Photo Gallery: 2017 Monument Valley 50

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In Navajo lore, Monument Valley is said to have been the Gods’ playground. Situated in the desert along the Utah-Arizona border, its towering rock features have poetic names like Rain God Mesa, Ear of the Wind and Sun’s Eye.

The modern Navajo Nation has been gracious enough to allow race company Ultra Adventures to hold a very special running event through the land. The Monument Valley 50 features distances from four miles to 50, and is steeped in Navajo culture, including Navajo celebratory ceremonies.

But on March 25, 2017, as I toed the 50-mile start line, instead of romantic-sounding gods, my head was full of demons. I am 63 years old, and hadn’t run 50 miles for over two years. In that time, I had only run two 50Ks. My peak training run was 17 miles, two weeks before the race. Three years earlier I had witnessed the spellbinding grandeur of Monument Valley in the 50K event, and wanted to immerse myself in it again. But could I finish?

Friends and family supported me, mostly from afar, and the hundreds of people racing that day exuded a positive energy running that made the magical terrain even more special.

I like to share these experiences, and so I carried a full-frame mirrorless camera, weighing about 1lb 12oz – as if I needed to make the race harder.

13 hours, 35 minutes, 50 miles and 150 photos later, I finished well ahead of the 15-hour cutoff, and just moments before a cold rain settled over the valley in the windy darkness. I like to think that the Navajo deities approved of our presence and helped us celebrate their playground.

Want to Know What It Takes to Finish at Western States? Just Ask Hellah Sidibe.

Find out what happened when this six-year run streaker and HOKA Global Athlete Ambassador took on an iconic ultramarathon in California's Sierra Nevada