April 27, 2011 § 1 Comment
From Phantom Ranch to the North Rim is somewhere in the realm of 13.5 miles. The ascent is gradual at first, rolling along the river until Cottonwood camp. On our way here Jen decided to drop back a bit and relax her pace. The plan was set that we’d head up to the top, catch her on the way down, and she’d turn and head back with us. While I hated leaving her alone, I was already surprised at how challenging the day was panning out to be, so I thought that this might be the least of all evils for her.
Despite being told the water at Cottonwood wasn’t turned on, we were pleasantly surprised that it was. We also needed it. Looking at the sign, there was another 7 miles to the top. “It’s probably a couple hours of climb” I told Dave. A couple hours would have been a great day, as it turns out. Somewhere in the realm of 3 hours later, as we continued to hike straight up, Dave and I found ourselves delirious, hungry, thirsty, and wondering where the heck the top was. “You still have an hour to go” a couple of guys told us as they were on their way down. Are they joking? WTF? How is this possible? Begin temper tantrum #1 of the day. The altitude was getting to me and I threw my pack down and told Dave I wasn’t going on. He looked at me somewhat blankly, then just kept walking up the trail (thanks a lot, haha). After a couple minutes I got bored and picked myself back up and trudged the rest of the way.
The North Rim was largely anti climatic. The great views had all been seen on the way up, and now it was time to sit and recharge. Dave was now basically out of water and food, and I was just physically tired to the point that I turned on my cell in hopes to have a signal to send out pathetic texts. Luckily, the “I might die” messages did not go through as there was no signal, haha. A good point of having the BeBop backpack with me – while a bit big for most outings – it carried more than enough food, so I was able to help Dave there. We went through my pizza and a couple mojo bars, I filled my bladder with snow (which was too dirty for Dave’s tastes…) and we headed back down. Talk about night and day – the way down was wayyy more enjoyable. We were able to make up a lot of time and enjoy things like a neat little waterfall that allowed us to cool off to get some more water. Two hours later we were back at Cottonwood, shaking our heads at how impossible it seemed a few hours ago. Now it was time to get back to Phantom Ranch, hopefully collecting Jen along the way. What we didn’t account for at this point was how truly hot it had become.
Luckily, Dave and I run extremely well together. We are very good about picking up on when the other is falling back a little, and stepping up to take the lead and help them push. We know that when asked “do you want to lead for a minute?” it means “I need you to set the pace, I’ll follow.” This is what we did for the 6 miles back to Phantom Ranch. We’d run hard, then stop under the shade of the rocks when we could find it to replenish salt, water and food. It was a tough section and took longer than both of us anticipated. There were a few moments of this:
but a lot more moments of this:
As we came across people we’d always ask if they had seen Jen. We were trying to gauge where she was and hoping that she was holding up in the heat as well. A couple miles later we saw a note from her. On our way out, we had used rocks and the dirt to give her directions at a trail crossing in case she wasn’t sure where to go. Now on our way in, I was so happy to see that she wrote “JK PR” in rocks on the ground. She was headed to Phantom Ranch. Awesome. A little while later I saw her up ahead and we all helped each other push in to Phantom Ranch. As much as I was ready to walk in that last 1/2 mile or so, we didn’t have time for that. Phantom Ranch was only open until 4, and Dave and I were counting on food and drinks there to boost our spirits. We made it with about 5 minutes to spare, and proceeded to buy one (sometimes 2) of everything they sold. And then we sat and ate. And ate. And drank. And ate.
At this point we had a big decision to make. And by we, I mean me. Jen and Dave were willing to do whatever I thought was best. Do we go up the Bright Angel Trail – the 10 mile “not so steep (but still pretty steep)” section, or do we do the 7 mile super steep South Kaibab trail, and hope we make it in time to catch the shuttle to our car. At this point we were all in decent spirits, but our legs were pretty evenly shot. I decided that hiking is hiking, and it’s faster to hike 7 miles than 10. It was just after 4:30 so we had at least a couple hours until sunset. The last shuttle runs until an hour after that – no problem.
Famous last words.
We started up the ascent, and sure enough, it was steep. This picture here shows the trails down below.
I was leading the way and, all things considered, was feeling pretty good. I kept track of time and was making sure we stopped to eat and enjoy our last views of the canyon as the sun was setting. We even were all in decent enough spirits to stop and take some pictures.
After a couple hours, it started to wear on us though. We kept “thinking we saw the top,” only to find that it was another false summit. Around this time we also convinced ourselves that Dave’s GPS was no longer functioning properly. There’s no way we have only gone that far – we must really only have like 2 miles left. I turned another switchback and saw a sign up ahead. Sweet. That must be the one that will tell me I’m almost there.
Wait, what? (Insert temper tantrum #2, luckily this one was in private)
The sign read that we had only gone 3.8 miles. We still had 3.5 to go. I checked my watch – 2 hours. I glanced at the sun – definitely within minutes of what I’d call a “sunset.” Uh oh. I knew I needed to make a decision, and make it quickly. I assessed the condition of the group. While everyone was still moving, I was making better time. Missing the shuttle wouldn’t be the end of the world, but I knew that ultimately we’d all be better off if we got it. So, I yelled down to Dave the bad news, and told him I was going to take off to try to get the shuttle. I told him if I wasn’t at the top when he got there, to wait and I’d bring the car back. And then I proceeded to gather ever ounce of strength I had left to crush this climb in one hour. Luckily, there was a handful of others also making their way to the top. I treated it like a race and picked them off one by one. As I neared the last group of switchbacks it was dark, cold and windy. I pulled my buff over my face because there was no time to let any of that slow me down. I caught a baby bobcat in my headlamp and told it not to eat my friends, or I’d hunt it down and it would be sorry (seriously, it listened). I could feel the top getting close, and then finally, I was there. I hurried over to the shuttle stop, and wasn’t there for more than a minute before a bus pulled up. Thank god. “When’s the last shuttle come through here?” I asked. “8 pm” he said. I checked my watch. It was 7:55. Whew.
I hurried and got back to the trailhead after just about an hour with our car and I was so happy to see 2 headlamps waiting for me. I was even happier to see that the headlamps were being worn by Jen and Dave, two alive and well human beings, happy and smiling. I ended up completing the 47.5 mile R2R2R in 14:47. For anyone looking to do this: DO IT. Prepare. Bring friends. Don’t rush. Enjoy it. Be there for the sunrise, and the sunset. Talk to people along the way. Remember that it’s not a race. Have fun. And most important, carry lots of water.
The next part is a whirlwind – getting back to Claire’s, reliving the day, getting up and driving to vegas, the Hoover Dam, VEGAS, etc. Sunday was spent relaxing by the pool at the MGM Grand. Dave even convinced me to get going and do a swim workout. In case you have never done a swim workout at noon in a Vegas pool, I would recommend going sans swim cap. My TYR bikini said “I’m here to party”
but my cap drew some heckling, haha
So, there you go. That was my Rim2Rim2Rim.
April 26, 2011 § 3 Comments
>To be honest, my report of my Rim2Rim2Rim run is one that I don’t want to do. Quotes, stories, pictures, and videos simply do not do it justice. This run lives up to everything everyone has ever told you. It is truly epic. It is undoubtedly the best way to see the Grand Canyon. And it should be on every (ultra) runner’s bucket list. Do it for yourself, and don’t put it off. You won’t regret it.
I would end there, but in the interest of helping others get through the run successfully, I’ll tell my story:
Jen and I flew out to Vegas on Wednesday night. You can see from this post, the trip started off quite successfully. We got a good night of sleep and headed out to Claire’s house in Flagstaff on Thursday morning. This would be the meeting point for our group, which consisted of:
Myself: You all know me by now.
Jen aka “Fun Jen”: While she got the nickname for other reasons, Jen is always up for anything. Including attempting a 45 mile run/hike despite not having run even a marathon in years.
Dave “I wash my hands a lot” Easa: No seriously, he washes his hands all the time. Dave is getting ready for Western States and is also a pacer extraordinaire as he paced me to my 2nd place at HURT and Hillary Biscay at Ultraman.
Claire “Cancer can suck it” Lears: Claire kicked cancer’s ass a few short months ago and still wouldn’t let this chance pass her by. Luckily people smarter than us convinced her to take it (slightly) easier. She’d be going down to the river and back.
Anna “I went to Penn State like a bajillion other people”: Anna is a friend of Claire’s in Flagstaff and was joining Claire for the abbreviated version of the R2R2R. They are running the Transrockies this year and I have no doubt are going to rock it.
Thursday afternoon was spent shopping for last minute supplies and packing things up. A 2:45 wakeup call was on tap and no one was really looking forward to having to figure anything out in the morning. So the more prepared we were that night, the better. Lucky for Jen and I, we were on East Coast time still and were able to fall asleep before Dave even arrived in Flagstaff.
My original plan was to go with my Nathan Pack and a 2 liter bladder. However, once I realized that with the bladder full I didn’t have nearly enough room for the gear I wanted to bring, I switched over to my Mountain Hardware BeBop Backpack. I got this at WS100 in 2009 and use it all the time. It would fit any size bladder and still has tons of room for everything else. Switching to this so I could overpack ended up being one of my better decisions. Packed inside was: 2 Liter Bladder, 2 empty handheld bottles I would use/fill for the long sections, 20 GU, 4 pieces of pizza, S!Caps, 3 Clif Bars, 3 Mojo bars, an emergency blanket, headlamp, extra batteries, hat.
Once we were up and ready to go, we started the 75ish minute drive to the Grand Canyon. Originally we planned to go down and up the South Kaibab trail. However, when we got to the park we realized that we’d have to get a shuttle to the trailhead, and be done in time to get the shuttle back to the car. So, we decided to descend the Bright Angel Trail instead. The return trip was left somewhat open ended (note: I wouldn’t necessarily do this again – making a plan and sticking to it is easier than “figuring it out” once you’re in the canyon…)
Sunrise in the canyon was amazing. As the sun came up and we saw exactly what we were running down, we were all in awe. We left the top around 4:45ish, and the car was reading that it was 33 degrees outside. Within 30 minutes we had to stop to shed a lot of clothes – it warmed up really fast and I would not have dressed that heavily if I do it again. We got stopped once behind a mule train, and it only took a couple minutes before they let us by in a safe spot. The entire descent to Phantom Ranch took about 2:30. This was a very leisurely pace and there was a lot of time spent taking pictures and just stopping to admire the views.
This is where the day really began for Dave, Jen and me. Claire and Anna were heading home and thankfully took some of our unneeded clothing (Jen and I kept jackets though).
….to be continued.
April 21, 2011 § Leave a comment
April 20, 2011 § Leave a comment
>Last Saturday kicked off the start of my triathlon season. And, in the words of the great Taylor Swift: this ain’t a fairytale. My season opener was going to be in far from perfect conditions, but, I came to race, so that’s what I did.
Ryan and I drove down to Lake Anna on Saturday morning. A 10am start time gives us the ability to make the 2.5 hour drive the morning of the race which is nice. The rain that was falling from the sky all morning was not so nice. The weather inevitably backed everything up, so getting my stuff set up and ready to go was pretty rushed, and I was happy when I was finally in my wet suit, shivering, ready to roll. The rain was still coming down – but hey, you’re going to get wet anyway, right?
I was excited for this swim based on my strength in the pool these days, and I felt great heading out to the first buoy. I looked up at the turn and I was sitting comfortably at the back of the front pack of women in my wave. And then it was as if the lake I was swimming in turned into the Atlantic Ocean in the middle of a hurricane. Okay, so it wasn’t that bad, but the waves picked up and coupled with the hazy and rainy visibility, finding the buoys was pretty difficult. Looking back, I still don’t know exactly what went wrong, but I felt like I was swimming for forever. I finally ran into T2 and almost didn’t want to look at my watch – 27 and change. Eek. I wasn’t pleased, but had other things on my mind – like getting the puddles out of my bike shoes so I could ride.
Once on the bike I was really relaxed. This course was probably the easiest 24 miles I have ridden in some time, and I was able to take advantage of the speed my Specialized Transition gets me. Due to the propensity of the cross winds we were experienced, I was also in probably the most aero position I have ever been in so I could keep control of my front wheel. Unfortunately my super sweet Walmart watch doesn’t have the capabilities to take splits, but I think I did the first loop ~35 minutes. Which means, with my 1:09 final split, I may or may not have negative split the ride but I at least stayed super close.
Got off the bike and headed out for the run. One would think the rain would have stopped by now, but no, I can promise you that wasn’t the case. The run course was similar to the bike in that it had some small rollers, but nothing too crazy. Heading out of T2 I was the 4th place female and I knew the girl in front of me was only maybe 30 seconds up. Slowly I chipped away at that time and was able to pass her. I set my sights on the next girl but unfortunately her great swim gave her too much time for me to regain. Despite that, I still had my fastest 10k – ever – at 45:06!
My 2:25:50 was good enough for 3rd place overall and a 3 minute PR. I won….a very thin towel. Thank you, Setup Events for as usual being one of the cheapest event production companies around. One of these days I will stop throwing my money at you. I did enjoy the Papa Johns Pizza at the end.
Also a shoutout to Oiselle – my run pant and run tee were essential to keeping me warm and comfortable before and after the race! The run pant is my new favorite piece of clothing – and they are on sale now!!
Overall I felt good about the day and the effort. I am looking forward to Columbia, but even moreso to Eagleman as I think I will have some good things to show when the bike and the run have a little more length.
NEXT STOP: VEGAS, PLEASE.
Grand Canyon R2R2R attempt on Friday!
April 14, 2011 § 1 Comment
>This week marks what would I would call the official start of my 2011 racing season. Saturday I’ll be heading down to Lake Anna in Virginia for the Rumpus in Bumpass Olympic Distance triathlon. A lot of quick people should be coming out for a good early season test of fitness, and I’m really excited to see where I stand.
But first, I had a pretty big hurdle in my way. A one mile long hurdle, to be exact.
On what could be described as a whim, I signed up for the Westminster Main Street Mile a few weeks back. A bunch of TWSS people were planning on going out for a fun little Wednesday night outing, and maybe I have some newfound confidence with the speedwork Hillary is having me do, but I thought “hey, I can run a mile too!” As the day of the race got closer my anxiety start to build up as I realized I actually had no clue how to run just one mile. Should I warm up? Should I feel like I’m sprinting the entire time? Will my heart explode?
I arrived in Westminster with the crew and found fellow ultrarunner, Pete, who looked about as scared as I was. As I warmed up my legs didn’t feel super awesome (I did a smaller speed sesh that morning) and I literally had no idea how this was going to go. Pete and I laughed as we aknowledged how out of our element we were. We tossed around a few ideas on strategies and plans, until we finally settled with a good old fashioned “whatever, it’s just one mile. Let’s just run it.” Meg helped us through some sort of pre-race rituals including stretching and “striders” and we were toeing the line before we knew it.
The race started promptly at 7pm, and we headed down the road. Literally, down: the first quarter-mile of the race is a pretty good descent. It flattens out somewhere around halfway through, you hit a small incline, then another little downhill to the finish.
Annddd….that is all I remember of the race. That, and the thought “are my hands supposed to be going numb?” I finished in 5:36 which was good enough for 6th place (though I do think that the 8 year old girl who allegedly beat me is some sort of mistake). But most importantly – I finished in 5:36! Shoot. Who would have thought that exactly 3 months after racing 100 miles, I could race 1 – and do it pretty darn quick. The first voice I heard at the end was Ryan saying “shoot, is that Alyssa done already?!” haha.
All in all TWSS repped well – Male and Female winners, PR’s all over the place, and old men (Happy Birthday Kris!) running like they were 20 again. I grabbed an ice cream sandwich and we headed up the road to watch our amazing team earn a few more W’s at a track meet at McDaniel College. It brought back the memories of soccer camp circa 1999. And a memory of one time when I was driving to McDaniel College for work and I won O.A.R tickets last summer. ha.
|Rocking my Oiselle singlet, armwarmers, and the Oiselle distance shorts! (yes my form is bad, I’m working on it….)|
April 11, 2011 § 1 Comment
>If you never help out with races, you should. After helping put on a marathon or an ultra (and I would wager and Ironman as well) you will leave with a tremendous lack of sleep. You will be so hungry that you actually can’t even eat anything except junk food and soda. You will leave with sore arms and legs, because as it turns out standing still for hours on end is actually tremendously challenging. But you will always leave with some inspiration.
People in the sport of triathlon are spoiled. We have the best pros in sport. No really, we do. Head to the end of a triathlon, and you will undoubtedly find some pros milling about. They might be putting medals on finishers, or they might be hanging out with friends and family, but they’re there. Head to an Ironman finish at midnight and you know what you see? Pros dancing and running down the finish chute with the last finishers. It’s amazing the commitment they have to not only their own race, but also to helping others find it in themselves to get to the finish line.
Now, head to the end of a marathon, in the last hour of the race. What do you see? Probably not a whole lot – unless of course you go to one of the big 3 or 5 races. A few people milling around. Maybe some of the race crew taking down the finish chute. Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t necessarily see it is possible to do this any other way. The marathon course needs to be torn down in time with the course limit – permits, traffic, etc are all viable concerns.
This weekend was no different. With 28 minutes left before the race cutoff, the police arrived to tell us that there were 2 runners out on the course, and they were still 4 miles away. Knowing these people weren’t even making 15 minute miles at this point, we really only had one option: they can stay out there, but it’s at their own terms. The water stops will get packed up, traffic will be let back on the course. They have to run the sidewalks and obey traffic signals. But they don’t have to get into the sweep vehicle if they don’t want to.
This information was relayed to the runners, and we waited. One runner chose to get picked up by a friend, and call it a day at mile 24. We began packing up the finish line, leaving out 1 finisher medallion and the rubber timing mats. The expo vendors were packing up and rolling carts of boxes out. What had been a party block a couple hours prior, was now a ghost town.
About 30 minutes after the 6 hour cutoff, I looked down the road and saw a girl with a race number on running up around the corner, making her way along the uphill to the finish. A man was walking his bike alongside her. She made her way to the timing mats where I was there with a smile and a congrats as I gave her the medallion.
But she didn’t care. She didn’t endure what was probably the longest 6.5 hours of her life for that medal. And she certainly didn’t do it for me. It wasn’t for the pizza and the chocolate milk at the finish, either. She did it for herself, and probably a little bit for her boyfriend (who was the guy with the bike who had been alongside her the entire morning). I stepped away as I realized this and just watched the outpouring of emotion as she accepted a warm shirt from her boyfriend and they turned and made their way back towards their car.
I hope when my days get difficult I find whatever it was that that girl did to dig deep, and get to the finish. Because it’s not about the medals and the t-shirts. Or the finish line announcer saying your name. It’s about giving everything you’ve got to prove to yourself that you can endure. And you will finish.
April 8, 2011 § Leave a comment