Thursday, May 3, 2018

Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim Recap

Last week the hubby and I ran Rim2Rim2Rim at the Grand Canyon! It was an absolutely AMAZING experience!

But before I tell you about it, let me tell you how we got there. Sometime early this year I had the crazy idea that tackling the Grand Canyon would be an AWESOME adventure. At that point the hubby was training for his first full marathon (the Mesa-PHX Marathon) and I thought that if we could keep the training up that the Grand Canyon would be "totally doable". Thankfully the hubby is easily persuaded and I was able to talk him into having a crack at this HUGE undertaking.


From the intel we gathered, we were told April or October tend to be the best months weather-wise. Since we'd already be marathon trained in April (the hubby and I ran the Mesa-PHX Marathon in February, the Los Angeles Marathon in March and then I had the Boston Marathon in April), we figured it was perfect timing to squeeze in our attempt after Boston.


Well, when it comes to running, if you give me an inch, apparently I'll take 46ish miles ;) So as soon as the hubby gave me the thumbs up I was looking up training plans and putting dates on the schedule. I did some research online and found a 50-miler training plan that I adjusted slightly to fit our schedule (adjusted for the travel and races we already had on the calendar). We weren't going for any type of speed record (although, since it was the first time we were tackling it, it was an automatic PR {personal record}, right?!), but we still wanted to make sure we're trained for this ULTRA adventure!

I'll be honest, the training was no joke. Although the long runs never really went over 26 miles, we would have back-to-back runs on the weekends that would total upwards of 40ish miles. And, if you've been around my neck of the InterWebs for a while, you know the hubby and I were on a three week road trip traveling the West Coast in our Adventure Mobile during the peak portion of our training. Planning for our runs definitely took more time and preparation than running our normal routes at home, and we had to swap around some runs based on weather (and when we would be able to find a shower), but I'm happy to report we were able to get in all of our runs while exploring the great outdoors.

A couple shots from our trip... I would say 75% of our runs were done in the rain...

Since running Rim2Rim2Rim isn't a sanctioned race (the rangers actually try to discourage everyone from attempting it), we were sort of on our own for the planning and preparation. I mean, why not attempt this "self-supported ultramarathon" on our own?! Thankfully there's a decent amount of info available online about the hike and we're lucky enough to have folks in our lives who have tackled the beast before who we asked our million and a half questions (BIG THANKS to EMZ, Gina and Rhandi, along with everyone in the Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim Run! Facebook Group).


Little by little the planning started coming together. We figured a weekday would be less busy than a weekend, so ended up deciding on Friday, April 27th as THE DAY. Once we had the date picked, then it was time to select the route. The South Rim is open all year, but the North Rim closes for the winter (reopening on May 15th). With that said, it made our route a little more obvious. We would start at the South Rim, head to the North Rim and then finish back again at the South Rim. There are two trails on the South Rim and the majority of folks I spoke with recommended you come down South Kaibab Trail (shorter distance but more elevation change) and then come back up Bright Angel Trail (longer distance but less elevation change - not to mention it has multiple stops for water along the route unlike SK).


Originally we had a campsite booked in the Grand Canyon but when the Adventure Mobile went kaputt (don't worry, I will eventually get around to telling that story in a separate blog post) we cancelled the site. We ended up finding a KOA in Williams (about an hour away from the South Entrance) that had cabins available so grabbed one of those. {I'll be honest, when the hubby cancelled the site I was frustrated because I figured we could've still tent camped, but in the end it was nice coming back to a legit bed to sleep in, even if we did have a longer drive. And the showers were pretty amazing too!}


A couple weeks ago a friend of ours asked if he could jump in with us on the trip. He wanted to hike Rim 2 River 2 Rim (coming down South Kaibab to Phantom Ranch and then back up Bright Angel). Of course we welcomed him with open arms, and it actually ended up working out amazingly! (Not only does his Prius get awesome gas mileage, but he was also willing to drop us off at the trailhead and pick us up once we were done - but more on that later.)

Source: @spongerarnold's Instagram

So, finally, now that you have a little of the back story, let's jump into the actual trip, shall we?! {I know, I know, you're probably thinking to yourself that this recap is going to be the length of a novel... and, well, you're probably right!}


We left Thursday morning (meeting at Andy's house a little before 6am) so we could make it to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center by 3pm (we wanted to be able to check with the rangers about what water would be on and get some last minute intel). The drive took about 9 hours (approximately 525 miles) due to the bathroom breaks, lunch and gas stops.


I've been to the Grand Canyon once before. My parents were in Las Vegas a few years ago for a convention so we drove over to see them and took a tour bus to see the Grand Canyon. But seeing it this time and knowing we'd be RUNNING it definitely had me viewing it in a different light. I mean, if you've been there, you know just how GRAND it is... but looking and realizing you'll be running to the bottom and then to the other rim... um, it definitely has you rethinking your sanity ;)

Not only would I hike it... I'd run it!

While at the visitor center we got some great 'unofficial' information. Due to some pipe breaks, we were told a lot of the water along the trail was off (thankfully this turned out to be incorrect). We had brought some purification tablets and were told that the water in the Bright Angel Creek was fine to drink so we figured we'd be okay on the hydration front. Another piece of helpful info we received was to "hike/ run wet". We were told to wet ourselves whenever we could to help keep our core body temperature down. (The temps were expected to be in the 90s at the bottom of the canyon.) The hubby even changed his shirt choice for the trek to a cotton tee because it holds water better (instead of his running tech tee).

The view from Mather Point on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Before heading to the campground we made sure to drive around to the different trailheads so we knew exactly where we would be going. Our game plan was to be at South Kaibab Trailhead by 3am so we didn't want to be driving around in the dark, not knowing where we were going. We also checked out Bright Angel Trailhead, where we would be finishing and meeting back up with Andy, so we could pick a rendezvous spot in case our cell reception was less than stellar.

Finally it was time to head to the campground and get ready for the next day. It might totally be mental, but I swear laying out a #FlatCarlee helps calm me a bit and makes me feel comfortable knowing I have everything I need.

As you can see, this "flat runner" includes quite a bit more than my normal ones. I had many people stress the importance of fueling while on the trail so I wasn't going to take any chances! I loaded my pack with ALL THE FUEL! I had everything from PROBAR BOLT Chews, BASE Bars and Uncrustable Sandwiches to dried pineapple, vegan jerky and nut butter.


Like I mentioned earlier, we were staying in Williams, which is about an hour from the South Kaibab Trailhead, so Friday morning was going to come EARLY! Our game plan was to be on the trail by 3am, so the alarms started at 1:30 so we could leave around 2. OUCH! We ended up laying down around 8pm on Thursday night, but I would say I maybe got 20 minutes of total sleep throughout the night... NOT what I would have chosen, but probably what I expected.

Before we knew it, it was GAME TIME! We did a couple last checks of our gear and jumped in the car. There's no visitor parking at the South Kaibab Trailhead {this link gives you four options on getting there}, but we were told (unofficially of course) that at the time we were heading there that we could have Andy "sneak" to the parking lot without anyone noticing. (I am NOT endorsing you drive on the streets that say "shuttles only", only being honest about what we did.) By the time we used the trailhead bathroom, got our gear ready and flipped on our headlamps it was just about 3:15am.

We wore our jackets for the first mile or so and then stopped at Cedar Ridge to remove them
since we were already warm (the temps at the start said it was already close to 50*)

I mentioned it on my Instagram post, but I'll be honest, I think starting in the darkness helped keep the intimidation factor lower for me. #IgnoranceIsBliss We were only able to see the little bubble from our headlamps that surrounded us so I didn't focus on how HUGE an undertaking we were embarking on. Sure we missed some of the views on the way down, but I think, at least for us, this was a great way to start the day (not to mention it is cooler before the sunrises).

I snapped this shot in one of the tunnels we ran through (as you can see, we had already de-layered!)

Before running in the Grand Canyon, I had guesstimated we would probably be able to keep about 20 minute per mile pace - which I figured 10 minute miles downhill, hiking 30 minute miles uphill would average to the 20 minutes. I quickly realized that I was probably off on our calculations because the downhill was a bit trickier than I was expecting. First, running in the dark obviously slows you down since your visibility is only the 10 feet or so in front of you. Next, although the terrain wasn't as rut-y as I was expecting (due to the foot and mule traffic), the trail definitely isn't as manicured as it could be. Without a doubt you've gotta keep your eyes glued to the trail. The first few miles seem to be covered in silt, so the dust was really flying. Also, due to all of the switchbacks you were meandering down and the uneven terrain, it was hard to get into a decent rhythm. It felt like every time you were getting into a flow you were having to throw on the breaks. Last, I know a lot of folks say downhill running is easy, but all that pounding and having to slow yourself down can really do a number on your legs. We tried to take it as easy as possible because we knew we had a LONG day ahead of us.

We ended up arriving at Phantom Ranch around 5am, which is when the sun was starting to lighten the sky (the official sunrise wasn't until closer to 5:40, but due to the expansive sky we got to take advantage of some early dawn light). The canteen wasn't open yet, but eventually we were able to find the bathrooms and topped off our water bottles. {Because there were so many signs warning about hyponatremia [a deadly disorder due to diluting your body with too much water and causing an imbalance of not enough salt or electrolytes] I was sure to sip on my handhelds which I filled with nuun.}

You can see the sky starting to light up (yay for no more headlamp!)


In my mind, I was thinking that once we hit Phantom Ranch the trail would level out and we would be able to chug along at a great running pace before we started ascending up to the North Trail. Well, let's just say I guess I didn't look at the elevation chart THAT closely... The trail was definitely a gradual uphill all the way from Phantom Ranch to the North Rim and the hubby was not having it. Don't get me wrong, his spirits were still high, but he knew he needed to take it easy so he'd have enough gas in the tank for later. With that said, we did much more hiking than I was expecting (like I don't know if we ran more than a mile total between Phantom Ranch and North Kaibab Trailhead). Thankfully we didn't have any times we were trying to keep, so we just did our best to enjoy each others company and take in the majesty all around us.

I told you... IT WAS VERTICAL! 

The hubby's face says "What did you get me into?!" My face is screaming "THIS IS SO MUCH FUN!"

The Grand Canyon really makes you earn the views!

It may have been tough, but man was I trying to enjoy every single moment!

As you can tell from the trail below... you are constantly climbing!

It felt like we were constantly crossing over bridges from one side of the creek to the other, but I loved it!

Because the Grand Canyon is in Arizona you may think it is all dead and brown and dusty, but in fact it was rather green! The Bright Angel Creek that flows from Roaring Falls to the Colorado River keeps the area near the trail rather lush.

I swear he was more thrilled than the photo captured ;)

Another one of the many bridges we would cross

On the way back Ryan would end up soaking in this stream ;) 

We were extremely lucky with the weather. By the time we made it to Manzanita it was only in the 80s (which may sound warm but it definitely could've been a lot worse). The canyon walls were also helping with some shade so it didn't feel too warm until we got closer to the North Rim. They were predicting cloud cover all day, but I would say the weatherman was a little off on that prediction. We were chasing cloud cover on our trip back south, but never really caught up to it.

I found that Uncrustables can be an AMAZING fueling option during Ragnar, so the hubby and I packed them this trip.

Some of the trail conditions were a little worse than others...

The views did not suck (even if the elevation gain was pretty difficult at times)

Since we were doing more hiking than I was expecting, I took advantage of the pace by snapping photos. I swear, it felt like the views just kept getting better and better. I ended up with close to 120 pictures (don't worry, I won't share them all).

You could not wipe the HUGE grin off my face no matter what! WE WERE DOING IT!

It was crazy when you could see the trail in the distance that you came from just a short time ago!

I'll be honest, it felt like it took FOR-EV-ER to get from Phantom Ranch to the North Rim, but in actuality we got there around 10:30am (about 5.5 hours after leaving Phantom Ranch). Thankfully one of our fellow R2R2R travelers, Dan, had cell service (AT&T is nonexistent in or around the Grand Canyon but Verizon did have spotty service) so we called and left Andy a message letting him know we had made it, would be heading back soon and to expect us about 9 hours from then.

Half way and still smiling... I'll call that a win!

We topped off our water again, grabbed some snacks and decided it was best to head back down into the canyon (the longer we rested, the later we would be in the canyon). Thankfully from the North Rim back to Phantom Ranch was going to be downhill so we were able to gain a little time back by running a bit (when the terrain allowed for it of course).

The midday heat definitely started getting to the hubby and he needed to keep throwing in walk breaks, but like I told him... one foot in front of the other and we will get there when we get there! No need to rush and potentially hurt ourselves. I only had three "goals" I wanted to accomplish - finish together, healthy and somewhat happy ;)

There was a message board at the Manzanita Rest Area so you better believe I added our hashtag!

When you got away from the creek it definitely did get a little dustier and drier

We were pretty exposed for a good chunk of the afternoon, with very little shade, but we got it done!

Getting back to Phantom Ranch was another long slog, but it was mostly because it was during the hottest part of the day (between noon and 3pm). We rolled into Phantom Ranch right around the time I was figuring we would - 2:30pm (which gave us plenty of buffer before the canteen closed at 4 to grab our ice cold lemonade and Reese's cup reward ;)).

Apparently it's a "thing" to do... But next time I'd pass on the lemonade... I ended up giving mine to Ryan after I took a couple sips.

Eventually it was time to refill our water, wet our buffs and get our booties back on the trail. Although we had been at Phantom Ranch about 10 hours earlier, we would be heading up Bright Angel Trail so didn't know what to expect.

Peace out Phantom Ranch, we've got a canyon rim to climb!

We finally saw the Colorado River in the daylight (earlier in the morning we definitely heard it, but couldn't see it).

The water was definitely MOVING! And it had an interesting green hue to it.

#RealTalk - Bright Angel is a B! The first mile or so is deep sand (which helps with the impact of your joints, but man it zaps your energy and steals any momentum you've got). Then you start to climb only to go back down again (which wouldn't be bad, except for the fact that you have to climb out of the canyon so any down that you do you know you have to go back up it again). Oh yeah, and I realized my GPS was off due to the canyon walls, but don't get me started on the fact that the 3 and 1.5 Mile Resthouses definitely are not at 3 and 1.5 mile out from the trailhead. There were also quite a few water crossings that you had to make... but now without bridges! Thankfully we had trekking poles and used those for balance (since at that point we already had about 40 miles on our legs and they were a bit wobbly on shifting river rocks).

Not sure if you can tell, but this trail was supposed to be "less steep" but longer... 

The plants near Indian Garden smelled AMAZING! 

"We started at the bottom, now we're here!"

The climb out of the canyon was slow (but I was expecting it to be, seeing as it is about two miles longer than South Kaibab), but we took it one step at a time. This portion is definitely not only physically draining but mentally difficult as well. When we were getting closer to the top we realized we probably wouldn't make it to the trailhead with much sunlight left (I really was hoping we wouldn't have to use our headlamps again) so we asked some hikers if they'd snap a picture of us.

This ultramarathon may not have come with a medal, official results or a participant tee, but the views were worth every step and the memories will definitely last a lifetime! Being able to tackle this challenge alongside the hubby was FAN-FREAKIN'-TASTIC and something I hope to never forget (but, truth be told, my FibroFog will probably wipe my memory)!

The flash, accompanied by the paleness of Ryan's face from all the exertion makes him look a little dead, but thankfully after
we got him his jacket, along with some pizza and beer he was good to go ;)

We were able to officially exit the canyon around 7:20pm on Friday evening - just over 16 hours after we entered it! My watch had us at 56 miles (which I know is off, especially since a couple of the miles said we ran them in SUB 7 MINUTES - WRONG!), but I'm thinking it was probably somewhere between 47 and 50 miles. (If we ran 46 miles, we would have averaged 22:10 minute miles. If we ran 48 miles, we would have averaged 21:15 minute miles. If we ran 50 miles, we would have averaged 20:24 minute miles. No matter what our distance or pace, we still FREAKIN' tackled the Grand Canyon and hiked/ ran for 16 HOURS in one day! It's still pretty hard to really wrap my head around what we did!)

They didn't have an Rim2Rim2Rim tees in the gift shop, so this was the best I could do ;)

I know what you're asking, "Would you do it again?" OH HECK TO THE YES I WOULD! In a heartbeat! Of course I should probably let me legs recover a bit, but give me some time and I'd do it again no questions asked! And I'm LOVING the trails! Now, the hubby, on the other hand, said it was the hardest things he's ever done and he's hanging up his long distance running shoes... but give me a couple weeks and I'll have him planning another ultra before you know it ;)


PS Because I know some people may use this to help with the planning of their own R2 or R3 trips, I wanted to include everything I ate and drank on the trail. Fuel: 4 servings of PROBAR BOLT Chews (Pink Lemonade), 3 Peanut Butter and Honey Uncrustables, 2 PROBAR BASE Bars (Frosted Peanut Butter and Frosted Coconut), 3 servings of dried pineapple, 2 Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and 1 serving of Clif Salted Watermelon Shot Bloks (received from the Boston Marathon and brought because they contained two times the sodium). Hydration: I used my two 12oz ExoShot soft flasks to hold nuun (and went through 6 fill-ups - using the lemon + lime electrolyte tablets and the fresh lime energy tablets) and drank about 120 ounces of straight water from my bladder. [In total it was approximately 2,450 calories over the 16 hours.] BIG THANKS to PROBAR and nuun for hooking me up with the goodies to keep me fueled and hydrated (I know how important this aspect is so took it very seriously and made sure to eat every 75 minutes and drink every 20 minutes or so).

I alternated between chews and "real food" every other time I fueled to keep my mouth happy.

Did you know there's a statistic that says 95% of people who visit the Grand Canyon never go below the rim?


Erica @ Erica Finds said...

This is an awesome recap and brings back fond memories! I didn’t realize the hike Lauren and I did had a name! I found the downhill difficult for the reasons you suggest and we went at 6:00 AM! Can’t wait to see what you guys do next!

Little Runner Em said...

Wow this sounds like sounds an AWESOME trip!! I'm glad you had fun!

San said...

Wow, wow, wow. That sounds like one amazing adventure.

Kate said...

Great recap - and very helpful for my trip in less than 2 weeks!!! I'll be running it for my 30th birthday!!!