Grand Canyon Run by OE Athlete & Ambassador Michal Thompson
Roughly 18 months ago on October 7th, 2021, I did this thing- something I am still in awe about. Some friends of mine and I ran the Grand Canyon from the south rim down into the canyon and up to the north rim, and back again… also known as Rim2Rim2Rim. This was, and still is one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had - the magnificence of what I saw and being surrounded by some of the most incredible and resilient people - and it is something I will never forget. Trail running requires a bit more awareness and focus on the ground than road running does. This was hard to do when we had breathtaking views at every turn and very long drop-offs around others. I felt so lucky to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation.
The mantra “Don’t go through it, grow through it” was very applicable to this very long day. I knew this would be epic but didn’t really know how much. It definitely is at the top of the hardest things I’ve done.
Depending on which Garmin we looked at, here were our stats:
*11-18k feet of elevation gain
*15-17 hours of moving time
When we first arrived and I saw the Grand Canyon for the first time, I was blown away. It was majestic and breathtaking. I felt a mixture of intimidation, awe, and excitement.
We started running at 3:30am from Bright Angel and ran 5 miles (in the hopes to get our mileage to 50 and save ourselves a taxi fee) to the South Kaibab trailhead. We enjoyed the bright stars and the silent surroundings.
Decent #1: 7-ish miles
So much excitement to finally be here. Our headlamps hit NOTHING as we looked over the edge of the trail. We heard the bats, enjoyed the sunrise, and experienced the expansive and stunning Colorado River. Once at the bottom of the canyon, we crossed the river on a long bridge.
Valley: 11-ish miles
We gladly embraced the slightly uphill trail because it was such a relief on our quads. We enjoyed a lush landscape as we followed the Little Colorado River. We saw animals, passed Phantom Ranch, and a few other campsites.
Ascent #1: North Kaibab 8-ish miles
Hard to put a favorite in here but I think this was the most beautiful part. North Kaibab trail ends in a beautifully, wooded area where the fall colors against the gorgeous canyon walls were breathtaking. The trail was cut out of the edges of the canyon wall. It is essential to eat and drink constantly during a long run to stay on top of calorie intake, even if you don’t feel like it. However, I found it was a bit difficult to eat while also using poles (but oh so glad I brought them!). What a huge relief when we saw sky (which meant the final ascension was near.) Not all Rim2Rim2Rim runners get an aid station at the North Rim. But Noelle Mojica and her children drove around the canyon to set up a table and food! We attended to some blisters, unloaded the unneeded, refilled water, and ate as much as we could.
Descent #2: 8-ish miles
It felt so good at first, then it got harder to pick up our feet. Funny how it felt so much rockier than the way up! We were dodging rocks and mule poop most of the way down.
Valley: 11-ish miles
We were so grateful for the slightly downhill miles. It was starting to feel warm with the late day sun on us. We took advantage of every water station. We wore wet neck gators to keep us cool.
Final Ascent: Bright Angel 7-ish miles
We crossed the river toward Bright Angel trail (a different bridge than our first crossing.) Dusk had set in and we saw the most beautiful sunset. But this is where the real work BEGAN. So many ups and downs- physically and mentally. Most of these miles were done in the dark. Sad that we didn’t get to see the beauty around us, but it was also helpful to not be able to see what was STILL ahead of us. At many points along the way we wondered if we were headed the right way. The last 4 miles were the hardest for me- all I could do was remember that with each step I was 1 step closer to being finished. Fatigue and a bit of delirium set in, making it far too easy to stumble (not a great place to be unstable.) Here is where we took our bodies and mind beyond our limit of what we thought was possible; we felt so depleted that even forming words started to get difficult. There was no relief from the climb and my only desire was to get to the top and have a big, fat pizza (unfortunately we didn’t make it back before restaurants closed.) I started to get nauseated. I knew why- I needed more calories. But eating when you don’t want to is hard! I knew our legs were the only things getting us out of this; there was no one to rescue us. I was so impressed by the grace and strength I saw in each of my friends as they battled their own demons and came out resilient.
I could not hold back the tears - tears of complete exhaustion, tears of joy, tears of disbelief. I clumsily got myself into a friend’s car, who got me to my hotel room. I knew I just needed to make it to the bathtub, and all would be well. Taking a hot, Epsom salt and doTERRA Aromatouch essential oil bath saved me. You bet I ate my dinner and drank my chocolate milk in the bath! It was the most wonderful thing I had ever drank!
As I pondered our epic day, I was so grateful nothing had gone wrong. I knew it was because of the prayer we said as a group before we started. We also had perfect weather- not too hot, not too cold. The enormity of what we had accomplished set in. I felt surprisingly good, my legs felt tired, but I was not in any real pain. I could tell I was very calorie-deficient. As the day went on and with more meals under my belt, I started to regain myself. I also knew I had some sleep to catch up on (two nights of little sleep - the one before the run and the one after).
2 Things I Learned:
“Finding the end of yourself means finding the beginning of someone new and amazing”- Connilee Lyn
“To not suffer is to stop growing.”
It was truly a magnificent experience. The Grand Canyon can be unforgivable but gives back to you in ways you cannot describe. And now the worst part for an ultra-runner is to wonder- Now what? What is the next challenge/goal to aim for?
Firebiner: I always carry the firebiner! Lightweight and so handy.
Poles: I loved having my poles. They are not for everyone. They helped me up the climbs and helped me keep steady when I was so tired.
Water Filter: Luckily, we didn’t have to use this because the water was “on” in the canyon. There are parts of the year it is not on, and this would be lifesaving!
Good trail shoes: I love my Altra Lone Peaks!
Running Vest: I love my Salomon Advanced skin 12. It held everything I needed!
Turmeric: I take doTERRA Turmeric dual capsules. These are essential for keeping the inflammation away. Without these my knee screams at me. I definitely make sure I take these BEFORE my long runs.
Supplements: I love doTERRA LLV. These are my go-to daily vitamins. These have given my body a wonderful nutritional base to exert my body to this extreme.
Salt Pills: I take these every 2 hours during a long run. They change everything - you don’t hit a wall nearly as easily!
Aromatouch- an oil blend I add to Epsom salt in my bath after every long run. It does wonders for soreness and lactic acid! I feel like a new woman after this ritual.
First aid kit- I also take other essential oils with me just in case. Breathe Blend for respiratory support, Digestzen Blend for any digestive issues (if you are an ultra-runner, you know there are many!), and Deep Blue rub for muscle cramps.
If you'd like to learn more about Michal’s adventures and natural remedies/solutions, follow her on IG: https://www.instagram.com/oilathlete/