Back in 2013 I had my first taste of the South Western USA, Utah and Zion left deep impressions on me. I loved the deserts and Wild West culture which looked exactly like the TV shows I grew up with as a kid, sometime in 2015 I decided I was going to quit my job and discover myself in the USA. I’d read about this relatively new race, unique in the fact it traverses Navajo parks unavailable to most runners and traversing absolutely iconic landscapes.
There’s much more to come later on the Arizona Trail, for now my plan was to run the 50-mile race and then head south to the Mexico border to start the 800-mile Arizona Trail, (AZT) back to Utah. I flew to Los Angeles, picked up a SUV and headed East via Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon to Monument Valley just north of the Arizona/Utah border.
Having previously done the Zion 100 with the same race organisation I knew it was going to be slick, I had an awesome camping spot with views of the most iconic sandstone monuments in history for sunset. A Navajo native led us through a sunset ceremony, explaining how they pray and give thanks for each sunset and sunrise… I’m not a spiritual man, but there really is something about this place that connects you with nature!
It was an early night and cold, my tent really wasn’t up to the job but I managed a few hours sleep and got up at about 05:00, went back to my SUV and cooked-up breakfast before heading to the start to watch the sunrise with another Navajo ceremony just before the start at 07:00
My plan was to plod around in about 12-hours, I was starting an 800-mile hike in 48 hours so no point in trashing myself! So I set off slow… A few minutes in my nose started bleeding – probably due to the dry air but I managed to stop it quickly. The 50 milers did 26-mile loop heading out to the iconic monuments… As the sun came up the desert came alive, this was NOT a personal best race! Everyone was stopping to take pictures and enjoy being out in this special place. I got to the first aid station, stripped-off my colder clothes, splashed on the sunscreen and headed out again.
The course turned quite sandy, annoying sand about 2-3″deep which was just enough to make it hard work. Running was easier than walking, but with 50 miles to go in desert heat you really don’t want to be running all the time! Eventually the 3-Sisters Aid Station came along, we’d visit this location another 3 times after completing 3 loops around different courses.
Loop 1: 5-6 miles around some the canyons was pretty cool, cliffs and big-sky views of the sandstone monuments
Loop 2: Arches – this was my favorite bit of the course, it was like being on Mars or at least another planet. Totally alien terrain and completely alone.
Loop 3: An out & back up a 1,500′ sandstone mesa – crazy, tough climb but it took you up high above all the sandstone monuments and revealed all the ground we’d covered during the day.
It was then a 5km back to the finish for pizza just before sunset. I finished in around 11h30m which was my goal. It really was a magical day, something that most people will never experience.
I slept in the SUV and packed-up early, heading for the Mexico border and the start of the Arizona trail. More on that very, very soon.