Just one year after an ACL Surgery, I entered my first ultra since 2013. Taking more than a year off of trail races was extremely difficult for me. I had planned for this to be a moderate and conservative start to an inspirational year. A year to reconcile the time lost. The original idea, was to do seven 100 mile runs, all part of the Grand Circle Series. Focusing on awe inspiring terrain in the most scenic geographic regions of the country made this seem like a no brainer.
My training and physical therapy leading up to the 1st race were adequate. While still notably slower and weaker than I had been prior to surgery, I felt confident that my legs and lungs were sufficiently prepared. I had chatted with countless friends who had expressed reservations about this ambitious schedule so shortly after reconstructive surgery. Each time, I readily listened and then explained that my intentions were not aggressive, but rather strategic. Eventually, the common sense of these caring friends coaxed me out of seven 100 milers, and to focus on one at a time. The first of these was to be Antelope Canyon 100.
Everything leading up to the race was looking good. The reports online were astounding. Folks could not speak highly enough of the slot canyons, vistas and skylines. I had also paced a friend at one of the other races organized by Matt Gunn, Bryce 100. While earlier versions of his races had received some constructive feedback, he was astute he enough to integrate these ideas and improvements into all of his events.
To the dismay of my wife and two kids, I ventured down two days early to run in Buckskin Gulch, and other local attractions for the Trifecta. Bewildered by the beauty of the landscape, I had forgotten many of the details for my camping lists. Following a long day of travel and some sight seeing, I arrived at the start/finish area. I was quickly greeted by George Walsh and a cold beer, and promptly knew that the Ultra Adventures folks were a class act. In fact, over the course of the next few days, I saw the entire Ultra Adventures crew taking every effort to pay attention to every possible detail. From the ecocommodes, to the beer selection, Matt Gunn had it all. The Start/Finish line had fantastic swag, local information and books, Navajo Tacos, ample drinks, large pit fires and a Hot Tub. The area quickly became a central gathering spot for finishers, families and spectators. Every runner I saw finish was greeted with whoops, hollers and hugs.
I was also looking for an extremely scenic run. The Antelope Canyon series did not disappoint. Two of the most scenic and unique features in the country were connected by miles of sandy trails on the Antelope Canyon 100 course. I can honestly say that I was happy to slog through these conditions, and was not at all disappointed. For this reason alone, this course is a MUST RUN – a sort of BUCKET LIST RACE.
Elated by the landscape, I was very distracted from my personal pain related to my ACL surgery. Beginning at mile 20, I began to have hip flexor and quad pain related to my ACL surgery. Focused on finishing the 100, I significantly decreased my pace and attempted to change my stride and strike pattern to alleviate the pain. With the great support of the aid stations and friends, I rested at various aid stations and rolled my muscles to fix the problem. By mile 45, I knew the only wise decision was to finish the 50 and call it a day. Despite being a huge proponent of not DNFing, I knew that this circumstance was not one to be egocentric on. I am thankful for making the right decision. I am also really thankful that Matt is a reasonable race director. Whereas, many races simply give runners a DNF, he permits folks to drop in distance and still receive a finish. If for nothing else, this helps offset the personal disappointment.
I had missed so many of the integral elements of what drew me to trail running and Ultras. Fortunately, my first race back was the epitome of what I had sought to find in a run. I had entered Antelope Canyon 100 not only with the expectation of exploring the beauty of the natural landscape but that of my own capabilities at just a year post surgery. Hoping for a 100 mile finish and world class scenery was at the top of my list. However, what I walked away with was significantly more.