Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Monument Valley Ultra




The Monument Valley Ultra marked my second Ultra Adventure's event and it did not disappoint. Driving to Moab from Flagstaff three times over the past year I had glimpses of the valley on several occasions and seen what I thought was everything the valley had to offer. I was severely mistaken.

A magical turn that leads visitors to the most driven dirt road in the country, opens up gates to a sacred land that few (besides Navajo) are allowed to step foot on. Yet again, Matt Gunn managed to find a way to open up the courses even more this year. Gracefully passing by thousand year old ruins, million year old arches, while summiting one of the best views on the Navajo Reservation in Mitchell Mesa - the entire course provided runners with a truly memorable experience.

Most of the course changes were because of Larry and his family (Navajo tribe members) who live in Monument Valley and have ancestry going back thousands of years in the area. Gunn first met Larry while hiring a horse tour guide to plot out the original MV course. Larry is through and through a traditional cowboy. From his sharp brimmed hat and dusty wranglers to his hardworked leather-worn hands, it is easy to see this is a man who lives off the land and with the land. Soft spoken and always deep in observation, Larry led a pre-race blessing on both mornings of the 100 mile race start and the shorter distances. His daughter gave a pre-race presentation the night before the race on the traditional role of Navajo women in the Hogan. This included touching on topics like Navajo belief systems, family roles, traditional customs and language. It was incredibly special to witness and take part.

Larry's daughter giving her presentation the afternoon before the race.

I arrived Thursday to offer my help and watch the 100 milers start on Friday morning. Friday I was able to drive around with Matt and the Ultra Adventure's media crew to shoot footage and see a part of the area that only 100 M runners would be able to encounter during their first 36 miles. (No other race distances go through this section)

I don't know this gentlemen's name, but if there was an award for best beard - he would have won, hands down.

Candice Burt and Kelly Agnew running along side during the early stages of the 100M race

Kelly Agnew on his way to a 4th place finish over all in the 100M

Sunset over the horizon taken from race headquarters 

Matt Gunn and his crew arrived almost a week early to help distribute aid to local Navajo people affected by the severe winter storm that deposited almost 2 feet of snow in Mystery Valley. With their encouragement runners donated money, supplies, and goods that would be distributed to those in need. I wasn't able to take a picture of the pile of donations at race headquarters, but it was definitely significant and inspiring.

Arriving a couple days early allowed me to observe just how much hard work goes into making a race like this function smoothly. Learning that one guy (Rick) marked 100% of the courses for all the distances blew my mind! For those of you who don't know, that takes an insane amount of time and dedication to be out there entire days before the race in the hot baking sun, while you are sticking flags to trees and signs to the sand. All while knowing you will have to go out and retrieve all of these markers immediately after all the races end. Another guy (goes by the name of Turtle) organized every aid station and was in charge of making sure supplies, volunteers, and drop bags found their way to and from aid points. Not to mention all the wonderful volunteers who worked aid stations and helped set up and break down camp. The people involved in this race amazed me. The camaraderie and genuine concern for each other and the environment was refreshing. Something that often gets lost in the deep midst of heavy competition at races. This group was their for a higher purpose.

When I drove around with Matt and the film crew on Friday I was wondering how he managed to attract so many amazing people to make his events truly special. That question was already answered. The guy (Gunn) is simply doing good things for good reasons. These reasons greatly exceed any profit oriented prerogatives or fame. They speak to the nature of love and understanding. It is crystal clear, once you experience an Ultra Adventure's event you know it is taking place for the people, locals, culture, and environment. There's no top dollar price purse or looming international recognition hanging over head for the winners. These events are purely and solely about compassion and love, for beautiful areas and cultures.

I want to send out a huge thank you to all the volunteers, ambassadors, runners, local navajos, and of course Matt Gunn for making this a truly memorable experience. I am humbled and excited to be joining the Ultra Adventures Ambassador Team and work alongside so many amazing people using trail/ultra running as a medium to do a bit of selfless good in the world.

Huge shout out to Christian Gering (Durango, CO) for putting on yet another stellar performance at the 50k in Monument Valley. I first met Christian at this years Moab Red Hot 55k where it was both our first cracks at competing against a heavily competitive field. Christian is as humble as they come and you can tell he's out there loving it all. Respectful in nature to everyone he comes in contact with, I look forward to seeing what he does in his races to come. Another shout out to Andy Pearson, who was coming off a win and course record at the Antelope Canyon 50M. Andy put on yet another impressive performance at the Monument Valley 50M and finished in a strong second, only minutes off the eventual winner. Kelly Agnew, another Ultra Adventures ambassador along with the 2 gentlemen I just previously mentioned finished the grueling sand filled 100M in 4th place overall. Lynette McDougal went on to finish as the 2nd woman overall in the 100M and looked absolutely un-phased after pulling into the 36M aid-station with a golfball size blister on her heel.  Jackie Achter rounded out the top placing ambassadors with a 2nd place finish in the tough 50k course. Last, but not least a huge thank you to Cherri Marcinko and Jennilyn Eaton who made the drive all the way from Salt Lake and weren't even running in any of the events. Both of these gals volunteered the entire weekend, either working aid stations, setting up camp, or helping check runners in. They both swept the courses after the races were completed and embody the phenomenal good vibes that freely float around at all UA events.

 It's safe to say the ambassadors Gunn has selected aren't just strong runners, but also phenomenal human-beings. I'm looking forward to my next UA event (Bryce Canyon 50M in June). Here's a link to all the UA events Grand Circle Trail Series

100M and 50M hand made finisher tokens

Sunset during my last night in Monument Valley

Sol back on her home soil (Rez dogs are the best dogs)

Sunrise during the 100M race start

Aftermath of a hard ran 25k (1:43)



8 comments:

  1. Very nice write-up and great pics. The MV "race" was truly an incredible experience.

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  2. Loved your post! Thanks for sharing :) I have a rez mutt, too. His name is Mack and he's awesome :)

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    1. Thank you Jill! Rez dogs are a special breed indeed!

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  3. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful account of this event! I so appreciate all of the countless hours put into this by Matt and the volunteers! It was such a privilege to run in Monument Valley! My only advice would be to have some signage or better signage for the finish line. I know I'm not the only one who lost time at that junction and the volunteer that I asked gave me the wrong information. I know they have a lot on their plate and none of this affected my awesome running experience there. Matt Gunn is as organized as they come and so grounded. This completely came through in this remarkable event!! Great job on your race!

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    1. Agreed Laura! I know Matt is aware of this since a good amount of people brought it to his attention. I'm sure they will work out the kinks! I was lost twice during the Hopi race (for 5 miles total)...and once during Dead Horse in Moab for about a mile and a half...it definitely sucks and can deflate the stoke when out there trying to compete, but i think you have a great perspective on it! There's only one thing to do...come back next year and the course will be marked to a T and blaze a new time! Hope to see you out there soon! Best, NB

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  4. Great report! Thanks for sharing. I hope to see you on the trails soon!

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    1. Most definitely Kelly! Good job out there!

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