Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Adventures In The Grand Canyon

Last weekend was a blur.  Pretty surreal too.  Kelly and I left Tucson at 5am on Friday morning, driving straight to the Grand Canyon south rim entrance and catching our first amazing glimpse of the Canyon that day at around 11:00am.  We walked around on the rim trail, snapping photos and then took the shuttle bus from the visitors center to Bright Angel Lodge for a lunch of taco salad and roasted red pepper soup.  Yum!  We went by the Bright Angel trailhead so Kelly could see where I'd be finishing the next day.  The weather was perfect---clear and sunny and temps around 58 on the rim.  We stopped by the ranger table so that I could ask when the first mule trains leave for Phantom Ranch so that I could avoid having to try and pass them on the trail.  (Mule etiquette requires you to step aside when the mules pass and apparently it's difficult to get the "driver" to let you pass when running.)  The ranger told me I should be fine if I left by 5:00am, but reminded me of the mule rules.  I was trying to avoid explaining that I was running, not hiking, (running in the Canyon, and even hiking from the rim to river and back is something they frown upon.  But with good reason---250 rescues are made a year.) but it eventually came out and the ranger raised an eyebrow at me and lectured me on proper hydration, salty snacks and electrolytes.   We took the shuttle over to the South Kaibab trailhead, where I would start my run that next morning.  I sat near the edge of that "big ditch" and looked down and across, thinking to myself, "how the hell am I going to do this?"  

After checking into our hotel, I dumped all my gear on the bed and began to put my pack together.  I have an Ultimate Direction Wink hydration pack that fits me perfectly and with the mesh vest straps in front with lots and lots of pockets, I can carry quite a bit.  And yeah...I had a LOT to carry.  10 Hammer gels, 1 roll of Perpetuem solids, 3 small baggies with single serving of HEED, 1 baggie of beef jerkey, 1 baggie of salty nuts, 1 baggie containing 24 Endurolyte capsules, 1 bandana, a small first aid kit, a small camera, my cell phone and I still needed room to fit my moeben sleeves and long sleeve tech shirt after I took them off when it got warm!  Oh yeah...and I had a full 96 oz bladder to fit in there too!  

I ate a spectacular dinner of oven roasted chicken, salad, and a couple rolls and after taking a long, warm shower, I was in bed and asleep by 9pm.  The next morning, I was up a little before 4am, putting last minute things together, filled my pack with water, got dressed and arrived at the visitors center shuttle stop by 4:45am.  It was FREEZING!  40 degrees with a good, chilling wind.  Thankfully, Kelly was riding the shuttle with me to the start and I could give her my extra layers before heading down the trail.   The bus was full--a few hikers, but mostly people wanting to take photos of the sunrise from Yaki Point, which Kelly was planning to do after seeing me off.   At the trailhead, I took one last bathroom stop, peeled off my extra clothes, snapped my pack into place, turned on my headlamp and posed for a pre-run photo.  I looked around for Wayne and Patricia, two fellow Tucson trail runners who were supposed to start around the same time, but didn't see them and decided to start anyway.

I had never been on the South Kaibab Trail before and it certainly lived up to all the things everyone had told me--though rocky and steep, the views were INCREDIBLE, especially at sunrise! About 30 minutes into my run, however, I felt a leak in the bottom of my pack.  Great...I just not have secured the top of the bladder enough.  I stopped for a second to rearrange things and realized I had a true leak in my bladder.  Crap!  I dug through my bag for my duct tape and tried to stop the leak, but it wasn't holding! Frustrated, I started asking hikers coming down if they had any tape.  Within twenty minutes, I had a crazy assortment of duct tape, athletic tape, and even masking tape holding the bladder together!  Wayne and Patricia passed me and Patricia donated a piece of athletic tape and gave me some words of encouragement.  I still had a handheld bottle and thought I could definitely make it down to the bottom and refill at Phantom Ranch and maybe grab another water bottle at the canteen and at least complete a Rim to River to Rim.

So, I continued on my way, trying not to worry about the water issue and made it down to the Colorado and black bridge in about an hour and half (despite 20 minutes of hassle with my pack).   I stopped at Phantom, refilled my handheld, bought an extra water bottle, drank some HEED, took some more endurolytes and went to the bathroom.  I had 14 miles to go up to the north rim with not water availability.  My pack was still holding water, so I decided to go ahead with my plans and head up to the north rim.  Patricia passed me on her way back from the 3rd bridge.  She had decided to turn back there, her legs were really hurting.  Wayne was up ahead somewhere, hoping to get to Roaring Springs.  Running along the river was a great distraction, especially as I went through "The Box"--a huge canyon carved out by the creek.  I crossed several bridges and then started really climbing.  There were some murky, wet spots, but other than that, I didn't get too wet, even at Wall Creek where I had to cross a small waterfall.  At this point, two other runners passed me going the other direction.   The female, I recognized as Darcy Africa, a phenomenal ultrarunner from Boulder, CO.  Turned out she was going for a FKT (Fastest Known Time) and trying to break the record that was set just four days before by two other well known female runners:  Devon Crosby-Helms and Krissy Moehl.  They had run their R2R2R in 9:12.  The way Darcy looked, however, she was well on her way to breaking their time!   Darcy gave me a thumbs up and told me I looked great and to "get after it!"--just the inspiration I needed!

At Cottonwood Campground, I felt the taped up bladder in my pack give way and break open, water poured down my backside.  I knew of only one other runner/hiker on the trail at this point and that was Wayne, but I had no idea how far ahead he was from me, so I decided to press forward.  I still had over 24 oz in my handheld and the extra water bottle from Phantom Ranch full as well.

My legs felt good and my feet were holding up very well.  Once I hit Roaring Springs, however, I had to power hike some of the steeper sections.  I hit the Supai Tunnel, with 2 miles left to the north rim and saw a hiker heading down the trail.  After explaining what I was doing, he offered me an extra water bottle!  Unbelievable!  He told me he was camping for the night at Bright Angel and had plenty of water to hold him until he got back down and actually thanked me for lightening his load!  I seriously almost kissed the guy!  I was getting colder as I climbed higher and it really felt like I'd never get to the north rim, but finally, the trail leveled out a little and I saw the forest ahead of me and the trail head!  I put on my long sleeve again, checked my watch and realized I could make good time and even be ahead of schedule if I pushed hard back down to Phantom.

I got down in almost half the time it took me getting up North Kaibab and by the time I got back to Phantom Ranch, I was ahead of schedule by almost an hour!  At Phantom, I took another bathroom break, refilled my water bottles (now I had three!), checked my feet for blisters (none!) and considered, for about a minute, whether or not I'd head back up the South Kaibab, instead of my intended Bright Angel Trail.  The difference was, Bright Angel is a little over 3 miles longer.  Also, the FKT runners go back up South Kaibab and I thought, briefly, that it would be cool to get a benchmark time for myself just in case I decided somewhere down the line that I'd want to attempt an FKT.  Yeah...the thought was pretty short lived as I remembered that there are no water stops on South Kaibab and there was no way to tell Kelly that I had changed my mind.  So, I pushed on toward the Bright Angel Trail, crossed the silver bridge and enjoyed the short lived flat, sandy trail slightly above the Colorado River.  I saw some groups of rafters below and heard a few shouts of "Whoo hoo!  You're crazy girl!" and "Nice Job".  Once I hit Pipe Creek, I realized why I needed those water stops.  I had almost depleted my water again and the switchbacks and Devil's Corkscrew were looming ahead.  Still, it was pretty breezy and overcast and it made for an easier run uphill, not having to deal with the heat.  I refilled my water bottles at Indian Gardens with 4.8 miles to go.  But I knew the hardest, steepest part of the trail was ahead of me.  The cuts in the trail from erosion logs were killing my pace at this point as I had to jump over or onto them.  I really didn't want to walk any of it, but in a few places, especially as the trail got more crowded with hikers, I welcomed the brief moments of powerhiking instead.  Passing was getting a little annoying, especially as I got closer to the 3-mile rest house and crowds of hikers appeared.  It boggled my mind how so many people could be so clueless as to hike down without water, in sandals and jeans.  I saw one woman heading down wearing a long skirt and sandals.  She was carrying a massive camera...but no water bottle.  And she looked at ME like I was crazy!!!  I did get a lot of funny looks.  At this point I was getting a lot of comments too and people curious about what I was doing.  One little kid said to his dad, "she looks really tired".  Ha Ha--you have NO idea kid!

At the 1.5 mile rest house, I decided to kick it into gear.  At this point, I had nothing to lose.  I was way ahead of schedule by over an hour and though my legs and back were hurting, my lungs were holding up really well and I wanted to push it to the finish.  I started thinking about chocolate cake and an ice cold beer (not together.  But what the heck!) and how this was the most awesome way to celebrate my birthday EVER.  When I saw the Bright Angel Trailhead and the rim ahead, I pumped my arms in the air and kicked it into gear!

11 hours and 8 minutes after leaving South Kaibab trailhead that morning, I arrived at Bright Angel Trailhead!  Almost 44 miles and 11,000 feet of elevation gain.  No blisters. No falls. No stomach problems.  Minus the problems with my hydration system, I was feeling pretty good!  Tired, yes.  And once I stopped running, I started cramping up, but overall, I was ok!
                                     The End.  The sign might be holding me up, but I feel Great!

Kelly had made a huge banner for me and put together a great finishing package of snacks and goodies!  Back at the hotel, I sat in an ice bath, called my parents, and told them about all my adventures (and misadventures) in the Grand Canyon.  And after a pizza dinner and warm shower, we opened a bottle of champagne and watched "The Blind Side"...which I barely made it through before falling FAST asleep!

A couple of other notes:
*After having issues deciding what shoes to wear for this run, it turned out that my New Balance Minimus were exactly what I needed.  No rock bruising, no issues with my toes sliding on the downhills, and I felt flexible and confident on both the steep downhills and uphills!  And best of all--no blisters at ALL!

*Turns out Darcy Africa DID post a FKT that day.  She did it in 8:28!

*This run was by far the toughest run I've ever encountered.  But it is also BY FAR, the most spectacular run I've done.  It felt surreal, especially the next day, when Kelly and I returned for one last glimpse before heading back to Tucson.  Looking at the vastness, the incredible, intimidating size of the Grand Canyon, I could hardly believe I had JUST run it, the day before.  If you haven't been to the Grand Canyon, you MUST go!  You will never see anything like it on earth!
                                                    The day after.  Look--I can squat down!

So what's next for me?  Well...I have the Warrior Dash (a 3.4 mile run and obstacle course) this weekend (however slow I may be after last weekend!).  And I have the Skyline 50K in Northern CA in August and then the NorthFace Endurance Championship 50 miler in San Francisco in early December.  Meantime, I'm going to spend some more time doing CrossFit and maybe take that skydiving trip I've been talking about!  Stay tuned...

Thursday, April 14, 2011


9 MORE DAYS!!!!!!  Excited, nervous, ready.  Obsessively checking the site for the Canyon for weather updates and last minute postings.  Last weeks possibility of a government shutdown almost killed my plans altogether, but THANK GOD they pulled their crap together!

A week ago I was second guessing my shoes again.  I had a particularly bad experience with some rock bruising on a really technical trail run and came home nearly in tears, panicked that I had only two weeks to get new shoes.  I spent five days freaking out, going back and forth between two local shops where I literally tried on every single shoe they carried.  Most places don't allow you to purchase and shoe and test it out on any sort of decent run, much less a dusty trail.  But both shops allowed me to test their shoes and promised I could return them if they didn't work out.  AWESOME.  So I tried both the Inov8 Terrocs and an old friend---the Adidas Response Trail, which was my favorite shoe back in the 90's.  And both delivered a MISERABLE experience.  The Inov8's caused the toes in my left foot to go numb within a few miles.  I felt clumsy and actually had to go slower on the downhills because I kept tripping.  The Adidas' were NOT the shoe I once loved so much and in fact, if it's possible, I actually had a worse experience with these shoes.  Numbness in BOTH sets of toes and then lots of ankle rolling and toes sliding to the front of my shoe on the downhills.  Ughh.   Back at the running shop, I made one last plea for any solution to my problem and then....there it was....SOCKS.  Yep, simply changing my socks from ultra thin, to a little thicker allowed me to wear both my NB 101's and the Minimus in a totally different way.  I guess that just goes to show---I should have trusted my original plan.

Aaaaaahhhhhh.....feeling SO relieved.

Now that THAT's solved, I'm just gathering last minute supplies and finalizing my fuel/hydration strategy for the run.

*Ultimate Direction Wink Hydration Pack with 96 oz bladder
*1 extra 24 oz water bottle
*moeben sleeves
*longsleeve tech shirt
*running shorts
*extra socks
*Black Diamond Spot headlamp +extra set of batteries
*Hammer endurolyte capsules
*Perpetuem solids
*Heed powder
*12-15 gels
*beef jerkey
*water treatment tablets
*first aid kit

*3 endurolytes capsules every hour
*1 gel/2 perpetuem solids every hour
*solid food as needed
*Heed as needed

I won't consume all 96 oz of my hydration pack bladder on the first downhill (South Kaibab down to Phantom Ranch), but will definitely top off and use all up the North Kaibab.  I'll refill again at Cottonwood campground or Roaring Springs and then again at the top of the North rim.  Refill again back down at Phantom Ranch and then again at Indian Gardens.  I'm not taking the hydration issue lightly.  Weather next Sat promises to be hot at the bottom of the Canyon.  And I know my biggest struggle will be the very last 9 miles up the Bright Angel at the hottest time of the day.

I've had a LOT of advice from fellow ultra/trail runners who have done this run.  Everything from proper etiquette in passing mule trains on the trail to avoiding the "amazing" lemonade at Phantom Ranch.  Great advice from great runners, for sure.  Still, I know that this is MY run and though I can prepare as much as humanly possible, anything can happen.  And I have to be okay with the possibility that things may not go as planned.  What I need to do is pay attention to ME.  Pay attention to my body and how it's experiencing the terrain, the elevation loss and gain and extreme temperature changes.  Because after all this time, all this training, I'd better know what works and what doesn't for ME.  

Run report to follow my adventures in the Grand Canyon!!!!!!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Life Without The "Juice"

So, in an effort to maximize every possible advantage in my quest to be as healthy as possible for my Grand Canyon run, I decided, what the heck, I'll give up coffee and all "treats" ("Treats", as defined by my 6 yr old nephew, is basically all unhealthy desserts. Cake, cookies, ice cream, etc.  My nephew has given up "treats" for lent and I've got to hand it to him because it's got to be hard to go to a birthday party and say NO to cake!).  I'm not a big "treat" eater, and don't even really like cake and ice cream.  But I do like Eegees, a local frozen fruit slushy delight that boasts lots of vitamin C, but unfortunately, a lot of added sugar too.  This month's Eegees "flavor of the month" is Orange Dream and not one of my favorites, so fortunately, I'm not horribly jonesing.  

But COFFEE...oh, coffee!  I LOVE coffee.  I love the taste, I love the ritual of it and apparently, to my surprise, I've recently learned that my body loved it a LOT.  I honestly didn't think I drank that much coffee.  Yes, I drank it every morning, but only 2-3 cups and most of the time, I was too busy to get through a full mug anyway.  Nevermind that my "mug" holds 3 cups.   But HOLY COW!  I had some serious withdrawals the first few days.  Headaches that started around lunchtime and stayed with me until bedtime.  I don't think I was that irritable, but I'll bet those around me would say otherwise.    I've heard about these awful headaches, but in my mind, those withdrawal symptoms were for true caffeine junkies.  Not me.  Right.  I couldn't stand myself that first week.  I don't know if I was more upset that I couldn't drink coffee or that I was THAT dependent on caffeine.  It's pretty amazing how caffeine, especially in large doses, can effect the body.

I wouldn't really know how much it HAD effected my body unless I had quit the stuff.  And now, over two weeks later, I see some pretty incredible changes that just proved my dependency was truly producing negative side effects.  

Here's a list of the positive side effects I'm currently experiencing now that I'm off the "juice":

*I wake up and feel REALLY awake.  I don't feel like I need coffee to wake myself up.  I also feel like I'm sleeping better.  I used to think I needed 8-9 hours of sleep.  But I'm currently getting 7-8 and feeling great!

*I feel less irritable about trivial things.  This is hard to explain, but I guess I would describe the feeling as "calm" and "even" about things.  Stuff that would normally piss me off is rolling off easily.  I like that.

*When I take off on a morning training run, my body moves quickly, efficiently and no longer do I feel like it's going to take a good half mile to wake up my legs.

*The first thing I feed my body in the morning isn't caffeine.  It's water and good food or nutrients I need to sustain myself for a successful day.   My body is thanking me by rewarding me with a more balanced system both physically and mentally.

Okay, so for ME, this is turning out to be a positive situation and the benefits of not drinking coffee at this point definitely outweigh the negative side effects.  For ME.  I'm not advocating that everyone needs to swear off coffee or even caffeine.  In fact, there are many thought-provoking studies that have found a certain amount of caffeine to be good for the body.    My partner asked me the other day whether or not I would be relieved, after the G.C. run to start drinking coffee again.   Honestly, I'm kind of thinking I'm going to keep going with this.  Over fifteen years ago, my brother and I decided to give up all soda and to this day, I don't think either of us has had even a taste of it.  I quickly forgot it meant anything to me and don't feel I'm missing out on anything special.  Maybe coffee will be the same.  After all, there's decaffeinated coffee and tea to help with the missing taste and ritual, right?

What I WILL be looking forward to, after this run, is an Eegees...(and maybe some birthday cake.)