Beelined it to the desert after work on a Thursday arriving just in time for a short hike to Mesa Arch and a spectacular sunset in Canyonlands National Park. Crawled into the back of my car and slept like a baby like I always do in the back of Rubes.
A crazy tight Achilles and well general malaise had me giving up on running the Monument Valley Ultra, but a few days before I thought well hmphhhh why don’t I just drive down there and see how I feel.
I woke early in the back of Rubes watching the sun rise over the Colorado River and headed out for breakfast at the Love Muffin in Moab. My huge day before race day breakfast tradition may be the number one reason I continue doing ultras so I ate a big one just in case. Grabbed another coffee at Wicked Brew and continued my journey south.
Stopping off in Blanding, I toured around the Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum, a perfect pre-race day activity since I was trying to take it easy and assess my Achilles. Frustrated by looking at artifacts behind museum glass I headed out to Butler Wash Road to see the land of the ancients up close foregoing any taking it easy goals. I hiked to the Procession Panel and scrambled up to the top of Comb Ridge.
Returning from a 3-4 hour flip-flop wander I enjoyed a cheese sandwich and a beer and a nap in the back of my car and upon waking spent some time thinking about what to do. I could either run or camp here and spend the weekend casually exploring Comb Ridge. I suck at decisions.
Still undecided I drove the rest of the way down to Monument Valley trying to make it to the packet pick up by 7pm closing time, but was distracted by a herd of wild horses on the side of the road. I pulled off the road and watching them – they were so beautiful and not frightened by me one bit. Seriously, this was the most casual I have ever been about getting to a race. But was I going to run, that was still to be determined.
Missed the packet pickup so I drove down into the Valley to find a spot in the primitive camp spots they made available for race participants and watched one of the most glorious sunsets of my life. I have driven through Monument Valley several times, but had never stopped and entered the Monument Tribal Park and well wow!
Made my typical pre-race dinner of Trader Joe’s butternut squash ravioli foregoing another beer since alcohol is not permitted on the reservation. Slapped a special Japanese anti-inflammatory patch on my calf and crawled into my bag setting my alarm for 5am. Totally froze all night to the point that I couldn’t wait for morning so I could get up and run to get warm. Decision made.
Froze my hands off making coffee at my car just to find out they had coffee at the start grrrrr. Scarfed some bread and cheese, stuffed my pack with some goods, and was off running without much thought. Running the dirt road down into the valley we were welcomed with the most colorful sunrise ever making the race totally worth it for just that moment. I stopped to snap a few photos in the middle of the road and enjoyed the audible gasps in all the runners passing me by. Shortly after I was passed by a herd of wild horses, for real!
The first few miles were downhill and fast before hitting the sand and making the big climb up to the top of a plateau. This section of trail was an out and back to the end of the plateau and it wasn’t long into the climb before the first man went bombing downhill by with the first woman not far behind. At the turnaround point I discovered I was second female, which I held onto until about mile 15 when some road runner girl went flying by with apparently little effort.
I was not prepared for both the amount of sand and the flats. All the climbing was pretty much over by mile 9 and then I just had to hold on and trudge. Running flats is not my strength mentally, but physically too. I just get bored and the monotony of it seems to hurt my body as well. We were told the sand in this course was not as bad as the Antelope Canyon race and I completely disagree. The sand was deep and relentless and I would estimate at least 75% of the course.
I really started to struggle around mile 25. The sand was deep, terrain flat and the route kept winding around a wash making me feel like I was making no forward progress at all. Running at what felt like 8-minute pace and seeing your watch read 11-minute pace was heartbreaking. The resistance from the sand was killing me and I knew I wasn’t consuming enough food and water. Six-miles to go, I was dying and got passed again, not even trying to keep up and totally accepting fourth place and not giving one shits about it.
This is the worst I have ever felt in an ultra and I just grunted my way to the finish. I felt horrible at the finish, my body ached so terribly and I was super light-headed and out of it. Couldn’t believe they had no readily available water or coke or anything for the finishers so I went to my car for a drink and waited in line for some food all dazed until some guy came over to talk to me and said he had been watching me and walked me over the the medical tent. I was at the race alone so thank goodness for random strangers helping me get food and to a comfortable spot.
I hung out with super nice tent medic runner woman for about a half hour slowly eating a rice bowl and drinking about 2 liters of water totally coming back from the dead. I thanked nice medic and got in my car and drove the 6 and a half hours back to Salt Lake. I felt like shit because for the first time in my life really pushed it.
I made it about a hour and half to Blanding before my legs starting aching so terribly I had to pullover and take a break. I took a wet-one bath in the visitor center bathroom and then laid down in the back of my car for an hour or two until the aching subsided. Then I drove to Green River for a veggie burger, fries, and beer at Ray’s Tavern. I was going to call it a night in Green River, but I was oddly stoked so I drove all the way back to Salt Lake, adrenaline is a powerful drug.
Sometimes my body just amazes me and my real accomplishment was making the drive back to Salt Lake. I finished the race at 1:30pm and was in my own bed at midnight. Second accomplishment was finally getting my sub-6 hour 50K time coming in at 5:46 and some change. I took 16th out of 261 total runners, which is totally nuts-0 and I earned this nifty certificate.
Can’t say I would ever do this race again, but I am glad I did it. The views were amazing, but the sand and flats totally not my favorite. The race organization (they changed the course at the last minute) and the aid station volunteers (not sure which way course went) left much to be desired for. It is all about the experience though, and this was definitely one!