Thursday, July 2, 2020
Grand2Grand Offers Sun Valley Runner an Ultimate Challenge
Alex Laws runs through a red rock slot canyon on the Grand2Grand.
Monday, January 6, 2020


Alex Laws has competed in 16 Ironman Triathlons, more than 40 marathons and three Ultraman Hawaii competitions.

But in September he took on perhaps his most difficult challenge yet.

He and just over a hundred other runners from 21 countries set off on the eighth annual Grand2Grand Ultra Race in what was billed as “the remotest place in America.” Over the next seven days they ran 170 miles carrying everything they needed, save for water, from the rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona to the summit of the Grand Staircase near Kanab, Utah.

Alex Laws said he grew whiskers for the first time on this race.

Laws ran through ankle-deep sand, gained 18,000 feet along the way and endured 95-degree desert heat and afternoon thunderstorms, while remaining vigilant for scorpions and rattlesnakes.

“The rock formations in Utah were unbelievable. And some of the runners saw California condors. And it was nice to see human beings working with human beings to help accomplish something,” said Laws, who will speak on “Know Your Core: Taking Aim to Improve Personal and Professional Life” at 5 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 9, at the Wood River YMCA.

Laws started running when he was 9, spurred on by his father Art, a runner in Portland, which conveniently happened to be the home of Nike.

But he got serious about running following a bout with testicular cancer when he was 23. He ran a year later to commemorate that experience and has since run 22 years in a row.

There were even tunnels to go through.

Laws began training for Kanab in January and February 2019, with two hot yoga workouts a day and cycling workout he offers at Zenergy Health Club & Spa. It was a period of rebuilding after having run a marathon in Las Vegas and an Iron Man in California in December 2017.

He also eliminated bread and cheese from his diet since, he finds, it bulks him up.

“Taking part in races drives habits, and I’m all about that,” he said.

In March 2019 Laws ran the 13-mile Race to Robie Creek, which climbs up and down Aldape Summit in the Boise foothills. He followed that with a Half-Ironman in Hawaii and a 150-mile run in Zion National Park.

A slot canyon sports a tiny flag which, Laws said, organizer pick up after the race is over.

He trained for those by running on a treadmill before his cycle class since it was too snowy in Sun Valley in March to do some serious running.

In April he began doing some core work, using resistance bands.

“It’s your core that keeps your body upright,” he said. “When I see a runner get depleted, it’s because they’re leaning forwards, which collapses their lungs. Good alignment keeps your body going and your spirit up.”

From May through August Laws did long runs of 24 miles on Saturdays followed by 14- to 15-mile runs on Sundays in areas like Fox Creek. Forty days out he began running with a pack.

“it has to feel like a coat, an old friend by the time you hit that race,” said Laws, who carried water bottles up front where they were easily accessible and filled the bag with sandbags.

Laws wore a 30-liter backpack during the Grand2Grand, which allowed him to carry 23 pounds of food and gear and three pounds of water.

He carried Hammer Nutrition gels, electrolyte and salt-balancing tablets and high-calorie dehydrated chicken, rice and vegetable dinners which offered a thousand calories each.

“Food is a big factor—those who don’t make it can usually trace it to not having balanced their food properly,” said Laws, who downed more than 3,000 calories on a 54-mile day. “You have to force yourself to eat and take water even when you don’t want to. The biggest thing I missed was fruits and vegetables—I love salads.”

In addition to food, Laws carried a light sleeping bag and pad, two shirts he alternated between, a pair of shorts to race in and a pair of shorts for camp and three pairs of socks.

“The last two days I wore double socks for padding,” added Laws.

The first day he and his fellow runners ran away from Grand Canyon, covering 33 miles in one day.

“Sometimes we might be running through the middle of a horse pasture and we’d have to look for small clothespins clipped to trees or small flags stuck in the ground to make sure you were headed the right way.”

Laws ran through two miles of fine, powdery sand, wearing sand gaiters to keep from having to empty his shoes every few steps.

“I found it helped if you ran with your feet in a v- shape and got into a rhythm with your arms. And you had to step lightly,” he said. “It was really a whole different running style.”

Laws also ran up sand dunes as high as a 10-story building.

“They were unreal, constantly changing. Getting up and over was tough but it was a highlight,” he said. “Some of the climbing came towards the end of the day after you’d already run 20 miles so it was tough. One day we had to run five miles uphill.”

One night Laws ran all night, having started at 8 a.m. and finishing at 5 a.m. the next day.

At night, exhausted, he and his tent mates, who included a Dallas CEO, minister and Australian woman with an embroidery business, stared at the constellations.

“I’ve never seen so many stars in my life,” he said. “It’s those moments where you say, ‘I’m so glad to be alive.’ And one day we saw a triple rainbow.”

Laws finished in the top third of the field. He and other finishers were given belt buckles congratulating them for finishing “the toughest race in the world.”

“It was such an emotional feeling. I don’t know anyone who didn’t break down in tears. And not a day has gone by that I haven’t talked with someone who took part in that with me—we became so connected.”

Laws said he is considering another Grand2Grand in 2020. He calls each race he does an audit.

“It keeps me in tune with how I’m doing, and that’s a good thing.”




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