Running the Grand Canyon {R2R2R}

I first visited the Grand Canyon when I was a kid–maybe 6 or 7 years old. My sister and I met another kid named Ketchum and we became fast friends. We romped through our campground, causing havoc and playing in the dirt.

My next visit to the Grand Canyon was years later, when I was in college. Five of my closest guy friends and I voyaged to Lake Havasu for spring break, tacking on a side trip to see the big ditch. We were 20-years-old at the time which meant we were invincible {Or so we thought…} It was this trip where I found my first real-world, outdoors challenge: hiking the Rim-River-Rim in a day.

Signs covered the rim of the Grand Canyon, discouraging us for doing such a “dangerous” trek in one day. And while I put the word dangerous in quotes, I don’t mean it in a mocking tone–people die in the Grand Canyon. But, we were young and dumb and didn’t know any better. We wanted to see the roaring Colorado River and we didn’t have any permits to sleep in the canyon. If we were hiking down to the base, we were coming back up that same day. I vividly remember filling my bladder in the bathroom, and then coming out to meet up with my {now ex} boyfriend at the time.

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“The guys in the bathroom don’t think you’re going to make it,” he told me. “They’re rallying each other, saying that you’re the weakest link and we all have to make sure you get out in one piece.”

If you know me at all, you know that didn’t sit well. I had no idea how I’d survive the rim-river-rim hike, but I sure as hell would finish. I told myself I’d crawl out of the canyon if I had to; there was absolutely no way the boys were going to help me.

As it turned out, my sass and irritation fueled me for the entire day. I may have been hiking in sweatpants; I may have sunburned my face beyond recognition; I may have been vastly undertrained. But in the end, I was the survivor of our bedraggled group of underprepared college students. Not only did I make it to the river and back out again, but I finished ahead of every guy in the group. I helped one of our team by sharing my water when he ran out, and I even carried the backpack for another friend when he gassed out and began to struggle.

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All Photos By Will Rochfort

I last returned to the Grand Canyon in 2012 during the OmniTen trip where I met Will {<—-Catch the first photo of Will I ever snapped! I took a photo at dinner without ever thinking that we would be married years later!} Of course, this trip took place at Havasu Falls which is located in Havasu Canyon, a mini-offshoot of the Grand Canyon. While the trek in and out of the falls is a fair bit easier than the true Grand Canyon, I sandwich them all in the same category in my brain. A canyon is a canyon, amiright?!

Now it’s 2015. I haven’t been back to the Grand Canyon since 2012, but it’s been poking at my mind for awhile. I want a challenge. I want it to be huge. I want the Grand Canyon.

In particular, I want the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim {R2R2R} of the Grand Canyon. 

If all goes as planned, I’ll be heading to Arizona to run the R2R2R during the first weekend of April. In case you’re unfamiliar, the R2R2R is a long trek where hikers typically start at the south rim, hike down the canyon, across the bottom, and back up the north rim. Once they reach the top, they turn around and head right back where they started. In the past, it was typically considered a multi-day journey for backpackers, but in recent years, it has become fairly popular among ultra runners as a single-day effort.

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As for the stats? Check out these wicked numbers:

~45 miles of running {depending on which route you take}
~11k elevation gain
~Another 11k elevation loss
~South Rim Elevation of 7,000 feet

Of course, there is no way I’m tackling this beast by myself. Will vetoes anything over a 10k, so I had to seek out a few people who thought this sounded like the right amount of type-2 fun. And with that, a Heather-Heidi-Heather sandwich was formed!

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I first met Heidi back in 2012 on the same OmniTen trip. Since then, she and I have become close friends. We ran Antelope Canyon together last year and are already registered for Bryce Canyon in June. She even flew all the way out to Colorado in February for my bachelorette party. But the best part about Heidi is that she always says yes to anything I suggest! She is far more organized than me and tends to be more cautious {as opposed to my impetuous leaping-and-thinking-later nature.} I figure those are great qualities to have around on a trip like this!

The next big adventure: running the rim-to-rim-to-rim in the Grand Canyon. #R2R2R Click To Tweet

Heather and I haven’t actually met in real life– the R2R2R will be our first face-to-face encounter. We’ve communicated tons over the past few years, always chatting about our latest outdoor pursuits and conquests. She is even one of my snowshoe testers for the magazine! At one point, she briefly stated, “I want IN!” when I mentioned my hypothetical-yet-future plans for the R2R2R. Not sure if she realized I recorded her name in blood, but regardless, she sealed the deal. Besides, what better way to get to know someone than by suffering together over 45 miles and ~16 hours of trail time?!

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So, there you have it. Truth be told, I’m terrified. Scared sh*tless. This is so much bigger than anything I’ve ever done, but that in itself doesn’t scare me. Rather, it’s the lack of support out there that makes me nervous. I’ve spent enough time in the Grand Canyon to fully appreciate how wild it is– and how dangerous it can be. We’ll be monitoring the water pumps to ensure that they are turned on when we run. We’re eyeballing early April because it is late enough to be ice-free but early enough to avoid the deadly hot temperatures that creep in later in the season. Of course, Mother Nature is a fickle beast so who knows what will happen. The best we can do is plan and hope for the best.

My official training kicked off this week and I’ll be the first to admit: I’m without a clue. Time on my feet is great and all, but I’m going to have to invent new and unique ways to build some climbing legs—and some descending muscles. That’s a whole lotta up-and-down to survive!

But here is my question for y’all: how interested in this are you? I know there are quite a few blogs out there that recap their weekly training cycles. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never gone down that road, but for some reason, I’m considering it for this adventure. Maybe accountability? Maybe so someone can {virtually} smack me when I’m doing something wrong?! No idea. Would you be interested in any of my training details? Which ones?

 

21 Comments

  • Reply Art at

    I would be interested in hearing about your training. One thing I would wonder is the best way to train for such a long downhill. I tend to get too much speed, sloppy form and subsequent knee pain from a long downhill, and I have never tried anything quite so long as 11,000 feet! But, it sounds like a GREAT adventure, and well worth the training.

    • Reply heather at

      YES. I’m focused on training for the gain but the downhill will shred my quads just as badly. I have a few training ideas in mind!

  • Reply Jillian at

    I’m totally interested too. I’m not much of a runner, but I’m always a glutton for big challenges so I like to learn how others prepare and conquer. Bring on all the blog posts!

    • Reply heather at

      Check check! Thanks for the input.

  • Reply Tangalene Dudt at

    I would be interested in your training plan for the R2R2R. I live in Arizona and do have my sights set on doing this. I love having training plan for a race even though I do not always stick to it! Anything would be a great help! You guys are awesome for doing this adventure and wish all the best of luck!

    • Reply heather at

      Thank you! For the first time ever, I actually drew up a training plan…which promptly went out the window. Maybe I’ll share it at some point!

  • Reply Natalie @ Free Range Human at

    I want to hear all about it! I feel like we share a similar mentality-I, too, tend to say “yes!” before really thinking things through (which is how I’ve found myself running 12 half marathons this year!), but it almost always leads to crazy amounts of fun. In fact, my first thought when I read this was, “I want to do that!”!

    • Reply heather at

      I’ll let you know if you want to do it after April 😉 I suspect this is a severe case of Type-2 fun: tons of fun AFTER the fact, but a lot of pain and suffering during!

  • Reply Katie @ k8tlevy at

    It would be super cool to see how you’d train for something like this, even though I have no desire to do it myself :). Also, super cool to see the Sedona photos. Throwback funtimes!

  • Reply Laura at

    I’m so excited for you! I am very interested in following along with your training and in particular, what you’ll do to get strong for ascending and descending 11k feet each way.
    As I shared before in a comment here, I am hoping to accomplish R2R2R in 2016 or 2017, and so far my strategy is to “get really fit” aerobically and “get really strong” body-wise (pretty vague!). I am hoping to accomplish my first 50 mile distance race in May, so maybe I could just keep the mileage up through the fall and my R2R2R attempt? 🙂

  • Reply Jessica at

    YES! I want to hear all about your training, fueling, running, all of it! R2R2R is definitely on my bucket list, but I live on the east coast! I know I would need to do A LOT of hill training before attempting this! I can’t wait to hear all about it!

    • Reply heather at

      It’s totally doable! Heidi lives in Arizona and Heather in South Carolina. Really, I’m the only one who HAS mountains to train in! 😉

  • Reply misszippy at

    One of my best friends did this a couple of years back. One thing I remember from her experience is that you should stash some yaktrax in your pack–there could be times where ledges are icy/snowy and a little traction at 3 a.m. never hurts, ya know? But she loved the whole experience and you will too. Very excited for you!

  • Reply emily at

    You’re going to have SO MUCH FUN. Rim to Rim to Rim remains one of my top running highlights! Hit me up (again) for any intel or general excitement building you might need. I promise to be more useful this time around! YAY.

  • Reply Amanda - RunToTheFinish at

    I’ve still never been to the Grand Canyon, but now that we are here it’s on the absolute will do list. I LOVE your first story and know this one will be just as epic, hopefully with less sunburns

  • Reply Whitney at

    There is a great group on Facebook managed by Benedict Duggar for Grand Canyon Rim2Rim2Rim information. Always full of updates on trail and water conditions. Incorporate stair training for this! I live in Arkansas and had no major elevation to train on and the stair steps of the trail were what tired me out the most. I also took collapsible trekking poles and those came in handy on sections of the north rim. I just stashed them in my pack and used them to help steady myself as I got fatigued.

    • Reply heather at

      I know! I actually found the group a few months ago when I started researching the idea; I’m already in there 😉 Thanks for the heads up!

  • Reply Ashley at

    I would be interested! I am thinking of doing Bryce Canyon this year and would love to hear how you’re training too. Sounds like a blast!

  • Reply R2R2R Training: Week #1 - Just a Colorado GalJust a Colorado Gal at

    […] making my big R2R2R announcement last week, I asked whether or not y’all would be interested in following along with my training. As it […]

  • Reply Finding Joy in the Journey at

    […] like this: at one point  a fellow blogger whom I adore but have never actually met, Heather from Just a Colorado Gal, and I decided that we should make a Rim to Rim to Rim (R2R2R) attempt together.  It was […]

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