Friday, May 6, 2016

R2R2R #2

"Do not imagine the journey is short; and one must have the heart of a lion to follow this unsual road, for it is very plods along in a state of amazement, sometimes smiling, sometimes weeping."
-Peter Matthiessen 'Snow Leopard'

We were a few miles into the 1st Annual (even though that doesn’t make sense, we are hoping it become annual) Turkey Trudge when I broached the subject.
You’ve heard of Turkey Trots, a local 5-10K race before everyone pounds food for the rest of the day.  Well this year Mitch texted me on Monday night while I was working and said ‘You want to run 26 on Thursday morning?’  I thought about it…last time Mitch & I ran together was at the Wild Duluth in October, wasn’t sure I had a marathon in me in 3 days but thought ‘what the hell, been a while since I’ve seen Mitch might be fun.’ So I agreed and the Turkey Trudge began to take shape.

We would meet at my house in Mpls, and I would be in charge of 13 miles in my city arriving at the Minneapolis-St. Paul border where Mitch would take over with 13 miles eventually ending at his house where his wife & kids would give us a ride back.  (In the end it turned into 27 miles with some fun snow & trail running, hopefully we do get it again next year.) 

Anyway, early in the Turkey Trudge I floated the idea to Mitch…’Would you be interested in doing the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim run again this spring?’  When I was in the Canyon in the fall, my buddy Matt and I kicked the idea around, he had tried to run it once but didn’t quite make it, but had hiked it numerous times.  This year he was thinking maybe he would have enough time to train.
Mitch, Greg & I had run it back in 2014 and while we finished & had a great time, physically it took a toll on us.  So as Mitch & I talked about it that early, snowy November morning we talked of lessons learned from the first go round and what we might change this time. 

By December the plan began to take shape, Matt was in, Mitch was in, my brother Alex was in, and a buddy from Ohio U, Cano wanted to join from Florida.  Emails began to fly as the route was plotted, maps were studied and training kicked into high gear. 

That’s how we found ourselves standing in the PHX airport, Alex, Mitch & myself having arrived early Thursday morning (somehow Mitch & were dressed exactly alike) waiting on Cano to arrive with the rental car.  Once there we piled in and drove North to meet Matt. 

We loaded up on supplies at a local Walmart before hitting the road for a roughly 3 hour ride to the Canyon.
Along the way the conversation rolled from races we’ve run, books we’ve read, and what kind of things we would need for this adventure.  The weather was a real wild card, the canyon was getting hit with rain/snow and cold temps, but the forecast changes seemingly by the hour making it hard for us to plan ahead.
After driving through rain, snow & sleet we finally arrived at the Canyon only to find it socked in by a wall of clouds and fog.  Like nothing I had ever seen before.  You couldn’t see anything, there was a massive gaping hole right in front of us but as we stood at Shoshoni Point all we saw was a dull grey, like standing too close to a wall in an old building. 

We waited and slowly the canyon showed itself, a Grand Peep Show if you will.  Clouds parted to show glimpses of the red, white and green buttes and mesas that make up one of the most amazing places on earth.
Eventually we got a full look deep into the canyon & all the way across to the North Rim before snow began to fall & we headed back to the car.  A quick lunch and peek in to the abyss at Bright Angel lodge and we were back at the hotel beginning to sort out what we would carry the next day. 

Over the course of the months leading up to this trip Alex and Matt decided that they would hike for the day instead of run.  Both are very strong hikers and wanted to experience the Canyon that way.  They would start shortly after we did and take the same route down and out but in between explore some different areas.
So it was Mitch, Cano & I worrying over do we bring a rain coat and a long sleeve or just one, how many Cliff bars, sandwiches can we fit, how much water to start.  After a half hour or so our packs were loaded, heavy with food, water and trekking poles.  (The trekking poles were a new addition this trip, something we didn’t have in 2014 and they would make a world of difference.) 

Grabbed a quick dinner and crashed out with alarms set for 315 in the morning.
We rose, ate and hit the road arriving at the trailhead by 430.  A quick goodbye to Matt & Alex and we dropped in to the inky abyss. 

Moving slowly over the dark trails, working to get our footing we treaded lightly down South Kaibab trail.  Skipping over the logs in the trail, donkey leftovers and puddles from the previous day’s rain/snow we eventually made it to Skeleton point where we got our first glimpse of the inner canyon.
The sun was slowly rising to our right and behind us a trail of head lamps followed, groups of runners who took the first shuttle bus starting their run. 

The first 7 miles are quad crushingly downhill, not only that but you’re constantly skipping over rocks, logs and other obstacles that make it even more challenging.  Mitch & I had the benefit of nothing having run it before but spending a lot of time running trails in MN, while Cano didn’t have the experience coming from Florida.  You could see he was trying to find his rhythm on the trail, thinking about where to place his feet so as not to turn an ankle or go down. 

The sun was up when we hit the Tip-Off and got a great view of the green water of the Colorado flowing through the Canyon.  We worked out way down the final sections of switchbacks arriving at the river in under 2 hours which was what I had hoped. 

Made our way to Phantom Ranch and filled up with water and grabbed a snack knowing it was a tough 7 miles to our next stop Cottonwood.
We left Phantom and headed into the Box, a narrow section following Bright Angel creek, in 2014 this was the section that coming back was the hardest mentally.  The walls of the canyon soar seemingly straight up but tease you with views of the south rim.  You think you’re almost there but every time you turn a corner there is another wall.  On the way out in ’14 we also didn’t realize that you climb nearly 1,500 feet over this section and went out hard before realizing how hard it was. 

This time around Mitch and I found our normal rhythm, running and talking like a couple of old hens at a bridge game.  We talked of work, music we were listening to, and counted the bridges so we knew how many we’d cross on the way back. 

During this stretch Cano dropped back, searching for his own rhythm but struggling with the altitude.  Even though were at the bottom of the Canyon we were still around 2,500 feet above sea level and for someone who lives at or below sea level even this was a challenge. 

Together the three of us walked for a while as we cleared the Box into the open section of inner canyon.  The sun was high now, a few clouds hanging over the South and North rims but clear where we were.  Mitch & I surged ahead for a while rolling into Cottonwood in under 2 hours, feeling strong and like we were working but not pushing.  We met a group of 4 women who were running it there, they were just ahead of us and we would leap frog each other throughout the day. 

As we filled water, and grabbed some food Cano rolled in and said he was done.  He felt fine, but was struggling running so he was planning on just hiking for the rest of the day.  We went over a plan on where to meet after and made sure he was okay physically before we headed off to our next stop, The Pumphouse.
Cottonwood to Pumphouse is a quick jaunt, we arrived in around a half hour, signed the chalk board and pulled out our trekking poles for the climb to the North Rim.   

We leaned into the climb, aided by our poles and set a nice pace up to Roaring Springs and then plowed through the layer cake that makes up this ascent. 

Starting with the green layer, combining running and power hiking (walking with a purpose we called it) we moved into the red layer which is some of the most beautiful rock I’ve ever seen.  We switch backed up through there, crossing the bridge and headed to Supai Tunnel.  Just beyond the tunnel we came across a small older man who was pushing through the climb without the aid of poles, but with a pack and a mountain bike strapped to his back.
We recalled that there was a mountain bike race called the Arizona Trail Ride which started a few weeks ago and followed a trail from the Mexican border all the way to Utah and that part of it went through the Canyon.  But you weren’t allowed to bike on the Canyon trails so people had to carry their bikes on their back.  This guy said he’s slept for a few hours in the rain/snow last night and had just been humping this huge pack the rest of the time.  He was beyond inspiring and humbled us, every time you started to think you were tough, there was always someone stronger.  It was amazing to see him just slowly making his way up. 

We left him and continued our climb, low clouds hung over the final layer of this cake, the white layer.  It felt like we were getting closer but the clouds always felt just beyond our reach.  Switchback after switchback, were we getting closer to the top or was it moving away from us? 

Finally, we caught the clouds and moved into the ponderosa pine which signified the top of the North Rim.
As we stepped out of the trees at the North Rim we came across another biker who had just finished carrying their bike through the Canyon.  After I committed a social faux pau (I was so impressed when I arrived at the rim by the biker I bellowed ‘You sir are amazing’ only to have them turn around and reveal it was a woman, I quickly countered with ‘You mam are amazing’…next time a simple ‘hello would probably do.) 

We chatted with her for a bit as we filled our water, turned out she was from Ohio and had gone to Ohio University, same college as me, and was now 15 days into her ride with 60 miles left.  It was truly amazing. 
This was planned as one of our longer stops, prior to the North Rim our stops had averaged around 8 minutes, 10 tops. We made to the North Rim in under 7 hours which we were very excited about.  Fill up, get some food down, check gear/shoes etc. and keep moving.  Here though we sat down, ate a sandwich (or choked it down in Mitch’s case) sent a text via Sat Phone to Matt & Alex, updated them on Cano’s deviation and plan and rested in total for about a half hour. 

In 2014 on the way back down from the North Rim I flew, tossed myself at the hill like a snowboarder dropping in a halfpipe.  It was one of the most amazing things I have done, totally dialed in flying down the switchbacks, but in the process I wrecked my feet and toes and it made the rest of the run a challenge.
This time Mitch & I worked together, I followed him at a much more deliberate pace taking care of not only my feet and toes but also my quads.  The sun was coming through the clouds now and we knew we’d have a hot run back through the inner Canyon and the box.  Our conversation never lagged, chatting with people on their way up who dogged us for trailing the group of women who were a few hundred yards in front of us.
We rolled back to the Pumphouse, made a quick stop to stow long sleeve shirts and then I took the lead, back to Cottonwood where we would fill up for our final long run section.  Packs were heavy with water as we set out from Cottonwood, sun beating down we set a solid, steady pace though the heat. 

The plan on the way back was to take what we thought was a short cut to Ribbon Falls, check out the falls (and bypass a big ridge that would require a hearty uphill.)  We made it over to the falls, enjoyed the view then began to search for the rest of our short cut.  What we didn’t realize was there was no bridge back across the creek.
Rather than backtrack to the bridge we found a cairn pointing to the short cut but had to ford the creek in the process.  We took off our socks and shoes and stepped into the icy cold water.  It took your breath away but felt great on our battered feet.  The rocks at the bottom acting as little massagers as we waded to the other side. 

Once there we dried our feet, put on fresh socks and continued on towards the Box.
We hit the Box feeling strong despite the heat.  We had plenty of water and mentally knew what was ahead of us.  I took the lead and set a fast pace through this section which now helped us by being slightly downhill.  Our conversation slowed and eventually stopped as both of us locked in knowing that this section could make our break our run.  To this point we had been very smart, not pushing, monitoring calories, hydration, pace but now we knew get through this section and while there was still a formidable climb ahead the worst was over. 

Bridge one, done, then bridge two, bridge three shortly after that.  We slowed and walked for a bit as the sun sapped our energy, then bridge four and finally bridge five.  Another half mile or so and we made it Phantom Ranch.  We stopped and rested in the shade, both feeling the effort of that section.  Drinking as much water as we could and just relaxing for a few minutes.  Still roughly 10 miles to go but in our minds the worst was behind us. 

We filled up at Phantom knowing on the way out only Indian Garden (about the midway point) had water.  We walked and ate down to the river, crossed the bridge and began the rolling river trail.  After a few minutes trying to get our legs to work running in sand we just pulled out the trekking poles and did a combo power hike/run until we turned on to Bright Angel trail. 

In 2014 by the time we hit this section on the way out we had to use our headlamps and never really got to see what it looked like.
This time the sun was till high in the cloudless sky and we drank in the views.  I had crushed a lot of food and Phantom and was feeling it in my stomach as we leaned into the climb.  Between the heat, and my body trying to digest the hundreds of calories I slowed, focused on my breathing and waited for my body to absorb it all. 

As we had all day, Mitch took the lead.  Knowing I was struggling a little bit he led and kept up a steady stream of conversation until it passed and I was back to normal.  All day we switched off, if one needed a few minutes to get through something instinctively the other took over.  As we climbed the first rise I was back and we continued our banter throughout the climb. 

After a few miles of desert type climbing trees began to appear around a creek that ran down the South Rim, we knew we were getting close to Indian Garden.  Eventually it appeared like an oasis, trees, stream, buildings, benches, campground.  This was the last water stop over the final 5 miles out.  We didn’t want to carry a ton of water weight to the top so had to be smart.  Filled up bottles and decided to just keep draining our reservoirs in our packs. 

Texted Matt & Alex who had met up with Cano on the South Rim so everyone was together which was great.  They were just waiting on us. 

Off we went, the trekking poles ticking like a metronome, setting the pace and we followed.  Switchback after switchback, amazingly even this late into the adventure we felt good, strong.  Our splits from Indian Garden to 3-Mile rest-house to 1.5-Mile rest-house were eerily similar despite the fact that it felt like we were slowing down. 

The altitude forced us to work harder on the climb out but our pace stayed the same.  As always happens when you are getting close to the end our conversation turned to food.  Should we eat first then shower & hot tub, or vice versa.  After a few minutes of debate, I finally just gave in and told Mitch all I wanted to do was lay down on my back for like 5 minutes when we got out of here.  I said ‘I don’t care what we do after that I just want my 5 minutes’ we laughed remembering how I asked for the same thing back in 2014.
We were getting close, you could feel it, the sun had not quite set and we didn’t need headlamps as we turned into the final switchback.  Then I heard someone yelling, I turned back to Mitch and said ‘That sounds like Matt.’  He responded ‘It is’ we looked up and there was Matt & Alex leaning over looking down on us from the top of the rim.  Everyone laughed and they headed down to meet us at the final tunnel.  We climbed out together, 15 hours and 10 minutes to cover the roughly 48-50 miles of trail, a 4-hour improvement over 2014.

Everyone had a blast, Alex & Matt spend the day exploring and even spotted a couple big horn sheep.  Cano had spent the day in the Canyon climbing out a few hours ahead of us, and everyone was on a high.
We grabbed some food headed back to the hotel where I finally got a chance for my 5 minute lay down, making the most of it while smashing jalapeno poppers…

In 2014 the day after our R2R2R adventure the three of us were walking like extras in Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.  Barely able to move, quads, calves, feet shot. 
This time around we were moving better, not normal but a huge improvement over last time.  We lingered over the breakfast buffet telling more stories from the previous day’s adventure while rain/sleet/snow fell outside. 

Cano had to head back to PHX that morning to fly back to FL, the rest of us decided we felt good enough to take a hike and headed down Grandview Trail to Horseshoe Mesa, a 6 mile round trip hike to an old miner’s cabin and more spectacular views as the fog slowly lifted. 

We ended the trip with an epic Uno battle in the hotel room, punch drunk with laughter before crashing and heading home the next day. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

7 Days & 6 Nights

“When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love’ -Aurelius

Another morning waiting for the alarm to go off, laying in bed not sleeping.  I had strung a few of these nights together recently.  First there was the excitement of Friday’s win capped off by Maya Moore’s buzzer beating shot in Indy. 

That was followed by a night spend tossing and turning after a missed opportunity to clinch the title in game 4 and now on this Wednesday morning I lay staring at the ceiling waiting to hear Ali’s alarm go off.  The excitement, the unknown of a game 5.  No matter what happened tonight, win or lose the season was over.  This long ride I’d been on since the beginning of June calling every game, home, road, preseason, playoffs.  It ended tonight one way or another.

There was an air of excitement at shoot-around, a focused Lynx team went over Indy’s sets again, at this point knowing them probably as good as the Fever themselves.
They answered the same media questions they’ve been answering for the past two weeks, and finally after a long afternoon it was game time.
Both teams got off to slow starts, just battling as you would expect with two teams that by now are playing for the seventh time this season.  At the half MN led 27-21 after their defense held Indy to just 4 second quarter points.
In the 3rd the Lynx hit the gas, Head Coach Cheryl Reeve and her staff always preach about finding those moments of separation.  Well the Lynx found one and pulled away to win their 3rd WNBA Championship in the past 5 years.  Afterwards I was backstage watching the players and coaches celebrate, thinking how happy I was for all of them.  It had been a long season with tons of ups and downs and yet this team found a way to accomplish their goal.  Coming together and playing their best on the biggest stage.  Nothing had been easy and it was fun to see the smiles on everyone’s faces at what they had accomplished.  I kept thinking to myself, how lucky am I to not only get to call this game but to be back here and join in the celebration.

At the party afterwards in downtown Mpls, shortly after head Coach Cheryl Reeve had doused me with champagne, word came out that Prince, who had attended the game, had invited us out to his Paisley Park Studio for a personal show.  It was already nearing midnight, I was exhausted and had a big weekend coming up with the Wild Duluth race and then a pretty ambitious hike in the Grand Canyon.  I told Ali I didn’t think I was going to go…I was tired…Ali said ‘You are going to that show for both of us!  This is a once in a lifetime experience you go!’

So I hitched a ride out there and walked into Prince mid-jam session on stage with a few others playing a full on show to less than 100 members of the Lynx team and organization.  The players loved it, dancing well in to the night as Prince played past 4am.
Ali was right it was a once in a lifetime experience and I woke her up at 4am to tell her all about it…Prince shredded and I love it!  Had no idea what to expect but again found myself telling Ali ‘I am the luckiest guy ever!’

The next day was a rough one though, I had to work for a little bit to get ready for the Championship parade and rally on Friday, also had to pack for the Wild Duluth race and my trip to the Canyon as I would be leaving right from Duluth.
 Got a call that afternoon from our PR manager saying that I was invited to breakfast at the Governor’s residence Friday morning if I wanted to tag along…well of course I did!  Can’t pass up an opportunity like that, so in addition to my running gear, hiking gear, parade and rally gear…I would also be bringing a suit with me that  morning.
We took a bus over there, had a complete breakfast of salmon lox, quinoa/kale salad and cake…to go along with the coffee, all before 10am. 

It was a really cool experience to be in the Governor’s residence, just a few weeks earlier I had run by there as part of my solo running of the Twin Cities Marathon.  Plus my mom works on a committee to decorate the inside so I finally got a chance to see what she and her crew work so hard on.
After that it was back to Target Center to change into parade clothes and then to the parade start.  I found my car, a red convertible driven by one of my co-workers….he claims he can drive a stick but may have met his match with that car. 

We stalled out a few times as the parade got started, but I didn’t worry, it’s gotta be hard trying to drive a stick at like 5-10 mph.  But as we got closer to 7th street, where the big crowds were, I started to smell something burning.  I looked at the front of the car and smoke was billowing out from under the hood.  The cops who were policing the parade noticed too and told my driver ‘You gotta get that thing off the road!’ so he gunned it, nearly dumping me off the back in the process, and we ‘won the parade’ by being the first car to Target Center. 

After the parade there was a big Rally at the arena that I had the chance to host.  It was a blast, up on stage in front of all the cheering fans getting to interview the players and coaches was so much fun.  Again, standing off to the side by the 3 Championship Trophies while the video montage played I was able to take a look around and think ‘Good golly am I a lucky dude!’ 

Once that wrapped I grabbed a quick lunch with my parents before hitting the road for Duluth.
I was meeting my buddies Mitch and Andy up there with plans to run the Wild Duluth 100K.  I had wanted to do this race for a while and had run the 50K a few years back but on a vastly modified course due to flooding and was excited that we were back on mostly the original course.
But I was also gassed…it had been a long week, a longer month and a really long summer.  I had not gotten in the type of training I wanted to for this event, and honestly had added it only about a month before when it became clear we just were not going to be able to make the Zion Traverse happen.
Earlier in the year I had a similar experience with the Afton 50k, added it late was under trained and tired, and had to bail posting my first DNF.  That one ate me up because I knew I could have finished but just was out of gas. 

Going into this one, I was out of gas and I knew it.  But I still wanted to run, wanted to spend a day away from arenas, computers, the indoors.  Wanted to get out in the woods and see the fall colors, run with my friends, just enjoy the day not matter what happened.
I came to this race with no expectations and my only goal was to be able to fly to PHX the next day and then kick off our Grand Canyon adventure.
So after a funny and awkward dinner (thanks to our very strange waiter) we crashed at the hotel laughing at how ‘Guys weekend’ had changed…into bed by 10 and up at 430 rather than the other way around.  

The plan was Mitch and I run through 42 miles, Andy meets us and pace us to the end.  That was the plan.  We started in the dark, it was cold but not unbearable, clear skies as we headed out following our headlamps up the hill away from Bayfront Park, caught the sunrise over the city on the ridge and then buckled in as we rolled towards the turnaround.
The first couple of aid stations flew by, then we hit a stretch that wasn’t that long in terms of miles but with leaves all over the trail we were stumbling, kicking rocks and roots and constantly having to stop and look around to see if we were still on the trail.  Eventually we made it through that section and ended up back on top of the ridges headed towards Ely’s Peak with beautiful sweeping views of the St. Louis River heading towards Lake Superior.

We hit the 20 mile mark feeling good, chatted with Andy and then headed out.  The next two sections were familiar as we’d run and hiked over them many times in the past few years.  Some ups and downs but a decent amount of runnable sections and then the mountain bike section.  Tons of rollers so you felt like you were constantly going up or down and it was exhausting.  On a bike it would have been awesome but having to charge these little hills and then not get much momentum on the other end was mentally frustrating and physically draining.

Somewhere in this section Mitch mentioned he was not feeling it today.  He had a huge summer, running hard at a number of Ultra’s and posting some amazing times.  I was really excited for him and the job he did and could totally understand if he was spent.  I too was pretty beat after my week but was having so much fun enjoying the sun, woods and friends.
We hit the turnaround in about 7 and a half hours and Mitch decided that was enough for him. I had told him earlier that I would be fine bailing too, I was thinking ahead to my trip to the Grand Canyon and the 40+ miles we planned on hiking with 40lb packs on our backs and thought sometimes you gotta live to fight another day.

But I felt so good and was having so much fun that I told Mitch I wanted to get at least another 10 in.  So he waited for Andy, I headed out and would see them in a few hours.  
Leaving Mitch was hard over the years the two of us have gotten each other through some tough runs and pushed each other in others and I don’t think I ever would have gotten out of the Grand Canyon in our Rim to Rim to Rim attempt if it wouldn’t have been for his great attitude.
But I knew he was fine, not hurt and had a ride coming so instead I just settled into a steady run back through the mountain bike rollers, up on the ridges, down the ravines, surprised at how good I felt and how strong I was still running.

My mind drifted to the summer.  It had not been an easy one, my schedule did not match up with Ali’s at all.  It seemed like every time I was home she was gone and when she was home I was on the road.  We had survived it and in the long run will be better for it not doubt but it hadn’t been easy.  But at the same time the ride of calling a championship season and series that went the full five games was a blast and literally a dream come true.  From the days of dreaming calling professional basketball to actually getting to do it, it was a trip!

Eventually I made my way back to the aid station where I was going to meet Mitch and Andy and as I rolled in felt that I was good.  I had accomplished what I set out to do, have a fun day running in the woods, racked up roughly 43 miles, and I still felt good which was awesome.  I wanted to keep feeling good and be ready to roll at the Canyon so I went to the officials and told them I was ‘Opting for the short course’ and we headed back to shower and get some grub at Fitgers.
Once again we crashed early and the following day I was the only one to rise early as I had a flight to catch.  It was so cold in Duluth that night I had to scrape frost off my car at 7am the next morning.  Fueled up with a coffee and hit the road, rolling into my parent’s driveway a little after 930.  Hopped out, tossed some of my left over running food into my hiking pack and then tossed that into the Pilot.  Said a quick hello/goodbye to my Mom who would be heading to Paris the next day, then my dad drove me to the airport where I caught a flight to PHX.

I landed in PHX to 90 degree temps, a far cry from the windshield scraping I had to do that morning.  Met my buddy Matt and his son and we headed to Matt’s place.  Due to storms ripping through the Canyon that afternoon/evening we opted to stay at his place and then head up early Monday morning.
That was just fine with me, another night in a real bed to help my legs recover and try to get caught up on some sleep.
We were on the road a little after 4 the next morning, jamming Bruce Springsteen, swapping stories of adventures we’d had since the last time we saw each other.  Recounting our trip to the Canyon last fall and the epic games of Uno.
Watched the sun rise over the walls of rock that line the road leading to Grand Canyon National Park and at 8am had parked at the Tanner trail head on the east end of the south rim.  We got out of the truck to a roaring wind and freezing temps.  Both of us pulled out our rain coats, hoods up to keep us warm as we loaded our packs and got ready to drop in.  The wind was incredible, similar to what Ali and I experienced our first trip to the river and back.  It just assaults you from every angle and it whips around.

We loaded up and dropped in and as soon as we made it through the first switchback and were below the rim, the wind dropped completely.  I don’t mean it was a light wind, I mean there was no wind at all and it was warm again.  So we stopped to shed our jackets and long sleeve shirts before continuing towards the river.
The Tanner trail is challenging, it’s a primitive, unmaintained trail with a lot of huge steps up, down, over and around rocks.  You rely a lot on your trekking poles and balance and like many trail runs, it’s hard to go fast but easy to get out of control.  So we took our time, following the trail to Stegosaurs Rock and stopping to look west towards Mather point the classic Grand Canyon viewing point.

After that roughly thousand foot drop we had some level terrain for a while as we wound along the buttes in front of Desert View Watchtower and finally turned north at the top of the red wall and caught our first glimpses of the river.

Until Mitch, Greg and I ran the Rim to Rim to Rim in the spring of 2014 I had never been to the Grand Canyon.  I don’t know that I’d ever even seen if from a plane.  When we looked down into it that first time I was shocked at how much as going on.  I had thought it was pretty straight forward, a canyon wall, the river, another wall.  I had no concept of the buttes, mesas and slot canyons that make up the Grand Canyon.  There is nothing straightforward about it.
It was beautiful in its chaos, the most beautiful place I had ever seen.  I remember hearing it once referred to as ‘God’s Playground’ because like a child’s sandbox it was constantly changing due to the wind, water and other elements.

A week after R2R2R, Ali and I had gone down to the river and back out on the corridor trails, taking our time and I got to see it from a whole new perspective.  It literally was always changing, the canyon walls change colors as the sun moves across or water falls on them.  The river can go from bright green to chocolate milk and back again, the walls look like layer cake, the green shale layer, the red wall, the white frosting layer.  It never ceases to take my breath away and my buddy Matt is a great guide.  He loves the Canyon more than anyone I know and has a ton of knowledge of the history not only of the nature side of it, but also of the trails we would be on.

We had gone this way last fall when we camped along the Escalante Trail, but on this trip we had ambitions of making it to the confluence of the Colorado and the little Colorado.  It was a serious under taking and everything had to go right for us to get there and get back to the airport in time for me to catch my flight back.

We made it through the red wall, worst part of the trail as Matt likes to say, and then hit the long, sloping green shale section.  The last part before we would hit the river.  The sun was on top of us and warm now despite the menacing clouds to the west. 
This section is just a quad crusher, it’s a constant slope forward and to the right, with loose gravel underfoot that makes you slip and slide the whole way down.  Matt liked to recite a line from the trail guide that described this section as ‘Piling on to an already weary hiker…’  So we slipped and slid our way down until finally reaching the wash that led to Tanner Rapid and the river.

From there we had to find the Beamer trail that would continue east along the river towards the confluence, roughly another 3 miles to our campsite.  After a few starts and stops (trail guide said it was along the river but turns out it was actually above the river for the first section following some bluffs and rock outcroppings) we found it and followed the cairns until they dropped us into some tamarisk and from there it was route finding all along the river.

It’s amazing to be that close to the Colorado it’s such a massive river and you think how far it travels, how Powell and his crew ran it totally blind back in the day.  Today, after the recent rains, it was running a chocolate milk brown.  As Matt said ‘Too thin to plow but too thick to drink’ that was a great description of it.  We were right next to it for stretches and you get to see how fast it moves, the eddies that crop up along the shore, the power and sound of the rapids. 

We talked about the river, the dams, how we can help to keep this area wild.  There was talk recently of putting a gondola from the rim to the river and carting people that way.  Both Matt and I had signed petitions against it, he even posted comments in a public forum against it and as of now those talks had been tabled.  But the next big issue, and one that has not been tabled, is a huge development just south of the main entrance to the park that would put a huge stress on this environment.  Sometimes there are places that should just be left alone.  Places that should remain difficult to get to, places that make you work to enjoy them.  This, in my opinion, was one of those places.  If you want to experience the Grand Canyon in this way, you need to be fully committed to doing so and putting the effort in.

We eventually found a campsite, really cool little spot tucked under some sweeping trees that we dubbed ‘The Secret Garden’ after the Boss song.  Set up our tents and then set about getting water.
We gathered our bottles and went to the closest wash and attempted to use the new UV filter I had…well bad news, the water was way too thick and cloudy for the UV pen to work.  We thought with the pre-filter it would clear it enough to make it useable but with the recent runoff there was no way it was cutting through there.  Luckily we had iodine pills so after filtering out as much sand and dirt as we could loaded up a few bottles for the next day.

As we were working on the water a rafting party pulled over to the other side of the river from our campsite a couple hundred yards away.  We waved and then a few minutes later saw a kayak leave their site and head over to our side of the shore.  We didn’t think anything of it but saw a guy get out on the shore with something in his hands and wander around.  We couldn’t for the life of us figure out what he was doing and then it struck Matt.  Rafting parties will sometimes share beers with hikers as a sign of goodwill.  Maybe this guys had some beers!  So Matt took off like he was shot out of cannon.  Bushwhacked through the tamarisk and found the guy, returning with 4 of the muddiest, most amazing Modelo’s I’ve ever tasted.

While he was doing that I was gathering up the water and noticed huge dark clouds to the south seemingly headed our way.  We booked back to our site, the sky started to spit but under the cover of our trees we barely got wet.  We cooked up dinner and then decided to boil some water too so that we could save the Iodine for our trek to the confluence the next day. 

After a few games of Uno (my previous canyon dominance was nowhere to be seen this trip, I blame it on the fact that we were not using real Uno cards but ‘Cars’ branded ones) we crashed to the most glorious sleep I have ever had.  

The plan was to be on the trail by 6am the next day so alarms were set for 5.  We would pack everything up but just bring day packs to the Confluence then come back grab the bigger packs and head to Tanner to sleep before climbing out the following day at 3am to get me to the airport.
Sometime in the middle of the night the skies we had been seeing all day opened up and we got dumped on.  Thunder and rain rolled through in two different batches, peppering our tents through the trees.  It was so nice to hear it and just bury myself deeper into my sleeping bag, warm and dry.
My alarm sounded at 5am and I popped awake, stuffing my bag and pad into their stuff sacks and then hollered over to Matt.  He let me know it was still raining and recommended we hold off a little bit.  I had been so excited to get going I hadn’t even noticed the rain.  So I laid back down in my tent and drifted off, around 6am Matt woke me up and we went out to check the skies.  The storms had stopped but there was another round coming behind, you could see it descending the south rim and heading our way.

We crawled back into our tents as the rain began to spit and debated our options.  We had set a hard turnaround time to make sure we made it back to Tanner before it got dark and this delay was eating into it.  The rain spattering on the tent eventually caused me to drift off again and when it finally stopped around 730 we again discussed our options.  We felt like guys on Everest who are so close to the Summit but because of the turnaround time are unable to make it. 

In addition to the timing, the next 5 miles to the confluence was on ridges along the canyon walls and we didn’t really know what they would be like after all this rain.  So finally at 8am with our time goal pretty much sunk we decided instead to pack up and head all the way back out.  One day after 13 miles down, we’d jam out 13 miles back out.  Camping at Tanner and doing some day trip exploring would have been fun too but heading out at 3am in the pouring rain was not something either of us felt like doing.

So we packed up and headed out, the path we followed the day before had become a stream forcing us to the side for long stretches.  It was disappointing not to make it all the way there, especially for Matt who had been eyeing this hike for nearly 10 years.  In the end though we knew we made the smart, and safe decision.   We used the last of the iodine at Tanner Rapid and began the slog back up that sloping green shale layer.

After that it was heads down, powering through the red wall and rewarding ourselves with some tuna fish and an amazing view of where we had come.  Then belted in for the long rolling trail on the buttes in front of Desert View and when we hit Stegosaurus rock we looked to the west and our jaws dropped.  Black thunderheads with sheets of rain pouring down into the canyon.  Not what we had wanted to see as we had been lucky to stay dry so far, lots of dark clouds moved in and out over us so far this day but what we were looking at now would not be much fun.
We planned on taking a break there but suddenly both felt fresh enough to attack the final climb hoping to make it out before getting soaked.

Again we got lucky, the clouds moved straight over to the north rim and as we climbed they gave us one of the most beautiful sunsets ever.  Sometime around 6pm we climbed back out, popping above the rim like a couple of gophers.  We were dirty, exhausted, but smiling at the effort and how much fun it is to experience something so beautiful in this manner.  We were greeted by flocks of people with tripods and cameras peering over the rim to try and capture the sunset.

After that we bombed back to PHX and the following day I headed back home.
We joked along the way that there are many first ascents of mountains and descents of canyons and caves but I may have posted a first too.  First person to start a week partying with Prince and end it at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  Not sure if that’s a first ascent or descent or maybe both but I do know it was one wild ride.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Solo TCM

"It doesn't matter how slowly you go, as long as you don't stop" Confucius

Most of these posts start out with an early alarm and me rising in the dark of a morning before taking on some endurance run through the woods.
This one is a little different.  There was no alarm this morning, unless you count the alarm that went off for Ali.  I rose about 20 minutes after it went off as I usually do, and began to get lunch and coffee ready for the two of us.
We were two days away from the Twin Cities Marathon, it would be my 8th consecutive running of it and Ali’s first.  We had planned to run together, me pacing her to the finish, but as was the case much of this summer I would have to miss it due to Game 1 of the WNBA Finals.
Instead, feeling well trained and wanting to keep my streak alive, I would be running it on this day, self-supported.
Ali left for work, I made sure I had everything, hopped on my bike and rode the 3 miles into work with my hydration pack in my backpack, shorts, running shoes, snacks etc.
The day was fairly normal but had a strange air to it, a normal morning then after lunch I planned to run the entire Twin Cities Marathon course.  I went to a morning meeting, worked on my game prep for Sunday, covered practice and was back to the studio around noon.
There I changed into my running gear, loaded up my pack and stepped out to 7th street to begin my journey. 
The TCM course starts at the Vikings Stadium in downtown Mpls and I was luckily not too far from that.  Thought about taking the light rail but figured that would just take longer so instead started my gps watch and ran down 7th to the starting line.
When I got there a lot of the barriers and stuff they would use Sunday for the start line were there so I had an ‘officially unofficial’ start line. 

To zero fanfare, outside of a couple of strange looks from people driving by at a guy in a hydration pack
running down the street, I started my 8th consecutive running of TCM.
The first couple of miles normally so loud with the cheering spectators and chilly in the shadow of the buildings was almost the opposite on this day.  It was a beautiful sunny fall afternoon, quiet as I went block to block getting stopped at every red light until I got to Hennepin and turned left, finally stringing a few lights together as I made my way towards the sculpture garden.
Turned up the hill next to the Walker and began to make my way towards the Lakes, finding my stride and thinking of past marathons.  This time there was no Alan Page standing on Douglas St. playing his tuba as I ran past, though he would be back out there Sunday.
I thought about Ali having to run alone on Sunday, wishing there was a way I could run and do the game but with a 2pm tip-off to accommodate a National TV broadcast everything would have to go right in order for me to make it on time, and with this being my first time calling the Finals it was a risk I just couldn’t afford.
Those thoughts bounced around my head as I rounded Isles and made my way towards Calhoun.  Once there the sun bouncing off the waves of the lake transported me back to summer afternoons at the cabin when we would swim all day and then lay on the dock to warm up and watch the sun dance along the waves.
I headed up the hill to Harriett remembering a few years ago doing TCM a week after an Ultra Marathon in Patagonia when I got to that hill about 6 miles in and my legs already felt gassed.  I had a goal that year of just getting in under 4 hours but on that hill the 4 hour pace group flew past me, I felt like I got swallowed up in a wave and then they were gone.  I thought about giving chase but decided instead to just run my own race and eventually caught and passed them to finish under 4 hours. 

Made my way to the south end of Harriett and headed down Minnehaha Creek, making sure to stay on the road (or sidewalk) instead of following the bike/running paths to make it more like the official course.
The thing that always stands out about this stretch is the hills, you don’t notice them when you’re on the path next to the creek but on the road there are some hills.  Nothing crazy just they can take you by surprise if you’re not ready.  I made a mental note to be sure to remind Ali about them.
As I got back closer to the creek I heard something to my right, looked out towards the street and there was my brother Alex.  He had taken his lunch hour and driven over to find me, following the crumbs of a trail I left on Instagram. 
He had Gatorade and Cliff bars for me, a little rolling aid station.  I kept running while talking to him, accepted a Cliff bar and then he said he had to get back to work and took off.  We would meet up later that night to pick up our packets to the Marathon.
After he took off I thought about his upcoming race.  Alex has always been faster than me, we’ve run a number of marathon’s together with him always finishing first, this Sunday would be the first marathon we would not run together (well we would usually start together then I would let him go) and I was excited for his race.
Alex had committed himself in the spring to seeing what he was capable of.  He changed his diet, built a training plan, dialed in and had a really good summer of focused training.  Some of the times he sent me were eye popping.  He was getting faster as he was getting older which is not normally the case.
We didn’t get to train together very much this summer due to my schedule, and I feel I would have only slowed him down, but I was excited to see what he had on Sunday.
The journey continued over to Lake Nokomis where a group of folks in classic cars were taking advantage of the weather slowly rolling around the lake all waving to me as I passed.  Headed up the short hill to Melo Glaze doughnuts, the siren song during the race…smells so good but you must resist.  I wasn’t racing today, had some cash maybe I stop?  For my sake (good or bad I guess) I hit a green light at the corner and decided to take advantage as I had to meet up with Ali at the finish line around 430.
Rolled into Minnehaha Falls and decided to take a quick break to refill.  Luckily Sea Salt the little cafĂ© there was open and allowed me to fill my bottle with cold water, I used the rest room, took a quick look at the falls and then headed out already 16 miles in. 

The next stretch is always the worst.  West river road is a long, flat stretch with very little crowd support.  Today there was none.  I put my head down, focused on what was in front of me and staying in the moment and began to tick off the miles.
One thing I told Ali earlier in the week, when it gets tough to relax, don’t push things.  I told her think of Fred Couples and how easy and relaxed his swing is just back and forth like a metronome.  So I geared down a bit during this stretch, let my mind wander and my legs tick off the miles.  Next thing I knew I was pulling up to the Franklin Bridge and headed towards St. Paul.

Crossed over and thought about all the times I’d seen my Gramps and parents on this part.  Always with a sign, cowbells, cookies whatever I needed.  My Gramps at 90 now would be out there Sunday to cheer Ali and Alex on, while my parents hopped around between there and the finish line.  I thought about the great picture my mom got of Alex last year high fiving Gramps as he ran past, big smile on his face.
How every time I pass him he would say ‘Want me to run some miles with you?’ and how no matter if I felt rough at that point or not I always headed up to Summit Ave with a smile on my face.
This time as I turned on Summit I had to wait at a light and decided to give my legs a little break from all the sidewalk pounding and instead run down the grassy boulevard in the middle.  It was a little more challenging skipping over the roots and rocks but the dirt felt much better than the concrete.
I was gonna be pretty close to the finishing time I set with Ali that morning.  Might need to pick it up a little if I had any left.
Started getting a few cramps in my legs as I neared the Governor’s residence, slowed down to try and stretch them out.  Remember to tell Ali this stretch from Lexington to Dale is longer than you think and slightly uphill.  Man I hope Ali has a good time on Sunday.  She is so strong and has trained so smart that I really feel she can handle it and have a great race.  But so many things can go wrong on race day. 
Remembering my first marathon where things felt great for 15-18 miles before the wheels fell off and I limped to the finish, I hoped that she would not have to deal with something like that.
My mind snapped back to the present, there was the Capitol off in the distance.  The finish line was near, normally I hit an extra gear at this point and bomb down the hill but this time I just stayed steady.
Had to stop at stop light before finally hitting the bridge and pushing on towards the finish.
They had already dropped off some of the finishing line barriers so I had an ‘officially unofficial’ finish line my 8th consecutive TCM was in the books.   This one a little different as my gps said my final mile total was 27.6 miles and 4:17, must have played from the Championship Tees….

Ali was parked down the street, I changed quickly then we drove to the TCM expo, met Alex and picked up our packets. 
First time I’ve ever finished a marathon then gotten my number…Alex and Ali both had awesome days on Sunday.  I was so proud of both of them for the dedication they showed in training and the focus they showed on race day to go out and accomplish the task at hand. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Finding The Focus

'All we have is this journey we are making and the attitude with which we make it'- Lizzie Hawker.

For the past few years my training hasn’t always been focused in terms of the day to day plan.  Run 5 miles this day, do speed work or hills that day.  Saturdays are for long runs and Sundays are for recovery.
Instead much of it has been centered around feel and fitting in workouts when I could between road trips and games when I was back home.
The one thing that kept training focused during that stretch was a number of races scattered through the year that not only kept me honest but also gave me chances to get in long runs and plenty of time on my feet as well as keep the mind/body engaged & sharp.
This summer due to a scheduling quirk things have changed, I was able to ramp up early in the season for a couple 50k’s and kept training solid during that time, but then there was a huge gap.  Nothing was planned from late May until Twin Cities Marathon in October.
At first blush this seemed like a great opportunity to really get back into focused training without having to take time to recover from some of the longer races I normally do during the summer time.  A chance to try some new training methods (HR training, hills, speed-work etc.) and at the same time allow my body some much needed time off after years of building a base.
But soon after the Superior 50K I already missed having a race on the horizon and haphazardly threw Afton 50K on there.  I wanted a challenge and little did I know it would be more than I bargained for.  My body was exhausted from moving apartments, travel and a summer cold and I was forced to drop after 24 miles, more so due to malaise than any real injury.  I was just plain tired, worn out and wanted to relax.
But that bothered me and I wanted to get back to where I was before, build back my ability to push through those mental barriers and finish no matter what.
Despite a ton of travel I tried to ramp things up, looking at my calendar and seeing where I could put in some serious time on my feet.
We had a noon game right before the All-Star Break, I hatched a plan to cover a chunk of the Border Route trail at my cabin in a self-supported run with my brother and my cousin.  But like Afton it was a bit of a half-baked idea.  I went into it tired, having just finished 17 straight days of working or traveling, dehydrated, and without the proper nutrition I needed.  The first 13 miles were great, bushwhacking through the woods with great conversation and incredible views when we got up above the Border Lakes.
As we neared the Rose Lake waterfall I was hit with a cramp in my leg that forced me into an incredibly painful march over the final four (probably the toughest miles of the whole thing) as cramps attacked my legs up and down.
My brother & cousin were bothered by cramping due to the heat & lack of sodium/electrolytes but not to the extent that I was.  It was frustrating, the two times when I had time to actually get out there I was not prepared and both ended with me searching for answers.
Was it the new HR training that was messing me up, not going fast enough, not pushing hard enough, not enough hills?  Was I not eating enough, I’d dropped some weight but thought that would help not hurt but was I not fueling properly and if not why?  I had been doing these types of runs for years why now am I suddenly acting like a rookie who has no idea what he’s doing?
After some serious soul searching, and discussing with Ali, going over every detail of what went wrong, what was different, what went right, and why the change, we still didn’t have too concrete of an answer except this.
Much like when I was a rookie in these events, the excitement to get out trumped all.  I would drop everything to hit the trails, in my haste forget water, electrolytes, food, wouldn’t care the time of day or temp just get out there.  I was pushing everything, pushing the pace even though I might not have the fitness for that speed at the moment.
I needed to slow down, to really pay attention to what my body was telling me, what it needed to go on and be mindful of the pace so that I didn’t go out too fast on a hot day & blow up.  Maybe lay off the coffee on a humid day so you don’t go into it already at a deficit.
All of those things and other factors, namely needing sleep and proper rest, played into my early season mistakes.  I would love to say that since that recognition all is right in the world and I am bounding over trails like a deer again but that’s still not the case.
Little by little I am making the adjustments, it’s not easy when you only have a small window to commit and you want to do everything in that window.  Need to really focus on the most important parts of the training.  For me right now that’s not speed, but instead regaining the endurance.  The ability to move for long stretches without stopping, to put in the time on my feet.
To drill down on the nutrition, sodium, hydration needed to keep me moving.  Every run is a step in that direction but also the recognition it doesn’t end when the run does.  The recovery & pre run planning is just as important.  Rather than think I can just toss in a 50K the morning after a game & a week of moving/travel realize that doesn’t set you up to be successful.  And if I am going to do that then the time when not traveling/working needs to be spent wisely to prepare for that rather than trying to jam in more meaningless junk miles.
Less than 2 months away from a big October I am glad I was able to spot these things and start to figure them out, with Twin Cities followed by the Zion Traverse, followed by a Grand Canyon excursion, I need to be able to move slow and steady for many hours straight but also recover quickly in between and fuel right so I can wake up the next morning and do it again.
So while my time earlier in the summer was without purpose, that purpose or goal now looms large.  The rest of my training may be haphazard in terms of when it happens and where, the focus before during and after each effort must be there.