Runners tackle the Moab Trail Marathon near Kane Creek Road south of Moab. (Photo courtesy Moab Trail Marathon)

The 2012 Trail Marathon National Championship will be held here in Moab on Saturday.

Runners will compete in four races: The Trail Marathon, Half Marathon, 5K Adventure Run and the Merrell Kid’s Dash. All event proceeds go to the Project Athena Foundation, an organization dedicated to “Helping Survivors Live Their Adventurous Dreams.”

The race director is a Moab local and Project Athena member.

Danelle Ballengee is known for a racing history that earned her induction last year into the Colorado Runner’s Hall of Fame. She also has an incredible survival story which garnered her dog, Taz, the National Hero Dog Award.

Ballengee was a four-time Pikes Peak Champion and was considered by Sports Illustrated to be the “world’s premier female endurance athlete”. She summited 55 of Colorado’s 14,000-plus mountains in less than 15 days.

In 2006 Ballengee was in Moab running in the Amasa Back area when she slipped on a boulder. She took a 60-foot fall, from which she remarkably landed on her feet but shattered her pelvis. While she lay bleeding internally for 52 hours at wintertime temperatures, she did “head push-ups” to stay warm. Her dog, Taz, spiraled out at 30-minute intervals looking for help.

Her neighbor Dorothy Rossignol and parents alerted Grand County Search and Rescue on Dec. 15.

Moab City Police detective Craig Shumway located her car at the Amasa Back trail head. John Marshall, the Search and Rescue officer in charge, had treated Ballengee as a backcountry expert and medical representative month’s earlier at Utah’s 10-day Primal Quest.

When Taz encountered the rescuers he drew them in and then abruptly took off through the middle of the group with intent, guiding them to his master.

When Ballengee saw Marshall, her first words were “I’m glad to see you.”

He responded in kind.

“And I’m glad to see you, and that you can tell me you’re glad to see me,” he said.

Ballengee trained in Moab in the spring and fall when she was a resident of Summit County, Colo. She became a full-time Moab resident in 2007 when she and her husband BC Laprade opened Milt’s Stop and Eat, a popular burgers and shakes joint on 400 East.

She designed the Moab Trail Marathon race course and had the first competition in 2008. It has continued each year, except in when she put the race on hold in 2010 when her second son was born.

In its fourth year, the Moab Trail Marathon had 1100 runners signed up, with a heavy waiting list.

The race is the official 2012 Trail Marathon National Championship and is sanctioned by USA Track & Field. The U.S. Mountain Running Team and Ultra Runners are among those competing. Merrell will provide running shoes for age group winners. Milt’s will provide $7 coupons for meals to all racers.

Jeff Stevens and his Moab group “Friends-For-Wheeling” will be manning one of the several aid stations, as well as John Marshall and fellow rescuer Melissa Fletcher in “Taz Canyon”.

Local artist Jim Aleff has done copper artwork depicting runners for age-group winners.

The Project Athena Foundation, of which Ballengee is a founder, will use proceeds from the race towards scholarships to fund an athlete’s goals and recovery, paying for things like equipment, adventures, airfare, and coaching.

Ballengee has the title of Seraphim of Survival at Project Athena.

“It’s constant recovery; you never really recover, you just keep going. I think about my accident every day,” she said. “I look at my children, and I feel grateful.”

With an opinion reflective of many survivors, she believes accidents will happen. “It’s more important to really live one’s life – to be out in nature.”

“Project Athena’s outlook is that life is not just about living, it’s about living well. I think the Moab Trail Marathon races encompass that. Every year the same volunteers are calling back. And the runners are eager for this experience; they want to race! And by running on these desert trails, people are learning respect for the environment. They’re getting to see how beautiful it is out there.”