Sole Mates

La Quinta runners met and married at the Tram Road Challenge. But not all on the same day.

Patti Myers Attractions

Alan and Debbie Woodruff's chance meeting at the Tram Challenge in 1996 led to a marriage of marathon events.

La Quinta couple Alan and Debbie Woodruff enjoy a long-distance relationship, and are the first to admit that their 20-year marriage is an uphill climb. The longtime fitness coaches and lifelong marathoners have a reason to celebrate this month at the annual Palm Springs Tram Road Challenge.

Twenty years ago, the two met while negotiating the 2,000-foot incline over 3.7 miles up Tram Way. Their first date came three days later.

Let’s skip — or run — ahead three years toward the finish line, because that’s where the two tied the knot, at Valley Station in 1999. Donning a tuxedo jacket and tails with his trusty running shorts, Alan met his runaway bride dressed in her white satin running shorts, a lace sports bra and veil, at the finish line.

ESPN cameras caught the ceremony as part of the national broadcast (Oct. 23, 1999), along with friends and family who gathered at the crack of dawn. The nonrunning guests drove in before the road closed for race day, then waited for the bride and groom — and hundreds of others who joined in the festivities.

Their reward for all that love, affection and high-altitude vow-watching was the post-race breakfast. “We may be the only ones who paid $5 a head for the wedding party,” Debbie says of the post-race feed and awards ceremony. “But our real celebration was a few days later with a trip to Paris and a run along the Champs-Élysées.”

The Woodruffs plan to cross the Mount San Jacinto finish line again Oct. 22 for the 31st annual challenge. What started as a fun run for two fitness fanciers turned into a lifelong passion. Debbie has 37 marathons to her credit and Alan has tallied 68 in places as far-flung as Paris and Boston. Their favorite run, however, is closer to home and gives them a reason to celebrate the anniversary of their first meeting, with runners and walkers from around the world who are ready to tackle what’s been called the “World’s Toughest 6K” uphill run/walk.

Donning a tuxedo jacket and tails with his trusty running shorts, Alan Woodruff met his runaway bride Debbie dressed in her white satin running shorts, a lace sports bra and veil, at the finish line of the Tram Challenge in 1999.

“We ran the race for the next four years [after being married] and joked that this is what we got ourselves into after being married at the Tram Race,” says Debbie, who will run again this year while Alan tends to the finish line announcements.

Debbie and Alan Woodruff’s Tram Tips:

Find some hills to train on before the race because it’s about strength, not speed. First-timers, be mindful that the last mile is the steepest. “It’s better to know that now than at the end. And use your arms to help you up that hill.”

31st annual Tram Run, 7 a.m. Oct. 22, start at the bottom of Tram Way in Palm Springs, 760-324-7069,

The top three in each age division receive an award. Fees are: 14 and younger ($20); 15-59 ($45) and 60-plus, $40. On race day: 14 and younger ($35) and 15 and older ($50).