Grand Canyon Training: The Climb (“Always gonna be an uphill battle”)

Grand Canyon Training
Red Rocks: Site of many stairs and many red rocks. SO grateful to live near here, even if the Avett Brothers didn't do a three-night show every July. 

Turns out, you can't train for a rim-to-rim hike in the Grand Canyon in the pool.

I knew that, of course, but that thought was ponging around my head last Saturday morning, when I went out for my first "real" long Saturday morning training session.

To be sure, I have been staying active over the past four months: exercising 5 or so days a week, emphasizing cardio and strength. I overdid it on the Stairmaster (or underdid it on the foam rolling and stretching? I'm not sure) last fall + winter, and my knees let me know it. They were not happy. So I scaled back on the climbing, scaled up on the freestyle and strength training and cycling on the trainer in my basement.

And I have even done a few mini "triathlons" on Saturdays: a 25-minute easy, easy run on a flat, gravel path, followed by 1.5 hours of master's swim practice, followed by one hour of cardio, complete with Netflix, on the elliptical or bike. About 3 hours of movement, which is definitely helpful for overall endurance, but again: Last I checked, the Grand Canyon doesn't have ellipticals or chlorinated water.

In fact, the South Rim to North Rim, is about 4,700 feet down on a trail between 6 to 9 miles long, followed some flat, then heads back up about 6,000 feet over 14.3 miles.

Let's just repeat that: 4,700 down, 6,000 up, and anywhere from a 20 to 23 mile day. And I'm guessing there's no Jason Bateman in Ozark to distract us. (Joke, joke.)

Grand Canyon Training
The Red Rocks in a funk.

Back to Saturday: My plan was to climb the stairs at Red Rocks for about an hour, then hike around Red Rocks park for about 90 minutes, then hit the stairs again for another hour.

Ma Nature had other plans though, and had hit us with a little snow on Friday night. The stairs were slick, and I've done the fall-and-break-my-wrist thing once (which is plenty), so I hit the trails, which weren't icy, straightaway.

One note about hiking alone: You have a LOT of time to think. The same holds true for running, of course, but the slower motion of hiking brings a contemplation I hadn't expected. The freestyle-isn't-hiking thought made regular appearances, but so did plenty of other random and surprisingly intense thoughts. I didn't turn my music on for 90 minutes, which is like an enternity for me these days. Even though I enjoyed the (relative) quiet of my mind, I will say that I'm pretty sure hiking is always more fun with a friend.

Grand Canyon Training
Jess + Jo, taking one of their minimal picture breaks. (See mandate below)

By the time I successfully read the trail maps (truly: THIS is a huge win for navigationally-challenged me) to create a 10-mile loop, the Colorado sun was high in the sky, and I could safely hit the stairs.

Let's back up to the 10-mile loop though: this is easily the most distance I have covered on two feet over the past two years. So that alone: Challenge. I was pretty much done. But I told my Grand Canyon pals, Jo and Jess, who I am coaching through this adventure that we were, under all circumstances, going 3.5 hours.

Grand Canyon Training
Ok, maybe I could have left out the !s.

So I had to follow my own instructions. I had about 50 minutes left, so I put on the Hamilton soundtrack, and convinced myself that I'm not throwing away my shot. Or something like that. Really, I checked my watch way too often and just kept moving forward (or up and down, actually) and cursed that freestyle doesn't really translate to climbing.

Grand Canyon Training
End of the Saturday: 13 miles, 3,200 feet of climbing, and joints that were *not* happy.

Let me tell you how much my joints—knees + hips mostly—ACHED after that workout. Like an 18 on a scale of 1-5. Honestly, I don't think I'll be that sore when I'm 88 and shuffling down to the hearts game in the rec room of my senior home. I foam rolled (more moans and groans, much to the chagrin of my 11 year old "MOM! STOP MAKING SO MUCH NOISE!") and stretched and ate well and hydrated, and felt pretty good on Sunday, and then ached again (hello: delayed onset muscle soreness) on Monday.

Lesson learned.

I have spent most of this week doing easy workouts for recovery--spinning on the bike, swimming, clamshelling and glute bridging and getting my alignment and strength back--and I feel like the worst is behind me. My body is, fingers crossed, ready for round II, which will be in about 48 hours. After that, I'll be doing more climbing specific shorter workouts during the week: incline on the treadmill + the stepmill.

My plan for this Saturday is to start at the top of small local mountain, head down about 2,000 feet, head back up on the same trail, and then go down and up again until four hours is up.

The Minnesota girls--the J-Team--may or may not do a similar workout; the weather this weekend again looks again to be  snowy and icy, and I don't want them taking themselves out. (The trails were a little sketchy last week for them as well.)

But rest assured: between now and early June, when we (finally) hit the Canyon, we will have covered plenty of miles hiking, up, down, and all around.

p.s. A few of you have asked about specific training, and I'll definitely do a post about it. I just want to be sure it works first. 🙂

6 responses to “Grand Canyon Training: The Climb (“Always gonna be an uphill battle”)

  1. How did I not realize you were so close to me!? Redrocks/Matthew Winters park are practically my backyard. If you ever need a hiking buddy to spend time with please let me know, Hamiliton sing-a-longs will be a bonus…I use that to spend time on the Stairclimber when I’m at the gym.

  2. Second these comments! Hiking poles will be helpful for the joints, and the Kaibab is my favorite, although I did encounter said mule trains 🙂

  3. Hi Dimity, Your training sounds great! Since your knees are aching, are you considering using adjustable hiking poles? Our whole family (including my 9- and 11-year old boys with young, springy knees) used hiking poles on our Hrand Canyon backpacking trip in Feb. They made a huge difference in both the downhill and uphill sections. Hope you all have a fantastic adventure!

  4. Are you taking Kaibab down ? I would recommend this- but downside is no water. Less people to deal with however- and no mules. Have done two R2R runs and a R2R2R- great memories. June deep in the canyon will be kind of hot-have fun!

  5. Oh geez – hope the joints are recovered! I really appreciate your sharing the ups and downs (literal and figurative!) of this journey. I’m training for R2R in September and will definitely start increasing my climbing time – and foam rolling and stretching too. Soaking up every ounce of learning I can from you!!

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