Town employee conquers Grand Canyon

Fairweather (right) and a friend pose in the canyon. – submitted Photo

By Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – Working for the Town of Morinville’s Public Works Department can be a test of endurance from time to time, but it is nothing like the endurance Donald Fairweather needed Mother’s Day when he and nine friends ran 45 miles through the Grand Canyon. Called the Rim-To-Rim-To-Rim run, the path took the runners over terrain that varied by as much as 20,000 feet from one elevation to another.

“It’s not something the Grand Canyon encourages,” Fairweather said of the endurance run. “There have been a number of deaths in the Grand Canyon because of the heat and because of dehydration, people not being prepared enough. Of the 10 of us who ran, five have done Ironman and two have done the Death Race. Even out of them, they were saying this was much harder than any of that.”

Fairweather, who was recently promoted from Parks and Facilities Coordinator to Operations Manager with Public Works, has been running for many years and frequently does a running trip. This latest adventure was above and beyond anything he’s done before.

“Every so often I go away with a group of friends and we normally run in the mountains, either the Rockies or something like that,” Fairweather said, noting this past February a friend recommended the treacherous and difficult Grand Canyon run. Although initially reluctant to do the run, he was eventually convinced. “I thought it is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It’s not something I’d want to do by myself. There are a few friends going, so it makes it more worthwhile.”

Fairweather, 46, said the organizer of the run was an Ironman athlete who nailed down all the routes and accommodations to make the journey a success. Twelve participants took to the Grand Canyon, 10 runners and two support people.

“Saturday night we went to bed having fully loaded up on as much pasta and as little sleep as we could dare survive on,” Fairweather said, adding they got up around 2 a.m. with the majority of runners setting out around 4 a.m.
The group set out from the South Kaibab, a point approximately 7,000 feet up. From there they ran roughly seven miles to the bottom before working their way up approximately 8,500 feet to the other side.

“Lots of sore limbs, and we experienced heats of about 116 Fahrenheit in the sun and about 96 degrees in the shade,” Fairweather said, adding at the top of the North Kaibab there was still some snow present. “We had to carry all our safety gear with us, cold-weather gear, food supplies, water in the camel backs and extra water bottles.” Another item of great importance to the canyon runners was electrolytes and salt tablets. Fairweather said the incredible temperatures and running caused tremendous salt loss through sweating.

Fairweather said the three-rim trail traditionally takes hikers up to six days to complete. The group was hoping to complete the 45-mile canyon run in 12 hours; however, some of the runners encountered problems. One was unable to complete the run and returned to the other side where he caught a lift back to the base. A couple of other running mates were slowed down from a lack of taking on the right amount of water. In the end the group completed the running trek in about 14 hours.

Although running from low levels to 8,500 feet above might seem like an uphill battle, it was the downward side of the trail that was most challenging for Fairweather. “The downhill is very hard, just on the quads,” he said. “When you are going downhill it just really hammers them, whereas going uphill it didn’t bother me so much.”

He said the last four miles of the run were the most challenging, a combination of blisters, knowing he’d been on his feet for many hours, and seeing some of his running mates suffering. Having to eat was also problematic. “Knowing you are losing probably about 10,000 calories to do this one event, and you can only eat so much,” he said. “If you don’t eat enough and drink enough, it’s going to affect you later on. All these power bars – after you’ve eaten two or three you do not feel like eating another one. But you know you have to.”

Although the most challenging run of his life, Fairweather is no stranger to running long distances. “I was always a good school runner and always did well in things like that,” he said, adding his first marathon was in New Zealand at the turn of the century. “They advertised for the first marathon of the new millennium because New Zealand was the very first country to see the millennium. I’d always wanted to do one and thought it would be off the bucket list.”
After entering that initial marathon in 1999 / 2000, Fairweather caught the running bug and has been putting pavement and trail beneath his feet ever since. Over the past 12 years he has participated in 16 marathons and completed several runs in less than three hours. He has come second in a couple and won a half marathon in St. Albert where he lives. Fairweather has also been the race director for the St. Albert 10-Miler for the past two years.

The avid runner averages 60 miles of running each week, and currently rides his bike back and forth to work from St. Albert to Morinville. He is planning to take part in an upcoming run called the Sinister 7, another long and challenging run.

2327 – Fairweather and a running mate pose for a shot at their trail site.
Mix in the clear ones as background extra photos

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  1. It takes stamina and determination to do what Donald achieved!
    We are impressed and wish him well on future adventures.

  2. Good stuff Donny Boy! Fantastic enthusiasm all weekend long. Bring on the Sinister.

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