Dave Mackey Conquers the R2R2R 

One leg, one new FKT. 

What happens when an Elite runner loses one of their most important tools – a leg? For some it would spell the end of a great chapter, but for Altra athlete Dave Mackey, it turned out to be just the beginning of a new phase in his career. Here, Dave shares the story of his return to the Grand Canyon and his entry as the first of many Fastest Known Amputee Times.


Hear more from Dave as he joins Buzz Burrell on Episode 141 of the FKT podcast.  

Dave Mackey in shorts and a white jacket, running in the Grand Canyon



The last time I ran the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim (R2R2R) on a whim in 2007, I set the unsupported FKT. When I set the record, I destroyed my feet and prototype shoes, edging back up over the South Rim via the Kaibab Trail, in 6:59+ (which still stands as the 3rd fastest time overall). Years slipped by; before I experienced my accident, I had planned to head back down to complete another crossing, but I never made it. 


Post-left lower extremity amputation, I completed a couple of Leadman races, which helped make me whole again, and R2R2R started to creep back into the plan. With a few weeks’ notice, circumstances finally allowed me to safely travel down to Arizona with my friends Mike Hewitt, Charles Corfield, and Bob Africa. Also joining the fun were 17-year-olds Cole and Gavin, who would fish the Colorado and Bright Angel Creek trails while we completed R2R2R. 

My 2021 R2R2R goals were to:  

1. Not need rescue (duh);   
2. Finish in a respectable time;  
3. Not damage my leg badly enough to get laid up for a while;  
4. Be self-supported; 
5. Suffer but have fun, and just as importantly; 
6. Raise money for amputees in developing countries through the Range of Motion Project.

The run started out well at 4am. It always does but I had my doubts. The 6.5-mile, 5000-foot drop to the Colorado River was the most vertical descent I had run since the 2011 Pikes Peak Marathon, as 5K feet of vert is hard to find, and I hadn’t been seeking it. I didn’t track my splits, wanting to take it at an easy-to-moderate pace. Going across the Colorado River to Phantom Ranch, Cottonwood campground, and Roaring Spring all went smoothly. With a water refill and a quick break at Roaring Spring, we tackled the 2,800-foot vertical climb to the 8,297-foot elevation at the North Rim, battling snow, ice, and cool temps, then made our way back down to Phantom Ranch and the river. My legs felt solid, with only some mild but manageable chafe on the “bad” leg, and no blisters on the “good” leg. My Fillauer carbon fiber blade and outsole were intact, and my Altra Lone Peak 5 was the perfect shoe for the test.   


"I was toasted, but exhilarated to finally complete R2R2R after all those years, especially as an amputee. There is so much that can go wrong out there with one leg, risking it with no crew or rescue in a timely manner."
- Dave Mackey


Phantom Ranch, near the river, is a 13.6-mile haul coming back from the North Rim, basically all downhill and flat with a few bumps. Bob, Charles, Mike, and I were having a blast, but I was starting to smell the barn and getting quiet, which happens when I suffer. At Phantom Ranch, while they stopped for $5 lemonade, I kept rolling as I knew they’d catch me on the climb and I didn’t want to lose momentum. The crew caught me and hoofed the last 5K feet of vert over the 6.5 miles to the South Kaibab trailhead. 


I was toasted, but exhilarated to finally complete R2R2R after all those years, especially as an amputee. There is so much that can go wrong out there with one leg, risking it with no crew or rescue in a timely manner. If you decide to go into the canyon, be prepared and don’t plan on being rescued if you’re going for time.  


Fastest Known Amputee Time “FKAT”? The reason I created an FKAT category is to inspire other one-leggers like me to attempt hard stuff like this and go for fast times, hopefully getting some two-leggers out in the canyon too. If you’re considering R2R2R, I highly recommend it! 

About the Author:

Dave has been a professional runner for almost 20 years. He was also a professional multi-sport adventure racer in the 2000s, being lucky enough to race multi-day adventure races on professional adventure racing teams on six continents. He has completed the fabled “Leadman” race series three times and is shooting for his fourth in 2021, once again with a prosthetic leg. 

Follow Dave at @mackeydave1