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Running the Grand Canyon

UPDATE: Coincidentally, an article at Running Times about running the Grand Canyon was posted on the same day that I originally published this post. The article, which discusses how to protect the Grand Canyon trails, can be found here.

Before traveling to Colorado for three weeks of training, I spent about three weeks training in Flagstaff.  Since the Grand Canyon is a mere 80 miles from Flagstaff, Brian Condon, who I was training with in Flagstaff, and I took the opportunity to run the canyon, leaving at around 4:30 on the morning of August 3rd.

There are a few different options when it comes to running the Grand Canyon. The classic routes are known as the rim-to-rim (R2R) and the rim-to-rim-to-rim (R2R2R). Both routes use the South Kaibab and North Kaibab trails. Typically, runners will begin at the South rim of the canyon (6,800') before running to the North rim of the canyon (8,000'). Again, standardly, the route follows the South Kaibab Trail (about 6.5 miles) down to the Colorado River, where runners cross the Black Bridge, pass through Phantom Ranch, and then proceed up the North Kaibab Trail (about 14 miles). The R2R effort ends at the top of the North rim after around 20.5 miles; the R2R2R effort begins and ends at the South rim after around 41 miles. A fairly detailed and useful account of these routes can be found here.

Alternatively, runners can use the so-called Grand Canyon Highway: the Bright Angel Trail. This ~8 mile trail begins at the South rim (6,800') and ends at the Colorado River (2,400'); from there, runners continue along the River Trail for just shy of two miles, cross the Silver Bridge, and find the North Kaibab Trail after passing through Phantom Ranch (a R2R effort using this route consists of around 23 miles, while a R2R2R route totals around 46 miles).

Grandview Trail is a third running option in the Grand Canyon, although it is both steeper and more technical than the previously mentioned trails; moreover, it is not used, to my knowledge, for any rim-to-rim efforts in the Grand Canyon.

There are a number of other trails in the Grand Canyon, and the names of the extant trails can be found here.

Running the Grand Canyon has become, without surprise, a popular event for ultrarunners, especially those fond of Fastest Known Time (FKT) attempts, like Jason Wolfe, although plenty of ultra folks will visit the Canyon simply to run leisurely, like Ian Sharman.

In the summer, water is fairly accessible (more so on the Bright Angel Trail) along the trails, and one can begin an attempt at the R2R, R2R2R, or any sundry miles of trails, without all the necessary water.

Brian and I, without the logistical prowess to pull off a R2R, and without the desire to run circa forty-one miles for a R2R2R, chose to run down the Bright Angel Trail to Phantom Ranch via the River Trail for a total of about 20 miles (running time: 3hrs:05 -- this excludes several breaks to shoot pictures, a break to refill our water supply, one eating break at the bottom, and one stop to dip in a pool of water at Indian Gardens, which is about 4.5 miles down the Canyon from the South rim).

Here are some brilliant (that is, brilliantly beautiful) pictures from our run (some pictures are Brian's, some my own):

A rather large elk, having a morning stroll.  
An accompanying female elk. 
The sun rising over the Grand Canyon. 
Taking our time to document the scenery.
It was hard not to be excited. 
A view of the South rim along the Bright Angel Trail. 
A look at what was to come. 
More splendid morning views.
About three miles down the canyon.  
Brian and I enjoying ourselves.
Cruisin' down the Canyon. 
A murky Colorado River. 
Another view of the sunrise.
The Colorado River, as seen from the Silver Bridge.
A quick photo on the bridge.
Running back from Phantom Ranch. 
I failed to capture the ensuing ninja kick. 
Heading back up the Canyon as the temperatures rise.
Heck of a view. 
Saving grace at Indian Gardens: a pool of cool water. 
Gaining elevation as the day continues. 
Taking a breather while some horses pass. 
Returning to the top of the South rim. 
Hangin' by the Colorado River.
Myself, gingerly moving across the bridge. 

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