described as one of the most amazing places on Earth - Antelope Canyon.
The Antelope Canyon 50 (they have a 50k and 50 miler) is based out of Page, Arizona. Even the drive to get here is like something from a postcard. I was excited to experience the scenery of the race, and was equally excited to spend 50 miles with some of my best friends: this is Clair, Catherine, Jill, and myself a minute before we started running.
We ran a bunch of miles in the dark waiting for the sun to come up. There were some ominous clouds on the horizon. And then the last thing you'd expect in Arizona....happened. Those ominous clouds turned to snow! As we were running down a ravine of sand, tour groups started driving by on their way to Antelope Canyon. We joked that it was like being in an animal cage at the zoo as everyone goes by looking at you. Notice that pounding snow too:
We soon reached the opening to Antelope Canyon. Certainly reason to celebrate because it is a rare opportunity to experience these slot canyons.
When we got there it was still pretty dark inside. This is the first opening when you get inside the canyon. Out of all the views inside the slot, this is my favorite place:
The actual Antelope Canyon is short, less than half a mile. I thought this would be the highlight of the route but there were even better views to come. Following Antelope Canyon there were more slots we got to run through:
In order to get to Antelope Canyon earlier in the race, we had to descend a huge ladder to get to the canyon floor below. After the canyon we looped around and went back up that same ladder. You can see how high the climb is, but notice Catherine toward the top of the hill. Our quads were on fire after getting to the top of that puppy.
By this point around mile 16 Catherine's knee was getting unhappy but Jill was feeling great so we told her to go on up ahead. Catherine, Clair, and I pressed on and then out in the middle of nowhere we saw this toilet plunger on the side of the trail. When Clair popped that thing on his head I suddenly admired and respected him even more. Now that's funny.
It was precisely after finding this plunger that we realized something bad had happened.........we were lost. We were able to find our way back but ended up getting lost a total of six times. Sometimes it would take a group of 6-7 other runners gathered up with us trying to figure out where to go next and we accumulated some bonus miles to add to the 50 mile course. Course marking is an area where the race could be improved. I was happy that at least I was able to catch this shot during one of our detours.
The next incredible location we hit was Horseshoe Bend. I have wanted to see this all my life, and to actually experience the views here on the trail, it was simply spectacular.
The cool thing is that we were on a side trail experiencing views that people never see when they just stop at the scenic turnoff on the side of the road. It was so incredible that I didn't want to leave.
Out of the couple hundred pictures I took, this is one of my favorites:
Let me give you a little more info about the race. There are tons, and tons, and TONS of sand. Not the kind of happy sand you'd find walking on the beach. It is thick, relentless, energy-sucking sand. Like in the movie Neverending Story when the horse stands on sand and get sucks down to its death. We decided that SAND deserved to be added to the list of 4-letter swear words. We started saying things like "Holy sand!" or "Hmmm, this blister feels like it's getting pretty sand big." (It's true, I did get a pretty sand big blister from all that sand sand.) We were so sand happy when we'd get to a section of slick rock and get a break from that sand.
Let me give this report a disclaimer: there are about four incredible once-in-a-lifetime locations on the course (that's all the pictures you're seeing). But to connect to each of those places requires some long, unremarkable routes through that deep sand. So in actuality, much more of the course is long double track trails of sand than it is slot canyons and rim views. This is a typical view of those miles:
I laughed when we saw this writing on a marking flag.....that happened to be stuck into a pile of cow poo:
The next 10ish miles were quite slow because we were doing a lot of route-finding, getting to one flag and then spending some time trying to locate the next flag. Every once in a while the trail would take us again to the edge of an amazing viewpoint.
Eventually we arrived at my favorite part of the whole course: Waterholes Canyon. It was similar to Antelope Canyon minus the tourists. To grasp the size of this area, look at Clair surrounded by the enormous slot canyon:
I just could not believe that scenery like this could be experienced in the middle of a race. All those miles through Neverending Story sand was worth it. I was in heaven.
Every time I'd try to put my camera away I'd have to pull it right out again to catch a shot of what was around every corner.
I am scared of heights. No, let me rephrase that. I am terrified of heights. So when you're having nightmares about ax murderers or clowns or an eternity of Kenny G music, I am having nightmares about ladders. When I arrived at this particular spot I wondered to myself if the finish line of a 50 miler was worth trying to go up this ladder. Which. Is. Propped. Up. On. Rocks. I gave myself a little pep talk saying something like "Sand it Cory! Get your act together, stop whimpering like a baby, and get up that sand ladder!" For me, getting to the top of this thing was as much an accomplishment as running the 50 miles.
We got to the next aid station and I was welcomed by my good friend Rick who had been working the aid station all day. He knows my affinity for sugar and made me a special treat....grilled Nutella taquitos! Those were honestly the best thing I've ever eaten at an aid station. Pure bliss. Thanks Rick!!!!
Unfortunately by this time Clair's body was done. His feet weren't cooperating and he knew that with darkness coming fast he wouldn't be able to keep going for another 11 miles so I he took the 50k route back to the finish. I admire and look up to that man, I was sad to see him go.
So Catherine and I pressed on. Until we got lost. After a bit we found our way again and then out of nowhere guess who came running up behind........Jill! She had gotten lost after she left us earlier in the day and added another 9 miles to her race. I was so happy to see her, and I know she was ecstatic to see us after being alone for a few hours.
This was Jill's first ultramarathon. We talked about how she had heard that in ultras you experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. With about six miles left it was cold and dark and we kept getting lost and she was hungry and frustrated and wanted to quit. She broke down and sobbed. She had reached the lowest of lows. I felt for her because I know that feeling well. But I knew that if she keep going, that low would pass. I knew it would. I gave her a hug and told her that we would help each get to the finish line.
We got to the last aid station and she got something to eat and drink and immediately felt better. She became a new person. I knew that because she had experienced the lowest of lows, that finish line would be even sweeter, an even more incredible accomplishment.
As we neared the finish line I was caught up in how thankful I felt to have the experiences I had throughout the day. I was so thankful to spend time with all these amazing people. I was proud of what we had accomplished as a team. It was a great moment for all of us.
The course marking is an issue, but that's something that can easily be fixed. The long slogs through sand were tough. But it was worth it for those spectacular once-in-a-lifetime views. The Antelope Canyon 50 had the most amazing scenery I've ever seen during a race.
At the finish line we were given a medallion that a Navajo artist had made. Out of all the races I've run, I've never been given something like this. It was an amazing day of snow, sand, slot canyons, and seriously awesome runners. (And a toilet plunger on the side of the trail.)