26 October 2010

Goblin Valley Ultra 2010 - Race Report

I had a great trip.  It was amazing to run the Goblin Valley Ultra with my family.  Two of my three sisters, Melanie and Lisa, ran their first 50k.  One of my three brothers, Adam, ran his first 50k.  My sister-in-law, Jennifer, ran her first 50k.  And my dad ran his first 50k since quadruple bypass heart surgery in December '08.  It was such a pleasure to be a part of it all.  I'm so proud of them all.  (Sadie ran the race too - and I'm proud of her as well.)

Goblin Valley is worth a visit if you're traveling to or through southern Utah.  Southern Utah, as a whole, is gorgeous -- but Goblin Valley's landscape is particularly unique.  (Free knowledge: If you've seen the movie Galaxy Quest, then you've seen Goblin Valley -- it's where the rock monster scene was filmed.)

The course was an out and back through breathtaking desert.  The six of us planned to run the course together.  Dad has had a slow (for him) recovery from his surgery and hasn't returned to ultrarunning shape as fast as he'd like.  He hadn't done a run over 20 miles in nearly two years, and contemplated switching to the 25k option before the race.  But last year he ran the 25k option, so he decided to stick with the 50k to, at the very least, run the back half of the course even if he had to drop at the turnaround point.  The rest of the group were in marathon shape, so they were confident and excited to tackle the longer distance.

We all had an absolute blast running together for the first half; when we weren't running in a group, we were rarely more than shouting distance from each other. There was a mile or so of pavement at the beginning, then the course was mostly dirt road.  The views were everything I love about the desert. Dad was plugging away the entire time.  One foot in front of the other.  Perpetual forward motion.

Most of the course was relatively flat, with any elevation change the long and gradual variety.  The course did have a few short, steeper climbs (and some of the best views) in the miles near the turnaround point.  Dad hit his low point on the trudge back up the hills after the turnaround. (Side note: the course was a bit short this year as the turnaround had to be moved up because the road at the original turnaround was washed away in a storm the day before the race.)  We were all aware going into the race that he was going to go as far as he could and then drop if he needed to. But we all wanted to stick with him for as long as we could while still making sure that we could finish under the cutoff time if he dropped.  His pace had slowed considerably, and he was starting to hurt pretty bad.  I asked him how he was feeling and he said he was going to try to make it to the next aid station near mile 16 and drop.  I told Adam to go ahead with the ladies and don't wait on us.  I planned to stick with Dad until he dropped, and then I would catch up with them.

Even though he had slowed considerably, Dad was still under the cutoff pace, so I wouldn't let him drop at the next aid station.  We had some time cushion and I calculated that he could finish under the time if he could hold his steady walk.  I told him that as long as he was under the cutoff pace he wasn't allowed to drop.  So we made it through the next aid station.  Then the next.  Slow and steady.  One foot in front of the other.  Our overall pace was getting slower and slower, but we were still sitting under the cutoff time.

He got a boost around mile 21.  His walk quickened and he ran a few of the downhills.  Mile 22.  Mile 23.  Mile 24.  When he started talking about how tired he was and what he was planning to do when he got to the finish line (instead of "if the sweep vehicle comes, I'm going to get a ride with them"),  I knew that dropping out had left his mind.  Some might see that as insignificant, but it's HUGE when an ultrarunner visualizes being at the finish line instead of other (less finish-y) options.  I knew his mind was in the right place and that it was just a matter of time (which we still had enough of) before we hit the finish line.

Tacked on to the end of the out and back course is the highlight of the race: the mile or so through Goblin Valley proper.  We run within a couple hundreds yards of the finish line before running past it and then dropping down into the valley for a big loop with the goblins.  The rest of the gang had already finished their first ultra and everyone was there to cheer us on.  Melanie and Lisa joined me and Dad (and Sadie) for the goblin loop.  

I crossed the finish line with my dad in 8:09:14. (results page)

I can't tell you how proud I am of everyone.  Dad for his long recovery from heart surgery, and Melanie, Adam, Lisa, and Jennifer for there amazing performances in their first ultra attempt (I think all four of them could handle a 50 miler soon).

Four years ago, my dad was the only one in our family who could call himself a runner.  Now there are six of us who can call ourselves ultrarunners.  Pretty awesome.

Enjoy the photos. (I had trouble narrowing down from the over 280 photos I took during the race. I think that's a record for me.)

Moon setting on western horizon

Sun rising over Goblin Valley in the east

The goblin chasers are off!
Melanie (right) and Jennifer

Melanie, Lisa, and Dad around mile 3

Jennifer and Adam and the early morning sun

We've dropped into a shallow canyon near mile 8

Melanie and Dad

Adam and Sadie

If there's peace during an ultra, you're not doing it right

Melanie, Jennifer, and Lisa climbing out of the canyon bottom...

...and making their way to the ridge

Sadie knows when it's photo time vs. running time 

Amazing views as we near the turnaround point

Here we are just before we split up.
Me, Jennifer, Adam, Melanie, Lisa, Dad

It's just me, Dad, and Sadie for the rest of the way

Desert solitude
Dad and this desert road had an epic battle for about 5 miles.

Sometimes majestic views are worth running for,
no matter how much you're hurting.

Goblin Valley

Melanie and Lisa joined us for the last couple
miles through Goblin Valley.

Goblin Valley

My impression of a jazz-dancing goblin

Goblin Valley

Crossing the finish line with Dad.

Days like this are why I keep running.



  1. you have an amazing family. that is really incredible that you all did this together. congrats!

  2. that is so cool. i wish i could get my family to do something like that with me. i got my sisters to do a 5k but i think that's about as far as they will go. still, better than nothing!

  3. Staying with your Dad until the finish is pretty cool. It's something both of you will always remember.

  4. Great trip, race, and pictures. All you guys are such champs!

  5. Very inspiring! I will keep your dad's finish in mind as I run my half on Saturday. Love love love that you all did it together.

  6. What a great thing to experience with so much family! Great pictures too! the skies remind me of North Dakota, but the landform is a bit different! :) Congrats, Scott!

  7. One of the best days of my life. In a way I'm glad I was so slow. It allowed a very special day to last even longer. I loved every step. And I felt the support of all my family, those that ran with me and those that cheered from the sideline. Thank you from the bottom of my "heart".

  8. hellz yea! once dad said finish line, it was over :-) awesome! Those are some great pics too!

  9. AMAZING! Thanks for sharing this adventure!!

  10. I'm proud of you all. Alan, I'm glad you were able to finish. Be careful.

  11. Fantastic! Well done to all of you! You are blessed to have a family like that. Stunning photos! I love the finish line.

  12. what a story of perseverance! i will it close to heart as i run my first half saturday. nice group shot pic! and that catching some air shot reminded me of another time back in jr high. u still got it at 33!

  13. Loved running with everyone!!! We'll have to find a 50 miler here on the east coast or maybe in Texas...

    Thanks for sticking with Dad. We knew you'd get him to the finish. Awesome job, Dad! You're an inspiration!

  14. Congrats to you and dad! The pictures are amazing.

  15. WOWWWWW!! That is so incredible, and so amazing that your family did it. Especially your dad after his by-pass surgery. Congrats to you all, I am truly inspired! Gorgeous pictures, too!!!

  16. Only just caught up with your latest adventure.
    thats really great your whole family finished and your dad made it through!
    Love the photo's That scenery is EPIC :]

  17. so wonderful. congrats to you and your family including SADIE! wow. awesome. the pictures are amazing. i think i gotta do that race next year. way to go to your dad. keep living big, friend!

  18. Great photos. High five to the entire family, especially to your Dad.

  19. This was so awesome! I can't wait to do it again!

  20. great write up! i think you just convinced me to run this on Oct 29th this year, it will be my first ultra and a day after my 39th birthday! pretty good way to start off the closing year of 30's. thanks again for the great write up and pics!!!