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Somewhere Between Obscurity and Oblivion

October 5

Last spring, a friend of ours here in Park City, Lara Kendall, came back from a trip to the Grand Canyon with an idea for an epic run: run the Grand Canyon from rim to rim. Immediately, we were all intrigued. Sounded like an adventure right up our alley. After some research, we determined that the best time to do it was in the fall, just before the North Rim closes. That way, the temperatures at the bottom of the canyon shouldn't be too hot (less than 100 degrees). My research also told me that, although it looked to be a pretty hard run (24 miles with a 5500 foot vertical drop, then 5000 foot climb), it was not impossible. Many people do it each year. So I gathered as much information as I could from the Internet, recruited other skiers to join me, and we headed south to run the ditch.

Doing the run were Andrew Johnson, Scott Loomis, Lara Kendall, and myself. Also coming along, and crucial to the trip because she drove the van from one side to the other to pick us up, was Linda Blumberg. We left Friday (yesterday) around 2:00pm and arrived at our campsite on the North Rim at about 10:00 PM. We quickly set up camp and went to bed. We had to get up early this morning to start our run.

We woke this morning at 5:30, ate a breakfast of bagels with cream cheese and jam, hard boiled eggs, and OJ, and packed our Ultimate packs. In my pack, I had everything I could possibly need: 96 oz of Envervit sports drink, extra drink mix powder for refills, Powerbars, summer sausage and cheese for lunch, Snickers bar, band aids, Vaseline, a knife, small flashlight, extra shirt, map, blister kit, and probably a few other things. I knew I might not need it all, but I didn't want to be without something that might prove crucial later in the day. By 6:20, the sun had just come up, it was about 45 degrees, and we were at the trailhead ready to go.

The first 7 miles were all downhill on the North Kaibab trail. It was kind of steep, losing 4000 feet, but the trail was very good for running because it was very smooth in most places. After hitting a campground at 7 miles, the trail became more gradual and it was very fast running for the next 7 miles out to the Colorado River. For most of the route down, we were not in "the Grand Canyon," but in a smaller side canyon. It was not until we were at Phantom Ranch next to the Colorado River, that we could actually see the canyon itself. As we neared the Ranch, we passed about 30 people, in groups of 1 to 3, heading in the other direction. All were outfitted for a rim to rim crossing and many had "Rim to Rim" T-shirts on. At first it was kind of cool to see others doing the same thing as us (but in the opposite direction), but after a while the novelty wore off. The impressiveness of our feat was diminishing with each person we saw. Apparently we weren't the studs we thought we were just because we could cross the Grand Canyon in one day. Our only consolation was that we were running and most of them were walking all the uphills. Nevertheless, we were having a great run, so whether it was pushing the bounds of human capabilities or not, we were happy to be there. When we reached Phantom Ranch, it was about 9:30 am. We refilled our water packs and headed down to the river to eat lunch.

I really had no idea what to expect the canyon to look like. I had never been there and most pictures cannot convey the vastness of the canyon. It was a very unique experience to have my first view of the canyon come from the bottom looking up. Coming down from the North Rim, you really can't see the canyon at all until you are right at the bottom, especially when it is dark at the top. Having said that, the canyon was about as I had pictured it. Rock cliffs dropping down into white water rapids in some places. In other places, the river was more mellow and the walls of the canyon not as steep. What I hadn't expected was that from the bottom, you cannot see the top. The view is obstructed by multiple plateaus and smaller cliffs and side canyons. It was pretty cool to sit by the river eating lunch, knowing that we had just run down 14 miles and 5500 feet and we still had 5000 feet and 10 miles of uphill to go. None of us had ever done so much climbing this far into a run, but we were still feeling strong and looking forward to the challenge. After lunch and some pictures, we followed the Bright Angel trail south along the river's edge for about a mile before it hooked south and began its climb up towards the rim. As we started up, Lara told us how the last time she was here she had hiked down to a plateau near the Indian Spring campground, which was about halfway to the river.. She pointed up to that plateau a couple thousand feet above us, and it seemed to be days away. At that point, I really did not need to know that the top of the monstrous cliff above me was only halfway. The sun was now beating down on us, my stomach was feeling a little overstuffed from lunch, and the fact that we were still running at a pretty good clip uphill all combined to make me worry a little bit about how I was going to make it.

But we pushed on and before we knew it, we were at Indian Springs. We refilled water one more time and got ready for the last 4 miles to the top. As we climbed higher, the temperature cooled, the clouds covered the sun, and I started to feel much better. We weren't racing by any means, but we were running steady, and the people we passed were all noticing our pace and everyone had something to say about it. Some were upset by our presence, calling us "show-offs" and heckling us as we passed. But most were impressed and offered encouragement. We would smile or say hi as we passed, but by then we were usually to far away to say anything more. About a mile from the top, we met Linda who was on her way down after driving the car around for us. Our run was 24 miles, but her drive from one side to the other was about 240 miles. She had just enough time to drive around and hike one mile before we met her. Now we knew we were close and we picked up the pace a little. Lara, who had hung tough for 23 miles with three elite ski racers, was now getting a little tired and fell off the pace a bit. Andrew, Scott and I charged ahead and finished the run at 12:20 PM. Exactly 6 hours after starting. I estimate that we took about 45-60 minutes of stops along the way, meaning that is was a 5 hour run. We were tired but not exhausted. It was not quite as epic as we had hoped for but still an amazing run. As we waited for Lara and Linda to finish up, we talked about how we would like to come back some time and run from one side to the other and back. Now that would be more of a challenge.

For photos of this run, go to the Gallery page.

October 6

After camping last night on the South Rim, we packed up and headed out of town. We stopped at all the viewpoints on the way to get a look at the Canyon we had crossed. On our way home we hit all the hot spots. We saw the Glen Canyon Dam, had lunch near Lake Powell and took a back road through the Grand Staircase of Escalante National Monument where we found a great campsite for tonight.

October 7

After camping in Escalante, we went for a killer run in Bryce Canyon National Park and, as a reward for our great weekend, hit the Krispy Kreme doughnut shop in Provo before heading back to Park City.

For photos of the Bryce Canyon run, go to the Gallery page.

October 21

It is late October. The temperature in Park City is starting to dip below freezing at night and the mountain tops are dusted with white. It is time to start skiing again! This morning I left for Alaska. Usually I fly straight to Fairbanks to take advantage of the best early snow in North America. But this year, due to flight discontinuations caused by the terrorist attacks, I was only able to make it as far as Anchorage on my frequent flier ticket. I had planned to fly into Anchorage today, then meet up with Dave Chamberlain and Nathan Shultz tomorrow afternoon and drive to Fairbanks. When I arrived in Anchorage, which was covered in a foot of snow, I was picked up at the airport by Scott McArt, another former Big Green skier. He told me that the skiing in Anchorage was great. They were grooming at both Hillside and Kinkaid and that they had been using good skis for a week! Maybe it was a blessing that I had flown into Anchorage. I looked forward to skiing tomorrow morning to check it out for myself.

October 22

Sure enough,the skiing was beautiful. Scott, Jessica Smith and I met up with the Gold 2002 team at Hillside for a classic ski. Because of another few inches of snow last night there were no tracks, but we quickly skied in a nice track around 12K of tracks. It was great skiing. I skied easy for an hour and a half. I was loving it and thinking that there was no reason to head up to Fairbanks, where it is much colder and has much less snow. I was looking forward to spending some more time in Anchorage! I could see some friends, ski on excellent trails, and not freeze my butt off!

But it was not to be. When Nathan and Dave arrived, I told them how good the snow was and how questionable it was in Fairbanks. I told them that I would like to stay in Anchorage, but that ultimately I would go where ever they wanted, since I they were my only transportation. Since they had no place to stay in Anchorage and the rest of their Factory Team was flying into Fairbanks in a couple days, they decided to head north. I was bummed at the decision, but I packed up and headed out of town with them.

October 23

Since we didn't arrive in Fairbanks until midnight last night, we were in no rush to train this morning. We went out to a pancake breakfast, went shopping for food for the next few days, and then got dressed and waxed to ski. The snow was about as I had expected. Typical late October in Fairbanks. Only a few inches of snow, with grass sticking through in many places, but still very good skiing. It never ceases to amaze me that you can have good skiing here on 3-4 inches of snow. Sure it doesn't look pretty, but I skated for 2 hours and never hit a rock. Not too bad. Still though, I couldn't get my mind off the snow in Anchorage. I kept thinking of what I was missing. I was tempted to go rent a car and drive straight back there. But I decided that I would give the skiing here a few more days before I made any rash decisions.

October 24

My last week in Utah was tough. I was burned out on dryland training, I didn't like getting out of bed when it was cold and dark outside (without snow), and I kept thinking that soon I would be on snow. It was hard to motivate and hard to keep focused. It didn't help that I was feeling tired. I was supposed to be resting up before training hard in Fairbanks, but even though I was training easy, I didn't feel like I was resting. It was strange to feel this way because I had such a good fall and had been feeling good for a while. Since I was not feeling a bit burned out and tired when I got to Alaska, I decided it was wise to ease into my onsnow training. The first two days I only skied once. I felt ok, but not great. It has definitely been nice to come "home" after a workout and just eat, shower, and nap, rather than run off to work. I am hoping that the extra relaxation time will help me feel better as the camp goes on.

Today was the first day that I have skied twice. I classic skied for two hours this morning, and then went out for another 1:30 of skating in the afternoon. My goal was to put in a couple more distance sessions, so that starting tomorrow I will feel solid enough on my skis to start doing more specific training. I was a bit fatigued going up the hills, but I guess that is to be expected during the first few days on snow.

October 25

I won't lie to you, the first few days of this camp have been tough. I touched on it yesterday when I mentioned that I had been feeling tired before I came up here. But its not only that. The past two days when I have headed out to ski, I have felt like I was heading to the dentist for a root canal, not heading out to do my favorite activity in the world. I was DREADING going out to ski! How can this happen? Was it because of the cold? Was it the poor snow? Was it the fact that I had left behind warmer temps and better snow in Anchorage? Was it the fact that I was tired? Was it the fact it was still dark out when I started skiing? Was it that I was already sick of skiing the same trails every workout? Had the lack of motivation I felt in Utah last week carried over to this week? In a word, yes. I think all this stuff had something to do with it. It all had snowballed to get me down. Yet I have been helpless to break myself out of it.

How could this happen? I am embarking on my most important season ever, and I don't even want to ski. On one hand, I guess it was inevitable. Every year I go through periods like this, usually during the summer or fall. I am so focused and single-minded towards a goal that is months away, so there are always going to be momentary lapses and a few days here and there where even the easiest workouts are a challenge to get through. It is nearly impossible to be focused on a February goal for 24 hours a day, seven days a week all year round. I expect to have rough periods once in a while and I was lucky this year - I made it through the summer and fall without any major training breakdowns. I was constantly challenged by small distractions like broken ribs, painful knees, pulled muscles, etc. and yet I kept motivated. But now I have finally crashed. The challenge now is to recognize it for what it is - a sign from my body saying that it needs a little break - rather than blow it out of proportion and put my season in jeopardy.

After some careful thought and analysis of my training plan, I come up with a solution that I hope will help me regain my motivation and still get the most out of my precious time on snow here in Fairbanks. I decide that I have no choice but to suck it up for the next two days. Both today and tomorrow (Friday) I will ski twice and I will do exactly what I already had on my plan. Hopefully the extra rest and relaxation time I have had will kick in and help get my through it. Then, on Saturday I will take the day off. And I mean completely off. No activity at all that involves exercise or cold air. Hopefully a day of sitting around on my butt watching others head out to ski will get me psyched to ski again. Nothing drives a ski racer crazy quite like watching other people train while he is slacking off.

So in keeping with my plan, I set out this morning to do a classic specific strength workout. After 1:30 of distance skiing, I found a gradual uphill and did 10 double pole repeats (5 powerful and explosive, 5 as fast as I could) and 6 diagonal arm repeats and 6 triceps repeats. My feet got very cold from not being used during the strength, but I felt a sense of accomplishment, knowing that I had completed my workout even though I had no desire to crawl out of bed just a couple hours ago.

This afternoon, after an amazingly deep nap, I struggled out of bed again and skated for an hour and a half without poles. I was pleasantly surprised that I felt pretty good during this workout. Sure my legs were tired, but that was the whole point. My heart rate was about 145-155, right where it should have been and I was skiing comfortably up the hills.

October 26

This morning was tougher than even the past couple have been. I really did not want to do the intervals I had planned. I thought about bagging them a couple of times, but each time I reminded myself that I only had to make it through this one last ski workout and then I was free until Sunday (this afternoon I only had an easy run, not a ski). I warmed up with an hour of easy skating, then started my intervals. As Torbjorn had instructed me, I was to do 4 x 5 minutes, mostly level III, with a little level IV at the end of the last two. I decided that I would start in level III and only pick it up if I felt better than I did starting out. On the first interval I felt a bit rusty. It was my first fast skiing this year and it took me a few minutes to find a rhythm. But as each interval passed, I felt slightly better and I did manage to pick up the pace to race pace (level IV) on the last two. I was now tired and ready for a day off, but I felt encouraged by the fact that I had made it through a tough week mentally without skimping on my workouts.

This afternoon I went for an easy 45 minute run in the nature preserve behind where we are staying. The trail was a little slick because of the 3-4 inches of snow on it, but it was still much better than trying to run on the roads in Fairbanks. I did that once last year and I'll never make that mistake again. The snowbanks and lack of sidewalks means you are taking your life into your own hands. The only objective for this workout was to loosen up and make sure my muscles were primed for recovery. I ran easy and then did some thorough stretching when I got home.

October 27

Aaaahhhhhh. A day off and I am going to milk it for all it is worth. I slept in until 10:00. Got up in time to watch the second half of the Nebraska-Oklahoma game, then had lunch and took a nap. In the afternoon I watched some more college football, then took a long, hot shower. A good day indeed. I watched all my roommates head out to ski twice, and as much as I would like to say that I wished I were joining them, I didn't. Today was the coldest day yet (-11 F this morning when they started to ski) and I was happy to spend it inside.

October 28

Today I was ready to get back to skiing, but heading up to Birch Hill again did not seem all that appealing. So when my roommates said that they wanted to go to Salcha to do an OD classic ski, I jumped at the chance to join them. The Salcha elementary school is 45 minutes south of Fairbanks and we had heard that they had more snow on their 15K loop and even had good classic tracks. We all wanted to ski for a long time this morning so we figured it was a good time to check out new territory.

Sure enough, the snow was better, the tracks were good and we skied for three and a half hours, even thought the temperature never rose above zero the whole time. I felt great after my day off and I had to keep restraining myself so that I wouldn't get exhausted on my first day back to training. When I finished, my jacket was frozen (both on the inside and outside!) but I was warm and happy. Skiing is still fun. Since the morning session was so long, we all took the afternoon off.

October 29

Well after a day off and two days away from Birch Hill, I was back into the routine this morning. I skated at Birch Hill for an hour and a half and then did 8 x 50 seconds of skating sprints without poles. Once again I felt good and enjoyed skiing. Sure it was still cold and my toes went numb, but hey, if I didn't like cold I would have quit this sport long ago. I know it is too early to say for sure, but I think I have gotten out of my funk and I am starting to hit my stride.

This afternoon I did an hour and fifteen minutes of double poling. There are two types of arm-specific strength that I like to do. One is to find a decent hill and do repeats, focusing on the different arm, stomach and back muscles. The other is to just ski for an hour or so and use only my upper body. That's what I did today. I let the terrain dictate exactly what I did: flats and gradual uphill I did a long, deep double pole, steeper hills I did a quicker tempo, less compression double pole and in very easy terrain I did a little bit of diagonal poling. On the squeaky snow this afternoon, it was slow going and since my legs were nothing but dead weight my toes got cold quickly. But my double pole felt strong. I experimented with where I put my pole plants, trying to find the optimal spot in different terrains. My double pole has always been a strong point in my skiing, but the past couple years I think I have taken it for granted and not worked on it enough and fallen behind as a result. Now I feel stronger and better about my double pole than I have in quite some time.

October 30

Interval day. I had two main interval workouts planned for this camp. The first was a series of medium length (5 minutes) intervals at aerobic threshold (level III). I did that workout on Friday on skate skis, which means that today, Tuesday, I was ready to do some shorter but harder classic skiing intervals. I started out with some level III stuff to get into the groove. 3 minutes, 6 minutes, 6 minutes. These were enough to get me breathing hard, but not hard enough to tire me out. Now I was ready for the heart of the workout. 4 x 3 minutes, level IV-V. That is basically all out. I found it hard to make myself hurt. I was skiing as fast as I could and I was breathing very hard, but my heart rate topped out at 179. My max is about 194, so I was nowhere near my max. I felt good, I just couldn't go faster. I think I am still lacking speed. I haven't been on skis longer enough this season to be able to go really fast without flailing. But that's why I do intervals, to get my body to be able to ski faster more efficiently. I also need to remember that it is still October, I shouldn't expect to be in mid-season form yet. It's just too bad I have important races in 4 days.

This afternoon, instead of skiing I went to the gym to do some general strength. I had wanted to do a couple of these sessions while I was here, but because we only have one van between 6 of us, it makes it hard for some of us to ski while others go to the gym. As a result, this is probably the only session I will get in. I only made it to the gym this time by hitching a ride with a couple of the Canadian women who were headed over to do some running in the pool for injury rehab. In recognition of the return of the greatest basketball player in history to the NBA tonight, I played hoops for about 20 minutes to warm up before hitting the weight room. Just as an aside, I bet that there are no worse basketball players than cross country skiers. Scott Loomis and I tried to play a game of horse and it took forever for either of us to make any shots. Anyway, after weights I relaxed in the steam room and sauna for a little while before showering and heading home. There is nothing to take off the Fairbanks chill quite like a steam room. It is so nice to sit in the extreme heat and humidity of a steam room thinking of the poor schmucks out on the trail in the viciously cold, dry air.

October 31

Happy Halloween! My fifth year in a row spending Halloween in Fairbanks. That's the random fact for today. Now on to other subjects. A wise man by the name of Patrick Weaver once commented that the thing he hated about Fairbanks was that you spend so much time changing clothes. I know it sounds ridiculous - as skiers we always spend a lot of time changing clothes: before workouts, after workouts, after we spill beef-vegetable soup on ourselves when eating lunch after a workout, etc- but I think the man has a point. In Fairbanks, because of the cold, we are constantly changing to make sure we are warm and dry. As an example, here are all my outfit changes today, which sorry to say, does not include any Halloween costumes.

Get up, PUT ON sweats/fleece etc. to eat breakfast. Call weather phone to see how cold it is. CHANGE INTO appropriate ski gear. PUT ON winter parka and warm gloves and hat to drive to trails. At the trails, CHANGE from warm jacket, hat, etc into ski jacket, vest, lighter hat, earmuffs, and gloves to ski. Skate for 2:15. Feel very good, strong and quick. End ski, go into warming hut and CHANGE INTO dry shirt, warm jacket, dry hat and gloves. Drive home. CHANGE INTO sweats/fleece to eat lunch. After lunch, take shower, then PUT ON normal clothes to relax in. An hour or so later, GET UNDRESSED to take a nap. An hour later, GET DRESSED again when you wake up. An hour later, CHANGE INTO ski clothes to go ski again. PUT ON winter parka and warm gloves and hat to drive to trails. At the trails, CHANGE from warm jacket, hat, etc into ski jacket, vest, lighter hat, earmuffs, and gloves to ski. Easy classic ski for 1:30. Pretty mellow to wind down from training the past few days. Its time to start resting a bit for races. End ski, go into warming hut and CHANGE INTO dry shirt, warm jacket, dry hat and gloves. Drive home. Take another shower. If you aren't first in line for a shower, CHANGE INTO sweats to wait until it is your turn. After shower, CHANGE back into normal clothes for the remainder of the day. At bedtime, GET UNDRESSED and fall asleep. Whew, its been a hard day of changing clothes. 16 times by my count! The Weave has a point.







© 2003 Cory Smith. All Rights Reserved.