RESULTS 2016 February 20
A week after running the Black Canyon 100K, I headed north to the town of Page for the second event
of my February hat trick - a run through the slot canyons that carve the plateau above Lake Powell and
the Colorado River. One of my greatest pleasures is finding adventure in new and beautiful places.
This event would exceed even my own grandiose expectations, but not just with the rewards of its
dramatic landscape. Perhaps more rewarding than the exhilarating chase through the desert was the
smile I came away with after spending time with people I share this passion with - both new and old
running friends. In the end, memories of running the distance and enjoying the scenery fade next to
the memories of the time with those we share this wonderful kinship with.
Waking very early I made final decisions on what to wear, readied myself, and drove the two miles
from the hotel to the race venue. I generally either like to arrive with a lot of time to spare or arrive
at the last minute, running to make the start. On this day I had time to sit in my warm car and relax,
focusing on the task at hand, reviewing my plan, and visualizing how I would respond under expected
circumstances. I like this time to organize my head. Even with no running in the previous week since
the last race, I was confident my body was prepared and rested. It is always the mind that needs honed
at the eleventh hour. Relaxing in the car for as long as I could, I jumped at the last moment to reach the
start where a Navaho prayer had just begun to offer a blessing to the nearly three hundred runners
that would be heading out for the fifty-mile competition.
I quickly found myself in resonance with the spirit of the place and the people and their respect for the
land. It was truly a humbling experience to be allowed to share in this sacred energy. In the darkness
beneath the silouettes of mighty lithic giants all around us, under what remained of a full moon, we
began in good cheer, quickly channeling our energy to avoid mis-step on sandy single track trails that
would lead us into the mysterious night desert. Bobbing lights quickly came up against steap climbs
up the red rocks to achieve the plateau above the town of Page. The running mood was tenative as
no one wanted to be the first to fall.
Once on top, a double track opened in the dark, enabling more visibility and giving us some running
room. I found a comfortable, unhurried rhythm, and as with most events readily found conversational
partners to share the opening miles with. My new Nathan hand light worked wonderfully at nearly 300
lumens. The first four miles or so were fairly easy as everyone learned to adjust their stride to find
the most efficient way to run through the squishy sand. With the waxing light of the dawn we zigged
and zagged through the first short slot canyon to reach the first aid station in full morning light.
From here the route goes out and back a long, wide, flat wash for three miles, with relentless deep
sand to negotiate. The cool headwind on the way out worked to our advantage on the return journey.
Temperatures that began at about 40 degrees were only warming slightly in the first couple of hours,
giving us nearly perfect conditions for running comfortably. Aiming for a 12-minute pace I was not
surprised that we dipped under a 9-minute pace with the tailwind we enjoyed. Despite the poor
traction in the sand I was ahead of schedule at ten miles, but would adjust to be very close to plan
by twenty miles in less than four hours.
I took up with a delightful blond named Aly from Flagstaff who I would be back and forth with all day.
At one point we got too caught up in conversation and went off course before discovering that we
were no longer following hundreds of tracks. Losing only ten minutes or so it didn't take us long to
regain our place in the field.
After reaching the Horseshoe aid station I stripped down to a muscle shirt, downed a Red Bull, and
headed out for the highlights of the event. While Aly caught up from changing socks I took up with
another delightful young woman named Mandy from Silverton, OR, and a seasonsed ultra vet from
Silverton, CO, named Ivy. Running to the edge of the plateau above Lake Powell far below proved to
me to be the most challenging part of the run, despite being on hard sandstone the entire time. While
the pace slowed for enjoyable conversation, time to enjoy the once in a lifetime views, and finding the
next directional sign or flag, it slowed as well for the need to be very deliberate with foot placement
in the rugged undulating slabs of sandstone that formed the resistant plateau. The only tumble I took
all day was after countering a step on a crumbling shard of sandstone as I made my own path
across the stark landscape.
For much of the second half of the event I found myself alone as I quickly transitioned at aid stations
while those I was with took more time. At two remote aid stations and the finish I was delighted to be
met with a welcoming hug by my friend Fanny Barrette from Calgary. New friend Keith from Rio Rancho
kept me advised on how far ahead David Infante was. There is nothing sweeter than hearing your name
hollered at you in a strange place. Turning I was welcomed by a big squeeze from Breanna Cornell
who was there to pace the ultimate third place finisher. (At the pre-race gathering I was likewise
surprised to have fellow North Carolinian Kelly McCall find me for a hug and introduction to her new
husband since she moved to Colorado. So cool to run into Kelly.)
Running above Horseshoe Curve was almost surreal as you looked down into the shadows and green
water below. A drone that hovered above for event photography and several course videographers
should lead to some exposure in this year's event video. Running through Antelope Canyon with its
high steep walls, cavernous serpentine sandy meanderings, and aluminum ladders for climbing steep
rocks was unlike anything I had ever experienced in a race. Part of me wanted to slow down to marvel,
while the better part of me wanted to see just how fast I could round the curves and cut the tangents
without touching the sidewalls. It was like running Monte Carlo for me.
Emerging back into the heat of the desert, at least 60 degrees and breezy, the balance of the fifty
miler would be arduous in the sand until mile 38, then back to ten-minute miles on hardpack trails to the
finish. My legs and feet were prepared for the sand, living and training in the Carolina sandhills. It
was a comfortable effort without duress. Holding back some for the following week's 40-mile effort to
come, I sailed with easy measure in the final miles without concern for time.
At the Slickrock aid station I stopped to dump an enormous amount of sand from both shoes, despite
have gaiters that worked great. All the fine sand in my shoes was the result of fine particles entering
through the pores of my shoes. Sitting next to a young Navaho girl while emptying my shoes, I said
that I didn't want to take home any sand from the "res" cause I might get into trouble. There were
quite a few local Navaho runners in the shorter events. It was a pleasure to have exchange with them
and offer words of encouragement.
After picking up my final drop bag less than a mile to the finish I slowed to savor the feel and the
atmosphere of the day. That is a sure sign that you ran smart and enjoyed yourself. My legs didn't hurt
and, aside from a brief episode of dry heaves a couple miles from the finish, I was none the worse
for wear. Crossing the finish line in a respectible sub 11:30 time I was met again by Fanny with a big
congratulatory hug. Enjoying the aftermath in the early evening with David, Fanny, Leslie Pryslak,
Shirley and Bryan Fleming, and Charlie Gadol, I congratulated Aly and Mandy on their finishes with
promises to stay in touch with both. Grabbing a Navaho taco (yum) before heading back to the hotel
at dusk I concluded the evening with a nice soak in the hot tub with Charlie and my Canadian friends.
I was sorry to see this one end after breakfast with the same crew the next morning, but the third
race of my hat trick lay ahead and I had miles to go before I slept again, so I pointed my chariot east
and returned to the road warrior that stears my soul.