Race Recap: Slot Canyons, Scenery and Sand – The Antelope Canyon 55K

Antelope Canyon 55K

Coming off my race at the San Diego 50 I was feeling good about getting back out on the trails and putting in miles … which is why I was so excited to head to Page, Arizona, for Ultra Adventure’s Antelope Canyon 55K last weekend.

Well, that was one of the reasons.

The other was to experience first-hand the much-talked-about scenery of the course!

I opted to drive and left San Diego bright and early, at 4 a.m., and arrived in Page around 3:30 p.m. Not a bad drive at all; pretty scenic in parts, actually.

Antelope Canyon 55K

Sunrise over the Mojave on my way to Page

The first thing I wanted to do is complete one of the Trifecta Challenges. The Trifectas are a really cool thing Race Director Matt Gunn has put together. Realizing that these are destination races for many runners, he put together a list of “other must-see areas” while they are in town for their race. In addition to seeing more of the area, runners who participate in the Trifecta are eligible to receive discounts on future races. MORE trails and money off race registrations? No complaints here!

I was most interested in The Cable Trail, which, if followed all the way down, will take you to the Colorado River. Since I was traveling alone, I felt like going halfway down was good enough; I didn’t drive 600 miles to spend race day stuck at the bottom! Definitely an amazing trail.

Antelope Canyon 55K, Cable Trail

A bit tough to find, but definitely worth looking for!

—RACE DAY—

I got to the staging area at 6:15 a.m., got prepped and headed to the starting line. Matt gave a quick pre-race briefing, which included a moment of silence for a fellow runner’s daughter who was tragically killed in a car accident last year. In addition to the moment of silence, purple bracelets were available for runners who wanted to run for Alyssa and her family. I was one of them.

Once the briefing wrapped up, it was time to get busy. The 55K runners were off at 7 a.m. sharp.

Antelope Canyon 55K

Map of the 55K course

Antelope Canyon 55K

Elevation profile for the 55K

The first loop took us out through the desert toward the much-anticipated Horseshoe Bend and Waterholes slot canyon. The first thing I said after taking off was “wow, the scenery out here is going to be amazing,” followed abruptly a few miles later by “wow, this sand is going to make for an incredibly hard run.”

It most certainly did.

Antelope Canyon 55K

Trudging through the sand early on

Since I’m making a more concerted effort to not waste too much time at aid stations this year, I went straight through Horseshoe Bend aid (mile 5) and continued on toward the river.

Antelope Canyon 55K, Horsehoe Bend

Me at Horseshoe Bend

Antelope Canyon 55K, Horseshoe Bend

Absolutely amazing

Standing over Horseshoe Bend was one of the most surreal moments I’ve ever experienced. Billed as one of the most photographed land features in the country, I definitely added to the picture count by snapping 20-30 pictures on my iPhone.

Once I picked up my jaw from the ground, I continued on my way.

One thing that quickly became apparent was the fact that you’d be running on a wide variety of terrain. Running on the slickrock overlooking the river was an awesome experience – but one where I had to stay pretty aware of where my feet were landing so not to injure myself.

Antelope Canyon 55K

Careful!

All went well and I hit Waterholes Aid with no issues before dropping into Waterholes slot canyon.

Runners were pretty spread out by this point, which allowed me to experience Waterholes slot canyon alone. It was an awesome experience. I’d like to try and capture it in words, but I think pictures tell the story better:

Antelope Canyon 55K, slot canyon

Entrance to Waterholes

Antelope Canyon 55K, slot canyon

Somewhere in the middle

Antelope Canyon 55K, slot canyon

Continuing on through

Antelope Canyon 55K, slot canyon

Ladders to get out

Once out of Waterholes it was some fire road, followed by a quick pass back through Horseshoe Bend aid, before heading back toward the staging area. The first “loop” was about 23-ish miles.

The 55K finished up with a lap on the Page Rim Trail, a 10-mile loop of scenic singletrack that encircles the city of Page and gives runners amazing views of Lake Powell and the surrounding area.

Antelope Canyon 55K, Page Rim Trail

Awesome views from the trail

I crossed the finish line in 8:26, somewhere in the middle of the pack. I was definitely happy with the effort and think that I’m improving each and every day.

Finishers’ awards for the 55K were handcrafted pieces of pottery that were each unique – and way cooler than a medal (in my opinion). I also really liked how you got to pick your own award based on which one spoke to you the most.

Antelope Canyon 55K

Awesome finisher awards

But I was given so much more than a finisher’s award. Antelope Canyon gave me the opportunity to run through some of the most memorable and breathtaking scenery in the country, and to do it in support of a fellow runner who had experienced a significant loss. Thinking of him and his family throughout the day really put life into perspective for me.

It should be noted that the runner who lost his daughter committed to running the Antelope Canyon 100-mile race in her memory. It was his first 100-miler. He finished strong and I’m sure his daughter is incredibly proud.

I know I am.

—POST-RACE THOUGHTS—

A week has passed since the race, and I’m still replaying a lot of it in my mind. I’ve also had some time to think more about the event and here’s what I came up with:

  • I loved that Antelope Canyon was not only a race, but an adventure. Using ladders to get in and out of slot canyons, bushwhacking to get to The Cable Trail, running on slickrock overlooking the Colorado River – all of these things added so much to the experience.
  • I’m becoming more and more interested in destination races that offer an opportunity to run through scenic areas.
  • The event was incredibly well-supported, well-marked, and lived up to what it said it would offer on the website.
  • It’s important that we take care of the areas where we run. I really admire Ultra Adventures for living up to their commitment of hosting a zero-waste event.
  • Never … EVER … judge a race by its elevation profile. Running through sand for extended periods of time is really, really hard! Not to mention scurrying across slickrock and climbing up and down ladders.

My experience at Antelope Canyon confirmed one thing: I need to run more of these events to see more of the The Grand Circle. But I won’t have to wait too long; I’ve got two more UA races on my calendar, Monument Valley and Zion.

Zion will be my second attempt at the 100-mile distance … and I can’t wait.

Take care,

Greg

This was my first race as part of the Ultra Adventures ambassador team. For more information on Ultra Adventures races please visit their website. You’ll be glad you did!

Review: ClassPass – The Greatest Invention Offering Exercise Variety

Other than running (and spinning about 7 years ago), I generally have a hard time dedicating myself to a workout regimen. Over the years, I realized it’s mostly because I get bored easily and have a desire to try new things. While a gym membership can provide varied group fitness class schedules, I find it difficult to line up the time a class is provided with when I can actually attend. Enter, ClassPass.

ClassPass

From outdoor bootcamps to indoor barre classes, ClassPass offers a wide variety of group fitness options.
(Photo courtesy of ClassPass)

For $79-$99 per month (price varies by city), you can reserve a spot in boutique fitness classes around your city you’ve been dying to try but can’t really afford individual memberships to. There are thousands of classes available to ClassPass members, including cycling, pilates, yoga, strength training, barre, martial arts and more!

I bought my first month of ClassPass on January 27 (and it renews each month on the same date). I’ve taken 13 different classes so far, and have 2 more scheduled for this week already. That’s 15 more group fitness or crosstraining classes than I took last month. That’s huge for me! I love the variety of studios that are part of the ClassPass network, and the website and complementary app make it easy to reserve classes on-the-go.

ClassPass

(Photo courtesy of ClassPass)

Pros:

  • Ease of class reservation (via the website or the app)
  • Amazing group fitness class variety
  • Option to add your classes to a mobile calendar (iCalendar, Google, etc.); if you schedule your workouts the way you schedule meetings, it’s much harder to cancel on yourself
  • Generous class cancellation policy (up to 12 hours in advance with no charge)

 Cons:

  • You can only take three classes at each studio per month, and then you have to wait until the next month to take three more. If you are WAY into group fitness class variety, then this won’t be an issue. I got hooked on The Rush Indoor Cycling Studio (read my review here) at the end of January and am now counting down the days until my month renews and I can go back.
  • It’s a bit pricey, but when compared with full gym memberships it nets out; so many people pay for gym memberships they don’t use. I’m using this one!
  • It’s not in every city yet, but seems to be in most major metros. Check here and scroll down to the maps section to see if your city is on the list!

Race Recap: Third Annual San Diego 50 and Trail Marathon

Hi there, We apologize for being so absent since the first of the year; January and February have been a blur for both of us. Wedding planning + an insane work schedule has left us both feeling pretty drained. But we’ve still been active!

The highlight of last month for us was running the Third Annual San Diego 50 and Trail Marathon through the San Dieguito River Park. G ran the 50-mile distance there last year (his first 50-miler), and was excited to see how much a year’s worth of training would pay off. C decided to take on her first trail marathon distance this year, and then find G at the Mile 40 aid station to cheer him on for the remainder of his race. Perfect plan!

We decided to carpool out to the start/finish line, and picked up our friend J on the way (he was running the 50-miler with G). After checking in and labeling their drop bags for the Mile 20/30 aid station, G and J took off at 6:30 a.m. for their race. That left me with an hour to pin on my bib, eat a bit more and psych myself up. I had never run the course before, so I had no clue what to expect other than quite the climb at Mile 5-6.

The marathon group took off at 7:30 a.m., and honestly the first 4.5 miles were lovely. It was a partly cloudy and in the mid-40s temperature wise, which is my ideal race start weather. We wound our way around the edges of several farms and began to make our way to the start of the climb up Raptor Ridge. While the climb up Raptor Ridge was strenuous, I enjoyed the challenge and kept pushing until I was able to fly down the backside to the Mile 5.7 aid station.

San Diego 50 and Trail Marathon

The view as I was climbing Raptor Ridge.

Raptor Ridge to Sunset Park (5.7 – 10)

I’ll be honest and say that this stretch of the course got a little boring for me, but I contribute that being so spread out from other runners (very common in trail races, but very new for me) and not having headphones to listen to music. I did, however, see a fox cross the path around Mile 7 and that helped to break up this portion of the race. It also started to get warm as the clouds went away; I kept telling myself that G was out there running twice the distance I was. Basically, suck it up, buttercup. At the Sunset Park aid station I ate a few potato chips, had some soda, and a handful of pretzels, and got back on course.

Sunset Park to the Marina turnaround (10 – 13.1)

Things got a little more scenic once we crossed under Interstate 15 and began to run along the trail overlooking Lake Hodges. The mid-section of this part was fairly rocky and I was so glad G had encouraged me to wear my Hokas for more cushioning. I hit the turnaround in 2:52 and really felt strong despite the direct heat from the sun. I ate a couple of vanilla wafers with Nutella, pretzels, and a quarter of an orange. I refilled my hydration pack with water and started back toward the finish.

Marina turnaround to Sunset Park (13.1 – 16.2)

I ran most of this section with a nice gal in her mid-20s. It was her first trail marathon, too, and we talked about significant others, our dogs, and how hungry we were. Overall, it was good part of the course with the views of Lake Hodges and knowing that the next aid station wasn’t too far away. Once there, I ate half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, drank some soda, and took off toward the base of Raptor Ridge (did I mention we have to go back over it?).

Sunset Park – Raptor Ridge (16.2 – 20.5)

I was kind of dreading this portion again (because I felt so lonely the first time around). A few women on horseback passed me and offered to just take me on to the finish with them. It was definitely tempting, but I just kept running. This was, by far, the hottest part of the course and I noticed my fingers were starting the swell. I knew from crewing G that when that happens that means there is an electrolyte imbalance, but I couldn’t remember in which direction: did I need more salt or more water? I rolled into the aid station and was happy to see our friend T volunteering. I asked him about my swollen fingers and he gave me 2 salt tabs and said I should be fine with less than 6 miles left.

Raptor Ridge – Finish (20.5 – 26.2)

My first time over Raptor Ridge was challenging, but fun. I was humbled by the second trip over it. The backside is a very steep single-track trail to the top, whereas the front side had been wider with a more gradual gain. About halfway up, the guy who would be named the winner of the 50-miler passed me. You guys, he was moving and running the entire way. I was in more of a power hike mode at this point, and had no intention of trying to catch up with him. Running back down Raptor Ridge was actually a lot of fun, and then I made my way back around the edges of the farms and crossed the finish line in 6:36.

San Diego 50 and Trail Marathon

C coming into the finish at the end of the trail marathon.

G’s second running of the 50-mile race

What can I say? I love this race! Over the past year it has become a staple in my training. It’s scenic, close, and provides a little bit of everything in terms of terrain.

That said I hadn’t been able to train regularly on the course for quite some time. Ever since fall of last year, I’d been dealing with a foot injury that completely derailed the latter half of 2014 for me.

However, starting in late November, I slowly started putting in miles again – which included a nice and easy run at CIM Marathon, several back to back long runs, and weekly mileage that climbed its way back into the mid 30’s. While I wasn’t in peak shape – I was definitely getting back on track, albeit slowly.

The goal for the SD50 was to improve over last year’s SD50 race and use it as a benchmark of where I was at physically/mentally going into the 2015 race season.

I’ll spare you the turn by turn details (see last year’s post), but know that once again the course was beautiful, well-marked and well-supported. In fact, this year’s race was even more enjoyable for me than last year’s because I was able to run with so many friends I’d met over the last year at various San Diego races.

San Diego 50 and Trail Marathon

C was able to double back to cheer G on at the 40-mile aid station.

I finished the race in 11:35 – a 1 hour and 21 minute PR for me at the 50-mile distance. Though my pre-race mileage wasn’t where I wanted it to be, I attribute the strong finish to three things:

  • Being on top of hydration & fueling (this was where I crumbled last year)
  • Consistent pacing throughout the entire race
  • Course familiarity (I run this area a lot)

The race was a good one for me. My best ultra so far, actually, and was a real confidence booster looking toward what’s coming up in 2015.

The thing I loved most about this run was that it provided me an opportunity to reflect on how much I’d learned about the sport – and myself – over the last year, and how big a part of my life trail running has become.

Since the SD50 I’ve been quietly ramping up my mileage, incorporating new workouts, and refining my approach to nutrition and hydration – both while running, and in day-to-day life.

San Diego 50 and Trail Marathon

G’s best 50-mile finish: a 1 hour and 21 minute PR!

That said, my 2015 race season is officially underway, and next up is Ultra Adventures Antelope Canyon 55K this weekend.

One thing is certain: It feels so good to be back.

I can’t wait to see how things progress from here.

Take care,

GnC

Review: The Rush Indoor Cycling Studio – Carmel Valley

Let me preface this review by saying that I’ve been a spin class lover for a long, long time. They always provide a tough workout, are the perfect complement to my running, and so much fun. I thought I had tried every spin/cycling class out there until a friend invited me to her class at The Rush Indoor Cycling Studio in Carmel Valley. After my first one-hour class, I was hooked! Think spin meets hip-hop dance class, but on a bike.

The Rush Indoor Cycling Studio

The Rush Indoor Cycling Studio in Carmel Valley is one of two locations. The other is in La Jolla.
Photo credit: The Rush

How is that possible you ask? The concept, created by two longtime, high school friends, was born from an unfilled need to offer boutique-style, intimate cycle classes in a non-intimidating setting. Dim lights, incredible playlists, top-notch instructors and world-class Keiser bikes all contribute to the intense, yet personal experience. Whether you find yourself riding alongside first-time riders or triathlon competitors, all riders are encouraged to stay on pace to the beat of the music. No rider is left behind.

The Rush Indoor Cycling Studio

Different lighting levels controlled by the instructor give The Rush Indoor Cycling Studio classes a dance club feel. Photo credit: The Rush

Classes are either 45 minutes or 1 hour, depending on the type of class, and often incorporate a weights series to help tone the upper body while you’re working the lower body. The instructors are all incredibly positive, knowledgeable, and fun which helps add to the overall experience. From warm up to cool down and everything in between, The Rush promises to deliver a heart-pumping cardio workout that’s second to none. I personally love how the studio feels more like a spa and less like a gym, but the classes are tougher and more fun than most I’ve attended at mainstream fitness facilities.

I just finished up my free trial week (I attended four different classes during that time), and was elated to find out they are one of dozens of fitness studios in North County San Diego that are members of the ClassPass membership I signed up for today. More to come on that, but it appears to offer a lot of flexibility and the opportunity to try so many different forms of exercise each month.

Insider’s Tip: Unless you buy a 6-month membership or have your own pair of cycle shoes, you have to rent shoes each class for $1. Try the class out first, but if you love it, spring for the membership and your very own pair of shoes is included.

In addition to trying new fitness classes, we also recently ran the third annual San Diego 50-miler and Trail Marathon. We can’t wait share our race recap with you in the next couple of days!

Review: CORE40 – A 40-Minute, Full-Body Workout

When a friend asked me to join her for a CORE40 workout session the Monday before Thanksgiving I thought “what a great way to prepare for all of the feasting that will happen later in the week.” I did Pilates for years, and while I knew this would be a challenge, I was pleasantly surprised at how much of a challenge it was!

I attended a Pilates-only session at the Solana Beach location (you can also choose CORECycle or a combo class that combines cycling and Pilates), and loved the room setup, all-natural light streaming in through the windows and the fact that I chose the reformer closest to the water machine – I ended up drinking so much water in 40 minutes!

From the second the class started, the trainer was constantly giving instruction, suggesting resistance levels for the reformer cables, and helping correct form. Developed by Hollywood celebrity trainer Sebastian Lagree, CORE40 classes are designed to strengthen, tighten, and tone the body quickly and safely using their state-of-the-art Megaformer or M3. The class also had a great soundtrack that really helped motivate me in the last half of the session.

Core40

The Megaformer provides an incredible, full-body workout.

I’ll be honest, 20 minutes into the class I looked at my friend and mouthed “how do you make it through an entire class?” I was drenched in sweat, and while there are resistance modifications, most of the exercises are designed to engage multiple muscle groups and work them to failure. Luckily, I made it through the entire 40 minutes, but could barely drive home my legs were shaking from such a tough workout. Bonus: The effects lasted for days – my core was so sore, it still hurt to laugh on Thanksgiving!

Core40

About 1/2 of the class is spent standing, the other 1/2 in seated or kneeling positions.

Now that I am in wedding prep mode, I’m planning to pop into another session this week led by a different instructor to determine if I want to purchase a monthly membership. Your first class is free, so check out the website to see if there is a location near you!

Note: There are two levels of core workouts: Foundation and Full Body. I took the Full Body, but would probably recommend the Foundation (more beginner level) if this is your first Pilates/reformer experience or if you haven’t taken a class in a while.

 How about you? Is there a fitness class you’ve tried recently that you would recommend?

(Images provided by CORE40)

Race Recap: California International Marathon

I tell myself this after every race: “You should take up yoga, C. Even if you only do it once a week, I’m sure it would make a difference.” Usually, I ignore myself and don’t hit up a session. I’m proud to say that on Wednesday, I took my own advice and it has made recovering from last weekend’s California International Marathon so much easier!

The goal at CIM was to run a very consistent race pace. I just started truly working on speed in August, and I know that getting faster takes time and effort. I planned to go out with the 4:25 pace group, with hopes of running a 4:30 or better.

Prior to the race, everything clicked perfectly! We flew up to Sacramento on Saturday morning, picked up our bibs at the expo, found an incredible brunch at Firestone Public House, and then went back to the hotel to relax and watch the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie on OnDemand (LOVED IT!). Dinner was early at Maggiano’s, and we were asleep by 7:45 p.m.

The alarm went off at 3:45 a.m. Sunday and we slowly got dressed, made coffee, went downstairs to take advantage of the complementary to-go breakfast boxes the hotel provided (so nice!), and got on the bus scheduled to leave at 5:15 a.m. for the start line in Folsom. After what seemed like forever riding around in the dark, we made it to the start line about 6:15, giving us 45 minutes to stretch and get ready to run!

California International Marathon

Sunrise at the start line

I lined up with the 4:25 pace group, and G hung back a little farther since he was treating the race as a long training run for the San Diego 50-miler in January. It was weird not to start with him, or consider that we might not run together at all during the race because we had different goals in mind, but even more so because it was our anniversary and I kept thinking, “It would be so sweet to finish the race together.”

CIM is a point-to-point race – thank goodness – and the first 10 miles or so takes you through beautiful countryside and rural neighborhoods. I LOVED this part of the course … a few rolling hills during this stretch, and I felt amazing. I was easily staying with the pace group, and actually had to remind myself to slow down a bit from time to time.

Miles 11-14 start to bring you into the downtown suburbs, meaning larger cheering crowds and wider streets. I was still with the 4:25 pace group until about Mile 13 when my left quad seized up and made it difficult to keep my cadence. I slowed my pace a bit, and around Mile 14 G caught up to me and offered to pace me to the finish. I was SO happy to see him, but fairly bummed that if my leg didn’t start feeling better soon, my goal of 4:30 or less was shot.

The next 12.2 miles were painful, and slower than I’d hoped, but G kept me motivated and reminded me that even though my original goal wouldn’t be met, I could still get one of my best marathon times – on our anniversary! That kept me going, and we got to cross the finish line together at exactly 5 hours: my second-best marathon finish time. The picture of that finish is so good, I actually ordered it – and I never order race photos.

California International Marathon

We made it!

Bottom line: I loved the course and the race was extremely well run; I can see why so many qualify for Boston there. Who knows: Maybe I’ll make a run for it next year.

In the meantime, we’re both planning our race schedules for 2015 and planning a WEDDING! That’s right, G asked me to marry him the Saturday after Thanksgiving so we’ve had a lot of wonderful things to celebrate lately. Running has been a huge part of our relationship – we know our longest and best race yet is just beginning.

Proposal at Del Mar Beach and dinner at Jake's!

Proposal at Del Mar Beach and dinner at Jake’s!

Have a wonderful holiday season!

C

 What about you? What are your plans (racing or otherwise) for 2015?

Putting Together 2015 Race Plans? Consider Ultra Adventure Races!

It’s that time of year again. The one where many of us are either resting up or winding down and already have thoughts toward our 2015 race schedule.

For me, my race calendar changed dramatically when I was selected to participate in Ultra Adventures ambassador program! What drew me to the Ultra Adventure races (aside from already being registered for Zion), was the location of their events.

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The races take place in (or around) the Grand Circle – one of the most scenic areas of the United States. The Grand Circle also boasts the highest concentration of National Parks in the country, with many UA races traversing through them. For someone who loves some scenery when I run, this was the perfect fit.

UA currently has seven races on the books, with a few more to be announced at a later date. For now, there’s:

Each race offers a variety of distances across incredibly varied scenery. The races are also zero-waste on the environment. That’s a hard combination to beat!

Check out the video below which showcases the races, and what UA is all about: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kaKkCW4x_mI

In addition to amazing stand-alone events, Ultra Adventures has put together some pretty incredible challenges, aptly named the Grand Circle Trail Series Challenges. In addition to three levels of mileage-based/event completion challenges (300, 500 and 1,000 miles, respectively), UA offers another type of challenge: the Trifecta Challenge.

The Trifecta Challenge is unique in that the “challenge” (if you can even call it that!) is to spend additional time in the areas of the races to ensure you see everything the area has to offer. Most of these will be areas you won’t see during your race, be it an amazing local trail, geological formation, or otherwise.

If you think about it, most of these events would be destination races for a lot of us. Taking the extra day to ensure you’ve seen all the area has to offer–and being rewarded for it–is something that I find to be incredibly cool.

Race Director Matt Gunn and his team have done an amazing job pulling all of this together and creating a robust, scenic, and what’s sure to be enjoyable, race series that provides running options year round.

Be sure to visit the website, follow UA on social media, and subscribe for event updates.

Hope to see some of you at one (or more) events in 2015!

Take care,

-G