Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Monument Valley 50 Race Report - 2015

My name is Cory Reese and I have a problem. (Okay, not just one problem. Many problems. Including that I like cinnamon rolls too much and I know the words to way too many Taylor Swift songs.)

But the problem I'm referring to here is that I simply can not put my camera away while running. The scenery at the Monument Valley 50 miler over the weekend was jaw dropping. During those 50 miles I took an astounding 363 PICTURES! That is an issue. If you figure each picture takes an average of seven seconds to take, this adds an extra 42 minutes to my race! I'll talk with the race director about changing my official finishing time.

It seemed like it should be a requirement before the race to stop on the Forrest Gump highway to get a jumping picture.

I have been to Monument Valley a few times in the past and it has been one of my favorite places on Earth. The scenery is amazing and I'm fascinated by the Navajo culture. The race starts at the Visitor Center overlooking this iconic view:

I was nervous going into the race. Between the fact that I only have 9 toe nails now and a sore knee, my training was better suited for a half marathon than a 50 miler. I wasn't sure how my body would hold up. But I just couldn't pass up running here. A few miles after the race started we were treated to this beautiful sunrise:

One of my favorite parts (am I allowed to have like 15 favorite parts of the course?) was early on when we passed this enormous formation called Stagecoach. The rocks were glowing red.

This guy said "Keep your camera out. That's the only time I run."

Miles later we were running past East Mitten. I can't tell you how happy I felt to be running right through the middle of a postcard.

From here we ran a section called the North Window Loop. The views....oh my. For most of the race we were on trails that few people have ever seen before. This area is in the Navajo Nation and they have restricted access so we felt so fortunate to have this opportunity. Enormous thanks to the Navajo Nation for their hospitality and generosity. As runners we all felt so much gratitude for this privilege.

Next up was the 9.5 mile long Arches Loop where we got great views of Totem Poles in the distance.

I was around 30 miles into the race by this time. I wasn't feeling great but I wasn't feeling horrible. And after the bumps in the road over the last few months I had almost forgotten what it was like to feel unhorrible. Feeling unhorrible felt amazing! My toe and knee were both cooperating.

On paper, the Monument Valley course doesn't look too hard. The 50 miler only has 4,500 feet of gain. But anyone who ran the race will say that the course is much, much harder than it looks on paper. There are vast amounts of sand. Most of the course....sand. Deep sand. Relentless sand. Like the sand in the movie Neverending Story that swallows the boy's horse. Whether you were walking or running, making forward progress was difficult.

But here's the thing - nobody complained about the sand. The very challenging running conditions were FAR surpassed by the stunning beauty of the course. The people I talked to were beyond willing to do some sand slogging to drink in the beauty that was surrounding us. We all knew we were surrounded by something amazing, something spiritual, something special.

It was awesome to occasionally see Navajo men out riding their horses across the trails. How is that for a trail guide!

What goes up......

Must come down.

For me the icing on the cake was the view from the top of Mitchell Mesa. This was the section I had been looking forward to most. The amazing views come at a price. First you have to climb around 1,000 feet in less than a mile up a steep, rocky trail. But once at the top you are rewarded with the views of a lifetime.

I showed Mel this picture and she said "Wow, it looks like you took that from an airplane."

The cherry on top was getting a jumping picture from the top of the mesa with one of the mitten formations below me.

Once I reached the bottom of the mesa there were only four more miles to the finish line. I was treated to an amazing sunset as I ran to the horizon by the light of my headlamp.

Race finishers were given a handcrafted Navajo bracelet. There were many different colors. This is the one I chose.

I can't speak highly enough of this race. Being immersed in the scenery and culture was an experience I will never forget. Go visit the Ultra Adventures website HERE and get this race on your radar. (They have a 4 mile, 25k, 50k, 50 mile, and 100 mile race.) The race is a little out of the way. Chances are you'll have a scenic drive to get there. But it is well worth it. Just like for me, you will have the experience of a lifetime.

I must thank Altra for some awesome shoes to keep my feet happy. (I wore the Olympus all 50 miles.) And Tailwind Nutrition for being my only fuel for the whole race. (Except the last aid station when I had a gluttonous moment involving excessive amounts of chocolate cake.) And St. George Running Center for being the wind beneath my wings and carrying the gear I need. And UltrAspire, their Omega pack had plenty of room to carry all the gear I needed. And the Navajo Nation for their support of this amazing event.

Finally a huge thanks to Matt Gunn and the Ultra Adventures gang for an awesome race. I have seen what goes on behind the scenes to put something like this together. I have come to love the Ultra Adventures crew of Matt, Rick, Turd'l, George, and Mikey for their passion and dedication. Thanks for an incredible 50 miles.

Want to see more views from this stunning race? I put together this video highlighting the awesomeness of Monument Valley. Enjoy!


  1. Thanx so much for taking the time to produce this video!!! I have a feeling I know where I will be in 2016 because of you. Thanx Mate, Cheers

  2. Great report as always Cory - thanks for sharing!

  3. Nice report. You beat me on the picture count - I only took 250 in the course of 100 miles.

  4. hahah! seriously -- I took about 200, too. :) :) What a great race! Loved you report. Next time I am going to make sure we get a jumping pic.

  5. Wow, this is just incredibly beautiful. I'm so glad for your extra 42 minutes on course (for a way better reason than the 20+ minutes I lost to bathroom stops during my marathon) so we can enjoy all of the pictures you took. It would totally be worth running 50 miles to see all of that, but I appreciate not having to. :)

    That said, I think this race is going to go on my wish list.

  6. Awesome!! Looks like you had a blast!!

  7. Please don't get therapy for your photography addiction. I, for one, would really miss seeing all that beauty.

  8. After Antelope Canyon, I'm seriously obsessed with Ultra Adventures races. Looking forward to more!

  9. Congrats on your finish! What a gorgeous place! I'm training for the Brazos Bend 50 mile race - my longest race. I hope I have half as much fun as you always do!

  10. That is truly amazing! Great shots and great race!!

  11. Wow what a spectacular place to run! For us readers, it's great that you take so many photos!!

  12. Great race report, Cory! I'm so so tempted to register for this but wow the sand. That's one of my many nemeses. Very gorgeous, though!

  13. I so want to do this. Hope I can soon! Nice report.

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. Does anyone know where I can find an elevation profile for the 50-mile? Thanks in advance! Oh, and great book Cory. Re-posting bc I forgot to check the "notify me" box. My bad :)