Have you ever done anything crazy? Ever wanted to test your body and push the limits? Well I did this weekend. As if going for a long run wouldn’t be hard enough I signed up to do 34 miles in the Arizona desert.
Ultra Adventures puts on some amazing races here in the southwest. I have known Matt Gunn from early on when he started doing Bryce and Zion. I worked with him as I set up the Altra sponsorship of his events and we have continued to maintain that relationship through now. I have enjoyed being around the events that he puts on and have been impressed with the courses that he has put together. The race at Antelope Canyon came together thanks to the cooperation of the Navajo Nation and their willingness to support a race through many private attractions on their land. It is a great opportunity to see sites that you otherwise would not be able to see without a tour.
I’ve wanted to visit Antelope Canyon for some time now. I have never been down to the Page area or seen the sites down there so a race seemed like a good excuse to do it. I eyeballed doing the 55k earlier this year and decided if I could train for it then I would go down. Well, winter got the best of me and I chose to ski instead of do long runs, I opted for bouldering sessions instead of speed work. All that culminated to a total of 25 miles run this year TOTAL. With that massive base in me I was not going to attempt any sort of race.
Well, my life changes like the weather. I set goals and desires, but they get adjusted based on the direction that the wind is blowing. I was talking with Kevin, from work, about going down. He was going down to do the 55k and I talked him into doing the 50 miler but if he didn’t feel good then he could drop at 55k and have seen all of the epic stuff. The thing about Antelope Canyon 50 is that the 55k does not go through actual Antelope Canyon and the 50 miler does. So you could do the 50 miler, go through Antelope Canyon, along Horseshoe Bend and through Watering Hole Canyon and drop at mile 34 and see all the epic stuff in the race and avoid the boring loop around Page. Okay, so Matt Gunn may not like me promoting this, but it sounded appealing to me and I sold it to Kevin. Well, amidst selling it to Kevin it got me thinking about it a lot. He then asked why I wouldn’t come down and I kept coming up with lame excuses.
All day Wednesday I got thinking about going down to do this. I plotted out how I could make it happen. Mind you, all this is on ZERO training!!! I discussed this with Leslie and we decided that it would be a fun blitz trip with the kiddos. I could at least run 20 miles and make it to the Horseshoe Bend aid station the first time. If I needed to pull out there then at least I would have been able to see Antelope Canyon and we could see Horseshoe Bend as a family. I went ahead and emailed Matt to see if there was any way I could still get into the race. I went to bed that night with no response. I still was pondering on this. Leslie shifted around her lab, we worked out how we would get down and back and planned on going. Well, I woke up Thursday with an email from Matt that he would get me in if I got down Friday night to packet pickup to register. So, it was on.
We packed up Thursday and Friday and then checked the kiddos out of school an hour early Friday and made the drive down to Page, AZ. It is about 5.5 hours from our house to make that entire drive. We made a couple of brief stops and made it in just under 6 hours total time. It was dark when we arrived so we got the tent setup and got everything situated for the adventure the next day.
My goals leading into the race were first to have a good time. Second, to make it to mile 20 and if feeling good continue on. My A goal was to come in at mile 34 at the Horseshoe Bend aid station the second time and call it a day. If I were to make my A goal then I would be able to enjoyable see everything that I went down to see. I would get through all the canyons and enjoy the slick rock around Horseshoe Bend. So here we go. Read on for the race day recap.
It was an early rise out of the tent at 5 am. The temps were only around 40* but I was cold. I was bundled up in my Patagonia Nano Puff and a full down Big Agnes coat. I then went into the van and turned on the heater to try to warm up before I had to brave the cold at the race start.
I had no desire to eat anything that morning so I had a half of a banana and that was it. I was hoping that the lack of calories early wouldn’t come back to haunt me as well as the lack of getting things moving early.
We lined up at the start and were lead out by a prayer from a Navajo chief. It was a really cool experience. Unfortunately we were in the back so it was hard to hear what was going on. The race starts right in the Navajo Village Heritage Center. I hugged my wife then they said and go and we were off. As I headed towards the actual start I got a chance to see Rivers Puzey. He was there to run the actual 55k. It was good to see him and chat for a minute.It took 20 minutes to cover the first mile due to a massive pack going up the slick rock to get onto the main trail. It was congested for that first little bit, but once we got up on top of the plateau things spread out and I was able to start to get into a little bit of a groove. The sand started early and held often. Sand sand and more sand. The sand was soft throughout the race. It probably had 15 miles of soft sand. I was constantly looking for the firmest line through the sand.
After the first 3 miles we arrived at our first slot canyon. The first slot canyon was small but a good taste of what was going to come. We dropped down off the wash into the canyon and it felt so great to be in the rocks. It was early and the sun was just rising in the distance. I enjoyed this little tast of a canyon. After about a half mile we turned out of it and the ran along the top of it towards the major wash that led up to Antelope Canyon.After grabbing some fruit from the first aid station we headed up he sandy wash towards Antelope Canyon. The wash tricky as so much of it was soft sand and we were running into a chilly headwind. Finally we came to Antelope Canyon. There I was greeted by Aaron and Kristyan Williams who were taking pictures. Also chatted with some other friends. It was now time to soak in this amazing Canyon. It was as good as advertised. I can see why so many pictures of this canyon flood the Internet. It’s rock structure and shapes and colors are second to none. It is an amazing combination of uniqueness and beauty. The pictures don’t do justice, but here are a few.
We had another gorgeous canyon and some ladders descend on our way back out to the wash. We then headed back to the aid station.
At the aid station I really needed some real food. Fruit and gels were not going to cut it. Luckily the volunteers were cutting up some avocados. I asked for some bread, grabbed a half of an avocado and made an amazing avocado sandwich. I ate it on my way out of the aid station and it was delicious. It was so great to get some fats and carbs into my body. As I left the Antelope Aid station my pace was beginning to slow. I started to experience a tightening of my muscles and hips. The lack of training was starting to take a little toll now that I had done 12 miles. The next three miles I just told myself I could maintain better than 15 minute mile pace.
Throughout the day I kept setting these mini goals to help get me through.
At 15 miles I came off the slick rock and we crossed the road to another section of trail. I was greeted by my amazing crew and lots of hugs. As I was running along the road Kaitlyn and Ella ran up to me to greet me and run to the van together. It was awesome to see my kids there. They were a big help with everything. Little Ella even shared her 100 Grand with me. While here I decided to change out of my Superior 2s into the new prototype Lone Peak 3. I wanted to test the new shoe as well as give my feet a little more protection. It was also nice to dump the sand.As I left I had a bit of a pick me up from seeing my family. That lasted a little bit, until the sand got thick again. For the next two miles I worked to run he flats and downs, but hiked a lot of the ups due to the deep sand. Into the next aid station I downed some cheese quesadillas and Coke. I also filled my water and took off.
This next stretch was going to be my judgement call on whether I went 34 or bailed at 20. If I felt good at the next aid station then I would continue on.
I fully expected to see my family at Horseshoe Bend aid, but no go. They were not there. It was a little disappointing but okay. I understand how that works with four kids so oh well. I did see some other friends. I sat in the shade for a minute, used the ports potty, filled my water and refueled. When I made it to Horseshoe bend I felt strong enough to continue on and do this thing. I’ve done the distance before and know that I can do hard things. Again they had avocados. This time they had made avocado rolls on tortillas. I downed those like candy. The fats were so good.
Time to push on.
Horseshoe bend was awesome. We ran out to the bend then along the rim. It was some amazing views of the Colorado River below.
As hard as the slick rock was to find a groove it was a lot of fun to scramble over rocks, climb up boulders, scramble down through crags and jump off of rocks. This is really my style. I am used to boulder hopping and scrambling across ridges and down scree. So this was not unfamiliar to me.Second horseshoe bend was better. As I approached the Watering Holes aid station I saw our van pull up. That caused my emotions to boil over. I did not expect to see my family here, though I was hopeful when I saw the road. This caused me to get emotional and I did not want to continue on. As I came in and was greeted by my sweet wife asking “what can I get you” I told her I didn’t want to go on. I tried to hold back the tears. I did not want to go any further. This was enough. I expected another slot canyon and had not seen it so forget it. 28 miles was still respectable after no training.
I told Les that if there was no more slot canyons then I’m done. She left me in the chair and came back and told me that there was one more just beyond the gate that we were at. She got my core down by putting ice in my lap and getting me lots of fluid and some Elite Electrolytes. Leslie and the kiddos were a huge help at getting me stuff and giving me moral support. I left with another avocado sandwich and away I went.
Watering Holes canyon was awesome. It was worth continuing on. We had to scramble down about a hundred feet into the canyon and then run up it to the top.
The canyon contained a few ladders to climb and get up from section to section. There were two ladies that were not as big on the slot canyons in there with me. I helped them up a few of the ladder climbs. They were also big Altra fans and we got talking. One of them had her friend take a picture of us together. Pretty fun conversing with great runners.After coming out of Watering Holes we had about a 3 mile sandy road back to Horseshoe Bend aid. I was sore, but knew the finish was not far. I was going to make it before the hard cutoff time. I started to pick up the pace. I made it a mini goal to run every down and flat section. Also, to run he firm up hills. I would only walk the sandy uphill sections. I got into a good groove. My legs were feeling it and the sand took its toll on my feet, but we were going to run this in. The final turn onto the roadside trail was hard because we had just come from a firm downhill to now turning onto a soft sandy single track. I wasn’t going to let this beat me. I pushed on.
I was greeted by my entire family as I finished at Horseshoe bend aid. I came in and shouted my number and told them I was done. I had reached my goal. Another 16 miles wasn’t in the cards today. It wasn’t even in the plan. Were there times I had bought about it? Yes. But that would’ve been super crazy. Today I settled for just crazy.A 55k race on zero training. I proved to myself that I can get out there and do hard things and push through it. I hope that my children can learn from my example on things like this. What a great time. A scenic race. Great friend. An amazing support crew. I can’t thank God enough for what he has created and given me the ability to accomplish.