“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
|Navajo sunrise ceremony (Photo: Peter Beal)
So I searched through Ultrasignup for some reasonable contenders. Monument Valley 50k popped up on the radar, pronto. Done.
Day One: As we pack up the van to head west over the mountains the snow is dumping down on Boulder, having moved in about 12 hours earlier than predicted. A few last stops in town and we're off. The drive over the Continental Divide is sketchy but once we're past Vail the skies clear though the buffeting winds accompany us for the remainder of the 10 hour drive.
|First siting of Monument Valley
|The view from our room.
Day Two: I head out early for my customary shakeout trot exploring the dirt roads just north of town leading up the the town's namesake, the Mexican Hat formation. The desert is so desolate and quiet, except for the songs of unseen birds ushering the morning awake.
|Mexican Hat poking up in the distance
|The Fam xoxo
|Sophia trying to fly
Day Three: The alarm goes off at 5:20 a.m. but I'm already awake. I quietly get ready and then wake up my husband and daughter. We drive through the dark and as we enter the valley my stomach begins its usual flips. We arrive about 10 minutes before the start. People are milling about as the sun rises showing the towering sandstone formations in silhouette.
"Oh, beauty before me, beauty behind me, beauty to the right of me, beauty to the left of me, beauty above me, beauty below me, I’m on the pollen path." ~ Navajo Sunrise Corn Pollen BlessingWe make our way to the start as the sky brightens enough to hand my headlight off to my husband. I'm hanging way back in the pack as the 50 milers are ushered on their way with cheers and claps and shouts of encouragement. I'm in no hurry to start, or get up front since this is a training run and I am taking a chill attitude about the whole thing - well, as much as I can. I hug my husband and daughter tight. Thank them for coming out so early, and assure my husband that I'll let him know when I'm a few miles from the finish.
And we're off.
The start is chilly and all downhill, some of it pretty steep, and I know I will be running back up this several hours from now toward the finish. We hit the first checkpoint and head out on the first loop: The 'red loop'.
This section has some fun, steep, ups and downs, twists and turns, and is all single track, which makes for a little challenge because the field still hasn't spread out. I feel like I was in the middle of a particularly vexing "Indian Run" (not politically correct, I know) training game. I am stuck behind many people while looking for my chance to pass. Many let me by, others do not and so I either have to slow down or bide my time and wait for a good passing place, or jump briefly into the spiky desert foliage, feeling the cuts across my shins and calves, to get by. At this point I am regretting my laid back attitude at the start.
The coming miles, I'd estimate about 10ish miles of this section, are through the dunes and deep, deep sand and some of the most churning, grueling miles I've ever run.
“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.” ~ G.K. Chesterton
|Mile of sand behind me, miles of sand in front of me...
This loop seems to last an eternity, which actually it does as my pace drops off the map and my effort goes off the deep end. "It's just training. It's just training" I repeat over and over. I see no one for a very long time. It is me and this amazing place and no one else. Except for one of our Navajo guides, who appears as though a mirage.
Eventually we move away from the dunes and I pray to the running gods that there is no more of that. The normal sand here is bad enough. We join back up with the final miles of the earlier red loop where we run into the back end of the half marathon - so once again, I am forced to beat my way around people through the spiky desert flora. We hit the Three Sisters aid station for a third time at 19ish miles. I beat out my socks, but at this point I see little sense in changing them. Even though they are covered and stained red with sand, my feet are fairing well and I tend not to mess with things when they are working. More peeing, more HEED and I'm off for the last loop.
|Turn around point on the top of Mitchell Mesa
“Happiness is not a goal...it's a by-product of a life well lived.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt