It has been a long time coming with reference to writing about my races and having now completed two amazing and tough self supported races, it’s about time I started telling you all about them. First was the awesome Grand To Grand Ultra in Utah ..
The Grand to Grand is a self supported multi stage race over 273km consisting of 6 stages over 7 days. It starts at the North Rim of the fabulous Grand Canyon and finishes some 2600 meters above sea level at the top of the Grand Stair Case. First before I head into preparation and all about the event, I will say that it was an amazing race, not just because where it took place but because of how it was run and Organized. Both Tess and Colin Geddes and the Local Kanab contingent did an amazing job making an extremely tough multi stage race an incredibly enjoyable event. So if you are planning a stage Race, reading this… and want a tough challenge plus just an all out incredible experience in a super well run event then this race should be top of your list ..back to the preparation and the Event ….
Right unfortunately for me I was still coming off my injury from the Ultra Trail South West, but nothing was going to stop me competing in the race ..although I have to admit there were times while I was offshore I didn’t think it was going to happen for me ..but I didn’t give up. Training was hard and painful with plenty of physio from good friend and amazing Doctor Tamara Ghazi and her crew at the California Chiropractic and sports medicine clinic in Dubai. They were great and kept me together despite me constantly trying to destroy myself with my training. They also managed to increase my pain threshold ten fold
So Training was hard, having to train offshore with no physio support, I had to cram as much attention to recovery as possible while I was home as well as continue to train. With 6 weeks to go to the race I was now confident that I could complete it ..I was definitely fit enough both mentally and physically, I’d made sure my whole body was strong and fit despite not being able to run a large amount of miles and as comfortably as I’d liked ..I kept my over all fitness high with plenty of cross training and circuits, my love of Boxing and boxing training has always been a huge stable in my training program, it provides all over fitness and requires an incredibly strong core.
Kit wise I was sorted as well, I love research and looking for the best tried and tested equipment, the Mandatory kit list required a floor matt, sleeping bag (good to zero degrees C ), light weight down jacket as well as the usual safety equipment …I was intending on using my OMM 20 liter pack which I used in the Manaslu Trail race, so kit I needed was going to be kept minimal and light, I had no intention of having a pack heavier than 8.5kg with water. After some research on the Down Jacket I found the Mont bell Ex Light Down jacket to be the lightest weighing in at 150g with a 900 fill power goose down. Sleeping bag I went with the Yeti Passion one, once again the lightest down sleeping bag on the market weighing in at 400 grams for a large …that just scrapped in with the requirements. Floor mat I bit the bullet with a few grams extra and stuck with my Thermarest Neo Xlite Regular size weighing in at 350g. It was worth carrying the extra few grams as did the job amazingly, it was as comfortable as it was going to get but the fact it reflected your body heat back preventing heat loss through the cold ground was a huge plus.
Running kit and extra recovery apparel I was going to keep basic, one pair of 2XU compression shorts, a pair of 2XU compression Calve sleeves and one Merino wool T-shirt to run in, three pairs of Injinji Merino wool toe socks ( one to run in, two as spare ) and One pair of 2XU compression longs for recovery after each stage. The Merino wool T-shirts are excellent for these kinds of races, they are tough and durable as well as light and extremely comfortable, keep you cool during the heat of the day, wicks sweat off the body, prevents chaffing, and keeps you warm during the cooler temps of the evening. Also the natural anti bacterial in the wool prevents odors which comes in handy when you have it on for a week without washing..Shoes as always are the Hoka’s, running with Hoka Stinson trails and full size up. Despite there being a lot of sand and at least a 9-10km dune section in the race I decided against gaiters. Having trained regularly in the deserts around Dubai I find the Hoka’s and the injinji toes socks worked well on their own in the sand having no feet problems during long runs, if sand built up in the shoe, quick two minutes to empty them was all it took, the toe socks prevented any issues with sand and skin on skin friction and with no gaiters the Hoka’s were able to breathe better preventing my feet from over sweating.
Food wise was also sorted, I am strict with nutrition and try and test everything.. I had based the run off how fast I was able to run at the time and looked to finish the race with in 40 hrs, so Nutrition or run fuel would be based on minimal calories I would need to sustain the pace required to do that, which I worked out as roughly 200 kcals an hour, so run fuel would be coming in at 8000 kCals ( 200kcal x 40 hrs ) .. this would be made up of GU rocatane endurance drink in powder form, GU gels, Gu Recovery Drink powder form and Probar Fuel Bars.. on top of that I would require 2000 kcals recovery food a night for the end of each stage, which consisted of 7 x 4 oz packets of my own mix of dried fruit and nuts at about 900 kcals per serving for breakfast, 6 x Mountain House Spaghetti bolognaise freeze dried meals 800kcals a serving and 7 x chia charge bars ( flapjacks from Running food) at 380 kcals a bar. Water and hydration was done using 2 x Raidlight 750 ml bottles to meet the 1.5 liter mandatory requirements. They were attached to the front straps of my pack using the raidlight bottle holders.
So all sorted and ready to go . race fuel and recovery food packed in to two separate stuff sacs for easy access and to protect the food. gear weighed weighed in at 8.5 kgs with water as I wanted.
The race, well what I can I say from the moment you arrived to the moment you finished it was just an amazing experience. I arrived in Vegas a couple days before to get over the travel, I could then catch the race bus on the Thursday up to Kanab so I could get all settled in before all the race preparation chaos started, as I still didn’t know quite what to expect. Your race goody bag, number, tent allocation, race book and all the race info, was waiting for you in your room when you arrived at the Holiday Inn in Kanab.
Friday morning I was up early so headed out for a rather stunning 12km run before breakfast. With over a 100 competitors from all over the world arriving and getting sorted it was an amazing atmosphere, the race check in and mandatory kit check Friday morning, all went very smoothly and was very well organized. Leaving us to explore the lovely town of Kanab before the Pre race Dinner that evening. By Saturday morning we were all ready to roll out to the start camp site. Small mini Vans were provided as well as pack lunches for the couple Hour drive out to the Grand Canyon. Everyone was super excited all in their race gear and race packs. It was all now getting real.
The race organizers were granted special permission to have the Campsite at the edge of the Grand Canyon in an area that was open to Tourists so we were subjected to the most stunning views of the Canyon in all its glory.
The campsite set up was awesome, 10 man tents which housed 8 runners, portable toilets and an endless supply of hot water, each tent having its own water supply ..each Runner was allocated 4.5 liters at the end of each stage, and water was supplied at each of the CP’s. So once everyone was settled in and pictures of the Grand Canyon had been taken, we had our final race BBQ meal and race brief from the organizers and medical teams. Then it was time to sleep although not much of that went on due to the excitement of what was to come.
Next morning was the race start ..loud music was pumped out as the alarm call and to get everyone in the mood for racing. Soon everyone was up, breakfast eaten and race gear on and was ready to go. Final photo’s were taken at the start, music was pumping and the countdown had begun, then 8am on the dot the race started..straight into a 50km run and the start of 272km of mixed and amazing terrain, spread out over 6 grueling stages.
The terrain was incredible, rough rocky over land brush, sandy tracks, rocky out crops and steep climbs descending into deep gullies, there was road, gravel and sand dunes all to come to keep us tested. Cp’s were every 7-12km and were very well organized and the volunteers were full of energy no matter what time of the day or night it was. They were there to assist and keep you motivated and they did ..medical teams were there to check all was ok and help and answer any problems. The course itself was incredibly well marked with pink ribbons every 100 or so meters, reflective bands and led lighting so you could really get on and enjoy the race knowing you were on the right track.
The course was tough, very tough as a lot of it was run-able so you were able to hold a good solid pace but with a 50km first stage followed by a tough 42km stage the next day people were already feeling the effects going hard early on as we came into the long stage which consisted of an extremely tough 84km. Blisters were forming and the medical tent was being kept very busy. Fortunately I’d kept it even and stayed consistent not pushing the pace through the two earlier stages and luckily my feet were in good shape, I owe a lot to another runner and since good friend..Who I ended up running with for most of the race ..Heather Mastrianni … an amazing runner and athlete and veteran of the G2G as she had taken part in the first edition of the race the year before, we paced well off each other, keeping me sensible…and was awesome company . But I still had my fair share of issues..The injury from June was still niggling my right leg and a lot of the race became pain management ..With over compensation in my left leg becoming a problem …but I just had listen to my body and stay sensible and the main thing was to keep moving forward ..
Surviving the long stage was a big boost to my confidence and coming in with a decent time meant I had a whole day to recover the following day. It was an extremely tough stage ..also being in the top 11 meant starting later as well so getting the heat during a lot of the early steep climbs …the stage had plenty of terrain changes, deep sandy tracks into steep climbs and rocky descents. Tarmac road sections and gravel roads leading to rough off road sections with no clear path other than the illuminated led markers in trees and bushes. We also had the pleasure of crossing the Pink Coral sand Dunes, 9km of very soft sand and very steep sand dunes ..which I had the fun of hitting in the dark so if your legs weren’t drained by then there were after. My true respect though goes out to those that are out on the course for hours taking the maximum time to finish the stage ..and then having minimal rest before getting back up and going on.
After the Long stage was another tough 42 km in stage 4, taking in rocky riverbeds and tough climbs but after the mammoth long stage it seemed to go quickly. The 5 stage however was hard going, the entire race seemed to have caught up with me and the stage just seemed to go on forever, but we had the amazing slot canyons to run through which was still one of my favorite parts of the face. We were also climbing higher in altitude and the mornings and evenings were getting colder. The Yeti passion was just fighting off the night chill, thanks to the Thermarest mat.
The last night before stage 6 though the temperatures dropped below zero, reaching -5 Deg C ..and everyone pretty much suffered forcing all the tent mates to huddle together for the night to fight off the chill ..but all part of the challenge at the end of the day. The last stage was a short 12km steep climb up to the finish at the View point on the summit of the Grand Staircase ..it was a freezing morning, with the stage start staggered to make sure everyone finished in good time ..it was a sheer climb to the top but pretty much everyone took it in their stride coming in groups and finishing together ..to mark the end of a hugely spectacular race and event ..with pizza and coke and your G2G Buckle waiting for you at the finish there was def a lot of tears and smiles. Buses were there to take us back to Kanab for a warm welcome and quick BBQ lunch before the long trip back to Las Vegas and the long waited shower and comfy bed.
Naturally there was a magnificent final ceremony and race awards dinner in the JW Marriott Las Vegas to finish off what was once again an amazing event. Big thank you to Tess and Colin Geddes and all the volunteers from Kanab for staging by far my most enjoyable ( although tough ) Multi stage race