On Saturday, I ran my first 50-miler in nearly 5 and a half years (second ever). I have a lot of feels about it, particularly because I both dropped 1.75 hours from my first time and won the ladies division.
Mostly, my heart just feels melty about Antelope Canyon.
As always, there was a lot of life leading up to this race. Getting sick, being overwhelmed at work, anxiety/internal drama. The usual. No negative thoughts about running, in fact, it continues to be my rock through life’s ups and downs. But I didn’t want to race, I didn’t want pressure, I didn’t want expectations. I just wanted to have a nice weekend away with pretty, once-in-a-lifetime views.
So that’s how I approached the start line on Saturday morning. Do what ya can and enjoy it. Take pics. Chat up new friends. In fact, that’s how I approached miles 0-22 or so.
The first shift was to survival mode. After most of the first 20 being on loose sand, I thought transitioning to harder ground (slick rock) would make things better and smoother. I was absolutely wrong. Things just got harder – or at least more painful. Each step I had to tell myself, “Just keep going,” and “You’re doing awesome, you’re such a badass.” It was a bit of a blur. Runners began to space out and somehow I was at the front of a crew of people, leading the way as the spotter of pink ribbons and course tracker (it was a run across slick rock, not a designated trail). It was entertaining for sure but the ground was hard and both my legs and brain hurt after a while. I was happy when the guy behind me took over. I couldn’t say much except ‘Thank you” and “I was sorely mistaken when I got excited for a hard surface.” (Sidebar: I run roads regularly and roads are much more gentle and kind on the legs/knees/tendons/feet than slick rock).
Mile 27. FINALLY, on the verge of dropping to the 55k, I reached the Water Holes AS. I’d never been so thankful for the running gods placing that aid station in front of me. It was like an oasis. I didn’t even stop for long. I got there and quickly heard, “Kate! I think you’re the first lady!” from my friend Sid, who was running the 55k and happened to have hit that aid station just before me.
Cue transition to mentality 3: Welp, you can’t quit now.
I had passed a couple other ladies between Horseshoe AS (20) and Water Holes (27). I had no idea where they were behind me but I figured we all suffered about the same amount during the slick rock so I didn’t think they’d be fresh and bubbly either.
So onward I went, through the slot canyons at Water Hole, which were mind-blowingly amazing. This section of the course is incredible. More sand, some ladders, and actual scrambling (never assumed my climbing skills would come in handy during a running race). I caught up to a tall 100-miler with a beard (has this become a comfort zone of sorts? Exhibit A Exhibit B) who looked strong so I joined him for a few miles. To be honest, those miles were a bit of a blur, I remember not asking his name but I do remember him saying, “GO GET IT!” as I felt myself getting stronger on the way back to Horseshoe Bend AS and he fell back. I looked down at my watch a few times after I sped up a little, mostly just getting excited as my impending shoe change at the aid station drew closer. But I also noticed a few quick sub-8 paces that I laughed about before audibly telling myself, “Chill O.”
Somewhere before I hit that aid station was an official shift to mentality 4: This is your race.
I hit that aid station with intention. I changed my shoes while a few other 50-milers did the same (one was switching his shoes to my beloved Brooks Mazamas=instant connection). I put some other snacks into my pack, grabbed a handful of tortilla chips and another of trail mix, and took off up a sandy hill, audibly cheering myself on, “Let’s go O!” (Nothing better than positive self-talk that makes you look like a crazy).
There were a lot of people on the track by now as 55k runners were also using it. I just ran. I was in tunnel vision. Run, run, run, walk a minute, run, run, run. People cheered me on, “Go, girl!” That was inspiring. I made it to the top of the hill with a smile on my face and kept trucking on. Back to the Slick Rock AS. A little Ginger Ale, a quick chat, and off I went. Sand. More Sand. A downhill or two. I cracked a couple non-jokes on one, “This is so much easier than it was this morning” and we all laughed at the painful memory of running up the sandy hill. LADIES! OMG SO MANY LADIES RUNNING. I was ecstatic about it and shouted a few “Hell yeah, ladies! We rule this!” Onward, I caught a guy running his first 55k. We had to run about a half mile from the finish to get to the Page Rim Trail loop and we joked about the tease.
Onward, onward. Running around the edge of the camping area to more sand sand sand. And the hardest and sandiest uphill to the Page Rim AS. Holy mackerel that was hard. It was steep. The leader male came tumbling down it at lightning speed as I was heading up it. A guy cracked a joke to his friend, “That’s how we’re gonna run down this thing” and we all laughed. I was still in flow when I hit the aid station. I grabbed Mike and Ikes and some watermelon and took off.
I was on cloud nine. My mood was up there. I was just out for a run. I can do 10 miles with my eyes closed, I told myself. I always tell myself that. I remind myself that once upon a time when I drank alcohol, I’d close bars down dancing and goofing off with friends, sleep 4 or 5 hours, and then get up and run 10 miles. If I could do 10 then, I could crush 10 now. So I did. I felt great. Tried to keep my pace under control but I really wanted to just GO.
I passed a few people. I ran with a few 50-milers. They all said I looked strong. I’d run with them for a minute before feeling stronger and taking off. One of them, a Yosemite guy, I asked, “Do you mind if I hang with you for a while? I could use a little breather.” I didn’t think about it then but it was because running with another person at that point really takes the pressure off somehow. It’s why people have pacers. I left him after a few minutes of chatting.
I passed a few more. I reached one who looked stopped from afar and I yelled, “Warning if you’re peeing, I’m coming up behind ya!” We ran for a moment or two but I was feeling strong and he was going through struggles. (We met at the end hanging out at the medic tent…great human with an incredible wife. He’d been at a real low point when I saw him but managed to keep it together to finish 20 minutes behind me). I kept onward. Single track, cross the road, dirt trail, switchback. This was my jam. Miles 30-on man I felt strong, miles 35-on I felt fresher than I did at the start.
Quick stop through the Powell aid station. I grabbed some Ginger Ale and Mike and Ikes. Thanked those beautiful volunteer humans for being awesome. *THANK YOUR VOLUNTEERS* Onward. Got choked up a few times after being told I was the first lady. I’m good with crying it out for a little extra adrenaline. Hit the last AS a few miles later, Sid was there again! I couldn’t do much except say, “GO, GIRL! I’M GONNA GO FINISH” as I pointed towards the finish.
The last mile was a blur of look at all the people and please keep working legs. Sandy last mile. Sandy finish. Happiness exploding through my heart – partially because I was done, partially because I finished in a time that was so strong, partially because first lady.
Through all this, I might be impressing other people but I’m impressing myself more than anyone. I am so proud of what I’ve been able to do. I can’t believe it. I shock myself. I know the amount of work I put in but it’s not exactly easy for me to translate training to race. My “great run” when I’m training has nothing to do with time. My “great run” is a feeling that I don’t think I can actually put into words. This, this run I had that same feeling but a time meant something. I’m going to spend a little time continuing to float and riding out the stoke of this experience.
I can’t believe I got all these words out. I’m not proofing it so I hope it’s some form of English.