Destinations, Training & Racing

The G2G Ultra: A Grand Adventure Is Calling

11 Comments Posted by: Sarah Lavender Smith, April 16, 2012

An opportunity for an extremely challenging and potentially life-changing adventure unexpectedly dropped in on my life two Tuesdays ago.

My kids had just left for school, and I was packing lunch to take to the office while pondering how I’d feed my son dinner between baseball and Scouts at day’s end. “Adventure” on that day meant finding time to scan Yelp reviews of Manhattan restaurants and make some reservations for our Spring Break trip to NYC.

A check of my phone revealed an email from the editor of Trail Runner magazine, only a few lines long: “Say, I thought I’d see if you’re interested in an adventure …” My eyes scanned the phrases: “a new desert stage race in the Southwest” … “September 23 – 29″ … “Grand to Grand Ultra.”

I clicked through to and saw a photo of the Grand Canyon under the heading: “6 Stages, 7 Days – Self-Supported Foot Race – 160 Miles.”

Suddenly, I really needed to go to the bathroom.

The magnitude of this offer sunk in immediately. I comprehended in a blink-type moment that an opportunity ripe with potential to fulfill personal and professional dreams—but also heavy with risk—had landed in front of me. I just needed to decide whether to reach out and seize it.

A small slice of the Grand Canyon. (All photos in this post by Morgan Smith)

It’s called “the Grand to Grand” because it goes from the north rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Southern Utah. And it’s called “self-supported” because you have to carry everything you’ll need other than water and a tent (which the race organizers provide) on your back—sleeping bag, gear and enough calories for seven extremely physical days.

It’s the first race of its kind in North America, and it’s drawing endurance athletes from all over the globe—15 countries represented at last count. It’s 160 miles broken up into six stages of 28, 22, 50, 27, 24, 9.

The prospect of running and hiking that much on back-to-back days, through sand and heat with a pack on my back, boggles my mind. Giddiness battles dread in my stomach.

I needed several days to seriously consider it. My impulse was to say yes—how could I say no? I’d regret and wonder “what if” forever—but the risks and burden to my family weigh heavily on me. I’ve never been away from my kids and husband for so long. I’m supposed to be working with Morgan to grow his startup business, and he’s already generously supporting my trip to Geoff Roes’s Alaska training camp in late July. I would need to find a way to make it up to him.

And honestly, I’m scared. I’m haunted by the prospect of bad things happening, such as a serious accident, getting lost or getting a snakebite.

Ultimately, however, I wrote the editor back with an enthusiastic “yes.” The event director, Tess Geddes, welcomed me on board and reminded me of the saying, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.”

It’s been almost two years since we returned from ten months of nomadic living and roadschooling around the globe. When our family settled back into our house, I vowed to try to nurture the lifestyle and values kindled during that long journey. I started this blog with the hope that writing about destination-oriented running and adventure would inspire my own. I interviewed people like my friend Joe about his Gobi Desert Crossing or Tamara about her Costa Rica Challenge because part of me wanted to be in their shoes. Could I do that? What would it be like? Am I tough enough? I put a multi-day staged race and a Grand Canyon crossing on my new year’s resolutions and travel dream lists to think big, go for it, don’t get stuck in that rut.

Morgan came up with the mantra “gotta try new things” when he made a career break and took us on the long trip, and I often repeat it to myself. Gotta confront fears, cope with discomfort, and connect with different people and places to more fully appreciate the good life we have and to broaden our perpsectives.

In the days since I said “yes,” I’ve experienced many second thoughts and doubts, but they can’t suppress the excitement at the prospect of doing—and covering—the event itself. I definitely don’t want to miss the journalistic opportunity to report on an inaugural event of this scope.

Over the next five months, I’ll need to gain a much higher level of strength and endurance while learning about particulars such as  lightweight gear, backpacker food, heat training and sand running. I’ll blog about the preparation here and for Trail Runner online.

My kids gazing at the Grand Canyon.

I can’t help recalling a day in the fall of 2009, when our family stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon on a too-quick visit, and I gazed across the immense red-hued chasm in the earth and vowed to run its trails someday. A year after that, on a drive to Colorado, we pulled to the roadside somewhere in Southern Utah. Looking at the landscape, I wondered what it would be like to just take off and run across it. Who would’ve thought I’d get the chance to connect those two dots? More than scared, I feel grateful.

A swath of Southern Utah's beauty, seen during our drive to Colorado.

You never know when a window of opportunity for adventure will open unexpectedly. Sometimes it happens when you stumble upon something online, such as this blog post, which might spark an idea or desire. Could it be that you were meant to do this grand adventure, too?
Here’s the link for registration if you’re interested, and a good article on the event recently published in Breathe Magazine.

Your Comments

11 Comments so far

  1. Ryan Knapp says:

    That race looks absolutely nuts. Good luck and I look forward to following you as you prepare and during the race. You have a way with words that will really put us in the midst of your experiences.
    Ryan Knapp recently monday :: april 13, boston.My Profile

  2. ken michal says:

    Can’t wait to follow your journey to this event, Sarah!! This looks like it will be a lot of fun to train for!!!

    All Day!
    ken michal recently posted..Running Stupid CVII (Pre American River 50)My Profile

  3. John Nguyen says:

    This does look like a cool and interesting event! I look forward to hearing all about it! I’d love to do something like this someday. But my kids are still too young for me to go running off on an adventure for a whole week! For now, I’ll experience it vicariously through you!
    John Nguyen recently posted..My Caballo Blanco Ultra Memorial Run – a 35 mile training runMy Profile

  4. Congratulations on your impending adventure! I’m always in awe of the scenery when driving through that part of the county, I can’t even image running it :) Good luck and I can’t wait to read all about it.
    Jenna Vandenberg recently posted..The Kevin Whirlwind Horse Memorial Run/Walk in Spearfish, SDMy Profile

  5. olga says:

    This race is a total bliss of so many wonderful things, I just wish I could afford it:) Like Badwater or MdS, my dream is for someone to sponsor the fun:) Enjoy!

  6. John Rabold says:

    Sarah, regarding the safety/getting lost aspect, you might consider carrying The Spot. It’s a GPS/satellite transmitter device that knows where you are and can send various kinds of signals to the outside world via satellite. No cellphone coverage necessary; you need only a decent view of the open sky. Your family can follow your progress in real time on Google Maps. You can send “OK”, “need assistance”, and “911” signals. One version even tethers to a smartphone so you can send short texts. REI sells it. (I own one but have no financial interest in this product.)

  7. Donna says:

    “A dream is not big enough if you’re not scared of it”.- very motivating. Your adventure would indeed provide some drawbacks in your personal life yet it is hard to feel regrets or to live by the question “what if?” I say “go for it”
    Donna recently posted..DTS HomeMy Profile

  8. Good luck training Sarah! I always find training to be harder than the event itself, however, I’ve never done anything like the G2G ultra. I look forward to following your progress.

  9. Hazel says:

    We need always to expect the unexpected thanks for sharing your journey. Good luck and God bless.
    Hazel recently posted..Chinese medicine Los AngelesMy Profile

  10. Alita says:

    Wow Sarah!!
    Good for you…I just read in National Geographic that the Grand Canyon was the National Park with the most fatalities last year.
    Still – I’m jealous! And how can you be brave if you don’t do something that truly scares you.

    I look forward to logging some training miles with you.


  1. URP Daily News | - April 24, 2012

    [...] of the Grand Canyon, Sarah Lavender Smith will complete in the G2G Ultra this summer. Sounds like tons of fun, but  it’s too expensive for [...]

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My 2014 Race & Family Travel Calendar

Lake Chabot 30K, Feb. 22. Race report.
"Uncool 50K," March 8
Night Sweats Marathon, March 24. Related post
Diablo Trails Challenge 50K, April 19. Race report.
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Pacing at Hardrock 100, July 9 - 11. Report
Family trip to Honduras and Costa Rica, late July. Costa Rica report
Crystal Springs 50K (pack training run), Aug. 9. Report
Grand to Grand Ultra self-supported stage race, Sept. 21 - 27 Race report.
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