Hey Folks! On 5/27 I went R2R2R(ish) for the first time. I figured I would share my story and then some tips for future go-getters… I apologize for the length and hope you find it helpful!
For starters, I’m an endurance athlete and pretty strong runner, but am fairly novice to this ultra distance stuff. I believe I trained as well as I could, and had a healthy respect for the canyon and its challenges. I tell you this because I feel it is important to be as physically prepared as possible but still open-minded towards what the day might bring.
My boyfriend and I began our journey at Bright Angel Lodge at 4:30am and our only goal was to finish before dark. Weather was amazing (low 40s) and sunrise was unbelievable! The first few hours were great. As heat set in and the north side climb started, we hiked to conserve energy (I was in charge of pacing as the weaker but smarter runner). Long story short, we reached the steeper section of NK near Supai Tunnel in the late morning (10-11). I suppose it could have been any number of factors: altitude, temperature, sun, general fatigue – probably all combined – but my HR was getting dangerously high. I live at a whopping 425 ft above sea level, and am affected by altitude, but I’m not sure how much. We stopped several times and I tried all my tricks to level myself out. My legs were not done, and my stubborn self was not done, but my heart was protesting. Time for risk assessment. After a 15 minute discussion of all our options, I decided I was more comfortable turning back to run another 20+ miles than to continue inching up the North Rim at even higher altitudes, even for “just” 2-3 miles.
It ended up being the right call. I was able to run several more miles, still opting to hike to conserve energy when needed. We both crashed as we got back to Phantom Ranch. *the stretches on either side of PR are the longest without water* We took our time resting/ refueling. I got in the river (which was amazing). It was still super hot, but as long as we monitored pace we were ok. The ascent back up BA was actually fun. We cranked some music, the sun was ducking behind the mountains, and we knew we would make it with daylight to spare. The last hour or so was pretty miserable, as one might expect, but we took the final steps of the day at around 7:15pm. TEARS OF JOY!
The maniacal, Type-A, over-achieving runner in me is peeved that I didn’t make it to the top of the North Rim. But the rational, self-aware part of me considers our modified course a success. I made a judgment call to avoid danger without ruining our adventure, and still managed to cover 42 miles and 17,000 ft in under 15 hours. If I never make it back, I’m forever grateful for the experience.
1) no cell service at Yavapai Lodge, and little-to-no internet there or even at Bright Angel Lodge. Because of this we were unable to confidently make arrangements to take SK. Plan day-of logistics ahead more than we did.
2) Arrive 2 days early so that you don’t have to stress all the details. There are a MILLION things to consider in an all day self supported run. This being our first, we arrived at 1:30 the day before and were busy until bedtime. Not ideal.
3) it was chilly in the morning but a jacket was kind of unnecessary. I had to carry it for more than 12 hours.
4) if you don’t live or train in the desert, you don’t know how that climate will affect you. ALWAYS refill your water, and never skimp on nutrition. Try your best to train in the climate (heat) at least once. My whole nutrition plan went awry because nothing sounded appetizing when it got hot. I hadn’t tested this enough during training.
5) HIKE. Most of us will spend the majority of our time hiking and not running this beastly course. I recommend a few day hikes to get used to the slower cadence and fatigue. Make sure it’s uphill. Like, LOTS of uphill.
6) you can get hikers insurance for $45 that saves you a seat on a van if you choose to stop at the north rim and ride 4 hrs back. We had this for peace of mind, but obviously ended up taking ourselves back. Just try to notify them if you’re not going to use it.
I would just like to personally thank Ashely for sharing her experience with us. I’m planning on tackling the R2R2R in the new year & there is some really great advice here. Thanks Ashley.
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