Running 50 Miles Across the Grand Canyon

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By Dr. Mariappan Jawaharlal

I never liked running. Basketball, soccer and tennis made sense to me because there were clear goals. Running seemed like a mindless activity. Running obviously is not a spectators’ sport. After all, who wants to watch someone running for hours?

All this changed just four years ago when my daughter asked me to run a half-marathon with her. I thought I would just go out, run and complete a bucket list item. Little did I know that I was in no position even to run even half a mile. After just a short run around the block I was out of breath, my knees were hurting and my back pain was unbearable. After several weeks of attempting to run, and failing miserably, I realized that I did know how to run. In an effort to get better, I attended a Chi running workshop and learned the basics of running biomechanically correct. Since then I never looked back. I remember the exhilaration I felt when I completed my first 5K with ease and no pain. I felt great and there was a sense of accomplishment. The 5K quickly turned into 10Ks, and half-marathons turned into full marathons.

Last month one of my ultra-running friends asked to run the Grand Canyon from Rim to Rim and back (R2R2R) to celebrate his 60th birthday. I had no idea someone would even want to celebrate their birthday like that. As I researched more about R2R2R running, I came across the writing of John Stoddard way back in 1898: “…a descent into the Canyon is essential for a proper estimate of its details, and one can never realize the enormity of certain valleys, till he has crawled like a maimed insect at their base and looked thence upward to the narrowed sky.” I realized I wanted to check firsthand how a maimed insect felt. So I decided to run the Grand Canyon, from South Rim to North Rim and back.

Last month, with fear, excitement and uncertainty, I descended into the Canyon in the early morning, just before 5 a.m., with butterflies in the stomach and headlamps lighting the way. It felt like I was stepping into the abyss. We ran through rain, freezing cold, snow, hot weather and heavy winds. I witnessed sunrise, sunset and pitch black darkness. As I ran the distances were unchanging, the terrain was unrelenting, and the uphill was brutal and grueling. I had no idea that I could keep running through all this, for 17 hours straight. After a long 52-mile run, I reached the Bright Angel trailhead parking lot. It was past 10 PM and the place was deserted. My poor wife after waiting for several hours left by the last bus. There was no one else to greet. No rewards or medals. I was sore but I felt good and found a new meaning in the expression “Hurts So Good.”

Running the Grand Canyon was the hardest thing I have ever done. I do not know what makes people to do crazy thing. But as far as running is concerned, I think there is something primal about running. Humans have an inherent love and ability for running. Our ancestors with no tools and technology, had to run for their life. They ran for food, ran away from danger and perhaps ran just for fun, like other animals. Our family dog Kiya, a beautiful Siberian husky, often runs as if there is nothing more exciting than running. She runs just for the sake of running. We see horses and many other animals run just for no reason. Running brings some other side benefits.

  • First of all running costs nothing. It is the cheapest form of exercise. All you have to do is just go out and run.
  • You don’t need to have a partner or a team. Just you.
  • You can feel the positive impact of running on your health in a matter of days. You will lose weight, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • Each run gives you great satisfaction and sense of accomplishment.
  • Running clears your minds from worrisome and mundane tasks. It helps you look at problems from a different perspective.
  • Running has no age limits. You can start running any time. Just last week, Harriette Thompson, a 92 year old woman completed a marathon in San Diego.
  • You will look a lot younger.
  • You will be happier and healthier

Unfortunately with the development of engineering and technology, we are losing our love and the ability for running. Running is easy and fun. Start small. Aim for a 5K in two or three months. Increase your mileage gradually. For guidance, read the Chi Running book or attend a workshop.

I started running when most people stop running. So what’re you waiting for? Just go out and run!

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