'I always wanted to run in the desert'

Photo by Kyla Rivas/Lake Powell Chronicle Volunteer Bridgette Barney holds up momentos – a finisher medal and a bottle of sand – for ultra runner Steve Grove, 57, from Sacramento, California, during the Antelope Canyon Ultra and Trail Half Marathon over the weekend. Grove finished the 50-miler with a time of 13:32.

Antelope Canyon Ultra draws runners from across the world

The Antelope Canyon Ultra marathon returned to Page this weekend and people from all over the world lined up at the start line to test their endurance on one of the area’s toughest terrains.


There were four different races: 100- and 50-miler, 55K (34.1 miles), and half marathon (13.1 miles).


While the world was tucked away in their beds, 82 people met at the start line at Page Amphitheater at 5 a.m. to see if they could finish 100 miles by Sunday afternoon.


People from the far corners of the world journeyed to Page to not only run, but also to see the beautiful landscapes and enjoy the cultures of the Navajo people. Antons Kranga, 37, journeyed from Riga, Latvia, a city set on the Baltic Sea at the mouth of the River Daugava.


“I always wanted to run in the desert. I thought it was an impossible dream. I think it looks amazing here,” Kranga said, “the colors of the land and I got to fulfill my dream. I discovered many things and I like the way the local people from [small town America] treats visitors. When I found [a booking] for the trip here I texted my coach to get me ready for this adventure.”


Kranga says that he wasn’t expecting to gain a spiritual experience.


“I could feel the spirit of this place,” he said as he held a hand over his heart. “When I was running I was waving to the eagles. I had seen eagles!”


As soon as Kranga finished the 50-miler, he put on a volunteer shirt to help the incoming runners. He finished ninth with a time of 8:53.


“In Latvia we have a tradition. If you come in first or last you run in with the runners [at the finish line],” he added.


Kranga stayed the whole night and even helped racers until midnight by running with them and then escorted them to the medical tent or brought them water.


The annual race hosted by Vacation Races had nearly 2,000 people registered. Over 15 countries and 47 states participated with 82 percent of the runners experiencing their first time running Antelope Canyon.


Lyle Anderson, one of the race directors, said, “We’re grateful (for) the [runners] that came out to run with us and to share in the beauty of the land. It’s a gift to run in the one of the most beautiful places. We also thank the people of Page and the Navajo people for allowing us to come here.”  


Anderson said they had a good race due to minimal medical needs, the worst being a fall in the first lap of the half, then a twisted ankle after the sun had set. There were only a few runners who suffered dehydration or exhaustion. But most of the medical needs were the blisters from long distances on a rough terrain.


“It’s been a smooth day,” he said on Saturday night as many of the runners were still coming in.


Last year’s 100-miler winner was Tonalea-Red Lake, Arizona, native Randolph Curley, Navajo, who participated again this year to see if he could meet his prior time. Last year Curley set the record with a time of 21:55, but by the end of the first lap (20-25 miles) of the 100 mile course, he was struggled with his knee.


The course stretched around the Rimview Trail into the Horseshoe Bend trail that headed into the Antelope Slot Canyon then back up into Page. The course finished at the Page Amphitheater.


“I think I’m going to have to stop,” Curley said at the Lake View checkpoint. He also admitted he just ran the Monument Valley Ultra just days before and he felt he needed to have his knee checked. Curley put his health first to run another day.


Curley’s 100 mile record was broken within a minute by Joseph Taylor from Salt Lake City with a time of 20:12. The second place winner was Gerald Blumrich from Kempten, Germany. Third place finisher was André Michaud from Grand Junction, Colorado.


Taylor, Blumrich, and Michaud were presented with commemorative plates to highlight their accomplishment. Many times people run these marathons for personal challenges and finishing the race is the reward. For their accomplishment, every runner is presented with the signature bottle of red sand or with a medals for participation.


Part of the event also allows runners to help raise funds for local foundations. This year Vacation races set aside 50 charity bibs to help NavajoYES receive a donation of $21,300. The Shonto, Arizona-based NavajoYES program also hosts races on the Navajo Nation, as well as projects geared towards youth participation in physical fitness activities and charitable events.


The Antelope Canyon Ultra is one of many annual ultra races that Vacation Races coordinates in the Grand Circle area.


Information: vacationraces.com

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