Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Grand Canyon - The Race and the Run

Perhaps Dave Mackey said it best in a very recent KNAU interview about the Rim to Rim to Rim run of the Grand Canyon, "It's kind of a rite of passage in the ultrarunning world to do that run.  It's something you'll never forget." 

Or maybe Rae Clark hit the nail on the head in 1985 when he wrote about one of the last Rim to Rim to Rim races held in the Canyon, "Whatever it is that draws the ultrarunner to the Canyon, it seems special for each.  Maybe it's the challenge of the 24,000 feet of elevation change in just 41 miles, maybe it's the spectacular scenery that changes color all day long with the movement of the sun."

As the photo below shows, the Canyon has withstood the test of time.  Its canyons, ridges, river, thrones, temples, spires and hidden corners will be there forever.

Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe, 2008. Point Imperial on the Grand Canyon, 50% Ansel Adams, 50% Red Wall Limestone.Left: Ansel Adams, 1941, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. (Courtesy of the Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, AZ) 

Here are the results and report by Rae Clark on what must have been one of the last Rim to Rim to Rim races in the Canyon.  The excerpt below was taken from Ultrarunning Magazine.  

Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe, 2008. Combined record of Ansel Adams' photographs made over the course of an entire day, Yavapai Point. Inset (all): Ansel Adams, 1941, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. (Courtesy of the Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, AZ and the National Archives, Washington, DC)

Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe, 2008Descending into the canyon, mid-morning on the trail at Bright AngelComposited from fifty-eight different pictures made over twenty-five minutes. 

Here's the transcript for this KNAU interview with Dave Mackey, Jason Wolfe and me by reporter Laurel Morales.

Running Grand Canyon Ultimate Challenge

 (KNAU) - The run begins at the south rim, dips all the way down to the Colorado River climbs up to the north rim and then back again. It covers 42 miles and ascends roughly 11-thousand feet. Runners must brace themselves for the drastic temperature changes from the rim to the bottom. Nowhere else in the world can you run from the alpine environment to the desert in such a short amount of time.

WOLFE: My very first canyon experience I fell down three or four times. It took me twice as long as it does now so I thought I'd never go back after that first experience.

That's Jason Wolfe who says the canyon's beauty and challenges lured him back to try again.

WOLFE: It was quite a struggle but just finishing it, accomplishing it and turning around and looking at all the ground you just covered feels good. (0:09)

Now Wolfe's training to beat the record time running the San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff every chance he gets. Last year he finished just 13 minutes over the record, running from the south rim and back in seven hours and 12 minutes.

Up until the 1980s park rangers allowed organized races. But today the national park trails across the country are off limits to official events so athletes track fastest known times on an Internet message board.

Ultra running champion Dave Mackey, who lives in Colorado, is the current record holder.

MACKEY: It's kind of a right of passage in the ultra running world just to do that run. It's something you'll never forget.

TORRENCE: It is the best trail run in the country.

Ian Torrence is a record setting ultra runner and coach based in Flagstaff.

TORRENCE: In terms of difficulty in terms of what you see and experience it blows your mind.

Torrence says ultra running -- that's any race longer than a marathon -- has gotten more popular in recent years.
TORRENCE: Ultra running is a very raw sport it can really rip you down and it just tears away the ego tears away everything that makes you a person Finishing a 100 mile race in the mountains and bringing that experience back to "real life" it's good confidence building. If I can do that I can do anything back here you know.

Some runners have approached the Grand Canyon over confident. Torrence says even strong athletes should take precautions. Marathon runner Margaret Bradley died of dehydration while traversing the canyon in 2004.

TORRENCE: The Grand Canyon South Kaibab trail profile looks nothing like the profile of the Boston marathon and a lot of people forget that. They think I've done a marathon they can do anything that's the thing about the canyon it's a reality check for a lot of people.

A reality check that Jason Wolfe says he's prepared for this time.
WOLFE: I've almost been fixated on it the last 12 months that I really want to break the record now.

Wolfe will attempt to beat Dave Mackey's 6 hours and 59 minute run in early April when he'll take off from the south Kaibab trailhead with nothing but a few water bottles and gel energy packs to keep him going. Wolfe isn't the first to try to beat the record. But he may have the best chance of pulling it off.

In Flagstaff, I'm Laurel Morales.
© Copyright 2011, knau


Anonymous said...

great stuff! -dj

Kurt said...

Super!!! I am looking foward to doing that run in May with my friends. It has kept me going all winter long.

Rambling Scholar said...

Steffen and I will be there again in June for a rim to rim...and then to rim the following day. I will not be attempting to break anyone's record however!

OldGoat said...

Having done R2R2R six times I have some advice for would-be record setters; stand on the rim and fling your stopwatch as far as you possibly can! Then open your mind to the beauty and serenity of a special place and enjoy a spectacular run. Greet the hikers and maybe even chat with them. Be polite to the muleskinners and stand aside as the less fortunate ride the trail. Don't piss off the Park service into a proposed closure to ultrarunners. Compared to the timeless age of the Grand Canyon, a 7-hour "record" is ludicrously insignificant.

trailturtle said...

Thanks for all of he info in this post.
Bravo to Old Goat for this input and INSIGHT.
Run well, Ann

RunSueRun said...

Ian - Love the 26-year-old UR article. Haha! I have done the double crossing 3 times now but have never been able to run a "fast" (for me) time due to the incredible surroundings which necessitate stopping and looking around in awe with my mouth open... oh about every 5 minutes. To say, I have always taken the OldGoat approach. :) It is an over-the-top spectacular run!!

Hugs to Zoroaster,

Missy B. said...

coming from Utah, i have started on the North Rim (twice). it's an amazing experience. hiking up that north side in the dark, i have felt both times that i wouldn't make it, but cried tears of joy when i actually did. i met so many great people along the way and i think even inspired a few, even though i'm a not a record-setter. anyone who has the opportunity to do this run will learn a lot about themselves.

Kirsten said...

Thank you for writing Ian. It is an eye ball treat! :-) xo Special K