I'm writing "the before" about 3 weeks out. I'm currently feeling many feelings. I'm excited, fearful, tired, stoked, strong, nervous, and absolutely pumped. Talk about a roller coaster.
The idea of hiking the R2R was sparked by learning another coach run it for her second time, except she did the R2R2R. I thought, "man, that'd be cool to do one day, but I'd probably have to hike it". At the time, I had only ran up to 3-4 miles irregularly and hiked up to 9 miles within the last 3 years. This meant I needed to do some focused, committed training if I was ever going to make R2R happen. I had no problem with the strength training portion (since, well, ya know that's what I do for a living), but I knew I needed to work on my cardio endurance. Somewhere along the way, I decided I wanted to run/hike the R2R, not just hike it. I signed up for a trail 10K in September to help me get into the cardio/trail running mindset, assuming that the R2R would maybe happen in 2022. I completed my 10K, took a 4-6 week break from consistent running then said, "f it, if I say I want to do the R2R, then I need to make it happen". So, I did. By late November, I began following the KATHLETICS Trail strength program and started building out my running plan to land us R2R ready for April/May. Training was eye-opening. I had no idea I was capable of pushing myself the way I did. Although, it wasn't all rainbows and dandelions. Being new at something (running more than 6 miles at a time) comes with many trials and errors. It took learning how to: - wear enough layers, but not too many - run outside in under 50-degree weather - eat while running - improve my running form and become a more efficient runner - train your brain for long runs With over 350 miles on my feet, 50+ strength sessions, and many many carbs, I am ready to ROLL!
The During It all started with a 3am wake up call after sleeping at a campsite near the North Rim with the wind rippin' all night. To my surprise, I slept well. Hurry, put the rooftop tent away, smash a cinnamon raisin bagel (zee best), and make the quick jaunt to the ever-busy North Kaibab Trailhead at 4:30am. We had our headlamps on for about 5 minutes before the twilight truly lit up the sky and they weren't needed anymore. We started at a nice pace that was easy enough to enjoy the views along the way. The North Rim was rich in red rock and lush green colors. The sun slowly peered over the rocks making the canyon light up inch-by-inch.
As we approached the river, I took off on my own for a bit. For the majority of my trail running training I ran alone, so I felt comfortable getting ahead, plus, I knew the couple I went with would stick together. The canyon began to narrow around the river and brought incredible views and encouragement as I approached Phantom Ranch. In fact, I unintentionally ran my fastest mile ever during this stretch and enjoyed every second of it.
I had filled up on water once before Phantom Ranch (all water sources were on, thankfully), but I stopped at Phantom Ranch for a good while to eat my PB+J and fill up my water.
Phantom Ranch is about 14.5-15 miles into the canyon from the North Rim. People can camp there, send postcards, grab a bite to eat, and get their famous lemonade. To be honest, I had every intention of getting lemonade, but it just didn't sound good at the time, even though I had been looking forward to it for months. Throughout all of my training, I had never felt like I didn't want to eat or drink during my runs, but I was fighting it during the R2R. I was forcing myself to eat every hour after hour 3.
I waited for my friends at Phantom Ranch, so they could eat, refill, and make some injury repairs (one lost a couple toenails early in the journey, RIP).
We headed out to the Bright Angel Trail to make our next stop at Indian Gardens. At this point it started to get roasty toasty. Fortunately, we had a bit of wind, so it helped cool us down.
We crossed the rushing river and experienced hefty wind gusts. Shortly after the river crossing, I split off on my own again with about 7-8 miles to go.
I started thinking doubtful and negative thoughts with about 6 miles to go. I tried to counteract them with mantras of "you are strong and capable", "you're a badass bitch", "you've made it 19 miles, you can do 6 more".
Once I got to Indian Gardens, I refilled my reservoirs. On my way out, I saw the thermometer was reading 85-degrees. Not the worst, but still hot.
I thought I hit a second wave of energy, woo!
The ascent continued to get steeper, my strides got shorter, and my pace got much slower. Negative and doubtful thoughts filled my head as I continued to tell myself "one foot in front of the other". The trail began to get so steep in some areas that I stopped at nearly every shaded area for at least a couple seconds. In the heat of the sun, I encountered a guided mule tour that requested I stand to the side until they pass. At the time, it felt like the longest 60 seconds of the whole run. Shortly after the mule encounter, a water crossing appeared on the trail. I dumped my Buff in the water and squeezed it over my head to cool down.
With about 3 miles to go, I noticed my phone was back in service. At Phantom Ranch and shortly after the river crossing, I notified Alec of my whereabouts through my Garmin inReach, but since I was now in service, I sent him a quick text to let him know I was going to see him soon. I use the term, "soon", loosely.
The last 3 miles were brutal. Every time I looked up I thought, "how the heck am I going to get up there?!" It seemed so far away.
Alec told me he was planning on coming down the trail to meet me, which gave me motivation to continue on.
By mile 1.5, I thought the trail was never going to end. I still had another 1000' to climb. Then, I came around a corner at about .75 miles and saw Alec. In that moment, I don't think I had ever been so happy to see him. Just with his presence, he helped push me as I struggled through the last stretch.
(S/O to Alec for being a trooper and driving from the North Rim to the South Rim, a 4-hour drive, to pick my strugglin' ass up).
Once I got to the top, I couldn't believe it.
25 miles, 5000' gain.
I did it! I did the thing!
Looking back down into the canyon was wild.
I truly believe that was the best way to experience the Grand Canyon in it's entirety.
After the run, we smashed some 'za, of course, and went to bed at 8pm in a comfy hotel bed. The next day we headed out to Valley of the Gods to experience some secluded and magnificent views for our last night of camping.
Reflecting back on the R2R now, I'm still in shock at what our bodies are capable of. I probably won't stop talking about this experience for a while, so my apologies in advanced for Grand Canyon-ing your ear off for the foreseeable future. I truly feel the impact and "runners high", if you will, of this experience.
I'm not sure when I'll get these legs back in trail running mode, as my calves have never been sorer, haha. I'm sure it'll subside soon as I continue to take measures to recover, but I think making lifting fun again, keeping up my trail running endurance, and conquering the upcoming 14-er season are on my brain next.
Stay wild, friends!