Last weekend, I was privileged to participate in the ultramarathon, organized in the Monument Valley.
I would like to share with you a few thoughts and observations, which came to my mind as I was running this wonderful event.
First of all, I had been feeling really blessed to be able to train to my full potential before that race. I realize that health, well-being and a relative lack of injuries is never granted. Yes, I had been stretching and cross-training and applying my due vigilance to the training methods over those months. Still, things always can go wrong, and, thanks God, they had not.
So, I felt very happy to be able to be where I was to do what I was about to do, run my 31 miles. Through the most remote parts of the Monument valley, normally out-of-reach for the tourists. Ankle-deep in sand. So what? Hard? Yes. Well, what does not kill us, makes us stronger, right? Very true.
Second, I was thrilled to observe all ranges of age at the starting (and the finish) line: from teenagers to people in their late 60s. All smiling, eager to go, easy-going, flower child-like, relaxed and awaiting the great race day with thrill and anticipation. Positive and smiling people for whom some sand in the shoes is not a problem, who would remove their respective shoes at the finish line and who would with certain proudness compare the toe nail losses. Who would run into one of our Navajo guides on the horse thanking him for allowing us to run this sacred land, and then mumble to themselves: "Run or whatever we call THIS"! Who would be joyously spitting the inhaled sand until one week after the race.
Third: It all would have simply not be possible without the wonderful volunteers. This is why I always make a point to stop and thank every one of them during my races. We were blessed with the wonderful Three Sisters aid station. After every ten miles or so, we would all invariably land in that fabulous place, full of happy volunteers, greeting you like you just came from the moon or at least Pluto. Then, one of them would jump in front of you and ask what you need and help out with everything, from filling the water bladder to handing you SIMPLY THE BEST, steamy-hot Navajo taco! Not to say, there were many other goodies to pick up, but once I set my eyes on the Navajo taco, that was it. Plus some mouton stew, for a good measure. The Three Sisters (and other) volunteers had a long shift to work: we started our run at 7AM. I was, personally, done 8hrs and 10 minutes later, but there were folks running well into their thirteen tour.
Why? Ah, because we were blessed to be allowed to "run"/scramble on top of the Mitchell Mesa at the very end of the race. You know, at about Mile 23, you have to go all the way up onto that mesa (when you arrive into the Monument Valley, it is the huge one to your right, to the right from the View Hotel, as well). Then, we run one mile on top of it to a check point, staffed by yet another kind Navajo man-on-duty, then we run back and down (mostly on our tush.). Then, another 8 miles and we were home! So, it took forever.
So, the aid station volunteers, and the ones who "swiped" the course after the last runner, had a very long day at work.
Fourth: What about the effort of the race organizers? In our case, it was the Grand Circle Trail Series. They are a relatively young group, but very well organized. They descended on the Valley the day before the event and meticulously set it all in place: from the start line and the confidence ribbons to the medical tent and they even commissioned an artist to paint local Monument Valley landscape on their white truck for the duration of the event. The organizer met with all of us in person and was available both before and after the race, handing us our trophies - in this case, lovely Monument Valley mugs. Hand-painted and hand-made by the Navajo.
It was one of those weekends I will never forget. And it would not have been possible without my meticulous training, commitment to running even on the "ugly weather" or "I don't feel like it" days, without the volunteers and the organizers, and without the smiles and encouraging words of the other participants. Last but not least, it'd not have been possible and not the same without our daughter Amaya, who woke up with us at 5AM to cheer on us at the starting line and was right there at the finish line eight hours later, snapping pictures of yours truly and asking me if I want to lean on her on my way from the Finish line to the hotel.
A big thanks to all of you!
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