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The Last Lone Runner

2003 honorable mention finisher

Large boulders are strewn everywhere and rivers of mud and rocks are flowing down the canyons and across the roadbed as flashfloods generated from the remnants of a tropical storm have thrashed parts of Death Valley. Especially hit hard on the Saturday afternoon blitz is the area around Townes Pass and the Panamint Salt Flats, which may have been an ominous indicator of more trouble that would hamper my journey only days away.

On Sunday, as our van inched down the steep Echo Summit area above Lake Tahoe, we were hammered for 15-minutes by a thunderstorm filled with powerful winds, rain and marble-sized hail. Not only was there the fear of the front windshield imploding from the vicious pelting, but also the threat of being swept off the hillside and down the steep ravines by the treacherous winds. Is there a message here?

There was definitely some concern, as we were on our way to compete in my sixth consecutive 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon. This footrace, which is considered the toughest single stage competitive event in the world, starts in the middle of Death Valley, at Badwater, and runs across two mountain ranges before finishing at the Portals, halfway up MT Whitney. To win a prized belt buckle it must be completed in less than two days.

After safely reaching our destination in the desert on Monday, we had some fun and laughs at the pre-race meeting in the Furnace Creek Auditorium. After a comical speech by Ben Jones and race director Chris Kostman covering all the ground rules, the building began to get stuffy and rather warm. As the runners congregated for group pictures on the overheated stage, it was even hard to breathe. I had to leave the building and go outside where it was 120-degrees, in order to cool off. I am not sure but I believe that I was supposed to have ended my sauna training last Friday.

When I stepped outside my room at the Stovepipe Wells Hotel at 5:00 am, I immediately knew that it was going to be a very special and daunting day. Although the sky was clear, it was humid and extremely hot. I could already see heat undulating in front of the magnificently sculptured Sand Dunes just across the street. The tape that was holding the inspirational messages to the side of our van was beginning to peel off. The black ravens, which have somehow mysteriously survived in this harsh environment, were panting and listing on the ground in the shade of the sparse salt cedar trees. They had no energy to fly to their normal resting and baking spots in the trees lining the complex and along the telephone wires that are strung between the poles and attached to some of the buildings. That’s probably not a very good sign. Even the six and eight o’clock starters would have no early morning relief.

For safety concerns, there are three staggered starting times to help prevent the seventy-six runners from bunching up along busy Highways 178 and190.

It was now a sweltering 110-degrees as I mingled with all the runners and their crews at the Badwater sign just minutes before the 10:00 am start. Although it was hotter than usual, my major concern was the missing sea level sign that had always been prominently attached to the craggily side of the Black Mountains, 280 feet above our heads. It was gone. I thought someone had stolen the landmark. It was hard to believe that even out here in the middle of nowhere theft runs rampant.

I will have a word with the Mayor of Badwater, Ben Jones, and possibly First Lady, Denise Jones. Maybe they are slipping. Taking it too easy. Living the good life. Let it be known that another California recall may be in order. Maybe I will challenge him with my campaign platform, “No more crime at Badwater and no more sacred cows”. All I need is two or three votes. With a Badwater population of zero we will probably have to stuff the ballot box in order to pull this thing off. A few million dollars in campaign funding should help do the job. Send lots of money. Cash only, please.

Just seconds before the starting countdown, as the National Anthem is played to honor all the runners, I am a bit concerned about the dried out feeling on my lips and inside my mouth. This is usually an early dehydration symptom. Impossible. I have to be waterlogged from the constant drinking over the last two days. Maybe it’s just a side affect from the humidity or simply nervous energy. Just in case, I drink two more bottles of water just before the gun goes off. Slosh, slosh, slosh.

The 17-miles to Furnace Creek are euphoric, as the endorphins kick in and I run and chat with lots of different people. Want to have some fun? Run thirty-five miles with Chris Frost. He will make it interesting and you will definitely stay loose. Not only did we joke around but we also appreciated the incredible beauty of the desert basin and the magnificence of the colorful mountains surrounding us. It is one of the main reasons why we are out here. In retrospect I should have stayed with Chris the entire way.

Actually everything was going rather well. The heat was not bothering me, too much, even as it began to climb into the 130-degree range. It was still bearable. I had sauna trained for months and was fully acclimated. Besides, my crew, Roman, Jason and my beautiful wife, Christine, who are alongside me the entire race in the van, were attempting to keep me cool by spraying me with super-soakers or draping my shoulders with wet iced-down towels.

I arrived at Stovepipe Wells (42-miles) in decent shape by gorging on plenty of water, electrolytes and eating a variety of high calorie nutrients. For a general cool off and refresher I made an attempt to rinse myself off in the shower by the pool. Gads! I almost scalded myself from all the hot water flowing out of the cold tap. The searing heat of the day even made the water in the pool, the railings and the deck too hot. No relief here.

After a brief respite and a bit of socializing with a few runners and their crews, I started the gargantuan task of climbing the 17-mile grade towards Townes Pass (59-miles). Without exception this area has always been the hottest part of the race. It was now over 130-degrees and the winds coming down the pass made it feel as if I was in a firestorm. The heat was incessant, ferocious and almost intolerable. It kept bearing down on me and there was no escape. Even the 170-degree sauna I had trained in was not this suffocating.

As I began the climb, I started the walk four minutes and then run four minutes routine. It has been the key to my success, on this part of the course, the last few years. I was feeling strong and all my body systems were working properly. So far so good. As darkness began to settle in, I was also looking forward to the cool of the evening. Unfortunately that was never going to happen.

At the Emigrant Station (50-Miles), I decided to take a short break. As soon as I sat on the stoop of the van and had a sip of O’Doul’s, the lights went out. It all happened in a nanosecond. While I was away the Grim Reaper visited me. Although I felt like I was already in hell, unless we were heading for heaven, I wasn’t ready to go. I still had this race to finish. When I woke from dreaming or from wherever I had been, I was screaming, yelling and clawing. A crewmember that was holding me up was receiving the brunt of my blows. Actually, for a few moments, I thought I was gone.

My crew immediately laid me on the ground with my feet up. Once they found my pulse and I realized that I was still alive, I felt okay. But only for a few moments, because soon everything began to spiral downhill. During the next half-hour I threw up and had bouts of diarrhea. Over the next five hours my crew and several medics tried to take good care of me and used everything in the book to help me recover. They administered a mix of ice, cold drinks, wet towels, food and encouragement. Yet, to no avail. I had a similar problem in the past but was able to start again after an hour. Not this time. Something nasty had its hooks in me and was not about to let go.

Although it was not very easy to watch, Lisa Smith passed by yelling for me to get off my butt and get going. My crew thought it best for me to wait and be patient a little longer. Though I tried to resist, because I did not want to waste precious time, I stayed put. I was still feeling terrible. Marshall Ulrich, who was having his own problems, soon stopped by showing some concern. I figured I could tag along with him and somehow muddle through. I struggled with him for an hour and a half and then I could go no further. My tank was on empty. I have never felt so bad anywhere or at anytime. It reminded me of an extremely bad flu episode.

We drove back to Stovepipe Wells looking for relief. The hotel looked like a triage center. Runners were being attended to everywhere. I refused an IV because there were only a few left and others were more in need. Besides, getting fluids from a needle in your arm disqualifies you, and I still had every intention of finishing this race. A bed was available in one of the rooms where other runners were sprawled out, but it was hotter in the room than outside. It was four in the morning and it still had to be at least 110-degrees. It was time to get out of here. It was too depressing.

We headed for Lone Pine where we had another room. Even though I was able to cool off at the Dow Villa Hotel, my body was never really ready to extend itself. Half a dozen times during the day we either started back or drove the 67-miles to move my marker forward, but with little success. The heat was scaring me and I would get weak and nauseous anytime I started to run or walk. Things were not looking very optimistic.

Although sleep deprived and completely washed out, I could not rest or settle down and I kept tossing and slashing about in bed. All attempts at recovering were futile. It was becoming more and more evident that I was not going to be able to finish this Badwater Race. Depressing. After many months of intensive training, I thought I could handle anything. Nope. What went wrong? Maybe it was severe dehydration, or the heat, or some bug, or the law of averages that finally got me. Although I don’t know what really happened, I do know that this had become a major nightmare.

Did Not Finish. A piercing, devastating and crushing blow. A sword to the heart. Three little ugly words. Demoralizing. After twenty-five years of running hundreds of races, I was about to earn my own personal albatross, a DNF. It’s not really what I had in mind, but maybe I could hang a big red flashing neon sign around my neck. Perhaps “Scarlet Letters” emblazoned on my chest. Humbling.

I needed to make something positive happen and soon. So, early Thursday morning, still fatigued and mentally depressed, I began to trudge up Mt Whitney. After faltering for the first four or five miles, I began to feel a little better as I went through the switchbacks near the top and it began to get cooler. I was in awe and completely mesmerized by the stark beauty on this climb, especially on the trail along the Pinnacles on the West Side of the mountain. If you are looking for inspiration it can be found here.

On the peak, while sitting on the rock beside the summit plaque, inclimate weather moved across the area. For ten minutes cold wind, rain and lightning lashed the mountainside and I began to freeze and turn purple. I didn’t care if a bolt or two struck me. Cold to the core, I was finally feeling much better. The fear of going back into the heat was now gone. It took some time for me to see, but all at once I realized what I had to do. Did not finish was becoming tolerable but quitting was never, never, ever going to be acceptable. I walked over to the logbook, which is stored in a metal protective container next to the small cabin, and wrote, “It was now time to go back and complete this Badwater Race for the kids”. And that’s what I am going to do.

Now that the mountainside was all wet, I was afraid that I was going to really hurt myself as I slipped, slid and fell numerous times on the way down. It didn’t matter. I would hobble across the course even on crutches. I couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel to tell my wife that we were going to go back to my marker and finally finish this thing off. I didn’t have to say a word. She already knew. She saw it in my eyes.

Early on Friday, after icing-down a few coolers for the fourth time, we headed for Townes Pass. I picked up my marker at 10:00 am. Since I was still shell-shocked, bruised and bedraggled from the first day blitz and the Whitney scramble, I started by gingerly working my way to the top. The first few miles I walked and jogged little baby steps until I became more fluid and relaxed. Once I crested the pass I ran all the way down the backside of the mountain and to the edge of the Panamint Salt Flats where I took a break for a few minutes.

Hot winds were continuing to whip across the valley. In order to keep from drying out I started the wet towel draping routine. My physical condition was still in question, but I knew that once I crossed this valley, I should begin to feel better as I edged my way up the cooler steep winding eight-mile mountain pass.

During the early miles, when I was still trying to get rid of all the aches, pains and cobwebs, a hand full of runners on their way home stopped by to shout greetings and words of encouragement. While I was struggling across the salt flats, four miles from Panamint Springs, the last of the cars stopped and out popped my Guardian Angel, Monica Scholz. Not only was she ecstatic about my being back on the course but she also gave me enough Ensure and Red Bull to fill my depleted supplies. Before leaving, she gave me a big hug and told me to charge the hills. Okay Monica, that’s what I will do.

Reinvigorated, inspired and heeding her advice, I ran to Panamint (72-miles) then all the way up the mountain to the top at Father Crowley’s (80-miles). I had never done that before. The stage was now set. I would run about ten-miles then take a five-minute rest on the stoop of the van just to make sure my vital signs were stable. The last thing I wanted to do was to crash hard again. We did this all day and night and I ran every step of the way including the first five miles up the Whitney Portals Road where I finally ran out of gas. I put on my CD player at the Death Valley Park entrance sign (85-miles) and listened to music the entire way. I was communicating with my crew via walkie-talkie.

The forty-miles I ran during the night was complete bliss. It was soothing comfort to have my wife and John Rodgers beside me in the van and hearing the soft and relaxing music from the “Whitney Houston” album as I watched comets streak across the sky that was now filled with millions of brilliant stars. Like candles burning bright, the lights from the van on the road ahead guided my way. Only a few cars passed by the entire night. Everyone else was gone. I was the last runner on the road. And, it didn’t matter. Here all alone on Friday night, I was in my own piece of heaven. I felt terrific. I never wanted it to end.

We parked on a side street in Keeler (108-miles) for a midnight snack and a bit of reminiscing. I crashed hard here my first year but was able to continue after being iced-down. One year we were all treated and skewered with fresh 200-degree asphalt that was recently laid on the highway, just in front of this small burg. Two different years, hot ash and dust filled winds, which were created from huge fires from high up in the Sierras, blew across the dried out Owens Lake and obliterated Keeler. I remember having trouble seeing and breathing. I have seen great prehistoric creatures crawling and soaring across the desert and then disappear into the dark of the night. Great stuff. It’s what that makes this Badwater Race so special.

After running into Lone Pine (122-miles) and part way up Mt Whitney, I finally had to walk. Actually I was attempting to see if I could run the entire race including the last 13-mile difficult uphill grade to the finish line at the Portals. But the wheels were coming off as cramps and two screaming Achilles Tendons were hammering me. So I just limped the last eight-miles.

As fatigue settled in and my weary mind began to spend more time conjuring in its surreal compartment, I became transfixed on the Alabama Hills that surround the area. There are thousands of huge boulders stacked haphazardly on top of each other like a fragile house of cards. I had visions of pulling one of the smaller rocks out of the pile and watching them all fall apart, crash to the ground and then tumble, rumble and roar down the mountainside into the valley below. As the ground began to shake, I drank a frappuccino. It was time to wake up and get this thing over with before I was swept away. Whoa! I must say that there is only one thing better than a Badwater hallucination and I was way to tired for that.

My wife and John joined me for the last mile. Near the end, I usually begin to mentally and physically shut down, and the emotions start spilling forth. But not this time. That would happen during a private moment at home several days away.

We crossed the imaginary finish line on Saturday morning at 09:00. Alas, the deed was finally done. Completed. A fait accompli. There was not as much exuberance as years past. Except for a few high fives and some pictures, there was little fanfare. It was more reserved, solemn and somewhat anticlimactic. Although I was flushed with a sense of pride, I made a conscious effort at keeping the “celebration” low keyed and tempered. I did not want to overplay what I had accomplished this week. After all the original goal was to buckle by finishing this race in less than 48-hours. That didn’t happen.

I have now been home for a few weeks still working on the healing and recovering phase. The swelling and pain in my feet are almost gone. The pain to the ego will probably last much longer. Although there is some lingering emptiness and disappointment, everything turned out okay. On the bright side, I was reunited with some old friends and was fortunate enough to meet a bunch of new people. I was able to enjoy the majesty and immense beauty of Death Valley and MT Whitney. The 80-miles I ran in 23-hours was the fastest I had ever run that difficult section. It was made easier by alternately consuming Ensure, PowerAde, Power Gel/GU, Crystal Geyser Water, Red Bull, Frappuccino, a few Cheetos and E-Caps.

A few days ago I received an e-mail from race director Chris Kostman. He congratulated me on what I had done. And, in the spirit of Erika Gerhardt, who I personally watched fight off an emotional breakdown just before she climbed the Whitney Portals for an unofficial finish during the 2000 Badwater Race, Chris was sending me a finishers medal and T-shirt. I received them in the mail yesterday. The medal is beautiful. I honestly don’t know if I really deserve this prestigious award, but I won’t be sending it back either. It is now displayed on the wall just in front of me surrounded by my five other Badwater finisher medals. It is one of my most prized possessions. It has made me feel good about what I did.

I saw the kids that I ran for today at the Valley of the Moon Children’s Home. I walked into their classroom with my head held high and my heart in my throat. The visit was fulfilling and a little emotional as I gave them heartfelt thanks for all their inspirational drawings. My gift for these young kids who have had the most difficult of times, was not so much about winning, or medals, or ribbons, or did not finish. It was more about did not quit. It was about honor and standing tall. It was about character building and giving them a sense of pride. It was about setting an example with moral decisions based on the dignity and respect for the human spirit by doing the right thing and always finishing whatever one starts. Hopefully they understand.

Thanks to Chris Kostman and his support team. It just gets better each year.

Thanks to my wife, Christine, and John Rodgers who stuck it out with me to the bittersweet end. This race is all about the crew.

Congratulations to all the runners who really “finished” this race. This one was as tough as it gets.

Congratulations to Pam Reed for her extraordinary achievement. And, especially, for being so humble about it.

Thanks to Ben and Denise Jones for their hospitality.

Thanks to Lisa Stranc, MD, and all the other medics whose concerns were genuine.

Thanks to Lisa Smith, Marshall Ulrich and everyone else who stopped and gave me encouragement. It made a difference.

A special Kudo for Monica Scholz. Your zest, vigor and sincerity helped inspire me to complete the course. I certainly owe you.

It was a privilege to be part of the 2003 Kiehl’s Badwater Ultramarathon.

I can’t wait until next year.

I will be back.

Arthur Webb

Badwater: It seems Foolish at First

2003 finisher

At first glace, it seems a bit foolish: to run 135 miles across Death Valley in July. But, if I go for adventure, an education, and some answers, what then? No doubt, it will be exciting. I will certainly know more when I’m done. But really, all I want to know is, ‘Can I do it?’

Joyce and I land in Vegas and escape quickly into the Amargosa Desert. We turn off the highway at an old run-down gas station that might be all there is to Lathrop Wells. With Devil’s Hole on one side and the Funeral Mountains on the other, we enter California and then Death Valley. The road ripples ever so slightly downward, snaking thru the desert while the heat visibly radiates off her back. I know the desert has a life of its own, but the only thing moving are the dancing heat waves. There are no trees, the brush sparse and scattered. We drop below sea level as we enter Twenty Mule Team Canyon and arrive by noon at Furnace Creek Ranch, our home for the next two days. The large thermometer out front says 120.

As we step out of the car, the heat slams us. The air is hot and the wind even hotter. My body soaks up the heat and begins to dry out fast. I need to feel something cool on my body so I head strait to our room for the shower. I can’t seem to figure out which knob is cold. Hot water comes out of both. One of them finally cools down to warm. With no relief in the shower, we crank up the air conditioner and sit in front of the vent. Joyce looks at me with a questioning look that I can’t answer. This is gonna be a bitch! I try to sleep but can’t get comfortable, a headache developing. I give up and go for an early dinner. They bring us a pitcher of water before we ask: same as they do for everybody else. We were expecting Rich by now, but flash floods from last night’s rare desert storm have washed out the road on Towne Pass. They reopened the pass, but his truck broke down. Finally arriving after dark, we meet his wife and brother for the first time. Rich wrote the book ‘Death Valley 300’. He ran over and back. His wife Rhonda had also done the Double. Rich’s brother Drew had also. Joyce has paced and crewed in dozens of 100 milers and knows me better than I do. I could not have a better crew.

An early breakfast is followed by a logistics meeting about food, fluids, electrolytes, clothing, shoes, crews, vehicles, shifts, and so on. And not just for me. The whole team will be out there in the heat. Rich and Drew on one crew, Joyce and Rhonda the other. I’ve made advance reservations at hotels in three of the four towns on our route, and there’s a limited supply of ice in each of them. Our car is the shuttle for ice, as well as hot meals, and sleep. The truck will stay on the road with me. Rich is our field general. This is his team and he’s in charge. He’s been here before and knows what the desert will do to you. I on the other hand am just the runner. My decreasing mental capacity only allows for me to answer questions concerning pee flow, what color it is, and how I feel about it. They’ll suggest to me what I should do and if I don’t agree, then they’ll find a more subtle way to do it anyway. This should become easier and easier.

To the visitor’s center for race check-in at noon, I pick up my number and let them know I’m here. Short and sweet, we’re back at the ranch for lunch before 1pm. Everyone’s required at the 3pm briefing, so the room is packed: runners, crews, medical, media, and race organizers. It’s a bit long and a bit hot, but this is Badwater and it seems to fit. Driving slowly back the short distance to the ranch, Joyce and I see a coyote walk out of the desert and cross our path. In no hurry, he glances at us and continues across.

Rich brought along his white desert jammies for me to use. The hat has a long brim and a wrap around veil to protect my neck and face. The shirt has an open collar and sleeves that extend past my hands. They’ve made many trips across the desert. I’m honored to wear them. The gang’s busy all evening, Rhonda slicing watermelon and cantaloupe, while Rich and Drew organize the equipment. The boys are soaking wet from hauling heavy ice coolers and boxes. The girls will nurse my feet, so they inspect and discuss their current condition while I lie about and watch TV. Joyce can’t sleep and sits up to watch an action movie, and I can’t either because I’ve been just lying about. Eventually the show ends and we fall asleep.

The field of 73 starts in 3 separate waves, with the fastest going last. The 6am group is going out as we drive in. The fast group begins at 10am, while our group goes at 8am. Badwater Basin is a shallow pool of saltwater 282 ft below sea level hiding in the shadow of 5000 ft Dante’s View. It’s very comfortable, until we start running. The mountain shadow stays with us for awhile, but the sharp edge of it is clearly visible in the distance. Daydreaming, my thoughts drift until suddenly I’m blinded by brightness. The feeling is startling! Moving from shadow to sunlight, I’m slammed back to reality. The air temp catapults past 110 and continues to climb. The wind coming off the black asphalt burns. I attempt to run off road, but it’s more work than I care for. Waiting at each mile, Rich asks a few questions and studies me, gauging my status. The crew every mile seems a bit much for now, but I enjoy the fresh cold drink, and the ice cold bottle feels good in my hands. I can’t possible drink the whole thing before I see them again. Running easy, controlled, keeping my head and hands covered, I drink at regular intervals. Before long, my stomach gets a hard lump that feels bloated and rides up under my ribs. Coming into Furnace Creek at high noon, it’s taken 4 hours to go 18 miles.

They’ve created an oasis in the shade of date palms. Stripped to shorts and laying on a cot, the girls wash me down with ice cold rags. One of Rich’s many tricks is the scum bucket: rags in ice cold water. After a short rest, the girls check my feet while I eat. The only hot spots are leftovers from last week’s Hardrock: two small toes on the right and the pinky on the left. Rhonda patches them with care and Elasticon. Rich suggests the long white desert pants now, because it’s getting hotter. An hour later and revitalized, they send me back.

The girls have gone ahead to check in at the Stovepipe Wells. It’s another 24 miles and still below sea level. The boys take the day shift, serving fresh fountain drinks with sides of watermelon, cantaloupe, and grapes. The service is very good. Despite the hot wind blowing very hard, Drew holds a large beach umbrella to block the sun while Rich serves food & drinks. They do this a couple times, but stop I think when they decide I’m stopping way too often. I suspect they think I won’t stop as often if I’m not quite so comfortable. At 6pm Rich tells me its 130 degrees and the hottest Badwater on record. He asks how I feel and seems impressed that I can still create sentences. As the sun slowly approaches the horizon, the sky lights up, and the air begins to cool. A gentle slope dips down into the valley prior to Stovepipe Wells. The team is in serious discussion and doesn’t see me coming. Must be shift change. The girls are back and have dinner, so I sit down to pasta with chicken while they patch my feet, both heel and sole. None of the roadies are working, so I try the trail shoes. They’re all I have left. Next move will be to cut parts of the shoe off.

The wind has been there all along, but doesn’t dominate until after dark. The calm evening turns ugly and miserable with sand. Faces in the flying sand chase each other across the road and through my light’s beam. And under them, scorpions roam the road. I know the sand spirits are my mind’s playful eye, but the scorpions are real. I tell Joyce about them and wonder if she thinks I’m starting to hallucinate. I turn the flashing light I wear strait up so I can be seen but not blinded by the dark space between the strobes. The wind shoves me about until I’m exhausted by the time I arrive in Stovepipe Wells at 42 miles. It’s 10:30pm and I need some sleep, so they take me to the room where the boys are asleep and put me to bed too. At midnight, Joyce and I leave quietly, so as not to wake the others. Thankfully, the wind has died, and although it’s not as hot as it was, it sure isn’t cool either.

Joyce and I leapfrog with Mark Cockbain, Scott Weber, and their crews. Partners in pain, we share ice, watermelon, and a word when one of us passes the other. 18 miles of steady uphill to 5000 ft Towns Pass. The sun rises on us long before we summit. Rich and Rhonda arrive in the morning, sending Joyce to get some sleep. A natural funnel leads out of the mountains directly to this spot, where the flash floods came through and washed out the road. Smashed into the asphalt on a blind turn is a very large scorpion. My mind wanders: first light, early morning, seeing things more crisp and clear that usual. My eyes are hyper-focused, surreal, while my reactions are hyper-slow, everything in slow motion. My body is asleep, my mind dreaming. This must be the time of every morning when I fall into my best dream state, because I’m there! Paying no notice to my pains or the cars going by at high speed, I float uphill very quickly.

The road rolls across the narrow summit and turns decidedly down. My momentum builds as the road tilts more steeply. My walk becomes a jog, then a run. My body’s confused, sending contradicting signals to my brain: I feel great, this hurts, my stomach aches, the wind feels awesome, and so on. But everything’s overruled by my need to keep my feet under me. Anyway, I’m moving fast for a change. I buzz by a few amazed people who likely think I’m insane for sprinting off this mountain. Rich goes ahead 2 miles because I’m running so well and there aren’t many places to pull over. For 8 miles of steep descent, I stop for refills only. As the slope flattens out and goes strait across the dry salt flat to Panamint Springs, I lose my momentum. The cool morning is gone, the downhill is gone, and so is my water. I can see for miles and watch the truck go further and further away. Reduced to a walk, I’m done, but he doesn’t know. I yell at him to stop, but he can’t hear me. Jets roar overhead, pounding the air with supersonic sounds, while I silently melt down. I study them sitting on the tailgate while they study me walking in. It was only two miles ago that they last saw me looking fresh and full of life. The miserable wretch that walks in surprises them. I sit down behind the truck and lay my head on the tailgate. Rich, ‘You’re going too far’. ‘Ok’, he says, ‘I’ll back off’. Trashed, I drag the last few miles into Panamint Springs by noon. At 72 miles, we’re half way!

Again, I strip down and lay in the shade. Unlike the last time, there’s much less shade and I’m far from comfortable. Left to myself for a bit and then taken to a room in the hotel, Rich says I have an hour. I need to sleep so I can handle the next long climb. It’s a swamp-cooled room, but there’s no chance of sleep. A very noisy runner and crew moves into the next room. Even though I’m lying in a comfortable bed, I feel as if I’m still out there on the road moving. The girls bring me a grill cheese sandwich. They cut and tape my blisters while I eat. They’re worried about my progress. With half the time gone, I’m only half way. I need to pick up my pace to make the 60 hour cutoff. If I go any slower I’m done. If I stay the same, I’m on the edge. I have to go faster to create some sort of comfort zone. There where only 9 people behind me when I came into Panamint. Most of them are ahead of me now. I’m either last or near to it.

Rich walks me back to the road, explaining the situation. It’s time for me to go faster and I have to quit sitting every time I come in. I have a long stiff climb directly in front of me and the road is canted such that I have to walk up against the guardrail for a level surface. I finally have some cloud cover and feel pretty good out of the direct sunlight, so I set a good pace and keep it going. After going through a few water handoffs, I surprise the boys by sitting in a ditch to rest my feet while finish my Ensure. Makes no sense to stand up while I’m not moving. I feel really good charging the switchbacks and start to build some momentum. Rich teases me about my new high speed pace, a 15 minute mile. I surprise them in a quick series of turns, tossing my bottle into the cab as I go by. Drew has to runs me down in his bare feet to hand me a refill. A different world waits on top at 4000 ft Father Crowley Point. It’s cooler now, with rain clouds above a gentle rolling road. The boys go ahead to collect our rooms at Lone Pine, and the girls are back for night shift. Dark clouds yield a spot of rain here and there, and finally I get lucky, attracting a good downpour. It’s the one and only time I run past the truck and need nothing at all. I don’t wish to stop while I’m wet for fear of my body temp spiraling downward. It turns into a beautiful evening and a colorful sunset. I pass by some Joshua Trees that create some interesting silhouettes in the setting sun. They look like anything but trees.

After dark, Joyce joins me on the road. She wants to run for a bit and share the road experience with me. After so many hours of being left to my self, it’s nice to have her company. It’s too dark for me to tell if the road is flat or hilly. Joyce tells me it’s downhill, but Rich led me to believe it would be a steep downhill. I’m going easy, waiting for the last big down, but Joyce says this is the down. We discuss it for minutes before I reason out that she just drove this road during the day and should know. I’m finally convinced that I misunderstood Rich and this is the hill. Once reasoned out, I feel obligated to run again. We pass Darwin after 9pm at the 90 mile point. The rolling downhills continue and I’m still running well. Bats start buzzing us. Just one at a time, but one is near us for more than a few miles. I feel good for awhile but slowly, my feet really start to hurt. A little at first, then more and more, until I slow to a hobble. I have to get off my feet, so Rhonda gets the chair out every time I come in. I ask Rhonda if she can cook some hot broth or chicken soup. She needs some time to figure it out, so she drives ahead about 2 miles this time. It’s the best meal I’ve had in days. I slurp down the whole pot. She also checks my feet and discovers a couple large blisters. A repair job and a few painkillers have me running well again. My pace picks back up and quickly. In the darkness, the road seems to go on forever. All we can see are the occasional scorpion and the bats that buzz our heads. I ask for more hot soup and when I get to the truck, Rhonda has a surprise for me. I sit in front of the tailgate, which she has covered with a towel. She pulls the towel away to display a row of soup cans. ‘Your choice’, she says, with a smile. It’s hilarious, but I’m very serious about my selection. I slurp another full pot of broth at the next stop, and continue on in wonderful spirits. I have no idea where we are until we pass Keeler at 110 miles, just 12 miles from Lone Pine. Joyce stops me to see a rather large scorpion, translucent under her green light and very much alive. Now she’s checking the ground and air every time we stop to pee.

The boys are back at 4am. Rhonda heads to bed in Lone Pine but Joyce wants to stays on the road with me. She intends to run with me to the finish. Mark is back also. We drift back and forth with one another, visiting his crew and him. The thought of the sun rising on another flat salt bottom starts me running again. To the amazement of Rich and Drew, I push the last 5 miles into Lone Pine very hard. Mark starts running too and stays just behind me. The Inyo Mountains rise strait up out of the desert east of us and keeps the sun off our backs even after the sun has risen. Free sunlight: light without the cost of heat. The sun finally rises above the mountain’s horizon just as we enter Lone Pine at mile 122. Rich thinks I need some rest before the final push to Whitney Portal so they roll me into our hotel room and put me to bed at 7:30am on Thursday. They give me an hour and then once again the girls cut and patch my feet, prior to sending me out the door.

The Lone Pine checkpoint is one block past our hotel. I pass by at 9:15am. I take note of Mount Whitney as I wait at the traffic light to cross the road, my last turn. This road ends at the portal. With only 13 miles to the finish, I now know for certain that I will finish, and so does my crew. Not that we ever got heavy handed or over serious, but now the mood is all jokes and laughter. A lightness in my stride, and it seems, more bounce in the crew as well. It has been a long haul and a feeling of accomplishment is felt by the whole team. We have been successful. What we did worked. I questioned them many times, but rarely ever challenged what they suggested. I am after all, only the runner: dumb from sleep deprivation, extreme heat, and way too many miles.

Joyce remains by my side as we power hike up through the Alabama Hills. The landscape is phenomenal. All the rocks smooth and round, stacked one on another in unusual patterns. It’s all very pristine and comfortable. A noisy bubbling brook cascades next to the road. It’s still quite hot, and the backs of my legs appear to be burnt up, so Joyce covers them with sunscreen. I down an entire bottle of water before we climb the first mile. Joyce goes ahead to get more for each of us but it’s steep enough to keep her from going much faster than me. I’m feeling pretty strong for my 3rd day. My feet are so numb I no longer feel any discomfort. The steepness of the slope becomes easier as we reach the long strait-away and I can now see the switchbacks a few miles ahead. A large dark cloud mass hangs over Whitney and her neighbors. I’ll be in their shade once I reach the base, and maybe even some rain.

At the start of the switchbacks, I stop for my last sit down after climbing the first steep step. I drink my last ensure and start my coke diet. I leave behind my hat and my water bottle for the last three very steep miles. Joyce & I charge the uphill, slowly pick up speed, and start to pass others as we surge on up. As the switchbacks get steeper, I seem to be getting faster. I’m only walking, but I’m not sure I could run up this beast much faster than I’m walking. It feels so comfortable and efficient. I stop at each mile only to slug down another coke and some water. Trees! For the first time, I see trees. It starts to sprinkle a bit of rain and I feel my first cool breeze as we enter the trees. Rich drives ahead to find a parking spot and to be at the finish when I cross. I start seeing parked cars and think we’re there, but we still have another steep switchback to go up. Pushing as hard as I can, a start running, but I’m forced by the steepness back into a fast walk. Screaming with anticipation, my rhythm all akimbo, I break into a run when I finally see the finish. Joyce is right next to me as she has been for the last 50 miles and the smile stays on her face now even when she starts crying. Everything I feel is bottle up inside, too tired to do more than grunt. We cross the finish at 1:15pm with a time of 53:15. I can finally sit down. The crew was the best! The weather was the worst! I loved it all but I will never come back to run 135 mile road race in Death Valley during the summer.

The Benyos where wonderful. The support and friendship I received from them was more than I could have asked for. They gave me a week of their valuable time while I attempted this completely irrational quest, something that they fully understood. They became good friends along the way. I will not forget what they did for me. Some of it was heartfelt and some of it was funny enough to keep us laughing for years. Joyce was her usual exceptional self. She continues to support me as I continue to wander about. She ran the last 50 miles of Badwater with me after running 25 miles of Hardrock with me. Her smile is infectious and her desire to see me succeed only drives me harder. All my minor conquests would mean nothing if I could not share them with her. All our adventures are worth more than gold, and held forever in our minds. For myself, I felt more for those around me than I did for myself. There was no enlightenment as well as no hallucinations. Death Valley has an exceptional beauty if you can see through the heat, and the environment itself is something to experience. I had heard of it since I was a child and was always curious. I was anxious to get here just to see and feel of it. Now I have a personal picture of it, not much different than what I expected, but now it is real. It is mine!

Badwater to Mt. Whitney: The Way to Happiness

Crew for 2003 official finisher John JR Radich

Last week, we crewed and paced one of the Kiehl’s Badwater Ultramarathon runners, John “JR” Radich. JR’s dedicated crew support consisted of 4 ultrarunners and bikers: Mark, Charlene, Jesse and Ivory. Marathons are a regular fare for the 49-year-old Monrovia resident, JR, who has been running extreme-endurance races for some 25 years, so he sets his sights even higher. As you know, Badwater (Death Valley) is the lowest point in the Americas. Then on Saturday, after the race, extreme ultrarunner “JR” and I ran to the “summit” of Mount Whitney. This was my first and about his 3rd MW summit climb (run).

During an interview early in the year by the Pasadena Star News, JR (who will run in the race for the fourth time) said: “There’s nothing like it. It’s the most intense race I’ve ever done. This race doesn’t care who you are, how many races you’ve won or how strong you are. It will test your mind and body to the limit and it will try to break you.”

News traveled fast back to Badwater event participants, as we heard about Sacramento Bee and other newspaper articles, plus that L.A. Times front page had a 7-page story on the Death Valley race and runners. The winners were one thing, but returning to watch and pay tribute to the very last finishers was more amazing, because you realized they had their very own interesting stories to tell. This year, his Badwater 135 mile finish time was about 10 minutes slower than last year’s Buckle. However, his team believes JR would definitely have broken below 40 hours, if a brand new Enterprise rental SUV with only 21-miles had not broken-down, with the A/C off during the entire event, in unrelenting heat. As a result, the runner and team lost about 4 hours off-loading all gear, ice and supplies onto a backup truck, plus the many long phone calls about the failed (“heat stroke”) Chevy Ventura SUV.

But a lot of extreme or bad things happened this year. Unofficial comments were: there was an unusually high 27 DNF (about 35 %), plus crews received about 40% of all medical attention (7 IV bags, etc) . And various running teams reported measured temps of 133 to around 140 degrees F! But Charlene deserves “Team Radich” commendations, for disappearing to sit in the dangerously hot broken-down van near the Scotty’s Castle road, while waiting for tow services, with only a jug of hot water and a popcicle delivered by a park ranger. And oh—projectile vomit that ultrarunner JR placed on my Brooks Adrenaline shoes in the “death zone” (between Furnace Creek & Stovepipe Wells, when he dropped to the hot ground covered with iced-towels), may be shipped to the highest bidder advertised on E-Bay.

Getting to sign your name & address in the Summit Log Book, stored in the locker right on the summit outside the Summit Cabin, is a reward. There was a slight bit of shivering plus quivering quads noticed up there. Perhaps to keep himself warm & know where I was, despite 2-way radios, JR ran back down to meet me along the last set of southwest trail switchbacks. No bothersome insects at high altitudes, was a treat! But since mountain lions or bears were no trouble, I understand that balloon-like swelling fingers and hands bother a few folks at higher altitudes (HAPE). We had departed in total darkness around 3:30 am Saturday morning. We made it back off the mountain to the vehicle at the Whitney Portals trailhead before dark after 7 pm. Of course we were very tired, from the treacherous ascent & descent. Later, one realized that there’s only 2 ways getting there – either by foot or helicopter. Rocky, boulder-laden trails would kill a horse! For fast hikers or runners at altitude, you will notice slight difficult breathing. Oh—the rocky 1,000 switchbacks were killers. Plus, passing through several spectacular meadows, blazing flowers, glaziers, and unbelievable views overlooking the PCT/JMT, Inyo, Lone Pine proper, Sequoia and Sierra Nevada’s was indescribable.

As you know, Mt Whitney (14,496 feet) was the tallest mountain in the USA, until Alaska’s Mt McKinley (20,320) was added. At one point on the summit, there was a furiously loud thunder, then within only about 2 minutes, rain and hell made us put on ponchos. Exposure to lighting is taken very seriously there! On the evening before running the summit, I purchased an “I Climbed Mt Whitney” shirt, so I had to live-up to it or never be seen wearing it. I felt sorry, as JR ran down carrying both our heavy packs to make time at several points, so I had to treat him later. What an incredible person. Wow – to pee or crap at the lowest or highest places on mother Earth! And oh, Rae Clark ran past me and others going up the 1,000 switchbacks, and was out-of-sight in no-time. As you know BTW: National Ultra Champion Rae Clark held the fastest time for the American World Record 50 km race (still unbroken, i think). I had dinner Tuesday night in Death Valley at SPW with Grand Slam awardee Errol “Rocket” Jones, Rae Clark & the “Skyline to the Sea” 50 km race director. Moments later at SPW, their Badwater race team & our team took group photos.

Interestingly, the local female cyclist on our team has biked over 18,000 miles around the world on every continent except Australia. Who knows what’s next for some of them, as Mt Kilimanjaro, Mt Everest, Dead Sea and other ultraruns interest them more than watching soaps from a coach to combat city crimes, diseases or other causes. JR Radich’s fundraising goals for The Way To Happiness’ “Run The Crime Out of Los Angeles” was exceeded last year. Your deeply appreciated contributions and help are tax deductible and can still be accepted, by contacting or sending your donations to TWTH organization. HELP with the “Creating a Better World Youth Program.” MAKE A PLEDGE FOR THIS CAMPAIGN TODAY! Call, mail or fax it in at: The Way to Happiness International, 6381 Hollywood Boulevard, Suite 250, Hollywood, California 90028, Phone: (800) 255-7906, or (323) 962-7906, Fax: (323) 962-8605, Email:, or visit to donate online on our secure web site. Make a pledge—even if only a dollar per mile! By continuing to set his goals high, Radich said he hopes to exhibit one of the 21 precepts set forth in The Way to Happiness: “Set a good Example.”

It seens that TWTH’ “Set a Good Example” precept is a very good one. My knees are still dirty—bowing to the incredible BW entrants and finishers!

Ivory Phillips <team John “JR” Radich #77>

Badwater, A Good Comfortable Road

2003 official finisher

After running Badwater in July I have gotten many requests to write a short report of my adventures in the desert. Well I am not the keenest wordsmith, but I will nevertheless give it a try.

When I decided to run Badwater in summer of 2003, my loving wife, Marilyn was not very enthusiastic about this race. She was concerned about the extreme conditions, but excited about seeing Death Valley. Marilyn’s brother, Dave was much more enthusiastic over the whole idea and offered to crew for me, assuming that I was accepted into the race. So with the makings of crew I began in earnest to plan for 2003 edition of the race. To finish out my crew Dave recruited his son, Scott and we lined up good friend Stan Clarkson who was keenly interested in the event once he heard about it.

My first major training run was to do the Virginia Happy Trails Fat Ass 50 K in December. I rode down to the race with my training partner, Randy Dietz. As runners are wont to do we spent our time together talking about what our plans for the coming year. I told Randy that I was going to do Badwater. Randy thought that was really neat but thought I was crazy, reminding me that the run is all on the road and my feet would probably hurt when considering my plantar faciitus. I admit I hadn’t considered that possibility, but figured since my feet hurt most of time anyway, could it be much worse at Badwater? At the Fat Ass we had great Badwater Training conditions: mud, hills and lots of water. I figured if I could survive this run, a little trot through the desert with a crew at your beck and call couldn’t be that tough!

My training went really well. Randy and I did multiple long runs in the Pennsylvania mountains. A typical run would be to get up at some ungodly hour of the morning, drive to a remote trail head, run all day on wet rocky trails at the lightning quick speed of 3-4 miles per hour and conclude the run by quaffing a couple of beers. With this strict training regime plus numerous sessions of baking in the sauna at 150+ degrees prior to leaving for Death Valley, I felt that I was ready for the race.

The plan was to travel to Las Vegas where we would purchase most of our supplies. I had decided to run in shorts and a tee shirt, foregoing the haz-mat style sun protection suit that many runners prefer; I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. A major issue for this run was to make sure that we had enough ice for the race before arriving in Death Valley. To accomplish this we filled a 120-quart cooler with 100 pounds of ice and layered 35 pounds of dry ice on top to keep it frozen. This worked very well, the ice lasting intact throughout the first day

My crew, consisting of Marilyn, Dave and Scott Wilbur and Stan Clarkson and I arrived at Furnace Creek Ranch on Monday just in time for registration and the prerace briefing. I had my first opportunity to experience the desert heat first hand (it was in the low 120’s) and was it ever hot, especially with the heat radiating up from the pavement. Race registration and briefing was a protracted affair lasting about two hours in a hot auditorium. With conditions being so tough during registration I figured that the race would be piece of cake. At least we would be outside where there would be a breeze.

I was assigned the 8:00 AM start time.. After a good night’s sleep we all filed down to breakfast at 6:00 AM for the buffet. set up early for the race by the folks at Furnace Creek. After getting ourselves more or less organized, we traveled to the start at Badwater for the obligatory pictures and runner check-in. The race started promptly at 8:00 AM and we sauntered off toward Furnace Creek (mile 17.4).

My crew met me every mile or so to replenish my fluids, electrolytes and to make sure that I was eating. I really enjoyed this section of the run, as I was able to visit with the other runners and just cruise along.

After Furnace Creek the race began to get interesting as we were now in the heat of day. It became very tough to maintain anything resembling a run. I was relegated to walking after about 35 miles or so. During this section I spent some time with Barbara Elia, a Badwater veteran. She told me to make sure that I took a swim at Stovepipe Wells to cool down and regroup before heading up to Towne Pass.

As I was on the edge, I considered this to be good advice. At the sand dunes just outside of Stovepipe Wells, I got sick and puked my entire stomach contents. I am not sure if I was sick because of what I was eating or the heat and hot wind, which had come up that afternoon (It was reported that the temperature that afternoon were 130 + degrees F). After puking I felt better, but had no energy as I stumbled into Stovepipe Wells (mile 42.7) where we all jumped in the pool to cool off. Fortunately, I was cognizant enough to take off my shoes and socks. We spent about a half hour swimming and getting our act together before venturing into the dark up the mountain to Townes Pass.

While all this was going on my wife Marilyn was having trouble with the heat. Dave told her to get off the course to cool down. She spent some time in the AC at the Stovepipe Wells store before Stan drove her ahead to Panamint Springs where we had reserved a room to rest. I didn’t see her again until the next morning when I arrived there.

The climb up Townes Pass (5000 vertical feet in 17 miles) was interesting to say the least. It was hot and very dark, which coupled with fact that I didn’t feel that particularly well made for a long night. The climb went something like this: walk a couple of miles; get into car to whine about how slow and bad I was feeling. Then finally I would eat and drink. I was in “Poor Little Old Me” mode big time. Dave, Scott and Stan were great during this section in that they kept me hydrated, fed and didn’t pay attention to my moaning and groaning. In retrospect, I was pretty pitiful. With the rising of the sun I started to feel better, especially after drinking several bottles of half coke and half water. I reached Towne Pass (mile 58.7) early on Wednesday morning feeling somewhat peeked as I had pushed rather hard for the previous 3-5 miles or so. After some down time to get myself back together I got up feeling rather good and started the long down hill into Panamint Valley.

The downhill into Panamint Valley was probably the highlight of the race for me. I felt great, the views were spectacular and all I wanted to do was run. I cruised down the mountain at good steady clip just enjoying myself. I was higher then a kite; life couldn’t have been better. Dave came riding by in my crew car and hung his head out the window to comment: “Are you @%^#$^ nuts!” I guess he couldn’t rationalize why I could feel so bad one minute and so great the next. As it turned out the bad patch at the top of Towne Pass was my last for the race.

I arrived in Panamint Springs (mile72.3) at about 10:00 AM on Wednesday morning. I was tired, but otherwise feeling good. I took a short nap on a real bed to get off my feet, reenergizing myself for the second half of the race to the Mt. Whitney Portals.

Leaving Panamint Springs I started the climb to Father Crowley Turnout. It was overcast but turned bright and sunny shortly thereafter. I ended up doing most of the climb in the heat of the day, which really took stuffing out of me. During the climb you could clearly see your position in the race with respect to the other runners while switch backing up the pass. Coming up behind me was Marshall Ulrich, who finally caught me at Father Crowley’s Turnout. (mile 80.2). I walked with Marshal and his wife Heather for a mile or so. It was great to get some perspective on the race from one of the legends during our short time together.

After Father Crowley the wheels started to come off. My ITB started to tighten up which made it difficult to run. Even walking was becoming uncomfortable. Recognizing that I couldn’t maintain a pace fast enough to earn a buckle for a sub 48-hour finish, I shut it down and elected to enjoy myself, go for a finish and not worry about speed.

I arrived at the Darwin Turnoff (mile 90.1) at about 6:00 PM on Wednesday just in time to experience a late afternoon desert shower.

To illustrate how “loopy” one can get during a run like this, I was talking strategy (as if I had one at this point) with Dave and Scott at the turnoff. We were standing out next to the time check when I decided I needed to pee, which I did without hesitation. Neither Dave or Scott noticed that I was peeing until Scott remarked: “Uncle Bill you are pissing on my foot!” to which I replied much to my surprise “Sorry“ and continued peeing, although I did shift slightly to the left just missing Dave’s foot. I was the butt of many jokes as this story was retold countless times over the next couple of days.

Shortly after Darwin Turnoff Marilyn and Stan rejoined us. They had gone onto Lone Pine to pick up ice and other miscellaneous supplies. While in Lone Pine Marilyn and Stan decided to pick up subs for everyone except me! As I was coming down the road I saw both crew cars together and everyone eating a delicious looking sub. Marilyn offered me a bite, which I graciously accepted. I could have eaten the whole thing but didn’t want to eat her supper. After eating supper my crew stayed together for the next couple of hours while I leapfrogged positions with Ken Eielson, of Colorado. The highlight of this section was the ice crème bars that Ben Jones’ crew gave us while on they’re way to Lone Pine. With the coming of darkness Dave and Stan went to Lone Pine to sleep while I was crewed by Marilyn and Scott.

My ITB had really tightened up and I was having a lot of trouble making forward progress. Scott suggested that I get into the chair so that he could stretch my ITB and hip flexors. After that he stretched my legs about every two miles or so, which worked great on the right leg, but the left leg remained very sore. With the coming darkness we lost all perspective of where we were on the course; it was just flat and dark. I had trouble gauging my pace and staying focused, which coupled with my sore left leg, made for a very long night. I found that I could run somewhat more comfortably than I could walk, however I didn’t have the energy to run so I just shuffled along as best I could. I reached Keeler (mile 107.8) at about 1:45 AM where Stan and Dave came back from their break to relieve Marilyn and Scott. They were with me for the rest of the night on the run (walk???) into Lone Pine.

Both Dave and Stan walked with me for the next several hours to keep me company. While on the way into Lone Pine we could see the lights of runner’s crew vehicles as they made their way up the Portal Road off in the distance. This was discouraging, as I knew that I had several more hours before I too would be climbing. Dave and I got into a big discussion of how far it was to Lone Pine. I was really focused on Lone Pine because I knew once there the end was in sight. Since we really didn’t know how far it was we sent Stan to clock the distance to the Dow Villa Hotel. Stan took off in the crew car and left Dave and me walking toward Lone Pine. By this time I was becoming irritable and very impatient. I had it in my head that I had 4 miles to go; however when Stan arrived he reported that the distance was closer to 7 miles, which really sent me into a tizzy. I was took off running as I had no intention of spending the next two to three hours on this long straight road. I ran most of the way to the Hwy.190/395 intersection (mile 120.3). I had had enough fun for the past two days and was anxious to get the whole thing over with.

I reached the Dow Villa (mile 122.3) at about 7:30 AM. Dave and I chased Scott out of bed and I went into the bathroom in an attempt to wash off a tube of SPF 50 Sun Block, which was on my hands and arms, religiously applied by my crew throughout the race. I felt like a grease ball. After washing up, I bolted out of the Dow Villa heading for the Portal Road, only I didn’t know where it was. Dave and Stan were getting a cup coffee and noticed me going up the wrong road. Dave took off after me and finally got me headed in the right direction. Needless to say I was somewhat irritated at this point and in no mood for jokes.

With my full crew intact we headed up the Portal Road though the Alabama Hills to the Mt. Whitney Portal and the finish. This portion of the race went very well for me. I had plenty of energy and was able to climb at a good pace despite my sore left leg. I enjoyed walking with my crew and the spectacular views as I progressed up the mountain. I finished the race at 12:49 PM for a total elapsed time of 52:49:18; all in all a very satisfying and memorable experience.

Out of My League, or Home at Last?

2002 finisher

The first time I went to Death Valley to train for the world’s toughest Ultra marathon I realized I was out of my league. I ran four hours in 110-degree heat when I started crying for no reason and my nose started to bleed. I’m going home, end of discussion.

When you sign up, if invited, they make you sign a death waiver. The pavement can get to 200 degrees, and heat can get to 135-plus during the race. I’ve done stupider things, but can’t really put them to print. The thought of running for 2 days and 2 nights with 13,000 vertical feet and a 4,700-ft descent, from the lowest point in the US to the highest, caught up with me. “Going home. End of discussion. I made a mistake.”

The fear sets in. Fear of failure, ridicule and anger. All that training of running up and down Mt Tam with a backpack in the ski parka, and sitting in the sauna endless hours will go to waste. “Nahhhh…..suck it up, you wimp.”

I train 3 more weekends in the desert. I start to get it. Two weeks before the race I run 7 hours in 120 degrees and love it. Confidence is a good thing in a race like this, humility even better.

Race morning we drive the support van to the starting line 18 miles away. Rich Clark, my training buddy, is with me. He holds almost every Ironman course record in the world in the 60+ age category. Joe Amato, one of my best friends for 30+ years, is in the back. I call Joe the Human Calculator. He also knows how to piss me off if I need it. I found this out playing golf and chess over the years where he routinely humbles me at both. Just in case I need a little prodding I know it will descend on me if I dare start to whine. Mental is 100% of this race. To have the best crew is even more important. We become so interdependent on each other physically and emotionally throughout the event it is hard to describe. They are the real heroes. I’m merely the one stupid enough to have signed the death waiver.

Ten miles from the starting line I see two Germans running and warming up. I once again question the IQ of the company I’m in. (It turns out they weren’t just warming up; they were just finishing running 135 miles from the finish line before the race even started!) Lots of activity at the Start. Pictures, Discovery Channel, interviews with Runners World, endless press. You get the feeling they are interviewing morons who are on a one-way path to …well, Death Valley.

They have 3 staggered starts to spread out the field. We are the second group and go off at 8am. The first 40 miles are flat but also the hottest part of the course. Logic says, “Conserve once you get through this part–you have a nice 5,000-ft climb of 13 miles, so why run hard now?”

We have a long-term plan and are sticking to it. Start slow, walk a lot, shuffle along, drink a half-liter every mile. Stick with your diet as planned. Temperatures were recorded 126 in the shade, but you can add 10 to 15 degrees in the sun. Around 4-5pm is the hottest part of the day. Here we shuffle past sand dunes and Devils Cornfield with a nasty 20-naut breeze in our ear. The sun is now setting and square in your face. The front of the shoes are ever so hot. I try hard to keep my heels in the back of my shoes…feet are on fire. Stove Pipe, first checkpoint: 42 miles, 11+ hours. We move right through it. As we start the climb there are some thirty vans parked here–racers taking a break, some drop-outs, some Bonk-ers. We never stop, instead move right through the checkpoint. Many racers run a mile, stop for a minute or two for water. The Human Calculator, Joe, says, “Hey, that’s 135 stops and takes over 2-4 hours off your time.”

We believe strategy is the key for this race. I keep moving. They bring me the water. I think, “A smart crew, combined with a sense of humor, is a must.” The next 6 or 7 hours are straight UP to 5,000 feet. We have a full moon, experience many strange shadows and encounter many racers along the long climb. On a particular 1-mile stretch there are about twenty of us having a barfing contest. I’m in front of this parade of athletes and vans and am convinced I won First Prize: First in “Volume Discarded” and First in “Sound Made in the Process.” Seals would have been jealous of us of our tenor talent.

During the race, we call home as often as we can, but cell phones don’t work out here so wife Linda is enduring 8- to 10-hour intervals between updates. She is the liaison between our friends and family. She is taking care of Ben, age 4, who is not really safe to be here in this heat.

Around 2 or 3am, just short of the summit, I decide I need a 5-minute nap. They wake me up 52 minutes later. “Yikes! Why so long, Guys?” “You needed it,” came back the answer.

I took a total of five or six 5-minute naps, which seemed to work wonders. I was able to fall asleep in about 2 seconds. It worked wonders for my energy level during the race. The descent is short and very steep. It was around 90-100 degrees during the night and very comfortable. Rick shows me a lacing trick so I don’t slide forwards in my shoes. My blisters, though, do need attention, but I wait ’til the sun comes up. 6am: Dr. Rich the Surgeon takes over. Blisters on the balls of my feet get cut, drained, taped and sanitized. We lose 7 minutes then head across the second valley.

We go through a long, barren, sandy stretch. Joe hits golf balls as I shuffle by. He manages to find the only bush in the valley. The humor is high, the spirit outstanding. We get dive-bombed by fighter jets, just like in the movie Top Gun. Nice break in the routine. Fascinating to see them zip by 100 yards above the ground. Rich and Joe go ahead to replenish ice and supplies at the next checkpoint. I order eggs, toast and real food. I wolf it down in 5 minutes. Off we go. Back up to 5,000 feet in a long and winding ascent we climb. Much like what you see at the Tour de France.

It is early afternoon the next day and hot, hot, and hot! We pass a few athletes, as we seem to get stronger as the day goes on. Thirty hours of racing. Joe plays the radio over the walkie-talkies. The Dow is up almost 500, and Lance is kicking ass on the Tour de France. The cell phone finally works. I call Linda on her cell phone hoping she won’t answer. I can’t handle that love stuff right now. Need to stay tough and focused. The slightest “I love you” from her would make me melt, so I tell her, “I love you,” instead and pass the buck. Glad I have my sunglasses on so my crew can’t see my eyes.

We reach the next summit, and it is a brownish haze. Somewhere out there is a 34,000-acre wildfire ablaze. We smell it, taste it, and see ash flying. The sun sets at 3pm in a dark mango color. Eerie feeling. It feels like we are on Mars. This long, gradual downhill stretch seems endless. When I tell my crew based on my calculations I don’t think we can make the 48-hour cut-off to get the prestige buckle award, they seem rather calm about it. Do they know something I don’t know?

When I tell Rich, “I want to run a while, lace up and help me,” he is almost adamant about me walking. We run anyway. When he tells me Joe’s calculations are off by a mile, I get more suspicious. The Human Calculator doesn’t make mistakes. They are sandbagging some time. I don’t say a word.

It’s dark as hell now. The moon is full, but dark orange. There is no depth perception. The stretch goes on for eternity. Run a little, walk a little, run a little …

As I bend over to stretch, I look at the pavement and there are thousands of bats flapping their wings, all in 3-D. I pee in the sand, and the entire ground turns into living plant life moving up to knee-level. Everything around me is in motion. I hallucinate for the next 8-10 hours. During the night I experience the most fantastic visual experience I’ve ever witnessed. (I know. I went through the 60’s!) Plants and bushes turn into dinosaurs snapping at me as I go by. I see pianos and furniture in the middle of the road. Physically, I’m fine, but the visual deserves an Oscar.

Finally, we hit Lone Pine now. Start heading up towards the 8,000-ft finish line. We have 14 miles to go and 7 hours to do it in. This seems absurd, but the race manual says, “Be prepared to do 1 mile an hour.” It is that steep. We figure if we do 40-minute miles we can still buckle. Rich, who’s been on the road with me for 26 miles now, laughs and we all get giddy. Joe’s humor is endless. He gives us our stats as we head straight up Mt Whitney.

We do the first mile in 17 minutes, the second in 17 minutes, Mile 3 in 19 minutes. We are flying uphill. “It’s in the bag,” or so we think. We back off and settle into 20-minute miles. Four miles to go. I need to sit down. I sleep instantly while sitting up. I wake up seconds later and freak out, “Let’s go. Let’s go.” “Take your time,” Rich let’s it slip, “you got more time then you need.” They conned me the last 24 hours, always putting time in the bank. We have 3 hours to do 2 miles. What a team, what a crew!

I’m numb as I cross the finish line, too tired to cry. I am overwhelmed and still not fully comprehending what has transpired. Maybe as I unwind I’ll figure it out. Right now as I sit on a plane to London with family I feel like a servant of the gods who was allowed to play in their backyard for a couple of days and survive.

Total time: 45 hours, 52 minutes, 6 seconds.
20th Male finisher out of 64 (21 did not finish).

Running with the Gods

2002 official finisher

It was a Runner’s World article about Marshall Ulrich’s run through Death Valley, California, that captured my fascination with the race, Badwater 135.

Then, last year, as crew for Paul Stone I attended the pre-race meeting. I felt like I was an impostor. Did I have the right to be in the company of these super humans, these gods who could cover 135 miles in such an extreme environment?

Still, a few months later I completed my own qualifying race. Further training was delayed due to a serious leg infection. To make things worse all the old leg problems came out to haunt me. The confidence was starting to shake. But if cancer victim Rick Nawrocki did it, I had no excuses. This was going to be total immersion into planning, recovery and training. This was my Olympics!

My wife, Erlinda, and I packed our trailer and left Newmarket, Ontario, Canada, for a six-day drive to the southwest United States. Car problems requiring a new transmission only briefly dampened our spirits. We stopped at Grand Canyon for some serious hill training. Fulfilling Erlinda’s wish, we did a double-crossing hike of the Canyon in two days.

After a supply pit stop in Las Vegas, we arrived in Death Valley for the July 4th clinic, “The Jones Experience.” Ben warmly introduced himself at poolside. Soon all the excited invitees and crew were chatting away. We became instant friends with Dave Remington and his friend, Helen Jones. In her caring way, Denise Jones reviewed foot care with obvious expertise.

The small western town of Lone Pine was going to be our home base for the next ten days. I expected John Wayne to come riding down the road. The daily routine was simple: train in the Valley heat and spend a lonely night in the Mt. Whitney Portal’s altitude (8,300 ft.). On one run, I met the friendly Mike Haviland, who was with the friendly Drina, Hirst. He had just finished his own hard workout. We had the good fortune in enjoying Ben and Denise’s company.

The much-anticipated day of the pre-race meeting had arrived. This time, I felt I belonged there. Dave Remington came over with a gift, a rather expensive shirt. Moved by this gesture, I promised to wear it. Among the international field of athletes was Marshall Ulrich, an incredible specimen of fitness with an equally impressive list of achievements. The charming and unassuming world-record-holder, Monica Scholz, came in with her mom. Pioneer Al Arnold, the first to have completed the route back in ’77, held everyone’s attention. When Ben introduced me as the person who most represented what the race was about, I was stunned. Did an ordinary guy who just worked hard deserve a nod? But there was no time for an inflated ego. The crew and I rushed to a nearby hotel, where, over dinner, we reviewed the details of our strategy. They were pumped and jovial. Later I would find out that Erlinda, because of all the responsibilities and excitement, would not sleep for the next 70 hours. Affectionate hugs and well wishes were shared with Paul and Abby Stone.

Next morning, like clockwork we drove to Badwater, 280 feet below sea level, for the 0800-start. The first wave of runners had already been released at 0600. One by one these galloping golden Gods waved as they flew by. At the start, events were moving quickly. I had a brief stretch and then a stop in the outhouse, affectionately known as Ben’s office. Then I made a dash to the Badwater sign for a group photo and another, at the start-line. Then, with a kiss from Erlinda, a hug from Denise, and thumbs up from the guys, I stood ready savoring the moment. Thirty proud and united souls were ready to take on this monumental challenge. The start was both civilized and majestic. Ah, the joy of running. Freedom. Wide, blue sky. My body felt light but powerful as I skimmed the winding road over dips and curves. The awakening desert was bright with optimism. Race director, Chris Kostman, zoomed by on his motorcycle keeping an eye on things.

Easily we moved to the first station, Furnace Creek (17 miles), a palm-treed oasis. The crew consisting of Tony Bridwell, Larry James, little brother Joe, and Erlinda checked us in and topped up the four critical ice chests. Then we entered the death zone. The scorching sun brought all runners to a walk. The Continent’s highest temperature enveloped us. It was 125 degrees in the shade, if you could find it. Survival took top priority. Soaking cloths with water and ice and drinking was our defense. Frankly, the beautiful sand dunes got little notice. At the Stovepipe Wells (41 miles) station the media mixed questions with pictures, as we ate, stretched and rested. Some small, unfortunate miscalculation would keep 25% of us from proceeding. It could happen to anyone.

The first “hill” rose 5,000 feet over the next 18 miles. Two miles up the lights nearly went out for me. The crew sat me on a chair, placing ice on my head and neck. With wobbly knees we inched our way up wards. On the shoulder of the road, in her van and surrounded by crew, Ernie Rambo appeared to be in trouble. “Good luck, Ernie” was all that came out, in response to her faint smile. Denise was making her rounds to see if we were OK. As soon as sun dipped below the mountains everything changed. Tony with Clydesdale power paced us yet kept the conversation light. Strength returned. The full moon shown so brightly that a flashlight was not necessary. Towne’s Pass (59 miles) brought on great exhilaration. Jack Menard and his crew were not about to hold back. Their joy was quite contagious. We rapidly moved down into Panamint Valley, drinking and eating as much as possible. Without losing a beat we pushed through the next station at Panamint Springs Resort (72 miles) and up the next hill. Our goal was to reach the top before sunrise and the dangerous heat. Just slightly ahead, Jody-Lynn Reicher was bounding effortlessly over stones and shrubs. The 180-degree pavement heat had penetrated through her shoes burning her feet and thus forcing her to the difficult shoulder. Now I started to fade. Her advice to focus on the horizon helped greatly. Still, the time came where only yards from the crew, I came to a stop. No muscle could be willed to move. The gang moved quickly. Some pumped liquids and energy gel into me while others broke ugly blisters and cut out the edge of my shoes to relieve pressure. As he passed by, Marshall Ulrich offered help. In minutes we were on our not-so-merry way. Lone Pine (122 miles) seemed to be on the other side of the planet. As he was driving by, Ben instantly calculated that a 40-hour finish was attainable by continuing at a 22:18 pace. Our spirits were lifted again, upon entering the town. The crew worked franticly to get ready for the home stretch, the last 4.600-foot hill. Again the setting sun made it easier. Tony was doing everything for me, except walk. Larry, while joking around, was supplying drinks and food. Erlinda was comforting with her soft, soothing tones. Joe, a brilliant strategist, kept track of the distance and time remaining to get under 40 hours. Mile after mile I repeated the mantra “I can do this”. It was working! Over the last few yards we held hands unified by this great achievement. Just before midnight, we crossed the finish line, utterly exhausted, but completely satisfied. I was oblivious to the great news that a woman (Pam Reed) had won in record-breaking time. As we drove down, I kept fading in and out of sleep, in mid sentence. At one point we stopped, when Jody-Lynn Reicher, in her amazing way, pushed an energetic hand through the window in congratulations.

The post-race get together was filled with lasting stories and sweet emotion.

A few hours later, upon Ben’s encouragement, I returned to the finish line. I was there in the darkness to hike the unofficial 11 miles and 6,300 feet to Mt. Whitney’s summit, solo. By noon, on the 14,497-foot peak, I was basking in perfect sunshine and relaxing in conversation with fellow Badwater runners Linda McFadden, Barbara Elia, and Jan Levet (crew). I gave someone my camera. With one hand pointing at the lens and the other over my heart, I said, “take one for my wife”. For the first time I lost control of my emotions and then wept. The summit was so seductive that it would have been easy to spend the day there. But there was no time to waste. I had to get off the mountain and get to safety. Between the altitude and the rationing of food and water, I drifted into a catatonic state. I was a horrifying bag of bones. The return was a slow, agonizing step at a time. Just minutes before nightfall it was over. Humbled. I was reminded that we are mere mortals just straining to be like Him/Her. I hope He/She approved of our efforts. For a while we saw a little bit of Him/Her in each other’s faces and actions. What a thrill!

Desert Dance


Doors shield no longer.
Out, heat, fear, long, slow.
Winds, Dust, Smoke, Roads cheer.
Badwater, Desert Dance.

Desert Flowers, Hot Running.
Desert Flowers, Natural Watching.
In, heat, fear, long, slow.
Winds, Dust, Smoke, Roads cheer.
Badwater, Desert Dance.

In, heat, fear, long, slow.
Sunrise greets, spirit, will.
Sunrise, Dry Wind, Distance.
Winds, Dust, Smoke, Roads cheer.
Badwater, Desert Dance.

In Sunrise, Dry Wind, Distance.
Sunrise greets, spirit, will.
Lonely Slope, upward endless.
Winds, Dust, Smoke, Roads cheer.
Badwater, Desert Dance.

Lonely Slope, upward endless.
In Stars, night, pushing, wandering
Miles away, misery, mercy.
Winds, Dust, Smoke, Roads cheer.
Badwater, Desert Dance.

In Stars, night, pushing, wandering.
Lonely Slope, upward endless.
Victory, Tomorrow, Finish, Still.
Winds, Dust, Smoke, Roads cheer.
Badwater, Desert Dance.

Out, Cool, Rest, Home.
Cool, Sleep, Water, Home.
Winds, Dust, Smoke, Roads cheer.
Badwater, Desert Dance.

The Badwater Report by 2002 finisher

Originally published at

This is a long report—but then so was the race!!

When I first read about Badwater several years ago I was intrigued—135 miles across blazing hot Death Valley in the middle of summer—starting at the lowest point in the country and ending more than half way up the highest. As I ran more and more ultras I discovered that I like and do well in road and track races and that I don’t mind hot weather. I knew that at some point I had to try BW—it was my kind of ultra. Seeing the video “Running on the Sun” and reading Kirk Johnson’s book “To the Edge” clinched it. I applied and was accepted into the 2002 Badwater 135. This is an account of my race.

I obtained advice from a number of folks with BW experience including Steve Silver, Paul Stone and Jay Hodde and I read as much as I could get my hands on about the event and how to train for it. I actually started training for BW in January with gradually increasing long runs on consecutive Saturdays which continued through February and March, building up to a 38 miler. I would then do half the distance that I ran on Saturday the next day on the Sunday morning. I had weekly totals of 70 – 80 miles towards the end of this period. In April I ran the Double Chubb 50K in 5:26 and in May I ran 104.56 miles at the Cornbelt 24 hour and then the Berryman 50 miler on Memorial weekend in 10:24. I backed off a bit on the mileage for a couple of weeks and then ran a couple of 70+ mile weeks a good deal of which was in the midday or afternoon sun. This brought me to the end of the first week of July and then I tapered down to 30 miles a week running almost every day but keeping the runs short. My last run was an easy 3 miler on the Saturday before the race which was to start on Tuesday July 23rd.

I began my heat training in late April. This consisted of the following:

  1. Sitting in the dry sauna at the gym (no thermostat, they always kept the temp about 165 F – I could only stay in for 15-20 minutes).
  2. Walking up and down 12 flights of stairs at work, the stairwell was not air conditioned and faced the southeast so the temp would get well over 100 F by midday.
  3. Driving home from work with the windows up in the van and with the heater and fan all the way up blasting hot air in my face for 30 minutes.
  4. Getting into heavy sweatpants, two long sleeve shirts, a nylon jacket zipped up to the chin, a winter wool cap and gloves for a an hour workout on the Nordic Trac ski machine in the 90 – 100 F sun or for cutting the grass or for running/walking miles and miles at the track.

I went to Badwater knowing I had prepared well but I was still very nervous because I’d never been to Death Valley and I had no idea how my body would hold up under those brutal conditions. Suffice it to say my training must have worked as I finished in 40:45, well under the 48 hour time required to buckle and good for 11th place overall and 7th place among the men (out of 80 + starters). Not bad for a 56 year-old Badwater novice, if I do say so myself. Here’s how it went.

I had a good crew, consisting of Tom Reich, an ultrarunning buddy from home in St. Louis and Naeem Ravat, a Badwater wanna-be from Houston. I thought long and hard about what supplies I would need which we picked up in Las Vegas on Sunday on the way to the race. I had arranged for two more crew and a second car but unforeseen circumstances prevented them from making the trip. We had a rental minivan with the two rear bench seats removed to make room for all of our supplies. One large cooler was packed with three ice blocks, ice cubes and filled with water. This would be our ice cold water supply, and it worked really well – we never ran short of cold water. We had 3 additional small Styrofoam coolers with ice for food, other drinks and cold towels and sponges.

I set out from BW (I was in the 6 am start group) at a 13 min/mile pace and felt very good through the first check point at Furnace Creek (17 miles). In fact I was sweating enough under my white long sleeved Sun Precautions top that the evaporating sweat made me feel quite comfortable. I started out by running 3 minutes and walking 4 minutes when I could, although sometimes the course dictated when I would run or walk. I didn’t want to run up the hills and I didn’t want to walk on down-hills. Right from the start I took an electrolyte cap and a GU every hour – and continued this for the duration of the race. I would also drink two 20 ounce bottles of fluid, one water and one Succeed Ultra approximately every 25 minutes. It was 9:30 when I checked in at Furnace Creek, the sun was well up and the temp was around 110 F.

One aspect of this race which attracted me was the scenery—at the start you have mountains on both sides as you make your way north through Death Valley. The light cast by the rising sun on the mountains to the west was spectacular. The next 25 miles to Stovepipe Wells (42 miles) is gently undulating road through the hottest part of the course. By this time I was drinking close to a gallon of fluid (water, Succeed Ultra and Gatorade) per hour. Interestingly, I remained very well hydrated throughout the entire race as my urine never got yellow – first time ever that my pee remained clear for the duration of an ultra. The temp in the support van read 130 F as I was coming into Stovepipe Wells at 4 pm. A woman runner who had passed me around 30 miles said try putting a cold wet towel over your head (under your hat) and shoulders while running to help keep you from overheating which I found to be good advice, it helped keep me cooler and more comfortable than I otherwise would have been. I was also tying a fresh ice cold neck cooler around my neck every two miles which helped keep you cooler.

Somewhere in here I sensed a hot spot on my left heel—a developing blister. Not wanting to let it get too bad I stopped and had my crew bandage it up. Naeem had stayed for Denise Jones’ foot clinic after the pre-race meeting and he knew exactly what to do – pop the little sucker, add bandage, cover with elastakon tape, add tincture of whatever its called to the edges of the elastakon and cover edges with micropore tape to prevent rolling. I could feel the blister for a few miles and then never heard from it again until the race was almost over. I had run the first 40 miles or so in my Nike Pegasus and now I changed into a lighter pair of shoes, my Addidas Tapers. They felt good on my feet if a little tight in the toes as my feet were swelling.

By Stovepipe Wells I was really feeling the heat and needed to lie down in the shade on the concrete porch in front of the store with ice cold wet towels over me for 15 minutes. Tom and Naeem went in and bought me a popsicle—ahhhhh—very good, so I had two more. After stretching my back it was up and going again, up the long 17 mile ascent to Townes Pass at 59 miles. Tom was with me now, keeping me company as we talked on the long ascent. For the first few miles of this climb I stopped every two miles to sit and cool down my core body temp with cold wet towels. Naeem was handing off fresh bottles of water and Succeed Ultra, and various food items. I was eating grapes, cherries, pretzels, dates, p and j sandwiches, turkey and cheese sandwiches, cold canned fruit, yogurt and chocolate pudding. A gusty wind was blowing the 120 + F air straight down the road into our faces—something like standing in front of a very large and very hot hair drier. Dusk arrived and we turned to look back down into Death Valley which was receding in the distance. Soon the full moon peeked over the mountains to the east, it was so bright flashlights were not necessary—the moonlight cast our shadows across the road to our right. Up, up and up, mostly walking.

Near the top of the pass there were some flat stretches and little dips in the road which I ran. At the top of the pass at 59 miles, I lay down on a towel on the road and stretched my back and then was off running down the long descent into Panamint Valley, not too fast or too hard because I didn’t want to trash my quads, short steps with frequent short walking breaks was the ticket for me. There were still another 7 miles to get to the half way point. Running shirtless and hatless in the dark felt really good. It had cooled a bit at the top of the pass at 5000 feet (down to around 90 F) but now was warming up again as Tom and I approached the valley floor. I began to smell smoke from the forest fires burning off to the west. As you descend into the valley you can see the lights of Panamint Springs (72 miles) off in the distance across the valley but it will take several hours to get there. We made decent time across the valley and then started climbing again arriving at the Panamint Springs check point about 3 am. Many crew (and some runners) stop at Panamint Springs for some sleep as the resort provides a large room to sack out in, however after a short rest and stretch break I was up and moving out onto the 8 mile ascent to Father Crowleys Point at 80 miles.

This was a very twisty road with sharp blind turns. Good thing it was very early morning and there was very little traffic on the road. During this time my pacer and I heard a snarly growl come from the rocks off to our left. A minute later it was repeated, it sounded like a large animal and was cat-like, a bobcat or mountain lion perhaps. Tom left me shortly later and I was on my own for the remainder of the ascent to Father Crowley’s Point. The sun had come up a couple of hours prior to this and I marveled once again at the beauty of the mountains and shadows in the deep valleys. You go higher and higher here and have a great view back down along the twisty road. I see some runners way down there, tiny figures with toy-sized cars beside them.

Once up to Father Crowley’s point, the course levels off in an undulating sort of way. A car comes alongside of me and Tom, who is back running with me again, and a man jumps out with a camera. He runs ahead snapping photos. We run up the little hill in front of us trying to look good for the camera. He gets back in the car and as soon as it disappears around the next bend we walk again. However, with the morning sun I seem to get renewed energy and we began to put in some good miles running and walking along this stretch terrain into Darwin check point at 90 miles which I go through a little past 9 am. Between 85 and 95 miles I felt really strong and Tom and I pass 4 or 5 other runners and their crews. We hear a deep noise building quickly ahead and then a fighter jet zooms overhead with a deafening roar. He’s flying low and fast – open airspace out here I guess – no constraints – I feel as free and alive and unrestrained as that pilot must feel here in the high desert in the early morning sun, an exhilarating feeling. At Darwin I think to myself, wow you’ve gone 90 miles!! and then I realize I still had 45 miles to go, I’m only 2/3 done with this thing. But I’m feeling good and strong and ready to run. After leaving Darwin you work your way though a cut in the mountains and gradually descend from 5000 feet to about 3000 feet to the Owen Valley floor. There is a big dry salt lake bed off to the left and mountains off to the right. The jet roars past again. Dead ahead is the longest straightest black asphalt road I’ve ever seen, it just goes on and on and yup, that’s where we have to go.

This is a difficult part of the race because you don’t seem to get very far very fast, and you have to work hard mentally to keep focused and to keep up that relentless forward progress. Tom and I make a big sweeping turn and there stretched out in front of us was another seemingly endless stretch of asphalt road. The smoke from the nearby forest fires prevents us from seeing the mountains and Mount Whitney off in the distance. We run between two reflector posts alongside the road, then walk to the next one, then run, then walk, over and over again. We stop briefly every two miles for more drink and food and then go again. Every hour I still take a GU and an E-Cap and as I have been doing from the start I take some food with me back out on the course – maybe some pretzels, grapes, cherries, sandwiches, or canned fruit, yogurt or chocolate pudding. I hand off the empty containers to Naeem.

During this time I go through 100 miles in 29:27, still a little over 50K to go. Again its run a couple hundred yards, walk a couple hundred yards, from one road marker post to the next, over and over again. I changed shoes again back at about 80 miles – into my lightest shoes, my Addidas racing flats which I bought one size larger than normal. They felt good but my toes are now starting to hurt. I’m afraid to look. I change into a pair of Nike Pegasus with the toes cut out but they don’t help and I go back into the Addidas racing flats. 110 miles and 120 miles pass and then finally we come to the right turn for the 2 mile trek into Lone Pine check at 122 miles. I check in at 6:30 pm and continue directly to Whitney Portal Road for the last grunt of a climb up Mount Whitney.

Lone Pine is at 3600 feet and I have to climb 4700 feet in the next 12 miles. I’m alone now, focusing on the final stages of this race. I still have plenty of energy and determination and at first I alternate running with a very fast power walk, thinking with 2 hours and 40 minutes and 7 miles to go that maybe I can break 40 hours. It gets dark and the bats swoop low over my head investigating. A pleasantly sweet pungent odor drifts up from a valley off to my left. I’m still pushing hard with 5 miles to go at 38:45. But the climbing starts to get tougher and tougher, up the steep switchbacks and I’m reduced to 30 minute miles. I’m running out of energy. It seems to take sooooo long to go a mile at this point but finally I see the last turn in the road and the lights of the finish line. Forty hours and 45 minutes. I tell them I couldn’t get under 40 because I’m a poor climber but they quickly calculate that my time was four hours and 16 minutes from LP to the finish and tell me that is very good, that most people take 5 to 6 hours for the climb. That makes me feel better. I sit and rest. It is finished.

It is now one week later. I’m back at home in St. Louis. My feet were so swollen so badly it took 5 days before I could get my feet in my street shoes. The two worst blisters (the one on the heel and one around a big toe) are gradually healing and I’m starting to walk normally again. Everything else was fine—no pain in my legs, knees or hips. Looking back on this experience all I can say is that it was a totally awesome adventure – it’s a tough but beautiful course. Two sunrises, two sunsets, three valleys to cross and three mountain ranges to climb. I looked out at the high desert and the mountain passes in the daylight and in the moonlight and I liked what I saw. I’m glad I’m an ultrarunner. And I’m glad I took the Badwater challenge. I can’t wait to do it again.

A final note. I had heard that when you go to Badwater that you are treated like family. That’s exactly the way RD Chris Kostman, Dr. Ben and Denise Jones and all their support staff made me feel. Thanks to all of them for the hard work they put into organizing this event and keeping it alive and well. It was also a treat to meet Al Arnold, the man who started it all by being the first person to run from Badwater to Whitney Portal 25 years ago in 1977.

“Trail Turtle”; now “Desert Turtle”

Hall of Fame: Al Arnold

The Badwater Hall of Fame was created in 2002 with the induction of its first member, Al Arnold, who in 1977 became the first man to successfully run from Badwater to Mt. Whitney.

His plaque reads:


A Short History of the 20th Century:
1927: Charles Lindbergh flies solo across the Atlantic
1947: Thor Heyerdahl sails a raft across the Pacific
1953: Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary summit Mt. Everest
1969: Neil Armstrong walks the Moon
1977: Al Arnold runs from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney

The 2002 Badwater Ultramarathon is proudly dedicated to AL ARNOLD
on the 25th anniversary of his record setting trek from Badwater to Mt. Whitney.  In recognition of his pioneering efforts, Al Arnold is also hereby and forever recognized as the first inductee into the Badwater Hall of Fame.

Read Al’s ongoing column here on the site at this link.

Marathon is a Breeze Compared to this One: Tucson Marathon Organizer Recalls 135-miler

Originally published in the Arizona Daily Star, December 7, 2002, Sports page C1

It was 3 a.m. on July 24 when Chris Kostman pulled up next to Pam Reed in Death Valley, Calif.

Reed was running down a road guided only by the headlights of her support vehicles and a full moon. Smoke from a burning forest nearby filled her lungs. Water was constantly being sprayed by a friend biking alongside. The terrain was dirt.

And Reed was on mile 115.

The mercury had reached 126 degrees the previous afternoon. But it was much cooler at night in arguably the world’s most difficult sporting event.

“I told her that at the rate she was going she’d be winning the race overall very handily and putting her name in the history books,” said Chris Kostman, race director of the 25th annual 135-mile Badwater Ultra Marathon. “Two of the top men had dropped out.”

Reed became the first woman to win the race outright and shattered the women’s course record by 1 hour and 35 minutes. She ran over 94 percent of the race, finishing in 27 hours and 56 minutes. And she ran nine miles the next day for fun.

On Sunday, Reed, 41, will be in charge of more than 4,000 runners at the ninth annual Tucson Marathon. The heavily downhill 26.2 mile course begins in Oracle, winds along the Santa Catalina Mountains on Oracle Road, and finishes at the Sheraton El Conquistador Resort. Reed is the race owner and organizer.

“It was just so dry,” said the 5-foot-4-inch, 100-pound Reed of her Badwater experience. “You just have to drink every couple steps, which I don’t normally have to do at all.”

Normally, Reed runs 100-mile races in cooler places such as Colorado or Utah. Normally, she gets sick, maybe throws up, and runs the entire race alone.

She says it was different in July, thanks mainly to her crew organizer Chuck Giles, and six people in two vans. They ensured she was hydrated, fed, happy and alive.

The course began in Badwater, Death Valley, the lowest point in United States at 280 feet below sea level, and ended halfway up the 14,494-foot high Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States. It featured 79 runners, reached a low temperature of 35 degrees on Mount Whitney and included a total ascent of 13,000 feet.

Reed began the race at 6 a.m. on July 23. After Mile 17, she always had a crew member running or biking alongside her as did other competitors in the race. When she approached Mount Whitney, she remembered the previous record-holder had stopped for an hour and a half at the mountain’s base.

Reed just kept going.

On her way up, she called her husband to tell him she would win. When she crossed the finish line, tears flowed

“It took me a long time, up until a couple months ago, to realize it was 135 miles,” said Reed. “It didn’t feel that hard. I don’t know if (the other races) were harder or this was just my day.”

After the race, she went to the hotel, showered and slept – for 15 minutes. She didn’t go to bed until 9 that night. She woke up at 6 the next morning and dragged her friend Susy Bacal for a nine-mile run up and down Mount Whitney.

Kostman considers Reed’s run one of the greatest athletic achievements he has witnessed in his 20 years of extreme sports. He credits that in part to the fact that she ran all alone after the 42nd mile, never changed clothes, and ran on an all liquid diet.

“It’s completely unparalleled, her achievement, on many levels,” said Kostman. “Frankly I think it went improperly unnoticed by the mainstream media.”

Reed was 20 years old when she first heard of ultramarathons. Channel surfing, she came upon the Hawaiian Ironman and the Western States 100 races the same day on TV. It spiked her interest.

She moved to Tucson from Michigan in 1981, and in 1988, she ran her first marathon. Three years later she completed her first 100-mile race. In 1995, she came full circle, completing both those races she had watched on TV in the same year.

This year alone, she has run seven marathons, six 50-mile races and three 100s. Ten days before Badwater, she ran a 100-kilometer event in Montana. Three weeks after Badwater, she ran 100-mile race in Leadville Colo.

“The blisters thing, that was a little longer (after Badwater),” said Reed. “I continued to run. It’s just my feet; they didn’t heal as fast.”

In April, she ran the Boston Marathon, in reverse, four hours before the race started, in 3:36. Then she stopped at the start line, got a drink, and ran with the crowd in 3:30. It was training for Badwater.

Why does she do it?

“I (just) love running,” she said. “For a lot of people, running is so much work, and it’s not for me. It’s just so much a part of me.”

Reed’s daily routine includes three runs per day for about 10 to 15 miles, including one run at noon, year-round. She says her husband is supportive, but her five children think she’s a little “nutso.” They expect her to win every time.

Right now, Reed is not sure whether she will plunge into the desert again next year to defend her title. She says it depends on whether Giles will take the chief operating role and organize her crew again.

“It’s wonderful to do really well and win. That is not the reason I do this,” said Reed. “If I didn’t ever win again, I guess I would be disappointed, but it wouldn’t stop me from (running). I do it, because it’s (for) my sanity.”