Race Report: Brutally Scenic Antelope Canyon 55k

For those of you who have a bucket list, immediately, right now, go add the Antelope Canyon 55k/50m/100m to your bucket list. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Take your time. Write it down. Now.

It’s an epic race in an epic place.


All done? Good. Now on with the story.

The Antelope Canyon 55k is not a race to PR. It is not a race to take lightly. But it is a race that demands a camera. A race that demands a lot of a work to witness some of the most amazing wonders of the desert.


To my surprise, the night before my race, I realized the Antelope Canyon 55k (34.2 miles) was my first ultramarathon in over 3 years. I did a Full-Length Ironman in 2014, but my longest independent run was the 2014 San Francisco Marathon. And I’m certain I would not have finished if I wasn’t distracted by the amazing scenery.

I suppose I would have been nervous if I hadn’t been so busy attempting various Trifecta routes – or at least planning them. Unfortunately, on this trip, two of the Trifecta challenges were unreachable thanks to a snowstorm that moved into the area. And for one Trifecta hike, we started at the wrong location.


If you are interested in participating in an Ultra-Adventures Trifecta (and getting up to 90% off a race entry just for exploring awesome places!), then check out our new guide, The Ultimate Guide to Ultra Adventures Trifectas. Okay, it’s pretty blank at the moment (in fact, it may not even be up until the beginning of March, 2015), but check back often! We’re going to be adding more information throughout the season and asking others to contribute, too. Unfortunately, a snowstorm blew in after the race, and we were unable to get to Buckskin Wash or Wire Pass to take additional photos, but we did get to the old Rope Trail… So check it out!


The Race

Page, AZ is one of the ideal locations to hold an amazing trail run. Everything is within a 5 minute drive. For spectators, that means you can see your runner start, go to the hotel, eat breakfast, drive to the first aid station, see your runner, go back to the hotel, watch Grey’s Anatomy (although why you would want to…), go to the second aid station, see your runner, go back to first aid station (5 minute drive), hangout with others and makes friends, see your runner, drive to the next location (start), etc…. If you are looking for not only an amazing run, but a run that will be easy on your family and spectators, then this race is the best trail race for spectators I’ve ever seen.

The weather, for those of us running the 55k, could not have been better. A thin overcast kept the temps comfortable but not too hot and there was no rain for us – although the 100 milers did see a bit of rain on the final day (and the rest of us drove through some pretty good snow on the way home).

According to stories I heard later, there was some issues last year with course markings. Although the course did challenge your navigation skills if you were in the front of the pack (okay, I only lead a group astray once, but at least I realized it quickly) during the first portion of the race (specifically, the cut across the desert away from the rim of Marble Canyon).

Matt Gunn, race director for the series, has a reputation for designing challenging races, and he doesn’t disappoint. This year, as he said, “[sic] The elevation will not be the challenge. The sand will.” For those of us without gators, every aid station turned into a “dumping the sand out of your shoes” stop to prevent blisters. Although running the rim of the canyon had many exhilarating and scary spots, running on the slickrock was quite a challenge. I had trained to run in the desert. Unfortunately, I hadn’t trained to run on the beach!

But you could always take a break to take a picture.

Ya, I wouldn't get that close. I'm chicken.

Ya, I wouldn’t get that close. I’m chicken.

After running on the very edge of an 800 foot drop to your death, you turn inward to run through one of the most beautiful, if lesser known slot canyons in the Page, AZ area. Antelope Canyon (Upper and Lower) may get all the love, and all the photos, but if you’re looking some awesomeness away from the crowds and tours, then running through this slot canyon will take your breath away. We didn’t run the entire length, so I know there are more places to explore.


Narrow trail! #throughglass

This is another reason you’re not going to PR during Antelope Canyon. At various places, you are dodging the very narrow walls of a slot canyon and really, really hoping there isn’t a flash flood. You will not be passing anybody, and, if you’re like me, you’ll be stopping often and saying “Wow! Soooo cooooool!” that you’ll forget you’re in a race.

Just be prepared.

All of this occurred during the first half of the 55k. The second half was a more traditional trail run along, well, trails, all along the rim of the plateau upon which Page, Arizona is built. You ran around the entire city, looking out to the Navajo Power station (it had a Mad-Max sort of feel to it) for a good portion of the run.

However, you were also given a spectacular view of Lake Powell from the edge of trail which was both magnificent and stunning in the realization that the man-made dam created filled the deep canyons with water years ago.

Sadlly, to add insult to injury, the course ran right next to our hotel, which meant, at mile 29 or so, I had to resist the temptation to go and take a nap.

Fortunately, the finish line is well populated for a trail race, with the most unique finishers gifts ever:

I took a coffee-cup.. Naturally for the spouse. In any case, the Top Three got their own Tomahawk.

Just how cool is that? I have enough medals it lines the entire wall in one of our rooms and I’d much, much prefer to have something so unique and cool.

So the Antelope Canyon 55k is a jewel in the desert. You will never, ever run something as cool as this unless, of course… You join Ultra Adventures Grand Circle Trail Series and see some of the most awe-inspiring scenery in the Southwest.

So sign up. Now. Or, at least, put it on that bucket list.


Hill Profile

Antelope Canyon 55K

Garmin Track