Secrets To Running 100 Miles Under 24 Hours

In 2018, I made a big deal out of my goal to run a hundred mile ultramarathon in less than 24 hours. I told everyone who stopped long enough to hear: runners, friends, family, grocery store clerks, hairdressers, baristas, toddlers, other people’s pets, you name it. Would making my sub-24 loud, proud, and public hold me accountable? I seriously didn’t know.

Secret #1: Public accountability

On the flip side, there’s a TEDx talk about this (what isn’t there a TED talk about, these days…). In it, Derek Sivers (one of my favorite thinking seekers on the planet) says declaring your intent to achieve a goal often backfires because just by saying it out loud you get approval and an emotional reward. By getting your emotional reward FIRST, it is possible that you could be completely derailed from actually achieving your goal. Yikes. Derek suggests, in fact, that you might consider keeping your goal to yourself. I think both theories are right: it just depends on YOUR personality. Maybe it even depends on the goal itself.

Fighters vs The Rest Of Us

There are some folks who really truly will FIGHT and achieve that which people said they could not. Many movie plots are based on this, and it makes for a great rallying storyline. They told her no way could she be a skateboard hero, and look how she showed everyone!!! But honestly, I think there are also many of us (myself included) who take criticism to heart, shrinking under naysayers. We tend to thrive in a supportive and encouraging environment, with a literal or metaphorical crowd cheering us in all the way to the finish line.

I don’t often declare goals publicly, so this was an experiment. In a way it was casting the net wide, allowing other people to partake in either my success or failure along with me. After all, if I told no one of my goal, no one would know if I failed. My tail would be firmly planted between my legs and I’d mope around alone. Failing in public actually has a lot of tangible benefits. Humans are natural caretakers; when we see a wounded creature we want to help or at least murmur our sympathies. We are a sucker for vulnerability, and that’s not a bad trait to have.

In this case and despite Derek’s theory, I think being public worked. But only because of reason #2:

Secret #2: Luck Favors The Prepared

Stagecoach 100 2018 1st Masters woman

Salt encrusted shirts are THE BEST.

As a matter of fact, this goal of sub-24 for the Stagecoach 100, in September of 2018, was not a far-fetched goal to proclaim. I had more than a year of consistent mileage and almost no injuries to speak of. I was lean (almost too much, but that’s another topic) and at my “fighting” shape.

In the end, it DID work. Luck gave be good weather and no bodily mishaps during the event. At the end, I not only got my sub-24 but I finished 1st Masters woman (over 40) and 6th overall in the race. I felt sustainably good almost the whole way (relatively speaking for a 100 mile event), and was able to chat with and maybe even help pull along a few people. (And my fitness continued to pull me along to additional racing feats for months to come…)

Momentum: How Getting Faster Happens

I am a fast runner right now, and I love it.

How did that happen? Consistency. Luck. Momentum.

Newton’s first law of motion is that bodies tend to stay in the situation they are in. If moving, they stay moving. If still, they stay still. Momentum works both as actual motion as well as inertia. It is the driving force in the universe. Entropy also is a contributing factor: physics isn’t always clean and simple.

Translated from the original Latin, it reads thusly: “Law I: Every body persists in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by force impressed.”

What that means for my running right now is that I am riding a wave of fast. I say this without braggadocio or swagger. I’ve amassed nearly a year of good training without injury (dear gawd let this not be a jinx) and slowly built up a good racing season. Joe Uhan calls this “marble in the groove“. It’s when you take that momentum and build something phenomenal, whether that’s over the course of one race, or a whole season.

After my first “A” race in June did not go entirely as planned—San Diego 100 in heat and meltdown—I focused on a sub-24 100 in September and nailed that without major issue, adoring nearly every mile of that high Arizona course. No unexpected downtime in the lead up, no missed weeks, no stressing. Just flow.

VFuel showing off their athletes, including yours truly. Wheee!


And then. After recovering from that race (which didn’t seem to take much time or effort, either), I broke my 50K PR set more than a decade ago. When I was 30 I ran a 5:22 over in Phoenix, and I thought that was a decent time, at the time. 2004 was a good racing year for me, with my 50 mile PR also set, and my first Hardrock finish yet to be claimed.

But last week outside of Salt Lake City, at an elevation where I do not live, I shaved 6 minutes off that PR at age 44, a full 14 years after the first one. And it was hard but not ridiculous. I was cruising, grinning, and on a goddam high pretty much all 5 hours of that magical race. I’d slept 9 hours the night before the race, but that was to make up for the 2 hours I’d gotten the previous night (umm), so it’s not like I’m some saint of sleep.

And since that race, I’ve continued to train hard. Or, hard-ish, given that I do not have another race on the horizon. I go out for “normal” runs on courses I’ve done dozens of times and set Strava segment PRs. It’s really kind of magical.

Marble, meet groove. Set last night.


And it has to end.

When? Dunno. Why? Because my body will hit some kind of combo of tired and unlucky. Some bug will hit me. My wackadoodle sleep habits the last month could catch up to me. The stress of moving to a new city and social engagements also adds to the physiological bill.

And, on December 1, I will know if my next 6 months of training will be as important as any I have ever undertaken. It is then that I will know if I get into Western States 100. When I run that race, it could be my only shot for years. That means I will run the race of my up-to-now life. That is the goal. There are performance goals that I will have in mind, but the main goal is to run The Best Race. Period.

If I don’t get in (and odds are still greatly not in my favor, with a 6.7% chance of getting in), I will look to a late spring or early summer “A” race again. Perhaps San Diego because that’s a stellar event. And then, there’s still the possibility of getting in to UTMB. Everything will shake out as it needs, but in the meantime I know that my volume of training is what is propelling me along now.

I will do my best to protect it and keep it sustainable. I owe that to myself and to my idea of racing well. Wish me luck.

If you want to have a go at ultra racing, I can coach you. This stuff runs in my blood and in my neurons, for three whole decades. Let’s make some awesome happen.

Brandishing my Antelope Island 50K schwag at top of Wire Mountain, Salt Lake City

I Need Alex Honnold, Who Can’t Feel Fear, To Give Me Access To All The Feels

For 90 minutes my body went through a rebellion: hands clutching and releasing anything they could grasp, palms sweating despite the chilly room, tears bursting out of thin air, all punctuated by the occasional gasp of joy. I was not undergoing dental work. I was not on trial. I was not fighting with a loved one.

No, I was watching a movie about a man with no boundaries and a compulsion to seek perfection, even if just for a moment. I watched him create mastery with death on the line. The man is Alex Honnold. The film is Free Solo. It was exhausting, and—oddly enough—life affirming.

That’s right: 99% on the Tomatometer.


I chose the film for a very specific reason: I needed to FEEL. Deeply, engagingly, with my whole body. I wanted—and received—a brutal dose of the feels. Why? I’m odd that way. I need something large to draw out feelings that seem routine to my friends and most other humans. I am slow to rile, slow to react, and am seen as so laid back that nothing much phases me.

Alex tells a similar story when he talks about how most things just don’t get to him one way or the other. His nickname is “No Big Deal”. Everyday annoyances, the daily grind, relationships: he appears a canyon. Vast, deep, immovable. Only when he gets into his comfort zone of flow—complicated, demanding climbing routes—does he start to feel the pleasure that comes from competence. Add to that the all-too-real danger of free soloing, and he can feel alive.

When I walked out of the theater I was in the right mindset to open up with a friend and explore a recent emotional quagmire. Hours earlier, I couldn’t let myself get there. I felt frustrated yet incapable of expression. Letting my mind get lost in the tension onscreen was key. Tension on Alex’s behalf, and on behalf of his friends and filmmakers. The buffeting my mind and body endured were just right. Just what I needed.

Apathetic Amygdala

Alex is odd that way, too. During the film it’s revealed that Alex has some “alternative” brain wiring, starting with his amygdala, the part of the brain that registers fear (in addition to all the other “primal” emotions). When tested in an fMRI machine—the kind that shows your brain lighting up in response to stimuli—Alex does not muster much in the way of, well, anything in the way of reactions in the amygdala. Structurally he’s fine: there’s an amygdala in there. But it’s slower to rouse than a hibernating bear.

This makes him highly unusual—even the control subject, a “thrill-seeking” climber, showed fMRI amygdala responses to shocking imagery. In Alex, this primordial deficit might not have been noticed in a conventional, non rock climbing life. If he’d opted for the civil engineer career path he started and abandoned, he might not have known that he didn’t feel things like other people did. Life just might have seemed . . . fine. Boring, but fine. He wouldn’t have known any better.

But Alex is not a civil engineer (yet; he’s still young). Instead he finds that he is able to touch perfection and truly feel alive when he is using his mastery to stay one smear away from death.

I’m no Alex Honnold.

And yet. I see some interesting parallels in how we process the world. Go big or go home is typically how I take on challenges. Everything else is so “meh” that I am doomed to fail. I don’t just break up with someone: I do that and then get rid of most of my stuff and move across the country. Rather than take a job that’s reasonable in a new company, I find a brand new subject matter in a new company and take over a whole department. Oh, and when I run, I run ultramarathons.

Yep, that’s me. Wanna go run this weekend?


When I step into a big change, I get a lump in my throat. A quiver in my belly. A deep sense of purpose that is damn near addictive. Purpose is fantastic. Purpose helps you open a door, peek through, and realize you—to remain “you”—have to step through. It’s not unlike falling in love: in both we find deep meaning and a dizzying “oh shit here we go this is happening” beginning phase.

But that kind of quivering sensation isn’t repeatable forever. Is it? We grow accustomed to nearly everything. That’s a human strength, allowing us to persevere through some truly awful shit. And it can be our downfall when we seek a meaningful life.

The bridge between those big purposeful feels and just being able to experience emotions without judgement is where I get stuck. And that’s where running comes in. A lot of running.

Endurance + Exhaustion = Feels

After an ultramarathon or an energetically challenging psychological experience (movies can do it, sometimes books, sometimes particular music) I can get to that vulnerable place. It is then that I can open up, have those heart-to-hearts if needed. My normal introvert self can’t be bothered to put up a fight when the rest of me is soooooo tired.

Yet I still wonder how sustainable that pattern is. One can’t go through daily life making big life-altering moves AND draining one’s body of energy just to experience an acceptable level of emotions and be able to connect with people.

Can you? I don’t know. It starts with an observation and a theory about normal people and normal emotions. We’re about to go deep. Buckle up.

The Emotion Is Not Strong In This One

I believe that humans are built to experience a large range of emotional intensity. And like all human characteristics the potential range varies immensely from person to person. Let’s say all emotions are on a scale from -10 to +10. A daily chart might show most people existing between -4 and +5 depending on all kinds of things from social interactions to blood sugar. Meaning: in the middle, but fluctuating a bit. This is based on observation and talking with friends and family.

Rare events (tragedy, great news) spike the numbers into the high numbers in either direction. Overall, it seems that the “normal” waves, the -4s and +5s, are good for mental health. When a person is wired to stray too far away from the norm, there will be a price paid. To the conscious mind, or to the spirit.

At one extreme, some people feel BIG feelings more often than average. They’re in those 8s and 9s too frequently. We might call them drama addicts. They probably have issues with cycling between rosy and shitty in their relationships. They could have diagnosed psychological issues. That can’t be fun.

And then there’s the other side of the bell curve: the underfeelers. Here’s where odd me and even odder Alex come in.

I’ve grown to observe my personal daily pattern between -1 and +2. Not much rocks my boat. I am aware that I could be feeling things more deeply, good and bad, but it doesn’t seem to happen organically. The rub? This also leaves folks like me untrained for bigger fluctuations that would be normal to everyone else. So when faced with a -4 or a +4, I freak out a little and go for a run to smooth things out. A bit of self-medication to open up the little release valve.

But that release valve wasn’t serving me or my relationships. After maintaining my emotional ripples at a safe level, my spirit finally made some demands. It WANTS the big ones: those -5s and +6s. It craves them. So I must create them. I do that by watching Free Solo. Or running all day long, which interestingly is the opposite of those short “valve opening” runs. Long bold and exhausting runs contain big ups and downs within, as well as a payout in emotions at the end. Or becoming a freelancer before it’s financially stable. Or moving across the country. In the meantime, I’m going to watch Free Solo, again.

I hope that in learning more about emotions and how to understand and gently let them flourish, I’ll find that joyful spirit. Because feeling the intoxication of possibility is lovely.

With much love and gratitude to Hugh MacLeod and

How To Induce Existential Terror Using An Inflatable Kayak

I found existential terror over just two days on the Green River outside Moab. Packrafting was going to be my next new skill, but it turned out to be far more complicated than I could have imagined.

We’ve all heard people say, “go with the flow“, intending to calm and get others to mellow out and let things happen naturally. Go with the flow even sounds harmless—you just sit back on the proverbial river and let whatever’s around guide your course. But in March, the opposite happened to me. On a literal river, in a literal blow-up boat, facing the flow transitioned into a crisis of self.

What if going with the flow was not calming but rather like trying to let go and relax during an avalanche? Or a dust storm? What if “the flow”, even as a metaphor, is a tsunami-sized wave you can’t stop, and it’s your own personal version of hell and death all rolled into one? And, jeebus, what is wrong with me? Why can’t I have FUN?

Women packrafters outside Moab Utah on the Green River in drysuits

Smiling only on the outside?

I found myself pondering this and other obnoxiously huge thoughts when I was out on the Green River trying to have a nice packrafting and paddling skills weekend. Questioning my very purpose and meaning was not what I expected. Instead of quickly getting up to speed on stroke mechanics and how to put on a drysuit, I found myself over-metaphorizing the river itself. Each day I tried to navigate my craft downstream with varying degrees of success. I spent all my energy just trying to keep up with the group until I was exhausted, soaking wet, and freezing.

At night, I stared into the campfire and thought about death. Instead of talking to the rest of the women in the circle, I assumed a thousand-yard stare and went digging into that feeling of being out of control. I realized you can’t stop time or the creeping specter of our own personal grim reaper. Time flows, just like that river. You have to try to navigate as best you can, paddling downstream with as much skill as you can accumulate, not going too fast and not going too slow lest you get hung up on boulders or dead-spin eddies along the way.

Women around campfire; headlamps

Rad women being rad with each other. I wondered why this was so not rad for me.

And the river never stops. Never, ever. Until it does and that of course means you’re dead. But you don’t know if your river will end around the next curve or in the middle of the next set of frothy rapids or a bajillion miles downstream. You. Just. Don’t. Know.

Paddling isn’t so much about making speed. It’s about navigating well, avoiding traps, getting through the rough shit without a boat flip, bouncing over rocks without tearing a hole in the boat, bailing water sometimes, and just managing through everything while that water just keeps going. It feels scary to be pulled downward and to only have the chance to pivot this way or that but never to really stop. You could pull up in an eddy and rest, or spin, but the river still continues and you can’t spin forever. Or maybe you can spin forever, and then eventually your boat deflates and you get hungry and you doubt yourself and hate the water and think things like, “why can’t I just get up on the shore and stop moving and just WATCH!? Fuck.”

And that is how I discovered that paddling was no fun. River dynamics combined with my little human self whipping the paddle back and forth generated an existential terror that I could not face.

But I will. I have to. What else is there, after all?

trail end at fisher towers utah

5 Things You Need To Know About Running 100 Miles In A Day

It was Sunday, 10 in the morning, in the vicinity of the finish line of the Stagecoach 100 mile race. I was not functioning well as a human person.

“Hey, I couldn’t find you!” said Geoff after I’d wandered off for another unplanned nap in the back of the enormous tent. An hour prior I’d been wide awake, ringing a cowbell and cheering in other racers in the morning light. Three hours prior I was sitting in a daze after my own finish wondering if that had actually just happened (yes), if I’d feel some exhilaration any moment now (no), and why my ass hurt so much (TMI).

Okay. Wait. Back up just a tiny bit. Let’s go back a little more than a day and start this sizzle reel from the beginning. It was 6 a.m. on Saturday, I was about to run my first sub-24 hour 100 mile ultra marathon, and I felt pretty damn good. But why was I even here, with this particular goal? It all goes back to a “little” horse event called the Tevis Cup.

100 Miles. One Day.

To run 100 miles and not get “lapped” by the sun. It’s the stuff of ultrarunner dreams. Those four iconic words are etched into each coveted silver buckle from Western States—the oldest 100 miler in the country. Originally, 100 miles under 24 hours was the final cutoff for the Tevis Cup, but after Gordy ran it without his horse it was clear humans could do it, too. Now, a sub-24 at the 100 mile distance is a people’s benchmark, attainable and yet still difficult. In other words, it’s the perfect goal.

For me, it took some planning, some specific training, and a lot of base building. This race was chosen specifically; I had run my 100 mile PR here, a 26:15 five years ago. Everything seemed to be in alignment. I didn’t even get injured (more than a niggle) during training. In the end, my race was a success and yet the achievement felt incredibly numbing at the same time. I was left with so many conflicting emotions, from “of course I did it, I knew I could” to “that hurt a lot but I can do it better” to “I’m already sad and I don’t know why” to “goddamn I’m tired” to “maybe I feel a little . . . yay?

I have been doing ultras for a very long time, including 100s, yet I wasn’t sure how I would feel. Maybe I imagined it a little like Zach Miller. If you haven’t seen the end of The North Face 50 mile from 2016, give it a look. Watching that kind of redlining . . . it makes me FEEL stuff. THAT is how sport should be! And feel! And wooooooo! But for me, at 6:28 am on Sunday morning, 23 and a half hours after I started, there was not a lot of fist pumping.

Crossing the finish line I definitely felt relief that I didn’t fuck it up. See, the thing is that I knew I could break 24. My training was right, the day was right, even my cycle was exactly at the right spot. (And yes, that’s important if you are a woman trying to race. Dr. Stacy Sims, y’all.)

Weeks ahead of time, I told everyone I was going to do sub-24. It made the goal more real and more visible. And scary: what if I totally failed? If the result was that I struggled all day and finished in 25 hours, I’d feel surprised and a bit humbled and a lot embarrassed. So I needed some perspective.

Detach From Results

In order to let my legs do what they were ready to do, I put my trust in them. My heart was ready. It was the head that needed some coaching, honestly. The head controls pretty much everything, including legs and heart. It was my head that would tell my legs to slow down if it decided I was a crap runner. It was my head that would allow my legs to reclaim their spunk in the last hours to put the frosting on my race cake.

Days before the race I was in a yoga class and almost lost it when the instructor said to the room, “Your body is ready. You are ready.” She wasn’t talking to me. She was referring to all of us being warmed up and ready to do a deep stretch. But it didn’t matter. My heart heard those words and melted like butter in a skillet. Yes. I was ready.

5 Things Toward Making Sub-24 A Reality

In the end, several things helped me get to my goal. They are what you must remember. They are what I needed to relearn.

1. Running to a timetable is damn stressful.

Nearly every other ultra I have ever ran was “to feel”. Meaning, I ran what felt appropriate for the day, for my training, for the race. Not too hard. Sometimes I was fighting cutoffs. Sometimes I pushed myself harder than usual to finish strong. But almost always, I was running what felt reasonable for that day. And that made me feel unfulfilled as an athlete/animal. WHAT COULD MY BODY REALLY DO? This was a question I’d started to answer 10 years ago when running marathons, but I am just poking into it with ultras.

My 24 hour target splits were absolutely perfect for ME. They were based on two people who’d run this race the year before, finished just under 24, and raced like I do: worryingly slow in the first half, then a barely perceptible slowdown in the later miles. Based on previous races I knew this was my kind of plan. But it left little room for error. I wasn’t putting in quick miles early to have some wiggle room later. That ends up disastrously for many people, and besides, I love that feeling of “orange-lining” the whole 2nd half. Not redlining and blowing up. Bad idea. But just below that is the orange line and that is where I twiddle the dials of my Central Governor and go into the pain cave for awhile. Sustainable discomfort. Which leads to . . .

2. Everything is temporary. EVERYTHING.

Feeling bad. Feeling awesome. Being too hot. Needing to “find a tree”. Feeling hungry. Getting talkative. Wanting silence. Being lost. Getting lonely. Those fresh batteries in the super-bright headlamp.

Pretty sure I fertilized a tree somewhere around here. About mile 30.

Nothing lasts. Soon, you feel better. Or worse. Or your batteries die. Deal with it, and wait for the next change.

3. Self-talk can make or break you.

Get ready for this one; it’s not as hippie as you think. Hours and hours of “you got this” and “you are ready” and “what a great day” will tend to produce a different mindset than “oh boy I feel slow” and “this hurts my feet” and “ow ow ow my butt”. And your mindset can turn into differing performance results. It’s true that some folks can rally when faced with criticism or difficulty, but those birds are rare. Many of us do far better with encouragement, from the world around us AND our inner narrative. Even though I wasn’t able to draw my Sharpie mantras all over myself, I still thought about them as if I had.

Corollary concept: positive talk directed to other people is a double shot of goodness. Telling other racers they’re doing well, thanking volunteers, all of it feeds into this big loop of sparkles and unicorns and love. And it works.

4. The finish is what you make of it.

Didn’t have any friends to be there and go WOOOOOOOO and take photos of your grimy face and thousand-yard stare? Suck it up, buttercup. You STILL did the thing and the tiny cactus still believes in you. Pat yourself on the back as much as you damn well want. Mope. Take a micro-nap without really planning on it. EAT something, unless you will literally throw up as a result. And, most importantly, get OUT of your head. You’ve been in it for more than a day. Stand up, walk around, and do the WOOOOOOO for everyone else who is coming in to the finish. Maybe they don’t have their friends around, either. BE their friend. You both did this thing.

5. Aftercare is real and underappreciated.

No, I didn’t just deliver a baby but boy did I put my body through the wringer. For days the muscles are confused and angry, the lower legs inflamed and swollen with impressive cankles. Sleep is challenging, and then sound, and then challenging. Hunger is fickle, rising and falling with no seeming logic. I am given a free pass to eat anything I want as a “reward” for my race, but when I go to the store the day after the race I buy salad and liver and eat them with gusto. More than a week after the race I find myself having a chocolate-bar-and-bag-of-chips dinner. Really. But with more than a solid week of nutritious food already down the hatch, I’m recovering like a boss.

Oh, yeah. Emotional wackness. I get this one, real bad. Half a day of “yay, I did that” followed by a day of random staring into space and thinking, “boy is my life empty and dumb”. Repeat for a week. Or two. Throw in some sudden emotional meltdowns, such as panicking at the grocery store or bursting into tears during a run, and you have a pretty interesting post-race period. It’s sometimes called post-race depression and it can magnify any other clinical depressive symptoms already present. Pay attention and call someone if you’re freaked. Call me. There’s lots of us in this together, and we’re stepping up to be seen.

Salt encrusted shirts are THE BEST.

Ultimately, the biggest secret to aftercare is just tuning in. Need a nap? Take one if you can! Hungry? Eat something, dammit: whatever sounds good. Legs all freaky and tight? Lay on the floor and put your feet on the wall. It’s a lovely feeling. Want to go running? Go, but slow. Don’t want to go running? Don’t! But do walk around and be mobile as much as humanly possible. You might get a cold a week or two later. That’s fine. Sleep more.

And take it all in. Smile, even if you still have the thousand yard stare.

42 Miles: That Day I Ran Across The Grand Canyon, Twice, On Purpose

The first time I ran across the Grand Canyon and back, it put me in its mouth like a fresh piece of bubblegum, swallowed me whole, let me bathe in digestive acids, regurgitated me back up its canal, chewed me a little more, blew a bubble, popped the bubble, then spit me out on the dusty dark trail.

I am chewing gum, wadded up, with teeth marks.

– from my 2014 R2R2R aftermath notes

The Big Ditch, as it is known, is the Grand Canyon. At 21 miles for the shortest trail traverse, I’d call that a pretty big ditch, indeed. By late 2014 I had been wanting to do the famous Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (also known as R2R2R, also known as R3) for a few years. Fortuitously, I was going to visit the Phoenix area for some Javelina Jundred pacing duties, and I had plenty of extra time to leave a few days early and get the Canyon adventure DONE.

Lovely profile created by Chris Dailey

Late October in the Grand Canyon makes for decent weather (meaning pretty warm yet not stupid hot) but limited daylight. On the day I ran there was a scant 10 hours and 45 minutes between sunrise and sunset, guaranteeing I’d be spending at least part of my traverse(s) in the dark. I’m no Emily Loman nor Krissy Moehl nor Devon Crosby-Helms nor Darcy Piceu nor Bethany Lewis nor Cat Bradley. (All of these women have held the fastest known time on the R2R2R at one point.) No, my talents are—let’s say—broader, and therefore not quite as deep in any one specialty. So I’d be starting in the dark, and finishing in the dark. It’s like an ultra! Except without the tables full of food! And the people cheering you on! And the handy drop bags waiting for you with extra gear! And the buffet at the end! And the MEDAL!

Who is going to be there to give me a gosh-durned medal, I ask you?!

No one. And that’s the point. Doing a double Grand Canyon crossing is one of those “because it’s there” kind of endeavors. It’s the reason I still plan to do the same across Zion National Park. It’s the reason I got very interested in joining a trip to backcountry Alaska, even though I’m no packrafter (yet). It’s the reason I am drawn to travel across the country with just me myself and I, either in a car, or in a micro-RV, or on a bike, as many have done before me.

The 6 A.M. Shuttle That Seems To Never Come

I parked the car over at Bright Angel. It seems odd now that I drove about 1.5 miles from the Mather campground just to park the car, but I guess that’s what I did. Honestly it’s hard to remember at this point, but in any case I had to wait for the shuttle from the Visitor Center over to the South Kaibab trailhead for what seemed to be a distressingly long time before it finally came.

And then sometime around 6:30 A.M., still dark, I stared down at my feet and decided to get this party started.

Rapa Nui shoes ready to get a thrashing. Look closely to see goosebumps on my thighs.

South Kaibab trail starts down through rocks and dust that are nearly white, but then a few miles in it abruptly shifts to a deep red so quickly that I thought my headlamp was malfunctioning. I spun around, shining the light, trying to see the “real” color, and realized it was actually just the ground. Headlamp A-OK. Onward. Downward.

Civil twilight came up within an hour, and with it a mellowing of the temperature. I clicked off the switchbacks one after another after another. I could see another light down below me, and wondered if I could catch them. Must be another weirdo like me.

Two-ish hours in and I reached the tunnel before the bridge. Six+ miles done, a whole lot more to go. Over and across the river, mules waited in their staging area, not delaying my passage. Lucky break. Phantom Ranch for the first time, a little water top-up, and I headed up into the narrows of the North Kaibab trail. This section would be “easy” to run as the incline is mellow and the surface mostly rock-free, so I run a little. I’m cognizant of not wanting to go balls out on this, my first R2R2R, trying to err on the side of “get it done” rather than “run it fast”.

North Kaibab: Dehydration, Melancholy, and For-Ev-Ah

I won’t lie: this trail is really long and at times seems like it will go for-ev-ah. There’s gentle inclines, gentle descents, steeper switchbacks, and even a smidge of snow as one gets higher up. It’s a LOT higher up on this side: the north rim is 8241 feet, compared to 7260 feet at South Kaibab. After a bit of a slog, and a quick water refill at a Ranger Station (still open until end of October, wheee!), I was trying to make progress.

But then it was getting hotter. I started drinking more. Historically I don’t drink much, so this was a little worrisome given I didn’t fill up all the way at the last water spigot. I was starting to wonder if I was going to make it to the top with the water I had. I started rationing: never the best strategy but it seems like the right idea at the time.

There is THEORETICALLY water at the North Rim. Right at the trailhead. I have heard back and forth reports about whether or not it will be running. If I’m truly hurting, there’s another half mile extension to get to a year-round water supply at another ranger station. So I am hot, and getting a little dehydrated, but I keep on. And then I get to the top. See the sign. Look for the water spigot. And . . . WATER!!!! Ridiculously cold water, too. Awesome.

They call this The Box. Huh huh huh huh.

NOW things are going to start looking up, even as I look down. Relief, even though I’m not even halfway done (when you count slowdown and whatnot). It’s early afternoon and not really super cool, temperature wise. And it will just get warmer as I go back to Phantom Ranch. The miles don’t fly by, but they pass just the same. The light is getting nicer, bouncing off the walls of the box in a decidedly photogenic way.

Winding through the campgrounds I pass by a ranger talk about hiking and not going out for more than a few hours because PEOPLE DIE and et cetera. I just run right by, the big “no-no” example to cap off their talk. You’re welcome, campers!

The late afternoon light reminds me to get a hustle on to make Phantom Ranch Cafe as soon as possible. This is the witching hour for the tiny snack shop as they close up for the afternoon right at 4pm, and I’m gonna be close. Still, I make it, with time to spare, and promptly load up on something cold to drink. They even have stuff like GU and sporty things. And snacks. Snack food FTW.

Somewhere along the way I pass by a green piece of gum on the ground that I saw this morning the first time around. And for the second time I do not pick it up. Bad me. It wasn’t even chewed so I could have had FREE GUM. Passing up free calories is not even as weird as the trio of guys I encountered walking past me, headed back to their campsite. We’re the only ones around, so we all nod and smile as we cross paths. All in their 30s-ish. All pretty normal looking, neither schlubby nor handsome. But after they pass, one of them thinks he’s out of earshot of me and I hear the words, “I’d hit that.” I almost bust out laughing, flabbergasted. That’s pretty hilarious. I’m sure I was looking a bit scruffy myself by that point, 35 miles in.

ONWARD! Back along the river over to the South Kaibab bridge. “Just” 7 miles to go.


Ah HA, South Kaibab bridge, we meet again!




Up through the tunnel and now it’s getting real. Up and up and up, all over again. More switchbacks. More dropoffs. Still a bit of heat. And soon it’s getting real dark. I’m going slow. Even slower than I hoped or planned or feared. I’m bonking. Then I’m eating. Then I’m doing OK. And so the cycle repeats. My feet are feeling like they are sandpapered with dust. Which, basically, they are.

Even the rock walls seem to want to give me a warm hug, radiating heat after the sun goes down. They’ve been storing it all day and now the heat unleashes to warm up the desert animals that can’t warm themselves and come out to get a little boost. Hiya, tarantula! Howdy, lizard!

And then, rather suddenly, I can sense the top. Am I close? I can even hear people. Where is that coming from? Whatever. Sometime around 14 hours after I began, I trudged up to the South Rim again. A little warm. A little chilled. And ridiculously tired.

But I wasn’t done yet. Remember that pre-dawn shuttle? That’s a one-way ticket up a private road and the shuttle’s hours are over. Now, I need to walk back to the car over at the Visitors’ Center. Granted, it’s “only” about 2 miles, but I’m beat and I can’t see much and it’s cold and WHO ARE THOSE PEOPLE talking!? Walking along the rim trail I keep hearing voices. Socializing kinds of voices. Finally I realize that this is employee housing and they are chilling outside their cabins. Drinking, eating, completely oblivious to me or anyone else who might be walking along the rim trail at a dumb hour.

I reach the car, flick on the ignition, power up the phone, and see where on earth I can eat at this hour. Everything in the park is pretty closed. So…… McDonald’s it is, then. I’ve got an hour and it’s 20 minutes away. One McFlurry and one large fry later . . . I’m a happy carb bomb. Even if it costs $8.

The most delicious carb-bomb at the most expensive McDonald’s. Check their Yelp. This was $8.

Sleep, and Seven Minutes in Heaven

Back in my tent, my filthy body can’t help it: I just conk out, sleeping spastically for the next 8 hours. I will have to wait until morning for actually washing myself. But when I do . . . it’s time for the best thing 8 quarters can buy within a hundred miles: 8 minutes of freaking HOT water. Yum.

8 minute shower at Grand Canyon

More than 7 minutes in heaven, all for the low low price of 8 quarters.

The Dust. The Dust. The Dust.

Next time I run R2R2R, the Dirty Girl gaiters are coming along. Going into the crossing in 2014, I knew it would be dry, sure. But I didn’t realize the extent that the silty dust that would permeate everything. It makes sense; we’re not so far away from Southwestern Utah where the red silt gets into your very soul (or at least into the crevasses of your tent and underpants for weeks). After I peeled off my nasty and dust-abraded socks, they were left to “air out” on the floor of my car. Realizing the futility of this, they soon went into the trash.

I’m sorry, ma’am, but your socks are unlikely to pull through after such a catastrophe.

To Be Continued on March 31, 2018 . . .

Enjoyment Of The Trail Doesn’t Mean Going “Slow”

Pika, on Mt. Whitney Trail, solitary and free

Pika, on Mt. Whitney Trail, hiking its own hike, so to speak.

I heard a few times on the trail the idea that the slower one goes, the more enjoyment you can obtain from a hike. This is a dichotomy that is silly, like comparing the fun-level of an ultramarathon vs a 400 meter sprint. Both can be enjoyable, and both can be frustrating and awful.

With so much history as an endurance athlete, I find pleasure in gratuitous but slow expenditure of physical energy. A 25 mile hiking day leaves me happier in an existential sense than hiking 10 does. I feel the satisfaction in my sore feet, my sagging shoulders, the crick in my neck. This kind of daily depletion suits my physiology and temperament. It might not be the cup of tea for most folks, and that’s absolutely fine. One of the tenets of long distance backpacking is “hike your own hike”. It’s a tenet that is almost religion, but at its base is absolutely true. If 8 mile days with a late start and a nap and taking photos and chatting with other hikers is your happy place, that’s how it should be and that’s how you should hike. If your thing is 20 mile days (or 25 or 30 or even more), same thing. The grind of moving shortly after dawn, without assistance from alarm clocks, and going until you’ve only got 30 minutes of light remaining to throw up the tent and get some water boiling is simply what appeals to me.

I am not a fast-packer, one who rises before light and hiking until full dark or beyond to get miles miles miles in. Somewhere in the middle is where I lie, and what works. So far.