In December, Mesa Rim Staff Debbie, Keegan, Shannah, Alexis, and Ian set out to conquer Titus Canyon , an epic trail run in Death Valley. No ordinary race, the story couldn’t be told by just one person or one perspective. So, this trip report is a two-part blog post collaboration, and we do hope you enjoy it.
Titus Canyon by Debbie Fischer
Titus Canyon Marathon is a scenic, wilderness trail race, run on a gravel jeep road from Beatty, NV to the finish in Death Valley. The entire run is in the Death Valley National Park. I suggested this run to some fellow Mesa Rimmers for a fun weekend getaway.
And so there we were Saturday, December 5th standing outside the Furnace Creek Ranch Saloon at 6:30 am waiting for the buses to whisk us away to our starting lines for the race. Ian, Keegan and I ran the marathon. Shannah ran the half marathon. Alexis had trained for the half marathon, but was recovering from a cold, so she opted to be our driver and moral supporter.
We boarded the buses and after a 45 minute drive arrived at our destinations. The starting line for the marathon was marked by a row of rocks. We waited for the race director to give us the starting instructions which were “I will drive up ahead about 50 yards and when you see my brake lights start running!”
The first 14 miles were basically uphill following a dirt road that offered plenty of obstacles in the form of sand and gravel. There were approximately 120 marathon runners so you spent most of the time alone or with one or two other people. Keegan and I for the most part ran together or within sight of each other. Both of us secretly trying to stay in front of the other (well, at least I was). Ian, we never saw after the start. He took off and never looked back. I have been running marathons for the last 20 years and have always trained for the marathon with lots of running and especially the weekend long run of upwards of 20 miles of which I did four long runs before the marathon. Ian, on the other hand, had a very unconventional training program. I think it consisted of a few runs with LOTS of rock climbing. I wasn’t sure he would make the distance and I half expected to see him walking around mile 18. More on his finish, later.
So, there we were running 14 miles up to Red Pass. As I looked across the small valley I could see runners on the switchbacks on the other side, small dots of color making their way in a never ending zig zag up the red rocky face. AND, finally, the top!! The view was amazing!! The whole canyon opened up in front of us. I took in the view and began the 13 mile descent to the finish.
The first couple of miles were steeper than I liked to run on, but I did my best to use gravity to my advantage while staying in control. Keegan had already passed me earlier on the downhill, and I could see him in front of me which also motivated me to keep moving.
After a few quad pounding miles the mountain leveled off slightly and we had truly arrived at the entrance to Titus Canyon. The sides of the canyon seemed to come straight out of the ground, rising in high vertical walls on both sides. The canyon walls were striped with multi-colored bands of rock and at some point the floor narrowed to about 10 yards between both sides. It was not some place I would like to be caught in a thunderstorm. Some sections of the canyon were quite chilly and it seemed apparent that the sun’s rays could only briefly squeezed down into that crevasse for a short period of time.
Finally Keegan and I had made it to the 20 mile mark and aid station. Still no signs of a struggling Ian. I was feeling really good. Thank goodness those 20 mile training runs were helping me to keep moving forward. By this point I was able to pull ahead of Keegan. However, I know how he loves running down hills so I had to stay focused and not ease up on the pace.
The last aid station was at mile 24, right at the exit of the canyon. There is a dramatic change from being in the tight closed in space of the canyon, to the wide open desert, and it happens immediately! I grabbed a quick drink, took a quick look behind me to see if I could see Keegan thundering down the hills, which, fortunately he was not, and headed off to the finish line, which I could already see, 2.8 miles away. Mercifully, the downhill continued, and the last few miles weren’t too painful. I even managed to finally pass a couple of runners.
And there, at the finish line, with a GREAT big smile was Ian. He finished the race in an amazing time! He said he felt great the whole time. Keegan, was just a few minutes behind me. Also, at the finish line was Shannah. She had finished her first half marathon and also had a big smile. And, of course, Alexis. Who took all the photos of our wonderful weekend and drove us back to the campsite.
We had a great weekend on a spectacular course. You don’t have to be a runner to visit Titus Canyon. It is accessible by a high clearance vehicle and I highly recommend it when visiting Death Valley.
Inspiration by Keegan Dimmick
Riding in a bus through Death Valley, I began asking myself a question. “Why am I here?” This tends to be one of those existential, metaphysical questions. I was truly wondering why in the world I was on a bus, in Death Valley, about to run a marathon.
Didn’t take long for me to look to my left and see part of my inspiration. Debbie was the instigator for running this race. She created the entire plan. Everything from where we were camping, when we were leaving, handing out training plans, and just being our team captain. The night before the race Debbie was singing us motivating jingles and filling our souls with racing mantras. Her never tiring spirit, whimsical charm, and dedication to fitness made this event one to remember.
As I turned my head even farther to the left I saw Ian. I was super inspired when Ian decided his first marathon was going to be through the mountains of Death Valley. Inspired, but not surprised. Here’s someone I know that puts 200% of himself into anything he takes on. He seemed a little anxious on the bus ride to the starting line, but when we arrived he went into the zone and ran a race time I could only dream of. Never one to gloat, always one to talk trash, I’m pretty sure he’s capable of anything.
The first 5 miles of the race was on a flat, desert road. Without hills, scenery, or anything to keep my mind busy, I began looking for more inspiration. Being surrounded by awesome people made it easy. Alexis was intending on running the half marathon, but was taken down by sickness. Although sick, she still piled in the truck and trekked to Death Valley to cheer us on, and sing us songs around the camp fire. I appreciated the moral support as I was starting to become bored to death running across the barren landscape.
As the miles began to tick off, and my legs became weaker I was in need of some positive thoughts and motivation. I realized I was running the same part of the trail that Shannah had ran during the half marathon. Shannah doesn’t even run, but she had the courage and rare grit to commit to racing through the mountains of Death Valley. Holding onto her commitment and drive, and turning that into forward motion really got me across the finish line.
Seeing all of the people at the finish line, that inspire me every day to be my best self, was the biggest reward of the entire experience. These are people that I am proud to call my friends and colleagues. These are the people that will help me cross many finish lines. This is how I choose to “Live my dream”.
COMING UP – Part II in Death Valley by Shannah and poems and photography by Alexis (oh, and a fantastic run-spiration poem by Debbie!)