Running The Death Valley Marathon – A Race to the Finish

Adventure Travel, California, Fitness & Workouts, Nevada — By on March 29, 2010 at 3:00 pm

by Nancy Yeomans
LG Air Travel Editor

Death Valley Marathon


Death Valley National Park is the hottest, driest and lowest place in North America. If I hadn’t driven across it myself I’d never guess that this 3 million acres of vastness lies only 2 hours by car from the glitz and excess of Las Vegas.

I’d signed up to run the Death Valley Trail Marathon, known for it’s course through spectacular canyons with amazing views. Unfortunately, the driest place in North America had gotten too much rain this winter (go figure!) and the canyon trails had washed out, leaving us runners with a dirt road in the flattest place in North America. That’s 13.1 miles out…and 13.1 miles back.

The drive from to Death Valley from Las Vegas, the closest major airport,  is an uneventful 120 miles. Once you enter the actual park, there are several places to pull over and do a short hike up to a scenic vista. The geographic formations have names such as ‘Red Cathedral’ and ‘Mosaic Canyon’ and do live up to those names. One peak, called ‘Artist’s Palette’ is a stunning display of earth-toned colors; reds, greens, browns, golds and grays. A great website for more information as well as details about the flora and fauna to be found in the park is: .

Mine was a short visit: arriving Friday afternoon, running for several hours on Saturday, leaving early Sunday morning. There wasn’t a lot of time for sightseeing, and hiking was out of the question (due to that pesky marathon). I did get to see a lot of the mountains surrounding me during the hours of running, as well as the salt flats. At first glance the white covering the ground appeared to be frost, but remained all day, even when the sun was out. My curiosity got the best of me and I had to try a taste to make sure….yep, salt!

The marathon run itself was fairly uneventful. As mentioned before, the course was changed to a dirt road in the park instead of the promised scenic canyon trails. Envirosports, the eco-friendly organization that puts on this marathon and several other trail runs and triathlons throughout the year, is changing the marathon in the future to a December date to avoid this wash out situation. The road we ran on was flat as a pancake; a combination of washboard-like texture and outright sand. Not easy to run on, but cushion-y on the body. If you’ve ever been in the flat desert where you can see for miles, you’ll appreciate this: I could see the finish line for about the last 5 miles of the run and it never felt like it was getting any closer. Kind of like running on a treadmill!

As always at runs like this, the people I meet make the trip. I especially love meeting and talking to other female marathon runners and hearing their stories. One woman was running her very first marathon. Another woman was on number 238. Yet another was on a schedule of running a marathon a month until she got to 200. Many of the runners (myself included) are in the process of running a marathon in every state…this one was supposed to check off the Nevada box, but with the course change the entire run was in California. Looks like Las Vegas is in my future!

We stayed at the Furnace Creek Resort, motel accommodations located in the middle of the Park. Reasonable rates and a very nice room, along with a cafe, bar and restaurant to choose from. The Western BBQ burger and a beer at the 49er Café was just the reward I needed after finishing the marathon. Horseback riding, swimming, golf and of course hiking and mountain biking are all available either on the property or nearby.

Although it was a very short trip, the beauty of this park was inspiring. Just avoid the summertime and get to Death Valley to enjoy one of America’s most beautiful landscapes.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,