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!

Advertisements

Bear 100 Race Report: Sweet, but Humble Redemption

Most are not aware of this, but the Bear 100 in 2012 was my first attempt at the 100-mile distance.  At the time, I felt really well prepared, yet looking back, maybe I wasn’t.  Either way, that day in 2012 was cut short at mile 61 when I was forced to DNF due to a pretty severe tear of my calf muscle…one that was bad enough to sideline me from running for nearly three months.  While an injury is certainly a legit reason to drop from a race, not finishing was something that Has bothered me for a long time…I needed redemption!  Since then, I have worked hard at becoming a better mountain runner through more sound training and by building a better race resume, including my first 100-miler!  I was ready to conquer my demons and decided that 2015 would be the year that I would conquer the Bear.

The race started like it usually does — at 6am on the last Friday of September at the base of Logan Peak in Logan, Utah with a bunch of us idiots gathering around getting ready for the journey to Fish Haven, Idaho on the shores of Bear Lake.  The weather for this race is about as reliable as a 1988 Dodge.  It has seen rain, mud, and snow, but this year would be something a bit different…record heat (more on that later).

I started the race with one goal in mind…early preservation.  I wore my heart rate monitor for the first 8 hours to make sure to keep myself from going out too hard and fast and planned to drink all of my fluids between aid stations…a goal that was largely able to do (although it turned out to not be enough).  The course itself starts with the largest climb on the whole course up to Logan Peak.  This climb is great because you get to peer out over Logan as the sun is coming up.
 (Sunrise over Logan, Utah)

Another great aspect of the course is that it takes place in late September, when the changing colors of Autumn are in full effect.  The trail itself is so gorgeous that it’s hard to not stop and take some pictures; it certainly can help take your mind off of things.
     

I continued along much of the course without much issue for the first 50K or so.  It is fun running through the mountains and seeing free range cows, horses, and sheep along the way.  Aside from the fact that one of the sheep didn’t seem to be all that pleased with me, I didn’t really have any strange animal encounters.  I got to simply enjoy the company along the way.
     

Temperatures were expected to be warm for the race this year, which was much different than years past, but little did we know, we would actually reach all-time high’s for this time of the year.  I ran across this remnant of a cow and really hoped that the heat would not offer me the same fate!

As I continued on, I was met at at the aid stations by my awesome crew of my wife and two young daughters.  It is amazing how much energy you can get just from knowing that you get to see your own cheerleading crew along the way.  They kept me going throughout the day, but I was starting to feel the effects of the heat,  Just after leaving Temple Fork at mile 45, I started to get a really bad side stitch from dehydration.  I needed the sun to set and the temperature to cool down in order to catch back up on my hydration.  As it turns out, I wouldn’t be able to shake the side stitch, which caused sharp pain on the downhills, for nearly 20 miles.

Once I got to Tony Grove at mile 52, I finally picked up my pacer just as the sun was starting to set.  My buddy Pascal has never done ultra distance trail running, although he is a triathlete and certainly no slouch himself.  A few weeks ago, he offered to pace me since I had not yet found one and I owe him big time.  He got me through the entire night shift; I am not sure if I could have done that without him.
 (Getting ready to head out with Pascal)

As Pascal and I pushed on through the night, I was still dealing with the side pains for much of the night, but was surprised at my uphill pace.  I did a lot of back and forth with other runners as I cruised past on the uphills and they passed me back on the downhills.  It was really frustrating not to be able to push the downhills because of the side pain, and I slowly fell off of my target pace.  Oh well, still need to soldier on!

Not that I needed another challenge, but at about mile 70, my side pain was going away, but my feet started to swell up.  I had never experienced this before in a race, but they were pushing hard against the inside of my shoes.  When I arrived at the Beaver Lodge at mile 76, I threw myself down and ripped my shoes off.  I have to say, this was my mental low point of the race.  I wanted to quit so bad.  Luckily, I have the best crew in the world, my wife!  She gave me time to gather myself and then started putting my shoes back on for me.  She wasn’t going to let me quit.  I was mad at the time, but she did just what I needed…she kept me going.  Shortly after we left the lodge, I remember Pascal saying “this is it…the point of no return”.  That made sense to me.  I left the lodge (the place where more people drop at the Bear than any other) and knew I was going to finish.  Suddenly, I was back in the game mentally.

Shortly after crossing the Utah/Idaho state line, the sun started to come back up.  From here, I was able to do more running.  My feet hurt like hell and were still swollen, but I was able to employ the run/hike strategy; running where I could for as long as I could before switching to a hike.

At mile 85, Pascal switched off with my wife, my savior, for the last 15 miles.  After crewing for me all day, she stepped in to get me through the last 15 miles.  I owe this race to her and I couldn’t imagine being on the trail with anyone other than her at this point.  The last climb of the course is at mile 92.  It is the steepest climb on the course, but also short at a little less than a mile.  I charged up this thing.  I don’t know if it was just anticipation, but I got a burst in me that even allowed me to charge ahead of my wife up this climb.  I took this picture at the top of the climb.  To me, it looked like an archway marking the entrance of the final descent.
 (Atop Ranger Dip at Mile 93)

From this point on, it was all downhill.  It was also this point that my most famous quote of the day came out…”I just want to get off of this F@#$ing trail!”  Despite that, I was happy, I was about to finish the Bear!  I even managed a smile at mile 99!

I crossed the finish line in 31:24…a few hours off of my target time.  And while the competitive side of me is disappointed and analyzing how I could have done better, I have a huge chip off of my shoulder.  I came here in 2015 to get redemption for 2012 and I did that.  Now, as I sit here almost fully recovered, it is time to think about what is in store for 2016!

 (Evolution of me throughout the race)

So what did I learn?  Well, for one, I still have a lot to learn about this distance.  It is night and day versus those events that can be completed in a day.  Second, and more importantly, I have been thinking for months about my desire to do this distance.  I simply enjoy the 50 Mile much more and I like to enjoy running.  I am not going to decide now, but I may take a few years to focus on and get faster at the 50 Mile distance.

For the thank yous, my wife deserves all of the accolades for this one.  She has supported me through training, crewed me all day, refused to let me do anything except finish, and dealt with the last 15 grumpy miles while pacing me.  My wife is definitely my rock!  Thanks to Pascal for pacing me through the night and his family for supporting me.  Lastly, Thanks to all of my sponsors for embracing my journey and supporting me along the way.

What I Used:

  • Salomon Sense Pro / Hoka Challenger ATR (switched at mile 30)
  • Injinji Trail 2.0 Socks with Liners
  • Orange Mud Vest Pack 2
  • Gargoyles Breakaway sunglasses
  • Headsweats Go Hat
  • Petzl Tikka RXP / NAO Headlamps
  • Garmin Fenix 3
  • Honey Stinger Energy Chews and Waffles + aid station food

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!

Ultra Adventures Tushars 93K Race Report

The Tushar Mountains are truly a hidden gem of Utah (shhh, don’t tell anyone).  These mountains stand high above the city of Beaver, Utah to the East and this past weekend were the site of the final race of the 2015 Ultra Adventures Grand Circle Trail Series.  As a part of the U.S. Skyrunning series it stood to be a huge test, but being in its inaugural year, no one quite knew what they were getting themselves into.  Leading up to the race, I was debating on whether to sign up for the marathon distance or the 93K.  In the end, I decided that the marathon wouldn’t be far enough for what I wanted to accomplish so I decided to sign up for the 93K and play it by ear.  I approached Tushars more like a training run as I continue to stay focused on the Bear 100 at the end of September, which is my keystone race of the year.  While I didn’t know how race day would turn out, I decided early on that, while it was going to be hard and I needed to push myself, I didn’t want to overdo it and risk the remainder of my training for Bear.  So, with that said, I lined up at the start…

The race had a 5am start under the light of a Blue Moon.  It started with just enough of a downhill to warm up the legs before we moved right into the first climb of the course.  With the race starting at 10,500 ft, you wouldn’t think there was much ‘up’ to be had, but it quickly rose to about 11,200 ft in that first couple of miles.  After some relatively manageable ups and downs, we started the first major climb of the day at mile 10, which culminated on the first of three peaks (and the tallest) on the course, Delano Peak.  At 12,169 ft, the view was amazing, however, the 2,000 ft climb in 2 miles to get there was a lung burner.  Still, the surroundings (which included a herd of mountain goats in the distance) made it more than bearable.

IMG_4292 IMG_4306

After reaching the peak, we quickly went down the other side on our way to Mud Lake at about mile 15.  On the way down, I ran across several of runners doing the half marathon, which was an out and back to the peak.  If I was to ever seek out a destination half marathon again, this would definitely have to be on the list!  After a quick stop at the Mud Lake aid station, I continued on to the next lake, Blue Lake.  This view was absolutely gorgeous…I had to stop and take a picture.

IMG_4299

Moving on, I came in to the Bullion Pasture aid station, which is one of two stops through this junction.  Here I changed shoes into something a little more nimble and moved on.  From there is a 12 mile out and back to the second peak of the day, Copper Belt Peak.

IMG_4307PC: Jackie Achter

IMG_4309PC: Sam Jewkes

After a quick downhill to the Copper Belt aid station, we began a 2,000 ft. climb to the peak.  This one ended up being a lot more difficult than expected when looking at the elevation chart.  Once again, the view made it worth the climb.  Here is a great panoramic that I got:

IMG_4303

After the second half of the out and back, I returned to Bullion Pasture where I decided to call it a day after about 36 miles.  Despite problems with the altitude throughout the day that brought me to the brink of being sick, I was feeling strong physically.  At the same time, I knew that if I continued on with the grind to the finish, my resulting recovery time would significantly cut into my remaining Bear training time, which I absolutely wanted to avoid.  Despite all of that, 36 miles with 10K of vertical gain at altitude made for a great training run…and I felt pretty good the next day too.  I am confident that it was the right decision for the bigger picture.  I did learn a few things too.

1. I am still struggling with sustained altitude above 10K feet.  While it shouldn’t be an issue at Bear, I still need to figure that one out.
2. After a bunch of flat stuff early in the season caused me to get a late start on vert training, my climbing legs are in gear and I am feeling good physically.
3. Despite starting the season early this year and a short bout of fatigue (which I have corrected), I am feeling great versus previous years where I usually start to break down at this point in the season. Cross training must be helping.

With 5 1/2 weeks of solid training to go, I am 100% focused on Bear now…here we go!

As far as the race, it was very well organized, especially for an inaugural race event, and had a similar feeling experienced at every other Ultra Adventures race.  This continues to develop into one of the premiere race series in one of the most beautiful regions of the country thanks to Matt Gunn and his team.  Beyond that beautiful courses though, the feeling of community and love for the outdoors is stronger at UA events than any other I have experienced.  While the series is finished for 2015, you should definitely look into running in one or more of the seven races in 2016.

Thanks to Matt, the UA crew, the volunteers, and my fellow racers for such a wonderful, memorable experience.  Thanks to my family for once again coming down and supporting me…my #1 fans!  Thanks to all of my sponsors for embracing my journey and supporting me along the way.

What I Used:

  • Shoes: Salomon Sense Mantra / Scarpa Tru (switched at mile 24)
  • Injinji Trail 2.0 Socks
  • Orange Mud Vest Pack 2
  • Gargoyles Breakaway sunglasses
  • Headsweats Go Hat
  • Garmin Fenix 3
  • Honey Stinger Energy Chews

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!