Cat Bradley’s Obsessive Pursuit of the Grand Canyon


Last Wednesday, Cat Bradley set a brand new Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim (R2R2R) Fastest Known Time, breaking the earlier report by 23 minutes. Even although Cat is finest recognized for her prestigious win at Western States this previous June, her new FKT speaks way more to her character. Cat hates consideration. She retains her obsessions to herself. Since 2014, when her quest for the R2R2R FKT started, she’s cared much more about working the Canyon than about successful any race.  

In April of that 12 months, nicely earlier than Cat had respectable ultrarunning expertise, not to mention sponsors, she hiked the double crossing with associates, together with ultrarunning legend Louis Escobar. She says she did it “basically off the couch,” and it took over 16 hours. Upon ending, she determined that sooner or later she’d go for the FKT.

Salt Lake City ultrarunner Bethany Lewis had held the women’s FKT (8 hours 15 minutes) since 2011. Considering the tempo at which ultrarunning is rising, and the way often race course data are bested, Lewis’s FKT was stout. Several girls, together with elite ultrarunners Darcy Piceu, Anna Mae Flynn, and Cassie Scallon, had tried to interrupt it since.

For most R2R2R FKT makes an attempt, runners begin and end on the South Rim. (Though Lewis began on the North Rim.) The run begins with 5,000 ft of descent, then crosses the Colorado River, earlier than ascending 6,000 ft to the North Rim. That’s a R2R. For the double crossing, runners flip round and retrace their steps. The run is 42 miles, with over 11,000 ft of elevation acquire.

A number of months earlier than Cat’s first FKT try, in January 2016, I met her at a gaggle run in Boulder. Cat was quiet, however chatty when the topic was ultrarunning. She additionally ran a ton, tackling silly arduous efforts on her personal phrases, like including 9 miles of street after 3 laps of Green Mountain 1 Saturday. (One lap of Green is six miles with 2,500 ft of vert.)

In early April 2016, Cat requested if I might assist crew her for a Canyon FKT try, however I couldn’t go on brief discover. Cat herself was nonetheless recovering from bronchitis and had simply been identified with celiac illness, however she went for it anyway. People like Cat have been my first style of the ultrarunning scene, so I figured that going for an enormous FKT whereas on antibiotics should be a standard factor. Now I understand that isn’t the case—Cat was simply that obsessed.

In hindsight, Cat admits she was woefully underprepared for her first try. She was match, however had not skilled particularly for the Canyon’s brutally lengthy climbs and descents. “When you’re moving fast in the Canyon, everything is different,” she says. For instance, Cat’s first ever hike down the South Rim took 4 hours. The report tempo is 50 minutes. As pacer and ultrarunner Nico Barraza says, “If you really run the Canyon hard, it’s going to kick you in the teeth.”

During her first try, she vomited and coughed practically the entire time, and her boyfriend Ryan referred to as the entire thing off with 14 miles to go. After resting and refueling, they hiked the remainder of the Canyon again to their automotive on the South Rim. Cat was heartbroken.

She ran a number of races that spring and fall, however nothing main. In the autumn of 2016, one thing modified—Cat grew visibly extra severe about ultrarunning. She obtained a coach, David Roche, and began successful races, together with the Rio del Lago 100-miler.

This previous spring, Cat deliberate to go for the Canyon once more. She knew she’d be racing Western States in June, however she says, “leading up to Western, the Canyon was my real goal.”  

She skilled all winter for her 2d try, however it by no means truly occurred. Rockslides on the North Rim closed entry to the Canyon for the few weeks when she had her solely break from her educating job. She channeled that coaching into Western States, and gained. By September, she’d determined she needed to go for the Canyon once more.

Cat says her 2d FKT try, in early October, simply wasn’t her day. Jim Walmsley, who has the men’s R2R2R FKT in a blisteringly quick 5 hours 55 minutes, paced her for each makes an attempt this fall and says that in October, her abdomen precipitated a whole lot of points and it was sizzling. She ran the entire double crossing, however was off report tempo by the midway mark.

After that, she took per week and a half of of straightforward working, recovered nicely, after which realized she was nonetheless match and able to go for one thing large earlier than the top of the 12 months. She thought of racing the the North Face 50-mile Championships, which I used to be doing, however she determined towards it. “I felt like I couldn’t move on to the next project until I got this done,” she says.

Early on November 14th, Cat set out together with her pacers, Walmsley and Barraza. She bombed down the primary descent in 47 minutes, forward of report tempo. She held tempo all through, even after struggling by a troublesome ascent of the North Rim, and hardly consuming the final half of of the try—“maybe 500 calories over the whole day” she says. Cat’s atrocious abdomen had been her demise prior to now, however to my amazement, she’s one way or the other finagled working insanely nicely purely on fumes and seltzer water within the remaining pushes of her greatest efforts.

Post FKT pet restoration consolation. (Nico Barraza)

Cat dug deep in her remaining ascent up the South Rim—cheered on by drunk rafters who heard from Barraza at Phantom Ranch that she was on report tempo—and set the ladies’s report: 7 hours and 52 minutes. Cat doesn’t care that she didn’t race once more this 12 months after Western States; she’s fiercely loyal to her private objectives. “Even though it’s not a race or a high profile thing, these personal projects are what keep me coming back to the sport,” she says. While she figures out what’s subsequent, everybody guard your FKTs.

(Editor references)

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