death valley miles

How can a blog about being part triathlete and part hippie possibly have lived this long without a post about camping? It’s a sham, I tell you. (For a much funnier version, complete with original illustrations check out my trip mates’ blog here.)

I filled the gaping blog and life hole this past weekend by heading out to the desert for the annual Death Valley Trail Marathon & Half, leaving long rides behind to spend 48 hours shivering around a fire.

Death Valley Trail marathon

2300 feet of climbing, 23 miles, one In N’ Out meal and a wind burned face later, I returned home wondering why I haven’t been camping in so long.

Oh yeah, that thing called Ironman.

Furnace Creek campground, Death Valley National Park CA

I was reminded this weekend of why I need the outdoors in my life. Sure, I get it in large doses every week as I log training miles around beautiful San Diego County, but it’s different when you’re immersed in it. And though I’m not about to rework my 2014 racing schedule around camping, I now know I need to carve out more space and time for getting outside.

I fell hard for Death Valley National Park. Though my second visit to the Mojave Desert (I visited Joshua Tree earlier this year), it was my first visit to this region. Something about the uninhabited, empty, dry, cracked earth framed by snowy mountains did it for me. I’ll definitely be back.

Death Valley Trail Marathon

Death Valley Trail Marathon Titus Canyon

Though I’d signed up for the full marathon, various things got in the way—one trip buddy’s injury, and lofty goals for the Austin 70.3 being the two main ones. We spent a good chunk of the 5-hour drive up to Furnace Creek Campground on Friday convincing ourselves we could finish a marathon on half-marathon training, and strategizing about a pacing plan. (“Run medium for 13 miles, then walk.”) But then came the email: due to severe weather at the point-to-point course’s start near the town of Beaty, NV, the full was being turned into two loops of the half marathon course. At least the whole event hadn’t been cancelled, as has been its fate many times before.

Death Valley Trail Marathon

Death Valley Trail Marathon

None of us fancied the idea of running two loops of the same course (especially when the first 6.5 miles of that course was a straight up 2300 foot climb), so we all opted for the half instead. We set off into Titus Canyon, hoping the scenery would distract us from the desert’s winter chill.

Despite running 11:30’s out, I still managed a 2:04:15 for the age group win, and faster times than my first two halfs. And after 13.1 miles, I was more than happy to stand around munching peanut-butter filled pretzels and chatting with other racers while waiting for my compadres. Yep, the full could wait. It was hard, but as one of my camping mates had uttered earlier that morning (as we wrenched ourselves from our cozy sleeping bags), “I like to suffer.” How’s that for a personal mantra?

Badwater Basin

Badwater Basin

We rode the buses back to Furnace Creek and posted up on a patch of sunny grass. Later that evening we headed back to the Corkscrew Saloon for beers and the “awards ceremony.” (Turns out I can’t escape triathlon: The race director is, in his own words, a Former Athletic Triathlete, or F.A.T., and competed in Kona back in the early years.)

On Sunday, we gorged ourselves on coffee and sunflower seed butter (food discovery of the weekend), packed up the car, and drove to Badwater Basin—the lowest elevation in North America at 282 feet below sea level. Since we’d only run 13 miles on Saturday and my friends had come out to run 26, we hit the highway to test our legs at the rest of the distance. It was still cold, but the sun was out and we had a tail wind. At five miles, I turned back for the car so the other two could do a point-to-point run without having to battle the wind. I ended up with 10 miles total, for a nice little total of 23 miles over two days.

Death Valley National Park

The car was warm, and nobody minded the smell of sweat and campfire as long as there were snacks and conversation and Spotify-sponsored musical guilty pleasure. And hellos from the locals, like this guy.

We were soon home to showers and blankets and comfortable beds. And what did I do even before settling down with Homeland? Cracked open the trail running guides and books on exploring California’s Desert Parks that have been gathering too much dust. I love triathlon, but getting my ass out of the pool and into a camping chair every once in awhile is never a bad thing.

That said, I hit the Y this morning, eager for my Tuesday treadmill session and strength swim set. Once again, I’m glad life doesn’t force us into either-or.

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