First off, in my opinion, if the Monument Valley race is on your bucket list, go ahead and take it off right…and put it into your 2016 race calendar NOW!!!!
Ultra Adventures Monument Valley Ultra Marathons consisted of 100 mile, 50 mile, 50K, 25K and 4 mile distances. The courses for all distances are in Monument Valley Tribal Park within Navajo Nation. Non-Navajos must obtain a valid hiking or backcountry permit or under the leadership of a Navajo guide in order to access all areas of the Navajo Nation. Therefore, this race gave runners a unique experience in a very special place.
The weekend started with two excellent talks presented by Navajo guide, Larry Holiday and his daughter, Ann Marie Salt. Larry entertained us with his knowledge of the land and Navajo history. Ann Marie followed Larry’s talk with a talk on the Navajo woman’s role in the Navajo culture. Learning about the Navajo culture and experiencing Matt Gunn’s passion and admiration for the Navajo were perfect openers to what was a spectacular weekend.
Before first light, all of the 100 mile starters faced to the east (the direction of the rising sun and the start of the new day) and gathered around Larry and Ann Marie for a Navajo prayer by Larry. At the end of the prayer we all released a pinch of corn pollen in honor of the new day and for our own vitality. Ann Marie and Larry finished the tribute with a Navajo song about the four directions (North, East, South, West). To conclude the pre-race festivities, we had a moment of silence for Alyssa Bennett before taking off to enjoy the splendor of a very magical place.
The following is a little video I put together of the images that I was able to capture while completing the 100 mile distance. To view, click on the image below or on this link.
There was so much to see and experience along this course, I’m sure it was a difficult decision for Matt Gunn to decide which pieces would have to be covered during the night time hours. Unfortunately, for me, one of those areas was Mitchell Mesa. At mile 57.5, 100 mile runners began a grueling 2 mile climb with approximately 1200 feet of elevation gain over very rocky technical terrain. The designated trail snaked around large boulders and sometimes brought the runner close to the edge of huge drop offs. Under the dark sky, the mesa was peaceful with just a few scattered lights in the valleys below. Upon reaching the summit, I let out a big hoot and holler. This was probably more to prepare me for the decent, which I found running in the dark more challenging than the ascent.
The darkness of night, however, did not do justice to the daytime views offered by this mesa. Take a look at the awesome photo of a runner on top of the mesa in one of the other distance races captured by Matthew Van Horn. Oh well, just means I may have to return to Monument Valley in 2016 to run one of the shorter distance races. I can think of worse things. 🙂
Another thing I was unable to capture well on film was the rising of the moon. Catching first glimpse of the moon while running through the night has got to be my most favorite thing about running the 100 mile distance. In this race, I caught my first glimpse while completing my last (of two) loops around the North Window lookout. I was running along Scenic Valley Drive when I spotted an orange beam shooting straight up into the sky. Slowly the half moon emerged from behind the silhouette of a large black monument as if being pulled up into the heavens by a string. This all occurred around 3am on what happened to be my 47th birthday. I took this as a sign that my next year in life was off to a good start!
The above video can not possibly convey how much sand was encountered along this course. At around mile 95, after running around a mesa, we were forced to run up and then across (for what felt like more than its two actual? miles) one last sand dune. Really! The upside was the incredible views of the valley that this vantage point offered.
Besides offering incredible views, Hwy 163, the road leading to Monument Valley, is famous as the spot on which Forrest Gump stopped his cross country run. I unfortunately did not stop and play at this area, but here are pictures captured by my friends and fellow Ultra Adventure Ambassadors, Cory Reese and Jackie Achter having some fun at this location.
I encourage you to attend the 2016 version of the Monument Valley Ultra Marathons. You will not be disappointed.
Check out some videos and blog posts by some of the other runners.
Jackie Achter – Majestic Monument Valley 50K and More! also includes a description of the Honaker Trail Trifecta
Kelly Agnew – 2015 Monument Valley 100: Rough, Rugged and Beautiful
Chas Melichar – Monument Valley 55K (a photo and video essay)
Matthew Van Horn (videographer extraordinaire) – Ultra Adventures: Monument Valley Teaser 1: Blessing