Eric and I had planned to do a run from the North Rim to the South Rim in the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately Eric’s best friend and training partner (his dog – Murdoch) had an infected eye and needed medical attention. Since our flights and hotel were non-refundable at the time I opted to go anyway. I had to modify the plan as it probably would not be safe for me to do a solo run across the canyon. Dan and I had done it 10 years ago and it wasn’t much of a problem but anything could happen and help would be a long way off. I decided that a run on Bright Angel trail to Plateau Point and back up would offer enough running without being particularly dangerous.
Bright Angel trailhead is located on the south rim (6800’) and the 6.2 mile drop to Plateau Point (3700’) has some great views and as one of the major trail is well traffic even this late in the year. I arrived at the Canyon a little before sunrise and gathered up my gear, taped up my ankles, and ran ½ mile from the parking lot to the trail head. It took me 6 minutes of easy jogging and although it was 35 degrees I felt pretty comfortable. I took a couple of pictures from the rim and headed on down the trail.
My plan was to run as easy as possible the entire way, I wasn’t looking to set any records and wanted to minimize the pounding on my quads. About ½ mile into the descent I decided I was way over dressed and removed my wind pants and jacket. It was comfortable in the shade and would never get above 50 degrees during my run. Near the 1.5 mile resthouse a runner came flying UP the trail, he was moving well. We exchanged pleasantries with neither of us slowing. I could only hope I looked that good on the way back up. I passed maybe a dozen people by the time I reached the 3 mile resthouse. This is a busy trail even this late in the season but I enjoyed the company. Everyone was pleasant to me, I gave a hearty “good morning” to everyone I passed. After the 3 mile resthouse I saw the first big group of campers who were climbing out (from the campground at Indian Garden). They were taking advantage (as was I) of the coolest part of the day.
I reached the Indian Garden (4.6 mile mark on the trail and 5.1 into my run) in 53:30 (47:30 on the trail) so a bit over my projection of 10 minute miles but again I didn’t want to push the pace. The 1.5 miles to Plateau Point from Indian Garden had about 100’ of drop then 100’ of climb. This was the nicest part of the run, probably due to the relatively flat nature of it and the blazing sunshine (temp only in the 50’s so very pleasant). I reached the Point in 1:07:20 (1:01:20 on the trail) and took exactly 5 minutes of break time to get a few pictures and eat a gel. I’d been drinking water along the way but wasn’t hungry. I guessed I had around 1:30 of running to get back up to the rim so fueling up a bit would be helpful.
The easy 1.5 back to Indian Garden went by easily, and then the climb started. Ouch! I stopped early in the climb as a deer was in the trail and did not seem to want to move out of my way. The climb got steadily steeper but I was cheered by the hikers (and a couple of runners!) who offered encouragement along the way. I still had the energy/oxygen and offered a “good morning” to everyone I passed. The 600’ per mile increased to 700’ per mile and the steps cut into the trail began to take their toll. My shins were sore, my hips were sore, and I was getting tired. I met the first mule train between the 3 mile and 1.5 mile resthouse but unlike 10 years ago they had stopped for water and I was allowed to pass (Dan and I met many mule trains when we ran in August of 2006 and it made for some slow going as we had to stop every time they were to pass us on the trail).
The final 1.5 miles to the rim seemed to take a very long time. I was huffing and puffing by now and mostly grunting “hi” to people as I went by. I reached the top of the trail in 2:33:37 (2:27:37 for the 12.4 miles on the trail and 1:21:17 for the climb). I took 1:30 to get someone to take my picture while I steadied myself (I was a bit dizzy) and then headed out for another mile plus to get an even 14 miles for the day. All in all it was a fantastic run. I look forward to going back with Eric and crossing the Canyon again.