A DNF Story, One Step at a Time

2003 entrant and 2002 finisher

There is stress prior to any big event, especially Badwater. The idea is to keep it to a minimum. However, if you are the husband and crew chief of the runner, as a husband you never have the right answer. As the crew chief prior to the event, you know you are ultimately responsible for everything that happens. As the husband of the runner, your heart aches during their suffering, and as the crew chief you have to deal with people stressing out who don’t realize they’re stressing out (they are in denial). Why? One word, Badwater.

“This is the most stress we’ll ever be under!” states hubby/crewchief. It’s one week before Badwater and 3 weeks before going to China to pick up Sarah Qi Qi, our first child we’ve been expecting for 2+ years. The journey for great running has been 27 years thus far, and the task of creating a family began over 15 years ago, 4 years into our marriage. Believe it or not we’ve been through a hell of a lot worse. So technically I think ‘this is child’s play’. Then we look at each other now calmer and say, “Well it’s just that we’re excited.” Then hubby/crew chief states, “Jody I got to deal with your adrenalin too. You’re bouncing off the walls venting on me.”

I laugh in agreement, “Yeah, sorry hun. I’m just so psyched. But I got it together” I pause as I listen for dinner burning, I hope not as Norm unloads the washer. I continue, “I’m sorry, honey. I’ve cut back so well on mileage this week, I’m just cranking.”

“It’s okay,” he replies. “I’m just letting you know, so if I seem edgy you’ll know why.” In our nearly 22-year relationship we’ve learned to pre-warn. At about 5000 RPM is the pre-warning. We redline like our VW at about 7000-8000 RPM. Norm and I sit down to eat and start to discuss Badwater.

“Call Rudy. He called before,” Norm reminds me.

I respond, “I’ll call him at work tomorrow, my brain just needs a rest.” I know when I call Rudy we’ll be on the phone for at least an hour. Norm is just finishing up the signs for the vans. His back bothers him from leaning forward stenciling 6-inch letters in black. We’re awaiting phone calls from the agency on the China travel meeting, the travel agent for China and our guide. Norm’s double checking Badwater and hotel reservations. He’s finishing up sewing another ice hat and special gloves for me. We get phone calls about the baby, wanting to know where I’m “Baby Registered”, etc… These people don’t care about Badwater because they can’t even run a mile so they can’t relate! In lieu of this, we discuss greed and obesity.

We dream of owning a second home in Death Valley. We love it there. Norm states, “I checked the internet for anything new from Chris and the weather in Death Valley. By the way, double check the runner and crew forms. Did you fill yours out?”

“Yes,” I reply.

Norm continues, “So we got the VISA’s for China. God I hate going into the city. But while I waited I went to the Intrepid and did the tour. The Park and Drive situation was screwed up.”

“Well the Secaucus train derailment messed everything up,” I respond.

“You’re not working a full day Friday?” Norm asks.

“Yes Honey,” I answer, “a full day.”

“Isn’t that a bit much?” he asks.

“Honey, it’s only a 10 hour day. People need me and I’ll have a total 3 weeks off plus a partial week of work after China. Some people I treat are not so accepting of this. If I don’t work, I still have to pay 2 rents ahead on my office, I have payroll, I have monthly tax payments, you know,” I reply.

“Jody, don’t get so stressed. I just thought you took more time off from work for Badwater last year.”

“No, that’s not what I did,” I say. “It’s the same. I’m OK with this. I have 3 days of no bodies before the race. I’ll be fine.” I then say a little prayer that I don’t get anyone too emotionally unstable in my office for the rest of the week.

When I get drained, one thing I’ve learned is to pray for that, to conserve energy. Fortunately or unfortunately, I get so emotionally involved with people at work it drains me. I’m concerned with quality of life for everyone and if anyone knows this about me, better than anyone else it’s Norm. He sees the train coming and lassos me from the tracks before I get clobbered. It’s funny, we even finish each others sentences sometimes. I had an acquaintance point this out to me last year. Meanwhile, Norm is counting batteries, flashlights, etc…”Where’s the GU?”

“Uh, in my bag?! I think,” I respond. “OK, let me dig.” As I unpack, find them and re-pack for the tenth time in a week he continues.

“So how many bottles of Succeed Caps did you pack again?”

I sigh, man I want to veg. “Well, I put 2 _ bottles in the big bag, I have 1 full bottle in my carry on, uh, hmm. What are you thinking?”

“What about the crew?” Norm says.

“I’m paranoid, lets bring another bottle. That’ll be 450 Succeed caps. How’s that?” I ask.

Norm laughs. “Paranoid is good.” During that night we do this gibberish back and forth with a little China and baby thrown in to amuse ourselves. “Honey, I have a 12 hour day tomorrow, it may be reduced by an hour but I really need to be stupid and watch the boob tube for an hour and go to sleep.

The next few days our adrenaline is getting more pumped. Saturday (7/20) we get to Newark Airport. The hour before out flight, Norm asks, “Where’s Gary (one of our new people)?”

“Oh I’m sure he’s here. I bet you he’s eating. Don’t worry Norm, he’ll be here. He’s an ‘on time’ kind of guy,” I assure him.

Last year I was the one paranoid about the crew getting to Death Valley. Last year I was the runner, the setter-upper and the crew chief. I had all the worries last year. That drained me last year. This year was different. Norm set up 95% of the stuff, me 5% and I was really able to focus on being the runner. Just then Gary shows up.

I smile and say “Hey, how you doing? When did you get here?”

“Oh I got here a while ago. I was eating,” Gary answers.

I turn to Norm. “See I told you. Norm got scared, Gary. I told him you were probably eating because you’re always on time for stuff.”

The flight is uneventful. I sleep most of the time. I even slept through breakfast. After we land, the three of us make our way to baggage claim. Norm comments, “We had seven bags last year. It was crazy. I can’t remember what we brought.”

“The chairs, Norm. Remember that?” I remind him.” We found out I preferred the bumber and can’t sit long anyway, my back hates sitting. Oh yea, we had a porta-pottie with us. I couldn’t sit in that position. It burned my butt and legs too.”

“Oh yeah,” Norm says. Meanwhile Gary’s probably wondering, ‘What the hell did I just get myself into?’ We get to the baggage claim area and Gary’s brother Tom is there to take him golfing. Norm and I will be traveling to Stovepipe from LV alone and we’ll meet Gary, Al and Carol on Sunday at Stovepipe Wells. After we depart Norm marvels, “Only four bags, Jody. That’s so amazing.” I agree. Norm and I pick up our rental van and go off food shopping.

I’m obsessing. “Seedless Watermelon, we have to get it in Las Vegas, not Pahrump. If we wait till then and they don’t even have watermelon. Well you know how it works.”

“Jody, whatever makes you comfortable,” Norm says. The lady at the car rental is interested in watching the race and tells us where we can get seedless watermelon. As I write out the Badwater website, I can’t stop seeing watermelons. I write “www.badwatermelon.com” Then Norman corrects me, we laugh, I write “www.badwaterultra.com”. I say to the car rental lady as I hand her the website, “Thank God I didn’t write peanut butter and jelly instead.” We laugh. Some day I’ll have to tell you guys about my obsession of my doing a “Cliff Claven” from Cheers impersonation at work, making everyone laugh for a week until a guy named Cliff came in and I called him Cliff Claven in front of him after I treated him. It was an accident I was having my secretary fill out his bill in front of his.. Talk about embarrassment.

After food shopping and lunch we drive into Pahrump, it begins to pour. Yup, you heard me, pour. Like as in rain real heavy. I get a bit perturbed, “Norm, Badwater better be hot. Because if it’s not, it’s not Badwater. It’s just not the same.”

Norm replies, “Don’t worry Jody, it’ll be 130 degrees on race day.”

I reply, “Okay, I’m just checking.”

I notice the temps seem cool at 94 degrees. Anyone else not understanding the essence of the Badwater race could not appreciate my comments. It’s comparative to Crocodile Dundee’s comments, “That’s not a knife.” As he pulls out a machete, “This is a knife.” And the muggers run away.

Before we know it, there’s flash flooding as we drive to Stovepipe Wells. Norm has to drive through about 5 major flash floods. I squirm as he drives. I remind him I need to go train in Badwater by about 5pm for a few miles. After we check-in at Stovepipe Wells, we get our running and hydration items together and drive towards Badwater. At about Artist’s Entry on the left, there’s a roadblock; a flood is coming. We are warned by the Park Rangers we might not be able to pass back through again. We figure we’ll take a chance. We continue to Badwater start line. Norm will leap frog me every _ mile. I need splits. I’m imitating the first 3.1 miles of the race; this is to get into the right frame of mind. I’ll do this again Sunday morning too. We get done 30 seconds sooner than I planned. “Norm, I have to do this slower tomorrow and Tuesday by 30 seconds or I’ll be dead in the water.” We drive back to Stovepipe Wells making it through the flooded road we were warned about. At dinner that night, one of the waiters we’ve become familiar with, Andrew states “ There’s no traffic allowed through Townes Pass, there’s flooding. I don’t know if your race will take place.” I state, “The race is Tuesday. It’ll be okay.”

Upon waking Sunday, I stretch as Norm buys ice. Norm drives me to Badwater. I do my little run like last night, only this time only 3 seconds slower than I plan on Tuesday. Now I feel comfortable. I have a sense of pace back in my legs. After that I have 3 bowls of cereal, 70 ounces of water, gatorade, and a banana. I rest, I take a 2 hour nap. Before we know it, the rest of the crew arrives. Gary accompanied Al and Carol from Las Vegas to Stovepipe in our second van.

The plan: have everyone rest for a bit, go to dinner in Panamint and tomorrow show the crew the rest of the course from Stovepipe to Whitney Portal before the check-in and meeting in Furnace Creek. Monday we awoke at 5:45am. I stretch, have tea, and eat and rest. Norm takes the crew and drives over the course. I get out to run at 6:30am. I jog for a minute and then I hear a familiar voice. It’s Rudy, strolling, coffee in hand, sandals on, “You’re crazy, man!”

I smile, stopping my watch. “Rudy! Hey, I called you this week, left a message. You want to do a two mile jog?”

Rudy gives me a hug. “Nah.”

“You sure?” I egg him on. “C’mon. It’s only 2 miles. I’ll share my water with ya. Huh?”

He smiles and shakes his head no I continue on. My crew leaves for their tour. I have gatorade, water, fruit, and 4 bowls of cereal and fall asleep for 2 hours. Before I know it, Norm and crew are back. We drive to Furnace Creek, except for Gary, he left something at his brother’s Gary has to meet his brother in Pahrump. He gets back just after everything is over. We get back to Stovepipe Wells for preparing ice chests and then dinner.

Before dinner, we decide we want a couple of group pictures. We coax a guy we see by his car in front of the Road Runner section of Stovepipe to take our picture. Somehow, he knows we’re here for the Badwater Race. After he takes our picture, he makes a not-so-thought-out statement in his foreign accent, “You must all have big egos.” We all shake our heads, laugh, and say “Yeah, right.”

He leaves, Al makes believe he’s talking back to the guy and says, “Oh yeah. We have a third crew vehicle bringing our balls in.” Now we can’t stop laughing. The comments fly.

During dinner at Stovepipe Wells, we start discussing foods to eat to gross other runners out. I suggest the pink hostess twinkie snowballs. Or cheesecake with tuna fish. Then Gary says, “we need a team sign.” Meanwhile, Al and Carol are yelling “Where’s my soup? What took you so long. It’s a 15-minute drive. You were gone 3 hours.” During this, I make Nick’s hand gestures of a woman who’s top heavy.

“That’s the sign,” Gary states. We ROAR. Then I say, we have to say “Pink snowballs” when we do the Nick Palazzo sign. All of us have the sign down pat now. So after this during the entire dinner, we’re doing the Nick Palazzo gesture.

Before we know it, its Tuesday morning Race Day. Norm sees cloud cover near Badwater. In my mind, I know it will soon abate. You just have to face the music when you’re in Badwater. As my husband says, “Nothing personal, it’s just Badwater.” I eat PBJ, a banana, take in water, Gatorade, and a Succeed Cap as we drive to the start. I have the 10am start. Before I get out of the van to go to the bathroom in Badwater, I put on an ice cap. I’ll not take any chances. I had the runs a bit, but shook them off. It was only positive thinking. I would tolerate. Major Maples knocks on my van window and gives me some good news. Saddam Hussein’s sons Ebay and Yahoo are dead. This gives me extra energy. I’m really pumped now. I thank him for such motivating news. I drink more, then go take pictures with him.

Before we know they play the Anthem and we’re off and racing. My stomach feels crampy, I figure adrenaline. I look at my watch at Telescope Peak and realize it’s 11 seconds too fast per mile back off by 30 seconds. My stomach gets worse. By 3 miles, my legs are dead. My arms get shaky. Norm hands me a new ice hat. The string in the front gets tangled. I yell to get me another one and toss the one just made. Too much ice in the cap, I let them know. About 1/4 mile later, Juan Olivera, one of Rudy’s crew, is holding an ice hat similar to one of mine.

“Is this mine?” I say, confused.

“No,” Juan says. Then I realize, what am I thinking? At 3.5 miles I feel worse. At 5.5, I’m by the van. My stomach is so bad I just want to curl up in a ball. My arms are shaking, my legs have been wobbly for a good 2 miles. I think it’s a sugar problem. Norm massages my stomach, I eat more, I get worse. By 11 miles, I’m in the van. I feel sick. We call the medic, then we stake me at 11 miles and drive to Furnace Creek to get my blood sugar checked. After putting ice on and popsicles 45 minutes later. I see Dr. Lisa Stranc. She takes my temperature; it’s 104.3 degrees. I know it was not initially the heat. I take a 2+ hour break. I get back to the stake at 11 miles at 2:30pm. I begin to walk like Lisa advised. My stomach still hurts, but the rest of me seems fine. By Furnace Creek, I have hope. Whatever it was must be gone now. I’ll run soon, I figure. I don’t start running until 30 miles. I walk with Major Maples for quite some time before then. We have a good talk. By 38 miles, I start to feel like a runner.

It’s dark out by Stovepipe Wells, I find out many have dropped, including Rudy. During this, I realize it was food poisoning. The oil I poured on my spaghetti Monday did taste slightly rancid, but I was hungry and had not a care in the world. But I figure I’m over it. I’ve had food poisoning before 4+ years ago and ended up in the hospital for 6 hours to get IVs in. Perhaps the reason why it didn’t put me completely down is that I was well-rested and hydrated. Last time, I was overworked and overtrained. I’ve ran and worked through worse. It’s all what you’re used to. Or willing to go through, sometimes. I was terrificly motivated when I arrived at Stovepipe Wells. I gulped my Gpush and began my favorite part of the run, up to Townes Pass and then that beautiful downhill to Panamint. After I got past Wild Rose, I’d passed several racers. My body, for some reason, wanted to slow down. I couldn’t for the life of me think why. By Townes Pass my body hated me for walking. Actually, my back is not designed for walking. Norman and Al were buzzing around trying to get ice.

21+ hours had passed. I sat just before Townes Pass on the roadside. My back was screaming, I felt my posterior legs warning me not to run down the hill without Norm massaging me. Gary and Carol crewed and waited with me. I waited 12 minutes. Al and Norm showed. They got the last bags of ice between Furnace Creek and Lone Pine. Norm sent Carol and Gary for rest in Panamint. 15 minutes into Norm working on me, a friend showed up; Rae Clark. He stopped by to see how I was doing. He basically told me to be smart. He knew I was not racing well. Nothing was worth injury or death. Up until this point, both of our adapters in our vans weren’t working for our phones, mashed potatoes and the like. The air conditioning, primarily in the white van, would only work if you drove it 10 or more miles, which only was done 2 hours of the race so far. I felt bad for the crew. I expected discomfort, all this stomach delay was not good for the crew, it adds more stress. At about 30 miles, our battery went dead in the white van and we were SOL for 10 mins. Major Maples and his crew were with us, however, no jumper cables. Just in the nick of time, the Race Medic car drove up to check on us. We’d seen him most of the first 50+ miles. Nice guy. Well, he jump-started us. Thank God.

Soon after a 20-minute sport massage, I was running like my old self, hauling butt down towards Trona Lane and Panamint Springs. It was still mostly cloudy at this point. However, at that point, I started to burn up more. My stomach rumbled. I ignored it until I had about 4-5 miles until Panamint Springs. Then, the sun burst out. I put on my white shirt, sunglasses, and ice cap. I knew I maintained a fever since I began running at 11 miles. I had been sweating profusely since about 14 hours into this thing and now, just as I’d run downhill, I’d drink 10 ounces every 15 minutes. Sweat was pouring off my hands and my stomach was still cramping and bloated. It never cleared up. My legs began the wobble before the sun even came out again. I felt weaker still. This time my brain just pulled me forward. And when the sun came out, I kept thinking ‘get air-conditioned’ just for a little bit at Panamint. I prayed one of our cans had A/C. I had Al radio ahead, yes they had A/C in Gary and Carol’s van.

With 3 miles to go, I lost mental focus. I could see I knew what I wanted. Norm walked to my left. One thing I know if I notice pain; then my brain is shot. I can usually associate into pain if my brain is functioning even 50%. It was not. I remember it was an effort to speak because I needed to focus on placing my feet on the ground. I knew if I wobbled it was over. The brain can only think of 3 things at once when on optimum capacity. I could think of one at best. I didn’t know what a mile was anymore. I’m a numbers person. Jokingly, some call me “Rainman.” My husband calls “The Good Little German.” I began to notice the pain that it normally would be considered a mere annoyance. Now it was on my mind. I knew not to scold it. I always tell myself, ‘You won’t die of pain. Pain doesn’t kill.’ Because if it did, many of us who do ultras would be dead. You can heed pain and still enjoy life. But don’t fear it, or it will take away your freedom. I dragged myself to sunny Panamint Springs Resort, and focused now only on the van.

I can’t remember if I said anything. I don’t remember getting into the van. I remember having ice on me and eating mashed potatoes. I spoke with Dr. Lisa Stranc. Norm and I were worried about another runner. She told me she was going to check on him. I was relieved. Then I fell asleep 4-5 times and had nightmares. Then fell asleep for about an hour. And when I woke up, I felt 5 times worse. I couldn’t think. Norm asked me a question. I was slow to respond. He suggested we cross the parking to the hospitality runners’ suite.

“How about 4-5 hours of more rest?” I asked. I didn’t want anymore sun, that was my initial reaction. About 20-25 minutes after that I DNF’d. I felt worse than at 11 miles. But it was like I didn’t really know how I felt. I usually can describe stuff but this time for some reason I just couldn’t. It was like I forgot how to. That’s what bothered me.