I’m watching the live feed from Mandalen, Norway, where Kilian’s about 8:30 into his 24 hour record attempt. He is ahead of the world record pace, and they’re projecting right now that he’ll go just over 200 miles, which would beat the previous record 188.590 miles, set in ’97 by Yiannis Kouros, but Kilian’s stated that he expects to slow down after 10 hours. I wouldn’t think I’d like watching some guys run around a track so much, but I’m thoroughly enjoying it. It’s both exciting and soothing. His gait is so consistent! He recently stopped to switch his shoes, and I hear things get very exciting every four hours when they change directions.
Yiannis Kouros was 41 when he set that record. He still holds world records for 100 road miles (11:46!) and 1,000 miles (10 days, 10 hours). As well as all the timed records for miles run in 12, 24, 48 hours and six days for both roads and track. Something I thought was a fun fact was that he played Pheidippides in a documentary, The Story of the Marathon: A Hero’s Journey. He was a long jumper in elementary school, but in high school his coach dismissed him, saying he was “a mediocre athlete who just didn’t have the build to go fast.”
After being a junior champion, Yiannis worked as a guard at an athletic stadium. He trained twice a day, then at night he worked on building his own house in Tripoli and claims he only slept 2.5 hours a night. In six years, from age 21 to 27, he raced 25 marathons but only won one. In ’83, he went from marathon to 156 miles when he ran his first ultra at the Spartathalon, (kind of gives some perspective to what we consider an ultra) and won it, beating the previous course record by something like 6 hours to come in under 22 hours. He set another course record in ’84 which still stands, which is also two hours faster than Scott Jurek’s best time at the Spartathalon.
It’s both dark and cold in Norway today. The commentator said he asked Kilian what he thinks about the dark, and Kilian said something like, well I’m used to running in the mountains in the dark, so at the track with the lights, it just doesn’t matter. They’re expecting a low of 32 degrees f, and highs between 44 and 55 f. The runners look pretty chilly to me. As I’m writing this now, it’s almost 8pm in Norway, so they’re about eight hours of where I am in Mtn time.
Unrelated, I’ve just finished my set of R2R2R training plans, you can see them here:
For about 40 seconds I let the demons loose on Grandview and go flying down a flat part of the trail. I turn a corner and there’s a short climb. My heart already feels like it’s about to explode [and not in the fun trying-really-hard way, but in the my-nervous-system’s-broken-and-can’t-regulate-my-heart-rate way]. I know I’ve pushed it too much already. I want to go further, and I want to go faster, and while giving in this little bit by hiking three miles into the Grand Canyon feels like it quenches my thirst a little, it probably made me more thirsty overall, like that water Dumbledore has to drink in Harry Potter six. And I’ll pay for it tomorrow, and for several more days with bad vitals. Because that’s right, I have a device now that measures my heart rate variability, heart rate, basal temp, movement, sleep, and respiratory rate every second 24 hours a day now. I love it and fear it.
The Grandview trail is somewhat controversial in history and I had a vendetta, not against it, but with my failure related to it, left over from last year. See, it’s the only trail you can’t get to by bus and so last year, I really wanted to do it but put it off heinously until my second to last day in the park. Then, because I felt tragic about driving all the way there, I attempted to ride my bike, based solely off of the information I had gleaned from riding a few miles down the USFS road I was camped on. There was a sign that said, “Grandview 13 miles.” I said, 13 miles sounds good to me! And packed up.
13 miles later, I arrived at a fire overlook tower, still alongside of the dirt road. I climbed the tower for some reason. I don’t have a fear of heights generally, but the dumb thing was basically a ladder made of that metal mesh that’s see through, which is sometimes cool but also the whole tower swayed and it was hard to see where you were putting your feet since it was see through. I continued riding the road, and saw 14 miles, 15 miles, 16, 17. Suddenly, I was on the paved park road! I made a guess and turned left? 18, and 19. Then I gave up and turned around. When I arrived back in camp, I looked at my map on Strava and saw that I was so close to the trailhead when I turned around, it had to have been a half mile or less. Oh well. The very last day in the canyon was reserved for one more Kaibab to the river and back, so Grandview wasn’t to be in 2019.
So here we are in 2020, and I’ve just learned somehow that OTS is actually a small, unusual, and severe category of the Sympathetic Dominance umbrella. How did it take so long for me to find this? Because unlike OTS, sympathetic dominance is a hot topic on the internet, and lots of people are on its spectrum. The internet tells me that I should stimulate my parasympathetic nervous system by doing reflexology on my feet, eating in such a way that might help balance too much copper in my body, and exercise should be limited to activities like restorative yoga and meditative walking. Because anything at all that activates my sympathetic nervous system will make things worse.
So Grandview was the first trail in the Grand Canyon. I can’t remember the other stories we’d heard before arriving at the TH, but the TH sign paints a picture of some guy that arrived at the canyon to mine, found the mine to be unproductive, and immediately pivoted to tourism. At the time, tourists from Flagstaff were being stagecoached for 12 hours to view the canyon, and there were photographers to take their photos and some amenities, but nobody was entering the canyon yet. So this guy takes his unproductive mine and builds this totally absurd trail down into the canyon, then collects some mules and lets tourists ride them down it. We’re all used to this feature of the GC by now, but I imagine how absurd the notion would’ve been then.
I’m also wondering about this trail, and how impossible it would’ve been for hooves the way it was built, steeply paved in rocks and with pretty big drops often. But then I think, tourists may not have had Yelp yet, but if this guy was killing people on the regular, word would spread and he’d lose his business right?
It’s also really cool to think about how hard to build this trail would’ve been. In some places, he hauled hundreds of trees to frame out and build a trail that just fully didn’t exist on the cliffside. It certainly takes an interesting and probably the only possible path down, traversing cliffs and winding in and out of other large rock features. He must have really cared about it, because there had to have been easier ways to make money [jobs easier than building this trail include: Alaskan fishing, oil riggers, blood worm hunter, sewer inspector, building the Transcontinental railroad, and those explorers that traversed Antarctica by kite boat].
The GC’s gotten some new signage since the last time I was there. I’ve seen in the news that this was a particularly bad year for rescues. I imagine there are folks whose job it is to go on the offensive and find new ways to prevent stupid people from killing themselves there.
At this point in recovery, after overdoing it and relapsing so many times, there’s nothing I’m more desperate to do than to run again. But I understand that I need to get better and that there is no other way but to back off and give it time. Naturally, it was nearly impossible to be on this beautiful trail in the canyon thinking, I have to keep my dumb heart rate down. If I do too much today, it’ll set me back. Because then you’re like, I literally don’t care about anything else besides running this trail right now. Screw being pragmatic! How could I give this up?
Then I kept seeing points I wanted to go to. I wanted to see what it looked like from there, and then from there. What’s down there? I needed to know. But every step down is more steps up and more damage and slower recovery. I just listened to the Rich Roll episode with Apollo Ohno, one, that guy is amazing. Two, he raves about how there’s just nothing better than being a full time athlete. It is the most beautiful thing in a human existence. What are we without it? Wins and losses, boring grown up stuff. When you’re training, nothing exists but the act of bettering yourself every single day.
He also discusses this new documentary he’s in, The Weight of Gold, about the mental health of Olympic level athletes in the US, and how for him he’s 10 years into a journey of having to work on every single day being okay with not being an Olympic athlete anymore. I’ll never understand his level, but I do get it when every day I think about how badly I want to be there again. Being in the GC, too, it just reminds me how fit I was last time I was there. To maximize your potential, to be your absolute best every single day, to rip technical descents, fly past the tourists, and burn the ascents, to jump in the river. God, to see the fucking river! To sprint the bridges. There’s nothing else.
Here’s the trailer for that docu, which sounds awesome but it’s on HBO so who knows when I’ll get to see it. Great trailer though, it’s three minutes long and I cried. Five stars.