This was the 2nd Annual Grand Circle Trailfest, hosted by Vacation Races, which consists of a three day trail running event taking place in three of the most scenic National Parks:Bryce Canyon (13.1 miles), Zion (12 miles), and Grand Canyon (19 miles), with a base camp community located centrally in Kanab, UT.
This years event consisted of 47 states, 6 countries, 520 females, 321 males (majority age 40-49 for both sexes), and 76% of the runners signed up for all 3 races with only 73% that completed all three.
*It is something to note, that although claiming these National Parks in their descriptions, None of the races actually run within the National Parks themselves. They highly and repeatedly suggest you visit the parks after your run, but the start/finish can be up to hours away. Plan accordingly.
These are no joke true technical trail courses and each ones terrain is vastly different than the others. There's No road. Just Dirt, Rock, Sand, Cliffs, Boulders, Tree roots, and occasional cactus. Everything you can think of that a trail can have and more. You are completely embraced by the most beautifully unique terrain in the US. Utilizing poles may be something to contemplate, especially if you are like me and scared of heights and/or falling. There are No cups, No timing mats, No photographers, No spectators or No Civilization. This is as real as it gets if you want to test your ability off road!
Most major airports to Kanab, UT are 3-5 hours away. I chose Salt Lake City as it was nonstop and least expensive overall. It was a gorgeous drive with the fall colors and snow topped peaks! Las Vegas would be your other airport option. I arrived late into SLC, so I rented an Airbnb for the night and left first thing in the morning. My flight back was a redeye, so I had plenty of time to make the trek back with even a quick visit to Zion NP.
Trailfest camp was at Jacob Hamlin City Park, in a small town called Kanab, UT, which had a dramatic red rock mountain backdrop. Kanab is the central most city to the three of these parks, so driving to each race was about an hour to two hours.
-Tents are provided! ...as well as already set up for you when you arrive! They did ask for help taking them down if you had time, but they did have volunteers for that as well. AND you had the option during registration to chose a 4person or 6person tent! (note to those that have never camped before, a 4 person tent is really enough room for 2 people and is only tall enough to hunch over, a 6 person tent is enough room for 3 people and you can fully stand up. It was funny watching people arrive and had no idea). Of course, I chose the 6 person and loved all my space.
-Tents were also placed on fluffy grass of baseball fields, which helped with the cushioning.
-Running water bathrooms and showers were provided, as well as regular and composting toilets. The park has a city pool (wasn't accessible) which had showers we could use or there was also a shower truck available. Surprisingly the truck was better.
-Massages were pretty organized and quick. 10 minutes for free, 30 min for $50
-Elevated Legs (air compression massage) was an awesome first time experience ($20 for 30min)
-Yoga classes were every so often, and mats/foam rollers provided
-Hammocks were nice to get the legs elevated
-A table was constantly filled with Tiger Balm. This was the first time I used it, and I may actually like it more than Biofreeze
-Meal tickets were provided to redeem for continental breakfast and food trucks for lunch/dinner. There were 4-5 different local vendors which made it a unique experience.
-Charging stations were scattered throughout the camp for your phones, Garmins, etc
-The city of Kanab had a wifi signal available
-Nightly gatherings were held with raffles and review of the next days expectations
-Nightly entertainment included Navajo dancers and blessings, astronomers with huge telescopes (I got to see Saturn for the first time!), movies, bands, and motivational speakers
-a TrailFest weekend guide was printed out for us which included every single detail you needed for the entire event, including directions to each race!
The Not so Good
-Tents are first come first serve, so plan accordingly when scheduling your arrival and meeting friends.
-Cold shower on Day 1 at the pool house. I later found out the shower truck had all the hot water
-Because it is a city park, alcohol is not allowed. However, they did try to get away with this and had a beer tent right off the city park limits. But being over there meant you were not with the rest of the festivities.
-Breakfast should automatically be included, or they should give 3 meal tickets a day, not 2. I ended up eating a meal in town every day. (Maybe that was their intent. The food was great at the restaurants!)
-It was awesome to have nightly entertainment right before bed, but once that sun went down, it was Cold to sit out there and watch! The city park has 3 regular bonfire pits, but you could not see the stage/screen from that area. There was 1 gas bonfire that was in front of the stage/screen, but gas fires do not give off any heat unfortunately. They had electric heaters in the breakfast area only.
-kids. I know this is an open to the public event, as well as a family is welcome type of race, but....The hammocks were constantly being taken over by the kids. (can there not be an adult only area?) The playground had screaming kids pretty much until the sun went down, making it hard for us to hear the loud speaker and/or rest.
You had the option to 'add on' a shuttle for each race for an additional $25. I opted not to, as they encouraged you to explore the parks after the race, which of course you think you will have energy to at least do a drive through, but after doing those courses, only Super Man would have the energy to go the extra distance. Plus, you want a shower and a hot meal. Also, Bryce was the only race that was even near a National Park entrance. The other two, you had to drive additional hours to get into the parks.
Looking back, I definitely would have paid for the shuttle. I didn't really save money by not doing the shuttle because I just spent it on my own gas. I didn't really save time, because we pretty much had to be at the Start at the same time, and most of us just followed the vans anyways. What I could have done was slept more on the shuttle and/or met more people since I was traveling alone!
Trails-Thunder Mountain and Golden Wall of Red Canyon
14 miles-4:30, Pace 19:19, 528 out of 666 runners
Overall Elevation Gain-3,951
Weather-26-70 and sunny
Bryce Canyon-The Good
-The Course-the most gorgeous unique desert scenery around every corner. I kept asking myself, are we really running this?
-Aid Station that includes chips, candy, and Nutella sandwiches?! Yes please!
-there was no wait for the 15 min shuttle to the start line
-the parking area for the shuttle was in a small town that had a hotel (aka real bathroom), stores, souvenirs, and even opportunity to do excursions (4wheeling, horseback riding, etc)
-Finish line recovery boxes and chocolate milk!
Bryce Canyon-The Not So Good
-the very first part of the trail we were going straight up on switchbacks which led to a bit of a traffic jam.
-the entire course I felt like we were on an incline. Being from Florida, and only having a day and half to acclimate, I constantly was trying to catch my breath the entire trail. This trail was definitely the hardest of the three.
-I was not expecting such slippery loose rock on steep cliffs and seeing people fall on it. I had seen a post before the event asking if poles should be used, and I felt the answer was more of a no than yes. I never even considered training with poles while running. But looking back on it, because of my fear of falling, I definitely would suggest poles for Bryce Canyon. I saws some runners with poles that collapsed down and fit over the shoulder into a backpack for easy access.
Bryce Canyon-The Bad
-13.1 miles ended up being 14 miles! Mentally and physically depleted way before M13, that last mile was a bit of a buzz kill being on a dirt fire road after we had been immersed in such great scenery.
Anxiety set in very quickly on this trail as it was extremely steep with switchback cliffs and my breath was almost always nonexistent. Being scared of heights, I had several mini panic attacks because the small dirt pebbles were very unstable in multiple spots. Thankfully my confidence would be restored when I would see the experienced trail runners whip by me without hesitation. However, that also meant that I was almost constantly being passed by runners. With it being a very narrow single track trail, I would have to stop to let people by. I repeatedly had to keep telling myself, this is not about Time. This is about building confidence and appreciating the beauty around us. Survival was the one word that kept popping into my head. Fear would quickly enter my mind as I wondered if all three courses were going to be this intense. But it didn't matter. I was here and I was going to do this challenge and I was going to survive. It was all a matter of 'how' I wanted to survive. Did I want to survive with Fear? With Anger? With Pity? Or did I want to survive with Love in my Heart and Confidence on my mind?
Trails-Gooseberry Mesa11.6 miles-3:36, 18:35 pace, 557 out of 629 runners
Overall Elevation Gain-1,157
Weather-54 and sunny
The Course-once again, the scenery was magical! The course was unique with huge slick rock boulders to scramble throughout. We ran most of the course cliffside and had awesome canyon views in the distance.
-Finish line recovery boxes and chocolate milk!
Zion-The Not so Good
Aid Station-the shortest of the three races, yet, this aid station placement left them to be hit twice by the runners. I was directed to not stop the first time I passed by and to wait for the return. Understandable. However, it was kinda a cluster fuck with people running in all directions and not listening. By the time I reached it on the return, items were starting to run out, including the salty chips my sore thighs were craving!
-After arriving to Zion, they had us park and load a shuttle to go another 15 minutes up a very bumpy road. Unfortunately they were not organized or experienced in how to expedite the drivers and shuttles on the same very tightly packed road, therefore causing a tremendous back up on loading the shuttles. After parking, it took another hour and half of standing in the cold with no bathrooms to actually get to the official Start.
-Course markings-they told us to follow the pink flags/ribbons (which usually were high up on a tree or bush) and to ignore the white dot markings. However, almost the entire course the white dots and pink ribbons were going the same path. It wasn't until the very end where some people got lost because they finally separated. The markings on the ground are much easier to follow especially on a course like this because you are constantly looking down at your next foot placement, not looking up for a pink flag.
-The course was short by about half a mile. It is one thing to be randomly long or short on trails, but if your award is going to have the distance, then I want to run that distance.
-There was also a line waiting for a return shuttle
-The race start/finish was in the middle of nowhere. The National Park entrance was another hour drive further away from camp. There wasn't even stores or restaurants nearby to grab a drink or souvenir.
This course went by so much faster than Bryce! In fact, it almost felt like the drive to the Start took longer than actually running this course! I was quickly surprised how similar the canyons looked like Grand Canyon and was confused in which way Zion National Park actually was. We quickly came upon huge white slick rock boulders that you had to scramble up, which continued the entire course! At one point it looked like we were running on the moon with the gorgeous canyon views in the distance! The endless boulders meant that thigh muscles were being worked to the max which were already a little tired from the Bryce trail inclines. This course was definitely fun especially watching the experienced trail runners doing leaps and bounds up and over these boulders! This was a true playground of a course!
Trails-Crazy Jug and Monument Point
19 miles-5:31, 17:24 pace, 449 out of 483 runners
(note, the course was short at 17 miles, but i kept running to 19)
Overall Elevation Gain-2,187
Weather-27degrees and Sunny
Grand Canyon-The Good
-the Fall Colors! The pictures do not do justice, but the golden colors of the trees were absolutely amazing as the sun was rising
-There was quite a bit of different terrain on this course which made the time go by faster
-Someone was celebrating a birthday, so there was cake at the Finish line!....and chocolate milk. What a great way to celebrate 44 miles! The same Recovery Boxes were there too, but by Day 3, I wish they would have changed up the contents.
Grand Canyon-The Not so Good
-The Course-after completing two truly unique courses the days before, Grand Canyon was a little bit of a let down. I walked away from this course saying it was the easiest, despite it being the longest. There were only 3 views of the North Rim of Grand Canyon, and with the early sun position, we didn't even get the true colors of what the canyon is known for.
-The drive in to our Start was on a pitch black, extremely dusty and bumpy dirt road. There were times there was so much dust I couldn't even see the road.
-Aid Station-there was one mini station at M5 and a second station we would hit twice around M10 and M17. Items were sparse compared to Day 1 and the volunteers were eating the PB sammies which they had run out of.
Grand Canyon-The Bad
-the Course was short by 2MILES! I understand being off my a half mile, maybe even the mile off at Bryce Canyon I can forgive, but TWO MILES. Its just unacceptable. If I am traveling this far and saying I am running 44 miles, I am definitely not stopping 2 miles short!
The coldest of all three days, it was almost a little miserable getting started. I had to wear a buff over my face not only to keep my face warm, but to help with the cold air on my lungs. I was definitely sore, but because the other two courses I used more of my thighs than quads, I was a little more confident that I would be okay to finish on time.
Although there was still a good amount of elevation change, this course was still the easiest of the three. It seemed like we were going uphill forever in the beginning but it was a very gradual incline and it was beautiful through the bright yellow trees as the sun was rising. Once we got off the first incline, it was flat for a few miles and I finally felt like I was running normally. Until the trail decided to have us scale the steep mountainside. We finally got to see the first views of the canyon and had some awesome overlooks for the remainder of the course until the last couple miles.
I felt so amazingly good this entire course. The miles were just flying by and with every mile I was surprised I was still feeling great! It is like I was on a runners high from the very beginning! I even packed myself a croissant (my fav) and had it at M5! There was almost constant gravel rock that we were running on and I suddenly was seeing rocks shaped like hearts everywhere! I felt so awesome that I was actually completing this 3 day challenge of 44 trail miles!
The last few miles there was a yellow butterfly that seemed to stay with me for the longest time. I smiled as I knew Memaw was with me and proud of me. As I approached the Finish Line, a lady running the opposite way told me the course was short and she was getting in her last miles. Damn right I thought! So I turned around and did the same. I tried to get everyone I passed to join me, but they looked at me like I was crazy. I was so full of energy I felt like I could have run forever! I not only was able to survive this challenge, but I Finished it a whole new person. I started Day 1 with fear, a lack of confidence, and feeling of doubt in myself. I finished Day 3 with Love, Strength, and a Confident Heart!
When I got back to camp, I learned that a dear colleague had passed away after her very long battle with breast cancer. I knew right then, maybe the yellow butterfly and the overwhelming feeling of love wasn't my Memaw afterall, maybe it was her in her passing. I told this to a close friend and that friend reminded me, it not only was Both my Memaw and our colleague, but it was also every other person that has fought breast cancer that I have been running for over these past 10 years! It all came together that day. I felt them all with me. Every step of the way! It was a magical day I will never forget as I continue on this mission to help find a cure. And as I promised Memaw, I will never give up.
We were given a lightweight Trailfest jacket which was pretty cool
Surprisingly, at each of the finish lines, we received an arrow that had the race name and distance. At the very last race, we received a handmade plaque that held all three arrows. It is definitely my favorite finisher award. Unfortunately I don't think it was thought out to the fullest extent. They did off to ship them for you, if you wanted to pay $5. This should have been included. I figured it would just fit in my checked bag and I would be fine. Unfortunately it did not, but I was able to take the arrowheads off for it to squeeze in. Later, people showed a picture with the arrows in the TSA trashcans. That's disappointing.
A NOTE ABOUT THE NATIONAL PARKS
If you are wanting to do the parks after the races, you are going to need to do a lot of planning ahead of time. The parks entrances were not close at all to where the races were held. Bryce was the closest and easiest to freshen up before heading to the actual entrance. The other two, you are hours away and not even a restroom or restaurant nearby. My suggestion would be to extend your trip and visit the actual National Parks after completing the Trailfest weekend. Otherwise, you are missing out on the events at the Trailfest HQ and most importantly Rest! If you do decide to visit the parks after each race, make sure you pack a cooler, a portable shower maybe, change of clothes, maps already printed with directions because GPS does not work.
Zion was the only National Park that I was able to enter and I did that on my drive back to the airport (which by the way is a huge clusterfuck because unbeknownst to me, you can only drive a small part of the park. The rest is on a shuttle. And if their parking lot is full, which apparently that happens a lot, you have to take a shuttle from outside the park, enter the park, then take another shuttle to see the park. I ended up not having enough time to get on the park shuttle even with the 5 hours I had.) I've hiked the Grand Canyon before so was not disappointed with that one and I will be back for Bryce Half Marathon in July to explore.
This was an experience of a lifetime for me! I've done a few trail runs before, but to run on these type of trails on the outskirts of the National Parks is a whole other level! And then to do it three days in a row, its a challenge beyond belief! I had no idea the the situations I was going to encounter on these trails! And how much stronger and more confident I would come out from all of this! The trails are magical! I literally had to pinch myself a few times to make sure it wasn't a dream! The organizers really thought of everything for you, so all you have to do is show up and enjoy! The festivities were perfect, the small cute town of Kanab was accommodating and friendly, and the time of year was absolutely perfect running weather with the beauty of the Fall colors!
Half Marathon #79
Total Miles in 3 Days-44.6
Total Time in 3 Days-13hours 37minutes
Pink Feet's half marathon calendar runs from March to February with the final race being the full marathon at The DONNA Marathon! I am on Year 7 of a 10 year mission to complete the 50 states while also running a half marathon a month; all to help spread the word of breast cancer prevention, early detection, and living a healthy lifestyle including running and walking. My goal is to raise $100,000 for breast cancer charities. Current donations are going to The DONNA Marathon whose beneficiaries are The Mayo Clinic and Donna Foundation.