Rich flint goes to camp
You don’t have to be an Idiot to run the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim, but it helps.
(a.k.a oh shit)
I don’t recall exactly when it was I first heard about running the Grand Canyon rim to rim (R2R), (R2) or the rim to rim to rim (R2R2R), (R3) but I do recall thinking WOW that has got to be scary fun! Maybe someday I’ll get to try it. Little did I know that sometimes, someday, comes quicker than you think.
You see this is what happened.
Late last summer I saw a post by PRSFIT about a trail camp to run at the Grand Canyon and before giving my brain time to talk my heart out of it, I signed myself and my wife up. No my wife isn’t a runner but I just couldn’t go to such a great or should I say GRAND place as that and not bring her along to see the sights. I spent the rest of the winter keeping busy with training and races all the while keeping the R3 in the back of my head. Would I really be able to make it? Is there water along the way? How will I get enough nutrition while on the run? My mind was dizzy with what seemed like a million logistical questions. As the time got closer and I did my research I realized that if I was going this alone it might seem daunting, but there would be other runners there with me. Not just runners but IDIOT runners, so what could go wrong? Plus we were being joined by the Patagonian adventure team; surely they wouldn’t let us die…..would they?
Most of us met for the first time Wednesday evening over beers. There were four other “regular” runners plus the Patagonia adventure team and Coach Jeff. Everybody seemed excited for the adventure to start and we chatted some about the when’s and where’s of the upcoming weekend then it was off to bed.
The next morning we all met at the canyon for a little shakeout run and to see the adventure team do some film work for the documentary that will chronicle their training and race in 2016. It was easy to tell these folks were a step above the average runner when I saw them sprinting UP the Kaibab Trail! A trail on which I had a difficult time running at a slog for more than a minute.
We also did some running drills and the coach videoed each one of us so he could help improve our running form. Form seems to be one of those things you can always work on and improve. The more efficient runner you are the longer and faster you’ll be able to run.
After the form clinic, I split from the group to spend some time with my wife, her sister and her brother in law who had decided to make trip out to the canyon at the same time. You always hear how photos don’t do the canyon justice. Well they’re right, you might see what the photo has to show but you can’t feel the enormity of it, it’s almost over whelming. There’s a good reason it’s called one of the 7 wonders of the world. We had a great time seeing what we could from the south rim inside the Grand Canyon National Park. Besides the big hole in the ground there were plenty of elk and deer and even a pair of rare California Condors made an appearance on the second day.
The big day started at 4:30 am when we all meet in the hotel lobby then drove to the Bright Angle Trail head where it was a chilly 27 deg. At those temps nobody wanted to stand around so at 5:07 am we started our drop into the canyon and the pack of 9 runners spread out quickly. It was cool looking down at the headlamps running the switchbacks ahead of you. Within 30 minutes it was getting warm and everybody was stashing pants and Jackets in favor of long sleeved shirts and shorts. As I had anticipated the different groups were running at different paces based on their goals and before long I was running alone on these amazing trails weaving in and out of canyon walls. At one point before reaching the Colorado River, I had just left the confines of a pretty tight canyon and into a small opening, straight ahead was another steep wall in front of me with the trail jetting off to the left while rolling downwards. It was really easy to build up a good head of steam and I was exhilarated by the feeling of it all. I had no choice but to let out a kind of guttural “whoop”. It felt AWESOME! Then within seconds of rounding the corner I saw two hikers staring in my direction with a shocked look on their face. I apologized saying “sorry, I couldn’t help myself”. One of the hikers said “we didn’t know WHAT was coming at us”. After that I did my best to contain my enthusiasm.
After the bridge over the Colorado, it is a short run to Phantom Ranch which would be my last place to fill up with potable water, after that I would have to rely on steam water and the micro filter I was carrying in my pack. I stopped just long enough to fill up and grab a Gu from my belt and headed out again, eager to start making the climb up to the North Rim. The climb from river to the North Kaibab Trail head is 5850 feet but from Phantom Ranch to the pump station is a nice slow incline. You could tell you were climbing but it was manageable. From the pump house Roaring springs was steep, from Roaring springs to the Supai Tunnel was difficult, but from the Tunnel to the north rim? Its 1.7 mile climb of almost 1500 feet that felt more like 10 miles and 10,000 feet. At one point about ¼ mile from the top (mind you, was a fleeting thought) my mind said “turn back”, but of course I didn’t listen. At 11:41 am, 6 hours and 34 minutes after leaving the south rim I had reached the top of the north rim.
I was spent and unsure of how long it was going to take me to get back, l but since I couldn’t stay there, I got busy getting situated to make my descent back to the pump house. Now here’s what’s amazing to me, as soon as I started down the trail from the north rim I realized two things. 1st unless I get eaten by lions or fall off the face of one of these cliffs (which was kind of a real possibility) I was going to do it. I was going to run the R2R2R. I won’t set any records and depending on how slow I was going back I might not want to tell anyone about it, but I WAS going to do it. And 2nd, I felt fine, something about the short break and getting busy with making the return trip calmed me and made me feel…well pretty darn good! My left knee was hurting from a nagging injury, but other wise, I was good!
I made it to the pump station and meet two runners from the Patagonian team that had kindly waited there for me. We all refilled out water bottles from the stream as well as soaked our hats and heads in the cold water. I told them I was going to rest for a few minutes before heading out. They offered to wait for me back at Phantom Ranch, but I assured them it wasn’t necessary and they were off. It wasn’t 5 minutes before I realized I could be walking instead of just sitting there and I headed out. Now, remember the slow long incline from Phantom Ranch to the pump house? On the way back it’s a long winding decline filled with rollers and rock damns across the path to prevent washouts. Before I know it I was on a nice steady trot, rolling with the terrain. At each rock damn I would gauge it so my left foot would land on the top of the rock and push off landing on my right. My left knee had been giving me some issues while coming down the north wall and I didn’t think I would be able to run on it the rest of the day. But right now it was feeling okay and I wanted it to stay that way. Phantom Ranch was in sight before I knew it, as was a fresh supply of water. I was on a roll but I also knew what was ahead. Its 7.8 miles and almost 4500 feet in gain from the Colorado River to the South rim, but it’s the 3060 foot climb over that last 4.5 miles that’s the real challenge. And I knew it was going to be HELL!
I think I started my final climb sometime before 5 pm, my goal was to be out of the canyon by 7 making it a 14 hour round trip, but at this point I wasn’t sure what I had left. The climb was hard, it wasn’t as steep or as long as the north wall but I was beat, still, I kept pushing; after all, just standing there wasn’t going to get it done. At some point I remember that my fingers had started to tingle and when I looked at them the nail beds looked blue. What was going on? Was I becoming sodium deficient? I had taken care to get plenty of salt along the way and one of the adventure team members had given me a few extra s-caps just in case. (They’re a pretty smart bunch) But still not knowing for sure what it was I took in more sodium. Only later after doing some research did I find out that when pushed to the limits the body will divert blood flow from the hands to send it to the legs in an effort to supply them with more oxygen. Much in the same way it diverts blood from the gut which is why most people can’t digest solid foods during races or hard runs.
I kept climbing for what seemed forever. I would stop long enough to catch my breath, look up and swear the top was just around the corner then climb for what seemed like another hour only to do it all over again. The sun had started fading from the sky about half way up my climb and now it was nearing darkness, but I was seeing more and more people on the trail and could hear voices from above. I was close and I was smiling! Within minutes I was standing where I had started earlier that day. I must have looked a mess. I took this photo even though I knew it was too dark to turn out. I wanted the time stamp so I would know what time I finished.
7:04:35 pm, I did it, I had run the R2R2R! I was spent, but it was worth it.
I don’t think I couldn’t have done this without knowing that there were others there who I knew and knew I was there too. Although I spent most of my time running by myself, I wasn’t alone, I had support. I had my wife who was waiting for me and had encouraged me to realize this dream. I had other Idiots on the trail that I would see throughout the day and we would talk about the day thus far. Coach Jeff was back at the hotel resting from his adventures in the canyon but still keeping tabs on us, making sure we were okay.
This probably isn’t my last running adventure; in fact I would make bets that it isn’t. It would probably be a safe bet that this isn’t my last PSFIT running camp either.
I would encourage everybody who has a dream for challenging themselves, no matter what that challenge is, to make the necessary plans, do the work and train accordingly, then make those dreams a reality. The rewards are more fulfilling than you can imagine