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Monument Valley 50 mile - Run


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Monument Valley, Arizona
United States
Sunny
Total Time = 13h 42m 29s
Overall Rank = /
Age Group =
Age Group Rank = 0/
Run
  • 00m
  • 50 miles
  •  min/mile
Comments:










        There's a beautiful place that exists on the border of Utah and Arizona, not far from the four corners that you've seen a million times. It's been featured in dozens and dozens of movies, and stands out as THE image of the desert southwest. As a kid, I'd watch old westerns, Forrest Gump, and even Back to the Future 3, see those tell tale buttes that shoot up out of the landscape, and think that all of the southwest looked like that. As it turns out, it's a relatively small place that just happens to have been filmed over and over. Some movies will depict long voyages through the southwest, only to film the exact same spot in the beginning and end, just from a different angle. Hollywood's obsession became my obsession, and when it came time to sign up for my first ultra marathon, I couldn't say no when I stumbled across a race company that specializes in ultras in the desert southwest. Together with some of my family, we make our way from Phoenix up to the Valley, and arrive just as the sun is settling in for the night, throwing light across the landscape that explodes into every color imaginable. The sky is turquoise and pink, the monuments are a deep red, and their growing purple shadows stretch across the desert floor. It's easy to see why this is considered holy land. My dad, who would ground me for a month if just a touch or profanity came out of me as a kid, can't keep his conservative catholic mouth clean. F bombs are dropping left and right as he goes on and on about how he might pass out from how incredible the scenery is. While trying to sneak peaks at it and still keep the car on the road, I've got one hand on the wheel while the other is busy trying to dislodge walnut sized gold nuggets from my nostrils, courtesy of the dry desert air. We park, run out of the car like kids and gaze out over the landscape, while I imagine what it will be like to run 50 miles through it. 










          The good people at Ultra Adventures have put together not just a race, but an experience. The day before the race, we're invited to a ceremony that involves traditional Navajo culture. In dirt dwellings called hogans, heated by small wood burning stoves, there is a jewelry making demonstration. 




















          Navajo tacos and fry bread are served, and young ladies invite the athletes to join them in a traditional dance.















       We're reminded that being on this land is a privilege. Their agreement to allow the race lets us see places that the general public is not allowed to go to. This alone makes the race even more special for me. At sunset, we're given small handfuls or corn and face west. One of the Navajo leads us as we throw the corn into the wind, and we settle back to our cabin to rest up for what lies ahead.






        I wake up before dawn and start preparing my running feast. Inside my Ultimate Direction running vest I've got baked potato chunks coated in salt, Nuun Tablets, dark chocolate bars, clif bars, gels, blocks, vaseline, ibuprofin, headlamps, and of course, toilet paper! We quietly line up before dawn, this time facing east and throw more corn into the wind.




3...2...1.. and we're off! We head north and immediately cross the border from Arizona into Utah. Not that there's any indication of that. Out here it's just desert. We pass Sentinal Mesa and the sun starts peeking out from behind the horizon. Runners have stopped, with their cameras out, taking pictures of the sunrise, myself included. It's a short but welcome break from climbing up the sandy trails. Imagine running on the thickest, sandiest of sand on the beach, where your feet slide out from underneath you. That's what it was like for most of the race, and it can zap a person's energy like a short on a car battery. 










        After a few miles of climbing, we hit a steep drop off, again on the thick sand. We all hold our arms out for balance and take flying leaps, sinking in every time we land. 







         Someone shouts that it feels like skiing. Someone else shouts that it feels like we're at one of those trampoline parks. All the shouting, woops and hollers echo off the massive cliff in front of us. At the bottom, people are sitting on rocks, taking a moment to dump the red sand out of their shoes. 




      As we round the corner, even more pictures are being taken as we're struck by the bright morning sun. People are stopped, looking out at the landscape and saying to each other "I can't believe it. This is just too much...." There are several Native Americans competing in the race, and I pass by one who has stopped and is giving a traditional morning prayer to the sun. I'm reminded yet again what an incredibly special experience this is.




         Aid station one is a table of heavenly treats. I go towards my favorite, cooked potato chunks, with a bowl of salt next to it that we can dip things in. The guy next to me is raving about the avocado slices as he coats them in salt and throws them down his gullet. This is the first of several times that I see a fluffy black dog on the course, just having fun running with different people, miles and miles away from anything else. The groups of people thin out and I go out into a long stretch of flat desert, pretty much alone for many miles. 




      Some of the Navajo men are out on horseback, patrolling the course.




     Mile 12, 13, 14. My right IT band, which has been quietly keeping it's mouth shut for years, decides this is the opportune moment to pipe up and say "Woah hey! I didn't sign up for this!" and a soreness creeps through my right leg, getting worse with every mile. I need to take it easy, but when I see the sign on the next aid station that says "Mile 16", I start worrying about how my leg feels with that many miles still left to go. 


     Even with the sun up, it's still chilly, so some of us gather around their camp fire while we tend to our injuries and chow down on things that are normally considered junk food. I always thought it was funny at long endurance events like this, when you have these super healthy individuals eating chips, candy, bacon, M&Ms, and soda (nectar of the running gods as they say), but it satisfies what the body is craving.




         I say goodbye to my friends at Mile 16, between the 2 mitten buttes, and make my way down into a sandy wash only to find that many other people have already been reduced to a walk. Cardio wise I'm ok, meaning what I'd expect from running that far in the sand, but my IT band is really throwing up a red flag, and I have to walk for a while. It's demoralizing, but with that many miles left, you have to strategize and be realistic about how much you've got in you. Small groups form and break apart. When one person decides to start running again, the rest try to keep up.



    22 miles in, we reach the main aid station which we will revisit several times throughout the day. I hit the deck, and my pit crew goes to work.







          My sister has found a lid to a tupperware container and laid it out for me like a makeshift hospital gurney. Uncle is massaging my IT band while Auntie keeps my bag of food and supplies ready. My sister coats me down with another layer of sunscreen, Dad holds up signs of encouragement drawn by my niece, and we joke about who has the unenviable task of applying more vaseline to the high chafing areas of the nether regions.Why did my IT band have to throw in the towel today? I've been fine for years, but then again this is very different terrain than I'm used to. Well, whatever, I just did 22 miles, only 28 to go!

         I begin the red loop, already walking with a limp, when my guardian angel comes from behind in the form of a very humble guy named Ethan. He asks how I'm doing, and encourages me to stay with him on a run/walk schedule dictated by the terrain. If it's up or down, we walk. If it's level and not too sandy, we run. I shadow him like a fish following a shark. When he runs, I run.

          If there's an opposite to claustrophobia, you'd get it out here. It's just father sky, mother earth, and the occasional runner that you might pass or see in the distance. Out here, camaraderie is king, and I'm thankful to have someone to talk to for the next 15 miles.













      We pass enormous orange sand dunes, arches, more Navajo on horseback, and sand. More and more sand... Had we been only slightly faster, we would have been caught in the middle of a dust devil which forms not more than 5 feet in front of us, sending a funnel of dirt maybe 30 feet up and throwing tumble weeds across the trail. After some much appreciated chit chatting about each other's running experiences, Ethan's watch beeps and he happily informs me that I've just reached the farthest I've ever run in my life. Not bad!









       I reach into my vest pocket to grab my camera, only to find that it has hopped out and disappeared. Crap. Ethan asks me if I want to go back to look for it. If I had lost my wallet, birth certificate, and social security card even half a mile ago, there's not a chance in hell that I'd go backwards. With impossibly perfect timing, my family happens to be driving by on a road that runs alongside the trail at that very point, and I shout for my uncle to see if he can go find it. Miles later, also by impossible chance, I criss cross with them again, and my uncle hands over the camera that he managed to find along the trail.

       One of my favorite parts of the race comes walking right towards me. It's a white horse, not in a pen, not tied up, no harness or bit in it's mouth. Just a white horse in the middle of this desert who walks right up to me. Deciding that I'm actually one hell of a guy, he nuzzles his head into my chest, like a big cat looking for affection. This is one of those rare moments in life when I'm not so wrapped up in the future or the past and instead decide to just be there, with that horse, in the middle of this beautiful mythical place. I say farewell to my new friend, and we both continue on our own journeys.









         We pass by Dan, who I chatted with for a few miles earlier in the day. He's walking because of a "Mount Everest sized blister", so I open up the supply closet strapped to my back and give him a glob of vaseline to hold him over until he can get some duct tape on it.  Although I've been resisting it, I take an ibuprofen, which gives me some much needed relief from the pain. I've read a little bit about NSAIDs like ibuprofen causing kidney problems in long distance endurance events like this, but with some guidance I decide to take a sensible approach and limit it to one dose as long as I stay well hydrated. Coming back into the aid station, my family can already see the improvement. I'm surprised myself, considering what sorry shape I was in at the end of round one. Even with how much walking I had to do, we still passed by many people who had passed me early on in the dry wash.      

         Now comes the fun part. The final loop involves a climb to the top of Mitchell Mesa, which is 1500 feet high in about a mile. We're given the option of having a crew member pace us for this last 13 miles, and who better than my sister to drag me along? The climb is grueling, but awe inspiring. As you approach, it just looks like a cliff with no way up.









       I've coined a new term because of this race: "Brutaful", brutal and beautiful. Every step higher reveals more of the valley, albeit with a little less air to breathe. A short run to the end up the mesa once we reach the top allows us to look down at the buttes while the sun sets. The icing on the cake is the ceremonious punching of my bib number- proof that we made it all the way up there.

  






    And of course, with a view like that, in a place that people normally aren't allowed to go, how could we not stop for a few pictures?




    Just 7 or 8 more miles to go. My feet are destroyed, and I'm coated in red dirt. I can feel a blister open up inside my shoe and it sends a stabbing pain through my foot, but it still doesn't wipe that big smile off my face.







     The sun disappears behind the rocks and with what dwindling light we have left, we make our way up the final ascent to the finish. As we approach it, I turn around and look out over the valley which I've been honored to call home for the day. It's completely dark except for the moonlight illuminating the landscape in a bluish white glow, and it's quiet except for a gentle breeze and the sound of our footsteps. Pow! Another gargantuan blister explodes inside my shoe from the pressure of all the pounding, and I limp for a minute like I've stepped on broken glass. No stopping now. At the very crest of the hill, we see the finish line and against my sister's will, I hoist her up onto my back to give her a piggy back ride to the very end, to remind myself to still have some fun with this stuff. 







        Family is waiting for us with open arms and FOOD! A volunteer gives me a hand crafted award made out of plant material from the valley coated in resin, definitely making it my favorite finisher's medal. I'm even met by Marvin, our Navajo guide who took us horse back riding the day before, and had stayed around to watch us finish. 







            He comes back to hang out on our cabin porch and swap stories while I survey the damage. Rigor mortis has already set in, and slowly peeling back my socks reveals the feet version of deployed air bags that you might call blisters if they were smaller. I just call these some kind of sick joke. I'm famous for my big blisters but these are nuts, and my toenails have all swelled to the point that it'll be a miracle if any of them stay on. 


        It's easy to get the post race blues after an event like this. Like I said, it's not just a race, it's a full on cultural experience. Even with all the pain, I only think happy thoughts when I think of that day, and how I can't wait to do it again. Since it was my first 50 miler, I learned some lessons that will help next time, and hopefully I can pass that info along to others as Ethan helped me with his experience of dozens of ultras under his belt. Had it not been for him, the buzzards would still be picking at me out there somewhere. My family, and everyone else who supported me along the way deserves a big pat on the back for joining me in this 50 mile adventure in a land of room enough, and time enough.












Post race
Event comments:

Best race ever




Last updated: 2016-03-23 12:00 AM
Running
00:00:00 | 50 miles |  min/mile
Age Group: 0/
Overall: 0/
Performance:
Course:
Keeping cool Drinking
Post race
Weight change: %
Overall:
Mental exertion [1-5]
Physical exertion [1-5]
Good race?
Evaluation
Course challenge Just right
Organized? Yes
Events on-time? Yes
Lots of volunteers? Yes
Plenty of drinks? Yes
Post race activities: Good
Race evaluation [1-5] 5

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2016-03-23 4:38 PM

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New user
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Austin, Texas
Subject: Monument Valley 50 mile


2016-03-24 9:36 AM
in reply to: #5173571

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Extreme Veteran
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Tallahassee, Florida
Subject: RE: Monument Valley 50 mile
Oh Wow! I really don't know what to say about that RR and that race. What an amazing, wonderful, incredible experience you had! Thank you for sharing the pictures so we can see the incredible scenery and your words which definitely convey that this was an honor and privilege for all who participated. Good for you on enjoying every bit of the whole experience. Had to laugh tho when you said that you had 22 miles done and only 28 more to go.

So glad that your family got to go with you and share the experience. Love you taking your sister across the finish line on your back; don't think I've ever seen someone finish a race like that. Congratulations not only on the completion of your first ultra but for enjoying it like it should be done!

So ITB ok now? And the feet with the blisters? As for the toenails, they are way overrated.

Thank you again for sharing such a wonderful experience!
2016-03-24 10:30 AM
in reply to: Pink Socks

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New user
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Austin, Texas
Subject: RE: Monument Valley 50 mile

Thanks Pam!

The ITB was actually pretty much fine the next day, although I foresee some strengthening of my hamstrings and glutes in my future to prevent this from happening again. Blisters were pretty brutal for a few days, but worse was just the pressure under my toenails, forcing them up. I tried to put shoes back on and I was "walking" like a 115 year old man in a nursing home, so I've been in flip flops ever since. I even hiked a mile and a half down into the grand canyon 2 days after the race and ended up on some girl's "Hiking the grand canyon" bingo card.  "dude in flip flops.....check...."

2016-03-24 10:42 AM
in reply to: #5173571

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Master
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Englewood, Florida
Subject: RE: Monument Valley 50 mile

Jamie, thank you very  much for sharing your experience, it is one of the best written RR's I have read in a long time.  You not only shared the race experience, but the ENTIRE experience as well.

I hope you have shared it with Ultra Adventures.

2016-03-24 10:52 AM
in reply to: #5173571

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Master
6586
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Rio Rancho, NM
Subject: RE: Monument Valley 50 mile

Great RR! Thanks for sharing!

Welcome to the desert. It's a magical place.

Monument Valley is an amazing place (I've not done the race, yet) but there are many beautiful (I like your brutaful word) locations out here. I'll be racing an ultra in Moab next week and am looking forward to similar views. Shiprock, also Navajo land, has an amazing ultra on their tribal lands.

2016-03-24 4:09 PM
in reply to: #5173571

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Elite
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Subject: RE: Monument Valley 50 mile

LOVED LOVED LOVED your race report!  As an English teacher I love reading such expressive writing! What an experience.  The pictures are amazing as well.  I seriously might have to add the to my list of 'must do' races--it looks spectacular from the scenery to the cultural experience. I love everything about it!  I'm so glad you had such an amazing experience (sans the IT trouble--grrrr).  What a weekend. I'm so happy for you having such an incredible time!  Well done!!!



2016-03-24 6:08 PM
in reply to: ingleshteechur

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114
100
Edmond, Oklahoma
Subject: RE: Monument Valley 50 mile
Jamie
Truly one of the best race reports. The pictures make a big difference in the report. I hope more people read your report and use pictures when possible. You said it was a family experience and you were right.

I cant believe you lost your camera and your uncle found it. I think you're right about not going back to look for the camera. I'll bet for years to come you will talk about the time your uncle found your camera.

The fact the race was held in such a beautiful area with a long history makes the race more special. I was pleased to see the tracers appreciate the history and significance of the area.

Congrats

Rob
2016-03-24 6:20 PM
in reply to: rrrunner

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Veteran
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Austin, Texas
Subject: RE: Monument Valley 50 mile

Epic.  A truly overused word, but I'm just stuck on it.  Amazing pictures.  Amazing effort.  Sounds like both an all-world support team and incredible experience.

Thanks for the RR!

Matt

2016-03-25 5:32 AM
in reply to: mcmanusclan5

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Expert
1439
100010010010010025
Tallahassee
Subject: RE: Monument Valley 50 mile
Jamie, that was an amazing race report. The scenery was amazing, thanks for taking the camera and tell your uncle thanks for finding it. The white horse, just how amazing was that. You never know what God will put in your path. So glad you enjoyed the race and your family got to experience things they would normally not get to see. Congratulations and GREAT job!
2016-03-25 10:04 AM
in reply to: 0

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New user
1350
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Austin, Texas
Subject: RE: Monument Valley 50 mile

Thank you all for your very kind words, and for reading my long winded race report. Being on your feet for 14 hours provides a lot of time to think and I usually go into story mode about what's going on. In case you couldn't tell, I definitely recommend Monument valley, even if you don't want to do an ultra. They have several other distances available. I never expected that I'd be carrying a camera during a race and taking pictures along the way, but how could I not in a place like that? I already had a vest full of goodies anyway, so the extra couple ounces was totally worth it! It's been a few more days now and I've performed a little minor surgery on my toes that I won't go into detail about since I'm sure you all want to sleep tonight, and now I may actually be able to put on a pair of running shoes again, so watch out for the next one. I'd love to do a multi stage where you camp along the way. There's one in big bend that covers 173 miles in 6 days!

Anyway if you get bored and want to read more stuff like that, I keep an adventure blog that I update maybe twice a year, usually with long distance endurance race reports, and the beautiful places in this world that I'm privileged to see because of them. http://whereisjamiegoing.blogspot.com/

Thanks again, and keep on runnin!



Edited by trijamie 2016-03-25 10:06 AM
2016-03-25 1:36 PM
in reply to: #5173571

Member
1487
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Scottsdale, AZ
Subject: RE: Monument Valley 50 mile
AWESOME RR!!! And WTG finishing your first 50 miler! We've driven through Monument Valley on our way to Utah from Phoenix and it really does take your breath away! What a privilege to experience what you did there!
Congratulations and hope all your injuries are healing!! Thanks for sharing your pics and experience! Amazing!


2016-03-26 1:32 AM
in reply to: #5173571

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Master
7773
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Eugene, Oregon
Subject: RE: Monument Valley 50 mile
Congrats on the 50-miler and awesome race report and pics! My feet hurt and toenails feel loose just reading about it. Yikes! Enjoy recovery--blisters and sore toes are a good excuse to take a week or so off--you've earned it!
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