It is notable that when Michael Espinoza arrived at the Southern Utah News office for an interview, he showed up on foot. Espinoza is the winner of one of the two Kane County free-entry scholarships into the 2024 Grand to Grand (G2G) Ultramarathon, something that Espinoza himself admits was a major stroke of luck paired with his own preparation. “I was training for the Grand to Grand ahead of time, trying to find a way to afford my entry into the race when I happened to check Facebook. I saw the two free scholarships for Kanab residents, and by coincidence it was the last day of registration, so I figured I’d try it!”
The Grand to Grand will be a new experience for Espinoza, beyond never having run the race before - according to Espinoza, “I’m not much of a runner at all, at least not as a passion.” Espinoza cites his career as his reasons for staying fit and gaining trail running experience; between years in the Marine Corps, Park Service and Fire Service, Espinoza has spent plenty of time hiking through rough terrain with a heavy pack of gear. “I’ve never run for fun in my life. This race is an interesting idea and fun challenge, and I think there’s no better way to overcome a fear of running - like seeing it as work and something to hate - than to commit to it and confront it.”
Espinoza says his experience with weighted running means the usual curveball the G2G throws - requiring their runners to carry the entirety of their supplies in their pack for the duration of the race - isn’t the primary concern for him. Rather, his training is dedicated to applying that past experience to covering ground at speed. He says, “Most of my training now is working with heart rate training, time on my feet and being ready for mile to mile running at a faster pace.” One of those elements of pacing was, somewhat paradoxically, taking care not to overtrain before the race. Per Espinoza, many of the past winners of the race advised caution when training for such a major event to avoid the risk of showing up worn down and overtaxed from heavy training.
When prompted for what he was most and least looking forward to with the upcoming race, Espinoza replied with excitement at the prospect of challenging a long, solitary run - a similar sentiment shared by past runners of the G2G, who have called it a meditative experience, one where the runner can truly come to know themselves, and Espinoza mentioned that as a skill he was interested in developing. Espinoza similarly offered a note of runner’s dread at the idea of crossing the sands of the Coral Pink Sand Dunes: “There’s no real way to prepare for running in sand except by actually getting out there and running in the sand.”
Espinoza offered his gratitude for the support of his family as he prepares for the big race, especially his wife and brother, “I told my wife, ‘I don’t usually win things by luck, of course the one thing I do win comes with so much more work to do!’ and she joked with me back, ‘if you don’t do this, you’ll probably end up doing something else irresponsible so you might as well go for it.’ Then my daughter adds, ‘You don’t really like running … so this is perfect! You should do it, you might finally like it.’” Espinoza also specifically mentioned his captain in the forest service, who motivated him to confront this sort of challenge and to see the value in trail running. “After all,” Espinoza says, “if you only ever try new things you’re sure you’ll win at, what’s the point? When do you try anything new?”
“Everyone is really supportive,” concludes Espinoza, “so I’m going to take my one chance. I’m looking forward to taking on the challenge. It’s one of those things where you wonder, ‘do I really have that tiny bit of ancestral human in me, where our ancestors would go for miles and miles just carrying all of their stuff on their back?’ This is my chance to find out.”