FAIR WARNING _ THIS IS A LONG ONE!!! But I didn’t have the heart to break it into two parts. It just couldn’t be done.
On February 24, 2018, I woke up in Page, Arizona to freezing cold temperatures.
I desperately wanted to stay in my sleeping bag and skip the race. I wanted some excuse…a broken leg maybe…..that would allow me to graciously step down from this commitment I had made. I wracked my brain for that excuse and came up short. I knew that I needed to face my fears.
Putting on a brave face, I dressed within the confines of the sleeping bag that was my only warmth the night before, and stepped outside to toe the starting line of the Antelope Canyon 50 mile Ultra Endurance Run.
Last July, I first started contemplating this race as a possibility for my first 50 miler. Then in October the stars aligned and I registered for this race, leaving me 3.5 months to train. The posts I linked go into much greater detail on my emotions behind this race, but clearly it was a journey I was destined to take.
As we waited for the gun to fire, I felt confidence, excitement to prove myself, and deep belief that by the end of the day I would be proud of my accomplishment.
The first mile was really slow and involved a conga-line climb up a large rock face. Requiring at times hands and knees, I crested the top and was off running. With only a flashlight to light my way, I was able to focus on the trail ahead and nothing else. The deep sand sucked my feet in with every step.
The air was frigid, so much so the water in the hose of my pack turned solid. I had two extra bottles in which I carry my Tailwind in and fortunately those stayed in a mostly liquid state. When the temperatures drop, I don’t think about drinking as much. I am prone to forget about my hydration so I paid extra careful attention.
Antelope Canyon aid station came quickly, roughly 5 miles into the race. I was doing well, frozen hose notwithstanding, so I just waved as I went through throwing out a thank you to the volunteers.
At this point, the course runs through a large wash for several miles. The sand was deep, but frozen and uneven. At the end of this long wash was the famous Antelope Canyon.
The majesty of this canyon is indescribable. In all the famous photos, the sunlight filters down in the most glorious way. I was traveling through the canyon before the sun was high enough to achieve that affect. The darkness made it hard to see at times, so I used my hands along the wall to feel my way. I could feel the energy and the power within the earth beneath my hands. My hands allowed me to feel what my eyes could not see or comprehend.
A deep sense of calm washed over me as I exited the canyon. It’s sacred beauty granted me a gift. That gift of calm stayed with the remainder of the day.
After Antelope Canyon, I climbed a hill (again sometimes on hands and knees…this turned out to be a theme throughout the whole race). And I even had to drop onto my butt and slide down a rock a time or two. Eventually I was back in that deep sandy wash on the return journey to the next aid station.
The next aid station came about mile 11. After refilling my water bottles, topping off my Tailwind, and finally de-thawing my hose, I began the desert traverse towards Horseshoe Bend. The next ten miles included: Crossing the beautiful desert landscape, stopping to take some photos and text my friends and family on my progress, enjoying a nice gentle run.
The next leg of my journey, the leg I feared, was getting nearer. Horseshoe Bend. While spectacular I was sure, the shear cliffs had haunted my dreams for months. I even had nightmares about watching my children or my sweet puppy Amira falling off these very cliffs. And about mile 21, I finally had to face the fear.
And you know what happened? Nothing. I never did walk over to the edge like some runners did, but I was close enough to see Horseshoe Bend in all it’s glory. It was awe-inspiring to say the least. So much so that I didn’t even get a photo! And all that fear never showed up.
The next 8 miles were climbing up and down slick rock. There was little running as it was difficult to get going before I had to slow to climb up or down again. The course was only marked by the occasional pink flag. So when topping a climb, I did the “Lewis and Clark hand to my head and scan the landscape” until I saw the direction I must continue. It was a blast!!!!
After this epic session, I hit the Waterholes Aid Station where I fueled up with some food, more Tailwind, and even some Mountain Dew. At this point, I dropped into another slot canyon that required quite the agile climb. It was tricky, but once at the bottom, I was again alone. I cherished this solitude and moved with determination. To exit this slot canyon, there is a ladder that is rather sketchy looking. At the top, you have to shimmy through a narrow opening. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to make it with my water pack on, but I managed not to get stuck. Next you have to scale a decent sized rock to get back on flat ground. There was another runner who had just gotten out and turned to take a picture of me climbing out. I laughed hysterically when he took a picture first then offered a helping hand. His priorities were definitely on track – I wish I had that picture!!! I had a smile for the next 3 miles because of this moment.
My legs were feeling great and I ran really well, coming into Horseshoe Aid Station 15 minutes ahead of my planned time. At this point, it was 33 miles into the race and I was heading into unknown territory. My longest run to date was 35.4 miles.
Somehow those, the next 7 miles flew by and I was on cloud nine the whole time. Climbing up another tricky rock to the Page Rim Aid Station, I was left with about 11 miles to go when I started to feel the fatigue setting into my mind. My legs never really lost energy, but my mind did. For the last 10 miles, I had to play oodles of games to keep focused. Fortunately, I stayed steady and maintained solid forward progress.
I crossed the finish line in 12 hours 6 minutes and 46 seconds. I was the 105 finisher out of 252 runners. 11 of 20 in my age group and 39 out of 90 female runners.
Best of all – I was the first Emily Fife, the first of my kind, the first me to complete this race, this distance. And along the way, I learned that I am fierce, I am capable, I am worthy, I am beautiful, I am strong, I am me and that is a beautiful thing.