Running Cancer Into the Ground

How the magic of the trails healed me

By Brad Thiessen

The Mountain Magic Trail Run, a race with 5, 10, and 25k options on the Mt. Spokane Nordic ski trails, is now in its 7th year and set for June 30, 2024. Here’s the challenging, sometimes harrowing story of how it was born, and how it got its quirky name.

I’ve had cancer three times, including nine brain surgeries and assorted other operations. My body is tattooed by a scarred map of every single stitch along the way. Coming out of that last recurrence in December 2015, I knew the only way to rebuild was to set a major goal. So I decided to run my first 50k trail race the following September. It was kind of a foolhardy goal, since at the time I could barely run 100 feet at a light jog before collapsing to catch my breath.

With help from Dave Dutro of Trail Maniacs, I set out on a nine-month training journey. It started with a disastrous Bloomsday where I staggered across the finish line. That was followed by 25k Trail Maniacs runs at Farragut State Park in Idaho in May, another at Heyburn State Park in June, and then the last one, at Mt. Spokane in July. To train, I started running on the Nordic ski trails on Mt. Spokane almost every week. It was like magic. Every time I got back, I felt a little stronger. Plus, it took me above the smoke that plagued the Northwest that summer, with air so thick and yellow we weren’t supposed to even go outside to the grocery store. That last race on Mt. Spokane was a fitting end to my training—a body- and soul-crushing grind that started easy with a fun downhill to Bear Creek Lodge, then kicked straight up to the peak and back down the near-vertical hardpan of the mountain’s east face to the Selkirk lodge.

Runners leave the start of the first-ever Magic Mountain Trail Run

By the time I crossed the line, I had moved up in the rankings far higher than any of the previous races. Not that it mattered, but it meant my training was paying off. Cancer hadn’t beaten me. When the morning of the Riverside 50k came, the email came in just as I was making my pre-race breakfast—the race was cancelled due to smoke.

But truthfully, it didn’t faze me too much. We had been warned it might happen. And after all, what had the goal really been, at its heart? To rebuild, to conquer the fear and discouragement and brokenness left by cancer and its treatment. My training—and the trails—had accomplished that.

Photo: Erik Pritchard

That afternoon, my brother and I went up above the smoke to those Mt. Spokane Nordic ski trails and had a great few hours enjoying the trails. I eventually ran my 50k in October, on my own with a crew of friends and family. The Mt. Spokane Nordic trails had been my go-to training ground, my place of healing. So the following summer, a trail race seemed like a great way to share some of that magic with my fellow runners. And because of that, the name was born—Mountain Magic.

That’s why the event is so special to me. I hope you’ll join me on June 30, 2024.

You can learn more about Mountain Magic at, and more about my journey at

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