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Life List: Grand Challenge

Push yourself on a self-supported, 167-mile race through the Southwest. The blisters will go away; the accomplishment will stay with you forever.

You’ll make friends
Participants share communal tents, trade stories around a campfire, and help each other through the most grueling miles.

The race challenges everyone
Veterans of other races said this was one of the toughest courses they’d seen, due in part to lots of soft sand and the long first day. Cutoff times are achievable for fit hikers, but you won’t be able to rest until the end of each stage.

Don’t expect wilderness
National parks prohibit events like this, so the course skirts the best backcountry in Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce. There were a few highlights, like sandstone hoodoos and a slot canyon, but for the most part we followed dirt roads for mile after mile through the kind of scenery you normally pass on the way to the trailhead. But it’s a fitness event, not a wilderness journey, and the payoff is in sensation, not solitude or scenery. “I have never felt so strong and so weak at the same time,” Bydlon says.

Pack light, but not too light
The most serious runners, like Spain’s Salvador Calvo Redondo (who won the 2012 race with a cumulative time of 34 hours and 10 minutes), started with packs that weighed about 17 pounds. But they made sacrifices (limited food choices, no warm layers for relaxing at night). Our view: A lightweight puffy jacket and camp shoes are worth the extra ounces.

Do it The 2013 Grand to Grand Ultra is September 22-28.
Entry fee $3,200 (includes race shuttles, pre- and post-race food and lodging, and an awards party)

Win a Free Entry! Want to get in great shape while running or hiking with competitors from all over the world? The Grand to Grand Ultra is giving away one free race entry to a BACKPACKER reader. For contest rules and details on how to enter, go to Entry deadline May 20, 2013.

Watch It See video and a slideshow of the 2012 Grand to Grand at and on the iPad:

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