Well, I can’t believe it’s over!
The planning, training, worrying, running, walking, limping and crying are done. All that is left of the 2002 Sun Precautions Badwater Ultramarathon are the memories. And what wonderful memories they are. At some point, I’ll try and put together a more profound piece about the experience, but for now, here’s what I recall about what happened:
I won’t have had the slightest idea of how to train for Badwater if my buddy Greg Minter hadn’t done it last year. In fact, I would never have even considered doing the race if not for Greg. I’ve been able to “participate” in 100 milers in Vermont and Angeles Crest and for the 135 mile Badwater race as a crew/pacer for Greg. That was more than enough to keep me happy. But there was something about Badwater (and maybe Greg’s subtle pressure relentlessly applied) that inspired me to step out of the shadows and put myself on the line.
I almost hate to admit it, but I really enjoyed training for Badwater. All the runs we did were at “Badwater pace,” which, for us, meant somewhere between 10-12 minute miles. Too slow to run with most of the runners we know so we trained mainly by ourselves. We ran between 70 and 90 miles a week with our long run averaging over a marathon (about 27 miles) for about 4 1/2 months.
Diana Rush was the only person we really ran with regularly. She was great. She never complained about our pace and always pushed to make sure we did all the miles we’d planned. She even tolerated driving around with the heater on from January through the final heat waves we got in July. We went to the gym and sauna regularly. By the end, Greg, Diana and I had used up most of our stories and began to long for others to talk to. 🙂
MY INCREDIBLE CREW
Greg and I were blessed to have absolutely incredible crews. In fact, I can say without hesitation that I would not have finished if it weren’t for my crew. The day shift consisted of Linda Daniels-Hernandez, BJ Anderson and Diana. Their shift was from 10 AM to 10 PM. This all-female crew earned the nickname the “Desert Wildflowers” at one of the training clinics we attended. They seemed to attract so many of the male runners/crew at the clinic that I thought I’d have to bring twice as much water and ice to “support” these friendly guys. The night crew, for the 10 PM to 10 AM shift was Wendy and JR Young for the first night. Wendy was joined by Saul Hernandez and my daughter Stephanie for the second night as JR went over to help Greg’s crew.
Suffice it to say, my crew was incredible. In the months leading up to the race, their excitement was clear and they gave so freely of their time to attend meetings, training clinics, request vacation time, etc, anything that was necessary. During the race they put so much effort into making sure I was OK. I felt so well-supported out there, I can’t imagine anyone being able to complete this event without such a caring group of people.
I must also thank Greg’s crew for all they did for him and for the support they gave me. Mark Giebel, Mark Gilmour, Charlie Marko and Charlotte Vernon did an absolutely wonderful job with Greg. He had some tough stretches that he had to fight through but his crew was great and were invaluable in helping him recover. Tying our crews together were Greg’s parents Lewin and Sue. They are the parents that everyone longs to have. I think every one of our crew members was calling them “mom & dad” by the end of the week. Somehow they were able to keep all of our crews supplied with ice, water, whatever, always seemed to know how Greg and I were doing, and were waiting at the perfect places to give us a hug along the way.
THE RACE – BADWATER TO PANAMINT SPRINGS (MILE 72)
There were 3 starting blocks to minimize traffic on the two-lane highway from Badwater to the first timed station at Furnace Creek. I ended up starting 4 hours ahead of Greg at 6 AM. We had hoped to start together since all of our training was done together but, as race day approached, we decided that the 4 hour stagger might be better because Greg would probably run faster than I and would catch up at some point along the course. As expected, Greg did run faster but he never did catch up so, consequently, we never saw each other on the course. We did get an occasional update of how the other was doing, but we each ended up running our own race.
The 6 AM start was packed with all the female competitors in the race. Also in my starting block were some of the more well-known Badwater runners (Marshall Ulrich – only person do a “quad” – four crossings during last years race – and a solo unassisted-crossing; Major Curt Maples, Lisa Smith-Batchen and Jack Denness of Running on the Sun fame; Scott Weber – first to do a triple crossing). There was even a guy who ran dressed in a Roger Rabbit costume. Heard that he didn’t even make it 10 miles and had two 911 calls.
The beginning of the race went really well. It was in the low 90s when we started at 6:00. I was probably near the back of the pack and running comfortably. My plan was to take advantage of the “cool” start and run most of the way to Furnace Creek. Wendy and JR were crewing that section and everything felt fine – just like the previous times I’d run this section in the clinics and the race last year. I got to Furnace Creek in 3:47, almost 15 minutes ahead of schedule, feeling good.
The Desert Wildflowers took over from there. I think I ran a little bit after Furnace Creek but my plan was to walk all the way to Stovepipe Wells (mile 42). This is the hottest section of the course, through the heart of Death Valley. It is here where most DNFs occur. The crew kept me cool with iced bandanas around my neck and a cool-water soaking every mile. Linda found a clever way to get ice onto my head without needing to take off my hat. I had bought an ice cap with a zippered compartment for ice. She would just unzip the pouch and scoop ice directly in. It looked like she was actually pouring ice INTO my brain. It all worked well to help manage the heat. I didn’t want to ever know the temperature but afterward we heard that the reported high was 123F and most of the car temperature gauges were reading 130F. Regardless, it was hot.
I reached Stovepipe Wells at about 6:30 PM, a half-hour behind schedule. I felt good and took a few minutes to have BJ massage my legs and feet (she’s a massage therapist in addition to her many other skills). After about a half-hour I was heading out of Stovepipe and up the 18 mile climb to Townes Pass. Almost immediately out of Stovepipe I started to get sleepy. Yikes, it’s only 7:00 PM, I thought. After a Starbucks Frappicino and Hansen’s Energy drink, I was alert again and digging out the night gear (head lamp, flashlights and reflective gear) that all runners and crew must have for the dark. Basked in the light of the full moon, I trudged up to Townes Pass with the Wildflowers until Wendy and JR relieved for the night shift.
I finally began to see more runners on the Townes Pass section. Many of those who started at 8:00 or 10:00 were now passing me. In fact, we saw Matt Penn, a Runners’ Reporter who now lives in Tucson. He had inquired about crewing for me but heard that my crew was pretty full so he offered to be the 2nd crew member for a runner from Idaho whom he’d only corresponded with a few times over the internet. Nice guy, that Matt.
It must have been at the shift change that I heard that Greg had gotten sick a couple of times in Death Valley. Didn’t hear much other than that but I started to get worried. He had gotten sick at the clinics last year but not at all during the race. I also heard that lots of guys in the 10 AM start had been sick because it was well over 100F when they started.
My pre-race plan was to run, very slowly, up much of the climb to Townes Pass. That didn’t happen. I was more than happy to just walk the hill but it set me back a few hours on my projected race time. There’s a steep downhill section after the peak at Townes Pass. I ended up walking most of that too, casually stopping every mile to snack with Wendy or JR. I probably took too long at these aid stops this first night but my stomach was a little queasy and I wasn’t really sure what to eat. Root beer, Fritos, Quench gum and that magic elixir – chicken soup – seemed to do the trick. I did start to get a little tired in the wee hours of the morning but managed to stay awake and moving.
Near the bottom of the hill, I decide to run. Mistake. There’s a seemingly endless flat section through Panamint Valley after the downhill from Townes Pass where I though I might be able to make up some time. I figured I could get a running start and make up some time before the next time station in Panamint Springs. Shortly after I picked up the pace, I started to feel tightness in the upper part of my right calf and up through the knee. I know now that I either strained, pulled or partially tore something. I was still able to walk/limp but running was out of the question.
We finally got to Panamint Springs at about 8:30 AM, 2 1/2 hours behind schedule. There was a hospitality suite set up for runners to shower/sleep so I hobbled in to change my clothes for Day 2. I stayed at Panamint for about 20-30 minutes. I ended up passing some people here who took sleep breaks. My placing in the race wasn’t really the issue here. I just wasn’t sleepy so I decided to keep moving.
THE RACE – PANAMINT SPRINGS TO LONE PINE (MILE 122)
Immediately out of Panamint Springs is a steep 8 mile climb to the Father Crowley Lookout at mile 80. This was a slow, arduous climb. The highlights here were the 10 AM crew change where Linda, BJ and Diana rejoined me and some low altitude flybys from jet fighters who use the area for training. They seemed close enough to touch and their power was both exhilarating and frightening. I think I must have started to look kinda bad on the climb because Linda went into assessment mode (she is a social worker who works with cancer patients) and kept asking me my name, address, today’s date, and to do “simple” math like counting backward from 100 in “serial 7s.” I got my name and address right, and relied on looking at my watch to get the day/date correct (that’s a lot to expect when I hadn’t slept in over 30 hours) but I could never do mental math when running anyway so the serial 7s were out!
Near the top of Crowley, I tested my feeble mental math skills and tried to figure out how fast I need to move in order to finish within the 60 hour time limit. There were 55 miles left and I’d miscalculated so I really began to question whether I’d make the cutoff. Finally I asked the crew to figure it out. They said I only needed to go 2 mph and would finish with 3 hours to spare. Not bad, I thought. I could do that.
Maybe not. The next time station was at the Darwin cutoff at mile 90. My paced slowed quite a bit on the long downgrade to Darwin. My leg was really tightening up and I was limping badly. I hadn’t taken any medication up to this point but I was getting really concerned about finishing so I took some Aleve. BJ had some homeopathic anti-inflammatories so I took those too. I noticed that stopping made my leg tight up even worse so I tried to limit my stops at the van and kept walking through the aid stations.
I finally got to Darwin just before 5 PM on Wednesday, 35 hours into the race. I’m approaching virgin territory now. The longest I’d ever run was 91 miles at a 24-hour track run a few years ago. I remember how sore I was after that and don’t even want to think what 45 more miles will do to me.
Every day at dusk, we’d see smoke from the fire in Sequoia. Wednesday evening was something else. The air was think with black smoke and ash. The rising moon had an orange cast to it. The gloom brought my spirits down too. Too far to go on a hobbled leg. How will I get through another night without sleep? Too many questions left and not enough energy to search for answers.
Somewhere around mile 95, Linda’s husband Saul arrived. A godsend. Saul is an emergency room nurse with a very quiet and caring manner. I had originally wanted Saul there because of his medical background. Unfortunately, his request for vacation during the race as turned down. But, as things have a way of working themselves out, he was schedule off on Wednesday and Thursday which, at the last minute, made him available for the Wednesday night shift.
What I hadn’t counted on was Saul’s ability to immediately assess the situation and develop an emergency plan. This plan was to get me to the finish line. I don’t really know what happened, but Saul, Linda and BJ got together and figured out exactly what was needed to get me to finish the race. It was as if I was plopped down into this finely tuned machine. Things went from them asking me what I wanted to my crew taking over. They made things simple. Just keep walking, keep up with my pacer and let them know how I was feeling. They did the rest. They calculated how fast I needed to move, spaced out my advil and homeopathics, massaged and wrapped my leg with ice and an ace bandage, kept me hydrated and fed, spaced out doses of caffeine to keep me awake and alert. In short, they did everything. All I did was walk.
From this point, almost everything was a blur. I just walked and did what they said. Sometime that evening I became the “crooked man.” I hadn’t even noticed it but others kept asking why I was leaning to the left. With my entire right leg bandaged and my upper body listing severely to the left, I was quite a pitiful sight. Had I known I looked that bad, I might have reconsidered going on.
Through the blur of the 2nd night, I do recall a few things. The crew stretched a roll of toilet paper across the road at mile 100 so I could “break the tape.” This was the first time I “lost it.” Stephanie showed up at about mile 105 with Wendy for the night shift crew change. My daughters have always been very supportive of my running and it was wonderful to have Stephanie there. I was glad that she could see how great my friends are and how hard they were working to get me through this thing. It seems like people don’t really “get” why runners do Badwater until you are there to experience the race. I’m happy that Stephanie now really “gets it.”
Saul stayed on the night shift that 2nd night with Wendy and Stephanie. With my leg in the state that it was, I wanted to make sure that either Saul or BJ were on shift at all times for their knowledge of traditional and alternative medications. I made steady progress the 2nd night. Saul had told me earlier that, because my pace had slowed and we’d taken some time to refigure the crew shifts. I needed to do 2 mph but would only have a 45 minute cushion to finish. They were trying to build up that cushion because the last 13 miles of the course is the climb up to 8300 ft on the Whitney Portal Road. With my leg in such bad shape, their goal was to get me to Lone Pine by 6 AM so I’d have 12 hours to do the final climb.
On the way to Lone Pine, I kept hearing that Greg was only 1 1/2 to 2 miles behind. I’d heard that repeatedly throughout the 2nd day and was constantly expecting him to catch up. Then, I’d start to worry again. I knew I was moving slowly so I thought the worst. He’s sick again. He’s injured. Maybe he just stopped to sleep. Regardless, we never did see each other.
THE RACE – LONE PINE TO MT WHITNEY (MILE 135)
I got to the Junction of the 395 in Lone Pine at 5:30 AM, a half-hour ahead of schedule. Our hotel was just past this intersection but I didn’t stop at the room. Instead, I got a hug from Greg’s mom, Sue who was waiting in front of the motel. I lost it again. She’s wonderful. The walk to the time station at the Dow Villa Motel was long and slow. This is the point of the race when it begins to sink in that I’ll finish. Again, no real break in Lone Pine and I head up to Mt Whitney.
Last night, Wendy and Stephanie made a trip into Line Pine to get some trekking poles that I might use for the climb. I try them but they are too awkward on the road. Linda, BJ and Diana drive by and I ask them to drive 1 mph. I want to know that I’m going at least that fast. I am. I’m going to finish.
The climb up the Portal Road was quite an experience. I knew that I had plenty of time so my pace was somewhat leisurely. By now I am really leaning to the left. Every car that drives by applauds and shouts encouragement. I feel odd because I don’t feel that bad or in much pain but I know I look horrible. I start to get double vision when I look too far up the road, so I stop looking ahead. By now, the entire crew is here. We take turns so that everyone does a mile with me. Matt Penn is there again. His runner had to drop. He takes lots of pictures of the crooked man. I’m still getting the same reports about Greg. He’s doing well and is only about a mile or two behind. I want to stop and wait to cross the finish line with him but my leg won’t let me. I need to keep going or it gets really tight.
Near the finish, a photographer from the San Diego Union-Tribune snaps picture after picture of the crooked man. They are doing a feature article on Badwater for the paper in August and a reporter will interview me after the race. I guess the crooked man sells papers.
If I can’t finish with Greg, I want to finish with my crew. They are responsible for me completing this race so they deserve to cross the line just as much as I do. BJ, Saul, Diana, Stephanie, JR, Linda, Wendy and I cross the finish line of the Badwater Ultramarathon in just over 55 hours. We cried a lot after we finished. It was wonderful.
Shortly afterward, Greg got to the finish line in 51 1/2 hours. I guess he WAS just a mile or two behind. We hugged and he finishes his SECOND Badwater.
This turned out to be quite a year to do Badwater. First, it was the 25th Anniversary of the first run from Badwater to the top of Mt Whitney. That first runner, Al Arnold was there for the whole week and congratulated us at the finish line. Then there were a couple of big articles in the LA Times after the race. Well, it was after the race for some but many of us were still out on the course when the first article appeared. This race will have special meaning because, for the first time at Badwater, a woman was the overall winner. Pam Reed cut nearly two hours off the women’s course record and finished just under 28 hours. And the fires posed and interesting atmospheric challenge for many of us.
Next year? I don’t think so. This was to be my one shot at Badwater. I’m glad I finished. I love the race and the people associated with it but I want this to be my memory of Badwater. I doubt that running a faster time would give me any more than I got this year. I’ll be indebted to my crew always and feel confident that this will be an experience that they will never forget.
Thanks also to all of you who have support our training efforts and were thinking of us during the race. So many of you have said they were checking our progress on the webcast. In case you missed the NPR piece yesterday, Mike Howard send the following website when you can hear a replay: click here.
The NPR interview features Angela Brunson who runs with the Mountain Goats and is on the Runners’ Report. We were fortunate to get to know her and her crew (including boyfriend Brian and fellow Runners’ Reporter Bill Lockton) during the training clinics and at the race. Angela looked amazingly perky at the finish line and I hear she even came back and ran with the Goats last weekend! Angela and I started together but I never saw her in the race either as she buckled, finishing in 45 hours..
Thanks also to Duffy and Stan who got updates and other info and photos onto the NBB website during the race. http://www.newbasinblues.org/
Also, JR has posted some of his pictures of the race: Badwater Ultra Heat Training Clinic-2002 http://cards.webshots.com/cp-30685947-qyez-album/45219340kqpLPo
2002 Badwater UltraMarathon Group 1: http://cards.webshots.com/cp-30685947-qyez-album/45231766pXatkn
2002 Badwater UltraMarathon Group 2: http://cards.webshots.com/cp-30685947-qyez-album/45235670tiNcnd
Ben Jones, the honorary Mayor of Badwater is also the coroner up in INYO County. He sent the following are the race: “I did a coroner’s case the other day on a 39 year-old Swiss professor who tried to go from the DV floor to Telescope peak and back. He drove out the West Side Road and 4 miles up Hanaupah Canyon Road. He parked there one or two days earlier. He made it back to within a few hundred yards of his vehicle. He died of heat stroke with extreme dehydration. His body was partially mummified within hours of his demise on the Wednesday of our Race.”