Badwater: My 15 Minutes of Fame
By Bill Lockton, 2003 official finisher
Hello, friends. Here's my Badwater report - finally. Let me tell you how this is organized, so you can skip the bits you don't want to read. A lot of people getting this are athletes, so I'll be going into the numbers and training methods, etc. that I would want to read about if I were reading someone else's account. You'll see headers for each section. If you're not a runner, the Numbers section might not be of any interest to you, for example.
Television: You can skip this entirely and just watch the TV coverage. Linda Alvarez, a local reporter for CBS has a show called "Special Assignment" and was putting one together on extreme endurance athletes. I don't know if that's what it will be listed as in your TV Guide, but that's the way they referred to it internally. They met me somehow, and followed me around during much of my training and then again at the race. The segment I am in will probably be a piece on the race with some footage of me, but it should give you a good overview of what it was like. They told me they were so thrilled with the footage that they devoted an extra 2 minutes to it, a lot on a 22-minute (not counting commercials) show.
It will air Sunday, August 3rd at 6:30 P.M. in LA, and is syndicated around the country, so it may be a different date and time in your area. Check your local listings. After the initial airing, it will be posted at www.cbs2.com , so you can still see it later on.
The Report: Badwater is over and done with, and I've had a week to try to put it all together. I've been having difficulty. There's too much to say, and there's too little to say. In reality, all I did was run, drink, go to the bathroom, and finish. My crewmembers have all the stories to tell, not me. (They were great, and a ton of fun. Because there are no bathrooms out there in the middle of the desert, one of them coined the phrase, "The world is my toilet". I swear it was funny at the time. It was amazing how many sentences he was able to squeeze it into. They also wanted to make up t-shirts for themselves that say, "The Lockton Crew: Only Slightly Less Crazy!")
I'm also having trouble coming to grips with the fact that I did so well. By my own definitions, I've always been athletic, but never an athlete. I refer to my performances in events as "my usual, slightly-better-than-average mediocre results." That my goofing around performance at the 24-HR run I used to qualify to apply to Badwater was ranked the 25th best performance in the country last year (male) seemed to be a fluke.
I ran Badwater with expectations of my usual results, just hoping to earn the belt buckle by breaking 48 hours, having a secret desire to break 45. Imagine my surprise when I broke 40 hours, with a time of 39:39:32! Then, the next day, I found out that brought me in 10th overall, the 6th male finisher. I'm still kind of in shock. You have to realize who I was competing against, and how much of a chance the Race Director was making in extending me an invitation. To quote Luis Escobar, the 7th place finisher, on his website: "These runners are big time, hard ass, no nonsense kind of people. The extreme of the extreme. Each one has an impressive bio and a list of credentials a mile long. These people mean business. It was more than a little intimidating to line up with runners of this fine caliber. Everyone at Badwater is good." Out of all the qualified applicants, RD (and LATC member) Chris Kostman handpicked the entrants. Luis's estimation of the quality of other entrants really did not apply to me because I had no track record to speak of. Of the American men, I had the 2nd best 24-HR performance last year, but many had better performances in years past. (Scott Ludwig, the one who beat me last year, also beat me at Badwater, finishing 3hr7min ahead of me, taking 6th overall and 3rd man. He had the 4th best 24-hr performance in the country last year, and I felt honored to run part of the race with him.)
During the race, I couldn't figure out where all the fast runners were. Only a few passed me, and I kept wondering where all the famous names behind me were. Now I realize that the reason they didn't pass me was that I was beating them. This is causing severe distress to my self-image! It's being forced to recreate itself.
The Conditions: As you know by now, the race was 135 miles long, goes over 2 mountain ranges before it reaches Mt. Whitney for a total vertical rise of 13,400 (It also has descents of close to 7,000 ft - tough on the quads!), and goes through Death Valley in the heat of the day at the end of July. It has the reputation of being the most grueling ultramarathon on the planet. This year there was a lot of debate about exactly how hot it got. The consensus seems to be 130, although many people told me they got higher readings, all the way up to 135! The humidity, typically around 4-6%, was in the 15-18% range, which was even more of a factor since every increase in humidity makes you feel the heat even more. I was blown away last year by its 125 degrees and 6% humidity. This year was epic! Several veterans told me it was the most extreme they ever experienced.
The only way I could figure to train for the race was to make my workouts so much more grueling than anything I would expect to experience at the race that the race would seem easy in comparison: the Train Hard, Race Easy formula. It worked. For the athletes reading this, a typical weekend towards the end would be to run 18-miles of hard hills on Saturday, then on Sunday morning, take those aching quads on a 55-mile bike ride that had some significant hills in them and try to hold on to the wheel of the leader as long as I could (impossible for me even when I'm fresh), and then after the ride, go run another 20 miles of hills. One of those routes was 10 miles straight up at an incline steeper than anything at Badwater but the finish, and 10 miles back down. I hurt more any Sunday night than I did during the race, but taught myself how to continue on, and in fact do surges, when my body was already beat. For heat training, I went out to Death Valley over both Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends, and after the latter, came back and trained in the sauna for 12 days. That was the worst! I'd go in for 90 minutes, keep it around 165-170 degrees, and eventually worked up to doing a 5 + 5: 5 minutes rest followed by 5 minutes doing anything to get my heart pumping hard: pushing off the walls, modified pushups off the bench, jumping jacks, running in place, etc. As a consequence, although I was clearly aware that it was hot during the race, I was surprised to find out it was hotter than anything I had ever experienced out there. The training worked.
People kept asking me if I was scared, nervous, or anything. I wasn't. It seemed perfectly natural that I was about to do this thing, and there was no sense of trepidation at all. I was aware of the fact that people tend to drop like flies, but there's no use anticipating some Act of God coming along to wipe you out, and I had done the work. I felt strong and confident, with only a slight concern that I had tapered too long. I hadn't. It takes at least 2 and maybe 3 weeks for your body to recover from the kind of damage my training had done while strengthening me.
In many respects, this is the most boring part in that there really isn't much to report. I ran it as a fun run, and I think that is confirmed by the facts that I stopped at mile 41 to jump in the pool at Furnace Creek, and then took a 2 hour break (1 _ hour nap) at Panamint Springs (mile 72). That was my only down time. Other than that, I did have a fun run. I ran within myself, met a lot of really nice and interesting people along the way (mostly as I passed them). I had stomach problems once, but that cleared up quickly. I ended up taking no solid food whatsoever, getting my calories from Accelerade and Slim Fast, which for some reason went down (and stayed down) really easily. Sure, I got tired, and every time my crew would work on me (feet, legs, etc.) I'd lay back and close my eyes until they were done. Fortunately/unfortunately, that only lasted about 5 minutes each time. There was one point where I thought I'd have to stop running. Starting up after a walk break, I got a sharp shooting pain in my left calf that stopped me cold. Trying it again after a couple of paces, that shooting pain went across the back of my knee. At that point, I could have walked the rest of the way in and still earned the buckle, so it wasn't the end of the world, but I wanted to run and I think we spent close to 45-minutes working on it. This happened shortly before the Darwin Checkpoint, which is why if you look at the charts you see that a lot of people who I led into Panamint checked into Darwin ahead of me. It took a hour or so for my leg to let me get back up to my regular pace, at which point I was able to catch almost all of them.
1st leg from Badwater to Furnace Creek: 23rd fastest out of 73 runners, 23rd overall, covering the 17.4 miles at an 11:19 pace.
2nd leg from Furnace Creek to Stove Pipe Wells: 10th fastest of 58 runners still in the race, which moved me up to 10th place. This was the hottest stretch and my time slowed to14:18 for the 24.5 mile leg, 13:10 overall. Note that 15 competitors had already dropped out.
3rd leg from SPW to Panamint: 12th fastest of 50 runners still in (lost 8 more), which dropped me to 11th place. 20:18 pace for the 31-mile leg and 16:06 pace overall. This time includes an hour stop at SPW for a swim and an ice bath, then an 18-mile hill that climbed 5,000 ft; subtract the hour off, and I ran it much faster.
4th leg from Panamint to Darwin: 29th fastest of 47 runners still in (3 more dropped), dropping me to 18th place. A 25:34 pace for the 18-mile leg, and a 17:58 overall. The time for this 18-mile leg included both the 2-hour stop at Panamint (1 _ hours of sleep in there) and the time working on my cramp. It was also mostly all uphill.
5th leg from Darwin to Lone Pine through the Owens Valley: 10th fastest of 46 runners still in (the final person dropped), moving me up to 13th place. Even though I had to start slowly for the first hour because of the cramp, I averaged 16:26 for the 32-mile leg, for an overall pace of 17:34.
Final leg from Lone Pine to the Whitney Portals: 7th fastest of the 46 runners still in, moving me up to 10th place overall. This mountain just continually gets steeper the further you go. I burned out my pacer and had to have him relieved. I did this 13-mile leg at an 18:13 pace, for a final overall average pace of 17:37.
Then, the next day, 3 of us climbed Mt Whitney, for another 22 miles. At the top, the clouds rolled in, it hailed on us, and the thunder and lightening off in the distance started coming closer, so we ran most of the way back down.
After the Race: I was very lucky. I had no blisters to speak of, except for a very tiny one my crew insisted needed fixing. I think they were just bored and needed something to do. I will probably lose 2 toenails from the run and another for sure from Whitney, but as many of you know, that is a fairly common occurrence even in marathons. Not a big deal. I don't feel like running much, but I have led pace groups for Nike's Club Run LA for the past two nights without difficulty, and it hasn’t been a week from the end of the race. I'm losing more weight after the race than I did during, where it didn't really change much. My body fat dropped 3 percentage points from the day I left for the race to the day I returned. Interestingly, it makes me look fatter. Go figure! Because everywhere else is slimmer, the deposits that remain actually stand out more than they did when their appearance was smoothed by the presence of more body fat around them. I'm going to cool it for a while, mostly biking and swimming for the first month before I gear up to start training again.
The Future: Would I do it again? Absolutely! I could have completed this one faster by shortening the breaks. Will I do it next year? We'll have to see. My business partners are very glad it's over; they were feeling neglected because of all the attention I had to put on preparing for the race, and were concerned it was eating into my productivity. They are right; there is no doubt that it was. This kind of training can be destructive to relationships in general, something all you Ironman competitors know about. I have a few bridges to mend (you know who you are), if it's still possible.
Death Valley is incredibly beautiful. While running through it, I kept being struck by the utter tenaciousness of Life. No matter how extreme the conditions, no matter how apparently barren the surroundings, if you looked closely you saw Life teeming everywhere. It was truly magnificent.
My crew people were brilliant. They were all rookies out there, but I had taken 3 of them with me over the Fourth of July Heat Training clinic. They became a good crew there. At the race, they became a great crew. I fell in love with every single one of them, and their devotion to getting me through this event was nothing short of humbling. One of those crewmembers was my son, Andrew, and that was especially great. I was thrilled to have him there helping me through this. His Ironman training made it a fairly easy task for him to keep up with me.
To all of you who sent me your good wishes pre-race, thoughts during, and congratulations after, thank you very, very much. You inspired me.