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    Antelope Canyon 50K-Not Always What You Expect

    900 506 Terri Rylander

    Three nights before my second 50K, I sat down with the course map and elevation profile and plotted my estimated time. Funny, my estimate of 7 hours 45 minutes was within just a couple minutes of my first 50K finishing time. But I wanted better. I recomputed what it would take to get a finish under 7 hours. I was ready. Bring it on!


    Horseshoe Bend in Page, AZ

    I chose the Antelope Canyon 50K because I wanted something new that was still relatively close to home. The course offered some amazing views which I thought would make it that much sweeter. And, lately the weather had been unseasonably warm. Little did I know, my visions for the day were going to be radically changed.

    It may have started when I got a cold four days out. Or maybe when the weather forecast was changed from 40/70 to 22/45. Or maybe when the race started before my GPS was aligned or when the snow started falling in the first five minutes. Whatever it was, it was a sign that things weren’t quite right.

    My GPS aligned about 3 minutes into the race, then off I went into the darkness. I would have been last except my running partner Gary was still in the porta-potty. I passed a few people quickly and headed down the hill toward the mob of runners–only now, they were coming back up the hill at me! Every single person had missed the turn onto the trail. The extra mile I ran blew the first part of my plan right out of the water. It’s like getting a triple bogey on the first hole. You immediately want a do over.


    Snow fell on the Page rim trail for about 2 hours.

    The trail ran level along a rim around the northwest side of Page (AZ) and along the Colorado River canyon. The sky got brighter but the snow fell harder. It snowed for two hours, but it was amazingly pleasant–the views were great and I wasn’t cold at all. Thankfully, there were volunteers guiding us to the first aid station. Goal time was :58 and I was in at 1:06. Not super bad and maybe I could make that up?


    Really nice couple took my picture…more on that later.

    We finished the rim trail with a super fun, super sandy downhill. At the top of the hill, I met a nice couple taking pics and I asked if they would send me some later since I chose not to carry a camera. They agreed and said, “Smile!” I turned around in time to get my picture taken before bounding down the hill.


    Slogging through miles of sand.

    Well, the sand didn’t stop there. The next several miles across the desert were sandy with places ankle and shin deep. It was not run-able for me at all. So I walked as fast as I could, knowing my goal time was slipping away. I refilled my water bottle and left the next aid station running across a bit of sandstone but that quickly gave way to more sand and more walking.


    Following the fence line to Horseshoe Bend

    I reached the 14 mile aid station at about 16 miles. I grabbed a few items and quickly left, ducking under the barbed wire fence and toward Horseshoe Bend. Runners were starting to thin out at this point but I was able to keep someone in sight for a while.


    Literally running on the edge

    Going along Horseshoe Bend was pretty cool. Slick rock scrambling and hopping right along the edge. The view was spectacular but there was to be little to no running. Too many ups and downs along the slick rock. But, it was fine with me, I love that kind of scrambling. At least, unlike the sand, I had footing on this stuff.


    Eery feeling to be all alone in the desert

    About two miles towards Horseshoe Bend, I now only saw runners in the far distance. I started noticing how hard it was to find the next flag. I’d walk or run to a flag, then stand there scouting the horizon for the next one. At first, I could find another. Then I couldn’t. Pretty soon, I was all alone in the desert. No people, no flags, nothing moving, just a whisper of a wind. I felt like I was in some bad western movie.

    I kept moving, getting more and more frustrated. I probably went for about 30 minutes, climbing every high point I could find. No flags and no runners. I kept moving in the direction I thought was the route when Marie, a 50-miler, caught up to me. She was young and cheerful but had no idea which way to go. Together, we kept going and continued to scout for flags. We saw none.


    Just kept moving forward

    I pointed in the direction of the highway and told Marie that was where I was going to head. My fear about following the canyon too closely was coming to a dead end with either a chasm to cross or wall to scale. So we stayed “inland” and made our way towards the highway. Marie was much younger and faster than me, and she was on a tighter timeline. So, she politely excused herself and headed off.

    I gave up trying to find any more flags and made a beeline for the highway. As I got closer, I could see some cars and what looked like an aid station. I grumbled and huffed as I made my way there. But, to my dismay, it was just a house. Now I was at the highway, behind a barbed wire fence, not knowing if the aid station was to my left or to my right.

    Marie had called her husband to help her find her way. Fortunately, he saw me, stopped, and told me it was two miles to the aid station–just follow the fence to the south and there will be an opening. I got more and more angry about the whole situation. I trained hard for this. I followed a plan consistently. I wanted to run a great 50K and here I was 23 miles in with two more miles to get to the 21 mile aid station. The sand had taken a toll on my lower back and it was all I could do to get myself to that fence opening.

    I couldn’t imagine another 10 miles in deep sand with no course flagging. IF I made it, it would certainly be night by then. I told myself I didn’t care about finishing anymore. I didn’t need a stupid finisher necklace anyway. So, when I popped out under the fence and the aid station volunteer, my friend George, asked what he could get me, I said, “A lift!” I told him that this was ridiculous and I am done. He sat me in a chair and gave me his down jacket and a blanket. I stewed about the incompetence. I felt awful I’d talked my friend Gary into coming. He’ll never listen to my suggestions again. I was mad and sad.


    I would not have finished without Omar and Lynne!

    I always marvel how quickly things can change in these long distance races. You go from happily running along to stomach or body issues that you think will take you down to happily running again. Well, this race was no exception, only it didn’t happen quite like that. After about 15 minutes of sitting and sulking, my photo friends showed up and chided me to join them.

    “Come on! You got this!” he said. “You can finish with us, we’re mostly walking.” she said. After a few more grumbles and groans from me and a few more words of encouragement from them. I put my pack back on and we all headed out.

    Four of us going through Waterhole Slot Canyon

    This next section started off with crawling backwards and downhill under a very large rock that might make some feel claustrophobic. Then a slide and jump down the slick rock into a slot canyon. And, to my surprise, Gary shows up! He came back to find me saying that after climbing the first ladder, he worried I might be alone and not able to manage it solo. He would have been right. There would have been no way I could have maneuvered the ladders alone.

    Antelope Canyon 50 mile, 50k 24

    One of many scary ladders up the canyon

    The four of us, Lynne, Omar, Gary, and I, worked our way up the slot canyon. At times it was so narrow you had to contort your body to fit through. Other times, we climbed ladders not quite long enough to reach the top. Some ladders were precariously placed on piles of rocks. It would have made for an awesome hike, but was harder to appreciate when you were in the middle of a race and hoped to make it back in daylight.


    Omar running in socks

    Once out, the four of us motored down the packed sand road, following the power lines to the next aid station where our drop bags were. Omar had shoe issues and could barely walk. Lynne suggested taking his shoes off, putting his insoles inside his socks and going sock footed. Perfect solution! Note to self.

    We got ourselves in and out of the next aid station with just 5 miles to go–still hoping to finish before nightfall. The course doubled back on itself but I thought I remembered it splitting off at some point. As we approached a major intersection, we saw lots of footprints, in the deep sand again, heading downhill. We double checked the sign but couldn’t tell if we should go that way or not. Lynne and Omar were already at the bottom, so we said screw it, let’s go.

    Handmade finisher necklace

    We knew we had lost the course at that point, but just made our way across the desert, back towards the town of Page. We chatted, laughed, and bitched about the race and other stuff. We also made plans to share dinner together. Finally, after 10 hours and 20 minutes, we hit the finish. Unceremoniously, we walked into the building, told the race director we were here, and he gave us a time. He also gave us our finisher’s necklaces even though were technically past the cutoff time. We ended up doing somewhere around 34-35 miles.

    Afterwards, we ran into our friend Justin who is an awesome runner. He was leading the pack through about mile 20 when he came across the race director still laying flags! The race director said there was no way he could keep up with Justin, gave him a handful of flags, and told him to continue marking as he went. When Justin replied that he didn’t know where to put them, he was told to just follow the canyon. Unfortunately, Justin quickly ran out of flags leaving much of that section unmarked.

    Terri, Gary, Lynne, Omar, Nick

    Though the race didn’t even come close to playing out like I planned, it gave me a chance to meet some really cool people. Lynne and Omar were so much fun. I’m sure we’ll stay in touch. We also invited Nick, a 50-miler who finished at the same time, to join us for dinner. Lynne and Nick are both Aussies and chatted about that. We all had a wonderful evening getting to know each other and talking about what we love doing.

    *With special thanks to Omar, Lynne, and Cory Reese for the photos.

    To see all of the photos, see the

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    C250K in One Year!

    800 600 Terri Rylander

    Once I learned that there were races held on trails, my interest in running grew even more. And, after working up to over 50 miles running in a week, I knew I wanted to run a 50K race…I just didn’t know when that would happen. Life gets in the way….relationships, work, volunteer duties, even surgery….

    In December, I signed up to do the 30K (18mile) Calico Ghost Town race taking place in January. I thought it would be a good step towards a 50K, especially being that it was just 5 weeks post-op on my hernia surgery. But, as the day drew closer, I knew I really wanted to make this my first 50K–especially because race day fell on my one year anniversary of starting to run.

    So, this past weekend, we drove to Barstow, CA to compete in the Calico Ghost Town Trail race, and I switched my registration to 50K! I have been feeling good, but maybe not quite as prepared as I would have liked to be, having just started back to full running mode about two weeks prior. But, I knew I could at least do the distance, and set a goal to finish under 8 hours. Seemed fairly doable – that is, if I didn’t walk the whole thing!

    img_2857Race day morning, I was excited, nervous, and intimidated to be around such great runners. I thought surely they’d see right through me as a “wanna-be/newbie” ultra runner. I was feeling out of my league. After waiting for about 30 minutes for the gun to go off, the cold morning breeze sent us all running down the road and off into the desert hills.img_2862

    The first 3 miles were on a gentle downhill slope that finally turned onto a sandy desert road. I was chatting with a woman who was telling me she was new to the 60-69 year old category, when she stubbed her foot on a rock and went down! She got back up, said she was ok, and kept on going. I cringe to think I will eventually do the same some day.

    img_2865My running partner Gary coached me with a 4:1 run/walk strategy that worked out pretty well. It was just the right mix to keep us moving along and save enough energy for later. The course meandered around the desert at a steady climb and runners began to space apart. Pretty soon, we would only see the same few runners for many miles.img_2869

    The path became pretty rocky but it was a nice change from the unrelenting steady climb. No sooner did we get through the rockiness and were back to more steady climbing up through mile 19! We had drop bags waiting for us at the mile 17 aid station but it was perched on top of a mountain and the wind was howling so bad I didn’t even get my bag out of the box. Just had a PBJ quarter and off we went again.img_2874

    Mile 19 was a steep climb to the top of a pass. They stationed a poor volunteer in the biting wind just to tell runners to be careful going down the chute. Turns out his cautions were well warranted. The chute was steep and slippery. I almost slid down three different times. You can see how steep the stretch is in the pictures.img_2883img_2880

    Nice thing was, the next four miles were a nice steady decline. We were running at just over a 10 minute mile pace. Felt nice to stretch the legs out a bit and feel strong and capable again. The mile markers were ticking by. Unfortunately, that came to an end all too soon. It was back to climbing again and this time the hills got pretty steep!

    img_2886The downhills were also steep and, at this point, my IT band on my right knee was threatening to revolt. I had to walk (sidestep) down the hills. I was so afraid it would just give out altogether and I’d have to walk the rest of the way back, so I really tried to be cautious.

    img_2888Gary was a great coach and partner. He would gently push me to run for a minute or two at a time and I would begrudgingly say “ok.” At one point my knee was hurting so much (as was the rest of me!) that when he suggesting running, I just said, “NO!” But, as happens in these races, the course changes again and what was once hurting, no longer did. So I got a second (or third or fourth) wind and was back to running again.

    img_2890I was actually feeling pretty good but was bummed that I still couldn’t run the downhills. So, I decided to run the uphills as best I could and walk the downhills. Reverse strategy – I know. But, it seemed to work for me at the time.

    img_2902Mile 28…mile 29….mile 30…and the finish was in sight.  Did the “parking lot shuffle” to the finish line but the RD had one last trick in store. There was a serious uphill side road from the parking lot back to the Ghost Town finish that had me walking one last time. Gary pushed me hard to finish under 7:40 but as it was, I was right on 7:40.

    img_2906I wish I could say I was thrilled, happy, hungry right afterwards, but I was so exhausted and things were hurting that I couldn’t think straight. For 7+ hours, I was focused on doing what needed to be done at the moment. Now, every pain and feeling that I’d pushed away came back to test me. Body hurt, legs tried to cramp up, stomach was getting evil. There were so many yummy goodies at the finish line but nothing looked good. I grabbed a pudding cup and sat outside.

    One thing I’ve noticed at the end of long efforts like these is that the emotions tend to overwhelm me at the end. I just didn’t feel happy and wanted to be alone and cry. Not because of anything I did or didn’t do. I just think it’s a physical reaction coming out in emotional form. I sat for a while and held myself together when Gary came out and suggested I take a look at what they were giving for awards. Good ideas for things we could give away for the races we put on.

    IMG_0768I went in and checked out the nicely hand-painted marble slabs. A great volunteer artist had painted Calico Ghost Town on them with a sunset and Joshua tree. Then she was adding the winner’s names and dates. I looked over and noticed the RD was entering times, so asked where I was in my age group. To my surprise, he said, “Third place! Go get your award!”  Uh….what?? Cool!  [postscript: the results were later amended to show me as 4th…oh well]

    Surprisingly, about an hour later, I felt pretty good–almost like it had never happened. No lasting injuries, just a little tired. I did it. I went from the couch to a 50K race in one year! Not only did I come home with a nice (unexpected) award, I came home fully satisfied for being a great example and inspiration for “running without limits.”

    See all the photos here:

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