Monument Valley 50K: Race Report

….and My Story Runs On….

Wow! Where to even begin?  I know I have to keep this succinct but very hard to do, especially for those of you that want to get a detailed report about the race and what to expect if you plan on doing it. (I took a lot of photos so I’m placing some strategically within the blog post and the rest at are at the bottom with a more detailed race report)

First of all, I love the Grand Circle Trail series. I did my first 50 miler last year at Antelope Canyon, did my hardest 50K ever at Capitol Reef last July and actually have their logo tattooed to my forearm because my goal is to do all their original races in the series, at least one per year.  This was the only one I could squeeze into my calendar this year and it’s still cutting it close as I have the Crown King 50K coming up this Saturday and I’ve never done 2 50Ks on back to back weekends.  (While I was running, I realized that in the last 3 months, I’ve done four 50Ks and one 60K….very thankful for ChiRunning and all my training as I am completely injury free!).

Many times, I do these big events with a group of friends but this time was different. My boyfriend had never been to Monument Valley so I wanted him to check it out (I fell in love with this place when we stopped to visit on the way to Capitol Reef last year and had to come back). I actually just realized it’s been about 5 years since we’ve been together so what a great way to celebrate.  We drove up on Friday and left on Sunday.  The race recommends several locations around but I would stay on site if you can to make it easier (The View). All the rooms and cabins were booked so we decided to get a camping spot (it was a bit windy to camp so thankfully we had the van instead. I’m getting into this ultra lifestyle of roughing it out more and more LOL).

We went to the expo the night before.  I knew Monument Valley had a lot of sand. I was mainly training for another race do didn’t get any sand training done.  I brought both my pair of Altra’s and I knew they were sponsoring the race so my plan was to ask the rep which one to use, my Superiors or Lone Peaks?  Well, I got better then a rep!  I got to chat with the founder himself, Golden Harper. I had met him at a talk at Sole Sports awhile ago so was glad to see him.  He recommended the Lone Peaks so that’s what I went with.  (Coincidentally, I met his cousin, one of the cofounders at the Antelope Canyon 50 miler last year!)

Hanging with the founder, Golden Harper, of my favorite shoes, ALTRAS!

I love my Altra shoes!

Then I went to pick up my bib and shirt and was pleasantly surprised to see that my name was on the shirt!  It’s at the bottom of the 0 in 50K since that’s the distance I was doing.

My full name is at the bottom of the 0 in 50K 😉

There it is!

This race was important to me for a few reasons:

  • I absolutely fell in love with this place last July and knew I had to come back and run here! There is something that I can’t explain that draws me to it.  I am sure it won’t be the last time I visit or run in this location.  I also tend to do most of my out of town races with friends and this was the first time I was traveling to do one alone.
  • This was my 8th 50K!  I’ve done more 50Ks than marathons now!  I never thought I’d be doing more than 5Ks when I started running!  It’s never too late to just start, I promise!

Before the race, I tried to find some blog reports but the race changed the course several times in the last several months so I wasn’t sure what would be accurate or not. I knew there would be a lot of sand and there would be one hard climb.

On the morning of the race, they told us there was another course change and that the climb up to Mitchell Mesa would be the first part instead of the second part of the course.  My goal for this race was purely to enjoy this magical place and just make the aid station cut offs. The course change didn’t impact me since I didn’t care about my time.  It’s a liberating feeling not to care about your time at a race!  In retrospect, I’m glad we got that part done first as it was the most difficult part of the course (tie between that and the sand!). (I describe more of the course details in the photos below)  My biggest concern here is my fear of heights!

I am not yawning here! This is me going Holy Sh@# the day before the race, realizing this is Mitchell Mesa and somehow we are going to climb up there!

Side view of Mitchell Mesa…still trying to figure out how we are going to get to the top…

Made it to the top! (more pics below) I love the Wrong Way sign here…if you keep going, you’re off the ledge!

Here are my overall comments about the race:

  • Absolutely loved it but this one had a special meaning for me personally. I love our desert and really wanted to run around this area and just enjoy it.  And it was everything I wanted it to be! Would do this one again in a heart beat! I didn’t listen to music and was by myself most of the way…and truly enjoyed every minute of it.  I did “run” into people on the course and chatted with quite a few several times which was a nice way to break it up. Saying I ran this race to find myself sounds a bit cheesy but I experienced this race like no other before. I truly enjoyed the every minute and the entire experience out in this amazing location.
  • The weather was perfect!  It was high 60s and overcast so no direct sun (I could see that being harder on a warmer day in the desert). I wore my yellow lenses which I love because they brighten everything up!  As the day progressed it got windier (glad for my lenses and buff to put over my face).  It had just started sprinkling as I crossed the finish line.
  • If you don’t like sand or desert setting, you won’t like this race. There was quite a bit of sand (I walked a lot but thought later that running with a faster cadence might’be been more efficient…but I was in mode of enjoying myself, not so much worrying about getting done faster).  I had ran in this type of sand at Antelope Canyon so knew what I was getting into. My Lone Peaks and gaiters did fine and I only had to remove sand once out of my shoes.
  • Two companies merged (I am pretty sure Ultra Adventures and Vacation Races) so there was some confusion leading up to the race about route, aid stations, pacers, cut offs, and race logistics. While I wasn’t too worried because this was not a strategic race for me, that would’ve been annoying if it were my first ultra.
  • One of the aid stations, Three Sisters, was hit up 3 different times on the route and by my 3rd trip there, they had run out of a lot of stuff. There was still an hour for the cutoff there so I’d suggest some better planning.
  • Here is a link to my facebook live video that I took about 10 minutes after I crossed the finish line. You should be able to see it whether you have a facebook account or not (it’s the less than 2 minutes long).

My results:

I titled my blog My Running Story because most runners compare themselves to other people. We are all writing our own running story!  Most of you know that I am rarely in “race” mode. Races are experiences for me and each one is different.  I have a few races that I like to PR (get a Personal Record) but generally speaking, it’s about enjoying the time outside on a trail for me.  I was not concerned about time for this race and just wanted to make sure I didn’t miss any aid station cutoffs.  This was one of my slowest 50Ks but my favorite one!  My TomTom also died before the end so it’s not exact. These are the official race results and here are some screen shots from my TomTom.

Elevation profile (Mitchell Mesa was supposed to be at mile 15 originally but ended up at 6ish with the course change)

Total ascent

My pace was all over the place 😉 I ran all the “easy” parts..fastest mile was 11:32 at Mile 2…when I knew I was well ahead of the aid station cut offs, I decided to walk more to enjoy more the experience!

If you love the desert, and don’t mind sand, I highly recommend this race to add to your bucket list! As I’ve said, I’m pretty sure I would go back and do this one again!

I’ve included a more detailed race report by using the description from the website and the photos I took throughout the race:

I love the Navajo cultural experience about this race. This was a ceremony done the night before the race. In the morning, there was also a Navajo prayer blessing.

Night before: view from the hotel restaurant

Night before: view from the hotel restaurant

Race morning right before start time!

So ready to experience this!

Here are the details of the race course for 2017 from their webpage. They made a change and our first “lap” was the blue one instead of the green one.

Start to 3 Sisters Aid (3.5 miles).  Follow the Valley Drive road South to the aid station.  Road will be signed, but not flagged.  (I decided not to stop at this aid station as I didn’t need to. I had 10 miles and knew I would be fine)

Mitchel Mesa side view. How the heck are we getting up to the top of this thing?

Sunrise was at 7:18 and got to see it on this part of the course!

Sun is up and time for a selfie!

We couldn’t see the Three Sisters monument from the hotel so it was amazing when I had it in view!

From website: Mitchell Mesa out and back (10 miles).  Marked in BLUE. Section starts with dirt road to sandy single track, then climbs a technical old mining road to the top of the mesa.  After traversing to the East side of the mesa, continue for 1 mile along the edge to the turnaround point.  Note:  this is the most technical section of the course, including a 1,500ft climb.  (I was worried about heights on this section and there were a few spots that were testy but stayed focus on the trail in front)

There were wild horses along the way and couldn’t pass up this pic!

Started getting into some of the sand

Going up the hill towards the backside of Mitchell Mesa

You can see runners on the left going up the trail

it was a single track climb with some switchbacks…some clean trail parts but also lots of rocky areas..this was the view when I faced out and back

a little higher up on the trail now

this was an out and back so going up and down this stuff

part of the terrain but doable!

then…..the top!

view from the top!

Turn around point at the top of Mitchell Mesa

Ran into Crystal! She was doing her first 50 miler here. Just met her through Girls On The Run as we were in the same van on the same Ragnar Team!

As I was coming down I was excited to see this couple carrying an American flag..and they asked me if I wanted a photo with it…

so of course I had to stop! thank you! I never got their info!

I couldn’t get enough of the Three Sisters

From website: Arches Loop (9.5 miles).  Marked in GREEN.  From the aid station go EAST.  Course follows a dirt road with a few brief sections of single track.  After the “Cube” formation the course drops down and then follows a sandy double track taking you to views of the Totem Pole and several arches.  Please take a moment and go completely under the Big Hogan arch.  Optional, but worth it.  General direction of the loop is clockwise.  Note: this is a long, sandy section.  Please stock up at the aid station before heading out.  Carry plenty of hydration. (I did as they said and was ready to go. There were good runnable parts here but also a lot of sand)

Great to see my friend John as I stopped the aid station ready to start the next loop. (green)

This was is called Camel. Starting out on the green loop of 9.5 miles.

Cool rock formations everywhere

No trespassing..one of the things I love about these races is that you go in places you can only get to with a Navajo guide or on the race!

gorgeous views everywhere…pictures don’t do it justice in my opinion!

This made me laugh as I thought about the river crossings at Black Canyon I was worried about crossing that never happened anyway 😉

Yes, lots of thick sand! l did lots of walking through these parts

You can see a wild horse on the left right behind the bush (brown horse)

At one of the arches. So beautiful!

Cool views!

both arches

couldn’t resist this view 😉

I wanted to take their advice in the description to go check this out as it was right off the trail but I couldn’t stand the thought of going up a hill of sand at this point…next time!

lots of sand..

another pretty arch

the views were breathtaking

more wild horses!

coming back to The Three Sisters Aid station for the last time

You need to be able to rough it…there are no porta potties and they have a Zero Waste policy. A bucket with toilet seat and some saw dust does the trick..and better than porta potties!

From website: 3 Sisters Aid to East Mitten Aid (7 miles). Section will be marked in PINK.  Section begins running down Valley Drive road back towards the visitors center for ¼ mile, then takes a sharp right onto singletrack which heads over to the North Window overlook (about a mile) and from there follows what’s known as the “Marlboro Trail” around Cly Butte towards Spearhead Mesa, then drops down before reaching Artist Point and follows a drainage back towards the Valley Drive. The route then follows a drainage that parallels the Valley Drive (staying on the southwest side of Merrick Butte) to the double track access road leading to East Mitten Aid station.

Beginning of next part of the course. Heard it was the easiest..started out with this hill…it was pretty runnable but got into some sandy parts too

gorgeous views

just love this landscape!

From website: East Mitten Aid to Finish (2.5 miles). Marked in WHITE.  The course follows the double track access road from East Mitten Aid Station until it meets the single track Wildcat trail. Follow this all the way to the finish.

Love how the filter captured this picture! Love my pink Girls On The Run hat!

One of the Mittens!

More wild horses

This was a bit before the finish line…really?!

Had to get a picture with Matt Gunn after showing him my tattoo 😉 He is the founder of Ultra Adventures and the original creator of this amazing race series!

On our drive back home, we decided to pass through Canyon De Chelly.  Apparently this is the 2nd largest canyon in the US and it was also breathtaking!  There is a 55K race here that has limited spots and it sells out in 5 minutes: Canyon De Chelly Ultra. This one is going on my bucket list as well!  Here are some more pics we took there:

South Rim, Spider Rock view in the back

we were driving along the south rim and these horses just were right there on the side of the road

 

taken from the passenger side of the van! that close!

With so many race experiences, it’s so hard to call one your favorite but this one is probably it for me!  What is yours?

From My Running Story to Yours….
(if you feel inspired to share your comments, do so below…I want to hear your story too!)

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