Just back from the Grand to Grand Ultra - Jeremy Goddard

Jeremy Goddard has just returned from the Grand to Grand Ultra, a seven-day, 270 kilometre running race from the lip of the Grand Canyon in Arizona to a section of the Grand Staircase, a mountain range in Utah. Competitors are self-supporting over the six stages in their food and equipment - water and medical care are provided by the organisers. Stages very from 12km to 85 km, a full double marathon and the ‘Long Day’.

He did well and despite a low moment on Day 2, he placed 20th overall and managed to fulfil his goals. Here he describes the pleasures and the pain of the race.

See more about the Grand to Grand Ultra here.

 At the start on the lip of the Grand Canyon, photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra

At the start on the lip of the Grand Canyon, photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra

What was Grand to Grand 2018 like?
From registration to race-end the G2G is well organised and very welcoming, and this really makes the race. The welcome dinner on the Friday evening and then the great meal on the Saturday evening at Camp One on the rim of the Grand Canyon really help you to get to know your fellow runners and it develops a great spirit in the camp. Also it’s your last chance to stock up on real food!

In 2018 there was really good weather, which for me meant that it was warm, despite all the training I did in the great UK summer. I hadn’t managed to arrive early and acclimatise, so I felt myself overheating and had to slow down Day One; thankfully there was some cloud cover as it was really hot in direct sun.

There was a lot more sand than I anticipated, though apart from the dunes on the long day the majority wasn’t deep enough to sink into -  just soft enough to make running hard.


 Photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra

Photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra

How did it go?
I have several goals going into any race, and with something like G2G, my primary goal is to finish. Further ambitions were to do well in my age group, and ultimately to see if I could finish within the top 20. With Day One being slower for me and then also a slower Day Two aswell because of some hip pain /ITB issues, I did wonder if I would achieve my goals. However, I knew that if I had a good run on the long day, it was still possible.

I managed to stretch and recover after Day Two, so I was able to perform well on the long day, and I was really pleased to finished it in 11th place. After that I felt I was running and pacing myself well, finishing strongly each day. In the end I managed to finish in 20th place overall which I was so happy with. And in my age group I placed 4th, which just shows how competitive the V50 category is!

Did the race organisation live up to expectations? 
The organisation and course really did live up to expectations. The scenery is as impressive as you could hope for. There is a good mix of terrain and although sometimes it did feel like there was too much on sandy tracks, that is just a necessity of getting from A to B. There were so many great spots – the Grand Canyon, Grand Staircase, slot canyons - too many to list, really. There wasn’t a day when I didn’t stop and take in the view.

The long stage was the hardest day – not just because of distance but also the variety of terrain. There were steep climbs and some technical descents. And then the sand dunes (twenty four of them!), which started around mile forty. They were big, steep and the sand was really soft! It was a case of crawl up as best you could, catch your breath at the top, jog down and repeat! As hard as that section was, I went through it in the dark with the stars out and the moon rising, so it was incredibly inspiring.

 Photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra

Photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra

Were you as well prepared as you could be?
The only slight change I would make would be to carry slightly more food because by the end of the week as I was starving! I had about 2700 calories a day which was mostly fine but an extra meal and a treat near the end of the week would have been fantastic! Everything else I planned, practised and prepared for in great detail.

The big difference for me in this race was that I also included my feet and blister prevention/care in my training and I practised taping my feet from the start – my toes and the balls of both feet. This worked really well and I finished the race with one small blister on one toe. Not only did it mean I could run with no issues, but after each stage I could rest and recover instead of having to queue for the medical tent with feet issues. 

One worry I had before heading out to the race was snakes, but this was needless. I did see a few, but it was generally their tails disappearing (thankfully none with rattles on!). It still got your heart beat up though! More concerning was coming across the remains of a deer and wondering whether something big enough to eat a deer would be interested in a runner!

What was the most painful moment?
The most painful thing for me was the second half of Day Two when I was experiencing hip/ITB pain. Psychologically you start to have doubts as to whether you will be able to finish the whole race. Thankfully, for the last part of the stage I had some great company; Neil, another runner from the UK. It really helps to take your mind off things while you’re out there. Once I was back in camp I focussed on rest and recovery and I was relieved it didn’t develop into a major issue.

 Photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra

Photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra

And your favourite moment?
My favourite moment is always crossing the finish line! During the long training and preparation this is something I visualise, so when the reality arrives it is a really emotional moment. However, there were special moments throughout the week. They make great memories and I will treasure them for years.

What did you learn?
I learnt a lot about what I am capable of on a personal level, but also what we are all capable of. It was inspiring to see everyone else and the way that all the different nationalities and backgrounds come together to support one another, all with the same goal of finishing the race.

 In a slot canyon - Photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra

In a slot canyon - Photo courtesy Grand to Grand Ultra

Jax Mariash and the Grand to Grand Ultra

Jax Mariash will be competing in the Grand to Grand Ultra 2018, a staged running race that takes place in  the US states of Arizona and Utah. She has been very successful in the discipline since she started ultra running in 2013 and in 2016 she became the 4 Deserts female champion, winning all four of the main events and placing second in an additional fifth race in Sri Lanka. This is her first Grand to Grand Ultra. 

The Grand to Grand Ultra is a 270km ultra run, which starts at the rim of the Grand Canyon and culminates at the Grand Staircase, a mountain range in Utah. There are six stages over seven days, including a double marathon, and the race is self-supported in terms of food, equipment and bedding.

  ©  Omni Cao / 4 Deserts

© Omni Cao / 4 Deserts

First a bit of form
I have been a runner since I was five years old, but I got into ultra running in 2013 when I was living in Hood River and looking for a new purpose for my running. I signed up for an ultra to jump into trail running and exploring and I placed 2nd in my first race. I was hooked on a new adventure.

I am the first woman in the world to complete the 4 Deserts Race Series Grand Slam Plus. I won all four of the main 4 Deserts races - Sahara/Namibia, the Gobi March, the Atacama Crossing and The Last Desert in Antarctica - and then I placed second in their roving fifth race in Sri Lanka. This led to being crowned the 2016 4 Deserts Female World Champion.

See more about Jax Mariash and see more about the Grand to Grand Ultra here.

How did you come across the Grand to Grand? Why now?
A group of us that ran the 4 Deserts races in 2016 have chosen to meet up for a reunion at the G2G in 2018. We are really excited to participate in a stage race again and to have the support of our 4 Deserts family – the camaraderie is one of the best parts of these races.  

  © Myke Hemsmeyer /4 Deserts   ©

© Myke Hemsmeyer /4 Deserts ©

Why the G2G? Why now?
My passion is to inspire people to get into the outdoors. I love stage racing because it takes you to the depths of your mental core, showing you your potential as you touch your limits in mind, body and spirit. I love seeing how I and the other runners evolve from the experience, so if I can show this to people outside the sport it might inspire them to get outside and explore.

Secondly I would like to raise awareness of self-supported stage racing in the United States, where it is not as well known as elsewhere in the world. Finally, I hope to win the race.

Training for self-supported stage races is its own recipe compared to a single day ultra. It involves enduring multiple days of long mileage with 18+ pounds on your back. A perfect recipe of strength and endurance. During my work, where I walk around a lot, I wear a 40lb vest for general strength training.

In a big volume week, my running program would look like this:

Monday: rest / strength training
Tuesday: interval session am / easy pack run PM
Wednesday: medium long day (15+ miles) / strength training
Thursday: interval session am / easy pack run PM
Friday: easy day / strength train
Saturday: long run on trail or road (20-40mi)
Sunday: long run on trail or road with pack (16-25mi)

  ©   Zandy Mangold / 4 Deserts

©  Zandy Mangold / 4 Deserts

My race schedule for this year is a major one. I have already completed the Marathon Des Sables and finished 6th female. Then I worked on a project to inspire the next generation by training and pacing a girl named Hannah Lutzker to become the first female in her group to run 42.2 miles. She is now the youngest female ultra runner. Next up for me is Leadville 100, UTMB (Ultra Trail Mont Blanc) in Chamonix and then G2G. 

Planning for a stage race is a bit of a project. Unlike a single day race, it involves many steps to get everything just right. Before the specific training starts, I wear my weighted vest at work and I run in another weighted vest a few times a week. The next big step in my preparation is strength training, which is often overlooked in high volume running programs. However, it is essential if you are to stay to stay strong, fast and injury free.

If I am on a mission to win, then I get super picky with everything about three months out. That means nutrition, hydration, strength, massage, run schedule etc. You have to do everything perfectly if you want to be on the top of the podium. 

A month before the event I start to build the pack and I train with it as I intend to race. That way any pack runs in the last month are done with the actual pack – with a little extra weight- helping my back muscles to get used to it.

  ©   Zandy Mangold / 4 Deserts

©  Zandy Mangold / 4 Deserts

Most daunting aspect?
Consistency and staying injury free are critical in the few months before a race. This is why strength training is essential. Also I have to have a perfect life balance to get all of my work done for my coffee business at the same time as training. In a nut shell, my personal life begins to suffer. This year I am actually taking my time after an off year to get back in that regimented routine, so I am a little nervous as I go into this race.

And what are you most looking forward to?
I am looking forward to seeing my friends from all over the world who participated in the 4 Deserts Grand Slam or Grand Slam Plus. We will be staying in the same tent together.

It is also a really neat opportunity to be at one with nature and to check out of the real world. For me, it becomes a place of peace and simplicity because at home I am so busy, connected to social media and working so much. Life in the race becomes simple and reduces to - race fast, survive, recover – those three things and spending quality time with friends. In a messed up way, it feels like a vacation of sorts.

I am so excited also that my friends will be there to meet me at the finish line of the G2G. I live in Park City, so my friends are driving to the finish to cheer me in. It makes me want to win that much more. From there our 4 Deserts family is all meeting up for a reunion in Vegas to celebrate. 

What does success look like?
Success is about inspiring folks to get outside and move their bodies and explore. When you see folks fall in love with sport or running because of something you did it is amazing. I love to inspire. 

Winning the race is the icing on the cake. I hope I can place first woman in the G2G. Also to get as close as I can to the top guys. In Chile I was 2nd overall up until the long day and ended up in 4th place. I was right up there with them in all of the 4 deserts races. It was fun. 


  ©   Omni Cao / 4 Deserts

©  Omni Cao / 4 Deserts