A top-ranked ultra-runner in Chattanooga talks adventure runs and how to plan one

Grand Canyon Bright Angel Trail Lookout

An adventure run can last anywhere from a few hours to several days.

Essentially, they are destination runs, and they can be whatever you dream up.

My husband, Randy Whorton, and I have planned and run more adventure runs than I can remember. Most are close to home since Chattanooga is perfectly located for getting out into the woods, but sometimes we want to travel farther.

In 2007, our first trip to do the rim to rim to rim in the Grand Canyon was one of our most memorable adventures.

We met three friends and my father-in-law in Phoenix, Arizona. We were an experienced group of runners, and despite our histories on a variety of courses around the world, we all recognized that a run through the rugged desert with no support was a different animal altogether.

Still, it was too late to back out.

We planned to run the Bright Angel Trail, cross the Colorado River via the Silver Bridge near Phantom Ranch and then head up the North Kaibab Trail to the North Rim. We'd return on the same trails - a total of 48 miles that we hoped to complete in 12 hours.

The distance didn't worry me. But the steep trails, hugging the edges of the canyon walls, did. But I was excited because no matter how I challenge myself or what I've accomplished, I believe that constantly confronting the unknown is an important part of being human.

The next morning, we left our hotel at 4 a.m., and in the cool darkness, at the trailhead, we pushed start on our watches and took our first steps.

By the time the sun came up, we were near the river. We wondered at the beauty as we gazed up and downstream, the now blue sky, the canyon's layers. It was early May, and the desert was alive and green.

Not long after, the climb began, and there was no way to avoid edges.

Anxious, I left the group behind so I could get through the exposed cliff section. After what seemed like a lifetime, I had made it. I sat down on the trail waiting for the others to catch up, thinking only about getting back through the section I'd just finished.

One benefit of an out-and-back route is the opportunity to see what you might have missed the first time through. Without the fear of what lay ahead, I could pay more attention to the rocks, the cacti, the canyon in front of me, the changing light and where we'd come from.

We finally finished well into the night. After showering, we gathered in one of our rooms to eat cold pizza. I don't remember what we talked about, but what I do remember, years later, is the spectacular beauty of the canyon, its awe-inspiring hugeness.

A few tips to help you plan an adventure run

> Pack light. A few items you'll want to bring include a water filter, hat, gloves, electrolytes, light wool pullover, windbreaker jacket, poncho, space blanket, cellphone battery charger and a SPOT satellite tracker.

> Plan to hydrate. Where will you get water? Can you carry what you need? Should you bring a filter? Keep in mind that creeks might be dry, and some parks turn the water off at certain times of the year. In the Grand Canyon, for example, water isn't available at certain places before May or after October.

> Take more food than you think you'll need. Good options include nutrition bars, fig bars, protein drinks and electrolyte or protein powder packets to add to your food or water.

> Study maps. Distances vary depending on where you find the information. National Park sites tend to be accurate but blogs are less so. Always be prepared for the trip to take longer than you expect. To get a better idea, you might first run your planned route in sections. Digital tools such as Plot-a-Route or Outdooractive (formerly ViewRanger) let you make a map you can download and follow on your phone. You can also go old school with a paper map. Highlight your route. Study it with your group. Make sure that everybody knows the plan.

> Plan for weather. Temperatures can quickly turn surprisingly cold or surprisingly hot.

Here are several local adventure runs to try, from the beginner-friendly to the expert-only.

> Savage Gulf Loop, 20-plus miles roundtrip

> Sewanee Perimeter Trail, 20-plus miles roundtrip

>Hiwassee Pumphouse to Coker Creek to Highway 68, 33 miles roundtrip

> Smokies Challenge Adventure Run (SCAR), 70-plus miles with a total elevation gain of 18,000-plus feet