Native Americans called the area around the Grand Canyon, Kaibab which means mountain lying down. John Wesley Powell was the one-armed, Civil War veteran, geology professor, explorer who gave the Grand Canyon its current name. Before Powell mapped the canyon, the few Americans who knew it existed referred to it as the Big Canyon or Great Canyon. I can imagine Powell thinking “Big” and “Great” did not do justice to the natural wonder. Grand doesn’t quite seem grand enough either but I suppose if we strung together all the appropriate adjectives, speaking the name might be as challenging as running the canyon from rim to rim to rim. South to north then back north to south is exactly what I and several of my friends did October 1st.
This wasn’t a race so I tried to tell myself there was no need to hurry, just take my time and enjoy it. Easier said than done. I was inspired and motivated. Once under way I could not quench the inner desire to see just how hard I could push myself. Our plan was to start out at 3am on the South Kaibab Trail. There were 13 runners in our group but Greg was planning to turn around at Phantom Ranch. I was sharing a room at Maswik Lodge with Ray and Tom and we turned the lights out at 7:30. We had the alarm set for 2am. We had all our gear ready to go so we would just need to get up, get dressed, and drive to the trailhead. I woke up at 1am and couldn’t fall back to sleep. I grabbed my cell phone to check my email. My daily devotional email was there so I read it. If you don’t think God speaks to us then you just aren’t paying attention. The devotion was based on Isaiah 40:31.
Yet those who wait for the LORD
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.
I was inspired before receiving this devotion but to get this verse on this morning was a huge boost.
Ray, Tom, and I were ready to go by 2:30. We were antsy so rather than sit in the room we drove to the trailhead and waited. The others showed up just before 3am. I was out of the car and ready to go. The few minutes the others took to get ready felt like hours. From where we parked it was nearly a mile to the trailhead. After a little more waiting at the trailhead we were finally on our way. Ray took the lead and I was right behind him. I didn’t think the pace was too fast but our group quickly spread out. We stopped after less than a mile at Ooh Aah Point to regroup. We stopped again at Cedar Ridge where there was a bathroom. Not really a “bathroom”, there was no running water but it was better than a port-a-potty. It was pitch black out and we had trouble finding the trail out of Cedar Ridge. Ray was in the lead again and once again the group was spreading out. After a short time both Ray and I stopped to pee again (third time in less than an hour). A few of the guys passed us and the pace slowed a little. We reached Black Bridge and crossed over the Colorado in about 2 hours. Just a few minutes later we were at Phantom Ranch, 7.1 miles. We filled our water bladders and were waiting for the tail end of the group to catch up. After what seemed like an eternity, Ray and I couldn’t stand it anymore and we started up the trail toward Cottonwood Camp. Light was beginning to creep into the canyon so I stowed my headlamp and the handheld flashlight I was carrying.
The trail between Phantom Ranch and Cottonwood Camp was all uphill but not very steep so we ran most of the way. After using the bathroom and loading up with water the rest of the group began to come in to Cottonwood Camp. Tom replenished his water supply and left with me and Ray. After Cottonwood Camp the trail was still not too steep so we continued to run most of the time. There was another bathroom and water source at Roaring Springs. This is where the trail starts to get a little steeper so the pace slowed as we were now walking more than running. At some point after leaving Roaring Springs we crossed paths with Rick and Bill, who were running from north to south. I think this is when Ray and I decided to unpack our trekking poles. Tom had started using his at Roaring Springs.
The sun was now shining brightly and it was beginning to warm up. There were plenty of places on the trail with shade and there was a cool breeze at times. The thermometer at Supai Tunnel said it was 80 degrees. From here there were only about 2 miles to the North Rim trailhead. The trail was very steep though this section. I was really pushing pretty hard taking full advantage of the trekking poles using my arms to take some of the work away from my legs. I started to pull away from Ray and Tom. I was carrying a prayer that a friend had written out for me (a copy, the original being too precious to risk losing). I found a nice shaded spot with a great view of the canyon below and stopped to read the prayer again.
…I pray Jeff will be captivated with all Your majestic beauty, he will see and be blanketed with Your love and peace…
The lyrics to Captivated, a song by Shawn McDonald were on the back of the paper so after reading the prayer I sang the song. Tom and Ray caught up to me and we continued our trek up to the rim. When I reached the trailhead I could not believe how good I felt. I have finished 20+ mile training runs and thought I might die. This was perhaps the most difficult 21 miles I had ever done and I felt great. Ray came in just a few minutes behind me and Tom was just a few minutes behind Ray. Several others from our group also arrived.
the trailhead for almost 30 minutes already. Ray was the only one ready to go so he and I hit the trail running. There were a few sections that were too steep to safely run down but much of the trail down to Phantom Ranch was very runable. Except for a couple stops for pictures and to replenish our water we ran all the way to Cottonwood. By now the lyrics to Captivated were running on a continuous loop through my mind where they remained until the finish. A couple of times I tried to switch to another song I enjoy singing while running, but my mind seemed to automatically switch back to Captivated. Shortly after leaving Cottonwood Ray said he wanted to walk a little. I was starting to wonder how much I had left in my tank so a little walking sounded good. After a brief break we again started running. A couple of miles from Phantom Ranch, Ray said he was wearing down and would need to walk some more but he encouraged me to keep going. I knew he was just tired and not in distress. There were many other hikers on the trails and the rest of our group would be coming through so I didn’t feel too bad leaving Ray.
When I reached Phantom Ranch I was well-worn out myself. I sat there for several minutes drinking water and taking in some fuel, a Hammer Espresso Gel to be exact. Mmmm, good stuff. I had 7 miles to go; almost all of it uphill so after making sure I had a full load of water I left Phantom Ranch. I walked most of the short distance to Black Bridge. Once on the bridge I knew it would be my last piece of level trail until the finish so I ran across the bridge and through the tunnel on the other side. I again unpacked my trekking poles for the long hike up to the rim. About 40 minutes up the trail my legs and arms started shaking. I was feeling a little nauseous. I didn’t feel like eating but with two or three hours of hiking to go I knew I could not make it without taking in some fuel. I stopped for a minute or so and drank some water and took some electrolytes. I continued up for a few more steps and realized I was in immediate need of a toilet. Unfortunately I was at least two miles from the
nearest toilet at Cedar Ridge. Lucky for me I was at a point where there were some bushes and dirt on one side of the trail where I could dig a little hole. By this time most of the day hikers were off the trail so I had a few moments of privacy. After filling the hole and completing the necessary paperwork I started to feel pretty good. I ate all the remaining Perpetuem tablets I had and soon afterward my legs and arms stopped shaking. I was not feeling great but just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I reached Skeleton Point and knew I only had about three miles to go. From Skeleton Point the trail didn’t seem as steep. Then up ahead I could see the bathroom at Cedar Ridge. Only 1.4 miles to go. I soon came to Ooh Aah Point, only .75 miles to go. Adrenaline is now completely taking over. I can see the switchbacks that lead to the trailhead. Then the rim, I am finished. Feeling a little choked up. The sun was about to set but I was too exhausted to give it any attention. Total time was 14 hour 47 minutes. Including the time I waited at the North Rim my trip across was 7 hours 52 minutes. The return trip was 6 hours 54 minutes. I wouldn’t say I was running any faster on the way back; I just didn’t spend as much time sitting still.
The bad news was that Ray, who had the car keys, was about an hour behind me. It was cooling off and starting to sprinkle. The good news was that I finished in time to catch the shuttle bus back to the lodge. After a hot shower I headed over to the pizza pub. Greg, who ran just past Phantom Ranch and back and Mike D who ran to Cottonwood and back were already there. I ordered a large supreme pizza and a 20 ounce Fat Tire Ale. While I was on my way to devouring half the pizza, Ray appeared in the pizza pub. Eventually Tom and all but two of the group made it back. After reaching the North Rim, Charles and Phil realized they would not be able to make the return trip and were lucky enough to hitch a ride back to the South Rim, a 210 mile trip by car.
Now for some technical runner geek stuff. I carried about 3700 calories worth of fuel including: 1800 calories of Hammer Gels, 400 calories of Perpetuem Solids (chewable tablets), 960 calories of Snickers Bars (comfort food, otherwise not a great fuel choice), and about 500-600 calories of peanut butter filled pretzels (both a comfort food and good run fuel). I also carried Enduralyte Capsules for electrolyte replenishment. When I finished the run I still had about 1100 calories of Hammer Gels and 320 calories of Snickers left over. So, I consumed approximately 150 calories per hour which is pretty typical for me in long runs but probably at the low end of the range where I should be. I don’t feel like I suffered from a lack of fuel but a few hundred more calories of gels consumed would not have hurt me. I don’t know how many Enduralyte Capsules I consumed but it seems to have been sufficient.
As I write it is now Tuesday and I am feeling pretty good. The only sore spots are my calves. Sore is perhaps an understatement. Yesterday I had a noticeable hitch in my step. Feeling much better today. At this point it is difficult for me to imagine how I could ever top this run.
Up next is the Bourbon Chase Relay. It starts this Friday. The race starts at the Jim Beam distillery in Clermont, KY and finishes in Lexington, KY. 12 runners, 200 miles. Each runner does three legs. My three legs add up to 18 miles. I think the calves will be ready.