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Monday, November 15, 2010

Weekly Update - Nov. 8 to Nov. 14

Fri-PM: 7.0 miles (:55) Ballston to DC Commute
First run back since R2R2R. A little stiffness in the Achilles, but other than that felt good. Of course, run commuting instead of dealing with Metro always feels nice!

Sat-AM: Cycling 45 miles (2:20) DC to Great Falls loop
Casual recovery ride to catch up with friends. Nice day to ride. Still a little tired aerobically from the previous weekend's run. Getting there.

Sun-PM: 20.0 miles (3:00) DC to Chain Bridge Out-and-Back
Hit the grassy sections of the Mall, then across the I66 bridge for a loop around Roosevelt Island, then on the Potomac Heritage Trail. Lots of folks and dogs out hiking the trail today. Never seen it so busy! Glad to see people getting outside on a crisp fall afternoon.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

One (More) Guide to the Grand Canyon R2R2R Run

So here we go.

Below is a run-down of all my logistics and my experience at running the Grand Canyon from South Rim to North Rim, and back to the South Rim, in a day (November 7, 2010). I will try to avoid boring anyone reading this of the details about how "beautiful, inspiring, and moving" this place is. It is. It was. I was a little. This is more about the nitty gritty, the logistics, of running this beast solo and self-supported.

Bright Angel Trail in the lower right, and looking at The Box from above in the distance.

The trip began with a flight into Las Vegas on Friday night. I got in late, and was on the road in my cushy rental car by 10:30pm. They recently opened up the bridge over the Hoover Dam that has been under construction FOREVER, and thus has helped cut down on the drive time to the South Rim. You could fly into Phoenix, or even Flagstaff saving yourself a few hours, but it was much cheaper and logistically easier for me to start from Vegas.

I finally arrived at the South Rim around 2:30am. For those who have difficulty with math that is about a 4 hour drive. Arizona doesn't follow Daylight Savings Time, so during the Summer its on Pacific Standard Time and the Winter is Mountain Time. It was pretty quiet around the park this time of night with no Rangers collecting fees, and definitely no one at the Mather Campground office. I was too tired, and it was too late at night for me to care about setting up a tent so I threw my sleeping pad and sleeping bag (Rated to 0 degrees) on the ground and just slept under the stars at my site. No animals or insects attacked while I slept.

In November the Mather Campground is relatively empty compared to the Summer months. If you choose to camp, you could reserve ahead of time online or just roll up and pick out an available site day-of. If you happen to have an NPS All-Access pass cost for a site was 7(!!) bucks a night when its normally 15 dollars this time of year. I booked ahead of time at If roughing it isn't your thing you can also grab a room at one of the lodges at the South Rim, the Bright Angel Lodge is literally steps from the trail head where you finish. Very key. I don't know about availability of rooms this time of year, but I doubt they are sold out.  Also, the entrance fee into the park if you arrive during business hours is $25 unless you again have an All Access pass, in which case its $0. Arrive late after the entrance Ranger is gone and its also $0.

After sleeping in on Saturday, I spent the rest of the day walking around the South Rim taking photos, hitting the Market Grocery store for some last minute food items, and taking the Red Line bus out towards Hermit's Rest for some sunset shots. I also stopped by the Backcountry Office for some intel on water down in the canyon. It is highly recommended this be done ahead of time so there are no surprises while running (out of water!). This time of year water options become more and more limited as Winter creeps in. The Rangers let me know that I had 3 options along the way: Phantom Ranch, the Caretaker's House, and Indian Garden. Cool, I can work with that.

Weather this time of year at the Canyon can be a mixed bag, but more often than not there will be sunny or partly cloudy skies. Its the desert, afterall. While I was there, it was exactly that and daytime temps on the South Rim were around the low 60s, and night time temps were upper 30s. Comfortable. While inside the Canyon I estimated  the temps to be upper 70's to low 80's for the High. Maybe low 50's in the morning.

As a result I chose to wear my Montrail Masochist trail shoes, smart wool running socks, 2XU compression shorts (awwwright, spandex!) for my lower half. For the upper half, I had a Patagonia polypro-type t-shirt, fleece-lined arm warmers, lightweight running gloves, a buff, sunglasses, and a headlamp. I also brought a packable Sierra Designs wind jacket which was primarily worn while getting from the campground to the bus depot in the morning, and for the last mile of the run.  I also carried an Ultimate Direction WASP backpack, with a 65oz bladder, and took my iPod just in case I got bored.

Nutrition for this journey consisted of 12 servings of Infinit Nutrition Endurance Ultra formula, divided into 3 hour or 1 bladder servings, 1 gel, and 4 salt pills. I used all and wish I had more salt pills...hows that for foreshadowing??

I carried all of this gear and food with me for the entire run, and did not place any caches.

I woke up on Sunday morning about 4:15am to get dressed in my tent, eat a little breakfast, and get my gear ready for the days activities. I was out the door by 4:40am. I had planned to jog the greenway path from campground to the Visitor Center bus depot in time to catch the first Green Line bus out to the South Kaibab trailhead. It was chilly at the start, but I warmed up quickly with the wind jacket on and was borderline sweating by the time I arrived at the bus stop. It looked to be a little over a mile on the map, and give or take it was...I got to the bus top around 4:50am which was WAY early to catch the first bus at 5:15am. Luckily it also came early and I could escape the chilly morning winds inside the heated bus while waiting to see if any other passengers would arrive. The bus waited for the first blue bus to get there and passengers to transfer over, so I guess that is also an option instead if you'd prefer to limit the number of miles in your legs before getting to the rim.

Navigating a switch back on the upper section of the South Kaibab trail

We took off, and got to the South Kaibab trailhead a little after 5:30AM. After dodging some grazing mule deer, I started down the trail immediately. My Pikka headlamp was doing its best to illuminate the rutted, and stepped trail but it was still decently dark. It was enough though, I thought. Of course, in typical fashion I roll my ankle dropping down one of the many steps within the first mile, and do my best to hobble on it for a bit. Luckily its not too serious, and most of the pain subsides within a quarter mile. Its a 6-7 mile downhill, switchback-y run on the South Kaibab trail, finally dropping you at the black bridge over the Colorado. No water is available anywhere along this section. There was enough light to switch off the headlamp by about mile 4. I also didn't see the mule train until just outside of Phantom Ranch, which made passing a breeze. Whew. Time to complete section: ~1:30.

More switchbacks!

I skipped stopping at Phantom Ranch and started up the next section right away. This section is close to 8 miles along a creek. You start by going through "The Box" and then exit into a wider section eventually passing through Cottonwood Campground, and then ending at the Caretaker's House. Its a gradual uphill all the way with a couple short but steep kickers up and down along the way. Reverse that when heading southbound. I ran most of this section, save for the handful of steeper sections and really tried to keep my heart rate in check. I modified my pace accordingly. Time to complete section: ~2:15

In the box canyon

The first time at the Caretaker's House I missed seeing the faucet right after stepping off the trail, and instead got my fill up from the hose closer to the house. Don't miss the correct faucet here, its easier to use than the hose! From here its about a 6 mile climb up to the North Rim. I started power hiking immediately. There were a few flat-ish to slightly downhill sections which I ran, but for the most part I chose to hike the rest. You pass by Roaring Springs about 1 mile in, then cross a cool bridge at 3.5 miles in, go through a tunnel when you're 2 miles from the North Rim, and then finally you're at the top. It was chilly and windy so I snapped a few shots, and headed down immediately. Throughout the day I found that in the sun it was HOT, but in the shade it was COOL. Arm warmers came in handy and were getting a workout going up and down my arms throughout the day. Its 6 miles of steep downhill. You can try to let it all hang out, but I would recommend trying to save your legs and avoiding an out of control trip that may send you over the edge. Its narrow in some sections. You will then find yourself back at the Caretaker's House. Time to complete section: ~3:15

North Rim in the distance

Almost as awesome as a double rainbow - all the way - its the North Rim!

Back at the House I ran into the Ranger who was stationed there for the week. Nice guy. He showed me the REAL water faucet, and we chatted it up a bit. After filling up I decided to lay on the ground, and put my feet up for about 10 minutes using one of the logs at the outdoor table. So nice and necessary, but killing the average. I soon started back down the 8 mile section towards Phantom Ranch. With most of it a gradual downhill, its a great opportunity to just let gravity take over, and cruise. Again, I hiked any steep uphills. Notably the one by Ribbon Falls - ugh. Especially in the box canyon section it was starting to heat up, and I felt myself getting a bit out of it. So each time the trail came within reach of the creek I made sure to dip my buff in, put it around my neck, and throw some water on my head. It was just what I needed. Also around this time I caught up to another group running R2R2R who I had passed coming down as I was moving up to the North Rim. I liked the fact that they were using trekking poles for the downhill, but when I saw them the second time on the flatter section I was glad I left the sticks at home. While it might be nice to have the trekking poles on the uphill and downhill sections that middle section is just too flat and long. I think I made the right decision FOR ME to not carry them. Finally we all arrived at Phantom Ranch. Time to complete: ~2:00

Back across the Colorado River

If you can get back to Phantom Ranch early enough you can take advantage of the small food store. In it they have a small selection of snacks, beer, water and LEMONADE! The lemonade is delicious. It cost me $2.25 for the first cup, and $1 for a refill. Bring some cash if you want any of that. Here I also refilled my water bladder, enjoyed my sweet drinks, and put my feet up again for another 10 minutes or so. Whats the rush, this ain't no race! Once I collected myself I headed on down the trail for the final 10 mile section, crossing the Colorado over the silver bridge, and then starting on a long and extremely sandy traverse along the river. Eventually you get through this and start to head up along a creek towards Indian Garden. You can basically see the plateau above you the whole way, but you have "a few" switchbacks to navigate before you get up there. For the most part I ran the traverse, and power hiked the rest of the trail all the way to the South Rim. Once at Indian Garden I drank some water to wash out the tartness from the lemonades and took down the gel and a salt pill. I was starting to really feel it at this point, and some leg cramping began to set in. Continuing on up you have a few mental milestones to use if you like with the 3 mile house, and 1.5 mile house, and finally the South Rim. I left Indian Garden and continued up the switch backs to get to 3 mile house. I sat here to catch my breath and mind for about 4 minutes. I also swallowed the remaining salt pills. Damn, I'm out. Climbing higher I eventually reach the 1.5 mile house. I lay down to put my feet up, but the setting sun has made it quite cold, I start getting chills, and the cramps have migrated to my hip flexors. So I call this rest stop short and continue to motor up after putting my jacket back on to keep some warmth with me. The sunset was pretty awesome, and I could finally make out the Art Studio that hangs over the final section of trail before you top out. It was a glorious sight. I put on my headlamp, but didn't REALLY need it yet. I go through the tunnel, pass by the studio, and then crest the rim. Time to complete: ~3:15


I was too tired to really smile, or yell or do anything other than take a photo of myself and the trailhead sign, and then hobble down to the bus stop. A heated blue bus came shortly thereafter, and I happily hopped on. I was trying to think to myself what the other tourists on the bus might be thinking seeing me in my disheveled state, with dirt to my knees, stinky, in tight spandex shorts, and by this point, shaking uncontrollably. Eh, no matter - just let me stretch my legs out and we'll all get along!

I get off the bus at Mather, and instantly the shakes and the leg cramps REALLY start to take over again. Its a long 300 yards to my site (I made sure to get the closest site to the bus stop). I make it and jump in my sleeping bag to warm up. After 12 or so hours of running, and experiencing decent temperature swings I can only assume that my body's thermo-regulation totally went out of wack. I'm no doctor though. The leg cramps continued, as well and I did my best to manage them while I put on normal/warm clothes.

Now, the campground showers close at 6PM in the off-season, and I unfortunately was too late and slow to make it. The Market grocery store is also only open until 7PM in the offseason. This, I could make. My body was too jacked and in complete shut down mode to walk the .1 miles to the store like usual, so I hopped in my car and drove it. For shame! I picked up a quart of chocolate milk, some bananas, baby wipes, and various other items I was craving at the time, and checked out. It was heaven. Upon getting back to the tent I make use of the baby wipes to clean the legs up and then slip on the compression socks like the geeky triathlete I am. Finish off the food and drink, brush the teeth, and call it a night around 8:30pm.

I drove back to Vegas the following morning to catch a flight and be back at work on Tuesday.

All in all, a successful run. It took me a little under 12.5 hours, including rest stops and such - and that was keeping it pretty casual. I guess the record is in the 7 hour range, which is pretty freaking fast - but kind of counter to the whole point of running R2R2R in my eyes. I highly recommend this run not just to ultrarunning fanatics, but regular runners who just love to run! I think if you can train for and are in shape to run a marathon, then you can knock this out too. Let me know if I missed anything!

See you on the trails!
Sunset in the GC while climbing the final few miles

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Weekly Summary - Nov. 1 to Nov. 7

Mon-PM: 6.5 miles (:55) Ballston to DC Commute
Standard commute downhill into DC. First time running with the bigger backpack. Its heavier, but thats just more resistance training, right? No longer a need to leave shoes or jacket at the office!

Tue-PM: 7.0 miles (:55) A little bit longer now Commute
Hit some grass running on the way home, nothing special. Legs are handling the bigger bag, and more weight just fine. Temps are dropping!!

Thurs-PM: 7.5 miles (:60) A couple pick-ups on the way HOME
Ballston to Ft. Meyer, down to the Mt. Vernon trail, across the 14th street bridge. Threw in 2 5-minute pick ups just to get the cadence up. So long Daylight Savings Time!

Sunday-ALL DAY: 48 miles (12:30) Grand Canyon R2R2R 
Whew, a tough day - but a fun day! Amazing scenery. I would say perfect temps and conditions for completing this run. Saw a few other groups out there attempting the double crossing, as well. Longer report to come.
Heading down the South Kaibab Trail

Monday, November 1, 2010

Weekly Summary - Oct. 25 to Oct. 31

Mon-PM: Cycling (:60) Hains Point
Easy loops around Hains Point

Tue-PM: 6.0 miles (:55) Post-Work Pick Ups
Down the Mall, a couple grassy loops along the Potomac, and then back home.

Wed-PM: 10.5 miles (1:30) Long Run Commute
Ballston, down to the Heritage Trail, lap around Roosevelt island, across the 14th street bridge, over to the Mall and then home.

Fri-PM: 6.5 miles (:55) Standard Run Commute
Starting in Ballston, down to Ft. Meyer, across the 14th Street Bridge, past the stinky fish market, and then home.

Sun-PM: 20.0 miles (3:35) Dickey Ridge to the AT in Shenandoah National Park
Out and back starting at Dickey Ridge Welcome Center, on the Dickey Ridge Trail, then jumping on the AT for 10 miles out and 10 miles back. Foliage colors were on fire, mini apples on the trail, and busy road crossings. Nice trails.
Run in Shenandoah National Park

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Weekly Summary - Oct. 18 - 24

Mon-PM: 7 miles (:54) Mall Rambling
Down the mall, run in with LJ, catch up sesh, then over the 14th street bridge, out and back home.

Tue-PM: 6.5 miles (:50) Post-Work Pick Ups
Hit the Custis, then headed south on the W&OD for an out and back after work, then threw in a couple "elevated pace" sections on the way back to the office. Drove on home.

Wed-PM: 10.0 miles (1:20) Long Run Commute
Fromm Ballston, over to Cherry Grove, dropping down to the Potomac Heritage Trail south for a loop around Roosevelt Island, onwards to Mt. Vernon Trail, across the Memorial bridge, along West Potomac Park and on HOME!

Fri-PM: 6.5 miles (:50) Short Run Commute
Starting in Ballston, down to Ft. Meyer, across the Memorial Bridge, then straight down the Mall towards home.

Sat-AM: 26.5 miles (6:05) The Wild Oak Trail
A long day in the mountains along the beautifully tough Wild Oak Trail. 7500+ elevation gain is what my GPS caught. Nice long run shakeout to work out clothing, hydration, and fueling strategies for ultra runs soon to come.

The Wild Oak Trail - George Washington National Forest

Monday, October 18, 2010

The next project and a weekly summary! October 11-17 Summary

The next project is to survive the Leadville 100 trail run in 2011, and if all goes perfectly (channeling Denali here!) then hopefully a sub-25 hour finish. 

As I scoured the internets in search of advice for training for a 100 mile race, let alone Leadville specifically, I ran into issue finding any good resources. Lots of race reports, lots of tips and brief bits of advice but nothing that really lays out the journey. So in response I thought this could possibly be a good outlet to record the blood, sweat, and tears that may be shed as the build up to race day nears. In the end it will either show the process of successfully completing a race like Leadville 100, or DNFing. Either way, it'll be here in all its glory to read and learn from!

So without further ado, let me share where I am starting from in terms of fitness:
27 year old male who has been doing focused endurance/aerobic training in some shape or form for the past 7+ years. Mainly triathlon of all shapes and distances. I have completed an Ironman triathlon, 2 relatively tame 50 miler ultras, handful of marathons, some long distance cycling efforts up to 12 hours at a time, and various mountaineering endeavors. All of these with mixed results, and primarily finding myself coming in around upper mid-pack when there is a Finish Line involved in the longer distances. 

This past year (2010), after Denali, I have been focusing more on short (~2 hour) triathlon races with decent success - for me. I was also able to work in some longer rides (9-12hours). Typically this year, my long run has been in the 100 minute length, with 4-5 other runs during the week of tempo, pick-ups, and recovery efforts - in addition to swimming and biking. Total training load per week has averaged around 13 hours since June. 

The plan going forward:
Kick up the long distance trail running! I am shooting to accomplish this through training runs, and ever-increasing ultra-distance races culminating with the magical 100 miles. Hopefully I will do a 100 miler in Spring to get my feet wet, and not have Leadville be my first 100 ON TOP of my first 100 at altitude. Again, this plan will either be a success or failure - time will tell!

Mon-PM: 8 miles (1:00) Run Commute 
Hopped on the W&OD in Ballston, then on to the Mt. Vernon Trail, across 14th Street Bridge, and pointed it towards home. Concrete miles.

Tue-PM: 5 miles (:45) Monument Loop
Down along the Potomac, over to the Lincoln, up along the Washington Monument, and down the mall. In search of soft surfaces. Found some.

Wed-PM: 9 miles (1:15) Long Commute Route
Through Arlington, down to the Heritage Trail, over to the Mt. Vernon trail, across the Memorial bridge and on home.

Thurs-PM: 7 miles (:53) Direct Commute Route
Ballston to Courthouse, on down to Rosslyn, across 14th street bridge and home sweet home.

Sat-AM: 20 miles (3:00) Long trail run
Down the mall, over to Mt. Vernon Trail, up the Heritage trail, some rambling north of Chain Bridge, back on the C&O, down and around the Capitol, and back to the homestead.

Friday, June 4, 2010

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