Sam Noel feels lucky.  The 31-year-old son of Sherry and Mike Noel is one of the two Kanab runners selected by Grand to Grand (G2G) founders Colin and Tess Geddes to receive a complimentary pass to participate in this year’s G2G Ultramarathon. Jill Williams is the other. The 130 entrants pay an entry fee of $3200.

The weeklong 170-mile cross country race begins Sunday, September 20, at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and finishes Saturday, September 26, above Bryce Canyon in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  Runners must supply and carry all of their food, clothing and gear for the week. Water is provided at check stations and camp each night. Accepting any food from bystanders along the route disqualifies the runner.

“I’ve been interested in the race and loved seeing what I could of it ever since the first G2G four years ago,” admitted Noel.  “Gregory Castle finishing last year inspired me and I told myself, ‘I can do this’ and applied for the local waiver. I was surprised and felt very fortunate to be selected along with super athlete Jill Williams.”

After accepting the invitation to what is considered by ultramarathoners as one of the top events of its kind, and the only one like it in the U.S., Noel felt mentally and physically stressed in the first few months of his grueling training.

“I trained 90 percent of the time alone in the Grand Canyon, Zion and locally,” he explained. “It was very stressful and I had a lot of highs and lows, a lot of mood swings. I had run some 50-kilometer and other long races, but the thought of getting up every morning for a week to run a marathon worried me. Balancing training with my family life and my financial planning business at Links Consulting was also very challenging.”

Sam and his wife, Mandy, had their third child two months ago.    

In January, Noel hired last year’s G2G winner Michele Graglia to design a training program for him, which he credits for keeping him injury free and adjusting his state of mind during his long training sessions leading to the race. “We correspond by e-mail and phone calls, and he’s been a great help to me,” said Noel.

“I’ve also been hiking and running over the years with my good friend Terril Honey, who designed the original G2G route, so I’m fairly familiar with it,” confessed Noel.  “Another advantage of being a local I guess.”

Foot blisters are a common problem for G2G runners. “I’ve been lucky so far with that as well,” admitted Noel.  “I bought really good socks and found a brand of running shoes called Altras that have been really great in avoiding blisters. I’ve gone through 10 pair of them in the last year.”

What concerns him most about the race? “I just want to stay healthy,” Noel stated. “I don’t want to find myself in a position of trying to decide if I should push through an injury and risk doing more damage to myself or stopping when I don’t want to and be disappointed in not finishing the race, which is my goal.” 

He was reminded that there are a number of well-qualified medical staff present to help him make that decision should it become necessary. “You’re right, and thanks for reminding me of that,” said Noel.

“I’m not thinking about winning the G2G, only about finishing it,” he emphasized.  “I’m not thinking about the 170 miles in a week, but taking the race one day at a time, five miles at a time and one step at a time. I want it to be fun and I will be outside doing what I love to do in the country I so enjoy.  Besides, I get to leave my cell phone and computer behind for a week, and that will be a blessing.”

“I am lucky to be afforded the privilege of running the G2G gratis and I’m just going to enjoy this unique experience,” declared Noel.

“I want to say one last thing,” he continued. “As hard as training for the race has been on me, it has been a lot harder on Mandy. When the race is over, I’m going to celebrate, not my finishing the race, but her supporting me through everything. I’m going to take her someplace nice.”

Sam Noel will do quite well in life, no matter where he finishes in the 2015 G2G.