn’t stop until we hit the Devil’s Corkscrew, a twisted series of switchbacks that are way more fun to descend than climb, especially in the heat of the day. We took pictures along the way, and Joe T got enough video footage to make a good documentary. In a matter of minutes, the roaring Colorado River came into view, and we were at the first bridge. Having run this section with Chris the previous summer, I suggested we tack on an extra couple miles and run across the River Trail to connect with the lower portion of South Kaibab, which would take us through a tunnel and across a different bridge. Since no one seemed to object, I led Troy up and over in that direction. We ran into a couple other runners (not in our group) who were attempting a R2R2R crossing as well. We wished each other luck and headed across the river and into Phantom Ranch (mile 9).

(Troy, Joe T, and Darren)

(Crossing the Colorado River)

At Phantom Ranch we took a quick break to re-fuel and sit down. My legs were a little fatigued from the constant pounding of downhill running, and I needed a quick rest. Kelli and Tom managed to make a couple friends here (Tom was called a pig, and Kelli was yelled at by a man who thought she didn’t know trail etiquette). The next 7 miles cut through a deep canyon known as “The Box”, which winds its way alongside Bright Angel Creek as it gently ascends 2000’ to Cottonwood Campground. This section is deceptive because it is very runnable if you are feeling good, but if you push too hard you can dig yourself a hole and trash your legs before any of the real climbing begins. Troy, Kelli, Darren, and Joe seemed to be feeling spry and ran most of this section at (what seemed to me) a quick pace, while Tom and I lagged behind. A little over an our later, we cruised into Cottonwood Campground, about 16 miles into our journey but still nearly 7 miles (and over 4000 vertical feet) from the top of the North Rim.

(Darren, Troy, and Joe running in "The Box")

Knowing we had a huge climb ahead of us, we lingered at Cottonwood for a while to fill our bottles and our hydration packs, as well as to eat some solid food (pb&j sandwich for me). Here we saw several other friends from Austin, including Joe and Joyce Prusaitis, who put on many of the great trail races in the South/Central Texas area. Joe T took off ahead of the group, and soon we were all on our way to the final water stop (the Pumphouse) before the North Rim. To be clear, there are other water stops along the way, including one at the top of the North Rim, but these are shut off during the winter and don’t get turned back on until the chances of frozen pipes are gone. Unfortunately for us, these faucets would all be off on this day. Darren and I pulled off at the Pumphouse together, with Joe, Kelli, and Troy ahead, and Tom slightly behind us. I told Darren that he could take off while I waited for Tom. We topped off our water and began the real climb, knowing we would have to make this water last 12 grueling miles.

My recent long races (50+ miles) seem to have played out in a similar way – 10-15 miles of me feeling good, another 10-15 feeling lousy, and the last half being the best part of my race when I run the strongest. This was also the case at the Grand Canyon. Up to that point, I was having a good (not great) run. On the climb up the North Kaibab Trail, that would change. My legs felt heavy, no food sounded good, and I struggled to maintain a decent hiking pace. Luckily for me (I mean that in a good way), Tom seemed to be struggling a bit too. We would hike for a bit and then find a rock in a shady spot to sit on. Although we were both enduring a rough patch, we knew it would pass and tried to enjoy the moment. This is what I love about running ultra distances. Despite feeling crappy, we were surrounded by such beauty that we couldn’t help but enjoy ourselves. Hike, sit, eat, drink, repeat. That was our plan. About 7 hours into our adventure, I took my hourly dose of Endurolytes and felt an all too familiar feeling in my stomach. I headed to the side of the trail and vomited for a couple minutes. This sounds terrible, but it has happened many times before, and I almost always feel better immediately after doing so. As before, I felt much better now and was ready to continue.

(North Kaibab Trail)

Somewhere along the way John Sharp caught up to us, and we all enjoyed a handful of jellybeans while sitting under a tree (we almost had to share with a very curious squirrel as well). We passed the Supai Tunnel and knew we were less than 2 miles from the top and soon saw Kelli, Joe T, Troy, and Darren making their way down. They told us that the bugs at the top were horrendous but the snow was tasty. Encouraged by the fact that there was snow to be had, Tom and I made our final push to the North Rim (elevation over 8200’), where we filled our bottles with snow and took a break.

(Tom on the North Rim)

Knowing we were halfway done was a relief, but the fact that it had taken us over 9 hours to accomplish this meant we would most likely be climbing up the South Rim in the dark. And the second half would most certainly be more difficult than the first, both physically and mentally. Tom and I both put on our headphones for the extra boost that music can provide (although I’m pretty sure we didn’t have any of the same songs on our playlists). As we started to jog down the trail, I noticed that my legs felt pretty good, really fresh. Encouraged by this, I told Tom that I was going to run ahead and would wait for him. I ended up running the majority of trail from the North Rim back to the Pumphouse (had to walk a couple sections that had steep dropoffs on the side). Along the way I passed my friend Naresh as he was ascending North Kaibab. He was having issues with his quad, but I knew he would finish. I waited for Tom at the Pumphouse, where we downed a couple bottles of water (over 4 hours since our last refill) and relaxed under a tree. Ready to go, I ran to Cottonwood ahead of Tom. Here I met a nice couple from nearby who had hiked down into the canyon to camp for 6 nights. We chatted for a while as Tom, Naresh, Roger Davis, and myself rested and ate.

(Naresh, myself, and Roger)

The 4 of us soon set out for Phantom Ranch, but Tom and I planned to make a detour to see Ribbon Falls. Chris and I had explored the falls the previous summer, and I had mentioned it to Tom, who seemed eager to see them for himself. They were just as I remembered them, beautiful and seemingly out of place in this desert. We both took in the views and cooled off with water from the falls, and then we were off again, climbing back out onto the main trail that would take us to Phantom Ranch, about 6 downhill miles away. This section is enjoyable to run if your legs are feeling good (which mine seemed to be), but it feels like it goes on forever, as you enter the seemingly endless Box section. I ran most of the way, with Tom not too far behind, until I ran into Naresh (he had bypassed Ribbon Falls), who seemed to be really struggling with his leg. Tom soon caught up, and the 3 of us hiked the last mile into Phantom Ranch.

(Ribbon Falls)

As campers who were staying at Phantom Ranch waited for the dinner bell, we sat at a picnic table and ate, drank, and rested. Naresh took a quick nap, I ate another pb&j sandwich, and Tom made a phone call home. We lingered for over 30 minutes here, knowing we had a long climb up to the South Rim ahead of us, and that we would be doing it in the dark. While having to climb out of the canyon in the dark didn’t seem overly appealing, we did manage to miss the 90+ degree heat that the faster runners encountered. I’d like to think this move was strategic on our part, but it was purely by chance (and me being a slow runner).

Just before we crossed the bridge that would take us back across the Colorado River, we caught up to Roger and John, who had stopped to rest on a rock. Now 5 runners strong, we took off for our last 10 miles. Just before we reached the Devil’s Corkscrew, light faded and we were forced to turn on our headlamps. Aside from the general fatigue of having traveled 40 miles on foot, I felt pretty good and managed to keep a decent pace on the climb. Every now and then, we would stop and sit on a rock. It was so peaceful to turn off our headlamps and just sit on the trail, engulfed by the quietness of the night. You could see the faint glow of tiny headlamps off in the distance as other runners made their way up Bright Angel. While I enjoyed the solitude, it was comforting to know that there were other people out there, sharing in this unbelievable experience.

We soon entered Indian Gardens, where we turned off our lights and sat on benches while we ate and drank water. I could have stayed there for hours, but my body was beginning to cool from lack of movement, so we decided to push on to warm up. Another 1.5 miles and we hit the 3 mile water stop, where Tom told me he wasn’t feeling good and needed to lie down. He told me I could keep going if I felt good. I didn’t want to leave him behind, but I knew John was near and that Naresh was somewhere below as well. The next 3 miles seemed to fly by, as I had my headphones on and knew I was almost done. I passed through the tunnels and unexpectedly found myself at the top. Nearly 20 hours after we had first set off on this journey, I had completed a Grand Canyon R2R2R crossing.

I was amazed that I still felt good, so I quickly headed back to the room, expecting to find the others awake. Instead, I found Darren sound asleep (the others were asleep in the next room as well) and the room dark. I peeled of my dusty shoes, took a quick shower, and headed back to the trailhead to wait for Tom and John. Around 12:45, I saw the green glow of Tom’s light and knew he was almost done. Shortly after, John made his way to the top as well. We congratulated each other and headed back to the room for a celebratory pizza (the rest of our group had finished hours earlier and left dinner for us) and beer. We were all exhausted but still riding a high from having accomplished something monumental.

I’ll spare the details from the rest of the trip, but Sunday was fun too, as we all hung out and took our time driving back to Phoenix, stopping in Sedona again for lunch. As I sit here and reflect on what took place this past Saturday, I have come to several conclusions. First, I learned that I seem to thrive on longer distances. For some reason, my legs feel better after 30 miles than after 10. Second, the human body is capable of amazing things. I have run several 50 milers and a couple 100Ks, but that was by far the toughest of them all (only the Wasatch 100 was tougher for me). It is a mental and physical grind. Being out there for that long really lets you find out what you are made of, how tough you can be. Finally, I am truly blessed to have such great friends. To share an experience like R2R2R with close friends is amazing, and I wouldn’t want to do it any other way. Thanks to Tom for organizing this trip and to Kelli, John, Troy, Kerry, Joe T, and Darren for making it so much fun. It was truly an amazing experience.

(Joe, Kelli, Darren, Tom, myself, and Troy - the day after)

Monday, May 9, 2011


I got in late last night from our trip to the Grand Canyon and am absolutely exhausted. I will write up a full report at some point and hope to have it done in the next day or two. The trip was amazing in so many ways. It is difficult to describe the beauty of the Grand Canyon in words, and it is equally as hard to convey all the emotions and feeling s that running R2R2R can produce. I will make an attempt soon. In the meantime, I will try to fight off the urge to fall asleep standing up.

(What my shoes looked like after 20 hours in the Grand Canyon)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Crossing the Big Ditch

(Looking down into the Canyon from the South Rim)

I leave tomorrow evening for Arizona, where I will meet up with a group of friends on Friday to drive to the Grand Canyon for a Rim to Rim to Rim (R2R2R) crossing on Saturday. We should end up with 45+ miles, with possible snow and freezing temperatures on the rims and 90+ degree heat in the canyon. Makes it tough to figure out what clothes to take on the run. Oh, and I have to carry all the food I’ll need for 15+ hours with me. I ran part of the GC last summer with my good friend Chris and loved it. Although I am still very much a mountain guy, I can appreciate the beauty that is the Grand Canyon. Plus, I will get to share my R2R2R adventure with other friends, making it special. Should be fun and a great training run for Western States and Tahoe.

(At the bottom of the Canyon on the Colorado River)

(Standing in front of Ribbon Falls, a nice side trip)

(Chris R. at Ribbon Falls)

(This guy didn't want to share the trail)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Weekend On the Trails

After a week of TAKS testing at school, I was ready for a morning on the trails. On Saturday, I met Chris at Exxon at 5AM (Jean and Larry both had to bail due to family sicknesses), and we headed out to Hill Country State Natural Area for 20 miles of fun. We strapped on our headlamps and took off under a cloudy night sky. We had hoped for a breeze, but it never materialized, although it did remain overcast and relatively cool (compared to what we usually get this time of year). Anyway, we did our customary 10 mile loop, with one minor change – we reversed directions, heading over Boyles Bump, then Cairns, and finally Lucky Peak. After a quick refuel at the car (Chris opted to save the spicy pepper Tanka bar for after the run – good idea), we headed back out for 10 miles over trail 8 and 9. Chris had run this exact route last weekend, and I was happy to get some time in on these lesser run trails that are part of the Bandera 100K course. Chris was feeling good on this loop, and he pushed his way up the hills and cruised the rest. I tried my best to keep up and ended up feeling good for the last couple miles. We ended up logging just over 19 miles, and I felt pretty good most of the time. Even a bad day at Bandera beats a good day most anyplace else.

Sunday saw the return of Liza to Texas (actually she got back on Friday but took a deserved day off from running). Chris, Jean, Tony, Liza, and myself met early for a 10 mile run through McAllister Park. It was great to catch up with Tony and Liza and hear some stories from Liza’s trip to the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico. Aside from a nice fall from Chris (complete with sound effects and a roll), the run was fairly uneventful. The weather was humid and the pace faster than my Bandera-weary legs would have liked, but I had a great time. It’s nice to have such a great group of running friends to share the trails with. I’m really lucky.