July 18 2018
These women started running later than most but have proven runners of all ages can be successful.
It was 4:30 a.m. by the time we arrived at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. And pitch black. My headlamp cast a dim light over the rocky, uneven stairs in front of me as we power-hiked downhill for what seemed like eternity. It was the first time I had ever visited this epic landmark, and I had no idea what to expect. I knew though that even in the darkness, the sheer beauty of what lay ahead would be something to behold.
Considering a run across the Grand Canyon and back was daunting, to say the least. It’s more than 46 miles from Bright Angel to North Kaibab and back to the Bright Angel trailhead, with about 11,000 feet of climbing and 20-degree fluctuating temperatures. I had trained hard in the margins of my real life, working full-time and raising 4-year-old twins with my (rock star) husband, but I was incredibly nervous and out of my element as we finally began to jog at the base of the first 4,000-foot descent. I had just recovered from a potentially debilitating hip injury and was hanging with a crew of incredibly experienced ultrarunners, so my confidence was shaky at best. But that changed around mile 10, when my uneasiness transformed into a sense of flat-out awe. As the morning sky began to brighten, it splashed brilliant shades of pink, purple and gold against the canyon’s grand walls. My first sight at the bottom of this wondrous place is burned into my soul forever. At 41 years old, this bucket-list goal was actually in the midst of being checked.
That feeling of awe carried me for the next 38 miles. I felt strong, thanks to the storybook scenery and the 13 solid hours of stories and laughs courtesy of my hilarious (and very hungry) running squad.
But the elation was fleeting as the distance took its toll. With 7 miles and another 4,000 feet of climbing to go, darkness, doubt and blisters crept in. Without my running partner and Clif colleague Kris Klotzbach by my side, things would have gotten so much uglier than they did. It was her third R2R2R, so she knew exactly what to say when things got tough. It took hours to finish those final miles, but the constant presence of our foursome pushed me forward. By 8 p.m., we returned to the South Rim bleary-eyed, covering what ultimately became a total of 48 miles in 16 hours. The tears that came immediately upon finishing carried all of the raw emotion of the day. We had done it.
When I look back, it feels like a dream. Prior to the Grand Canyon, I’d completed countless marathons and 50Ks. A lot of mileage, sure, but nothing as epic or unsupported as R2R2R. What made it achievable was the camaraderie of it all. That’s how I’ve always found my joy on the trail (or the road), and this time was no different.
I am incredibly grateful for the experience and so proud of what it represents for me as a working mom, wife, sister and daughter. It’s among the proudest accomplishments of my athletic career, precisely because it was so damn hard and so singularly beautiful all at once. I know now that if I can do that, I can do anything. I can’t wait for what’s next.
Lisa Novak is the director of sports marketing at Clif Bar & Company.