Valley of Fire Marathon
Logandale, Nevada – November 19, 2016
I got a call from Cherryland Electric Cooperative’s attorney and my friend, Greg Jenkins, about 10:30 am on Friday, November 11. In disbelief and shock, I slumped back into my chair as Greg told me that long time board member Rick Deneweth had passed away peacefully but very much unexpectedly in his sleep at some point during the night.
Rick was more than “just” a board member. Over his 9 years on the board, he had become a good friend and more of a mentor than I had realized. We often rode to meetings together and talked on the phone at least a couple times a month. A CPA, attorney and highly successful businessman, Rick was one of the smartest people I had ever met. Most importantly, he was also one of the best. With no ego or desire for recognition, he help many people and many good community causes.
As I looked at the week ahead, I was relieved when services were set for the following Tuesday and Wednesday. Before I left on my Nevada marathon trip, I could give my friend the respect he deserved and myself the closure I knew I needed. Then, these best laid plans suddenly changed.
Rick’s wife Connie had to be admitted to the hospital. There is a medical term for it but basically, the stress and trauma of the loss had broken her heart. From the day after his passing until late on Monday, she remained in the hospital. Funeral arrangements were pushed back to November 17 and 18.
My emotions began an inner tumultuous battle. I had a flight to Nevada scheduled for early November 17. I was to meet up with my mother, sister and a cousin from Arizona prior to attempt my 35th marathon. On one hand, my good friend was gone and the decision should be obvious. On the other, I had worked so hard since my hip replacement on March 4th that I just didn’t want to toss away all that work.
I had completed at least one marathon a year since 2003. I felt like Nevada in November was my only shot at keeping that streak alive in 2016. The decision to undergo surgery and the struggles to get back into marathon shape in 8 long months battled my memories of Rick and all that he had meant to me.
I visited Rick’s wife Connie at their home on November 15th. It was a long, sad conversation about a great man. I left a letter to each of his boys that was my blueprint for them in the days, weeks, and months ahead. I had never been in Connie’s shoes but I certainly had experience living with loss that could be helpful to her sons.
On that same day, I took my little brother Jon Remeta to his first junior high Christmas concert. While other kids had moms, dads and grandparents in the audience, Jon had nobody. It was just me. Jon and kids like him were at the core of why I had to run. The next marathon was not just about me. It was so much more.
Having faced both combatants in my internal dilemma in one 4 hour period, I knew I simply had to do both. The next day, I moved my flight by a day. This would allow me to attend the wake service but miss the funeral. It was a compromise that honored my friend as well as all the kids I had dedicated my running efforts to. Once I made the decision, I was at peace.
Mary and I arrived at the wake services at 5:30 pm. There was a long line ahead of us and shortly thereafter, the line behind us went out the door. We got through to the family about an hour later. I found a quiet corner in the church where I could see Rick lying in his casket. With tears in my eyes, I sat remembering my friend until the services ended about 2.5 hours later.
During this time overlooking Rick, my son Zach, who had sat by my side for a long while, left and Mary stepped away for a short time. I sat alone with tears in my eyes finally realizing that he was truly gone. It was then Joe Cornille stepped over and introduced himself. Joe had grown up with Rick and they had been long time business partners. I knew the name but we had never met. He said, “You look like you are hurting.” We shared a brief conversation about our loss.
I will always believe that Rick sent Joe over to visit with me. After this conversation, I felt a wave of closure and acceptance come over me. I do believe in God and heaven but I do not consider myself to be a religious person. Rick was there that night. It is as simple as that. I got to say goodbye through his friend. I will never forget the feeling from that brief encounter. I could now move on.
On Friday, November 18th, my alarm went off at 3:30 am. (This would be a recurring theme on this trip!). Two flights later, I landed in Las Vegas and settled into the AirBnB home on the north end of the city just before lunch. I ordered some food from Pizza Hut while waiting for family to arrive.
My mom and sister, Debbie, found the house shortly after the food arrived. My cousin Shane Dikoff and his friend Teri Cano got there separately an hour or two later. We had a nice 5 bedroom house to share for a couple nights.
While the ladies went out to shop for the evening meal, Shane and I drove out to find the starting line for the next day’s marathon. Logandale is nestled into the Moapa Valley which I found to be very pretty in a desert kind of way. A quick inspection of the starting area made us realize that this would not be a marathon for spectators. So, we made plans for me to drive out alone early the next day. Shane and the ladies would arrive near the end of the race and help with the drive back to the house.
We enjoyed a quiet night at the house. We watched “The Revenant” and had a great home cooked pasta meal. Having a house rather than 2 or 3 separate hotel rooms was a nice way to spend the time together.
Saturday’s alarm sounded at 4:30 am. I went with a traditional bagel and peanut butter for the main pre-race meal. I also had a banana and sipped on water while making the quiet drive to the start. As I drove north into the desert, I caught a good look at the Vegas lights in my rear view mirror. It was a stark contrast to the dark countryside I was traveling into.
The Valley of Fire Trail Races take place in the Logandale trails system outside of Logandale, Nevada. They are located just 60 miles north of the Las Vegas valley. These trail systems are a cooperative recreational area between the Valley of Fire state park and the Bureau of Land Management. It is considered the backcountry of Valley of Fire as it is a section of the state park that lies outside the normal park boundaries.
The marathon course covers some of the most stunning color country scenery in the Mohave Desert. The out and back course traverses through Logan Wash before heading south on Trail 01. After passing Buffington Pockets, runners turn eastward on North Fork Wash, then hang right onto South Fork Wash at their convergence. After following South Fork Wash into the true backcountry of the Valley of Fire, marathoners reach a turn around point. Terrain is flat to a slight incline with a few small hills tossed in.
The small race did not have a national anthem prior to the 7 am start. The race director simply gave race directions and announced a starting field of 40 marathoners and ultra marathoners. We even took a group shot of all the participants prior to heading out. This was a first time ever occurrence for me.
With temperatures in the low 40s at the start and a rising sun, it was simply a beautiful day to run. The desert scenery was spectacular. I felt a world away from the tears of the week and the closing of a casket on a good friend. On this day, I was alive and pushing my cause. I was going to live in the moment and simply enjoy every step.
I ran the first 10 miles or so with an ultra marathoner from Tennessee who was also slowly working on her 50 state goal. She was a nurse and married with 2 kids. The expense of travel wasn’t easy for her growing family. I tried to reassure her that knocking states off at an early age was a wise idea. We exchanged leads a few times over those early miles but the conversation and partnership over the desolate terrain was a pleasant way to settle into the day.
At mile 11, I tripped on a rock and fell hard on my new hip. “Shit”, I said aloud. This was my first stumble on the new hardware. I got up, dusted off and simply got back to running. New hip or old hip, it is always a simple matter of getting back up and moving on. Life is a lot like that I thought to myself.
When we made the right hand turn onto South Fork Wash, the terrain turned into a gravel sand mix that made running tough. This lasted for about 5 miles to the half way point. Since it was an out and back route, I groaned a little inside knowing that I had to repeat the sand gravel quicksand for yet another 5 miles. My watch read 2 hours and 30 minutes at 13 miles. It was tough running so this time was acceptable to me but I knew the quicksand would take its toll in the miles ahead.
The course was well marked with ribbons on trees and brush. The route surface is a mix of hard packed dirt road, sandstone rock, lose rocky sections and very fine sandy sections. I used gaiters to keep the fine sand out of my shoes. The softer sections gradually loosened my laces and I stopped at least 3 times to tighten up my shoes. The South Fork Wash was the toughest section due to the deep sand and gravel mix.
I fell again at mile 24. This time, I was slogging slowly along and the fall was more of a crumple. Again, after dusting off and making sure everything was still in place, I trudged onward. I crossed the finish line but there was no family welcome. Where was everyone?
As I sat chugging down some chocolate milk handed out by the finish line volunteers, my spectators walked up. They had been watching from a perch farther away. During the drive north, they took a wrong turn and had made a circuitous route through the park. My sister got car sick and they had to make a few stops for her to revisit the past few meals. Regardless, I had family to share the day and the ride back to the house was more special because of them.
That night, we walked the strip and let others do the cooking. We had a great time visiting and telling more stories while watching the Vegas crowds move back and forth. I sat on a sidewalk cafe drinking an adult beverage and feeling very pleased with my day. It was far from my fastest but the 5 hours and 35 minute finish will forever be a favorite. My body felt good. My new hip felt nearly the same as my old one. I knew then I still had a chance to reach my 50 state goal.
I could hardly sleep that night. It had been a roller coaster week. I got maybe 2 hours of rest before another 3 am something alarm. I left my family sleeping and headed to the airport. Mission accomplished. I could still say I had at least one marathon a year since 2003. In my mind, it was a big middle finger to arthritis.
Officially, out of the 40 announced starters (I really think there were less), 15 finished the marathon and 12 the ultra 50K. My time of 5:35:31 put me in 7th place overall. There were 3 men older than me who finished faster and 3 older who finished slower. The youngest marathon finisher was 36 years old and came in first at 3:46:34. I was only 20 minutes out of 4th place.
I leaned back into my seat on the airplane flying east mentally preparing for the weeks ahead. We would have to find a replacement for Rick’s spot on the Cherryland board. It was going to be hard to see someone in his chair. In January, I would have to start training for a May marathon. Another winter of hard training loomed ahead. I wondered if I could bury the pain of Rick’s loss in the gloomy winter runs ahead?