Monday, April 19, 2010

Grand Canyon R2R2R- April 17th, 2010

Well, this was a run I have been wanting to do for a couple of years, so when my friend Jim Skaggs posted back in February that he was going and was inviting people to go, I jumped on the bandwagon and decided I had to do it! I put my name in for Wasatch and Bear this year, and so I have decided this is the year I have to do a lot of tough runs!

This ended up being an AWESOME learning experience for me! I have had a lot of problems with my energy and hydration in the last year. Meaning I have had problems maintaining energy during races, and keeping my hydration and sodium balance normal. I believe this is what contributed to my two DNFs last year! I also had some problems during the Buffalo run, I finished the run, but the last 20 miles were hell, because I had no energy!

Jeff was going to come along and drive down with me, but got sent to Norway on a business trip instead, and is still there because of the Volcano in Iceland! But it looks like he might actually be able to come home in the next couple of days. A couple of days before the run Brian Beckstead contacted me wanting to ride down. We had a great ride down, fun conversation, and it was nice to have him come alone.

We did some photo shoots for Goal 0 and his new company as well when we got to the park, and then we set up camp. We met up with Jim and Karen Skaggs, and her sister and husband and had a great dinner at Bright Angel Lodge before heading to bed. I was able to get about 6 hours of sleep, which was good because I had only gotten about 1.5 hours the night before, and not much all week!

The Double Crossing, is not a race, it is serious self-supported business! This means, if you start, and you get to the North Rim, you are also getting back out, on your own. Because if it weren’t on your own, it would be by medical chopper power, and damn that would be embarrassing! So it really doesn't matter how you feel at any point during this run, you are stuck, and you have to figure it out!

We started out at 4:20 Arizona time. I reflected with Brian later and I think we recommend starting an hour or two earlier to avoid the heat. We took the Bright Angel Trail from the South Rim. The first 4 miles are 2000 ft of vertical drop switch backing with cut out "steps". Supposedly it was 28 degrees when we started, but I had all my layers off within 2 miles, cause I was hot! Boy, me and heat, I wish I could figure out how to do better with heat. This has only been a recent problem; it used to be cold and me! I need to do a lot of heat training this summer! Anyway. We made our way down the South Rim, and I was feeling great, but also in the back of my head knowing that this down was going to suck on the way back up! After you hit the bottom you decent 2000 more feet before you ascend to the North Rim.

The sun came up right as we were hitting the bottom of that trail, and we stopped a half of a mile down at the Indian Garden campsite. We filled up on water, took some great photos, and headed on. The next part of the canyon is also great, some narrow parts, and then this windy canyon that you descend down again for a couple more miles until you hit the Colorado River Crossing. We meet some more runners there who were doing the double-crossing that day. Over all there were probably about 25 runners we past, who were doing the same thing. Some of them were locals out here from Utah!

We crossed the river, past Bright Angel Camp, and then got to Phantom Ranch around 7:30. There is a restaurant and store at Phantom Ranch, and they have to mule and helicopter everything in. It is Crazy! But they are only open from 8-4 during the day and 8-10 at night. So we decided to go on, and try to hit it on the way back.

We left Phantom ranch and started the 3000 ascend to the top of the North Rim, 13.4 miles. We made our way down some beautiful narrows and took turns getting pictures of us running across different places. It was great, but we probably took our time a little too much, and it started getting hot! By the time we hit Cottonwood Campground, it was probably over 70 degrees! Between the narrows and Cottonwood I had ran out of water and my valve on my Camel Bak had fallen off, Brian Beckstead was a hero and ran back about 3/4 of a mile before he found it! I felt bad that he had to find it, but I was grateful, because I went through about 3 gallons of water that day. I had a period between miles 14-16 that I started losing energy and feeling sick, so I worked with my food to see if I could fix it. I started eating more, and started eating the gels I had brought. It worked, and from that point on, I kept food in my hand all the time. I started eating about 400 calories per hour, and having no more than a 10-15 minute break without eating something. I also figured out I had totally underestimated my caloric needs!

I have heard other people say your body cannot assimilate more than 260 calories per hour during a race. I have decided this is not true for my body! I am also not sure if it is true over all because there is really not a lot of science in ultrarunning. There have not been a lot of studies done on ultra runners, and so it is hard to take one statement and say it is true for every runner! I started eating 400-500 calories per hour, and my energy stayed fine from that point one! The problem is I have never done a self-supported run that far before, and I didn't bring enough food, even though I brought a lot! I also have been a gel hater, and I figured out on this run that gels are not all that bad for sustaining energy! I have been trying Perpetuem after talking to Marci Lamoreaux at Runner's Corner in Orem a couple of weeks ago, and she recommended this product. I think it is actually working with my body. After this run I will bring more gels and Perpetuem. I wish I had brought more on the run. I had about 5 servings of Perpetuem, and I wish I would have had 10, and I had about 2 gels and wish I would have had about 10 more! Jim Skaggs was a lifesaver, he had a gel system, and had an extra bottle that was equivalent to 4 gels! Plus his Salami. That saved me for about 500 calories worth!

A mile or two after we left the campground, I was feeling very tired. I had not slept enough all week, and Jeff is still stuck in Norway (although it looks like the winds have changed and if all goes well will be home by Tuesday night!), and it is finals. So I was just mentally tired and needed a nap! I told the guys to keep going and around mile 20 I took a nap. Probably only 10-15 minutes, but I felt 100% better! My legs were not hurting, my energy was great! I hit the trail again, and made my way up the North Rim! At this point I just pulled out my camera and started taking pictures. I was to mesmerized by the scenery I could not go fast! I had to take pictures! I ran out of water about 4 miles from the top, and ended up filling my Camel Bak again at a waterfall. I didn't realize I had brought purification tablets until later! But I drank from the waterfall anyway. Most of the water there comes from springs, and so I didn't feel too worried, and took my chances! My problem at this point was that I was running very low on food! I had decided it was better to maintain my energy then it was to conserve because I would get further if I wasn't struggling the whole way. I think this was the right decision, and I am actually excited because I feel like I have figured out what I need during my races to stay on top of my energy and perform well! This was a great learning trip in a lot of ways!

I got to about a mile from the top, and there was snow on the trail. It was possible, but made the last part very slow. I crossed Brian who was also running low on food and decided to try and make it down to Phantom Ranch in 2 hours before the store closed! He made it down in 1 hour and 50 minutes, and had 10 minutes before it closed! That took it out of him! I kept going, and about 10 minutes later came across Jim. I decided since there was no way I was going to make it to Phantom Ranch by 4, and I did not have enough food that I would have to wait until 8pm when the store reopened anyway so I was going to hike to the top, and then I would book it down. We talked for a minute, and I decided I was OK doing the North to Rim on my own. I think he was a little worried, but when you are an ultra runner you have to be OK with being alone. That is how most race courses are! You are out in the wilderness alone, for several hours, until you pass another runner or an aid station. I had enough water sources, electrolytes, first aid equipment, mental training, mace, and hey, there is a reason I train so hard in boxing :)

It was actually a cathartic time for me. A time to be on my own, in my head with no distractions, and no demands from the world. It doesn't happen too often. I took a few moments near the top to just sit and let the universe tell me whatever it wanted too. I got within probably a tenth of a mile from the actual top. There was one big snow field, I did not know how long it would take me to cross, and I new that I had to be careful with my calorie limitations, because I did not have much left! So I decided I had basically made it, and turned around. I put the camera away and started running. About a mile down, I had to fill up on water again, and then again at Cottonwood! Another thing I have figured out! Before I started measuring my sweet rate I was going off of other runners’ advice to avoid over hydration. That the body could only use 20 oz or so of water per hour! This is not true for me, and probably why I got dehydrated at both Bear and Kacina Mosa last year! When it is 20 degrees outside I probably only need 16-20 oz of water per hour, if it is not a hard run! If it is 45-50 degrees, and I am running hard I need 32 oz per hour! For this run I probably needed 50 oz per hour! I drank that much too! I also was using about 600mg of sodium per hour. This worked, and helped me when I started having heat problems to drink more water. I did not over hydrate by doing this. So this may mean that if it is hot at Wasatch or Bear, I may need to carry more than 80 oz of water on some stretches! But the water weight is worth carrying in place of not bonking!

After I left Cottonwood, I took a wrong turn. I took the trail down to Ribbon Falls. There was a man out their by himself, and he probably was just a lone hiker, but he was looking at me funny and staring at me the whole time I was in his view. I am pretty tough, and I actually think anyone would have a hard time attacking me before I knocked them out, but I still was a little nervous, and do not seek out confrontation! So I ran down the trail until I was out of his site, and then I realized I was on a dead-end trail! I saw the real trail on the other side of the river. My blood sugar was starting to get low at this point. I was out of food, and now starting to feel the mental effects. I didn't want to go back on the trail so I decided to try and cross the river! DUMB MOVE! I almost got swept down. So then I scolded myself and told myself to not make any more dumb choices. The biggest thing about being safe and being out on your own is to not make dumb choices in the first place! And to be prepared. I was mostly prepared, except for the under estimating food. But really, with no food I would have been OK, I just would have been miserable and had to slow down a lot. I had enough water and electrolytes, and first aid, etc, so I would not have died

But after that experience, I still didn't want to go on the trail, so I put my head back into thinking and rationalized how to get across without going back on the same trail. I ended up bushwhacking up the riverbank until I found a place that was shallow, and narrow enough to be able to cross holding on to something from either side, in the case that I got swept by the current. It worked, but then on the other side I had to figure out how to get around some cliffs and then back through the marsh and onto the trail. That detoured me by about 45 minutes to an hour! After that I was kind of mentally annoyed! I was a little slower from there to the Ranch because of it and because I was out of food, but I got to the Ranch at 7:30

I guess there was some special dinner going on and the store appeared to be open so I went in and bought a bagel, some Life Savers, Cookies, some nasty Luna bars! I had brought a lot of Laura Bars with me. I found out I love these after normal workouts, and HATE them during endurance runs. The nuts don't sit well in my stomach. But I had to eat them anyway cause that was what I was down to. So I ate them very very slowly. It worked, but I still can't eat any bars of any type right now without wanting to spit it out!
I guess it was some kind of special party though because the lady figured out I wasn't part of it, and told me they weren't open until 8pm and kicked me out. But I was glad to have got in 30 minutes early and not have to wait at the Ranch to move on. I was tired and just wanted to be done at that point, and I mostly walked the last 8-9 miles up hill. I crossed the river at dark, and then started up Bright Angel creek. The first 3 miles was tough, but I was walking up the 2000 accent pretty fast, and the Bullfrogs were making loud, strange songs that echoed through the canyon. I was kind of annoyed because it wasn't pretty songs, and I was getting ornery because I was just tired. My blood sugar started to even out, and so I felt better by the time I got to Indian Gardens. I saw two headlamps near the top of the rim at that point, and found out later that they belonged to Jim and Brian. So they were really only about 1.5 hours ahead of me at that point. But I was getting sleepy again, and the thought of the last 4 miles up that stupid hill became depressing! I made it about a mile and was swaggering, so I decided to bundle up and sleep under a rock for a while. This was the best thing to do cause I woke up and was able to finish the last 3 miles, although I was still pretty slow by the time I got to the last mile, I was just mentally tired.

I got to the parking lot around 1:30 am, and then I couldn't find my car until about 2am. I called Jim to tell him I was out, drove to camp and didn’t even change or anything. I found a bag of clementines, ate a few, crawled into my sleeping bag, and felt asleep until almost 7am. Then I went and showered. Brian was awake, and we decided to head home. We stopped in Cameron, just outside the park, to eat breakfast. I had lost my sense of taste for a while, and I was getting dizzy when I stood up and so I started drinking tons of Gatorade. The post race body trying to figure out how to normalize. I couldn't even taste the Gatorade, just a metallic flavor. But then I ate sausage, bacon, eggs, and pancakes. An hour later got dizzy again and drank anther 32oz plus of Gatorade. I had been feeling more coherent when we left, and thought I would be fine to drive if I just had an hour or two of sleep. But ended up being so out of it, I slept the whole 10-hour drive home, and Brian drove. I felt kind of bad, but I was pretty hammered. Had I been alone, I would not have left until today. I got home and went to bed at 6pm and slept until 7am with the exception of 45 minutes I got up and posted a few pictures before I was out of it again.

Today I feel great! And today I want to go again! Now I know some more about my nutritional needs on races, and think I will do much better at keeping my energy level normal, and be able to finish Wasatch, Bear, and Katcina!

I had a lot of fun, and am glad the two faster guys allowed me to tag along! I want to do it again sometime, but start out earlier, and bring more food!


  1. Tara,

    Congrats on the Rim to Rim to Rim! I was out there the same day and believe I remember seeing you just above the Pumphouse. We camped at Mather and my watch read only 42 degrees at 2am, no way was it 29 like the forecast predicted.

    BTW, my own report is at:

    Good luck on your 100's!

  2. Tara, what an awesome trip report. That sounds like an amazing trip. I was actually supposed to be down there with your group as I was invited by Jim, but ended up not being able to go because of a commitment this weekend coming up. I'm hoping to do it in the fall though. It will be my first double crossing. I'm really impressed with your tenacity. Obviously, like must ultra runners, you get it. You know that once you are in, you're in.
    Like you, I'm still trying to sort out my energy stuff and all of that, so it was great to hear about your learning experience. Good luck and I hope to see you at some races!!!

  3. Amazing! Well done! Great report as well. This is something I can dream of. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I'm glad you posted this and shared it with me on the ultra list. It was so good I had to read it again! I am going to be there this weekend, and look forward to seeing everything, albeit with more snow than last year!

  5. CONGRATS! You did TERRIFIC! I really enjoyed reading about your experience and am in total admiration of you. :-)