Monday, March 11, 2013

Way Too Cool 50k

Thursday night before the race, Stephen and I headed up to Folsom for a night - we decided to leave early to avoid any Friday afternoon Tahoe traffic, and I think we made a good decision. We spent Friday working in the Folsom Hilton Garden Inn (there are worse places to work, I suppose), and then we headed over to Auburn around 4:30 to pick up our race bibs and have some dinner.

Frog greeter at the Auburn Running Company
The scene at Auburn Running Company was pretty chill, so we grabbed our race bibs and shirts and went to check in at our place for the weekend. We found a cute little spot on AirBnB, just up the street from the Western States 100 finish line at Placer High School and a short jog through the back of the property to the Western States Trail itself. We had the lower level of the house to ourselves, with a nice view of the sunset out the back.

Beautiful sunset from the back porch!
After getting settled, we walked to Old Town Auburn to get some dinner at Old Town Pizza, a cute little joint with really great pies. I laid off drinking any alcohol in the week before the race, but decided to have a couple of Heavy Rail Pale Ales from Roseville Brewing Company. Not too shabby, and totally local. The pizza was heavenly - great crust and lots of toppings. We took almost half the pizza home, it was so dense! On the way home, we stopped at a local cafe and got bagels for the morning, and then headed up the hill to the house. It was longer than I'd normally walk the night before a race, but it was good to help us digest a bit, and we got to hear the frogs along the way.

Great company!
Great pizza!!
Once we got home, we laid out our stuff for the race, and then kicked back to watch Unbreakable - the Western States movie. The hosts had very kindly left it just next to the DVD player, so we decided we had to watch it. Considering we'd be running portions of the WS Trail, it was great motivation for the race!
Ready to run
A little extra pre-race inspiration, since we'd be running some of the WS Trail!
Race morning
The alarm went off earlier than we would have liked, but we got up, got dressed, made some coffee, and headed off to Cool, CA, about 15 minutes away. As we descended into the American River Canyon, we were treated with an amazing view - the fog was settled in the canyon making it look beautiful in the sunlight! I wish I'd been able to take a photo, but we didn't have time to stop. We were surprised not to see much traffic, but that changed as we rounded a corner and came face to face with a long line of cars on the highway. We managed to park in the regular parking area, but that put us as far from the race start as possible, and only 25 minutes to walk back to the start and use the bathroom. Fortunately, the line moved quickly, and I was just able to use the bathroom before they called us to the start line. I said hi to Janeth and Rachel as I made my last minute preparations, and then I kissed Stephen for good luck (he started in the second wave, ten minutes later), and got lined up just as they counted down. Whew!

Super running mama Janeth is training for WS100. She would go on to kick my butt in this race by 2 min!
Beautiful day for a race!
To Aid #1:
The first part of the course is along a paved road (the same one we parked on), so we ran between the cars for about a mile and a half before hitting the trails. This section was a little frustrating because there were a ton of runners in a very narrow space, so I spent a good amount of time trying to get around people who had positioned themselves too far up in the pack. The fun continued on the single track trails, where it was difficult to pass anyone, and entire lines of runners would get held up behind one person. We had more than a few traffic jams, too, at hills and river crossings. Some people ran right through the water, but I chose to balance on the rocks - mile 2 was WAY too soon to be running in heavy wet shoes, and I really didn't want to get any blisters, especially not that early in the race!

Traffic Jam: A tiny hill caused this massive backup!
Still right in line at mile 6 or so...
This first section took us through beautiful meadows and trees, and once I got into the right group of runners, the anxiety went away. I was happy to see that I had managed to run the first six miles in 1:02, despite the traffic jams, streams and other frustrations. My goal going into the race was to keep up a 10:00 minute pace for the first 12 miles, so I was right on track! At mile 8, we were back at the start and on our way out for our second loop. As I crossed under the banner, I stopped for a minute to put my arm warmers and gloves in my pack, Susan, SFRRC President, yelled out my name. I gave her a quick wave and then took off down the trail again.

To Aid #2:
This next section was pretty flat to begin with, but then we started on a nice long downhill. Unfortunately, I was stuck behind a bunch of people who didn't know how to descend, so I did some more bobbing and weaving to get out of the crowd. Another good motivator was a heavy breather who, each time he exhaled, sounded like he was saying "yeah". It was totally disturbing, and I could hear him over my music (which I was trying to keep low for safety purposes). I cranked up the volume and my turnover and finally got away from him, thankfully! We hit a really awesome section of trail that dropped us down along the Middle Fork of the American River. I blew right past The second aid station and continued on along the fire road, getting a boost from Susan's husband Mike who happened to be biking up the path. Miles 10-12 ended up being the fastest of the day, putting me at 2:01 for the first 12 miles. Pretty much right on target!

Running along the American River
To Aid #3:
The path along the American River was really pretty, so I enjoyed the views and kept up a strong pace, hiking a few hills and running anything that wasn't crazy steep. I started with plenty of water, Clif Bloks and peanut butter pretzels, so I hadn't stopped yet. I got a quick refill at Aid Station 3, drank a cup of Coke and ate a couple of boiled potatoes with salt, and I was on my way as soon as possible.

I didn't see any of the famous frogs or newts, but there were lots of mossy green spots along the trail
Just a little teaser before the real climbing starts

To Aid #4:
By the time I hit 3:00, I had run 17.5 miles, and I was just about to hit the hills. That left me another 3:00 to cover the remaining 13.5 miles if I wanted to make my goal. The hills at miles 18-19 slowed my forward progress considerably, but fortunately there were only a few really steep sections, and the rest were pretty runnable. This may sound like a good thing, but at some points I was wishing for more hills to hike! It was hard to justify walking such perfect single track trail, and I didn't know how bad the coming hills would be or whether I would be able to hold onto my pace, so I just sucked it up and kept going.

We had several stream crossings - managed to stay dry on all but this one!
Mile 19: 12.1 miles to Cool!
At the top of the first major climb, I thought I would find an aid station, but it was just a group of people cheering. I still had plenty of water, so I was just happy to get a little bit of extra energy! The trees opened up for a while at the top, and there was a great view of the valley below. I caught up with a couple of older guys who happened to be going the perfect pace, so I fell in right behind them. They said to let them know if I wanted to pass, but I told them the pace was just right. One of them said, "It's a good thing you didn't catch us a minute earlier - we were really dragging!" Fortunately, they kept it up, and we all sped down the hill and into the next aid station. I grabbed a cup of Coke and a couple of potatoes, thanked the volunteers, and was on my way again.

To Aid #5:
We kept going downhill for a while, so I passed a few more people that I had caught at the aid station. My quads were feeling a little iffy, but I sucked it up again and kept up the pace as well as I could until we hit the next hill. Everything seemed to be going well - a little uphillish, but not bad - until the trail markings veered off into a crazy switchback that had us climbing straight up. Hands on knees, holding onto rocks and trees, I slogged my way up Goat Hill, cursing along with the runners around me. One woman says, "This section is a A LOT easier when you're not at mile 27!" Uh, no kidding!!! A guy was standing at the top, ringing a cowbell, so he gave us some motivation to get to the top of the hill.
Climbing toward the cowbell at the top of Goat Hill
I stopped at the aid station and one of the volunteers filled my pack while I chugged some ice cold Coke, then I strapped my pack back on and was on my way. Just 3.1 miles to the next aid station, which I knew was close to the finish.

To Aid #6:
Unfortunately, the volunteer filled my pack all the way, so I was carrying a lot more water than I needed. I started sucking water out of the pack and spitting it out to lighten my load. At this point, I knew I could make it under 6:00 as long as I didn't implode or fall. The latter was becoming more and more of a concern, especially on the more technical parts. I stumbled a few times and kept reminding myself to pick up my feet, dammit! This section was pretty exposed and warm, but (still) there was no excuse to be walking the barely rolling single track, so I kept on running. Before long, I could hear the cowbells at the highway 49 crossing, and we dropped down and across to the final aid station. I chugged a cup of Coke and noted the sign that said 1.4 miles to the finish.

To the finish:
The trail made a left turn and we immediately started climbing. Somehow I missed this hill in my study of the course maps - oops! I knew that the final 3/4 mile or so was pretty flat, so I chatted and joked with the other runners and hiked my way to the top.

Alllmost at the top!
From there, I dug deep and tried to muster whatever speed I had left (not much!). That Coke kicked in at just the right time and carried me around the last bend and into the finish at 5:50:50, well under my 6:00 goal. That's an 11:18 pace, and a 50k PR for me!

Very happy with my race!
Susan was waiting at the finish and snapped a picture after I collected my medal. What a feeling, finishing this race - I don't think I've ever run so far and so consistently before. I'm willing to bet that I ran 95% of this race, which is much more than the average ultra. Like I said, there was no excuse to walk such runnable trails, so I ran until the hills pitched up to the point where I couldn't run anymore. I think that's what I'm most proud of in this race. And, as you've seen, I even managed to take a few pictures!

Afterward, I chatted with friends Paulo (who ran 31 miles from Sacramento to cheer his friends on at the finish) and Kenley (who finished in 4:31!), and changed into dry clothes. It was then I ran into Lara, and we realized we had both beaten Rachel (even though it doesn't really count because she's coming off an injury). She crossed the line shortly after, and we all went to get post-race food, including the famous frog cupcakes.
WE BEAT RACHEL! (Hey, I'll take it when I can get it!)

Showing off my medal and my frog cupcake!
More frogs - they're even on the tablecloth!
Hahaha...sooo punny!
Seriously, the frog references were out of control!
Turns out, Rachel got to run part of the race with the Gordy Ainsleigh, so I also got to meet him when I took Rachel's picture with him. He's a much bigger guy than I expected - definitely taller than I thought he'd be - and the beard is legendary!

So awesome!
I hung out on the last bend of the course to wait for Stephen, and when he came down the trail, I ran out to meet him and give him a kiss - we connected for a split second (the crowd loved it!) as he made his final sprint to the finish.  He was happy with his race too - a few kinks in the legs made for some rough spots, but he still enjoyed himself out there!

Coming down the last stretch!
Post-race, we cleaned up and headed to Auburn Alehouse for a well-deserved burger and beer before some well-deserved rest. All in all, it was a great day for both of us, and we're looking forward to trying this one again!


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Steep Ravine 25k - Jan. 2013

One of my goals for 2013 is to write a race report for each of my races - I'm already behind, so I'm catching up!

After suffering through a couple of weeks of the flu and clawing my way back into running shape, so when Stephen suggested we do Coastal Trail Runs' Steep Ravine 25k, I said yes. The course was very similar to one I'd done last fall, so I was anxious to see how I would do.

When we arrived at the race, we found out that the course had been changed because of a landslide on Heather Cutoff, meaning that we'd pretty much have an out-and-back (with the difference being that we'd take Steep Ravine out and the Dipsea Trail back. We chatted and listened to race instructions at the start line, and then we were off.

Trying to stay warm before the start
I started off easy, and the crowd thinned out pretty well on the first section of trail out of Stinson Beach. 
Out of Stinson and into the sun
I felt good going up Steep Ravine, and found that I was able to run most of it (except for the really steep parts). There wasn't too much passing going on, which definitely made things less hectic, and I was feeling a whole lot better than the last time I had run it (when I was fighting a cold and feeling pretty terrible).

At the top of Steep Ravine, we made a right onto Old Springs and out to the Cardiac aid station. I've always loved this stretch of trail because it's so runnable, and it feels great to pick up the pace after that long slog of a climb! The view at the top of Cardiac also makes it well worth the climb, especially on a sunny day like this one.

Can't help it - this is one amazing view!

I stopped briefly to push the air out of my hydration pack (I'd put the Nuun tablets in, so it was full of air, causing the water to slosh around and annoy the crap out of me), and then I took off down Dipsea/Deer Park. I can't remember the last time I ran down this section of trail - maybe Double Dipsea? - but man, it's fast! It feels so much nicer than running up it! I picked off a few slower descenders, and I got passed by some of the leaders from the shorter races (like I was standing still!), but I kept a fast pace heading down the hill to Redwood Creek.

Running out and back on Redwood Creek was tough - it's mostly flat, but the trail is narrow, and runners were passing each other all the time. Not to mention, some of the bridges along the trail are downright scary!

Redwood Creek was frosty, too!
I ran as hard as I could on this section, knowing that I'd be hiking again almost immediately once the ascent on Deer Park started again. Counting the number of women in front of me also took my mind off of how much my legs and lungs were hurting at that point, so it was nice to have something else to focus on. I was #15 at the turnaround, but I wasn't sure which of those women were doing the 25k and which were doing the 50k. All I needed to do from this point was HOLD ON.

Shortly after the turnaround, I gave Leigh-Ann a high five and stole a kiss and the car keys from Stephen, and then I braced myself for the climb up to Cardiac. I grabbed a swig of Coke, some Graham crackers, and a Clif Blok at the aid station, waved to supermom Janeth, and headed out. Somehow, it didn't seem quite as bad as I remembered. The first mile up Deer Park/Dipsea is pretty steep, but then it becomes more runnable until you get closer to Cardiac, where you have to slow down again. I was passed by two women on this section, but one of them was clearly doing the marathon or half marathon. I kept my eye on the other one for later, and focused on not getting passed any more.

When we were almost at the top of the climb, we were made to turn right onto TCC/Bootjack - a trail that I hadn't run before (they'd been doing restoration on it for a while). At first, it was a nice single track through the redwoods, with a slight descent. I used the downhill to pass the woman who had passed me (yay!), but then I realized that if we were going down, we'd have to go back up before too long. Sure enough, we turned a corner, and there it was - a hill much longer and steeper than the way up to Cardiac (I'll never complain about that hill again, at least not until Miwok!). Unfortunately, I got passed by another woman, but I kept her in my sights as we crested the hill and descended into Pantoll campground. We cut across Old Springs to Cardiac again, and I quickly chugged a Coke before yelling "Thank you" and heading out the Dipsea back toward Stinson.

Can't get enough of this view!
The view was absolutely amazing - I couldn't help taking a picture. It was one of those days where it's really hard not to gawk at the beautiful blue sky and the ocean. We could even see the Farallons clearly in the distance! I was quick to snap my photos, though, and I knew that these last couple of miles would play up my strengths on the descents. I made my way around the grassy hills and plunged into the redwoods, through the Ewok trees and down the stairs back toward Steep Ravine. I did get held up for a bit behind a couple of older guys- it's tough to pass on the narrow stairs (and they're hard on those old guys' joints)!

Through the Ewok trees!
(Stephen is convinced I'm going to kill myself taking photos while I'm running. He's probably right, so...)
I will not take pictures while I'm running.
I will not take pictures while I'm running.
  I will not take pictures while I'm running...
One more ascent up the adequately named Insult Hill, and I was home free. I flew toward Stinson, pausing just once to take a quick picture. The rest of the way I shouted encouraging words to the 50ker's who were heading out on their second loop. I almost lost my footing on a damp stair just before the trail crosses Panoramic Highway, but I managed to stay upright. Matt Krawczyk was at the crossing, waiting for Leigh-Ann, and gave me nice little boost for the last bit.

One quick picture - I mean, look at that sky!
I crossed the finish line in 3:09:44 for a 12:12 pace (with almost 3500 feet of climbing), and the best trail run I've had in ages. It felt great to run hard on the trails, and I'm excited for the rest of the season!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Rim2Rim2Rim - Oct 2012

In early 2012, my friend Rachel sent out an email asking if anyone wanted to join her for a Rim to Rim to Rim adventure in the Grand Canyon. The trip crept up on us a lot faster than I had expected, but thanks to training for the North Face 50 miler, I felt about as ready as I was going to be for this epic run!

Stephen and I headed to Arizona on October 4th and made our way north on Friday morning. We stopped by my old stomping grounds in Flagstaff for lunch, and then continued on to the Grand Canyon. By about 3:30, nobody had checked in at the campground, so we went to the Bright Angel Lodge to get a look at the Canyon and the trails that we'd be running the following day.

First look at the Canyon
Obligatory Grand Canyon shot

Eventually, most of the group trickled in, and we all settled down for dinner at the Bright Angel Lodge. After dinner, we headed back to the camp to make final preparations for the next morning. I laid out the multitude of random snacks that I had brought along for the trail and decided on a random assortment of goodies - my own personal trail run aid station (about 2400 calories in all):
  • Nuun
  • Clif Bloks
  • roasted potatoes
  • graham crackers
  • potato chips
  • beef jerky
  • Mars Bar
  • sesame cookies (the Middle Eastern kind)
  • peanut butter chocolate chip cookies (thanks, mom!)
  • Hot Tamales 
  • extra Honey Stinger chews
I packed my Nathan pack with all my food, water, chapstick, mini Body Glide and sunscreen, my iPod Shuffle and my new iPhone 5 (I was totally nervous about bringing it, but I knew the camera would be 100 times better than my point and shoot, and that the battery would last a lot longer!). I laid out my sunglasses, hat, arm warmers, gloves, buff and Garmin, along with my favorite shorts, top, socks and shoes, and then we attempted to get some sleep in the back of the rental car (which fortunately had been upgraded to a small SUV). Unfortunately, we didn't sleep much - I think we were facing slightly downhill, and we neglected to crack a window. Anxiety about the next day's 2:40am wake up call probably didn't help either!

The four of us who would be attempting the full Rim2Rim2Rim stumbled around in the dark at 2:45 in the morning, making last minute preparations, and then it was off to the trailhead. Stephen was kind enough to get up with us and drive us to the trailhead so we wouldn't have to add extra miles onto our already lengthy journey!

 The plan was to head down the South Kaibab - the steeper option with no water stops. We take the North Kaibab from Phantom Ranch up to the North Rim and back down to Phantom Ranch (which has plenty of water stops from spring to fall, but which shuts down in mid-October for the freezing winter months). On the way back up to the South Rim, we opted for the longer, more gradual Bright Angel Trail, which also has several water stops. I used some of the Grand Canyon maps to put together this handy little map for all of us:

Once at the South Kaibab trailhead, things started to get real. It was cold, but not the 30 degree temps we had been expecting. It was also incredibly windy! The wind was howling through the canyon and through the trees on the rim, so Stephen took a quick picture and decided to get going before we got too cold. Start time, 3:37am.

Ready to run at the North Kaibab trailhead
I'll admit, I was nervous as we headed from the trailhead to the edge of the rim and into the canyon. It was windy, the dust was flying everywhere, and besides whatever our headlamps shined on, it was pitch black. Once we got a little further down the trail, the canyon walls helped to block some of the wind and dust. I found that I was keeping pretty much in step with Kenny, so I followed him down into the depths of the Canyon, stopping here and there to take photos of the blackness (in hopes that something would turn out). At one point, the ground drops off on both sides of the trail, leaving just a ridge to cross. I took a quick picture, and then hurried across to a "safer" spot. I swear someone came up behind me when I was taking the photo, but when I looked back after crossing, I was all alone. After that, I was a lot more conscious of staying near Kenny!

The trail dropped off to nothing on either side. And I think there's a pair of eyes over there...
Every so often, I took time to turn off my headlamp and look around. It's so quiet and peaceful down there in the dark - until your eyes adjust, the only thing you can see is the stars, a sliver of moon, and the light at the North Rim Lodge. As your eyes get used to the light, the whiteness of the trail starts to become visible, and the canyon walls look black against the starry sky. The only thing that kept me from standing there for too long was knowing that Kenny was moving farther down the trail - I knew that Rachel and Enrique were behind, but I wanted to make progress in the cool of the night, so I kept going, occasionally shoving graham crackers and sesame cookies in my mouth as I ran.

I had seen the headlamps of other hikers making their way up the trail, and at one point I could hear the river. Close to the bottom, I caught back up with Kenny. We ran into some hikers sleeping alongside the trail, and another couple trying to make the trek up before the heat of the day. They asked how long we'd been going, and I told them an hour and a half. "You look like you're going at a pretty good clip," said the guy. I didn't have the heart to tell them that we'd run 6 miles at that point. They had a long way to go!

Shortly after, we crossed the river and then ran alongside it toward Phantom Ranch. As I was making my way down the sandy path, all of a sudden, there were a bunch of other runners on my tail. I picked up the pace as we headed into Phantom Ranch. I chatted with the other runners, some from New York, some from Southern California, as we all refilled our packs with water. I stopped at the bathroom, and then ran back and forth, confused about where the continuation of the trail was. Once I finally got on my way, I headed into Bright Angel Canyon, a long slot canyon that connects the North and South Rims.

Heading along the Bright Angel Creek all by my lonesome
The trail runs along the side of the Bright Angel Creek, crossing the creek on several occasions. It was here that it started to get lighter and lighter. I wasn't sure where everyone else was - because I didn't see anyone, I kind of assumed that they had all continued ahead of me when I was in the bathroom. I'm not sure what made me think that  - I wasn't in the bathroom for that long - but I imagine it was just because I was tired and a bit daunted by the 40ish miles ahead of me. I forged ahead through the canyon, doing my best to keep running, though the slight upward tick of the trail reduced me to walking on several occasions. As the trail opened up to a wider canyon, the sun started to come over the top of the rim, and then I finally saw Kenny ahead of me!

I pushed to catch up to him, and we stuck together for a bit, pushing each other through exhaustion (I really recommend getting more than 2-3 hours of sleep before an undertaking like this!) to keep moving up the trail. Sections of the trail were getting steeper as we passed Ribbon Falls and made our way into Cottonwood Camp. I refilled here and had some food. It was also somewhere around here that Rachel and Andy (a friend of hers who started later and blasted his way down the trail) passed us by. Two of the guys I met at Phantom Ranch passed near here too. I was feeling so tired and defeated...I knew I just had to keep pushing. I also knew that I would see my friend Rebecca somewhere near here - I found out on Facebook that she was planning a Rim to Rim on the same day, so I was looking forward to seeing a friendly face on the trail!

The sun made for some gorgeous views!
I power hiked most of the way from Cottonwood Camp to the Pump House, where I saw Rachel and Andy again. I also saw Rebecca and her husband taking a break along with tons of other hikers who were making their way down from the North Rim. I stopped and chatted for a few minutes, and would have loved to stay longer, but I wanted to stay as close to Rachel and Andy as possible, so I wished them well and headed on my way.

Me and Rebecca at the Pump House
I could see Rachel and Andy running up the trail ahead of me, which was totally demoralizing because I was doing everything I could just to keep hiking at a decent pace. Fortunately, there were lots of hikers coming down the trail at this point, so we all offered each other some encouragement. I definitely needed it!
There's Rachel and Andy waaay up there!
And there I am, waaay down there!
Rachel and Andy disappeared around a corner, and so I kept pushing up what seemed like a neverending slog. The views heading up the North Rim are spectacular, though, so that definitely helped. There's a beautiful view of Roaring Springs, across the canyon, and some of the trails and switchbacks overlook stunning drops of more than 1000 feet. Lots of this section was runnable, but it was getting hot in the sun!

Looking back down the trail and a long drop!
As I headed up on particularly gnarly section, I was greeted by a guy in a straw cowboy hat and combat boots, carrying a walking stick with strips of colorful fabric tied to the top (think Steven Tyler's microphone stand with the scarves). As we passed each other, he's like "FIST BUMP!" and puts up his fist. I return the bump, and he says "YOU CAN DOOO EEEEET!" I was totally tickled by the whole encounter, and it gave me some much needed energy to make my way up the next set of switchbacks.

Looking up toward the switchbacks and the North Rim
At this point, I was expecting to see Rachel and Andy come running back down toward me at any second. The people hiking down looked less and less like they should be undertaking something of this nature, so I knew we had to be close to the top. After a stop at the bee-covered water fountain at the Supai Tunnel, I came around a corner and much to my surprise, I see Rachel, Andy, and the two guys from SoCal sitting in the shade against a rock. I was so determined to narrow the gap between us that I actually caught up to them. Such a nice surprise!!! Phil and Ryan (the guys from SoCal have names! who knew?) gave me Honey Badger status - they had seen me on the trail far below as they were ascending - and I told them how relieved I was to see all of them. After a few minutes' rest, we continued up the trail toward the treeline.

That treeline is a long, long way away, let me tell you. That last mile was rough, but we finally made it in among the beautiful pine trees and aspens and up over the ridge to the North Rim. We all stopped and refilled our water, made a pit stop, refueled, took some pictures and celebrated our halfway success. We met another runner who was moving at a much faster pace and sent him on his way before we noticed that the mule train was getting ready to leave. You really don't want to get stuck behind a mule train! Just as we headed out, Kenny came up the rim. We said a quick hello and then snuck onto the trail just before the mules. A few minutes later, we saw Enrique on his way up to the top. We took a quick picture and went on our way down the trail.

Made it to the North Rim! We met the guy on the left at the top - he was insanely fast!
 I was really proud of us on this section - we ran almost all of it, with limited stops for photographs, until the Pump House, which is about 5.5 miles. We took turns pulling the group down the trail and said hi to lots of hikers on the way down. Many of those same hikers we'd also seen on the way up, so we got some pretty great reactions when they realized what we were doing! The four of us had a great time, chatting and laughing our way into the canyon - it was so nice to have some more company, and we discussed later that we all pushed harder than we might have if we hadn't all met. I think we all would have turned into complete messes, but running with new friends helped us keep our sh*t together, even on the really hard parts!

Making our way down the trail.
 At the Pump House, we rested for a few minutes, and I said to Rachel, "Just a few more miles and we'll have done our farthest run ever!" We had covered just over 28 miles. Ryan pipes up and says, "This is already my longest run ever!" At that, we put our packs back on and headed off to the next stop at Cottonwood Campground.
Taking a break in the shade

Staying hydrated!
The next 1.4 miles were rough! It was HOT in the canyon and the fully exposed rolling hills were not exactly fun. We did find a spot to rest in the shade for a bit, but otherwise we pretty much ran the whole way to Cottonwood. Here we refilled our water, ate some beef jerky, and prepared ourselves for the 7ish miles back to Phantom Ranch. Whereas we had been pretty talkative on the way down from the North Rim, this section got a little quiet. We took turns pulling the group and walking in the back, the sun taking its toll on each of us at some point. We found a good spot to get down to the river and wet our buffs, hats, and hair, allowing us to stay cool for a while longer. The only thing that kept us going was knowing that we'd make it to Phantom Ranch in time for some of their famous lemonade!

Favorite pic of the trip - it was hot, but it was still beautiful!
Running back through the slot canyon was tough. It's downhill, but not by much, and it's pretty hot down there after the sun has been beating down all day. Not to mention, the turns all start to look the same, so after a couple of miles it starts to get old.

The sun was intense!
It was here that we ran into Mari, who was on her way to the North Rim. Mari and Malik got a late start because their flight had been delayed, but we were surprised to see them crossing so late in the day. Mari said she had plenty of water, but she didn't have a headlamp, so I gave her mine, knowing that I at least had my little wind-up flashlight. We took a couple of pictures and sent Mari on her way. A few minutes later, we ran into Malik. He had a light but was running low on water, so we gave him some Gatorade, knowing that we'd soon be at Phantom Ranch. We took turns pulling the group, but I mostly hung back for the rest of this section. Eventually, the high canyon walls started to open up, and it was obvious that Phantom Ranch really WAS just around the corner, so I picked it up and made my way into the camp.

Me, Mari, and Rachel - SF girls run the Canyon!
Enjoying some ice cold Lemonade at Phantom Ranch
I met the group at the store where we got some delicious Lemmy Lemonade and sat outside to enjoy some snacks before heading back across the river. We pulled ourselves together and jogged out of the camp, stopping to say hi to the mules and to take a few pictures of the river. We crossed the bridge to go up the Bright Angel Trail, and then wound our way along the river's edge until we finally made a left turn back in toward the South Rim. As we made our way up, we saw a lot of the people we'd passed on the way up to the North Rim. There was a whole group of Indian guys making the North to South trip, that we'd seen earlier in the day. Some of them probably took as long to cross the canyon as we did to go both ways - poor guys!!!

Just across the river - you can see the two bridges we crossed -
the farther one in the morning and the closer one in the afternoon
We kept a great pace going up toward Indian Gardens, about 20 min/mile. Every time we went up to a new part of the plateau, we'd turn around and gawk at the amazing view - we took tons of pictures too, but they really don't do it any justice. Each view was better than the last, so we kept going, hoping that we'd get to the flat part of the plateau in time for the sunset. Unfortunately, the flat part never seemed to come, but the area leading to Indian Gardens was so beautiful - the stream and all the vegetation were amazing, especially after being in that hot, dry canyon all afternoon!

We came from the trail you see below, and still had to go all the way up to the rim above it!
As we arrived at Indian Gardens, we kept leapfrogging with this couple who looked pretty miserable. I'm assuming they either did Rim to River and back or North to South Rim, but it was clear that they'd been out there for quite some time. They weren't really walking together for a lot of it, and she was definitely kind of pissed off. At some point, when it was obvious that we'd be finishing in the dark, one of the guys asked them if they had headlamps. Shortly after that, the girl was overheard telling her guy "I'm never doing this stupid hike again!" She was pretty dang annoyed because she walked in the dark until it was absolutely impossible to see. Thankfully, we saw her with a headlamp later on!

We made one last stop at Indian Gardens and then made our way toward the final major ascent. I ate the other half of my Mars bar and refilled my hydration pack and we were on our way. The dark was really setting in, and after we started climbing, we pulled out the lights. We formed a little line - Phil, Rachel, me and Ryan - so I'd have a decent light to see by. My little wind-up light didn't stay charged for long, so I needed some extra help from everyone else's headlamps. Speaking of headlamps, it was fun watching all the people up ahead of us and down below us as we made the neverending climb (about 5 miles).

We kept on pushing up that climb at a good pace - since it was cooler out, we didn't really need any water, so that saved us a lot of time. At one point, we all decided that we needed to take a few minutes to check out the stars - it was so clear out, and you could see the whole Milky Way. We all sat down on the side of the trail together and enjoyed the view. It was so cool to be able to see the lights at the North Rim! We were worried about how we were going to manage to stand back up, but we decided not to worry about it yet. As we sat and marveled at the sky, I saw a shadow move across the rock in front of us (it was probably a little mouse, but I swear it looked like a skunk!). I said, "Oh my God," and grabbed Rachel, who screamed bloody murder. Ryan and Phil jumped up and yelled, and Rachel and I were right with them, still screaming. The bright side was that we didn't have to worry about how we were going to stand up, but I think we scared the entire canyon. I'm hoping the intense laughter reassured everyone who may have thought that one of us had fallen over the edge! They gave me quite a bit of crap the rest of the way up, but I SWEAR I saw something!!! We spent the next bit of the trail apologizing to all the people around us.

Bright Angel Trailhead - South Rim!
After that point, we knew we were close to the top. We stopped very briefly for some more water, but we mostly just kept our heads down and kept moving as best we could. it was frustrating being able to see the lights at the top, but feeling like we weren't getting any closer. I wanted to throw my stupid flashlight off the side of the canyon (and I'm sure everyone else did too, thanks to the annoying sound it made to wind the dumb thing). Finally we came around a corner to see the trail sign, so we regrouped there, and I called Stephen on the walkie talkie. We took pictures with the sign, and then decided it would be a good idea to run the last little bit, not realizing how far it still was.

We managed to slog our way up the last incline to the top, still running! Stephen and Joyce were waiting with beer and high fives for all of us. We were almost in shock to be done, not to mention excited, exhausted, overwhelmed, hungry, and in desperate need of a shower!

High five - we did it!!!
Photo by Joyce Pedersen
We shared some stories and tried to drink a beer, but it was really just gross at that point. So we said goodbye to our new friends, packed into the car, and headed back to the campsite only to find that the showers were closed for the evening. No matter - we were so tired that we made do with the bathroom sink at the campsite and waited till the morning to get a real shower. We also got news that Enrique and Kenny had "biouvacked" at the North Rim, but weren't really sure what that meant. Turns out, they stayed in the Great Room at the Lodge with an amazing view of the canyon! They came back the next day, happy and well-rested. Stephen and I had some breakfast and headed back to Flagstaff for a stop at Beaver Street Brewery for a real meal and a well-deserved beer.

Beaver Street Brewery, Flagstaff!
I'm so thankful to Rachel and Enrique for planting the seed on this one - this is by far one of the coolest things I have ever done, and I hope to have many more similar adventures in the future!