While the city of Page was tucked into a warm night’s sleep, Antelope Canyon Ultra Challenge runners from all over the world were completing a 50 mile or 100 mile run just below the city limits. Global warrior runners braved the elements and challenged themselves to trek through some of the toughest terrain located on or near the landmark sites of the Page area.
This year marked the fifth annual Antelope Canyon Ultra, owned and operated by Vacation Races, which kicked off a series of long distance races which began Saturday morning. The four categories of ultra races included a half marathon, a 55K, a 50 mile and a 100 mile.
More than 950 runners attended this week’s Antelope Canyon Ultra Challenge. The Ultra course visited the Antelope Canyon Slots, Rim View Trail, Horseshoe Bend, the Amphitheater and various look out points along the trails. With the snowfall the night before and ice-cold temperatures, the runners were shocked by the cold, having expected warm 70-degree temperatures but getting 25-30 degrees at the starting/finish line.
Receiving an influx of ultra-long distance runners has sparked a lot of curiosity among Pageites this week, many of whom found themselves wondering, what does it take to become an ultra marathon runner?
“It takes a good six months of solid training for a person who is in shape, said Salem Stanley, the owner of Vacation Races. “If you’re starting [to train] from couch potato status, then, at least a year. I’d say 99 percent of the battle is personal because when you’re alone out there on the trail your demons start working on your mind.”
Runners that train for the Ultra must also understand the limits of their own bodies. Sometimes, persistent pain in a muscle caused by a small slip or stumble, factoring in the impact of the long distance could lead to an injury, so, knowing when to slow down or stop is important.
The right foods to fuel stamina and knowing when to eat or hydrate will prevent serious fatigue and mental confusion. Many runners pace themselves and check in at the aid stations to let others know they are safe and still out on the trail. Some ultra races can take up to three days to finish depending on the trail and elevation.
The finish line is where the run gets interesting because adrenaline tends to affect people differently. Being prepared will determine a runner’s physical and mental state once they are done.
“It is very spiritual,” said Stanley about what inspires his team to organize such runs. “You’re out there alone and you can’t fake it because you’re exposed to the elements. It’s the best kind of running. You connect with the land and we love it.”
Nealsea Curly, of Page, who ran the 50 mile, found her inspiration in her family. She runs in honor of her father, Neal, who was a runner when he was young, her mother Lucinda, who now is battling cancer and still ran the half-marathon this weekend, along with her brother who is a dedicated ultra runner, ran the 100 mile.
Nealsea also encourages her children to run the marathons for their health and they travel the country to the ultra races with her family for the joy of it.
Nealsea finished the 50 mile run in fifth place after she fell along the Slot Canyon trail. She had hoped to finish in the top three. The Curlys are spotters for each other and support one another along the trail.
Her brother Randolph Curly ran the 100 mile and crossed the finish in first place, at 21:55:35, a pace that set him ahead of the pack by over two hours. As he crossed the finish line at the Amphitheater, the Vacation Races team was very surprised that he was still so physically and mentally energetic.
“I feel good,” the 35-year-old Randolph said.
He was presented with the handmade ceramic plate and belt buckle infused with wild plants from the course trail to remember his accomplishment.
While Randolph rested, the Vacation Races team began a Q & A session asking him how long he’s been racing, if he’d consider doing an Ironman and what his secret was. Randolph says he’s run 577 miles since January.
“I’ve always wanted to do the Ironman.” he said.
Randolph’s next challenge will be competing at the Monument Valley Ultra with his family.
Team Vacation Races
Ultra marathon running has been a growing phenomenon in the last 15 years among the extreme, cross-country ultra elite for its long distances totaling 10 to 100 miles or more.
Runners that were new to the Antelope Canyon Ultra traveled from Australia, Denmark, Ukraine, Spain, Mexico, Polynesian-France and Anytown, USA, just to participate in this event. The interest in participating was purely personal as there is neither prize money nor extravagant symbol of status; they do it just for their health and the satisfaction of beating a personal best.
Runners from all over the world met the finish line with whoops and cheers from the Vacation Races team volunteers. Warm blankets, an inviting fire pit with food and drinks were provided for the support of the runner’s accomplishment.
Each runner was rewarded with a memorabilia cup for the 55K and a corked bottle of red sands from the course.
Runners thought the course was difficult to run on because of the sand but the snowfall the night before froze it enough to make it easier to run on. The real challenge came from the temperature dropping to twenty degrees during the night when many people were still running.
The runners each felt the views were amazing and worth the long trip to participate.
Vacation Races also donated $12,000 to the Navajo YES youth empowerment organization to help promote health and wellness for Diné youth activities, bikes and Navajo YES ultra events. For more information on donations or the Monument Valley Ultra Marathon visit NavajoYES.org.
For more information on the next Vacation Races Ultra event visit vacationraces.com.