It’s hard to believe it’s been two weeks since C and I road tripped to northeast Arizona for the Monument Valley 50. The weekend was amazing, and not just because of the race. In fact, even though we logged 24 hours in the car on a trip that lasted less than 60 hours total, we both agreed that we’d do it again in a heartbeat.
We took off from San Diego bright and early, at 3:30 a.m., and hit the road. This was total déjà vu for me, having done a similar middle-off-the-night departure to get to the Antelope Canyon 55K just a few weeks prior. But lucky for me this time I’d have company, both in the car and on the trails, as C was coming along to pace me for the last 15 miles of the race as training for her pacing duties at Zion.
As much as I enjoy road tripping alone, having C along for the ride was a complete blast. We made great time and were through Phoenix before either of us knew it. From there, we were northbound for a few hours, before heading through Flagstaff and on to Monument Valley.
We lucked out and snagged a last-minute cancellation at a hotel called The View just a few hundred feet from the race start/finish line. After checking in and dropping off our bags, we decided to make the most of the daylight we had left.
After a nice meal at the hotel and an evening walk to take in the scenery and look at the stars, it was off to bed (except for when we got up and to look at the stars again at 3 a.m.).
Prior to the 50M/50K start, runners were treated to a Navajo Prayer Ceremony at the start line and then, promptly at 7 a.m., were off on our way.
I thought that Running Antelope Canyon a few weeks prior had given me a pretty good idea of what to expect, but since the Monument Valley area had been hit by extreme weather during the past two weeks, I knew it was best to take anything I thought I knew about the course conditions, throw it out the window, and prepare for a long, tough, sandy day through the Navajo Nation.
With less than 60, 50-mile runners, the pack thinned out fast, and runners were able to experience the area’s beauty on their own. As I trudged along through the sand, it quickly became apparent that I was going to get, way, WAY closer to the monuments than I had originally thought. By mile 9, I knew this was going to be one of my favorite races to date.
The weather that hit the area earlier had helped “pack down” some of the sand, but most of the miles between Brigham’s Tomb Aid (mile 9) and Hogan Aid (mile 22) were still a challenge. I hit Hogan’s Aid for the first time in around 5 hours, feeling pretty good overall.
From Hogan, the 50-milers would do a series of loops, all of which passed back through Hogan before heading onto the next. The first loop (North Windows) took runners out on some of my favorite singletrack of the day. The views were simply unbelievable.
After North Windows, I cruised came through Hogan before heading out on the Arches Loop. This 9.5 mile loop was incredible … and sandy. But mostly incredible.
I returned to Hogan for the final time at 3 p.m. and picked up C, who was planning to run the final 15 miles with me. We headed off to Mitchell Mesa – which would be the biggest climb of the day at mile 40.
(Sidenote: To the group of volunteers at Hogan Aid, kudos on running such a great aid station. With runners hitting this aid station multiple times, I estimate they saw somewhere between 800-1,000 runners. Every time I came through food and support was plentiful and spirits were high. One of the best aid stations I’ve ever ran through. Thanks again – you all were great!)
Heading up Mitchell Mesa was tough. The trail up was really technical and slow going, but once we got to the top, the views we got where the highlight of my day. Words don’t even do it justice.
At the same time I was up there, I noticed a local Navajo man up there … ON HIS HORSE. I couldn’t help but stop and ask how he got up there with that horse. He smiled and simply said “the same way you two did.”
I had a lot of interactions with the local Navajo throughout the day, each of which was an incredibly memorable (and positive) experience. Talking with them about their land, its beauty, and its history was a once in a lifetime experience that we all enjoyed.
Coming down Mitchell Mesa was a lot more fun than going up, and before I knew it C and I were back to Hogan Aid for the final time. Just 3.2 miles were left until the finish. I’d been out there a little more than 12 hours and was feeling pretty thrashed … yet I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face.
Having C out there as my pacer was fantastic. She did a great job keeping me moving and helping me forget about the pain. Definitely a natural!
Together, we knocked out the final 3 miles and crossed the finish line at 12:53:36 (30/41).
The next morning, bright and early, we put about 700 more miles on my Altima before arriving back home in San Diego. Talk about a whirlwind trip!
One that neither of us would change for the world.