Category: First-Person Stories

Reflections on the 2005 Badwater Ultramarathon

2005 official finisher

At 6 o’clock on Monday morning, the starting pistol fired and one-third of the field of ninety runners started off to tackle this 216-kilometre race which would finish halfway up Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the Sierra Nevadas.

I was one of the competitors in this first of three waves, and I was pretty happy to be on the early start; we could make some distance before the real heat kicked in! As it was, it was already 35 degrees, and the sun was nowhere to be seen. What was to come?

Badwater, at close to 300 feet below sea level, is the lowest point in Death Valley (and the Western Hemisphere). And one of the hottest , as we were to find out more about that later on that day!

Flip Jurgens, my fellow South African, had committed himself to be my sighted guide/horse for the race and we were hoping to finish the distance within the 48-hour cut-off, thus qualifying for the coveted “buckle.” A sub-60 hour time was needed to be classified as an official finisher. As we trotted along the first 27-kilometre leg to Furnace Creek, the first check point, we were very conscious of what we were trying to do—all very well to plan a sub-48 hour attempt in the comfort of our own homes in South Africa, but no one had warned us about how horrifically high the mountain passes were and the baking heat had really worried me from the minute we stepped down from the jet at Las Vegas! Having read a fair number of the “blood and guts” articles from past races & having had much warning about Death Valley from the leathery veterans whom we met at race registration, we had decided to take the first 65 kilometres through the Mojave Desert very slowly. (As we saw later from the results, we were the last to leave the valley).

Come mid-morning, Furnace Creek was 40 degrees! A change into our lovely Patagonia tops and trousers was necessary, ice packs under our caps, bandanas and we were off. Just short of a standard marathon to go with supper awaiting us in the swimming pool at Stovepipe Wells: a fantasy which kept us slogging along through the ever-increasing heat of the day. The asphalt road started to stick to our shoes, and our feet felt as though they were being slowly roasted! Our wonderful crew were there for us every two and a half kilometres—smiling faces at every stop—swapping our water bottles, offering us Gu, freshly cut fruit, ice, food, and (most importantly) our salt tablets. We probably took three every two hours in that first day. I, in mentioning crew, cannot without writing a separate book about it, adequately describe their role in our race. Flip and I were blessed with a wonderful group of people, headed up by Bob Sitler, himself a veteran buckle holder of this event.

We passed through a very stark, you could even say ugly, area in the mid-afternoon called the Devil’s Cornfield. The heat topped 50 degrees for our three hours through that arid section, and then Stovepipe Wells came into view. Flip wasn’t sure that he wasn’t looking at a mirage – we had both become pretty quiet during those last three hours. I seem to remember that we occasionally muttered to each other, “dit wort warm” … an attempt at some dry humour? Though we tried to walk along the white line, our feet just cooked; even my trusty Montrails started to sweat!

When we finally turned off into Stovepipe Wells, with Death Valley behind us, our fantasies came true! We were very hot and tired, with my worst memory being of feet too hot to walk on any longer. Off with our clothes and shoes and into the pool—what a great feeling! We had taken 12 hours to do 65 kilometres and we were still within our time window. We had planned to spend only 45 minutes at Stovepipe, but our feet needed some attention and it was still incredibly hot: still well over 40 degrees at sundown, so we decided to wait a while, eat a good meal and then tackle Townes Pass at a respectable hour and temperature! We didn’t care that we were far back in the field at that time. We were still strong and another 150 kilometres of mountain passes and desert valleys still awaited us. We heard that some runners had already dropped out due to the heat, and we were still in reasonable condition. Bob and Patrick were to have a rest and be back with us at 1:00 a.m.—hopefully as we topped Townes Pass with Susanne and Daniel taking us for the climb out of Death Valley.

Townes pass was an experience of its own: 27 kilometres of mountain which took us from sea level to over 5000 feet. The hot wind from the desert was still with us for a while, but the temperature gradually dropped and we reached the top in just under six hours. This section was still and dark with but few vehicles at that time of night. Flip kept a good lookout with his headlamp—there is a snake called the sidewinder which comes out onto the road at night!

We were still on schedule with a couple of hours in the bank for a buckle, even with a planned 20-minute sleep in Patrick’s Sprinter van when we reached the lay-by at the top! All would have been great if he had been there! He and Bob went barrelling past the lay-by; they thought it was still another couple of kilometres.

We sat for a while in another runner’s support vehicle, realising slowly but surely that our dream of a 20-minute sleep was history. Never mind all the other goodies: Coke, sweets, rubdown, etc!!! When our two apologetic crew finally arrived, we had lost 50 minutes and we only wanted to get going. We had another, even higher, mountain, Father Crowley’s, waiting for us at the foot of the next valley and we wished to tackle this one during the cool of early morning. Our next check-point was Panamint Springs, at the foot of Father Crowley’s, and I was hoping to make up some of the time we had lost to give me an opportunity to have some running repairs to my feet when we reached the check-point. I thought that we mike be able to make up the 30 minutes we lost earlier on by running down the 3000 foot descent into Panamint Springs.

I hoped in vain. Flip and I agreed that it was far too steep, taking our quads into account, to run for the next 15 kilos. The best we could do was the last ten. We had now covered 120 kilometres in 24 hours: only 96 to go. Bob ran with us into Panamint Springs to discuss our feelings about buckling. If it wasn’t on, we, including the crew, could ease off a bit. If we were, we would have to watch our stops and now consider taking all our refreshments on the move—no more sitting down for a drink!

We crossed that Rubicon in a fraction of a second, both simultaneously saying “yes!” The game was on! However, I had some thinking to do. I had been holding on for a break to sort out my feet at Panamint, but we had lost the time up Townes Pass when our crew went AWOL. Father Crowley’s—a 25-kilometre climb up to 6000 feet—was patiently waiting to test us, and the sun was remorsefully turning up the heat! I decided to postpone my pedicure until much later in the day: a good decision as things turned out.

I don’t know why, but we were in a really crazy mood going up Father Crowley’s. We had taken the bit between our teeth to go for our buckles, were feeling great and we pushed it up the mountain as though we only had 20 kilos to go to the finish! While we suspected that we would pay for it later, it didn’t kill our mood—maybe we had mountain sickness! Father Crowley’s came and went during the morning and we were finally able to look down into the last valley: 55 kilometres of long, rolling downhills to another stark salt plain, passing through the tiny village of Lone Pine and then only 20 kilometres after that up Mount Whitney. Flip could see its snow covered peak in the distance: a 14,000 foot beckoning finger high in the sky with our own road winding away into the hot, dusty plain below!

While it was good to know that we had done two-thirds of the whole race, and had put two hard climbs behind us, there was still a long, long way to go; and our slog up Father Crowley’s had taken its toll of our legs! While I am not saying that the next five or six hours passed in a blur, we both went very quiet and had to really focus on keeping going.

Although we were now at some 6000 feet, the midday sun was baking. Luckily for us, not as bad as the day before. I seem to have memories of our crew yelling madly whenever we went by; particularly Liza from New York. The US Air Force was doing “beat-ups” almost overhead, and, magically, we seemed to be passing other runners! When I say runners, we all were trudging along, some limping, some chatting, but all taking strain. I had heard that this part of the race takes its toll of competitors: the “melt-down” rate of both runners and crew is high along this stretch, and I could fully understand why!

I was sad to hear that my brother Miles had decided to give up at around halfway. He had trashed his feet and had been pretty drained by the Death Valley section. He, and his crew were now part of our support group during this section. I myself was now going through a pretty bad patch. My feet, which I had been able to put in the back of my mind for many hours, were now giving me stick. My legs were weakening. Basically, we were just tired!

Stop time for Geoff and Flip: do feet, sit down for half an hour and get the body and mind right for the final slog. Only some 40 kilometres to go! We had a very welcome rest, my blisters were sliced, cleaned with what felt like boiling battery acid, and plastered—a few minutes of hell which I prefer not to recall! However, that break was magic.

We were different men when we got to our feet. Could I have been walking on air and no longer on my blisters? Sundown was approaching and we got our second wind. Apart from the raw feeling in my mouth and throat, caused by breathing in all that hot air for all those hours, which made eating painful, I felt pretty good, and we didn’t doubt that we were going to make it! Neither did our crew. There was such a party mood, and all the fatigue of the past 40 hours dropped away! The lights of Lone Pine were in sight for a long while before we arrived, but that only seemed to raise our spirits, not weigh us down. We knew that once we were through Lone Pine, altitude some 3000 feet, there were only 20 kilometres to go! It didn’t seem to matter that we had to climb up to 8500 feet to reach the finish; it was just a monster Polly Shorts—one last vasbyt!

Our time window for Lone Pine was between midnight and 1:00 a.m. We were pleasantly surprised to pass through just before 11:00 p.m. Seven hours to do only 20 kilometres—it certainly did not seem that we would be stressed by the clock—only by that huge mountain! I did not think that we would flag now that were on the very last leg. I was in for a nasty surprise when the hill proper started! I seemed to have no power at all in my legs, although I didn’t feel very tired, just had jelly for quads. On reflection, I realise that, because of my sore mouth, I had not eaten enough during the past eight hours and was much out of fuel. A rehydration drink did not tip the scales in my favour, and I started vomiting until I had absolutely nothing left!

I felt pretty stressed; still 15 kilometres to go. The steep part of the mountain was waiting and I only felt like crawling! Flip was so strong, I think that he could have run up that last section. He was also a race entrant, and had the same expectations of a buckle! At eight to go, I had to call a halt. It was not going well for me at all. Nothing would stay down, not even water, and I didn’t have any idea at all how I would get up those last switchbacks which were looming over us. I felt so drained that all I wanted to do was sit down, better still, lie down.

The exuberance of four hours ago was completely gone. We were now just six very quiet people all wondering how to help me put my race back together! There were very few other runners around. The field had really split up, and all I could hear was the wind through the huge Ponderosa pines and the river making its way down the mountain. We were already at the snowline. The smell of the pine trees was sweet and clean. Did we really spend all that time yesterday traversing a place like Death Valley? Yes, it was so good just sitting on that chair, letting what was left of my mind wander around any and everything but tackling that last eight kilometres. Just another time trial, we used to say in those far away days.

Time to pull myself together. I realised that the stark reality was that it was just between me, the mountain, and the clock. Either I would make it to the top in time to buckle or I wouldn’t. If I fell apart completely, maybe I wouldn’t make it at all! But I had come too far, dreamed and trained too long to let that happen.

Decision time. Flip had to leave me and go on – he was still strong and could cruise his buckle – no more time left to wait for me to recover. All agreed: Flip went off with Bob and Susanne in one of the vans while Henri, Dan and Patrick stayed with me. Well, without going into too much of a story, we just went very slowly up that last bit. The two-and-a-half hours I took must be my personal worst for eight kilometres! But, hooray, we got the buckle! The clock stood at 46-and-a-half hours when we slowly crossed that finish line at 4.30 in the morning—too tired for even the tears which the moment deserved. Flip was 35 minutes ahead, finishing in 39th position and I made 41st —exactly halfway down—or halfway up—the field of the 81 crazy people who tackled this year’s race.

Thanks to our wonderful crew, who had come from Virginia, New York, Albuquerque and Standerton, and who had been with us for every step of the way, we had fulfilled the dream which had started around a little campfire during the 2004 Kalahari Augrabies Extreme!

What’s it all about, Alfie? That has to be the most frequently asked question. Why do we do events like this? On one side of the coin, taking on a 200-plus-kilometre ultra is already a huge challenge. Adding in the heat of Death Valley to total climbing of over 13,000 feet makes the Badwater race a real monster! However, when you flip the coin it has to be seen as one of the greatest races in the world! It is impossible to describe the stark beauty and call of that desert with snow covered mountains looking down at you while you are struggling along in that heat. But, far beyond the pain caused by the temperature, distance, desperate fatigue and multiple loss of toenails, is the comradeship and joy of being part of such an event in a part of the world one would not ordinarily visit.

There is a magic to the place which seems to draw runners back time and time again. A 70-year-old school caretaker from Britain notched up his twelfth this year, and there is undoubtedly a large and very friendly Badwater family who enjoy participating in this very well-organised race.

If you are a South African long distance runner who has become a little restless and looking for new horizons, I challenge you to look at – maybe we will meet at the 2006 race?


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 …



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.


Meine Betreuer, Bennie, mein Trainer und Gewinner des diesjährigen Swiss Gigathlon (, 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 …


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.


My supporters, Bennie, my coach and winner of the Swiss Gigathlon this year (, 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

Trials and Travails of Team Coonhound and the 2004 Badwater Ultramarathon, or, What I Did on My Summer Vacation

2004 official finisher

Team Coonhound, as we came to call ourselves, was comprised of 9 folks—yours truly in the role of runner, and Carolyn Campbell, Mark Briggs, Harpo Davis, Ron Hershey, David Hodges, Jerry Riddick and Matt Skroch as crew. Harp and Hersh are college buds from my first undergraduate tour of duty, and the rest of the outfit are Tucsonans. Without a good crew and a well supplied crew vehicle, you might as well not even show up to this race, the Badwater 135. We had both; in fact, we probably had one of, if not THE best crew on the course this year. In addition, we also had Al Arnold, the very first person to ever make the crossing from Badwater to the top of Mt. Whitney (in 1977) in the role of Honorary Crew Chief and Spiritual Leader. While Al was not able to attend the race this year, he was clearly there with us in spirit. Carolyn called him once or twice during the race, and he called to congratulate us the morning after we finished.

The race goes off in 3 flights—6, 8 & 10 AM—and starts at Badwater, in Death Valley, the lowest bit of dry dirt in the western hemisphere. We were slotted into the 8 AM start, which was ideal—early enough to still be coolish at the start, late enough that we could get a good night’s sleep. At the start I was pestering the crew with last minute reminders and advice, and it was suggested that I go find something else to do, away from our crew vehicle (a white mini-van Jerry had rented in Las Vegas) while I waited for the call to the start line. So I decided to make sure that I started from the lowest point possible, and walked out across the Badwater salt flats to what appeared to be the low point, maybe ¼ mile away. When I turned around, all the other runners and Chris Kostman, the race director, had gathered by the “282 ft. below sea level” sign for a photo session and so I had to actually run back in to make the picture.

After more photos and a couple of quick interviews with guys with TV cameras, we lined up, listened to the National Anthem, then counted down the last 10 seconds together, out loud, and we were off. The temperature was 98 F. The first couple of miles were nicely shaded by the truncated alluvial fans hanging off the side of the Black Mountains, and then, as we came out into the sunshine, the race began in earnest.

The way we progressed was the crew vehicle with 3 crew members (Matt, Harpo & Jerry at this point—the rest of the crew was resting up to take the later shift) would leapfrog ahead one to two miles, and then pull off the side of the road and wait for me to catch up. As I approached, a crew member would run up the road a ways to meet me and find out what I needed and to grab my water bottle(s). A second crew member would meet me soon after with a lightweight pump sprayer and spray me down, and then I would get the food, drink and/or clothing items I requested as I passed on by the vehicle. If I wanted a lot of stuff, needed to talk to the crew or wanted a little break, I would pause for a minute or two while we took care of business.

While the Badwater Road winds along the foot of the Black Mountains of the Amargosa Range on the east side of Death Valley, Telescope Peak rises straight up to over 11,000 feet in the Panamint Range on the west side of the valley. On top are ancient bristlecone pines and temperatures that drop close to freezing at night in July. The 11,300 feet climb from valley floor to mountain summit represents the greatest direct vertical relief in North America. It was interesting to gauge our progress by tracking the location of Telescope Peak as we crossed the valley floor. Surely and steadily it moved from off my left shoulder, to somewhat behind my shoulder and then out of my field of vision all together. We were making progress.

I ran 11 minute miles more or less all the way to the first time station at Furnace Creek,  17.4 miles (-165 feet elevation, 112 degrees F). We arrived there in 3:13 (11:13 AM), about 45 minutes ahead of our projected time and caught the relief crew by surprise. The only walking I had done up to this point was on one fairly steep hill, and the thinking there was to save my quadriceps muscles for later in the race. As all was in good order psycho- and physiologically, I paused only briefly at the Furnace Creek time check station to check our place (16th not counting the 10 AM starts), while crew members worked to get checked out of the hotel room and into the crew vehicle.

Past Furnace Creek there is a separate paved multi-use path for a few miles, and I was perhaps 3⁄4 of a mile along this section when I heard footsteps sprinting up behind me. It was Mark Briggs, who had volunteered to pace me from Furnace Creek to Stovepipe Wells (from the start to Furnace Creek pacers are not allowed). I asked Mark why he ran to catch up rather than catching a ride with the crew vehicle which had just gone by. He claimed, “that would have been cheating.” His goal was to cover the entire 24 miles through the hottest part of the day on foot, and he was not to be denied.

A mile out of Furnace Creek, the car thermometer read 114 F. Jerry had checked it against thermometers in Las Vegas as he drove over to Death Valley and found it in good agreement. Nevertheless, it is likely that the car thermometer read a few degrees hotter than the “official” National Weather Service temperature for any given time, as a car thermometer is reading the temperature closer to surface than is the NWS thermometer (these are standardized at, I believe, 2 meters above the surface). Near the surface,  the layer of air becomes super heated by the radiation back up from the surface, and this is exacerbated by the black asphalt of the road. Because the temperature we were actually experiencing was in the region measured by the car thermometer (not 2 meters up as measured by the NWS thermometer), the car temps were likely a fair approximation of what we experienced.

The key to successfully running across Death Valley during the day in the middle of July is to make it appear to your body that you are not really doing that. This can be accomplished via evaporative cooling—keep your surface wet and you keep your surface cool. I quickly recognized that getting sprayed every mile or two was not enough to keep me wet and thus cool the entire 10-15 minutes between visits from the crew. In addition, I started the race in a Cool Max shirt, which is a thin, synthetic weave that wicks moisture quickly away from the body and evaporates it to the outside air. This happens so rapidly, though, that the shirt itself does not stay cool for very long (thanks to KJ Glover for pointing this out over a year ago). Thus, I changed into a long sleeve cotton shirt that Harpo had brought along, and this worked perfectly. In addition, after the first few miles, I carried two water bottles with me the whole time—one for drinking either water or a Cytomax and Accelerade mix (fancy sports drinks), and a second for water to douse myself with periodically. For the one mile segments we were now doing, this worked out perfectly—both bottles were emptied just as I rolled up to the crew vehicle time and again.

Nevertheless, there were two body parts that remained all too aware that they were still in Death Valley: my left foot and my right foot. Around mile 25, with the car thermometer registering 120 F, I felt a sore spot develop at the base of one of my toes. I was a little surprised as I have never blistered from running in the past. We pulled the shoes off and had a look, and indeed, found a small blister forming. I put some medical tape—it’s not overly sticky so wouldn’t pull the skin off when I had to remove it later—across the sore spot to reduce the friction. But after putting my shoes back on I discovered that this was not the only sore spot—the tip of my second toe was sore, and a I had a whole band of spots across the ball of each foot. Blisters on the balls of the feet were evidence that the bulk of the blistering was not from friction but rather from the heat conducting directly from the pavement through the soles of my shoes to my feet. In other words, I was burning my feet. In addition, it was clear that my feet had swollen as they were rubbing against the ends and sides of the shoes I was wearing, shoes I’d trained in for the past two months and that fit well. I took the shoes back off, taped up all of the sore spots and then tried on a different pair of running shoes. These were no better, and so I got out my trail running shoes, which I have always complained fit me like shoe boxes rather than shoes. I also put on a pair of toe socks (like gloves for the feet) which reduce the amount the front of the foot can slide around inside the sock. The big trail shoes proved to be the ticket, and with a few awkward steps getting up enough momentum to get over the initial pain, I was off again running.

Not long after the blister debut, I started to have trouble getting food down. The crew had been doing a terrific, if somewhat overzealous job of plunging as many calories down my throat as I could manage, but between the heat, the exertion and the volume of food and liquid that I had been ingesting, my stomach began to rebel. Our food supplies consisted of various items that maximized calories, carbohydrates and electrolytes while minimizing the calories required to digest them. In addition, I needed everything to be at least palatable if not necessarily appetizing. Included in our mobile pantry were cans of Boost and Ensure, gel packets (a high carb sugary formulation not unlike cake frosting), cookies, honey dew, cantaloupe and water melons, turkey and swiss sandwiches, PB&Js, boiled potatoes, potato chips, candies, vegetable and chicken soups, plain white bread, breakfast cereal and soy milk, and the aforementioned Cytomax and Accelerade sports drinks. At one time or another along the route I ate at least a little bit of everything listed except for the boiled potatoes.

But now, 29 miles out, I could not eat another thing, and I was feeling a little light-headed. I decided to stop running and walk a couple of miles and told the crew to take all that food they were trying to force down my throat and eat it themselves if it was so damn good for you. I was only drinking water now, also, and got myself sprayed down extra well. Mark and I walked perhaps three miles in a row, and it all bottomed out when I agreed to eat a Gel pack and, if a mouthful of gunk the consistency of cake frosting wasn’t bad enough, I accidentally scraped the edge of the packet against the back of my throat, perilously close to the auto-gag reflex sensor. I spent a full 10 minutes locked in mortal combat with my stomach which was hell-bent on emptying it all out right there on the side of the road and starting all over again. But finally things started to settle down, I agreed to another bottle of Cytomax and we were off and running again.

We reached Stove Pipe Wells, 41.9 mi. from the start and 5 feet above sea level, in 8 hours 47 minutes (a 12:36 min/mi. average pace). Mark had been doing so well over the 24 miles we had just covered I was sure he was going to want to continue, but when I suggested he keep going he looked at me like I was nuts or something. At the Stove Pipe Wells hotel I took my shoes off, peeled the medical tape off my feet, then walked into the swimming pool in my shirt, shorts and sunglasses and enjoyed a couple of easy strokes and an underwater plunge. Fully refreshed, I wandered over to our hotel room. My stomach was completely settled now, and I was extremely hungry, so I ate some soup while Carolyn made me a bean and cheese burrito for the road. After I’d re-taped my feet the crew was in a deep discussion. As the mysteries of crew logistics were well beyond my ken, I headed off on my own, walking briskly, as the road was now uphill.

Dean Karnazes, who was eventually to win the race, had passed us a couple of miles before Stove Pipe Wells. Chris Bergland, who last year led the race for 112 miles only to finish 4th,  and who had just 7 weeks ago broken the 24 hour treadmill record (153.76 miles), was hot on our tail into Stove Pipe Wells, where he passed us. While I was in the pool at Stove Pipe, Pam Reed, the Tucson woman who had won this race the previous two years and finished 4th this year, also went by. Monica Shultz, a Canadian woman who finished 3rd both last year and this year, now passed us as we started the climb out of Stove Pipe Wells and up Townes Pass. (All of these top runners had been in the 10 AM start.)

After Stove Pipe Wells the course leaves Death Valley and climbs 17 miles up to 4,995 ft. Townes Pass, then immediately begins the “bone-crushing descent” into Panamint Valley—a 9% grade over 12 miles with 3,400 ft. of elevation loss—to the 1,600 ft. valley floor. When we left Stovepipe around 5:00 PM, the temperature was 120 F. By 7:00 PM we had covered 5 miles, were about 1,800 feet above Stove Pipe Wells and the temperature had dropped to 111 F. After 4 ½ hours of temperatures 120 or above, this was getting downright pleasant, and Carolyn commented to Matt, “It’s only 111 degrees!” to which Matt replied, “Nice!” and then they both started laughing and shaking their heads, realizing that never before had they ever thought 111 F might  be considered pleasant.

David walked with me for a time, but the heat was too much for him and he was replaced by Matt. The sunlight at last began to fade and the Panamint Range to our left passed from orange to purple to gray. Matt and I put on reflective vests and blinking red LED tail lights, and Matt strapped on a four LED headlamp and I carried a seven LED flashlight. Around mile 53, 11 miles out of Stove Pipe, the temperature finally dropped below 100 degrees. It was 10:00 PM and we were around 2800 ft. Our notes say “finally ate gel; stomach still raw,” but I don’t recall having stomach problems on this stretch, other than occasionally finding a given food item unappetizing as is most always the case with gels.

Another couple of miles up the hill I recognized Chris Bergland ahead, and started to feel pretty good that we were actually gaining on one of the top competitors in the race. As I caught him he turned around and we started chatting, and it turned out that he hadn’t fully recovered from his 24 hour treadmill run a month and a half earlier, and was about to drop out of the race. He just didn’t have it in him this year, he said. He had never dropped out of a race before, but his crew was pretty happy with him for making the decision because it seemed clear that he was not going to be able to compete this year and was only risking injury. He and his crew then offered us anything we wanted from their supplies as they were not going to need them nor have room on the plane to fly it all back to New York with them. We picked up some Pedeolite Pops, a couple of bottles of Pedeolite (a children’s electrolyte solution), a couple of turkey sandwiches, and some pretzels. We also checked my weight around this time, and I had dropped to 174 pounds.

At the top of Townes Pass (11:03 PM, mile 59) we took a break where it was nice and cool, in the low 80s. After adjusting my shoes, eating a little bit and getting interviewed by yet another guy with a TV camera (about the 4th time since the start), we headed off down the grade to Panamint Valley. I ran for the next two miles with Ron now pacing me on his mountain bike, but then I became concerned that I would eventually ruin my quadriceps if I ran too much down hill on the 9% grade, especially given that my quads were already kind of rubbery and sore. So we backed off to a walk, and passed the 67.5 mile half-way point around 1:30 AM . I felt obliged to quote Eric Clifton from “Running on the Sun,” the 1999 Badwater documentary: “’…now I just have to do it all over again.’”

I continued walking (and Ron riding) until we were a few miles from the bottom of the valley, where the grade eased considerably and I could run again. It took some time to warm up my quads and get my blisters used to being mashed, but once everything loosened up I was able to go at a pretty good clip and peeled off 3 or 4 miles at a 9 – 10 minute mile pace until we had crossed the low point of the valley. While it looked like just another mile or two to go, an hour of walking was required to cover what turned out to be the 4 miles up to the Panamint Springs “Resort,” and the third time station (mile 73, 3:03 AM Tuesday, 19:03, elev. 1,970 ft.). We checked my weight upon arrival and it was good news as I was now at 175 pounds, and Leon, who was working the time station, told us we were in 16th or 17th place.

The Panamint Springs “Resort” (really just an isolated motel and bar taking advantage of good spring water) had a runner hospitality cabin where competitors could nap, shower and use a real toilet. I took advantage of the bathroom amenities including a very refreshing shower and then put on the same sweaty stinky clothes I’d just taken off. A nurse in the main part of the hospitality cabin offered to do a full blown blister tape-job on my feet. I wasn’t sure if I really needed that, and when I took off my shoes to show her my feet she was actually surprised at how good they looked. The blisters under the calluses on the balls of my feet were not evident, and the other little blisters at the base of my toes were pretty minor. I decided to forego the professional taping and headed back out front to where the crew was beginning to wonder if I had fallen in. Over 45 minutes after we had arrived we left the “resort” and headed up the hill toward Father Crowley Point. Ron claimed his hands were starting to hurt thanks to all the braking he had to do coming down from Townes Pass, so he passed the bicycle to Jerry to pace me through the morning hours up into the Argus Range .

Panamint Valley ends in a massive box canyon of volcanic sediments 8 or 9 miles north of where we had crossed the valley on Rt. 190 a few hours before. Now we were climbing up the side of that box canyon into the Argus Range on a fairly narrow, switch-backing road that was often constrained by a guard rail on one side and a rock face on the other. Fortunately, about the only traffic before dawn was vehicles associated with the race and so most cars were traveling at reasonable speeds and gave us a wide berth. I have little memory of what Jerry and I discussed on that hike out of Panamint Valley other than it was all upbeat and wonderfully distracting and made a potentially mind-numbing, torturous climb pass with ease.

We arrived at Father Crowley Point which overlooks the box canyon at 6:40 AM (mile 80, 4,000 ft.) shortly after the sun’s first rays had breached the shoulder of 11,000-plus foot Telescope Peak back on the west side of Death Valley. I was weighed again (174 pounds) then sat down to a bowl of breakfast cereal and milk, which was probably the first normal thing I had done in nearly 24 hours. Back on the road the temperature was  into the 70s. While still climbing from time to time, it was rolling now and I was able to run for a few short stretches. Around mile 85 we got our first view of our destination: the Sierra Nevada. At the same time, immediately to our left, were the first Joshua trees, and to our rear, Telescope Peak had disappeared for good. Less than a mile later we had also passed out of Death Valley National Park.

Matt, Carolyn and Mark arrived sometime after daybreak to relieve Jerry, Ron and Harpo. David arrived later, but then went in to Lone Pine for some blister spray and ice. We reached the fourth time station, an intersection known as the Darwin turn-off, at 10:11 AM (mile 90, 5,050 feet, 26:11:00). The temperature had bounced back to 90 F and about a mile earlier I had felt one of my blisters pop, right at the base of the middle toes on my left foot. Overall, the blisters, which had remained about the same since first appearing back in the middle of Death Valley, had become more painful over the past 10 miles, my quadriceps muscles were, of course, no better, and when next I met the crew I commented to no one in particular and whoever would listen that there was no way I was going to be able to do any more running. In other words, we had 45 miles of walking ahead of us and given the impending fatigue, finishing in 48 hours, my primary goal, was starting to look a little sketchy. (All runners who finish in 48 hours or less receive the coveted Badwater belt buckle.)

I headed back out onto the road with Matt to pace me. Back at the van, Carolyn went out to find a bush and Mark did some math to figure out what pace we would need to finish in under 48 hours. Carolyn climbed back into the van, looked over Mark’s figures, then looked up and Matt and I were nowhere in sight. “Hey,” said Carolyn, “we better get going.” After driving for over 2 miles they hadn’t found us, and Carolyn thought that they somehow had missed us and should probably turn around. They pulled over and another vehicle that had been tailing them also pulled over, and a guy from 60 Minutes, who was doing a piece on Pam Reed, came up to them and said, “Did you know that Bruce started running? He was worried that you wouldn’t know where he was.”

When I’d gotten back out on the road with Matt, I starting to think about the 48 hour goal, and decided I needed to knock off a few miles, so started to run. Now, this so-called “run” was initially only a little faster than a walk, and was probably at least as painful to watch as it was to experience. The pain from the blisters on my feet was overcome in the first 100 yards or so, but the muscle pain from the tight quadriceps, calves, and other fibrous tissue that keeps one ambulatory was another matter all together. After about 5 minutes of the creaking, old-man chicken stepping along, I picked out a low point in the road ahead and told myself I would run to there than call it quits. We got to that point and I realized that now the road was just flat, not uphill as I had thought, so I picked a bush another 100 yards along to run to, and when we got there I finally went back to a walk. Well, it was then that I noticed the vehicle with the TV camera pointed at us up ahead. “Matt,” I said, “we probably ought to put on a good show for the camera,” and I went  back into my rickety running gait. We passed the vehicle with the camera and then, as if by magic, my legs began to loosen up and the pain throughout them steadily decreased until I felt fine and I began to pick up the pace. I could hear Matt behind me starting to breath heavily and actually drop back a few steps. “This is great!” I thought to myself, and kept cranking along.

About a mile after picking up the pace, a vehicle pulled up next to us and a guy leaned out the window. “Bruce,” he said, “what are you doing?” I looked at him, trying to figure out if I knew him since he knew my name, but I didn’t. Then I noticed a sign that said something about 60 Minutes and figured they were with the crew doing the story on Pam Reed.

“I don’t know,” I replied, “I just loosened up so I’m running. My crew has no idea I’m running, and they probably don’t know where we are.”

“You want us to go back and let them know?” he asked.

“Sure. Do you know what our vehicle looks like?”


“It’s a white van, with ‘Team Coonhound’ painted on the windows.”

They drove off to find Carolyn and Mark for us, and after Matt and I had covered something like 3 miles or more, both our crew van and the 60 Minutes guys went by and pulled over ahead of us. I think the camera guys did a little road-side interview with me—I actually don’t recall now—and we thanked them for tracking down the crew and Matt and I went back to walking.

Right around mile 100 we dropped through a short steep cut in the hills and entered the far edge of the Owens Valley. While further north the Owens Valley can be quite pretty, the section that Rts. 190 and 136 cut across just north of the mostly dry lake is pretty desolate and depressing. The temperature gets back up above 100 degrees F (105 was the high on the van thermometer), the wind almost always blows hard, sand and salt drifts across the road, the plants are spindly and beaten, and after a 100 mile hiatus, signs of humanity begin to appear with increasing and depressing regularity: junk cars, old mining scars, run down shacks and trailers and roads branching off here, there and everywhere. And to top it all off, I needed to use the facilities again, and there weren’t going to be any available for another 20 miles at the soonest—7 or 8 hours away. Fortunately, we were prepared for such an eventuality, and the crew set up our portable seat and I was able to take care of business in short order and, after a treacherously wobbly hike back up onto the road, was on my way again.

We were in a never ending pass-and-then-be-passed duet with a couple of other runners—Carolyn Smith initially and then later, Thorsten Treptow, a German. It was funny how I would get to know the other runners’ crews in this situation. When C. Smith (as I came to think of her based on the signs on her crew van) was behind me I would reach her crew before her, and they would shout out all sorts of encouragement to me. They even gave me a popsicle one time which was the absolute highlight of that afternoon, although it was so cold at first that it stuck to my tongue. David, who was pacing me then, had to pour some water on it to warm it up so that I could eat it without endangering myself.

The road across Owens Dry Lake to the town of Lone Pine seems unending. While the road itself sapped my physical strength, the environs sapped my psychological strength. By the time the relief crew of Harpo, Hersh and Jerry showed up around 3:00 PM, I think it was becoming clear to my crew that I was crashing, and I requested an opportunity to lie down. I had gone from consistently churning out 17 to 20 minute miles—or less if I ran a bit—to requiring close to 30 minutes per mile, either from a slowed pace or from stopping at the van for 5 or 10 minutes each time. A space was cleared for me in the back of the van and I lay down with my legs out the back and propped up on a cooler. I was able to nod off for a couple of minutes, but then the crew, all seven of whom were standing just outside the uplifted rear door of the van, started to discuss my condition, and I couldn’t help but eavesdrop. They were starting to think—as was I—that I wasn’t going to make the 48 hour goal if my condition didn’t improve. In particular, if I were to nap on the order of hours and then required 30 minutes to go each mile the rest of the way, the belt buckle would likely be lost. I sat up, quoted Rubin Flores from “Running on the Sun:” “Evvverything is fine!” then asked how long I’d been down (“6 minutes,” said Matt), got a couple of water bottles and headed back up the road. Three miles later I had to lie down again, however, and the crew once again stood outside the rear door of the van prognosticating about our finish time. Again I couldn’t really sleep, and again was back on my feet in exactly 6 minutes.

Back on the road, it now occurred to me that I was entirely focused, to a fault, on the 48 hour finish. It seemed as if, if I couldn’t manage that, then it was all over. I hadn’t necessarily been thinking about dropping, but in my mind, not finishing in under 48 hours would have been failure. It was an epiphany when it occurred to me that JUST FINISHING THE DAMN RACE was a fair accomplishment in itself, even if it was in fifty-some-odd hours. Realizing this, a huge burden was lifted from my shoulders. I then relaxed and was able to enjoy the task at hand once again. In addition, it occurred to me that if I was low on energy, I might want to consider jamming down some nutrition, especially carbohydrates. I hadn’t been drinking my Cytomax-Accelerade mix for a while (it had been tough to hold down), and I hadn’t had a gel packet in ages, since before 11:00 AM, in fact (it was now well after 3:00 PM). I requested gels at the next two stops, ate a cookie, had a few cubes of mellon and got a Cyto-Accelerade bottle to drink during the next mile.

In the meantime, Harpo, my old track buddy from Drake, was finally pacing me. I still felt like roasted dog meat, not interested, particularly, in conversing, and talked with Harpo in hushed tones about not much. We covered two miles together, and then, while he went to get me my second gel packet, I continued on and realized that, when alone, I could lock on to the white line along the side of the road and generate a low-energy but relatively high-output walking pace. It seemed like something that I could continue if I could just stay focused. When Harps caught back up with me I told him, “I think I want to go solo for a while,” and I locked back onto that white line and the driving heel-to-toe motion that I had figured I could keep up indefinitely.

Harpo went back to the crew vehicle, kind of bummed out I think since he had only, just at last, gotten his opportunity to pace after looking forward to it for literally months, and told the rest of the crew, “I think I just got fired. I don’t know, maybe it was something I said?” They all discussed it for a bit and then decided correctly that maybe I just needed the time to focus on what I needed to do to keep going.

After about 5 miles of walking solo plus another gel, a can of Boost and a can of chicken soup, my energy level had come back up. The sun was also lowering and the temperature was dropping back down and Harpo came back and joined me for another 3 miles. Mark, Carolyn, Matt and David met us for another crew change near the end of the Owens Valley crossing, and we charged into Lone Pine, elevation 3,610 feet. I reached the time station at the Dow Villa motel at 9:01 PM (37:01:00) and the temp was now down to 92 F. With my feet up in front of the Dow Villa I had a chance to chat with Leon again, and Jeff, guys I knew who were working the race, and to watch the last light of the day fade behind the towering granite teeth of the highest mountain ridge in the lower 48 states.

And so we began the final stretch: 13 miles of road and nearly 5000 feet of vertical to the finish at the Mt. Whitney Portal. Thanks to my energy rebound over the last 7 or 8 miles coming in to Lone Pine, we were all fairly confident that we would make the finish in under 48 hours. It was now just a question of by how much.

It’s kind of funny, but I really can’t remember who was with me going up the mountain. I think I remember Matt there, at least initially, and I think David might have walked with me a mile or two in the early going, and later Ron stepped up, chattering none-stop about whatever crazy thing might enter his head after pounding 2 cans of Red Bull, and then Carolyn showed up around 1:00 AM and eventually walked the final leg with me.

On the big hill it was pretty much the same routine over and over again: reach the crew, stop and chat for a minute, get something to eat and perhaps refill my water bottle, then head on up the road. After a few minutes the crew vehicle would go by, although I rarely noticed that it had and after a while would wonder what had happened to it until I finally asked whoever was pacing if it had already passed. Invariably the answer was, “Oh yeh; a long time ago.” The miles left to go were spray painted in day glow orange on the left side of the road, and our 1 mile stops were offset from these by about an additional quarter of a mile. After we had walked what seemed like well over a mile, I would begin to strain my eyes looking ahead in the dark for the next orange mile mark, and then I would begin to wonder if I had missed it, walked past it already, and then it would appear out at the end of my flashlight beam and I could never believe that it was correctly marked, and even worse, that we still had another 400 yards to go beyond the mile mark before we’d covered just one mile from my last break. At times I wondered if the crew wasn’t conspiring to make me walk further than I realized just to get the race over with. Finally the van would come into sight, still an impossibly long way ahead, and up we’d go until, at last, I could take another short break and then start it up all over again. This is how it went all the way up the mountain, over and over again, 13 times. The only variety was somewhere in the early going: I remember lying down for 10 minutes, although I haven’t been able to find anyone on the crew who can corroborate this.

As you approach the trail head and parking lots at Whitney Portal you first notice the big ponderosa pines standing out from the walls of the enormous granite canyon. With one mile to go, the campground and parking signs begin, and then, quickly, the parking lots start and this is where it gets deceptive. “Aha,” you think, “a parking lot. I’m almost there.” But you are wrong. Not only does this last mile seem like at least 2, but they’ve also inserted parking lots nearly a mile below the trailhead just to fool you into thinking you’re almost to the end. And then, to make matters worse, I thought I recognized the final switchback, around which would be the last turn that would bring me into view of the finish line and the folks hanging out there, waiting for us to finish. I told this to Carolyn, that we were on the last one, and then, after I had clawed my way up and around, I discovered that I was wrong, way wrong, that we still couldn’t even see the final switchback. But there was little else to do except continue to trudge onward, and that we did. Finally it was, indeed, the true final switchback, and so, before I came into sight of the folks at the finish line, I started that creaky old man sore blistered feet and wasted quadriceps chicken-stepping gait, just to make sure everything was warmed up enough that I didn’t do anything stupid like fall over during the final 50 yards, and I ran on around the corner into sight, up the last straight stretch to the two towering ponderosa pines that watch over the finish line of the Badwater 135. I crossed that line at 2:48:58 AM on Wednesday morning in 26th place, 42:48:58 after the start at Badwater back on Monday morning.

After breaking the tape and crossing the line, I got a little choked up but was able to suck it back down before anyone noticed me over there, shedding a private tear. The crew was there except for Jerry, who had passed out from exhaustion back at the hotel, and David, who was also asleep, but expected us not to finish until 4:00 AM or so and claimed he’d see us then, and would bring Jerry. We took a few finish line photos, then drank some Guinness Stout, then loaded ourselves back into a couple of vehicles and drove back down the hill. Another beer at the hotel and a quick rehash of the highlights for David and Jerry and we all went to sleep around 3:30 AM, except for Red Bull Ronny who was still chattering away to anyone who would listen, which in this case meant only himself.

Racing Badwater for Camp Sunshine

2004 finisher

I got the urge to do the Badwater ultra after crewing for Mike Smith in 2002. I filled out an application that was more like a runner’s resume for the 2004 race and was lucky enough to be picked for one of the 80 or so slots.

My first job was to assemble the best team to help me finish the race. The team consisted of Bob Brainerd from Maine my coach, trainer and he is a triathelete. Carl Hunt from CT. ultrarunner. Walt Prescott from NH, ultrarunner, pace and crew person at Badwater 2002 and 2003 and ultrarunner. Mike Smith from IN, Badwater finisher 2002, crew person 2003. Andy Velazco from GA, orthopedic surgeon, 2003 Badwater finisher, crewed Badwater 2002. These five people are all very close friends of mine who  gave up their time and worked under extremely hard conditions to help me at Badwater.

The crews would be with me supplying food and drinks, moral support and much more constantly for over 85 hours. They would pace me from mile 17 until the finish. They put up with my vomiting, diarrhea and hallucinations. They also kept me motivated, taped my feet, treated my blisters, changed my shoes and socks etc…

This incredible team gave me the confidence I needed to take on Badwater and Mt Whitney. Another motivating factor was the  goal of raising $25,000 for Camp Sunshine and knowing that if I finished Badwater, I would raise even more money.

My “dream team” and I all met in Las Vegas July 10th 2004 and proceeded to Furnace Creek, Death Valley, CA for what turned out to be a most memorable four days of challenging myself.

The first challenge was the Badwater Ultramarathon. This race is 135 mile footrace from Badwater, 282 feet below sea level to Mt Whitney ending at 8,400′. These two places are the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere  and the highest mountain in the lower 48 states. There is no food or water on the course you have to supply your own.

I had the 8:00 am start on Monday July 12th. There are three starts 6, 8 and 10 am each consisting of about 25 runners. It was about 85-90 degrees at the start. By mile 13 I was already in trouble suffering from the “runs”. I had been taking in drinks with too much sugar, this continued to bother me for the next 6 hours or so. By 28 miles into the race a temperature of 123 degrees had been reached as we traveled over the rolling asphalt road through Death Valley. At mile 42 I took my longest break of the race at a motel in Stove Pipe Wells. I spent about 15 minutes in the pool trying to cool down my body. Then I had a pasta dinner as Andy partially retaped my feet in an effort to prevent blistering. In less than an hour I was back on the course starting up a 5,000 feet climb for 18 miles. Around mile 53—I “blew lunch” in front of my crew and lost my pasta dinner and anything else that was in my stomach. The guys were great about putting up with my disgusting bodily functions, keeping me hydrated and moving forward.

Reaching Townes Pass summit  at mile 59 and starting the 8 mile downhill towards Panamint Springs I knew that I had the hottest portion of the race and one of the Mountain ranges behind me.

I ran the first 17 miles without a pacer, but had someone with me from that moment on. At about mile 70 I started another mountain climb to Father Crowley’s 5,050′, reaching the 90 mile mark on July 13th at 2:30 PM. 30.5 hours into the race, I had climbed 2 mountain ranges and descended a long downhill to find a flat stretch of road ahead of me. This took me to mile 122 where I would start another long climb up to 8400′ to Mount Whitney Portals and the finish line.

Darkness arrived for the second time around mile 112 (about 36 hours into the race) this brought on some hallucinations, I was seeing things that I now know were not there. There are miles of the race that I don’t remember, but as Bob started pacing me at mile 122 (at 1215AM) up toward Mt Whitney portals I was again hallucinating in 3D. When I would stop, the asphalt road would move, becoming 3 dimensional and mosaic.  This was not a frightening hallucination, just worrisome that I would lose my balance and fall.

With Mike Smith there with the SUV, moving it just ahead by 1/2 mile at a time, and Bob there to encourage me and keep me moving forward, I knew that if I didn’t stop too often or for too long, I would “buckle”. To receive the coveted “Badwater belt buckle” would mean that I would need to finish this in under 48 hours.

Forty Six hours and seventeen  minutes after starting out at 282′ below sea level, I crossed the finish line with my crew of 5 at my side. I was exhausted, filthy and in pain but I was happy as hell. After a few pictures were taken with my crew and with the race director I called my wife at work to share my victory with her. We  then headed to Lone Pine CA for a shower, some food and some sleep.

Three of my crew members, Andy, Walt and Mike S headed back to Las Vegas that afternoon to fly to Vermont and run in the Vermont 100 mile trail race. (they all sucessfully completed this race with Mike buckling).

I had  finished the Badwater 135 miler, “buckled”, summitted Mt Whitney and returned. I had run, walked and crawled from the lowest point in the Western hemisphere to the highest mountain in the lower 48 states.

The one goal that has not yet been reached is raising the $25,000 that I had hoped I could raise for Camp Sunshine. I will continue to work towards that goal and hopefully reach it in the near future. The website will be open for another year for donations.  There is also more info there regarding the race.

Thank you Andy, Bob, Carl , Mike S and Walt for all that you did!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I would also like to thank all the people who gave me moral support before ,during and after the race. And a special thanks to everyone who contributed to Camp Sunshine, I never thought I would be so close to my goal at this point, you poeple are truly  generous and thoughtful. Ten families plus are now going to Camp Sunshine thanks to your generousity.

Badwater 2004 Race Report – Robert Wimmer #34 – German

support crew

Click here to read this report in English

08:00 Uhr

Abfahrt von unserem Hotel in Stove Pipe Wells.  Wir haben den Van gestern abend und seit heute frueh um ca. 6:00 Uhr vorbereitet, gepackt, Eis besorgt, etc.  Eine gewisse Nervosität im Team ist zu spüren, aber generell sitzt jeder Handgriff durchdacht und professionell.  Robert hat durchgeschlafen und fühlt sich super.

Das Team:

  • Robert Wimmer / Ultraläufer
  • Sebastian Bär / Head of the BÄR Team
  • Tom Aigner / Sportwissenschaftler vom HSZ
  • Juergen Ankenbrand / Ultramarathon erfahrener Bekannter von Robert, dt. Auswanderer seit 42 Jahren, lebt in Surf City, CA., Alter: 63 J., kennt Robert vom TransEuropalauf
  • Christopher und Audrey Bunn / Fotografen aus USA
  • Jürgen Müller / Film und Video, war auch schon beim TransEuropalauf dabei

09:00 Uhr

Ankunft in Badwater, dem niedrigsten Punkt der USA (282 Fuß unter Meeresspiegel).  Hier treffen wir auch Marc Cotnoir von der Fa. Rogers / USA, einem Co-Sponsor den wir für dieses Event gewinnen konnten.  Fa.Rogers ist unser Lieferant des Poron und Senflex Materials, das wir im Performance MarathonSchuh einsetzen.  Er ist selbst Läufer und kann nicht glauben was Robert hier vor hat.  Es herrscht bereits grosses Medieninteresse, div. grosse US Sender sind vor Ort.  Schon jetzt drückt die Hitze unerbärmlich runter.

10:00 Uhr

Der Startschuss fällt, eine Gruppe von ca. 25 Läufer macht sich auf den Weg 135 Meilen, quer durch das Death Valley.  Bereits um 06:00 Uhr und 08:00 Uhr sind Gruppen gestartet mit ähnlich vielen Läufern.  Diese sind uns auf der Fahrt zum Start auch schon gegegnet.  Insgesamt sind es ca. 80 Läufer.

Nach 10 Meilen

Die Team Betreuung von Robert hat sich nach den ersten 2 bis 3 Stops eingependelt: wir halten ca. jeden 1,5 km und geben Robert ½ Liter Getränk (Elektrolyt, Frubiase, Wasser im Wechsel) und ein Gel mit Kohlehydraten, Banane, Trauben, Melone, Power Riegel, Vitamin Fläschen, etc. immer im Wechsel.  Außerdem sprühen wir ihn im Nacken, auf dem Kopf, an den Armen und auf der Brust mit kaltem Wasser jedes Mal ein.  Jetzt wollen wir ihn noch mal eincremen mit Sonnencreme, da die Sonne unglaublich intensiv runterknallt und sagen ihm er soll stehen bleiben, worauf er auf seinem typischen Fränkisch antwortet: „Nee, i bleib net stehn!“.

Meile 16,4

Christopher Bergland führt vor Robert Wimmer mit ca. 1 km.  Temperatur ca. 52° C.  Robert läuft ein gleichmäßiges Tempo.

Meile 17,4

Hier befindet sich die erste Zeitmessstation.  Robert spricht jetzt etw. weniger, eine gewisse Anspannung ist spürbar.  Nichts negatives, ihm geht es auch nicht schlecht, aber die Hitze steht nun eben immer noch bei 52° C.  Pam Reed und Dean Karnazes, beides Favoriten in diesem Rennen, sind momentan nicht in Sicht.  Halten sich wahrscheinlich hinten und warten, ob vorn jemand einbricht.

Meile 18,8

Abstand zu Christopher Bergland wird langsam geringer.  Wir geben Robert jetzt etw. verdünntes RedBull, dass sich seine Psyche wieder etw. aufhellt.

Meile 19,5

Wir wechseln auf Kommando von Robert seine Einlegesohle von der LAST Einlegesohle in die Performance Einlegesohle.  Die LAST ist sprichwörtlich platt, v.a. im Ballenbereich.

Meile 22,0

Robert lacht, läuft wie eine Maschine.  Die Performance Einlegesohle ist tiptop, wird ihm auch nicht zu warm an den Fußsohlen.  Wir haben jetzt vom sprühen auf einen Eisschwamm gewechselt.  Die Praxis hat gezeigt, dass dies besser funktioniert, um die Körpertemperatur unten zu halten, als das einsprühen.  Robert wendet sich auch an uns und fragt, ob wir ausreichend trinken, um nicht zu dehydrieren in dieser Teufelshitze.  Er ist bester Laune.  Es ist 14:00 Uhr und es sind weiterhin 52° C.  Eisschwämme nimmt er super gerne, drückt diesen auf Kopf, im Nacken, an den Armen und Oberschenkeln aus.  Der jeweilige  Betreuer hat hier auch beim versorgen immer einen Eimer mit Eiswasser mit dabei, so dass der Schwamm währenddessen immer wieder vollgesogen werden kann.  Mittlerweile hat Robert auch schon einige aus der 08:00 Uhr Startwelle überholt.  Jetzt startet Robert ein wenig psychologische Kriegsführung: er ist aufgeschlossen zu Christopher Bergland, hat ihm gezeigt – hey, ich bin da und mir geht es gut und ich lass Dich die Arbeit machen.  Wir füttern ihm jetzt auch Babyfood (ähnl. Hipp Baby Gläschen) und lassen ihn ein paar Meter gehen, so dass der Abstand auf Bergland wieder 150 m nach vorn beträgt.  Verfassung bei Robert ist super gut!  Temperatur weiterhin 52° C.

14:26 Uhr

Die Temperatur ist mittlerweile hoch auf 60° C (!).  Das ist Sauna im Freien, es ist unvorstellbar im Moment.  Jetzt geben wir Robert jeden km den Eisschwamm und weiterhin 1⁄2 Liter Getränk.  Den ersten Marathon hat er in ca. 3 Std. 40 Min. Gelaufen.

Bergland hat sich soeben in seinen Crew Van gesetzt, d.h. Robert führt jetzt das Feld an.  Es sieht so aus, dass Christopher Bergland einen Krampf hat und er fällt zurück.  Die Crew Vans von Dean Karnazes fahren immer wieder vor zu uns und beobachten, in welcher Verfassung Robert ist.  Dean Karnazes macht auch langsam Boden gut.  Robert sagt, das ist ideal für ihn.  Er hat ihn vorbei gelassen und läuft jetzt hinter ihm her sein eignes Tempo.  Es sind weiterhin 60° C.

Karnazes macht jetzt etw. mehr Tempo, liegt ca. 600 Meter vor Robert.  Wir machen mittlerweile fast alle 600 – 800 Meter Verpflegungsstops (Robert bleibt während dieser Stops nicht stehen, sondern alles läuft im Lauftempo von Robert ab) und kühlen ihn mit dem Eisschwamm.  Die Hitze hämmert unerbärmlich runter.  Robert spürt seine Waden etwas, daher geben wir ihm mehr Frubiase und Elektrolyte.

Wir selbst im Team müssen uns mit Sonnencreme mit Schutzfaktor 60 eincremn und tauchen unsere Baseball Caps regelmässig in Eiswasser.

15:15 Uhr

Robert wird von einem Auto angefahren.  Ein englischer Tourist hat ihn übersehen und bleibt bei vollem Tempo mit seinem Rückspiegel an Roberts Hüfte hängen.  Robert schreit kurz auf, der Autofahrer fährt weiter.  Wir fahren an die Seite, ich renne zu Robert, Juergen macht Eis bereit und Tom… Tom vergisst die Automatik des Vans von „D“ auf „P“ zu stellen, vor lauter Aufregung.  Unser Van macht sich selbstständig und fährt quer über die Strasse auf die andere Seite und bleibt im Seitengraben hängen.  Robert gibt mir die Info, dass es geht und läuft weiter.  Zum Glück ist bei all dem nichts passiert.  10cm mehr und das Rennen wäre vorbei gewesen.  Zufällig war einer der Race Officials in der Nähe und jagt hinter dem britischen Touristen her.  Das Rennen läuft weiter.

15:54 Uhr

Nachdem der Schrecken verdaut ist, läuft jetzt alles wieder in seiner gewohnten Routine.  Dean Karnazes liegt etwa 600 Meter vor Robert, muß aber auch immer wieder gehen.  Es weht mittlerweile auch ein Wind, der leider nicht kühlt, sonder sich eher anfühlt als würde jemand einem einen großen Fön auf höchster Stufe vor den Körper halten.  Wir versuchen kontinuierlich Robert ausreichend zu versorgen, dass sein Körper mit hält und er einigermaßen hydriert bleibt.  Nur noch ein paar Meilen bis Stove Pipe Wells.  Rechts von uns liegen die riesigen Sanddünen.  Temperatur ist wieder runter auf 52° C.  Ab Stove Pipe Wells wird es langsam bergauf gehen, dann wird es auch etwas kühler werden.

Mittlerweile geben wir Robert auch Tomatensaft, dass er mal einen anderen Geschmack in den Mund und v.a. dass sein Körper wieder Salze nachgeliefert bekommt.  An den Sanddünen vorbei, noch ca. 2 bis 3 km bis Stove Pipe Wells.  Dort ist auch ein Pool an dem Motel, in dem wir die letzten zwei Tage gewohnt haben.

Roberts Psyche geht gerade wieder etwas runter, die Versorgung läuft routiniert, wir versuchen Energie in ihn reinzuladen, wie es nur geht.

16:25 Uhr

Dean Karnazes ist jetzt erst mal weiter vor, wir sind kurz vor Stove Pipe Wells.

Meile 42

Robert hat sich im Pool entspannt abgekühlt und dann ein frisches Trikot etc. angezogen.  Das hat ihm gut getan.  Ich hab 6 x versucht Dr. Thomas Prochnow – seinen Coach – zu erreichen, vom payphone in Stove Pipe, leider hat es nicht geklappt.  Er hätte Robert noch mal psychologisch aufbauen und motivieren können.  Audrey hat uns währendessen nochmals 10 Tüten Eis besorgt und Jürgen mehr Wasser.  Nach der Pause habe ich Robert erzählt, dass ich Thomas Prochnow erreicht habe und dass er gesagt hat dass Robert alles richtig macht, dass Thomas voll hinter ihm steht und ihm die Daumen drückt für den weiteren Verlauf des Rennens.  Robert hat sich super gefreut.  Dean Karnazes ist ohne Pause durchgelaufen.  Uns selbst läuft der Schweiß runter wie nichts, obwohl wir nur im Auto sitzen mit offenen Fenstern, wo auch noch der Wind durchzieht.

17:12 Uhr

Jetzt geht es langsam bergauf in die Berge.  Temperatur 52° C.  Auf einmal begegnen wir Dean.  Er musste stoppen und Schuhe wechseln.  Psychologisch das Beste was Robert passieren konnte: Robert war entspannt im Pool, hat etwas gegessen, während Dean ohne Pause weitergelaufen ist.  Dean hat nagelneue Turnschuhe angezogen.  Robert ist jetzt vorbei an ihm.  Es geht stetig bergauf, aber wir kriegen ihn trotzdem immer wieder zum lachen.  Wir versorgen ihn verstärkt mit Vitaminen, Elektrolyten, Kohlehydrate-Gels, etc. und überraschen ihn immer auch mal wieder mit Melone etc.  Jetzt liegt er in Führung mit ca. 400m vor Dean.

Tom und ich wechseln uns mit Robert versorgen bereits den ganzen Tag ab, bis einer aufgrund der Hitze wechseln muß, um zu fahren.  Das sind immer so ca. 6 bis 8 Stops.  Jürgen managt hinten am Van die Flaschen, das Eis, mischt Getränke an, bereitet vor und räumt weg.  Es klappt alles wie am Schnürchen und sehr eingespielt.

Wir wecheln uns mit dem Dean Team Van ab, mal steht deren Van vor unserem, mal umgekehrt.  Unglaublich angespannte Stimmung.  Man geht fair miteinander mit Respekt um.

17:48 Uhr

Robert und Dean wechseln sich mit der Führung jetzt ab.  Als Robert grad versorgt wurde von uns, ich soll mir keine Sorgen machen.

17:56 Uhr

Es ist verdammt hart, es geht immer nur bergauf und das noch ganze weitere 9 Meilen lang.  Robert läuft kontinuierlich wie eine Maschine!  Weiterhin kommt jetzt auch noch, wie jeden abend fast im Death Valley, ein Wind auf.  Und das wie immer pure Fönluft.  Robert macht hier grad das härteste durch, was ich jeh gesehen habe.

18:07 Uhr

Die Sonne brennt immer noch unerbärmlich runter.  44° C.  Wir haben Robert während dem Gehen komplett noch mal mit Sonnenschutz eingeschmiert.  Der Mann läuft wie eine Maschine.

18:22 Uhr

Robert macht nun Milimenter für Milimeter auf Dean gut.  Das Dean Team fängt jetzt an psychologische Kriegsführung einzusetzen, indem sie immer mit einem ihrer 3 Vans 100 Meter oder 200 Meter vor Robert fahren, dort stehen bleiben, so dass Robert denkt, Dean ist direkt da.  Robert interessiert es nicht, er läuft sein eigenes Rennen.

18:43 Uhr

Robert läuft und geht, immer im Wechsel.  Wenn wir ihn versorgen grinst er.  Temperatur geht runter auf 41° C.

19:03 Uhr

Zum ersten Mal unter 40° C.  Robert läuft wie eine Maschine, ab und zu jetzt auch Magentropfen.  Jetzt ist der zweite Marathon durch, Gesamtzeit ca. 9 Stunden.

19:12 Uhr

Chris Kostman, der Race Director, hat uns gerade gesagt, dass Robert 7 Minuten auf Dean hat.

19:16 Uhr

Robert ist super konzentriert, hat mir gerade präzise Anweisung gegeben, was ich mit seiner Sonnenbrille machen soll, als er sie mir gegeben hat.  Wir sind jetzt auf 3000 Fuß.  Die Straße steigt, es gibt die ersten paar Hundert Meter Schatten.

19:25 Uhr

Wir haben Robert auf den Klappstuhl gesetzt, ihm eine Tablette „Hallo Wach!“ gegeben, Beine mit Kühlgel massiert, verdünnte Cola und ein paar Salzstangen gegeben.

19:52 Uhr

Jetzt haben wir Robert seinen MP3 Player gegeben, da er ziemlich müde ist.  Wie es aktuell aussieht, liegt er vorn, aber darum kümmern wir uns nicht, es geht nur darum dass er einen Fuß vor den anderen setzt.  Wir werden ab jetzt, wo es langsam abkühlt, seine Energiespeicher wieder sukzessive auffüllen.  Bei jedem Stop ab jetzt Nahrung, damit der Körper wieder arbeiten kann.

20:01 Uhr

Tom versucht Robert Stücke mundgerecht abgebissene Riegel zu füttern.  Es geht weiter bergauf.  Robert geht.  Im Tal sieht man die Lichter der anderen Support Crews Vans.  34°C.  Für heute gibt es keine Sonne mehr.

20:32 Uhr

Langsam wird es dunkler, wir ziehen Robert jetzt die reflektierende Weste an zur Sicherheit wegen vorbei fahrender Autos.  Robert ist hundemüde, wir müssen ihn wach halten.  Essen kann er gerade nicht, sonst müsste er sich wohl übergeben, trinken geht noch.  Noch ca. etwas mehr als eine Meile, dann sind wir auf der Höhe des Passes (4.956 Fuß), danach geht´s bergab.

20:36 Uhr

29° C !!!

21:02 Uhr

Es ist dunkel, Robert läuft mit Weste und Stirnlampe.  29°C aber es fühlt sich kühle an für uns.

21:25 Uhr

Bergab machen wir nur noch alle ca. 1,5 km – 2,0 km Stop.  Einer geht ihm entgegen mit Babynahrung, Wasser o.ä.  Die Versorger müssen jetzt auch reflektierende Weste und Stirnlampe tragen.  Momentan haben wir keine Ahnung, wo die anderen Läufer sind, wir konzentrieren uns nur auf uns v.a. auf Robert.  Man merkt, es geht wieder ins Tal, wir sind schon wieder auf 32°C.  Draussen ist totenstille.

21:55 Uhr

Dean Karnazes ist gerade an Robert vorbei gezogen bergab.  Die Dampfwalze die Robert bergauf war, ist Dean jetzt bergab.  Aber es kommen ja noch zwei Anstiege.  41°C.

22:23 Uhr

Robert ist eingebrochen, vor ca. 20 Minuten.  Hat sich hingesetzt und wollte nicht mehr.  Wir haben ihn erst mal in den Van gelegt.  Robert hat gesagt er kennt das nicht von sich.  Er kann nicht mehr, er will nicht mehr, lieber ein Ende mit Schrecken als ein schreckliches Ende…

Ich hab die Crew zu mir geholt und gesagt, das neue Ziel ist ins Finish kommen, vergesst den Sieg.  Kein Problem, aber der Mann ist nach dieser Strapaze psychologisch fix und fertig.  Die Überholung von Dean war wohl zu heftig.  Robert drei Minuten liegen lassen.  Dann bin ich allein zu ihm hin und er hat mir seine negativen Gedanken geschildert.  Also habe ich versucht ihn aufzubauen, hab ihm Rückhalt gegeben, gezeigt, dass wir ohne wenn und aber für ihn da sind und ein paar Geschichten erzählt.  Robert ist aufgestanden, hat mich gedrückt und ist einfach weiter gelaufen.  Und das jetzt schon seit fast einer 1⁄2 Stunde.  Tom läuft jetzt etwas mit ihm, Jürgen und ich versorgen.

22:48 Uhr

38° C und am Himmel stehen eine Millionen Sterne.

23:41 Uhr

Ich bin eine Weile mit Robert gelaufen, haben uns über vieles unterhalten, ich glaube es hat ihm gut getan.  Wir stehen alle 100% hinter ihm und sind für ihn da.  Jetzt geht Jürgen ein wenig mit ihm.  Ich wünschte es würde schon hell oder wenigstens mein Handy hätte Netz, dass wir Thomas Prochnow anrufen könnten.

01:09 Uhr

Robert hat sich vor ca. 1 Stunde ins Auto gesetzt mit Kreislauf- und Atemproblemen.  Er kann nicht mehr weiter sagt er, vorbei.  Wir sollen ihn aus dem Rennen nehmen.  Er sieht fix und fertig aus.  Ich hab ihn zwei Mal ernsthaft gefragt und er hat deutlich wiederholt, dass er aufhören möchte und wir ihn rausnehmen sollen, aus gesundheitlichen Gründen.  OK, wir haben ihn im Auto gelassen und sind zur nächsten Zeitstation 3 Meilen voraus gefahren.  Dort habe ich ihn offiziell aus dem Rennen nehmen lassen.  Zum Glück gab es hier auch noch eine medizinische Versorgungsstation.  Robert konnte kaum mehr laufen.  Die Krankenschwester hat ihm den Puls gemessen, Blutdruck geprüft, etc.  Sie hat gesagt es sein nicht ganz so schlimm wie es aussieht.  Wir sollen ihn schlafen lassen.  Er bekommt jetzt alle ¾ Stunde so ein infusionsartiges Aufbaugetränk und schläft.  Vielleicht ist er in 4 bis 5 Stunden wieder fit und dann bis ins Ziel laufen, sagte die Krankenschwester.  Ich habe mich darum gekümmert, dass die Rausnahme aus dem Rennen annuliert wird und er wieder im Rennen steht.  Glücklicherweise ging das.  Offiziell rausnehmen können wir ihn auch morgen früh noch.  Hiervon weiß Robert noch nichts. Jetzt habe ich ihm sein zweites Aufbaugetränk auf der medizinischen Station (so eine Art ein umgewandeltes Hotelzimmer) gegeben und lasse ihn weiterschlafen.

01:29 Uhr

Die Krankenschwester ist Gold wert.  Ich hab ihn gerade geweckt, sie hat seine Lungen abgehört, alles tiptop.  Als ich ihr gesagt habe, dass er heute morgen um 10 Uhr gestartet sei, ist sie beinahe aus den Schuhen gekippt, so sehr war sie erstaunt, dass er jetzt schon quasi auf Meile 80 ist.  Sie sagt, er hat alles um weiterzulaufen!

04:14 Uhr

Vor ca. 10 Minuten kam Robert mit der Krankenschwester an unseren Van und hat uns aus unserem Halbschlaf geweckt.  Er will jetzt weiterlaufen.  Kleiner Jubel, Krankenschwester gedrückt, alle in den Van und zum Abbruchpunkt, drei Meilen vor Panamint Springs zurück gefahren.  Es geht weiter, Robert läuft!  28° C, ideal für im Moment.

04:46 Uhr

Robert ist soeben am dritten Zeitmesspunkt in Panamint Springs vorbei.  Es läuft, er ist uns fast etwas zu schnell, aber wir passen gut auf.  Jetzt geht es schon wieder konstant bergauf.

05:23 Uhr

Immer weiter bergauf, aber wir können mit Robert schon wieder Witze reißen.

06:15 Uhr

Zum Frühstück esse ich eine PowerBar.  Robert läuft konstant seinen Rhythmus.  Unserer Meinung nach etwas zu zügig, aber den Mann zu bremsen…

Wir sind immer noch auf der Steigung.

06:36 Uhr

Jetzt haben wir gerade den 4.000 Fuss Punkt passiert.  25° C, Robert sieht gut aus.

07:06 Uhr

Die Krankenschwester, die Robert heute morgen wieder ins Leben zurück gerufen hat, ist extra hier hoch gefahren, um zu sehen, wie es Robert geht.  Sie ist letztes Jahr Badwater gelaufen und hat dann beschlossen dieses  Jahr als Helferin dabei zu sein.  Sie hat gesagt: „Wenn ich nur einer Person dazu verhelfe das Rennen zu beenden, hat es sich schon gelohnt.“  Es hat sich gelohnt!

07:23 Uhr

Beim nächsten Stop wechseln wir noch mal die Schuhe in eine ½ Nr. größer, Gr. 9,0 mit 6mm Wellfit Einlegesohle.

07:40 Uhr

Robert haben die Fußsohlen geschmerzt, das Schuh anziehen war ziemlich heftig.  Jetzt muß er noch mal durchbeißen.  Wir versuchen wieder alles vorzudenken.  So, dass er nur noch das tut, was wir vordenken, und er keine unnötige Energie für irgendetwas aufwenden muß.  Das ist nach dem Schlafentzug mittlerweile gar nicht so einfach:  teilweise brauchen wir 1 Minute, um auszurechnen wie lange Robert jetzt schon unterwegs ist.  Oder wir beschliessen beim aussteigen aus dem Van, wie wir Robert jetzt versorgen, und wissen es nach 5 Schritten zur Heckklappe schon nicht mehr,  Es geht nur noch eine Kleinigkeit hoch und dann erst mal eine Weile auf einem Plateau und dann bergab.  Zum Schluß noch am 14 Meilen steil bergauf.

07:47 Uhr

Wir haben soeben das Ausgangsschild Death Valley National Park passiert, sind also offiziell draußen, nach 84,9 Meilen pure Hölle.

07:45 Uhr

Robert will jetzt doch wieder die BÄR LAST Einlegesohle, also haben wir noch mal gewechselt.  Das Team arbeitet klasse, Jürgen super professionell und ohne Müdigkeit, Tom tiptop voll dabei.  Es wird schon noch mal hart, aber wir packen das.

08:21 Uhr

Robert freut sich jedes Mal, wenn wir alle drei da stehen und ihn verpflegen, keiner ruht, er kann auch nicht ruhen!  Jetzt joggt Jürgen mit ihm.

09:20 Uhr

Robert hat Schmerzen in den Fußsohlen, also haben wir ihn gestoppt und hingesetzt.  Ich hab mir seine Füße angeschaut und am rechten Fuß hatte er drei prallvolle, dicke Blasen.  Die habe ich ihm aufgeschnitten und getrocknet und mit Blasenpflaster versorgt.  Das ganze war deutlich weniger appetitlich.  Aber es hilft deutlich.  Das Denken wird jetzt wieder langsamer, leichte Kopfschmerzen: Cola und Riegel à das wird schon!

09:44 Uhr

Robert kommt grad vorbei und sagt es hat Wunder gewirkt.  Na also!  Marc Cotnoir vom Co-Sonsor Rogers, der gestern und heuzte auch hier war, ist mehr als schwer beeindruckt, machte noch ein paar Fotos und ist jetzt wieder heim nach Conneticut.  Er hat uns noch mal gegenüber allergrößten Respekt geäußert.  Robert hat beim vorbei laufen noch mal wegen der behandelten Blasen applaudiert.  Tut auch gut.  Es geht ihm jetzt wieder besser, der Laufrythmus ist wieder rund, und endlich geht es bergab.

10:36 Uhr

Robert läuft und läuft und läuft, lächelt und fühlt sich großartig.  Seit der Blasenreparatur dreht der Mann wieder voll auf.  Lacht, hat Spaß beim laufen, alles nach Plan.  Hab kurz in der Firma angerufen und das update übermittelt.  Christof hat mir erzählt, wie in der Firma alle mitfiebern.  Hierüber hat sich auch Robert riesig gefreut.  Ich selbst hab 10 Minuten die Augen zu gemacht, jetzt ist es wieder besser.  Wir ziehen das Ding durch, schätzungsweise noch ca. 35 Meilen.

10:48 Uhr

Der TV Sender CBS war gerade da mit den Kameraleuten von „60 Minutes“ und hat mich und Robert (während des laufens) interviewt, weil sie unbedingt den TransEuropa Sieger haben wollten.  Sie waren von seiner Einstellung begeistert.  Im Herbst soll es in USA gesendet werden.  Immerhin die Nachrichtensendung Sonntag abends hier.

11:22 Uhr

Robert hat etwas Magenprobleme, daher bekommt er noch mal Magentropfen.

12:13 Uhr

Wir sind jetzt auf einer ewig langen schnurgeraden Strasse, super langweilig und heiß.  Das macht Roberts Psyche natürlich wieder zu schaffen.  Wir halten die Muskeln weich mit Salztabletten.

12:25 Uhr

Diese verdammte Gerade zieht und zieht sich.  Wir werden selbst alle etwas langsam und müde.  Die Mittagshitze haut ziemlich runter.

12:36 Uhr

Verdammte Gerade.  Robert hat absolut keine Lust mehr.  Er geht, es geht immer wieder einer von uns nebenher, um ihn bei Stimmung zu halten.

13:06 Uhr

Endlich habe ich auf meinem Handy wieder Netz.  Sofort habe ich Dr. Thomas Prochnow angerufen und Robert mit dem Handy überrascht.  Er hat sich riesig gefreut, gelacht und seine Beine haben wieder zu laufenbegonnen.  Jetzt läuft er wieder, wir versorgen ihn rundum und es geht weiter.

13:18 Uhr

Noch ein bisschen und wir sind endlich von dieser Geraden runter.

13:22 Uhr

Massagepause für Robert.  Er sagt keinen Ton außer „Jetzt wird’s hart!“

13:29 Uhr

Wenn das Ding hier für uns schon so hart ist, dann leistet Robert hier gerade übermenschliches.  Jetzt sind wir in Keeler.  Distanz gelaufen 107,8 Meilen.  Mehr als 4 Marathons.

13:45 Uhr

Die Gerade war noch nicht zu Ende, ging direkt über nach der Kurve in die nächste Gerade und das wird auch bis Lone Pine so bleiben.  Robert hat Gleichgewichtsprobleme, ihm ist schwindlig.  Vermutlich Hitzschlag.  Er ist ganz bleich und ihm ist kalt.  Wir haben Robert also gleich ins Auto gepackt in den Schatten.  10 Minuten ruhen.  Zum Glück kommt ein Medic Auto vom Rennen vorbei.  Wir stoppen ihn: er prüft den Puls, wie die Haut reagiert, prüft seine Temperatur, etc. und kommt zu dem Schluß, dass alles einwandfrei funktioniert.  Es geht Robert körperlich gut.  Er braucht wohl nur ein trockenes Hemd, weil hier so viel Wind ist.  Wenn er zittert, reiben die Muskeln aneinander und seine Temperatur wird noch höher, erklärt uns der Medic.  Robert lächelt, fühlt sich sofort besser und geht weiter.  Trotzdem sagt Robert, das hier hat mit laufen nichts mehr zu tun.

14:15 Uhr

Tom geht mit Robert, wir fahren immer wieder vorbei, parken, etc. und wieder von vorn, in kurzen Abständen.  Ich gebe mir mit Tom bezügl. der Verfassung von Robert nur noch Zeichen.  Das funktioniert so weit.  Die Medics haben gesagt, wir sind durch das gröbste durch, Robert kann beruhigt weitermachen.

14:28 Uhr

Robert ist psychisch unten, hat keine Motivation mehr meint man.  Also bin ich aus dem Van und bin mal 10 Minuten mit ihm gegangen und hab ein paar Geschichten erzählt.  Robert lächelt und macht sein Ding.  Jetzt fängt er sogar wieder zu joggen an.  Immer im Wechsel mit Gehen.  Robert, bleib locker, ganz easy.  Jetzt weht auch Sand über die Straße…

15:11 Uhr

Robert setzt tapfer einen Fuß vor den anderen.  Die Müdigkeit haut bei uns allen ganz schön dick rein mittlerweile, wie muß es dann erst bei Robert sein…

15:36 Uhr

Bin kurz eingenicht bis Tom mich gerufen hat, ich soll mal mit Robert reden.  Mir kommt es vor, als wäre ich eine Stunde weg gewesen, war aber nicht lang, sehe ich als ich mir die Zeit des letzten Eintrags anschaue.  Habe versucht mit Robert zu joggen, ganz langsam, aber es ging nicht.  Wie kriege ich ihn nur aus seiner Erschöpfung raus, zumindest bis Lone Pine, dort könnten wir vorab in unser Hotel Zimmer einchecken und Robert könnte dann kurz in den Pool.  Aber er geht tapfer weiter, joggt sogar zwischendurch kurz, und wirkt mehr und mehr übermenschlich, dass er sich jetzt noch zu all diesem motivieren kann.

15:51 Uhr

Wir müssen alle 20 Minuten unsere Mützen in einen Eimer mit Eiswasser tauchen wegen der Hitze.  20 Minuten später sind sie schon wieder trocken.

16:31 Uhr

Robert isst und trinkt gut, aber er ist einfach so erschöpft.  Er kann nur gehen.  Die Straße noch ca. weitere 8 Meilen geradeaus, direkt nach Lone Pine rein.  Schon wieder in der Hitze langweilig immer geradeaus.

17:34 Uhr

Jürgen läuft jetzt schon eine ganze Weile mit Robert.

17:40 Uhr

Robert sagt bei den Verpflegungsstops, die wir regelmäßig jeden km durchführen, nur noch „ja“ oder „nein“.  Ich hoffe extrem er packt das.  Er kämpft unglaublich.

18:04 Uhr

Nachdem Jürgen jetzt schon eine ganze Weile mit Robert geht, hat er gerade angekündigt, dass er mit Robert noch zum Whittney Portal hoch geht.  Dann hätte er heute auch seinen Marathon gemacht.  Der Mann ist echt auch ein Unikat und das ist eine super Entscheidung von ihm, so können wir verpflegen und Robert akzeptiert das auch so.  Jetzt joggen beide auch schon wieder etwas.

18:35 Uhr

Wir sind in Lone Pine!!!  Unglaublich!!!  Und Robert läuft ein flottes Tempo, Jürgen läuft mit.  Ich war mit Jürgen Müller schnell im Hotel und hab die Zimmer Schlüssel geholt, falls Robert in den Pool will oder duschen vor dem Endspurt hoch zum Whittney Portal.

18:45 Uhr

Robert im Pool!!!  Fühlt sich wie neugeboren!  Frische Kleider und ab geht es zum Endspurt, die letzten 14 Meilen in die Berge.

19:14 Uhr

Alle Müdigkeit bei Robert wie auch bei uns ist wie weggeblasen.  Jetzt folgt nur noch die steilste Steigung des Rennens.  Aber das wird er schaffen.  Vielleicht noch ca 4 Std.

19:20 Uhr

Die Steigung hat begonnen, Robert geht mit Jürgen.  Er ist gut drauf, macht Späße und lacht.

19:25 Uhr

Die Sonne liegt jetzt hinter dem Berg, d.h. keine Sonne mehr in diesem Rennen für Robert!  Robert im Schatten!!!

19:26 Uhr

Die Zeit vergeht jetzt wie im Flug.  Robert wechselt zwischen Gehen und Laufen.  Wir halten den normalen Verpflegungsrythmus aufrecht.  Wenn man überlegt, was wir in diesen Mann die letzten 33 Stunden alles reinverpflegt haben…

20:46 Uhr

Robert kriegt jetzt noch mal Koffein Tabletten, Voltaren.  Er wird das packen.  Fledermäuse fliegen hier auch rum.

20:58 Uhr

Der Jürgen (63 J.!!!) hat 2 Tage nicht geschlafen, geht jetzt mit Robert aufs Whittney Portal und redet in einer Tour und erzählt Robert Geschichten.

21:11 Uhr

Noch 6 Meilen!!!

21:40 Uhr

Robert packt das, man sieht ihm die Erschöpfung so sehr an, aber er setzt weiter einen Fuß vor den anderen.  Mittlerweile ist es wieder stockdunkel.

21:49 Uhr

Noch 5 Meilen!!!

21:52 Uhr

Der 5. Marathon ist komplett, 131 Meilen, 7.000 Fuss

22:09 Uhr

Frubiase, Cola, Red Bull immer im Wechsel.  Robert kämpft.  Jeder Schritt kostet Kraft aber er zieht unermüdlich durch.

22:15 Uhr

Wir haben unglaublich Höhe mittlerweile.  Vom Berg runter ins Tal sieht man ganz klein lauter Lichter von Support-Crew Vans.

22:19 Uhr

Robert schnauft wie sonst noch was.  Spricht auch nicht mehr beim verpflegen (ca. alle 800m).  Aber er geht konstant und stabil wie eine Maschine.

22:23 Uhr

Sie gehen an uns vorbei und Jürgen sagt in seinem amerikanischen Fränkisch: „Wir haben einen ganz schönen Zahn hier drauf, Mann.“   Und wieder stehen 1 Mio. Sterne am Himmel.

Ca. 22:48 Uhr

Noch eine Meile bis Badwater Finish Line.  Robert geht vom Gehen jetzt wieder ins Laufen über.  Stampft wie eine Walze den Berg hoch.

23:53 Uhr

Ziellinie in Sicht, Kameras mit Strahlern, einige Leute, mitten im Wald…

23:53:08 Uhr

Robert geht durchs Ziel, reißt die Arme hoch, lacht, lässt sich beglückwünschen.  Robert ist im Ziel!!!  Nach allem was passiert ist, ist dieser Mann nach einem Endspurt über 14 Meilen bergauf im Ziel!  Das Team beglückwünscht Robert und sich selbst gegenseitig!  Robert Wimmer ist Official Finisher des Badwater Ultramarathon 2004 mit einer Zeit von 36 Std. 53 Min. und 08 Sek. und damit auch bester Deutscher.  Robert ist unglaublich, wir hatten ein super Team, ein wahnsinns Rennen.  Wer hätte das gestern Nacht oder noch heute Mittag gedacht.  Wir sind jetzt alle wohl ca. 40 Stunden wach, jetzt nur noch schlafen!!!

Dieser Bericht kann nur einen kleinen Einblick in die Hölle von Badwater vermitteln.  Was hier tatsächlich durchgemacht wird, können Worte nicht ausdrücken und Bilder vielleicht nur ansatzweise andeuten.

Badwater 2004 Race Report – Robert Wimmer #34 – English

support crew

Click here to read this report in German

8.00 a.m.
Left our hotel in Stove Pipe Wells. We’d started preparing and packing the van last night and continued doing so as of about 6.00 a.m. this morning, we’d also made sure we had ice, etc. It’s obvious that the team is a little nervous, but on the whole every movement is well thought out and professional. Robert has had a good night’s sleep and is feeling on top form.

The Team:

  • Robert Wimmer / ultra runner
  • Sebastian Bär / Head of the BÄR team
  • Tom Aigner / sport academic with HSZ
  • Juergen Ankenbrand / experienced ultra marathon acquaintance of Robert, German ex-pat of 42 years standing, lives in Surf City, CA., aged 63, knows Robert from TransEuropa run
  • Christopher and Audrey Bunn / photographers from the USA
  • Jürgen Müller / film and video, has also participated in the TransEuropa run

9.00 a.m.
Arrival in Badwater, the lowest point of the USA (282 feet below sea level), where we also meet up with Marc Cotnoir of Rogers, a ccmpany in the USA and a co-sponsor we managed to secure for this event. Rogers supplies us with the Poron and Senflex materials we use in the Performance marathon shoe. He is a runner himself and can’t believe what Robert plans on doing here. There is already a great deal of media interest in the project and various major US TV stations are onsite. Even now the heat is already beating down relentlessly.

10.00 a.m.
And they’re off! A group of approx. 25 runners make their way over a stretch of 135 miles, taking them right through Death Valley. Other groups with the same number of runners had already started at 6.00 a.m. and 8.00 a.m. We’d met those groups too on their way to the start. There are approx. 80 runners all together.

10 miles later
Robert’s team support had evened out after the first 2 to 3 stops: we stop about every 1.5 km to give Robert ½ litre of fluid (alternating between electrolyte, Frubiase and water) and a gel containing carbohydrates, banana, grapes, melon, energy bars, bottles of vitamins, etc., again always in rotation. We also spray his neck, head, arms and chest with cold water every time. Now we want to rub sun lotion into him again, as the sun is unbelievably hot the way it is beating down, so we tell him to stand still, to which he replies in his typical Franconian dialect: “Nee, i bleib net stehn!” (No, I’m not going to stand still!).

16.4 miles
Christopher Bergland is leading about 1 km ahead of Robert Wimmer. Temperature approx. 52°C. Robert is keeping to a pretty even tempo.

17.4 miles
The first timing station is here. Robert is talking a little less now and there’s a noticeable tension in the air. Not that it’s a negative sign, he’s not doing badly at all, but the burning heat is still registering 52°C on the thermometer. Pam Reed and Dean Karnazes, both of them favourites to win this race, are nowhere in sight at the moment. They’re probably biding their time towards the back and hoping that someone at the front will suffer a setback.

18.8 miles
The gap between Robert and Christopher Bergland is slowly closing. Now we give Robert some slightly diluted Red Bull to give his psyche a bit of a boost.

19.5 miles
At Robert’s instigation we swap his LAST inner sole for the Performance inner sole. The LAST sole is proverbially flat, especially in the ball region of the foot.

22.0 miles
Robert is laughing and running like a machine. The Performance inner sole is excellent and doesn’t feel as warm on the soles of his feet. We’ve now swapped from spraying to an ice sponge. We’ve learned by experience that it keeps the body temperature down better than spraying does. Robert also turns to us and asks if we’re drinking enough to avoid dehydrating in this diabolical heat. He’s in a really good mood. It’s 2.00 p.m. and still 52°C. He really likes taking the ice sponges and squeezing them out on his head, against his neck, arms and thighs. One duty of the respective person looking after him is to always make sure that he has a bucket of ice water with him, so that the sponge can be constantly re-saturated along the way. In the meantime Robert has already passed a few of those who started at 8.00 a.m. Robert is now starting to demonstrate a little psychological warfare by showing Christopher Bergland very openly – hey, I’m here and doing well and letting you do all the work. We’re now also feeding him baby food (similar to Hipp bottled baby food) and letting him walk a few metres, thus allowing Bergland to again increase his lead to 150 m. Robert is on top form! Temperature still 52°C.

2.26 p.m.
Temperature has now climbed even higher to 60°C (!). It’s like an outdoor sauna at the moment, incredible. Now we’re giving Robert the ice sponge and another 1⁄2 litre of fluid every km. He ran the first marathon in approx. 3 hrs and 40 mins.

Bergland has just taken a seat in his crew van, i.e. Robert is now leading the field. It looks as if Christopher Bergland has cramps and is falling behind. Dean Karnazes’ crew vans keep driving up to us and checking on Robert’s form. Dean Karnazes is good on slow ground. Robert says it’s ideal for him. He’s let him overtake and is now running behind him at his own tempo. It’s still 60°C.

Karnazes is now picking up speed and is about 600 metres ahead of Robert. Now we’re making refreshment stops almost every 600 – 800 metres (Robert won’t stand still for these “stops” instead everything has to happen at Robert’s running speed) and cooling him down with the ice sponge. The heat is beating down unrelentingly. Robert feels something in his calves, so we give him more Frubiase and electrolytes.

The rest of us in the team have to apply sunscreen factor 60 and dip our baseball hats regularly in ice water.

3.15 p.m.
A car approaches Robert. An English tourist hasn’t seen him and catches Robert’s hip at full speed with his rear-view mirror. Robert gives a brief yell and the driver drives off. We drive to the side, I run over to Robert, Juergen gets ice ready and what does Tom do? In all the excitement Tom forgets to set the van’s automatic system from “D” to “P”. So, our van drives off by itself right across to the other side of the street where it gets stuck in the side ditch. Robert tells me everything’s OK and carries on running. We’re lucky nothing serious happened in the midst of all this. Another 10 cm and the race would have been over. As chance would have it one of the race officials was nearby and chases after the British tourist. The race continues.

3.54 p.m.
Once the shock is over, everything is back to the old routine. Dean Karnazes is about 600 metres ahead of Robert, but also has to keep going. Now there’s a wind blowing, which unfortunately has no cooling effect whatsoever. Instead it feels as if someone is blowing a large high drier at the highest setting against our bodies. We try to take care of Robert properly, to ensure that his body keeps up with the pace and he stays as hydrated as possible. Only another few miles to Stove Pipe Wells. To the right of us are the giant sand dunes. Temperature has dropped again to 52°C. From Stove Pipe Wells the road will start to slowly climb and that will also make it a little cooler.

Now we’re also giving Robert tomato juice to give him a different taste in his mouth for a change and to ensure, above all, that his body is supplied with salt. Past the sand dunes, and then about another 2 to 3 km to Stove Pipe Wells. The motel where we lived for the past two days there also has a pool.

Robert’s a bit down again at the moment as far as his psyche is concerned, the catering function is now routine; we’re just trying to fill him up with as much energy as possible.

4.25 p.m.
Dean Karnazes is still in the lead at the moment, we’re about to hit Stove Pipe Wells.

42 miles
Robert had a relaxing time cooling off in the pool and then put on a clean tricot. That did him the world of good. I’ve tried to reach Dr. Thomas Prochnow – his coach – 6 x from a payphone in Stove Pipe, but with no luck unfortunately. He would have been able to build Robert back up psychologically and motivate him. In the meantime Audrey has fetched us 10 bags of ice and Jürgen has made sure we have more water. After the break I told Robert that I’d managed to get hold of Thomas Prochnow and that he’d said that Robert was doing everything right, that Thomas was right behind him and crossing his fingers that the rest of the race went well. Robert was really happy about that. Dean Karnazes had carried on running without a break. The sweat is dripping off us like nothing on earth too, although all we’re doing was sitting in the car with the window down, and there’s even a breeze blowing through.

5.12 p.m.
Now we’re slowly climbing into the mountains. Temperature 52°C. All of a sudden we meet up with Dean. He’d had to stop and change his shoes. That was the best thing that could have happened to Robert psychologically: Robert had relaxed in the pool and eaten something, whereas Dean had carried on running without a break. Dean has put on brand new trainers. Robert has now overtaken him. The path is constantly uphill, but we still manage to make him laugh a lot. We provide him with more and more vitamins, electrolytes, carbohydrate gels, etc. and keep surprising him every now and again with melon, etc. Now he has a 400 m lead over Dean.

Tom and I have been taking it in turns to look after for Robert throughout the day, until one of us has to change over to driving because of the heat. That happens about every 6 to 8 stops. At the back of the van Jürgen is responsible for the bottles, the ice, for mixing drinks, for all the preparation and the clearing up afterwards. It’s running like clockwork and very well rehearsed. We’re rotating with the Dean Team van, sometimes their van is in front of ours and sometimes it’s the other way round. The mood is incredibly tense but people still treat each other fairly and with respect.

5.48 p.m.
Robert and Dean are now taking it in turns to be in the lead. Just as we’d finished looking after Robert again, he told me I shouldn’t worry.

5.56 p.m.
It’s bloody difficult; the road’s still climbing and will continue to do so for another 9 miles. Robert is still running like a machine without any interruption! On top of that there’s a wind stirring up, as it does almost every night in Death Valley. And as always, it’s just like the air from a hair-drier. Robert’s struggling to get through more at the moment than I’ve ever seen before.

6.07 p.m.
The sun is still burning down relentlessly. 44°C. We’ve reapplied sunscreen to Robert’s entire body as we’ve been walking. The man runs like a machine.

6.22 p.m.
Robert is now catching up with Dean millimetre by millimetre. The Dean team is now beginning to employ psychological warfare by driving one of their 3 vans either 100 or 200 metres in front of Robert and stopping there, so Robert thinks Dean is right there. Robert’s not a bit interested; he’s in a race of his own.

6.43 p.m.
Robert is constantly alternating between running and walking. As we’re looking after him, he just grins. Temperature dropping to 41°C.

7.03 p.m. It’s below 40°C for the first time. Robert’s running like a machine, he’s now also getting stomach drops every now and again. He’s now finished the second marathon, overall time approx. 9 hours.

7.12 p.m.
Chris Kostman, the race director, has just told us that Robert is 7 minutes ahead of Dean.

7.16 p.m.
Robert is extremely focused and has just given me precise instructions as to what I should do with his sunglasses when he handed them to me. We’re now at 3,000 feet. The road is climbing and we’ve reached the first few hundred metres of shade.

7.25 p.m.
We’ve sat Robert down on the folding stool, given him a “Hallo Wach!” pill, massaged his legs with cooling gel, and given him diluted cola and a couple of pretzel sticks.

7.52 p.m.
We’ve now given Robert his MP3 player as he’s quite tired. As things look at the moment, Robert is in the lead, but that doesn’t bother us, all we’re bothered about is that he puts one foot in front of the other. From now on, as it’s cooling down slowly, we’ll be successively recharging his energy tank. At every stop from now he’ll get food to get his body working again.

8.01 p.m.
Tom is trying to feed Robert with bite-sized pieces of energy bar. Things are looking up. Robert leaves. Down in the valley we can see the lights of the other support crews’ vans. 34°C. There’ll be no more sun today.

8.32 p.m.
Darkness is slowly creeping in, we put Robert’s his reflective waistcoat on now as a precaution against passing cars. Robert is exhausted so we have to keep him awake. He can’t eat at the moment, otherwise he’d probably be sick, but he can still drink. About another mile or so and then we’ll have reached pass level (4,956 feet), and then it’s all downhill from there.

8.36 p.m.
29°C !!!

9.02 p.m.
It’s dark, so Robert’s running wearing his waistcoat and a headlamp. Still 29°C but it feels cool to us.

9.25 p.m.
On the way down we only stop approx. every 1.5 km – 2.0 km. One of us takes him baby food, water or something similar. Those looking after him now also have to carry the reflective waistcoat and headlamp. At the moment we have no idea where the other runners are, we’re concentrating only on ourselves and especially on Robert. We can tell that we’re coming into the valley again; we’ve reached 32°C again. It’s deadly silent outside.

9.55 p.m.
Dean Karnazes has just overtaken Robert on the way down. Dean is now the same steamroller downhill as Robert was on the way up. There are still another two inclines to go though. 41°C.

10.23 p.m.
Robert suffered a setback about 20 minutes ago. He sat down and didn’t want to go any further. The first thing we did was to lay him in the van. Robert said he didn’t recognise himself. He can’t and doesn’t want to carry on; he’d rather have an ending with pain than a pain without end…

I rounded up all the crew and told them that the new target is to get to the finish line, forget about winning the race. No problem, but the man is psychologically worn down after this exertion. Dean overtaking him must have been the last straw. I left Robert lying down for three minutes. Then I went to him by myself and he described his negative thoughts to me. I then tried to build him up, gave him support, showed him we’re there for him when he needs us with no ifs and buts about it, and told him a few stories. Robert stood up, hugged me and simply started running again. And he’s being doing that now for almost 1⁄2 hour. Tom’s now running a little with him, while Jürgen and I are looking after him.

10.48 p.m.
38°C and there are millions of stars in the sky.

11.41 p.m.
I ran for a while with Robert and kept us chatting on all sorts of topics, I think it did him good. We are all 100% behind him whatever he needs. Now Jürgen’s walking with him for a while. I wish it were already light or my mobile could pick up a network signal so that we could call Thomas Prochnow.

1.09 a.m.
About an hour ago Robert got into the car with circulation and breathing problems. He says he can’t go any further, it’s over. We should withdraw him from the race. He looks exhausted. I asked him twice if he meant it and he clearly repeated that he wanted to stop and that we should withdraw him from the race for health reasons. OK, we left him in the car and drove 3 miles ahead to the next timing station where I had him officially withdrawn from the race. Luckily there was also a medical care station in the same place, as by now Robert could hardly walk. The nurse took his pulse, checked his blood pressure, etc. She said it wasn’t quite as bad as it seemed. We should just let him sleep. Now he’s getting an infusion-like booster drink every ¾ hour and sleeping. According to the nurse he might be fit again in 4 to 5 hours and able to finish the race. I made sure that his withdrawal from the race was annulled and that he was back in the race. I was able to do that luckily. There’s still time to withdraw him officially tomorrow morning if we have to. Robert knows nothing about this yet. I’ve now just given him his second booster drink in the medical station (a kind of converted hotel room) and am letting him carry on sleeping.

1.29 a.m.
The nurse is worth her weight in gold. I’ve just woken him up; she’s listened to his lungs, everything’s in good working order. When I told her that he’d started off this morning at 10.00 a.m. she nearly fell over, as she was so amazed that he’d already virtually completed 80 miles. She said he has everything it takes to finish the race!

4.14 a.m.
About 10 minutes ago Robert came up to our van with the nurse and woke us up from our doze. He wants to carry on running now. Much rejoicing, hugs for the nurse and then everyone into the van to drive back to the departure point, three miles before Panamint Springs. We’re off again, Robert’s running! 28°C – perfect right now.

4.46 a.m.
Robert has just passed the third timing station in Panamint Springs. It’s working, he’s almost too fast for our liking but we’re taking good care. It’s a constant uphill road again.

5.23 a.m.
Still uphill but we’re now able to crack jokes with Robert again.

6.15 a.m.
I have a power bar for breakfast. Robert is still keeping to his rhythm. We think he’s going too fast but there’s no stopping the man…

We’re still on the incline.

6.36 a.m.
We’ve just passed the 4,000 feet point. 25°C, Robert’s looking good.

7.06 a.m.
The nurse who managed to revive Robert this morning has driven up here specially to see how Robert is. Last year she’d completed the Badwater run herself and decided then to work here as a helper this year. She’d said to herself: “If I manage to help one person to finish the race, then it will have been worth it.” It was worth it.

7.23 a.m.
At the next stop we change his shoes again for a pair a ½ size larger, size 9.0 with a 6mm Wellfit inner sole.

7.40 a.m.
The soles of Robert’s feet have been hurting him; he’d had to struggle to put the shoe on. Now he has to struggle his way through again. We’re again trying to think things out ahead of time to make sure he only does what we plan and doesn’t have to waste any unnecessary energy on anything. That’s not so easy now we’ve had no sleep: sometimes it takes us a full minute to work out how long Robert has already been on the go. Or we decide what we’re going to do to take care of Robert this time around as we’re getting out of the car and have already forgotten what we decided again after taking just five steps towards the hatchback. The path continues uphill a short way until we reach a plateau for a while and then it’s downhill again. Another 14 miles and nothing but steep inclines to the finish.

7.47 a.m.
We’ve just passed the exit sign to the Death Valley National Park, so we’re now officially outside it, after 84.9 miles of pure hell.

7.45 a.m.
Robert would now prefer to have the BÄR LAST inner sole again after all, so we changed again. The team is working brilliantly, Jürgen is a complete professional and showing no signs of tiredness, Tom too is all there and on top form. It is hard on occasion but we’ll get through.

8.21 a.m.
Robert is glad every time all three of us are standing and looking after him, no one rests, and he can’t rest either! Now Jürgen is jogging with him.

9.20 a.m.
Robert’s foot soles were hurting him so we stopped him and sat him down. I took a look at his feet and found three massive blisters full to bursting on his right foot. I lanced and dried them for him and put blister plasters on them. The whole procedure was distinctly unappetising. But it was also a distinct help to Robert. Thought processes are again getting slower, slight headaches: cola and power bar à that’ll work!

9.44 a.m.
Robert has just come and told us that the treatment worked wonders. That’s OK then! Marc Cotnoir of co-sponsor Rogers, who was here yesterday as well as today, was extremely impressed to say the least, he took a few more photos, and is now back home in Connecticut again. He again told us that he had the greatest respect for us. Robert applauded the treatment of the blisters again on this way past. That did me a power of good too. He’s feeling better again now, his running tempo is back to normal and we’re finally going downhill again.

10.36 a.m.
Robert is a pure running machine; he’s smiling and feeling great. Since the blister operation there’s no stopping the man again. He’s laughing, is enjoying running and everything’s going to plan. Gave the firm a quick call to give them an update. Christof told me that everyone in the firm is behind us cheering us on. Robert was really pleased about that too. I personally took a 10-minute nap, now I feel a bit better. We’ll get through this; I estimate there’s about another 35 miles to go.

10.48 a.m.
The CBS TV station has just been here with the camera crews from “60 Minutes” and did an interview with Robert and I (during the race), as they had to have the TransEuropa winner. They were impressed by his attitude. The programme should be broadcast in the USA in the Autumn. The newscast was here on Sunday anyway.

11.22 a.m.
Robert has a few stomach problems, so we give him some more stomach drops.

12.13 p.m.
We’re now on a never-ending dead straight road, incredibly boring and hot. That obviously affects Robert’s psyche again. We’re giving him salt tablets to keep his muscles pliable.

12.25 p.m.
This blasted straight road goes on and on. We’re all getting rather slow and tired now too. The midday sun is beating down without a break.

12.36 p.m.
Blasted straight line. Robert has lost all interest now. He’s walking; one of us walks next to him all the time to keep him in good humour.

1.06 p.m.
My mobile is finally picking up a network signal again. I immediately called Dr. Thomas Prochnow and surprised Robert with the mobile. He was really pleased, laughed and his legs began to run again. Now he’s running again, we’re taking care of all his wants and things are moving again.

1.18 p.m.
Just a little bit further and we’ll finally be off this straight line.

1.22 p.m.
Massage break for Robert. He says nothing other than “Now it’ll be tough!”

1.29 p.m.
If this here is already so tough for us then Robert’s performance is superhuman. Now we’re in Keeler. The distance covered is 107.8 miles – more than 4 marathons.

1.45 p.m.
We hadn’t got rid of the straight line; there was another one straight after the bend and that won’t change now until Lone Pine. Robert’s having problems with his balance and feeling dizzy. It’s probably sunstroke. He’s really pale and feels cold. We immediately put Robert in the car in the shade and let him rest for 10 minutes. Luckily a medic car from the race came past. We stopped it and the medic checked Robert’s pulse, how his skin reacted, checked his temperature, etc. and decided that everything was working perfectly. Robert is physically fit. He apparently just needs a dry shirt, as there’s so much wind here. The medic explained to us that when he shivers his muscles are rubbing against each other and then his temperature climbs. Robert smiles, feels much better immediately and carries on. He does say though that this stretch here has nothing to do with running.

2.15 p.m.
Tom is walking with Robert; we keep driving past, parking, etc. and then starting the whole process from the beginning again at short intervals. Tom and I are now limiting ourselves to signs with regard to Robert’s form. That seems to work.  The medics said that we’re through the worst; Robert can carry on with his mind at rest.

2.28 p.m.
Robert is at a low ebb psychologically; you’d think he had no more motivation. So, I got out of the van and walked with him for 10 minutes and told him a few stories. Robert smiled and did his thing. Now he’s even beginning to jog again, alternating between that and walking the whole time. Robert, just stay relaxed and laid back. Now sand is also blowing across the road…

3.11 p.m.
Robert is bravely putting one foot in front of the other. Tiredness is really getting to us all now, so how must Robert be feeling…

3.36 p.m.
Dozed off for a short while until Tom called me to tell me that I should talk to Robert. It seems to me as though I’ve been gone for an hour, but I realise it wasn’t long when I look at the last entry. Tried to jog very slowly with Robert but it didn’t work. How do I rouse him from his exhaustion, at least until Lone Pine where we can check into our hotel rooms in advance and Robert can take a quick dip in the pool? He’s carrying on bravely though, even jogging now and again, and the fact that he’s still able to motivate himself to all this makes him seem increasingly superhuman.

3.51 a.m.
We have to keep dipping our caps in a bucket of ice water every 20 minutes because of the heat. 20 minutes later they’re dry again.

4.31 p.m.
Robert is eating and drinking well but is just too exhausted. He can only walk. The road stretches ahead unrelentingly straight for another 8 miles right up to Lone Pine. Walking in a never-ending straight line is really boring again in this heat.

5.34 p.m.
Jürgen has now been running with Robert for quite a while.

5.40 p.m.
Now Robert only ever says “yes” or “no” at the refreshment stops that we’re making regularly every km. I really hope he manages to do this. He’s an unbelievable fighter.

6.04 p.m.
As Jürgen has now been walking with Robert for quite a while he’s just announced that he is going to go up to Whittney Portal with him. Then Jürgen will have completed his own marathon today. The man really is one on his own and that’s an excellent decision on his part, as it will allow us to take care of them and Robert is happy with that too. Both of them are jogging a little again now.

6.35 p.m.
We’re in Lone Pine!!! Unbelievable!!! And Robert is running at a good speed, Jürgen’s running with him. I went quickly to the hotel with Jürgen Müller and picked up the keys to the hotel rooms, in case Robert wants to use the pool or take a shower before the final spurt to Whittney Portal.

6.45 p.m.
Robert’s in the pool!!! He feels like a new man! Clean clothes and then off to the final spurt, the last 14 miles in the mountains.

7.14 p.m.
Every scrap of tiredness has disappeared without a trace from Robert as well as ourselves. Now there’s only the steepest ascent in the race left. But he’ll manage that. Another 4 hours to go maybe.

7.20 p.m.
The ascent has begun, Robert is walking with Jürgen. He’s in a good mood, making jokes and laughing.

7.25 p.m.
The sun has now disappeared behind the mountain, which means that there’ll be no more sun in this race for Robert! Robert in the shade!!!

7.26 p.m.
Time seems to be flying past. Robert is alternating between walking and running. We’re keeping to the normal refreshment rhythm. When you think of all the different types of refreshment we’ve forced into this man in the last 33 hours…

8.46 p.m.
Robert is now being given caffeine tablets again, Voltaren. He’ll do it. Bats are also flying around here.

8.58 p.m.
Jürgen (63 years old!!!) has not slept for 2 days, now he’s going up to Whittney Portal with Robert and chatting and telling Robert stories as he goes.

9.11 p.m.
Another 6 miles to go!!!

9.40 p.m.
Robert can do it, it’s obvious that he’s absolutely exhausted but he still keeps putting one foot in front of the other. Now it’s pitch black.

9.49 p.m.
Another 5 miles to go!!!

9.52 p.m.
The 5th marathon is over, 131 miles, 7,000 feet

10.09 p.m.
Frubiase, cola, Red Bull in constant rotation. Robert is struggling. Every step is costing him energy but he plunges on untiringly.

10.15 p.m.
We’ve reached an incredible height in the meantime. From the mountain we can see all the tiny lights on the support crew vans in the valley below.

10.19 p.m.
Robert is wheezing like nothing on earth. He’s not talking any more either when we give him refreshments (about every 800 m). but he keeps going as consistently and steadily as a machine.

10.23 p.m.
They overtake us and Jürgen says in his American Franconian: “Wir haben einen ganz schönen Zahn hier drauf, man.” (It’s quite a pace we’re going at, man.) And again there are millions of stars in the sky.

10.48 p.m. approx.
Another mile to the Badwater finish line. Robert changes from walking to running again. Pounding up the mountain like a steamroller.

11.53 p.m.
Finish line in view up ahead, cameras with radiating system emitters, a few people, in the middle of the wood…

11.53.08 p.m.
Robert goes through the finishing line, he shoots his arms high above his head, laughs and accepts the congratulations. Robert’s at the finishing line!!! After all that’s happened this man has reached the finishing line after an upward final spurt of 14 miles! The team congratulates Robert and each other! Robert Wimmer is an official finisher of the 2004 Kiehl’s Badwater Ultra Marathon with a time of 36 hours 53 minutes and 08 seconds. And that makes him the best German too. Robert is incredible; we had an excellent team, a crazy race. Who would have thought that last night or even this lunchtime? We’ve now all probably been awake for about 40 hours, so all we want now is sleep!!!

This report can only give a brief insight into the hell that was Badwater. Words cannot express and even pictures can only give a very rudimentary indication of what people actually go through here.

See You on the Mountaintop

A Badwater 2004 Race Story

Badwater Finisher, 98, 99, 00, 01, 02, 04

Originally published in Marathon & Beyond Magazine, July 2005

Except for the glimmer of a thousand stars and the faint glow from a few porch lights, the desert outside my room where I am pacing is almost pitch black. It is two o’clock in the morning. A hand full of ravens flit and scratch on the ground near the parked cars. There is noise off in the distance from some animal life digging through the trash cans and the air conditioners drone and hum away in an attempt to keep the warm desert air from the rooms at the Stovepipe Wells Hotel. Otherwise it is quiet.

As I concentrate on the enormous challenge ahead my mind and nerves ramp up as adrenaline, excitement and anticipation slowly starts to drip into my system. The body finally realizes that in just a few hours it will be running the 135-mile race that begins at Badwater, California, the lowest spot in the United States, and snakes through Death Valley and over two mountain ranges before finishing at the Portals halfway up Mt. Whitney. This footrace is considered the toughest in the world. There will be no more sleep tonight and probably for the next few days.

Although I have been here many times, this year is more special. At the pre-race meeting yesterday and at his eulogy in January, I honored my fallen friend, Jason Hunter, before his family, his friends and many great athletes. I dedicated this race as well as the traditional eleven-mile climb to the top of MT Whitney that follows it, in Jason’s name. I am sure that he will be out here, at least in spirit, for guidance and inspiration and to help me fulfill this tall order. I have but one goal now and that is to finish. There are no other options.

In the minutes before the ten o’clock start, I mingle and socialize with the other runners aside the Badwater sign and the Kiehl’s Sponsorship Banner draped across the road were the race begins. I notice that the Sea Level sign that was missing last year is again attached and perched 282 feet above our heads on the rugged side of the Black Mountains. All is well. The National Anthem is played in our honor and hundreds of photographs are taken just seconds before the starting countdown to this grueling event. It is good to be back. This will be my seventh consecutive Badwater Race.

During the first twenty five-miles, while I am still fresh and the endorphins stream through my system, I run and joke with some of the other runners. There is Chris Frost who gives me a Lance Armstrong yellow charity wristband, prompting the joke that we are engaged again. I wonder if his fiancée, Tracey, knows about this?  And Lisa Stranc-Bliss, the running Doctor, who pronounced me alive enough to continue on during a bad spell in last year’s race. Want to feel humble? Run a few miles with everyone’s favorite and ultrarunning legend, Marshall Ulrich.

We run north along the great sprawling salt basin with its colorful landmarks reminding us that we are indeed in Death Valley. The Timbisha Shoshone Indians call it “Land on Fire”.  We pass by Dante’s View, Coffin Point, Devil’s Wheat Field, Furnace Creek, Salty Creek, Devil’s Golf Course, the Sand Dunes and Stovepipe Wells. The land is picturesque but inhospitable. Left unattended, one could die out here in just a few minutes.

My van is filled with tons of supplies and my crew; Christine (my wife), Vince Pedroia, Juli Dell’Era and John Rodger will be alongside me the entire race. They will attempt to keep me fed, hydrated and cooled off by using squirt guns and sprayers. The van itself looks like a rolling billboard with messages, memorial banners and inspirational drawings from special children taped on both sides. We have another vehicle at Stovepipe Wells to be used to shuttle into town for rest, supplies, Snicker bars and other emergencies.

Around the thirty-mile mark I comment that it is unusually cool, maybe only 115-degrees. But that’s about to change; someone hears my big mouth and begins to stoke it up a few notches. By the Beatty turnoff (mile-35) where the race turns to the west, it is at least 125-degrees. Headwinds generated somewhere in the canyons, pick up the radiated heat from the pavement and are superheated even more as they sweep furiously across the Death Valley basin.

For the next seven-miles the suffocating winds are incessant, and it feels like its 140-degrees or more. It’s like opening a furnace door and standing in front of it with a fan blowing the heat on you. The mouth and eyes dry out, unprotected skin burns, the nasal passages and lungs sting, and it becomes hard to breathe. The cooling body sweat and the water sprayed on the running clothes evaporate immediately, and my core temperature rises as intense heat presses heavily against every cell. Fortunately the months of training in a 180-degree sauna have prepared me for this. I handily move ahead, although the heat will take its toll later tonight.

At Stovepipe Wells (mile-42) I could take a quick break. In the past I have cooled off in the small pool, which is now filled with runners and crews, or I’ve used the shower to rinse the heat away but not this year. I have found that the body starts to shutdown once it stops to relax for more than ten-minutes. I have suffered severe cramping and have witnessed convulsions and techni-colored barfathons by other runners in this pool area. Since this has a tendency to ruin your day, my plan is to continue to go forward and take short respites on the stoop of the van every few hours. So, I just sneak on by.

Then I face the most difficult part of the Badwater Race: the seemingly never-ending sixteen-mile 4900-foot climb to Townes Pass (mile-58). The first few miles are directly into the sun and the hot winds continue to blow. As the sun sets, Chris Frost catches me. When we reach the Emigrant Campground halfway up, we take our first mini break. Kari Marchant, a live-wire crewmember, joins us and we gradually move up the mountain now dimly lit by a half moon and the Milky Way.  We pass the time by laughing at raunchy jokes. I have to tell all of them, because they didn’t know any.

At the top, next to the radiator tank, we take another short break. The wheels are beginning to come off and the tired body wants to lie down. This race has become serious. The weariness that is clinging to the body is similar to tying on a spare tire and dragging it to the finish line. Chris naps while I cool off my legs with iced towels and gorge on peanut butter, PowerAde and Ensure.

We then run other eight-miles, down the backside of the pass to the edge of the salt flats in the Panamint Valley. Looking across this five-mile basin and into the distant hills, we can see a string of a dozen or more muted red flickering brake lights. My emotions lift knowing that I am in the middle of other runners and their crews who are also struggling along this course in order to realize their goals. Misery loves company. As soon as we catch a runner, Chris tags along and they move ahead into the night. I am alone again

Suddenly, on the side of the road, there is a quick and blurred movement. I turn and catch a glimpse of a coyote, maybe more, scrounging around in the bush. The one closest is gaunt, wiry, skittish, nervously pacing and panting. Scrawny and undernourished, it salivates from hunger pangs. I immediately flash on Harry, the protagonist in Ernest Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, who lies on a cot in the African savannah dying from the gangrene that has invaded a cut in his leg. Hemingway writes, “… it occurred to him that…he was going to die…and…the hyena slipped slightly along the edge of it”.

Oops! I make some noise and flash my lights towards these guys and they slink away into the scrub. But I sense that they are still close by: dug in, crouched, waiting, peering, hungry and ready to strike for their next meal. I know that I am rank and it must be wafting in their direction. Hopefully they have targeted a smaller morsel in the area. I decide to hurry up before they drag me off into the desert.

Fortunately dawn is approaching and the coyotes and other animal life will soon vanish into the sand in this sparse desert. They will attempt to survive another day somewhere buried, hidden and protected from the brutal heat of the scorching sun. And we runners think that this Badwater Race is tough. For a moment I contemplate their difficult lives: if they manage to survive during the hostile summer then we should be able to handle a few days.

I run to the Panamint Springs Resort (mile-72) looking forward to a short break. I have been active with minimal rest since the start of the race. My overworked, strained and taxed body is fighting back. It needs to be rejuvenated, and it wants it to happen right now. A ten-minute respite turns into forty-five as an unsuccessful catnap is attempted. Then, in another survival moment, I step inside the hotels bathroom/septic system for relief. Whew! Yet, there is even a richer prize than basking in all this glory. Anyone finishing this race in less than forty-eight hours is awarded a cherished and coveted brass belt buckle.

After gobbling down a cup full of freshly made scrambled eggs and chasing them with a Starbucks Frappuccino, it is time to run up another steep eight-mile winding pass to Father Crowley’s (mile-80). The views along the way are breathtaking. The multi-colored canyon walls that spill into the salt flats below are incredibly beautiful.  These huge chasms are routinely used as military training grounds for the F-16’s that swoop down deep inside after their imaginary prey.

My crew is finally able to make cell phone contact with a hometown radio station. After I broadcast my progress report, the host asks me if I have seen my shrink lately. Well, yes I have, but obviously it isn’t working. I just hope the kids that I run for are listening.

At the top it is time for a change of shoes. One sock is soaked in blood and the other is glued to a severe blistering problem and will hamper my effort as the race wears on.

The next ten-miles of gradual rolling hills is brushed in purple and yellow hues and dotted by old abandoned silver mines that probably dead-end into shattered dreams. The landscape is filled with the colors and scents of sage and withered yucca.

A huge rock and dirt formation near the Death Valley Park entrance sign (mile-85) is shaped in the formation of a Stegosaurus. It has several rows of bony plates along its back, so maybe it is one, partially buried, camouflaged and sleeping. Two years ago during the night I saw them crawling across the desert floor. There are times during this race when the demons stir about somewhere within the dark corners of the tired mind and it begins to hallucinate and sees strange things. But, I know that the dinosaurs I saw were real and I suspect that they are still out there, somewhere on the move, despite evidence that they are extinct.

It is early morning and the headwinds return like a giant heat-searing hair dryer. A chronic Achilles problem is flaring up and progress becomes more of a run-hobble. At the Darwin turnoff (mile-90) the race bends north and I will attempt to run the next fifteen-miles that are mostly downhill. The winds that are now at my back help to push me along.

At mile ninety-seven a minor problem has developed. We are out of ice, low on water and the drinks are warm and hard to swallow. Right on time, Nancy Shura from the medical team stops and gives us all her leftover ice and water. Ironically, a similar scene occurred last year when Monica Scholz stopped along the Panamint Salt Flats and replenished my depleted supplies.

At the 100-mile mark high up in the mouth of the pass, I can finally see the great sprawling Owens Valley. But, three-miles later, I can’t run anymore. The hot tailwinds have cooked my hamstrings and they are now misfiring.  We ice them down and I wear long pants in a feeble attempt to keep them cooler. But the damage has been done: they will not respond to this tinkering and I struggle five-miles into the weather-beaten trailer-park burg of Keeler (mile-108).

After a short rest I still feel drained and wilted from the battering of intense heat over the last two days. For the third time in the last five-years the winds are blowing sand and ash from fires in the Sierras across the arid and desolate Owens Lake and into our path. As I gag and choke on the smoke I resolve to plod along until the sun sets behind the mountains and then hopefully run into Lone Pine. My wife and Juli drive into town in order to rest for the final climb.

Once I start running I feel much better. But just a few miles later, I need water and my van is nowhere in sight. Although it is now dark, it is still hot and I begin to overheat. Unable to continue I wait and waver on the side of the road for about thirty-minutes until the van finally shows up: John had stayed behind to make sandwiches in preparation for the final climb. He should have gone ahead to stay in touch and maintain a sense of timing, but, that’s okay. The heat has tortured everyone and understandably a misjudgment was made.

I shuffle the last four-miles into Lone Pine (mile-122), where I rest and cool down at the hotel. The air conditioner gives me goosebumps and my crew believes I am suffering from heat stroke. They call a race medic, who determines the real problem: that it was time to get going and finish this thing off before anything else went wrong.

Shortly, we start up again. Even though Vince and I laugh most of the way, the steep and relentless thirteen-mile climb to the finish at the Portals (mile-135) is pain-stakingly slow. I need to leave something in my tank for after the race, because I still have to climb to the top of MT Whitney. During a weary moment a massive pack of large rats at the side of the road sweeps towards me. Startled for a few seconds, I move over to our van while Vince protects me from the “varmints”. He tells me that I had likely just flashed on some grass that was growing through the cracks in the roadbed. I am not so sure and hurriedly move forward.

With four-miles to go we enter the first of the two-long switchbacks and realize that the end is only an hour away. The pace quickens, there is more spring in the step and now a renewed sense of urgency to polish this Badwater off.

My crew will walk with me the last mile. Everyone is more alive, giddy and spirited, except for nearby campers who yell from their tents to shut up so they can sleep. Sorry, but fat chance. With only a few bends in the road to go the physical and mental demands step aside. As they begin resting on the back burners, I start tripping on my emotions.

With our hands held high and a great whoop we cross the finish line together. Each year that I break the tape a great sense of achievement and pride flushes my system. It is the successful culmination of months of training and a few days of intense hard work over this extremely challenging course. Badwater will never get old. Finishing this race in 43-hours and 28-minutes with my beautiful wife and crew by my side is as good as it will ever get.

Later, sitting alone and relaxed on a bench in front of the hotel, I reflect on what I had accomplished the past few days:

Although I had survived several mini disasters, days of extreme heat and cold, drying winds, the ever-present Achilles tendonitis, severe blistering, vertigo, and incredible weariness, I never at any time ever thought about quitting. I hope that this will set a positive example and inspiration for all the children.

I was fortunate to have run, walked and shuffled, along with many of my friends, through Death Valley and up Mount Whitney. There are very few places on earth that equal in grace and majesty.

I finished Badwater and summated Mt. Whitney for my friend, Jason, a satisfying tribute to his incredible life. It just really feels good that I did what I had to do.

And finally, I will soon be going back home into the “real world” with restored confidence and convinced that if you can do Badwater, you can do anything.

Thanks to Badwater Race Director, Chris Kostman, and all the people from AdventureCorps. There would be no Badwater Race without their effort. It was also comforting to see the emergency vehicles, the medical teams and all the race personnel cruising around and monitoring for any problems.

Thanks to Kiehl’s for their title sponsorship and all the skin care products.

Thanks to Injinji for the socks touted to prevent blisters. Maybe I should have worn them. Well, duh!

Thanks to Hammer-Gel for the Endurolytes. These things work great. Now, can you make a pill to prevent aged related aches and pains? Better hurry.

Kudos to Dean Karnazes, Ferg Hawke and Monica Scholz. Breaking 30-hours on this course is a major achievement.

To every crewmember and especially mine, thank you for your sacrifices.  It could not have been done without your help.

Thanks to nurse Nancy Shura for stopping to help just in time.

Thanks to Marshall Ulrich, the consummate gentleman, for everything. But don’t forget Heather next year.

Congratulations to Lisa Stranc-Bliss for her incredible 37-hour finish and then the MT Whitney summit. It is amazing that Lisa and others have figured out this Badwater Race on their initial attempt. Heck, I have been experimenting out here for seven-years and still manage to screw it up.

Congratulations to Chris Frost for his fine effort. Each year he has a better finishing time and I know why: he has all my good stuff.  Last year he stole my best super-soaker. This year he not only ripped off one of my new hand held spritzers but he also ate all my premium turkey slices. For awhile I thought that he had hijacked my van with the rest of my secret supplies and even kidnapped my wife. The engagement is off and next year I am bringing a security guard.

Most of all thanks to my wife who has put up with this kind of insanity for 36 years. Everyone appreciates all her hard work, sincerity and compassion, but not as much as I do.

It was a privilege to be a part of the 2004 Kiehl’s Badwater Ultramarathon.

I can’t wait until next year.

I will be back.

67:59:45 — A Long Time to be Outdoors in Death Valley

Crewmember for 11-time finisher Jack Denness

“Death Valley” Jack Denness is something of a legend at the Badwater Ultramarathon. A ten-time finisher before the 2004 race, including a double crossing in the early 1990’s, he entered with high hopes of keeping up with Marshall Ulrich and maintaining his place as joint record finisher at the event.

Crewing for Jack was a no-brainer for me. Certified loonies from the UK may be plentiful, but few of them live just a few miles from the town I called home before I moved to Boulder, Colorado. Jack seemed the kind of character I could work with: his jovial appearance in the documentary ‘Running On The Sun’ kept my spirits up, even as my dream of completing the race myself in 2006 seemed to dissipate with every piece of graphic footage of a foot worn down to a virulent blister.

And let’s face it; we both enjoy a Murphy’s Irish Stout from time to time.

Meeting Jack for the first time in Las Vegas a couple of days before the race, my suspicions were confirmed. He was nuts. He hadn’t trained properly this year—perhaps finishing ten times had made him somewhat blasé about the whole affair, or perhaps the fact that he was just one year from his seventieth birthday was slowing him down at last. Either way, for the first time he wasn’t completely prepared.

But before I continue, let me reassure you that this story has a happy ending. Jack did finish, albeit in a time outside the cut-off. And the Badwater organizers were kind enough to keep the Mt. Whitney finish open for him in recognition of his longtime commitment to the race. He was awarded an Honorable Finisher medal, and great credit should go to the Kostman brothers for their generosity in recognizing this year’s achievement.

Darla, Jen, Keith and I were awake at 4:30am the morning of the race. We spent the moments before the race taking the obligatory photos and video footage of the runners, and then cheered as they set off on their odyssey. Jack trotted along merrily for the first mile, and then began walking. He didn’t run another step for the next 134 miles!

Thanks to a new rule created at least in part for Jack’s benefit, he could now be paced before Furnace Creek. I walked a few miles with him before he obviously revisited his expectations of the race. It was to be a race of attrition, a battle not against time but against the gradual wearing down of his body over nearly three days. I think Jack acknowledged this early, though his crew—and loyal wife, Mags only realized later.

Between Furnace Creek and Panamint Springs, Jack wouldn’t be paced. He had set his heart on finishing almost entirely by himself, although later he would be glad of company. His stride deliberate and determined, he weathered the early morning heat well and reached Furnace Creek in fine fettle.

Our crew had divided into two teams: me and my partner Jen, and Darla (a race crew veteran and team leader) and Keith together. During the entire time we spent on the road we worked as a remarkably efficient and friendly team. Our combined focus on getting our athlete to the finish tied us together even when we were working apart. Our roles became second nature—Jen driving the van and preparing fresh bandanas and headgear for Jack, me enjoying the opportunity to spray someone with a squirt gun and get away with it.

The heat was intense, but we didn’t suffer. We kept well-hydrated, well-covered and took regular air-conditioned breaks in the van. Having read plenty of horror stories about the crew melting while the runner continued on apace, we knew that we owed it to Jack to be prepared. For me, the weather was positively balmy—I’d spent all summer in Colorado running long distances in seven or eight layers of clothes, and my sauna workouts were up to 45 minutes each. I was ready for Death Valley—at least, for the small portions of it that I would walk with Jack.

Our crew shifts generally lasted around eight hours each. We snatched sleep at almost every rest point, so our fatigue, though very real, was not nearly as bad as we expected. As Jen later commented, the race should never be an ordeal for the crew. Without two teams, we would have been in real trouble.

Through Stovepipe and up a seventeen-mile hill, Jack continued steadily. His gait was strong, his steps sure and his demeanor good. Jen and I took turns blasting the James Bond theme to Jack to keep him in the mood for action, and as he walked into the night he was certainly slower than expected, but by no means down and out.

Approaching Panamint Springs, however, things took a turn for the worse. Jack was exhausted, too tired even to catch a few moments of sleep in the runners’ room (and not helped by the noise of a couple of less-than-considerate competitors’ crews). He lay on the bed for a while, refusing even to take off the shoes that would adorn his feet for the entire race. Finally, as evening drew in for the second time, he struggled to his feet and continued.

As we set off again up the hill, we realized that we were hours behind schedule. There was no chance of Jack finishing within 60 hours. In fact, we projected around 72–74 hours at that point. Still unaware that Jack intended to finish the course whatever, we began to seriously consider asking him to pull out of the race. Mags would not hear of it, of course, her experience of Jack being so much greater than ours. Even so, it weighed heavily on our minds.

Another worry was the state of Jack’s feet. We spent some time treating blisters on the hill, and I decided to walk behind him a hundred feet to ensure that cars saw my flashing red rear light before reaching Jack on this narrow, winding stretch. Jack didn’t realize this, and at one point when the van was long out of sight he stopped for a rest against a guardrail. Padding up silently behind him, I asked if he was ok. He sprang a couple of feet into the air, utterly shocked to hear another human voice!

I walked all night with Jack, occasionally running ahead to warn oncoming cars of our presence. It was a dreamy, wafting experience to walk with my head turned up to the dark, moonless sky. Jen and I saw the occasional shooting star, and she even walked a couple of miles behind Jack herself. It was by far our favorite part of the experience.

As dawn broke, the extent of Jack’s troubles became clear. He was leaning heavily to the left, a position we came to call The Leaning Tower of Jack. His steps had slowed to a shuffle, and he was hardly coherent at the regular half-mile stop-offs as we began descending again.

Then something remarkable happened. The dark blue early morning sky began to lighten, and Jen, a quarter mile ahead of us in the van, began playing an Alice Krauss track from the soundtrack to ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ It is, for those who have not yet heard it, an inspiring and uplifting gospel-style tune, complete with full choir as it builds from a single voice to a vast, expansive climax.

As the song progressed, Jack’s steps became surer. His lean became less pronounced. His head lifted, and an overwhelming understanding of his nobility overcame me. This was a remarkable man—a man who had raised thousands for good causes, who had traveled the earth to find challenges worthy of him, who was refusing to give up despite the knowledge that he could not complete the race in the stipulated time. From my vantage point a hundred feet behind him, I could see that whatever else happened on this journey, Jack would finish it with or without us.

Our team-mates appeared shortly afterwards and we only rejoined Jack some way out of Lone Pine. He had made up a couple of hours since we left him, striding along gallantly as he passed the familiar landmarks that told him he was finally nearing the base of Mt. Whitney. By now, he was happy to have company and I walked with him in the heat, spraying him down frequently (it was the only time that the heat really got to him). Dozens of crew and finishers came out to see Jack and wish him well, offering drinks and unloading crates of yogurt for us.

When we finally reached Lone Pine and handed off to the other crew again, we knew that we’d be seeing him at the finish in a few hours. It must have been slow going, but with the support of his team, not to mention Wayne Simpson and his crew too, Jack was nearing the top when we got there at 1:30 a.m. or so.

The finish itself was emotional for all of us. We were so proud of our athlete that we could hardly contain ourselves, desperate to be one of the many people trying to hug him. He drenched himself in Murphy’s and was presented with his finisher’s medal, and graciously thanked his crew for spending so much time out on the road with him.

To say we got more than we bargained for would be an understatement. The experience for me, a future runner, and for Jen, a future crew leader, was invaluable. The sense of camaraderie amongst the runners was wonderful, and the feeling of finishing, albeit a vicariously, was one of the highlights of my year.

My commitment to running Badwater has only become stronger thanks to the experience of crewing. I recommend it to anyone who wants to run the race—indeed, I would advocate making one race as a crew member a mandatory requirement for entry.

If you’re considering crewing, three bits of advice for you. First, take the night shift if possible, or at least part of it. It’s a magical experience to run alone in the night in Death Valley. Second, believe in your runner. Have no doubt that anyone who is accepted to this race has the capacity and the will to finish. Some don’t finish of course, but it’s not through lack of capability or training. It just doesn’t work out for them on the day. And third, bring the soundtrack to ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou’ and watch your runner stand tall and proud as it plays at dawn—it’s a memory you’ll treasure forever.


Tusconians Reed and Gungle Tackle the Badwater Ultramarathon

With three national film crews scrutinizing her every step and overconfident runners virtually nipping at her heels, Pam Reed was under extreme pressure.

Her energy level was simply not at its typical unrelenting heights, and with temperatures lower than last year, Reed finished in fourth place overall at the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon in Death Valley.

“It was a very, very difficult event for me,” said Reed, who was attempting a three-peat at Badwater. She won the event overall the past two years.

“I’m really happy I finished. When you expect to win and then people pass you, just staying in there is hard. All the publicity and all those television stations were there. They were all in my face.”

Reed was the second woman finisher. Her time of 31 hours, 17 minutes and 55 seconds was nearly three hours slower than last year and close to three and half hours slower than 2002

Dean Karnazes, from San Francisco won the event in 27:22:48. He had finished in second place behind Reed in 2003. Monica Scholz from Ontario, Canada, won the women’s side in 29:22:29.

The 27th annual event began in Badwater, Death Valley, the lowest point in United States at 280 feet below sea level and ended halfway up the 14,494-foot high Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous U.S.

Runners braved temperatures reaching 120 degrees, but it was cooler than last year when the mercury soared to 133 degrees at the start line.

As of Tuesday night, another Tucson runner’s quest to finish the race is still alive. Bruce Gungle, who is running for the first time, passed the 90.3-mile marker in 26 hours and 11 minutes. The forty-five year old is the only other local runner to ever compete in Badwater. He has a 60 hours, until 6p.m. Thursday, to finish.

Reed felt the burden of being number one early in the race. Up until the 17-mile point, Reed said she had several runners mimicking what she was doing, running alongside her.

“This one woman in particular wanted to run my race, so she was right behind me stepping on me, literally,” said Reed.

As anticipated, until the second time station at 41.9 miles, the race was wide open with several runners posting top times. By the third time station at 72.3 miles, Reed led the women’s field and was in third place overall, about two hours behind the leader.

But in next 17 miles she gradually lost her edge. At mile marker 90.3, she was five minutes behind the Scholz and in fourth place overall.

“When (Scholz) passed me I went after, and then I was feeling pretty good but then all of a sudden my energy level wasn’t there,” said Reed. “I couldn’t do it.”

Reed’s only intake during the race was Ensure, Red Bull and half a peanut butter sandwich. She never slept and estimates that she ran or jogged over two-thirds of the race.

Having the benefit of training in Tucson, her friends have said that she is more competitive when the temperatures are hotter. Last year Karnazes, who has completed an ultramarathon in Antarctica and four Badwater Ultramarathons, said he couldn’t keep up with Reed in the dire, 128-degree heat.

Throughout the race, three television crews interviewed her and her five-person crew. And the day before they were conducting interviews in her hotel room.

This fall she will be featured on PBS’s Nature program, 60 Minutes and the Discovery Channel.

“It was dumb on my part to let it happen. But on the other hand it was exciting,” said Reed.

At the final time station on mile 122, Reed was in fourth place, 55 minutes behind Scholz.

The exhausting 13-mile climb up Mount Whitney was her toughest ever. It took her over four and a half hours.

“We walked the entire time, extremely slow,” said Reed. “I got completely killed on Mount Whitney. I just didn’t have anything left.”