“I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere.”
– Anakin Skywalker whining about the Antelope Canyon course
Race: Antelope Canyon
Distance: 50 Miles
Date: February 20, 2016
4am on Friday and I’m driving down to Page to connect with the Ultra Adventures crew. By 10 am I’m working with the awesome volunteers and staff get the start/finish line area set up as well as staking out some of the EcoCommode composting toilets at the last few aid stations. I manage to chow down on some day old pasta with hemp seeds and marinara and then an evening of welcoming runners and answering questions at check in. It felt like coming home a bit as I got to see lots of old friends and connect with some other Pearl Izumi Champions and Team Nuun folks I hadn’t met before.
One of the highlights of the evening before the race was the increased involvement with the Navajo community. A service project to improve one of the hogans was carried out followed by a speech by the Vice President of the Nation, Jonathan Nez. Jonathan talked about his history with running and the need for leaders and role models in today’s world to walk the talk of living a healthy and active lifestyle (Jonathan ran the half marathon on Saturday). It was a great message and reminder of one of the many reasons I do this.
Once the sun was down and registration was closed for the night I set up the Suby and dirtbagged it in the car, topping off my hydration and reading myself to sleep with The Water Knife (a highly recommended book).
It was below 40 degrees for the start of the race but I opted to just go with shorts and my jersey to take advantage of the cool temps (I couldn’t feel my forearms for the first 10 miles, but other than that it was worth it). I went out fast enough to avoid the bottleneck at the first slickrock scramble and then settled into my own groove on the way out to Owl and Antelope Canyons. A handful of runners moved ahead of me, but I knew I was somewhere in the top 10 going through the first two aid stations.
Everything felt smooth and easy until mile 22 at the Horseshoe Bend vista when the sand gave way to the stunning but challenging course along the rim. It slowed me down and I found myself power-hiking up some of the steep sections of crumbly, off-angle rock. The route was much closer to the rim this year(leading to better vistas) and was a bit more challenging as well.
The markings were hard to spot (due partially to the epic winds the night before the race after this section had been marked), but the route follows the canyon rim very obviously and even when no other runners were around to help locate the path the markers were never more than one corner or dune away.
I finished off the slickrock traverse and was in and out of the Waterholes aid station thanks to the awesome and energetic local high school cross-country team that was volunteering. I breezed through the Waterholes Canyon scramble and passed a few 50K runners that were taking their time to enjoy the beauty. A couple of mini-traffic jams allowed me to catch my breath and stay on top of my nutrition at the sketchy ladder sections and I was starting to get a bit tight in the glutes. Once I was through the canyon I hit a long sandy downhill and pushed the pace a bit now that only about 20 miles remained.
After two weeks with zero caffeine I opened the chemical flood gates at Horseshoe Bend Aid and the long sandy climb back to slickrock was over before I knew it. I asked the volunteers at Slickrock if they knew how many 50 milers were ahead of me and they figured I was the 8th 50 Miler though no one had passed me and I had only seen 5 runners ahead of me during the run. Determined to stay in the top 10 I quickly grabbed ice for my hat and hands and then pushed the pace to get to the Rim Trail. Trying to make the most of the runnable downhill I took off fast out of the aid station but starting cramping in my upper abs (training on pavement and the treadmobile this winter simply didn’t transfer to 40 miles of sand and rock). At mile 40 I was forced to stop and massage the muscles to relax them. The cramping subsided and I made it to the Lake Powell aid station 15 minutes ahead of my 2015 split and I committed to pushing the pace and catching anyone I saw ahead of me on the 6 mile gradual uphill traverse back to the finish line. There were lots of 55K runners to set my sights on and overtake along the way, but I did not change my position from mile 24 to the end of the race.
After countless false corners I got a boost of energy when I saw the Page Rim aid station for the second time and I gave it everything I had left (which wasn’t a whole lot) for the last mile and came across the line in 8:03, 17 minutes better than last year, and 6th overall again with the deeper and more competitive field.
The 50 mile awards were sweet pendants made by the same artist that does the Ultra Adventures belt buckles and after picking out the one that spoke to me I shuffled back to my car to get into a less salty outfit, throw on some 12″ Swiftwick compression socks and to start the task of consuming as many calories as possible. Four pizzas, a couple handfuls of Girl Scout Cookies and an assortment of beverages later I was certainly sore but much better off than last year when I had an inflamed IT band and respiratory influenza post-race.
I got to greet Kirk Apt when he came in and we were both there for John Oster’s triumphant finish after he pushed hard on the Page Rim trail to hit his goal of finishing sub-12 hours – awesome!
One of the highlights of any Ultra Adventures race is chilling at the finish line, chatting with old friends, meeting new ones, swapping stories and talking shop with bonfires, music and amazing food all within shuffling distance of a comfy chair.
I am already getting psyched about running the Zion 100K and might work the Monument Valley Half Marathon into the training mix. If you haven’t run Antelope Canyon, don’t let the sand-haters like Anakin Skywalker scare you off. It is definitely challenging, but the rewards are phenomenal.
Gear: Pearl Izumi Fly Endurance Shorts, Pearl Izumi Team Jersey, Swiftwick Aspire One Socks, iRunFar Headsweats Hat, Smith Approach sunglasses, Black Diamond Sprinter Headlamp, Pearl Izumi Trail N2 V2 shoes, Salomon Sense Vest, iPod shuffle and Yurbuds, and a steady diet of Watermelon Nuun, Honey Stinger Gels, Chews and a dash of Coke.
Recovery aided by Honey Stinger Protein Bars, Swiftwick Aspire Twelve Socks and the amazing wood fired pizzas courtesy of the Ultra Adventures after party.
Favorite Song of the Race: Trampled by Turtles – Wait So Long