An Autumn Trail Race in Palo Duro Canyon, TX

Running is something that makes me happy. I never feel more free, more joyful, than when I’m running through a beautiful landscape. It’s probably the main reason I love trail running.

I recently ran in my first trail race, the Palo Duro Trail Run. It was also my longest distance to date, 50 kilometers (31.1 miles). I enjoyed the experience tremendously and loved running in the desert, even though it meant seven and a half hours of running and 95 degree heat at the finish.

That’s Texas in October for you.

Longhorns in Palo Duro Canyon, TX

Longhorns at the top of the canyon

Trail races are very different from marathons. You have to bring a lot more gear. I always compare trail running to a small military operation.

Walking to the start of the Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

Carrying all our gear to the bag drop before the start of the race.

It was 38 degrees at the start under a clear sky filled with stars. By 5:00pm the temperature would rise to 108 degrees.

20K bag drop at Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

Bagpipes played as people prepared for the 50K start at 7:00am. Away from the lights of the start area it was pitch dark. Headlamps were used for the first 45 minutes of the race.

Start area at Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

The start area

What you run in is important. Skirts are always a comfy, cool alternative to shorts. Even for men.

Running skirts for men in Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

Almost everyone carries their own water, either in their hand . . .

Shirtless runner in Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

. . . or on their back.

Runner in Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

You learn to eat on the go. It takes a lot of energy to run 20K, 50K or 50 miles, and the aid station tables are loaded with lots of goodies.

Runner with banana at Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

Some runners are able to resist the temptations of the aid stations and run straight through.

Runner in Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

The early morning sun coats the canyon and those lucky enough to run there in a beautiful golden glow.

Early morning sun runner in Palo Duro Trail Race 2012

Even the parking lots are scenic.

Parking lot at Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

The sky was a brilliant blue the entire day, with not a wisp of a cloud anywhere to be found.

Palo Duro Canyon Windmill

There are man-made treacheries that need to be carefully navigated in trail races. These stairs were never fun, but especially not on the final loop.

Navigating the stairs at Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

50K runners went down the stairs three times, 50M runners four total.

Muscles tighten and protest in the harsh terrain. Sometimes it’s necessary to stop and stretch.

Stretching in Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

Trail running can be a solitary endeavor, but at times small trains of runners would come together and infuse the trail with conversation.

Runners in Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

My training partner, Hari, leads the way, with me following.

A lot of times walking up a steep hill is actually faster than running. By the third loop I enjoyed every opportunity to walk, even if it was uphill.

Walking up a hill at Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

Hari leads us up the hill.

People run ridiculously long distances for a multitude of reasons. Some to challenge themselves, some to fight their demons, and others to remember someone they loved.

Remembering someone at Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

Some of the fastest runners stay so focused they barely register anything around them. Others make it look much easier than it really is.

Lead 50M male at Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

First place 50 mile male finisher, Quent Bearden

Nothing means more to a runner than seeing the finish line–except maybe having their husband waiting there for them.

First place 50M female at Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

First place 50 mile female finisher, Nicole Studer

All photos taken by my awesome boyfriend, Michael Friedhoff, who spent the entire day lugging heavy camera equipment up and down the course. He fell asleep before I did that night.


  1. Phelan

    Janalou and I agree. Your one of the best running writers out there. 🙂 Thanks for opening up and sharing. You with Michael’s photos make a GREAT team. I’m waiting for the hard copy book.

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      Yes it is, just 30 min south of Amarillo. You would never know it’s there from looking at the area. Completely flat until you’re standing on the edge of the canyon.
      I think most of my hardcore running friends would laugh at you calling it a “hobby.” For some of us it’s more of an addiction, for others it’s what everything else in our lives revolves around. I hope I’m somewhere in the middle.

      • joshbakerwriter

        I didn’t mean to sound belittling of running. I understand how a life can revolve around an activity. I have done that at various points with rock climbing and skiing. I am in awe of anyone who can have the stamina of running a marathon or more.

      • Mind Margins/Run Nature

        Oh no, I didn’t take it that way at all, so please don’t think I was slapping you down! I was more making fun of myself and others who take the sport of running much too seriously. I have many, many acquaintances who would bristle at the word “hobby” being used to describe what is really more of an obsession. It’s all in fun!

  2. westerner54

    Holy buckets. I am just so, so impressed. Wonderful descriptions – you’ve described trail running so that even those of us who could never imagine doing this can feel like we were there. And muscles protesting? I bet they do. Mine would just simply go on strike, I do believe.

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      I know it’s hard to imagine, but you really do just build up to the mileage. If you love running enough, anyone can do it. Believe me, I’m nothing special. There are women older than I who run even longer distances and run a lot faster than I do. It really is a lot of fun.

  3. monica

    oh, my friend. i am INFINITELY impressed. this is awesome. i bow down to you – running goddess. i don’t even want to do something i LIKE for 50 miles. the photos are gawjus! we LOVE palo duro. it’s on the short list to take the kids there. congrats to you – and eat something yummy- you have burned calories for a lifetime!!! (i’m sure you already did ;o)

  4. Steve Schwartzman

    Wow, from 38° to over 100° on the same day: that’s Texas for you.

    I’ll always remember Palo Duro Canyon as the place where I accidentally almost stepped on a rattlesnake. Fortunately I was able to maintain at least one degree of separation.

  5. Thomas

    Trail running seems like quite an endeavor. It’s hard enough on sidewalks and nice flat tracks, let alone trying it out in the bush! Kudos to you!
    I especially enjoy the way you create your photo-narratives. Makes for a great read!

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      Thanks, I appreciate that. It can be tough, but it’s a lot of fun, too. I like it much better than running on sidewalks or roads, which are hard on the legs and do a lot of damage if you happen to take a spill.

      • The Landy

        I did the Coast to Coast race in New Zealand earlier this year which, among other things, had a 33 kilometre mountain run, climbing some 1,000 metres. I had my nutrition well planned, and rehearsed, but it all fell apart on the day… You are so right, it is something you really need to work on…

        I’ll be following with interest, good luck!

      • Mind Margins/Run Nature

        Thanks! My race nutrition at the 50K kind of fell apart as well. I brought all the real food I had trained with and somehow forgot about eating any of it during the race! Despite eating very little during the race, just some energy gels and boiled potatoes, all that preparation — and less calories — didn’t seem to make much of a difference. No wonder it’s all so confusing!

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      I very clearly remember sitting on a plane years ago reading a magazine article about people who run something called “ultramarathons.” I was shocked that people could actually run 30, 50, 100 miles or farther. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine I might be one of those crazy runners! So never say never, it could easily be you one day!

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