A 9 hour flight to Las Vegas, followed by a 6 hour drive and you arrive at Monument Valley on the Utah/Arizona border. An iconic location made famous by movies such as Stagecoach, The Searchers, (the greatest Western of all time perhaps?) Back to the Future Part 3 and Forest Gump, (ironically it is where he stops running) is a long way from home. The 50 mile race was one of three being run along with the a half-marathon and 50K and forms part of the Navajo race series. The Navajo tribe who run the park are famous for the ‘Code Talkers’ the ‘secret weapon’ for the US Marine Corp during World War 2.
Top native runners littered the field in both the half-marathon and 50K ultra marathon with these races being won by Craig Curley and Leandrew Martine respectively. Craig competed in the US Olympic marathon trials last year and has a PB of 02:15. It was great to chat to these guys at race registration on the Friday night.
Both 50K and 50 mile ultra races started together and in true Western tradition we were led off by a cowboy on horseback.
The 50 mile course consisted of the half marathon route, an out and back 500 metre climb of Mitchell Messa, followed by 3 other loops and a return back to the start. Whilst only having 5000ft of elevation gain , the course was surprisingly tough due to the starting altitude of 5500ft and some long sandy sections. It is difficult to say how much the altitude affected my performance, as it is at the level where there is some debate as to the impact. However it did feel that the first 20 miles were harder than they should have been as I approached the ascent of Mitchell Messa.
It then felt like I was actually back in the mountains as I slogged up the 500 metre climb across very technical ground. It was at this point as runners came back down that I established I was in 2nd position in the 50 mile race. Until then it was an unknown due to both 50K and 50 mile races starting together. As I reached the summit, even with a deficit of around 20 mins to make up, I felt compelled to take a photo of the breathtaking view!
On the descent back down I noticed a runner with a Union Jack flag on his race number. My “How Do” in a Yorkshire accent was greeted by a near identical reply. It’s a small world I thought. However on checking the results the following day I was listed as the only UK entrant! Maybe hallucinations on ultras happen during the day as well as at night.
Back on the runnable sections, it is fair to say, the race really started and my sensible pacing clearly paid off as I made up the 20 min gap to move into first place at mile 38. A gel every 30 minutes with solid food every 90 worked well and I felt strong approaching a faster section around mile 42. At this point however it felt like I was back runninf Spartathlon as the heavens opened and the wind became brutal. On I pushed to eventually come home in 07:31 with a winning lead of 30 minutes.
I absolutely loved the race. I can only describe it as an ultra marathon in an ‘open air museum.’ Every corner unveiled another amazing sight and at times as the field had opened up, it felt like I was running in another world. The RD is keen to expand the race and grow it internationally, which would be great. I cannot think of many other locations that could rival this for a ‘runnable’ ultra marathon with such amazing scenery.
Being able to beat all the Americans on their home turf only sweetened the occasion…