Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Grand Canyon: Running Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim

I'm not sure when I first learned about rim-to-rim-to-rim (R2R2R), but as soon as I did, I knew that it was something I had to do. Why? Two reasons. One, it sounded like one hell of a challenge/adventure (45+ miles and 11,000 feet of vertical gain) and two, I had never been to the Grand Canyon. So...yea, what better way to see the canyon then to run through it, twice. For this epic journey, I teamed up with my badass running friends, Caitlin and Rachel, as well as Rachel's friends, Scott and Jill, that were our support crew/Grand Canyon experts. Their knowledge of the canyon was a massive asset and I can't thank them enough for all they did for us.
Rim-to-Rim profile
Trail Map
South Kaibab Trailhead
Caitlin,  Rachael and I started our R2R2R trek on the south rim of the canyon under darkness at 3am. We elected to go down South Kaibab as oppose to Bright Angel because it is a shorter, albeit steeper descent, to the Colorado River at the base of the canyon (7 miles vs 9.5 miles). The temperature was somewhere in the 30s when we began, but I was pretty comfortable. Even though our headlamps illuminated the trail well, we took our time making our way down the steep switchbacks. Having never been to the Grand Canyon, I could only imagine what the scenery must have looked like around us. I was excited to be finally running in the Grand Canyon, but the feeling was a bit subdued since the night still blanketed this massive place.

The canyon slowing coming to life. Our first crossing of the Colorado River.
By the time we crossed the Colorado River, the faintest colors of dawn appeared and the silhouettes of the canyon walls slowly emerge. Shortly after crossing the Colorado River we arrived at our first big checkpoint, Phantom Ranch. Phantom Ranch is the only place along the R2R2R route where you can purchase food/limited supplies should you need anything else in addition to what you packed with you. We came prepared with plenty of food in our packs (PB&Js, Gu, gummy bears, M&Ms, etc), but we took this opportunity to refill our packs at the water spigot. Throughout the trail there are many water spigots that you pass and we began to treat these spigots as our aid stations. Without these spigots, it would make running R2R2R unsupported damn near impossible.
Phantom Ranch
Departing Phantom Ranch, we were now on the North Kaibab trail and all that stood between us and the north rim was 14 miles and 5,750 feet of vertical climbing. Piece of cake, haha. The first few miles on North Kaibab took us through beautiful Bright Angel Canyon. As we pressed on the canyon eventually widened until we were left running through a huge valley full of desert brush. Ahead of us was the north rim, but the top was obscured by a thick layer of clouds. The weather forecast called for rain at some point and as much as we all didn't want to believe that it was going to rain, it was obvious that we were headed right for it.
Bright Angel Canyon 
Low hanging clouds cover the tops of the canyon 
Looking back at the south rim far off in the distance 
As we neared the north rim we heard from others on the trail that it was snowing on the north rim. Ummm, what? Still being thousands of feet below the north rim in fairly mild weather, it was hard for me to believe that we would encounter snow. The climb up the north rim was pretty gradual at first, but once we got past Roaring Springs, things got pretty steep. About 4 miles from the top, it began to rain. The dry trail below our feet slowly became a pretty muddy one. The temperature had started to drop quickly and I noticed that anytime I took a break, I would get very chilled.
Starting our climb up the north rim. Rain just starting.
Bridge crossing near Supai Tunnel
1 mile from the top of the north rim I started to see patches of snow. Soon, the rain switched over to snow. The desert scrubs at the base of canyon were long gone and beautifully replaced by snow covered pines.
Winter wonderland of the north rim
Finally, we reach the top of the north rim, but there wasn't much time to celebrate as we were all freezing cold. My fingers were so numb it was hard to open my baggie of gummy bears to grab a handful.
Pretending not to be cold on the north rim. Halfway home!
Frozen to the core, I was anxious to get down the north rim quickly to the warmer temps at the base of the canyon. After a muddy, quad banging 5 mile 3,600 foot descent, we were back in the sunshine and peeling off our layers. I had never experienced such radical climate changes. An hour earlier I was freezing my ass off in the snow and now I was sitting in the shade eating my PB&J to keep cool.
Descending the north rim. So much green!
And back into the sunshine
Looking down Bright Angel Canyon. South rim way in the distance.
The return trip to Phantom Ranch was quick, as the trail was always trending downwards and with the exception of couple quick climbs, it was mostly flat. We made it back to Phantom Ranch a little before 4pm, which was our goal since the general store closed at 4. I purchased a cup of the famous Phantom Ranch lemonade I had heard so much about (all it was was Minute Maid out of a machine). Regardless, it was pretty damn tasty.
Second crossing of the Colorado River after Phantom Ranch
As we left Phantom Ranch, it was 9.5 miles and 4,400 feet of vert to the south rim. We knew we had about 4 hours of daylight left and we all had made it a goal to try and finish before nightfall. On tired legs, it was going to be a tall order to hike out of the canyon in that amount of time, but we were determined.
The switchbacks of the Bright Angel trail snaking up the canyon
This just made us laugh
After a quick break at the Indian Garden campground, we began the hardest part of the Bright Angel trail. We had 5 miles and about 3,000 feet of climbing to go. The towering south rim loomed in front of us, teasing us with views of the top.
Slowly making our way up the south rim
Surprisingly, I found my legs had a lot of life left in them and I was able to hike up the rim pretty well, all things considered. Every now and again it would rain on us, but nothing hard. Daylight was fading quickly as we reached the 1.5 Mile Resthouse. We popped on our headlamps for the final push and our goal. A little before 8pm we reached the trailhead of Bright Angel at the top of the South Rim. Job done! The three of us embraced in a group hug, shocked with what we had just accomplished.
Group photo at the finish
I could not have picked a better group to run through the Grand Canyon with. The three of us compliment each other so well. We were all so focused on completing this journey together. Our morale throughout the day never faltered and we reminded positive through the hard patches.

The following morning we returned to the south rim to gazed at this amazing place. For me, it was the first time I saw the Grand Canyon from this perspective. This place is massive and utterly gorgeous. Had I seen this view of the canyon before I decided to run R2R2R, I would have been way more scared. Ignorance is definitely bliss.
So glad I saw this view after the run
I can't wait to return to the Grand Canyon. This place is absolute magic. I definitely would love to run through the canyon again, but perhaps just one crossing next time...

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Spring is here!

You know what...trail running is a lot easier than road running. A few weeks ago I ran a road 50K and it sucked. Pavement is boring and way more taxing on the body than dirt. What was I thinking when I signed up for that race? I'm an idiot.

Ok, I should back up a little bit. Yes, I still think I'm an idiot, but Cowtown (the 50K I mentioned above) wasn't all bad. The course was pretty and I got to explore some cool parts of Fort Worth I hadn't seen. Even though I crashed and burned pretty hard at the end, I was happy to sneak in just under 5 hours, which is nothing to pout about. But damn, pounding the pavement for 31 miles is just brutal. I love running ultras, but I think from now on I'll stick to the more forgiving trails if I want to go beyond the marathon. 

This feeling was further solidified when I ran my first 50 miler in about two years over the weekend. It was the absolute perfect race to get my endurance feet wet again. The trails were not technical and the course was super flat. (Thanks North Texas!) Fitness wise, I felt great during the first half of the race. The last 20 miles were a bit trying for me, but these things aren't suppose to be easy. I was able to snatch up a monster PR (9:11:51) which gave me a big confidence boost as I press on into the heart of my spring season.

Following Easter, I've got lots of running/traveling to do and I'm so stoked! I'm heading to DC the first weekend of April to run what has become a bit of a spring tradition for my friends and I, the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile. I can't wait to get out there and see all my friends! Gonna be a good time. The weekend after Cherry Blossom I'm off to Oregon to run the Peterson Ridge Rumble 40 Mile that a buddy of mine is the race director for. I've been wanting to run his race for awhile and I'm so excited to get the chance to run it this year. Then, the following weekend I'm running the Leona Divide 50K in California. While visiting some of my friends in Arizona back in February, they told me about this race (they are running the 50 miler) and I couldn't pass on the opportunity to hang with them again and run on some left coast trails. I heard part of the course is on the Pacific Crest Trail, which is a trail I've always wanted to check out. It's like the Appalachian Trail of the west. 

Damn, I miss the AT.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Don't Settle

There is a horse sculpture that I go by on many of my runs. At first, this sculpture didn't mean much to me other than a pretty centerpiece in my town. However, the more I run by it, the more it inspires me. To me, a horse represents endurance, something which is an integral part of running. Running past these horses reminds me not to settle. It reminds me to keep pushing, to keep enduring...not just with running, but with all aspects of my life.

The minute we settle, we stop living. I know, I've done it before. At first, it's easy. You make all kinds of excuses as to why you can't achieve what you set out to do. But, as time passes, the comfort you took from those excuses begins to eat at you. You start to identify less with the person you have become.

Thankfully, you can change it. Accept the challenge. Fight for what you are passionate about. It won't be easy, but keep enduring. Don't settle. Soon you will achieve what you were certain was impossible. And that is the best feeling of all.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The past few months

Hello? Can anyone hear me? Does this thing still work? It's been awhile since I've done a blog post. A lot has happened over the past few months and I will try my best to cover it all (mostly with pictures.) The biggest change was my move from Washington to Dallas. I took a new job with Southwest Airlines and have loved every minute of it since I've started. It's an awesome company to be a part of and I work with some really great people. Of course, I miss DC, but I've already been able to get out there a few times to visit. In fact, the last time I was there I was able to sneak in a quick run with friends.

After I moved to Texas and before I started my job, I went on a week long runcation in early September with my friend Cathy. We both signed up for the The Rut 50K, a stupid crazy mountain race in Big Sky, Montana with over 10,000 feet of vert (more on that later.) But, before we headed to Big Sky we spent 4 days camping, trail running, and sightseeing in Grand Teton and Yellowstone. If you have not been to either of these parks, I highly recommend you check them out. The scenery is unreal and the trails are epic!
Running on the Cascasde Canyon Trail in Grand Teton 
Camp in Grand Teton
Grand Teton Range
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
After Grand Teton and Yellowstone, we headed to Big Sky for The Rut 50K. The Rut is like no other race I've ever experienced. From the start at the Big Sky ski resort, the course has over 10,000 feet vertical gain with the highlight of summiting Lone Peak, which is over 11,000 feet up! 
Big Sky with Lone Peak lurking in the background
This was my first mountain race and to give myself a better idea of what I was getting into, I also signed up for the Vertical Kilometer (VK) which was two days before the 50K. The VK was a 3 mile "run" that started at the base of Big Sky and went straight to the top of Lone Peak, a total of 3,600 feet of vert. It was brutally awesome. The views once you got above the tree line were incredible.
Hiking up the spine of Lone Peak

At the summit!
After the VK, I had a lot more confidence going into the 50K, but that isn't to say the race was easy. I just wanted to enjoy a beautiful day in the mountains. It was cold at the start (30s) and didn't warm up too much during the day. But, we had blue skies and views that couldn't be beat. I spent 10 painfully long hours on the course, but I couldn't care less about the time. My only goal was to finish.

About two weeks after The Rut,  I ran in my first race in the Dallas area, the Tour des Fleurs 20K. The course started/finished at the Dallas Arboretum and did a loop around White Rock Lake. It was an overcast and humid day, but I ended up having a better run than I expected. 
In October I ran one of my favorite races for the 4th time, the Chicago Marathon. I ran for the Alzheimer's Association in honor of my grandmother, who recently passed from this very sad disease. My sincerest thanks to all that donated. It was a beautiful day for the marathon, but unfortunately I was undertrained for this race and suffered a bit in the second half. Nonetheless, I was so happy to get another Chicago Marathon finish. If you have never run this race, add it to your list.
A sweet sign my sister-in-law and niece made for me
A couple weeks before Thanksgiving I ran in my first trail race in Texas, the Rockledge Rumble 50K. Much like Chicago, I was very undertrained and had no business running it. However, I was signed up for it so I had to go out there and at least give it my best effort. The course was on some pretty sweet mountain bike trails along Grapevine Lake and I enjoyed them for the first 20 miles until I hit a wall. The last 10 miles or so sucked and I was happy to collect my finisher's medal and then drowned myself in pity beer.

Rockledge was the wake up call I needed to get my ass in gear. I was signed up for the Dallas Marathon about month later and I wanted to have a stronger race. So, in the weeks leading up to the marathon, I upped my training and snuck in a little speedwork. On race day I was still unsure where my fitness was so I went out at a pretty conservative pace, about 9 min/mile or so. I maintained that through the halfway point and still felt I had plenty in the tank, so I let it rip. By the end of the race I was running about 8 minute miles. I finished in around 3:48, much faster than I expected. It was a nice surprise and a great confidence boost to take into the new year.
Dallas bling
So, that's what I've been up to for the last few months. I'm definitely looking forward to 2016 and I've already signed up for a few races in the spring that should be a lot of fun. 2015 had its ups and downs, but I learned many valuable lessons that I can hopefully apply to my training in the future. I hope you all had a strong 2015 and I wish you happy runnings in 2016!


Friday, August 21, 2015

Thank you, DC

I went for a run this morning expecting it to feel different. It was one of my last runs in DC before I move to Dallas. Oddly, but also reassuringly, this run felt just like every other run I’d been on through this incredible city.

I’ve been trying to find the words to express how I feel about moving away from Washington. I’m not surprised that going for a run was all it took to make some sense of it. While I won’t be living here anymore, I’ll be carrying a large part of this city with me in Texas. That chunk of DC I'm taking with me will make me feel like I'm still a part of it.

It’s a special feeling when you get to call your nation’s capital home. When I think about my time here, I feel so lucky. Living in DC has changed me in many ways, all for the better. I’ve made so many lasting memories and friendships. I’ve learned valuable lessons that I will be able to use for the rest of my life. I will miss DC, but have endless gratitude for all it has given me.

As I set off for the next chapter of my life, I will never forget the one I just finished writing.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A (brief) message to those running Western States

“Life had been reduced from a highly complex existence, with a thousand petty problems, to one of the barest simplicity in which only one real task remained – the achievement of the goal.”

That is an excerpt from the 1959 novel, Endurance, a book I highly encourage everyone to read. As soon as I read that line, my mind immediately drifted to the feelings I have at the start of a race. I felt it eloquently described a runner’s mindset as they toe the line. The hard work is over. The long months of training are behind them. Race day is finally here! As soon as that gun goes off, the daily scattering of thoughts and worries evaporate and they are left with only one focus, achieving their goal.

Good luck to all those running Western States this weekend!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

My thoughts on nature and John Muir

"I'm glad I'm not great enough to be missed in the busy world." John Muir wrote that in his journal, which later became a collection known as My First Summer in the Sierra. That statement stayed with me long after I read it. How could Muir, now recognized as one of the great trailblazing pioneers, think so little of himself? Certainly, a man of Muir's stature in today's society, would be missed. Yet, in the summer of 1869, long before the very trails he was hiking on were named after him, he felt free; unbounded by the demands that call so many of us back home.

To bring some context to Muir's statement, he was referring to an encounter he had with an old friend, Professor Butler. Muir bumped into the "Professor" (as Muir called him) near the famous North Dome of Yosemite, and spent the rest of the day visiting with him.

That evening, Muir tried to convince the Professor to camp with him in the high Sierra. However, much to Muir's surprise, he learned that the Professor had to return back to civilization due to his obligations. Muir would later write that he pitied "the poor Professor, bound by clocks, almanacs, orders, duties, etc., where Nature is covered and her voice smothered..."

Over the years (and I credit much of this to my discovery of trail running) I've found myself more connected with nature and its peaceful solitude. As I read Muir's words, I often find myself saying, "YES!" It is very easy nowadays to get comfortable in our routines. But, more often than not, if we stay comfortable for too long, we grow uncomfortable. John Muir's journals and essays remind me that while I can't ignore life's everyday demands, I'm not bound to them. His words have shown me that when I'm starting to feel drained by the stresses in my life, a little dose of nature is all I need to restore my energy.