Sunday, March 25, 2012

Be like Mike

In Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals, Michael Jordan was so sick with a stomach virus which left him so dehydrated and fatigued that as the first quarter gets underway, he is sure he is going to pass out any second.  Minutes later, during a timeout, Jordan bends down to rest and nearly falls over; he has no energy to even stand up.  Yet the series was tied 2-2 and a loss would be devastating; and this was Michael Jordan.  Somehow he pulled himself together, began to score and lead the team back from a early double digit deficit.  With the score knotted at 85 and less than 30 seconds left in the game, Jordan fired a three pointer that hit nothing but net, and the Bulls went on to win the game and the series.  Jordan ended up playing 44 minutes that night, scoring 38 points with 11 assissts before being carried into the locker room at the end of the game.  This epic picture of he and Scottie Pippen shows his utter exhaustion.  Later, Jordan would tell reporters,  "It was all about desire.  Somehow I found the energy to stay strong."  That is the will to win.

While I was not on my death bed, I had been totally knocked out all week with what I initially thought was food poisoning.  On Sunday I spent no more than a few hours awake and rotated time between the couch and the bed.  Not able to keep any food down and with intense stomach cramps, I completely lost that day.  Hoping it was just a 24-hour bug, I managed to make it to work, but as the week progressed, my condition didn't get any better.  I had no appetite and despite trying to focus on fluids, I was growing more dehydrated which left me weak and lethargic.  A doctor visit mid-week confirmed that it was a stomach virus and a mild case of pancreatitis.  Thursday things turned for the worse again and I started to realize that running this week was futile and the chance to race on Saturday was fading quickly.   It was the McKay Hollow Madness trail race, which I remain only one of the few who had run every year since the start in 2007.  I had strung together finishes of 5th in 2007, 4th in 2008, 2nd in 2009 (to David Riddle) and 3rd in 2010 with 2011 being cancelled for weather.  I probably had no business doing anything more this weekend than staying at home and trying to get the rest that my body needed...

On seven o'clock on Saturday morning, I tied my trail shoes and started the race.

The race thinned out quickly with the first mile on the road, with a handful of contenders creating some separation as the pace dropped to six minute miles.  By the time we hit the Sinks Trail, Brandon Mader had left everyone, and it was Brad Schroeder, George Heeschen, myself, Chad Ayers and a few others running together.  The conditions were ideal, given the warm weather of late here in Huntsville, as the clouds had rolled in and the temperature was in the low 60's.

I told myself that I wasn't racing against Brad or George, as they are mostly out of my league, and I just wanted to have a solid race, but as we came up to the first climb, we were all packed together.  The atmosphere was light and we joked a little and talked sporadically through Super Cuts and the infamous hand climb up the rock face to the top of Panther Knob.  Brad lead the way and George and I followed as we ran back down into the sinks toward three benches.  Smiling Brad thought it was funny that I knew all of the distances for each section as I said how long of a climb it was back up to Mountain Mist trail.

George took over leading us along Mountain Mist with a pace in the low 7's.  I wasn't struggling to keep up, but I knew that as we went through the first 5km, that there was a long way to go and I needed to preserve energy.  My strategy started to change and I began to wonder if I could just hang on to Brad, who historically starts slow and finishes fast.  I thought that if he could carry me for the first half, I could just suffer through the second half for a respectable finish.  Though changing my approach, my mind remained at ease and my body was relaxed as we ran over the jagged rocks along Mountain Mist out toward O'Shaugnessy Point.

The second major climb was upon us as we began to ascend the short, but very steep War Path Ridge.  George seemed to power up the climb, but we had talked and he was going to stop and tie his shoes.  Brad said that I could go by him and after initially thinking I would just power hike up, decided that a slow and steady effort was a better approach.  By the top I felt surprisingly good and keep running through the aid station.  George asked me jokingly why I wasn't waiting for him and I yelled back that they would catch up quickly for sure!  I assumed that with the quarter mile to the top of Rest Shelter that we would again be running together, but for some reason when I made the turn off of the white trail, I didn't see them.  I was sick, but not foolish enough to think that I was going to stay ahead of them with 10 miles yet to go.

I decided to open things up a little bit down Rest Shelter and really hammered the downhill all the way passed Kathy's bench, over the technical footing of the lower half and down to the start of Slush Mile.  As the bottom turns sharply, you can see back up the hill so I looked very quickly expecting them to be crashing down behind me but they were not.  In my mind this only meant that I ran the downhill well, but on that they would close by Natural Well.  Sure enough, after a not-so-slushy Slush Mile and half way up Natural Well, I could hear the boys down below.  With the switchbacks and "canyon effect" it was hard to tell how far back they were, but it was within ear-shot for sure.  I stayed with a steady effort the entire climb, stopping only once to pick up a rock to throw into Natural Well. (I am going to fill up that hole one day!)

With the trail much more runnable up on top, I was able to get the pace back down to the low 7's and for short stretches in the upper 6's.  I kept up my energy using PowerBar Gel Blasts regularly and I was drinking First Endurance Grape EFS mixed at a high concentration.  But outside of that, I had no idea how I was holding it all together.  Just days prior I was barely able to hold an 8 minute mile during a road run and now I was nearing the 15km mark of a tough trail race and I was still in 2nd place and I was starting to believe.  Like Michael Jordan, the game was moving along and I was getting stronger and gaining confidence.

While normally I would have said more, on this day I rolled through the 10 mile aid station (Thanks Brett Wilks and Erik Debolt!) with my head down.  I was in the zone and needed to keep pushing with just 5 miles to go.  Now running a little scared, I made my way back down across the ditch and started to climb back toward Arrowhead.  When would Brad make his move and close the gap?  That certainly would crush my spirits and take the wind out of my sails.  Wanting to take their advantage away (of running fast on the flats) I knew that I had to lay it all out on the downs and ups, then not give up too much on the flats. That meant hammering down Arrowhead and staying strong on the final climb up Death Trail, which would just leave ~2.5 miles in the middle to contend with, so I went for it.

Here is where you can believe me or not... There were several points during the previous 10km where I forgot where I was and what I was doing.  Something would catch my eye and with a quick shake of the head, I would realize that I was running.  Normally you might call this being in the zone, but it felt different; almost euphoric.  Things were fuzzy... I didn't feel like I was running down Arrowhead; it felt like I was floating.  I can't say that I have ever felt like that before but as I was screaming downhill, it seemed effortless.  The next few miles were a blur... literally.  I ran strong down into the Hollow and across the creek, for which I was focused on my footing, but I don't really remember much until the base of Death Trail.  There as a kid there (hiker?) that said something, and I snapped out of the zone as I swore he said "you are in third (place)"  What?  Had I taken a wrong turn?  How did I get passed?  Did Brad or George actually pass me and I didn't process it?  I quickly said, "what?" and then I realized that he had said "You are doing great."  I told him "thanks" and began the climb.  Wow how your mind can play tricks on you!

It took that quick interaction for me to wake up.  I had maybe three-quarters of a mile to go and 600' to climb up a nasty trail full of switch backs and loose footing that culminated in running up a waterfall to the finish.  I needed to focus.  I was in a steady, running motion through the first few switch backs and it was starting to hit me that I just might hold on for 2nd place.  Of course it was that dose of reality when I spotted George behind me.  I couldn't tell how far back he was, but he was running that was for sure.  This was just the kick I needed to get me to focus and finish strong.  I spotted him once more as I neared the top and passed Rick Callaway who was hiking down (Thanks for the encouragement, I do remember seeing you and I apologize if I was out of breath and didn't say thanks at the time) but my mind knew that it was too late for him to close in.  Or was it?  As I jumped up the rocks on the creek section, I picked up my head and expected to see the finish line.  Where was it?  Looking bewildered, I remembered hearing that the pavilion at the top of Death Trail was reserved so the finish line was moved.  How far away was it?  Was George close enough to charge late?  Luckily a few people pointed toward the parking lot near the start and with a glance back to make sure he wasn't on my heels, I felt relieved when it was just a few hundred meters away.

I had made the climb up Death Trail in 10:14.

I crossed the finish line to cheering from some friends.  Then I staggered over to the stone steps of the pavilion and laid down.  I didn't collapse or have to be carried off the court, but I had given it everything I had, and then more.

In game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals against Portland, Michael Jordan had one of the single game greatest performances ever.  He exploded for 35 first half points and after hitting his sixth consecutive 3-pointer, he turned to the broadcast table and with his palms up, he shrugged his shoulders, as if to say, "What can I do?  I can't explain it either."

I remember Jordan later referring to the feeling he had during the "shrug game" was that the hoop seemed like a "big 'ol bucket;" it just came easy to him that day and he couldn't explain it.  I was dehydrated and weak from the stomach bug yet I ran through the mud, up and down the hills and over the rocks like they weren't even there.  I certainly can't explain it.  It can only have been by the hand of God that I was able to do what I did out there.

Before the "flu game" Michael Jordan had sequestered himself in a dark room adjacent to the Bulls' locker room so he could lie down.  During those moments alone, he visualized himself running and shooting.  

Before the race I spent some time alone, focusing on what I needed to do; visualizing the course rock by rock, hill by hill.

The team doctor told Jordan that there was no way he would be able to play.  He scored 38 points and the made the final shot to win the game.  That is the will to win.

In some small way today, I wanted to be like Mike.

All smiles afterward with my pal George, who ran a great race for him self proclaiming to be "not much of a trail runner!"

Thursday, March 22, 2012

2012 Rim to Rim to Rim by the numbers

March 9, 2012

On Friday, March 9, 2012, I ran across the Grand Canyon. And back. As hikers descend into the canyon, danger signs are in place that warn people "DO NOT attempt to hike from the canyon rim to the river and back in one day. Each year hikers suffer from serious illness or death from exhaustion." The round trip distance that this warning describes is 13 miles. Along with my friend Timothy Pitts, we not only ran from the south rim on the South Kaibab trail to the Colorado River, but then through the entire canyon and up the North Kaibab Trail to the north rim for a distance of 20.9 miles in five hours and 31 minutes. After taking seven minutes to rest and take pictures, we turned around and did it again making it a true "rim to rim to rim" as it is commonly known. Ironically, we covered the return distance in an equal amount of time, five hours and 31 minutes. At the end of the day, we had run 41.8 miles with 21,200' of elevation change in 11 hours and 9 minutes, meeting our goal of finishing the route in under 12 hours.

Full album of pictures

QuantityFuelCalories/ServingCalories TotalCarbs/ServingCarbs Total
2 bottles
First Endurance EFS Liquid Shot
2 bottles
Vanilla High Protein Boost
1 bar
Honey Stinger 20g protein Peanut Butta pro bar
3 bars
Honey Stinger Apple Cinnamon Bar
1 pie
Oatmeal crème pie
1 pack
Jack Link's Peppered Beef Jerky



QuantityHydrationCalories/ServingCalories TotalCarbs/ServingCarbs Total
70 ounces
Hammer Strawberry HEED
90 ounces
First Endurance EFS Energy Drink Mild Grape
20 ounces
Lemmy's Lemonade
20 ounces



Total Nutrition
Total CaloriesTotal Carbs

Distance (mi)Elv (ft)LocationGain/LossGradeTimeDuration
07250South Rim00.00%5:00:00 AM0:00:00
0.756450Oh Ahh Point-800-20.20%
1.56300Cedar Ridge-150-3.79%
2.55700O'Neill Butte-600-11.36%
35200Skeleton Point-500-18.94%
4.34000Tonto Trail Junction-1200-17.48%
4.53850The Tipoff-150-14.20%
53550Panorama Point-300-11.36%
62500Kaibib Bridge-1050-19.89%6:22:00 AM1:22:00
6.22450River confluence-50-4.73%
6.42450Bright Angel Campground00.00%
6.92550Phantom Ranch1003.79%
8.92950The Box4003.79%
12.53750Ribbon Falls8004.21%
144000Cottonwood Campground2503.16%8:04:00 AM3:04:00
16.25200Roaring Springs3506.63%
17.15900The Needle70014.73%
18.96800Supai Tunnel9009.47%9:48:00 AM4:48:00
20.157600Coconino Overlook80012.12%
20.98250North Rim65016.41%10:31:00 AM5:31:00
08250Leave North Rim00.00%10:28:00 AM5:28:00
21.657600Coconino Overlook-650-16.41%
22.96800Supai Tunnel-800-12.12%11:01:00 AM6:01:00
24.75900The Needle-900-9.47%
25.65200Roaring Springs-700-14.73%
26.64850Pumphouse-350-6.63%11:46:00 AM6:46:00
27.84000Cottonwood Campground-850-13.42%12:04:00 PM7:04:00
29.33750Ribbon Falls-250-3.16%
32.92950The Box-800-4.21%
34.92550Phantom Ranch-400-3.79%1:29:00 PM8:29:00
35.42450Bright Angel Campground-100-3.79%
35.62450River confluence00.00%
35.82500Kaibib Bridge504.73%1:54:00 PM8:54:00
36.83550Panorama Point105019.89%
37.33850The Tipoff30011.36%
37.54000Tonto Trail Junction15014.20%
38.85200Skeleton Point120017.48%
39.35700O'Neill Butte50018.94%
40.36300Cedar Ridge60011.36%
41.056450Oh Ahh Point1503.79%
41.87250South Rim80020.20%4:09:58 PM11:09:58

Total Climbing
Total Ascent106002.007575758
Total Decent106002.007575758
Total Elevation Change212004.015151515

  • The descent from the South Rim to the River was slower than anticipated due to carrying so much gear, being overdressed, stopping to change clothes, running in the dark, the trail having drainage that lead to half steps in between the ties.
  • Stopped to talk to almost every person we came across
  • We stopped for 5 minutes just after Phantom Ranch to ditch some of our gear/clothes that we wouldn't need for the ascent up to the North Rim and back
  • There were no water sources turned on anywhere but Phantom Ranch, so we mostly filled up our hydration bladders out of Bright Angel Creek
  • We spent 7 minutes at the North Rim taking pictures, changing clothes
  • It took awhile for the sun to be high enough in the sky to hit the canyon
  • We made great time from Supai Tunnel back to Phantom Ranch, holding a steady pace and taking less pictures
  • We stopped at Phantom Ranch on the way back for about 15 minutes to take pictures, get lemonade, fill up our packs, etc
  • Ascending the South Rim after 35 miles and baking in the hot sun was clearly the most grueling part. Eric went through 70oz of water in the first 3 miles of the climb and ran out.
  • We estimated that at a slow hiking pace, we would need 3 hours to complete the last 6 miles from the bridge to the rim but with a late push of power hiking, we made it in 2 hours 15 minutes
Having a great time vs having a great time

This epic adventure was all about the experience; it was my first ever trip to the Grand Canyon, my first time ultra running at this elevation and most climbing I have ever done in a run.  We enjoyed every minute of the run and took our time.  I would speculate that given knowledge of the Canyon now, that I could probably traverse it and back rim to rim to rim in under 10 hours.  Maybe someday... For now I just feel blessed to have been given the ability to run, to take in one of God's most amazing creations and maybe along the way inspire a few.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Rim to Rim to Rim: The Prologue

I don't even know where to start. I really don't.

In less than 36 hours I will be starting a journey that I have dreamt about for years; something that has remained on my long term goals list while others have dropped off.  In the wee hours of Friday, March 9th, 2012 I will be running across the Grand Canyon, and back.  This route, commonly referred to as rim to rim to rim (or in the Twitterverse as #r2r2r) is an epic 41 mile out and back utilizing the South Kaibab and North Kaibab trails, with 21,100' of elevation change (that is 4 miles of vertical change, with the most brutal section coming at the end, where it is a 4,000' climb in less than 4 miles with an average grade of 15% back to the south rim).  To say the least, there is a reason why not many people attempt this route at all, let alone with a goal of completing it in one day.

While most people attempt this run in late spring or early fall, the opportunity presented itself recently and everything began to fall into place, point me westward.  There will be many struggles and challenges, including hydration, fueling and the elements.  All of which will test my physical and mental fortitude.

I will admit that despite my passion for climbing and my eagerness for epic adventures, my recent history has been speckled with failures.  First it was the shortened Run Across Alabama where I was able to complete only 135 of the 180 miles over a 4-day period in July of 2009 with friends Jon Elmore and Eric Schotz.  That was followed by the epic failures on the Pinhoti Trail Adventure Run, where although I made it 173 miles of treacherous trail from Flagg Mountain to the Alabama/Georgia border, I was unable to complete the entire 335 route ending at the Benton MacKaye Trailhead with fellow adventurer and friend Rob Youngren.  Despite my attempts and failures, I managed to complete the Trapp Hill Traverse in Michigan's Upper Peninsula on a solo effort last summer.

So when friend Timothy Pitts (henceforth known as TP2) asked if I wanted to join him, I didn't immediately say yes.  I was extremely intrigued, but I was afraid.  Yes, I was scared to death of yet another failure.  I had to spend much time praying and in deep thought before realizing that this was something I wanted to do; no it was something I had to do.

I have said this before, but it is worth repeating.  "Though undeserving, I know that God will show His grace to me on Friday by giving me strength and guidance, and by taking care of me on the journey."  This time it would be a bonus if he got us there and back in less than 12 hours, but I will settle for making it alive!

So why do I feel like this is something I have to do?  Because as Leo Buscaglia once said, "Your talent is God's gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God."  I have been given this amazing gift and the only way I can give him thanks and praise is to sacrifice my body back to him, such that my efforts may be seen as an inspiration to others.  Will I get personal satisfaction out of completing this journey and crossing it off of my bucket list?  Yes, of course.  But I will try to remain focused on why I am out there and not let the obsession with the result be my false idol.  When times get difficult, I know that my training and my faith will give my body the ability to do what my head my say I can not.

Matthew 5:16 - Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

I pray that others see the great lengths that I am willing to go for his glory and be inspired, in their own way, to do the same.  Let me be the light to shine before men.