Thoughts on running the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim (r2r2r)

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was early on March 1st. I was in the shower. I do a lot of thinking in the shower. Sometimes really good ideas come to me. Other times, I have really bad ideas.

I knew my friends Patrick and Michael were going to be running the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim soon, and I’ll be doing a lot of running leading up to Mt. Hood in June and the Houston Marathon in January. I also have this running concept where I do something “epic” in an ultra or marathon training block; that way when I’m actually running the marathon, I can think back to that “epic” thing whenever I start experiencing a low during the race.

I’ve had the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim on my running bucket list, but honestly, I don’t know when I’d actually be able to do that on my own. I’d have to either get runner friends to go with me, or I’d need to make a family trip out it, and I think it would prove to be difficult (and somewhat self-centered) to take a family trip to the Grand Canyon, one of the most beautiful wonders of this world, and just go off on my own to run it and not be able to experience it with the family.

So I felt that this would be kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. To do the r2r2r with friends, who are also very experienced ultrarunners. I asked them if I could join, and without much hesitation, they agreed to let me join the team.

Patrick and Michael are going to use the r2r2r as a training run for the Never Summer 100k in July. I’m going at it as probably the most amazing run I’ll probably ever go on. And, I’ll be honest, there are some nerves. Quite a lot of nerves for yours truly.

Since asking and graciously being accepted to run the Canyon on March 1st, Patrick booked our accommodations at Yavapai Lodge. We’ve maintained a group text thread where we’ve keep noodling over flights, and finally we booked our flights yesterday afternoon. There was part of me that was kind of secretly thinking this thing might fold in on itself because among the three of us, something would just come up and it would get delayed or canceled. We booked the flights and, as Patrick said, “Shit’s getting real now.”

In the meantime, I’ve stayed true to my marathon training plan, except I’m folding in some more difficult stuff, like doing hill repeats on the Hill of Life this past Sunday. I’ve run a 50k, and the r2r2r is ~45 miles. They say running is 90% mental. The other 10% is mental.

We’re going to run with poles. I bought a pair of poles. I also splurged on a GoPro Hero 7 and a gimbal because we’re going to have to document this adventure. I also bought a better running vest. My old Ultimate Direction vest chafes my neck, so I splurged on a Salomon S-Lab vest. My next step is to go to Fleet Feet and get some advice on some good ultra distance trail running shoes. I’m leaning toward Hoka, but won’t know until I put some on the wheels and see how they feel and fit. Forty five miles and 11,000 feet of climbing is going to be hard on the old dogs. And then I’m going to have to go on some training runs with my vest loaded with gear, nutrition, the camera and the poles.

Spring Break in Garner State Park

On Wednesday morning the family loaded up and headed west for a quick Spring Break camping trip. Unfortunately, yours truly caught some kind of mild bug or cold either the night before or that morning, so I was feeling pretty crappy. My head and nose were all stopped up. I just wasn’t feeling it, but we pressed on anyway.

We made it to Garner at around 3:30 and immediately started unpacking and setting up tents. We borrowed a tent and a couple of other camping essentials from some friends. Elise didn’t really want to set up both tents, but we have a 4-person tent and would fit us like sardines. And since I wasn’t feeling well, I didn’t want to sleep in a single cramped tent, so I insisted that we set up the other tent.

After about an hour, our camp was set up and we started a fire to get ready for dinner. We grilled a chicken breast for the girls for an Italian salad. Elise and I had the same salad with foil packet potatoes, onions, mushrooms, and cannellini beans. And then, of course, we had to do the obligatory s’mores before calling it a night and going to bed.

In our packing, our car was at max capacity. We were so crammed that Elise and I had to forgo packing our own pillows. We decided we’d rough it fabricate pillows out of blankets and clothes. I surprisingly slept like a rock, however, my neck was pretty sore in the morning from sleeping on a rolled up towels as my pillow. Elise was equally sore and didn’t sleep well that first night.

We woke up with the sounds of the birds on Thursday morning. We quickly found that the camp stove that we’d borrowed from friends didn’t work. Note to self: test your camping gear before you go camping. So we had to start another fire in order to make our breakfast and boil water for coffee. For whatever reason(s), starting a fire in the morning is a lot more difficult and time-consuming in the morning that it is in the evening. Maybe it’s because you’re in a rush to get your day started and waiting on a fire delays plans. Maybe it’s the humidity and still air. I swear it took damn near an hour to get the fire big and hot enough to get around to heating our pot of water and cast iron skillet for eggs and bacon. The girls and bacon and egg breakfast tacos. Elise and I had tofu scramble tacos with our leftover foil packet mushrooms and potatoes with salsa.

After eating breakfast and cleaning up, we set out on our first adventure of the day to hike the Old Baldy Trail. This is a relatively short hike of only a bit more than a half mile, but it’s very steep and technical. And we had kids in tow. And Maly decided to dust off her camera and bring it with her on our camping trip, so she was stopping to take a lot of photos. And, true to form, Mara proved herself as an awesome little hiker. She did have a little spill on the way back down Old Baldy. She’d decided to wear rain boots on this hike, so I’m sure that decision didn’t help in her footing. She had to cry a bit because she banged up her leg pretty badly, but she was back up and at it after the tears dried up.

While I wasn’t complaining, I just wasn’t feeling well, and I think Elise could sense it. So we decided to call the summit of Old Baldy the highlight of our day. We then drove over to the park’s pavilion and the girls got some gelato. We sat under the huge oak tree at the pavilion and relaxed for a bit, then did some browsing in the gift shop. Then we drove over to the park store to get some more ice and firewood. Then we drove back to our campsite and walked the couple hundred yards to let the girls play in the Frio River. After about an hour, it was time to head back to camp and start the fire and get ready for dinner.

Thursday’s dinner was hotdogs for the girls and some pretty gross meatless veggie dogs for Elise and me. We also snarfed a bunch of tortilla chips and salad. And then, again, the obligatory campfire s’mores. It was as the sun was starting to creep down toward the horizon, Elise and Maly decided to run over to the camp store for more firewood, and then into Leakey so Elise could buy some dollar store pillows for us. While they were gone, Mara and I hung out and were able to witness an amazing moonrise.

Elise and Maly returned from their errands, and we made a few more s’mores before calling it a night and hitting the hay. Man, having a pillow makes a world of difference when you’re tent camping.

Friday morning came early with the chirping of birds again. And it was another slow morning as we had to build another fire for coffee and campfire pancakes. We also decided to take showers since it’d been a couple days since we’d all last bathed. Friday was a really slow morning and I think we finally made it out from our camp around noon.

We drove back over to the pavilion and hiked up the Crystal Cave Trail and explored Crystal Cave for a few minutes. Then we made our descent down the Bridges Trail. We made it back down to the pavilion, made a quick bathroom break, and then hiked the Old Entrance Road before calling it a day for the hiking.

We headed back to camp and the weather started looking iffy. We knew we had some significant rain chances all week, but the forecast was changing by the hour as we kept checking our phones. Finally we just decided to rely on the clouds and atmospheric pressure. It was too cloudy and cold to go back to the river on Friday evening, so we stayed at the campsite, fired up the campfire and made Frito pies and salad for dinner.

It was as we were getting dinner all cleaned up and the sun was going down that someone (probably yours truly) suggested that we consider going home Friday night instead of risking getting rained on. We noodled over it. We took a vote. Elise and Mara really wanted to stay. Maly and I were indifferent. We talked about it for a while and ultimately decided that it would probably be best to pack dry camping gear now versus wet camping gear in the morning. We’d already packed one of the tents and put all the non-essentials in the car and decided to just pack up the rest of the gear and get on the road. I think it was the right decision, too. About the time we’d decided to pack everything, a group of six people showed up at the site next to us and set up their tent really close to ours.

We got everything packed and miraculously loaded up by flashlight and found ourselves saying goodbye and heading out of Garner at 9:30 on Friday night. The girls immediately conked out in the backseat. I nodded off a couple times, and I think I finally actually fell asleep 30 minutes from the house.

We got home at 12:30 a.m., parked the car, didn’t grab a thing, and we all just piled out and went to our respective comfy beds where the sandman put us all into a nice, soft slumber.

I like the think we all had a blast and the girls will be left with memories that will stay with them forever.

The things they’ll grow out of

One day you might find yourself annoyed, frustrated, maybe even mad when you find that your shaving cream is gone. Your contact lens solution is also gone. And there’s corn starch and food coloring all over the kitchen counter. You were worried about the way things should be. Clean. Tidy. In its place. Not being a nuisance. And then one day you will find yourself sad and longing for the days when your little girl was experimenting with different recipes for slime. The slime by which you were mildly amused because you stopped being an adult for a fleeting moment. But they were slime recipes that she worked on and had fun with for weeks and weeks. The mess doesn’t matter.

The same is true for when you quietly wished she’d hurry up and grow out of the phase where she’d put socks on her hands, tuck a striped tail into the back of her shorts and walk around on the hardwood floors on all fours, pretending that she was a cat. You might stare and think about how she’s ruining those socks, or the knees of her pants. The socks don’t matter.

Don’t miss out on those weeks of experimenting, learning, and playing. One day she won’t do those things any longer. One day she’s going to be older. One day she’s going to be like you.

Mara and the tooth fairy

Mara lost her second front top tooth in her sleep last night. She woke up this morning, immediately realized she’d lost her tooth, and she couldn’t find it. Our first fear and inclination was that she’d swallowed it in her sleep. She got out of bed and thankfully we found it. The tooth had somehow worked its way down and was underneath her thigh.

After dinner and before bed, Mara wrote a letter to the Tooth Fairy, letting her know that she wanted to keep her tooth, and then she put her letter and the tooth under her pillow.

We put the girls to bed last night and, like most nights, Elise and I settled in for some downtime in the living room. We watched a documentary called Abducted in Plain Sight and by the time it was over, it was light and we went straight to bed.

We woke up yesterday morning and went about our respective morning rituals of getting ourselves and the girls ready for the day. I was at the sink in the bathroom and Elise walked in and said, “Crap! The Tooth Fairy!” We’d completely forgot about Mara’s tooth last night.

I scurried and went through my stuff, looking for a gold dollar coin. I couldn’t find one anywhere in my usual spots. We were quickly running out of time because it was getting late in the morning, and was well past the time that Mara should be up and getting herself ready for school.

While I was still uncovering things in an attempt to find a gold dollar coin, Elise, being the great mother that she is, did what I’d only imagine any other parent of a second child would do, and went to Mara’s piggy bank and repurposed one of Mara’s own gold dollar coins and slid it under Mara’s pillow just as gentled nudged the child to wake up and start getting ready for school. And Mara immediately woke up and excitedly found a new gold dollar coin that the Tooth Fairy had left for her, at some point many hours ago in the middle of the night.

A letter to Maly

When you get older and you’re out of the nest that’s your current home with Mom, Mara and me, make sure you travel and see the earth. Don’t settle for a desk job. Get out there and take risks. Find your own way. And make sure you’re able to laugh at everything. Laughing is extremely important. Probably the most important thing in life. You’ll suffer. You’ll thrive. Your heart will get broken and people you’re close to will die. You’ll do dumb things and you’ll experience amazing things. In all of these experiences, make sure you take it all in. Write about it in your own words, and find the humor in it all. You’ll hopefully thank me one day.

Save this email. Open it when you’re 30. And when you’re 40. And then come tell me about your experiences. Wherever I am.

I love you, Sug.

Daddy

Mother Teresa pizza and a weekend update

Elise had to work early on Saturday morning, so the girls and I were able to hang out. Maly had lacrosse practice in the spitting cold rain. She and the other girls got their jerseys, hoodies and socks. After practice we hit the grocery story for birthday party stuff for Lauren, and to get lunch, which consisted of cheese pizza for the girls and vegan pizza for yours truly.

We can home and annihilated the two pizzas and then watched Napolean Dynomite. Maly went to her birthday party sleepover. I had a 5-mile run at pace.

Elise, Mara and I decided to go to Pinthouse Pizza for dinner. After settling on a couple brews, we ordered a small cheese pizza for Mara and a built-to-order vegan pizza with vegan cheese, mushrooms, kalamata olives and arugula. After waiting 20 minutes, our pizza came and we all dug in. Elise’s and my pizza was SO good. So much so that we quickly realized it wasn’t baked with vegan cheese. So we decided to take the Mother Teresa route and be thankful that we had food. I’ll be curious to see if their pizza with vegan cheese is as good as the one we had last night. PHP’s pizza is pretty damn awesome. So much so that I announced, “this is probably the best pizza I’ve ever had!” To which Mara quickly rebutted with, “Daddy! Craig O’s has the best pizza! It’s my favorite restaurant ever!!” I concurred.

This morning we kind of slept in until 8. I went on an 11-miler on the new path along 45. It was a great run going south, and I wanted to keep going to explore the path, but I didn’t really feel like running 15 miles, so I figured I’d leave exploring the rest of the path for another long run day. Holy hell when I turned around, I was greeted with a headwind that could just kiss my ass. So I had to fight that for the second half of my run. I’m happy with week #1 of my periodized training plan.

Here it is, March, and we’re going to be dealing with freezing temperatures for the next three days.

The Violet Crown Trail and Fortlandia

Maly and I hopped on our bikes and explored a new part of the Violet Crown trail this morning. Unfortunately the new part of the trail is still very new, so there’s not much to it. However, it leads into the single track trail system along Slaughter Creek east of Mopac. Unfortunately, I’m not well traveled on that side, so we got a little bit lost in our attempt to get ourselves over to the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. I was hellbent on finding our way, but when I pulled out my phone to look at the map, we were headed back north instead of south. And we needed to be heading south. So we doubled back and hopped onto the Veloway where I knew that’d get us to where we needed to go.

We met Elise and Mara at the Wildflower center’s Fortlandia exhibit. We all had a lot of fun walking around, looking at and playing in the forts. The girls made some forts out of bamboo, and we all played on swings.

Marathon training begins again

Last summer the girls excitedly said they wanted to go back to Boston. My first knee-jerk brain reaction was recounting the miles and hours of training to qualify for the Boston Marathon. But in that same instant, I was excited to take on the challenge again. After all, the 2018 Boston Marathon was ran in pretty nasty conditions.

Boston was the last marathon I’ve run, and that was 10 months ago. A few months ago I decided to endeavor in the BQ challenge again. I’d really like to run Boston in better conditions. Hopefully on a beautiful New England spring day. Not in 35-degree weather while getting dumped on by rain and with a 30-mile per hour headwind.

I thought about running the Tunnel marathon again, but I’ve already run that course. And, while we’d love to visit again, Elise and I have already had a vacation in Seattle. And, it turns out, our schedule conflicted with all 3 race weekends for the Tunnel marathons.

We have friends who moved to Portland last year, so I searched for fast marathons in the Portland area so I could run the race and then we can spend some time visiting our friends and seeing the city. I found the Revel Mt. Hood Marathon. It’s a 5,000-foot downhill race spanning the full 26.2 miles. That’s going to be a challenge in and of itself. While I’m sure it’s going to be fast, my quads are going to be completely shredded afterward.

I’ve maintaining somewhat of a running base with close to 30 miles per week. I’ve been trying to get back to keeping a to-do list. On that list are things like:

– Order topsoil
– Get taxes done
– Clean the backyard
– Build training plan

So today I decided to build my training plan. I thought I had close to 16 weeks to train. Much to my surprise, I have the 18 weeks that is optimal for a periodized marathon training plan. And this time I’m incorporating speed work, which I’ve never done in marathon training before.

Goal #1: Qualify for Boston
Goal #2: Run a 2:59:59 or better

Training officially starts on Monday, February 25th.

Hiking Enchanted Rock

The girls and I headed out early this morning to drive out to Enchanted Rock. We got there around 10 a.m. and hiked up to the summit of Enchanted Rock. Then we hiked back down for lunch.

After lunch (vegan alert: Elise and I had chicken salad sandwiches, except with chickpeas instead of chicken. And vegan mayonnaise And it was awesome!) we decided to hike half of the loop trail, and cut back through Echo Canyon trail and back down Summit Trail.

Mara’s little 6-year-old body was a trooper. She hiked the hell out of those rocks and didn’t complain a bit. She even took a couple spills and kept on truckin’. She actually ran quite a bit – to the point where I had to tell her to slow down, otherwise she’d wear herself out.

Relive ‘Afternoon Feb 18th’

After finishing the ~3 mile loop, we got in the car and headed into Fredericksburg to get some ice cream at Clear River for the girls. That little bribe helped them slog through the rocky climbs.

After ice cream we went to the Fredericksburg Brewing Company for some pretzels, fried pickles and beer.

Austin 5k and the greenbelt

This morning Maly and I ran the Austin 5k. All four of us left the house at 6:45 for a 7:30 a.m. start. Elise and Mara dropped Maly and me off at 5th and Lavaca and Maly and I walked to the start line while Elise parked the Jeep. The weather was an amazing 57-degrees, the sun was out, there was a gentle breeze, the air was crisp and the energy was high. It was such a pretty morning. The race started at exactly 7:30 and Maly and I made our way down Congress to the turnaround at Mary Street and ran our way back to the finish line. Maly needed to stop a few times, and that was okay. A huge part of me wants to push her and get frustrated and make her run, but that’s not going to do any good for either of us. I shifted my thoughts and found the joy in just the both of us out there running together. If she ever wants to get serious, push herself and be competitive in running, she’ll figure that out on her own in her own time.

We got to the finish line and Maly got her medal, a bottled water and a snack bag. Elise and Mara were waiting for us at the finish. We chatted for a few minutes and decided we didn’t really have a reason to hang out at the finish. It would’ve been nice to see friends come in from finish the half and full marathon, but that would’ve meant waiting around for a couple hours.

The four of us walked the mile back to my office where the Jeep was parked and started making our way home. We were hungry so we stopped at Taco Deli for breakfast. After snarfing our breakfast tacos, we started to head home, but since we were at the trailhead, but decided to go hang out in the greenbelt for while and play around the water. We were all navigating the drier rocks across the creek between the flats and Campbell’s Hole, and came upon a big divide. Maly was hell-bent on making it across. After deliberating for the better part of 10 minutes, she decided on a strategy of removing her shoes. She took her right shoe off first, and threw it across the creek to the rock she wanted to make it to. And, of course, her shoe went into the creek and quickly started downstream. So I hauled butt along the rocky creek bank and finally hopped into the 3-foot-deep creek. Remember that 57-degrees I was talking about earlier? And the spring-fed creed is 55-degrees. It was a quick little pick-me-up jumping into the creek. Luckily I was able to get Maly’s shoe.

We hung out just south of Campbell’s Hole and watched the squirrels and skipped rocks for a while before deciding to finally head home.

That was a great morning with the family.

The 2nd Annual Great Valentine’s Day Run Commute Home From Work

Last year I was training for the Boston Marathon, and I ran a 14-mile commute home from work via the greenbelt. That was a pretty tough run, and I banged up my foot pretty badly. I would’ve loved to have run the same route home via the trails today, but we’ve been getting quite a bit of rain this year, and crossing Barton Creek four times would’ve proved extremely difficult, if not impossible. So I commuted via pavement.

It was a lovely run, and I pretty much just zoned out the whole time. I didn’t really think about much. I just moved forward against a southerly headwind and took in the sites. One gets to see so much more when traveling on foot. The creek was a beautiful clear blue and lots of Red Buds and Mountain Laurels are already blooming.

Make friends with it or kick it to the moon

Last night I installed a new wifi router for our home network. I bought one of those really ugly and evil looking Netgear Nighthawks. It has a LOT of lights on the front of it. Unfortunately, when we had Google Fiber installed, they wired the house on the east side, which meant the modem is in Mara’s room. That also means that the evil-looking router goes in Mara’s room since it’s connected to the modem. When we put Mara to bed last night and turned off the lights, the Nighthawk’s evil lights cast upon the walls and ceiling in a very spooky, haunted house kind of way.

I asked Mara if she was okay with the lights.

“I think it’s kind of okay. I can see my shadow monster.”

For a few years now she’s had this “thing” that resides in the corner of her ceiling, across from her bed. She’s aware of it, but she’s never really let it bother her. I’d imagine it’s just one of those things that you see as a kid. It could just be some kind of shape that’s created in the mind and you just can’t unsee it, like a one-time shadow or just a figure in the texture of the wall. We’ve always left her door open and the hallway light on when she sleeps. And she has a nightlight. The shadow monster really hasn’t been an issue, but she’ll say something about it every once in a while. We ask her if hit scares her and, invariably, she says it doesn’t.

I found a switch on the back of the Evil Nighthawk Router that lets me turn off all of the lights, so I flipped it and the spooky blinking stopped.

She was okay without the spooky haunted house lights.

Tonight, as I was driving Mara to Religious Education class, I talked to her about the “shadow monster.” At the time of the conversation, I couldn’t recall the term “shadow monster,” so I asked, “Tell me more about the thing that’s on your ceiling. What was it again that you call it?” She was very forthright and talkative about it, and reminded me that it was a shadow monster.

We talked more about it. I remember a couple years ago when she told us she was scared because it felt like something was watching her. Like a camera or an eye. Back then it made us a little scared and anxious for her. But on our car ride today, she told me that it’s a big eyeball, and his name is Stuart.

And then I asked her if she’s friends with it. “Oh, yeah.” she said. With a name like Stuart, how can you not be friends with a big eyeball that lives on your ceiling?

So I told her about a recurring dream that I used to have when I was around her age. I don’t remember having these dreams, probably because they were thirty-some-odd years ago. But I do remember my mom recounting these dreams during my formative years at inopportune times when my primary function in life was to portray myself as a badass who knew everything and had zero flaws.

I used to have nightmares about an octopus that would visit, wrap its tentacles around me and drag me into the unknown. I honestly don’t remember these dreams, but I guess I had them enough to where my mom discussed them amongst her social circles.

It was Gail Folloder, who was a long-time family friend and a mother figure in my adolescence who, with the voice of a guiding angel, simply told me to kick that octopus to the moon.

And I don’t know if it was that same night, or on a night shortly after, that I’d apparently heeded Gail’s advice, and I kicked that octopus to the moon during my final dream where he’d come to visit me once again. From the lore of my mother’s mouth, I’d permanently taken care of my octopus problem.

And Mara made the best of a shadow monster by befriending it.

So I guess the moral of the story is: Make friends with it if you can, or just kick it to the moon.

Celeriac walnut tacos

I associate the word “Celeriac” with either macular degeneration or a venereal disease. Why do healthy foods have to sound so disgusting?

Elise made these tacos on Sunday evening and they were really good. The whole time I was thinking, “would these be better with meat?” and the resounding answer in my inner dialog was, “nope.”

Here’s the recipe for Celeriac walnut tacos from Eating Well. I ate 3 of them after a hard(ish) 10-mile run.