One hundred and seventy-one miles in seven days is a daunting task anywhere. One hundred and seventy-one miles, over extreme elevation change, through desert before the summer heat has passed for the year? Exceptional.
And exceptional is exactly what the competitors entering the Grand to Grand Ultra trail race are aiming to be. The Grand to Grand Ultra is back, after a three-year hiatus due to the world’s recent circumstances, and the runners are gearing up to bring it back with a vengeance. Grand to Grand 2022 has around seventy runners - about half of the regular attendance according to event directors Colin and Tess Geddes - promising this year to be a solitary and intense experience for that exceptional few.
“In some ways it feels like starting from scratch,” Colin says, “but many things just come back like autopilot. We’ve got professional runners, experienced volunteers and good local contacts. Some things just come back like clockwork.”
The race itself has an average finish rate of about 80 percent, meaning that one in five contestants will not finish the entirety of the course. The regulations are strict, and the environment is stricter still. The race is self-supported; each contestant must carry the entirety of their necessary provisions - food, water, sleeping means, clothing and all - in their packs as they run. The camps in between sections of the race provide only refills on water, necessary medical checks and attention and some shelter from the weather. The packs are carefully weighed to make sure the competitors are using their supplies at the right pace, and to make sure nobody is taking anyone else’s weight to enable a better time.
This year’s course, according to the course director, is “more or less the same as the other years. We needed to make some changes because of the weather, but we have alternate routes for the rain - sometimes if weather is bad, we take the course lower or higher. But it’s mostly the same.” The course is over six stages, the longest of which is stage three at 53.2 miles. Stage 3 essentially has the competitors running two marathons back-to-back in one day!
Event Director Tess Geddes says “we coordinate with local search and rescue; we keep track of the weather; it’s not like we’re going in not knowing whether it’s going to rain or not. The course is planned around the best track for the runners.”
As the race comes to a close, the local businesses in the community get a chance to get involved with the race’s operations. “We’re grateful to have businesses like Big Al’s and Honey’s to help with the race,” said Colin Geddes, “good food and a milkshake can go a long way when you’ve been running in the desert on your travel pack for five days.” Most of the run is, by design, a solitary and personal experience in the wilds of southern Utah and northern Arizona, so there aren’t many public facing phases of the race - a brief stretch by Best Friends’ and the finish line are the only parts of the course that line up with public attendance.
The race’s “last supper” as it is called - the final meal before the race begins – was on Saturday, September 17, and the first leg of the run began the following morning. The run concludes on Friday, September 23, with farewell ceremonies on Saturday.
Any- one wishing for further information on the event can check out g2gultra.com, including videos and pictures of the run itself and testimonials from past runners.