My First Ultra - Grand Canyon 50k Review

I have been eyeballing ultra marathons for a few years now. This year marks my 10th year as a runner. I started in my neighborhood to blow off steam from stressful workdays. 5k's seemed unattainable. Until I did one. I still remember my first 6 mile run. I was overwhelmed with the accomplishment-- if I could run for an hour, what else could my body achieve? Soon I signed up for a half-- but a marathon was completely out of my league. Until I did one. And another. And I really fell in love with the long run.

The thought of doing an ultra was intriguing at first. Could I possibly? Nah. Maybe.
I've learned from experience that if you determine to do a thing and prepare for it, you can complete it.

In "shopping for" ultra marathons, I had been watching the Facebook page of Ultra Adventures and the series of races they sponsor. They ran a Facebook contest-- one of those "like and share this page" to win. I won. And just like that, I was planning a trip to the Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon 50k Review
Information and Check-In:
Having never done an ultra, I don't have anything to compare my experience to. However, I can't imagine a better experience. Ultra Adventures provided thorough information on their website and emailed me regularly with updates, including lodging and course information. Finding lodging on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon full, I took advantage of both the campsite and the tent rental.

Check-in was smooth, the staging area at Big Saddle Tank in the Kaibab National Forest was fun. There were activities-- create a bag made from a t-shirt, a social media booth, a s'mores making area, DIY pizzas, and booths selling race gear and general running gear and supplies. Hammocks were up for those wanting to hang out and relax. Everyone was upbeat, friendly, and ready for the race.

Although I felt that everything I could possibly want to know about the course, aid stations, and logistics were clearly explained on the website, race organizers held an optional course overview meeting. Since this was my first ultra, I sat in, not wanting to miss anything.

The Course:
The race started on time. I remember it was really cold, near freezing. They counted us down, and we were off. The course had been rerouted somewhat from the original plans-- the 50k covered mostly unpaved park service roads. There were some sections of steep inclines that were a little technical for this city girl/road runner. But I thoroughly enjoyed the course.

We traveled out to the Crazy Jug, Monument Point, and Thunder Mountain overlooks. The views of the vast Grand Canyon were breathtaking-- and not just because my lungs were burning from the effort. The course was gorgeous. The toughest part for me was the last 13 miles-- no surprise here. But these difficult miles were also along a long stretch of service road, and it was lonely out there.  With the exception of the Thunder Mountain Aid station, a real live oasis in the middle of the wilderness.

The Aid Stations:
These aid stations were INCREDIBLE. The volunteers made them great. My only prior experience with aid stations were the measly water and Gatorade stations from road marathons. Now I know. The aid stations were buffets of every possible nutrition and hydration need a runner could have. Items you would expect: pretzels, pickles, trail mix, ginger chews, fruit, Swedish Fish, water, ice and first aid kits were plentiful. Along with foods and delicious goodness I would never have expected: peanut butter M&M's, potato chips, bacon, avocado, PB & J sandwiches, baked potatoes, quesadillas, soda of various kinds, Nutella, and peanut butter.

And although I placed a drop bag at two different aid stations, it really wasn't necessary. However, I did take off and store my arm sleeves in the first drop bag, applied sunscreen out of it, and grabbed my go-to run fuel (a Clif bar). I was bummed that I forgot to grab a fresh piece of gum.

The Finish Line:
As I neared the end of my run, a few family and friends lined the course, cheering me in as they waited for their beloveds. I was greeted at the finish line by my sweet husband, water, bananas and soda. But I only had eyes for my prize-- a handcrafted mug created by a local artist. And then of course, I cashed in my free meal ticket for a DIY pizza-- I piled on as many toppings as my pita crust could handle and waited as volunteers fired it over a grill. It was the most delightful and filling post-race fuel ever.

The Aftermath:
As I hobble to a lawn chair and struggled to remove my shoes and socks, I thought, "That's about the dumbest thing I've ever decided to do. NEVER again." And then I ate well, slept well, and was still able to hike nine miles the next day. I was pleasantly surprised that my legs were not as destroyed as they are after a road marathon. And two days later I was already planning my next runcation.


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