I have wanted to go to Death Valley since I first heard of it. And when I found out there was a trail marathon there….a Death marathon? What could be better?
I made the long drive with Laura Chaides and Todd Fanady. We stayed in the big city of Furnace Creek (population under 50). Also there was Zach Menke and Inger Nelson. Just down the street Susan and Tommy Robles went hardcore and camped in their van.
We got in late so we didn’t get a good look around that first night. All we saw were some mountains, Zach and Inger in the bar, lots of desert - just what you would expect. The next morning we all gathered in the parking lot to board old school busses for the 1 hr drive to the race start. We drove into Nevada until we came to a small dirt road. The busses pulled over, kicked us out and there we waited with about 300 other people. I knew the course was a straight line back to California but I could see a line of mountains between me and the finish line. The start for the 30K was 1 hr later and about 8 miles up the road. Inger was herded back onto a bus which took off down the dirt road.
The race director scratched a line in the dirt with his shoe. “This is the starting line. I’m going to get in my car and drive up the course. When you see my brake light go out that is the start.” So off he went in a cloud of dust and off we went. The race instructions said water was required so I had my bottle although there were aid stations every 5 miles.
The first 5 miles were flat and not real interesting. Mostly I noticed how close I was getting to the mountains. What at first seemed like a solid line of hills now took on a 3-dimensional aspect. I could see the trail climbing up between them. Soon there was a long gradual uphill leading to White Pass where the 30K started. I thought I was at the top but sadly I was wrong. Just to be cruel the trail made a steep downhill and I lost all that hard earned climbing. The trail again turned upwards towards Red Pass. This was the one big hill in the race and it was great. There were switchbacks so I could look up at the people higher than me, or down to see the people behind me.
Finally I got to the real top and knew it was all downhill from there. We had started at 3,400 ft of elevation and Red Pass was at 5,200 ft. The finish was now about 13 miles away and down 5,000 ft. One long relentless downhill. At that point, going in the wrong direction, I saw Tommy. He was biking up the long hill from the finish line to catch up with Susan. “12.75 miles to go” he told me. Cool over half way.
Around mile 15 we went through the ghost town of Leadfield. (I wondered how many of the inhabitants were former Death Valley marathoners.) Beyond that there was a large rock with ancient petroglyphs carved into it. You see things on this run you don’t see anywhere else.
And then we got to Titus Canyon . The last 3 years Titus had been closed on race day due to rain, snow or rock slides. For those years they did an out and back course on nearby roads. This year we got to do the Canyon and it was amazing. We ran a winding road between cliffs probably up to a couple of hundred feet high. At times it was barely big enough for a car to squeeze through. I couldn’t help but slow down to try and see everything. The rocks were all different colors, the cliffs were dramatic, and everything was just great. Somewhere after mile 20 I thought I saw Inger. But the trail was so twisty I wasn’t sure. I would go around a bend and just catch a glimpse of her going around the next bend. (I have had hallucinations during races but Inger has only
showed up in one or two of them.) Right around mile 23 I caught up with her and was relieved to see that it was her. She seemed to be doing well but I think she was a little tired of the downhill.
Then I left the Canyon and I could see the school busses 3 miles down the road. And for the next 20 min they stayed there and refused to get closer no matter how fast I ran. But finally I crossed the scratched-in-the-dirt finish line at 3:38.44. I felt great. Tired but great. This was the most amazing race I have ever done.
I sat on the side of the road and watched people finish. I barely got a drink before Inger crossed (2:54.55). Zach (4:05.02) was right behind having stopped to take pictures along the way. Judging from the blood oozing out of his shoe I knew he had a tough race. Todd (4:18.59) and Laura (4:19.16) came in within a minute of each other. They had been battling it out for the last half of the race. Susan (4:30.00) finished looking like she wasn’t even sweating.
After the race we went back to the ranch we were staying at and jumped in the natural spring pool. It seemed a bit cool to me. Todd told me it was warmer in the shallow end where the kids were. I didn’t have the heart to tell him why. That night we all piled into the one little bar for the awards ceremony. There were people from all over the US. And quite a few from Germany where, for unknown reasons, this is a popular race.
I would like to claim the heat during the race was brutal and the hills were devastating. But in truth the weather was perfect, 40s to 70s. The uphills were not really that tough and the last half was all downhill. To be honest I would say this was probably the easiest trail marathons I have ever done. Still the next morning getting out of bed was not easy. I attribute that to blasting down the long hill like a crazy animal. But it probably was due to one too many Lobotomy Bocks at the bar. Todd Fanady during Death. Susan Robles heading for a Lobotomy Bock.