Rim to Rim to Rim

Well, thanks to some great friends and a Veteran organization I was afforded the opportunity to Arizona to run the Grand Canyon (GC), Rim to Rim to Rim (R2R2R). R2R2R has been on the bucket list of places to run for some time now and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to go.

Heading into the run I have been having some issues with injuries and some stressful issues have resurfaced. I wasn’t sure how this would affect the outcome, but I was excited and nervous at the same time. I decided that I would need to just take it easy, run my pace and just have fun to be successful.

Arriving at the canyon I went out for a shakeout run the day before running the canyon. It did not take long to feel the altitude change from 597′ around Nashville to about 6,804′ at the South Rim GC Villiage. Just a short run up a small incline at a 9 min. pace allowed me to feel that metallic taste, warning me that this climate will take a bit to adjust to.

While I was adjusting to the dry air and the altitude difference I was taken in by the views. I wasn’t sure what was taking my breath more: the views or the exertion. It was at that point I found part of my mantra for the rest of the trip, “If you want views that take your breath away, you need to do something that takes your breath away”.

I spent the day meeting other runners, going through gear, nutrition and planning routes, (one route). We spent some time reconning the starting and end points of the trailhead. Looking down at them I was a bit intimidated. This run was going to take quite a bit of work both physically and mentally. I quickly realized that I was going to need more nutrition than I had brought. The amount of water, gear and food that was needed was by far one of the largest amounts I have carried on any previous run.

The day started around 2am and by 3:15 we were heading out to the trailhead. We had decided to take the South Kaibab trail going down into the Canyon. we left our vehicles about a mile from the start. It was a great warm up. The descent started right away at the start. For some, the darkness made the descent a bit tougher as the exposed edge was just feet to inches away. I think it was nice having only my headlamp for light as we went down. With that, I was able to just focus on my feet and the next step without much thought to the edge.

Soon the sun slowly woke up and began to encase the tips of the canyon in it’s glow.  We spent the next 2.5 hours or so heading down to the Colorado River. In those first hours we dropped around 5,000′. Watching that sun creep around the corners of the canyon was awesome! I’m already considering doing it again.

Reaching the river we crossed the bridge and began the route to the Phantom Ranch (PhR). Arriving at the ranch the borders and campers were lining up for breakfast as we made our first water stop. Water was going to be a big issue in this run and I made sure to top everything I had off. After a brief stop, we started heading north up the Kaibab trail. That early morning run through the Canyon’s bottom was amazing.

Following this trail, we ran slow trying to conserve energy for the climbs that were ahead. As the day wore on the trail started to fill with hikers and a few other runners. Most were shocked at our idea of going R2R2R in just one day. I thought it was interesting that for many people they had never imagined this was an option.  After several hours I ran into a Ranger that wanted to make sure I had enough water. The water at Roaring Springs was shut off along with most of the water on the north side. There was plenty of water at the spring, it just needed to be filtered. I took a chance with the water I had and after a brief respite and a snack, I started the climb up.

I should add that the whole 14 miles up to the N. K. trailhead was uphill. It was a gradual ascent towards the top with the majority or the steepness of the climb starting at Roaring Springs. The Climb was no small feat. While climbing you still had to be wary of the exposure of the edge and the conditions of the trail. As the climb increased and the switchbacks began there was also a strange need for breaks. About 2 miles from the top I was running low on water. I knew I needed to keep my mouth wet and get some nutrition in. As the trail would have it and fortunately for me, the water was fixed at a spring at 1.7 miles from the top.

At Supai, 1.7 from the top I was blessed to drink and fill up on water. It was such a relief as I was starting to have some issues with the climb. The next 1.7 miles seemed to take almost 2 hours to climb out. While on the climb I was also blessed to hang out with a couple other runners that also had a military background. It was almost a natural thing to check on each other for the rest of the trip. With each of us going our own pace we found ourselves leapfrogging along, at times we found the one that felt stronger in the moment encouraging those of us going slower. This situation flip-flopped for almost the rest of the run.

I think the beauty in this matchup was that we all had strengths that the other runners did not.  Speaking for myself it created a situation that allowed for us to band together and find ways to overcome the issues that arose along the trail.  I believe this is one of the many things that makes Soldiers and Veterans so great, their ability to band together in abnormal situations. It can also be one of our greatest issues as well, as we are not trained to be an individual, rather a productive member of a cohesive team.

After what seemed like taking a break in what shade could be found, I made it to the top. The altitude change went from around 2,000′ to some reports of over 9,000′, I was having a hard time keeping my heart rate low enough and I was struggling. I was in rough shape, yet I knew that with water and some food I would be good to go.

With this trip, I met a group of runners called the Rock Hoppers. Some of their supporters were at the top making sandwiches and getting Cokes for them.  It was truly like coming into an Aid Station and I am very grateful to the lady that brought me a coke and made me a peanut butter and honey sandwich. After filling up with water I now had a group of three Veterans returning through the canyon.  After all, how else were we going to get back? Sometimes the best option is the toughest one!

Heading down into the canyon back the way we came for the next 14 miles was great. We stopped to check on hikers/runners that was coming up or that we pasted flying down. We encouraged everyone that the top was within grasp and pointed out where water was. Having filled up our packs we even gave some of our water and nutrition out to other hikers struggling to get to the top.

Soon we reached the canyon floor and then set off on the next eight miles towards Phantom Ranch. This stretch was fairly lonely as most people that I came across were camping for the night. It became a race against the sun. I watched the sun set casting weird shadows in the various canyons. I tried to get to Phantom Ranch before I lost the light, but soon I was moving in the darkness.

I had taken two headlamps with me and I’m glad I did. My Petzl’s battery didn’t last as advertised, so I resorted to my back up Black Diamond for the reminder of the night. Thanks Joe, it’s the light you gave me at camp. I power hiked into Phantom and waited for a a friend while I set about getting water, taking care of the feet and eating.

I had heard about the lemonade here at the ranch, but I smelled coffee. Later on we learned that the ranch was open and we could have gotten some refreshments, but with faulty information we thought it was only for those in the bunkhouse. I remember that I didn’t want to leave and I had sat long enough to where my legs didn’t want to go anymore.

Three of us took off from the ranch and I was in a fowl mood for the next few miles. My friends asked me if I wanted to pass and I said no I just need to get used to moving again and find a better mood. So with food and Tailwind I got into a grove for the hike back up to the rim.

We crossed the Colorado river on the Silver bridge in the darkness. I really couldn’t see much but the next few steps. Apparently he trip across can be a bit frightening for some. The whole trail had been dusty, it was the desert after all. However, on this side of the river the dust was horrible. I called it moon dust and it was everywhere. Your feet sunk an inch or two with each step.

I can’t really describe how much I disliked this part. I was breathing dust, dust was in my eyes and it filled up my shoes. I used a buff and covered my face the best I could and just went on, grumbling inside. When we started the climb on the other side and the terrain started to change I started to get in a better headspace.

The next 9 miles up the side of the canyon went by like a blur. Our group of 3 split up and then we would all catch back up over and over. I practiced not using a light at all for several parts of the trail and it worked well. I stayed focused on getting nutrition in, salt and worked on fixing my upset stomach with ginger. It all seemed to work as these hours are typically the hardest for me.

No hallucinations for me this night! I kept going up alone again, but very hopeful and pleased with how things were turning out. Soon I arrived at Indian Springs. My group linked up again and we tried encouraging another couple who were covering a couple benches trying to control their stomachs.

Filling up on water I listened to one of my friends tell his story about running across a couple of mountain lions a while back on the trails. Usually I’m the one that runs into the interesting wildlife. So far today I had only come across one snake and that was it. There wasn’t even the normal bugs that I’m used to battling at night.

We started back up the trail looking for the next water point. This part around the spring was full of creek crossings, trees and overgrowth. The trail soon left all that behind as we kept going up, now hitting switchback after switchback. It seemed every time the trail looked like it would open up or that we would summit a plateau it was just an elusive illusion.

Soon our lights were going out and I shut mine off completely just in case I would need it later. The moon was out now and it helped to see the trail. It was about here that to noticed two pairs of green eyes watching me from above. I was taking no chances after hearing my friends story about cats alongside the trail. I charged up that slope towards the eyes before they had a chance to decide what they were going to do. It ended up being two deer. It was a good laugh.

I’m not sure how much longer it took me. I arrived at the top with a little bit of a shock as I was still expecting another switchback. I think it was just after 2am, just about the time I had gotten up the day before for this trip. We ran into two ladies that where here that were wait for the Rockhoppers and they made us go sit in their cabin and eat for a while. They keep saying we must be cold, but after all that exposure I really didn’t realize the temperature at the top.

This adventure was probably one of the hardest I’ve been on. It was also one of the best I’ve been on. I have to thank my friends Rob and CJ for making it possible to go with. Also to Project Echelon for their help with the travel and for use of the GoPro. I would also like to thank the two Veterans that I ran with, you guys gave me a mission. I’m very grateful for them being there.

This was an adventure I needed for many reasons. I’m very grateful for this opportunity. I believe it’s all part of a commitment I made to share my story and openness to finally accept friends into my life again. Stay tuned for more pictures and possibly a short video documentary.

Thank you all for reading!

Dark Sky 50 Race Report

Dark Sky 50

Well let me start by saying that over all I am quite pleased with myself and frustrated at the same time. I am frustrated that I am still injured and that it seriously affected my running this past Saturday. I am quite pleased that despite it all I made it as far as I did in the conditions that I was in. This has been a hard report to write as the results of my race lie somewhere between a DNF, DLF, and timing out.

I spent the night camping out at the campground (Picket State Park, TN) right next to the start line. Prior packing allowed for me to pull up to a camp site at dusk and get set up in mostly the dark. I was able to sleep until about an hour and a half before the start. That was a great change from the normal get up several hours before to make it to the race. While I had most everything ready to go, I felt like I had not started a race for a long time. I completely forgot several things to include my drop bags. That however did not even come to my attention until mile two just before making a return loop past the parked cars.

The loop was about 2.5 scenic miles. I heard one runner describe it as land that time had forgot. I really enjoyed the picturesque views that I experienced. Soon we were on the hardball for just a short bit and took off into the woods down the hidden passage trail.  I was running/walking already at this point and it was nice that the loop had seriously thinned out the running crowd. Soon I was up among the bluffs and running alongside cliffs looking out over Big South Fork.

For the most part the terrain was rolling with mostly runnable hills. The trail weaved up and down and around the ridge line. It skirted many overlook and waterfalls. At one part of the trail it went right over the top of one of the falls overlooking a nice drop into the falls just some few feet to my left. Soon we went down into the valley bottom. There we followed the stream and completed a couple of crossings getting my feet wet, no worries there. After reaching the first water station and stopping to refill I knew I was going to have issues with water as the water station was almost out. It was over 90 degrees for most of the day. The water would become an issue latter in the day.

It was about this time that I started having issues with my leg. I have been having a problem with an injury in my back. This has presented in an IT band issue along with hamstring and hip mobility issues. The injury has been hard for me to except as I just want to run.

I felt done at mile 9 and somehow came into the first maned aid station at mile 13 with the thought in my head that if I was the last one I would just quit. Well I wasn’t the last one and I wasn’t passed the cut-off time either. I was very frustrated and took off again. Soon, however the sweeper caught up with me and brought with him the last runner. I stayed just a head of them for a while but by 16 they caught me.

I am forever grateful for those two. They keep me going for the next 30 plus miles even though I was already done. I just found myself in a bad head space soon after the start and running by myself I wasn’t able to change my thinking. With these two in tow we reached mile 21 or somewhere close. We crossed over a rock face and had great views, but we were more concerned with getting down the other side to the aid station.  We put in some faster work on the switch backs going down into the valley floor where we found the aid station on a jeep/fire break road.

Getting to the aid station was great, however it created a new challenge for us. The aid station was out of water and while it had a few things there was nothing I could eat or drink. I was doing fine on food and we all wanted water and or some tailwind. The station was covered with bees. I wasn’t there but a couple minutes and I had four or five bees crawling up my legs and the table had ten’s of bees all over. I was anxious to get moving again. Soon we were back down the trail. I knew that there would be some stream crossings up a head and hopefully we could find one that had decent water.

We found a stream that was flowing nice and clear and a perfect spot were the water was flowing though the moss and creating a fountain type dispenser to fill our bottles. Well that creek water tasted better than some of the water that they had gotten from the wells around there. Most of the next few miles were uneventful. I started to feel better and get back into the normal swing of things, but was still unable to run much. That wasn’t a huge  problem as I was able to walk as fast as my companions where running and I had the mental attitude at that point to match it.

As we started back up the climb over the next ridge I was in the lead, stepped around a tree in the way and there it was. I saw the tail no problem, just where was the head at, was my question? Well I didn’t have long to wait and as I took one step back the tail started rattling. Yes, it was a rattle snake. It was about 3.5 feet long and as thick as my water bottle. The snake coiled up rattling away while everyone else ran right into me.  One of the runners that was with us was from Michigan and had never seen a rattler before. She seemed to jump off me backwards about ten amazing feet into the sweeper who was trying to calm every one down. I had a good laugh and meanwhile the snake was getting pissed. Most of the time a snake will avoid humans and or hurry off if you give them room. This one wasn’t going anywhere, it had its patch of sun on the trail and it wasn’t moving. I had half a mind to move the snake but we decided to go up and around it.

Next we followed some more really neat rock formations and then dropped back down in the valley to follow the river along some horse trails. There was not too much to talk about here. Just fording steams and avoiding ankle deep mud we followed the river toward the next station. Soon we started picking up other runners who were ready to tap out. They all seemed to have great stories about how bad something was or being out of water. One person had fallen somehow and had messed his back up enough that he had to hobble using a makeshift pole. Anyways we moved on. Soon we had past the nest aid station and they had some water.

After leaving that aid station and getting to mile 30 something stung the top of my foot down in my shoe under the tongue. I couldn’t get my shoe off fast enough. I thought I had been stung, but as the days went on after the race I determined it was a spider bite. My ankle swoll up and at moments it was painful with my shoe hitting the bite every other step. I had to get meds and keep my foot soaking or elevated for several days.

We made it to mile 31 and were able to fill up with water and get a little food. We had to do a loop through the natural arch here and it was breath taking. There were a lot of great views! Coming back down to the aid station we grab what was left and were in a hurry to get up the next hill. They offered a shot of whisky at that station. I have yet to try alcohol during a race. I might have to try it sometime. Dave who was running with  said it made his legs “feel fresher”. I wished I would have tried some before this hill. It seemed to go on forever. It’s about a mile and a half up to the top, just to climb some more. I have seen several people quit on that hill and go back to the aid station at the bottom, only to find that they have to climb out.

After the climb we were able to catch a break as we were on jeep trails for the next little bit and then found the next aid station. They had cold water. The first cold water all day. They also had some cold sprite. The Sprite and water were so good. At this aid station we got our head lamps out as it was starting to get dusk. Soon we were out and on the way. This time we stayed mostly on the gravel jeep trails and were able to pick up some time. Some of the group even started running. I was still having issues and was only able to walk, but my walk was fast enough to keep me up with everyone. I guess I would have to contribute that to all the road marches we did in the military. They seem mild now in comparison to the trails rocky path and the length of time and distance I usually go.

We got to the last aid station. It was mostly dark by now. Here I ran into my good friend Brain, who is race director for No Business 100 and Yamacraw 50k. It was great meeting him at the station. If you ever get a chance those are two great challenging races that you should check out. Well here the sweeper said he was done, the lady I had been running with since mile 13 had her feet all cut up and was done. The GPS said that we were al 46 and some change in mile and had been started late while already moving done the course. And with at least another 9 miles to go I found myself, by myself again. I thought I about the river I would have to hike through and in my condition, having been way passed the cut off time already and that the volunteers were going to have to wait for me past the normal race time. I reluctantly chose the car ride back.

I don’t know if you call that quitting and a DNF, or was it just timing out. I am not sure. I did really impress myself that I went over 33 some miles after not being able to run and being ready to quit to where I was. I was impressed by how I just found something to just keep walking. I think the walking was great practice for using my new poles and experience in hiking for the next 100 miler. I had a great time on the trail. I saw a rattle snake, a coyote and so many other parts of nature and the trail because I walked. I made some new friend and learned a bunch of lessons from other runners. The sweeper was impressed with how I just kept going even though my hip would lock up every now and then. I impressed myself with not stopping at mile 13 even though I wanted to.  I think that is what is one of the things that is so interesting about ultra-running and part of what makes it tuff. You can quit at any time. You don’t have to push through and yet so many of us do, we continue past what we thought was possible and raise the bar not letting limitations limit us.

I will have to do a post on what gear I am currently using and what I am doing for nutrition. Look or that to come up soon.  Till then run wild, run free, run unbridled.

Band of Runners Podcast

www.podbean.com/media/share/dir-u8quh-4013078

This podcast is a brief description of a trail running camp for Veterans and Gold Star Family members. No matter a persons fitness level there are groups and classes geared for you. It’s not all just running it’s classes from pros, and being part of a community that can help you accomplish your goals. I also share a bit of my story on how I found running and my experience at the camp.

Do or Do Not, There is no Try… -Yoda

I am a fan of Star Wars mainly because of the messages behind and tucked into those movies. I also have a Si-Fi part of me tucked away as some of you know. I assume that many if not most people are aware of who Yoda is in the movies. If not, to sum it up, Yoda is a Jedi master. This might be similar to a Zen + Samurai elite. Above is one of his quotes which I think sums up this week’s training ideals.

When operate under a perspective of Black and White we are in a (either, or) perspective.  It is important to note that most of us see in some type of color spectrum and not Black and White. However, looking at things in Black and White can help us to determine what is and what is not from our perspective.

My point is that in training and life there are those who wait to feel good to act, (train). Then there are those who train or (act) to feel. Those who act don’t always feel good, at times they too, feel bad. However, they are aware of the fact that they must feel bad in order to feel good enough. This become a process in which they take feeling bad over waiting because they know that feeling good enough and possibly great is just around the corner or up ahead on the trail.

Either  way, both types of people take part in a behavior. The inclination for either behavior grows stronger the more a person does of either. The more often we get up to train and train. The more likely we are to do it again in spite of how we feel.

Thought to pounder for this week…am I an athlete who waits to feel good to run or am I one that believes that good feelings will come if I move. I believe myself to be the latter and through that I am taking an active purposeful roll in changing my environment. This might in Yogarien  ideology, be what Yoda was getting at with his statement of “do or do not, there is no try”.

Good training and happy trails…

The Unbridled Runner.

Yamacraw 50k Race Report

Race report: I have decided to start doing race reports for my benefit and so that others can track/view my progress. Also so that I can start catching any inconsistencies that I have, or to remember what has been working or not working. This is all part of being intentional about running for me this year.

Saturday April the 7th was the Yamacraw 50k. It was by far the longest 50k that I have ever done, both in distance, some said it was 34-35 miles and in time, for me it was just under 10 hours. I finished and I had fun, that was the most important thing. I went into the race injured and with the weather for that weekend I was debating even showing up. I am glad I did.

I started out in the back of the pack. I think there were only 5 other people behind me. I was already passing people after a ½ mile, who had stopped to walk and take pictures. I had to work very hard on not being overly aggressive on the trail and I struggled to hold myself back and stay humble at the back of the pack. Soon I was caught in the walking line. As ultra-runners know it’s that line were the person in front is going so slow and there’s no room to pass.

Finally after some time many people stopped and moved off the train and I was able to speed up a bit. Soon I was engrossed in conversation With another runner. We ran passed the several falls and crossed several creeks and streams. I don’t know what it is about Daniel Boone National Forest, but I think that every time I have had a race there my feet have been soaking. I did not have any issues with blistering, rubbing or having wet feet. My feet were just fine other than a little cold at times.

One of the most interesting and enjoyable things was the boat bridge that had to be crossed. I know a few runners didn’t like it. I did. The creek rose enough that there need to be some crossing and a local rafting company was there to help us across. Instead of carrying us over in boats they put several inflatable rafts together and we scrambled over to the other bank. It was a good break and an opportunity to stretch out those sore legs.

Nutrition is always a huge factor for me. I went with a watered down mix of tailwind and that seemed to work well. I stopped at the aid stations and grabbed a handful of fruit and gluten free items and just mostly drank my TW. Later on in the race I have a potato burrito and cheese. It was great and hit the stop. One new trick I learned was to drop some potatoes into the chicken broth that they had at the aid stations. I had a granola bar or two but mostly TW and fruit. I will have to make a note of that for next month on the 50.

As far as gear I wore my innovate trail talons. They seem to work great for me on the trail. They offer a lot more traction than what most runners seem to have and helps me get into some places I wouldn’t normally go. I wore a new pack that I had just got. I wore the ultimate direction Scott Jurick FKT vest. One  of the big reasons I got that on was for the  ability to carry poles up front instead of in the back, also it was able to care a considerable amount more than my previous packs. I also purchased a water bladder that could hold between 2.5 and 3 litters of water. It also was able to hold enough TW for my race along with a few extra articles of clothing that came in very handy on top of some of the ridges. I think the next thing to try is a set of Black Dimond collapsible trekking poles.

All in all it was a great race. It took me just under ten hours to finish 33-35 miles. I had problems with my knee the whole race and at mile 22 the IT band locked up. I found that if I dug into the center of my leg just above the knee cap so that I could get the IT band to release. It worked and I was able to move a little faster. It did keep me humble and slow that day and so I just had fun. Here’s to hoping that the next trail run is just a bit better, either way I can’t wait for the next adventure!

Philip Parsons MSW/CSW