Marshall running down the South Kaibab Trail.
I ran the R2R2R (strava) with Marshall on May 13 2017. It was around 45.5 miles and 22k ft up and down.
I had run in the Grand Canyon R2R2R in 2014. Being my first long run, my quads were so sore by the time I got back to Phantom Ranch on the return trip that it took 5 painful hours to cover the last 10 miles back to the South Rim. As I since gained more experience, I’d thought about returning to finish in better style. Wrangling Marshall as a partner this time, I went back in May 2017 to run it again.
I tried to step up my mileage and elevation training this time and even started 4 months ahead but predictably, I got injured 2.5 months before the planned run date. It took 3 weeks to recover from this injury but I still wanted to go. To compensate I planned a more intensive 6 week training period to get back in shape.
The dip in March reflected the injury and training resumed in April. I fortunately managed to avoid injury in April!
Looking back at my elevation gain logs, I should have done more hills earlier in the training pre-injury.
Gear was mostly unchanged from previous runs Highlight: I tried long compression socks for sun protection and that worked well. Lowlight: I’d bought 2 pairs of Hoka Huaka’s before the Zion Traverse and they worked fine during the Zion run so I assumed the identical shoe would work this time but I was sadly mistaken. I wasn’t able to lace the shoe tightly enough to prevent my toes from hitting the front because of the unpadded tongue and 11k of downhill running took its toll - I lost my two big toenails after the run.
R2R2R gear was straightforward. I looked at my old gear photos and packed similar amounts of stuff. Here Marshall is packing the night before the run.
The Run - May 13 2017
Marshall and I flew to PHX from SJC and drove to Tusayan just outside the park. We were debating what trailhead shuttle/drive/park options during the drive but the very hot weather and the mule train time settled it for us - we would get an early start to park near the trailhead and start running by 430 in an attempt to beat both. We packed in the hotel room and set an early wake up at 330.
Marshall on the amazing South Kaibab trail at sunrise.
The next morning, we were out of the hotel by 4 am, parked the car by 430 am, and started running the extra mile along the rim to the South Kaibab trailhead. Interestingly, we even managed to get lost for a few minutes trying to find the trailhead in the dark. Once at the trailhead, we started with a casual pace down the trail, beating the mule trains.
I soon started to regret only packing an emergency coin battery headlamp because it proved harder than I liked to see the ruts and steps along the trail and I ran more slowly than I wanted to. Even worse, unbeknownst to me till I reached the North Rim, the insole of the right shoe started working its way out of the shoe within a few miles down South Kaibab and a few inches of the insole were sticking out of the shoe for most of the run. Once I realised it, this insole caused me tons of annoyance on the return trip back from the North Rim.
Just a few miles down the South Kaibab and the insole was already sticking out of my right shoe!
Marshall, being the beast, took off at a faster pace somewhere in the box canyon after Phantom ranch. Before he took off, I mentioned that he could use the chalkboard at the pump house to mark when he passed so I could keep track of how far ahead he was. Hitting the pump house, I saw that Marshall was about 30 mins ahead of me. It stayed nice and cool all the way to North Rim and I crossed paths with Marshall about 30 mins from the top.
One luxurious thing about the R2R2R is the abundance of treated water spigots at convenient locations along the trail. The other nice thing is that practically all the run is pretty low elevation except for the climbs back up to the south and north rim. Hence, it’s not necessary to do any acclimatization for this run, which is convenient.
Less than half a mile to the South Rim!
I spent about 15 mins at the North Rim listening to a group of through hikers on the Arizona trail. It turned out that one of the hikers had hiked the triple crown of PCT, AT and CDT amassing over 13k trail miles, impressive!
Heading down from the North Rim, I took my time and was careful not to pound my quads, learning from my previous mistakes. At the pump house, Marshall was now an hour ahead. The day was also heating up - somehow I always manage to pick the hottest days to run in the Grand Canyon, the last time was 98F at Phantom Ranch and this time, it reached 100F at Phantom Ranch - bleah.
Because it was hot, we had decided to return on the Bright Angel trail to make use of the water spigots along the way up. Just like the last time, the rest of the run back from Phantom Ranch to the South Rim passed in a blur and energy was spent trying to hide from the heat along the small amounts of shade and under my hat.
Apart from the heat, I felt pretty good on the entire trip up, a stark contrast to the last R2R2R run. On hindsight, I think I overcompensated and paced too conservatively for this run but I met my goal of finishing in better style and took almost 2 hours less than my previous run.
Marshall took about 1.5 hrs less than I did and handled the logistics of taking the shuttle and bringing the car to the Bright Angel trailhead to meet me when I finished.
Finished! Marshall and I at the Bright Angel trailhead 12 hrs 45 mins later. Little did I know I was about to lose a bunch of toenails.
What’s Next for Running? I still haven’t run an organized race of any distance yet and I’m mildly curious to experience what an organized ultra feels like versus these self-supported self-organized runs through beautiful wilderness. I also have a few more self-supported long run goals in the High Sierra that I’d like to get to eventually.
Previous Runs: May 2014 Grand Canyon R2R2R, July 2014 Rae Lakes Loop, May 2016 Zion Traverse