BY BRETT RAWSON
Overcome by the idleness of a windowless office job, I grabbed a sheet of 8x11.5 paper from the printer tray. It was nine or so at night, late October, and my legs still burned a little. Two weeks earlier, I had completed the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (R2R2R) — a forty-seven mile run in the Grand Canyon — with three other wild hearts. I had a hard time explaining the experience to people. The best I could come up with was, "It was brutal and beautiful." That's what I sent in an email to my parents, brother, and girlfriend when I finished. They were waiting to hear we'd made it out.
As I started to draw the route, I let the pen drift, while my mind recollected some of the twists and turns. There'd be no way to remember it all — in addition to the 47 miles, we experienced 20,000 feet of elevation change. There were plenty of times when, for lack of a better phrase, I was "out of it." I do remember the moment we could see the Colorado River. It was sunrise. The canyon was just beginning to wake up.
The South Rim sits at 7,000 feet, and to the base of the canyon, it was a 5,000-foot descent. My thighs felt the decline, but my left big toe felt like a flaming rod. After we crossed the Colorado River, we took a short breather to adjust our layers of clothes and do a "systems check." Only six miles in, a blister was bad news. I could feel the burning liquid swish back and forth in the newly-formed bubble. I mentioned this to one of my Grand Companions, Martin. An elite runner with a 100-mile race under his belt, he was quick to point out a simple solution — something I'd never considered in five years of distance running — lace my shoes the top hole. Otherwise, it's like being buckled into a seat that doesn't stay in place. How I've never encountered this issue before was beyond me, but at that moment, I was thinking of what was ahead of me: in ten miles, we'd the North Rim, ascend and then immediately descend, adding another 11,000 feet of elevation change.
"Want to take care of that blister now?" Martin asked.
"I'm ok for now," I replied. Suit yourself, Martin's eyes warned, and as the canyon thawed, I briefly contemplated the healing power of cutting off my big toe.
Anais Nin once said, "We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect." The same could be said for mapping. I map to experience land twice, in the moment and in reflection. I find so many similarities between the two — writing and mapping — that I sometimes can't tell which I am talking about. I usually begin both without a plan. On a run, I never know how far I'll go. Sometimes, I end up running a single mile, stop, and call it quits. Other days, I am able to run 27 miles across bridges and through rush hour in Manhattan. While there are some days that I need to get in a certain number of miles — if I am training for a run — I view quantity in a macro-way: it's not about how far I run each time, but it's about how many times I run.
People that tells me my pace or distance, though I will wear one that tells time; I don't wear headphones or have a playlist at the ready; and I hardly ever set out with a plan. I just tie my shoes, head out the door, and within a few blocks, I usually have a pretty good idea how far I'll run that day, though I today will be a short or long run. Sometimes, I turn around a mile in. Other times, I take a few turns and end up linking together fifteen miles. And on a few occasions, what was supposed to be an ordinary four-mile run turned into a twenty-seven mile run around Manhattan or Seattle. These things — watch, statistics, expectations — get in the way of listening to my body. And I'm not trying to be some yogi here. I've hurt myself plenty of times because I pushed myself too far. I've snapped my ACL, rolled ankles, and broken bones. If anything, it was distance running that has taught me how to run shorter runs better.