Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

February 10, 2016

Wasson Peak, Saguaro National Park

This spring I'm training for a 50 mile run in Page, Arizona.   It's called the Antelope Canyon race, and it's part of a series of races near the National Parks of the Southwest.   I'm actually not in shape for a 50 mile run (as usual), but I'll get through it (as usual), by walking the last part, however long that might take.  In fact, I probably should have signed up for the 50k, which is a significantly shorter option for the race, but...the 50 mile version goes through Antelope Canyon, and the 50k doesn't.  Antelope might be the most beautiful slot canyon in the world, and with no technical sections, it's also easy to get to.  As long as you are willing to pay a local tour company to take you there!   So a chance to run through it on my own in a race seemed really cool.   I might be regretting that decision by mile 45, but....oh, well.

It's been cold and snowy in Utah, so my first chance for a run outside came in Tucson.  We had just arrived in Arizone, but I was going to fly out for a working vacation in Iowa the next day, giving me one day to get a long run in!   Luckily the weather cooperated, and from our campsite, I was able to run to the highest point of Saguaro National Park (West) in the Tucson Mountains.    Along the way, I got my first introduction to the full desert.  It was mostly flat for the first 10 miles, and the trail deviated from straight only to go around the multitudes of cactus growing everywhere.

Wasson Peak, at 4687 feet, is surrounded by (you guessed it) Saguaro cactus by the thousands.  These beasts can grow over 40 tall and live for hundreds of years.  They stick up above the landscape of Tucson like half-buried forks, and I pity the person who ever runs into one.  It seems like every plant in this desert has vicious spines, and I was very careful where I put my feet and how I stepped.  I have been known to trip over an imaginary stone and take a header on the trail...but not today, hopefully!

From relatively flat terrain, I crossed into the National Park and climbed steeply up to the summit.  The trail was rocky, loose, and hot.  The relatively cool morning had passed and I knew the rest of the way would be pretty hot.  With temps in the 70s it was hard to stay cool enough to run.    There were a few other people on the trail but it wasn't crowded at all.

I was very happy to see the summit, because it meant I was now on the second half of my run.  Actually a little more, as I would cut off a few sections of trail and return a shorter way.  It meant running on a road for a little while, but the trail had been exceptionally slow, what with dodging cactus and running around each obstacle.   After a few road miles, and a water refill at the Desert Museum (worth visiting if you're in the area), I had a final few flat miles to be home again.  

Jim had been tracking me, and brought Spot out on the trail to meet me for the last mile.   Australian Cattle Dog or not, he doesn't like the heat, and he was grateful for a sip out of my water bottle!    My mileage for the day was about 25 miles and that was good enough for a training run.   Some of my distance for the day was on bike trails, and I am looking forward to riding them, too.


  1. Great photos. I'm heading to Utah in June for the Bryce Canyon 50k and slowly getting nervous about the heat (and altitude). Any tips on how to cope or prepare - especially given I'm living in the Peak District UK?!

    1. Lynne, Good Luck! Bryce is beautiful so you should enjoy the scenery, it's amazing. As far as the altitude, it will force you to go slower for sure, not much you can do about that. They say to acclimate for a high altitude race, you should either show up just before the race, or as early as you can...but just two days to acclimatize is actually worse than the day before. Perhaps you could look into using a High Altitude Training Mask...I used one last year and it will help expand your lung power and breathe deeply. I miss the Peak District...have a nice run there for me!

    2. thanks Dawn, this will be my second visit to Bryce so I'm looking forward to seeing the beautiful place again. do you think then that we would be better to just turn up on the Thursday and have a gentle walk in the area (recce start/finish parts) but not go up to altitude until race day on Sat? we have to register on the Friday.

    3. Lynne, If I were you I'd do a little internet research as to the exact timing of when you should get up to altitude. But I do seem to remember that getting there just before the race would be better than a day or two early. Seems counterproductive but it's something with the adaptations your body is making. Either way you are going to suffer, so just enjoy the course and not push too hard!