The Antelope Canyon 55K is part of the Grand Circle Trail Series offering environmentally sustainable races in some of the most geologically stunning places on the planet. The Antelope Canyon race kicked off the season for Ultra Adventures with races following in Monument Valley, Zion, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, and the Tushar Mountains.
The race director had warned to come mentally prepared for the sand, but after checking out the actual depth of said sand the day before the race I abandoned all goals and just wanted to finish. The unseasonably hot and dry temps made the sand super soft and DEEP!
Be mentally prepared for a sandy course. Just because the elevation change is minimal on this course it will still challenge you in many other ways including sand, inconsistent slickrock running, a couple of steep scrambles, and climbing a few ladders.
It was a rough night at the Motel 6 in Page, AZ. Friday night is apparently party (and fight!) in the Motel 6 parking lot until 2am night and I was so frustrated I almost called the police. These same partiers rose early (or never went to bed) and drank coffee under my room window starting at 4am. I gave up at 5am and joined them in the parking lot boiling water on my camp stove for oatmeal and coffee before crawling back into bed crabby and anxious as all hell.
I took a hot shower to try and loosen up my back. My right low back was super tight after shoveling horse manure all morning the day before. Not the greatest pre-race day idea I’ve ever had, but my mom was visiting from Wisconsin and I had always wanted to show her the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah. We spent the morning volunteering with the horses and mules at Best Friends and then did a short hike to The Toadstools in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument before heading to Page.
In the two weeks leading up to the race I had a terrible migraine that knocked the life out of me, some personal drama that challenged my sanity, and some knee pain flare-up so I considered bailing on the race all together. I seriously questioned my fitness and my mental capabilities and was worried that I was suffering from something like overtraining (although I was barely trained), anemia, or depression. Then I googled “taper crazy” and discovered that all of these feelings were normal, which then led me to wonder why we do any of these things in the first place and perhaps maybe I have Lyme Disease.
Although my running training was lackluster, I had been heading to the mountains 2-3 times a week for the last two months for some uphill skiing, which must have actually done something for my fitness level while also preserving my old lady joints.
I keep trying to play back the race back in my head, but I see nothing but sand and sage. My memories of the race are simply sand, river, sand, slot, sand, lake, sand, dam, sand, golf course, sand, done, chair.
My mind was utterly empty the entire run, I didn’t listen to music, and I didn’t see a single other runner after mile 21. Besides a few words of encouragement uttered to other runners and thanking aid station volunteers, I didn’t say a word. There are very few times in my life, my mind has been so clear.
Perhaps I was just happy to be doing rather than worrying. Perhaps I was too tired to do anything but run. Perhaps I was just flowing and happy and in the moment. The desert IS where I am at my most happiest.
I ran the entire course except for a few seconds of walking here and there while I fumbled with the goods in my pack and to text my mom to be at the finish an hour earlier than I had originally told her. I ate a gel every 45 minutes and only stopped at every other aid station to chug some coke and down a banana and then I was off.
I RAN 34 MILES!!!
I had no rough patches, no negative thoughts, no stomach upset or pain except for the desert sand rubbing my feet raw, but even that I viewed as some sort of super cleansing desert exfoliating sand pedicure.
34.2 miles didn’t actually feel that far.
As I approached the finish line, my puppy Roo saw me and peeled towards me and I picked him up and carried him across the finish line while he licked all of the salt and sand and gel caked to my face. I don’t think I have ever been so happy nor felt so much love from one little being. Gosh I hope someone has a picture of my finish! My mom hadn’t been ready to snap a photo, since I was again earlier than I had said.
My “A” goal, which I had pretty much abandoned, was to run under 12:00/mile pace which would put me in at 7 hours flat and my “B” goal was to come in under 7 hours and 30 minutes.
I finished in 6 hours and 29 minutes. That was 30 minutes faster than my “A” goal and for that I am thrilled!
Since I can remember, I have always been too hard on myself. I’ve always been a worrier. I have used anxiety all of my life to motivate myself to over prepare. But I’m over it. It’s not worth it and I see how much it limits me and gets in the way of what I could do. I am much stronger than I think.
At the finish line, I immediately downed a Navajo taco although I waited a few hours to enjoy that celebratory beer. I cheered on the other finishers, let the medics tend to my sand-burned feet (my desert pedicure went down to my blood vessels – ewe!), and soaked in all of that positive race festivity energy.
Ultra Adventures put on a fabulous event. The race staff and volunteers were so kind. The views were incredible and the sand… well it was easier to run through than walk through. The hardest part of the race was deciding which handmade pottery finisher mug/cup to choose, they were all so beautiful! I picked up a handmade Navajo bracelet from a local artist to help remind me of this special event and kept all those crazy hundred milers in my thoughts through the night especially Malcom Bennett who finished his first 100-miler in honor of his daughter killed by a drunk driver last year.