One of the most significant draws for me running trails and ultra distances are the incredible vistas that I get to view along the way to my destinations. As soon as I saw pictures of the terrain for the Antelope Canyon ultra race I knew that I wanted to do it. Typically when I run in these stunning remote locations I feel a strong connection to the land and to those that traveled these same sections of country many years ago and I was very excited to see and experience this truly amazing place. The two highlights of the course are Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, two of the most photographed land features in the world, but there were so many other incredible things to see on this course along the way.
I knew from previous race reports and my research that there was going to be a lot of sand on the course and the race director, Matt Gunn confirmed that by letting us know we should expect about 30 miles of it. I don’t have a lot of experience running in sand, so I really didn’t have any expectations for a finish time. I just wanted to feel great the entire 50 miles, put in a solid effort and have a fantastic time. I feel like I accomplished all three of those goals.
The first 5 or so miles I ran in a pack with several friends. To take my mind off of the sand I tired to loosen things up with some jokes and the mood was quite jovial in our little group. Before we hit the first aid stop we entered the first slot canyon of the day just as the sun was rising. Craig got ahead of us in the canyon and I wouldn’t see him again until the finish. The views in the slot were sweet and really got me excited for what was to come the rest of the day. The end of the slot canyon opened up into a large wash where we stopped at the first aid station for only a few seconds to drop headlamps and a few items. Running out into the wash I was now with Jennilyn Eaton and Steve Frogley. It seemed like the 3 or so miles to Antelope Canyon in the wash were some of the toughest of the day with the deep sand. It was very difficult to get into any sort of running groove, but we laughed a lot and were having a great time.
We entered Antelope Canyon together and immediately I had a surge of adrenaline rush through my body as I ran between those hallowed walls. I let out a primal scream. These are the moments that I run for. There is emotion, there is mental clarity, there is joy, there is power. It is raw energy that I experience from time to time, typically when the views or terrain are beyond words to describe.
The run through the canyon was quick and we popped out into the light and there was our good friend, Matt Van Horn capturing the race on video. We had another trip through a smaller canyon and then back to the wash for another 3 miles of sand. I was still with Jennilyn and Steve. We were singing, chatting laughing and having a great time even though we were going back through the sand. The next several miles were challenging as we tried to find a good running rhythm, but the company was fantastic and for me it felt like a fun adventure run with good friends. As beautiful as the course is the sand makes it a mental mind screw and it is definitely tough to get into a running groove, but I liked the challenge of it all and the views made it all worth it.
Horseshoe Bend was the next jaw dropping point of the course. The views here are just stunning and once again I felt chills run through me and felt so grateful that my body is capable of taking me to these incredible places. We ran along the bend on slick rock and then hit another view of the Colorado that was mind blowing. It was just as good as Horseshoe and we were now traveling through country that rarely sees human feet. I took some time to contemplate the majesty of it all and at times it took my breath away. I got emotional again and felt a tremendous amount of gratitude and joy for being able to be there.
Jennilyn dropped us before the Waterholes aid station and from there Steve and I stayed together for most of the remaining miles.
As good as Antelope Canyon was, for me Waterholes was even better because it was now in the middle of the day and the canyon was lit up showing off her sheer walls of sandstone art. We slowed down. We stopped. We took pictures with big smiles from ear to ear. This canyon alone made it all worth it. The beauty was unexpected and we were not in a huge hurry to get through.
After we exited the canyon we got into a running groove in the heavy sand and made pretty good time back to the the Horseshoe Bend aid station, both feeling great. The next few hours for me were just enjoyable. Steve and I are old friends and we spent the time catching up with each other, telling stories and laughing. We weren’t taking it slow, but we just enjoyed the moment and to me it felt a lot like an adventure run with a great friend.
When we hit the Page Rim aid station Matt Williams jumped in to run the final 10 mile section with us. I had been looking forward to this section all day because there wasn’t as much sand and now we could get into a good groove. My legs felt relatively fresh, so we ran at a decent clip most of the loop. The views of Lake Powell and Glen Canyon dam were very good and again we saw Matt Van Horn with his drone getting some spectacular video. With a few miles to go my legs felt fantastic and I had a burst of energy, so I pushed a pretty good pace into the finish. As I rounded the corner to the finish chute I was again hit with a wave of adrenaline and emotion. As tough as the course was I had an incredible day. I felt fantastic the entire 50 miles and I was able to finish strong.
This is a challenging course, but one of the reasons I run ultras is to challenge my body and mind and it was the perfect stage for that. The views we encountered were so good that it is hard to describe. Many runners talk about getting a runners high. For me it is like a spiritual experience when emotion, joy and adrenaline collide and I was able to experience that many times over the 50 mile course making this race one I will always remember.