Who: Me, Isabelle, Brittani
What: 3 Day Race: Bryce Canyon, Zion, Grand Canyon
When: October 4-6, 2018
Where: Home Base of Kanab, UT
Most significant Areas for Improvement: Accurate description of race routes and better shuttle bus coordination.
It’s been a week since we returned home from the trailfest. Does anyone else get a little depressed when the dust settles after a big event? My daughter and I registered for the trailfest February 14th of this year – nine months ago. I was still recovering from a severe ankle sprain and planning for this event would help keep me positive and motivated when I was feeling a little down. Our original plan was to run a 5-day Canadian stage race through the mountains at 20-miles per day, but that was a bit of a stretch both financially and physically (maybe a future goal). I was also planning to run the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim in the Spring, but again the ankle had thwarted that plan. Hearing of these plans and probably sensing I would not really be able to afford them my Dad stepped in and offered to help me with a more affordable option on US soil. A friend tagged me in a Facebook post for the Grand Circle Trail Fest, a 3-day race on the edge of 3 National parks: Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Grand Canyon. With the planets aligned I convinced Isabelle we would need to restructure our 2018 dream and thanks to the sponsorship of my Dad we signed up for the trailfest! Our friend Brittani registered a few months later, and three of us prepped for the coming adventure. I even shared the training plan I created with several strangers needing a plan from the Trailfest Facebook Group 😊.
After months of preparing and planning for our first multi-day race event, we flew into Las Vegas the Tuesday before the race. Because my mother lives within a few hours of Vegas, she met us in the city and provided a night at the Cosmopolitan Hotel on the strip next to the Bellagio. It was a lovely hotel, and I would definitely stay there again. Coincidentally the Cosmo was home to Nashville’s original Hot Chicken, so we felt right at home (even though I have still never had hot chicken)! Wednesday morning, we headed out of town and drove several hours to Kanab, Utah. If you are planning this trip for yourself, note that there is a one-hour time change from Las Vegas to Kanab.
Race/Event Check In: Race check in was straightforward. At check in we received a race number to use all three days which we attached to our hydration packs, a t-shirt that included all participant’s names on the back (very cool), a zip-hoodie, meal wrist band and checked in for our tent. The tents are first come first served. Couple of things to note here: if you really want to be next to someone, including your children or family, this is not guaranteed. It worked out ok for us; however, I would have been irritated if I was unable to find tents together. Even though the tents were 4-person tents, I would consider them closer to 2-person tents because of all the race and camping gear I brought. Being so far away from your car you really want all your gear inside the tent. We decided to use one tent per person, and that worked out great! We were there for 5 nights all together. Five cold,
wet, tired nights that were best spent with a few hours of personal time rather than being crammed into a small space with 2
other women. Once we were checked in, we wandered around the vendor tents and purchased a few race mementos. I would have liked a few more vendors there – maybe as the event grows the vendors will increase too. The location of the tent city was stunning. There were huge red rocks and thick grass. There were prickly things in the grass, so you need to wear shoes and also check your tent floor before placing your sleeping mat to ensure it does not pop. We received several puncture wounds in our hands and feet so I know if the mat was placed in a bad spot, leaking air was a possibility. Quiet time started at 10pm, but the barking dog did not care what time it was or how many hundreds of people it kept awake. The first night of sleep was rough. The dog barked non-stop for several hours. It didn’t stop until a massive thunderstorm rolled in and produced the loudest, longest, and deepest thunder I have ever heard before sending pounding rain down on our tents. It rained most of the night and into the morning.
All meals were served under a large shelter with plenty of covered seating for everyone. There were multiple buffet style tables to keep people moving.
Breakfast daily at 5am (or sooner): An assortment of bagels, hard boiled eggs, croissants, peanut butter, oranges, snack bars, instant coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. I didn’t see all of this at once because it changed as things were eaten and different things were brought out. There was also a gluten free offering for people who needed that.
Lunch: On your own. At the end of each race, we were given “snack box” chocolate milk, bananas, almond butter – plenty to eat for lunch.
Dinner daily from 5-8pm: Different each night, spaghetti and salad, chicken and beef fajitas, veggie and chicken pasta. Food was decent. We were told there would be food trucks; however, that was not the case, and we were a little disappointed about that.
Shuttles: Shuttles were $20 per day/per person. Loading started at 5:15am. You could also opt to drive yourself; however, be aware that you have to park at a designated area and take a shuttle from there to the race start. Each shuttle carried 8-14 people. They were warm and comfortable. If you drive yourself, you will still need to take a shuttle to the race start. Expect to wait in long lines for up to 45 minutes to leave and return to your car.
Drop Bags: Large white trash bags provided by the race. We were able to have drop bags at the start/end of the race which meant we could wear warm clothes and rain gear to breakfast and on the shuttle ride and then remove layers before the start of the race.
Race Start: ROLLING START – I have never participated in an event with a rolling start before. Because of the shuttle issues, the rolling start was a great option; however, I wonder how the more competitive runners felt about this. The times were calculated based on chip time.
National Parks: Buy a National Park Pass. You will NOT see the parks on the runs. The trails are beautiful, but they ARE NOT the park and do not look like the park. If you want to see the parks either drive yourself to the race and go afterwards or plan extra days to visit the parks.
Day 1: Bryce Canyon. I heard some people complain about water in their tents; however, my tent was pretty dry. I also made it a point to keep all my gear off the floor and away from the tent walls so it would remain as dry as possible. The shuttle driver and the 90-minute drive itself were pleasant; however, no one bothered to provide the shuttle driver with directions and once we left Kanab we no longer (or very rarely) had cell service. One of the passengers tried to help with directions, but those directions were for the general parking and not the race start. After a comedy of errors, we made it to the race start.
Thanks to the rain, the trail was alive! The colors were vibrant, the air crisp, and the scent in the air was invigorating. Everyone we encountered was enthralled and enchanted. I don’t know how many times I exalted in the beauty. I remember thinking that if the rest of the festival was a bust, it was all worth it for this first race. The hoodoos were magical. I didn’t care how long it took me to complete this race because I wanted to enjoy every moment of it. The terrain changed multiple times, and the clay went from heavy red to a storm cloud gray.
The elevation for this trail was approximately 8,300 feet above sea level. Coming from sea level, the effort felt greater, but I felt good overall. Unfortunately for Isabelle, the altitude made a more significant impact. When we left the aid station at mile 8, she started coughing uncontrollably and couldn’t breathe. At first, I thought she was choking, so we sauntered back to the aid station with her panicked and coughing the entire way. There was a medic at the aid station who evaluated her and told her to rest until she could catch her breath. Isabelle told me that she had been dizzy much of the way and her head hurt. Classic signs of high altitude sickness and pulmonary edema. She started to cry because she didn’t want to stop running but she couldn’t go on. There was a wonderful volunteer named Ben, who happens to be an ultra-ultra-runner. He was manning the Gnarly hydration station. He came over to check on Isabelle, give her a pep talk and told her that if she couldn’t continue on she could rest in his van and he would bring her to the finish line. The trail running community is one of a kind. Many runners stopped to ask if Isabelle was OK. They didn’t care if the few minutes they spared would cost them a faster finish, it was more important for them to be supportive and encouraging. This support and encouragement followed us through the rest of the race week. Ben Light kept tabs on us the rest of the week and made sure Isabelle was OK. I feel like this gave her even more reason to make sure she finished days 2 and 3!! There was also a runner named Lisa with a feather tattoo on her forearm that came and shared her energy with Isabelle encouraging her and sharing her love. We didn’t finish Bryce and Brittani continued on her own to claim her arrow – all finishers earned arrows instead of medals.
After the race, we enjoyed hot showers in a portable shower truck (only allowed 5 minutes per person), 15-minute complimentary massage and yoga on the lawn.
Day 2: Zion – We were determined to finish Zion after being forced to stop at Bryce. The elevation at Zion was lower but not low. This race did not actually take place in Zion. We knew that the race was outside of the park, but we didn’t really understand it was completely apart and separate from the park and basically a completely different place. The race took place on Gooseberry Mesa. A beautiful location where we ran on slick rock and dirt trails. Luckily it was a lovely dry day, and the slick rock wasn’t slick at all. It was absolutely beautiful with cacti, juniper trees, cliffs, and views for days! The race director called this race the meat grinder because you are running on what feels like concrete. It wasn’t too bad though, and we enjoyed the beautiful weather and terrain. If you have been to Zion though you will quickly realize this is nothing like Zion. I think it is essential to understand that if you think you will see Zion or experience Zion as part of this race, you will be disappointed. Plan to visit Zion separately. We made a stop at the aid station because Isabelle had horrible blisters that needed to be mended.
After the race, we enjoyed hot showers in a portable shower truck (only allowed 5 minutes per person), 15-minute complimentary massage and yoga on the lawn. Instead of eating dinner at camp we went out for burgers and beers at the Juniper Tree. It was AWESOME. Highly recommend.
Day 3: Grand Canyon and The Real Grand Canyon– Almost overslept. My watch changed to mountain time at some point in the middle of the night, so I thought I had another hour to sleep. Luckily, Isabelle made sure I woke up by 4:35am. The night before at the race, overview, we learned that the course for today’s race had to change for safety reasons. Because of all the rain, we could no longer run through the slot canyon. This was disappointing because we were all really looking forward to it. We were also told the course would be cut to 10 miles….. which ended up not being the case…. It was 13.5 miles. The race overview also made it clear that we would not see the actual Grand Canyon and Brittani really wanted to see it. Instead of taking the shuttle today we drove ourselves so we could drive an additional 3 hours after the race to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and 3 hours back to the campsite.
The race started at 7:30 am Utah time even though we were all in Arizona on a rolling start. By today the porta potties at the race location were rancid (take away for the race directors). We started all three of us together and thankfully made it to Horseshoe Bend overlook as a team so we could experience it together and take pictures. The views were amazing. All of us less competitive runners took our time taking pictures and enjoying the view. We lost Brittani shortly after this but Isabelle was running well, and we enjoyed the journey. The terrain was a combination of stretches of sand and running on an uneven multi-level rock. The trail was challenging, elevation was lower, and the weather was perfect. Much of the day was slightly cloud covered which was fortunate since there were no trees for the 13.5 miles. We caught up to Brittani at one point and then lost her again at the aid-station. If you have a sandy beach near you, train on that before doing this race! Isabelle sprinted ahead of me at the finish, and we both earned our second arrow. After the race we drove to the Grand Canyon, looked over the rim and took a few photos, turned around to return home and were surprised by SNOW! It snowed the moment we started our return to camp, and we drove for 2 hours in the snow. Very unexpected and quite the adventure. Isabelle’s blisters and feet were in terrible pain, and she could barely walk. We made it back to camp around 9:45pm…. right in time for her to take a quick shower before the rain started. Luckily, I brought all my essential oils, so I doctored up her feet.
Day 4: The Real Zion and Las Vegas Bound
Last night in the tents and the best night of sleep this week. We packed up our bags and were on the road by 8am headed to see the “Real ZION” before our 7:30pm flight in Vegas. Driving into Zion was AMAZING! All 3 of us thought it was one of the most beautiful places we have been! Pictures do not come close to the depth of color and feeling of power inside the park. If you do not have a park pass the fee is $35 and good for 7 days. Cars are only permitted to drive a short distance in the park, and then you are required to park your car and take a bus to see the rest of the park. We only had a few hours to spend, and Isabelle still could not walk on her feet so Brittani went on a few runs by herself and Isabelle and I took a short sight-seeing bus tour and visited the gift shop. Highly recommend trying to visit the park on a week day because there was absolutely no parking at all!!! Most people had to park in town, pay $20 to park and then take a bus into the park. I would definitely revisit this park to explore the trails.
Overall a great trip! The Grand Circle Trailfest was fun, and the courses were beautiful. I would definitely consider another event put on by the same company.