Hoping Everything Holds Together – Antelope Canyon 50 Mile Ultramarathon (2015)

Race: Antelope Canyon (Ultra Adventures Grand Circle Trail Series)

Distance: 50 Miles

Date: 2/21/15

The Story: Jess and I headed down from Grand Junction on Friday filling the drive with podcast musings from The Moth, RadioLab and This American Life to help the hours fly by on a drive we have done dozens of times from Moab to Page. We checked in, swooped up our shirts along with a bonus trucker’s hat and headband and got ready to dirtbag it in the Subaru for the night.   I set my alarm and plugged in my phone for the morning (or thought I did…).

Ready to roll.
Ready to roll.

The phone battery died (hence no photos during the race), and thankfully Jess’s alarm got us up and rolling. Despite the frantic morning, we made it to the start line with drop bags in the right place and with everything we needed. The first mile of the course was a great indication of the sand and crumbling slickrock to come in the next 40 miles, and despite my best efforts I went out too fast and finally settled into my groove after about 3 miles. Coming into this race with a tweaky IT band and a lingering cold on top of kicking respiratory influenza two weeks before the race I was less than surprised to find my heart rate about 10 beats per minute higher than it should have been for my pace. The sun rose while on the approach to Upper Antelope Canyon and looked like little puffs of pink cotton candy rising from the horizon. Upper Antelope canyon whipped by and we were headed back to the sandy flats by the time I was feeling awake. I passed Jess in the Antelope Canyon Wash and rode the energy of our high five to the next aid station. About 10 miles in I found myself in the group of top ten 50 milers and the first overall/female 100 miler, and we continued together mostly unbroken for the next twenty miles. Going into the race I was hoping to run sub-9 hours and was planning on keeping my heart-rate under 155 to manage my effort. Between the sandy conditions that required a quick pace to keep momentum and my desire to stay with the lead pack I decided to see what would happen if I went with the flow and kept my HR where it was – around 164. I was either going to see my true potential or crash and burn somewhere in the desert. I reaffirmed that my strong suit is running over technical rock and downhill as I would catch up with the group or pass people on these sections and get dropped every time the course headed uphill. The first 20 miles flew by as I rocked out to music and stayed with the lead pack heading across the desert towards the Colorado River. I kept my aid station visits short and stashed all my extra clothes and headlamp at my first drop bag. Once we hit the slickrock everyone’s pace slowed to about 5 mph (the slowest section of the course) as we danced over the crumbling remnants of ancient dunes along the rim of the Colorado.   Horseshoe bend was incredible and the junction between Waterholes Canyon and the Grand River rivaled it in beauty.

Horseshoe Bend
Horseshoe Bend – One of the highlights encountered while slogging across the sandy desert.

Along this section I began to catch up with the 50K course runners and would have them as targets to reel in until the finish line. Waterholes Canyon was my favorite section of the course. A long, sustained and featured slot canyon with lots of scrambling and a lovely 3-mile section of relatively compacted double track downhill to the next aid station. Cody Draper and Janessa Taylor caught up with me at the end of Waterholes and we got to chat at the beginning of the Long Sandy Traverse back to Horseshoe Bend Aid. They would both go on to crush the rest of the course. I started my Coke intake at Horseshoe Bend Aid and was shocked at how well my body was holding up to the above-plan effort of the day. I made the mistake of looking at the hill coming out of Horseshoe Bend Aid once, and kept my head down until I was at the top after that.  Coming out of Slickrock Aid I noticed my effort starting to drop but knew that the Page Rim Trail would be faster than the ankle deep sandy double track I was currently slogging through. After the initial steep climb onto the Page Rim Trail I shifted gears again and cranked through the initial 6 mile downhill section of the Page Rim Trail. By this time in the race every time I stopped and started again my IT Band would scream at me for the first 50 meters of running and then accept that I was not going to stop and quiet down. At the very last aid station I made a futile attempt to apply some KT Tape, and after watching a 50 Miler check in and out while applying it, I gave up and headed out on the chase. The four miles uphill back to the finish made for slow, comical chasing as everyone tried to maintain 11 min/mile pace and powerwalk the hills. Harrison Fluman and myself kept leap-frogging each other and I finally caught back up with him at the Page Rim Aid station where I checked in and out and let my legs loose on the final downhill to the finish. I finished in 8:20:17, just a few minutes behind Garth Reader who had caught me at the Lake Powell Aid and checked with me to make sure I was okay while trying to patch up my knee. The top nine finishers all came in 8:31 or under and having set a new PR and running 40 minutes faster than my goal pace I was ecstatic with my 6th place finish (1st overall in my age group for being under 30).

Note the nice uphill section in the last five miles where hilariously slow chasing ensued.
Note the nice uphill section in the last five miles where hilariously slow chasing ensued.
Salty but stoked.  Only one blister due to the inevitable addition of sand that made my shoes ~1.5 sizes smaller by mile 40.
Salty but stoked. Only one blister due to the inevitable addition of sand that made my shoes ~1.5 sizes smaller by mile 40.  Mileage a little off due to lost signal in the slot canyons.

I inhaled some food at the car, changed out of my salty and sandy gear, picked out my custom finishers bracelet and started charging my phone to see the Live Update on where Jess was in the race. She was about 7 miles out and would be arriving in about 1.5 to 2 hours. I was psyched to see how well she was doing in her first ultra and got the car ready to crew for her on the final miles. I set out a couple of chairs, fresh socks, a headlamp, Tiger Balm, layers, food and water and took a seat to cheer on the passing 50K and 50 Mile Runners. I really enjoyed crewing and cheering, and a couple of runners took advantage of my chairs to dump the sand out of their shoes before Jess arrived. When she came in I could hear her wheezing (asthma lingering from her bout with respiratory influenza) and at her request started digging for the inhaler. I got it, and came back to see some gnarly blisters on her feet while she swapped out her socks. She was in great spirits and was fully embracing and being embraced by the supportive and communal aspect of ultrarunning. I gave one of her running companions an extra layer for the final miles and then Jess was off and running farther than she had ever gone before. I made my way back to the finish where Andy Pearson (50 Miler winner) was welcoming every runner with his cowbell and I joined in while I continued to recover with fry bread, soda and the warmth of the fires that race director Matt Gunn was keeping stoked. Darkness arrived and around 8 pm Jess crossed the finish line. I am so impressed and proud of her effort in her first ultra, and although we are both taking time to heal and recover she is already getting excited about what’s next and how she can improve her experience. We picked out her finisher’s award, grabbed our drop bags and headed out to the Quality Inn in search of something a little more comfortable than the back of my car for the night. A front was moving in and snow and rain were imminent in the forecast. I requested a room on the first floor and we both laid down hoping to sleep immediately. Three hours later, zero sleeping had taken place so we took inventory on where we could go to eat at midnight in Page, Arizona and settled on Denny’s as the lesser evil. We devoured our second-dinner breakfasts and headed back for a food-coma induced slumber. The next morning we awoke to snow and sleet falling outside our window and I thought of all the 100-mile runners likely still out on the course, suffering through the cold wet night while I hobbled down to the unlimited waffle bar. After more waffles than any doctor would recommend we shuffled out to the car and headed home. Successful, sore and thrilled to have snuck in one last grand adventure before winter returned to the South West.

Gear: Pearl Izumi Trail N2 shoes, Ultra Short Tights, Champion Team Singlet, Pearl Izumi Select Arm Warmers, Thermal Lite Gloves, Ultra Jacket and Fly Visor. Smith Parallel D-Max sunglasses, Suunto Ambit 2, Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest 2.0 with Body Bottles, Injinji Midweight Trail Socks and my Black Diamond Sprinter Headlamp.

Results and Strava Links:



3 thoughts on “Hoping Everything Holds Together – Antelope Canyon 50 Mile Ultramarathon (2015)

  1. What a great race and a great post. I couldn’t manage those conditions, so will never run this, but you make it sound really tempting…


    1. With a wetter winter and colder temperatures the conditions would be much more manageable. The last two years have been especially dry and warm making for loose sandy conditions. Check the forecast next year and if it looks good, go for it!

      Liked by 1 person

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