While waiting for my fellow voyagers, elated, exhausted and hungry for the next challenge, I set a goal I had no business claiming: to set the “Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim Fastest Known Time,” a.k.a. the R2R2R FKT.
In April of 2014, a posse of up-to-no-good ultra runners I had just met talked me into a little jaunt across the Grand Canyon and back, covering over 40 miles and 22,000 feet of elevation change.
How could I say no? The closest I had ever gotten to the Grand Canyon was a stock photo on the desktop of a library computer. These enablers were giving me the opportunity to see it all in a day.
In my naivety and my “yes-man” tendencies, the distance didn’t deter me nor did the magnitude of the run. Perhaps it should have, considering once you descend into the Canyon and make your way to the other side, the only way out is by the power of your own two feet.
Whether you run, hike or claw your way to the top of the rim, once you’re in there’s no way back to the comforts of reality but to climb 5,000 ft. Shielded by ignorance, a lack of preparation and the enthusiasm of weekend warriors, any logical reservations I should’ve had were absent. For whatever reason, my new friends told me I could make it across and back, and I believed them.
Bloody, dirty and sweaty, I emerged from the depths of the South Kaibab trail a new person, buzzing with the same kind of crazy I saw in my Canyon comrades the day they convinced me to join them. I had done it. I conquered one of the Seven Wonders of the World on foot without any preparation, training or knowledge of what I was getting into. Sixteen hours after decent, I not only had I done it, but I was the first one to emerge from the Canyon, ahead of the ultra-experienced runners.
They had spent the day telling me to “slow down, kid, or you’re in for some hurt.”
Fast forward two years to April 2016, a few ski seasons, raft seasons and hundred mile races under my belt. My career had shifted from backcountry guide to teacher. My bed no longer doubled as my vehicle and I went from intentionally single to happily off the market. My life had taken a bit of a turn, but for whatever reason, I still held onto the only ultra-running goal I had ever made: the R2R2R FKT.
So, my supportive (and possibly delusional) boyfriend drove me and my inflated perception of my own abilities to the Grand Canyon to make an attempt at the record. Held by Bethany Lewis who crossed the Canyon in a stout time of 8:15:50, I aimed to break the record and to be the first women to ever complete the double-crossing in under eight hours. In retrospect, the goal was no-where near inline with my training and was far beyond what my race results reflected on my abilities. But I believed in myself, and when I fell short of my goal, I just chalked it up to a bad day and the case of bronchitis I had shaken the week prior.
After failing to complete the double-crossing and readjusting my goals from record-breaking to “get the hell out of the Canyon alive,” I returned home with my tail between my legs and a chip on my shoulder.
That little chip on my shoulder served me well in the next year and a half, and this past October I decided to retry for the record.
The hunger to achieve impossible goals had festered after my failed FKT attempt and had lead to success in the world of trail running. My career made another shift from teacher to professional athlete, and instead of just a few hundred-mile finishes under my belt, I had a few major wins to my name.
This time, when returning to the Canyon I had reason to think that the record was possible and the results to back it. So on October 4 I descended the South Rim of the Grand Canyon filled with hope and emerged eleven hours later pouring over with heartbreak and humility. Another swing, another miss.
The record was starting to feel as elusive and torturous as a siren, luring me in for the sake of handing me my demise. But, just like the sailors who sailed toward the beautiful creatures and their fatal serenade, I returned to the Grand Canyon on Wednesday, November 15 despite a high probability of defeat.
This time, while dropping down the 5,000 ft from the South Kaibab trailhead, my faith in myself was matched with respect for the Canyon and the effort. Physically, I knew I was capable of breaking the record. However, after two attempts and numerous double-crossings, I finally understood the enormity of the run and the vastness of the Canyon.
I held onto that mentality for 7 hours 52 minutes and 20 seconds, calling on the experience my past failures had granted me when my body screamed for me to stop. This time I topped out on the South Rim the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim fastest known time holder.
Although I would’ve taken the R2R2R record on the first two attempts, I can’t help but be grateful it took me a third to nail it. Big goals wouldn’t hold as much weight if they were easy to achieve.
For every good race and goal met, we cash in ten failures in return. But every failure holds a piece of the puzzle, molding the success of tomorrow. So, here’s to drawn out journeys and unreasonable goals–we wouldn’t be half the people we are today without them.