Running the Desert Boneyard 10k

Desert Boneyard 10k
I never thought I’d run a 10k in an aircraft boneyard while wearing a frilly pirate shirt.

The Desert Boneyard 10k at Davis Monthan Air Force Base isn’t a race for hardcore runners. The course is slow thanks to its uneven surface and occasional mud patches. And the scenery – which runs through the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group boneyard and thousands of aircraft from C-130s to F-15s – will add minutes your time if you’re even remotely interested in aircraft. If you’re a full-on avgeek, forget about it: You’re going to lose minutes when you stop to snap photos. So it’s not the quest for a personal record that makes the Desert Boneyard run an extremely cool 10k race: It’s the backdrop.

I only did a few 5k training runs before I lined up for the Desert Boneyard 10k, and it had been nearly a year since my last 10k training run. I’m pretty sure my last 10k race was a few years ago in Norway. So I didn’t have high hopes of a personal record, especially considering the post-apocalyptic vibe of the parked aircraft.

Desert Boneyard 10k
Old F-16 Vipers lined up for storage, with some F-15 Eagles in the background.

I accidentally added to the desolate flavor of the race by starting at least 10 minutes late: I had to make a run back to my car to drop off my race pack, and my car was pretty much out in the weeds. By the time I got back, the 10k and 5k events had both started; I’d highly recommend that the organizers add a bag drop near the race area. The fortunate upside is that I was by myself for long stretches of the course as I chased the pack. That made the experience a bit more fun.

I don’t know what my official time actually was. I figured it would be posted online somewhere. Even if my time never appears, my GPS had me at 60 minutes and change – not nearly as bad as I’d feared thanks to the mud and photo stops. And my frilly pirate shirt: It was Halloween, so of course I was going to dress up. The race announcer encouraged those finishing near me to run faster so the pirate wouldn’t catch them;but some spectators gave me a good, loud “Fabiooooooooo!” as I finished.

Old A-4 Skyhawks along the course of the Desert Boneyard 10k.
Old A-4 Skyhawks along the course of the Desert Boneyard 10k.

The Desert Boneyard 10k is a low-key, low-fuss affair that relies more on its oddball backdrop of parked aircraft than on big sponsors and lots of frills. I get that – but I’d highly recommend that the organizers consider putting some of the ample scrap to work, teaming up with some local artists and offering some really cool finisher’s medals. The cool location makes it the sort of race that would be highly sought by runners after interesting racers just as much as personal records. I’d definitely pay a higher entrance fee for a personal piece of boneyard history.

Desert Boneyard 10k
A-10 Warthogs – also known as a gun with wings.

Speaking of that, an email from the organizers also said to bring cash for souvenirs. Which I did — and found nothing for sale at all. Maybe I missed it. I would also love to see some course photographers offering downloads for participants. It seems that some local photographers would love a chance to work in the boneyard and get a cut of the action. It’s also possible that the public affairs staff at Davis-Monthan Air Force base could help.

Davis-Monthan Air Force Base
Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Still, I liked the Desert Boneyard 10k race and will do it again, no doubt. I also thought the Air Force personnel were very welcoming, even while tasked with keeping an eye on a huge crowd in a fairly sensitive area. Keep in mind, some of the stored aircraft are still just a notch below state-of-the-art – so it’s definitely important for them to manage the crowd. There was also an ample number of water stops, and the course markings were pretty solid. These are some of the most-important facets of a good race, and it’s always a positive sign when race organizers get them right.

Want to read more about some of the cool races I’ve done? Check here for more race reports and opinions on running and races.

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