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Race Reviews • June 23, 2008

Grand Canyon Rim 2 Rim Run

North Side of the Canyon

The following is my account of the Rim to Rim Grand Canyon run. The run was the hardest thing I have ever done.  I wrote this two days after the run.

Friday June 20, 2008:

Jeff (completed the run across the Sahara) and I met Ted (running freak, also did the Sahara) at the Phoenix airport, and started our 4.5 hour drive to the south rim of the canyon.  We met up with Ed (56 year old running phenom, did the Sahara too) and his family at the start of the Bright Angel trail to check out the view of our run.  I looked over the edge and across the wide chasm, and thought, I am prepared this should be fun.  We had a nice dinner at El Tovar (actually it sucked and was expensive).  I was feeling very positive as we went to bed early and set the alarm for 3:00 a.m.

Saturday June 21, 2008:

It was dark out and we had to use our head lamps to see.  It was not 50º f that I was promised it was hot already, so I took off my outer layer and began the decent into the canyon.  The sun quickly began to light the canyon and made it easier to pick up speed down the trail.  People hiking up from camping in the canyon had a real look of misery as we hustled past them in running shoes and light packs.  One hiker was nice enough to hold up his hand and ask if we wanted to see the elk before we sped past the spot.  We stopped snapped a couple photos and pushed on.  We were doing great!  I felt great! We hydrated and took two enduralytes and one salt tablet every hour.  When we slowed for a little we ate beef jerkey, trail mix, running gels, and pieces of peanut butter sandwiches.  The view was spectacular.  The heat was mounting as we reached the canyon floor.  We were doing well with water, I was using a lot more than on my training runs.

We crossed the river and started our way through the box canyon portion of the run.  It is now around 105º f.  I am using a Camelbak that holds 3 liters of water that I fill at every water station.  I had filled it 3 times and we were just beginning the upward climb on Kaibab trail.  Going up goes a lot slower even though the trail is easier to run.  I run out of water about a mile out from the next water stop, these are loooong miles.  We stop in streams to wet our hats and cool our skin, but you can’t drink the water.  It feels like we are running and running and not really make a dent in elevation.

We make it to Cottonwood Camp and get much needed water.  While we are there a hiker that came down from the top of the north rim is having difficulty and the Ranger has arranged a chopper to come and lift him out.  We continued on, we paused about a quarter of a mile away from Cottonwood to watch the chopper deftly maneuver into position to pick the hiker up.  This canyon is no joke!

After Cottonwood was when the intense uphill climb began.  The heat was brutal and there was little shade.  The top of the canyon seemed to keep rising instead of getting closer.  We have been at this for over 5 hours.  My mind is fighting to keep my legs moving and I feel like throwing up the food I am forcing down.  This is when the demons come for me.  I begin to think “how am I going to make it up to the top?” even worse “How am I going to make it up Bright Angel on the return?”  This is brutal.  Ed and Ted are moving just fine and take breaks even though they could easily move on ahead.  Jeff and I are slowing and struggling to climb the 8,250 foot ascent to the rim.  I look down the canyon and see part of the trail we came up and it looks like a ant trail, I feel a sense of accomplishment and a sense of dread.  It’s great that we made it this far, how the F*%#K am I going to go all the way back down and then all the way back up?  My legs were quaking and my head was swirling in the heat.  I was moving and looking forward to the next water stop, which were less and less frequent on this side.  I keep my mouth shut but, Ed and Ted can see I do not have the energy that they have at this point.  They are great and remind me to eat and drink.  I was beginning to dislike eating.  It was hard to swallow stuff down.  Jeff has been struggling too.  We trudge on.  I can’t help wondering how I am going to do this.

We are now at hour 7 still climbing to get to the top of the north rim.  The top is still miles away.  Jeff says something that I will always remember.  “Thomas, my foot is killing me, if I stop when we summit the north rim, what are you going to do?”  It was like angels descended upon me, I had a way out of this without being the one to suggest it.  He saved my skin, I really mean it.  In my effort not to be a punk I would have not said anything.  I would have gone to the top, made it down to the bottom and then been incapable of making back up Bright Angel.  A shiver went down my spine and I said “I will stay with you, and finish at the top.”

Ted and Ed were notified of our decision.  They said that they would reach the top with us and then they would push on.  They could have moved on to get going but they stayed with us, good guys.  We made it to the top in 9 hours 38 minutes and 40 seconds.  We all snapped a picture together at the top and then Ted and Ed started down the Kaibab trail.

Jeff and I had made friends with a british girl that gave us a ride to the Grand Canyon Lodge.  We are now 5 hours from the south rim by car. We needed to get back.  Rachel (british chick), let us use her shower and I washed my filthy clothes in her sink and put them on wet.  Lucky for me I packed a pair of extra socks.  Jeff managed to get a maintenance guy to drive us back to the south rim for $300.  I had a nice cold beer while waiting for the driver.  I am beaten, broken, and humbled, however,  I am not being choppered out of the canyon.

Ted and Ed made it back to the south rim with a time of 18 hours 21 minutes.  Ed tells us that Ted saved his life.  The last 3 miles Ed was having to stop every hundred yards to take a break.  He was in agony.  Ted said he was afraid the way Ed was staggering he would either bust his ankle or fall over the side and die on the rocks below.  Ted started to wonder if they would need to just stop and sleep in the canyon.  I would have conked out much before Ed.  He was still feeling pretty good at the top of the North Rim, I was shredded.  I can’t help but think I would have had to have been rescued by rangers or sleep exposed in the canyon if I had been foolish enough to keep going.  Like I said Jeff saved my skin.

Sunday June 22, 2008:

I felt surprisingly good.  Ed stopped by our room and said goodbye.  What a champ, my hat is truly off to him.  He said that this was harder than the Sahara 150 mile race.  Jeff said what we accomplished was harder than any leg of the Sahara race too.  That gave me some solace.  We packed our stuff, picked up Ted who seemed unscathed by the trial and drove to the Phoenix airport to come home.  I missed my wife so much.  She was always in my thoughts and I could not wait to see her and rub her pregnant belly.

I am a little bummed that I was not able to complete the entire Rim2Rim2Rim distance we set out to do, but I am glad we cut our loses when we did.  I will run again.  Marathons are fine by me.  Thank you for all your text messages and support while I trained and attempted this run.  We saw a ton of cool things including a rare pink rattler, big horn sheep, condors, elk, lizards and more.


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