Running the Canyon – Part 1 of 2

31 January 2012 in Memories


River Trail by the ColoradoI realized I have never fleshed out the tale of my solo rim to rim of Grand Canyon. I mentioned it in the brief summaries of our final busy days at the Canyon, and stated that I would provide a detailed account at a later time, but then it fell off of my radar.

So, I believe this story requires an introductory explanation of how I came to even consider attempting to run 14 miles and then hike 7.5 miles out. If you were to approach me two years ago and ask me to run a mile my response would have been “from what?” Running for any reason that was not life threatening seemed an exercise in torture reserved for those with masochistic tendencies. The last time I had run a mile was in grade school during the national physical fitness challenge. I had clocked in at 10:30 struggling for breath and soaked in sweat. I swore then that I would never run a mile again.

But as I aged I lost my genetic gift of an efficient metabolism and one day I looked in the mirror and noticed I had put on a substantial amount of weight. Having never needed to bother frequenting a scale suddenly I found I had put on forty pounds and was by far the heaviest I had ever been. This prompted a change in diet and a gym membership. It was at the gym that I first attempted to run again. To get my heart rate up before hitting the weights I was instructed to do five to ten minutes of cardio. I tried the elliptical, but found the motion awkward and unnatural. I tried the bike, but having already ridden six miles or more on a bike by that time of day my ass was in no mood sit on another bike seat. So I stepped on the treadmill and into a new world. At first I struggled to make it a half mile without becoming light headed and winded. I briefly considered giving up, but it seemed sad that at the age of 28 and in decent shape I couldn’t even run a mile in a respectable time. So I kept at it increasing my distance until I reached a mile. Energized by this accomplishment I continued to increase my speed getting my time down to 8:30. Then I increased my distance. A quarter mile every few days until I was up to two. Having overcome another self-imposed challenge I became addicted. I decreased my pace slightly and tacked on more and more miles. 3, then 5, and finally 6. It all happened so fast. One day I was planning on running 3, but felt so good I stayed on and ended up logging 5.

I still can’t really explain it. I wasn’t enjoying the run itself as much as the feeling I had stepping off of the treadmill. In our daily lives I feel we are so comfortable and content. Everything comes to us easy. Especially physically. We are not required to overcome any physical challenges as adults and there’s something wonderfully satisfying about pushing the limits we impose on ourselves. There was no need for me to run. I didn’t even wholeheartedly enjoy the experience. It was hard and at times painful, but when I was done I felt I had accomplished something. Proved something. This meant more than my career or any award I’d ever received. It was pure and almost primal. Sure I was in an air conditioned gym running in place on a machine, but I was doing what my body was designed to do. I was testing my physical limitations and pushing the boundaries of my endurance. In the course of a couple months I went from fearing death’s grim hand after a half mile to blazing through 6 miles with a triumphant smile on my face. I would leave the gym soaked with sweat and dog tired, but within the hour a wave of energy would overcome me. It’s funny the more I ran the more energy I naturally had.

Flying on this new found high I was blindsided by a friend. He was also getting into running, but he was in love with trail running. Having never left the treadmill, but eager to prove my prowess I left the gym and hit the streets of Madison. I had convinced myself it was the weather that kept me indoors for my runs, but spring was approaching so I no longer had any excuse. Most runners will tell you they can’t stand the treadmill and this makes sense. Running in place is dull compared with running outside amongst ever changing scenery. That’s all fine and dandy if you start running outside and move in, but without the treadmill I had no sense of pace and my feet and legs were unfamiliar with the added impact of the hard cement. I found myself struggling to run a half mile again.

But much like the treadmill and with the added driving force of an upcoming trail race I would be running with two friends I kept at it. Eventually I made my way back up to 6 miles and then set a new personal record of 8 miles at a 9:30 pace. Nothing that would get me in the Summer Games, but once again something I could be proud of.

Later that month I would go on to run my first official trail race. Just a 10K (or 6.2 miles), but it required two ascents up a ski hill. It was certainly the biggest physical challenge I had ever overcome. This was shortly before we left for the Grand Canyon where I would fall into a running slump until the bright idea of a solo rim to rim sparked in my brain and ignited my body back into training.

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31 January 2012 Memories

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