The Race That Almost Wasn't: Grand Canyon Half Marathon Recap


Ask any of my family and friends – they’ll tell you that I happen to be one of the unluckiest people ever. I’ve come to terms with it, and it has actually been somewhat beneficial because it has forced me to always try and plan for the most unfortunate series of events.

Last weekend was no different.

I was on my way to run the Grand Canyon Half Marathon. I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon, even though I live in Colorado. I was extremely excited to not only run my 2nd half marathon in Kaibab National Forest, but also to see one of the most amazing natural formations. I was making this trip with a friend who had also decided to run the Half, and we made the decision to fly into Phoenix and drive the 4+ hours to the park instead of drive 12 hours from Denver to Tusayan, AZ, where the race was held. Luckily, we found a cheap flight out of Denver, booked a rental car, and were ready to go.

Despite the hidden airline fees that made the cheap flight no-so-cheap anymore, we were still pumped and ready to go. Our flight was supposed to head out of DIA at 10:25 a.m. on May 8, putting us in Phoenix around 11:30 a.m. and arriving in Tusayan mid-afternoon. Plenty of time for a nice, carb-loaded dinner and an early bedtime.

That’s when Murphy’s Law struck. Literally. Our plane was delayed because it was apparently struck by lightning on it’s way into the airport. Maintenance had to check the plane to make sure it was safe, which I appreciated. Flight delayed until about 11:30 a.m.

Ok. Just an hour. No big deal.

We grabbed coffee and were waiting to board. And wouldn’t you know it: A second delay for another hour or so. Apparently they hadn’t really started checking the plane out yet, so here we were back at the gate. No problem. So we get in around 7. Still in time for dinner. There’s still hope.

We wandered around the airport, got lunch, read our books and magazines, and headed back to the gate. Where the plane was delayed. Again.

So, we figure we’ll have to skip a sit-down dinner and grab something on our drive to the hotel. Still do-able. Not ideal, but we can make it happen.

An hour later, we were told our flight was canceled. Just like that, we had no way of making it to Phoenix, or to the race for that matter. The airline told us we had options – which is like telling someone that your ‘option’ is a couple of black licorice jelly beans when you were originally supposed to get a piece of chocolate silk pie.

We made it this far and had trained for this race. We were determined to find a way to get there. We were able to re-book our flight into Las Vegas, which would be about a 4.5 hour drive to Tusayan. The only catch is that we wouldn’t land in Vegas until about 7 p.m.

So, we did what any stranded passengers at an airport would do: We decided to visit the New Belgium Brewery hub at the airport and get started on our carb-loading early. And then we may or may not have had some wine to follow up with that. And some not-so-runner-ideal food to go along with it.

At this point, we didn’t care.

We went back to the gate to board the new flight (which just happened to be the same gate as our old flight. Curse you A44), only to find that our new flight was, you guessed it, delayed. You have GOT to be freaking kidding me! 

At this point I was reconsidering completely. My friend and I had talked and decided if the flight was delayed again, we would bag it and run the following weekend as there is a big race going on in Denver tomorrow (Good luck to those running the Colfax Marathon, Half, 10-miler, and/or 5K!!). Thankfully, our flight wasn’t delayed again.

After 10 hours of sitting in the Denver airport, we were finally on our way.

We landed in Vegas around 9 p.m. and finally got the rental car around 9:30 p.m. Only a 4+ hour drive to go. I have to honestly say that I don’t think my eyes have ever played more tricks on me while driving than on this trip. Driving through barren country with no streetlights and bright reflectors on the road, while running on little sleep from the night before and a hellish day at the airport made for a trippy journey, to say the least. At one point, we were both convinced that an elk or deer was going to jump out in front of the car (there were SO many grazing along the side of the road).

Starting Line

We made it to the hotel a little after 1:30 in the morning. I set my alarm for 5 a.m. and collapsed into bed. I wish I could say I slept until 5, but I was so worried about sleeping through the alarm that I woke up several times during the ‘night.’

At about 5:15 I got up, ate a peanut-butter and banana sandwich and got ready for the race. The morning was cold and foggy, with rain threatening. By 6:30 we made our way to the starting line with the other runners. I wasn’t going for time (and by ‘time’ I mean I wasn’t going for a PR – I’m a slow runner so ‘time’ is all relative), I was just going to run it.

I set my GPS watch, found a good playlist, and was ready to go. The starting gun went off. I always get a thrill of excitement as I run through the start line – my stomach does a little happy dance.

Mile 10

The air was cool, and it no longer looked like it was going to rain – in fact, the weather was perfect. Besides one minor hill at mile 1, and another at mile 2, the first 5 miles seemed to be downhill or flat. It was a great way to start the race. The sun finally came out, which made it all even better. I was cruising along (with a few minor stops, because my body wasn’t too pleased with the amount of sitting and airport food from the day before). The course was beautiful – then again, I love trail running in the mountains. Thank goodness I live in Denver and didn’t have to adjust to the elevation (the race is at about 6,000 ft.). The back of my race bib had warned me that miles 8-12 were the hardest, with the greatest elevation gain and unstable, rocky footing.

Mile 11

And it was not wrong. Miles 8 and 9 were just fine, but then there was mile 10 and 11. And they were just mean. Steep inclines, loose rocks, and tired legs = lots of walking for those 2 miles. I would try to run periodically, but after almost eating it a couple of times on the rocks, it just wasn’t worth it. Downhill to the finish was a welcome reprieve.

Crossing the starting line always gets me excited, and crossing the finish line always gets me emotional. It’s that “I did it!” moment that no one can take away from you. Ever.

I believe my official time was 2:32 – not bad for 3 hours of sleep (and making 3 pit-stops – sorry, belly). I was hoping for under 2:30, but I’m not disappointed in the slightest.

I was so excited for post-race bananas and chocolate milk that I almost walked right past the medals without even knowing it.

I’m sure glad I didn’t, because they’re pretty sweet (and could probably double as a weapon – I’m legitimately surprised they let me on the plane with it).

After a quick shower, I was ready to see the Grand Canyon. Mother Nature had different plans, however. It started snowing shortly after I finished the race. I paid the $25 fee to get into the national park, where my ‘view’ of the Grand Canyon turned out to be a giant wall of thick, white fog. Of course.

With a LOT of caffeine and clear roads, I hauled a** back to Las Vegas to catch my 5:25 p.m. flight. I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for sleep in my entire life.

It was a surreal whirlwind of 48 hours. I came, I ran, I finished, I didn’t see the Grand Canyon.

I suppose there’s always next year!

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