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My first ultra race (yep. here comes another race report)

March 22, 2016


Monument Valley. Never been there; always wanted to visit.

When I found out that Ultra Adventures was putting on a trail race there, I immediately began planning/training/trying not to get injured.

. . . because getting injured seems to be a sad pattern when I sign up for a “big race.” So I really really really tried to under-train and not over-do my mileage leading up to March 19, 2016.

But it’s just so much fun to blast (at my 56-year-old-granny-snail speed) down hills here on my local trails; yep, I stressed my very sensitive (so sensitive I can’t let it watch the nightly news) left knee on a bugs-in-my-teeth-cause-I’m-smiling-so big run in February.

A visit to my personal magician . . . I mean physical therapy doctor . . .  confirmed my suspicion. “It’s a little inflamed,” was Dr. Derrick’s calm diagnosis. “Go ahead and run and have fun.”

Now that’s a positive attitude . . . and so for the first 18 miles I aimed for fun, taking it easy in the miles of soft sand, enjoying the company of such fabulous rock formations, mostly walking, jogging level spots, letting it go a bit more on the lovely sandy downhills . . . until that familiar stabbing pain in the middle of my knee-cap returned. Less intense than in the past, but still enough to keep mostly MOSTLY mostly walking the remaining 15 miles (total of 33.75 miles . . . or 55 kilometers).

But I made it up to the top of Mitchell Mesa (where the above photo was taken) and got to soak in the huge views before plunging back down the insanely rocky trail (which my bare feet much preferred to the too-sticky stickers) and the final miles to the finish line . . . in about 10 hours and 42 minutes. My exact time? Unknown, since I lost the timing chip I was supposed to tie onto my shoelaces, only I didn’t have any shoelaces, so that was that.

Monument Valley.

I’ve been there! I can’t wait to return! (The Navajo people who make their homes there were gracious in allowing the race to venture places where the general public is not usually allowed; many tribal members also assisted in race logistics, patrolling the course on horseback, providing food–traditional fry bread and mutton soup–at the aid station, etc. This made the event even more special, as did the fact that the Vice President of the Navajo Nation, Jonathan M. Nez, gave an interesting and inspiring speech at the race meeting the night before the race . . . and then ran the 50-mile event on Saturday.)

A few more images:


We didn’t trespass, but the race trails took us to otherwise-off-limits parts of this culturally important place.


I’ve got a pair of sandals strapped to my back and Sockwa sock-shoes tucked in my waistband; neither were as comfortable as just. Plain. Barefoot.

Monument Valley stickers

. . . Until I encountered the dreaded stickers. Over and over. So I kept slipping the Sockwas on and off through stickery areas.


The Mitchell Mesa “trail” winds its way up about 1,000 feet from the valley floor. Who doesn’t love ROCKS!


The finish line: a demonstration hogan (traditional Navajo home) offered a vivid contrast to the special technology used to record racer times via the blue mats which were supposed to sense the computer chips we were supposed to have tied to our supposed shoelaces. But what about those of us sans shoelaces?!


UPDATE: (April 7, 2016) The good folks at Ultra Adventures did add me to the results, even without a shoe chip. They are such an organized and friendly bunch . . . I highly recommend their races! AND . . . I just found out I won “judges choice” in their race photo* contest on Facebook . . . swag is headed my way . . . can’t wait! * The winning photo is the first one on this blog post . . . the view toward “The Mittens” over my toes from the top of Mitchell Mesa . . .

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Gina Barnes permalink
    March 23, 2016 10:23 am

    Gasp. Soooo beautiful. What a special event. Thanks for the report, Thea. Congrats for finishing!!!

  2. March 23, 2016 1:01 am

    Such gorgeous pictures! And beautiful account.

  3. March 22, 2016 9:04 pm

    What spectacular scenery! I love the gorgeous bright colours of the rocks and soil. How beautiful against a bright blue sky. Sorry to read about your terrible knee pain. You did an amazing job to finish. What an inspiration you are. 🙂

    • March 28, 2016 6:37 am

      Thanks, Jane. I always use the “vivid” setting on my little pocket camera . . . it seems to capture my vision of this bright, beautiful world better than the “auto” setting.

      And my crazy knee . . . five days after the race I went running again here on my favorite local trails, and spent a very happy, pain-free hour trotting up and down the ridges outside Orange. Go figure 🙂

  4. March 22, 2016 8:12 pm

    Congratulations! This is a very inspiring story.

    I just discovered using a heart rate monitor and it has slowed my “running” to excruciatingly slow, but the benefit is it has allowed me to feel free to keep going and do longer distances because it is so easy. (longer being very relative: 3 to 5 miles instead of 2 to 3) That means I get to explore more of the trails that my previous faster runs were just getting me to the edge of.

    How is your knee recovering after the race?

    All the best,

    • March 28, 2016 6:45 am

      Thanks, Scott. I’ve read about other runners doing the “MAF” thing with the heart rate monitor (especially Chris over at Barefoot Beginner

      I am at a point in my life where I’m trying to keep things as simple as possible, technologically speaking (hah . . . as I tap away at a computer to write that), so running with extra electronic devices does not appeal to me right now. But I know it helps some runners, and that is so exciting that you are running more trail miles because of it. We all have different running paths (literally and figuratively 🙂 )

      Thanks for checking in on my knee . . . it’s been unreliable since it first “acted up” in a 20-mile race 12 years ago . . . but I’m so thankful that only five days after the Monument Valley race I was able to run just fine, pain-free, up and down hills, back on my local trails. My goal is to not have to be concerned each time I run whether my knee will hurt or not, but in the meantime . . . each time I run (or walk) our local trails is a blessing. I can at least move, somehow! Happy happy happy trails . . .

      • March 29, 2016 2:26 pm

        Thank you Thea!

        Glad your knee recovered so quickly! That seems to say you are doing something right. I like your attitude about the blessing of getting to run your local trails. I hope to keep remembering that myself.

        The heart rate thing I’m using to try to keep myself from overdoing it. That is my big temptation, especially when I get into the trails and it is so much fun running barefoot. Last year and the year before I overdid it and had to lay off for quite a while. I don’t want that to happen again, if I can help it. I get the keeping it simple attitude. I actually had this heart rate monitor for a year or two before I tried using it. I’m finding that when I am warmed up and in that heart rate zone I can easily keep a 17 step breath cycle, so that might eventually replace having to use the technology. For now though, I still don’t quite trust myself to listen to my body and the monitor will beep at me…
        Happy trails with mud puddles to splash in!


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