Starting on October 22 and finishing a day later, Germany’s Suzanne “Sunny” Stroeer and Americans Christin Douglas and Lexi Miller completed the women’s fastest (and only) known time (FKT) on a route in the Grand Canyon called the R2R2R-alt. The route takes athletes from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, down to the Colorado River, up to the canyon’s North Rim and then back. Runners go from rim to rim to rim, which is how the route got its name. The three women ran (and swam) to complete the 72K round trip in 22 hours, 27 minutes, 20 seconds.
There’s another FKT in the Grand Canyon called the R2R2R which doesn’t involve swimming. Instead, runners get to cross the Colorado River on bridges. For people who want an extra challenge, the R2R2R-alt follows much more difficult trails, and it requires athletes to swim in the river’s frigid waters. According to the National Park Service in the U.S., the Colorado River “runs year-round within a few degrees of 46 F (8 C).”
It would be tough enough to force yourself into water that cold even if you knew there was a fire and warm blanket waiting for you on the other side of the river (which past R2R2R-alt finisher Buzz Burrell notes is under 100 metres wide), but Stroeer, Douglas and Miller had to continue their trek after drying off. As Stroeer said in an Instagram post after finishing the trek, “This is a hard, very consequential route … This is not a runner’s route, but a grand desert adventure.” Beside the daunting task of swimming across the Colorado River, the route also has an elevation gain of 4,954 metres in just 72K of running.
As the trio wrote in their post-run report on the FKT website, they started their trip in “glorious late-October conditions,” setting off just after 2 a.m. on October 22. They made it to the river just before the sun rose and “had a smooth crossing,” with one woman in a packraft and the others swimming. They were running the route unsupported, meaning they had to monitor their food and water levels throughout the run. If they ran out of either, they were out of luck until the finish. But that was never an issue, and they finished the FKT 22 hours after starting, becoming the first women to complete the route.
“This route is not for the faint of heart, nor is it fast,” they wrote in the post-run report. “But it is a spectacular adventure for the well-prepared.”