Antelope Canyon 55K Race Report

This past weekend, I officially kicked off my 2016 season with the Ultra Adventures Antelope Canyon 55K.  This year is shaping up to be a bit different than 2015, which saw my first podium finish, first 100 Mile completion, and four Top-20 finishes.  This year, instead of obsessing over the numbers, I am going to be focused on getting stronger and smarter.  That is not to say that I intend to slack off…I intend to go out and compete in my races, but I am going to be more cerebral this year with the hopes that it will pay long term dividends.  I want to learn how to be a better runner and racer, both physically and mentally.  So we will see how it turns out.  In the meantime, let’s talk about how I fared this past weekend.

As far as Antelope Canyon is concerned, it might be time to admit it.  I am spoiled.  I might just live in the greatest part of the United States for trail and ultra running.  What’s more, I have guys like Matt Gunn and his Ultra Adventures team to organize some of the most breathtaking courses in some of the most untouched parts of the Southwest.  I mean, what other race enables you to run through the most well-known slot canyons in the world, through the sovereign Navajo Nation, and along the rim above Horseshoe Bend (one of the most photographed spots in the country).  That is what you get when you run the Ultra Adventures Antelope Canyon race.

Never having been to the area before, I went down a day early with a few of my close friends that were also running the race.  With a six hour drive to get down there, this gave us the opportunity to loosen up before having to race and also afforded us time to do a bit of sightseeing.  Since only the 50 Mile distance goes through Antelope Canyon, my comrades and I decided to do the tourist thing to see it instead.  This turned out to be a great idea because instead of running through it for a few minutes, we got to spend an hour inside the canyon.  It is not a time consuming tour, but is far and away one of the most amazing places I have been.  Check out this awesome pano!  In addition, we did some self exploring of a slot canyon near the Utah-Arizona border.  It ended up being an easy, laid back day that allowed us to get in the right mindset for the next day.

Race day ended up being about as perfect as it could be.  A little chilly in the morning at about 40 degrees, but temperatures stayed rather manageable, with it only starting to get hot toward the end of the race.  With clear, sunny skies the whole day, we could take in the surroundings without stressing about the weather.  The 55K course is more or less a figure-8, with the first 23 mile loop being the most scenic.  About 200 runners started the 55K at 7am, just as the sun came up.  If you have never read anything about this course, then I have one word for you…SAND!  Within minutes, we were running through relentless sand, which would make up about 18 of the first 23 miles of the course.  It looked something like the next picture, with many areas being even deeper.  This is a different kind of running if you are not used to it…it can take a lot out of you.  As I was running through this for the first five miles, I paid very close attention to my heart rate.  If I allowed myself to spike too early, I wouldn’t have enough in the tank for later in the race.  So my goal was to keep a steady, consistent pace.  I started running with my buddy Tim, but decided to drop behind after about 2 1/2 miles and stick with my plan.

A little after the 5 mile aid station, we escaped the sand for a bit and ventured out onto the rim above the Colorado River to one of the most photographed spots in the country, Horseshoe Bend.  The pictures don’t really do it justice (especially mine), but trust me when I say it was stunning.  Even better was the few mile reprieve from the sand.  The next section on the rim consisted of uneven sandstone, which was a harder surface to run on, but a pleasant change nonetheless.  Here are a couple more pictures:


From the river through about mile 18, I basically ran with a few others I met along the way as we settled into a comfortable, steady pace.  I always enjoy running with people for the motivation…it keeps me running.  For the next 11 miles, we had to power through more sand while paying closer attention to the warmer temperatures.  At about mile 18, we came to the entrance of Waterholes Slot Canyon.  All of the dread that came from my journey through the unrelenting sand suddenly washed away when I entered through the opening of the canyon.  How I didn’t take even more pictures than I did, I am not quite sure.  This was simply amazing.  See for yourself:


Coming out at the end of Waterholes was one of the most depressing points of the whole course as I seriously contemplated dropping out and starting my life over as the hermit of the slot canyon so I never had to leave.  However, I continued on, remembering that I was actually running a race.  Speaking of the race, I was still feeling pretty great.  I was doing great on nutrition and water.  I usually run with two bottles, but being an early season race, I went with a single 24 oz. bottle, which proved to be plenty.

After the last major bit of sand, I finished the first loop with a short climb up to the aid station at mile 23.  This meant about 11.5 miles to go on the Page Rim Trail, a packed dirt trail that ran around the city of Page, AZ.  The tricky part about this race is saving enough energy in the sandy part of the course so that you can still keep a good pace on this extremely runnable loop.  I would say that I did a fairly good job at this, although I would probably make a few tweaks if I ran the race again.  I was able to maintain a decent pace around this trail for the most part.  With about a mile and a half left, I saw my buddy Tim for the first time since I dropped behind him at mile 2.5.  This gave me a bit of motivation as a I tried to track him down.  I ended up closing about 2-minutes on him, but didn’t have enough and crossed the finish line 50-seconds behind him.  Drats!  Maybe next time Tim!

At the end of the day, I finished in 6:26:48, good for 24th overall out of about 200 runners.  Definitely happy with the result and even more so the experience.  It is was a great start to the season and was full of lasting memories.  I even got to meet some of my remote Orange Mud teammates (Joey from Colorado, Sarah from North Dakota, and Jeff from Nebraska).  It was great to see them come in from all over the country and then immediately bond over this awesome hobby of ours.  I sure do love ultra trail running!

First, thanks to Matt Gunn and the Ultra Adventures team for another fantastic race full of fond memories.  If you haven’t run an Ultra Adventures race, do yourself a favor and sign up for one.  Second, thanks to my friends and family that continue to show their unwavering support.  Lastly, thanks to all of my sponsors for supporting me in my crazy endeavors and making sure that I am equipped with the best gear possible.  Please show your love and check out my “What I Use” page for discounts on everything that I use and trust!

  • Topo Athletic: For the awesome MT-2s trail shoes that performed great!
  • Injinji: Trail 2.0 mini-crew toesocks…the only thing I will put on my feet on race day!
  • Orange Mud: Keeping me hydrated and letting me carry everything I needed with the Vest Pack 1
  • Headsweats: For keeping the sweat out of my eyes and my head cool with the GO hat.
  • Gargoyles: For protecting my eyes from the sun, sand, and everything else with the Breakaway sunglasses.
  • Mio: For helping me track my heart rate and sticking with my plan with the Fuse HR monitor.
  • RAD: For helping me take care of my body before and after race day with the massage and trigger point kit.

If you like this post and would like to stay up to date when future gear reviews, race reports, and other related posts are released, please follow my Facebook page at Ultrarunner Joe!

1 thought on “Antelope Canyon 55K Race Report

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