Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Saturday, 04/05/14 Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim

2014 Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim
South Kaibab/North Kaibab/South Kaibab
42 miles/~11,000 vert.
Travel partners: John (Homie) Prater, Kevin Lund

Short story:  Prepared quite well in the preceding months, I felt really strong and ready to make an honest attempt at my 2010 PR of 8:15 on my 5th RRR.  However, I got sick which had everything in question the week prior and right up to the morning of the start.  I ended up tentatively running, but it was clear an hour into the run that I was not 100%, but my sense of inspiration and stubbornness got the best of me.  I faked it somewhat for 5 hours, but slowly faded up until the final 4,700 foot climb up S. Kaibab.  Then, the wheels came off entirely and I struggled to a 9:14 finish.  Uggg.

Longer version:

I really enjoy coordinating my RRR with the Dawson group, who has been going to do the RRR each year for the past 11 or 12 years.  Typically ~20 show up, but this year, there were more than 30 loosely associated and I was excited to join for my 5th RRR trip.  This is a really loose knit group though, sometimes starting from different trailheads in sub-groups of anywhere from 1 to 4 or 5 and even they often split up.  We are really only a group in spirit, coordinating more for travel purposes, training, camaraderie and lodging/camping.  Each group generally starts at different times based on pace, route preferences, etc…  Some hike the majority of it, taking 17+ hours, others alternate between hiking and running and complete the double crossing in 13-17 hours. Then, a handful of us push it a bit faster than that.  

Traditionally, we have gone on the 3rd Saturday of April, but went a little earlier this year to lessen the chances of heat in the canyon, though it increases the chance of snow on the N. rim and possible inclement weather.

I got in some really good training this year, some nice solid runs just under 3 hours and one that was 3:20+, but I focused more on quality, opting for different routes that still had good vertical, but were much more runnable.  Not a ton of volume, but I made my limited time count, which is essential when trying to balance work and family life.  

I did everything I could in the weeks prior to avoid getting sick, avoiding taking my daughters to locations crowded with potentially sick kids, not sharing food or drinks, washing my hands religiously at work, but lo and behold, on March 28th I got sick.  I thought I would kick it in time, maybe even being a benefit as it would keep my taper in check and provide me the benefit of being well rested on the big day (has happened before) but the cold hung on and on, through today even (April 8th).  It varied enough in severity throughout the week, that I was never really sure of my plan.

My sickness was never that bad, a sore throat/fever a week out, sometimes low energy, but then I seemed to improve, then reverted to more sore throat and lost my voice entirely on Weds..  This also compromised my sleep quite a bit, but on the long drive Thursday, I was fortunately able to nap for hours in the back of Homie’s van.

We got to the park around 5pm and Homie wanted to climb Coronado Butte which is accessed from the New Hance trail off the rim road.  Though I sounded lousy, I actually felt good and planned to go with him as far as I could, until it got more technical than I was comfortable with.  This ended being longer than expected at 2.5 hours, 2,500 vert. and around 5 miles, where we still came up a bit short of the summit due to the limited daylight and not extensive enough research. Even without making the summit though, it was a really fun little outing.

Kevin and Homie about to duck onto the New Hance trail

I had no way to carry my helmet, so I just wore it.

Coronado Butte


Fun talus/slab hopping

A great place to catch a sunset

Friday, I was feeling OK, but not great and the cold temps on the rim were not helping with my enthusiasm all that much. Kevin and I started with Homie at the Hermit Trailhead, where we got in an easy ~4 miler with ~1,500 vert..  It was fun to be out and see new territory, but my energy level was only so/so.  All day I waffled as to whether I would make a RRR attempt the next day, or just do something easier.

After dinner at the lodge with the group, I went to bed at 8:30, decided to not even set my alarm and just take the next day as it comes .  I slept a solid 7 hours and when I awoke Saturday morning, I assessed my condition and knew I had to try at least, see how it went to the river and if things were bad, I would just make an easy day of a Rim to River and back.

Started down South Kaibab at 6:12am and as usual was full of excitement to be in the Grand Canyon, something I had looked forward to for so long.  Within minutes I caught a mule train and was barely able to croak out a “good morning, do you mind if I ease past when you find a safe spot?”.  I used this time to pack away my beanie, windbreaker and gloves and was soon past them, nothing but wide open trail ahead.
I took it pretty easy on the descent, making sure to not push it too fast and ruin the day prematurely, but the slower pace was more to assess my health one way or the other.  All systems seemed good, so I committed to going to the North Rim.  Once on flatter ground and working harder though, it was obvious that my breathing was not quite right.  I could move along and breathe just fine, I just knew that I could not really dig in like I knew I needed to do to get back on or ahead of pace.
At that point, I knew deep down that running a fast time was a long shot and that turning around would probably be the most prudent action, but I was really enjoying myself and it was a perfect morning, so I kept heading up N. Kaibab.
I quickly filled up at the pumphouse and kept at it up to the N. Rim and felt surprisingly good, despite not really being able to breathe deep.  As always, the last section beyond Supai seems to take forever, but this is where I saw the most people, many from our group who started earlier and several other RRRers.  There were a few scattered handfuls of runners/hikers out there, but overall, it was a pretty quiet day on the trails, even near the upper sections near the S. Rim.
It took me 4:03 to get to the N. Rim, 8 minutes slower than 2010, but I felt good and did not need a break, so I just tagged the kiosk and headed down. Without any break, I was now only 3 minutes off PR pace.  As soon as I started down, it began to snow and picked up somewhat heavily at times until I was just beyond the bridge.  I was a little chilled, but never enough to consider adding layers, as I knew it would end soon.

(next 8 photos courtesy of Dave "Hoot" Gibson"

Some lingering patches of snow near the N. Rim from a squall earlier in the week, but there was no lingering seasonal snow.

I had hoped to make up a bit of time on the down, but was only able to maintain my 3 minute (maybe even lost a minute) deficit back down to the pumphouse, where I again quickly filled up my bottles and felt the need to sit on the bench for about a minute to drink.  That spot always tempts me to linger, but I forced myself out of there and toward Cottonwood.  This is where I started to falter a bit and kept coming up with reasons to briefly slow to a walk, needing to slow my breathing for drinks or a gel, not that I was breathing hard, but that anytime I ingested anything (even water), it would seem to congeal at the back of my throat and cause coughing fits.  Though annoying, it was not a game changer, but I was just starting to run out of steam by this point.
At Phantom, I lingered again for 4 or 5 minutes and knew I had lost a bunch of time.  I had long since stopped really caring about the watch, but I still had some consolation goals in mind, nothing to actually try for, but mostly goals to accept.
Still hoping for a miracle, I stepped off the black bridge on the S. side of the Colorado at 6:47 elapsed, still figuring I would have sub 9 in the bag, but it only  took me a switchback or two to realize that my only real goal was to make it out of the canyon without help.  The wheels fell off entirely and it became what seemed to be an eternal slog to the top.  Landmarks that I normally look to pass and check off with eager anticipation looked like nearly unattainable points in the sky.  Tonto Plateau, Skeleton Point, O’neil Butte, Cedar Ridge, S. Rim.  Instead, I had to focus on more immediate and attainable goals, like one step at a time sort of goals.  Even though I was hardly moving, it felt as though I was really working hard. Just for kicks, I took a few manual heart rate readings, expecting 160s at least, but was surprised that my HR was only around 100.  Quite low considering my perceived effort.

After what seemed like forever, I finally made it to the rim after 9 hours and 14 minutes but held back on the celebrations, as I still needed to get back to camp.  I filled up my water bottles and tried to get back on my bike to ride the ~2 miles back, but was too trashed to do it, probably more trashed than I had ever been despite being so off the mark.  I debated taking the bus, but even that is more painful, so I just waited it out until I could muster the energy.  Once on the bike, I was surprised that I felt fine and all I could think about was puffed Cheetos and pepperoni pizza as I sprinted back to the tent.
Despite being sick and not meeting my goals, I still had a fun time in the canyon (well, except for that final climb which was pure misery) and am satisfied that I was even able to pull it off.  Every year, I say never again, until I recover and a little time passes, then I start conjuring up plans for next year.  This time however, I truly feel as though I am content with 5 RRR runs under the belt.  Having had a small glimpse of some of the other lesser travelled trails like Hermit and New Hance, I would be more inclined to go explore new terrain and scenery on my next trip, or even be open to more RRRs with a much more casual approach.

Start S. Kaibab:  0:00
Black Bridge:  1:00:00
Cottonwood:  ?
Pumphouse:  2:3?
N. Rim: 4:03
Pumphouse: 5:02
Cottonwood: ??
Phantom:  6:33?
Black Bridge: 6:47
S. Kaibab TH:  9:14

Shoes - Hoka Bondi 2
Socks - Injinji
Zensah calf sleeves
PI Ultra Shorts
TNF short sleeve
PI arm warmers
PI cap
UD SJ pack (carried gloves, beanie and minimal windbreaker, but only used for the first few minutes, but decided to carry since snow was in the forecast).
Food:  6 V-Fuel gels and 2 packages of Clif Shot Bloks = 1000 calories total, 4 S caps.
Breakfast:  single serving of Perpetuem, yogurt/granola/banana, instant coffee/hot chocolate

Random thoughts

The Hoka Bondi 2/Injinji combo was awesome, my feet were comfortable all day and the more minimal traction of the Bondi 2 (a road shoe) was not an issue at all, as the South/North Kaibab trails are quite buffed out super highways and not particularly steep.  Also, did not get a single blister, chafe or hot spot.  Once again after wearing Hokas, my quads were a little sore the following day, but could have easily run to the river and back as I did last year, if I had time (and was not sick).  When I ran RRR in shoes other than Hoka, my legs were utterly destroyed for a good 4 days.
I probably should have eaten a bit more food.  Even though I enjoyed the V Fuel gels, I got kind of sugared out after 6 of those plus the shot bloks.  Being sick kind of complicated that a bit too.
It was a very cool day, no more than 70 in the canyon, snowing on the N. Rim and then 50's at the finish. This made it easy to stay hydrated and keep breaks to a minimum.

As bad as it was to not be feeling well for my run, it was equally or more difficult to not be able to talk the entire time and be able to catch up with so many friends and acquaintances.


  1. Any day where you get to go back and forth on the ditch and walk away to tell of it is a good day. Well done bud.

  2. Sorry to hear about the cold. Still sounds like a great time and a solid crossing!