Sunday, May 1, 2016

I forget that I have a blog...

I have been so busy the last little bit, that I completely forgot that I have a blog that I should be writing in. I'm working too much, and not running or writing enough. I also got engaged three weeks ago, (WHAT. That's so crazy, I know.) so there has been a lot of wedding stuff thrown in to the mix.

I've got 5 new races to report on, but I'll just tackle two in this post and the others next week (hopefully). I ran the Zion Half Marathon again this year. I tried something novel this time. I tried running the whole thing without walking. Okay, I did stop and walk for a moment to take my jacket off and one moment to refill my water bottle at mile 5. But other than those two tiny moments, I ran the whole thing!  And guess what. My time was SLOWER than last year's where I let myself take walk breaks. Lesson learned.
Photo courtesy of Jamie Eckles. 
The week after Zion, I ran the Monument Valley 50K. I was nervous at first about this race. The race Director is Matt Gun, and he doesn't do easy races. I wasn't sure that I was recovered enough from Jackpot and that my training might have been less than ideal for this race. But once we got down to Monument Valley, I knew I wouldn't be dropping to the half. I needed to run the 50K, just to see all of the incredible scenery up close and personal.
Mitten Butte, right outside my cabin door.
Packet pick up was held in a hogan, the pre-race briefing included a Navajo sunset prayer ceremony and some traditional songs.
White corn flour being used for the ceremony. Photo courtesy of Scott M. Stringham.
We wrapped up the evening by eating Navajo tacos and watching the stars come out over the gorgeous desert landscape.

Race morning dawned and we headed to the start line for the sunrise prayer ceremony and the start of the 50K. Scott was running in the half marathon that started an hour later, but he came with me to the start of my race to see me off. After getting me on my way, he was able to wait for his race start in a hogan to stay warm.
Sunrise with the Mitten Buttes, just before the start.
The first couple of miles of the race are on a hard packed dirt road that leads past the main formations of the park. As the sun kept coming up, the red rocks began to glow in the morning light.
A view of the Three Sisters formation.
The firs few miles went along pleasantly. The surroundings were breathtaking and it made it so easy to forget that I was running. After the first aid station stop, we headed out on a single track trail called the red loop. Every turn of a corner on this loop brought another amazing sight,

The single track was not too technical, and it made for some very enjoyable running. Towards the end of the loop, the sand started, But it wasn't too bad just yet. Another stop into the aid station and I was out on the white loop. The white loop was my favorite loop, except for the sheer amount of sand that we had to run through, This loop had all of the arches and windows of the race.

By mile 15, we'd been running through deep sand for hours. I had to stop and dump the sand out of my shoes. So much had gotten in that it felt like I had sand orthotics in my shoes. I thought dumping out the sand would have made more of a difference but by mile 18, there was just as much sand in them. I didn't feel like stopping and dumping them out again so I finished the race with piles of sand in my shoes.

I should have put more water in my pack at the second aid stop, because I ran out of water around mile 17 and had to go another 30 minutes without anything to drink. By the time I made it back to the aid station, it felt like my tongue was how it is in the cartoons where the character sticks out their tongue and there's a cow skull and cactus on it.

I spent quite a bit of time at the aid station, getting rehydrated and fueling up. I think I overdid it a bit because my stomach was a little unhappy for a couple of miles as I headed out on the last loop, the blue loop. The blue loop started with a hard packed dirt road that turned off into a sandy single track trail. MORE SAND. I was starting to develop Post Traumatic Sand Disorder.
Oh sure, it looks innocent. But try running 20 or so miles in it and then decide.
This is the only part of the race where I hit a slump. I was feeling gross because of overdoing at the aid station, the sand was slowing me down, and I knew that the giant 1500 foot climb up the mesa was still to come. So from about mile 20 to 22, I was pretty grumpy. But then, the sand ended and we got to go back to packed dirt road until the climb started. I started feeling better and got some good running in on the road.

The climb up the mesa was a very narrow trail, strewn with big rocks that liked to move around when you stepped on them. There were runners coming up and going down, so it made for a lot of stopping and stepping off to the side to let people pass.

A view from the climb up.
This is the only part of the race that I had specifically trained for. I knew that this climb was going to come after I was already starting to feel fatigued, so I had been doing an hour on the stair climber at the gym after my session with my trainer. I taught my body to climb even when it was tired, and it paid off. I kept a steady hike going up the mesa and ended up passing quite a few people.

When I got to the top, the views were breathtaking. It was totally worth it. Also at the top, the trail was incredibly runnable. Nice soft single track, not sand.

There's the finish line! Somewhere in that speck of civilization.
I hit the turn around, punched my bib with the hole punch to prove that I'd made it, and turned around to head back down. I was feeling great at this point, since the hardest part was over and it would be less than 10 miles to the end. I cruised along the top of the mesa to start my descent. There were still a good number of runners coming up the mesa, some 50K runners, some 50 milers.

Coming back down was actually just as difficult as going up, due to the steepness and all of the giant rocks. You couldn't just bomb down the trail because too many of the rocks would slide out from under you. Plus with the other runners coming up, it was just too dangerous to go crazy on the way down. I made it down without too many scary slips of the feet and made some good time back on the dirt road. The only problem with the white loop is that is wasn't really a loop, it was an out and back, so I had to go through that damn sandy single track again. I had hit the end of my sand tolerance and just trudged through it until I hit the road back to the aid station.

I just grabbed a cup of Coke with ice on my way through and asked how far it was to the finish. I couldn't remember if the race was a long 50K or closer to the standard distance. I was ecstatic to hear that there were only 3 more miles to go until the finish. I knew I was going to come in well under the cut off time, and it was all dirt road back to the finish line.

I took off down the road at a decent pace and was able to hold it pretty steady until some of the steeper bits. I hiked up the steep parts, ran the downs and flats, and was in pretty good spirits for that last chunk of the race. Scott and my mom were waiting at the finish line. He had a great race in the half, finishing in the top 10%.
Scott finishing his race, looking strong!
Excited to have finished a tough race!
I finished! It was tough and beautiful and can we come back next year?!
I relaxed at the finish line for awhile with my Scott and my mom. We chatted with some other finishers and took some great photos. If this race isn't on your list, I think you should add it. It's a challenge, but the cut off times are generous. It took me 10 hour and 14 minutes to complete this race, but that was 46 minutes ahead of the cut off. The Ultra Adventures crew puts on an amazing event. They take great care of you at the aid stations (bacon quesadillas, anyone?). The location couldn't be beat. And we wrapped up our trip by participating in a sweat lodge ceremony.
Hanging out by the hogans.
I love the ceramic mug!
I can honestly say that this race is my favorite that I have ever done. I hope that I am able to go back again next year. Scott says that he would love to run the 50K next year so that he can see more of the park. The half marathon runs the red loop and the Wildcat Trail but misses the climb and all the arches, But in those 14 miles, he had his favorite running experience to date as well.

I promise to try and write about the other 3 races very shortly and get back on track with regular reports. But until then, happy running!


  1. Go back to this engagement part...

    1. Not much to say except that I'm getting married, and it's all pretty exciting :)