Before the race began, race directors Tim and Matt promised us all an adventure. With only 30 runners toeing the start line (and another 30 for the 50K), it was certainly the smallest race I'd ever participated in...and I loved it!
The ultra environment is a totally different running experience and I one I highly recommend to anyone considering stepping outside the marathon distance. On paper, it would seem that the ultra only differs from other races because of the distance. However, that's hardly the case. Take for example the packet pickup at Antelope; all it was was Tim sitting behind a desk issuing out our bibs and race t-shirts, while sipping on a beer. I find ultras more pure and very laid-back. Runners seem friendlier. Ultra running is about camaraderie. We all know that during a certain point in the race we are going to hit a low, yet we take comfort in knowing that we aren't in it alone. We are all out there on the course together, supporting each other on.
The fun for me really began the day before the race. I flew into Phoenix Thursday night and my friend Caitlin picked me up at the airport. Friday morning, we picked up her friend Rachel and we began our road trip to Page. Page is situated on the northern boarder of Arizona, just northeast of the Grand Canyon. The drive to Page was insanely gorgeous. We left the desert landscape and saguaro of Phoenix for the tall pine trees of Flagstaff.
The race started at 6am, so it was an early wake-up call for us the following morning. We had another runner join the pack in the morning. Caitlin and Rachel's friend Elena had gotten in late the night before, but she was ready to take on the race! In fact, this was Rachel and Elena's first 50 mile run! Had it not been for recent foot surgery, Caitlin would of been running with us as well. However, being the lover of running that she is, she helped volunteer at the finish line.
|Rachel, Me and Elena before the start|
|The drop in and out of one of the slot canyons. So steep!|
The interesting part about running on this course was that with the exception of the last 8 miles or so, we ran on unmarked trails. Most of the course was run on fire/ATV type roads, all of which were extremely sandy. While we were warned about the sandy conditions, nothing could prepare us for what we encounter. The sand simply ate up my foot with each step which made maintaining any sort of running form or pace nearly impossible. But, we were told that this race was going to be an adventure and if we wanted to see the gorgeous sights the course offered, we were gonna have to deal with the "not so fun parts."
I was happy to reach the Horseshoe Bend Aid Station around mile 21 and I was still feeling strong. I knew that the next stretch of course was going to be awesome, so I was eager to get in and out of the aid station. A few miles later, I reach the ridge of the canyon where Horseshoe Bend was. Horseshoe Bend was formed millions of years ago by the mighty Colorado River as it cut its way through the Arizona rock. It's sights like these that make ultra running so special. Ultra running gives you that rare opportunity to run among some of the most gorgeous scenery our country has to offer. In fact, what I saw was so beautiful that I couldn't help myself but to sit down for a few minutes and take it all in. It was too beautiful to run by and not stop and appreciate.
Water Holes was about 29 miles into the race and my legs were definitely starting to feel it. However, Rachel and Elena where still looking very fresh and took off a little bit ahead of me. After leaving Water Holes, we dropped into the last and longest slot canyon we would run through. The slot canyon had many parts where we would have to climb the canyon walls and/or use ladders to make our way through it.
Climbing out of the last canyon, I could seeing Rachel and Elena ahead of me. As much as I wanted to catch up and run with them, my legs were pretty toasted. When I reached the next aid station (Horsebend for the 2nd time), they were just getting ready to leave. My drop bag was at this aid station, so I took the opportunity to dump the sand out of my shoes and change my socks. The volunteers were making homemade pizza, which was awesome! The aid station volunteers were great throughout the entire race. They play a big part in helping us get to the finish line.
Heading out of Horseshoe, there was about 15 miles left. Any sand I encountered took my already slow pace and brought it to more or less a crawl. While the next aid station was only 3 miles away, it took me almost an hour to get to. It didn't help that I managed to make a wrong turn during this part that added to my adventure. Yet, each time I was having a low, I would take a second and look around me. I was surrounded by some of the most amazing natural beauty I'd ever seen. Taking a moment to appreciate where I was reminded me why I was doing this race and helped me forget about the pain.
At the next aid station I noticed one of the volunteers wearing a race hoodie from the 100 miler I will be running this June. I chatted with him for a few minutes as I scarfed down some ramen he prepared for me. His tips for the race were insightful and hopefully I will be able to put the them to good use. Yep, leave it to me to think about my next race while I'm in middle of running one.
There was now less than 10 miles between me and the finish line. Thankfully, the sandy hell I was in only lasted for a few more miles. The final section of the course was along the Page Rim Trail, which was well groomed and hard packed. Unfortunately, my beat up legs couldn't make good use of it. My stride had shortened and it seemed like all my legs would give me was a 13 min/mile pace.
|Rachel and Elena running along the Page Rim Trail|
|Me, Caitlin and Rachel on our way back to Phoenix|