Hundreds of miles away in the wilder part of Arizona lies the Grand Canyon—one of the seven natural wonders of the world that’s home to one of the hardest trail runs in the U.S. The Rim2Rim2Rim, or R2R2R, takes runners down one side of the canyon, across the floor, up to the other side, and then back again. It totals about 50 miles with over 10,000 feet of elevation gain. 

Who’s crazy enough to try that? Olaf Shultz, Casey Hyneman, Christophe Block, Ellen Bransford, Jennifer Payne, Nancyanne Hickman, Bryan Roberson, and Kyle Grady. This group of eight from Memphis set out to run the “FKT”—what they call the “Funnest Known Time”—on the trail. 

Casey Hyneman

What gear were you most grateful to have?

My hydration pack. I’d never run with one before and Breakaway Running was able to fit me with one that didn’t chafe and carried a 2-liter bladder.

What was your pace?

It was all over the place. The first descent was 9-ish, the climb up the north rim was around 15, and the climb up the south rim was a 20- to 30-minute pace.

Would you do it again?

It was a great adventure, and I would do it 100 more times if I can.

Ellen Bransford

How did you train for the elevation?

We went out to Shelby Forest as much as possible and climbed about every hill we could find. There were also a couple of weekend adventures around Arkansas finding slightly bigger hills/mountains, but it was more about a mindset that the climbs were going to be long and painful and you just had to embrace it and roll with it.

How did your teammates help you on the trail?

They provided constant entertainment, laughter, and distraction from moments of pain. Whether it’s telling ridiculous stories or talking philosophy or car mechanics, there was always some entertaining conversation happening to take you out of yourself. Nobody was going to let you wallow too long in self-pity and did everything they could to put a smile on your face.

What were you most grateful to have on the trail?

Pickles and cheese. When I was sick of sugary gels, they provided a nice little savory/sour pick-me-up.

Bryan Roberson

Favorite part of the trail?

The descent of the South Kaibab Trail at sunrise was my favorite part. The whole trail had 360 degrees of beautiful scenery though.

What was the toughest part to run?

The ascent up the Bright Angel Trail on the South Rim. It is a tough climb after a really long day.

What did you wear?

I wore a Breakaway singlet, North Face shorts, Breakaway trucker hat, Feetures socks, and a hydration pack… and tons of sunscreen.

What gear were you most grateful to have?

My Hoka Torrent trail shoes. They were perfect on this trail.

Next on your bucket list?

Maroon Bells 4 pass loop in Colorado or SCAR in East Tennessee.

What did you have to fuel and hydrate?

I used Huma gels, Honey Stinger chews, and Tailwind.

Olaf Shultz

What was your favorite part of the experience?  

Although this was my first time doing R2R2R, running with this group was my favorite part. Each member had similar running expectations (so important!), and there were so many fun, small details that made the trip special—from packing 8 people in a Nissan Sentra to get to the trailhead, to celebrating Casey’s 40th birthday with balloons and song, to our little detour of Ribbon Falls, which was a small tropical paradise in the desert (most people miss this spectacular treasure)—all of these small moments made the trail pretty special.

What gear were you most grateful to have?  

I was really glad I brought trekking poles. I sprained my ankle around mile 3, and I ended up using the poles for support as we descended each time.

How did you celebrate at the end?  

Approaching the final few miles, I was starting to get nervous that stores wouldn’t be open by the time we finished to find food. Luckily, Ellen ran ahead and secured several boxes of pizza. Lifesaver! So we ate pizza and sat with our legs up the wall when we got back to our room. That was the best we could have hoped for.

How did your teammates help you on the trail?  

We stayed together in groups. If a few wanted to run a section faster, they did but then waited for us to arrive at the water stop. Those became small congregating places for everyone running R2R2R. It was there you would see other runners and share a few stories. Very quickly, our big group (most people run in 2s or 3s) became known as the Memphis party train. We were known for our laughter, Casey’s birthday balloons, and the way we encouraged all the runners on the trail.

Nancyanne Hickman

How did you train?

I didn’t know I was going until the week of the trip, but I had been doing double long runs on the weekends training for some other things and those were super helpful.

How was the weather?

It was perfect! Pretty chilly at the start and on the north rim. It was warm in the canyon but overall great!

Jennifer Marshall

How did you train?

Having decided to run the canyon 48 hours before getting on the plane, I told myself was that being well rested was key to my success. I was coming off a month of recovery from a prior race. I was relying on fitness from Three Days of Syllamo (trail race) to get me through it. 

What gear were you most grateful to have?  

My hydration vest! It’s all I carried. My water, food, jacket, gloves, and sunscreen fit into one pack.

How did you fuel and hydrate?

I drink a lot of water. I went through 2 to 3 handhelds between each water stop. The water stations are great reminders to eat too. I carried around 2,000 calories to take in during the day like gels, chips, nuts, chews, and fruit snacks. I looked in a trash can at one point for some “real” food, but I ended up intercepting someone’s leftover pizza crust before it actually got tossed. 

How did your teammates help you on the trail?  

We shared gels and snacks, took each other’s pictures, cheered, and sang. Bryan made sure I didn’t fall off the cliff when I sat down and immediately fell asleep just before we finished the last climb.

By Laurenne Hom

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.