Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Canyon de Chelly 55K

Canyon de Chelly 55K Ultra Run
Navajo Reservation
Chinle, Arizona
Mileage -34
Time - 4:32
AEG - 1,700ft
Pace - 7:59/mile
Place - 3rd Overall

I caught word of an ultra run being held on the Navajo Nation in Canyon de Chelly sometime last year and I didn't hesitate to get on board.  Race director Shaun Martin spent more than a year and a half trying to bring this race to fruition, and despite all the obstacles that may have prevented it from happening, he pulled off one of the most memorable events I have ever experienced.  

My good friend Matt was notified a couple weeks ago that his name had been drawn from the wait list.  He accepted and we started planning our trip.  Neither one of us have done an ultra this year, and I have only a handful of trail runs under my belt in the past several months.  Regardless, this was literally a once in a lifetime opportunity to run in such a sacred place that is typically off-limits to non-Navajo people.  On Friday we drove five and a half hours to the town of Chinle, Arizona where we would get a quick glimpse of the canyon before attending the pre-race meeting. 

Twelve hours later, after a traditional Navajo morning prayer, the race was underway.  A recent storm hardened up the sand within the first few miles, yet created another obstacle in the canyon...countless creek crossings!  One lady counted as many as 68, which basically meant running the entire race with cold, wet feet.  Thirty-four miles led to many lead changes.  Brendan Trimboli and Trent Taylor battled for first while I ran with Sean Meissner for the better part of 26 miles before moving myself into third for the remainder of the race.  I honestly didn't go into this one looking to put down a fast time or be super-competitive, I wanted to see the canyon.  Good competition kept me on my toes and I felt good enough to run 7:00-7:30/miles for most of the flatter sections. 

The steep and rocky climb up Bat Canyon went a lot faster than anticipated, considering Sean and I walked the entire way.  It helps having good company.  Once I reached the turn-a-round point I felt completely refreshed and ready to tackle the final 17 miles with vigor.  More position changes ensued.  Several spectators filled the canyon near the aid station at White House Ruins and provided a little extra motivation for the last five miles. The excitement of finishing the very first ultra on Navajo soil was about to become a reality.  Not before running the last half mile through ankle deep sand though!  Soon enough the finish line was in sight and I was done.

Those four hours and thirty minutes went by so fast it felt like a dream, and I did my best to take in all the sights and sounds while having the chance to be in this special place.  Not only did they give every finisher a hand made turquoise necklace, the top ten male and females were awarded with unique Navajo gifts.  I came home with a really neat pair of moccasins.  A big thanks goes out to Shaun Martin for organizing the event, and all those involved in setting up, volunteering and making it happen.  This was without a doubt the most incredible running events in recent years and quite possibly the best trail run I have ever done in Arizona!

The race is on!

Sean and I crossing the stream around mile 20.

Closing in on the final miles.

Top male finishers at the awards ceremony.


Tsegi overlook at sunset - South Rim of Canyon de Chelly

Photos courtesy of Brian Okarski, Waukera Taylor, Luana Mitchell, Matt Kalina

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