….and My Story Runs On….
Where do I even begin? It’s only been about 40 hours since I crossed the finish line and I’m still on Cloud 9. I’ve decided to write a race report about the Antelope Canyon race today. My goal is to write something about my race over the next 50 days. It will be short and sweet but too much to put into one blog right now!
I came to Page feeling pretty darn ready. I trained in sand, worked on my nutrition and felt like I trained enough miles to prepare me for the race. I was maybe a wee bit nervous but felt confident. My friend Elaine was running with me and she had done a 50 miler already last year. For this blog, I’m going to try and stick to the course itself….Watching this fly over video now makes much more sense to me now that I’ve done the course!
Miles 1- 7
After the amazing Navajo prayer/blessing (again, a separate blog post), we left at 6 am. It was uphill in the sand so we started walking right away. It was bit of a bottle neck but no one around us was in a great hurry. My first obstacle appeared in the first mile…already time to start climbing over a small cliff….I channeled my inner Spiderwoman and went over it on all fours. Everyone was supportive as we had to do this 1-2 people at a time. Unless stated otherwise, know that it’s true that about 40 miles of this race is all sand! Saying this now because I wasn’t sure I believed it but it’s true! Watched the sunrise and ran into the first slot Canyon around mile 4 (honestly didn’t realize this was actually one of the slotted canyons…not sure why because we were counting them knowing there were 3 but didn’t include this one in our count for some reason)…more sand…went by the first aid station and started running into people that were coming back at us from the out and back up to one of the most photographed slot canyons in the world, Upper Antelope Canyon.
This was absolutely breathtaking and undescribable! It was surreal and I wished it would’ve lasted longer but we wanted to make sure to stay on top of the aid station cut offs. We popped out on the other side. We found our first downhill ladder/s (I was worried about these but they were no problem! Can’t remember if it was 1 or 2 now…) More sand.…traced our steps back and stopped at the 11.5 mile aid station for first removal of sand out of shoes (even though I had my gaiters on, they really didn’t help…sand got in the shoes from all angles..I guess it might’ve been worse if I didn’t have them?)
Mile 11.5- 20.5
More sand…some “easy” up and downhills…run as much as we could but walked quite a bit too to conserve energy. We knew we would be running this part of the course again from the other direction so we took note of the elevation profile. The uphills were going to be great on the way back but we knew some of those downhills were not going to be as fun coming back later. Stopped at the Horseshoe Bend aid station at mile 20.5 to meet our crew for the first time (Elaine’s husband, Brad and my boyfriend, Greg). We sat for a few minutes, emptied out more sand from our shoes and were ready to tackle the next section.
Mile 20.5-28.5 I’m honestly still not sure if the sand was worse than the next section for me. Don’t get me wrong, the views of Horseshoe Bend and the canyon were amazing but this was the part I felt the least prepared for. Not sure if I didn’t pick up on this when reading previous race reports. First of all, it was about 8 miles of rocky cliffs. My upper body hurts me more today than my legs (might be an exaggeration but not much!). We did a lot of climbing and didn’t train for this. I kept saying I was channeling my inner Spiderman as I was on all fours going up AND down these. Second of all, one of my biggest fears is heights. I knew I would be challenged with this during this race but didn’t realize how bad until I was there. There were at least 3 times that I said to Elaine “That’s it…I’m not doing it…turning around right now.” I mean we were maybe 5-6 feet away from the canyon drop off on some of these! But like the great friend, mentor and training partner she is, she pushed me and kept telling me I could do it. She would be like “put your right foot here, look the other way, put your right hand, you will be fine.” And so I did. This part was during the middle of the day and it was hard for us to get into a running groove because of all the climbing in between. I started getting worried as our cut off at the next aid station was 2:40pm and we were getting close. It was disheartening because we’d see a cliff to climb and hope that we could see where we were but we would climb over the cliff and everything looked exactly the same. I had to laugh out loud several times it was that funny (yet frustrating!) We finally saw the road and knew we couldn’t be that far. We got to that Waterholes aid station (28.5 miles) and had to hurry as we were about 5 minutes within the cutoff.
We left this aid station and get ready to go into another one of the sacred canyons, Waterholes. First thing I see are some caution signs and a tight bend. I could not see around the bend and my heart was in my throat. Another place I told Elaine, “I’m turning around, I can’t do this.” Again, she led the way and waited for me as I scooted down the canyon cliffs on my butt, too afraid to even stand up and possibly fall. My TomTom died at this point and I was waiting to hit the 32 mile mark as that would’ve been my longest run to date. This canyon was also beautiful and was a bit cooler which was a nice break from the sun. Then we ran into the other dreaded ladders that I had seen in previous race reports. Ugh…climbing on a ladder which appeared steady but still required a little extra push to get up and over. A nice guy was there and he helped us both get up and over a few of them (we later found out he is the co-founder of Altra shoes but that will also be another blog post!). The next several miles was another rough spot of us…more sand …we knew Elaine’s GPS might’ve been a little off as she lost some service in and out of canyons. This was the most stressful part of the race for me as we had a hard cutoff at the next aid station of 4:10pm. I kept thinking, there is no way we can do this…we were on a long road and couldn’t see ahead again and could not get a visual of where the aid station was. We started running faster and more frequently and finally saw the Horseshoe bend trail head (aid station was right in front of it so it was our land mark). We cut it so close that this was the first time I almost cried. It was mile 33.5 and I kept thinking, that’s only 2 more miles than my 50K…I can’t get cutoff here! We got there at about 4:03…I sat down, emptied out the sand again, and had my crew take care of my water pack and snacks. (This is where I was supposed to get my birthday cake which was one of the ways Elaine “convinced” me to do this race ..but never saw it or cared at that point!) We left while they said, ” we are sending out the sweeper in 6 minutes.” And then uphill in more sand we went.
We kept looking behind us to make sure we were well ahead of the sweeper. We talked about how grateful we were that we had each other through this journey (not sure I would ever do a 50 miler by myself…was amazing at how many people were solo) and that we both helped notice the markers to stay on track (this was another fear of mine as I kept hearing and reading that many people got lost on this race before)…..until Elaine said, “I haven’t seen a marker in awhile and we are supposed to be heading towards Page.” Panic moment! We had to get to the next aid station for a soft 5pm cutoff but more importantly to the one following that by 5:50pm. I kept going forward while she turned around…then I heard her yelling it me and I ran back towards her. Needless to say, we missed a left a turn and I literally got in front of the sweeper by maybe a few hundred feet….I started sliding downhill on the cliffs again and yelled at the sweeper “don’t mind me but I’m trying to get as far as away from you as possible!”. Elaine was walking ahead but it was a nice downhill so I caught up to her. We hit the Slick Rock Aid station at 36.5 miles at about 5:15pm and had to get to the next one which was at 38.5 miles by 5:50. We jammed out there feeling good about making it with no problem. We were told only 1.5 more miles of sand and that was it…FINALLY! I can’t tell you how many times I had to laugh out loud at the ridiculous amount of sand.
Mile 38.5- 42.8
We made it to the Page Rim Aid Station (Mile 38.5). Nothing like having to climb over several more rocks to get up there and then finding out I would have to go down that for my last mile! It was 5:40 so had a few minutes to empty out the socks and shoes with sand again. Elaine and I had discussed that at this point, she may move forward as I was going to have two friends pace me from here. Vicki paced me for 4 miles but was familiar with the course as it was the same one she had done in the morning (she did the half marathon). My headlamp wasn’t as bright as normal and it was dusk. We reached the 42.5 mile aid station, where Lori stepped in (she also knew the course as she did the half that morning as well).
My nutritionist (another blog post!) told me my last aid station could be a free for all as I was close to the end so I had a Coke, bacon and quesadilla with Nutella. Lori and I took off to finish it up (Greg replaced the batteries in my headlamp which really helped). My next cutoff was the end of the race, 15 hours, 9pm. I figured I’d make it and Lori warned me to run as much as the runnable parts as possible as there were some uphills that I would more likely be walking. We went with that strategy and there were times that I didn’t feel like I was moving when running but she guaranteed me that I was. We reached the 49.5 aid station where the guys said “you have 10 minutes until 9pm). Crap! So I scurried out of there assuming I probably wasn’t going to make it….there was the downhill I had to do at night time (getting down on my butt again and all fours) and then lo and behold, the last bit was a bunch of sand again! NOOOOOO! I was so done with sand! I could hear my friend Susan, who noticed our headlamps, yelling at us to hurry…I was kind of annoyed until I could hear her saying that I had a minute to go….It was the most dramatic finish I ever had! (another blog post!) I literally ran through the finish line at 14:59:49.7! I was officially the last person in the race or DFL as is said in the ultra world: Dead Fucking Last…and you know what? that was my proudest moment in my running journey so far! I don’t care that I was last because I trained and finished! And after cutting it so close with some of the other cut offs, I was as proud of myself as I could ever be. The crowd was cheering for me as I was cutting it so close! I was greeted with my medal, celebratory beer, Navajo Taco, my tiara and birthday cupcake and my amazing friends and boyfriend.
There are so many more things I want to share and I’ve decided to write a quick blog post every day for 50 days. Hoping to keep it to a paragraph or quick video but I learned so many cool things while on this journey that I want to share it all. I hoped to keep a weekly blog about my training journey and that didn’t go well so hopefully I can keep this!
From My Running Story to Yours….
(if you feel inspired to share your comments, do so below…I want to hear your story too!)