Grand Canyon 2X South Rim to South Rim (March 9-10, 2018)

“Why do you run so far?”

Shrug. I struggle not to say something stupid, and trip over my words. “I don’t know. I just. I just. I’m sorry. I’m having a little bit of imposter syndrome right now.” I smile, in what I hope is a charming way, and not a lame fan girl way, which is how I feel.

They look at me, confused.

“I’m 40 years old and I work full time. I’m a mid-packer. You’re the real deal.”

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Day 1: I drop into the Canyon via the Bright Angel trail, which descends approximately 4460 feet over 10 miles to the Colorado River.

I’d first noticed the frayed back zipper pocked of my UD hydration pack the day before, when filling the bladder for what would be my first time running from the Grand Canyon South Rim (via the Bright Angel trail) to the Colorado River, and power hiking back up again via South Kaibab. This is not the traditional runner’s “Rim to Rim,” which starts at the North Rim and ends at the South Rim, as the former is closed for winter.

More than frayed, the back zipper pouch looked like it might bust open at some, inopportune time in the near future, and I made a mental note to pick up a new one at a local outdoor store, of which I assumed there were many in Flagstaff where I was staying, or in Sedona where I was going next. It wasn’t until the following day, having done the run in reverse down South Kaibab, and refilling my bladder just shy of the half-way point that I noticed offending brown spots inside the four-year-old bladder. Forget Sedona, I thought, this nasty thing wasn’t leaving Flagstaff.

I knew the ultra running elite men congregated in Flagstaff. Young, good looking, and winning everything lately, the “Coconino Cowboys” are the cool kids in the sport. And, while I had a vague notion that one or more of them worked at Run Flagstaff (the store I tried after REI, surprisingly, proved a useless stop), I never expected to actually see any of them.

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The Colorado River.

Which is why I was more surprised than I probably should have been when I entered the empty store and one came around from behind the register to ask if I needed help.

Holy crap I know you. You just ran Black Canyon but dropped. I ran Black Canyon too. We were both there last year when you came in third; I got hypothermia. And I actually think I ran the TransRockies with you back in 2015. I only remember that because you guys all did the beer mile after day 3. I think you were naked. And there was a rumor that you were living out of your car and looking for sponsors. In any case, you have Lake Sonoma coming up next month, where you’ll try and place top 2 for a Western States golden ticket. I will follow the race on Twitter.

“Yeah; I need a new pack.”

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I made one real rest stop over two days of running. Here, on the South Kaibab trail, which climbs nearly 5000 feet in 7.6 miles. Less than 1 mile from the trail head I sat, hot and tired, and stretched my legs. Within 5 minutes of stopping, I would be on the trail again for the final push to the South Rim.

Imposter syndrome is a funny thing. When he asked me what I was training for, the ultra-runner’s equivalent of “where do you work” or “what do you do,” I proudly told him, “Bigfoot,” as in the Bigfoot 200. He was impressed.

We talked about packs; what I would need to carry and for how long. And I did come clean that I knew who he was, and that I’d also run at Black Canyon, albeit “well behind” him. We talked about weather and terrain, and my upcoming 100 miler at Umstead in four weeks.

And that is when he asked me why I run so far, then mistook my idiotic stuttering as my having taken offense. He clarified, “I’m not asking because I’m judging.”

“Sorry. I’m having a little bit of imposter syndrome right now. I’m 40 years old and I work full time. I’m a mid-packer. You’re the real deal.”

“But I’ve only ever run a 100k.”

But you win.

I mumbled something about the fact that, with a 4:08 road marathon PR, I was never going to be at the front of the pack. That I’m built for distance, not for speed. And my answers were probably as unsatisfying for him as they were for me.

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On day 2 I dropped in at South Kaibab, reversing the route I’d done the day before. Nearly 5000 feet down to the Colorado.

What I could have said, what I should have said, is that at some point while training for my first marathon in 2014, I secretly subscribed to Trail Runner, Marathon and Beyond and Ultrarunning magazines. That while I told myself the marathon was a bucket list item I’d wanted, at age 37, to check off my list, there was something stirring inside me. There was something about the glossy photos, not of road runners in big cities with huge medals, but of trail runners in the mountains and doubled over at the side of aid station tents. Where others saw suffering, I saw only magic. That within 23 months of completing my first marathon, I completed my first 100 miler, a race I’d signed up for without ever having run farther than 26.2 (though I eventually did complete a 52 miler during the training ramp, my first ultra). I should have told him that I get so excited on race morning I dance in my underwear. That sometimes I cry with joy on the trail. That ultra running calms me down and zens me out. That it’s the only time there are no emails. It’s made me a better employee and a better leader. It’s made me stronger in 100 ways. I should have told him that I found myself at age 38 on the far side of 26.2.

I wished him good luck at the Lake Sonoma 50 as I left the store. He wished me luck at Bigfoot saying, “I don’t know what it takes to run 200 miles.”

“Neither do I,” I joked.

Later that afternoon, he retweeted a photo I’d posted to the Coconino Cowboys about me wanting to know if I was one of them now that I’d run Grand Canyon twice. One of the others responded, “Back to back canyon days is crushing! Nice work!”

I waited a respectable 12 hours before liking the response.

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The end of day 2. With rain the forecast beginning at 2pm, I’d taken off earlier than I had the day before, watching the weather move in from the North Rim. I would, in fact, make it back to my car parked at the Bright Angel trail head before the rain started, proving to myself that I have a good sense of my pacing; how long it will take me to get from point A to point B. Maybe I know a little about this ultra running thing after all.

 

 

 

 

 

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