Northern Washington Death March

In the world of long distance and ultrarunning, runners are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: Newb’s, who make terrible mistakes and errors in judgement, and those that are experienced, who get overconfident and lackadaisical. These are their stories.  These are their Deathmarches………………

I was 34 miles into a solo adventure run/hike in northern Washington. I had just run the Capital City Marathon 4 days ago in Olympia and was admittedly overconfident on the aspirations I had for this day.           

I had poorly misjudged the time it would take to get back by doubling the time it took to go the first half of the way. It was now around 10pm, completely dark and in the low 40’s. I was wearing shorts and a long sleeve technical shirt. No gloves or jacket.   I had a flip cell phone (no data, no Google maps) that I used to light the trail I was on and a vague google map print-out in my pocket. My teeth were clattering and my hands were so cold that I was jogging with them in my armpits.   I had put all my hope in making into town and reheating and resupplying for the last few miles back to my cabin. This hope was crushed as I made it into town to find it completely deserted of people and cars. Not even the gas station was open. I knew it would be at least an hour to get back and probably more since I was getting disorientated trying to read the map in the dark. Panic entered my mind. I had never felt as cold or in as much despair as I had that night. It was past 11pm and all I could think of was calling 9-1-1 or going over to the residential area and knocking on random people’s homes and begging for help. On the other side of town I saw lights from a sole business in the darkness. The only business in town that was still open, Taco Bell.

I tried to open the door, but it was locked. I looked inside and didn’t see anyone. I went around to the side to the drive through intercom and managed to get a response. I pleaded with him to open the door because I was a traveler and lost. When I entered a rush of warmth came over my entire body like I had never felt before. I felt like I had been saved. I made my way to the counter, still shivering, and ordered 2 tacos. Then I entered the bathroom and ran hot water over my hands until I was able to get some feeling back. I ate the tacos, got directions, and left a $20 tip. I ran the last 4 miles back mentally rejuvenated, which I think was the biggest factor in my getting back home. I knew there was nothing that was going to stop me from getting back after receiving help from someone that in all accounts had no reason to. The amount of gratitude I felt for this small deed overwhelmed all the negative mental projections I had in my mind about the last part of this trek.


Runco’s Death March

There I was in the middle of the desert Death Marching my way to the finish of the Antelope Canyon 50 Miler.  The sand was so deep and fine that I had to stop every mile to empty my shoes and freakin socks too!  I was cursing the sand and my friend that convinced me to do this damn race. I was swearing I would never do another 50 again (I’ve said that before)!  Wait, I am getting ahead of myself. Let me start from the beginning.

Antelope Canyon is Amazing

I opened Facebook one day to see a good friend of mine had signed up for the Antelope Canyon 50 and tagged me.  This set off a chain reaction because I did the same thing to another friend.  By the time the Facebook dust had settled 15 of us had committed (We should have been committed!).  The race was near Lake Powell in February, so it was going to be cold, real cold.  We began our training in September and laid out some amazing runs to prepare for the famed Antelope Canyon.

I organized a bus to take us to the Mexican border, so we could run the Pacific Crest Trail 20 miles north to Lake Morena in the cold.

PCT begins at the border

Another would take us to the snowy mountains east of San Diego at 6000 feet.

The third training run was on the famous Goat Canyon railway in Anza Borrego Desert.

Goat Canyon Trestle

Lastly, we would travel to Joshua Tree National Park and run the 36 miles to traverse the entire park (lots of sand there!).

Joshua Tree has lots of sand

We even did beach runs on the Pacific Coast to prepare for the sand.  Nothing could have prepared us for the sand of Antelope Canyon.  It was the finest sand I had ever encountered.  It literally bled through the pores of our shoes and socks!

Oh yea, so I am Death Marching through the sand, emptying my shoes every mile and swearing at the gods.  It’s 29 degrees and my freakin hydration pack is frozen not that I needed to drink much water in those temps.  There was 10 miles of sand behind me and at least another 25 to go. When things get crazy like this you just put one foot in front of the other and have confidence that things will get better.  And they did.  About 10 miles from the finish the sand turned to hard pack single track. Normally in 50 milers the last 10 is the grind.  Not today!  My stride opened, and I could run again!  When I finally got to the finish they handed me my award……………. a freakin bottle of sand!  The it was off to Vegas to celebrate with the crew!

Las Vegas is a great place to celebrate!