MONUMENT VALLEY 50M Olijato-Monument Valley, Arizona/Utah elevation range 5000'-6600' 4500' of elevation gain
RESULTS FLYOVER 2016 March 19 In a word, this race was a WOW. Didn't expect it to move me so much. Just a powerful experience running through this monolithic landscape on sacred tribal Navajo lands. It had a feel I did not anticipate, a certain magic or holiness that gave me pause during the event to reflect on my place in the larger picture. It was an honor to be able to express my warrior nature among a people that continue to have a reverent relationship with the sand and the winds. The Anasazi, the ancient ones, are still ever much present, echoing messages of the past across this great valley. Like these sandstone mesas and buttes that are resistant to the ongoing assault of time and the elements, the secrets of the past remain hardfast against the changing world in this place. I felt at home, at peace with myself and the world. This was my first time visiting Monument Valley. From a tourist's perspective it is cool, but didn't measure up to a WOW until I was out on the course. After collecting a number and swag the day before, I was up early to watch the sunrise behind wonderful silouettes on the horizon before heading out with the fifty-milers to wind through the desert landscape to begin an all-day struggle with the thick sand. Right away the sand was challenging. I resisted the temptation to push off the unyielding trail surface and race, choosing rather to measure my effort and not lift my legs too much or unnecessarily extend my stride to compensate for the drag. Many of those around me were getting bogged down early in the effort and walking. Maintaining a measured rhythm I figured out that running on the margins of the trail where there were no tracks provided better traction and less give than the well-tracked trail. So I moved past a lot of other runners during the first few miles. Winding through the first buttes I had to stop and take time to appreciate their imposing nature. This was not going to be a hard-fought race for me. Leaning back, I chose instead to take time to look around and fully breathe in the experience, running gently for the most part, without regard for the finish time. Near the first aid station I was caught by Benedict Dugger who snapped a couple much-appreciated shots of me with this beautiful backdrop before he paced off ahead of me. I took up with a Navajo man from Gallup named Kernell who ran with me for much of the event. A thoughtful man who ran for perhaps different reasons than me, but in actuality perhaps the same reasons, was good company as we wound across the long stretches of the valley, and may have contributed to my mood of reverence. Between Kernell and a couple Navajo girls that were keeping pace with me, I kept pretty much the same company all day. The route would take us by the Three Sisters aid station four times at miles 22, 27, 36.5 and 46.5. The first 22 miles took an extended northern loop through the Monument through seemingly endless washes and along tribal access roads that saw little traffic other than Navajo range riders, and even fewer tourists. These washes sucked the resilience out of feet and ankles. I saw a lot of people alternating running with extended periods of walking to deal with the challenge, but I kept plugging at my all-day ultra shuffle, looking around as much as I could to absorb the day. The final climb up to the saddle and the aid station followed the dusty gravel valley road that los touristas use to get a closer look at the Monument's grand features. Some drivers would slow enough to minimize the dust, and some would not, but even when there was little traffic, wind gusts would generously give each of us a good mouthful of dust to enrich the experience. Not complaining, but I could have done with fewer miles on that valley road. From mile 22 we would make three loops of 5M, 9.5M, and 10M, marked with red, white, and blue ribbons, before finishing the final 3.5M back to the S/F at the Visitor's Center. The first loop of 5 miles went pretty smoothly in about an hour. Maybe it was the Red Bull that I downed before engaging the red loop. The white loop took perhaps 2.25 hours and wasn't too bad, winding us back into the far reaches of the Monument around Thunderbird Mesa to witness up close the unique features of the Totem Pole, the Sleeping Dragon, and the Sun's Eye and Ear of the Wind. The trail was sandy and challenging the entire way, except for time on the valley road which allowed me to motor along at about a ten-minute pace or better. The third loop - the blue loop - was an experience in and of itself, winding around to the opposite side of Mitchell Mesa, before climbing 1000 feet straight to the top on winding trails in not much more than a mile. It was a walk up for nearly everyone, an opportunity to see who was ahead of you on their way down. The climb was significant in that it comes 40 miles into the event when your legs are worn from fighting the sand all day. I had no problem keeping a good climbing tempo, enjoying the expanding vistas as I ascended. On top, we ran a long singletrack to the southern end of the mesa to the turnaround for some stunning late afternoon views of the surrounding landscape. There was no hurry here. People were just standing quiet like there wasn't a race going on, like "when would I ever get to see this again?" Pictures just don't bring back what we saw. In due time you realize you have to continue on to finish, so conclude your gawking and get back to business, back across the mesa, and down, down, down the way you came. Dancing with rocks I was able to keep good momentum with solid foot plants to descend quickly, trying oh so hard not to look around at the valley below. I really hated to see this one end as I hit the road back to Three Sisters aid station for the final pass through. All that remained was the three plus miles back to the Visitor's Center to conclude a remarkable day. Climbing the road back to the top, I finally slowed to a casual walk when my friend Thondup Saari caught me. We just walked it in over the last half mile without a care for time, enjoying conversation, looking at the future, and secretly wishing the race would last a bit longer. We crossed the finish together in a bit over twelve hours, comfortably, without duress, to the applause and camera of Benedict Dugger, standing ready and waiting. It was a fitting greeting for the conclusion of a wonderful day. I would love to have hung around, as there were a couple friends that were to be running here that I somehow missed before and during the race, but the sun was setting and hyothermia was also setting in, so I grabbed a couple of yummy Navajo tacos before cranking the heat up in my car and heading back to my hotel in Kayenta. It was a terrific day. There is more to the story than I write here, details that are subtle, but rich in flavor; one's that will make me smile always when they come to mind. This report will have to do until I can return to the sun and sand another year.
sunrise at the start West Mitten and Merrick Butte East Mitten Sentinal Butte, West Mitten and Merrick Butte Three Sisters and Mitchell Mesa. Mile 42 is on top of this mesa Aid station and hogan shelter at Dineh Ranch Totem Pole rock formation Ear of the Wind arch Suns Eye arch The climb up Mitchell Mesa about half way up Turning around to see where we started on the valley floor Almost there...the top is just around the corner Looking down on the West and East Mitten and Merrick Butte south toward Elephant Butte, Camel Butte, Rain God Mesa Navajo guide along the course