Moab Trail Marathon

Coming up to an aid station in the middle of nowhere. Those guys camped overnight!!
Five minutes in and admiring already

We’ve run Moab many years now, with varying degrees of success. This year I had massive anxiety leading up to the race because I was pretty shit shape by every measure. My employer sucker punched me in the gut by more or less asking me to voluntarily resign after I showed interest in an offer on another team that ended up falling through. Yeah, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds. It zapped any and all motivation and confidence that I had, but reading my old blog posts about Moab in years prior (I didn’t even write about 2019 but it was pretty on-brand) it seemed like the only difference from years prior and this year was my mental game. Several times I had run something like 7-12 miles once and called it good in terms of training. I was just totally elitist and invincible back then and this year I have been feeling very.. vincible.

More cruising

Now enter my family. For the first time, my brother Ned would be joining us. You know how there were two types of people at the beginning of the pandemic? Those who thrived with all their newfound free time and flexible schedules and those who withered away due to lack of human contact and socialization? My brother and father were solidly in the former. Ned started running consistently for the first time in his life. My father woke up, surfed, then checked email, maybe surfed again, took the dog for a walk, went for a jog, checked email, paddleboarded at sunset, rinse and repeat. I was in the latter, slowly turning into a past-its-prime mushroom in Seattle with the rain and no ski pass and no boards and starting a now fully remote job that required both 7am and 10pm meetings. Not a healthy structure. But I had a good baseline from the climbs I managed to get on, and got some long runs in during August in Chicago and NYC, so.. that’ll be good for a November marathon, right? And I went on a slow 19miler in October but had to be rescued by my roommate 6mi from home. It would have been 25mi because I guess in layman’s terms “I got lost” and also brought no food or water. Either way, not encouraging.

Running above the kane creek canyon

But. I was STOKED Ned was joining. Stoked and terrified, because this race is one of my favorite things ever and I was both excited for him and worried he’d hate it/something would go wrong/the magic would have faded. But he and his girlfriend Jess were taking pictures from the minute we got to Moab and I couldn’t stop thinking “just wait until we’re on the marathon course, it’ll be even more mind blowing.” I didn’t want to say it out loud because I didn’t want to set expectations too high or sound like a one-upper. We crashed at the Red Cliffs Lodge as is tradition, and were up at 6am ready for action. Jess grabbed the free pack-it-out toilet that the race organizers gave each of us and tried to get Ned to take it. “I mean there is literally zero chance that I need to shit during this marathon.” We laughed. Probably fair. Probably. I packed some pastries in napkins for mid race snacks and we headed out.

Watch your feet!

Mom and Jess came to see us start and then took off on their own adventure while we went to wander the desert for who knows how many hours. Within five minutes, Ned was admiring the scenery, my Dad was peeing, and I was bitching about my recurring calf injury flaring up. Despite this happening on 80% of my runs and 100% of runs that start in sand, I neglected to take aspirin. I set the pace as the slow one, and we tried to explain to Ned just don’t run any of the uphills. We’ll get enough elevation gain at mile 15. After that, run whatever you want. Or whatever you can. And we had all of our usual calculated bail points. Around mile 5 my dad’s hip flexor or adductor was acting up, not a great sign so early on. He was worried. I was worried. Ned on the other hand was already pumped full of endorphins. “I feel great does anyone else feel great it’s like we haven’t even run anything yet!” Omg, is this how dad felt with me the first few years?

The out and back

We finally got a nice long flat/downhill (one of the few sections where you can hit a rhythm) and cruised into the next rest stop. We are a family of salty people, so we all started popping electrolyte pills. I told Ned and my father to only take one or two at each rest stop. My father said no way I’ve done this before I need at least 4 and popped 4 or 5 pills in his mouth. Ned followed his lead. I glanced at the ingredients. Well, it’s not like they’ll overdose on anything in here, potassium’s low, so I guess they can do what they want as long as they drink enough. Better than cramping up when you’re 12mi away from any sort of road. Ned asked when there would be a bathroom. Oh, there’s one at mile 10 and 12 around the out-and-back, if you can wait until then. Seriously there’s only one bathroom? Well… yeah… it’s a trail race.

I prefer the token tree be yellow.

We danced around the canyon rim, amazed to see there was no bottleneck at the first scramble section. Soon enough we were at the base of the canyon, where we all agreed we were going for the full and not bailing for the half marathon. My dad’s leg was feeling better, my calves had blood running through them again, Ned was still galloping gracefully like a gazelle. We tried to explain what an “out and back” was to Ned and quickly realized our brains already didn’t have enough glucose to put our net three brain cells together to explain the concept or what it meant for us. You’ll just have to see. Oh, and this is the only bathroom on course if you want it. We all skipped it. The out and back went faster than ever, I used to hate it and I still kind of do but now it’s a great opportunity to cheer on everyone running in the opposite direction, and I love that. And we passed our number neighbor!! She was number 245, and we were 246/247/248 if I remember correctly. I shouted number buddies!!! and told Ned/Dad that I had found our fourth honorary family member. She was just as stoked as we were.

Gaining elevation quickly

“You’re the blogger!!” A woman stopped dead in her tracks looking at me. “you’ve written about this for years!” I was too in shock to say anything. Uh, yeah, I guess I have, holy shit really you read them?? “Yes I said I HAD to remember your face in case I saw you here!” My heart exploded. We can stop running now, I’ve peaked. This silly little blog I wrote to remember my own trips and keep my family back on the east coast informed on my adventures made it to someone in the Moab marathon. How crazy is that?? Shit, I need to start writing again!

We parted ways. “You’re internet famous!!” Ned and Dad were stoked for me too. That’ll carry me up mile 15 for sure. We ran past the bathroom, skipping it a second time. The road section to mile 14 was longer than I remembered, the token tree greener than I remembered, the aid station better equipped than I remembered. Fewer people around us than I remembered. Shit, that means we’re slow. We popped some salt pills. “This is the best rice krispie of my life” said Ned. I was still aglow from being recognized.

“I wore this mustache ironically but… everyone here has a mustach, and I think seriously?”

We hiked the entirety of the >1200ft of gain from mile 14.5 to mile 16. It wrecked me the first year because I tried to run it, but now it’s a nice break from the redundancy of running. I remember hearing someone’s soul leave their body in disappointment on a false summit some year prior, but we knew what was coming and pulled some reverse psychology on Ned to ensure his hopes never got up. We snapped the traditional photo at the top of the climb, and Ned got a text from Jess saying she and my mom were having a blast. He had been worried about ditching her on her birthday for this race (she is a saint) so that was a relief. We realized Ned was worried about Jess and my father, I was worried about my father and Ned, our brother Calvin back home was worried about my dad, and my dad was worried about and Ned. Bunch of narcissists running a marathon through the desert worried about everyone but themselves.

The section after that 1200ft climb is my favorite of the whole race. You’re on top of the world, finally another section of easy cruiser terrain where you can get back into a vibe. Unless your shins twinge and threaten to start spasming. I skipped a bit and kept myself from falling over. Fuuuuck it’s only mile 16. We have 10 miles left. That’s WAY too early for spasms. And this is my favorite part to run!! Shit. I took a salt pill one of them had stashed, and I think a single advil. I’ll take another later if the one isn’t enough.

Work doesn’t matter out here.
Catching up to groups one by one

But I was totally in my head now. I slow jogged everything terrified I’d set off another spasm, and unfortunately the next few miles were through slickrock, which is NOT gentle on your shins. We did a LOT of walking. Usually we push it going through the slick rock, but not this year. I had a few more twinges threaten, but nothing full blown. I’m also convinced the slickrock changes every year. Or I’m delirious by this point every year.. that’s probably it.

After 13 miles of asking for a bathroom and skipping the only one available, Ned was about to cave to his bathroom urges. Wait wait I have napkins!! Omg Ned I have napkins!! I forgot I had wrapped some pastries in napkins at the hotel for race snacks. I hucked the pastries into the void (turned out they weren’t appealing anymore), tossed him the napkins, and he darted off trail behind a lone tree. We sat on a rock enjoying the silence and scenery while waiting. No cars, no people, no nothing. Just you and miles and miles of desert. And somewhere, a 26yo who narrowly avoided shitting himself.

Trail down below

We carried on pushing through slickrock and finally coming to what we thought was a nice 2 miles of gradual downhill from miles 21-23. But we were wrong, it’s more like one mile, and it’s rather rocky single track with plenty of ups too. And now my dad had to use the bathroom. Wtf is wrong with you guys? This has never been a problem before. He considered bailing at mile 23 for the portapotties but held strong and we ran past the finish line as usual to head out on the Adventure 5k, figuring he could wait another 30min. The past THREE years I’ve had something go wrong in the last 3 miles. Once an adductor spasm, once I stepped on an entirely buried prickly pear cactus which went RIGHT through my shoe sole like a knife through butter, and once a shin spasm that dropped me on my ass in surprise (dodged the cacti that time). My expectations were not high.

“you guys are crazy” “no YOU’RE crazy”

We got a little dizzy walking into the drainage pipe. I almost ate shit in the dark cave for the first time (there’s like.. one rock in there the whole time, and I tripped on it). My dad kept falling behind pausing randomly, probably thinking too hard about bathrooms. The scramble section was cool as usual. The worst part was these stupid mounds they added at like mile 25.5. This whole time we had been looking forward to the parking lot section, which while boring is at least flat and smooth and you’re basically finished. But not this year. We had these mounds, maybe 3-4ft tall to go up and down. Forever. It was. Terrible. Sheer anger carried us through.

We finally got to the flat section. “I might literally die if we don’t get to the finish ASAP.” Ned took off. “I might literally shit right here if we don’t get to the finish ASAP.” My dad followed. I had no choice. But it turned out I actually felt pretty okay all things considered. The pace felt refreshing and I was in full control of my peaceful, well-adjusted, content GI tract. Ned sprinted up the sand dune to the finish, I almost puked going up the sand dune to the finish, and I can only assume my dad nearly evacuated his bowels going up the sand dune because he kept running from the finish line straight to the portapotties.

Drainage pipe, trippy

Jess and my mom were waiting to meet us at the finish. Ned grabbed a medal (“I never take one, they just clutter up my house” “Well I haven’t gotten a medal since like the 8th grade and I EARNED this one”) and we all grabbed mugs (best race swag ever) while my mom laughed as we explained Ned and my dad fighting their GI tracts for the second half of the course. How many salt pills did you take? Oh like at least a dozen. Each. Except for Eve. She said only take one at each aid station. My mother looked at us. You know those have magnesium right? I think I almost cried laughing. The two of them had been popping quadruple doses of light laxatives at every rest stop. Yes, turns out there is a such thing as too many salt pills. Will you die? Probably not. Will you be extremely uncomfortable? Yes, yes you will.

Family finish!! Stoked!

But overall, the legs still felt fresh for all of us. My dad could actually jump like 18″ compared to past years where he was shattered. I didn’t have any spasms in the last 3 miles and actually had a good kick. Ned proclaimed it was the coolest thing he’s ever done and the best day of his life. We had a hilarious story from it, and we were definitely the happiest, most energetic people to finish.

I can’t say enough good things about this race. I’ve done many other trail races since and none compare. I’ve done it 7 times now, going back to 2013. Skipped 2015 for some volcano climbs in Mexico and skipped 2020 because I assumed it wasn’t happening (I was wrong). And even though we’ll never be anywhere near the front of the pack, it’s been such a blast every single time. There was one year where one of the top three finishers was in line with my mother getting coffee while we were still bumbling around the slickrock. Or maybe even still slogging up the mile 15 climb. Hilariously far behind. But it doesn’t matter. This race is something special.

p.s. “Hey do I have permission to make fun of both of you for magnesium shits in my blog post?” “all you, go for it.” “yeah of course.” I have a great family.

Ned coming up one of the scramble sections. Something special.

Umtanum Ridge Crest & Road


Cruising through the grass


Sweet start

After last week’s shortcut, I figured I’d take another shot at a long run, so I messaged a few steady trail runners for suggestions out east knowing the weather everywhere (even in the Teanaways!) was going to be brutal. Yakima looked sunny, and Stuke had a phenomenal suggestion that was a 27ish mile out-and-back taking the Umtanum Ridge Crest trail to the Umtanum Ridge Road, which runs the length of the ridge and despite being a road is more like a wide trail. I thought I had thrown this plan out the window when SMR got busy on Saturday, but after being turned around without even setting foot on the trail, my long run was back in action. Ran 10/22/2017.


That is a perfectly good burrito

I got to the trailhead around 8:30 and stepped out of the car into wonderful sunshine and what might be the most delicious air I have ever smelled in my life. Everything was covered in dew from that had just stopped, and the entire canyon was full of sage bushes. Sunshine with the smell of fresh rain mixed with tons of sage, I gotta give Yakima a little more credit. It was freaking gorgeous. You know when you start an activity and your entire body just says yeah, this is where I should be right now? It was one of those mornings. I packed my bag with way more food than I ended up needing and started off.

  • Distance: 27.6 miles
  • Elevation: 2,400ft net gain (3,480 highest point, and around 6k gain on rolling hills)
  • Weather: 50’s and a mix of clouds and sun
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:40 unless everyone crashes in the rain (RAIN) on i90
  • Did I Trip: Some stubbed toes but no casualties
  • Strava link here


First light post rain


Dammit Saucony. Maybe #runmostplaces not #runanywhere

The first 2.5 miles gain the 2,400ft of elevation, so needless to say I hiked those.There was no one else in sight. The trail briefly follows Umtanum Creek (you need to duck under some train tracks, or go over but I’m lazy so I went under) before hanging left and starting up through quaking aspen and sagebrush and tall grasses towards the ridge. It was quite muddy, and I found the only flaw in my running shoes that I have encountered so far. With this clay-ish-mud mix, the lugs on my shoes just got caked with mud until I was basically hiking on mud pancakes, slipping all over the place. I’d stop periodically to scrape off the bottoms and delicately tiptoe up the trail.

The last half mile to the top is very steep, and I was less than stoked doing it without shoes that had good mud traction (and poles) but soon enough I topped out at the ridge road. Stuke’s description was accurate. Rolling hills, and a road that’s more like a wide trail than a road. Sweet! I started jogging.


Totally different topography compared to western Washington

There were two things I had only briefly considered before starting up the trail, because I don’t know much about either group. First was hunters. I had my neon pink hard shell, which is close enough to safety orange that I figured I had that base covered, and hopefully if I was being an idiot someone would tell me. Second was 4×4 teams (who I think were usually also hunting), who I hoped would be okay with me hopping off the road so they could pass, and again tell me if I was doing something stupid. Here’s the confession: I’m basically scared of random 4×4 drivers, and definitely scared of random hunters. Neither of those activities were part of my life, they’re totally foreign to me, and they’re intimidating, and I’m just a hot pink helpless nerd going for a jog.


Almost at the ridge (not)

So the first two trucks that drove past me freaked me out. And the first hunters I passed freaked me out. But I was pleasantly surprised by everyone I ran into! The hunters were all amicable (one team on foot just laughed and said “good for you!” as I jogged past) and several trucks stopped to ask how far I was going and to flag them down if I needed anything. Everyone was totally fine about sharing the road, in fact I might even go so far as to say that they were more pleasant than a lot of the hikers I encounter on trails, who don’t hear or see you coming, don’t move out of the way, and glare or silently stare ahead when you ask if you can pass.


Rolling hills!

So you pretty much start at the high point. This was great as I started my jog, because woohoo downhill! I hiked most of the uphills unless they were very slight. Supposedly you can see the Stuart range from the top of the ridge, but all I got were clouds. Oh, and the wind, which occasionally ripped by just to spite me. The road switches between beautiful gravel, nice dirt, and terrible rocks and mud, so you get a nice combo of footwork and space-out-cruising. I fell victim to “summit fever” – not a summit, but around mile 11 I was like okay, I’ll turn around at that high point. And then I was there, and it was 11.5 miles, and I thought no you didn’t drive 2.5 hours just to turn around at 11.5 miles, go for 13. And then I hit 13 and thought okay, that high point (I was going downhill and didn’t want to start my return trip with immediate uphill). And then I could see the road intersection that was the turnaround point from that knoll, and I didn’t come that far just to turn around 300 yards short of the end. So I tagged the intersection and began the long slog back.


The nicest section of road ever

I didn’t let myself check mileage again until around 19.8 miles. I wanted to be sure I had less than 10 miles left next time I looked (mental games) so I waited forever. The rolling hills were kind to me though, I ran more uphills than I had on the way out and felt pretty good. The final uphill to the trail turnoff was brutal, but not as brutal as the ensuing descent, losing 1,000ft+ per mile, destroying my knees and quads and hips while I counted my steps to distract myself from everything else because I was even tired of the sage at this point.


Trail leading off into the distance

I jogged across the bridge (surprisingly bouncy) and popped into the parking lot, pretty thrilled with how the day had gone. I had only eaten around 6 tablespoons of peanut butter, and felt fantastic the entire time. I had the perfect amount of water, my new shoes had felt great, and I didn’t have any weird aches or pains. I didn’t even know that was possible. I hopped into my car, mentally on tope of the world, and drove straight into a wall of traffic on i90 because people forget how to drive in the rain. Shit.

Oh, and I found a Hot Pocket that I had lost in my car back in summer of 2015. You read that right. Over 2 years later. Turns out there’s a void beneath the fabric on the floor below my drivers’ seat. I can only imagine the decay had spawned a mold-based life form, because the only reason I found it was because there was this odd crackling noise going on and I was panicking that there was a mouse in my car while driving on the highway. No, just a hot pocket that came to life. I was hoping I had mentioned it in the trip report but I didn’t. But for two years I’ve been assuming that there was a glitch in the matrix that resulted in the loss of some high quality sustenance.


Sage has yellow flowers 🙂

Lakes Dorothy, Bear, Deer, and Snoqualmie


The far end of Lake Dorothy, neat channels underwater

Catching up on old posts, and since this is a rainy day one it’ll be a quickie. I had donated blood the previous afternoon, so I ignored all hiking/climbing requests to do my own thing in case it was similar to the last time I donated blood. Last time I thought it would be smart to hike to Lake Serene, and I was pouring sweat with a heart rate of like 180 and miserable the entire time and I did not want a repeat of that. So I surveyed the population for “boring lake hikes.” The lakes can be nice, but I don’t want any tempting peaks behind them, no scrambling, no elevation gain, a well maintained obvious trail, relatively short drive, you get the idea. Hiked 9/9/2017.

  • Distance: 14 miles
  • Elevation: 1600ft gain, 3600ft highest point (warning: you lose 500ft elevation to Snoqualmie Lake)
  • Weather: 50’s and rainy
  • Commute from Seattle: 2 hours
  • Did I Trip: No. Who’s well grounded!?


Your first glimpse of Lake Dorothy

And I settled on lakes Dorothy, Bear, and Deer. I figured if I felt crappy I could turn around at any of those lakes. I got to the trailhead around 10am and started off, immediately being passed by two trail runners. I was jealous. Then I cruised past some park rangers, one of whom dated my friend last year (I’m awkward and announced him as such) and prayed they didn’t give me a ticket for my expired America the Beautiful pass. Lake Dorothy is about 1.5 miles down the trail, but the lake is HUGE. Tons of campsites, great for families with kids and inflatable boats and towels and big stoves.


Closest thing I had to a view all day

It took what felt like forever to get to the other end of the lake. You finally hit some elevation gain on the far side, and switch back up a short ridge that eventually drops you to Bear and Deer lakes, which are twin lakes! There are more campsites at each lake (immediately off the trail), and you can either stop here or continue to Snoqualmie Lake.


Beautifully maintained trail

I had all day and was moving faster than I thought, so I figured I’d carry on. I also expected there to be a turnaround destination here, which there wasn’t, and continuing trail is just so tempting. I lost what felt like a ton of elevation dropping to Snoqualmie Lake, which interestingly had some sandy shores. There are campsites here, my personal favorite (which I deemed my turnaround spot) was actually just off the main trail to the right towards a beautiful surprise tarn. So that’s where you should camp if you don’t mind a 7 mile hike.


Local riff raff

Figuring it wasn’t going to get any more interesting from there and looking forward to a warm cozy dinner, I turned around and high tailed it back to the parking lot. I did not get a ticket from a lack of pass, thank you rangers! I had actually called their building on the way hoping to get a pass but it was close, so I swear I had tried. And I finally got the new pass a week, don’t worry. I know, I know, I live on the edge.


Favorite tarn by Snoqualmie Lake

Overall, pleasant hike, good destination for anyone who wants lake camping with kids or a long trail run. The trail continues beyond Snoqualmie Lake all the way to Middle Fork Snoqualmie River (I’m pretty sure those two trail runners started at Middle Fork, ran to the Dorothy trailhead, and then ran back to Middle Fork), so you could have a fantastic out and back or even car to car trail run on a mellow, well maintained trail if you so desired. Just don’t donate blood the day before. Good for hot summer days (lakes!) or gross rainy days (…lakes!) or lazy days (flat trails, and… lakes!) since you can turn around at any number of destinations.


Luxurious campsite near the tarn

Moab Trail Marathon: How to Fake Run a Marathon


Top of mile 15 baby!

Okay, we still ran most of it, miraculously. Leading up to it I had done a single 19 miler (but much of that was walking), and I don’t think my father had run more than like 8 miles in two years. So there was a lot of walking involved, and some scrambling, and some “arm rappels” or whatever you want to call those. And some cramps and muscle spasms, and some whining, and some “shut up so I can count my steps” (which is code for “I’m dying”) and luckily a real life voice doppleganger of Charlie Day from Always Sunny who carried us through mile 23. Oh, and a rogue cactus that nearly did me in at mile 24.


And we’re off! Who needs to run when you can take photos every 25 feet?

It’s easy to forget that I originally moved to Washington for trail running, especially with all of the climbing/mountaineering/pretending like I know how to ski. But once upon a time I was a runner. Now I’m a lazy person with a boring desk job who happens to climb mountains and occasionally goes for slow jogs, primarily motivated by upcoming marathons and Pokemon Go. And one morning back in September, I woke up and realized I had a marathon coming up in five weeks. Shit!


The Wave of Plebs

My dad was anxious. His question wasn’t “how much of these 26 miles will I walk vs run” or “will I finish” it was “do I bail at mile 9 and walk 4 miles to the start, or bail at mile 17 and walk 6 miles to the start and hopefully get there before she finishes the last 3?” But there we were at the starting line, laughing at how unprepared we were, surrounded by insanely good runners, wondering just how much pain we’d  be in after a few hours. I forgot my camelback, so I stuffed plastic water bottles in my pack. My father carried a plastic bottle in his hands. I left the salt tabs at home. I had strongly caffeinated Gu in preparation for the unavoidable bonk. First tip: start slow. So slow. We were in the fourth wave, the Wave of the Plebeians (okay, the second to last wave). And off we were!


Sweet cliffy single track


Awesome single track

Oh, did I mention that the one day I fly to the desert is the one day it’s cloudy/drizzly in the entire second half of 2016? Yeah, it was rainy. In Moab. The desert. But that packed down some of the dust, and made the sandy parts easier to run. I had popped aspirin which is my only hope of easing my calf issues, and it kept them at bay, like a 5/10 on the swollen scale instead of 9/10 like a few of the past runs. And of course, mentality has a huge impact on any race. Everyone was jogging, we were darting to the sides of the trail to take photos and marvel at views and for once I did not bitch when there were bottlenecks in front of us, which is an unfortunate reality with any single track trail race, especially one that has a few scramble sections. Second tip: Take all of the photos. It’s a break without admitting you’re taking a break.


Natural Arch (I’m convinced it’s at mile 4 but I don’t think it is)

We came around the first bend in the trail and I laughed. We had been complaining that red rock canyons look way better in sun, and this year might be boring with the clouds. False. They’re still pretty damn awesome. The first few miles climb, and then you come out near the top of the canyon and follow a single track trail which is glorious. There are rest stops every 5 ish miles, stocked with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, potato chips, oreos (rip off oreos this year, come on!!) more salt tabs, gatorade, soda, and lots of peppy volunteers. Some of the stations were accessible by mountain bike, some by car, and some by huge ridiculous ATV. It’s amazing seeing how far this race has come in the past few years. Third tip: EAT EVERYTHING IN SIGHT. There’s a joke that ultramarathons are more eating competitions than running. Treat long trail races like that too.


Gonna be a bumpy evacuation!


Approaching the bottleneck

At mile 8 was the infamous bottleneck, which wasn’t awful this year, probably due to all of the shorter bottlenecks leading up to it. It’s basically two third class scramble moves, and you can pick your poison. Small chimney with great jugs, or slabby exposed shit, perfect for the “butt scoot” technique. I went with the slabby exposed shit, because no one else was, and I’m impatient. They have volunteers standing at the base of each to spot people, but not everyone is comfortable on a spicy 3rd class downclimb after running 8 miles. And if you slip, you’ll just take the volunteer with you. One woman got stuck in the chimney, so my father helped spot her while I waited, my slabby shortcut now a moot victory. Past that, it’s down to the canyon floor, where the half marathon splits off at mile 9 and you are left likely by yourself to continue the marathon.


Neat mini tunnel on the out and back

There’s an out-and-back right after the half marathon splits off, and once you’ve finished that (~2 miles) you’re back on track for the rest of the marathon. It’s amazing how many people just do the half. You go from being in a line of people along a single track to maybe having 3 people in your field of vision at any moment. Suddenly the scale of the canyons is real, and you can tell how enormous everything is.

This is where you can get pumped for mile 15. You think you can see the entire climb from the base, but you can’t. You wrap around the top corner, only to continue climbing. It gains something like 1300ft in one mile, which is just peachy after you’ve run 15 miles.You’re tiny, the guy hundreds of feet in front of you is dwarfed by the distant pillar, the people behind you are a trail of ants, the trailer at the base of the climb gets smaller and smaller as you ascend to the canyon rim. Tip four: Enjoy the views. Look around. Just don’t trip.


The climb that is mile 15

The first year, we tried to run the whole thing. I died. The second year, we hiked it. My dad had cramps and bailed at the top. This year, we hiked it again. And groaned about it. And complained at every corner even though we already knew there were false corners and top outs. And chatted with those around us (my dad picked out a guy’s South African accent after three words, amazing) as they trudged up the same death climb. Between his weight lifting and my mountaineering, we were actually pretty damn prepared for this section. As usual we snapped our picture at the top, for once both looking happy instead of me dead (first time) or dad dead (second time). And from there, your’e on top of the world, cruising across desert with towers and huge drops in the background and an expanse of slick rock mountain biking trails ahead of you. Hope your shoes have good tread!


Looking back about halfway up the mile 15 climb


And this is where you end up. Cruising on another planet

This is the best part of the race. The beginning is cool, the climb at mile 15 is amazing because you watch the close landmarks shrink as mountains and canyons grow in the distance, but miles 16-23 are just phenomenal. So keep your mental game strong, because this is where you want to be alert. Rolling slick rock, awesome rock formations, a windy trail that occasionally disappears (it gets more and more well marked every year, we definitely lost it the first year), and the runners are so spread out you really only have to deal with one or two other people at a time. It’s just you, cruising through unbelievable terrain, and that’s why I trail run.


Even I barely fit through the end of this. Turn sideways and scoot.

It got tough around mile 18. We saw the sign for mile 18 and my dad said “oh thank god that’s a mental boost.” I made some joke about feeling pretty good, and he responded “yeah well I’d like to lie down and vomit.” A mile or so after, I started to feel it. The rolling slick rock goes from super easy to run (slabby, mellow downhill) to difficult (slabby sidehilling or uphill or quick pivoting turns) to nearly un-runnable (some low class scramble moves). Eventually, I am interrupted while blabbing away about something, and I head “I am going to count my steps. Don’t talk to me for a few minutes.” So I shut up, and let my dad count his steps while I trailed along behind him. Bring on the caffeinated gu! (Tip Six: Caffeine) Luckily, around mile 21 or 22, you pop onto a smooth trail that runs downhill along the river, and that’s where we found Charlie Kelly. (Tip Seven: Find Charlie Kelly)


Such neat terrain

Anyone who watches Always Sunny immediately knows who I’m talking about. Through our mile 22 tunnel vision comes Charlie’s voice, floating up from behind us, talking about how miserable it is that you have to run past the finish line and do a 5k loop to actually finish the marathon. How he tried so hard through mile 23 last year and then crashed when he realized there were still three miles left past the finish line. Setting everyone’s expectations as low as possible. And I remember those last three miles, because it sucks running past the finish line and listening to the top runners finish while you’re slogging up a sand dune. And a waist deep river to cross, which my father had been praying for. IT’s like a short ice bath for sore legs. Except this year, it was a dry puddle of mud. Damn you, global warming. Okay, tip Eight: Coca Cola. Just chug some coke at this rest stop and you’ll basically be in heaven.


Just so cool to run


Ladders! We stuck with the same group of  ~4 for the last three miles. The guy in front is basically Charlie Kelly.

The last three miles are a mini obstacle course, with ladders and hand lines and pipes to run through and neat caves that I always forget to photograph. Oh, and a nice prickly pear cactus that I did not notice until it was sticking through my foot. I couldn’t even tell what had happened besides feeling like flames were shooting up my foot until my dad yelled “You stepped on a cactus!” and my brain worked it out. The spines had gone straight through the bottom of my shoe and into my foot. Painful and quite surprising. I hobbled to the side of the trail in a cactus free zone to start plucking the spines out.


“Look like you’re running!”

Shortly after, my adducter seized, which is an interesting feeling. I don’t usually get muscle spasms, but they’re a pretty well noted side effect of Accutane, not to mention I was probably dehydrated or low on salt despite my best efforts. Whatever, it was the cactus leg, and who needs an adductor or a foot? We only had like a mile left, and it was the mile through the parking lot, which means shut up and count your steps  (tip Nine: Learn to enjoy rote tedious activities while in mild amounts of pain) and then make sure you look good crossing the finish line (rule #1 is always look good, right? #2 is don’t die, and #3 is if you do die, look good doing it). We didn’t quite nail the looking good part, but who cares! We had finished, and despite zero training, we had done almost the exact same time as the previous two marathons. We may not have been as in shape, or as well trained, but we ran a smart race.


The worst stretch. Going through a parking lot.

So I guess the answer to “How to run a fake marathon” is lots of caffeine, lots of salt pills, walk all the uphills, take tons of pictures, and have Charlie Day help you along for a few hours. Bonus points if you sunburn your terribly Accutane-ravaged nose in your 6 hours in desert drizzle. Crap.