Gold Rush: 2015 Lost Dutchman Marathon

Legend tells of a rich gold mine, hidden deep in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona.  Supposedly discovered by Jacob Waltz in the mid-1800s, it is rumored to be full of Apache gold and many people have gone in search of the famous mine, but none have found it.  Several of these explorers, including treasure hunter Adolph Ruth, have paid the ultimate price for their curiosity.  What everyone soon learns is that the tale and location of the mine itself have changed so much over the years, that it’s almost a myth that people tell around campfires.

0215_lostdutchman 07It was around these campfires in the shadow of mountains and cacti that I found myself on a cool Sunday morning.  The organizers of the Lost Dutchman Marathon had arranged various starter logs in a grid with blankets on either side and runners were huddled around each one, keeping warm and exchanging stories of their own lost mines.  I sat with Nolan, a friend from middle school, and three people we had just met around the crackling flames.  There was Carl, a scraggly ultra runner in a button-up shirt whose running resume included 100ks and 100-milers but oddly only one marathon; Angela, a svelte blonde who had run a 50k the day before and was training for the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run; and Laura, who was wrapped a Mylar blanket and ready to run her 107th marathon.  I later learned that she holds the record as the youngest woman to run a marathon in all 50 states and is the youngest member of the 100 Marathon Club. 

In such esteemed company, my own running exploits were amateur at best.

Mile 0 - On the Peralta trail, ready to go

Mile 0 – On the Peralta trail, ready to go

Neither Nolan nor I had time goals, so we decided to attack the race conservatively.  I had only finished one long run since November and he was equally unprepared.  In fact, he had only started training for the marathon three weeks prior.  But that didn’t quell our enthusiasm, so we ran the first 10k of the race at a comfortable, conversational pace, even agreeing on the specific pace we wanted.

(left to right): me, Nolan, competing for biggest goon

(left to right): me, Nolan, competing for biggest goon

The race started just a few feet away from the campfires and wound through the Peralta Trail, a meandering crushed dirt and stone path about two lanes wide.  For six miles, our feet felt the raw crunch of loose dirt, the path beneath us lined with cacti and gorgeous views of the red Superstition Mountains.  Unfortunately, so early in the race, we were experiencing its most scenic views.  Once we left the serpentine Peralta Trail, we alternated between running on the shoulder of Highway 60 or through various neighborhoods. 

While I’ve always been partial to desert races and the Santa Fe architectural style, this part of the race wasn’t very special.  I told Nolan more than once that if none of these neighborhoods existed, or if the paved asphalt were replaced with an unkempt dirt path, this race would be almost magical.  It didn’t help that for much of this section, we were relegated to running in single file because the cones separating us from traffic were practically leaning off the road.  Passing runners meant either invading a lane with open vehicular traffic or going off-road and kicking up scree.

Mile 2 - The cactus gates beckon

Mile 2 – The cactus gates beckon

We continued the race with even splits, reeling in runners and slowly passing them.  I was wearing a tech shirt with the Superman logo emblazoned on it, which meant a reliable series of “Go Superman!” at every aid station.  I made a few quips about how my paper cup of lemon-lime Gatorade looked like kryptonite, much to the amusement of the old ladies who handed it to me.  Around halfway, we were met with several uphills, which he climbed with exuberance while I quietly groaned.  He lives and trains in Atlanta, so he was far more used to elevation change than this Chicago resident.

Mile 7 - Back to paved roads

Mile 7 – Back to paved roads

“Thank god for these clouds,” he said, more than once.  Though it was a bit warmer than southern Arizona typically gets in February, a vast blanket of clouds had covered the sun for most of the morning.  That meant we were barely sweating, ticking off the miles at a manageable pace.  However, we were fast approaching the 16th mile, that dreaded marker that heralded the farthest we had run in preparation for this race.

We held on but the early signs of fatigue were plain.  Sometime around mile 18, Nolan said he was starting to get in the weeds.  Undeterred, I kept the pace, pulling him with me.  We weren’t shoulder to shoulder anymore, but I could hear him behind me, listening to either an NPR podcast or crude hip-hop.  But shortly after, as we ran through a terra cotta subdivision in the race’s only out-and-back section, I stopped hearing the plod of his footsteps behind me.  I took a quick picture break and he caught up, just in time for a downhill.

“After this downhill, we’ll be back on target pace,” I yelled over my shoulder.
“It’s all you man, just go ahead,” he replied.

Mile 15 - There's gold in these hills

Mile 15 – There’s gold in these hills

And so I did.  Aided by the slight downhill, I turned on the afterburners.  I left marathoners behind me as my breathing picked up and I chased the burnt orange horizon.  I knew I was relying far too much on muscle memory, but things were going better than expected and it felt great to pump my arms.  But with so few people running the marathon, I soon found myself with no one to chase.  And then at mile 22, the clouds were banished and the sun came out to lick the landscape.

Just like that, I couldn’t keep up the pace.  The sun weighed on me, like an iron pushing down on my back, and I began to lose steam.  Aid stations became walking breaks and I began to pour water down my back to keep cool.  The long stretches of road felt interminable, with each new block looking exactly like the one before, as if I were running in circles.  I wasn’t alone in my slowdown, as nobody was passing me.  In fact, no one was even around, ahead or behind.  It was just me, the road, and the sun.

Mile 19 - Blocky, Santa Fe houses in the background

Mile 19 – Running through neighborhoods

I reached mile 24 to behold a cartoonish gateway made to look like a brick wall.  It was supposed to symbolize runners breaking through that demoralizing moment in most long-distance races where you lose all energy and everything hurts.  Honestly, I think it was a little late, as I had been sputtering for a good two miles by then.  And so late in the race, this quirky monument was more of a taunt than a motivator.  But if it seemed like all hope of finishing strong had died like the embers of a campfire, it was rekindled just eight minutes later.

Right at mile 25, I stopped at an aid station for my last swig of Gatorade.  During this break, two marathoners passed me.  One was a tall gentleman in a neon yellow RunLab singlet, the other a young brunette in a turquoise Ragnar t-shirt.  They seemed to be running the same pace, but I didn’t know if they were running together.  But the mere fact that they had been the only people to pass me lit a fire under my feet and I gave chase.

Mile 24 - The "wall"

Mile 24 – The “wall”

There was one tiny hill left to crest before we cut off the main road and toward the Rodeo Grounds where the finish line awaited us.  I kept RunLab and Ragnar in my sights, the three of us passing other marathoners and walkers.  The sun continued to burn us and the open desert provided no relief.  But we continued, my pace only slightly faster than theirs as I brought them closer and closer.  The next burst of speed was imminent until I heard a familiar voice from the side of the road.

“Vamos ticos!”

Ha, I thought.  That guy looks a lot like uncle Jim.  Wait, what the hell, that is Jim.  And Scott.  Huh?

“What in the hell?” I yelled with a smile as I high-fived them.  “What are you guys doing here?”
“We ran the half,” Jim said.  “Stephanie told us you were here this morning.”
“Nope!” I said, continuing to the finish, “You can’t be real, I must be hallucinating!”

Finish - Nolan (right) crosses the timing mats with Carl (left)

Finish – Nolan (right) crosses the timing mats with the dapper Carl (left)

My first thought, which is perhaps a bit narcissistic, was that they were here to surprise me.  But it turns out it was just a crazy coincidence, made possible because we had all kept mum about our race schedules.  The half marathon was an out-and-back with a different start than the marathon, so there was no way to have seen them earlier.  I would have dwelled a little more on the likelihood, but I had prey to catch.

We turned into the Rodeo Grounds and saw the finishing banner in the distance.  Crowds had lined up against the barricades, like the dusty citizens of a small western town, ready to watch a duel at high noon.  By now I was within striking distance of RunLab and Ragnar.  All of our paces had picked up and we were aggressively running through the finishing chute.  I approached and squeezed between them, our shoulders just inches apart.

“Finish strong!” RunLab said to his friend.  “Don’t let this guy pass you!”

2015 Lost Dutchman Marathon Finisher's Medal

2015 Lost Dutchman Marathon Finisher’s Medal

Bad move, RunLab.  If you wanted “this guy” to run faster, that’s exactly what you had to say.  As Ragnar visibly picked up the pace to try and match mine, I let loose and stormed toward the finish line.  I rarely have a final kick in marathons, but this duel had given me a reason to surge.  Nobody passes me in the second half of a race, nobody.  Crossing the finishing mats in 3:41, I hobbled over to the metal barricades where I met up with Jim and Scott.  They each had great race experiences, with Scott notching a new PR and Jim finishing his first big race since recovering from two significant injuries last year.  It’s been a long, slow recovery for him, so the smile he boasted all day was much deserved.

Ten minutes later, Nolan crossed the finish line shoulder to shoulder with Carl.  He looked beat.  A thin layer of salt had dried on his face and his glazed eyes were fixated downward.  I knew that expression, so I avoided giving him a congratulatory slap on the back or inundating him with questions.  After walking it off and finding a patch of grass in the shade, he was back to his pre-race self.

I really appreciate that Nolan has now joined me in four out of fifty states.  I just wish I hadn’t dragged him to three unremarkable cities.  In 2012 we went to Birmingham and later Tulsa, and this weekend we spent time in a climate that reminded him all too much of a time in his life that he’d rather forget.  However, despite that, we had a great time chasing Jacob Waltz’s lost mine, reminiscing about really old times, and discussing the shadiness of local Atlanta dealings while playing a round of mini-golf.

(left to right) Scott, Jim, me, Nolan

(left to right) Scott, Jim, me, Nolan

Turns out all the fast people were in their 20s and 30s.  Surprise FIRST PLACE in M30-34!

Turns out all the fast people were in their 20s and 40s. Surprise FIRST PLACE in M30-34!

As for Jim and Scott, it was decided that we should keep closer tabs on our race schedules, though they’ve already kindly abstained from joining me in my next potential state, the sexy and alluring North Dakota.  Much further down the road though, it seems like they have a date with Berlin.  With any luck – and plenty of peer pressure – we may see Scott make the transition to 26.2 miles.  He’s been getting too comfortable with the half, which spells doom for any intentions of avoiding the full beast.

With Arizona now shaded in red, I’ve reached a new milestone: 25 marathon states.  And just like that, I’m halfway done with an undertaking I never thought possible.  Even when I came up with the project of running a half in all 50 states, when I was already logging hundreds of miles with relish, I wouldn’t have dreamed of pursuing a 50-states marathon quest.  But here I am, halfway there.  And the best part is, despite those painful miles where everything aches and you can feel your vitality escape with each hot breath, I’m still loving it.


Marathon_Map 055 (AZ)

About Dan
Running a marathon in all 50 states because there's no better way to explore the world around you than on your own two feet, for as long as you can, until you hate yourself and everything around you. Then you stop, get a medal, and start over.

20 Responses to Gold Rush: 2015 Lost Dutchman Marathon

  1. Pingback: Race Schedule & Results | Dan's Marathon

  2. Nice job on the hardware! “Nobody passes me in the second half of a race, nobody.”… Man, I didn’t know you were such a tough guy! Love it! As for the 25 marathons in 25 states thus far, what an accomplishment! You have that ultra heart that keeps coming back for more. Excited to see where it takes you.

    • Dan says:

      It’s purely a marathon heart at the moment, Mr. Lung. With Berlin (and Boston?) firmly in my sights, it’s time to start building up that unbreakable frame. Ultras will have to wait for another year, though I still have that DNF from my only 50-miler burned into my running resume, so I’ll want to one day cross that finish line. But there’ll be time for the slowdown. For now, I have to get fast.

      Thanks for reading!

    • Alicia says:

      Love that attitude!!! And congrats on reaching the halfway mark!!!! Love following these posts….

  3. Patty says:

    Congrats on your first place age group finish! Love the race recap. What race are you doing in North Dakota?

  4. trexrunner says:

    This was actually the race I originally planned on doing for Arizona, but scheduling issues meant I did Sedona last year instead. Congratulations on another finish and your first place age group! That is awesome. I remember Nolan from Tulsa and actually, we were all in Birmingham together that year, too! Also, if you are going to Fargo, I am SO jealous. I’m dying to go back. Have the best time!

    • Dan says:

      Yeah, I was surprised to see that you hadn’t run Lost Dutchman before. It just screamed “T-Rex,” though that’s probably because there’s a big Marathon Maniacs contingency that runs it. In fact, I want to say that people from the area were definitely the minority. There was even a dude from Guangzhou running.

      Anyway, I just went back and re-read your Fargo post, because yes, that’s the one I’m considering. It’s not that far from Minneapolis, which is a cheap flight. I’m now a little closer to making it happen 🙂

      Thanks for reading!

  5. Joey says:

    Looks like a beautiful course! The wall is funny as shit too!

    • Dan says:

      Haha, yeah — the course was beautiful for the first 10k and if you looked into the distance to behold the Superstition Mountains. And the wall was funny until you were actually there, suffering. Thanks for reading Joey!

  6. 50by25laura says:

    I think I wrote a long comment that got eaten by WordPress, so apologies if you get this twice, but I am going to try to recreate.

    Congratulations on the awesome age-group finish, and way to go pushing through when the sun came out and it got really hard! Around mile 14 was where I started disliking the race too; major kudos to you for continuing to just go for it. The beginning of the race was really beautiful, and I’m glad that I got to see that (and the awesome start).

    SO great to meet you and I hope to see you at a race soon! (Let me know if you are doing Fargo? That was a fun one and I’d totally go back!)

  7. Mike says:

    Granted I enjoy and appreciate all your recaps, but I’ve gotta admit I’m partial to those that look so beautifully Wild West… the Shiprocks, the Bighorns, the Madisons (MT) and now this. Your photos must have given this race TOO much credit, because based on the visuals it looks like a race I’d love to do. Arizona will be a tough call… with Tucson’s irresistible pull (or is that gravity?), the scenic beauty of Sedona and a couple of possibilities in Flagstaff (a town I’d love to visit), what’s an aspiring 50 Stater to do?

    Can’t believe you lured Nolan all the way out to Arizona and then desert-ed him at mile 18 {rimshot}. Sorry, couldn’t help myself…

    Nice job demoralizing RunLab & Ragnar at the finish… and remind me never to find myself running stride-for-stride with you with 200 yards to go. I’ll be interested to see how that “Nobody passes me in the second half of a race” mindset works on the crowded and fast-moving streets of Berlin. And congrats on the age-group win, what an excellent surprise… it’s actually kind of crazy how competitive the 40-44 age group can get, 40-44 must be the breeding ground of the “born again” athlete.

    Congrats too to Scott and Uncle Jim! Nothing like coming back strong from injury to reignite the flame. Very odd that the three of you just happened to cross paths at a race while all searching for Jacob Waltz’s treasure. Most Americans would prefer to sit on the couch at home watching a football game with Powerball ticket in hand.

    That wall looks pretty goofy & awkward, especially in contrast to its surroundings… wonder how they decided on mile 24? By that point most runners aren’t even looking up from their shoetops long enough to notice something like that.

    Thanks again for reawakening my wanderlust from its temporary slumber. I’m hoping as I did last year to load up on interesting races in the second half of the year, and this certainly inspired me to git plannin’. It’s always reassuring to know that as the U.S. population continues to swell, there are still races and places where a runner can get out and just RUN, with no one else around, ahead or behind.

    • Dan says:

      Yeah, that second half game I play is mostly to keep me motivated and strong. Once I cross that 13.1 mile threshold, I make it a point to be faster than everyone ahead of me. If anyone passes me, it’s almost always in the last mile. There are exceptions to this, and it almost always includes a bonk or a race with 20,000+ people (and there are very few marathons that boast such numbers, so I can’t imagine that I’ll be able to score that accomplishment in Berlin).

      The way you describe Arizona in the 50-states frame is similar to my California and Utah. There are just far too many amazing marathons in each state that choosing is problematic. It truly surprises me that I haven’t run one in CA … there’s really no excuse except that each race means 5 others I will be putting off for 5 years for reasons relating to financial prudence. Alas …

      Thanks as always for reading and your feedback. I don’t have any more races slated for the untamed west, so I’m afraid you’ll have to put up with less alluring stories for the foreseeable future.

  8. Pingback: Race Medals | Dan's Marathon

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