Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Big Ditch!

15 of us ventured to Arizona last weekend to enjoy 3 days of running in the Grand Canyon. We left on Saturday and on Sunday we did the Rim to Rim to Rim run starting from the North Side. This was my 4th time in the Canyon and once again it was epic and special. A bunch of us had been before but a few were running it for the first time. The weather forecast was favorable and not to hot. I have been in the canyon at 118 degrees in the shade and it's right down awful so I was excited to see temperatures forecasted at Phantom Ranch (canyon floor) at around 95 degrees.

One big group started at 3 a.m. and another at 4 a.m. I started at 4 a.m. with Micheal, Trisha, Darin, Cheri and Gary. Anna, Kris, Maura, Stan and Erin started just after us. We were on the hunt for Steve, Beast, Susan and Drake while Stan would sleep in and catch us all! I have never started from the North Rim before so I was excited to go this direction and see if it was any different. Right off the bat the 15 miles of mostly downhill running to Phantom was different and I knew right then that coming home on the uphill grade on the canyon floor would be a hot grind. My goal was to beat my fastest R2R2R running time of 12:39. Micheal was on board for a serious training day in preparation for Hardrock so we were pretty focused from the get go. Not too focused to miss out on any of the beauty and fun the whole gang was having though! It was light out before we knew it and just as I was putting away my flashlight we came across Steve and Beast. We all stayed together for about the next 15 minutes then Micheal, Steve and I peeled off at Roaring Springs water stop. Now on the canyon floor in lovely 60 degree weather we made blazing time to Phantom Ranch. Here we catch Susan, fill up water bottles and make our way across the Colorado River on the hanging bridge. Just as we cross the river we are treated to some wonderful sand running. It's as if someone specifically dumped sand just in this particular spot since it's a unique feature for the next 1.5 miles. Since this run was the end of a Peak week Scott wanted me to treat this run like a training race. That meant I needed to do a good threshold workout during the run and push hard. Micheal and I agreed to do our threshold workout starting at Indian Gardens to the South Rim. That's a 4.8 mile ascent on a pretty good grade so it fit the bill perfectly.

When we arrived at Indian Garden we decided to hang our packs on a tree near the stables (for mules) and just carry handhelds. We would be without our packs for about 2.5 hours at the most. Since Indian Gardens is a camp ground and they provide poles for hikers packs we felt pretty safe in doing this. It sure helped to lighten the load for this part of the run. With two handhelds, my Ipod and a lot of inner determination I chased Micheal and Steve (who took an early start) up the South Rim of the Canyon. With the many switchbacks I could keep them in my sights even among the many hikers because they were the only ones running. Since we are at a bit of altitude here my breathing was heavy but I was strong. I wanted to run the entire 4.8 miles no matter how slow it was...that was my goal. The trail was pretty darn technical and had millions of step ups. I had forgotten about the stair like system. It seemed worse this year than any other and the holes were filled with much more mule pee (later we found out all the mules trains were using Bright Angel while repairs were be done on Kiabob). I worked my butt off literally! Those step ups were was just like running stairs. It was getting warm too. I made it to the top in 1:18:33. I was able to run about 80-90% of the trail. Sometimes the step ups got wacky and I couldn't get my leg to lift and turn fast enough and was forced to walk. This was an absolute blast and a good challenge. I loved it! Micheal kicked serious butt and Steve challenged me to the very end. I was on cloud nine and really ramped up. We ate and re-filled at the South Rim then began the descent. Again Micheal and I were on a mission and were flying down the technical pee filled stairs. On our way back to Indian Gardens we ran into everyone and it was like a total party on the Bright Angel Trail. Everyone was looking super strong and having an awesome day. Continuing on our complete threshold high we made amazing time back to Indian Gardens just to find out packs GONE! We freaked, we looked around, we panicked momentarily and then began planning. How are we going to get back home with no food! Fortunately Micheal was smart enough to stash $10 in his pants pocket so we began forming a plan. We continued to look around and finally found a official park like person. Micheal asked him if the mule trains would take our packs. He replied most definitely not. We knew a hiker would not take them. They were heavy and most hikers have their own heavy packs and the last thing they want is more weight. The maintenance guy told us to go check the ranger who was located about a quarter mile back up hill. We marched over to the ranger just to find him with our packs. I was so happy until he told me, "Wipe the smile off your face...we have a squirrel problem and these packs have 10 pounds of food in each of them". I was very apologetic but began to tell him we hung them for that reason. He was pissed and gave us our packs. I still wanted to talk about it while Micheal grabs the packs and walks off then tells me to come along. I was so pissed! I was totally on board with what he had to say about the squirrels but jeopardizing someones safety by taking the pack without leaving a note or ticket??? Really is that safe? Certainly not in all the literature they throw at you about Canyon safety. There were packs hanging all over Indian Gardens so there is definitely a precedence set and if the squirrel problem is so bad then I suggest they pick up all the food and garbage left by bad people on the ground at Indian Gardens. Anyway, I stewed on this for about 10 minutes and it was kind of buzz killer but I got over it and was happy to have my heavy pack back on my shoulders. Big lesson learned there!

On our way back to Phantom Ranch it was getting HOT!!! I could feel my body getting warmer and warmer. When we came to the beach just before we crossed back over the Colorado we got stuck behind a mule train. There is no passing a mule train so we just walked behind them for about 10 minutes when the leader pulled over so we could get around them. Once around the mules we boogied so they weren't right on our tail. At Phantom we fueled up again and got ourselves all stoked up for the grind along to canyon floor. Just as we were entering Phantom Steve spots a rattlesnake. He loved the pink reptile while just the knowledge there was one in the area creeped me out. I never saw the snake but I was pretty jumpy for the next hour....I hate snakes! It was right down hot now and I had a rough go for at bit. I was trying to force myself to move as fast as possible and it was hard. I was soooooo hot! I finally gave in to the roar of Bright Angel Creek and jumped off the trail and dove into the river. Micheal wasn't far behind me. I went in front first, whole body and rolled around. It felt so good and cooled me down enough to bring new life to my legs. I was moving much better now and we plugged along to Cottonwood.

About 1 mile out from Cottonwood the North Rim began to darken with heavy clouds. Then the sound of serious thunder. It was amazingly loud and awesome. We loved it. It cooled the air and was a welcomed sight. We never did hit any rain but could see it coming down in the distance. Finally at Cottonwood we re-filled for the final climb. It felt pretty darn good and I knew I was going to beat my 12:39 time by a lot. I was actually excited to dig deep for the final ascent to the North Rim. Micheal took the lead and within about 2 minutes he was out of sight. Susan was just ahead of him and Steve was just behind me. I thought I could make the climb from Cottonwood in under 2:15 if I really worked it. My quads were talking to me but my climbers were still in good shape. However, you do need your quads to climb and they were feeling it. The dark clouds had blown through and we were left with just spotty white puffs but the temps remained cool. Those cooler temperatures were a real treat for this climb. As I made my way up the hill I decided to see how long it took me to climb 100 feet. I used my altimeter and found it was taking me about 3 minutes and 10 seconds to climb 100 feet. I then played this game the whole way to the top. It was crazy how close I kept coming to that number. It kept my mind busy and before I knew it I was touching to top in 11:40:42 running time. I was excited about beating my best time by so much but more excited about how good I felt.

Everyone did a great job in the Canyon that day. All of them had some good experiences in the big ditch and I think everyone wants to go back. The next day Micheal and I planned to run the Ken Patrick trail on the North Rim. It meanders along the North side to Imperial Point so the views were going to be nice. Cheri and Gary were up the next day challenge and we all made our way on the 10 mile trail. It was really overgrown in many places and climbed around 2000 feet in 10 much for flat. It was a slow rough start on our R2R2R legs but we all loosened up and enjoyed the trail.

That ended my first cycle of peak training. I only have one more cycle left before tapering for Hardrock. Scott has given me more of a workload for the next one and I think I am ready. My recovery is so rapid right now. I have never experienced this kind of recovery before so I am both excited and scared to see how this final push goes.


  1. Ronda,

    Soo fun to read about your R2R2R! It brought back great memories of our push in 2005 with a group of friends from Virginia Happy Trails Running Club (VHTRC). We didn't run it for speed but did start at the North Rim at 3:00 am, went up Bright Angel and then had a huge lunch in the BA lodge (!!). Then we took the shuttle bus over to South Kaibab and cruised back down. Finishing the climb up to the North Rim in the dark was a good thing as I heard to the drop off there is fairly scary (we were in the dark on the way down as well!). We did it in an easy 21 hours with about 17 of those running/hiking. One day I would love to push for s PR.

    What a great training run for Hardrock! I am doing some big climbs with fellow VHTRCer Joe Clapper on Saturday as he preps for HR (his third)--I will tell him he'd better watch out for you :-)

    Here is the link to my pics from that R2R2R if you are interested:

    Happy training!

  2. That sounds like a blast, although that was ridiculous to take your packs.

  3. VERY Cool Ronda, so on my list to do...have to plan it in next year!!

    Congrats on your PR and feeling so good afterwards!! Ur getting into that HR shape :-) Rock on Chica!!

    I am going out to crew Dave James (Umstead 15:05 winner)for WS...his trainings have been going well but the lack of experience on that course will be the missing factor...what an awesome line up toeing the line, very excited about watching the elite guys & gals rip up that course!

  4. You're looking totally adorable in your girlie outfits! I am jealous:) But then again, you can pull it off in anything! Great trip, other directions sounds fun, although I might not be happy finishing on 14M up. And what a horrible thing about the packs taken away!!!

  5. Woman, you are awesome! I wish I had your recovery. How do you do it? Glad to hear you had such a great time, did well and didn't get hurt.

    That Ranger had better watch out- if someone gets hurt, say comes looking for their pack needing their meds or food and couldn't get to it, they could be in really bad shape and that Ranger (and the park service) could find himself sued. I would have been ranting at him too. I think you should register a complaint!


  6. Ronda-

    You are sounding strong!! Awesome account of your rim to rim run. I saw Liz and Cam(?) in Forest park last weekend as I was embarking on an epic mountain bike ride up ridiculously steep...uh...yeah grand canyon- nevermind...anyway, was thinking of you. Glad you made it safely and KICKED BUTT. You are going to tear it up at Hard Rock. Kris

  7. Snakes! I hate snakes too! I have to put this run on my "to do list".
    Sounds like Mr. Ranger was on a bit of a power trip.

  8. Nice! Good side-story about your packs, too. Definitely cause for a bit of panic. Sorry I missed you guys by a few days. It is such an awesome adventure!