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Sat, Sept. 26

Runner conquers<br>GC for fifth time

Making his way up the South Kaibab Trail, Irving Soto gets some pretty strange looks from Grand Canyon hikers. The 48-year-old from San Diego has a pouch around his waist and a bottle of water in each hand. And he seems to be in an awful hurry.

Irving Soto, a world-renowned martial arts competitor and instructor, enjoys the physical challenges of Grand Canyon.

That’s because Soto is on a quest to beat his best time running a route in and out of the Canyon. A few weeks ago, he was able to finish the run of roughly 20 miles in 2 hours, 15 minutes.

"You can get down fast, if you’re a good quality runner," Soto said. "Coming back up, it’s a little different. When you’re going uphill, you’re working everything."

Soto is no ordinary runner and some may refer to him as an "extreme athlete." The feats he has accomplished through life can be called incredible, since he first became involved with martial arts as a young boy to his movie credits.

"There are probably just a handful of us who have done it," Soto said about his Grand Canyon runs. "The first time I ran it, I finished in three hours. It was pretty hard. But I said, ‘I’m going to do it again.’"

Even runners with experience find Soto’s running accomplishment difficult to believe. On his Aug. 20 run, Soto left the South Rim down the Bright Angel Trail at high noon. He came out on the South Kaibab Trail at 2:15 p.m.

"When running down the Canyon, sometimes I may get a twisted ankle ... and you have to watch yourself or you could fall," Soto said. "On the Bright Angel, there are a lot of tourists and I’ve run across mules on the trail."

Crazy, you say? Well, take a look at Soto’s extensive background involving physical activity.

Called Grandmaster Soto by most, he’s one of the top martial arts competitors in the world. Soto trains students in several types of martial arts in the San Diego area, but he used to travel the world to further his abilities.

"I trained in Japan for 18 years," Soto said. "I’m a 10th-degree black belt and am a current world champion," Soto said. "I’ve never been defeated in 300 fights, 277 of those by knockout."

Those are impressive numbers. But on top of his accomplishments on the martial arts mat, Soto has also made his mark in Hollywood.

"I did all the stunts in ‘Remo Williams,’ choreographing the scenes," Soto said. "I did stunts for ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ and I’ve been in several Spanish movies."

Many people interested in the martial arts may recognize Soto from one of the several books he’s authored. He’s also an accomplished musician with a fondness for jazz.

As a runner, Soto has also excelled, even doing cross-country runs to raise money for homeless kids from San Diego to his native New York.

Working as a movie stunt man and maintaining his level of commitment to martial arts, Soto must push his body to the limits. Enter the Grand Canyon.

"I run anywhere from four times a week on up," Soto said. "I’ve been conditioning in the mountains near San Diego to be able to do this run here."

Walking his particular route up and out of the Canyon takes about eight hours, Soto said. His latest record of 2:15 appeared to please him, but he wants to get the time down even further.

"I want to be able to do it in 1:45," Soto said. "I’m not quite sure about that yet. It’s pretty hard."

Soto left on his latest run at noon, which is getting into the hottest part of the day. The National Park Service does not recommend hiking during those hours, much less running.

"I like the hot weather," Soto said. "I like to mastermind the hot weather. It’s easier to do it at night, but anybody can do that."

After reaching the rim at the end of his run, Soto goes into a cool down mode before hopping onto a shuttle bus.

"I feel like I need to drink a lot of water," Soto said. "I recommend people not to try this. I think the Canyon is something to be respected."

While on a run, Soto said he gets "funny looks from people," with some wanting to stop him and ask what he’s doing. Sometimes, he’ll run into the same people three or four hours later on the rim, and then he can let them know why he was in a hurry on the trail.

(Editor’s note: The Grand Canyon News urges runners and hikers to not attempt to match Soto’s feat. For guidelines and safety tips on taking day hikes, refer to Grand Canyon National Park’s publication, the Guide, or visit Canyon View Information Plaza).

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