Join 'In Clean Air'

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Goblin Valley 50k- and what happened according to me

What a place. If you have never been I highly recommend getting to this area of Utah and doing some exploring. While there Lynnea ran a 10k, which she as the women's winner of!! We also spent a day at the John Wesley Powell (Green) River History Museum and then also got to check out some amazing slot canyons just off from the race course. My main focus there was the running of my second 50k distance... a 31 mile journey through the desert with only my own thoughts to keep me occupied.

I had goals. One, to finish and explore this run fully, to experience it as intimately as I could. Two, break 4 hours for the distance and in the process set a PR. Three, finish in the top 5... though this goal is so random and dependent on the other entrants really. The aim here though is the focus on competing well and assigning an arbitrary number to it.

It was cold as we arrived and I spent my morning wishing it would stay this way. Running in the mountains of NC, there is one thing you cannot simulate and that is the desert. I could get in long flat runs occasionally but the prolonged exposure to sun and the dry air were just things I would have to deal with. I ran as much in the middle of the day as possible but was still a bit anxious and thankful that this run was taking place in the fall... though the sun would still be there.

The Race
At just after 8am the race was begun. The first 4-5 miles a group of 15 runners jostled on the long lonely stretch of dirt road, finding their paces and places. I tucked in this group and ran as many tangents as possible while staying as far away from conversation as I could. This run for me was personal... me and the desert and whatever may come. I did however meet one nice guy for a minute. His name is Logan and he was running his first 50k... around mile 5 he went on ahead to chase down the top two runners who had broken away a mile earlier. I was in 5th, running behind a man in a button up short sleeve shirt. I admired his fashion sense and tried to relax while holding onto his pace.

Things went on in this order for a few miles. The aid stations were flying by and we were all skipping them. I had a bottle filled with Nuun and was just about out as we reached the 3rd station around mile 12. A couple of gels and a new bottle (prefilled in drop bag) and I was moving in about 10 seconds. I passed up the 4th runner and was now gently gliding downhill on the back roads of Little Wildhorse Canyon. We passed the 25k turnaround and I could only think... "that was fast"... this was easy so far and so I knew it was time to back off a little with splits around 6:40 to this point.

Still in 4th and with Logan in 3rd just 30 seconds ahead I began to eat. We were now into the higher sections of the course after a few steep and sandy climbs. Off the hard red rock were now given expansive views of the surrounding landscape. Sand dunes surrounded the eyes and far int he distance were snow capped peaks rising out of the desert. These moments are so rare. On we went into the vagueness of the desert. I could now see all three runners ahead of me and watch this all unfold. Unknown, yet familiar thought bubbles floated from each of our heads. Mine were... this is getting hard, where is the turnaround?

A couple of steep shirt climbs later I would see a tent in the distance a few dunes over. The road was meandering but I could spot the lead runners approaching the station. This was the turn. Approaching the final grade to the tent the top two runners passed by shoulder to shoulder, working efficiently. Logan passed soon after. I was about 2 minutes behind the leader and a minute off of Logan. I know I had backed off in the last 5 miles and it seems the others had to. At this point I was just thinking about moving forward, getting fuel and continuing to drink as much as possible. I filled my bottle and began making my way back to the start. Split here 1:47 at about 15 miles (final mile or so was an extra loop in Valley of the Goblins). About 7:02 pace.

My goal of 4 hours was well within sight now. I knew could just keep a solid effort going and come in on time. 8:20 pace would get me there exactly... while I could not calculate this so precisely at the time, I did KNOW that 8 min pace was about all I needed to get this done. I was feeling better now, stronger and being uplifted by all of the passing runners. The top woman was only about 15 minutes back and right on pace for about 4 hours herself. 5 miles passed and I was back off the high sand dunes and back into the red rock wash. Soon I passed the last of the runner's on their way out. I was getting a little warm and could not fathom that some of those people still had 2/3 of the distance to cover.

I was all by myself. No one in front. No one behind. In the limbo of the mind just as I had dreamed of. My and the desert. My thoughts drifted to Lynnea. I wondered how her run had gone... she must be done by now I thought! I would find out that she had run her first race ever through the desert up steep climbs on the surrounding ridges in 1:13 and won the women's race. I am so proud of her determined effort! In the days that followed she really enjoyed the soaks in hot springs as she got a glimpse into Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). She has the true running spirit, to conquer the doubts with spirit.

On went the miles winding through sandy washes. The occasional RV or tent site abandoned for the day. Just me and the sand and more presently the sun. I contorted my hat any which way to give my face shade. It helped, maybe... I was so thankful for each small ridge providing shade. I sucked down water and focused on efficient, fluid motion. Run like water... in this of all places. My mind was getting a bit scrambled as I talked myself up for the challenge of the next ten miles.

You are not as tired as I think I am... You, are NOT as tired as you think I am... I am not as you as tired is... chuckling along I decided it was time to drink more.

Despite my mental condition (which I am accustom to) I was able to take stock of the situation accurately. My legs were experiencing the slightest stiffness but no pain at all. My method of conservation and not conversation was paying dividends. With about 10 miles to go I was still fairly fresh muscularly. I had confidence in my endurance and stamina given that my legs were properly treated. So far full success... beside the little excitement of pace for 5 miles on the way out.

I ran back by the 25k turn around. It took forever to get there this time. 13k to go from here. Next, get to the aid station and grab a new bottle. Each turn I knew was the last and all but one time I was wrong. I grunted something to the volunteers with as much gratitude as I could muster and for the first time in about 10 miles I could see something besides dirt in the road. I saw Logan... the one runner I had spoken with during this odyssey.

Logan had already ascended a portion of the climb in front of me. He was leaving the aid station just as I spotted it. I felt he had been there for a longer period than I had. I also sensed that he was coming back to me. My focus remained internal though, consistent, efficient strides and keeping the physiology aerobic... especially on this half mile long climb. No thoughts of chasing him were entertained with 6 miles to go I had just completed 25 miles in under 3hours... I thought about this NOT being a Boston Qualifier and did not think about anything else except slowly getting to the top of this hill.

Final Miles
As I crested, Logan was at the bottom of the hill, about 1 1/2 minutes ahead still. In front of me from atop this mesa I could see the next 3 miles of the course in one shot, unbroken... as it bent through desert sage at the base of massive rock walls on the course's right. The one 3 miles ahead was the gateway to the Goblin Valley. Two miles beyond that was salvation, in the form of finishing, of the goal attained and of course, the reunion with Lynnea, the sweetest part of completing every run.

This 3 mile distance was quite a lot to understand in this state. I was overwhelmed by this expanse and it nearly caused me to be physically ill. The wind had kicked up easing the heat. Now I was faced with my own mind. The essence of the internal battle.

Do this.

This is too much

Do this. Do this.

I pulled my hat down as far as it would go to obscure my peripheral vision. I shrunk the landscape around me to something more manageable... a step. The step I was completing, the step I was beginning and maybe the step beyond that...

Every few minutes I looked up to assess progress. Logan was closer. His head cocked to the side. He was tired. I reminded myself to stay relaxed, to maintain only- nothing more.

A Long Stretch
Steps passed and I reached the halfway point of this valley. The final aid station was a reality now... just a matter of minutes ahead. 20m ahead was Logan. My mental situation was improved and now I allowed myself to become assertive. A small surge, still aerobic and Logan was just seconds ahead now. I paused and regained the strength to make a decisive push. I reached his right shoulder.

Hey Logan, doing alright?

Yeah... yeah. My calf is bothering me.

Keep on, man. Keep on.

I commented on the vastness of this stretch we were in and surged on. Soon I reached the final aid station and refilled my bottle, dropped in a Nuun tablet, Kona Cola (heaven sent at this point!!!) and began chain devouring gels. The cattle guard was soon at my feet. I was tired now... not much real power to spare but I accelerated, launched myself and cleared a whole 5 feet at once! I thought this was somewhat miraculous at the time but really it was a matter of laziness of all things. I just did not want to stop and stiffly traverse the tricky steel bars; it seems easier to just leap.

Valley of the Goblins
On up another grade, right to the RV park and back onto the sweet efficiency of asphalt. Up the steep switchbacks to the finish area! Lynnea there at the top snapping photos and offering encouragement.

How'd you do?

I won. (Huge smile:) )

You are amazing!! You won?!?!? I knew you'd do great!

Do you need anything?

See you in a few minutes.

The watch read about 3:45 a this point and I had only about 1000m left down through the Goblin Gauntlet. This was down into the Valley of Goblins (sandstone globs, like "arch" pedestals) following the pumpkins as blazes. This was a bit tricky and I made the decision to simply enjoy the scene. Gently I coasted along making lefts and rights, ups and downs and then found the final climb... up up up and across the line in a magical 3:52.

Goal one- achieved!!
Goal two- destroyed (PR'd by 1 hour, 16 minutes)
Goal three- success (3rd overall)

We spent the rest of our vacation visiting friends in Grand Junction and Durango, Colorado. Hanging out in hot springs in Ouray and Pagosa and then visiting Arches and Canyons lands on the way back to Salt Lake and our flight home. We had an amazing time thanks to the love we share and the good feelings we had about saving so much money the whole time (Lynnea is an expert planner and saver- she has Deal Radar!).


  1. simply awesome, Sean. I love reading your running blogs. I think you should turn them in to runners world. Great job to Lynnea!! Congrats to both of you

  2. sweet man. pumps me up for my spring marathon. great writing as usual. glad you had a good time!
    -josh c.

  3. This was a really good read. It really gets me pumped up to get out and racing again. I don't know if I'm going to jump right into 50k...

    I like the new pictures you've added on the sides/bottom of the blog. They look really good. Although, I did have a chuckle about the "we'll see" on the BQ. :) You can run a 50k at BQ pace!

    I haven't hiked north of Tucson. But, I did hike around south mountain in Phoenix this weekend. Do you recommend any places? My inlaws all are big hikers.

  4. "the sweet efficiency of asphalt" I like that. Congrats to you and Lynnea on two great races.


Want to Clean the Air? Post a Comment!