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Death Valley Trail Race
Feb 1, 2003
By Heather Macdonald

Stories > Death Valley Trail Race

Death Valley Trail Race

Feb 1, 2003
By Heather Macdonald

Incredible scenery, friendly people, casual race, and a magical setting added up to a very memorable race in the heart of Death Valley, California. I went thinking that the desert was flattish, gray and uninviting; I couldn't have been more wrong.

With no race day registrations, you have to sign up well in advance because all 250 spots filled up every year.

The race was organized from the Furnace Creek Ranch where most of the runners stayed. After picking up our bibs in the Saloon, Dave from EnviroSports gave us the lowdown on the race. We had to finish to get the t-shirt, don't expect mile markers, there are aid stations every 5 miles, and we'd be bussed over to the start. For people who wanted to take photos, just stop your watch! My kind of race.

The trail is actually a narrow jeep road that runs through Titus Canyon. The marathon route starts in a valley, and climbs 2000 feet on a gradual yet gravelly road to the start of the 18 mile portion. I was in the 18 mile group and we had the advantage of starting in the mountains.

The park ranger gave us a stern warning about littering and said we had to make sure there was no evidence that we had been there. Easy for him to say; the ground was rock solid, there were no porta-potties, nor trees, just puny shrubs.

To start us off, Dave said, "When you see my taillights go out, you can start." We laughed and headed out in short sleeves and sunscreen, enjoying the 10 C temperature at 9:30 a.m. The route started downhill for a short while then went uphill on a switchback for about a mile and a half. At the top of the switchback, we rounded a curve to an incredible view. Photo op! We all started taking photos, sharing disposable cameras. After this, it's all downhill for 5000 feet. Wahoo!

I hardly noticed the first 15 miles because I was amazed at the mountains climbing on both sides of the road. No buzzards, no coyotes, no spectators, but plenty of inspiration. I met some great people (especially Sheila and Bob who had done Dances With Dirt) and encouraged them to come to Canada and do our trail races.

Somewhere along the route, I heard footsteps and knew that I was being lapped by a marathoner. He quietly passed by in his 3:15 winning time. Then a few more passed by. One said, "Good work runner" and I remembered why I liked trail runners; they are so supportive.

Without mile markers, I had no idea where I was but when I saw a few spectators, I knew I was near the end of the canyon. Abruptly, the mountains were behind and the valley opened up below. The busses looked like kiddie toys in the distance. The temperature was now 24 C. At the last aid station, they said there was only 3 miles to go. After so many miles of downhill, my toes were starting to hurt and I had to pull out the stops to keep the pace. I thought about my buddies and their encouragement kept me going.

There's something about a finish line that is so satisfying. This was a wonderful one.

The awards were given out in the saloon at 5 p.m. and everyone showed up in the coveted race t-shirt. My new American friends invited me to dinner and we shared stories about races and next events.

Would I do it again? For sure. Maybe I'll pick another unusual race somewhere else in the world. They were talking about the Catalina marathon and it sounded great!