Antelope Canyon 50 Mile Ultra: it's a little personal

Jasmine WrightJasmine Wright

it’s a little personal but I process as I write and journaling about these races helps me collect my thoughts and brings closure

Picture a group floating down the Salt River on a beautiful August day, enjoying the chill day, sun, and water and someone says “so there’s this race thru Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, prettiest ultra in the country, they open up areas that are off limits to tourists just for this race, it sells out super fast, Jasmine you just ran 27 miles on Spruce Mtn you’re totally ready for an ultra, you guys should do it!”

I took the bait.

…and trained for the last 6 months. . .

I signed up for Stagecoach to “ease into it” and afterward Cindy (also planning to run Antelope for her first 50 miler) said “I think I need a few more ultras before then so I signed up for Cave Creek and BCC” and I agreed on the need for training and signed up for those ultras too. (gradual descent into insanity = signing up for ultras to train for longer ultras) 🤣

Literally every ultra I ran to this point was training for Antelope.

I have never trained for a sporting event for so long and involving so much effort. I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder last fall and on my darkest days I didn’t know if I would actually be here to run this race come March. I was worried that “training” would interfere with my running just for the love of running (ok ok for the love of running downhill!).

I learned something from every ultra about fuel, about pacing myself, managing my energy, and I gained confidence with every longer distance. I started medication for depression for the first time in my life two weeks before Stagecoach and then changed meds four times since. (If you have ever been on a medication like this you can understand the challenges this adds…) the first medication helped but wasn’t a fit for me genetically. The second one made me so nauseous I could barely eat enough to run and I lost 7 lbs in two weeks. The third one was perfect but I gained 17 lbs… while running quite a bit. The meds messed with my metabolism and electrolytes while helping my neurotransmitters. 2.5 weeks before this ultra I decided to stop all of it and reassess my baseline before anything else. Stopping caused side effects like dizziness off and on for a couple weeks- one thing that made one of the BCC training runs especially challenging.

By attempting a 50 mile run I wanted to see how far I could push my mind and body with running- what would that look like for me? Where was my limit? What would I do when it got hard? This race definitely pushed me to my current limit!

We started in the dark at 545. Cindy and Carol helped me check in and make sure all was ready- these girls are amazing humans and friends. 💜 Runners themselves, they volunteered to crew the whole thing for me and alternated pacing me the last 20 miles. Their presence, support, and friendship literally made the whole weekend! 💕

The first couple miles were the hugest bottleneck ever. Almost 400 racers (yes there are that many “crazy people” out there!) in the 50 miler all started at the same time and we ended up single file balancing on the side of these rocks while people took turns climbing up the rocks in the dark. (Note to race planners- starting waves are a thing!) Picture scrambling up the dells on all fours and you got it.

We ran thru miles of desert and as the sun was coming up dropped into the first small slot canyon.

I just love slot canyons. I was thinking “ah this is what I came for!” This one wasn’t as tall as the others but still cool. The climb out of there involved runners on hands and knees sliding backward and trying to crawl out- literally. Got to the top without falling down and was greeted with the beautiful sunrise. ☀️ Something about running with the sunrise… a piece of heaven.

It was cold. There was Snow. On. The. Ground. ❄️ Low of 36 and high of 56. I wore my beanie for 1/3 the race, my gloves for most of it, and my winter rubbing jacket for ALL of it. I managed to spill water all over myself from my dripping reservoir hose, that I maybe didn’t notice for several miles, because what’s cold when you’re already cold? (More cold is now one of my gloves are soaked too!) Let’s just say I was happy to see the sun! Later in the day it was still cold but my perfect temp for running!

There was a wide desert wash that also functioned as a road (think Canyon de Chelly) and we ran thru this for serval miles to reach Antelope Canyon. (Did I mention this was basically the running tour of Page attractions???) I noticed Jason running by and commented how rude that was to pass a fellow PATR (as per the usual me being passed) without saying hey. He slowed down so we could run together a bit which really helped the miles go by. It was extra special for me because Jason was the reason I even considered running an ultra in the first place - reading his race experiences made the impossible seem… maybe possible? One day? Maybe? And he’s one of my ultra mentors, those who encouraged me so much to try for longer distances, somehow believing I could actually do it when I thought they were all maybe not realizing who they were talking to!

We ran toward this hole in the cliff face. It was pretty cool to run into the cliff which was actually Antelope Canyon and we started walking and taking pictures the whole way thru. Honestly I was disappointed because I’ve been to this canyon in full sun and it’s a totally different world. As we made our way thru it was so dark people had to use headlamps to even walk without running into rocks. Not even partially comparable to the wonder I experienced seeing that canyon in sunlight. I’m kind of sad so many runners didn’t get to see how amazing that canyon really is… for 78% of the runners this was their first time to Antelope Canyon.

We exited the canyon and ran up onto the hillside above it to circle back to the wash, and then back to smaller slot canyon again. Going down back down into the canyon (even being a smaller one) was sketchy! I slid on my butt (if you notice awkward coloring on my pants running behind me -ignore that thanks!) This girl was gripping the canyon wall for dear life saying “I already broke a rib! I don’t want to break another one!” I told her granite dells theology recommends using the cracks in the rocks for leverage. Not sure she believed me… 🤷‍♀️

We ran back into the desert. Jason was rocking a much faster pace and went ahead.. and somehow I caught up to him at the next aid station. My surprise must have shown all over my face because he laughed and said I wasn’t as slow as I think I am… 😬

Shots of coke. Mmmm I do love some shots of coke at aid stations! Refreshing! Cute little paper cups and all.

We headed into more sand. Rocks. Small canyons. I was intrigued by the runners around me. Many of them don’t actually look like runners. This one guy looked like he played video games all night and rolled onto this 50 mile course out of nowhere- still wearing a hoodie and sweat pants and tie dye ball cap. Another guy was like a chubby John Lennon with long hair and glasses and was standing in the trail with his arms spread out turning a circle and (I think?) looking for a friend. There were runners from 8 countries and all 50 states. It was cool to hear other languages going on and people comparing notes about where they were from on the course. The 50 mile distance was split 50/50 males and females which I thought was super cool!

We ran for several miles down this hill of sand. Oh yeah, did I mention like the whole course was sand? I heard this couple near the top “you’re the reason we are out here in the first place!” I hope they made it to the end still a couple… 🤣

Right before Horseshoe Bend I got to see Cindy and Carol again. They had on these adorable hats and bow ties and MORE COWBELL! Runners were stopping to take THEIR PICTURES and asking for SELFIES with them. Later when they were running with me people kept recognizing them from the aid stations! They were so much help grabbing things and handing me things, asking questions faster than my brain could grasp lol

We headed for Horseshoe Bend. The course goes to the far left of where the tourists are and then you step around a chain link fence with a NO TRESPASSING sign (ignore that crazy fall a foot away) and then proceeds to follow the river for six miles. This is NOT. A. TRAIL. It was following bushes with pink ribbons like pac-man for grown ups over rocks and sand and desert until you’re dizzy and disoriented and realize how people end up lost out here… the rocks are so circular… and the patterns. . . And since most of it wasn’t a trail it was more like looking for footsteps in the sand or pink ribbon after ribbon…

Horseshoe Bend was beautiful. Ended up there at the same time as Jason so we took some pics and started power hiking the rocks along the river. Didn’t see a single person actually running this part of the course. Time for a snickers. No really. That’s fuel! One guy (turned out to be from Connecticut) saw Jason and said “hey he’s the reason I’m here!” I was thinking that sounded awfully familiar… 😂

This part of the course was hands down the toughest part. It was rock climbing and stair stepping and cool pictures and … guess you just had to be there. My race tracker somehow disabled - after saying a couple professionally snarky comments like “you’re location has not changed, if you’re still moving check your device” yeah yeah rub it in. 🤦🏻‍♀️ This part was 25 minute miles. There were runners doing stretches after parts of the rock climbs, there was limping, there were WORDS SAID. At the aid station after this stretch a runner held up her hand and said to everyone “who’s glad THAT’S over?!” So much yes! 🤣 I might have been asking “tell me we don’t have to loop back over that?!” 😬

I received this gem of a text from my brother about this point:

It could be that your purpose in life is to serve as a warning to others. – Ashleigh Brilliant

I had my first ultra quesadilla and It. Was. Heaven. In. My. Mouth. Soooo good! They cook them right there at the aid station! And you can add slices of fresh avocado… oh so good! 😋

Left the aid station and immediately started down a cliff of a canyon wall into Waterhole Canyon. I’m. NOT. Kidding. This involved all fours and trying to figure out a way to climb down and not fall… it’s 28 miles into the race and the legs are a bit shaky now. I hear this runner behind me say “I’ve done more canyoneering in this run than running!” And I was so glad it wasn’t just me!! My reservoir hose was leaking. Again. Another runner helpfully informed me as I was trying to suck on my hose and breath and not choke and not fall into the canyon and not slip on rocks (which were also getting wet) that it looked like I was lactating. Thank you for that. 🤨

While in the land of disorienting no- trail rocks I asked if there was water in Waterhole Canyon? I was assured over several years of races no one has seen water in Waterhole Canyon. Not sure why I jinxed myself by asking… sure enough… runners doing parkour with hands on one side of the canyon and feet on the other side to avoid running thru water! I still don’t know how I didn’t fall in. I took a picture of the girl behind me doing the cool parkour moves.

Between that and the rocky non-trail I decided I’m not an ultra “runner” and I will stick with “endurance athlete” henceforth.

I loved Waterhole Canyon. I would like to go back and visit as a tourist. It was probably my favorite part of the race and my first time there.

Jason passed me again in Waterhole Canyon, but before he passed we reached this part that was the most challenging of the whole course for slot canyon maneuvering… we heard cheering up ahead and were wondering where the party was… it was one of the locations where the tribal members were keeping an eye on the race (since they don’t allow tourists in all of these areas tribal members had to be present for the race and were stationed along the course in certain areas). We came up to this part of the canyon that has a ledge waist high. There’s a shelf of rock about two feet above that ledge. You have to get up on the ledge and fold your body into a C shape to get thru. All of the rock is slippery. I tried to lift a leg up that high and my hip immediately cramped. I tried to grab somewhere with my hands and pull myself up. Nope. At this point people are getting stuck behind me and the volunteers asked if I wanted help. I finally got the other leg up and somehow shimmied my way thru it … still not sure how. It was cool but definitely the most challenging of any physical obstacle I’ve ever encountered on an ultra! We ran thru more canyon and then clambered (again I’m using hands and feet) up another rock side to get out of this canyon. We reached double track and I didn’t mind it was sand. I could run! I threw my arms out and ran- I think I heard someone laughing behind me. Many of us just felt relief to actually be RUNNING again. Received another gem of a text from my brother: Its only 20 miles if you go the right way. It could be more if you get lost. 🤓 Headed back to the Horseshoe Bend aid station to meet up with Cindy and Carol! I realized how cool it was to have someone there waiting to cheer you on. I didn’t realize but between my race tracker going on the fritz and my miles being so slow in that section they were worried I had gotten hurt.

Mile 32 I was sooo happy to have Carol set off with me as a pacer. 😍😍😍 Carol and Jason and I ran parts of the next couple miles together. It was a PATR run all over! I was super happy being able to spend so much time on the trails with people I admire so much as runners and ultra mentors. I love listening to the running stories PATR runners share and I’m always learning from their experiences. The camaraderie really helped those miles pass. We headed for Page plateau and the Rim Trail.

The miles become a bit blurry here. In my mind I see faces of runners coming back from that Rim Trail and they shared this look of exhaustion and pain, too tired to even respond when people encouraged them. In a few miles I would very much understand why. Sand. Hills. More sand. Sand in my electrolytes. Sand in my mouth. No sand in my shoes because my amazing mother gave me gaiters for Christmas 😁😁

There’s a steep climb onto the plateau. We passed Harley going down here. He looked peaked but he was ROCKING his time. The Rim Trail made me happy at first, it was packed ground and single track and felt like home. I actually put in some decent time for a few miles. And then mile 43, I started to get tired. I said “I feel tired” and my brain literally laughed at me “really? I wonder why?!” Now I’m talking to myself in a snarky voice. I started power hiking more. Carol is an EXPERT pacer and she would gently encourage me “do you think you can run a little bi on this part?” And I would do what I would think was running but I could see her walking lol! She asked if it would help if she talked or was quiet and I really needed to get out of my head so she started telling me Trail stories - this girl is incredible and I learned so much from her example!! 💕🌸💕 We saw the lake but I didn’t even think it was pretty with my fatigue fog going on. The rocks and lake looked SO PRETTY when I looked back at them while sitting down chilling the next day. Right then, I didn’t even want a single other picture.

That Rim Trail went on and on and on. And. On. My fingers started swelling and I realized I hadn’t peed the entire race. Now over 11 hours. I started freaking out about my kidneys. I didn’t know if I needed more water, or water and electrolytes. The medication I was taking during the last two ultras wasted sodium and it took me a lot of experimenting to figure out how much I needed to balance that and the running. I stopped the medication 2.5 weeks before this run and was lost on what my body needed now.

I was running on sheer determination here. My body was tired. I started feeling oddly emotional. Mile 44 I decided the aid station up there didn’t exist. I told Carol that and she started laughing saying she was thinking the same thing but didn’t want to say it!

Somehow we finally reached the aid station and Cindy. I was told I had 7 miles and 2 hours left to do them. I freaked out. I was going to stop but didn’t because I thought I was going to run out of time now. 😱 Cindy and Carol switched and Cindy starting pacing me. She was so sweet and kind and helped with everything she could like getting stuff out of my pack and saying encouraging things every so often. (I was pretty sure she was lying every time she said I was making good time but I really wanted to believe it!)

Mile 45 I had actual tears in my eyes. I realized I had wanted to see how far I could push myself and this was it. The. Miles. Lasted. Forever. That Rim Trail was the song that never ends. I have never seen so many runners on the side of the trail puking. I just wanted to finish before the grim reaper gave me a DNF. (There was debate about if they had an actual grim reaper out there telling people they were done or not.)

There were actual highway crossings and we had to get across in the dark WITHOUT BEING HIT. Cindy was trying to keep an eye out for all of us disoriented runners. I was trying to gauge the cars and my new found lack of ability to move fast even if I was about to be run over. I decided this was a survival of the fittest Darwinian ultra. I had a weird urge to just keep walking and expect the cars to just stop. Yep. Mentally foggy.

I passed this girl who started following us closely for the next several miles. I asked if she wanted to pass and she said “no! You’re a lifesaver! You’ve been pacing me for miles now! I don’t know what I would have done!” In my typical fashion I identified her as Miami in my head because I remember where she was from and not her name… I was impressed she could still talk. I couldn’t talk. I felt too tired to talk even some of the next day. Cindy talked and it was nice to listen to them. At the finish line Miami kept telling Cindy thank you.

Mile 47 it was dark again and I had to put my light back on. It was weird to know I had run from dark to dark. Sometimes I felt like I wasn’t quite in my body. I knew I was mentally foggy when I couldn’t keep track of when I last ate. I asked Cindy to tell me every time 30 minutes had passed. Even two days later I still felt mentally foggy. (Note to self: Carol says there’s a way for COROS to remind me to eat- need this in my life!)

I received messages from people both text and in my race app and these kept popping into my head. I was so touched people took the time to send them on or cared that I was running. It meant the world to me.

Mile 48 I knew there was at least a mile of uphill and several miles of sand before the end. I don’t actually know how I got thru that - I remember saying the course director was a sadist and something like “challenge accepted” as we started up a mile of sandy hillside. I was pretty sure these race planners had a camera set up secretly somewhere and were enjoying watching the pain and suffering. Why is there always a hill at the end??? Mile 49 I laughed out loud at a few of us agreeing we were crazy. Mile 49.5 I got lost. It was dark. I thought the trail went off the road and down a hill. Cindy and I and a couple other runners were looking all over for footprints in the sand and couldn’t find them. We had to climb BACK UP THE HILL and thankfully some other runners found the course and yelled back about the right direction.

Mile 50 I pointed out I could still “run” even tho I could see Cindy walking next to me as I “ran.” Cindy, kind hearted and dedicated pacer that she is, completely agreed.

Mile 50.5 Cindy volunteered to start a beginners running group with PATR with me. Pretty sure she would have said ANYTHING to get me across the finish line, and I probably seemed so out of it I wouldn’t remember- but I do remember! Beginners running group is on with Cindy and I taking turns leading runs!

Mile 50.6 the school and finish line were in sight but seemed to be a world away. At one point I heard the runners behind me say “I hear cowbells!” A couple people got this last burst and ran faster. I didn’t have a burst. I was barely moving.

Mile 50.7 I followed the cones and the volunteer told me I had to reroute to enter the finish stretch. That 10 feet felt like an impossible ask …

Finish line!!! Less than an hour before the cut off! I kept saying “I want a picture together and I want to leave” - the next day I realized I could have had a Navajo taco and Cindy had to remind me I kept saying I wanted a picture and I wanted to leave! I tried to lift my leg to do a stretch and couldn’t. I wasn’t even sure I would make it to a shower or food before I fell into bed. I could barely walk from the car to the room.

Cindy and Carol had that all planned too- they ordered pizza and sent me off to a shower and I hobbled out to … yum!!! Pizza and coke!!!

This race felt life changing. I guess because I never thought I could run 50 miles. Ever. It was so special because so much of it was shared with friends from PATR, and particularly three people who have mentored me and encouraged me in running so much: Cindy, Jason, and Carol. I felt loved and supported and surrounded by a community of runners. The mental health journey has been an interesting facet and added to the challenges while also being improved by the running.

I don’t think I will ever do that particular course again. I will do Stagecoach and BCC but this one… tough cookie!!

I heard today that only 30 of the 98 runners doing the 100 mile even finished. The course was way harder than I expected. I am sooo happy I finished!!! I’m so appreciative of PATR and people like my mom and running friends who encourage me over and over even when I’m not sure it’s possible.

I could never thank Cindy and Carol enough for everything they did this weekend - they truly made the whole event a special experience.

Would you believe while we were gone Parker WASHED MY CAR?! He even crews from a distance!!!! Thank you Parker!!!! 🤯😎

finish! finish! finish! finish! finish! finish! finish! finish! finish! finish! finish! finish! finish! finish! finish! finish!