Joshua Tree Half Marathon by Vacation Races

Joshua Tree Half Marathon – A


On the night of Saturday, November 3rd, I was driving into the Mojave desert completely conflicted. I had a goal to run a half marathon within a year of giving birth to my daughter (11.16.2017). However, I was trying to get over a very rough illness, I was on antibiotics and I had pulled my right calf muscle a couple weeks ago playing soccer. I had been running every single day, with a stroller preparing for this race but had not done my usual long runs because of how difficult it is running with a stroller. With all that being said, I decided I was not going to run the race. I did have all my stuff with me just incase because I just couldn’t say no 100%. The race was in my favorite place in the world, Joshua Tree, CA and my husband and sister-in-law were running the race too. After attending the expo and seeing the runners, at the last minute, I changed my mind and ran the race. I am so glad I chose to run this one!

  • Cost – A

The cost of this race is much like other half marathons. If you register early, you can get in for just $99! Regular registration is $124 and late registration is $149!

If you are strapped for cash, don’t worry! Vacation Races makes it easy for you to save money while running. Scroll to the bottom of their ‘Pricing‘ tab and click ‘How to Save Money‘. These guys/gals are great aren’t they!

  • Race Expo – A

You have to understand, this race is not your typical race and that is actually why I love it. If you hate getting up early and are a night owl this race and expo will be perfect for you. Because this race is at night, the expo is the day of the race. 2018’s race began at 6:15PM on Saturday, November 3rd. The expo opened at 10AM that day. That means you could show up early and get all of your things ready in advanced or you could choose to be a procrastinator, like I was on race day, and show up right before the race to get your packet and then stay to run. The race directors suggest that if you choose to wait until just before the race to pick up your packet and bib, that you get into a parking place by 5PM, an hour and fifteen minutes before the start of the race. That is exactly what I did. I parked my car at 5PM and then stood in line to get my packet. It was perfect! Although there was a bit of traffic, as expected, parking was close to the expo, which was right at the start and finish line. I didn’t have to make multiple trips there, I didn’t have to get up early and I didn’t have to wait around forever to run. I was there early enough to get my packet and get ready. Not only that, but I was able to get some amazing sunset pictures, because nothing beats a desert sunset!

Aside from the race expo being at a convenient time and location, they had awesome booths set up. They sold additional race gear at an exceptionally low cost, they had pizza for sale, a National Park sign up specifically for the race which made for awesome picture opportunities, an area to pick up your hydrapouch and etc.

  • Race Swag – A+

This year we received a moisture wicking Joshua Tree Half Marathon t-shirt that glows in the dark! The Bibs were cute and featured your full name and/or team name on the front. You also had the option of getting a hydrapouch, which I chose to do since the race features a cup-free course.

At the end of the race you get the ALL TIME BEST METAL you will ever get. It is huge and the design is so beautiful. It also glows in the dark which is awesome as it is a night race!

Lastly, a week after the race finished it was such a nice surprise to receive all pictures that were taken by race photographers for FREE!

  • Course – A-

I wanted to give this race course an A+ because I really enjoyed it, however, I gave it an A- because of the difficulty of the course. I loved that this race was run at night and in the dark. It made for the perfect race conditions. The race was the perfect temperature, I wasn’t too hot, baking in the sun, nor was I too cold, since it was run just after sunset. I felt great, the entire race!

Because it is dark you are unable to see the beautiful landscape of the desert. At first, I worried this would bother me. “What am I going to look at?!” I thought. I actually was not bored for one moment of this course. I loved the thrill of running through the remote desert in the middle of the night. The course posed challenges that would make it hard to look around. There were parts of the race that were in deep, soft sand, parts of the race on pavement, up hill, down hill, and hard sand. I was constantly checking my footing and looking for the next challenge that would arise. This made the course so much fun but definitely one of the hardest races I have ever run. (Remember to bring a head lamp or flash light when running this one!)

One other aspect of this race that is different than other races is that it is a cup free course. I have never run a race like this before and thought this was going to be very inconvenient. You can opt in for a hydropouch upon registration and I strongly recommend it. You could also go to REI and get yourself a collapsable cup to carry with you. Either way, the race directors did great with cup free water stops! I never had to wait in line. I was always able to run right up, get water, an electrolyte drink and/or snacks and run out!

On the website they say this course is “kind of” stroller friendly but they do not recommend running with strollers. I train and run daily with a baby in a stroller and let me say this, there is absolutely no way anyone would want to run this with a stroller. The sand gets too deep, up hill and the trail is very slim and can be crowded at times. It would be extremely difficult to complete with a stroller.

  • Participants – A-

The Joshua Tree Half Marathon had between 2500-3500 runners. The beginning of the race gets a little crowded even though the race directors organized the waves of runners well. After about 2-3 miles, things start to spread out. The runners are all wonderful. I watched runners help each other out on the course with lights, when runners fell, at water stops and etc. The vibe of the participants was happy, positive, uplifting and fun!

Vacation Races also provided runners with pacers! They had pacers in ten minute intervals starting at 1 hour and 40 minute pace up to 2 hours and 30 minute pace.

  • Spectators – C 

Because of the nature of the course being in remote areas of the desert and in the dark, there is no where on the course, aside from the start and finish for spectators. The race directors make this known. With that being said, the spectators at the end of the race were absolutely wonderful, standing out in the desert, at night, cheering! Thank you spectators!

  • Finish – A+

The finish was amazing. When you get towards the end of the race and you start hearing and seeing very energetic and uplifting spectators. There are all kinds of different colored lights on the ground for about a hundred or two hundred yards before the finish. There is an emcee on the microphone congratulating you by name and where you are from. People are cheering. It was wonderful!

The finish is equipped with amazing metals, chocolate and strawberry milk, hot chocolate, water, food boxes, a night sky movie, and a place to hang out with all of your new running pals!

  • Overall Race Grade – A

This race was all around amazing! I will definitely be back for the 2019 race. For more information and to sign up for next years race, click here.


Jessie Zahner is the owner of You can follow her on twitter at @Athletchic.

Spring Injury – Prevention Tips from Athletchic

The weather is nice, and it’s time to get outside and have some fun. But we have to be careful–especially we women! We often push ourselves more than the men in our lives and can sometimes zero in on one lone exercise to give it our all.

If your life is too hectic for a balanced exercise program, then, like me, you are probably working some muscles more than others. Repeating the same activity day after day is easy; you don’t have to think about it. Just put on your shoes or hop on your bike and off you go!

It’s hard to balance exercise when you are thankful to be exercising at all.  (We women are busy!) But diversifying workouts can prevent injury and save us from long drawn-out recoveries. I should know. As an avid runner, I have been pounding pavement for decades.

This spring’s tip from Athletchic is: Make a conscious decision to balance your exercise plan. Making up for lost time with one exercise can put a stop to all your summer plans. So here are a few things we’ve learned over the years about our favorite exercises. Hopefully, it will help you keep on moving all summer long:

Walking: Everyone agrees walking is good for you. But overdoing it that first week of summer after a cold-weather hiatus could send you screaming to the doctor.  Shin splints can be all the inspiration a woman needs to stop walking! So heed these tips:

  • Limit yourself to a sensible distance,
  • if you have shin pain, lower your weekly mileage and make sure your walking shoes still have a lot of tread (if the tread is gone, it’s time girls!),
  • replace a walk or two with an anaerobic activity like weight lifting or take a flexibility class at the gym,
  • and the typical rule of thumb is don’t increase your mileage more than 10% a week. (For example, if you walk 10 miles a week, increase it 1 mile per week until you reach 15, then up it to 1.5 until you reach 20 and so on.)

Running/Cross Country: This can be dangerously addictive because it helps women lose weight fast. It’s tempting to start upping our miles foolishly—especially during bathing suit season. So time off may be even more important for runners than walkers.

  • Again, use the 10% rule above,
  • try the one-day-on and one-day-off schedule if you are feeling aches and pains,Carol running ps round dim
  • or, for seasoned runners who didn’t take off all winter, a hard-day, easy-day schedule may work for you,
  • but no matter how tempting the weight loss is, include some days off,
  • and to avoid the dreaded stress fracture—and I know, I’ve had one—make sure you stay at a healthy weight and cross train on the bike, in the pool, or at the gym with weights.

Swimming – Swimming is a great balance for runners or walkers, but again, should be done in IMG_2935moderation. A doctor once told me that women’s ligaments are more lax than men’s, so we are more prone to dislocating a shoulder. While we don’t participate in many sports that risk dislocation, swimming may irritate our rotator’s cup.  So listen to your body and if you start to feel neck or shoulder pain, make an appointment with your Doc.

Here are a few tips to keep you swimming:

  • Alternate strokes to help avoid shoulder injuries,
  • consider a few breast stroke or back stroke laps to switch it up,IMG_3156
  • teach yourself to breath to both sides (this helped my neck pain),
  • if you don’t do a flip turn, alternate which hand grabs the side of the pool when you turn (this helped my shoulder pain),
  • Spit in your goggles before you get them wet to see better,
  • And invest in a water ipod to battle boredom!

Cycling –  Cycling is a great cross train, as long as you are sensible. First and most important: WEAR A HELMET.  I can’t count the times I’ve seen helmets save cyclists. No ride is too safe for a helmet. It’s when you least expect it that an accident can occur. Other tips include:IMG_3220

  • Alter where you place your hands on the handlebars,
  • add aero bars to alternate your grip,
  • replace your seat to allow you to go long distances comfortably (so if you don’t have the funds for a new bike, this might be a good option),
  • tune up that bike every spring at your favorite bike shop,
  • check the air in your tires evey other ride (unless you are completing long rides, then it is every ride), IMG_3592
  • if you are not comfortable clicking your bike shoes into your pedals, invest in a dual pedal (this pedal allows me to click in on one side or not click in on the other side–it was my best investment as I click out and use the normal pedal when I am approaching any stop or am in heavy parking lot traffic), and

Weight Lifting – Another tip I’ve learned over the years by talking with doctors and Physical Therapists is that age matters when it comes to exercise–especially lifting. Here are a few tips for women at different stages in life:

  • Prepubescent girls – Stay away from heavy weight training.
  • High School/College–  Ask your school trainer or family doctor about a weight training  program. Weight training is is fabulous for most women. It builds strength and allows athletes to work out longer.
  • Middle Aged Women – Walking and running alone is not enough. It’s important to include strength training in your workout to help prevent osteoporosis. And if you have osteopenia, it’s definitely time to consider requesting a training session in your workout facility’s weight room.
  • All Women over 40 – Don’t forget to ask your doctor for advice on taking calcium, vitamin D or other supplements. She/he can advise you on what may help prevent future bone loss.
  • Elder Women – While lots of women feel age is just a state of mind, you must still talk to your doctor about what is right for you—especially if you are just beginning to add exercise into your life!

Now get out there and get going!


Cyndie Zahner is a free lance writer. Follow her on Twitter at @tweetyz or on Instagram as athletchicz.