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!

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.

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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.

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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:

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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!

The Ultra Adventures Capitol Reef 50 Mile…Speechless!

Alright, so I might not be speechless now that I have had some time to reflect back on the race this past Saturday, but that is the right word to describe the constant awe I was in during this race.  Capitol Reef was a newly added race this year and number six out of seven in the Ultra Adventures Grand Circle Trail Series.  I have always promoted the races that Matt Gunn, the Race Director for Ultra Adventures, puts on.  Mainly because of the beautifully diverse venues that he chooses, the amount of care he puts into each race, the emphasis he puts on appreciating the surrounding environment, and his overall emphasis on the total experience.  Each one of his events is truly unique and Capitol Reef is no exception.  As if taking place on the doorstep of one of the most diverse National Parks in the United States wasn’t quite enough, the race takes runners up and across the Aquarius Plateau, the highest plateau in North America.  With over 20 miles (in the 50 mile course) taking place above 11,000 ft, this course was a lung burner.  Add to that constant technical trails covered with boulders, water crossings, and uneven terrain and it provided quite the adventure.  So how did I do?

My family and I got there on Friday afternoon and setup camp about 2.5 miles away from the Start/Finish area.  I must say, having our new popup camper has made a world of difference.  Look at this view!

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The 50 mile race was slated for a 6:00am start on Saturday.  It began at the 100 mile turnaround point at Chriss Lake and ran back to the Start/Finish area, which meant we had to catch an early bus shuttle to the start line.  Thanks to a rather timid bus driver that was obviously not comfortable driving a rickety bus up a mountain, we didn’t get started until 6:30.

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Photo Credit: Davy Crockett

The trail started on some nice single track at about 8,500 ft. and immediately began a steady climb up toward the plateau.  Nearly half of the gain of this course was in the first 10 miles as we worked our way up to the plateau.  I settled in with a group of fellow Wasatch Mountain Wranglers on the way up (thanks for the company Kendall, Steve, and Jerrod!) and we were rewarded with some pretty great views right from the beginning (even though some early morning storms clouded the sky):

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I felt pretty good heading up to the first aid station at 8.5 miles, although it was a bit chilly (I was thankful that I chose to bring arm sleeves at the last minute).  Shortly after leaving the aid station, we were greeted with a climb up this cattle trail.  Now I don’t know how, cattle do it, but apparently this route is used to get the free range cattle up and down the plateau.

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PC: Sam Jewkes

This was the most technical section of the entire course, but I can honestly say (which most of us did not expect) that the rest of the course was nearly as technical, particularly on top of the plateau where rocks and roots were a common theme.  After making our way up this for about a mile and a half, we reached the plateau.  Still felt good physically, but the altitude was definitely getting to me early (curse me for not getting enough high elevation training in) and I would end up fighting it for all but the last five miles.  I hung with Kendall, Steve, and Jerrod for a while longer until Kendall took off ahead after about 15 or so miles.  Before he took off though, he managed to capture this epic shot!

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PC: Kendall Wimmer

The plateau was simply amazing.  When not greeted with great ridge overlook views of Capitol Reef, we were running by numerous lakes and through mountain meadows.  I honestly wish I could put this in to words.  It was sensory overload in the truest sense of the word that almost made me forget about the fact that my body was over 11,000 ft in the sky and starving for oxygen.  Perhaps a few more pictures can help describe it although they still don’t do it justice.

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Photo Credit: Steve Frogley
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Photo Credit: Steve Frogley
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Photo Credit: Kendall Wimmer

Now I will say, if I had one complaint about the race, of which they were hard to come by, it would be that the course flaggings up on the plateau were not frequent enough.  This section of the Great Western trail up on the plateau is not very frequently traveled.  As a result, the trail was difficult to pick up at times, even with cairns, blazes, and flagging leading the way.  With the many twists and turns worked in, I think the runners would have benefited from double the flags on the plateau.  I know many people got lost up there…feedback that Matt will definitely consider for next year.  Even so, it was generally easy to tell if you got off course (at least during the daylight hours) and pretty easy to get back on track.  Moving on, as I continued to run with Steve and Jerrod, I started to have feelings of dropping at about mile 18.  The lack of oxygen must have been impairing my judgement.  🙂  Luckily, I cruised in to the Chokecherry aid station at mile 21, which Kelly and Jo Agnew were running.  I admit that seeing them lifted me up a bit.  Considering Kelly, being the badass that he is, it is hard to justify any non-injury reasons for dropping.  They fed me bacon and I decided pretty quickly to keep moving on.  It probably also helped that the remote nature of the course made it a pain to drop…not to mention I was dying to see the rest of the plateau.  Just in case I had any further spells of the doldrums, I decided to stick with Steve and Jerrod and did so until the next aid station at Fish Creek, which was the 50K point.  The company was nice and helped to take my mind off of my constant heavy breathing.  They actually stopped at Fish Creek to do some fly rod fishing (in my opinion, this is the most bad ass approach to running a mountain ultra there is) while I continued on.  The 50K point is always a major milestone for me…I knew that if I could move on from there that I would be over the hump and would be able to push through.  This held true as I didn’t have a feeling of dropping once after leaving there.  After departing Fish Creek, I moved past more lakes along some rolling ups and downs before beginning a steady downhill for the last six miles to the finish.  The transition of the surrounding was stunning as we moved from the forests and meadows of the plateau back down to the red cliffs that surround the finish area.  I got my legs back under me as the technical terrain started to disappear and was able to pick up the pace considerably for the last 2-3 miles.  It helps when you have this to run toward:

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I crossed the finish line in 12:33, which was good for 18th overall.  That should tell you how difficult this race was.  With a more positive spin, the difficulty of the terrain did give me extra time to enjoy this gorgeous corner of Utah for which I am grateful for.

So to summarize…this race physically destroyed me.  I came in a bit more run down than typical on race day, which was definitely a factor, but my primary issue was most certainly the altitude.  I have never been great with it and it is something I continue to try and solve.  Simply put, it was the toughest 50 mile race I have ever done.  All of that aside though, it was also the most gorgeous, visually diverse and stunning race I have ever run.  There is not one part of the course that I did not swoon over.  I cannot emphasis enough to those of you reading this that you should either run this race in the future or find some time to travel to the area on your own and visit…it is amazing!  I have been on most of the Ultra Adventures courses and this one was my favorite by a considerable amount.  The Capitol Reef area seems to be overshadowed by its neighboring parks, but I hope more people find the time to experience it…or wait, maybe I don’t!  😉

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 31)
  • Injinji Trail 2.0 Socks
  • Orange Mud Vest Pack 2
  • Gargoyles Breakaway sunglasses
  • Headsweats Go Hat
  • Garmin Fenix 3
  • Honey Stinger Energy Chews

Ultra Adventures Capitol Reef Trifecta Update:

One of Ultra Adventures’ main objectives is to take every event and turn it into an experience.  One of the ways they promote that is with their Trifecta Challenge.  Each race has 3 additional routes that you can do, in addition to the race itself, that highlights key aspects of the surrounding area.  For those that do it and take a picture with their bib at a certain spot, Matt will even reward you with a discount on future races.  As a UA Race Ambassador, I make it a point to hit as many as I can in the time that my trip affords.  This time, I attempted to head out to Cassidy Arch inside Capitol Reef National Park, but the access road was closed due to the rain throughout the week so my family and I hit both Hickman Bridge and Chimney Rock as an alternative!

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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!