The Grand to Grand Ultramarathon is a hallmark event of the running community in the southern Utah and northern Arizona area, attracting athletes from all over the world. The run is considered an apex challenge for endurance runners, with dozens of miles of some of the most beautiful – and potentially most treacherous – terrain a runner can experience. The event can be fairly demanding financially on its runners, considering they’re expected to provide and carry much of their own equipment, and admission alone is about $4,000 for 2023’s race.
However, as a means to give back to the community that hosts the event, as well as to give access to the race for individuals who can’t quite swing that entry, the Grand to Grand team provides two sponsorships per year to local runners who qualify. One such runner for this year’s race is Melanie Rader, a local endurance runner and trial guide working out of Kanab.
“The race is kind of a culmination of my job and some of my favorite hobbies,” says Rader. “I like the self-supported nature of the Grand to Grand. It’s really unique to run a race where you’re running with all your supplies! I carry my own food, first aid kit, sleeping bag. I like that technical component where you have to research and refine, find the balance between going gear crazy and going simple.
“It’s really admirable when they [organizers] engage with the community like this and allow scholarship entries like mine into the race. It’s cool that they partner with people like Best Friends. I’m partnering with them for Kane County Assistance Program, a relatively new program - they’re supporting me in basically running for a cause. It’s just cool - I got to engage with fundraising efforts with women’s groups, pulling away the stigma of athleticism as something you’re born with rather than something achievable with hard work.”
Qualifications for the sponsorship are stringent, if simple: apply with a professional resume and a 100 word letter explaining your qualifications for the free admission. According to Rader, her running career and professional service as a trail guide and Search and Rescue member started her off strong, and her volunteer community service and further cooperation with the G2G brand cemented her application.
Rader has plenty of experience with running, wilderness navigation and survival; she’s a professional trail guide with Dreamland Safari Tours, whom she credits with giving her many of the opportunities to prepare herself and to explore the area. She’s also a member of Kane County Search and Rescue, stating, “I’ve been a member of Kane County S&R for a while now and do a lot of work with them. I do my best to engage, I’m part of their ropes team, their tracking team - I like that work a lot. It’s super beneficial for me - I like to learn the skills our team is really awesome at.”
To those looking to get started with running themselves, Rader has some advice as a long-time runner and professional trail guide: “Focus on what a full day can look like for you - try to come up with sort of context for your efforts, whether that’s how many hours per day you’re comfortable being in motion or how many miles you want to do. There’s a lot of really great trails in our area, whether it’s within the Kanab Trail system, there’s the trails in Zion where you can get lots of elevation change in a day. You can set goals within these trails and push yourself until you’re doing full day events.”
With a humble shrug and a self-deprecating chuckle, she added, “I don’t want to sound like I’m just plugging Dreamland, but I’m guiding several backpacking trips with Dreamland this year - if anyone wants to participate in a safe and guided sort of way, people should really reach out to Dreamland for that sort of thing - it’s a great gateway to get started … we offer a variety of tours, overnight events … Dreamland’s freaking awesome.”
For what all the preparation events like the Grand to Grand and other similar marathons require, Rader insists that those are apex goals of a gradual process best suited to starting simple. “I hope people can understand that you can just get outside - you don’t need fancy shoes or running clothes, you can just throw on your Converse and go. It doesn’t have to be a big, monetized thing – the outside is right there.”
The Grand to Grand 2023 starts on September 24, and is preceded by a day or two with the regular festivities. Both of this year’s scholarships have been given out, but next year’s are still open for Kane County Residents, and applications are open for regular registration at g2gultra.com.