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Antelope Canyon 50 Mile Race Report

The day before the race wasn't filled with the usual pre-race nerves. Instead it was filled with multiple hikes with friends, random ice cream trips, and assisting the race director anyway I could. Then I settled down with navajo tacos beside a campfire beside the start/finish area.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="960"] pre-race running along Horsehoe Bend rim with Pete S. PC: Nico Barraza[/caption]

I felt like my goal time range for the race was well within reason, but when I heard at the race preview that there were 30 miles of sand (not the 20 I expected) and that the sand would be much softer/deeper than usual because of a lack of precipitation this winter, I was curious how the day would go down.

When I awoke at 5am I felt like I had plenty of time to dig through my bags, find my things, pack some drop bags, and get all ready. But after I broke my hydration bladder, found a bladder to borrow, dug out the items for my drop bags.... suddenly it was 5:50am and I still didn't have on my shoes or gaitors, my drop bags were in a disarray, I didn't know where my bib number was, I hadn't filled up my running vest.... So when I say I wouldn't have made it to the starting line without the patient help of Ben Light and Cherri Marcinko, I mean it! I jogged up to the starting line, items for my vest in hand when Matt Gunn yelled "Go!" So, carrying my items and trying to fall into step near someone with a headlamp as we scaled the slick rock, I tried to pack my vest while running. I should have been more organized!

The pace on the initial 10 miles wasn't an issue, but I was struggling with the effort required to move in such deep sand. I couldn't catch a rhythm. The first 15 miles of the course had such a deep, unrelenting sand and I struggled to move through it. I tried my best to cling to good friends Steve Frogley's and Scott Wesemann's pace, and gave more effort than I should have that early in a race to continue to enjoy their camaraderie. Thoughts:

  1. Sand IS a four-letter word

  2. The sand is always firmer on the other side.

  3. There's no other side.

    [caption id="attachment_642" align="alignnone" width="2500"]seriously, how could I not try to stick with these fun kids! PC: Matt Williams seriously, how could I not try to stick with these fun kids! PC: Matt Williams[/caption]

The downside of pushing a little harder than I should have is my 20-something bonk was lower and longer than usual. I was grouchy, exhausted, and frustrated. I walked a lot while I struggled mentally, grateful I had spent a couple hours enjoying the view of Horseshoe Bend in a better mood the day before. When I hit the 25 mile mark near the 5 hour range, I felt deflated. My "A" goal of sub-9 hours was definitely gone, and now the "B" goal of sub 9:30 slipped over to impossible. If this was a benchmark running test for spring fitness, I was failing.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="720"] Horseshoe Bend. PC: Kendall Wimmer[/caption]

I made a list (I like lists.) I remembered my primary goals were to push MY hardest, disregarding time. I also remembered all the things that drew me to this race--I'm not one for races but the Grand Circle Series races are more like fun adventure runs in astounding scenery than races. I tried to flip my mindset.

At mile 28 I managed a VFuel chased by applesauce (my new go-to calorie source) followed by essential oils and a new trick- spearmint gum. I turned some music on and smiled. So maybe I super suck at running in sand. Maybe my goals are too lofty. I may as well enjoy the day! I sung along to Lord Huron on repeat, rolling the lyrics over and over....

"I couldn't get tired, although I should have been sleeping.
For the first time I wasn't hard of feeling.
And at night, while the others were dreaming, we went wild.
We'd go running through the temples and the forests of the isle.
For thirteen of those sleepless nights I thought I'd never die.
I don't know what it was that gave us so much life."

Dropping into the waterhole canyon, I was immediately overwhelmed with beauty. I was alone to experience the entire slot canyon, dancing between canyon walls, smiling and filled with love and joy. I teared up with the appreciation of what I am able to do. It seems fitting that the first ultra I cried during was from being overwhelmed with pain, and the second ultra I cried in was from being overwhelmed with joy. I reflected on my kids, my friends, and the many precious moments I been allowed to experience. I helped a few 55k runners out of the canyon (literally gave them a hand, they were struggling to push each other up the last little scramble) and their cheery faces brought me a little more joy. My overly emotional moment continued to drag out as I was flooded with memories of dear friends and the happy sweet 55k runners I had the pleasure of saying hi to as I passed. As someone who started at the back of the pack, that is still where my heart belongs- there to enjoy the experience and views!

So there I was, on a long sandy road, cranking out 9 minute miles, passing 55k'ers giving them loads of encouragement, tears flying with how happy I was.... I know, right? Classy girl here. Probably should stop admitting how sentimental I am. Ehmmm....

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="720"] Waterholes Canyon PC: Kendall Wimmer[/caption]

I came into the Horseshoe Bend aid station just as happy as could be. Dear friends pampered me. I was beginning to make up lost time, and realized I could potentially hit my "B" goal. I did my nutrition sequence and headed out. I would continue to cruise until about mile 42, where I usually hit my second bonk... Though this bonk was full of pain from running hard so late in the race. I struggled to manage a running motion on such wrecked legs. The sand did a number on me! But it was too late in the race not to give it the best fight I could, though each mile got a wee bit slower as I approached the finish.

[caption id="attachment_640" align="alignnone" width="2500"]so happy! PC: Matt Williams so happy! PC: Matt Williams[/caption]

Elation at coming in right between my time goals, seeing my friends, and having the pain and sand be over filled me. I tried to put on my "brave" and "happy" face and pretend I wasn't entirely wrecked.... Then I collapsed on the other side of the finish line.

[caption id="attachment_644" align="alignnone" width="776"]YES! Finishing. PC: Craig Lloyd YES! Finishing. PC: Craig Lloyd[/caption]

The entire day was overwhelming. I enjoyed the opportunity to meet new friends and watch old friends run, each with their perspective races, places, and paces. The long painful lows and the overwhelming high between all adds to the weight of the pressure and pleasure of participating in a race, and it is a lot to process! Huge thanks to Matt Gunn for creating an atmosphere, experience, and linking such astounding scenery that even someone that dislikes racing is drawn to all his races! :)

Also a huge thanks to my sponsors for their continued support. Thanks to La Sportiva for encouraging me to do what I love and for making shoes that I can run in 50 miles of desert sand without blisters or feet problems! Thanks to Gnarly Nutrition for helping me keep my training diet on track, and for creating a chocolate protein (Feast) that has my vitamins in it so that I can drink chocolate-peanut butter flavored smoothie of spinach and seeds this morning and get all my recovery nutrients in. A last shout-out to my strength training coach Cass at Momentum Athlete- I am so glad my hammies and glutes were strong enough to handle that sand! Couldn't have done it without you!  update: race result 9:15/F1/CR

[caption id="attachment_641" align="alignnone" width="2500"]showing off the race swag: finishers bracelet, winner's tomahawk. "lucky" cairn earrings from a dear friend for race, and new necklace from navajo at the race showing off the race swag: finishers bracelet, winner's tomahawk, "lucky" cairn earrings from a dear friend for race, and new navajo necklace[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_643" align="alignnone" width="2000"]that's just really neat! that's just really neat![/caption]


  1. Jennilyn! I had no doubt that whatever the conditions were, you were going to give it your all. I know how tough you are mentally and physically, but that time under those conditions proves it. There's nothing like being surrounded by such good friends and natural beauty. You are a lucky girl. Congratulations on your win and your CR!

  2. ahahahhaha. It's totally neat. <3

  3. What shoes did you race with? Good job hanging in there! Hope to see you on the trails soon!

  4. Great write up! Congratulations!

  5. Brian, I wore the La Sportiva Helios with dirty girl gaitors and injinji socks and trail toes. Kinda my go-to, and it was nice not to empty my shoes at all during the race and finish with perfect feet. :-)

  6. Thanks Jen. :-) It was such an incredible course!

  7. #reallyneat ;) great job out there Emily.


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