Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Antelope Canyon 100M (Race Recap)

Page, AZ
Saturday, March 12
Ultra Marathon #39
Weather - Chilly in the dark, warm during the day, sunny

Before I had even run Cloudsplitter, a friend talked me into running Antelope Canyon. Initially I didn't want to do the 100 mile, but the 50 miler that still goes through the slot canyons and by Horseshoe Bend was already sold out. I figured, what the heck, I'll just sign up.

This was never my A race for the year, although I was certainly training for it. About a month out from the race my friend told me that she didn't think she was going to end up running because she impulsively bought a condo. So now I was in a bit of a bind - did I want to still head down alone, pay for a car, gas, hotel? By the time I decided that it might be good if Ben went with me, airfare was INSANE. So we decided about a week out that we would just drive down. I already had taken a four-day weekend from work, so the time itself wouldn't be an issue. And truth be told, I was pretty psyched that I wouldn't be the one driving.

Travel Day

Originally, my flight was supposed to leave Denver at 6 am, which means I would have been waking up around 2:45 am to get to the airport. We opted to leave the house at 4:30, so REALLY, I got a lot more sleep! We were out the door only a few minutes later than planned, but with a nearly 10 hour drive, a few minutes wasn't going to make any difference. The drive was really uneventful, although it was fun for me to watch the weather in the mountains. It was INSANELY cold.
We stopped only to get gas until we got to Moab. I had a one mile walk/jog shakeout on my schedule, so we stopped in town to run an out and back on the bike path. 

We decided we wanted to drive a bit before we got food. We ended up stopping at some tiny diner in the middle of nowhere. The food was pretty good! 
FINALLY we started to get close to Page. We immediately headed to packet pick up at the sport center. After getting my bib and shirt I talked to one of the volunteers about the first cutoff that I was worried about. She told me to just start with the 50 milers (who were starting 15 minutes earlier) and that it didn't matter because everything was chip timed anyway. What a relief! For reference, the hard cutoff for 6.2 miles (to be OUT of aid) was 90 minutes, with recommended pace at 75 minutes. I'm not great on trails so I was worried about pace there - plus I'd heard the course could get crowded, which would definitely hurt me as I start in the back. Anyway, I was instantly relieved with not having to worry about that. 
We checked into our hotel and then walked to the brewery down the street for a beer and snack. 
Went to Walmart to pick up a few last minute essentials, then it was just getting everything ready for an early wake up call.

Race Day

I had my alarm set for 4, thinking that would be plenty of time to get ready. I had everything ready, just needed to fill up bottles, braid my hair and eat breakfast. The morning really got away from me. For some reason everything TOOK FOREVER. I can normally braid my hair in a few minutes (I've been french braiding my own hair for like 30 years) and for whatever reason, my fingers would not cooperate and it took a really long time. I heated up my breakfast and realized I didn't have anything to eat it with. Ben went to the lobby but no one was at the desk and breakfast wasn't set up yet. Luckily he found a spoon of unknown origin in his car. By then I had lost my appetite, but I forced down as much food as I could and drank my smoothie. Then, I was trying to put on my shoes/gaiters and I could NOT get them to hook in. Again, hands weren't really doing what they needed to, and I was getting pretty frustrated. We didn't head out until maybe 5:15-5:20 for a 5:45 am start, but luckily the start was only about 5 minutes from our hotel, and the parking attendant actually pointed us to one of the closest spots. I had to use the bathroom again before the start. As an aside, this race uses compostable toilets, which is fine, but the way they were set up it was so high off that ground I really struggled to get on it! Anyway, I got through everything and headed over to the start line.

I had my headlamp on and expected it to be dark for the first few miles. It didn't seem like there were THAT many people at the start line, but literally within seconds of crossing the timing mat we were already at a standstill. WTH! For the next two miles it was literally like being in a traffic jam. We crossed a dirt lot and and crossed a road, then jumped briefly onto single track. There was a HUGE delay in the climb up the slick rock. 
Just look at that line of people...
Like seriously just standing there waiting as people are taking their time. I finally got annoyed and went down a bit and bypassed people. My actual time on mile 2 was nearly 20 minutes, despite running most everything before that climb. By this time the sun was coming up and people were just stopping on the trail to take pictures. 
The trail finally widened and it was actually runnable, albeit a bit sandy. I left my headlamp on although it was bright enough I didn't need it. I was watching my time and was SO GLAD I had started early because I was definitely over the pace at this time. The next few miles were pretty uneventful and I ran most of it. We arrived at the first mini slot canyon and it was really cool to run through, although a very weird sensation with it being so narrow, I was actually a bit claustrophobic (and I'm not normally) and it kind of made me dizzy. 
The slot opened up and we had to scramble on all fours to get up to the trail. This was NOT fun. The trail itself was nice and runnable and a gradual downhill. I made it into the aid station with time to spare (hooray!!) and immediately began to relax. I had hoped to use the bathroom again but there were probably 20 people in line so I grabbed some coke and a pickle and headed out.

The section to Antelope Canyon was SO WIDE. It was wider than any city highway and flat (although later I would realize that the way out was a gradual uphill).
I ran/walked most of this and then all of a sudden - I could see the entrance to the slot canyon! It was everything I hoped it would be - super cool to see! I did, however, end up behind an obnoxious group that was taking a ton of pictures and when they saw the photographer they did like 4 pictures together - still a race!! 
I almost could have used my headlamp in this part, it was a lot darker than I expected. Again, I had some bouts of claustrophobia and was relieved when I finally exited.


I had not realized that this section wasn't a true out and back and that we would do a loop back to the wide road. 
If you look VERY close you can see people running on the wide road below
We had to run in a canyon and then up a pretty big hill:
We then immediately ran down in a valley (where I actually slid down because it was so steep and sandy), through another slot canyon.


Then we were back on the road. I ran almost 100% of the way back to the aid station. I had made up a lot of time and I was feeling really good and happy.

Used the bathroom at the aid station (with just a short wait this time) and then headed up out of the aid station. I was behind a gal and recognized her as someone in my women's trail running group because she had some custom sand gaiters that were really neat! When we got to the slickrock hill, I just slid down in crab style - I didn't see any point in trying to find the "best" way down because it was all sketchy.

I wasn't sure where the course was going to veer off because I knew we weren't going all the way back to where we had started. I started chatting with a man from North Carolina and that really helped to pass the time for a bit. We crossed another road and then we dipped down into unfamiliar area. The next aid station was the Slickrock Aid Station at mile 17.8. I was feeling good and didn't stop long here, but did take note that the food choices were pretty sparse, but it was still early and I figured the later ones would be better. Interestingly, they had pineapple, which I've never had at a race and it was delicious. 

We went down another section of slick rock and then up a hill of deep sand. There was a nice gradual decent to the aid station at Horseshoe Bend. 
I don't think I even knew there was a hard cutoff here, but I was well ahead of it. We then had to cross the road again, and then we were running towards the overlooks. Had I known that my view on course would've been the same I don't think I would have gone off course to look. There was an INCREDIBLY sketchy section where there was a huge drop off and we had to bypass a barbed wire fence to get to the next section of course. I was NOT comfortable with this. (I'm also not really afraid of heights, but this was a bit too close for my tastes).

Look closely and you can see people all over the place on the "trail"
This next section may actually have been my least favorite. It was all on slick rock and it was relatively tough to find the markers, which were pink ribbons attached to small shrubs. In my opinion there was a decent amount of course finding here, which I always hate. There was not a lot of running here, and all of a sudden the 7ish miles to the next aid seemed really far away. A wave of panic and being overwhelmingly hot came over me, but luckily it passed pretty quick. That was definitely unsettling. I ended up in a pack with a gal from San Diego and a guy from Montana and the chit chat got me through the next few miles. To get out of this section there were some relatively technical climbs (and numerous boulders I stepped on came loose, so that wasn't fun either). We were moving along another rim on slick rock, and yet again, we were a bit too close to the edge for comfort. There was a photographer here, maybe I'll get a good picture? (Edited to add official pics!)

Climbed up the hill and then we finally had some "flattish" sort of runnable (although sandy) trail to the Water Holes aid station. Again, I got some soda, but there just really wasn't much else. I can't remember what I grabbed here, maybe part of a quesadilla. I recognized that I was getting behind on food, but nothing sounded good and the selection was sparse. 

We headed down a really gnarly, steep, technical descent into another canyon. Once at the bottom I had to jump off a ledge probably 5 feet to the ground. Not fun, that hurts my knees. This section was so bizarre, we ended up in some slot canyons that had water in them and we had to put our shoes on the walls to shimmy over to avoid getting feet wet. Normally I don't really care about wet feet, but with murky water I couldn't see through, I didn't want to risk rolling my ankle.

This section took a while. Between the water and having to contort your body to get through some of the canyon areas, it was just not runnable. We even had some ladders in this section - which was much better than trying to climb on hands and knees, but again, time consuming. We ended up back on a road, and I finally decided to put in headphones when I realized the upcoming section was wide and not very technical. The road into the Horseshoe aid was nice and downhill, but again, sandy. Grabbed the only appetizing food option, boiled potatoes and avocado, in a baggie, and headed out.

Mile 32.3 and I was starting to countdown when I would be able to see Ben. I ran a lot of this section and even when I was walking I still felt like I was making good time. I was definitely more alone in the course than before and the people I had been with earlier were somewhere behind me, taking longer at the aid stations. 
Came into Slick Rock aid, and one again, no real food. The only thing that sounded good was potatoes (this time they were baked) and a little bacon. I was given a small paper cup and I held that and took bites here and there. The road down was CRAZY sandy. Like over my ankles deep. It was not fun. 
We had to cross the road again, then I was on yet another sandy section of trail to head towards the Page Rim loop that I would have to do SIX times.

Had to climb up a soul-crushingly steep hill to Page Rim, mile 38.7 where Ben was going to start pacing.

Loop 1 (38.7 - 48.3)

I had come through early enough (3:30 pm) that I wasn't going to need my Kogalla and since it was still light out, I didn't need layers. We were in and out pretty quick, but I was definitely worried since the aid station STILL didn't have good food, and there was nothing to transport food with. Ugh.

I was in pretty good spirits here, and even Ben commented that I seemed like I was in a good mood. I had already hit the point where I wasn't really running as much, but it was nice that the loop was NOT as technical or sandy. The loops were being run washing machine style, so the faster 100 milers were already heading back towards us. 


The next again station was at Powell, and... you guessed it, still really not any food, but they did have random food item - cheeseburger burrito, that was "ok," but different and I actually ate it. Ben filled up my bottles and I grabbed food of some kind. About halfway through the loop I put my long sleeve back on. 




Loop 2 - 48.3-58.3)

Everything went to shit in this loop. I was definitely moving slower, and trying to be as efficient in the aid stations as possible. Ben grabbed my one drop bag so that I could get my other pack that was already loaded up with layers, as well as my Kogalla. It is UNREAL the amount of time it took me to put on pants and do a quick dump of my shoes. First, I barely had any sand in my shoes (I really couldn't believe it) and second, my hands were just NOT WORKING. I went from fine the first loop to a bundle of frustration and irritation in mere minutes. My REI pants that I have used in most of my ultras for YEARS got torn at Bigfoot from climbing over/under trees, so I had bought a new pair in the fall. When I got them (I bought online), I could tell the style had changed, but I tried them on when they came in, and they fit, so I figured they would be fine. No. They weren't. First off, the sizing was just a bit off. They have an elastic waist, but they fit a bit tighter than my old pair. So to get the pants over my skirt was basically impossible. I could barely fit my hand in to tuck the skirt in and back to the "my hands weren't working." Then when I was trying to put my shoes back on, the SAME thing. I couldn't get my gaiters to latch in. None of this independently sounds like a big deal, but it honestly set me into a tailspin. Then I had to still come to terms with there being NO FOOD. Honestly the one volunteer working in the food tent seemed irritated when we asked for hot food. We were given a cup of noodles. No spoon or anything to eat it with. So either we stand there and try to eat as much as possible, or take with us until the next aid, running holding boiling soup. I took a few bites and trashed it because it wasn't going to be possible for me, plus I was annoyed. As efficient as I try to be, this mile/aid station stop took OVER A HALF HOUR. W.T.F....... At some point I developed some breathing issues. I didn't feel like I could take a full breath in, even while walking. My heart rate seemed insanely high. I was coughing (from the dust/sand?) and hacking up stuff. I developed a side ache, and at first I thought it might be my Kogalla hitting me in a weird spot (but even as I write this days later, I still have a mild cramp).

The other weird thing with this loop is that there are like 4 road crossings, and ZERO protection. You just run across 2-4 lanes of traffic (often on a hill) and hope no one comes  flying through and kills you. Anyway, in addition to the initial pants issue of not being able to tuck in my skirt, the newer  model went from two pockets (one on each side) to ONE pocket, low on the front. I had initially put my phone in there, but it was so low sitting that it jabbed me in the knee and additionally, made the pants too tight around my thigh to be comfortable. So I then I was trying to reach into my skirt pocket to put it in there, but all that did was make my phone inaccessible. ALSO, the left pant leg creased weird so the crease hit on my calf. Once again, I realize this all sounds stupid and insane, but the combination of it all made me crazy. Halfway to the aid station I had to pee off the trail. Ben had headed down the trail a bit to give me privacy, but then again, I couldn't get my skirt/pants up, so he had to come running over to help me. By now I'm crying tears of frustration because all this is SO PREVENTABLE but it was like every stupid little thing that was going to eat up time, was happening. I also started to feel chafing in my crotch, so we had to stop AGAIN to get cream out of our bag. 

We got to the Powell aid station. I had to head to the bathroom to pee again (and re-lube better). I used a Clorox wipe at the aid station on my hands. This aid station had pancakes, potatoes and bacon. Finally something different, but no way to carry this except on a plate. We left the aid station and I'm trying to roll the pancake into a burrito to eat, and all of a sudden the trail "ends." Holy shit, what happened. We realize we haven't seen a marker in ages, but there are tons of footprints. First, I check my watch and we are 0.05 miles off course. So obviously we are close, but where did we miss a turn?? Ben starts to head back to see if he can figure out where it is, but after a minute, we should have arrived, and we are still off. I pull out my phone, and look at the map and it seems like we are very near the trail, but where, and how do we get to it? We see another runner down below us who says he is on course. We literally have to go back to about 40 feet from the aid station to get back on course. OMFG. Immediately I start trying to do ultra math, which is never good. I figure I really have to pick up the pace because now my watch pace is "fake" because I estimate we did at least an extra mile and "lost" 20 minutes between wandering around and trying to find the trail.

Ben pulls out his headlamp so we have a second way of seeing markers because the Kogalla is not hitting the reflectors on the flags. I am so pissed now and I am trying to run as much as possible, but the wheels are turning and I'm already concerned I blew my race.

Loop 3 (58.3-68.3)

NO FOOD AGAIN. This time we get ramen again and I have no choice but to just carry it with me and try to eat and take sips here and there. There is literally nothing else to get calories other than candy, which I do NOT want. I'm in a super pissy mood, and every single thing we are doing is causing me to look at my watch and watch my pace slowly creep up. I don't remember much of this loop, other than being in a bad mood. It seemed like a REALLY long 5 miles back to the Powell aid station, which shockingly, again, didn't have food. Even just the task of filling bottles and refilling coke just took so much time. Pretty sure I had to pee again on this loop, again with the pants/skirt issue and Ben having to help me.

It's a LOT colder now. I am now wearing a long sleeve shirt, Patagonia R-1 AND my Mountain Hardwear puffy. I'm perfect when I'm walking, but any time I run I get super hot. I figure I have to be around 18 minute miles WITH stops in order to finish, with the course being long and only having 30 hours to finish.

I don't actually know what time I came into the aid station. I was so pissed that there was still no food options or anything to take with me. I stormed out of the aid station and made it about a mile or two down the road before I just sat down on a bench and told Ben I needed to stop. My pace had slowed so much and I was under-fueled. As I write this, it definitely seems like an excuse and I'm wondering if I even made the right call.

Initially I told Ben that I would drop at the next aid station, but he suggested we just go down the trail to the finish line to drop, which is what I did. We pulled out google maps and found a way down through a neighborhood (where every dog barked like crazy, and it was around 3 in the morning). Finish line was empty except for two volunteers. They took my bib and gave me a "consolation" 50 mile medal, although I will still be a DNF for the 100 miler.

So disappointing.

Garmin Miles - 73.42
Garmin Time - 20:53:05 (now when I see this, I think I should have been able to do 30 miles in 9 hours...)
Garmin Pace - 17:04 (but that's with extra mileage)
Elevation Gain - 5,854'
Miles 1-5 - 14:12, 19:16, 12:02, 11:50, 12:51
Miles 6-10 - 14:23, 12:29, 12:48, 17:05, 12:49
Miles 11-15 - 11:38, 19:57, 13:13, 12:28, 16:27
Miles 16-20 - 13:44, 13:56, 18:06, 14:59, 11:58
Miles 21-25 - 18:20, 17:40, 18:35, 16:19, 19:41
Miles 26-30 - 15:49, 15:39, 22:22, 17:59, 11:25
Miles 31-35 - 12:17,  12:20, 17:44, 15:24, 17:21
Miles 36-40 - 14:34, 14:32, 16:30, 21:29, 14:08
Miles 41-45 - 15:49, 15:58, 14:35, 20:22, 16:18
Miles 46-50 - 15:56, 15:33, 17:20, 32:08, 16:35 (50 miles in 13:16:51)
Miles 51-55 - 16:14, 16:02, 15:47, 20:48, 17:54
Miles 56-60 - 21:27, 16:44, 17:40, 17:30, 21:50
Miles 61-65 - 17:27, 16:24, 17:21, 19:47, 17:02
Miles 66-70 - 27:12, 22:01, 18:54, 19:02, 19:19
Miles 71-73.42 - 20:44, 27:45, 20:20(pace)

Thoughts:
  • It's a really pretty course. The first 40 or so miles were lovely, and if I would have just done the 50 miler, I think I would have enjoyed it. I did NOT have much luck finding race reports for this race, at least not the 100 mile distance. Out of 98 runners, only 31 finishers this year. It's about the same finisher rate every year.
  • Aid stations were honestly crap in terms of food. Nothing that really made sense even for people running over 8-10 hours, and certainly not for nearly 30 hours. The early aid stations were manned by Navajos, and they were super friendly and helpful. I was actually really unimpressed with the food tent volunteer at Page Rim. I understand she was out there in the middle of the night, but she seemed to have zero interest in actually helping anyone. 
  • Trail markings were not the best. Hard to see on the slick rock, and especially on the loop, better signs would have helped. Had I not gotten off track, would I have finished? Maybe?
  • I'm glad I signed up for this as I had never been here, and it was really pretty. It is very sandy in the first part of the course, so if you don't like sand, you won't like the first 38 miles (or last 2 if you make it that far). 
  • Would I run again? No. No way. Never. No thanks.
  • Of note - I actually got ZERO blisters again. Topo Ultraventure 2 with Topo gaiters seems to be the winning combination. This is three ultras in a row where my feet have been happy. Guess it'll be goodbye to Speedgoats if I ever get through the pairs I still have.

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