ERIC R. HASELBY, SMSgt, USAF
USAF Warfare Center Weapons Safety Manager
Well before sunup on May 12, 2016, SMSgt Eric Haselby, Running Team Manager for the US Military Endurance Sports Team, set out with four friends and teammates to cross the Grand Canyon and back again (aka Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim) on foot in a single day. Their goal was to do it as fast as they could without taking unreasonable risks. They had the proper gear, the right skills and a good plan, knowing that freezing temperatures in the morning on the South Rim would soar to the mid-90s by midday at the bottom of the canyon. While not everything went according to plan, all five completed the challenge. Aching, dehydrated and exhausted when he finished, Eric learned some valuable lessons along the way.
WHY HE DOES IT
Eric started running at the ripe, old age of 31. In 2011, he entered his first 5K, following that up quickly with a 10K run. Then he realized that he didn’t know too many people who had run a marathon, and that motivated him to take the next step. He trained for six months, completed his first marathon, and was immediately hooked on endurance running. Today, having completed a combined total of 28 marathons and ultramarathons, Eric explains his passion: “What I love about running is that you don’t need much—just a good pair of shoes and a plan. Running is my personal therapy time, when I can block everything out.”
HOW HE TRAINED
In addition to regular running, Eric put in lots of hours on a treadmill at a 30 percent incline to strengthen his gluteal and hamstring muscles for the climbs up to the rims. In hindsight, he realizes he should have done more work on his knees and quadriceps, which took a beating during the descent into the canyon, a drop of 4,780 feet. “Only seven miles into a 45-mile run,” Eric says, “my legs were already fatigued. There was still a long way to go.”
WHAT HE ATE
Eric tried to eat a lot before the run, without overeating. Preparing for an endurance run gives you license to binge on not-so-healthy foods, like pizza. “Fueling the night before a big run is important; eating carbohydrates will boost muscle glycogen (energy) stores. For the run itself, I carried gels, trail mix, candy, beef jerky and powdered drink mix. It’s important to have options in case an item becomes unappetizing.”
Deciding how much water to bring with you into the canyon is always a fine line between running out of water, which puts you at risk of dehydration, heatstroke and even death, and exerting more energy than you need to by carrying too much weight. Eric erred on the side of lightening his load twice during the day. At one point, some hikers gave him 10 ounces of their water to tide him over to the next water source. Part of the problem was that GPS doesn’t work very well in the Grand Canyon, which Eric found out first hand. “I run with a high-end Garmin GPS watch, but it had me bouncing around all over the place. It kept telling me that the camp was just around the corner when it was still more than three miles away.” He had also packed a water filtration device that ultimately went unused thanks to the treacherous climb required to reach the river.
For Airmen planning to undertake any strenuous outdoor challenge, Eric says it’s a good idea to have one or more backup plans in case of inclement weather or other factors beyond your control. He also suggests trying to replicate at least a portion of the challenge before the day of the event. “Do a dress rehearsal of sorts,” he advises. “That way you can test out your gear, your plan and your skills before doing the real thing. Everything looks good on paper, but how will your gear, plan, and skills hold up when the wheels fall off?”
Want to learn more about SMSgt Haselby’s epic challenge?
The Combat Edge article: https://www.acc.af.mil/Portals/92/TCE_Spring_2017.pdf?ver=2017-04-07-155427-207