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Hall of Fame: Jay Birmingham

In 2003, Jay Birmingham, the second man to ever run from Badwater to Mt. Whitney, breaking Al Arnold’s record in the process in 1981, was inducted.

His plaque reads:
Jay Birmingham is proudly inducted into the Badwater Hall of Fame
for making it a race in 1981 and again in 2003.

To download and read Jay’s book, “The Longest Hill,” about his 1981 run from Badwater Basin to Mt. Whitney, click here.

Read all our Jay Birmingham posts and stories on this website by clicking here.

Jay Birmingham Sets Another Record, 1981

Death Valley to Mount Whitney
Lowest to Highest

For more about Jay, click here.

Jacksonville’s best-known marathon runner, Jay Birmingham, broke another record yesterday, this time in California’s Death Valley region. The 36-year-old Episcopal High School biology teacher covered a 146-mile route between the lowest and highest geographical features in the contiguous U.S. His time of 75 hours and 34 minutes eclipsed the standing mark of 84 hours set in 1977 by Californian Al Arnold.
Birmingham set a record last summer for an unaccompanied solo run across the United States. His performance of 72 days, 23 hours, for the 2964-mile route from Los Angeles to New York City.

“The Death Valley run was tough,” Birmingham reported from a Las Vegas hotel where he and his family were recovering last night. “The highest temperature was over 120. But it was snowing on the summit of Whitney. This was, without doubt, the toughest 146 miles I’ve ever run.”

The 145-pound veteran of over 60 marathons prepared all summer for his confrontation with historic Death Valley, putting in more than 100 miles a week, most of it in Jacksonville’s sultry summer heat. The final three weeks of preparation were in the mountains of North Carolina and Colorado to get, “some climbing legs and altitude acclimation,” Birmingham said.
Unlike his solo trans-continental run of 1980, Birmingham had his family along on this quest. Wife Anita, a teacher at Arlington Elementary, and their three children, Bob, Scott, and Tammy Reardean–all standout runners at Episcopal High School–served as support crew and running companions. All five climbed the final steep eleven miles of the trail to Mt. Whitney’s summit. The peak, at 14,496 feet, is the highest mountain in the lower 48 states.

Birmingham started at Badwater, the lowest point in the western hemisphere. Located at 282 feet below sea level in the southern part of Death Valley National Monument, a two-lane road took him and his family north, then west over two small mountain ranges. After three days of running in century heat, about 45 miles a day, Birmingham confronted Mt. Whitney in the Sequoia National Park, part of the Sierra Nevada range.

“Training in the heat and humidity of Jacksonville was great preparation,” Birmingham said. “There’s almost no humidity out here. I was very conservative because of my apprehension about the extreme heat.”

Birmingham was sponsored by Baptist Medical Center where he works as fitness consultant and teacher of employee wellness programs. When asked about his next challenge, Birmingham said he just hoped he could finish the 5-Mile Jacksonville Beaches Run in two weeks.

Jay Birmingham: Living Legend of Badwater

“The ability to endure beyond percieved limits requires a desire to continue. But now, rather than an act of will, such excursions are an act of faith.“ (Jay Birmingham, The Longest Hill, Death Valley To Mount Whitney, 1981).

Many Badwater participants may have been motivated by reading a book called “The Longest Hill” in which Jay Birmingham recounted his 1981 Death Valley crossing, the 2nd ever successful run from Badwater to Mt. Whitney. Only Al Arnold had made the crossing before, in 1977. Jay made it to the top of the Whitney Portal Rd. at 59:54, went down to Lone Pine for a short break, then came back and continued to the top for the then-record time of 75:34.

Fast forward 22 years, to July 22, 2003, when Jay returned for a follow-up attempt, but found himself struggling with the heat. “Was it really this hot last time,” he wondered? In addition, one of his main crew members, Debbie Scott, had learned that her mother had had a heart attack and wasn’t able to make the trip. After discussions with the remainder of his crew, Jay decided to pack it in for the day and try again another time.

Fast forward one more year, to July 13, 2004. With Debbie in place, as well as three recent college graduates, Jay’s crew was at full strength. With the sting of the DNF and more recent memories of the hellish temperatures, Jay was ready to rock.

And rock he did! Jay crossed the finish line in 50:10:15, nine hours faster than he did the first time around. Not many people can boast a 9-hour PR for a race. “I learned a lot last year, even though we were only made it to mile 75. I’m extremely happy to have been able to break my own PR after all these years.”

When speaking of Jay, words like ‘pioneer,’ ‘inspiration,’ and ‘nice guy’ are appropriate, so all the event staff and participants were happy to see Jay have such a successful finish.

When asked if he experienced any rough spots or had any recommendations, Jay smiled and said matter of factly that he had “a couple of rough spots, but nothing too bad. I took two short sleep breaks, both of which were very productive. I can’t do it without some sleep. I had planned to take an hour break at Lone Pine, but felt good enough to pass through without any sleep.”

Since 2005, Jay has served on the Badwater Application Review Committee, further demonstrating his support of the sport and for this race in particular. Click any thumbnail or story below to learn more about Jay.

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2003 mugshot
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With 2002 champ Pam Reed in 2003
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With Gary Morris in 2003, 4th man
to ever finish the Badwater course
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Hall of Fame induction
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2004 mugshot
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Setting the pace in 2004
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Breaking the tape in 2004
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With crew at the 2004 finish line

 

“Birmingham Sets Another Record,” by Greg Larson, Florida Times-Union, August 19, 1981
“From Lowest to Highest: Birmingham Claims Another Record,” from The Starting Line Newsletter, September 1981
“I WAS THERE WHEN HELL FROZE OVER” By Tamara L. Dickey, stepdaughter and crew member for Jay Birmingham
“Jay Birmingham returns to Death Valley for first time in 22 years,” by Amit Mehrotra, with Q&A
“Death Valley: A Sojourner’s View,” Jay’s 2007 article which compares and contrasts his 1981 and 2004 experiences on the race course, as published in the 2007 Badwater Ultramarathon Race Magazine.
Download Jay’s book “The Longest Hill” in its entirety.

The photos from Jay’s book “The Longest Hill” are viewable below.

An Eye-Witness Account of Jay Birmingham’s 1981 Crossing

The Summer of 1981

Tamara L. Dickey, stepdaughter and crew member for Jay Birmingham, the second person to complete the Badwater to Mt. Whitney course, back in 1981. Jay plans to race the 2003 Badwater Ultramarathon to celebrate the 22nd anniversary of his record-breaking run. Jay was also the first person to publish a book about this run.

 

I dedicate this book to my Mom. Without her love and support throughout the years, I never would have made it this far. Thank you.

For the shorter version of this story that deals with the Badwater experience only, click here.

PREFACE

We are going back in time to the summer of 1981. My family consisted of five members: A stepfather, a mother, two brothers and myself. (We had a dog, Percy, and a cat, Weebles, but they are not in this story.) No family is without its flaws and we had ours. But somehow we managed to get through them and make the best out of any situation. I give my Mom the most credit for this. We were a close family that operated under the standard rules of early bed times on school nights, curfews on weekends and finishing your plate before you get up from the table. We all had our own lives to lead but always stuck together when it came to family problems or financially difficult times. It was understood that money was not abundant and we did not ask for expensive toys or name brand clothing and footwear. However, we never went without. There was always food on the table and Christmas was filled with gifts, love and laughter. Most of any extra income was spent on trips to various road races throughout the country, running gear and family “vacations.” While most family travel can be grueling and nerve racking, ours were always filled with unforgettable experiences that created memories to last a lifetime, like this one…

CHAPTER 1: MEET THE FAMILY

My Stepfather, Jay, married my mom when I was seven . He is an ultra-marathon runner and has been since 1958. He teaches Biology and Earth Science and is the Varsity Track and Cross Country coach at my High School. He joined our family and introduced us to the sport of running and taught us to appreciate all living things. The running involved competition and serious training. Appreciating Nature was something intangible that could only be achieved by exposing us to summers of hiking and tent camping all over America. It was our way of life. We all enjoyed it… most of the time.

My Mom is, by far, the most incredible person I have ever known. She has overcome personal obstacles and raised us kids in a clean and loving home. She maintained all of these things and, at the same time, worked full time as a teacher’s aid, attended and graduated from college (summa cum laude) with a degree in Education. She teaches fifth graders (crazy person) and loves every minute of it. She is an intelligent, strong, energetic and loving woman who is always there for her family and friends whenever they need her. Over the years she has instilled in me and my brothers strong morals and given us unending love and support. Although teens can be rebellious at times, we always had nothing but the highest respect for her.

My oldest brother Bob, age 18, is a quiet, shy and yet very stubborn young man. He has always been there to lean on when the chips were down. He is a very good runner and has won many races in his age group. He loves the sport and pushes himself very hard. He likes girls but is too shy to talk to any of them! I admire him for his integrity and innocence. His greatest strength is his loyalty. Bob never hurts anyone deliberately and never gets into trouble. A parent’s dream child for a teenager!

Scott is the middle child. He is a year younger than Bob and two years older than me. We aren’t much different in height and weight. Scotty runs too, but his heart isn’t in it. He enjoys Wrestling and is very good. He has a tendency to get injured easily though. He is as innocent as Bob and just as shy. He giggles when he gets embarrassed and his face turns bright red. He is very seldom into trouble except academically. But that’s okay.

Both of my brothers have a terrific sense of humor and we play tackle football or baseball together on weekends. Other than having the usual sibling rivalry, my brothers and I get along pretty well. They think I am spoiled because I am the “baby girl” of the family.

My name is Tammy and I am a “tom-boy.” I am also a very free spirited and independent person who loves romance, excitement and adventure! I run cross-country and track and play center halfback on the girl’s varsity soccer team. I can keep up with most boys my age when it comes to sports and usually surpass them when it comes to a battle of wits. I take life by the horns and to hell with the consequences. I am 15 years old for crying out loud! Life is too short to sit back and wonder what would have been like had I not taken a chance or two.

Little did I know that this summer would unfold one of the greatest adventures of my life, an experience that would become permanently ingrained into the fibers of my soul.

CHAPTER 2: THE “BOMB”

Being a family on the go and that being in many directions, we had two cars. The newer one was a 1976 Toyota Corolla. It was white with a black pin stripe. I called it Snoopy. I loved this car and was hoping it would some day be mine! It had a stereo, air conditioning, no mechanical problems and was great on gas.

We also owned a 1965 Dodge Coronet two-door sedan. It was a sun-oxidized, turquoise color with splotches of primer and rust scattered throughout the steel body. The driver’s side door did not open nor did the window roll down. You had to enter and exit through the passenger door. We kids had the delight of sitting in the back seat lined with a nylon fabric intertwined with a gold, metallic fiber that was unraveling in several places. This caused our legs to itch when we wore shorts. There were two pieces of plywood on the floor, placed there to cover the holes in the floorboard, which had rusted out over time. The universal was going bad and when you put the car in reverse and backed up it made a big thud and then went “clang, clang, clangety clang…” kind of like the warning bell of a large construction vehicle.. Fuel economy was not a consideration when the car was designed, let alone in it’s present state. Not only did it suck down gasoline, it consumed a quart of oil about every 100 miles. The carburetor was so far gone that the exhaust pipe spewed out a greasy black film of oil on the rear of the car. All you could make of the word Coronet were the letters O and N. The trunk was huge but took some jiggling and wiggling of the key to get it to pop open. We kept a roll of paper towels in the trunk to wipe the residue off of our hands. The tires on the thing were all re-treads and only one of them had a hubcap. When you turned the car off, it coughed and sputtered for another thirty seconds , which always made me wonder if it was going to start again. We nicknamed it “The Bomb.”

Which car do you think Jay decided to take on the ten weeklong trip? You guessed it, “the bomb!” I couldn’t believe it! The thought of being seen at school in that thing was bad enough, but to traipse all over the country in that thing wondering if we would make it the next ten miles or not, did not exactly make us happy campers. But we loaded her up with our backpacks, tents, duffle bags and a cooler and headed out on our journey. First stop, Black Mountain, NC.

CHAPTER 3: BEER AND BRAIN WAVES

Ten hours had passed since we left Florida. It was dark and I couldn’t see anything except shadows of trees. I was wide-awake because I had slept the whole way. I have this carsickness thing when I ride in the back and well, lets just say it’s better for everyone if I sleep. Anyway, we found our way to Don McMahill’s cabin and we were welcomed with open arms by his family. They have been friends of the family since Mom and Jay were married. Don always calls me “Ttttam” for some reason and I never minded because he was always funny and very nice. Mom convinced me to go to bed since it was so late and I did reluctantly. I tossed and turned and as I faded off to sleep I tried to figure out how I was going to get my stuff out of the car the next morning without any one else seeing me…

I awoke to the sound of “Oh Carolina” playing over a speaker system. I sprang to my feet and looked out the window. What a beautiful place! I put my shoes on and rushed outside (I had slept in my clothes), looked around and saw no one in sight. I ran to the car and grabbed my bag out of the back seat. After a shower and change of clothes, I followed the signs and headed down to the “Galley.” Luckily I got there just before they closed the line down. It was only 7:30 am!!!!

I met up with my family in the dining room and we talked about “the plan.” The only guidelines given for the next two weeks were that I couldn’t leave the camp without permission and had to be home to check in before dark. I could live with that. This place had a pool, a game room, plenty of trails to run on, several mountains to hike and, from the looks of things, hundreds of boys!

My brothers and I went for a walk around the place. You couldn’t go anywhere without going up or down a hill. We were impressed with the colonial buildings that graced the grounds. Lee Hall was the largest and sat in the middle of several smaller buildings all painted white. This YMCA provided day camps throughout the summer and hired high school seniors and college students from all over the country to be part of the staff. It was an honor to be chosen for this job, but it was a lot of hard work. Lee Hall was the largest, as it provided a co-ed dormitory for the campers and dorm staff. The main lobby had a snack bar, a nice living room area with a huge fireplace, some tables and chairs and a grand piano. The walls were lined with portraits of past Presidents and numerous books. I plinked the keys on the piano a little and took it all in. We went out on the huge porch and sat in the slat board chairs and checked out the spectacular view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. After about an hour, I got ancy and decided to check out the pool. My brothers said they would meet me down there later.

After a quick change into my suit, I joined my Mom and Mary McMahill at the pool. They had been lounging there for a while already. Mary smiled and said, “Have you checked out the guy swimming laps yet?” I just rolled my eyes and laughed as I pretended not to be interested. Just then, he got out of the water. I first noticed how tan he was. A little small, but very muscular. He was built like a typical swimmer, with broad shoulders and a tiny waste. His hair glistened from the chlorinated highlights. He looked over as he was drying off and I smiled politely. I didn’t want to seem too eager. It wasn’t like I was looking for a long-term relationship.
I sat down with my Mom and started talking about something ridiculous like, what they were going to do after lunch? Blah, blah blah…and then I noticed he left. Great! So I jumped in the pool and cooled off from the heat of the day. My brothers showed up as promised and they brought a football. We played catch in the water and it seemed that within twenty minutes every other kid without other things to do showed up and wanted to play too! We had a blast.

We missed lunch that day and snacked on stuff left over in the cooler. I checked out some maps of the place and asked some of the staff members about hiking trails. They all told me that the hardest one was “High Top” and advised that I not go alone.

The Dinner Revelry blared over the speakers and off I went to the Galley. As soon as I walked in and got in line, there he was, the guy from the pool. Our eyes met instantly and I could feel myself blushing. I tried not to smile but I couldn’t help myself. He was kind of cute, but I just wanted to make a friend, not send out an invitation to take my clothes off!

As I got closer in line, I looked directly at him and asked, “How far is it to High Top?”
He said, “The trail is about 3 miles but it will probably take you an hour to hike it.”
“When can you take me up there?” I asked kind of jokingly.
“Uh, how about tomorrow morning at 6:30? Meet me on the steps at Lee Hall and bring a lunch.” He replied.
“OK!” I said and extended my hand “By the way, my name is Tammy, what’s yours?
“John, John Parker.” he said hurriedly.

We were holding up the chow line and people were getting ugly so we had to cut the conversation short. I scarfed my food down and ran back to our cabin. Mom and Mary were there talking about stuff and I told them about my encounter with John and our plans for the next morning. Mom was a little hesitant but Mary assured her that he was a nice boy and helped me put together some lunch items. I wrote in my diary, and watched some TV with the younger kids. I was so excited I could hardly sleep that night.

I woke up at 5:00 am, dressed for the trail, grabbed the lunch (Spam sandwiches, carrot sticks, potato chips, grapes and two cans of Shasta Orange soda), and literally ran to the steps of Lee Hall.

I was early, I knew it, but I was too excited to sit around the house and wait. My Adrenalin was racing and my heart was pounding. It was so quiet outside. The clear dark sky displayed a stellar “work of art.” The cool, damp air smelled of pine trees and lilacs. I felt my heart calming down when suddenly, I heard footsteps. I turned around only to see the grounds keeper pushing a wheelbarrow. I decided to sit down in one of the chairs on the porch. After waiting for thirty minutes my eyes grew heavy and I drifted off to sleep.

I woke up to find someone tapping me on my knee. I felt a little pocket of druel in my mouth and before I acknowledged who was tapping me, I shrugged my shoulder against my mouth discreetly and then opened my eyes to find this guy, wearing a beige hat, smiling at me.

“Good morning sleepy head!” John said sarcastically.
“What time is it?” I asked.
“Ten minutes after seven.”
“What?! Where have you been? You’re late! Can you still go?” I asked in a panic.
“Yup, I got the morning off, but I have to be back by four o’clock this afternoon.”
“Cool! Let’s go!” I said anxiously.

Little did I know we had to make a stop at the store first. This meant we had to go into town. I knew I wasn’t supposed to leave camp, but I was a teenager driven mostly by peer pressure. So I agreed and off we went. We stopped into “Fast Fair” and John went in to pick up some last minute supplies. I thought he was getting cups or ice or something. A few minutes later, out he came with a bottle of Paul Masson wine and a six-pack of Strohs!

Now, I admit that I was no angel at this point in my life. I loved the taste of beer and used to sneak sips of it at parties my family attended. I had also tried marijuana once before, but didn’t like it because it burned my throat. I was afraid of any drugs stronger than that and never tried them. I like being in control of myself and don’t like hangovers. So, my “partying” was pretty much limited to a consumption of one beer. Today was going to be different.

John was a smooth talker in a way. He wasn’t pushy or anything, he just had a way of making everything sound so easy and harmless. He was from Texas, and I truly believe that they give guys charm lessons as part of their high school curriculum. At any rate, he convinced me to have a beer at 8:00 in the morning! I insisted that I have some sort of food first and ate a couple of carrot sticks…yeah that was real helpful.

As we headed back toward camp to begin our trek up the mountain, I consumed another beer. No alcohol was allowed at Blue Ridge and your car could get searched at the gate if they suspected anything. But at eight o’clock in the morning on a Sunday, there was little chance that we would get caught. The rest of the beers and the bottle of wine got stuffed into a backpack along with the lunch. I was feeling pretty silly at this point and couldn’t stop laughing. John thought I was “cute” and just laughed along with me.

Finally, we parked the car and hiked up to the base of the trail. The sign said “High Top: warning this trail is rugged and can be dangerous in places, only experienced hikers should attempt to climb to the summit!” Well, I was experienced and definitely in good enough shape to handle it, so up we went. I was still feeling a little foggy and giggled when I stumbled on a root or something. John and I talked about what our ambitions in life were and ourselves. At times, it was if I could hear his thoughts before he spoke them. It was weird, kind of like de ja vou. I attributed it to the effects of the beer and didn’t think much more about it.

Half way up the mountain, the trail began to get steep and rocky. I was leading the way until I suddenly felt my mouth watering and my head began to spin. I didn’t want to admit to John that I was feeling sick, so I pretended I wanted him to lead for a while since the trail was disappearing and he knew the way.

Not two minutes later, up came the carrots. Oh…my…God! They looked undigested and hurt like hell coming up. I was hoping that John hadn’t heard me gagging, but of course he did. I think he pretended not to in order to preserve my dignity. He hollered down, “Are you alright?”

“Oh yea!” I shouted. I was mad at myself for being stupid enough to drink and for having such a low tolerance.

“Do you want me to come down there and help you?” he asked from fifty yards ahead.
“NO!” I exclaimed. It was bad enough that I gotten sick, I didn’t want him to see it!

I took several deep breaths, placed my face on a cold rock and started feeling better. I started back up the trail and as I drew close to where John was waiting, he extended his hand and pulled me up onto a giant boulder. I reassured him of my well being and we resumed a good pace up the trail.

We made it to the top in just under forty minutes. The view was breathtaking. We sat on a giant rock that seemed to overlook the entire State. I sat there and smelled the clean, fresh air and thought to myself that there was no place else in the world I would rather be.

John and I exchanged further background information. He had just graduated from High School somewhere in Houston, Texas. He was headed to Steven F. Austin State University to major in Geology. He was a varsity swimmer and played the piano. He no longer competed in swimming but was very interested in pursuing a career in music.

I have always admired anyone with musical talent. But the piano is my favorite instrument. I had taught myself to play by ear. I wasn’t very good, but I enjoyed playing and making up songs. So, I was very eager to hear him play and he promised I would.

The skies began to cloud up and the temperature dropped. It looked like rain. But we were determined not to let a little water ruin our fun. We moved back into the woods where there was a cluster of trees and a small bed of leaves and pine needles on the ground. A perfect picnic spot!

We munched on our lunch and downed the bottle of Paul Mason. After it was empty, we buried it next to a tree with a note inside that read: “John and Tammy were here. We ate, we drank, and we laughed. Life was good.”

I was tired from my early rise and the day’s events. A nap sounded good. We slept side by side, never touching.

We both awoke at the EXACT same time! We looked at each other in amazement and then he looked at his watch. 3:42 pm! He had to be at work in seventeen minutes and we were still on top of the mountain! He couldn’t be late!

We grabbed our gear and took off down the trail. The trail was steep and rocky. There were roots sticking up out of the ground and downed trees blocked the path. We hurdled tree trunks and rocks pounding our knees on impact. We clung to vines and branches hanging from the trees above and swung through the air like monkeys.

Just as we were getting our momentum, the skies opened up and it began to pour!! The path turned into a stream. The trees provided little shelter from the hammering rain. We laughed as we slid and slipped in the mud. John was in front of me and all of a sudden he yelled out, “Snake!!” and jumped. I was following close behind and shrieked! There it was, a black snake slithering along in the water. I jumped too and didn’t look back.

We made it down the mountain in eighteen minutes. We both raced to Lee Hall and John went straight to his room to change into his staff uniform. I ran back to the McMahill’s cabin to get dry and all the while I smiled about my experience. At the same time, I felt bad that John was late for his shift. I figured he wouldn’t want to spend any more time with me after that. I was wrong.

That night he called me and asked if I would meet him in the Chapel after Church services were over. I happily agreed and slept well that night.

I walked into the chapel and was impressed with the walls of windows that displayed nature’s beauty. At the front of the room was a raised platform with a wooden pulpit. On the left was a beautiful Spinet piano, on the right was a huge pipe organ where John was sitting on the bench smiling. He didn’t say a word. He whipped around and began playing.

Suddenly I felt my skin explode with goose bumps! I was awestruck by the sounds and melody created by that instrument. I sat there on a chair watching and listening. His fingers seemed to move so fast yet so effortlessly. He smiled as he played. The most amazing feeling came over me. I felt as if I was having a telepathic conversation with him. I would think, “Oh, how beautifully you play!” And he would then look at me as if to say “Thank you.” I decided to test it out and find out if it was just my imagination. So I thought towards him, “Did you have fun yesterday?” And without hesitation, he turned and looked right at me and said “Definitely!”
My eyes grew wide and I asked, “How’d you do that?” Suddenly, he stopped playing.

He came over towards me and said, “I think we’re on the same brain wave Tammy!”
“The same WHAT?” I asked.
“Brain waves. It’s the energy created by one’s thoughts and emotions. I think that we have the same frequency in a way.”

At first I felt as if I had terribly misjudged this guy and wanted to politely excuse myself and find a new friend. But then I figured I would hear him out and make my determinations later.

He sensed my discernment and walked over to the piano. He motioned for me to come with him. I sat down beside him and he asked me if I would like to help him create a song.

“Who me?” I asked bewildered.
“Sure! he said encouragingly. I can tell you have a creative mind. You can help me with the words and I will create the music to go along with it.”
“O.K.!” I said and we created “The Forest” and our magical friendship took off.

To summarize, the song takes you on a walk through a forest. Trees surround you and up on a branch you see a woodpecker. As you continue to walk you see a flock of birds flying through a blue sky. Then you come to a meadow. There is a rabbit chewing on some grass and a fox is approaching. You turn around to find a bear growling at you. You run and find your way to the other side of the meadow where the fox is now chasing the rabbit and gaining ground. Then you glance away and see an owl looking at you and hooting. Back at the meadow the fox is still chasing the rabbit and the music is getting faster and faster until…Blam! “Chomp, chomp, chomp goes the fox on the rabbit. He ate his fuzzy tail and his long ears!” But the forest remained the same.

As the words spilled out of my mouth, John was quick to compose a corresponding musical depiction. Within thirty minutes we had written our first song together, but it would not be the last. After all was said and done, we would compose over twenty other songs. Most of them were based on our adventures and trips we took during our fourteen days of non-stop fun together.

We went white water rafting down the Nantahala River, performed our songs for some elementary children at Lee Hall, jumped around on some bunk beds we found in storage, went hiking all over the place, played video games in town, ran countless miles through wooded trails, jumped on trampolines, swam in the pool, excavated and maintained walking trails for the camp, played hide and seek at night with the other staff members, consumed a lot of beer around numerous bonfires, and last, but not least, we drove up and down the camp road at night in his car, with just the flashers on (that was wild!). We were never sexually intimate. The only time he kissed me was the day I left…

We were sitting on a log overlooking a stream. As we watched the water flow past us we realized our time together was going with it. We made a promise to each other that we would stay in touch and never forget that we were “connected.” He gave me his beige hat with his blue nametag on it as a memento. He leaned over and kissed me gently as if to say “Thank you.” I smiled and was just about to kiss him back when I heard my Mom calling for me.

My family was packed and waiting for me in “the bomb.” As we drove away I looked at him through the foggy rear window with tears running down my face. My heart ached. But I knew I would see him again, someday.

CHAPTER 4: MY ROOTS

Since my Mom and Dad had divorced, going back to Ohio was always an experience filled with mixed emotions. I often wondered what my life would have been like had we stayed in our small town and grown up with our relatives close by. As a child I was often saddened and cried when we left. But as a teenager, I realized that my life would have been dull, and I would have been just another face in a crowd of troubled teens with a boring life, longing to escape it.

Seeing my grandparents and cousins was always pleasant at first, but soon grew wearisome. It was always a battle of which side of the family was going to see us first and who would stay where. My brothers always wanted to stay with Daddy. I, being closest to Mom, was content being with her and her family. This summer, however, I decided to stay with Dad and his wife, Nancy, at their new farmhouse in the country.

Dad had inherited three stepdaughters in this marriage. I was three years younger than the oldest, Melissa, but she and I seemed to get along the best. She had a cool car. It was a black Ford Maverick with flames painted on the side. I helped her change out a starter for it one afternoon. In appreciation, she offered to take me out with her that night. My Dad was not too happy about it, but he didn’t feel as if he had much control of my actions at that time and didn’t try to stop me.

We met up with some of her friends from high school and we drank some beers and went hotrodding on the back roads. We had a great time and she was surprised that I was more mature than her younger sister. It was the start of relationship that I had never had before, a “sisterhood.”

During the time we spent in Ohio, I visited my Dad’s parents, my Mom’s parents, and my cousins on my mom’s side and my great grandparents on my Dad’s side. None of them ever understood my interest in sports and running. They never really approved of Jay as our stepfather and never understood why my Mom left my Dad. I defended my Mom and our lifestyle and explained that me and the boys were happy and that is what mattered.

I discovered on this particular trip that you can never go back and re-live your past. You can only hope that the path you chose for the future will deliver a life without regret and bring happiness to you and your family. Although we were not physically close to my relatives in Ohio, I always hoped that they realized how often I thought of them and how much they were loved.

As we said our “goodbyes” and headed for St. Louis, I cried. But this time it was not as a child wanting to cling to her Daddy, but as young woman who realized she didn’t really know anything about her father and had never made an attempt to find out. I vowed that my next visit would be spent changing that situation.

CHAPTER 5: LIFE ON THE ROAD

Over the last eight years, my brothers and I had experienced a number of road trips. We had suffered through boring highways, picnic lunches at road side rest areas versus McDonalds Happy Meals, playing the alphabet game with bill boards and road signs (you can never find “X” except for a sign showing the town of “Xenia Ohio” just outside of Cincinnati), games of “slug-a-bug,” and finding state license plates from around the country. But as teenagers, we had become less enthusiastic with such things. My brothers were completely happy scanning the sports and comics pages of the newspaper. But, with my carsickness problem, I was unable to read stuff or play any hand held travel games in the car. So I resorted to singing songs to myself and just thinking. I would think about boys, my future, the meaning of life, or whatever popped in my head. I often picked my Mom’s brain about things. She was usually happy to answer my questions for the first hour or so, but then she would ask me to sit quietly and assure me that we would be stopping soon.

After eight or ten hours of driving during the day, we were always anxious to stop for the night. My brothers and I would always pray for rain so that we might stay at a motel for the night rather than having to put up our tents, sleep on the ground, eat hot dogs and beans for supper by a campfire and have to walk half a mile, in the dark, to go to the bathroom. Our prayers were seldom answered. Nonetheless, I must admit we were a much closer family as a result. We each had our own tent to set up plus we were each assigned specific tasks. My brothers would collect wood for the fire. I would get water for the “Kool-Aid” jug and coffee pot. Mom would make sure everyone had clean clothes to wear for the next day and then get supper rounded up. Jay would set up his and Mom’s tent, plot the course for the next days drive, make any necessary telephone calls, put oil in “the bomb” and help the boys with the fire wood. We would often sing songs around the campfire while Jay played his guitar. We had some favorites that always made us laugh. We would usually turn in early so we could get up and go for a run together before breakfast the next morning. We were still “in training” after all.

We were headed out to Pikes Peak in Colorado and were all going to run in the marathon. Jay and Bobby were the only ones making the twenty-eight mile round trip run. Mom, Scotty and I were only running the fourteen-mile ascent. But that in itself was a difficult task. I was excited about returning to Colorado. We had been out there before when I was eight. I remembered riding horses and learning wood and leather crafts. But I was too young to participate in many things back then. So this time was going to be different. I wanted to do as much as I could in the two-week long running camp in which we were participating.

CHAPTER 6: CAMP CROCKETT

After a few days of driving to various sight-seeing places (St. Louis Arch, Mount Rushmore etc..) we arrived at Camp Crockett, Colorado YMCA just south of Colorado Springs. The majestic Rocky Mountains towered above us. The dry air smelled of the wild flowers, which grew in the grassy meadows. You could also smell the horses in the stables. I couldn’t wait to ride! But first we had to get our cabin. I was hoping it was going to be better than the one we stayed in eight years ago!…

It was called “The Hole.” The name itself was bad enough! It was a tiny two-room cabin that tilted to one side. The front room had a sofa bed, a rickety table with three wobbly chairs, and a small rust stained sink with a broken piece of mirrored glass hanging above it. The back room had a set of bunk beds and a rollaway bed in the corner. Their was no electricity hooked up and we had to use candles and lanterns to see at night. It created an eerie glow. The place gave me the creeps! After we had been there a few days I heard about the history of “The Hole” from some of the camp staff.

Apparently an old mining couple had spent the winter there and developed cabin fever. As a result, the old man went crazy and while his wife was sleeping, with her head hung over the bed, the man slammed the bed into the wall, crushing the woman’s head and killing her. He then shot himself in the head and the noise from the blast knocked the cabin off of its foundation, which is why it leaned to one side. The legend stated that the woman’s ghost still haunted the place.

Well, after that, I couldn’t sleep there. The next day I asked my mom if I could sleep with some of the other girls in their “Sinawik” (Kiwanis spelled backwards) cabin. They had asked me under the impression that I was a little boy. I had short hair at the time and when they asked what my name was and I said “Tammy” they thought I said “Timmy.” When I got my nightgown out that night, they were surprised!

But that was eight years ago and I was happy to hear that “The Hole” was bull dozed to the ground and we would be staying in some newly built dorms up on the mountain.

We checked in and I was “bunking” with a girl from Wyoming named Jill. She and I were the same age and hit it off from the start. We spent the first few days exploring the camp and ran
together everyday. We met up with a few other girls but most of them were kind of prissy, so Jill and I just hung out together.

It wasn’t long before we “ran” into the guys at the camp. It was kind of interesting. Other than a couple of boys of various ages staying on the grounds and my brothers, there were two groups of them attending the same training camp.

The first group consisted of six boys from Tuba City, Arizona. They were all Native Americans from the Hopi Tribe. They spoke in their native tongue whenever they didn’t want us to understand what they were saying. I thought it was cool to meet some true “Americans” and that they took pride in their culture enough to continue to speak the language. They all flirted with us at first, but after we discussed running and other nonsexual subjects, they simmered down and began to look at us as “friends” rather than “fresh meat.” Lloyd was the quietest and the cutest. After a brief conversation, Jill and I agreed to meet them later that night by the Bonfire.

Right next door, was the second group. These party animals were from Dallas, Texas! A bunch of “cowboys!” Jill immediately directed her attention toward the brown haired, blue-eyed Texan with a smile to die for. His name was Tom. They all removed their cowboy hats as we stepped into the room. They were charming and wanted to “win our hearts” amongst other things I’m sure. We both just smiled and invited them to the Bonfire.

That night, Jill and I primped, curled and sprayed our hair and rushed down to the Bonfire. We were anxious to see what the night would have in store. It was like something out of a western movie…The “Cowboys” versus the “Indians.” Thoughts of a possible fight ran through my head. I began to think maybe what we had done wasn’t such a good idea.

Just then, both groups were walking down the trail together. They all waved as they approached us. We all sat in a big circle that night and formally introduced ourselves to one another and everyone got along great. As curfew drew near, we put out the fire and cleaned up the area. Lloyd offered to walk me back to my cabin and I graciously accepted. Jill had already left on a walk with Tom.

As we walked along the dark trail our flashlights helped very little to detect any roots or rocks sticking up out of the ground. I tripped on one, call me “Grace.” I fell and hit my knee. Lloyd extended his hand and pulled me up. I realized that he was a gentleman and I didn’t feel intimidated by him. We talked all the way back to the dorm and he asked if we could get together again sometime. I agreed and as we approached my door, he stopped me. He leaned over towards me as if he were going to kiss me. But instead, he whispered something in my ear… “Um yuki takai” (Don’t know if the spelling is correct).

I asked him what it meant, but he just smiled and walked away. My heart jumped suddenly and a slight chill ran up the back of my neck. I wasn’t sure if I should have slapped him or kissed him! Who knew what he had said? Who was there to ask? Only his roommates spoke Hopi and if it were something private I didn’t want to advertise it! Hmmmf!

I could hardly sleep that night for the lack of knowing what it was that Lloyd had so gently spoken into my ear. The next morning I was charged with excitement from the anticipation of seeing Lloyd at the Mess Hall. On the way down to breakfast, Jill and I exchanged stories about the previous night. She had gotten more out of it than myself! I guess you have to move pretty fast in order to keep a guy in Wyoming. I didn’t place judgment on her, God knows I was no “Snow White.” It just takes me a while to loosen up to a guy. I have to get to know him as a person first. I like to think that he wants me for who I am, not for what I have between my legs. I’m allowed to delude myself aren’t I?

There he was, amongst his friends, eating his breakfast. I sat down with Jill a few tables over. I was just about finished and began to think he wasn’t really interested me when I suddenly felt his hands on my shoulders. He started to massage my neck when I turned around and noticed my Mom looking at me. I quickly maneuvered away from him and said,

“Hey, what’s up?” I had to act bothered by his actions in order to deceive my Mom. I figured if she thought any funny business was going on, she would make me stay in her cabin for the rest of our stay.

Looking surprised he said, “I’m sorry, Tammy. Did I do something wrong?”

“No, no, no!” I said quickly. “It’s just that my Mom is watching and I don’t want to get into trouble. Let’s go outside and go for a walk. I’ll meet you by the stables in a few minutes.”

I walked over to my Mom and she had fifty questions for me. Like a teenager, I tried to explain myself and defend Lloyd’s actions as “completely innocent.” She asked that I check in with her before dark and instructed that I stay out of “trouble.” I knew what she meant and assured her I would.

My Mom knew that I was no longer a virgin. But she didn’t want me to get a bad reputation, a disease or worse yet, pregnant! I could understand her concerns and was always very conscientious when it came to promiscuous behavior. I never led guys on and I never got myself into a bad situation. I knew how to handle myself and felt confident that I could fend off any unwanted gestures. My Mom however, didn’t share my confidence, but that’s all part of being a mother.

Outside, Lloyd was waiting by the stables. We went for a ride and talked about running mostly. He was surprised at my extensive athletic background being a girl and all. I had been running longer than he had and my mile time was only five seconds slower than his. He was impressed and asked if I would run the race with him. I agreed. I knew I wasn’t going to win any trophies or anything, and I just wanted to finish the race. I figured if I had someone there to help keep me keep going I had a better chance of being successful.

During the next several days, the “Cowboys,” “Indians” and Jill and I all trained, ate, played, walked, worked, rode horses and shared ghost stories together. We had a great time learning some Hopi words (most of which I have forgotten) and learning rodeo “lingo.” The only bits of wisdom that Jill and I were able to provide were regarding the “do’s and don’ts” on a first date. We gave the guys guidelines on what to do to impress a girl and what not to do in order to avoid insulting her. They always listened with great enthusiasm. Although Jill and Tom had become an “item” the rest of us just hung out as friends.

The guys from Arizona had not traveled much and were not used to the weather extremities of the Rockies. Once, while running, we got caught in a hailstorm. It took me thirty minutes to convince them that it was, in fact, hail and not frozen bird poop, which the guys from Texas had jokingly given as an explanation.

Race day had arrived! We were all excited and nervous. Some of the guys were hoping to win an age group or even place in the top ten finishers. My brother, Bob, was one of them. He was in good enough shape to do it, he just lacked confidence. I told him to just do his best and it didn’t matter how he placed, but to make sure he didn’t get injured. The trail was steep and rocky in places, especially above timberline. Coming down the mountain was more dangerous because your footing was hard to control when combined with speed, a steep incline and tired muscles.

Everyone finished the race. My brother Scott, Lloyd and I came in about 10 minutes behind my Mom. Later we found out that Jay and Bobby had also finished and did well. Bobby was among the top finishers in his age group and received a medal. The rest of us received patches and a T-shirt for our participation.

It was probably the most difficult physical challenge I had ever faced. Fourteen miles of uphill running in high altitude. The snack bar and tourist shop at the summit provided great comfort from the freezing wind outside. We all had hot chocolate and donuts as we recuperated from the race. Lloyd and I ventured outside again and took some pictures. We were so thrilled the race was over but at the same time saddened because we knew that camp was over and we would soon be saying goodbye. In the back of my mind I realized the chances of ever seeing him again were slim to none. But I was grateful to have met him.

I talked Mom into letting me ride back down the mountain in the van with Lloyd’s teammates. When we got back to camp, I took a hot shower and changed clothes. I met Lloyd and the rest of our gang at the Mess Hall. We planned a party for that night. Now all I had to do was to find a way to sneak off camp.

The camp was having their own celebration that night. So it wasn’t too hard to slip away undetected. We all piled into three different cars that belonged to the boys from Texas. We headed five miles down the road away from camp and found a perfect spot by a stream to set up a campfire. The guys had gotten a couple cases of beer, hot dogs, potato chips and stuff to make “smores.”

As the night air grew colder, we all huddled close by the fire and began to tell ghost stories. We were having so much fun that we lost track of time. We didn’t get back until after 3:00 am! I had a sinking feeling that I was going to be in trouble. I seldom got away with any wrong doings. Somehow my Mom always knew.

As we pulled into camp, we turned the headlights out and parked about half a mile from the main entrance. But as we walked up the road, we saw a group of people standing around with flashlights. The camp director, several camp counselors and my parents were all out on a search. Not only was I in trouble for being off camp, but I had violated curfew and we had all been drinking!

My Mom was too angry to even speak to me. I just got the evil glare and Jay told me to get to my cabin. It was a horrible way to end our otherwise perfect time together. All I could think of was how much I had disappointed my Mom.

The next morning I went straight to my parent’s cabin and apologized. I told them why I went and exactly what we had done and where. They still weren’t too happy with me but the anger level had dropped considerably. After breakfast, I went over to Lloyd’s cabin to say goodbye.

I asked him one last time to tell me what he had whispered into my ear that first night we met. I finally got the answer to the question that had tormented me over the last two weeks.

“Your pretty nose.” He said with a smile.

I looked at him inquisitively and asked, “My NOSE!?! What is so great about my nose?”

He just laughed and stroked my nose. Of all the things in the world I had imagined, I would never have guessed that. I had always hated my nose. It is long and pointy and I felt self conscious about it. I used to dream of having a cute little pug nose. People told me my nose gave me character. Yeah right. That day, however, I was thankful to have a nose that had made such an impression on a boy. The whole thing seemed kind of romantic in a way.

As I said goodbye to Jill, Lloyd and the rest of the gang, I didn’t shed any tears. Instead I smiled to myself realizing the friends I had made and the good times we shared would never be forgotten.

Jay topped off the car with oil, we all loaded up our gear and with a trail of smoke behind us, we headed out for Las Vegas

CHAPTER 7: LIMOS, LIGHTS AND A CAN OF FIX-A-FLAT

After spending a day and a night on the road, we arrived in Las Vegas in awe of its spectacular display of lights and huge signs. Jay had made connections with some company who agreed to put us up for two nights at the Stardust Hotel. I was expecting it to be some “hell hole” in comparison to all of the beautiful places we were passing along the strip. But much to my surprise, we turned into the parking lot of this beautiful place all lit up with tiny white lights. The parking lot was filled with cadillacs, mercedes, limousines and other assorted luxury cars.

There we were in our rust bucket car, pulling right up to the front door! The valet parking guys just looked on in amazement. As if the appearance of the car wasn’t bad enough, as we all began to tumble out of the passenger side door as the car coughed and sputtered, we noticed that we had not one, but two flat tires!!!! Argghhhh! I was so embarrassed, I wanted to just fade into the pavement. We piled back in and sheepishly limped out of the way of the other incoming cars. I hunched down in the seat as we waited for Jay to come back from the gas station down the street. He arrived about ten minutes later carrying two cans of “Fix-A-Flat.”

Right there in front of everyone, he sprayed the stuff into the tires, dumped more oil into the car and motioned for us to get out. I wanted to wait until we had the cover of darkness, but I wasn’t so lucky. I grabbed my duffle bag out of the car and began walking quickly inside, leaving my family behind. The front desk clerk asked me if I had any luggage to check in. I handed him my dusty duffle bag. He raised his eyebrows and picked it up by his thumb and one finger. I gave him a dirty look and said, “Just wait, there’s more!”

As the rest of the family strolled in we piled our raggedy luggage on the shiny brass dolly. We were shown to our room. It was huge and luxurious! The front walk-in closet was almost as big as my room back home!

Mom, my brothers and I went downstairs to check out the casino. What a place! I had seen images of Vegas on television, but nothing compares to a real life experience. My Mom played a few slot machines but luck was not with her at the time. We toured the rest of the hotel to stretch our legs, then headed back to the room.

Jay suggested we go for a run down “the strip” before dinner. Sounded good, so off we went. Six miles later we returned to the hotel, showered, changed our clothes and headed out. It was dark now and the city lights were stunning! We could hear the slot machines taking in and spitting out change at every casino. Hundreds of cars lined the streets and thousands of people were on the sidewalks! I was so excited to be there and wished I was ten years older.

The next day was spent visiting with some of Jay’s sponsors for his World Record attempt run through Death Valley, our next stop. The summer before, he had successfully completed a World Record solo run across America. He began in Los Angeles and finished in New York City in just under 72 days. He accomplished this feat without a support vehicle. It was just him and a backpack, filled with candy bars, a thermal blanket and a spare pair of running shoes. Funds were sent to pre-planned Post Office boxes by numerous friends, sponsors and of course our bank account. Many townspeople along the way provided him with lodging and a hot meal. Averaging 50 miles each day, it was an experience of a lifetime. His success only spawned his desire to achieve greater challenges. As a result he chose to run from Badwater, California (the lowest elevation point in the continental U.S.) to the summit of Mt. Whitney (the highest point in the continental U.S.) during the hottest time of year!

As we were leaving a local fitness center, we literally “ran into” Bob Barker (Price is Right host). He was just finishing a workout and on his way out for a run. We all chatted briefly and shook hands. I was “star struck” and could barely muster a “Nice to meet you!”

The next stop was the rental car place. I was thrilled that Jay had come to his senses and wasn’t going to drag us all through Death Valley in “the Bomb.” It was a beautiful blue AMC Concord with air conditioning!!!! My happiness was short-lived when we kids were told that Mom would be driving the rental car as a “support vehicle” for Jay and Bobby would be driving the Dodge to take me & Scotty to the various “checkpoints” or lodging for the night. This was arranged so that we would not have to sit in a hot car waiting for Jay every 3 miles or so. This would also allow us to spend our days exploring, swimming or watching TV while we waited for Mom and Jay. Begrudgingly, we accepted the idea.

We decided to take a “test drive” in the rental and check out what Death Valley was going to be like. After surviving a dust storm and being stuck behind a truck traveling 27 MPH for 2 hours, we arrived in Bad Water. The local resort was closed this time of year but had modest accommodations reserved for our family. I looked at the thermostat hanging underneath a “shade tree” and it read 127 degrees! I couldn’t believe it. The air was dry though and didn’t feel any hotter than the muggy 100-degree weather we lived with in Florida. It made me wonder how long a pair of rubber-soled running shoes was going to last on the sizzling asphalt.

After firming up the reservations and talking to the park ranger, we all headed back to the city of lights. Mom and I spent one last night in the casino downstairs and I drank “Shirley temples” to give the false appearance that it was a cocktail. We didn’t win much, five dollars or so. But we had a lot of laughs and saw some very strange people.

We were all up and out the door by 7 o’clock. It was raining. As we headed out of town we heard flash flooding warnings on the radio. The storm was getting stronger and we feared what was ahead. Mom and Jay were ahead in the Concord with their flashers on, we crept along behind them in the Dodge, sweating and steaming up the windows. The defroster only blew hot air on the floor. I had to wipe the windshield off with a T-shirt so Bob could see the road.
Just as we were approaching Bad Water, we saw brake lights ahead and then we were all stopped. The storm had caused a huge mudslide in the road and we had to take a detour around it. We drove an extra 20 miles or so in order to reach the resort in Furnace Creek. Was Mother Nature giving us some kind of warning as to what lay ahead in the next few days?

After a long morning of driving, sweating and arguing with my brothers about various things, I was not in the mood to go for a run. But we were coaxed into it. We discovered a lush golf course. It was like an oasis in the desert. The grass was so green against the now bright turquoise sky. It felt like carpet under my feet and I decided to run barefoot instead of wearing shoes. Jay frowned upon the idea, but I assured him I would be careful. Scotty and I lagged behind and tossed a tennis ball back and forth while we ran. Just as we were heading back, the sprinkler system came on! Water was being sprayed all over the place. We got soaked! It was a welcome relief from the heat so we decided to continue playing in them all the way back to the room. Some of the sprinklers were very high pressured as my brother found out while trying to jump over one!

We had a delightful home-cooked meal at a small “mom and pop” restaurant. Our desert was a delicious date milk shake! I usually have trouble eating dates because they remind me of the ever-abundant palmetto bugs (flying cock roaches big enough to vote) that plague the South. But this was very good. We were all tired and turned in early. As I drifted off to sleep I thought of John and longed to hear his music.

CHAPTER 8: “HELL”

A Park Ranger told Jay that the road was still closed because of the mudslide. He decided to run back and forth along the dry road to make up the distance. During his run, he was met by a group of running colleagues who told him the road was no longer closed! After having waited for three hours to get started that morning and not wanting to jeopardize the legitimacy of his record attempt, Jay decided to start fresh the next day and do it right.

At 7 o’clock am, the temperature had already reached 100 degrees. The boys and I waited for Jay to make his 18-mile trek from Bad Water to Furnace Creek. Three hours later he arrived. We kids all piled into the Dodge and told our parents we would see them at Stove Pipe Wells, which was 25 miles down the road and our lodging site for the night.

As we pulled in at the small dusty motel, we were excited to see a swimming pool! Yippee! After we checked in and unloaded the bags, we changed into our swimsuits and headed for the pool. Three big splashes sent the water up over the pool’s edges. As we all came up our faces showed the same agonizing expression. The water was HOT! It was like jumping into a hot tub without the bubbles. We grumbled as we got out. It was too hot to swim, no television to watch and we were in the middle of nowhere! We were like the children of Dr. Seuss muttering “Nothing to do but sit, sit sit.” Bob decided to go for a little run while Scotty and I sipped sodas by the pool. I was working on my tan and he was adorned with sun block, a towel and T-shirt fashioned like an Arabian Sheik.

Mom and Jay finally showed up. We compared notes and after Jay took a brief nap, he commenced his running again with Bobby tagging along. Around 7:30 that night we headed out to the only restaurant in the valley. The maître d’ told Jay that it would be a 30 minute wait. He still had a schedule to keep and needed to resume running. He very seldom spoke his mind in public, but he let that guy have it and we were seated immediately. I was impressed. However, Jay went back and apologized to him and explained how tired and stressed out he was. There were no hard feelings and we all chowed down on a hearty meal.

After dinner and a brief ride back to the motel, Jay started back on the road. The clear night sky and the full moon lit up the desert. While it was still quite warm, the pool had cooled off considerably and my brothers and I decided to go for a swim. As we were leisurely floating around in the water, Scotty suddenly yelled out, “What the hell was that!?”

I jumped and screeched a little. I thought he was just kidding around and as I began to lecture him about making so much noise, I felt something “whoosh” past me. “Ahhhhhh!”
I hollered. Then we saw them. BATS!! They too were enjoying the cool water!

It took no time for us to hop out of the water and seek shelter under the motel’s porch. We watched in amazement as the little black winged creatures swooped down into the pool to get a drink. Mom and Jay pulled in around 10:30 and shared in our amusement for a few minutes.

It was late and we knew we had a long drive the next day. The road had been flat and fairly strait up to this point. We were only 5 feet above sea level now (after having been -282). But our next stop would take us up to over 3,700 feet above sea level in just over 70 miles. Jay was already feeling some pain in his Achilles tendon. The hot, dry air had chapped his face. His fears of failure were suppressed but I knew they existed. We all worried about him out in the heat and pushing too hard, but we had faith that he would succeed and offered encouragement every chance we could. Our biggest responsibility was to behave and get along to avoid creating any unnecessary stress.

The next morning, after pouring oil into the car and checking her fluids, the boys and I headed out once more to face yet another hot day. The mountains we had viewed from afar, approached quickly now and the incline was taking its toll on the poor old car. Is wasn’t long before the car began to overheat. I finally talked Bobby into pulling over at one of the roadside water containers that we had seen throughout the valley.

Bobby can be pig-headed at times and doesn’t like to take orders from his little sister. But he knew we needed to stop. In a huff, he climbed over me and got out of the car. He opened the trunk and filled a milk jug with water. Without even thinking, he went to the front of the car, popped the hood and opened the radiator cap! Scalding hot water exploded out of the radiator and Bobby was screaming. Scotty and I ran out to help him. Luckily he was wearing sunglasses, which were now partially melted on one side. But his arm was not so lucky. He had burned it pretty badly. I escorted him back to the car and placed him in the back seat. Scotty and I pulled some sodas out of the cooler and we submerged Bob’s arm in the icy water. He was too quiet and I suspected he was in shock. I knew he was not fit to drive.

Scotty thought that he should drive since he was the next oldest. But I argued that he didn’t yet have his learners permit and I did, therefore I should drive. Needless to say, I won the debate and told Scotty to keep an eye on Bobby and to not let him go to sleep. It was six miles to Townes Pass, our rendezvous point with the folks and where we could possibly get some supplies to dress Bob’s burns. After filling the radiator, we headed out. The road was curvy and uphill the whole way. Scotty gripped the dashboard like a nervous cat holding onto a tree limb. I shrugged off his lack of confidence in me and got us there safely.

A couple hours later, Mom arrived and was informed of the day’s events. She was upset and felt terrible for having subjected us to all of this misery, but we assured her that we were okay and that it would all be over soon. We applied Solorcaine and gauze to Bobby’s arm and gave him some aspirin for the pain. I would have to drive, unlicensed and illegally, the remaining 64 miles to Lone Pine.

The road was narrow, curvy, and treacherous and continued to climb. Every once in a while the car would grumble and overheat. I would pull over and wait for her to cool down before continuing on. What should have taken just over an hour to drive ended up being more like three. Scott’s nervousness eventually faded and he was more attentive to Bob who kept his arm submerged in the ice chest. We both tried to keep light conversation going to boost his spirits and take his mind off of the pain. His burns were severe and the desert heat didn’t help matters.

As we limped into Lone Pine, we were all happy to see our reserved accommodations were not cheesy. It was a very modern facility with a pool, tennis courts, game room and a Jacuzzi! We checked in, unpacked the car and redressed Bob’s arm with fresh gauze. We agreed a swim was in order. Bob couldn’t go swimming, but was able to relax waist deep on the pool steps. We only had to wait a few hours before Jay and Mom arrived. Both of them were happy to see we had made it safely.

Jay had stopped in a little town in Panamint Valley. He was warned against doing so as it was once home to part of the Manson Gang. The locals didn’t take to kindly to strangers supposedly and Jay had doubts about going into this one gas station. To his good fortune, the woman was very hospitable and supplied him with the much needed water and supplies he asked for.

Facing the steep climb in the car was bad enough, I couldn’t imagine Jay having to run it. His muscles were aching but he needed to resume his endeavor. It was past lunchtime and we were all hungry. After a good meal and a short nap he and Mom were off again.

It would take two days for Jay to complete the never-ending hill up to Lone Pine. He would have to suffer through the hottest part of the valley before reaching the base of the highest peak. The surface temperature soared above 150 degrees and he recalled seeing a shaded thermostat registering 115 degrees.

We kids didn’t mind staying in Lone Pine. It was a beautiful tourist town. Souvenir shops and friendly people offered a great place for us to explore. There were numerous trails near the hotel. Scott and I ran together while Bob reluctantly stayed behind. He would need to stay off his feet if he was to accompany us all on the “big climb” up Mt. Whitney. He found pleasure in reading the sports page by the pool and secretly gazed at girls in their bikinis behind his new mirrored sunglasses.

When Jay finally arrived at Lone Pine he looked sun baked and exhausted. Rather than call it a day, he took a short two-hour break and resumed his trek to the base of the mountain, Whitney Portal, which was another 13 miles down (up) the road. I admired his determination and perseverance. I only hoped it would not be his undoing. He still had to tackle Mt. Whitney. His legs were fatigued and his Achilles tendon was getting worse. I wanted to help support him through this last stretch the journey. We all did.

CHAPTER 9: FOUR SEASONS IN ONE DAY

It was 4:00 a.m. and we were all getting dressed for our morning jaunt up the mountain. Having experienced Pikes Peak’s 14-mile trail in Colorado, we were rather confident that Mt. Whitney’s 11-mile climb would be slightly less grueling. I dressed in my usual running attire of shorts and a t-shirt. Jay convinced the boys to bring their windbreakers and sweat pants just in case it was cooler at the top. I did not want to carry any extra baggage and as it was already 80 degrees outside and the sun had not risen, coolness was the furthest thing from my mind.

My mother, who is always prepared (former cub-scout den mother), decided to bring her rain gear, a sweat shirt and the camera to capture the “record setting” on film. At the last minute she, for some strange reason, grabbed the matches on the nightstand and shoved them in her jacket pocket.

Jay and Bob brought flashlights, fruit, granola bars and I carried a couple bottles of water. Scott carried the flags that were to be held up at the moment of triumph. We each wore a small nap sack to share the load. We headed out the door and drove to Whitney Portal. At 5:15, we headed out for the top.

We had to use the flashlights on the heavily wooded trail. There were several small streams to cross and as we were hurrying, we didn’t always stay dry. My feet were soaked as I was leading the way and didn’t see the water until it was too late. The trail itself was hard to follow as there were few markings and it was not wide or heavily trafficked like Pikes Peak.

At six miles, we reached “timberline” and the trail was less dirt and more rock. The rock sizes seemed to get bigger the further up we went. It got to the point of literally having to climb over them. The sky was growing darker by the minute and we could hear crashes of thunder echoing throughout the mountain range. The air was thinning out and my enthusiasm with it.

With about three miles to go, we passed two hikers dressed in “foul weather gear.” We asked them if we were on the right trail to the top and if had they been there. The reply was grim.
“It’s too stormy! We are headed back to camp! You guys should do the same!” They hollered over the increasing winds.

We couldn’t turn back now, as much as I wanted to. We were so close to the top and Jay could still set the record. My body ached from the uphill battle and my feet were cold from my water-logged shoes. I slowed my pace and Jay and Bobby decided to go on ahead to shave off more time. I cried, feeling like I had let him down by not being in better shape. If only I had trained more seriously and listened to his advice when he gave it. As I drifted further behind the family, feeling more emotionally and physically exhausted, I saw Jay coming towards me.

He reached out, gave me his jacket, took my hand and said, “We are going to do this together or not at all! You can do it Tammy! Just keep moving and use your arms! We are almost there!” At that moment I felt a surge of energy inside and was determined not to let him down.

The wind howled in our faces forcing us backward at times. Sleet and snow began to sting my bare legs. My feet had become numb from the below freezing temperatures. Would we ever reach the summit? I kept looking for lights coming from a souvenir shop or coffee house like at the top of Pikes Peak. I saw nothing but snowflakes whipping around in front of me and the silhouette of Scotty struggling as well.

Suddenly, I heard Bob’s voice shouting. “Come on you guys! You’re almost there! You can make it! We have reached the top!”

After 5 hours of endless climbing, I was so glad to hear those words! I began laughing as I envisioned sipping a cup of hot chocolate and soothing my throbbing feet wrapped in a warm towel. My laughter was soon stifled by the sight of my brother standing upon a pile of snow-covered rocks that housed a small plaque. It read: “Mt. Whitney, summit 14,496 feet, highest point in the continental United States.”

“This is it?” I asked desperately. He pointed to a small rock shelter that looked like something out of the “Flintstones.” I found my brother inside gasping for air and shivering. We were all freezing and our teeth were chattering. Mom had taken photos of Jay with the three flags (two from his sponsors and a U.S. flag) and they soon entered the dirt floored dwelling. Mom tried to comfort us even though she too was cold and miserable. Suddenly she remembered the matches in her pocket!

As she pulled them out we all scrambled to find trash and small bits of wood or other flammable materials. Jay (a former Boy Scout leader) created a small fire and, to make it last a little longer, he burned the felt flags and wooden sticks (sparing the stars and stripes). As we choked on the smoke that lingered inside, we warmed our bare toes by the fire. I looked over at Scott and noticed he was crying. I asked him what was wrong and he whimpered, “We still have to go back down.”

The mere thought of it made us all groan. We were used to driving down Pikes Peak after such an undertaking. But there was nothing up here to get us back down except our own frozen feet. We were not dressed to survive the freezing temperatures, we had eaten all of the food, were low on water, and were out of dry materials to burn. We had to head back and soon.

The storm had eased up only slightly. With thoughts of being back in the desert heat and knowing it was all down hill from here, my brothers and I hurried down the path, leaving Mom and a hobbling Jay behind. We were assured that they would be fine so we didn’t feel guilty.

We had been zipping along at a pretty good clip and had left the snow behind. After about 3 miles or so, we could feel the temperature warming up a bit. We could see the green trees down below and knew we were approaching the half way point. The trail was still quite treacherous and required tremendous agility. Our legs were beginning to wear out and we decided to slow down to avoid injury or falling off one of the many cliffs. The feeling in my toes came back and the sun was shining.

We were now on more even ground and about 3 miles from the bottom. As quickly as the sun emerged, thick dark rain clouds covered it again. Without warning, the skies opened up and the rain fell in huge drops. We were instantly soaked and more irritated than ever. Would this torture ever end? Was there a shortcut down the mountain? We didn’t want to take a chance in getting lost so we decided to stay on the slippery trail.

We ventured back through the streams we had crossed earlier, only larger now, and back down through the towering sequoia trees. In just under 4 hours, we were back down at the bottom and a few hundred yards from the car.

“Do you have the keys, Bob?” I asked. “No.” he replied sadly.

Scotty expressed his frustration with a few colorful metaphors. We tried to find a tree that would shelter us from the pouring rain, as if it mattered. We were sopping wet from head to toe, thirteen miles from civilization, locked out of the car containing a bag of chips and a few granola bars and too tired to stand up.

Almost two miserable hours passed waiting for Mom and Jay to come down. We had experienced the heat of the summer that morning, the coolness of fall later that morning, the Arctic conditions of winter at the summit and the rains of spring that afternoon. We were all tired, cranky and bewildered and wished we were back in the middle of Death Valley where it was dry and hot. Jay reminded us that we would soon have our wish as we would have to drive back through it when we headed home! Arghhhhh!

We celebrated Jay’s victory that night with another family and other running friends. It was a short-lived event as we were all extremely tired and were anxious to get some sleep. That night I sat looking up at the moonlit sky and reflected on our trip. As the realization set in of what I had experienced throughout this whole vacation, the thought of going home seemed unappealing. There were no more exciting new places to see and Interstate “10” was a boring stretch of road. The only great challenge remaining was to make it back to Jacksonville in “the bomb.”

CHAPTER 10: HOMEWARD BOUND

After a much faster drive through the Death Valley we were able to appreciate the beautiful colors of the desert and the spectacular sight of the borax flats. We arrived in Las Vegas and spent one last night there taking in all it had to offer with much less stress.

Once we intersected with I-10, my mind became blank with the lack of anything of real interest to look at. I just sat back in a half sleep reminiscing about our trip and the people we had met along the way. I re-created in my mind all of my adventures over and over again so as not to forget a single detail. As we approached Texas, I remembered John Parker being from Houston. I knew he would have left Blue Ridge by now and pleaded with Jay to take a detour down there so I could look him up. I got a big fat rejection. I pouted for the next hundred miles or so and went back to daydreaming.

We finally hit the Florida state line after three long, grueling days of driving in the humid heat of the South. In six hours we would be home and the adventure would come to a close, I thought.

When we pulled in the driveway, I noticed a small piece of paper stuck in the front door. I figured it was a note from our neighbors who had been collecting the mail and taking care of our dog and cat while we were gone. The only unusual thing about it was that they knew we rarely used the front door and entered the house from the side door by the carport. But I casually walked up to door, removed the paper, and opened it up. I let out a loud screech of excitement (as all teenage girls do) and went running toward my Mom.

“What is it?” she asked.

I handed her the note. It read: “THE FOX AND THE RABBIT WERE HERE!”

It was from John. He had been to my house and had spent three days camped out in the yard waiting for us to return. I had missed him by one day! We probably crossed paths on I-10 and didn’t even know it! I was so excited and ran down to the neighbors to collect the mail. Amongst all of the bills, junk mail and running magazines were 16 letters that John had written and one tape that he had made of all the songs we wrote while at Blue Ridge. I couldn’t believe it, but was utterly thrilled. What was to be the end of my adventure turned out to be the beginning of something that would create a whole new meaning of the word. But that is another story!

CLOSING NOTES

I hope that you enjoyed reading my story. Although it is all true, I wrote it to provide entertainment and a temporary distraction from life. I am now a happily married mother of three young boys and life can be filled with little adventures everyday like trying to find a lost diaper bag at Disney World and succeeding! It is not always exciting or romantic and does not offer many rewards. It can be boring and repetitious at times and occasionally I feel bogged down. But it is because of my experiences as a child, young woman and an adult that I have been happy in my daily life.

Whenever I get overwhelmed with feelings of being unappreciated, unattractive or just plain down in the dumps about any little thing, I can always find a way to rise above it by reflecting on something from my past. I have had to overcome a great deal of unhappiness in past relationships, my job, my health and my appearance. But rather than dwell on the negativity I sit down and remember some positive experience and allow its “energy” to pull me up. The positiveness inside of me exists because I was exposed to a wide variety of people and places, had a loving family, and acquired an education in life not found in any school.

Anyone can have an adventure. Whether it consists of a vacation to a new place, a walk through the city, window-shopping or surfing the Internet. Life has many positive things to offer. My advise for anyone who is lonely, frustrated or just depressed about themselves or the life around them, is to get away from your day to day routine and do something impulsive. Take a road trip. Try on crazy hats with a friend or your Mom (our idea of fun in a snobby store). Hike some trails and experience nature up close and take in all of her beauty and wonder. You would be surprised at the way it makes you feel and the long lasting impression it will provide.

Whatever you decide, don’t just dream it, do it! Anything can be achieved with a little effort and a lot of determination. Don’t look at life as having “stumbling blocks” but rather “stepping stones.” Do not confine yourself with being too young or too old to try something. Let the world, and all it has to offer, be yours to explore, digest and enable you to grow old happily and without regret. If I were to die tomorrow, I can honestly say that I have led a full life and hope my children will do the same. What about you?

end

From Lowest to Highest, Birmingham Claims Another Record

Originally published in the September 1981 Starting Line, the monthly publication of the Jacksonville Track Club, Florida.

Jay Birmingham, Jacksonville’s running guru, co-founder of the JTC, and distance runner extrordinaire, spent his summer, like most of us, running in the heat. But it wasn’t enough that he put in his miles in the sticky humidity and upper-nineties heat of Florida. No; Birmingham decided to put his 100+ miles per week of training to the test in California’s Death Valley.

As most of you already know, Jay succeeded in his quest to improve on the record for running from the lowest point in the country (Badwater, in Death Valley) to the highest mountain peak in the 48 United States (Mount Whitney), both in California, and only 146 miles apart. With his family serving as support crews and running companions, Jay covered the distance in 75 hours and 34 minutes.

The previous best mark was set in 1977 by Al Arnold, a native Californian who failed at least two other times to complete the route. Arnold’s solo record time was 84 hours.

Last summer, Birmingham captured the imagination and support of much of the Jacksonville community with his solo run from Los Angeles to New York City, a distance of almost 3000 miles in just under 72 days. On the eve of his departure from L.A., he met an experienced desert runner named Gary Morris who provided Jay with a desert shirt to help with his trans-America run. Morris was hoping to break Arnold’s record last year but managed only 60 miles before extreme heat and nausea halted his quest.

Birmingham has always competed strongly under hot conditions so the idea to pursue the Death Valley mark was a natural. With the encouragement and financial backing of Baptist Medical Center, Jay bumped his mileage over the 100 miles per week level as soon as his teaching duties at Episcopal H.S. were done in May.

Many hard-core locals have competed in the Sand Dunes Challenge, a five-mile ordeal through the soft sand near Regency Square in the Arlington area. But Jay ran that course every other day at noon in the month of June. He alternated the sand runs with multiple loops over the Main Street and Acosta Bridges. To prepare for the mountains, Birmingham ran the Gulf Life Tower’s 26 floors, five times, once a week. His long run was typically the 21-mile, 21-hill Lydiard Course near his home in east Jacksonville.

Wife Anita, sons Bobby and Scott, and daughter Tammy, all prepared well themselves. The whole family raced in the Pikes Peak Marathon or Ascent just a few days before heading to Death Valley. From August 15 through the final miles on the 18th, Bob ran many miles of the DV route with Jay. The entire family hiked and jogged the final 11 miles up Mount Whitney’s 14,496-foot summit. After three days of heat ranging from 95 to 120 degrees, they finished in a snowstorm!

Jay said the run in Death Valley was the best-planned run he has ever done. His preparations went smoothly, no injuries interrupted his training, and his fitness was high, even by his standards. Nevertheless, Birmingham said that he was conservative because of the failures of others. He believes many JTC runners could accomplish the run and do it much faster.

2018 Badwater 135 Pre-Race Press Release

THE WORLD’S TOUGHEST FOOT RACE CELEBRATES 41st ANNIVERSARY OF ICONIC ROUTE FROM DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK TO MOUNT WHITNEY

To download the full Press Release, Media Kit, and Credential Application in PDF format, click here.

To download the July 2018 issue of BADWATER Magazine, click here.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Death Valley, CA:  On July 23-25, AdventureCORPS presents its legendary BADWATER® 135. Now in its 41st year, the world-renowned event pits up to 100 of the world’s toughest athletes against one another and the elements. In scorching temperatures and at altitudes as high as 8,360 feet (2548m), runners, triathletes, adventure racers, and mountaineers from 22 countries and 22 American states will face off in a grueling 135-mile non-stop run from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, CA. Widely recognized as “the world’s toughest foot race, “ it is the most demanding and extreme running race on the planet.

The start line is at Badwater, Death Valley, which marks the lowest elevation in North America at 280’ (85m) below sea level. The race finishes at Whitney Portal at 8,300’ (2530m). The course covers three mountain ranges for a total of 14,600’ (4450m) of cumulative vertical ascent and 6,100’ (1859m) of cumulative descent. Whitney Portal is the trailhead to the Mt. Whitney summit, the highest point in the contiguous United States. Competitors travel through places with names like Mushroom Rock, Furnace Creek, Salt Creek, Devil’s Cornfield, Devil’s Golf Course, Stovepipe Wells, Panamint Springs, Keeler, Alabama Hills, and Lone Pine.

While runners began running the course in the 1970s, the race itself has been part of the fabric of life in Inyo County since 1987. A recent study indicated an annual economic impact of 1.2 million dollars, half of it spent in Death Valley National Park and surrounding gateway communities such as Lone Pine, CA. The race is supported by U.S. Congressman Col. Paul Cook (Ret.) of California’s 8th District, the Inyo County Board of Supervisors, the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce, and a wide panorama of businesses and charities which are positively impacted.

RouteMap2016

A true “challenge of the champions,” the 2018 Badwater 135 features 50 Badwater veterans and 49 rookies: die hard “ultra-runners” of every speed and ability, as well as athletes who have the necessary running credentials, but are primarily known for their exploits as adventure racers, mountaineers, triathletes, or in other extreme pursuits.

With one of the most international fields in race history, the athletes represent twenty-two countries: Armenia (first-ever Armenian entrant Telma Ghazarian Altoon), Australia, Brazil, Canada, Cayman Islands, Czech Republic, Greece (first ever Greek female entrant Georgia Mitsou), Hungary, India, Indonesia (first-ever Indonesian entrant Hendra Wijaya), Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and United States of America.

Twenty-two different American states and territories are represented: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Puerto Rico, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Washington.

There are 32 women – a record number – and 67 men. The youngest runners are Ryan Montgomery (24) and and Kayla Delk (31). The oldest female is 62 (2016 and 2017 finisher and age group record holder Pamela Chapman-Markle of San Leon, Texas) and the oldest male is 71 (seven-time finisher Mark K. Olson of Covina, CA). The overall average age is 45. Full roster details are available here: http://dbase.adventurecorps.com/roster.php?bw_eid=85&bw=Go

Both men’s and women’s course records were broken in 2016: Pete Kostelnick, 28, of Lincoln, NE set the men’s record of 21:56:31, while Alyson Venti (now Allen), 34, of New York, NY, set the women’s record of 25:53:07. It is expected that the winners of the 2018 Badwater 135 will finish in near record time for both men’s and women’s divisions. The average finishing time is approximately 40 hours, while the overall time limit is 48 hours. For those who finish in less than forty-eight hours, their reward is the coveted Badwater 135 belt buckle. There is no prize money.

The Holy Grail of Ultra Running

The 2018 race field is particularly competitive. Veteran men’s contenders include 2015 and 2016 champion Pete Kostelnick, 30, of Hannibal, MO (who also broke the 36-year-old Trans-USA running record in 2016), 2014 champion Harvey Lewis, 42, of Cincinnati, OH (who placed 2nd in 2016), 2011 men’s champion Oswaldo Lopez, 46, of Madera, CA (Mexico citizenship), 2008 men’s champion Zach Gingerich, 39, of Newberg, OR, and other notable contenders such as multiple Badwater Salton Sea champions Jared Fetterolf, 29, of Dallas, TX and Ray Sanchez, 51, of Sacramento, CA, and two-time Badwater Cape Fear champion Eric Hunziker, 49, of Cincinnati, OH.

The largest women’s field in race history is also stacked with talent, but no recent women’s Badwater 135 champions. The women’s field of 31 runners includes 14 rookies and 18 veterans. Notable contenders include Badwater 135 veteran Brenda Guajardo who is a three-time winner of the Nove Colli ultramarathon in Italy and placed 2nd female and 10th overall in the 2016 Badwater 135, along with 2017 second place female Amy Costa and 3rd place female Pamela Chapman-Markle.  With a record number of women competing – includes those with podium finishes at some of the world’s toughest ultramarathons – it will be an intense battle.

Also competing are Badwater legends Marshall Ulrich, 67, of Evergreen, CO, a twenty-time Badwater 135 finisher and four-time winner in 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1996, along with David Jones, 66, of Murfreesboro, TN, the 1997 Badwater 135 race champion, nine-time finisher, and 60+ age group record holder.

Every year is a new year at the Badwater 135, with rookies and “previously unknown” athletes surprising the contenders with top performances. New stars will shine as the race unfolds.

As detailed on the race roster, the race will begin in three waves on Monday evening, July 23:

• Wave 1 (800pm): 13 men and 18 women; 15 rookies and 16 veterans = 31 runners

• Wave 2 (930pm): 25 men and 5 women; 13 rookies and 17 veterans = 30 runners

• Wave 3 (1100pm): 29 men and 9 women; 21 rookies and 17 veterans = 38 runners

BAD-UltraCup.2The Badwater 135 is the final event in the Badwater® Ultra Cup, a three-race series which began with the 51-mile Badwater® Cape Fear in March, continued with the 81-mile Badwater® Salton Sea in April, and now concludes with the Badwater 135 in July. Those runners who complete all three events in the same calendar year are featured on the Badwater.com website and their virtues are extolled throughout the Internet and in future editions of BADWATER Magazine. In 2014, seven athletes completed the entire Badwater Ultra Cup, nine completed the 2015 Badwater Ultra Cup, sixteen completed the 2016 Badwater Ultra Cup, fifteen racers completed the 2017 Badwater Ultra Cup, and fourteen racers have completed the first two Badwater races this year and will toe the line at this third and final Badwater race on July 23-25.

Now in its nineteenth year producing this race, AdventureCORPS greatly appreciates the support of Pure Vitamin ClubFarm to Feet Socks, Caring House Project Foundation, ZZYXXZ, Nathan Sports, Joshua Tree Products, and ZombieRunner, plus the local support of The Oasis at Death Valley, Stovepipe Wells Resort, Panamint Springs Resort, Dow Villa, Pizza Factory, the community of Lone Pine, CA, the people of Inyo County, and other generous companies and individuals. More info: www.badwater.com/about-us/sponsors/

Official Charities of the Badwater 135 include the Challenged Athletes Foundation. As one of the very few charities that provides grants directly to athletes with a physical disability, the Challenged Athletes Foundation has raised over thirty million dollars and directly assisted thousands of challenged athletes world-wide. AdventureCORPS also supports the Bald Head Island Conservancy, Death Valley Natural History Association, Conservation Alliance, and One Percent For The Planet. One of the goals of the Badwater 135 is to raise funds for, and awareness of, these organizations. More info. Additionally, many of the race entrants are competing on behalf of a charity of their choice.


This year’s race celebrates the 41st anniversary of Al Arnold’s original trek from Badwater Basin to Mt. Whitney in 1977. Arnold, an ultrarunning pioneer, human potential guru, and health club manager, competed in a solo effort: it was just Arnold and his support crew against the elements and the clock. It took him three efforts before he was successful, having first attempted the route in 1974 and then 1975. It took four more years until Jay Birmingham also completed the course, in 1981. The official head-to-head race began ten years after Arnold’s pioneer trek, in 1987, and has been held annually since then without serious incident, fatality, or any citations issued by any branch of law enforcement.

Sadly, we lost our incredible friend Al Arnold when he passed away last year on September 6, 2017 at the age of 89. When I first took over this race in 1999, Al was one of the very first people that I tracked down and went to go meet. The previous race organizers had never contacted him, so he was pleased that somebody with an appreciation of history had taken over the event and made an effort to reach out to him. We became incredible friends and stayed in touch regularly and I visited him in his home in Walnut Creek whenever possible; he would regale me with stories about his life and always cooked up a veggie burger. He had a zest for life that was incredible.

Al served on the Badwater Application Review Committee for about a decade – helping to select the race field – and also wrote yearly essays to inspire and enlighten the Badwater 135 competitors and crews. (These are permanently archived on the Badwater.com website.)

We brought Al to the race in 2002, the 25th anniversary of his run, and he was treated like a rock star by everyone in attendance. Since then, he was in regular email contact with runners all over the world, some of them Badwater 135 veterans and some were long-term hopefuls looking for advice from the man who first showed us what was possible. Just last summer, race veteran Cory Reese went to visit Al to interview him for his book about the race, “Into The Furnace.” Speaking of stories about Al, besides opening our July 2018 magazine with his obituary, we are also pleased to reprint therein the entire ten-page article from the Spring 1978 issue of Marathoner Magazine about Al’s pioneering run. What a story, what a life!

There is no doubt that Al was well loved and respected within the Badwater Family and the running world at large. He will be sorely missed, but his spirit will live on with each year’s edition of the world’s toughest foot race.

Al Arnold at the start line of the 2002 Badwater Ultramarathon.

For more info about Al Arnold and also the original race click these links:

1977 Al Arnold: http://www.badwater.com/blog/category/al-arnolds-insights/

1987 Race: http://www.badwater.com/blog/1987-the-year-badwater-became-a-race/


WEBCAST, RACE UPDATES, PRESS CREDENTIALS, AND FURTHER INFO:

A stock image gallery – for bona fide media use only – may be accessed at the following link, with Photographer Name / Badwater.com attribution required: www.flickr.com/photos/chriskostman/sets/72157654693333871

For the duration of the 2018 race, fans can follow the race through a “live” webcast – including live GPS tracking of all racers – at http://www.badwater.com/2018-badwater-135-webcast/

The Badwater 135 is held under permits from Death Valley National Park, California Department of Transportation, Inyo National Forest, and Inyo County. Media and/or commercial photographers attending the event may be required to obtain permits from some of those same agencies.


FOLLOWING THE BADWATER 135 ONLINE

Follow the 2018 webcast at (including real-time GPS tracking of all runners) at this link.

Follow the 2018 time splits and results at this link.

Follow the race on Twitter @Badwater:

http://twitter.com/badwater

Official Hashtag: #Badwater135

Follow the race staff’s live photostream on Instagram @BadwaterHQ:

http://instagram.com/badwaterHQ

Follow the race director’s live photostream on Instagram @ChrisKostman:

http://instagram.com/chriskostman

Follow the race staff’s photostream archive on Flickr:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/adventurecorps/

Follow the race director’s photostream archive on Flickr:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/chriskostman/

Join the Facebook conversation:

http://www.facebook.com/badwater135

Download the July 2018 issue of BADWATER Magazine at this link.

Download the 2018 press kit at http://www.badwater.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/2018-Press-Kit.pdf


ABOUT ADVENTURECORPS, INC.:

Oak Park, CA-based AdventureCORPS®, Inc. is an athlete-run firm producing and promoting ultra-endurance sports events and the world’s toughest brand, BADWATER®. Adventure is our way of life. AdventureCORPS’ world-class events for athlete-adventurers include epic races such as the Badwater® 135, BADWATER® Salton Sea, and BADWATER® Cape Fear, and other events. Our products include the Badwater® line of apparel, skin care products, gear, and services. Founded in 1984 by Chris Kostman, this group effort is dedicated to exploring the inner and outer universes, seeking adventure, energy, and insight both in daily life and “out there.” More info is available at  www.adventurecorps.com and www.badwater.com.

Badwater® is a federally registered trademark owned by AdventureCORPS, Inc.

CONTACT:

Chris Kostman
Chief Adventure Officer and Race Director
AdventureCORPS, Inc. 638 Lindero Canyon Road, #311
Oak Park, CA 91377 USA

Books About the Badwater Ultramarathon

or authored by Badwater veterans, and featuring Badwater, listed alphabetically by author

The Death Valley 300

by Richard Benyo, published August 1991

In 1989, two runners—Tom Crawford and Richard Benyo—set off to become the first people to run from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney and back…in mid-summer. They completed this first double crossing, which became known as the “Death Valley 300.”

The Athlete’s Way

by Christopher Bergland, published June 2008

The Athlete’s Way presents a practical, motivational fitness program that incorporates brain science, positive psychology and behaviorism to transform lives from the inside out. It is the antidote to the imbalances created by living a sedentary, inactive existence. Badwater Ultramarathon veteran Christopher Bergland has created a program that uses neurobiology and behavioral models to help improve life through exercise.

The Longest Hill

by Jay Birmingham, published August 1983

Jay Birmingham recounts his 1981 Death Valley crossing, the second ever successful run from Badwater to Mt. Whitney.

FINANCIAL FITNESS: The Journey From Wall Street To Badwater 135

by William Corley, published 2017

This book details Corley’s path from being a flat broke 20-year-old kid in Tennessee to making it on Wall Street and becoming a millionaire in his late 30s. He tells the story of his transformation from being a couch potato in his early 40s to running his first 5km event and subsequently qualifying for the Boston Marathon, competing in the New York Ironman Triathlon, and, a decade later, running the Badwater 135.

Death Valley Ultras: The Complete Crewing Guide

by Thesera Daus-Weber and Denise Jones, published May 2006

Written by two runners with years of experience in the Valley, this guide is a collection of everything runners and their crew need to know to crew a successful Death Valley ultra compiled into one well-organized, easy to use reference.

The Clock Keeps Ticking

by Sharon Gayter, published November 2010

Sharon Gayter is one of the world’s top ultra runners. She could barely stagger half a mile before collapsing breathless and exhausted after a friend gave her a first pair of running shoes. She has now run 837 miles from Lands End to John O’Groats in a blistering 12 days and 16 hours and holds the Commonwealth gold medal for running 140 miles in 24 hours. She has run incredible distances all over the world. Sharon Gayter was driven to run. Running gave her freedom, to discover who she was and to make her own life on her own terms with spectacular success. En route to international acclaim she found the perfect husband. An amazing, inspirational story for runners and non-runners alike.

To the Edge

by Kirk Johnson, published July 2002

When his older brother commits suicide, Kirk starts running—running to escape, running to understand, running straight into the hell of Badwater, the ultimate test of endurance equal to five consecutive marathons. From the inferno of Death Valley to the freezing summit of Mt. Whitney, alongside a group of dreamers, fanatics, and virtual running machines, Kirk will stare down his limitations and his fears on a journey inward-a journey that just might offer the redemption of his deepest and most personal loss. Johnson is an editor at the New York Times who completed the 1999 Badwater Ultramarathon and was featured in “Running on the Sun,” the feature-length film about that year’s race.

Run!: 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss

by Dean Karnazes, Published March 2011

From the hilarious to the profound, the linked stories in Run! create an unforgettable tableau, offering a glimpse into the mind-set and motivation of an extreme athlete. Karnazes addresses the pain, perseverance, and emotional state as he pushes the edges of human achievement. The tales of the friendships he’s cultivated on his many adventures around the world warm the heart and are sure to captivate and inspire.

Ultramarathon Man

by Dean Karnazes, Published March 2005

Dean Karnazes is an ultramarathoner, a member of an elite group of athletes who run in 50- and 100-mile races and beyond. In Ultramarathon Man, he recounts some of the biggest races of his life and explains the passion that leads him to push his body to its limits. Although this book was released in early 2005, the year after Dean won the Badwater Ultramarathon, the chapter about Badwater recounts his DNF experience in the 1995 race.

Born to Run

by Christopher McDougall, published May 2009

Born to Run is an epic adventure that began with one simple question: Why does my foot hurt? In search of an answer, the author sets off to find a tribe of the world’s greatest distance runners and learn their secrets; in the process showing us that everything we thought we knew about running is wrong.

PLEASE NOTE: The author did not attend the Badwater Ultramarathon and essentially everything he wrote about the race is either extreme exaggeration, unsubstantiated hearsay, ancient and irrelevant history, or just plain nonsense. His “quotes” from the race director were not from an actual interview; they were copied from the official race report.

Burst This!

by Frank McKinney, published February 2009

Badwater Ultramarathon veteran and “real estate artist” Frank McKinney helps you wash away the worry and anxiety that financial theorists and misguided media constantly dump into the real estate marketplace. During his 25-year career, Frank has thrived through all economic conditions by taking a contrarian approach and making his own markets.

Dead Fred, Flying Lunchboxes, and the Good Luck Circle

by Frank McKinney, published February 2009

Badwater Ultramarathon veteran Frank McKinney boldly enters young reader fiction in this fantasy novel. The story was inspired by the more than 1,250 walks to school McKinney has shared with his daughter and her friends in real life. Come along with Ppeekk and her friends into the fantastical world of Dead Fred, Flying Lunchboxes, and the Good Luck Circle.

The Tap

by Frank McKinney, published January 2009

Renowned “real estate artist” and Badwater Ultramarathon veteran Frank McKinney reveals the most important spiritual principle behind his astronomical success. He explains how God has tapped him (and taps everyone) many times in life, answering prayers and presenting life-changing opportunities. Learn how to listen and respond to your own “Tap Moments.”

The Extra Mile

by Pam Reed, published September 2007

In The Extra Mile we watch Badwater Ultramarathon veteran Pam Reed seek balance in her life as a wife, mother, athlete, and entrepreneur. With astonishing candor she tells of her 15-year-long battle with anorexia. And she helps us to understand her passion for ultrarunning—to discover how far the human body can be pushed.

Into The Furnace: How a 135 mile run across Death Valley set my soul on fire

by Cory Reese, published 2018

When life turns up the heat, you have two choices. You can bend and break, or you can step boldly into the furnace and let your soul catch fire. Into The Furnace explores the inner workings of bravery, hope, and passion. These themes are framed against the backdrop of the Badwater Ultramarathon – a 135 mile race across the hottest place on the planet, Death Valley. Cory Reese has walked into the furnace. He has faced adversity, both in running and in life. His book captures the essence of what it means to suffer, what it means to persevere, and ultimately, what it means to create a life of clarity and purpose..

Running Hot

by Lisa Tamati, published May 2010

The Badwater Ultramarathon through California’s Death Valley is one of the world’s toughest races. Lisa Tamati was the first New Zealand woman to compete in the race alongside such legends of the sport as Dean Karnazes and David Goggins. But Lisa’s story is so much more than that one race.

Running on Empty

by Marshall Ulrich, published April 2011

In the fall of 2008, Badwater veteran Marshall Ulrich clocked the third fastest transcontinental crossing to date and set new records in multiple divisions. In Running on Empty, he shares the gritty backstory. Ulrich also reaches back nearly 30 years to when the death of the woman he loved drove him to begin running—and his dawning realization that he felt truly alive only when pushed to the limits.

Der Wüstenläufer

by Jens Vieler and Klaus Dahlbeck, published 2015

This is the the only book/ e-book in German language about Badwater 135. Vieler is a two-time Badwater 135 finisher in 2011 and 2017.

Jens Vieler has a dream: to start at the legendary Badwater Ultramarathon. The race takes 217 kilometers through one of the hottest parts of the world and at the same time from the lowest point in the USA up to the highest mountain in continental North America. To fulfill the qualification standard alone, he has to perform crazy endurance achievements. When he is finally able to start as one of 100 chosen ones, an adventure begins that demands more than just a runner.

Death Valley – Welcome – German

2004 finisher

Click here to read this story in English

 

Du Trockenlippiger, sei stets auf der Suche nach Wasser!

Die trockene Lippe ist ein sicheres Zeichen

Dass sie am Ende die Quelle finden wird.

Diese Suche ist eine gesegnete Unrast

Sie überwindet jedes Hindernis

Ist der Schlüssel zu dem, was du begehrst.

Wenn du auch kein Gefäß hast, höre nicht auf zu suchen …

(Rumi)

 

Schritt, Schritt, Schritt, nur nicht stehen bleiben. Atmen, ein-, ausatmen, ausgedörrte Luft durchströmt den Körper. Das Ziel in weiter Ferne, den Kopf möglichst leer, den Geist ruhen lassen, je leerer desto besser, weniger Ballast, keine dem Vorankommen abträgliche Gedanken. Schritt, Schritt, Schritt, in Bewegung bleiben.

Über 50°C im Tal des Todes, Death Valley, mit gemessenen 56,7°C neben der libyschen Wüste der heißeste Ort weltweit. Steinwüste, ausgedörrte Salzseen, Sanddünen und vor und unter den Läufern bis zu über 70°C heißer Asphalt. Drei Anstiege, von Badwater, mit -86 m der tiefste Punkt der westlichen Hemisphäre,  auf über 1.500 m zum Towne Pass hinauf, dann hinab, wieder hinauf und als Finale noch ein knapp 20 km langer Aufstieg zum Mount Whitney Portal hinauf auf fast 2.600 m. Gesamtlänge der Strecke 216 km, für die die Läufer nicht länger als 60 Stunden brauchen dürfen.

Bereits 3 Wochen vor dem Lauf reisen Ingrid, meine Frau, und ich an, leben im Wohnmobil, rühren die Klimaanlage nicht an. Langsam wollen wir uns an die Hitze gewöhnen, mit ihr vertraut werden, sie lieben lernen, ist sie doch eine hervorstechende Eigenschaft des Badwater Ultras, der immer dann stattfindet, wenn es im Death Valley am heißesten ist. Zudem möchte ich mit Landschaft und Strecke vertraut werden, Teile von ihr als abschließendes Training absolvieren, Erfahrungen vor Ort sammeln. Bis zum Start kann ich die gesamte Strecke mit geschlossenen Augen visualisieren, habe sie in Teilabschnitte zerlegt, bin sie gedanklich bereits 100-mal gelaufen.

Dennoch, als wir nach 6 Tagen, die wir in den Panamint Ranges und im Panamint Valley verbracht haben, in Stovepipe Wells aus dem Wohnmobil steigen, die brennende Sonne auf unseren Körpern lastet, die Augen von den feurigen, dörrenden Winden, dem Gluthauch des Schmelzofen zu brennen beginnen, wird mir der Gedanke, hier laufen zu wollen, immer fremder, erscheint unwirklich. Alles ist heiß. Du willst duschen, nimmst das Shampoo – heiß. Du willst in Deine Plastiksandalen schlüpfen, die du dummerweise in der Sonne hast stehen lassen, es verbrennt dir die Fußsohlen. Du stellst voller freudiger Erwartung die kalte Dusche an – heiß.

Ca. 75 Läufer werden jedes Jahr beim Badwater Ultramarathon zugelassen. Es handelt sich um ein reines Einladungsrennen, für das man sich auf Basis vorgeschriebener Qualifikationsstandards zu bewerben hat, wobei auch bei Erfüllung der Standards eine Einladung nicht garantiert wird. Jeder  Läufer ist für eigene Betreuer nebst Fahrzeug verantwortlich, 2 Betreuer Minimum sind Pflicht, die im Wagen, manchmal mitlaufend, den Läufer während des gesamten Laufes zu versorgen haben.

12. Juli, 6 Uhr, Montagmorgen an der Lache Badwater. Kein schlechtes Wasser, keine giftige Pfütze. Nur Salwasser, erbarmungslos der Sonne ausgesetzt und dennoch auch an diesen für uns so unwirtlichem Ort – Leben: Salzschilf, Insekten, Gliederfüßler und eine spezielle, nur hier vorkommende Schneckenart. Ein paar Meilen entfernt, im Salt Creek, der von Quellen gespeist wird, lebt der Salt Creek Pupfish, der nirgendwo sonst existiert. Über Jahrtausende hat er sich langsam angepasst als der große See, der einmal das Death Valley bedeckte, allmählich austrocknete, zur Salzwüste sich wandelte, die zurückbleibenden Tümpel immer salzhaltiger wurden.

Noch ist die Temperatur mit knapp 40°C erträglich, im Vergleich zum Glutofen des herannahenden Tages. Aufstellen zum Gruppenphoto, Nationalhymne, dann starten ca. 25 Läufer, hinein in eine grandiose Naturarena, unspektakulär, ohne Trara, jubelnde Menge und VIPs. Um 8 und 10 Uhr folgen 2 weitere Gruppen, der Verkehr wird so entzerrt, Gedrängel und Stau weitgehend vermieden. Insgesamt sind 72 Teilnehmer am Start, darunter 7 Frauen.

Mit dem Startschuss beginnt eines der extremsten Rennen weltweit, eine Gratwanderung in Grenzbereiche des menschlich Erträglichen hinein. Körper und Geist, sofern von Vernunft getrieben, würden schon nach wenigen Stunden aufgeben, gar nicht erst bei diesem Rennen antreten. Jedoch der Wille, der tief verankerte Wunsch durch solch eine extreme Erfahrung hindurchzugehen, trägt den Läufer Stunde um Stunde, Schritt für Schritt noch 2 Tage lang dem Ziel entgegen. Allerdings beenden bis zu 45% der Läufer das Rennen vor dem Ziel. Dieses Jahr ist die Quote der offiziellen Finisher mit 79 % erfreulich hoch, 2 Läufer beenden das Rennen inoffiziell, das heißt nach Ablauf des Zeitlimits von 60 Stunden, 14 scheiden aus.

Die Luft scheint zu brennen, treibt die Körpertemperatur nach oben. Innere Verbrennungswärme kommt hinzu, freigesetzt bei der Energiegewinnung, die den Läufer in Bewegung hält. Der Verstand taucht ab. Unzurechnungsfähig.

Schritt, Schritt, Schritt, immer weiter, ausatmen, einatmen. Trinken, trinken, trinken, mehrere Liter in der Stunde, mögen Kehle und Magen auch rebellieren. Verzweifelt versucht der Körper einer Überhitzung zu entrinnen, Verdunstungskälte durch Schweiß zu erzeugen, Schweiß, den  die Hitze, noch angefacht von starken thermischen Winden, sofort von der  Haut saugt.

Die Sonne, die den Erdball uns erhellt –

Naht sie ein wenig, brennt die ganze Welt.

(Rumi)

Meine Betreuer, Bennie, mein Trainer und Gewinner des diesjährigen Swiss Gigathlon (www-ad-extremum.de), seine Freundin Birgit und Ingrid, müssen jetzt Schwerstarbeit verrichten, beginnen von außen zu kühlen, laufen mit, legen mir ca. alle 7 Minuten ein nasses, eisgekühltes Handtuch über die Schulter, tränken Mütze und Nackenschutz mit Eiswasser, reichen mir einen Waschlappen, gefüllt mit Eis, den ich unter der Mütze auf dem Kopf trage. Sie hoffen, damit einen Anstieg der Körpertemperatur zu vermeiden, hoffen, mir damit Schäden durch die Hitze wie Krämpfe, Erschöpfung und Hitzschlag zu ersparen. Trinken, Schritt, kühlen, trinken, Schritt, kühlen, nur nicht ans Aufgeben denken.

Dazu kommen noch als zusätzliche Belastung: Die Durchführung psychologische Tests, die Reaktions- und Erinnerungsvermögen im Verlauf des Rennens messen,  6 x venöse Blutabnahmen, Blutdruckmessungen, Urinproben, Messung der inneren Körpertemperatur, wofür ich einen kleinen Sender geschluckt habe, der Magen und Darm durchwandert, und eine Reihe andere Untersuchungen. Zusammen mit 9 anderen Läufern bin ich Teil des wissenschaftlichen Projektes Runex123 unter der Leitung von Dr. Holger Finkernagel, das u.a. Plasmaverschiebungen und psychologische Verhaltensänderungen während einer Extrembelastung untersuchen möchte. Während der Nacht werde ich die psychologischen Test verweigern, zu sehr bin ich mit mir selbst beschäftigt, am nächsten Tag die Blutabnahme, als ich auf den langen Geraden vor Lone Pine unter der erneuten Hitze leide, mein Magen rebelliert.

Am Nachmittag erreiche ich Stovepipe Wells, knapp 70 km liegen hinter mir. Eine erste, kurze Pause, dann beginnt der lange Aufstieg zum Towne Pass,  27 km, 1.500 m Höhendifferenz. Bisher habe ich mich gut gefühlt, bin trotz meines 10+5 Rhythmus (10 Minuten laufen, 5 Minuten gehen), den ich von Anbeginn konsequent eingehalten habe, recht flott unterwegs gewesen. Jedoch, ohne es zu spüren, die Hitze, der Wind sie haben mich ausgelaugt, Energie genommen, die mir jetzt beim Anstieg fehlt. Sieg und Niederlage bei diesem Rennen entscheiden sich weitgehend auf diesen ersten 70 km, in der größten Hitze, wer nicht haushaltet mit seien Kräften, sich verleiten lässt, zu schnell angeht, ohne es zu merken, er hat bereits verloren. An Laufen ist nicht mehr zu denken, der Körper verweigert den Dienst, zügiges Gehen muss reichen. Die Nacht bricht herein, müde bin ich nicht, jedoch auf halber Höhe geht nichts mehr. Essen, 20 Minuten auf dem Boden liegend Ruhe finden, wegdämmern. Meine Crew wacht über mich, ich vertraue ihr blind, lasse mich fallen. Als Läufer bin ich nur ein Rädchen im Getriebe, chancenlos ohne meine sich aufopfernde Crew.

Weiter, zum Towne Pass hoch, dann, ein falscher Bissen, mein Magen rebelliert, entleert sich, ich fühle mich erleichtert. Maria, die ihren Mann Angel betreut, bietet mir gekühlte Obststückchen an, Balsam diese Geste, willkommene Abwechselung. Oben am Pass kurze Rast, dann geht es bergab, endlich, Laufen ist wieder möglich. 20 km hinab ins Panamint Valley lassen die Oberschenkel erzittern. Wieder ist der Körper ausgelaugt, bis zur dritten Zeitstation möchte ich noch, ihre Lichter habe ich in der Dunkelheit vor Augen, wenige Kilometer nur noch. Jedoch, es ist sinnlos, ich komme kaum voran, gehe mühsam. Bennie rät zur sofortigen Pause, widerstandslos stimme ich zu. 45 Minuten Rast, essen, dann auf die dünne Matte, nur ein Laken bedeckt mich, über mir Millionen von Sternen, für die ich keine Augen habe. Spinnen, die tödliche schwarze Witwe, Skorpione, Schlangen, sonstiges Getier, es berührt mich nicht, ich liege am Boden, Ruhe suchend, um neue Kraft zu schöpfen.

Vor der Zeit stehe ich auf, weiter. Gedanken lassen sich nicht vermeiden, warum nur tue ich mir dies an? Genuss am Laufen kann es nicht sein, den finde ich hier nicht. Diese großartige Landschaft, sie kann ich unter anderen Umständen viel besser in mich aufnehmen. Gedanken, nie mehr nehme ich an solch einem Lauf teil. Gründe zum Aufgeben gibt es keine, bei aller Erschöpfung, es geht mir gut, die paar Blasen an den Füßen, Marginalien. Meiner Crew fühle ich mich verpflichtet, sie nennt mich „The Desert Fox“, hat unseren Van damit beklebt, verziert mit so sinnreichen Sprüchen wie: „Pain is temporary – glory forever!“ und  „A goal without a pain – is a dream!!“. Also weiter. Wieder ein Anstieg auf über 1.500 m Höhe. Blicke zurück, eine Scheinwerferkette von Begleitfahrzeugen zieht den Townes Pass hinab, durch das Panamint Valley, tröstlich schön, dort war ich vor Stunden. Wieder rebelliert mein Magen, soll er seinen Willen haben, raus damit. Ich trinke, muss Wasser lassen, immer wieder, mein Körper nimmt keine Flüssigkeit mehr auf, der Salzverlust war zu groß, wurde nicht ausreichend ausgeglichen.

Wieder bin ich bergauf zu einem Kriechtier geworden, ein Powernap von 15 Minuten lässt mich erneut als Läufer erwachen. Endlich geht es bergab, über 50 km bis nach Lone Pine, auf endlosen Geraden, die ich so liebe, die im Unendlichen zu verschwinden scheinen. Zur Linken die Sierra Nevada, dort liegt das Ziel, glasig im Dunst eines heißen Tages. Starke Winde, die Sand über die Straße blasen, den Lauf, ich möchte ihn nun zu Ende bringen, eine zweite Nacht vermeiden. Wieder laufe ich im 10+5 Rhythmus, wieder leistet meine Crew Schwerstarbeit, trinken, Schritt, Kühlung, trinken, Schritt, Kühlung.

Fast im Ziel, ein letzter Anstieg von knapp 20 km auf 2.600 m Höhe, die Stimmung hebt sich, den Zacken des Mount Whitney vor Augen, ein würdiges Ziel, und siehe da, mein Kämpferherz erwacht, unter 40 Stunden sind noch möglich. Zügiges Gehen bergauf, Ingrid gibt das Tempo vor, an ihrem Rücken saugen sich meine Augen fest. Sie geht vor mir her, soweit sie kann, dann löst Bennie sie ab. Es ist überstanden, geschafft. Aus der Trance eines langen Laufes, aus dem innersten Sein erwacht der Läufer, neugeboren, Tränen vergießend. Dies war nicht ein Lauf über 216 km in brüllender Hitze, Pässe hinauf, Nächte hindurch, es war eine Reise durch innere Berge und Täler.

„Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n,

wirst du, mein Staub,

nach kurzer Ruh“.

(Gustav Mahler, 2. Symphonie)

Das Abenteuer Selbsterfahrung, völlige Hingabe, Verzweiflung und Vergessen beim Lauf, das Glücksgefühl Anzukommen ist unbeschreiblich und auch nach Jahren noch ein seltenes, kostbares Gut. Dabei nicht hoch genug einzuschätzen, eine besondere Erfahrung bei diesem Lauf, mein Team, Bennie, Birgit und Ingrid waren der Schlüssel zum Erfolg, ihnen gebührt mein Dank, meine Hochachtung.

Von links: Chris Kostman, der Veranstalter, Birgit Dasch, The Desert Fox, Ingrid Rücknagel-Böhnke, Bennie Lindberg.

Beginnen nicht auch Sie zu spüren, wie etwas in Ihnen erwacht? Nein? Lehnen Sie sich zurück, horchen Sie tief in sich hinein, es muß ja nicht gleich Badwater sein.

„The ability to endure beyond percieved limits requires a desire to continue. But now, rather than an act of will, such excursions are an act of faith.“ (Jay Birmingham, The Longest Hill, Death Valley To Mount Whitney, 1981).

© Günter Böhnke, Juli 2004

Death Valley – Welcome – English

2004 finisher

Click here to read this story in German

 

You, the one with the dry lips, be always on the search for water!

The dry lip is a sure sign

That it will find the spring at last.

This search is a blessed restlessness

It overcomes each obstacle

Is the key to what you desire.

Even if you don’t have a container, don’t stop searching …

(Rumi)

Step, step, step, don’t stop. Breathe, breathe in, breathe out, dried air flows through the body.

The finish line, far ahead in the distance, the head as empty as possible, keeping the mind quiet, the emptier the better, less to carry, no harmful thoughts which make it hard to move on. Step, step, step, remain in motion.

Over 50 degrees Celsius in Death Valley, with measured 56.7 degrees Celsius the hottest place world-wide besides the Libyan Desert. Stone desert, dried up salt flats, sand dunes and in front of and below the runners up to over 70 degrees Celsius hot bitumen. Three ascents, starting at Badwater, with – 86 m the lowest point of the western hemisphere, up Towne Pass, over 1,500 m in elevation., then down, up again and at last still another hardly 20 km long ascent to the Mount Whitney Portal at nearly 2,600 m. Overall length of the distance 216 km, for which the runners may not need more than 60 hours.

Already 3 weeks in advance of the Badwater Ultra, Ingrid, my wife, and I arrive, living in a RV, not touching the air conditioning. Step by step we want to get accustomed to the heat, to become familiar with it, learn to love it, is it of course the special trade-mark of the Badwater Ultra, which takes place whenever it is hottest in Death Valley. In addition, I would like to get well acquainted with the landscape and the course, running parts of it to finalize my training, gain experience here and now. Up to the start I am able to visualize the entire distance with eyes closed, have divided it into sections, have run it already 100-times mentally.

However, when we stepped out of our RV at Stovepipe Wells after 6 days, which we spent in the Panamint Ranges and Panamint Valley, the burning sun resting on our bodies, the eyes beginning to get smart by the fiery, dehydrating winds, the scorching breath of a melting furnace, more and more the thought to want to run here becomes stranger, seems unreal. Everything is hot. You want to take a shower, grab the shampoo – hot. You want to slip into your plastic sandals, which you foolishly have forgotten in the sun, it burns your soles. Full of joyful expectation you turn on the cold shower – hot.

About 75 runners will be invited to the Badwater Ultra every year. It is a pure invitational race, for which one has to apply on basis of prescribed qualification standards, however also fulfilling the standards an invitation is not guaranteed. Each runner is responsible for his own crew members including a support vehicle. 2 crew members minimum is a must, who have to support the runner during the entire run, sometimes driving the car, sometimes running along.

12th, July, 6 o’clock, Monday morning at the pool Badwater. No bad water, no poisonous puddle. Only saline water, pitiless exposed to the sun and nevertheless also at this place, so inhospitable for us – life: pickle weed, insects, other arthropods, and the Badwater spring snail, which is known to live only in this one small pool. The Salt Creek Pupfish, which does not exist anywhere else, lives few miles away, in the Salt Creek, which is fed by springs. Over thousands of years it has slowly adapted, as the large lake, which covered once Death Valley, gradually drained, changed to a salt desert, the remaining pools getting saltier step by step.

Still the temperature with nearly 40 degree Celsius is bearable in comparison to the glow furnace of the approaching day. Set up to the group photo, national anthem, then approx. 25 runners get in motion, into a magnificent natural arena, without up-roar, without hanky-panky, cheering crowd or VIPs. At 8 and 10 o’clock two further groups follow, thus keeping traffic low, avoiding crowding and a traffic jam. Altogether 72 participants are at the starting line, including 7 women.

With the starting signal one of the most extreme ultra races world-wide begins, a burr migration facing frontiers of the human bearable. Body and mind, as far as driven by reason, would already give up after few hours, would not even begin this running. However the will, the deeply embodied desire to pass through such an extreme experience, carries the runner, hour after hour, step by step, through day and night towards the finish line. However, up to 45 % of the runners terminate the run before reaching the goal. This year the ratio of official finishers with 79 % is pleasing high, 2 runners finished after the time limit of 60 hours, 14 did not finish.

Air seems to burn, driving the body temperature upward. Internal heat of combustion adds to it, set free during the release of energy, which keeps the runner in motion. Understanding dips off. Irresponsibly.

Step, step, step, constantly moving, breathe out, breathe in. Drink, drink, drink, several liters per hour, may throat and stomach revolt. Despaired, the body tries to escape from overheating, to produce evaporative cold from sweat. Sweat, which is immediately sucked from the skin by the heat, which is blown into flame by strong thermal winds.

The sun, which illuminates the globe for us –

If it approaches little, the whole world burns.

 (Rumi)

My supporters, Bennie, my coach and winner of the Swiss Gigathlon this year (www-ad-extremum.de), his girl friend Birgit and Ingrid have to carry a heavy load now, begin to cool from the outside, run along, put to me approx. every 7 minutes a wet, ice-cooled towel over the shoulder, soak cap and neck shroud with ice water, hand me a face-cloth, filled with ice, which I carry under the cap on the head. They hope to avoid thereby a rise of body temperature, hope to save me from harm by the heat such as cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Drink, step, cooling, drink, step, cooling, do not think about quitting.

On top of that as an extra burden: the execution of psychological tests, which measure reaction and memory abilities while running, 6-times venous blood removal, measurement of blood pressure, urine samples, measurement of internal body temperature, for which I gulped down a small transmitter, wandering through stomach and intestine, and a row of other medical examinations. Together with 9 other runners I am part of the scientific project Runex123 under the direction of Holger Finkernagel , medical doctor, that among other things would like to examine plasma volume changes and mental and emotional changes in behavior as consequences of extreme prolonged endurance exercise, heat stress, sleep deprivation, and potential nutritional deficit. During the night I’ll refuse the psychological tests, too much I’m engaged with myself, on the next day one blood removal, when I suffer on the long straight lines before Lone Pine under the renewed heat, my stomach revolts.

In the afternoon I reach Stovepipe Wells, nearly 70 km lie behind me. A first, short break then the long ascent to Townes Pass begins, 27 km, 1,500 m in elevation gain. So far I felt well, have been quite quickly on the way despite my 10+5 rhythm (10 minutes running, 5 minutes going), which I consequently kept from the beginning. However, without feeling it, the heat, the wind, they have leached me out, taken energy, which I miss now on the rise. Victory and defeat in this contest is decided on this first 70 km, in the most extensive heat, the one who don’t economize with his strength, who be carried away to go out too fast, without recognizing it, has already lost.  No chance to run any  more, the body refuses the service, brisk going must be enough. The night comes down, I’m not tired, however, half way up, I’m stuck. Something to eat, lying on the soil for 20 minutes to get some rest, dozing away. My crew keeps an eye on me, I trust them blindly, let myself drop down. As a runner I’m only a small wheel in the gear-box, chanceless without my crew devoted to me.

Go on, up to Townes Pass, then, a wrong bite, my stomach bristles up in protest, empties itself, I feel relieved. Maria, who cares for her husband Angel, offers cooled fruit bites to me, balsam this gesture, an appreciated change. A short rest at Townes Pass, then downhill it goes, at last, running is possible again. 20 km of downhill running, my thighs begin to tremble. Again, my body is leached out, to the third time station I still would like to go, its lights glowing in the darkness I already have in eyes, few kilometers only. However, it is senseless, I hardly advance, laborious my stride. Bennie recommends an immediate break, without any resistance I agree. 45 minutes of rest, something to eat, then on the thin mat, only a sheet covers me, millions of stars above, for which I do not have eyes. Spiders, the deadly black widow, scorpions, snakes, other beasts, it doesn’t affect me, I’m lying on the ground, looking for peace, in order to attain new strength.

Before time, I stand up, forwards. Thoughts cannot be avoided, why only do I this to me? Enjoyment of running, this can’t be, doesn’t find it here. This great landscape, under other circumstances I should be able to absorb it much better. Reasons for giving up, none, despite all the exhaustion, I’m quite all right, those few blisters at the feet, marginal notes. I feel obligated to my crew, they call me “The Desert Fox”, have labeled our van which such ingenious sayings like: “Pain is temporary – glory forever!” and “A goal without a pain – is a dream!!”. Come on, then. Again a rise of about 1.500 m in height. Views back, a headlight chain of support vehicles pulls down Towne Pass, through Panamint Valley, warm comfort, there I was hours ago. Again my stomach revolts, should have its will, forth with it. I drink, must pass water, again and again, my body take up no more liquid, the loss of salt was too much, wasn’t sufficiently balanced.

Again I was becoming a reptile uphill, a powernap of 15 minutes let me awake as a runner again. In the end, downhill again, over 50 km to Lone Pine, on endless straight lines, which I love so much, which seem to disappear in infinity. The Sierra Nevada at left, there lays the goal, glassily in the vapor of a hot day. Strong winds, blowing sand over the road. The run, I would like to bring to an end now, avoiding a second night. Again I run, making use of the 10+5 rhythm, again, my crew has to give their best, drink, step, cooling, drink, step, cooling.

Almost at the finish line, a last ascent of about 20 km to a height of 2,600 m, the state of mind is lifting, the spike of Mount Whitney in front of my eyes, a worthy goal, and behold, my brave heart awakes, less than 40 hours is still possible. Brisk going uphill, Ingrid sets the speed, at her back my eyes suck firmly. She walks ahead of me, as far as she can, then Bennie replaces her. It is done, accomplished. Be roused from the absorption of a long run, from the inmost soul, the runner awakes, newly born, tears pouring. This was not a run over 216 km in roaring heat, up passes, nights through, it was a journey through inner mountains and valleys.

“Rise from the dead, yeah, rise from the dead,

You will, my dust,

after a short rest.”

(Gustav Mahler, 2. Symphony)

The adventure self experience, complete devotion, despair and oblivion during the run, the  happy feeling to arrive is indescribable and still after all the years a rare, precious property. Not high enough to appraise, a special experience at this run, my crew, Bennie, Birgit and Ingrid, they were the key to success, them is entitled my thanks, my respect.

From left: Chris Kostman, Race Director, Birgit Dasch, The Desert Fox, Ingrid Ruecknagel-Boehnke, Bennie Lindberg.

Don’t you feel how something awakes inside of you? No? Lean back, listen carefully deep inside yourself, it must not be Badwater to start with.

“The ability to endure beyond perceived limits requires a desire to continue. But now, rather than an act of will, such excursions are an act of faith“ (Jay Birmingham, The Longest Hill, Death Valley To Mount Whitney, 1983).

© Guenter Boehnke, August 2004

Badwater Week And What A Week It Was

2003 official finisher

Following is the report of Badwater participant Scott Ludwig of Peachtree City, Georgia. A Badwater rookie, his crew consisted of Paula May (Crew Chief), Eric Huguelet (Paula’s husband), Al Barker (Scott’s training partner over the past 10 years), Gary Griffin (Scott’s friend and an accomplished ultrarunner from Tallahassee), and Josh (Scott’s 17-year-old son). Everyone on the crew is an accomplished runner. Here is Scott’s story. (Note: there is a reference in the story to a ‘streak.’ Scott has run every day since November 29, 1978—the ‘streak’ being referred to.

Seven days in July. ‘Badwater Week.’ And what a week it was.

Friday, July 18 (-4 days)

Paula, our crew chief, held the final DARKSIDE crew meeting at her house. Gary, Al, Paula and I. Josh? Had to work. Eric? Went to the Braves game. Priorities, you understand.

We went over our final gear check and chronological plan for the upcoming week. It appeared we had our game plan firmly in place. All that remained was the execution. Of the game plan, that is (not me!).

Years of training and months of planning were about to be put to the test. We believed we were ready. And willing. And yes, able. We’d find out soon enough.

Saturday, July 19 (-3 days)

Delta takes us from Atlanta to Las Vegas (by way of Dallas). I’d like to say an uneventful airplane ride, but that would be a lie. As I had been heavily hydrating the past several days, I finished off a 20-ounce bottle of water just before boarding the plane. After sitting on the plane for 30 minutes (we still had not left the gate), I realized I had to urinate. Desperately. Just as I was about to visit the restroom, the pilot announced we were ready to take off and to please be seated. OK, I could wait until we were in the air.

However, we crept along the runway, making my particular condition magnify in urgency. When the pilot announced that we were ‘4th in line for takeoff,’ that was it for me. I jumped out of my seat (figuring I had time, since planes take off at two minute intervals) and headed to the restroom, despite the flight attendant ‘reminding’ me that the pilot asked that we be seated. I told her I couldn’t wait any longer.

While I was inside the restroom, I heard the flight attendant (obviously on the phone to the pilot) saying ‘I’m sorry, sir, he said he couldn’t wait any longer and ignored me.’ Just freakin’ great: two years of dedicated Badwater training down the drain ‘cuz I just know once I exit the restroom I’ll be escorted off the plane. The pressure was so intense that I wasn’t even able to urinate. Upon exiting the restroom, I was relieved (literally, not figuratively) that the flight attendant merely assaulted me verbally (as if I were an 8 year old) about disregarding the pilot’s instructions. I apologized and told her it wouldn’t happen again. Later, once we were in the air, I returned to the restroom, where I was finally relieved (figuratively, not literally).

Once we landed in Las Vegas, we rented our 14-passenger van, dropped off two of the seats (we needed storage space!) at the house of a friend of Paula’s, and made a final shopping trip (cooler, meals, water, miscellaneous items) to Walmart. Finally, we checked into our hotel for some much needed rest (I slept 12 hours—something I haven’t done since college).

Sunday, July 20 (-2 days)

Gary, Eric, Paula and I went for a short run in Vegas. We noticed we were perspiring—something we weren’t expecting considering (a) we were running at a 9-minute pace and (b) there’s no humidity in Vegas. What implications did this hold for Badwater?

We loaded up the van and made the 2 _ hour drive to Furnace Creek, where we were welcomed by temperatures hovering around 120 degrees. Welcome to hell. Once we settled into our rooms, we drove out to the starting line in Badwater, where it was even warmer. Driving back to the hotel, we let Josh out of the van 2 miles out so he could run in to test the conditions.

Gary and I waited for Josh, anxious to hear his report. However, he didn’t need to say a thing: the color in his cheeks said it all. They were BRIGHT RED, approximately the color of a ripe tomato. Later that night, Josh and I went to the pool to cool off. Or so we thought. The water temperature had to have been in the 90’s, and the air temperature was still close to 110. Surely the conditions would improve by Tuesday (race day).

The rest of the evening was spent raiding the hotel’s ice machines and wondering whether or not Al (he was flying to Las Vegas this evening and renting a car) would be able to find us in Furnace Creek. He did. A good omen, perhaps?

Another 9 hours of sleep for me; a good investment for what lies ahead.

Monday, July 21 (-1 day)

A short run to start the day, followed by a visit to the hotel’s breakfast bar. Actually, breakfast buffet is more like it. Fresh fruit, cereal, breakfast burritos, eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, English muffins, biscuits and gravy, pancakes, apple fritters, juices, coffee, soda, water…good timing, as the crew and I were able to load up on some much-needed calories. After all, we would be living on fig newtons and pretzels for the next two days.

We made a trip to the Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center at noon to pick up my race number. We met Jay Birmingham, the first man to officially ‘race’ from Badwater to Mount Whitney over 20 years ago. He autographed a copy of his book about his feat, The Longest Hill, for me. I met Chris Kostman, the Race Director, and had my pre-race ‘mug shot’ photo taken. Three hours later my crew and I would return for the pre-race clinic.

Imagine 300 people in a room…for almost two hours…with weak air conditioning…and temperatures outside over 120 degrees. Sound like fun? Sounds like pre-race conditioning, if you ask me. I can’t remember the last time I was that hot (wait—yes I can, it was yesterday!). But you get the picture. We were all familiar with most of the information presented in the clinic—race rules, race history, etc. A short video of last year’s event was shown, focusing on Pam Reed’s historic finish (first female winner of Badwater!). Pam was back to defend her title, and she was assigned to my time group (10:00 a.m., the other two groups starting at 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m.). Pam, deservedly so, was presented with a plaque in honor of her accomplishment. At the end of the clinic, all runners were invited on stage to be introduced to everyone else in the auditorium. It was so hot on stage, my knees started to perspire. Drops of perspiration were literally saturating my shoes. More pre-race conditioning, I assume. 20 painful minutes later, we were free. Unless, of course, you opted to attend the foot clinic. Which we did. Fortunately, Paula felt comfortable that she knew how to take care of my feet should problems arise, but she and Gary attended anyway. Me? I went outside to get Marshall Ulrich’s autograph for a friend of mine. Plus, it was cooler outside than it was in that damn auditorium…

We ate dinner as a crew one last time before tackling the beast. The crew gave me a card wishing me well, with a personalized message from each one of them (particularly Josh’s, which he had signed with the insightful message ‘Your son, Josh’). Early to bed: 9:00 p.m. The game plan was for me to sleep until 6:00 a.m., eat breakfast at 6:30, and then nap a few more hours before we headed to Badwater at 8:55. Great plan.

Tuesday, July 22 bleeding into Wednesday, July 23 (0 days)

Great plan, but terrible execution. I was awake at 1:05 a.m., and absolutely could NOT get back to sleep. I was, however, ready to eat at 6:30 (although it killed me to make another pass through the breakfast bar and only eat 2 pieces of French toast, some eggs, and a few pieces of melon). Such a deal for $8.50. Next on my schedule? A short nap. If ‘short nap’ means lying on the bed staring at the ceiling for 90 minutes, then my ‘nap’ was a success. At 8:55 I was more than ready to go. It was time to get this show on the road, or as one of the support vans had written on both sides, to ‘shut up and run.’ My crew and I boarded the van at precisely 8:55 a.m. and headed over to Badwater, semi-oblivious to what lied ahead. Soon enough I would be totally oblivious to just about everything.

We arrived at the starting area on schedule, just in time for the Race Director to call the runners over to the ‘Badwater sign’ for pre-race photos. We assembled at the starting line around 9:58, listened to the starter’s instructions, stood silently for the National Anthem, and shook off any remaining pre-race jitters. At 10:00, we were on our way to a destination some 135 miles away.

First Checkpoint – Furnace Creek (18 miles)

Pacing was prohibited in this segment, so my crew provided me ‘pit stops’ every mile or two (depending how I felt). At first, the entire crew would tend to me at once (imagine being mugged by five people armed with spray bottles, water bottles, wet towels, a wet shirt, and sun-block—it’s the best description I can offer). Soon enough, they would develop an ‘assembly-line’ rhythm that was much more efficient and effective. I ran with Pam Reed, the defending champion, for…oh, let’s call it four miles…before she pulled away. I was content to run alone, not wanting to expend valuable oxygen by making small talk with any of the other competitors. My sole focus was to move forward…at all costs. I reached Furnace Creek in 3:02, an average ‘pace’ of 10:06 per mile. I changed shorts, shoes and socks, as they were totally soaked with perspiration and water.

Second Checkpoint – Stovepoint Wells (42 miles)

Gary was my first pacer, and he opted to run this entire 24-mile stretch so that he could develop a feel for this event. As we got close to Stovepoint Wells, Gary and I both got to experience what 130 degrees feels like. For weeks leading up to this event we had heard the analogy that the heat ‘feels like putting your head inside a hot oven’ or ‘is like blasting a hair dryer directly in your face.’ Gary and I and the rest of the crew can now say that is exactly what 130 degrees feels like! It was so hot the palms of my hands felt like they were on fire (due to the heat radiating off the road surface). I continually asked Gary to splash water on my hands to cool them off. A crew member for another runner said they put a thermometer on the blacktop road and it read 141 degrees. The soles on Gary’s (brand new!) shoes began to separate, as the heat was melting the glue.

Occasionally a desert wind would blow across the highway. If you’re thinking this served to cool us off you would be mistaken: these desert winds felt like blasts from a roaring fire, and the best thing I can say about them is that they didn’t singe my eyebrows. Even if it felt like they did. We completed our second leg in 6:28, an underwhelming pace of 16:10 per mile. At least we were getting ready to ‘cool off’ by heading up to Townes Pass.

Third Checkpoint – Panamint Springs (72 miles)

OK, so maybe heading up to Towne’s Pass isn’t such a great thing after all. A seemingly endless (18-mile) climb to 5,000 feet. Eric accompanied me for this portion of the course, and the only analogy I can make is that it was similar to walking up flights of stairs for the better part of five hours. Now’s probably not the best time to mention that I detest walking up stairs. I experimented with trekking poles, but it was difficult to say if they were more of a help or a hindrance. Once we reached the summit, I changed (actually, the crew changed) into my running sandals, so that my toes would not ‘bang’ the front of my shoes on the downhills. (I would repeat this for the duration of the event on the downhills) The rest of the crew alternated pacing me once we reached the summit, before Paula took the final stretch right before the checkpoint to allow the other crew members to use our room at Panamint Springs to shower and/or take a quick nap. I mentioned to Paula that I was debating on whether or not I should stop at the room, and finally decided that I did want to take a quick shower and short nap so that I could psychologically divide the remaining 63 miles into a ‘different day’ from that of the first 72 miles. We completed the third leg in 9:04, a robust 18:08 per mile pace.

Intermission

Somewhere around 5:30 a.m. Paula and I entered our room at the Panamint Springs Resort. If ‘resort’ means ‘Norman Bates Motel,’ then, yeah, this was a resort. I took a quick shower (I forgot to remove my watch, so once it got wet it became so fogged that it was of no use for the remainder of the event). I lay down and managed to fall asleep, and the next thing I knew Paula was out of the shower. She lay down on the other bed and said she was going to sleep for ‘5 minutes.’ As we had no alarm clock, I was afraid to fall back asleep for fear that we would not wake up in ‘5 minutes’ and sleep away valuable time. In approximately 90 seconds Paula bounced up and said ‘Let’s go!’ She never fell asleep. I found out later that my sleep consumed a whole 60 seconds. Fortunately, in my mind, I did fall asleep, and I could now mentally ‘divide’ the race into two different days.

Forth Checkpoint – Darwin Turnoff (90 miles)

Eric was called back into active duty, as the next 18 miles were uphill—all of them! There was very little terrain that was even remotely runnable. Eric did a superb job keeping me motivated, focused and hydrated during this period. We even managed to pass a few other runners (climbers?) during this portion of the course. Eric (rightfully so) reprimanded me when I broke one of my race guidelines (‘no wasted motion’) by taking a few steps backward to see a wounded bat on the side of the road. The forth leg took 6:22, an it-could-have-been-worse 21:13 per mile.

It was during this stretch that my crew and I realized just how difficult it could be to consume 300 calories per hour during an ultra event such as Badwater. Up until now, I was taking my Sustained Energy (SE) drink (flavored with Crystal Lite lemonade) for the bulk of my calories, occasionally eating pretzels, jellybeans, or peanut butter to round out my 300 calories per hour. But at this point, I was starting to gag at the thought of drinking any more SE (without the flavoring, it honest-to-God smells and tastes like swampwater). Paula asked me what I would like to eat, and I replied ‘popsicles.’ Al made a quick trip in the extra car to find some. When he returned we were disheartened to find that after eating two popsicles, I had consumed a whopping…30 calories! At that point I began eating small portions: 3 pretzels, 4 jellybeans (‘how many calories now?’), 2 bites of peach jello (‘how many NOW?’). Unfortunately, I had to take ‘a swig’ of SE to round out my 300 calories. Gag.

Fifth Checkpoint – Lone Pine (122 miles)

I don’t know who was looking forward to this 32-mile stretch more: my crew or me. After seeing me walk for the better part of 30 miles over the last 48 miles, they were ready to run (‘run’ in this case meaning ‘get this thing over with’). Paula (our downhill specialist) took the first pacing assignment, and before I knew it we were off at an 8:00 minute pace. I would pick out ‘targets’ from which to run from and to, and would continue this practice over the next 32 miles. With the exception of Eric (who we were ‘saving’ for the final 13-mile climb up Mount Whitney), Paula, Gary, Josh and Al would take turns pacing me for two miles at a clip. This exercise evolved into my first official 32 mile ‘fartlek workout.’ Fortunately, I was on a ‘second wind’ (actually it was more than a ‘second,’ but I lost count) and managed to complete this stretch fairly comfortably in a time of 7:27, a pace of 13:58 per mile. It was during this stretch that Josh got excited and broke a pre-race request of mine (‘don’t tell me how my fellow competitors are doing’) by mentioning I was in 8th place.

Being this late in the race, knowing where I stood wasn’t such a bad thing, as holding my place and finishing in the Top Ten at Badwater was certainly a realistic expectation at this point. An expectation I was fairly comfortable with, until Eric tells me around mile 115 that there’s a runner up ahead, and I should be able to catch him in four or five miles. Josh was my next pacer, and I asked him if he wanted to catch the other runner NOW. He did, and so did I. We sprinted approximately a mile where we caught and passed this runner, one who I had last seen over 100 miles ago. Eric unofficially timed our mile in 8:15, but it felt like a sub-6:00. Gary took the next leg, and Eric mentioned there was yet another runner about a mile ahead who I could catch in four or five miles. Gary and I shuffled along, until we spotted this runner in the distance. As I did with Josh, I asked him if he wanted to catch the other runner now. He did, and so did I. We took off at a 6:00 minute pace (or 8:15 if you believe Eric) and caught him within a mile. Adding insult to injury, we caught him on an uphill. At mile 120. Ouch. (We found out later this particular runner finished an incredible nine hours behind us) Josh took the final two mile stretch into the checkpoint in Lone Pine, where we found out we were now in 6th place.

Paula had prepared some Raman noodles for me, the first food I had in 36 hours that remotely resembled an actual meal. It was heavenly. All five bites.

Sixth Checkpoint – Mount Whitney (135 miles)

As Josh will be quick to tell you, I was absolutely dreading the final 13-mile leg to the portals of Mount Whitney. And rightfully so: after 122 miles of desert and two mountain ranges, making a runner cover these final 13 uphill miles is just plain mean! Eric was once again my pacer, and he did everything in his power to keep me focused, positive, and hydrated. I managed to stay focused, positive, and hydrated—for 7 miles. At that point—6 miles from the finish line—I fell backwards, barely maintaining consciousness. I asked for some more Raman noodles, but Paula had nothing to heat them with except for the radiator of the van. The noodles warmed—slightly—but they were extremely ‘crisp.’ Paula, Gary and Al provided shoulders to (literally) lean on, as there were a few moments I nearly fell off the side of the mountain. Paula was force-feeding me Gatorade, and Gary was continually splashing my head and shoulders with ice cold water. I asked one of them to slap me in the face, but they wouldn’t do it. I guess they thought a slap might knock me totally out, which would put a serious cramp in completing our journey. I continually asked Josh ‘who was behind me,’ thinking that—surely—someone would be passing me in my limited condition. Unfortunately, if someone did make an attempt to pass me at this point, there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. Fortunately, no one did.

The last 2 miles seemed endless, as we wound around the mountain with no end in sight. Cars were passing us in both directions, many shouting words of encouragement as we neared the finish line. At least I think we were nearing the finish line. Occasionally I would find myself walking more side-to-side than forward, a victim of fatigue, exhaustion, and (I’m convinced) oxygen deprivation (we were at altitude, remember?).

Eric drove the van ahead to take his video camera to the finish line officials, hoping they would film us as we ‘triumphantly’ completed our mission. He agreed to meet us at a point one mile from the finish, where the six of us would congregate and run the rest of the race ‘as one.’ When we caught a glimpse of Eric in our headlamps, it was a bittersweet feeling as thankfully, we only had a mile to go, but nonetheless we still had a mile to go!

After what seemed like another hour, we saw the lights at the finish line (it was now just past 10:30 p.m.). The six of us ran (assuming ‘ran’ means ‘shuffled sort of fast’)—with our heads held high—through the finish line banner, officially signifying the successful completion of our journey. Hugs all around! Chris Kostman officially told us that we finished in 6th place and we were the 3rd place male finisher. Not bad for a bunch of Badwater rookies. The sixth leg had taken 4:10 to complete, a 19:14 per mile pace. Not bad when you take into account the last two miles consumed a full hour.

I sat down in the official finisher’s chair—surrounded by my wonderful crew—for some final photographs for the website. I literally looked like death warmed over, but I couldn’t have cared less.

We enjoyed our journey, and we were successful. We couldn’t have asked for anything more.

Thursday, July 24 (+2 days)

My crew—God bless ‘em—join me for a 3-mile run (gotta keep the streak alive!). Afterwards, a little housekeeping on the van followed by an incredible lunch at the pizza parlor across the street from our hotel, the Dow Villa. Josh and I split a large cheese pizza, but we eat less than half of it (Josh because he ate everything on the late-nite menu at the hotel’s diner last night; me because my stomach had apparently shrunk over the past two days). I spend the afternoon limping back and forth across the street to the laundromat the wash some of the dirty clothes Josh and I have generated this week. I met the wife of a Badwater entrant (Art Webb) at the laundromat, and she told me her husband was still on the course. (We passed him on our way back to Las Vegas the next morning; he was at the half-way point of the course) as he was experiencing some difficulties (he did eventually finish, however)

All Badwater participants and crew members were invited to a pizza dinner at a local elementary school that evening. We spent a lot of time talking with Pam Reed about her performance and her training. She said she has to run 3 times a day, as she has to manipulate her running around her demanding schedule as a mother of three. I invited her to our 50K race in November, and she said she’d run (we’ll see!) if I’d return the favor and run her race (the Tucson Marathon) in December.

After dinner, a short video of this year’s race was shown. As my luck would have it, there was a special feature on each of the top five finishers (I finished 6th, remember?). Regardless, it was well made and very inspirational (up to the point that it didn’t convince me to run it again).

Following the video, Chris Kostman hosted the awards ceremony. He asked all runners who failed to complete the course to stand, and they were given a rousing ovation for ‘having the guts to try.’ Very deserved. Then, all finishers were called to the front of the room to receive their finisher’s medal and, for those finishing under 48 hours, the coveted belt-buckle. We posed for photographs—I’ve never been in front of so many flash bulbs before—and then Pam and men’s winner Dean Karnazes were asked to say a few words. Chris closed the evening by referring to us all as part of the ‘Badwater family.’

A pretty nice honor.

Post Script: On Friday, we made the drive back to Las Vegas. Obviously, we ‘retraced our steps’ along the same route we had started 3 days ago in Badwater. If I hadn’t already decided I would never run the race again, this would have done it for me. I realized that yes, the heat was a huge factor in my performance, but the mountains were much more significant. We stopped in Stovepipe Wells for a drink, and the heat—only slightly over 110 degrees today—still felt like we were sticking our heads inside a hot oven.

Friday night, we enjoyed a crew ‘victory dinner’ at the Pink Taco in Las Vegas. Afterwards Paula, Eric, Al and Gary returned to the hotel for some much-needed rest before our 6:00 a.m. flight to Atlanta the following morning. Me? I had promised Josh that if I was still able to walk after the race—and at this time I barely ‘qualified’—I would take him to see the casinos before we returned to Atlanta. The four hours Josh and I spent—at MGM Grand, New York New York, Mandelay Bay, Excalibur, Luxor—I wouldn’t trade for anything. Josh was so impressed with the large casinos, the bright neon lights, and the endless ‘eye candy’ the city has to offer. But for me, walking on two severely blistered feet was a true test of my pain threshold (I’m sure I exceeded it somewhere during the night). We finally got to bed just after midnight, allowing me two hours sleep before I had to get up for one last run with Gary before we all headed to the airport for our long-awaited (and triumphant) return to Atlanta.

And yes, you read the previous sentence correctly.