Category: First-Person Stories

Action Figures

Meet the athletes who push the limits of endurance by participating in epic competitions that begin where marathons end

Originally Published in Midwest Express Airlines Magazine, July 2001
Published here with the permission of the author.

Above left: Errol Jones, and above middle, Lisa Smith and Jay Batchen, during the 2000 Badwater Ultramarathon (Photo by Tony DiZinno). Above right: Jonathan Boyer in the 1985 Race Across America. Photo by Dave Nelson.

The 50-minute video is grainy, a little dark, probably a second- or third-generation dub off a 16-year-old episode of ABC’s Wide World of Sports. But the drama unfolding pulses with such intensity it could’ve been occurring live. Two top-notch, but very different, cyclists are battling for the lead in the 1985 Race Across America, a sleep-deprived, hallucination-inducing, almost unbearable endurance bicycle race spanning 3,120 miles from Huntington Beach, Calif., to Atlantic City, N.J.

At stage left, there’s Jonathan “Jacques” Boyer, a Tour de France cyclist who dismisses his competitors as “not real athletes.” At stage right, there’s long-time endurance cyclist Michael Secrest, without the professional cycling pedigree, but with the long-distance experience and a full repertoire of psychological weapons.

For nine agonizing days, the two play cat-and-mouse, often within just a dozen or two miles of one another, bleary-eyed, tenacious, spinning, spinning, spinning across endless miles of blacktop. The network couldn’t have broadcast a better passion play if it had hired its own scriptwriter and cast. “The race had narrowed to a dark duel,” the narrator announces solemnly, with anxious music from the horror film ‘Halloween’ accompanying the voice-over. “Along the dark shoulder of a rural Arkansas truck route, the race assumed a mood of urgency it had never previously enjoyed. Their senses awakened by the scent of competition, the ultramarathon cyclist and the road racer dug into their pedals.”

• • •

“I still watch that video a couple of times a year,” remarks 34-year-old Chris Kostman. “To see that battle of wills, that clash of titans, unfold on the open highways of America….” his voice trails off. Kostman was already an accomplished distance cyclist himself at the time of the 1985 Race Across America, and was, in fact, trailing the racers in one of the race’s official vehicles. He was just out of high school, on his first road trip without his parents, surrounded by the heroes of a culture that spoke to him. “I think about that race almost every day,” he notes. “It was just an incredibly formative experience for me.”

Today Kostman runs AdventureCORPS, his L.A.-based firm that organizes some of the most excruciating endurance races out there: Runners competing in the Badwater Ultramarathon run 135 miles across Death Valley in July. Cyclists in the Furnace Creek 508 enlist in what is dubbed “the world’s toughest single-stage open bicycle race,” a non-stop, 508-mile torture test that traverses the Mojave Desert and Death Valley, climbing more than 35,000 feet along the way.

The success of AdventureCORPS reflects a growing interest in extreme athletic competitions, races that raise the physical bar to what many would consider almost impossible levels. By foot, by bicycle, by kayak, by dogsled, by snowshoe, by ski, by pretty much any manner you can dream up, more and more people are out to tax their personal limits, to push their bodies–and perhaps even more so, their minds–to extremes.

The obvious question, of course, and the one the athletes hear time and time again, is: Why? Why would people put themselves through such a test?

Some of the post-race diary entries alone read like case studies in masochism. “I began having mild asthma symptoms at 50 miles, became exhausted and despondent at 55 miles and dropped out at 57.5… In retrospect, I should probably have continued in the hope of reviving,” wrote one participant in the Hardrock 100, widely considered the nation’s toughest hundred-miler, a run that staggers uphill for more than 33,000 feet as it winds through the thin alpine air of Colorado’s San Juan mountains. Cyclists in the Furnace Creek 508 write about hallucinations brought on by sleep deprivation and fatigue–sagebrush morphing into people, buildings appearing on the horizon. Paddlers in the Yukon River Quest–a 460-mile, 50-hour-plus canoe race–crumble to the ground with bloody hands, torqued backs and atrophied “canoe legs.”

“I have been naked and sobbing by the side of a road,” acknowledges Bob Boeder, whose impressive running resume includes the ?grand slam of trail ultrarunning,? completing four of the most prestigious 100-mile races (including the Hardrock 100) in a single summer. ?And I have felt the most glorious sense of well-being and happiness you can imagine. A runner will go through as many emotions in a 30-hour trail race as most people do in an entire year.

“Contrary to the popular perception, we’re not a bunch of weirdo crazies,” Boeder adds. “We’re ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Maybe it’s an addiction, but it’s a positive addiction. There’s a sense of euphoria that’s like….well, like nothing else.”

• • •

Humans have demonstrated remarkable feats of endurance for centuries. The modern marathon has its roots in ancient Greece: According to somewhat fuzzy historic accounts, in 490 B.C. a messenger ran more than 25 miles from Marathon to Athens carrying word of the Greeks’ victorious battle over the Persians. To symbolize that legendary run, the marathon foot race was established at the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. A dozen years later at the 1908 London Olympics, today’s official marathon distance (26 miles and 385 yards) was established so the course could begin at Windsor Castle and end in front of the Royal Box.

The marathon pretty much stood alone as the human endurance test until the 1970s. Then came the Human Potential Movement, the Me Generation, and suddenly it seemed like everyone was running and cycling progressively longer distances. “I think it was all related to that sense of powerless that came out the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement,” suggests Kostman. “There was this focus on the individual, on people doing things for and by themselves.”

Marathons soon sprouted up in cities around the U.S. Hawaii’s famed Ironman Triathlon began in 1978. Ultra-marathons, or ?ultras?(by definition, anything longer than a traditional marathon distance, but often 50 kilometers or 50 miles long) soon followed. In the early 1980s came ultra-marathon cycling. “It was all very simple and straightforward,” Kostman says of ultra-marathon cycling’s roots. “People would pick two spots on a map, ride it, set a time, and others would try to break it. That’s how the sport got started.”

Kostman jumped in the game early. At age 14, he was already riding centuries (100 miles). By age 16, he decided he wanted to set a record cycling the 470 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles. He completed his quest in 31 hours and 13 minutes–and the next week, someone eclipsed it. The following year, Kostman broke that record. And so on.

For Kostman, it all began with an inherent love for cycling. “I wasn’t driving yet, and cycling opened up my world,” he explains. “I could roll out my driveway and go the beach or the mountains or San Diego. The first day I got my bike, I rode to Mt. Baldy. I had lived within sight of this 10,000-foot mountain my whole life, and had never been on it. Cycling put me in touch with the landscape, with geography. The point wasn’t necessarily to go far–it was to go somewhere.”

That concept remains key in the events Kostman hosts today. There are endurance races, he notes, that take place entirely on one-mile tracks and in swimming pools. “But who cares?” he argues. “You’re not going to learn anything running 262 miles in a circle. It needs to be a celebration of adventure and travel. That’s why I put on these events–to provide a dramatic forum for life-changing experiences.”

For most athletes, the endurance element factors heavily into that equation. “There’s a singularity of purpose–to compete at these levels, you need to drop everything else you deal with on a day-to-day basis,? explains Kostman, who has completed everything from snowshoe and bike races across Alaska to the Race Across America. ?For most people, their brain is so removed from their body. But these kinds of races create this incredible awareness. You need to focus on your pacing, hydration, nutrition, range of motion…you get to know yourself on physiological, psychological, and emotional levels.”

Indeed, most endurance athletes seem to share this keenness for tracking and analyzing and documenting their efforts. Post-race diaries are ubiquitous, many posted on the Internet, detailing everything from what they ate to where they changed their socks. “There’s definitely an obsessive-compulsive quality to it,” agrees Boeder, who took the race-diary concept a step further, publishing two books rich with description: Beyond the Marathon: The Grand Slam of Trail Ultrarunning and Hardrock Fever: Running 100 miles in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. “Lots of runners are engineers or computer people. You need to be very organized for these races. There’s a lot of planning and logistics–arranging travel, planning your food, organizing a crew.”

For some competitors, the intense focus stems from something even deeper. Boeder openly discusses what fuels his compulsion to run. “I was a heavy drinker and drug abuser in my twenties and thirties,” he reveals. “In my forties, I cleaned up and found running to be good therapy. It just sang to me right from the get go.”

He began by running a mile or two, then entering short races, then his first marathon in 1983. “I liked the people, and I liked the challenge,” he explains. “And there’s nothing like the feeling when every endorphin and every hormone in your body kicks in. It’s a natural high, a celebration of life. Everybody who does this says their biggest fear is not being able to run.”

At age 58, Boeder runs every single day, tallying 65 miles a week, and ramping that up to 85 miles a week if a race is coming up. He runs a marathon virtually every month. Does he ever not look forward to it, ever not want to run? “Not really,” he says simply. “I don’t feel right if I don’t run. That’s the obsessive part, I guess. But it’s positive. If you have that kind of personality, it’s best to channel it this way, rather than into narcotics or overeating or what have you.”

Competition clearly exists, with plenty of gamesmanship going on in the front ranks. “Of course there’s competition,” responds Kostman, who scoffs at the idea that people enter “just to finish.” “No one goes to Hawaii to run, swim and bike (ala the Ironman) by themselves. People want some degree of measuring against others.”

But there also is a clear camaraderie and mutual respect among endurance athletes. Just as mountain bikers meet up at Moab or surfers gather at certain wave breaks, theirs is a supremely fit subculture that continually regroups at races throughout the country. They bond over their ordeals, their accomplishments, their elite level of fitness.

While outsiders may dismiss them as “crazies,” endurance athletes in turn see a couch-potato society that “is just so damn easy,” declares Kostman, a sentiment echoed by athlete after athlete. “Most of America is turning into fat slobs. They use the drive-through, the remote control…Some of us are just looking for a challenge, a way to hark back to the days when we used our bodies to survive, when we scavenged for food.”

Kostman even takes a jab at latest twist on endurance events, multisport, team racing competitions like the Eco-Challenge. “We are a culture of jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none,” he suggests. “We only want to dabble. Those races offer a false sense of security. Most of those folks couldn’t cut it in a Badwater.”

• • •

Jonathan Boyer, the renegade road racer who plowed his way into the endurance-athlete world in the Race Across America, seemed to understand all this from the start. After nine days on a bicycle, hollow and haggard from sleep deprivation and pure exhaustion, he wheeled onto the Atlantic City boardwalk a mere four hours ahead of Michael Secrest.

“If you have enough willpower and you want something badly enough,? he had said, somewhere along a lonely strip of Tennessee pavement, “you can get your body to do anything. Anything.”


TINA LASSEN is a nationally published freelance writer. Her travel features and personality profiles have appeared in National Geographic Adventure, Northwest Airlines World Traveler, Outside, Country Living, Better Homes and Gardens, the Chicago Tribune Sunday travel section, Bicycling, and several other magazines. She is the author of National Geographic’s Guide to America’s Outdoors: The Great Lakes, and the Michigan Handbook, published by Moon Publications of Emeryville, California.

Tina also owns Pen & Inc Business Communications, Ltd., a writing studio she founded in 1988. Tina writes image brochures, annual reports, catalogs, employee magazines, video scripts and other business communications for a variety of corporations and advertising agencies. Her clients include The Gillette Co., Strong Funds, Honeywell Corp., The Kohler Co., Fiskars and Promega Corp. She has won numerous awards from the International Association of Business Communicators.

In her free time, Tina enjoys alpine skiing, windsurfing, hiking and paddling. She lives in Hood River, Oregon.

Badwater 2000 Race Report from my Perspective

2000 Official Finsher

Badwater was everything I expected and then some, very challenging but doable. Quitting never entered my mind, spending a week finishing did. The temp at the start line was 99 degrees and progressively went up to 128 by mile 33 near Scotty’s Castle turnoff at 2:15 pm. The first problem was a hot spot on the ball of my left foot. I stopped for 12 minutes and placed a gel pad under the hot spot. This did not work so stopped 1 mile latter and taped the hot spot with some 2″ Elasticon. This was about the last problem I had with my feet. I did end up putting the gel pad back under the taped spot, as the ball of my foot had become very sore. By mile 38 my stomach had turned sour and I slowed my pace from 14 to 18 minute miles. The stomach settled down and I was able to make it in to Stove Pipe Wells for a one hour twenty five minute break. I returned to the course just before 7pm and the temp had dropped down to 116. For the next 12 miles I walked and ran with Johann Pratscher , and then spent some time run…ok walking with Rick Nawrocki. Rick has been an inspiration as he has battled cancer off and on for the past few years but never gave up. For me this was a major highlight of the race. Night came quickly and the temp dropped to 81 degrees at the top of 4900′ Towne’s Pass, 58 miles. By now it was 12am and time for another long break. Started running again at 1:30am, each time I started after a break it was a real struggle to run/walk. Now is the time I wanted to get some fast miles in, I know 12 min miles doesn’t sound like much but that is what I had wanted to do through this section. 18 to 20 min miles is all I could muster.

By mile 63 I had diarrhea, not a good sign. I struggled with this for the next 4 hours I made it 67 miles in the first 27 hours, I knew there was no way I could buckle having only made it about half way. Oops, coming in to Panamint Springs I lost the diarrhea battle and had to walk close to a mile feeling very uncomfortable. Changed my shorts at Panamint and used some Desenex for the diaper rash that had developed between the cheeks. Damn that stuff stings…I see why babies cry when you use it on them. The manufactures of that crap should have to try their own product. Feeling somewhat refreshed I headed up toward Father Crowley, after climbing a couple thousand feet the fresh feeling left. It was again a struggle all the way to the 5000′ elevation sign at mile 87. The smoke from local fires was starting to cover the valley. You could see ash drift down to the valley floor. The sun had become obscured and was a beautiful red ball. After checkpoint #4 at 90 mile I felt much better, a friend and first and only pacer joined me. I had no idea he was going to run with me as his job was to escort me to the top of Whitney on Sunday. It felt great to get out of my own head and talk to somebody. We walked for 10 miles and I got my second wind and started running. I did some quick math and realized I could buckle if I kept it up.

My pacer decided to save his energy for Whitney as he was coming off an injury and had not been running much. I forged on and made it to Lone Pine at 11:36pm. Still full of energy I headed up Portal road for the final 13 miles. Within a few miles I was face first in the gravel on the side of the road. The wheels had come off. This is what I call a Marlin Perkins moment. I felt as of I had been shot with an animal tranquilizer and could not move. People where talking to me but I was unresponsive. I could hear and see them but was immobile. It only lasted about 10 minutes, and I was able to continue on at a blistering 36 minute pace. This was the worst part of the race, looking back I believe I was so excited about being able to finish well under the 48-hour mark I stopped doing the things needed to take care of myself. I had been refusing food and drinking very little.

About 2 miles from the top I got my legs back and renewed energy. I started running and did not stop until the finish. A day of rest and then on to the top of Mt. Whitney. We started up the trail at 4:00am Sunday morning. The air was filled with smoke from local forest fires. The trip up was uneventful. I only saw 1 runner, Scott Weber and crew. We spoke for a few minutes and tossed some arrows back and forth for a few switchbacks and that was the last I saw of them until my return. I pushed very hard and made it to the top in 5 hours and 22 minutes. I have no idea if that is a good time or not all I know is that was all I had left When I reached the top I broke in to tears…it was very emotional as I had trained so many hours to accomplish this goal. Stuck around the top long enough to see Adam Bookspan , Michael Styllas and Chris Moon arrive at the top. I also saw Rick Nawrocki, Barbra Elia and Scott Weber on my way back down.The return trip was pure hell. I did not enjoy the scenery after the first 5 miles. It was just one foot in front of the other with no thought other than forward movement.

I would like to thank my Crew Vivian McQueeney, Shannon McQueeney, Pat Smith and Dan Anderson for helping me through all the rough times. Without your help this would not have been possible. Also to Scott Weber my coach, thanks for the leasons and encouragement over the past year, I have learned so much from you.

Story From the Back

“Fainting is Normal”

We were almost on schedule for my 48 hour goal when blisters began to be a real problem just over Towne Pass. Looking back, I would pre-tape and listen to my crew chief, Kawika Spaulding, and bring 4 pair of shoes in ever-increasing sizes. I cut the sides out of my New Balance 9 * EEEE’s to make room on the left side. This foot is worse as I once developed DVT (deep vein thrombosis) while in a cast for an Achilles’s rupture. The circulation is still not good. My right shoe was a Rockport walking shoe size 11 borrowed from Cousin Bob. It no longer fit. I walked into our Keeler stop carrying my shoes. Norman Allan, a massage therapist and crew member offered me some size 14 walking shoes which I could get on with two socks on the right foot. Some of you may have seen Norman barefoot on the course in temps up to 120. I needed him to patch the blisters first. As I sat soaking my feet in Betadyne, I had a sudden sickness in my stomach. Next thing I knew I was off in a strange dream. Norman brought me back to consciousness but I still wasn’t sure where I was. I eventually declared it unsafe to continue and asked my crew to drop me from the race and take me to the hotel in Lone Pine. I was afraid to shower lest I faint again so I just went to bed. Having only 2 hours sleep in 48 made it easy to drop off. But in just two hours my room was invaded by all 4 crew with Bill Kinney and

Bill Hole, Cousin Bob, Denise Jones and Matt Spaulding on the phone from Mammoth. Denise declared she was there to tape me up and get me going as I still had time to make the cutoff. I was sure they had not told her about passing out and that she would let me off the hook with that news. “That’s normal,” she said. “It happens all the time out here.” She went on with the taping. I just lay in bed not believing I was going to be sent back. I hadn’t fainted due to dehydration as my hydration was good and I wasn’t cramping. My BP tanked probably due to lack of sleep and maybe food, and because I sat down after being on my feet for so long. The two

Bill’s drove me back to Keeler and threw me out of the van next to my stake. I made Portal Road with 5 hours to go. I was pleased to see Ben and Denise as well. Denise seemed happy her work paid off. Sakurai, the great Japanese athlete and 3rd place finisher was kind enough to cross the street to encourage me. We had spoken at registration and he tolerated my primitive Japanese. It was good to know the elite runners want to see us all get in. By 4.4 miles to go on the map I was sure to miss the 60 hour cutoff by about 15 minutes. I was not feeling good about this and barely kept going. Kawika was not around as his brother, Matt, was pacing me. He showed up at what should have been the 2 miles to go mark and said he had measured with the van and it was really 1.05 miles. That I could do. I picked up my walking pace and all the crew eventually fell in behind me. Ray Bell came down to tell me he thought I could make the cut. I slipped in 6 minutes under the cutoff. Thank goodness for crew and friends who don’t give up on you even when you give up on yourself.

Badwater and Back

 April 1997 Marathon Des Sables, Sahara Desert Morocco: Where it all started:

I am standing in the sand dunes with two runners looking at the star laden sky. Nick the Greek is a six foot four accountant from London and the other a small wiry American who’s run most of the world’s ultras. Bill Menard was designed by God to run long distances. His slight frame is supported by powerful legs and when he runs they swing like pendulums pursuing perpetual motion. I am honoured a great runner like Bill is talking to me, after all I’m one of the fat wheezy boys at the back and it can’t have escaped his notice that I’m definitely deficient in the limb department.

There’s been a lot of discussion among the runners about which race really is the toughest footrace on earth. I decide to ask Bill. He replies ‘the organisers and media are saying this one, but no chance! There’s a race in Death Valley, California, which is about the same distance. The difference is that in the Sahara you do it over a week, in Death Valley you do it continuously and there’s a sixty-hour cut off. Most of it’s uphill, the downs are so steep and long they kill your quads and it’s all on hot, hard roads. People say the sand’s tough here, but it’s gentle on your joints and you can tape your feet to avoid blisters. About half those who start Badwater don’t finish and it’s thirty or forty degrees hotter than here. In a few years time when you’re a bit faster you should try it.’

I recall the Sahara daytime temperatures of ninety plus and wonder if he’s yanking my chain about it being thirty or forty degrees hotter.

Death Valley July 2000

Viva Las Vegas. After the long flight, I carefully stow my running kit and cool boxes in the small hire car. I check it off in my mind. Trail shoes and mountain kit, four pairs of trainers (all at least one size too big to allow for heat expansion), spare leg, sun screen, lycra shorts and coolmax shirts, sun protection top and trousers, sun hat, shades, shemag, sand goggles, torches, batteries, reflective night vest, false leg tool kit, shed loads of High 5 isotonic and energy powder plus boxes of High 5 wild berry and banana bars and the chocolate caramel protein bars that are so good I want to start scoffing them now.

Driving into Death Valley from the tiny town of Beatty, Nevada, is a gentle downhill, which would be an easy run to Badwater, the lowest point of the USA, but we’re not here for that, we’re here for Badwater. Any other run through Death Valley on any other route at any other time of the year is a soft option. The temperature in Death Valley peaks in July. The rocks act like huge heaters absorbing the sun’s energy and rising to temperatures of 93 degrees centigrade. The air temperature is 130 degrees Fahrenheit, not far off the temperature Delia Smith recommends you slow cook chicken; in fact I think it would probably be cooler in a slow cooker.

The outline of the sand dunes on my right tells me I’ll soon be at Stovepipe Wells Village hotel, a small sprawling pre-fabricated complex reminiscent of a tiny mining town. I drive to the reception at the Visitor’s Center at Furnace Creek. As I open the car door the heat hits me like a hammer. A steady wind blows and the dry hot air begins to suck all the moisture from my body. If you want to know what it’s like to be here, put your hairdryer on maximum heat, full blast and stick it in your face.

At the pre-race meeting I meet old friends. It’s great to see three lads from the RAF I met in the Sahara. There are some awesome runners here. Most of the people who’ve won this race have also not completed it on several occasions. The heat, hills, distance and hard road show no mercy.

Lisa Smith, an excellent ultra runner, and her partner Jay Batchen kindly give me a few tips on kit and technique. Their medical kits are impressive. They have two huge containers full of every imaginable drug and dressing. I have some zinc oxide, a bit of sheep’s wool, four stopping up tablets and an Elastoplast.

The elite runners start at six am on Thursday 27 July 2000. I’m on the eight am start. On the way we pass the Russians running like fury. They’re way out front. Surely they can’t maintain that speed? They’ve made the classic Badwater mistake of starting too fast. The rule is simple: start too fast, fall over later. Many experienced runners say the race starts at the forty-two mile point (Stovepipe Wells Village).

I watch Anatoli Kruglikov (Russian male), Dusan Mravlje (Slovenian male) and Irina Reutovich (Russian female). They run with the grace of gazelles. The look of determination on their faces and their running style tells me the normal rules do not apply to them; everyone suspects that they’ll break the records.

Badwater is a team event, because every runner has to have a crew handing out drinks, food, blister treatment and water. The race rules stipulate the crew vehicle must leap frog ahead and monitor their runners at all times. This is probably why nobody has ever died doing Badwater, but there are deaths in the area. On the last day of the race a woman’s body had been found one hundred yards from her car on a remote road seventy miles away. She’d broken down and didn’t have an emergency water supply she died from dehydration. The Park Wardens frequently treat air-conditioned tourists used to airport, hotel and hire car for heat exhaustion when they leave their cars for a few minutes and fall over in the heat.

I start slowly. It’s tempting to rush off and race while you’re fresh, but your writing cheques that later on your body can’t pay. My drinking plan is simple: 500mls of High 5 isotonic every half-hour. It varies between individuals, but the stomach can only continually absorb between 600 and 1200 ml an hour. Over a long period the danger is that if you put too much fluid in the stomach it will close down. When my stomach feels dodgy I take half strength High 5.

After two hours the sun scorches and the heat cuts into you like a razor. I stumble on in a dream. I’ve never been anywhere this hot. Forget the hairdryer, stick your head in an electric-fan pizza-oven on max and you’ll begin to understand.

For a while I trundle along with my friend Jack Denness. Jack’s the sort of bloke who makes you proud to be British. Every year he and his wife, Mags, take their holiday at Badwater. He’s sixty-seven, runs for charity and always finishes. Jack’s crewed by his wife, his local postman and ex-commando, Frank McDonagh, and a local American friend.

The first nineteen miles fly by. Suddenly a park warden’s station wagon zooms past with flashing lights and screaming siren. A few minutes later an ambulance roars by and my ears sing in the wake of its siren. Looks like the heat has claimed its first victim. As I approach the crew vehicle I ask what temperature it is. They reply it must be over 125 Fahrenheit or 50 degrees C, because the digital thermometer has maxed out and won’t give a reading.

I keep sipping High 5 isotonic and speed up my drinking and my pace. I stagger into the forty-two mile point at Stovepipe Wells hotel at sunset and feel much better for a dump. On the way in, I speak to one of my friends from the RAF. He’s decided, or it’s been decided for him, that he can’t continue because his heart rate is racing too high. Before he leaves the course, he waits for me to come through so he can give my crew his ice, which is in short supply. As my head spins and I struggle to stand straight I admit I’m suffering and that, if I’m going to finish, I have to slow down. I started too fast.

The Mayor of Badwater, Ben Jones, who is surprised to see me so soon, confirms this. Ben and his wife Denise are universally loved and admired by all those involved in Badwater. Their training clinics, coordination, encouragement and help to runners have helped many to achieve something they believed impossible. It’s hard to find words that speak highly enough of Ben and Denise.

My crew consists of two Japanese friends and one from England. Hiroki is an expert in massage and pummels my aching back sending me to sleep for thirty minutes. I wake with a start and see the crew doing something in the vehicle. I shout to them, but they’re too far away to hear. I must get going. I look for my leg, but can’t see it. They must have it. The only thing I can do is drift back to sleep and wait for them to bring it back.

I wake with a start. I should be moving. Somebody passes my leg and I grunt as I force the blistered and bruised stump into the socket. I start down the long road again aware that I’ll be going uphill all night. I bimble on at a leisurely pace. My target time for finishing is fifty-seven hours. When I get there, it’s going to get tough. I intend to climb the mountain trail, come back down and then fast limp back along the 135-mile race route to Badwater. That’s all I keep in my mind, the dream of finishing back at Badwater.

When it hurts and I can’t take another step, I dream of being on a British Airways plane, going home to see my wife and son. It’s cool and, as I lean back in my seat to sleep, the airhostess in the BA dress says ‘would you like anything sir?’ I reply, ‘yes please some more ice cold orange juice.’

I keep telling myself, ‘every step takes me nearer to the plane. The great thing is to keep on keeping on. Failure is not an option.’

As dawn breaks I begin to fear the emergence of the sun. I’m descending Townes Pass and I want to cross the valley floor before it’s too hot. I pick up the pace.

During the relentless day, I realize my crew has not been able to stick to the twelve hours on, twelve off routine I’d suggested. Now they’re likely to be too tired to do the grueling return trip. There’s a mix up and I have to go nearly a mile without a drink. It’s dangerous; out here you can dehydrate in half a mile. I pace it carefully and rest when I reach the vehicle. If I continue, I’ll never replace the fluid debt. I plan to doze for fifteen minutes in the front seat. After a few minutes, the clicking of a camera shutter wakes me. Now I can’t get back to sleep and to make matters worse the box of High 5 protein bars are nowhere to be seen.

I heard about the tragic Concorde crash in Paris and my thoughts and prayers are with the dead and their relatives. The shocking thing about this race is that the harsh, hot reality consumes you. The exhaustion, no drink and the missing High 5 bars make you feel the same way as the Concorde crash except that the reality is more immediate. I crave the caramel taste of the protein bar; it’s the only thing I feel like eating. I say nothing, smile and try to hide my bottom lip, which is the size of a rolled up sleeping bag.

I know I’m on the edge of collapse. I’ll take it steady so I don’t go over. Keep looking at the watch. It never lies. Remember that. The first thing to go is your sense of time, out here minute’s feel like hours. As I leave, I check to see if I’m going in the right direction. There are plenty of runners in this race who’ve gone the wrong way until someone corrects them.

Ben and Denise Jones drive by and stop to see how I’m doing and give encouragement. I ask Ben what time he thinks I’ll finish at the Portals. He looks at me, glances at his watch and says, ‘four thirty PM Saturday or just before five if you talk to people on the way up to the Portals.’

That’s good. I’m spot on target.

Most people underestimate just how tiring and difficult it is to crew this event. Bob Hallmark from High 5 and two American Seabees whose runner, Maria De Jesus, went down with food poisoning save me. They take over crewing to give my guys a rest. As I get into the back of their vehicle for Bob to do my blisters, one of the Seabees asks me if I’d like chicken pasta. I think he’s joking and say yes. Less than two minutes later it appears. I can’t believe it. These guys are good and Maria, although she’s still sick, paces me. She’s in the category of a thoroughbred runner and, in many respects out here, the faster you are the more likely you are to fall over, because the tolerances are so fine. If you have any illness or injury Badwater will find it.

During the night I meet up with desert and mountain man Scott Weber, the first man to do the out-and-back double (=quad) 600 miles. Now he’s a full-time ultra running and desert trekking coach. His people always finish Badwater. Scott gives me some good advice. ‘If you want to do the out and back, go for ninety minutes and rest fifteen. You’ll cover more ground that way.’

He’s right and I sleep for the fifteen minutes. I keep a steady pace and feel better. The night and scenery roll by me as if I’m on a slow conveyor belt and I approach Lone Pine. After the desert, it’s strange to be in a town. They used to make Westerns here. Pictures of John Wayne, Roy Rogers and Audie Murphy hang in the hotel. They came here because desert, mountain and range could be filmed in the same place.

Lone Pine whizzes past and, as I begin the endless climb to the Portals, a wave of fatigue smothers me. I keep falling asleep on my feet and my pace slows to a wobbling stagger. I try everything to stay awake. One of the Seabees marches with me and teaches me to count from one to four in Philippino. For an hour we shout the sleep away and when people ask what the war chant means, we laugh.

Half way up the hill a people carrier stops. Three lean athletes jump out and smile and wave. There are the legends. Anatoli Kruglikov finished in 25:09:05 breaking the men’s record by 2 hours 40 minutes. Dusan Mravlje of Slovenia was just twelve minutes behind him. Irina Reutovitch smashed the women’s record by seven hours finishing in 29:48:27. I accuse them of being robots or aliens because it’s hard to believe any human could do Badwater as fast as they have.

We do a few photos and I get a big lump in my throat when they tell me that if they hadn’t seen me do it they wouldn’t have believed somebody disabled could cover the distance. They leave me feeling on cloud nine as I trog on to the finish. I cross the line a few minutes before five as Ben predicted. I’m on target and I feel fresh; this is good because the tough bit hasn’t even started yet.

US Marine Corps Major Curt Maples finishes an hour ahead of me and on his way back down stops to offer encouragement, despite the fact that he’s been passing blood in his urine. He’s responsible for bringing the Marines and Seabees who have quietly helped so many people to finish Badwater.

Chris Kostman (adventureCORPS), the race director, and his team make crossing the line special for every finisher. He stands on the line for more than twenty-four hours to present the large ‘Badwater Finisher’ medal. Getting one is like flying.

I rush back to the hotel to get a few hours sleep before climbing the mountain. I haven’t taken my leg off because I know the stump is in tatters and I might not get the leg on again. I ease it off to see the whole of the base is one big blister and the back is the same. There’s nothing I can do. Dressings never stick to the stump and they increase pressure to an already sore area. I try to get a few hours sleep.

We begin the mountain ascent at one AM. I’m fortunate because I’ve been able join Adam Bookspan’s team. He’s awesomely fast and is doing the out-and-back the other way round (= the reverse double); starting and returning to the highest point of the contiguous United States. Former US Ranger and mountain guide, David Sowers, leads the mountain trek. He’s good. The whole trip is done at a perfect pace.

As daylight emerges the beauty of the mountain and the purple and blue alpine plants is stunning. A smoky haze from the distant forest fires hangs round the top of the mountain. At one point the trail is lost in a rock-fall, so we scramble. The summit and view are breathtaking.

On the route down, Dave takes me ahead so I can begin my return trip. One of my crew decided to do the mountain, which is great. But, because the others have had to sort out filming, there’s now nobody fresh to drive all night. For safety reasons I look for a new crew. Still not to worry, I’ll sort something out.

Immediately to my rescue is Jack Denness, who with Frank McDonagh, offers to crew me all night. Another friend, Kawika (Spaulding), and Norman and Bill will take over when they’ve trekked the mountain. I start at the Portals in high spirits and steadily yomp through the night with ex-commando Frank pacing me. We go ninety minutes and rest fifteen. I never really get an explanation as to why all my mates who are commandos get their kick after a few beers.

Now day merges into night and the journey becomes one huge cycle of citrus High 5, moving and catching a few minutes rest. Time loses all meaning and it feels like I’m swimming in hot molasses.

I reach the halfway mark of the return trip just after Panamint Springs. I’ve completed three-quarters of the overall trip. Now it’s only sixty-seven and a half miles to go. That’s less than three marathons. Just one slight problem: I’m completely knackered.

Suddenly a people-carrier draws up. Three longhaired, bearded gentlemen introduce themselves. Bill the driver and drinks man, Norman the yoga expert and cook (wearing a loincloth and no shoes) and Kawika the runner and desert man. They have a reputation for being one of the best crews around. Sadly, Frank MacMillan, their runner couldn’t do the out-and-back because of crippling blisters, but he sent his crew to help me out. I look to the heavens and thank the big man upstairs. These must be the three wise men. Not only do I now have the best crew in Death Valley, I also have the crew with the coolest beards in the land.

Kawika thinks the wet shemag I’m wearing is working well, but also makes me put a white cotton shirt on and soaks it. He brings my body temperature down so much I feel cold for the first time since I was at the top of Mount Whitney. When I take a break for fifteen minutes, they go off to admire the beautiful red barrel cactus that take hundreds of years to grow. These are real desert men.

At the top of Townes Pass, the wind drives the heat of Death Valley into my face. A car is parked off the road with the doors and windows open. It must be the break down; Kawika mentioned them at the last stop. He’s already reported it and got them sorted out. I check that they’ve got enough water and advise them not to leave the vehicle and jog on. As I go, they nod and stare at me open mouthed. A while later, the California Highway Patrol passes me with them in the back.

As darkness approaches, we stop at a park warden’s picnic site so Norman can cook. We’ve decided I’ll go faster if I eat a good meal and sleep for a few hours. The food is fabulous. I have to take my false leg off because it hurts too much to sleep with it on. I slumber in heavy uncomfortable snatches feeling guilty about not moving.

After two hours I slowly raise my carcass and try to force the stump into the false leg, but it’s swollen so much I can’t. I get it in as far as I can and limp towards Stovepipe Wells Village. The pain shocks with every step. It’s not properly in the socket so the pressure is on one point. It gets worse. My speed has been reduced eighty per cent.

The vehicle catches up and Norman stops me. For thirty minutes he heavily massages the stump to reduce the swelling enough so I can get my leg back on. Fortunately the big blisters have popped, but it’s still a bit sore.

Eventually I force the stump back into the socket and head off vowing to never stop for more than fifteen minutes ‘till I finish. Just as the sun starts to get hot there is a miracle. Grey clouds cover the sky. The wind gets up and for ten minutes huge raindrops fall from heaven like a gift from God.

The sky is overcast for an hour before the temperature gets close to 130. Time for me now consists of a series of eternal footsteps. The routine is broken when several British tourists stop and walk with me for a while. They’ve spotted the Union flag on our vehicle which Jack (Denness) gave me.

The harder I try the slower the miles seem to pass. At sunset I reach the final turnoff marking just seventeen miles to go. As I fast limp forward fighting sleep and fatigue, it’s hard to believe just a few days ago I easily covered this distance in a few hours with little effort. I drag myself on.

It builds up gradually and then a hellish hot blowlamp gale blows straight into my face. This wind is roaring hot and angry like the devils breathe straight from hell. The continual blast of wind in my ears is so loud I can’t hear what the person next to me says. It sucks moisture like blotting paper. I feel like a matchstick in a whirlpool.

I force myself on feeling hollow and brittle. I look at the stars and then the rocks by the side of the road. The lack of sleep is catching up with me. I’m starting to hallucinate. Rocks look like power tools and the other shapes look like trees in the B & Q garden department. Then I start to see shopping trolleys. The lack of sleep is obviously sending me off my trolley. I stagger on blinking and telling myself to ‘get a grip’.

I’m running on empty. After each mile, I rest for five minutes. I get stuck at the eight-mile point for an eternity and do mile-eight many times over. It’s like being on a huge treadmill. I stop and have two High 5 banana bars and feel human again.

Eventually, it’s just three miles to go and the glow of a small light marking the public toilets at Badwater appears on the horizon. I stumble on with renewed vigor. Can I really be nearly here?

I keep telling myself, ‘I’m nearly there.’ Turning the corner, I’m blinded by the vehicle lights and Teddy’s video camera light. The three wise men put a marker in the road with a bottle of champagne that Teddy somehow miraculously procured.

I pick up the bottle and run to the Badwater sign. I thank the crew and everyone who helped me. I’ve got so used to the taste of High 5 I can’t drink the champagne, so I re-hydrate. We sit at a picnic table and look at the stars. I think, ‘It wouldn’t surprise me if they could see our smiles in outer space’ and then fall asleep.

B & Q sponsored me to do this run to highlight disability issues and support organizations assisting the disabled and disadvantaged, among them the Princes’ Trust and Motivation (a charity helping provide wheelchairs in places where there are none). We also want to support the principles of full access to all public and retail facilities for those with disabilities and the goal of a totally inclusive society where we focus on what people can do rather than what they can’t

What Did the Journey Teach Me?

I learned the importance of having a dream and never, never giving up. The desert teaches us respect and humility. Nobody except a fool would say they conquered Badwater; but Badwater, Mount Whitney and the long desert road have helped me conquer something in myself. There is a saying ‘God made the desert so that man might find his soul.’

My passionate belief in the dignity of the individual was reinforced and I believe that if we have a reason to do something that is more important than we are, then the human spirit can tolerate anything. Above all Badwater finds your weaknesses and teaches honesty and humility and that we can all go one step beyond our limits.

I believe our prayers can be answered and that the truth about human relationships is that they should be about interdependence. Thank you to everyone who so generously crewed and assisted, particularly B & Q the sponsor. They all made the journey possible.

Here is the charity Chris ran for.

This is My Story

2000 Badwater Ultramarathon official finisher

My adventure with the Sun Precautions 2000 Badwater Ultramarathon commenced about two years ago. A friend, “H.E.” West, who I thought was my friend, suggested I try running Badwater, since I had just run Angeles Crest for the second time. I immediately notified him he was absolutely nuts. Only certified loony people would try something so crazy.

Well, after two years of the idea sinking in and after reading the book, “The Death Valley 300,” by Richard Benyo. It had been loaned to me by Mike Devlin, another so-called friend. After reading it, I was convinced I had to try it. Then, I read somewhere that the race is not complete without a Mt. Whitney summit. This completes the lowest to highest trek. Being of the ultrarunner mentality, that was enough to convince me that I had to run Badwater. Now, the real trick was to convince my wife that I could safely run in 125-degree weather without turning into a prune.

Since I had never crewed in Badwater and had no experience on the extreme conditions in Death Valley, I needed information on how to train and acclimate to the Death Valley environment. My friend H.E., who several years ago crewed for the legendary Marshall Ulrich in Badwater, suggested I contact Marshall for advice. By phone Marshall provided me with invaluable information which I practiced religiously.

The first thing I did was to see if I knew enough people who would be at least half-crazy and convince them to come out and support me as part of my Death Valley crew. H.E. was my first candidate. He had no choice as this whole thing was his idea. I then recruited two people from my 1999 Leadville Trail 100 crew: Mike Marcikonis and Kristin Birrenkott, both from the Denver area; a niece, Monica Gonzales, from Houston (oh how innocent she was); and my best running friend, Mike Devlin. H.E.had experience crewing for Marshall. Mike Devlin, who got to know my every whim by crewing for me at almost every training run, gave me confidence that I had an excellent support team to get me through Death Valley.

For the Mt. Whitney summit my stepson Ric DeVan (who in June 2000 summitted Denali in Alaska) would be the lead. Mike Devlin and Monica volunteered to accompany me up to the summit. As neither of them or I had ever climbed Mt. Whitney before, that made three of the four of us never before having set foot on the Whitney Trail.

For heat acclimitization, I trained for two-and-a-half months every Saturday in the Southern California Anza Borrego Desert between Borrego Springs and the Salton Sea. I got to know State Highway 22 very well. Driving to and from my training site in Borrego Springs, Mike Devlin and I would drive with the heater on and the van totally closed-up. The temperature would climb into the mid 120’s with the highest temperature reaching 131 degrees. We would maintain this heat training for up to two hours before and one hour after our 5 to 7-hour desert training run.

For altitude acclimitization I only had time for one trip up Mt. San Jacinto, near Idyllwild, California. Mike Devlin, Ric and I climbed the 10,800 ft. peak about three weeks prior to the run. Not that I considered the Whitney summit attempt easy. It was just that completing the run was much more important to me so I concentrated and devoted my time towards that effort.

Feeling prepared and the eventual start drawing near, I felt pretty confident I was ready for Badwater. However, all this confidence went out the window on our drive to Furnace Creek on Wednesday July 26th, the day before the start of the run. The long drive down from Father Crowley to Panamint Valley and again from Townes Pass down to Stovepipe Wells coupled with the hot and dry wind after the pre-race meeting the evening of the 26th totally blew a big hole in my psyche. I was emotionally devastated but chose to not share my fears and did not alert my crew.

Until now, my goal had been to do the run in 40 to 45 hours. This would get me to the Portals and the finish on Friday evening to early Saturday morning. After the race I would sleep for three to four hours and then attempt the summit very early Saturday morning. I was hoping to reach the summit in about 10 hours, by around 6:00 PM. This would give me a total goal of 60 hours to go from Badwater to the summit. It seemed very doable to me. But the evening before the run, after my psyche had been blown away, I just wanted to survive the run in a respectable time, forget the “buckle,” and just get to the Portals alive. Too late to do any more, I resigned myself to just do my best on race day.

As the run unfolded the next morning, I found myself feeling very confident again, yet cautious, about my fitness. My crew was very supportive and encouraging. I went out on a 12-minute- per- mile pace to Furnace Creek to “put some time in the bank” for later when the temperature was sure to surpass the 113 degrees in which I had been training and the current 100 degrees at the start. I reached Furnace Creek (17 miles) on schedule (around 9:30 AM) and still felt very fresh and strong. But best of all, I had “banked” over two hours.

The stretch between Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells was no surprise. The temperature went up as expected but was never a real threat. My crew kept me cool by providing me with ice cold, wet towels and ice packs for my head and shoulders. I slowed down as expected but still managed to bank a little more time for the trip up to Townes Pass. I reached Stovepipe Wells (41 miles) by 3:46 PM. The highlight of this section was catching-up with my hero Marshall Ulrich and getting my picture taken with him. Naturally he did not stay passed for long, as he disappeared into the sunset going up toward Townes Pass.

When I finally reached the top of Townes Pass at around 10:30 PM, I started feeling the effects of the day’s hot sun. It had taken a toll and I started to feel quite tired and sleepy. We decided that a 30-minute nap would provide the rest I needed, so I climbed into the RV and passed out for 30 minutes. I woke up feeling much better and resumed the run down into Panamint Valley. This is where the fun begins.

Once we got halfway down the west side of Townes Pass, we saw some lights. I thought it was Panamint Springs Resort (72 miles). As we continued, the lights were not getting any closer. I had expected the time station to be at the bottom of the Valley but, as I found out, it was at the 2000-foot level on the west side of the Valley. Just when my body was ready for another rest stop, I found out we had four long miles to go.

I wanted to reach the time station and check in before I rested so that, if any of my family and friends were tracking me on the web, they would know where I was before I took my next planned 30-minute nap. Well, as the lights were not getting any nearer, sleep deprivation hit me and the hallucinations started. The small hills and sand mounds near the road became quonset huts which kept track of me and would not go away. Then, as I ran along the white line to keep me going straight, the line became a walking stick. It was painted in multi-colors sort of barber-pole style. The stick did not have a handle as it disappeared behind me into the darkness, but the tip did have a black cap to keep the stick from wearing out, of course. It too kept track of me as I progressed toward the lights which would not get closer. I was aware that I was seeing things which were not really there, but my eyes would not phase them out. I might have suffered some sunburn on my eyes. What kept me going was my willingness to reach the Panamint Valley time station. My crew supplied me with ice water soaked towels for my face every half mile. Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, at around 3:20 AM Friday, I did reach the lights and was rewarded with another 30-minute nap. Arguably, my crew chief wanted me to spend a full hour, but I threatened him with something. Whatever it was, it worked as he woke me up in a half- hour.

I had planned another 30-minute break at the Darwin turnoff (90 miles) at 10:00 AM, but I felt so good after the sunrise that I did not need it. It was at this time I started feeling very confident that I would not only finish in a respectable time but would also buckle. I just did not know how much time I would have to rest before the summit attempt.

We passed the 100-mile marker around 1:00 PM 31 hours into the run. My son Ric joined us shortly thereafter. His presence was a big boost to my morale. I had a great crew to this point, but having him along with the rest of the crew made my party complete. Thanks to modern technology and cell phones, I was able to contact my wife in Santee, California a couple of times during the run. Those conversations were very uplifting and a major boost to my reserve. The Badwater Webcast was great in keeping our families and friends aware of the runners’ progress throughout the run. Thanks Chris Kostman and his brother, Keith.

The course from Darwin turnoff (90 miles) to Lone Pine (122 miles) was typically long and boring but not very hot. I was concerned about the smoke down from the Inyo County forest fire in the southern High Sierra, but the smoke stayed up high but the ash rained down. At this time, we dispatched Mike Devlin and Monica to go get some rest as they were integral members of the summit attempt. We wanted them as rested as possible. As for me, I just had to keep moving and, before I knew it, we were near Lone Pine. My son and I decided to make a game of it and ran quite hard for that stage of the run trying to reach Highway 395 by 7:00 PM. We did not quite make it, but we were in Lone Pine by 7:20 PM. After a wrong turn trying to find the time station there at the Dow Villa, we finally found it by 7:50 PM and started up Whitney Portal Road. This is another place where I had more vision fun.

Heading up Portal Road through the famous Alabama Hills as the sun started to set, I kept seeing different animals on the side of the trail: I saw a big hippopotamus with its mouth wide open, baby elephants, and an assortment of different animal caricatures. I knew I was seeing things but could not focus enough to get the hallucinations out of my vision. I had to shine a light on the rocks and bushes to discern that what I was seeing were in fact not real animals. Ric had a good laugh on me and later I would have a laugh on him. The weirdest hallucination happened between Ric and me as we walked/ran up the flat section of the Portal Road. I could see a concrete wall running straight forward from us along our direction of travel. Ric was walking right through it and I kept telling him I knew the wall was not really there but I could see it plain as day, it seemed so real.

The road leading up to the finish was long and tough and although I “could smell the barn,” it seemed as if the last two miles would never end. Sometime during the climb up the Portal Road, Chris Kostman joined us far a short walk. It was really nice of him to spend some time with the runners approaching the finish. I guess we were spread out enough so that he could afford the time away from the finish area. All of my crew joined me on the final approach. It was quite an emotional time for all of us and the exhilaration of finishing in such good time (42:53:25) was overwhelming.

We celebrated for a short while. Then Monica drove me into Lone Pine for a shower and some sleep in a hotel. We had initially hoped to depart for the Whitney summit around 4:00 AM Saturday, but, by the time we drove to Lone Pine, checked into our room and showered it was almost 3:00 AM. I left a wake-up call for 4:00 AM at the hotel, I think I heard a snicker from the hotel clerk. We returned to the Portals at around 5:00 AM, where we woke up the rest of the crew, packed our bags. Ric, Mike Devlin, Monica and I departed on the Whitney trail at around 6:20 AM. It was a late start but it was the earliest we could leave considering I was only able to get one full hour of sleep.

During most of the climb, Monica, with no prior experience in mountaineering, did a great job of pace setting for the team going up the mountain. We made really good time on the trail until we got to Trail Camp. From there on up, the climb became a little more challenging. It was more like a death march to me. However, at Trail Camp I was able to rest for about 15 minutes while Ric and Mike filtered water and filled our water bottles.

The climb up the 99 switchbacks was extremely tiring to Trail Crest, but we were able to continue without too much trouble. Several times we discussed our chances of reaching the summit safely with plenty of daylight left. At around 4:00 PM we conferred and decided to set a turn around deadline at a certain time. This would be at 7:30PM. We would turn around then, if we were not close enough to make it to the summit and back to the Trail Crest area by dark. As I heard Ric say several times, “summiting is optional, getting down is not.” The tough part along the back section of the climb is being in eye contact with the hut at the summit, but the hut does not seem to get any nearer as you slowly progress toward it. We pushed on with pulling and crawling until finally we persevered in making the summit around 6:19 PM. We had plenty of daylight left for pictures, a quick celebration, and then started back down.

We made it back to the top of the switchbacks (Trail Crest) just before total darkness. The hike back down in the dark was challenging, to say the least. This was especially so in the snowy part about a third of the way down the switchbacks where the trail was completely covered with snow. This forced us to take very short steps to traverse from one switchback to the other.

After 60 plus hours with only about two hours of sleep, total to date, and about 150 miles on my feet, my legs were not very steady. This was the time where Ric’s mountaineering experience became invaluable. He safely guided us back down through the darkness.

This was also Mike’s and Monica’s turn to hallucinate. At one point Monica would not go forward for fear of a snake she swore was on the trail in front of her. Ric had to convince her that snakes did not exist this high up. Shortly thereafter, she screamed and jumped. I thought she had stumbled only to find out she saw a man jump out from behind a rock. Sometime during this period Mike had his turn at hallucinating. He could not remember who he was with or what our names were.

We got back down to Trail Camp around 11:00 PM Saturday night. On the way up Ric had setup a bivy sack with a sleeping bag for me to rest in on the return trip. When we got there the setup was as welcomed as a Holiday Inn to me. I laid in it and immediately passed out for about 45 to 50 minutes. This was to be our last rest stop until we returned to the Portals at 4:05 AM Sunday morning, about 70 hours and 157 miles since we left Badwater Thursday at 6:00AM. The race was over, the climb was over and I was too tired to enjoy it.

On our ride down the Portals Road, our team’s hallucinations completed the rounds. I was asleep in the back of Ric’s truck while he drove us down to our hotel. His hallucinations were of people out in the street. He wondered what so many people were doing out at after 4:00 AM Sunday morning. Some even tried crossing the street in front of his truck. Mike and Monica were keeping him company and were witnesses to his visions. When this was related to me the next day it was my turn to laugh at him.

Now that the race and summit are over I find myself very happy and satisfied with my performance and the support I received from my wonderful crew, my family and my friends. Thanks to Chris Kostman and his staff for a great race. I am sure all the time he spent setting up the race was well worth his time. Even though I barely met Ben Jones, I certainly felt his presence throughout the race, so thank you. I only regret not having had the opportunity to meet the First Lady of Badwater, Denise Jones, and to spend more time at the finish and at the awards ceremony to express my gratitude and meet the rest of Chris’ cast.

My friends and family keep asking what is next? I do not have an answer but I do know that I will not listen to my “friend” H.E. anymore.

2000 Badwater Ultramarathon Race Report

2000 finisher


Vendredi 21: Départ de Roissy CDG 2 vers 17h avec 1h00 de retard (surbooking oblige), nous avons évité le transit par Montreal moyennant une ristourne de 1 000 F. Le seul problème était qu’il n’y avait pas de correspondance avec Boston pour Las Vegas.

Arrivée à Boston à 18h(HL). Départ vers Las Vegas à 21h. Cette fois ci 1h30 de retard à cause des embouteillages au décollage. Après 6h30 de vol, arrivée à Las Vegas (HL: 23h30). Une récupération rapide des bagages, nous sommes déjà entourés de multiples machines à sous. Un transfert en shuttle vers la station de location du véhicule. Prise en main du Blazer 6 places, V6 climatisé qui nous sera précieux tout au long de ce périple. Maryse après quelques essais tâtonne de la boîte automatique.

Précision concernant mon équipe d’assistance(j’y reviendrai):

Mon épouse, Isabelle, Maryse et Pascal. Ils seront tous un atout précieux dans la réussite de ma course.
Samedi 22: Arrivée au Motel 6 à deux pas de l’aéroport. Il est 0h00, quelques 30° et Las Vegas nous présente ses casinos. 8h00 avec Pascal, jogging de décrassage dans L.V, impressionnant, les casinos sont ouverts. Quelques joggers matinaux, mais surtout des joueurs en pleine action. On ne différencie pas les attardés de la nuit des lève-tôt. La journée se poursuivra par un premier contact avec L.V et les emplettes nécessaires au déroulement de la course (vivres, glacière, parasol, boissons, etc…). Une première soirée au Luxor nous permettra de gagner quelques dollars.

Dimanche 23: Après un rapide mais frugal petit-déjeuner à l’américaine nous prenons la route vers le Grand Canyon. Quelques 500 km à une allure de tortue (vitesse limitée oblige). Nous passons par le Lake Mead, le barrage Hoover Dam au pied du Colorado, un détour par la mythique Route 66 et halte le soir dans un motel de l’Arizona à Flagstaff. Quelques bières au saloon, ambiance très Ouest américain, une forte transition avec Las Vegas.

Lundi 24 : Visite du Grand Canyon et des réserves indiennes Navajos (très touristique, mais les paysages sont grandioses). Après le déjeuner, retour vers L.V, nos femmes sont pressées de se mesurer aux machines dévoreuses de Quarters (pièces de 14 de Dollar). Une panne d’essence évitée de très peu a failli perturber notre retour à Las Vegas. Il faut savoir qu’aux USA l’essence coûte 3 F le litre (vendue au Gallon soit 3,8 L) mais que les stations sont espacées de 150 km (il faut donc être très prudent). Le soir prise de possession de nos chambres au motel La Quinta Inn en plein centre de L.V, coincé entre le New York et le Monte Carlo. Un rapide bain à la piscine du motel (l’eau est à même température que l’extérieur) et transit vers le casino de l’Excalibur.

Mardi 25_: Changement de décor, en route pour la Death Valley « Vallée de la Mort », les choses sérieuses vont débuter, il va falloir dès à présent rentrer dans la « logique et l’état d’esprit de la course à venir » !
Après une transition monotone de 4h via la Highway 95 et un premier contact avec la Vallée de la Mort, nous arrivons à Furnace Creek. Nous trouvons le seul îlot de verdure au milieu du désert. Le Ranch nous accueille avec son golf (le plus bas du monde:18 trous équipé d’un gazon à l’anglaise à moins 50 m sous le niveau de la mer), son saloon, sa poste, son «supermarket», sa piscine et ses chambres climatisées 4 étoiles. Compte-tenu de ces conditions très balnéaires, il est difficile d’imaginer que dans 36 h va débuter l’une des épreuves d’ultra distance la plus difficile qu’il existe à ce jour. L’après-midi se déroulera par une première revue du matériel de course avec Pascal, une soirée avec Gégé Verdenet, ce vieux dinosaure et compagnon d’aventures (Maroc, Népal, Colorado, Mauritanie Spartathlon, etc…..). Nos routes se sont également croisées à des dates différentes dans d’autres épreuves (Marathon des sables, Guyane, Réunion, New York). Nos routes seront encore parallèles en Novembre prochain en Jordanie et peut-être en 2001 au Japon.

Mercredi 26: Après un solide petit déjeuner, matinée détente au golf. Pascal et Maryse y excellent (ils sont classés). Isa conduit le véhicule (elle n’a pas son permis et vient de quitter Europcar: cherchez l’erreur???). Après-midi: Briefing avec l’ensemble des coureurs. C’est long et en américain. Rien de plus que sur le road-book, si ce n’est la rencontre des autres coureurs (dont certains rencontrés au cours de mes différents raids).

Les 5 français: Yves Pallardy (Guyane 1999 et Mauritanie 1999), Thierry Poupard (Spartathlon 1998), Gégé Verdenet cité plus haut, Jean-Paul Mazaud, un expatrié qui habite aux USA depuis 22 ans et moi-même. Perception des dossards, casquette, tee-shirt et de 24 bouteilles de Gatorade qui seront très précieuses et appréciées durant la course. Photo avec tout les coureurs et retour à l’hôtel pour les derniers préparatifs (il faut badger le véhicule: nom et numéro de dossard du coureur et bien sur logo des sponsors) et moments de détente: Piscine et solide soirée « pâtes ». La nuit, comme la précédente, me permet de faire le plein de sommeil. Mon habitude des raids me permet de ne plus avoir la pression et le stress connus de beaucoup.


Jeudi 27 : Réveil:5h00. Pascal est déjà à pied d’ oeuvre: véhicule chargé avec une précision d’horloger, pas un centimètre de perdu dans l’espace du véhicule (ma couchette est même prête). Un maximum de bagages sur le toit pour dégager l’intérieur. Ils me serviront d’ailleurs de point de repère pendant la course pour reconnaître au loin mon véhicule. Petit déjeuner rapide, quelques photos au petit jour avant le trajet vers la ligne de départ distante de 30 km. Mon équipe, avec le tee-shirt aux logos de mes sponsors, est prête sous le regard d’un magnifique corbeau à Furnace Creek (ruisseau de la fournaise): joli présage!

L’équipe d’assistance:
Chaque coureur, règlement oblige, se doit d’avoir au minimum une équipe d’assistance de 2 personnes et d’un véhicule d’accompagnement.

Raisons: L’organisation ne met pas d’assistance et de postes de ravitaillement sur le parcours. Compte tenu des conditions dans la Vallée de la Mort (T°,distance), une bourgade tous les 50 km (une pompe à essence, saloon, mini market), partir seul serait un suicide.

Isabelle, mon épouse: ce sera sa première expérience dans ce domaine d’assistance longue durée (elle connaît néanmoins La Réunion et New York). Elle sera l’appui logistique (scripte, interprète, photos, etc…). Maryse et Pascal: des amis rencontrés en 1994 lors du super marathon du Colorado. Ils sont habitués des raids (Colorado, Grand raid de la Réunion et deux marathons des sables pour Pascal). Ils connaissent donc les divers aléas et contraintes physique et morale que rencontrent un ultra runner. Ils se relaieront au volant pendant 48h et assureront l’intendance (ravitaillement en liquide, nourriture, arrosage, soins). Tous trois par ailleurs assureront mon soutien moral et galoperons souvent à mes côtés. Une équipe soudée et rodée est une des clés de la réussite de cette course. Je recommande donc aux futurs Badwatermen et women de bien choisir leur équipe qui ne doit pas défaillir. Une assistance de trois personnes est le bon choix (capacité d’un seul véhicule) et toujours 2 personnes sur le pont (la troisième peut se reposer, courir ou avoir une défaillance: par exemple, coup de chaleur pour Isabelle la première journée). Mon équipe sera à mes côtés du premier au dernier km. Quel plaisir de faire un raid sans avoir à gérer ces problèmes d’intendance et de pouvoir se consacrer à sa seule course et à l’écoute de son corps qui sera durement sollicité.

Badwater: 7h00. Nous arrivons au départ de la course. Altitude:-80 m sous le niveau de la mer, c’est le point le plus bas des USA. Je pars avec la vague de 8h. Sur 80 coureurs sélectionnés, 70 prennent le départ en 3 vagues (6h/8h/10h). La raison de ces départs échelonnés: 80 coureurs avec véhicules d’assistance et organisation pourrait créer un embouteillage monstre dans la Death Valley. Les partants de 6h que nous avons croisé sont légèrement avantagés (ils courent deux heures de plus au frais) quand je prend le départ il fait déjà 42°. M’accompagnent dans cette vague les autres concurrents français sauf Yves partant à 10h. 5 français parmi 50 américains et 15 autres européens ou asiatiques. En 1999, 2 français ont participé pour la première fois à cette épreuve. Bien que sélectionné pour cette précédente édition, j’ai du laissé ma place à l’un d’eux (cause: budget non-alloué). Je ne regrette pas ce report car il a pu me faire bénéficier de l’expérience trans-mauritanienne en Décembre dernier: La course la plus longue connue à ce jour, 323 km non stop dans le désert où je finirai 4è en 61h30.

8h00: Après les derniers préparatifs et photos, départ au côté de Gégé Verdenet. Nous courons l’un devant l’autre. Courir côte à côte n’est pas autorisé, idem pour les accompagnants. Cherchez la raison? Je pars rapidement ce qui est contraire à mes habitudes. Au bout de quelques km aux environ de Mushroom Rock(Rocher champignon) Pascal me rappelle à l’ordre et me conseille de ralentir ce que je fais, mais je paierai rapidement cet écart. A 10h, coup de pompe, Gégé s’éloigne, j’avance avec difficulté. Je vois au loin Furnace Creek au 30è km et premier point de contrôle. J’y arrive à 11h15 et suis contraint à un arrêt de 45mn pour me refaire. Je laisse filer Gégé qui a mieux géré ce départ.

12h00: Il fait maintenant 49°, nous sommes toujours sur la première portion plate du parcours. Je marche rapidement comme à mon habitude (7 km/h). Pascal a lui aussi pris le rythme de me ravitailler et de m’arroser régulièrement. Le véhicule d’assistance a pris le rythme du yoyo avec le coureur.

15h00: Je rejoins Gégé aux environ de Devil’s cornfield (champs de blé du diable).Il fait une halte, refuse toute nourriture et commence à souffrir de crampes. Je connais bien cette vieille carcasse qui saura surmonter ce passage à vide. Je repars à la même allure. Il fait maintenant 53°,à ma droite d’immenses dunes de sable qui rappellent mes précédentes courses en Afrique. Après Salt Creek (ruisseau de sel) pas une goutte d’eau ,mon prochain but est Stove Pipe (tuyau de poêle), 2è contrôle au 60è km. J’y arrive à 18h00. J’ai décidé d’une halte de 1h pour reconstituer les réserves avant d’attaquer la première nuit que j’espère fraîche et la première ascension de 1 500 m sur 25 km. Après soupe, pâtes, salade de fruits et café je repars à 19h00; Gégé arrive, il souffre toujours de crampes (il sera contraint à un arrêt de 2h00 et reprendra la route au top, il a su à son habitude gérer ce mauvais passage) .

21h40: au terme du deuxième marathon, la T° est redescendue à 39°, je m’arrête 2h dont 1h de sommeil. Quelques km d’ascension et j’entame la longue descente qui me mènera au petit jour à Panamint Springs: troisième point de contrôle au 115è km. Cette longue nuit me permettra d’avoir en alternance Pascal et Maryse à mes côtés. Ce qui n’empêchera pas mon équipe de me perdre quelques temps (je les ai doublé en pleine discussion, ils ne m’ont pas vu passer et surpris, un peu affolés, s’inquiétèrent de mon absence. Ils me rejoignent rapidement craignant pour moi un manque d’eau, heureusement c’est la nuit et il ne fait plus que 26°)

Vendredi 28
6h00: Panamint, arrêt de 50 mn pour un solide petit déjeuner et un peu de repos, les muscles commencent à être douloureux mais ni ampoules ni tendinites. Je viens de doubler JP Mazaud qui prenait un peu de repos. T Poupard, quant à lui a 5h d’avance sur moi qu’il conservera jusqu’à l’arrivée. Bravo, j’avais fini devant lui en Grèce.

7h00: J’entame la deuxième difficulté de cette épreuve:30 km de montée (1 500 m) cette fois ci sous le soleil. Au passage des 24h00 j’aurai parcouru 128 km, il en reste 90. Très longue montée jusqu’à la côte 5 000 pieds quasiment seul, les autres concurrents sont épars, seule mon équipe est là et les encouragements des quelques véhicules croisés. Après quelques arrêts de _ h toute les 2 h sous le parasol, je fais une halte de 1 h vers midi à Darwin lieu du 4è contrôle pour recharger les batteries en sucres lents (merci les lyophilisés). Je repars alors pour une longue route de 50 km vers Lone Pine (200è km). Longue après midi monotone sous un ciel assombri par les violents incendies qui sévissent derrière la chaîne montagneuse de la Sierra Nevada. Ils auront l’avantage de tempérer la chaleur (Maximum ce deuxième jour: 40°). Vers 19h00 aux environs de Keeler longeant l’Owens Lake (asséché), j’avance comme un zombie dormant debout. Je décide d’un arrêt de 1 h dont 15mn de sommeil en demandant à Pascal de me remettre en forme en 60 mn. Soin des pieds (juste 2 ampoules), mais de fortes douleurs vertébrales dues à l’agressivité du bitume à 70°. Soupe, sommeil, café et je repars très frais pour cette dernière portion. Pascal l’accomplira à mes côtés: quelle reprise! Il vient de signer avec Maryse sa prochaine participation au raid de la Réunion en 2001, je n’arrive pas à le convaincre pour la Jordanie en Novembre. Il aura je pense parcouru quelques 100 km à mes côtés, Maryse à peu près 25 et Isa son premier galop dans la Death Valley. Je dépasse de nouveau JP Mazaud que je ne reverrai plus.

A 23h00, j’arrive à Lone Pine, dernier contrôle. Depuis le départ de Keeler, j’ai dépassé le «seuil de la douleur». J’ai déjà connu cette sensation en Mauritanie, en Grèce et à la Réunion après de nombreuses heures de course. Je n’ai pas encore trouvé l’ explication (mental, physique). Le corps humain a des ressources formidables dès l’instant où le mental prend le dessus. Après 15mn d’arrêt, j’attaque la dernière montée de 1 500 m sous une température idéale (27°), nous finirons au sommet par 18°. Maryse commence l’ascension à mes côtés. Pascal prend le relais et n’ accepte pas de voir quelques coureurs à mes côtés et surtout devant moi. Nous allons enchaîner cette ascension à une allure d’enfer (3h25’ pour faire 20 km), oubliant douleurs, ampoules éclatées qui ont rendu l’âme. Avec ce forçing, je gagne 5 places au général. Faisant fi des recommandations de prudence de nos femmes nous accélérons le rythme. Pascal et moi sommes euphoriques, est-ce l’attrait de la niche? Plutôt notre mental!

Samedi 28 : 2h10: Maryse nous annonce 2 miles de l’arrivée (soit 3,2km). Je passerai donc sous mon objectif des 48h00 (temps pour être buckler; les moins de 60h sont finisher). Je finirai cette montée et cette course à 2h40 en 42h40, 14è et 2è français. Mon ami Gégé, contraint à une halte prolongée à Lone Pine indépendante de sa volonté, finira au matin en 50h30 suivi de peu par Yves à 30mn, Mazaud intercalé en 44h17 et Poupard devant moi en 35h43 à la 8è place, les 5 frenchies ont terminé cette épreuve: Rien à envier au 11 tricolores !!! La bière fraîche à l’arrivée et la médaille (seule récompense) m’attendent. Je prendrai une deuxième Budweiser.

3h00: descente vers Lone Pine, recherche d’un motel pour finir cette nuit ou commencer cette journée. Après quelques heures de repos et un petit déjeuner, nous décidons de remonter à l’arrivée aux portes du Mont Whitney. Cette montée nous donne l’occasion de voir les coureurs suivants dans cette dernière ascension. Je suis heureux de l’avoir faite de nuit sans ce sommet en point de mire. Nous croisons Gégé qui redescend, il est en forme. Yves finit cette ascension au train en compagnie de son épouse. Je ne reverrai pas JP Mazaud ni T Poupard après la course. Une après midi à la piscine de l’hôtel pour reposer l’organisme principalement musculaire, un repos au soleil pour l’équipe qui doit récupérer également, quelques bières au saloon local, une réunion de quelques coureurs à 18h00 et la course est déjà oubliée. Place à la prochaine course (Jordan Cup en Novembre) mais surtout aux casinos de Las Vegas qui nous attendent pour l’après course.

Remerciements à mes différents partenaires qui m’ont soutenu pour cette épreuve.


Après un dernier breakfast avec l’équipe d’organisation et quelques coureurs encore présents à Lone Pine, nous verrons à cette occasion arriver à ces 20 km de l’arrivée la dernière concurrente qui bouclera en77h05 hors classement, mais félicitations pour ce courage.
Nous repartons pour Las Vegas. Ce retour nous donnera l’occasion de faire le parcours en sens inverse. C’est lors de ce trajet inverse que j’ai pris conscience des véritables difficultés de cette épreuve. Hormis la chaleur, car nous avons cette fois-ci la clim, et la rudesse du bitume (nous avons les amortisseurs), les longues lignes droites, les montées interminables représentent véritablement les particularités de cette course. Je ne conseille pas aux futurs coureurs de faire un repérage avant l’épreuve. Un déjeuner au typique et sympathique saloon de Shoshone (très bonne adresse;en fait une des seules de la Death Valley, on vous y sert directement dans la poêle et l’excellent vin de Californie se boit dans des pots de confiture…). Notre retour vers Las Vegas s’effectue en fin d’après midi, nous retrouvons La Quinta Inn et sa piscine accueillante. Nous passerons la soirée en compagnie de Gégé et de son équipe au New York au milieu des machines à sous et du club de jazz ou règne une ambiance d’enfer.

Lundi 31 juillet et ,Mardi 1er août:
Ces deux derniers jours nous verront arpenter Las Vegas et ses casinos, claudiquer serait le terme à employer car j’ai d’énormes difficultés à suivre mon équipe qui elle a parfaitement récupéré. Est-ce l’appât du gain? Ils sont aimantés aux machines à sous (surtout nos épouses!). En fait nous jouerons longtemps sans perdre , voire revenir avec quelques dollars qui seront investis jusqu’aux portes d’embarquement. Notre retour sur un Los Angeles-Paris direct en 11H par le nouveau service Air France nous donnera l’occasion de récupérer en partie. Quant à moi ma récupération sera plus longue:

  • Musculairement:RAS
  • Ligaments, tendons:RAS

Par contre toujours ces douleurs vertébrales qui nécessiteront quelques séances chez mon ostéopathe: cervicales et dorsales déplacées et lombaires légèrement tassées. Donc repos intégral pendant un mois (sauf un écart parapente le 15 août), reprise par du VTT, mais plus envie de courir pour l’instant (cela me le fait après chaque raid). Réserves énergétiques à zéro. Comme d’habitude j’ai besoin de reconstituer ce que j’ai perdu en course. Cette fois-ci 3 kg contre 2 habituellement. Sommeil:une durée de 10 heures par nuit ne me fait pas peur.

Deux mois avant la Jordanie ne seront pas de trop. Cette prochaine course sera à gérer différemment: 170 km non stop dans le désert pour une arrivée à Petra. Autosuffisance (sauf contrôle et point d’eau chaque 20 km). Soit portage d’un sac de 3kg (vivres de course, matériel de survie, pharmacie, couchage), plus l’eau.

Cette épreuve ne me fait pas peur compte tenu de ces dernières expériences. J’aurai l’occasion d’y retrouver pour le plaisir mes vieux compagnons de raid. Cette épreuve se situera plus vers une préparation des saisons à venir (si sponsors présents), à savoir:

Japon : La course des Cerisiers (220 km non stop)
Norvège : Le Raid des Trolls (raid à étapes)
Réunion : La Diagonale des Fous (125 km non stop-4è participation)

Un seul projet majeur. «Une 555» – Alain Gestin, qui m’a appelé à mon retour de la Badwater, confirme mettre en place une course réservée aux «élite runners» comme il les surnomme: Pourquoi? Désert de Mauritanie, non stop, balise et GPS obligatoires, autosuffisance pendant 555 km et recherche des points d’eau. J’espère pour lui et pour nous que son projet aboutira.

A Badwater (Love) Story

2000 Badwater Ultramarathon Official Finisher

During the post race ceremonies, Errol Jones was gracious enough to call on me to say a few words about the race. Since it was on the spur of the moment. I hadn’t had time to reflect and say what I thought. Like how I learned where Errol got the nickname “Rocket.” I knew Errol from the 1996 Badwater race as well as other races and his many ultrarunning accomplishments. The saga begins at sun up on the second day coming down from Townes Pass a couple of miles from the midway point in the race, 67 miles, near the Panamint Valley floor. Earlier that night, Errol’s crew had stopped by me and asked if I had seen him so I knew he was in the vicinity. Just then, I turned around and he came running up behind me. He opened the conversation by saying that he was having a bad day. He was somewhat incoherent and that, in my best calculations, was it possible to finish the race in under 48 hours since we would be at the half way point in over 24 hours. He knew that he could finish the race in the allotted time but was concerned that he would be subjecting himself to needless suffering if he didn’t make the 48 hours. Well, I said I’ve had a bad day, also, but that we would probably have to get to Owens Valley to get a better idea. That comment met with a moment of silence. At that point, we changed the subject and continued on. Nearing the half way point, I ran over to my support vehicle and took a drink of something awful, turned around, and Errol was gone … like a rocket. I looked down the road and saw a tiny figure off in the distance. Then, one of Errol’s crew ran up next to me and we chatted momentarily. But, he said, I got to go and catch that guy and stop him or he’ll kill himself. With that, he took off and as far as I could see, Errol out paced him and beat him to Panamint Springs. I stopped briefly at Panamint where Errol had decided to take a break. Then continued on thinking, hoping that Errol would be catching up with me. At the Darwin turn off, I looked back over my shoulder and didn’t see him … nor a sign of his support vehicle. At the start of Owens Valley, where we were to recalculate our pace, I looked over my shoulder one more time, this time with a tear in my eye thinking, knowing that the Demons must have gotten him. If they didn’t, he surely would be hear by now. My thoughts changed abruptly when a vehicle stopped in front of me and out jumped Denise Jones. She came running over to me saying “you devil you … I knew I would see you running again,” and at that, gave me a big hug of encouragement. With that, I told my son who was crewing at the time … “throw away the Tylenol … I won’t need it anymore … the end is in sight”. On the way down from the finish line, there was Errol on his way up. I immediately stopped and offered what words of encouragement I could. It was a time of real joy. Like seeing someone come back to life. Like I really knew deep down that he would never quit. My congratulations to all who participated in the race.

A very special congratulation goes out to Erika Gerhardt. I had the pleasure of getting acquainted with her this past spring when Denise put he in touch with me because we live “next door” to each other … like Wisconsin and Minnesota and I might be able to offer her some tips on hot weather training in a cold climate. We also had an opportunity to do a 50-mile and 100-mile trail race together. In the months that followed, we spent much time e-mailing and brainstorming the Badwater race. I was very saddened the second night of the race when she stepped out of her vehicle and said that she was no longer in the race. The energy she gave me then surely helped me make it to the finish. The following day, I learned from Denise that she had encouraged Erika to go back out and finish the race. It was her attitude that the race is not over until it’s over that kept her going. After the post-race meeting, I went out and joined her on the course for about 5 miles. She had plenty of support and seemed to be having a grand old time. Early the next morning, I met her again briefly in Lone Pine, but had to leave not knowing the outcome. Later to find out that, with the support of Lisa Smith’s crew, she had made a photo finish … which I knew she would.

Badwater 2000 Story

“Life is Either an Adventure of Nothing at All”

My story of Badwater started with you, Ben and Denise, and listening to you tell everyone that it was very beneficial to attend the training clinics in May and July. I went to this first clinic knowing that in every one of my 100 mile races that my downfall and slower times during the races would be in the heat of the day, not to mention that I do not like desert or sand. During these clinics, I ran just as I planned on running during the race, with the utmost respect for the first day from Badwater to Stovepipe Wells. These clinics, by the end of the second one, had changed my life and attitude toward all three: the heat, the desert, and the sand. At the July clinic, on the second day from Stovepipe to Panamint Springs, I took time to look around me. I had a very spiritual moment and fell completely in love with the surroundings around me … the colors in the mountain, the cool breeze, and a moment with God.

I came to Badwater on the day before the race, well trained, mind set to have a good race with a good crew, loving husband, lots of faith in my abilities, and left the rest in God’s hands. My crew was great. I only have one thing to add: I would suggest that a person has a couple of people on his/her crew who are not runners, who can set their minds on some photo-taking in addition to keeping the crew vehicle well organized. My crew became very tired because they had never been to Badwater and did not want to take the scheduled rest breaks that I had put into my plan for them. They just didn’t want to miss a moment of the event and didn’t realize that those rest breaks of 3-4 hours were very much needed—to make them more alert and to take care of my needs during the last stage of the race. They stayed with me all the way and were very tired. I’m sure short they were short of patience with each other at the end. I never had any difficulty until going off Townes Pass early Friday morning. Then I lost it completely at both ends (vomiting and diarrhea). I was forced to stop and change clothes completely on the side of the road in the dark.

(I’m sure glad that no one came along—that would have been quite a picture for the Internet). From this point on I had to regroup my stomach, which I did, by switching to Slim-Fast and solid food and lots of water, into Panamint Springs.

At 60 miles I had changed shoes four times (one half-size at a time) thus ending up in a men’s size 10 shoe at this point. One big mistake on my part was that I had not told any of my crew that if I went into this last pair of shoes that they would need to take my Spenco Inserts out of my size 9.5 men’s shoes and put them into these shoes. So I ran from 60 miles on with no inserts or padding in my shoes, thus causing extreme soreness in my feet for days after the race. I might mention at this point that I had absolutely NO SORENESS of muscles after the race nor have I had any muscle soreness since. My only soreness was in my feet.

Out of Panamint Springs, one of our crew vehicles broke down, had to be towed into Lone Pine, fixed and returned 3 hours later, HERE IS ANOTHER RULE OF CHRIS’ THAT WAS GREAT: “YOU MUST HAVE AT LEAST TWO CREW VEHICLES.” Boy, did we realize the value of this rule. My crew had to cram as much as they could into the one vehicle at this point. And this is where the FAMILY OF BADWATER came into effect for us. There were other crews whose runners had dropped out, who came along to see how I was doing and immediately volunteered to take things from our broken down vehicle up to us to help us out. Robert Thurber’s crew was great. The Highway Patrol officer took our people into Lone Pine and back and checked on me off and on all through the race. He also brought us water, ice, supplies, etc., from our broken down vehicle. Karen Hamilton came along to check on me and brought my cot up to me at the top of Panamint Springs so that I could take my much needed 40-minute nap (which was only time that I really rested during the whole race).

I was running (actually running) along through Keeler, and for the first time I realized that I could make the 48-hour time frame for the buckle. My plans got a little screwed up after this point going into Lone Pine, thus causing me to have a very full stomach and unable to take in anything from Lone Pine to the top except water. On the way up Whitney Portal Road we took a wrong turn and ended up into a campground and had to turn around and go back to main road. At this time I was fighting terrible pain in my leg and back caused from a slipped disc that I found out I had in February, but I was determined that it would not change my plans for this year. This caused me not to pay that much attention to the fact that we had taking a wrong turn in the road. (My pacer at this point had never been up Whitney Portal Road. She felt terrible about this. As I was waiting for her to check this out, she came back running toward me along the campground road. When I saw her light, I tried to go to her, and this is where it got really spooky, THERE WERE A FLOCK OF LONG-NECKED BIRDS in my path, that wouldn’t let me go to her, until she got right up to me. Now this was a real hallucination. But let’s talk about hallucinations. I had read about these in previous Badwater races. I was with Jim Hamilton last year when he had a few but never really believed in them, but, for me they came true. As I started up Whitney Portal Road, the road was covered with the most beautiful design of GRAY ELEPHANTS, BROWN & WHITE RABBITS, GRAY MICE, all interwoven with pink candy cane. Whenever the flash light showed these figures, they persisted clear to the top of Whitney Portal Road and into the finish line. I can still see this pattern in my mind and would so much like for someone else to have seen it besides me, as it would make a beautiful design for a child’s room. It also helped with my pain to the finish. I will end with that, thanks to everyone involved, from Ben and Denise (wrapping feet before the race), to Chris and Dana’s excellent organization of this race (it being their first year—what a great job), and the love and care all of these four people gave to all of us, to my sponsors Brooks and Kool ‘N Fit, and to my crew, and to all of the many people who helped us when our vehicle broke down, I say THANK YOU—my race was a success. This was truly a great adventure, and as I said in the beginning, TO ME, LIFE IS EITHER AN ADVENTURE OR NOTHING AT ALL. Be it a trial given to me to accept and overcome or an event like Badwater, my life is better for every one of them that has come my way.

2000 Badwater Reflections

Here’s my thoughts “from the waaay back”, behind even Frank MacMillan back. The last person back. I relate to Frank in that you have the amazing ability to “elasticize” the parameters of “what is normal,” just for this for event, and out of love for the people in this event. In my case, “My crew MUST hate me” (which wasn’t true), you assured me even THAT “was normal” . . . . I dropped out of the race at mile 77, just after Panamint. I ran out of total calories and protein. It was my birthday, and like the song, I cried: I just wanted (A), my husband, (B) my dog, and © a birthday cake. My dad said, I don’t have any of those, but let’s just go another mile. And he, a non runner who signed on to crew his first ever, and this baddest of ultramarathons two days before the event, stretched that mile for five miles. I told him I wanted to drop and it was my dad that made sure I put the marker in. My dad also ensured when he checked in at Lone Pine Friday night, not to count me as a DNF “yet”.

Saturday morning, after a hearty sleep and some heartier food, Denise gave me a pep talk to return to the course as an unofficial finisher. I just wanted to be able to WEAR my Badwater T-shirt, even if I didn’t count. My crew and I continued on, getting into Lone Pine at 5:30 Sunday morning. My crew gave their all, even Don (Meyer) pacing me for almost 40 miles. The crew got 17 more unofficial hours than they “signed up” for and they held up remarkably: Don Meyer, Anna Boldon, Glenn Gerhardt, Greg Gerhardt, you rock!

Denise, thank you for stepping in to assist with decisions in Lone Pine when we were all too exhausted to comprehend, except to know on some primordial level that I could taste the finish. To then reassure the crew and to organize willing volunteers, Bob and Dave (Matti Ace) from Lisa Smith’s crew. Additional thanks to Bob and Dave (the self-proclaimed “Good Cop/Bad Cop” tag team) for guiding me the last 13. I think Dave and I spent five miles determining which TV show was better: “Old” Star Trek or “Star Trek: Next Generation.” I hope we can continue the discussion in ’01. And I don’t think I did ever answer some of Bob’s probing questions. Next year, too. I feel so grateful that you helped my crew and me to finish, Denise. Not “better” or “different” just infinitely more humbled. When I finished at 77 hours, I couldn’t fathom that what you did, was as you would do—and did do—and do any year, for any one of us Badwater participants. To comprehend the depth of that unconditional fortitude, just intensifies my respect for you, First Lady.

I truly desire that you and Ben take from that 77 hour Portal finish: my finish is my gift to you. I hope that after all these months of support and nurturing via email, then the camp, that is ok with you. That it is worthy payment? I remember Denise, before the training camp, you told me that “you don’t play favorites,” but please know, because of YOUR efforts, I float that “asterisk” of being an unofficial finisher like an orbit around my head, like an extra chakra or six inches to my height. I’ll even decorate it (*) with tinsel and ornaments at Christmas time.

I understand now the need in these days following to try to integrate this experience back into my (real?) life and to share it with others who participated. I feel like I have been in a car crash and can’t remember the moments up to the wreck. The moments are hazy, as if they happened to someone else. My old self maybe? But the feeling throughout of knowing that you and Ben were there, remains constant in that clutter I struggle to process.

Please tell Chris to reserve bib number 69 for me. I learned too much, am too humbled, and too grateful for everyone’s support in 2000 to not return in ’01.

From the last person in 2000, #69, Erika Gerhardt.

Badwater 2000 Race Report

Official finisher

Monday 7-24-2000
Just left the Oncologist’s office & was given the thumbs up to run the race. Levels are going up and things are looking good. Five weeks ago I had experimental liquid radiation & three weeks before that 3.6 million stem cells harvested & frozen for a possible bone marrow transplant in the future. But all I can think of is Death Valley. Non-Hodgkins & B-Cell Lymphoma have to ride in the back seat for this one. Chris Kreyer is coming in from San Diego. We’ll pick up the Ford Expedition, load in the two big coolers & get a couple hundred pounds of ice then swing by the airport and pickup our 2nd crew person Joe Steltenkamp from Wisconsin & make final plans.

Tuesday 7-25-2000
Lionel Gruen & Francisco Davis just arrived from the West Side, so now the whole crew is here. We’ll pack up the SUV and head out for our adventure. Enjoyed the drive through the desert. I took them to Lone Pine and we drove the course in reverse so they could see what we would be doing in the days ahead. Checked in at Furnace Creek & took a swim.

Wed. 7-26-2000
Got up had breakfast, hung around the pool and waited for the race meeting. Was wonderful to see many faces from last year & meet some new one’s. Ben Jones totally caught me off guard (at the pre-race meeting) when he asked me to stand & told of my fight with Cancer & my determination to finish the race. We were all invited up on stage for a pre-race picture. It was amazing standing up on the stage and have all the flashes popping for what seemed like a few minutes while all the pictures were being taken. Then back to the room for some foot taping & hopefully some sleep before the 3 am wake up call.

Thursday 7-27-2000
Race Day Drove to the start of the race, took photo’s and got ready to run. Adam (Bookspan) played the national anthem & we took off running. I tried to hold back because it was my plan to take it easy till Stovepipe & the first night. Just outside of Stovepipe I realized I had some blisters that would need to be looked at. Lionel, who is an EMT, has never done what us Badwater racers need as far as cutting, draining, re-taping & getting us back running in quick order … so my prayer was, “God, if you could have Denise Jones (aka “The Blister Queen”) around with nothing to do and her blister kit that would be Awesome, Thanks.” Well I got into Stovepipe, my crew was getting gas & ice. A man came up to me and asked if I needed any help. I said my feet need some work. Had he seen Denise anywhere??? He said she just left but sit down I’ll take care of you. He opened a large kit & started right in on my feet. About five minutes into it I asked his name, he said John Vonhof, my mouth dropped open. The guru of blister care who wrote the book “Fixing Your Feet.” I bought the book right after I started Ultra Running. This was a sign, this was going to be a Good Race. Continued up the 5,000 ft. climb to Town Pass & down to Panamint. Other than the car load of midgets, we saw things were going smoothly. Turned out to be our crew but Chris & I swore it was a car load of extra small midgets with a little bitty car.

Friday 7-28-2000
Went straight to the hospitality room provided by Panamint this year. Normally Ben Jones rents it for the racers out of his pocket. Went in, laid on a bed & let Lionel go to work while the rest of my crew got supplies & my breakfast. Ate scrambled eggs & hash browns while my feet were being worked on. Then Joe said I need to take at least a 20 minute rest. I laid down, closed my eyes and to my surprise got a little nap. Looked at my watch, was right about 20 minutes so jumped up (not really, got up slowly) and walked outside. They were just coming to get me. Now it was another climb to 5,300 ft. past Father Crowley’s. This was the most cambered road I ever ran/walked on. Constantly angled to the left, then the right. This is were I came up upon Chris Moon. It was awesome, meeting one of the people I have great respect for.

I myself was running this race for AHA (Athletes Helping Athletes) the Challenged Athletes Foundation. The money I would be raising is a way of helping athletes with a disability gain independence & live a healthy and active lifestyle. Then an extra treat with jet’s (Tomcats out of Lemoore Air Force Base) screaming around Owen’s dry lake bed. Now down towards the 4th check point and Darwin. The smoke from the forest fires was really starting to get bad. Got to the check point in the late afternoon and my crew went off to get fuel & more ice. Joe stayed with me and kept me in R.F.M. (Relentless Forward Movement) things were still going good & I was having a blast. Around 3 AM is when things started to unravel. My crew pulled together & opened the doors on the crew vehicle & Francisco started the jams. They all were jumping around getting me pumped up in 1/2 mile intervals. This is where my crew really pulled me thru. By sunrise they were getting tired & I was getting my third or forth wind.

Saturday 7-29-2000
We got into Lone Pine and Shannon (Farar-Griefer), Kari (Marchant), Denise & Ben were all there to meet me. These are all some special kind of people. Denise offered to look at my feet, while my crew got me breakfast again. Here I am, beautiful women working on my feet, eating breakfast, 120 miles into the run & Ben nudges me and says, “Isn’t this GREAT?” We smiled. Then if it coulden’t get any better than that Denise & I made eye contact a few times that said it all. She had helped me so much in the prior year deal with my cancer and I considered her my “Prayer Captain,” God really speaks thru her to me like no one on this planet. We both new how important this goal was & how tuff of a road it was to get here, but thru Faith & Hard work I was living my Ultimate Dream … Our eyes welled up with tears of joy …. and I was off up the Portal Road. It was a tuff 13 miles but I didn’t want it to end. My crew worked in unison to keep me moving along. Now I could see the Finish and I started running to finish with a good stride. I DID IT !!! 135 MILES a PR….55:04:18 but that wasn’t it. My goal was to take the extra time & not buckle because for me I wanted the Summit.

I got to summit with my Coach (Scott Weber) & his wife Theresa last year & wanted that for myself. For me I needed to go from Lowest to Highest, not just the 135. Now back to Lone Pine for a Filet Mignon dinner, get some things ready for the mountain, and hopefully some rest, before a 3 AM wake up call. Sunday 7-30-2000 Chris, Lionel & I left at 4 AM for the Summit. Joe drove us. He was going to check us out of the hotel & get the vehicle ready for our trip back to Torrance. Francisco was picked up after the race by his wife Cathy because he had to be at work on Sunday. Lionel made it as far as Trail Crest before the altitude really got to him, a valiant attempt on his part, but decided to go back to Trail Camp & wait for us. He knew I needed to keep going to achieve my goal. Chris decided to stay with me, which was nice, since I was getting pretty spacy due to lack of food and water … a real friend & trooper … future Ultra Runner … I think. Chris & I got to the Summit @ 1:52 PM, 79:52 after leaving Badwater.

I would like to thank all the people who helped near the top & at the summit, especially Barbara Elia & her crew. I bonked badly about an hour before the summit, and all the way down due to lack of food. I learned never pack after 135 mile race with no sleep, for an important summit attempt. Figure how many calories & how much water you need from the last lake or run off you can purify from. I definitely learned a lot for next year & Thank God for getting us down safely. Basking in the light of my accomplishment, Rick Nawrocki.