Taking the Challenge of Running the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim

The epic R2R2R run at the Grand Canyon, step by step.

Grand Canyon opener

This is what ultrarunning pain feels like.

I’m practically staggering up the North Kaibab trail somewhere in the bottom of the bottom of the Grand Canyon. We set out early this morning to complete the epic rim-to-rim-to-rim adventure run at 3:30 a.m. Now 33 miles into the day, the sun and 85-degree heat is leeching our strength, and we’re facing down the crux: 5,500 feet of climbing over 10 miles until we reach the safety and comfort of our campsite atop the North Rim. The confidence we felt an hour earlier has evaporated into crashed out exhaustion. R2R2R is a famous ultrarunning test piece, but getting out in one piece is all that matters.

Dammit. I just ran out of water, with several miles of desert separating us from the next potable source at Cottonwood Campground.

As a sense of panic joins the fatigue, we turn a corner to find a creek flowing across the trail from a side gorge. I practically dive for it. Pack and various contents are strewn about in the muddy grass. I notice a camouflaged frog two feet away as I dunk my head and start guzzling.

All this madness began with a text back in early April from long-time friend and veteran ultrarunner, Brian Metzler, the editor-in-chief of Competitor.

“R2R2R on May 21?”

I consider the stats. 45 miles and 22,000 feet of elevation change in a single push that would likely take 12 to 14 hours. This would be my biggest run ever, my base fitness is inadequate, and the Grand Canyon is notoriously sadistic.

“I’m in!”

[Editor’s note: Running in the Grand Canyon is a serious undertaking, no matter the distance or the time of year. Be sure you’re properly trained, have the proper gear and know how to re-fuel effectively.]

VIDEO: A Glimpse at Jim Walmsley’s Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim Record

RELATED: A Runner’s Guide to Conquering the Grand Canyon


A former middle-distance runner at Penn State, Jason Smith is no stranger to suffering…but he still has a lot to learn about ultra-running.