When Kathie (Schaap ’89) Hale met her husband Rich 23 years ago, she was just a casual runner.
“The longest distance I ever ran was 3 miles,” she said. “But he was doing these epic 50-mile adventures. It was one of the things that drew me to him.
Since meeting, the couple have run and hiked all over the world, from Mount Whitney in California to Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Along the way, Hale achieved her personal goal of running a 50k before her 50th birthday.
When the pandemic started and Hale started working from home, it gave her more time to run. She joined a running group and quickly made friends, one of whom said he was considering Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (R2R2R).
The R2R2R is a grueling 48-mile run through the Grand Canyon with over 11,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. Runners start at the south rim of the canyon, continue to Phantom Ranch on the edge of the Colorado River, cross the bottom of the canyon, climb up the other side to the north rim, then turn around and return to the South Shore. The race is usually over in 24 hours or less.
“I was thinking: I’m in a different place in my life; I have more time; I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been,” Hale said.
So began months of training and planning. The running group helped prepare her physically, with a trainer and a training plan that told her how many miles to run each day, increasing over several months. She also focused on nutrition; refueling was crucial and she needed to consume 200 to 250 calories per hour to get by.
Hale had to carry everything during the race – including clothing for the mid-50s to 105s temperature swings, as well as food and supplies – in one backpack. For nourishment, she took turkey sandwiches, chips, nuts, berries, ginger biscuits for nausea and gels. Water could be refilled at stops along the route.
When the big day finally arrived, the group started together at 2:30 a.m. They descended the canyon in the dark and reached the river as the sun began to rise.
“It was so pretty,” Hale said. “You are in this canyon; the river begins to turn blue; the sky is starting to clear.
They took a 20 km break at Phantom Ranch to get water and a bite to eat. A member of the group who was running with broken ribs decided to turn back. When the rest of the runners continued, Hale was struck by the sight.
“I’ve never been to the North Rim,” she said. “It’s this beautiful red rock with bright green sitting on it, and there are waterfalls.”
The temperature rose on the way down and Hale decided to hunker down and run at his own pace. She caught up with the others at Phantom Ranch, where Hale’s husband greeted them with ice cold lemonade.
The band then broke up, with Hale and her husband going the same way. She got slower and slower on the South Rim hike. At one point, her husband took her bag and discarded everything that was not essential. Eight kilometers from the edge, she stopped to take a short nap. It was dark and she wasn’t feeling well, but Hale realized she had to go, so they started walking.
Her body rejected everything she ate or drank, and she vomited every time. She was exhausted and started sleepwalking, but kept pushing. Her husband stayed by her side, reminding her to stay on the mountain side of the trail so she wouldn’t fall off the cliff while sleepwalking. The last 5 miles took five hours, but she completed the hike in just under 23 hours.
Hale had booked a superior room at a hotel on the edge, so she gathered the strength to climb the stairs. She doesn’t remember coming in.
“You know how you take your shoe off with the other foot? I worked so hard to get that shoe off,” she said. a puddle on the hotel floor and I took another nap.”
Her husband brought her a pillow, and because it was cold and she was so dirty, he covered her with a towel. Eventually, she was able to shower and sleep.
The only reward was the accomplishment itself – and bragging rights, of course. But Hale’s colleagues at UCLA Health gave her a custom medal that includes an artist’s depiction of the canyon and the trails she took. They mailed it to him and had it opened at their monthly Zoom meeting.
“It almost brought me to tears,” Hale said. “It’s so incredibly moving that they did this, and it’s engraved on the back with my name and the date.” — Linda Martinez