Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Monument Valley 50 - 2016

Well, I managed to talk Brenda into taking an extra day off of work, so we packed up the mini-van, picked the girls up from school and hit the road.  After overnighting in Durango and spending the day at Mesa Verde, we finally made it to Monument Valley late in the afternoon.  With the light softening, the rocks were magnificent.  We hung around for a bit as the girls each ate a Navajo taco and a fresh made pizza.  I also got to catch up briefly with various UA crew members and retrieve stuff I had left behind at Antelope Canyon (thanks Turd’l).

We stayed the night in Mexican Hat so I had to drag everyone out of bed for the early start.  As with the 100, the previous year, we started the morning off with a Navajo prayer/blessing just before the sun rose.

It was pretty chilly at the start, with overnight temps down in the low 40’s.  I ran into Katrin and David (who took some lovely pics of our family).  A few minutes before the start, I booted up my Garmin, only to have it beep back at me that the battery was dead.  #$%^&*()!!  I had charged it just before leaving home, but it must have gotten banged around and switched on.  I stripped it off my wrist in disgust and handed it off to Brenda, along with my warm overclothes.  Oh well, I would just have to run by feel.  I would anyway, but I like to know where I’m at mileage wise and how far it is to the next aid station.

Monument Valley is the most scenic race that Ultra Adventures puts on, and that’s saying a lot as all of their race venues are spectacular.  Last year, during the 100, I had shot more pictures than on any other race.  Though I was a bit disappointed at not having the 100 mile option this year, it would be cool to see the course in a different light - literally.  The course was basically the last half of the 100, run backwards.  I would get to see the area that I wandered through by myself during the middle of the night.  And wow, did things look different in the light of day.

At the first aid station, Brigham’s Tomb, one of the local dogs took off and followed me.  He wound up running right by my side for the net 8 miles.  A couple of times he was so close that he tripped me up, though luckily I didn’t fall.  I kept up a pretty good pace in this section and he never slowed, even in the deep sand.

By the time I got to the East Mitten aid station, the runners had dispersed quite a bit and I was out on my own most of the way.  It was kind of nice to head into the 3 Sisters/Hogan aid station, as it was crowded with energetic supporters.

Katrin on her way to resetting her course record!

Part way around the first loop, I started to catch up to the 50K’ers and I was still running strong.  Back to 3 Sisters and I was pleasantly surprised by Brenda and the girls.  I didn’t stop for long, but it’s always great to see them in the middle of a race.

3 Sister/Hogan aid station in the distance

Unfortunately, soon after I started out on the second, longer loop, I started to slow down.  I thought that I had been pacing myself pretty well, but I just didn’t have the endurance.  When I got to the sand dunes, I could see a runner far behind and by the time I got to the last arch, he had caught up.  I don’t like being passed in the second half of a race, but there was not much I could do, so I tried to relax and enjoy the magnificent scenery.  It was getting pretty warm now and I was glad to have taken on a second bottle for this long loop as I drained both by the end.

Back to 3 Sisters, where I saw Brenda and the girls again.  I resupplied and told them to take my drop bag so I wouldn’t have to leave anything behind.

the climb up Mitchell Mesa
There was quite a bit more traffic now as many of the 50K’ers were coming back down off Mitchell Mesa.  I made a quick stop at the bottom to refill my bottle and headed up.  The climb was slow and hot.  I wished I had brought more water, not that I really wanted to carry a second bottle again.  50K runners were going both ways and right after the start of the climb, 50 milers started to come down.  I counted, and figured I was in 6th or 7th place, with the guy that had passed me on the previous loop not far ahead.

another 50 miler chasing me up Mitchell Mesa

The views from the top of the mesa were magnificent, though last year, with the setting sun, the colors and shadows were even more spectacular.  I punched my bib at the turn-a-round and headed back across the mesa.

at the top of Mitchell Mesa!

I’m normally pretty good at technical descents, but I still wasn’t moving as fast as I would have liked.  After another refill of water at the base, I headed back towards 3 Sisters.  Brenda and the girls were gone at this point so I just loaded up on ice and water and hit the road towards the finish.

There was a bit of car traffic on the road, but not nearly as bad as I would have thought and only a couple of areas where the dust kicked up.  Part of the road had been graveled and they were spraying down the dirt as I was running.

Without a GPS, I wasn’t sure of the distance or time.  I had asked back at the aid station and felt like I had a decent shot at breaking 9 hours, but it would be close.  My pace was not improving.  I looked back and at times could see the next 50 miler, slowly catching up.

I pushed as much as I could and was relieved to see the final climb in the distance.  It was rather slow going, climbing up that road, but I pushed on and was joined by my girls for the few hundred feet to the finish.  I couldn't slow down at all as I was still being chased, crossing the line in 8:56, less than a couple of minutes ahead of number 7.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stick around the finish line to enjoy the festivities, or to watch Katrin finish not long after me (and reset her own course record).  We headed to our van, where I discreetly changed and then hit the road for a 5 hour drive down to Scottsdale to visit family.

I’m pretty lucky to have gotten to see this magnificent area again.  As great as all of UA’s races are, this one is extra special because of the endless scenery, and the fact that you can’t experience it any other way.  It’s all Navajo land.  A small portion of the course can be driven or hiked.  Other portions of the course can be enjoyed by hiring a guide.  The rest of the course is simply inaccessible to all but the Navajo people, and very few of them ever get out there.