Race Review-2022 Antelope Canyon 50 Miler
2022 Antelope Canyon 50 Mile Ultra
That is how I would describe not just the views on the Antelope Canyon Ultra but also the challenging terrain we traversed throughout 51 miles. And yes, this was a 50-mile ultramarathon that was actually 51 miles! (Thankfully, we knew about this extra mile well before we even crossed the start line as it was denoted in the athlete’s race guide and the race website.)
There were 3 variables that made this course uber challenging for me:
The first variable was that there were a lot of crazy steep climbs and descents to make. You had to really concentrate and strategize where you were going to place your feet and or hands to have the most traction. For the really steep climbs, I would go up on all fours and then I would cautiously go down on my butt. I counted 5 of these “Pope Climbs” because once I made them up or down, I felt like the Pope and I just wanted to kiss the ground that I made it! The start of the race should have been a sign for how tough the rest of the course was going to be. We were probably ¾ of a mile into the race and we had to climb a steep mound that didn’t have many ledges to find traction. I climbed up on all fours praying with each step forward that I would not fall backwards. To put it into perspective, this would course would be a black diamond ski run while the McDowell Mountain Frenzy 50 miler would be a Blue ski run and the Chicago Lakefront 50 Miler would be a “light” Green ski run!
The second variable that added to the challenge, was that there was a whole lot of sand to trek through. I would say about 65% of the terrain was on sand. The first time through the sandy sections was not that bad but since we back tracked on some of the course in the last 25 miles, we got to revisit a lot of the sand and it was more chopped up the second time through and thus tougher to plow through. There were a lot of bad a&& runners that did not use hiking poles. I am still in awe!!! I on the other hand used them from about mile 10 on. I would not have been able to keep moving if I was pole-less. I knew that there was going to be sand on the course from the race guide and website, but I had no idea it was such a high percentage of the race until I did the race. For those of you looking at doing Marathon de Sables, I think this would be a great training run/race as your legs and mind get a lot of practice going through sand.
The third variable that made the race challenging to me, which is essentially par for the course, is navigating. I have done over 300 road races and maybe 20 trail races, so I am still a work in process when it comes to not getting lost. Throughout the course we had pink shimmery ribbons as course markers and I swear every time I saw one or one of my running mates spotted one before me, I wanted to yell “B-I-N-G-0!” and internally let out a little exhaleeee. I did run the Zion 100K last spring and I got lost about five times with my running mate, Melissa (trail angel) So I have to say that I think there were a lot more course markers on this course compared to Zion or they were just easier to spot. I did have the .gpx file downloaded to my COROS watch but it kept notifying me I was off course even when I was literally passing a course marker, so I just used to it log my race. Unlike most marathons, you have a lot of other runners to follow but in ultras there are less runners and in site because they are spread out across more terrain than 26.2. GRATEFULLY, I had two trail angels named Shari and Don that helped me stay on track. Three brains were definitely better than one especially the later into the night it got.
This 50-miler was the first trail race for Don and Shari. Can you say bad a&&?! I had mentioned this race to them and our friend Sean back in the fall. I mentioned, “It will be a beautiful course and will challenge you more than a 50K as you already know you can do that!” Boy Oh Boy, I thought they were going to de-friend me when I saw them. I ran into them at the Waterholes aid station. I was so excited to see them. I had been thinking of them and Sean the whole day wondering how they were doing. The bad thing about this race was that we didn’t know ahead of time how tough it was going to be but the good thing about this race was it reminded us how tough we are!
There was one point in the race in which we were going through these sweet, red rock slot canyons. It was like an added bonus! All of sudden though, we came across a water crossing that would have been no big deal to walk through but we didn’t have time to change our shoes and socks at the upcoming Horseshoe aid station so that meant we would be in wet shoes and socks throughout the night. To our surprise there were two more of these water crossings. Luckily, Don, who has served in the Air Force, helped us navigate over the water crossing like spiderman.
Later in the night, when we were trekking on Page Rim, the stars above were aplenty and beautiful. Every now and then I would take a peak and look up as we don’t get a stary sky like that in Chicago. While we were doing our 1 loop on the rim, the 100-milers had to run it six times. They would alternate the direction they went every other loop, so we got to see a lot of them. I am still in AWE of them as I could not imagine going another 49 more miles.
One of the many cool things about the race is that we get to run through the Upper Antelope Canyon after the first 10K. I had toured there the day before and I do recommend signing up for the tours as soon as you register for the race as the tours sell out. Also, when we ran through the Upper Antelope Canyon during the race it was earlier in the morning, so the lighting wasn’t that great for pictures. I also recommend the Lower Canyon tour too. We did that the day after the race.
Another cool thing about the race was trekking along Horseshoe Bend. Not much of it was runnable for me, that’s why I mention trekking. The pictures I took do not do it justice. We traversed along side it for at least 2 hours. Since I don’t like to look at my watch a lot during ultras, I am not sure how long we had the chin dropping view of it and the Colorado river on our right.
Even though we didn’t make the 15-hour cutoff, I am still very proud of this race. I have had 3 ultra DNFYs (Did Not Finish Yet) since last April because my feet get very angry. I normally have to stop because my 4th and 5th toes on each foot get ripped up and blistered because my feet get too warm no matter what shoes and or socks I use. Even with changing out my shoes and socks, cleaning off the old trail toes/desistin and reapplying new trail toes/Desitin I would get angry feet. Well, FINALLY, I was able to get 17 hours under my fuel belt with only one blister because I taped up my 4th and 5th toes on each foot with a soft tape (THANK YOU DAVID SMITH) and put 2Toms Blister Shield in my socks (THANK YOU TEN JUNK MILES!) and trail toes everywhere else on my feet. This was a huge win for me as in those past 3 DNFYs, my feet gave out before my stomach and my mind.
I would definitely recommend this race as long as you are comfortable with running in (a lot of ) sand and climbing and descending crazy walls of rock/slate. The volunteers were super supportive, the aid station food was the bomb, the scenery stops you in your tracks. The race also provides free race photos and does a really good job of communicating with athletes leading up to the race. I will be back for a shorter distance next year (13.1 or 50K). A heads-up though, in that the cutoff for the 50-miler is 15 hours. I mistakenly thought this would be enough time for me.
Hope to see you all there next year!