Becky Sharpe recently traveled to Arizona to attempt the rim to river to rim run. This once in a life time challenge is certainly a feat requiring mind over matter as one is required to climb the Canyon from top to bottom and back up. I asked Becky to provide some context and perspective on the amazing feat.

In Becky's words:

When 14 of us headed out to the Grand Canyon to ‘run’ rim to river to rim (10 people) and rim to rim to rim (4 lunatics) I was focused on the training being key to completing the 22 mile rim to river to rim portion happy and uninjured. I had run hours of steps and trails and completed a 50k ultra two months prior. As we headed down into the Canyon, the icy conditions made running unsafe (don’t want to be the one who falls of) so we hiked quickly for the first three miles. As the temperature rose from in the twenties to high thirties, the trails turned from icy to lightly packed snow to nice soft trails. Finally, we could run some.

At the three mile pit stop, I was thinking running 19 after a three mile warm up is going to be super. I felt like I’d cheated a bit by not running the first three. That was not the case at all, but I could feel the relaxation coming over me as I thought about how fresh my legs were…at that point. We were all mesmerized by the scenery and the colors, many of which I had not seen before. There were combination of purples and rusts and browns that stunned me. We had decided the night before to stay together and let the concept of a timing chip leave our psyches. So, we hiked, jogged, and stopped for snacks without thinking about our pace.

We took incredible pictures of us on boulders and with the Canyon enveloping everything in site. I decided to believe that anything new I saw or experienced would result in positive energy flowing to me. I had an incredible buzz. As we crested with 2-3 miles of downhill to go to get to Phantom Ranch (mile 11) I HAD to run down. You know those (rare for me) runs where you don’t feel like you are really working? That’s what it was like running down the 10-12% grade on sandy trails with an enormous drop off. There was no fear, just a desire to let gravity take me as fast as possible. The switchbacks were exhilarating. The tiny river visible from the top became the amazing Colorado. I ate a whole avocado at the bottom.

Four of our group had left at 4am to do rim to rim to rim and when we were not ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ at the next incredible scene, we were talking about how far they were going compared to us. The word ‘just’ was commonplace: ‘can you believe they are doing r-t-r-t-r and we are just doing 22.That’s 46 miles with over 8500 feet of climbing!’ Our perspective was completely altered by the fact that 4 of our close friends were doubling our distance. I am not at all implying we felt inadequate; that was not the case at all. We simply felt what we were doing, which only a very small percentage of people are in shape to do, was completely doable and realistic. It made this very challenging event seem not at all out of range.

As athletes we all know that the mental aspect is a big part of any event. I’ve thought a lot about where my mind went knowing 4 of my buddies were not only going 46 miles, but doing so in sub 20 degrees with 40 mile an hour blowing snow a the top of the north rim. Imagining where they were and what they were experiencing allowed my mind to accept our experience as manageable and a privilege. The last three miles were tough. The top seems so close but it just won’t come. I imagined I was going out for an easy three miler and tried to put my head in that place. ‘You are just running down to the school and back. That’s such an easy kind of run. You can do it in your sleep.’ I could feel my mind fighting the urge to resist the positive visualization and instead pushing the negative on me. No way, not gonna let that happen. I would get a mantra going, like ‘three miles is just so easy’ or ‘my bro is doing rim to rim to rim’ and suddenly another switch back was gone.

When we crested, just under ten hours after we had started, the sun had about 2 minutes until it set. We stepped up on the flat ground and were hit immediately with icy cutting wind. Cabins were all around us. The lights from the gift shop twinkled and we could see the restaurant where we’d be eating soon. Back to reality. For a second, I thought about turning around and going back into the protective walls of the Canyon. My husband and I turned and looked down for just a second, then turned and gave each other a high five. ‘We’ve got to do rim-to-rim-to-rim next’ he said. ‘We could totally do that’…