ironamy

Tales of triathlon, travel, and trails


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Victoria 70.3

I signed up for my 10th half ironman, Victoria 70.3, because I was having FOMO once I saw that four or five Betty’s were registered for the race. And also because Victoria is so beautiful, it’s always awesome to get away from Calgary (June monsoon) and get some actual summer weather. I wasn’t sure how my body and legs were going to respond given the Grand Canyon was just 3 weeks prior. As it turns out, (spoiler) long, slow trail running doesn’t help me in triathlon! For some people it works well, but for me, if I train slow, I race slow.

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Artistic Orca in Victoria’s inner harbour

Rob and I headed to Victoria on Friday evening. I met 2 Betty’s, Alison from Victoria,  and Kathy from Arizona, for dinner. It is always such a pleasure to meet other girls with the same interests as me because sometimes I feel like I’m the only one doing this crazy Ironman stuff!

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View from our “hotel”, right in front of the Empress

My dad had sailed his sailboat up from WA and we were lucky enough to get a slip right in front of the Empress so it was like staying at the Empress for, like, a tenth of the cost! Staying on a boat for a race, and especially a triathlon presents some unique challenges, like putting your bike together on the dock without dropping any important screws/parts/the bike into the ocean, and once the bike is put together, where does the bike go? Luckily for me, and Cervelo, my dad came prepared and had a huge chain that we used to lock Cervelo to the mast. Not gonna lie, I had a couple restless nights worrying that someone was trying to jack my bike but it all ended up fine!

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My dad’s boat and Cervelo’s home for the weekend

Alison was kind enough to meet me on Saturday morning for a shake out ride and to make sure I had put my bike together properly. We ended up on the last few miles of the bike course which was helpful to see because there was a slight downhill section into a left turn and an immediate hill that Alison pointed out and reminded me that gear selection is important so as to not drop a chain or be grinding uphill in the wrong gear. Check in was fast and easy and our bikes slept over night in transition. I discovered I forgot a race belt, CO2, and a transition towel, so Alison came to the rescue and hooked me up with spares of hers. Alison was also amazing because she had priority parking at transition! Otherwise I would have had to drop off my bike to a transition volunteer, park a couple miles away, take a shuttle back to transition and then complete my checkin. So thanks, Alison! You made my life so much easier!

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Cervelo pink lightning racked and ready to go

We skipped a practice swim (since I haven’t been swimming anyway, what’s the big deal?) and I found myself back on the boat with a glass of wine and some sun on my pale, pale skin.

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Pre-race hydration and legs up

Race morning, my alarm went off at 4:00am. Victoria is a super early start time, my wave started at 6:09am and I arrived at transition a little later than I wanted! Logistics for this race are complicated, involving a shuttle to the race site, but they do the best they can. I met up with Melanie (who unfortunately didn’t start the race due to being sick), Kathy, and Alison and got my transition site set up. I think I’ve been racing a lot of races with 2 transitions so I’m used to using bags and not the grass beside my bike so I just felt like I was missing something (I wasn’t).

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Kathy, Melanie, Alison, and me. Team Betty, in transition before the race

My wave of girls waded into the water and waited for our start. I positioned myself near the back because I haven’t been swimming and I didn’t want to get in the way. I did not swim once from IM Boulder (Aug 3) until New Years Eve, when I decided to swim 100×100 (that was fun). Then I did not swim again until I went to tri camp in Tucson in the beginning of March. I’m not sure of the total yards we swam there but I didn’t do the big set so I think it was less than 10,000yds. After camp, I didn’t swim again until 2 weeks before Victoria when I swam 2000m just to make sure I could still do it. So my TOTAL (not weekly) swimming since IM Boulder has been less than 10,000 meters. This is all due to my chlorine sickness problem that’s STILL affecting me, 2 years later. I have tried noseplugs, menthol rub in my nose, allergy meds, scopolamine patches, and nothing works. I still feel like I’m going to barf every time I smell chlorine. My solution therefore, has been to not swim. Because if I don’t swim, I don’t smell chlorine, and I don’t puke! Calgary unfortunately doesn’t have public lakes and beaches so open water swimming here isn’t an option unless I drive about 1 hour to Canmore. This entire situation is less than ideal but I’m just doing the best I can with a crappy situation. The good news is I’m really comfortable in the water and swimming is not a problem for me. I have lost about 10 minutes in an IM swim over the last 2 years, but the way I look at it is that I can devote that time not spent swimming to biking and running, or sleeping and recovery.

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Flashing my matching nails before the swim start

All this is to say the swim was fine. I definitely felt like I was swimming slow, and my results prove that. The water was a great temperature, flat, and the sun wasn’t a problem. I exited the water in 39:44, my slowest 70.3 swim ever – about 5-6 minutes slower that I should be but life (and the race) goes on!

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Thumbs up to a slow swim!

My butt/hamstring is still bothering me. Actually the only time it hurt all day was during the swim (go figure) and in transitions. Not being able to sit down quickly or straighten your leg makes it difficult to get shoes on and off! No one is quite sure what the problem is, still. I’ve had a couple treatments of shockwave therapy which feels like getting a tattoo on my butt and hamstring, and for a bit I thought it was getting better but now I’m not so sure.

Once I was on the bike I started passing people right away. This is a new thing for me. I used to always come out of the water in the top quarter or so of my age group, then get passed by about half the group on the bike, then get passed by the rest on the run and end up near the bottom. So basically I would spend the entire day just getting passed. But because I haven’t been swimming (and so come out of the water later), and because I’ve been working hard at getting stronger on the bike, I get to pass people now! And seriously, passing people is WAY better than getting passed. The course is very rolling. I didn’t find that there were any big hills, just short, punchy climbs requiring a little standing. But with those little climbs came fast downhills and lots of speed.

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Pretty hard to miss on the bike course. Betty Designs team kit

Right at the start of the bike a guy rode past me, complimenting me on my helmet (and then kit, shoes, bike – all pink) because he was wearing the same pink aero Rudy helmet. We ended up leap-frogging each other for the rest of the bike. It was so fun! We always made sure to say something when we would pass. It really made the ride enjoyable.

The part that wasn’t enjoyable was all the douchebag men 40-44 years old who can’t stand to be passed by a girl. Clearly, if I’m riding up on you, I am going faster than you so when I pass you, you need to drop back. But there’s always a few of these guys who won’t let a girl pass. At one point me and another girl (who looked totally badass) were surrounded by 5 or 6 guys in a little pack and neither of us could break free. Every time we tried to pass, the guys would speed up so we’d have to drop back and then try again. It was hard physically, but harder mentally. Just because I’m a girl and everything is pink, doesn’t mean I can’t ride a bike, and it doesn’t mean I can’t pass you! Finally, I got the courage to put the hammer down and ride away from these dudes. The girl yelled something I couldn’t understand but I just hoped she wasn’t mad at me. Finally I was free of the pack and the girl had ended up coming with me. As she rode past me she said “you rode awesome back there! Great job!” and we talked about how frustrating it is when guys with too much ego or testosterone won’t drop back. And she wasn’t mad at me, she was yelling at me to go, because she wanted to come too!

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Back in to T2

My bike time was 2:53:02, just 1 minute off a 70.3 PR for me, on a tougher course. I know I can still improve but this is a great start!

The run at Victoria 70.3 is the best course I’ve done. It’s almost entirely on a shaded trail, twice around Elk Lake. There are a couple small hills, but they’re really small. In fact, I think this is the first 70.3 I didn’t walk at all (except aid stations). However, I am still completely unable to run off the bike. It happens in all distances. For a 70.3 I run about 25 minutes slower than an open half marathon, and it’s even worse for Ironman. I think I’ve broken 2 hours on a 70.3 run only once, out of 10 half ironmans.

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My stomach had been off the last bit of the bike, I think it was from a banana that didn’t sit quite right, so the first lap of the run was pretty uncomfortable. I wasn’t able to take a gel until well into the second lap. As I came around to the transition area after the first lap, I stopped momentarily where Rob was standing, looking just for a hug, and instead all I got was a big “why are you stopping?! You have to keep running! GO!” No hug.

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Looking for a hug

The remarkable thing about this run course is I have never seen so many people running, and running FAST, in a 70.3. I know it’s Victoria, home of the Canadian national training centre, so fast people are expected, but I also race a lot in California where fast people abound and there was always walkers. Here in Victoria, seriously, NO ONE was walking. At least it kept me running because I didn’t want to be the only one walking!

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Into the finisher’s chute

So I kept running, something I never do. I actually felt better on the second lap, and although my splits show I slowed down, I really thought I was running a negative split and by the time I finished, Rob thought I had run the second lap faster as well. I guess what happened is I just didn’t slow down as much as I normally do. But that’s progress! I ran just over 2 hours, again, 2:05 but importantly, I felt better the last half of the run. So maybe the trail running actually is helping me!

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Overall I finished in the time I expected, 5:42. Considering it took me 6 half ironmans I think, to break 6 hours, and now I can pretty easily hit 5:40ish, that’s pretty awesome. Maybe in 10 more I’ll be around 5:20 🙂

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Victoria 70.3 finishers! Alison, Kathy, and me

The race was wonderful, Victoria is one of the most beautiful places in the world, so I would highly recommend this race! I will definitely be back.

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Running the Grand Canyon R2R2R

I first heard about running the Grand Canyon (specifically rim to rim to rim/R2R2R/double crossing) when I was living in LA in 2011. Likely, it was in the same conversation that I learned about people who run ultramarathons  – any distance longer than a marathon, usually 50K/50M/100K/100M. I had no idea that people actually ran anything longer than a marathon! While the idea of running 100 miles has taken, and is taking, a while to grow on me, I was immediately captivated with the possibility of running across the Grand Canyon. The seed was planted in my head and it continued to grow and grow over the last 4 years.

The Grand Canyon. Must be seen in person.

In October 2013 I was all set up to do the run with a group of friends from LA. My flights were booked, lodging was set up, and then the US Federal Government shut down because they ran out of money, or whatever. That meant all US National Parks were closed, including the Grand Canyon. How can you close a part of nature?! The shutdown started a couple weeks before we had scheduled our run so we were confident the situation would be sorted out in time, but it wasn’t, and instead, I spent a weekend in Sedona running around the red rocks. I also had an opportunity to do the run in 2014 but that particular weekend didn’t work with my schedule. So I kept waiting for a group to join but that never happened. Eventually I decided that since my schedule is somewhat tight, with Ironman training and other travels, and that since I knew quite a few people who had done R2R2R already, I would be able to get enough information from them but I could organize it myself and find a time that suited my schedule to best. And so, the Rim to Rim to Rim adventure of May 2015 was born.

Sedona red rocks, from October 2013

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That time I was running in Sedona instead of the Grand Canyon

We arrived in Phoenix Saturday afternoon. There were four of us – myself, Rob, Tessa, and Suzanne. Suzanne was fresh off running the Mustang Race in Nepal (and helping out after her trip was modified because of the earthquakes) and we all had a lot of catching up to do. After a couple (not so quick) stops at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Safeway we made the 4 hour drive to the South Rim. We got to the South Rim Village sometime after 7pm so had to make quick work of photos before the sun went down. Gazing out across the canyon, when you can’t see the bottom and you can barely see the other side, I really started to wonder what we had got ourselves in to. The only word I can use to describe what I was looking at is “impossible”. It looked impossible that someone could make it across there in a week, let alone in one day. Good thing it got dark quickly because if I had stared at it much longer I might have talked myself out of it!

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It looks impossible, doesn’t it? We had no idea what we were looking at, and figured it out only after the run!

I have no idea what’s waiting for me!

Rob’s first view of the Grand Canyon

We checked in at the Bright Angel Lodge and quickly found some food to eat and then discussed plans for the morning. The plan was to have our alarms set at 3:30am (wtf), call a cab at 4am, and be on the trail shortly after that. The big concern though, was the weather. For Memorial Day weekend the weather was unusually cold and unsettled. That evening on the Rim was seriously freezing and the forecast for the morning was 33F and a chance of rain. This is similar to what we’ve been training in but we were all expecting warmer temperatures. Also, I had spent 14 hours being cold at IM Tahoe and I am still traumatized by that race and I was really scared to be cold for that long again. But there was a fine balance between having enough/too many clothes and enough/not enough nutrition in our packs. Layers of warm clothes take up precious space in running packs devoted to nutrition, but being too cold could end the day just as much as not having enough nutrition. Back in our rooms we got our bags packed for the morning and tried to sleep (that was also impossible). Normally I don’t get nervous before races and I can sleep no problem but this one was different. I was primarily just so scared to be cold that I spent the few hours we had to sleep tossing and turning debating about what clothes I was going to wear.

Our alarm went off at 3:30am. It was hell. I really try my best to not get up, ever, before 7am so this was rough. I had decided to buy a warmer jacket that Tessa had brought with her, in the interest of being warm. I just needed to settle my mind. My clothing consisted of: toque, running jersey, Lululemon long sleeve, vest, jacket, skirt, knee warmers, compression calf sleeves, and mitts. My Betty trucker hat was attached to my pack. On my feet I wore (pink!) Newton Boca ATs. I probably didn’t need the knee warmers and I likely would have been fine with my original lighter windbreaker I brought but I had peace of mind that I wouldn’t be cold and that mattered a lot! My Ultraspire Zygos pack was full of food – Buddy Fruits baby food, Hammer peanut butter gels, PB&J on croissants, Snickers bars, trail mix, and Skratch. I was estimating for 200 cal/hr over 15 hours, with some extra just in case. I also had Salt Stick salt pills, Tums, Pepto pills, and Advil 🙂

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Our group of 4 at the South Kaibab trailhead. All of us representing Betty Designs!

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Nervous smile

The cab dropped us off at the South Kaibab trailhead about 4:40am. We really wanted to start by 5am to beat the mule train that heads down the trail to Phantom Ranch. There was another group of 3 runners starting their R2R2R as well and they took off a few minutes before us. We took the obligatory “before” photos, took a deep breath, and at 4:50am we started our watches and headed into the Canyon.

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Ready, set, GO!

We all had headlights which were useful for a little while in the morning. The sky was full of clouds so unfortunately we were never able to see the sunrise from the trail, which I’ve heard is amazing. Next time!

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Into the abyss!

The trail is immaculate. It’s the most well maintained trail I’ve ever seen, and that sentiment continued for the entire day. There are rock and log steps made into the trail (which become like little Mt Everests at the end of the day) and drainage tracks off the sides. There had been some rain in the days before our run so a lot of the path was big puddles but they were easy enough to avoid.

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Early on, down South Kaibab

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Rob capturing the moment

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First view of the Colorado! But still a looong way to go!

The canyon was very green. I didn’t expect that. And the cacti were blooming with all colours of beautiful flowers. We stopped a lot in the first couple of hours to take photos, and still, we feel like we didn’t take enough!

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Tons of photo ops

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Sunday Funday on the South Kaibab trail

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Puddle jumping

A few other groups of runners passed us, I couldn’t believe how fast they were running downhill! I was just trying to save something my legs, I didn’t want to burn them out on the first descent! The SK trail is about 7 miles long, downhill, with the steepest section at 22% – that’s a lot of pounding in the legs without a proper warmup!

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The “stairs” were filled with water from all the recent rain

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Switchbacks of the South Kaibab trail

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South Kaibab cutting across the red dirt

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There were lots of hikers too, some going down like us, and others already coming up so early in the morning. We ended up leap frogging a bunch with a guy named Andy. He was just hiking but because we were taking so many photos it took us about the same amount of time to get to the river!

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Cactus flower and the Colorado getting closer!

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More steps! omg!

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Unknowingly I had put myself in a really great mindset. As much as I was completely overjoyed to finally be running in the Grand Canyon, I had not allowed myself to think of the entire run at one time. I was really just taking it one step at a time down South Kaibab, and trying not to fall! We enjoyed being able to talk amongst our group as we stuck close together, and also to be able to complain about all the steps! I was not expecting those steps. My Newtons were perfect, especially since we had to dodge puddles most of the way down which meant stepping to the side of the trail. Road shoes would not have been good enough.

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We made it to the river!

Reaching the Colorado was our first big achievement. It felt awesome. We had dropped about 4800ft from the South Rim! The river was so green and beautiful, and definitely powerful. Shortly after crossing the river we arrived at Phantom Ranch, a campground with a restaurant and cabins in the bottom of the canyon.

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The mighty (green) Colorado

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The Black Bridge across the Colorado

We didn’t spend too much time in Phantom Ranch as the canteen wasn’t open yet and we will had plenty of water because of the cool, overcast skies. We joined onto the North Kaibab trail which is about 14 miles from Phantom Ranch to the North Rim.

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Somewhere in the Box on the North Kaibab trail

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Deep in coversation

The bottom of the canyon was very green and humid! It never got really hot, the forecast was for mid 70s which is perfect running temperature. Although blue sky and sunshine makes for even more beautiful photos in the Grand Canyon, it would have been too hot for us Canadians. That being said, by the time we got to Phantom Ranch, we had most of our layers off.

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Green canyon floor!

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Weird Dr Suess cactus flower

The trail runs alongside a creek and the sound of the moving water was very soothing. We had entered what we thought of as a side canyon, an off-shoot of the main Canyon. The trail was gently sloping upwards for about 7 miles, definitely runnable but relentless. There were lots of these weird Dr Suess cactus flowers bending up to the sky. We were able to dip our heads in a stream at one point which brought a lot of relief. Then we almost mistakenly sidetracked to Ribbon Falls. A group of hikers was standing right in front of the directional sign and Suzanne took off down the wrong trail! I have heard that Ribbon Falls is beautiful but we didn’t want to add on the extra mileage to an already long day.

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Running alongside the river on the North Kaibab Trail

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One of the bridge crossings on the North Kaibab trail

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Not Ribbon Falls!

We got to Cottonwood fairly unscathed and actually caught up to the group of 3 who left the South Kaibab trailhead before us. We ended up leapfrogging them and chatting with them a lot of the way up to the North Rim. They were Ironman athletes as well. We filled up our packs with water and continued on. I had iodine pills with me in case of water breaks but I never used them. The Grand Canyon water was delicious and no one in our group got sick.

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I really like the photo. It shows how small we are compared to the huge walls of the Canyon.

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Hands on hips – never a good sign!

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Shortly after Cottonwood the trail makes a left and starts heading *straight* up the canyon wall. This section was not runnable for us and yet this trail was my favourite part of the day. The trail is literally carved right into the side of the canyon. I have no idea how they made it! I am not scared of heights so the narrow trail and steep cliff didn’t bother me but I imagine that someone who is nervous would have a difficult time. There was no problem moving around puddles or passing other hikers. That being said, I did remind myself to be very careful to not trip, which I have a habit of doing, because a fall could really be deadly.

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Where’s Waldo?

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Straight down!

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Rob is a little close to the edge here!

At some point everyone in our group turned inward and into survival mode to get to the top. Rob motored on ahead as he was really keen on getting to the Rim as soon as possible. Suzanne and I had a long conversation about if we were getting cold and if we should stop to put on more layers. We were now gaining elevation rapidly and the temperature was falling just as fast. I was fine, my hands were warm which is a sign to me that I’m dressed properly and doing ok. I was also worried about stopping and then having to get going again. We decided to wait until the top to add more clothes. Tessa continued to move strong and silent up the steep trail.

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The girls heading up to the North Rim

For about 2 hours we continually asked hikers coming down “how much longer until the top?” And for those 2 hours, the answer was always “about 30 more minutes!” Seriously. It was really growing thin on us when we had heard 30 more minutes for over an hour and we STILL had more than 30 minutes to go!

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I look tired! Suzanne looks great.

We knew the North Rim was about 8000 feet (actually 8250 – that extra 250 feet was sure a surprise!) and Rob had altitude on his watch which was really helpful because he could yell out “800 feet to go!” “600 feet to go!” Measuring progress by altitude was better than by distance because Garmins don’t work well in the Canyon. That’s why every report on R2R2R you read has a different total distance for the same trails. My trusty Garmin 920 gave me 3 erroneous miles throughout the day, in which it told me we were running from 4:00-6:00 min/mile. I can 100% guarantee we did not get anywhere close to a 6 minute mile and a 4 minute mile is just laughable.

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Supai Tunnel 1.7 miles from the top of the North Rim. Would have been nice to know that at the time!

Suzanne, Tessa, and I were making our way up, up, up when TJ, the guy from the morning, and who we had passed at Cottonwood came up behind us. I have no idea why but I decided to stick on his heels. I dug deep and stayed with him and eventually we passed Rob. Rob is a really good fast hiker, I am not. I have short legs and I walk slow at the best of times. Fast hiking is an area of ultra running I really need to improve. But there I was, passing Rob! He was shocked. He said he’s never seen me hike up so fast. And it was steep. Eventually the trail turned to mud due to the snow and hail the night before. Luckily, we did almost all our training on muddy trails in Bragg Creek so it felt like home for us!

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Muddy trails and a view from where we came

We reached the North Kaibab trailhead after about 6h50min of running time and about 22 miles. I felt great. I had been really diligent with my hydration and nutrition and all systems were still go. Never once did it cross my mind that I would have to take the bus back to the South Rim. We had each packed $85 for the bus in case shit hit the fan at the North Rim. The other 3 in our group said they had all considered it on the trail up and Rob said if I had even just mentioned it to him, he would have been on that bus no problem. But it wasn’t an option for me. We emptied our packs of trash (there are no garbage cans below the rims, only at the trailheads on the rims) and filled our packs again. We also got really cold, really quickly so all our layers went back on and we got started on Round 2.

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Total relief after making it to the North Rim!

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Photographic evidence of reaching the North Rim!

Running down the North Kaibab trail was one of the best parts of the day. Almost every hiker we had passed on the way up, and who were still continuing up, had huge praise for us turning around and heading back to the South Rim. We got so many awesome, encouraging comments, I totally felt like a badass!

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Rob’s typical awesome bow pose

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Worst bow pose I’ve ever done. Leg was getting stiff and sore!

We were back to running downhill which was a nice change after a few hours of uphill hiking but those damn stairs really started to take their toll. The views were even better on the way down, if that’s even possible!

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Charlies Angels bridge

Charlie’s Angels

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Living life on the edge

After about 8 hours of running and 28 or so miles my knees really started to bother me. It was not a bone on bone, or cartilage or ligament problem, it felt like my knees were super swollen and that if I looked down at them they would be 10 times their normal size. And the downhill really aggravated that feeling. I was still able to run but I had to slow down. I’ve never experience that feeling before, maybe just because I’ve never run 50 miles before! I’m not worried about it, I think it’s just something I need to get used to and train my knees for if I continue on in ultra running.

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Waving to some hikers and saying goodbye to the North Rim

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Steep canyon walls of the North Kaibab trail

Once we got back to Cottonwood we didn’t really know how long much further it was to Phantom Ranch. Why oh why didn’t we find a list of trail distances!! This part of the run seemed to go on FOREVER! It was never ending. The sun had finally come out and it was really warming up. But the biggest problem was that the canteen at Phantom Ranch that supposedly has lemonade, was closing at 4pm. It was around 3pm and I was pretty sure we had 7+ miles to go. That would mean holding a pace for over 10km we hadn’t held all day. Coupled with my “swollen” knees I was pretty sure we weren’t getting any lemonade. Suzanne ran ahead and made a valiant effort to reach Phantom before 4pm but it didn’t happen. I’ve heard that’s the best lemonade in the world too!

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Heading down!

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Rob and I kept moving forward, the steps downhill and water drains were getting harder and harder to step over. We started seeing a lot of lizards running on to the trail, I guess to sun themselves. Then we came upon a sizeable frog on the trail. Rob was able to get quite close to him and take his picture. He was so close to this frog that it prompted me to ask “is he alive?” Rob inched his toe closer and close to the frog and finally gave it a tap and the frog did not respond. Rob thought maybe he was sleeping (!) but I’m pretty sure he was dead. So now, we have a beautiful photo of a (freshly) dead frog in the Grand Canyon!

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The infamous dead (or sleeping?) frog

My knees continued to ache. It was pretty bad. Eventually Rob and I discussed it and thought I should try taking off my compression socks because maybe the compression was causing fluid to back up in my knees. I have no idea if it helped, I know it was a complete struggle to get them off, and it felt good to have my legs free again, so who knows.

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Close to Phantom Ranch we somehow caught back up with Tessa and we ran into Phantom Ranch together. We had all missed the canteen hours so no lemonade. I headed straight for a picnic table because I really wanted to lay down. I took off my shoes and socks and held my feet up in the air which felt so good. After not long enough, we were back on the trail for the final climb.

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Heading along the Colorado on the Bright Angel trail

We took the Silver Bridge back over the Colorado this time and started up the Bright Angel trail. The route we ran, South Kaibab-North Kaibab-Bright Angel, is the “classic” R2R2R route. South Kaibab is steeper and does not have any water stops while Bright Angel is supposedly less steep (it’s still steep!) and has water stops which are especially important on hot days. The girls had got ahead of us again because we were taking photos, again. Rob challenged me to stay on his heels as he picked up the hiking pace and we eventually caught the girls.

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Crossing the Colorado again!

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It’s a long way down. Although the water was so inviting!

When we were standing on the South Rim the night before, we were looking at a big plateau with a trail seemingly falling off the edge. We didn’t really know what we were looking at but we assumed that was the Bright Angel trail. So as we’re hiking up and up and up and looking at these huge canyon walls towering above us, we all kept wondering when and how we were going to get on that plateau.

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Clearly the hours and hours of running was taking it’s toll because I imitated a tree

There were lots of weird noises, I think frogs, which I teased Rob were the pissed off brothers and sisters of the dead frog he took a picture of, and they were coming to get him. We got super close to a cute deer eating leaves.

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A very tame deer around Indian Garden, just eating leaves, NBD.

We reached Indian Garden (not aware that we had seen it from the South Rim) and filled our packs again. My stomach was still feeling fine, in fact it “worked” all day but somewhere around here I just sort of stopped eating. Looking back, this is where my day took a turn for the worse. I should have kept eating because I was totally able to, I just didn’t want to. We also saw a sign that read 4.7 miles to the South Rim. That should have been a sign of hope but I started doing math on the amount of time it might take us to travel those 4.7 miles and then my head started getting in my way.

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Somewhere around 8:30pm Rob and I switched on our headlights and things got really bad for me. I’m not scared of the dark but I think losing a visual reference for the top of the Canyon was devastating for my mind. All we could see was headlights winding back and forth on the switchbacks above. I don’t really have any experience running in the dark so I’m certain that played a role as well and is something I need to work on. Lots of bugs came out on the trail including a scorpion, which didn’t even bother me, which shows how tired I was! Our lights also scared the shit out of a deer and he jumped straight off the cliff – he was fine but I thought we were going to be dealing with the trauma of seeing a deer jump to his death!

I cried almost every step of the last 3 miles. Epic meltdown. Some of it was straight up hyperventilating hysterical crying and some was just quiet crying. I wanted to be done SO bad and even 2 miles seemed too far and impossible. The demons in my mind were telling me I couldn’t do it even though I knew I could. I think I get really frustrated when part of my mind starts telling me those bad things but the other part is telling me and can do it, so a war starts in my head and all I can think of to do is to cry. But I never stopped moving. The same thing happens to me in Ironman. Rob had to turn to threats to get me to stop crying. He would say “if you don’t calm yourself down I’m going to call the rangers and they’ll carry you out of here on a stretcher. Is that what you want?!” He knew, of course, that was going to happen over my dead body. Sleeping on the trail with the scorpions wasn’t an option either! Rob was also forcing me to stop and drink some of his Gatorade every so often because he thought I needed more sugar. One time he pointed out the first building light on the Rim that we could see and that sent me spiralling into despair again. But through all this we continued to pass others heading up the trail. I’m really thankful Rob was strong and stayed with me through those last few miles (and all day) because I really needed him to be there!

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Ignored this sign!

Finally at 9:15pm we reached the Bright Angel trailhead on the South Rim! My Garmin says 49.79 miles, 14:33 moving time, 10515 ft ascent, 10872 ft descent (so 21300 ft elevation change – holy shit!). That’s a BIG run!

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Zombies?

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We did it!

The Aftermath

For the last mile for sure, I was 100% done with running, trail running, Ironman, anything athletic. I didn’t want to run another step in my life. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do to fill my time but I was certain I would not be doing any more endurance events. Almost immediately I went into a fairly severe shivering phase, my teeth were chattering so hard I thought I might break them! Once back in the hotel room I just really needed to lay down. My feet have never been so sore. I couldn’t stop rubbing the arches and moving my toes. The aching was spectacular! My knees were also still sore, but they had been for hours so I guess I was just used to it. Suzanne, who didn’t seem to be in any pain at all, was kind enough to get me ice for my knees and that helped a lot. I was really worried I wouldn’t be able to sleep that night but thankfully the poor and short sleep the night before and the massive effort combined to grant me deep and peaceful sleep.

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We came up that crack to the right of the point on the plateau.

It was really cool waking up on the rim so we could examine what we had accomplished the day before. We realized we had no idea what we were looking at, what cracks we had run through, when we peered over the edge the evening we arrived. We found the big crack we ascended on Bright Angel beside the plateau we were looking for for so long. We saw the side canyon that took us over to the north rim. We saw the switchbacks of Bright Angel that we had climbed in the dark, that had played with my mind so much. And still, even though we had run it all, it seemed impossible.

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A successful R2R2R!

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We ran across there, twice!

My legs continued to be unbelievably sore for 2 days. It was a little worse than after an open marathon, although I always seem to forget exactly what it feels like after these things. Stairs were a no-go, and even small sidewalk curbs brought a tear to my eye! I found I really needed to swing my right hip laterally to get my right leg to move forward. Sometimes if felt as if my leg wasn’t mine! Then almost in a single instant, my legs went back to normal. Almost a week later, my legs feel totally fine but I’m quite fatigued. I could sleep all day. I’ve taken my recovery very seriously – for 6 days I did absolutely nothing except eat, sleep, and work. I did a 2000m swim the following Saturday just to make sure I could, since I haven’t swam since March and, well, I have a 70.3 in a week. And I’ve been on my bike a couple times as well. I have been really surprised at the level of general fatigue (it probably shouldn’t be a surprise but it is!) I’m experiencing. It’s been very pronounced, worse than post-Ironman fatigue. So I’ve been really careful to not dig myself into a hole before the triathlon season even starts and have changed any goals I had for the 70.3 (a run PR) to a big catered training day, which is more fun anyway!

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The day after, with Bright Angel trail in the background.

I have been dealing with a sore muscle or tendon or something, no one knows, in my right butt (literally, it’s been a pain in the ass) for the last 6 or 7 weeks. It hurts pretty much every time I move from sitting to standing, and I can’t make my right leg go straight. It feels like a muscle in my butt and hamstring has been contracted for 7 weeks. The main suspects are quadratus femoris and obturator internis. They’re small little muscles deep to the glute max and I’m discovering they’re very hard to stretch and to “get at”. My butt has been rolled, poked, proded, I’ve done IMS, Graston, ART and nothing has cured it. But this whole time, I’ve been able to run completely without pain. Like zero pain. And I’m not making that up just so I could do this run. It does not bother me at all when I run. I didn’t feel the pain for one second in the Grand Canyon, not running flat, hiking uphill, or running downhill. How is that possible?! It’s a complete mystery to all the health professionals who have tried to fix it. Now, since the R2R2R it actually feels like I have more mobility in that leg, the injury is definitely not worse, but my plan is to not run for at least 2 weeks and keep stretching it and hope for the best!

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My legs up the wall. My right leg doesn’t go straight anymore. At least I can still bike and run?

And oh yeah, I’m fully back on the endurance sports train. I was as soon as I woke up the next morning. I’m already looking at options for my first actual 50 miler and without a doubt, I would do the R2R2R again.

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The most beautiful photo of a rainbow, in Sedona. Photo credit: Rob

*many of the above photos were taken by Rob, who’s turned himself into quite an awesome photographer!