I wish I had this platform set up back in June when myself and 19 other crazy fools traveled from SFO to Las Vegas, rented 2 passenger vans and drove 4 hours to Arizona to run from the South Rim to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. However I didn’t but I think its a story that is worth telling so in honor of “Throwback Thursday” I will attempt to re-create one of the most epic and wondrous experiences of my entire life. There is a whole back story to how 20 people ended up in the desert doing push-ups to keep warm at 3 am while waiting to embark on a 24 mile run across one of the countries greatest natural wonders, but that’s for another time.
We started at the South Kaibab trail head at 3 am on June 8 and headed into the darkness with only our legs and our headlamps to guide us. I have to say that hour or so of running before and during sunrise with the anticipation of the adventure we were embarking on building inside of me was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. We all set off together but because we had such a large group of runners with different paces we split up into roughly 3 smaller groups so that a) we were not a huge mass of people on the trail and b) so that everyone could run at a pace that was comfortable to them but still have at least one buddy at all times. We also had 3 amazing people who were our support team and were going to drive the vans around the canyon to pick us up on the other side. While they couldn’t do the full run due to various injuries, they knew this would be a worthwhile adventure nonetheless and we couldn’t have done it without them.
We all met up about 3 miles in at skeleton point which is supposed to have some of the best views of the canyon. Unfortunately, in our attempt to avoid the donkeys and beat the afternoon heat, we go there before sunrise and thus could see very little. From here our drivers turned around to head back up and get AAA to come help get one of the vans open since someone locked the keys inside. (sidenote: AAA takes many hours to get to the Grand Canyon and actually you can open to side door of a Chevy passenger van with the key to a Ford passenger van)
The descent from Skeleton Point down to the Colorado River is really magical. At this point I was warmed up, my knee was feeling fine and the sun was starting to come up. We came across a cpl hikers but other than that we had the trail to ourselves for many miles which was really glorious. I have never been in a landscape like that before and it felt so surreal to be running through such an epic place.
After we crossed the bridge we continued on until the Bright Angel Campground, where we had agreed to have another meet up with the entire crew to make sure everyone was still doing ok. The campground was an oasis that seemed like it was on another planet and I really want to go back someday and spend the night there. We filled up our waters and had a snack and continued on. This was wear the trail would start to gradually ascend for about 6 or 7 miles. Normally I don’t think the grade would have really been a big deal for me but I had stopped for 45 minutes and had completely cooled down after a mile of descent – that is dropped over 5,200 feet over the past 7 miles. Additionally, I had barely run since the Boston Marathon and had definitely lost some crucial fitness. My legs felt pretty awful and took a while to warm up again. The completely dream like scenery was a pretty great distraction though.
The 7 miles from Bright Angel Campground to Cottonwood Campground were tough, but it was still relatively cool and early enough in the day so the canyon provided shade for most of it. We did not re-group again at Cottonwood campground as initially intended because it was warming up and the sooner we could get out of the Canyon the better. Personally, I also couldn’t handle long breaks because every time I cooled down and had to start running again, my legs felt worse and worse. The final 7 miles from Cottonwood campground to The North Kaibab trailhead is pretty steep. We started off by running but eventually, the heat, the grade and the previous 15-16 miles got the better of us, nd so we hiked.
Hiking was so welcome and so much fun! It allowed the girls (pictured below) to join up with the boys ahead of us and just behind us. Because we were moving a little more slowly we had just about enough breath for singing, storytelling and general merriment. Unfortunately, my lack of training and the altitude caught up with me and I fell back for the final mile, which felt like 13 miles. Finally though, I began to see women in skirts and flip flops, kids and parents with baby strollers, meaning I knew I was really close to the top. I turned the final corner to see a finisher’s tunnel waiting for me which was just about the most welcome sight I had ever seen. I managed to run the last stretch and triumphantly high fived and hugged my friends, immediately followed by collapsing to the ground in utter exhaustion. We had about an hour to wait for the final group and then another 45 minutes or so to wait for our life saving drivers. We took this time to re-hydrate and elevate.
This adventure was one of the best weekends of my entire life, and not just because of the running part. The many many hours in a passenger van were somehow also really really fun. Yes this was a totally hardcore and epic physical challenge, but more importantly we all bonded in a way that is hard to replicate or would normally take years. I would love to go back and do it again because I was physically uncomfortable for a lot of it, but I would need to find the right group to go with because it will be hard to match this experience. I don’t see or talk to all of the amazing people I got to share this experience with, but I know that we will always have the Rim to Rim.
Here are a couple videos that do a great job of capturing the energy and magnitude of the whole weekend.