Grand Canyon: Hike to Skeleton Point

Last weekend I went to the Grand Canyon for the first time.  You can read about the beginning of my adventure in this post.  After finishing the Grand Canyon Half Marathon Saturday morning, C and I decided to hike below the canyon rim.  After exploring our options on Bright Angel versus South Kaibab, C and I opted to hike to Skeleton Point.  Not only was this a prime destination, it also would allow us to join Adventure Race’s Skeleton Club.  Our destination was set.

I was feeling a little apprehension since I am deathly afraid of heights.  Or more appropriately, I am deathly afraid of the long agonizing fall and subsequent splat that results from an untimely departure from a high place.  Since this was my first trip to the Grand Canyon, I was uncertain how I would handle the trails.  Nevertheless, I refused to let my fear hold me back though. Read more

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No Longer A Grand Canyon Virgin

Friday afternoon I arrived in Tusayan, AZ to spend a weekend camping, running, and hiking with friends in the Grand Canyon – my very first trip.   I have been struggling a lot for the last several months and in the days leading up to this adventure, I was dreading going.  I had talked myself into thinking it was not going to be worth my time, that it was more stress than it was worth, and that being away from my family for two days was a bad idea.

In addition to all of this, I had convinced myself that my visit to the Grand Canyon would result in me falling to a spectacular and horrible death.  Some days I can be a smidgen dramatic.

Luckily I have a lot of practice following through on the very things that my brain is so diligently telling me “Do Not Do”.  In addition to that, I recently embraced ChiRunning which adds a whole new perspective to my running – one that brings more than just the physical benefits (I’ll tell you more about that soon).  So Friday morning, I packed up my vehicle, picked up my friend, “C”, and we were on our way.

By the time we reached Tusayan, I was already feeling a thousand times better.  Laughter and good conversation will do that for a girl.   We pitched our tent and went to the race expo to pick up our packets for the Grand Canyon Half Marathon.   We were going to run the race the next morning and the expo was charged with great energy and excitement for the next day.

C and I talked about heading to the visitors center to check out the canyon that night.  We had plans to hike the next day after the race but didn’t want to waste an opportunity to see such a wonder.  I was feeling nervous because the heights at the Grand Canyon have worried me for a while.  I think C was getting nervous on my behalf, but she did a great job easing my fears by teasing me that any moment we were going to drive right off the cliff.  Making light of a fear can be a powerful tactic.

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I can’t pull off a trucker hat, but I am rockin these cute sunglasses and the sleeve from a men’s running shirt on my head!

We also spent lots of time laughing at the odd shape of my head that prevents me from looking cute in a trucker hat.  If you are a trail runner, you will know how cute so many women look in trucker hats.  Crazy I know, but very true.  And I am desperate to find one that I like, but alas to no avail.  We decided that my head was too much like a shrunken apple for me to ever look cute in a trucker hat!

The trip to the visitor’s center was well worth it as I got to enjoy the splendor of the Grand Canyon for the first time.  No longer a Grand Canyon virgin, I can say that it is well worth the obstacles to get there.  No wonder people travel from all over the world to take in its beauty.  I am still awestruck almost a week later.

We headed back to our campsite where we hunkered down for the night.  Temps were going to drop into the 20s and we were getting prepared.  C wrapped herself in her mummy bag and I prayed I wouldn’t need too many middle of the night potty trips into the frigid woods.    We survived, though I did learn that a Tempurpedic pillow turns to a solid rock in freezing temperatures.  Lesson learned.

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Her nose got cold in the night but the rest of her stayed pretty toasty.

The next morning we awoke to find another friend, “K”,  had just arrived after traveling 24 hours home from a relief mission in Puerto Rico.  This chick is amazing and we were so excited that she was able to join us.  I had planned to run the half with her and had been disappointed when it appeared she might not make it, so having her with us was quite the treat.

The half course did not go into the National Park grounds, but it did snake through the Kaibab National Forest.  After so many months running in the desert, being surrounded by trees was a nice change.  I love the wonder of tall pines towering over my head and the company was nothing short of phenomenal.  K was a rock star completing the race after so many hours of traveling.  At one point she even asked me to run ahead and see if we could catch the 3 hour pace group.  What an ambitious inspirational woman!

Unfortunately I discovered the 3 hour pace group was about 3/4 of a mile ahead and that was too much space for K to make up in the last 3 miles.  But it was funny to see the faces of the runners who saw me running in the wrong direction when I headed back to find K and let her know.  Bonus, I got in an extra mile which is always welcome!

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K totally rocked the Smurf Blue pants!

I will write more in my next post about the hike to Skeleton point that followed but I need to pause and reflect for a minute on how I felt at the end of this race compared to the morning before.  The morning before, I was almost in tears trying to convince myself to go on this trip.  I was overwhelmed by the very thought of doing something for myself. We finished the race with smiles on our faces and laughter on our lips.

When I am feeling down, the best medicine is a run, getting into nature, being with friends and family.  These activities are often the hardest for me to motivate myself to do when my depression is at its strongest.   With practice, I have learned to let those destructive thoughts flow away.  I may not control when my depression flares up, but I control my own choices.  My depression does not control me.

It has been a long hard road to be able to persevere when the going gets tough and it is not at all easy.  With relentless forward progress, it is only possible where once it was impossible.

The journey continues…..

Finding Progress Not Perfection…An Update on HR Monitor Training

As a recreational middle of the pack runner, I often question the validity of my running.  Am I a real runner if I am not super fast?  Lots struggle with this question and my answer to anyone else  – “Of course you are a runner no matter how fast or how slow!!”

To myself I am less kind.  I second guess my “runner” status all the time.  I compare myself to others who are stronger and faster.  If I miss a run then I must not be a “real runner” cause “real runners” never miss a workout.  Oh the things this brain will do to bring me down.

Irony is, while not fast, I am not slow either.  I have run times that I am proud of, especially given my lack of natural running talent.  My Personal Records (PRs) are all hard won after lots of dedicated work.

My 5K PR is a 24:22, run in 2009 at the Medved 5K to Cure ALS in Rochester, NY.  While I haven’t beaten that time since, my last 5K on April 22, 2017, just 2 shorts weeks after completing the Whiskey Basin 57K and in 100+degree weather, I ran a 25:39.  This isn’t too shabby considering ultra training involves little speed work and heat is notorious for slowing a person down.  With some focused speed work, I feel confident I could break my PR.

Never before have I been able to break the 2 hour mark for the half.  I came close with a 2:00:29 half in 2011.  At last broke 2 hours at the San Diego Half Marathon on June 4, 2017.  I felt on top of the world with my running identify after this accomplishment.

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Capturing the moment after setting a PR for the half marathon (June 2017)

Two weeks later, I began my HR journey.  Running within my HR zone these last several months messed with me mentally because I had to slow down so very much.  Choosing to run slower left me once again struggling with my identify as a runner.  I had to put aside ego and focus on the goal I was trying to achieve.  Definitely not easy, though anything worth obtaining should not be easy.

Being able to focus on my goal, my end game, the truth of the science behind running slowly, was a key part of sticking with the training plan I had laid out.  Accounts from others who have tried this method seemed to see results anywhere from a month to six months.  I desperately wanted to see results to validate this decision.

My hope was to be able to see those results in how I ran the McKenzie River Trail Run (50K).  Alas this hope was dashed when raging fires in Oregon threatened the race course and the race directors had to make the difficult choice to cancel the race.  What a grand disappointment to me and to my training.   This sent me into a bit of a tailspin with my running.

After coming home from our waylaid trip to Oregon, I had a whirlwind of activity at work keeping me occupied and focused on everything but the status my running.  Eventually I was able to pull out of the tornado that had become my life and check in again with how my progress was coming along.

Not seeing immediate progress was definitely a challenge through the many months.  But I knew that this was a long game.  So I did a “test run” in which I ran my baseline 5 mile loop and compared to another baseline run that I did at the beginning of this adventure.

Much to my surprise, my pace had increased substantionally!

My first baseline run in the middle of June was done early in the morning.  During this run, I did a simple loop near my house.  I warmed up for a mile, then began my tracking for the next three miles, leaving the final mile for cool-down.  I did an average of an 11:48 per mile with an average heart rate of 151 bpm.  After just averaging 8:53 per mile for 13.4 miles, the idea of slowing to an almost 12 minute mile for a short 3 miles run  was difficult to swallow.  And this slow down only grew greater as the temperatures rose, the miles compiled, and the hours added onto each other.

Upon doing my check-in run after the disappointment of my cancelled 50K, I mimicked the same route at the same time of day.  The only thing I couldn’t keep consistent was the temperature, but by running at 5:30 am, I was able to keep the temperature for both runs to a minimal factor in the results.  I went on the run expecting to see little improvement while simultaneously hoping to see low 10 minute miles.  Wanting it all, expecting nothing.  Neither proved to be reality.

My new baseline was a 11:03 per mile, though this was run at the much lower average heart rate of 144 bpm.  If I had aimed to maintain my heart rate closer to the top of my aerobic zone (151 bpm), I would not be surprised if I wouldn’t have been 15 seconds per mile faster.  This is a theory I will put to the test soon.

So I have not gained perfection.  Ideally I would be running that half marathon pace of 8:53 per mile at an aerobic heart rate.  Maybe one day I will, but for now I will gladly take the progress.

As the months continue, I plan to adjust my running some.  Closer to 80% of my runs in the aerobic zone, rather than 100%.  If nothing else, this gives me a chance to just go out and enjoy the run without a care in the world.  This will be a welcome change.  But after seeing these results, I plan to continue to incorporate aerobic training into my regime.

The journey continues……..

PS – Check out my Upcoming Races….I recently made some changes to my plans you can check out here!