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One year after Jim Walmsley broke both the single- (rim-to-rim) and double-crossing (rim-to-rim-to-rim) records in the Grand Canyon, the rim-to-rim FKT has fallen, to Walmsley’s friend and training partner Tim Freriks.
Freriks, 26, ran the 21-mile route in 2 hours 39 minutes 38 seconds, besting Walmsley’s time by roughly seven minutes.
“The idea for a R2R actually came up before I was even involved in the trail and ultrarunning communities,” says Freriks, who started trail running after graduating from Northern Arizona University in 2013. The Grand Canyon was his favorite place to run.
“[The rim-to-rim] kind of became this thing that I wanted to do, just for myself, to connect with a place that I had grown up around,” he says. “Not necessarily with a time goal in mind.”
Months of training in the canyon paid big fitness dividends, and his focus shifted toward racing; he finished second at the 2016 Lake Sonoma 50 and first at this year’s Transvulcania 73K in Spain.
“I never got to make an attempt at the R2R or R2R2R, but I knew that I’d come back to it when my schedule allowed,” he says. “The stars finally aligned last weekend.”
Walmsley and fellow training partner Jared Hazen (the group has dubbed themselves the Coconino Cowboys) came out to cheer Freriks on from the bottom of the canyon.
“They brought so much energy with them down there, and were cheering for me like I was racing,” he says. “It was awesome.”
A full-time registered nurse, Freriks has to work racing and long runs around a packed and often-awkward schedule. The day after his record-setting run, he went in for the first of three consecutive 12-hour shifts at the hospital.
Trail Runner caught up with Freriks to chat about his training, motivation and plans for the rest of the season.
Why the R2R?
The R2R choice was one that I made just because it fit nicely into my training block for races later in the fall. I didn’t need to completely structure my training around a big 42-mile effort [on the rim-to-rim-to-rim] that would require an actual taper and more downtime afterward. I want to run the Skyrace here in Flagstaff, and The North Face 50, so I’ll get to keep the R2R2R on the wish list.
How did you feel the morning of the attempt?
I had some commitments the day prior, so we made it out to the North Rim at about 11 p.m. I got up at 5 a.m. the next morning. As soon as I had my morning coffee and got in a little shake-out run, I was ready to go. I felt like I was firing on all cylinders when I started down the tight switchbacks on the North Kaibab Trail.
What was your strategy and nutrition plan, and how did things pan out?
I’m a bit more of tortoise than a hare, so my strategy was just to be as efficient as possible by not stopping. I didn’t stop for any water or nutrition. I carried two handhelds, with 40 ounces of fluid and about 1,000 calories. I just wanted to flow as best as possible and not have my legs too beat up by the time I started climbing out the South Kaibab Trail.
The one thing that I was most stressed about was mule trains, where you have to stop and wait or just hike behind them for several minutes. Even though I was trying to float along on the downhill, I was trying to build a buffer for the climb out. I ended up running into only one mule train, and was stopped for less than a minute.
What were your highs and lows?
The high point was running into Jim and Jared at the bottom of the canyon. I had built in enough time that I only needed a 76-minute climb out on the South Kaibab trail, and I knew that was doable, so I was riding a high.
The lowest point was probably the climb just below Skeleton Point on the South Kaibab Trail. We call that the crux of the climb because it gets so steep, and it’s completely exposed to the sun. The weather was hotter than I had anticipated, and I began to question whether the Kaibab was breaking me.
Describe the “finish” moment.
We run the canyon enough that I know what splits to expect. When I made it to Ooh-Aah Point with five or six minutes to spare, I felt like I’d made it. I couldn’t shake my smile. When I saw Sunny Margerum, a friend and HOKA One One team manager, taking photos at the top, I was so relieved. My friends and family were there, and it was a pretty special moment—I grew up backpacking and exploring the Grand Canyon with my dad, and to be able to be a tiny part of this canyon’s history is pretty special to me.
What’s it like setting a record previously held by a close friend?
Jim’s been a great mentor and friend to me in this whole trail and ultrarunning process, not just with Grand-Canyon running. I feel like we’ve been able to grow up together as ultrarunners. He’s been instrumental in my development as an ultra-trail athlete, and the Grand Canyon FKT was no exception. I was unfamiliar with the top four miles of the North Kaibab Trail, so he gave me some beta on what to expect in that area, and on when to push and when to put things on cruise control.
Just because of our experiences in the canyon together, this record felt significant. It’s fun to both hold those two Grand Canyon records now.
Describe the R2R experience for those who have never been to the Grand Canyon before.
The North Kaibab is a little less steep but much longer. It takes approximately 14 miles to get to the river. The South Kaibab is about 6.5 miles from the river to the rim. At the bottom there are several miles at a gentle incline along Bright Angel Creek in a really slotted-out box canyon where you can float along and try to recover before the big climb out the South Kaibab. The South Kaibab is super steep, with lots of logs and rock ledges. It can be difficult to get a rhythm.
Was it particularly significant to be running in the Grand Canyon in the midst of the heated debates going on about public-lands protection?
Definitely. I grew up exploring the national parks with my family, and I really believe that places like these should be preserved for future generations to experience. Parks like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Kings Canyon have played a huge role in making me who I am today—not to mention the lesser-known monuments, preserves and public lands where I’ve put in countless miles and made memories. I hope that by showcasing these parks, athletes like myself may be able to sway some opinions on the direction we go with public lands.
Will another Coconino Cowboy be coming back for the record next year?
I sure hope so! The Cowboys are growing, and we’re getting more and more athletes coming to Flagstaff to train together on the trails. I think that a group atmosphere like this breeds success. Some names to watch out for: Cody Reed, Jared Hazen, Makai Clemons, Eric Senseman and Tommy Rivers Puzey. All potential rim-to-rim record holders in the future.