I was really surprised to see Dakota rounding the same switchback I was on with 100m to go coming up the South Kaibab trail. I shouldn’t have been, but I was. Dakota and I ran the exact same time for our recent Double Crossing of the Grand Canyon, but we ended up at the same spot taking very different paths.
About two weeks ago we were asked to do a Mtn Hardwear/Montrail photo-shoot at the Grand Canyon. (the shots we got are pretty incredible by the way) Then the hamster wheels in my brain started to turn and I got to thinking that if I spent an extra day I might be able to pull off a Double Crossing. Then, well, I might as well see if the current record holder wanted to run it with me and sure enough, of course Dakota can’t turn down an epic run like that, so it was set, we would come in a day early, run the Double Crossing and then do two days of photos.
Neither of us were coming in with expectations of making a record run just coming off a weekend of 50miles of racing, Dakota at Lake Sonoma, and a 10mi road race 40mile Petersen Ridge double for me. Both of us were tired so we just wanted to have a good run. Of course with any true competitor, the fact that there is a record out there to be had isn’t far from the mind. And of course, the expectation from everyone in the Ultra community after seeing it go up on the Montrail blog was that there would be an attempt at the record. So, I’ll go on official record and say that “It was neither a record attempt or non-record attempt”. How’s that for vagueness. Allow me to explain.
I arrived into PHX at 8:30pm Sunday evening. Picked Dakota up at baggage claim and took out of town with our rental car up toward the Ditch. A stop at Safeway, several attempts at nailing an Elk at high speeds, a cruise through Flag and we were at the Holiday Inn Express in Tusayan at 2am. Three hours sleep and we were back up at 5:30 heading to the South Kaibab Trailhead with the photographers for an impromptu session as we were sent down the trail.
We started at 6:30am and with weather reports calling for record heat we knew we were in for a hot one. One of the main reasons the location was chosen for this shoot is for a yet to be disclosed technology being introduced by Mtn Hardwear later this year. Let’s just say that the record heat that we experienced gave us an opportunity to thoroughly test this new technology. With our slightly later than desired start time we would eventually hit temperatures of 95 – 100 degrees in the Canyon.
Dakota, being the young buck he is, charged off down the switchbacks that plunge you down the first steps of the canyon walls. I tried to keep pace while taking in new sights that were simply amazing and nab a few photos along the way. We hit Phantom Ranch (the bottom at 6.5 miles) at 53 min. We cruised easily in the still early morning temps that were starting to warm in the rising sun but very comfortable. Up through Phantom Ranch, up the box canyon on the North Kaibab Trail, and up toward the North Rim.
I was under the impression that the much longer North Kaibab Trail (14.5 miles) was an even grade all the way out. Man, I was wrong. It winds along the Bright Angel Canyon bottom for about 10 miles up to Roaring Springs where it then begins the big ascent to the North Rim. Both of us were still running comfortably and taking our time as we began the ascent. The heat became more intense as we climbed from the rising sun and Dakota started to feel the fatigue from the past week more than I was. After a couple stops, a chat with some park rangers, and a few photos we hit the rim at 3:36, 14min later than Dakota’s record last fall.
I have to admit to my mindset coming up North Kaibab was a little smug. I wanted to keep the pace easy and stick with Dakota because it was nice to run with someone and share the experience but I figured we would reach the North Rim just after the record split then, feeling good, I could make a solid run back to the South and finish with a great time regardless of whether I was a few minutes over or under the record. So with Dakota’s approval I split down the North Kaibab as he was trying to get his legs back under him. I made good time to Roaring Springs feeling good, charged the next 10 long miles to Phantom ranch in just over an hour at 61 min. The long hot canyon wore on me though and although I was doing well on hydration, nutrition and didn’t feel overly fatigued, I was certainly tired after running 5 ½ hrs. I don’t do that very often, so I was actually pretty surprised how good I was still feeling at this point, and happy to survive a difficult and now hot, 5 ½ hrs.
At Phantom Ranch I figured the record was now out of reach, ok, I’m cool with that, I can still get pretty close to 7hrs. Well, then I started up South Kaibab. Holy Crap that rim is a long way up. My plan of attack was to jog the “flatter” sections and hike the other stuff. Now it really started to get hot though. Although I shouldn’t have been, I was a bit worried about how Dakota was handling the heat since he’d been pretty worked at the top of the North Rim. I was handling myself pretty well, making steady progress to the top and still getting in some jogging about 2 miles from the top when I ran out of water. Not good, but hey, I only have two miles to go. No problem. Until it was. That’s when it hit, fatigue, a little dizziness, shakes. Now I wasn’t moving any more. I took a seat to regroup before moving on. Ate a very dry granola bar that felt somewhat like I would imagine eating dirt would feel like. I saw Tim, (Mtn Hardwear creative director, “you’re Fired”) Richardson perched above me waiting to get a shot of me rounding his switchback. Would have looked amazing had I actually been moving my feet. I took a break with him while I suffered for a bit then made the final stagger up to the finish.
Rounding my final switchback with 100m to go is where I catch a glimpse of another runner coming up the switchback below me. Holy crap, he made it back up and we’re finishing at the same time. I couldn’t believe it. What a way to finish. We grasped hands in an sardonic display of camaraderie between runners and ran past our photographers that made the trek back out to watch us finish (and hopefully get the record for a great story). They left 7 voicemails or texts between Dakota and I trying to figure out if they got there too late and we had already finished and were back lounging by the pool at the hotel. HA, that didn’t happen. We finished in 7:39. Short of the record, but an epic day none-the-less and an awesome coincidental finish for us making it that much cooler. Dakota had a rough patch in the middle, then one of his best runs up South Kaibab he’s ever had. I’ll let you read more about that on his blog. I felt great throughout the run until the last couple miles and then blew apart spectacularly.
Did I mention it was HOT.
This is the first time I’ve really had a chance to run with Dakota. Running is kind of like the quote from Fight Club, “you never really know someone until you fight (run with) them.” He’s awesome to run with. Comfortable to run alone in silence and enjoy the environment, but someone you can have a good conversation with that doesn’t always revolve around running too. We carried a good balance.
I went through 11 Hammer Gels, 1 Hammer Bar, a granola bar, about 12-15 electrolyte caps, and over 200 oz of water. The products we were able to test from Mtn Hardwear were actually pretty amazing. Both Dakota and I had had a chance to test the new technology in a heated controlled environment earlier in the year but this real world test blew away our expectations and any doubts that we had about it. The stuff just works.
Two days of awesome photo-shooting in an absolutely stunning landscape followed our Double Crossing. Long days of shooting from 5:30am to 7pm really wear on you after a hard 40 milers by the way. Not a lot of sleep. It’s not the glamorous lifestyle you think of when you think photo-shoot. It’s some hard work for us and even harder for the photography crew. The crew that Tim put together of Dave Clifford, Eric, and Seth were incredible and the product that comes out will attest to one of the most productive photo-shoots I’ve been on. Everyone worked hard and we had a great time. As an athlete and the subject, you always kind of wonder how other athletes are to work with. Snobby, demanding, cool, rad, I don’t know. I just try to make sure I’m real, inject a little humor into a long day, and hopefully the photogs have as good a time working with us as we do with them.
Whooo, that’s a long one. Hopefully you’ve made it this far.
If you’re interested in what’s next: I’m considering a Steeplechase in two weeks. Not sure if I’m crazy, stupid, or both. Then it’s on to Spain for the Skyrunning Federation Seminar and the Zegama Trail Marathon with many of the best mountain runners and ultra runners in the world. Should be really tough.