I signed up for this race a few weeks after my Zion 100K race in April, 2018. I had a great experience at that race and wanted to get back to the desert for an even longer race in 2019. My parents have owned a houseboat at Lake Powell since I was a little kid and I spent a lot of family vacations there. Lake Powell has always been one of my favorite places to visit. There’s something about the wide open desert, the sandstone, and the water that just make the place magical.
The Antelope Canyon Ultra provided me the perfect place to get back into the desert and even though I now live in Idaho, give me something that felt like “home” terrain. Plus, having an early March race, meant I’d be motivated to keep running all winter long and I kept telling myself that running in snow conditions in Idaho would translate well to the sandy conditions of Page, Arizona where the race was located.
I found a couple of friends that were going to be running the race as well and we came up with the nickname “Antelope Canyon Heaven/Hell” four our little group message thread. We didn’t really know how spot on that nickname would be.
My wife puts up with a ton to let me go on crazy adventures. I can’t thank her enough for the support she gives. I also had a bunch of help from my mom, who watched our two youngest for several days and my dad who brought my 13 year old son down to Page. He did some crewing, but also made it so my son could pace me for a 10 mile loop around Page on Saturday evening and the last mile plus on Sunday morning. Plus my brother-in-law ran the 50 miler, which meant we got to drive his fancy Jeep Cherokee down instead of my truck.
Hoka Torrent Shoes
Raidlight Desert Gaiters
Injinji Toe socks
Squirrel’s Nut Butter
Under Armor Compression Shorts
Lightweight Longsleeve running shirt
Ultimate Direction Running Pack
Suunto Ambit 3 Peak
2 500ml soft flasks (one with tailwind/one with water)
Lots of Huma Gels, Spring Energy Gels, Simply Fit Granola Bars, Access Bars
In Drop Back-Salomon Road Shoes; Charger for phone and watch, Trekking Poles, extra socks, buffs, sweater, band-aids, food, etc.
We arrived at the start line at about 5:15 am. My brother in law was starting the 50 miler at 5:45 am and was in a bit of a rush, he ended up near the back of the line of 350+ people running that race. I ended up near the front of the 115 people running the 100 miler which was to start at 6:00 am. It was around 40 degrees, no wind, so perfect running conditions. Before the 50 milers started a Navajo prayer was said to bless us on our way. It was a great addition to the experience.
I looked around for the 2 friends I was planning to run with, but didn’t see them. After a countdown, the 50 milers headed out. There was about ½ a mile before the first bottleneck where the route climbed up some sandstone. We could see their headlamps making a very solid, very slow-moving line up the hill. A few minutes before go time I saw a message that my friends were parking and would be there soon. When they said go, I went with the crowd, hoping to run into my friends sometime later. Within about a ¼ of a mile we were already caught up to the back end of the 50 milers. For the next bit, I spent very little time on the actual trail. Those of us in the front of the 100 miler pack spent some time jumping sage brush, scrambling on rock next to the trail, and passing a huge chunk of the 350 people that started 10-15 minutes before us.
Because I had passed so many people on that little hill, the rest of the race was pretty spread out and while I continued passing 50 milers (and later 55k-ers) all day long, it didn’t create any more issues.
The next few hours were awesome. There was a lot of sand, but my shoes and desert gaiters kept it all out. I spent a lot of time running in snow over the winter and it paid off. The views were amazing, the temperature was perfect. I spent stints running with several different people. Basically it was heaven.
I got into the first Aid Station feeling great and running light and easy. The sand wasn't giving me any problems and I was having so much fun. We ran up a sand wash several miles to Upper Antelope Canyon.
Antelope Canyon was awesome. I didn’t spend a lot of time there (and I did need my headlamp to avoid whacking my head), but I loved it.
We crossed miles and miles of sandy trails before we got to the Horseshoe Bend Aid Station. I was 10 minutes ahead of what I had charted out to be my “fastest” possible pace and about 1 hour ahead of my “expected” pace at about 20 miles into the race. Everything felt good and I had no complaints or issues to address. My dad and son were planning to meet up with me at Horseshoe Bend, but between my being way ahead of pace and them having waited for 20 minutes at the shuttle, with no sign of one getting them to the aid station anytime soon it didn’t happen.
The next 10 miles switched from loose sand to mostly hard, uneven sandstone. This section was beautiful, but also a bit frustrating. It was hard to get into any kind of rhythm with the constant ups and downs and the poor footing. I thought my knees might start hurting, but somehow they never did. Because of my slower pace, I didn’t have any water left for the last two miles. It also felt really hot out there, even though it was only in the low 50s (which coming from Idaho is warmer weather than I have run in for months). I spent a few extra minutes at Waterholes aid station. Dumped a full liter of water on my head, soaked my buff, drank a half a can of coke from the aid station and then dropped down into Waterholes Slot Canyon.
After I got out of the canyon, I pulled my phone out to send a text to my dad to see if they’d be there for the next time through Horseshoe Bend Aid station. But this time, the Jeep had broken down. I gave the a call to figure it out and walked for a big. The water pump had gone out, and they’d had some trouble finding any place open in Page on a Saturday afternoon. At that point they weren’t sure if they would be able to get it fixed that day and were just waiting on a tow truck. We were hoping that somewhere in town had the parts needed on a Saturday afternoon or it could be Monday before it was figured out. Not much I could do but run on. I was still hoping that I would be able to run with my son, since we had about an hour and a half before he was supposed to meet up with me at the Page Rim aid station.
The next bit was a hot slog back across 10 miles or so of sand. By the time I got to Page Rim I was no longer ahead of my “fastest” pace, but was still feeling pretty good considering I’d covered 30ish miles of sand and 10ish miles of unpleasant sandstone. By this time they’d found a repair place for the car and while it wasn’t finished yet, we were lucky that they had all of the parts in stock. I told them it would take me about 2 and a half hours to finish that first loop, so there would still be time for my son to run the second loop with me before dark.
The first loop was not bad. The views were still great and even though it was close to town and it was relatively easy compared to the rest of the course, it was still mostly legitimate trail. I made it around the loop within a few minutes of what I’d told my dad and they were waiting for me. The next loop we kept a similar pace, running for a mile here and there and walking for anything that resembled uphill. For both of these two loops my stomach was a bit queasy, but I kept forcing myself to eat small things here and there because I had a long way to go. Lots of runners commented on what a great pacer I had, which was true.
With about 3 miles left of the loop we passed my brother-in-law going the other direction, he was on pace, but barely to finish his 50 mile race within the cutoff. That was a fun loop that went by quickly. We finished just before dark and didn’t even need to pull out my spare headlamp for him. After that loop, I said I thought I would finish between 6am and 7am, but would let them know if it changed, so that they could go back to the hotel and sleep after my brother in law finished.
The next two loops around Page felt pretty fast. When I was running I was still managing a 10-11 minute per mile pace and while power hiking I was still hitting a 14-15 minute per mile pace. Once the sun went down and it cooled off, it felt a lot more like running in the cold Idaho weather and I really started to believe that I could finish in under 24 hours if I just kept at it. With the cooler weather my stomach calmed down too and I didn’t have to worry about that anymore.
In the rush things started to go wrong and the choices I made weren’t the best. I kicked a rock hard, which hurt my big toe and sprawled me out on the ground, both hands were bleeding, my knees got cut up, and almost instantly it felt like my toenail had separated from my toe. I had a spare pair of shoes and socks in my drop bag, but decided to just deal with the pain. I was afraid that if I changed my shoes, my toenail might come all the way off with my sock and I figured with the toe socks I had, at least they would hold it in place. I also had a sweater in my drop bag and warmer gloves, but I left them thinking I’d overheat. Instead, my last two laps slowed down enough that I started to get cold and every time I wasn’t walking hard, I would start shivering and get a bit wobbly.
For the last two laps, I put in my headphones and just decided to grit it out to the end. One of my friends said he saw me go by (and didn’t notice him) and said that I was an “angry runner.” Which for the first 80 miles I was a happy runner, but yes the last 20, I probably was an angry runner. Every time I’d check my watch thinking that I’d gone at least a mile, I’d see only .1 done. I also noticed that my “power walk pace” even though it felt just as fast was now around 18-20 minutes per mile instead of 13-14. Any running hurt my toe and blisters on the bottoms of my feet bad enough that I’d get dizzy.
Finally, right at sunrise I got back to the last aid station and had about a mile to go to the finish. My son met up with me there and after a full can of coke and filled water bottles, we made the slow trek through the sand to the finish. With about 50 yards left, we realized that if we ran, I’d finish in under 25 hours and 15 minutes. So we ran the last little bit and actually finished before my dad made it from the last aid station down to the finish in the car.
Later I found out that I finished 10th overall (out of 115 that started) and 1st in my 40-44 Age Group. It wasn’t the sub-24 hour finish I was hoping for, but now I guess I have to keep running 100 milers until I get there.
Reading reports from other runners on the course, it seems that it was basically just as brutal for almost everyone out there. To get an idea of how difficult the course is, even with perfect running weather conditions, only around 6,600 feet of elevation gain, and the 60 miles of the “Page Rim Loop Trail” being very runnable, only 47 of the 115 that started finished in the 30 hour cutoff.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. It was beautiful, brutal, challenging and epic! A race that packs so much Heaven and so much Hell into one day (or one day and a few hours) is what I love about Ultra Running!!!