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Wednesday February 18, 2009

The Lost Dutchman Marathon

Have you ever been in the situation where you hear about a race you've never done and something about it just grabs your interest. Maybe it's the local, or something unique or historic about the route. Or maybe it's just the name. And once it gets into your head, you start penciling it in to your calendar. But something always comes that prevents you from going. niece is getting married, there's a big project at work or you just get sick on race weekend - somehow, you never get there. The more you miss the run, the more you want to get there. Eventually, the travel gods feel generous and you actually go the "your" race. Now the race has to live up to the high level of expectation you've had building and sometimes it turns out to be nothing special. But last weekend I finally ran the Lost Dutchman Marathon and it was well worth the wait.

The race is held in Apache Junction, Arizona, just east of Phoenix. My wife has a friend who invited us to visit and I got very excited when I figured out that she lives about a mile from the race finish area. We made a quick "Hit and Run" trip over Presidents Day weekend. The town is located in a corner of Pinal county, which says a lot about the residents on so many levels. There is a generally a Western atmosphere and attire, many people ride around on horseback and have corrals at their homes and lots of bikers in leather chaps. The town is a mix of gated communities, working class Southwestern style home and trailers. There are 51 trailer parks and lots of golf courses.

Lost Dutchman has a Marathon, a Half, 10k, 8k and 2 mile fun run at an elevation of 2000 feet. It's a relatively small race, with just 1700 runners in all the events - only 370 in the marathon. There was a small but lively Expo for race packet pickup and a pasta feed the night before the race. The marathoners are bussed out from the "Rodeo Grounds" to what has to be the BEST START AREA EVER. The race begins at the base of the scenic and storied Superstition Mountains. The large open dirt staging area is filled with stretching mats so you can loosen up before the run. Each mat has a Mesquite fire log burning to keep you warm and contribute to the outdoor atmosphere. Water, hot chocolate and snacks are available and there are plenty of porta potties (unexpected for such a small race). A labeled drop bag is provided so you can wear warm cloths prior to the race. Then you casually toss you drop bag through the windows of a waiting bus which hauls your stuff down to the finish line. And if the outdoor elements are just too much for you, another bus is available with its heaters going full blast.

The race begins right at sunrise with the firing of long barrel shot gun (of course). The towering Dacite cliffs are silhouetted against the azure blue morning sky. The first 6 miles is a downhill on a well graded packed dirt road through the desert. This was a wet year, so the red cliffs contrasted with the greens of desert flora including twenty foot tall Saguaro cactus and Cholas. The rest of the course is mostly on city streets, with alternating long gentle climbs and descents. But there are several sections of unpaved roads crossing undeveloped wilderness amounting to a couple more miles of dirt. There were numerous aid stations, stocked with water, Gu2O drink, vanilla Gu and friendly volunteers. And every aid station had a porta pottie. All along the route there was a clear view of the spectacular 2000 foot cliffs of the Superstition Mountains. The finish at Prospector Park featured another Expo and a free lunch for the runners.

After the race we squeezed in a little sight seeing at nearby Canyon Lake and Tortilla Flat and had dinner at the colorful Superstition Saloon. The restaurant, whose walls and ceiling are covered with signed one-dollar bills, has an outdoor BBQ with live country western music, ice cream parlor and museum. We also stopped by the Mammoth Mine Saloon and Steak House to get the feel of an Old West mining town, including gun fights, steam locomotives and Kansas City Sasparilla. The parking lot was filled with a mix of SUV's, choppers and horses. Next year we hope to have a longer stay so we can visit some of the other local attractions such as Piestewa Peak and McDowell Mountain Park.