Death Valley Marathon -- Race Report

I decided to drive to Death Valley by myself. I'm not sure why, but I love the desert and the loneliness of a long flat road that cuts through the sand, disappearing in a wavy heat blur miles away. I wanted to experience the desert slowly, and in my own way, so I bailed on the carpool, possibly offending the four other guys I was running with. We all signed up for this race together, James had shirts made, and we did a lot of our training together.

This group of five, sometimes six, sometimes less, meets every Monday and Wednesday morning at 6 AM and we run through the early light, still half asleep, and over the last couple of years we have become pretty tight. I think of us as a kind of Pre-Breakfast Club (a Brain, an Athlete, a Basket Case, a Princess, and a Criminal...I won't go into who's who, but I think we all know who the Princess is). We all have similar paces, and like any group that runs together, we have become close, sharing the pain and celebrating the successes both in running and in life. So, with a touch of guilt, I headed off to the desert solo, seeking some kind of spiritual experience, but knowing I was also missing some good fart jokes.

The drive was everything I hoped it would be, passing signs for Badwater, stopping occasionally to take in the wind-carved wonders of the desert. I drove towards Furnace Creek, music loud, and the clean, dry air screaming through open windows.

Not quite ready for this turn

After the six hour drive, it was nice to meet up with the others and jog a couple easy miles to stretch out the legs. We ate dinner at Furnace Creek Ranch, and then early to bed.

The race started at 8 AM and the race director led us all in a chorus of "America the Beautiful." Singing that song in such a beautiful setting, in a national park as the sun rose and lit up the red hills, and surrounded by hundreds of other runners was a special moment for me and I'd be lying if I said I didn't tear up a little.

There were a few bellowed instructions about running on the side of the road (it's not a closed course), drinking a lot of water, thanking the volunteers (who were awesome), and after waiting for a couple of cars to pass, the race director yelled "on your marks, get set, go" and we were off.

I decided before I started this race to not worry about time, to run it as a training run, and to try to run the whole race strong which, for me, meant holding back for the first half of the race. I started steady, running with Cory, Paul, and James. It felt like a long training run on the coast, we talked, cracked jokes, but held a good pace, passing people, but not pushing too hard. Two of the guys had stomach flu and really did their part in contributing to the fauna and biological diversity of Death Valley. I won't go into much more detail than that, but they both finished under really tough circumstances.

We hit the 13 mile turnaround point at 1:45, and I decided to try and negative split the race which would give me a sub 3:30 marathon. I kept a steady pace and really felt strong at mile 20 (even Tebowing for the photographer), so I pushed it a little. This came back to hurt me during the last few miles of the race as I slowed, but I was still passing people who went out too fast and were now walking. I've been there many times, but this time I felt strong, and after a couple words of encouragement, I ran on, pushing the last mile and finishing with a 3:29, good for 11th place overall and 2nd in my age group.

Couldn't resist

It was a special experience to run a part of the Badwater course and it helped motivate me to think of the Badwater runners who do this in the middle of summer and do more than five times the distance I was doing. Thinking of that challenge made it hard to get down on myself during the race, and really helped me push through the minor pain at the end of the race.

If anyone reading this is thinking of doing this race, I would highly recommend it. The organization (Enviro-Sports does a great job putting on this event) is awesome, the course is beautiful, and the people are great. The Furnace Creek Ranch is a nice place to stay for the night and it's convenient to roll out of bed race morning and walk a hundred yards to the starting line. I wouldn't call the course flat and fast; there are some long gradual hills and some short tough ones, but nothing too grueling. While the weather was great for our race, it did get up in the 80s by the finish and with no coverage and the dry air, it seemed hotter than it was (although I almost got smacked by this old local lady when I mentioned that I thought it was a "hot one"), and close attention to hydration is necessary. I loved this race so much that I think I'm going to do the trail marathon in December. Anyone want to join me?

With our matchy-matchy custom shirts by Cheddar Yeti (check their cool story)
Thanks for reading.


  1. Great report. The trail marathon is very tempting but that's the weekend of the North Face Endurance Championship in SF. I might consider this road run for next year, though!

    1. Thanks Sarah. I'd love to do the North Face Endurance Championship some day, that looks like a great race.

  2. Love your photos :) And of course congratulations on your time/position - inspiring as ever!

    1. Thanks Stephie. I hope your training is going well. Isn't your marathon coming up soon? Have a great race.

  3. I love those pics, exciting race event. Congratulations for a great job well done and looking forward always for more updates. Thanks for sharing !


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