Story by Tracy Fawns
Sunday, July 10, 2005
Tomorrow morning, 81 runners will depart from Badwater, at 280’ below sea level, and begin a trek through the hottest place in the continental United States en route to Mt. Whitney Portal at 8360’, 135 miles total. This is a non-stop race, meaning these racers will endure the most extreme race conditions through the heat of Death Valley (temperatures in past races have soared to 130F), continue their trek throughout the night, and continue on their own power to the finish line. To finish, each racer must do so on their own power…no trekking poles, no umbrella held over their head by their crew, and no IVs allowed, meaning that if they become so severely dehydrated to the point that they need electrolytes via an IV, they are out of the race. By the time the finish line is in reach, the racer will have completed 5 back-to-back marathons without stopping, a feat that in its own right is unfathomable to the curious onlooker.
Each racer has a crew, of no fewer than 2 people, who ensure that their racer is as comfortable as possible. The crew “leapfrog” their racer with the crew van, stopping at intervals of about 1 mile, checking on their racer to see if he/she needs more water, evaluating the lucidity of the racer, ensuring that enough calories are being consumed, and beckoning to every possible need that may arise. Each racer can have a “pacer” after Furnace Creek, to run or walk along side of, or behind, the racer to encourage, carry food/water, and to motivate if needed.
This year, the oldest participant is 70 (Jack Denness of the UK) and the youngest is 28 (Judit Pallos of Newport Beach, CA). There are 12 countries represented this year, the majority of racers coming from the US, United Kingdom, Germany, and France. Two of the racers, brothers Miles Hilton-Barber, from the United Kingdom, and Geoffrey Hilton-Barber, from South Africa, are both blind.
Then there is Ruben Cantu, 62, of Santee, California who has run every Badwater that AdventureCORPS has organized…he is hoping to keep the streak going and complete 10 back-to-back Badwaters. Tim Kjenstad, 47, of Henderson, Nevada, is racing only 3 years after a serious accident that left him with a fractured back. He's crewed for Chris Frost the past few years at Badwater, so he knows what's ahead. Stephane Lemaitre, 34, of Juniville, France, is one of the youngest in the race, and is excited about Badwater because of the beautiful landscape and, well, he has never been to the United States before, so this is a good opportunity to see it!
Nikki Seger, 43, of Chicago, has served as a pacer for the last 3 years to other racers, including Jay Hodde, Bonnie Busch, and Lisa Stranc-Bliss. She has had a birdseye view of the race and is excited to race it this year from another perspective…doing it all on her own two feet.
There are racers that just make you shake your head in wonderment of their seemingly crazed minds and there are those that inspire, yet they are all gifted athletes and have the determination and drive of 100 people.
Norm Albert, 48, from Dumfries, Virginia has served his country in the Unites States Air Force for the past 25 years. Talking about his most challenging event to date, “'I think it was treading water continuously for 52 hours in 1977 (I lost 15 pounds) and 64 hours in 1978 for Guinness World Records because of the mental strength it took to endure the hours making the same body movements over that long period of time.” This is his rookie year in Badwater and he hopes to complete the race in less than 48 hours.
Previous Badwater entrants have experienced the highs and lows of this grueling race, some finishing, some not. For those that do finish, somehow their minds tell them to do it again, even after enduring the misery and pain that they went through. As Mark Cockbain, 32, of the United Kingdom, states, “I will never forget the wall of heat as I ran into Furnace Creek. I thought it was all over for me, as I struggled hour after hour to keep on my feet and to keep fluids down. Then, I had these amazing hallucinations I saw on the rock formations during my second night awake on my approach to Lone Pine. I actually thought I was going mad! But my crew got me through it with gallons of strong coffee!”
Each runner has their own personal reason for choosing to subject oneself to this grueling race, from “just because it’s there”, to those raising money for a favorite charity, to those overcoming medical or physical obstacles, and to those wanting to “join the club” of those rare people that can say they have completed Badwater.