Gearing Up for a 160-Mile Backpacking Race

Blog, Reader Stories

By Payge McMahon, Adventure Athlete and Journalist

On September 23, 2012, at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, 75 endurance athletes representing 15 different countries will begin a self-supported, 7 day, 160-mile, grand adventure. Carrying all their food and gear, they will run through canyons and sand, then around Zion National Park, ascending and descending a combined 39,000 feet to finally finish at the summit of the Grand Staircase on September 29.

Competitors in the G2G Ultra include: Mt. Everest summiteers, Badwater ultra-marathon veterans, and endurance world record holders. Then, there is me. I’ve run the Nashville Country Music Half-Marathon… so I’ve got that going for me!

How did I wind up in the Grand 2 Grand Ultra? Be careful what you ask for…

Six-months ago, I read an article about this first-of-its-kind race in North America. It intrigued me, because it combined the endurance aspects of ultra-light backpacking with distance running. I’ve backpacked and climbed mountains all over the world. I love it. I also love challenges. So, on a whim, I emailed Canada Goose in Toronto, since they have been loyal sponsors of mine since 2011, and said, “Hey guys, I see Ray Zahib, a fellow ‘Goose person’, is on the advisory board for this G2G Ultra. What do you think about putting a backpacker like me in the race? We’ll test how I do against the ultra-marathon big dogs, who now have to adapt to carrying a pack. If you pay the steep entry fee, I’ll do it.” A week later, I got a call, “Payge, we paid the fee. You’re in the race.” My initial response (inside voice) was, “Oh shit!”

Immediately, I consulted with ultra-marathon friends, researched how I should ideally train, and chose gear, apparel, footwear, and nutrition that would work well for me in this race. Since April, I have run more than 500 miles on trails, sand, and roads. I’ve trekked more 200 miles, up and down Colorado 14′ers, Manitou Incline, Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains, and Montana’s Glacier National Park. I’ve also practiced 10-20 hours per week of Vinyasa/Ashtanga yoga.

Gear-wise, my 32-liter Osprey backpack will weigh no more then 20 pounds when I start the race. I will use a pair of Leki carbon trekking poles. Still, realistically, there is no way I will be able to run all 160 miles, given the terrain and altitude. My ultra-light sleeping bag will keep me warm at night and, if I can, I will sleep in my 7-ounce Grand Trunk Goods Nano hammock. It is better for my back, and I sleep like a baby!

Nutritionally, Mountain House, ProBar, GU Roctane High Energy Endurance Powder mixed with Jade Monk tea will keep me healthy and full of energy.

As for apparel and footwear, I’m combining Adidas Outdoor with MPG Mondetta wear. I’ll also be taking advantage of Swiftwick compression socks and Wigwam wicking socks. I’m still debating my footwear. I have been training in different trail runners from Zamberlan, Saucony, and Adidas.

This week, I passed the required, pre-race sports physical. Yay! At 5-feet 9-inches tall and weighing in at an athletic 153 pounds with my blood pressure reading at 112/81, I’m healthy and as ready as I am going to be by September 23rd.

I’m no threat to win the Grand 2 Grand Ultra. I just want to finish the race. It is not about winning, for me. I am competing against myself. The journey to the race has been an amazing experience; I’m learning and pushing my body. That being said, I am super excited to be part of the inaugural Grand 2 Grand Ultra. Wish me luck!

Last modified: September 13, 2012

6 Responses to :
Gearing Up for a 160-Mile Backpacking Race

  1. Cindy says:

    Hope you have a great experience. You can do it

  2. Heidi says:

    like, love and am inspired by it all, thanks for going for it.

  3. Melissa says:

    Amazing and very inspiring!

  4. Ruth says:

    How fabulous! You go, woman!

  5. Susan Hollister says:

    Wishing you the best 160-miler EVER! Makes my upcoming 3-Day Walk for the Cure seem like a sissy 60-miler! Really, know you have a whole bunch of strong women behind ya’ !

  6. Kees de Nijs says:

    Great read. Did my first race in Iceland this summer (Fire and Ice 2012 Ultra) fueled by GoPro FUEL and Extreme Adventure Foods meals (800 kcal crammed in 175 gram of freeze dried food and great tasting!) Doing another one this year.

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