I eased into a chair next to the campfire and listened to the other runners talk about their day.  I looked next to me, and recognized the man who was way in front early on, where the course overlapped and two way traffic passed through a sandy wash.  His facial hair was hard to forget.  I quietly asked about his day.  Turns out he got lost, but pulled it together to win despite the additional miles.  He asked about my run and, after a moment of reflection, I said "It went really well, thanks."  He waited for more, but didn't pry.  My story was too long for post-race attention spans, and I hardly wanted to explain to the winner how this was an experiment for me, how finishing meant more than just finishing this race, but that I'd allow myself to start others.  

photo by K. Strong.

About five weeks prior, I started getting dizzy.  A light-headedness that came on after an easy run on the coastal trail with Bella, and decided to stay.  Then came the evenings when I'd get home from work, look longingly at my bed, and wonder if 6p was too early to call it a day.  All season, my skate skiing had been cut short by tired legs making skiing feel like the dumbest thing in the world.  And I'd been racking up comments for months from friends that would just look at me and say "you look SO tired."  Not that I didn't have a few good days, but none seemed quite right.  I'd be psyched, feel okay for a while, and then start to drag.  And then have to sleep 11 hours to feel even partially normal the next day.  I chalked it up to being out with strong partners, pushing harder than usual.  But as the headaches and dizziness and tiredness worsened, it was hard to not admit that something was wrong.  I started to catalog the previous months, and couldn't remember the last time I felt strong and energetic.  I tried to address all the easy explanations: I cleaned up my diet, I slept in more, I cut back on social interactions.  Nothing really helped.  I got bloodwork done...a few things to tweak, but mostly okay.  Eventually, I had little choice but accept that maybe it was simply overtraining.  So, I did what you do for such things: nothing.  I was officially on the on-the-couch training plan.  I purposefully avoided calling my ski buddies; I sheepishly explained to my climbing partners that I couldn't go out; I read books, went to movies, slept in, baked, did gear maintenance, and got surlier and surlier as the days ticked by.  

But I also started to notice that I had energy again and -- for the first time since I can't remember when -- felt antsy.  When I experimented with short skis, I wanted to keep going.  Despite these improvements, doubt crept in: was it smart to try to run an ultra off the couch?  And what about the Classic, just a month or so away?  The middle of the Wrangell Mountains is hardly the place to find your body in full-scale rebellion.  So, I did what made sense to me: I settled on the Antelope 50 being an experiment, where I could safely push myself and see how my body responded.  The results would determine the rest of my spring.    

And, it went surprisingly well.  I had convinced my friend Andalyn to sign up with me in the fall, so we set off together, purposefully taking up the rear of the pack.  The course description emphasizes the scenic views along the way, with an off-hand comment to expect sandy conditions.  It was accurate.  We cruised through three slot canyons early on, including Antelope Canyon.  Then traversed through the desert to get to the Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado River.  My favorite part of the course was running along on the rim above the river, and then unexpectedly dropping into a fourth slot canyon (I'm sure it was in the descriptions, but I had forgotten).  While Antelope Canyon was amazing, this last slot had more of a wild feel.  Like tour groups don't just roll up and pop in for a glance.  Not quite Alaska-remote, but it gave the day an added sense of adventure.

rimrock above the Colorado River.  photo by K. Strong.

Colorado River.  photo by K. Strong.

desert traverse (arrow made with flour, not spray paint).  photo by K. Strong.

runners along the rim.  photo by K. Strong.

runners along the rim.  photo by K. Strong.

photo by K. Strong.

Andalyn following the white dots.  photo by K. Strong.

slot canyon ladders.  photo by K. Strong.

sand.  photo by K. Strong.

the reservoir (lake powell).  photo by K. Strong.

magic light near the finish line.  photo by K. Strong.

Andalyn and I stayed together for about 1/2 the race.  It was really nice sharing it with a friend, but eventually, it was time to put on the headphones and zone out at our own pace.  The last few miles were tough on my feet and on my stomach, two weaknesses I need to address.  But I felt like normal-Katie, not tired-Katie (I mean, yes, I was definitely tired at the end of the race, but in a I-just-went-50-miles kinda way).  I crossed the finish line near dusk, and joined the runners around the fire at the finish line.  I had passed my test, and became a reluctant believer in couch-training.  

Logistics: 

The race starts in Page, AZ.  There's camping at the start/finish line.  The race director tries hard to put on an environmentally-friendly event, and there are loads of aid stations.  Expect some amazing sights, but also accept that you're running out in the open desert a fair amount on sandy double track (totally worth the really fun sections).