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Steven Silver’s Badwater 2001: The Good the Badwater and the Ugly

“Ladies and gentleman, please return to your seats and fasten your seatbelts. Bring your chairs to a full upright position and stow any items under the seat in front of you, as we prepare for our landing in Dallas.” It was the standard end to an uneventful and smooth air ride. I had awakened with a start, not realizing that I had nodded off during the trip from Vegas back home. This was the end of an adventure. An amazingly wonderful adventure, which had brought me together with an old friend and into contact with several new. It’s sometimes hard to recall what seems like a year’s worth of living packed into a week’s worth of time. But here goes.

Last year, when I had to take a pass on Steven Silver’s invite to crew and pace as he attempted his 4th Badwater to Mt. Whitney trek, I felt as if I had let him down. Sure, I had a valid excuse (work duties in Mexico City) but I couldn’t help but feel like I had really missed out. This time was going to be different. Come hell or high water I was prepared and determined to be there.

The thing I was struck most by, was how different than other ultras Badwater is. Planning and team reliance are the most critical necessities and absolutely make the difference between finish or failure. The crew has to be “rolling aid-station” with several points where ice and other perishable need to be replenished. This requires realistic planning and experience. Luckily, we had Jim Wolff as our crew chief who has all the experience in the world. Jim’s taciturn pragmatism was the “steady-hand” for the group. He knows what to do and when to do it. That counts for everything out on the Badwater course. Most importantly, Jim has played this fiddle before and as recent as last year, crewed Steven to a great finish.

I could include a lot of cute crap about the pre-race, I guess but I’ll skip that. Mostly, everyone just wanted to get to the run. The three different start times are something you don’t see in many races. Everyone is racing against the clock, of course. Start times are six, eight and ten am. Steven had the ten o’clock start, which I think is the best start time. 1) You can sleep a little later and have breakfast before it’s time to run. 2) Since you start later after sunrise, you therefore have 2/4 hours less of sun on the first day. 3) You can always draw positive power by closing on teams that you are gaining on from the earlier starts. And finally past track record. Steven’s best time in the past came on his only other 10:00 start. (about 34 hours)

So most of the ten o’clock wave get down to the start by around 9:30 am. This is about 17 miles back into Death Valley away from Furnace Creek Ranch. The race comes straight back up this road and F.C. is the #1 checkpoint. We, in fact, got to see some of the 6:00 runners come back by the first checkpoint before we left to go to the starting line. The ten o’clock star time finally comes and the runners move down the road toward their destiny.

Here again, is where you are reminded that this isn’t like other races. Even though there are only 30 or so runners in each wave, this also provides for 30+ crew vehicles and here is where the reason for the wave start is obvious. There is limited suitable shoulder on a good portion of this course. Seventy-something runners with support could make for a dangerous beginning. A large size van is preferable and make sure that it handle the heat. White/verylight color and HD cooling is best. And be aware that there are substantial mountains that will require some driving in low gears. The vehicle needs to be able to take it. Ours was a full size Chevy and held up fine. Be sure and watch your water gauge though.

Lovely Laura Bernal was the flower of our group and the day before the start she let it be known that she wanted to start the day as Seven’s first pacer. She is also from El Paso (Steven home) and a good friend and running partner of SS’s. Steve James, a 3:15 marathoner from California who has been climbing mountains and sauntering up switchbacks since grade school was our third pacer/crew member. Steve’s strong suits are his unending positive attitude and enthusiasm. Finally, there was me. (Blade) I was there to help dispense with the whining when things got tough. My creative skills at foot surgery and damage control would also end up being required on the second day.

Off the runners go,It was about 106 degrees at the start and the terrain of Badwater looks like something from another planet. Think about the photos from Mars, which Voyager sent back and it will give you an idea. We would drive ahead about a mile and then pull off on the side of the road. As Steven and Laura would approach, it was time to prep water bottles and get out the squirt guns. We worked from the back of the van and after two or three stops, started to get the routine down. As the pair would come up Steve, Jim and I would give them fresh liquids, spray them off with cool water and offer food and encouragement. Then it’s back in the van, drive ahead another mile and repeat. This was going to become the natural flow. It’s like eating an elephant sandwich, you have to take it one bite at a time.

After about 5 miles Steven was starting to get into his groove and making steady progress. Laura was looking pretty red-faced and it was time for a pacer swap. We had talked beforehand about out pacer strategy. It was agreed that we would need to swap regularly to try and keep the pacer as fresh as possible. I knew that on the second day when things got tough, this would help everyone. Steve J. took over next and we continued on. Drive about a mile and stop. Spray down the runners and change out their bottles. Drive another mile and stop. Spray down the runners/change water/offer munchies. Getting the idea? It seemed as if the hose downs were needed as much as the fresh water bottles. It was so dry and so hot that water would evaporate almost immediately, once sprayed on the runners. By the time we were approaching Furnace Creek again, (Checkpoint #1) we had made at least 15 stops. The digital thermometer of the van was showing 117 and now it was time for Steve J. to swap out. This was also to be our first ice stop.

Steven checked into the #1 station at 12:49 pm and we got a chair out for him to take a quick break. Meanwhile, Jim headed into the General store of F.C. to get a few more bags of ice. I was to take over as pacer at this point and in about 10 minutes we were on the road again. For the next 2+ hours we made steady progress toward Stovepipe Wells, the next check station. Jim wanted to get a little action, so he took a short turn out on the road and then it was back to Laura’s turn. Then I believe it was back to Steve J. The rotation strategy seemed to be working well.

Along this stretch into Stovepipe, we gained upon several teams from the earlier starts. At 6:45 in the afternoon we came into Stovepipe where there is a store, gas station and motel with a small pool. I got out and refueled the van while Jim got more ice. Laura went with Steven over to the pool to sit down and cool off (?) for a minute. I was going to take the next leg and likewise went over to the pool to jump in and out quickly. There were several participants catching a break at this point. This is also the point where people have been going all day and begin to start dropping. As I walked up to the pool, I could see Major Maples sitting by the pool with his legs in the water. He had a bucket and was puking with great purpose. His race was done. Others sat in pool chairs with a comatose look on there faces. Reality was now setting in. Some would get up and some would not. Probably 9 or 10 runners wouldn’t continue past Stovepipe.

Laura worked on Steven with a massage stick for 15 minutes, or so and I think we left Stovepipe about ten after 7 pm. The sun was waning now, but it was still 116. Another change was to take shape now, because shortly out of Stovepipe Wells begins a long climb to Towns Pass at 5,000 ft. It would be dark for quite some time when we got to the top of Town Pass. As we moved into the night we caught up to other groups, including Art Webb, Shannon Farar-Greifer, the legend Marshall Ulrich (who was on the third of four crossings) and Chris Moon. Chris was sporting a new leg this year (I believe) and he was looking good.

Steve took over for me somewhere going up to Townes Pass and Laura wanted to take over after we headed down the backside. The top of Townes pass was another popular place to take a mental and physical break for the runners but our team resisted the temptation and continued on after a brief stop. Steven was starting to hit his first real “bad patch” and felt as if he needed to puke. Laura was able to pick up his spirits some though and a Zenadrine capsule helped him shake off the drowsiness. As I took over after Laura/Steve J, I could tell that we were beginning to loose focus. Steven was whining bad now, and saying that he couldn’t run anymore and there was still half way to go. (the tough half) I got in his face and told him that there was no way I was going to let him quit and to shut up and take the pain. I knew that when the next morning dawned, things would get better. We needed to focus on Panamint Springs (the next checkpoint) We walked through the darkness painfully moving toward Panamint. I told Steven to go ahead and try to puke. Dry heaves was all he could muster but it helped some and gradually his stomach settled down. Now the main problem was that the desire to sleep was the main bear on his back. A couple of times we had to stop and Steven would lie down on the side of the road for a minute. I would help him back up and we continued on.

Finally, finally, finally we came to Panamint Springs. (Checkpoint #3) There is a guesthouse there and Laura took Steven in and we decided to let him have a 30-minute nap. It was 4:45 am now and daybreak would be here soon. Jim and Steve took care of ice and supply duties again and I jumped in a shower that was available here and changed clothes. I still had not gotten sleepy yet and knew that the next section would be tough going, despite the new day. It’s up a very steep mountain now to Father Crowley’s Peak and power walking on this section was the prudent choice.

We left Panamint about 5:20 am. The nap and sunlight did indeed help and Steven was talking positively now and we gained on a couple of other people as we went up the mountain. Paul Stone was the only one that passed us going up this section and he was looking great. Paul would finish in 37 hours, this year and after the race he told me that he had really worked hard this season on power walking. It was obvious that it paid off considering his fine finish and the fact that he took a mind-numbing 15 hours off his time from last year.

Anyway, it was up to Crowley’s point and time for another pacer switch. I think it was back to Steve James this time. The road levels off somewhat after Crowley, and the next checkpoint comes at Darwin’s Cutoff near 90 miles. Jim took another turn somewhere along here and soon we had Darwin in sight. We made the Darwin check point shortly before 11:00 am, but Steven’s resolve was wearing thin again and at the check point Laura went to work again with the massage stick. Steve J. took over after we left Darwin but it was getting really tough now. Steven’s feet were in bad shape and it was obvious extreme measure would be required.

At one point as we looked back from the van (Jim, Laura and myself) we saw the two S’s stop. They were about 400 meters back from the vehicle. Steve James came jogging up and told us that Steven couldn’t make it and to turn around and go back. We did and got Steven inside the van with the side door open. His feet were toast and with great agony we got his left shoe and sock off. “Blade, you’re going to have to work on my foot, It’s fuckin killing me!” he pleaded. I got out my bag with the necessary implements and Laura laid him back and held him down. There was a huge area of “hot spot” on the ball of his foot and the little toe and outside of his foot was a blistered, bloody mess. “We’re going to have to drain this, moleskin it
and tape it up” I informed him. “It’s gonna hurt, so get ready to suck it up.” I took a needle and pierced several places so that the blood and “clear-juice” could drain out. I could say he bitched and cried like a pussy, but the truth is that this hurt badly and anyone would have screamed. Laura did a good job of keeping him down while I worked. After the draining and squeezing and cleaning, it was time for the spray and moleskin. I covered the ball of his foot with the moleskin and taped up the big toe/little toe which were mostly hamburger by now. Back on with a fresh sock and Presto-Chango, good as new! (Well, not exactly) Now all that was required was to cut the side of his shoe out, so as to provide more room for his swollen forefoot. We got the shoe back on and gingerly he and Laura began walking. We moved the van up a few hundred meters and stopped to see if things were going to be better now. This did indeed, relieve the pain/pressure and soon Steven began a bastardized jogging shuffle.

Once you are past Darwin at 90 miles, you can see the Serria Mountains off in the distance. This is good and bad because it gives the runner hope that the end is out there somewhere but you can see it for such a long time that it begins to feel as if you’ll never reach it. I took a turn again pacing and things were going somewhat better for Steven. As we neared a pass into Owens valley Jim commented on the low ice situation.

“We’re going to have to drive on ahead to Lone Pine and get some more” was his assessment. We got out a couple of bottle belts and filled up with the last of the ice. “We’re going to haul ass to Lone Pine now and then we’ll be back” Jim stated.

“It will probably take about an hour”

“OK, Jim, make it as quick as you can though” I emphasized. “Things are all right for now, but I don’t want our asses hanging out for any longer than need be”

He acknowledged and the three of them drove off to get ice. Even though the foot situation was greatly improved, Steven and I decided to walk exclusively now until the van returned. Better to save energy and water at this point. We moved down a slight hill and into Owens Valley. This is somewhere past 100 miles and it was maybe two o’clock.

Right about an hour, our cavalry returned and they were a welcome sight. I think we took a short beak here, as the great desire to sleep was hitting Steven again. 10 minutes is all that we would let Steven take, because if you go down for too long at this point it can be counterproductive. His other foot was needing attention by now and I cut up another sacrificial shoe in an appropriate fashion. Steve and Laura took their turns pacing again. We were now less than a marathon from Lone Pine and could see Keeler in the distance.

Minute after agonizing minute, steady progress was made. Art Webb, whom we hadn’t seen since leaving Panamint, caught up with us and this gave Steven a mental lift. Art said he was going to take a break at Keeler and jump in the water tub there. He in fact, did and Steven continued past. Lone Pine was in sight now. I kept telling everyone that we were going to make it and we all knew it was true. There was no doubt now. We still had to get into Lone Pine and make it up Whitney but everyone could smell the barn. As the second nightfall was coming on we were about 3 miles from the Hwy 190/136 junction. This is just outside Lone Pine. There is also a small creek here with a bridge across it and there is actually a green area with vegetation by this creek. The van pulled up just past the bridge for our next stop. Laura was taking her turn with Steven and they stopped at the back of the vehicle. Laura got a tuna fish packet out of one of the coolers and opened it to eat some. Suddenly something was wrong, very, very wrong. In an instant mosquitoes were everywhere. (They had come from the creek) This was the only water for miles in this godforsaken wasteland and the smell of the tuna had set these bloodsuckers on us with a vengeance. And we had no type of repellent onboard, who would have thought! Steven and Laura started slapping and running away from the creek and I yelled to Jim and Steve “Let’s get the hell up to the Chevron station and get some bug spray!” We jumped back in the van and Jim floored it to get to the gas station, which was now just a couple of miles ahead. While he drove, I got some money out of the glove box and we pulled into the Chevron. I barely waited for the van to stop as I jumped out and ran inside. Praise Jesus! They had “Deep Woods Off” on the shelf straight ahead and I grabbed a can. I tossed the cashier the money (not even waiting for the change) and was quickly back out in the parking lot where Jim was turning around. We were back in a couple of minutes and Laura and Steven were still running and swatting. I got out and hollered “Cover your eyes, guys!” and proceeded to spray the pair up one side and down the other. Steve, Jim and I also coated ourselves and the onslaught subsided.

With this latest challenge dealt with, Lone Pine was closer than ever. It was dark now and we put on our reflectors and got out the flashlights. Steven expressed a desire for a hamburger from the restaurant in town so Jim and Laura jumped back in the van and they took off to have the food ready and waiting by the time we got into town. We came into Lone Pine shortly before 10 pm and Steven checked in at the #5 time station. I went across the street to the Portal Motel to check into the room that would be our quarters, once we had come back down from the mountain. Steven went into the burger joint for his dinner. Laura had also prepared Peanut butter and Jelly sandwiches for Steve James and I and we scarfed them down in the parking lot. We were all ready now for the assault on Mt. Whitney. It’s a road all the way up to the finish at the Whitney portals. An unrelenting 13-mile long uphill with two main switchbacks. Steven wanted to get this over with in the worst way and Jim figured we could be to the finish in another 4 hours. Steve James and Jim both, know this mountain like the back of their hand so we proceeded uphill keeping our flashlights off most of the time. As we progressed further and further the temperature dropped. After two days in the desert the trees on the mountain loomed like surreal giants and I could hear a fast moving river off the side of the road. We tried to distract ourselves from these final few arduous hours of climb by playing mind games like “Where do you think such-n-such is now?” and “guess how many calories we’ve burned”.

During the dinner stop in Lone Pine Art Webb and company had passed us back and were just ahead on the final miles. We were gaining back on Art though and word came down from his crew that Art wanted Steven to pick it up so that they could finish together again. The emotions and endorphins began to kick in as both Art and Steven knew that this would be their last time for this monster of a run. With less than a mile to go, the “Art brigade” came into view. It was a chilly 50 degrees now and everyone began running. I hoped in the van and Jim sped us past to the finish line. I got out with my camera and began snapping pictures as Steven approached with Art waving an American flag. They crossed the finish in 40:19:58 and everyone joined in a celebration as Art and Steven relished their victory over the Badwater demons for the 5th and final time. The pain and personal sacrifice was over. This is what Ultrarunning is truly all about.

(editorial note: Both Steven and Arthur returned the next year…)

Reflections upon Badwater

2002 finisher 

Click here for Angela’s training advice.

Click here for the National Public Radio coverage of Angela’s experience. 


“The young are so reckless, they feel they are invincible, that nothing can stop them. Ultra-runners also display many of these characteristics, so I suppose in many ways, running ultras makes us young again.”
– Crew member/boyfriend Brian Seaver

“I know there’s that something in all of us, which you have tapped, that allows us as individuals to achieve the remarkable. Oh what fun it is to watch. Ha! I say this with the same morbid humor I savor while watching automobile accidents.”
– Crew member Steven Hong

“Treks through places named ‘Stovepipe Wells’ and ‘Furnace Creek’ are the ultra-runners’ way of once again disregarding mothers’ advice and placing not only our hand, but our whole body upon the stove. As a result, we become stronger and wiser. Some lessons can not be taught, they must be experienced firsthand.”
– Crew member/boyfriend Brian Seaver

My lowest point: Those eternal three miles leading into Panamint. At one point, I was laying flat on my back when I heard Brian’s voice in the walkie talkie say “The van won’t start.” I remember being so very grateful that I had not thought to put a mechanic on the crew and now I had the perfect excuse to quit this nonsense.

My second lowest point: The 100 mile mark. Although I knew by now I was going to make it to the finish, I very much wanted the finish to occur far sooner than I knew it would. I felt I had worked hard enough to that point and I was entitled to be done by now. The thing about patience being a virtue didn’t apply to those who already traveled as far as I had. Why couldn’t Al had just been satisfied with the Badwater 100 mile course???

The most physically demanding part: Getting up off the most pleasant couch in the world after an hour and a half of sleep at Panamint. Brian’s words, “C’mon Angela, if you want to quit, you have to get back out there on the road first” somehow made sense to me in my state of half-sleep.

The highlight: Much to the dismay of my crew, cruising 9:00 minute miles from the start with Marshall Ulrich.

The most unbelievable part: Once my crew achieved the perfect blend of caffeine, sugar, and ibuprofen, I was power walking up the portals and actually feeling better than I did at the start.

The biggest disappointment: No hallucinations.

Would I do it again: Highly unlikely. Although, I keep unintentionally having thoughts like, “I bet I could be a little faster next year” or “If there was a next time, I’ll be sure to try more of this/less of that” or “Oh, wouldn’t it be great to have ____ on my crew next year?” Hopefully, I will commit to being on a crew next year very soon so I won’t be able to toy with the idea of a double.

The best way to be assured of finishing the race: Having a reporter from National Public Radio tag along. The listeners probably wouldn’t be interested in hearing the triumphs and tribulations of someone who refused to get off the couch at Panamint. Click here to read, or listen to, the NPR report.

Final thoughts:

Denise Jones is no longer merely a Blister Queen, she is a Blister GODDESS.

Dr. Chris Rampacek is the most masculine guy to ever wear support hose.

I am so thankful that I kept the puke to a minumum and the pee to a maximum.

The Heat Training Clinics hosted by Ben and Denise Jones are like knowing the answers before the final exam.

Thanks to Kirk Johnson for writing such a thoughtful and inspiring book.

If it wasn’t for the movie “Running on the Sun” none of this would have happened.

Badwater 2001: My Account

2001 Finisher

My Account of Badwater starts 2 weeks before the race. I had a hard time sleeping I hate tapering! So I started reading the book to the Edge by Kirk Johnson I thought it was an awesome tribute to ultra running, a friend bought it for me. I didn’t want to read to the Edge (the book) or see Running on the Sun (the movie) before running Badwater, I thought that it might make me too nervous. But after reading Kirk’s writings it had a calming effect on me. I thought of Kirk running Badwater not me, which worked out great.

23 July Monday

Barb drove me to Enterprise Rental car to pick up our Van; Enterprise buffed us up by giving us a big discount (thanks). We were suppose to get a mini Van but they had a large number of 1 ton Chevy white Vans on their lot, just what we needed. I drove the mega Van home and Mark McKinney met me at our house to take out the Van seats and put the ice chests in. Barb, Mark and I went to Albertson’s and did the last minute shopping.

That evening Barb cut up fruit and I baked potatoes, I used a syringe with a big gauge needle to inject Soy sauce into the potatoes (a trick that Barbara Elia taught me). We finally got to bed about 10:00pm.

24 July Tuesday

4:00am our morning started, Barb and I loaded the remaining food into the ice chests and waited for Mark, Elaina and Chris to arrive. We left about 6:00am and dropped the Explorer over Mitch’s. The plan was for Mitch to drive the Explorer to Panamint Springs Wednesday after work so we could have a backup vehicle at Badwater. We had Breakfast at Denny’s (a BIG breakfast) and left Ridgecrest with big bellies, I remained silently nervous.

We arrived Death Valley about 9:00am, we parked the Van under a large tree and stenciled my name and race number on all 4 sides. We checked into our room about noon and unloaded the necessities. We had lunch and I had my first Portabella Mushroom Sandwich, maybe it helped me during the run maybe not. Barb, Chris, Elaina and I attended the 2:00pm meeting, we saw all the runners (I was silently bubbling over). Chris and I went to the pool while Barb and Elaina attended the blister care/prevention class given by Denise Jones. They started performing their magical taping act on my feet as soon as they got back to the room. Barb, Chris and I decided to get a bite to eat so we headed to the restaurant and had a Lemon Meringue pie. After the snack we picked up some ice to top off the ice chests for the days ahead. Barb and Elaina cut fruit for the run and videotaped the fun. We finally went to bed at 9:30pm, I slept well just had to pee every hour (hydrated to the max). Barb got up at 4:00am the rest of the crew followed, I slept in as long as I could.

25-27 July Wednesday-Friday

We left for the start of Badwater at 5:00am, there were really bright stars in the dark sky. I felt that the stars were eyes of my family and friends watching my progress, it was a weird nervous time for me.

When we arrived the air was warm and felt humid, the temperature was about 96 degrees. My Crew and I walked down to the Badwater lakebed and looked up at the mountain wall. Elaina asked what was on the side of the wall? I told her a sign that said sea level, we all said “WOW”. After a long series of pictures the race started. I fast hiked the first 2 to 3 miles and got my head together for the task at hand. I started relaxing and got into my game plan, simply “be smooth, steady, efficient and methodical”. I saw Ben Jones about mile 3; the Mayor of Badwater was clapping for me and said I was smart for starting out slow, I felt good.

The mountains opened up and I was in the sun for the first of many miles, Mark joined me in the sun about mile 8. We ran to Stovepipe Wells together through the toughest part of the course. I ate really good throughout the Valley which consisted of Strawberries, Kiwi, Bananas, Water Melon, Honey Dew Melon, Cantaloupe, Slimfast (Creamy Chocolate), Grilled Chicken with Swiss Cheese wrapped around it, Spinach Tortillas with Macaroni & Cheese and Tuna (my secret weapon). The Valley was starting to heat up a bit; I started catching up to some of the runners who had started faster than me. One of my fellow runners that I caught up to at mile 30 was Chris Moon, an extremely tough guy. He’s a double amputee from England and you can read his bio at

I arrived at Stovepipe Wells about 4:30pm and changed into Teva running sandals. Elaina took over from Mark and we headed up Townes Pass. My Back started to feel a little stressed from the Tevas so I ditched them and put my original New Balance back on. I started feeling a little nauseous, so I ate 3 Rolaids and wolfed down a zip lock baggie of Mac & Cheese while hiking up to the Pass. Elaina said we had passed Marshall Ulrich, he’s a Badwater legend doing the first quad crossing. He had already ran from Badwater to the top of Whitney and back to Badwater. He started his second trip with me and would be going up and back again. Read his bio at

I didn’t see him so in my mind he was still in front of me (I’ll explain later). We had fun watching the sun set, I looked at my thermometer it was 118 degrees. Three quarters of the way up the pass 2 friends from Ridgecrest showed up, Tom Miller and Phil Martin. It was great to see them, I thanked them for coming out. We got to the top about 11:00pm, at the top I had a bowl of Chicken Noodle Soup and did a Blair Witch imitation as well as a Slimfast commercial for the video camera.

Mister Chris Rios took over as pacer and we were off. We told ghost stories and looked at the Milky Way. The downhill was steep so we fast walked or should I say fall forward. We met a fellow runner who had bad blisters and a sleepy crew (I don’t think he finished). We arrived at Panamint Springs about 2:30am 72 miles, I used the facilities and Eric the Master Kajiwara and I were off. Eric, Jo and Mitch were with me now as part of the new crew.

The second mountain range was hard going but I had some fun at about 4:30am. I saw what I thought was a cement road divider in the middle of the road. I asked Eric if there was a road on the other side of the road divider and he kind of looked over to where I was talking about and said “no” then I said, “you didn’t even look”. I went to the middle of the road put my hands on the road divider to look over it and almost fell on my face as the road divider was a hallucination and it just melted into the road. At mile 80, 5:30am I sat down for the first time and took care of blisters on my toes. I cut a small hole to drain them and put Liquid Bandage on them, I woke up fast (it’s more like liquid hornet). At the same time my feet were being doctored up a couple of photographers drove by from New Times a LA weekly paper. They took pictures of my feet, my crew, and my Tattoo on my ankle. Most ultra runners experience renewed vigor as the sun comes up I didn’t, I couldn’t keep my eye’s opened. I asked for a 5-minute nap and was told that I should try ice instead, it didn’t work but the sleepiness wore off down the road. On the second morning the sun was hot so I put the sun suit back on, it was a little crunchy from the day before. Eric and I were running and walking strong, when all of a sudden a giant flying bug from hell arrived. Eric tried to swat the beast but it stayed just ahead of his deadly blows. Finally he made contact, we heard a thump on the ground but didn’t see the monster. We both agreed that Eric kicked the crap out of him and he wouldn’t return after such an ass whooping. WRONG the monster returned and attacked with such ferocity that Eric had to whip out all his ninja skills. He hit the beast on the first blow with his hat, the giant flying bug was now knocking at heavens door as Eric threw the final deadly blow. The giant flying bug was gone, but the fun of watching Eric battle the beast was spectacular. However as the battle between Eric and the bug was in progress the Crew in the Van got an eye full of what they thought was going on. They thought Eric was trying to motivate me to go on by beating me with his hat, they couldn’t believe their eyes.

At mile 90 Barb took over as pacer. Barb and I had a great time talking, we ran downhill until my feet started to tell me something was wrong. Both my legs ached to the bone, I hadn’t complained to any of the crew and I didn’t want to start with my sweetheart. I did complain and she said that she’d ice my feet at the next stop which was 100 miles, I said GREAT. I stopped at mile 100 with a time of 29:52 (better than Angeles Crest 100), Barb iced my feet and I pulled the tape I had been wearing for the last 100 miles back to expose the blister. I had a deep blister on the ball of my right foot. It was difficult to cut a hole in it so I had to stick a needle in it, lift and then cut. Mitch helped me drain it, then my favorite wake up call was added “Liquid Bandage”.

Mitch and I started out walking, my feet and legs felt great after taking care of the blister. We saw the switchbacks going to the Portals, it looked awesome 35 miles away so we started to run. Mitch and I had fun calculating out miles per hour and estimating how long it would take us to get to Keeler. I liked every step I took because I was in unknown territory, anything over a 100 miles was new ground and it felt good to run.

Jo and I started out mile 110, Jo was so careful to make sure a car wouldn’t hit me. She had her hand at the ready to push me out of harms way (all the pacers insured that I wouldn’t get hit, Jo was just a little more assertive). John Anderson showed up about 2 or 3 miles from 395 with his son Mike and 2 pots of Casa Java coffee. He said he would get me a hamburger in Lone Pine. Jo and I left the Van and I was looking forward to getting into Lone Pine, I had to use the facilities. As we were moving along I noticed a coin on the road; I pointed at it (I couldn’t verbalize). Jo picked it up and we found out it was an Italian coin (nice snag), I’ll place it with all my Badwater memorabilia.

We got to Highway 395 and Elaina and I started out, I reminded her that I needed to use the facilities. We stopped at the Alabama Hills Hotel and asked the Clerk where the bathroom was located, he said around the corner. I looked around the corner and there was no bathroom, I thought maybe he got a whiff of my two day old body odor and decided he’d not tell me the exact location. Anyway while I was looking for the facilities Elaina saw a guy with a 5K T-shirt on and said you’re a runner, aren’t you? He said “yes” and then she said do you have a room here? And he said “yes” again, then she asked if he would help out a fellow runner by letting me use his bathroom. And he said “sure”, I entered his room and there were 2 other guys in the room unpacking their clothes (they had just arrived). The 5K guy explained to his friends what was going on as I used the facilities, I apologized and thanked all as I exited.

Now I was totally happy entering into Lone Pine, I could see the last check point the Dow Villa. As I got closer I saw the silhouette of a Boxer dog; I asked Elaina if she saw a Boxer dog and she said yes. I knew I wasn’t hallucinating, it was my dog Murphy. My daughter Mandie along with her husband Jacob, my granddaughters Katie and Hope Joy and Jakie my grandson had come to see me finish. I didn’t know they’d be there, it was a really big happy moment. I checked into the Dow Villa and hugged my family and greeted Lisa and Glen Bennett from the track club.

Elaina and I headed for the Portals Road and a long pit stop. I wanted to check my feet, eat a burger and talk with friends and family. My stay was cut short; I didn’t feel good so I decided to leave. 2 miles down the road, 11 miles from the finish I started to shake, I felt like I had a fever, nausea, headache and body aches, I didn’t think I was going to finish. I held Barb and told her I needed to lie down she threw a blanket on the side of the road and I laid down for about 10 minutes. My shakes stopped so I stretched my legs and said, “let’s go”.

Eric and I headed out; I forgot my water bottle so Chris Rios sprinted from the Van to us. I must have felt better because I was laughing at how fast Chris was running. Now remember way back at Townes Pass I said that I didn’t see Marshall Ulrich when Elaina said we passed him, well I still thought he was in front of me and I was so inspired by his tenacity that I started to feel stronger every step I took. I knew I was going to finish! My crew decided that they were going to switch out pacers every 2 miles so they could enjoy the last couple of miles with me. 2 miles from the finish I opened a can of Whoop Ass, it’s a beverage to boost your energy. I took a sip; it tasted like crap to me (Barb drank it down).

1 mile to go, Barb was with me. Eric, Jo, Chris, Mitch, Elaina and Mark walked down to join me on the final journey. I finished in 43:36:20, 1:36am Friday morning and fell on the ribbon holding girl Elisabeth.

Originally I decided to do the race to challenge my body and mind. This is better than that; my Grandchildren will pass this on forever.

I want to thank my lovely wife and best friend Barb, she supported me throughout the whole enchilada. My Crew Elaina McMahon, Eric and Jo Kajiwara, Chris Rios, Andrew Mitchell and Mark McKinney, I couldn’t have done it without you guys “THANKS!” I also want to thank Ben and Denise Jones, 2 very special people, and Chris Kostman the Race Director for putting on such a top shelf event. Website of the Week

Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier-Waterloo, Iowa

Many people, myself included, look at marathoners with respect for their dedication and ability to withstand pain. The idea of running 26.2 miles is quite an accomplishment. But there is a small group of runners for whom marathoning is where the adventure just begins. These athletes are dedicated to “ultramarathoning,” running races of up to 100 miles or more.

The Badwater Ultramarathon, which began in the 1970s, is one of the most difficult ultramarathons in the world. By clicking to its website,, you can see photos of the event and read racers’ accounts of the action. It’s a great vicarious journey through the desert, but more importantly, a window into the minds of those dedicated to pushing the limits of human endurance. The race – which takes place July 25 through 27 this year – is 135 miles long, the equivalent of five marathons. It begins in Death Valley and ends at the trailhead of Mount Whitney. All told, the course involves 20,000 feet of ascent, and 8,000 feet of descent. However, for most people the biggest challenge is withstanding temperatures that routinely reach 120 degrees. At that temperature, people without water can die in a matter of hours.

Unlike the big, commercialized marathons, Badwater doesn’t have volunteers to offer racers water, food or any type of aid. Most people have friends and family drive along the route, hauling gallons of water. Still, by the end of the race, many wind up hallucinating.

The rewards for such punishment are mostly psychological; in fact, the winner only receives a small trinket for his or her efforts. Finishing, or just pushing yourself as far as possible, is the real draw for most racers. Some of the site’s racer anecdotes are great for those with an absurdist sense of humor.

Ben Jones, a Death Valley-based doctor, wrote an essay on heat training and conditioning. He’s a longtime event fixture and is known as the “mayor” of Badwater. One year, a Death Valley visitor had turned up missing a week before the race began. “During the race, I was approaching Lone Pine some 122 miles later and saw the coroner traveling in the direction of Death Valley. By the time I had made it to Whitney Portals at 135 miles, I got word that he wanted me to do an autopsy. I obliged, and then re-entered the course to complete the event to the top of Whitney at 146 miles … I am the only one I have heard of who has ever performed an autopsy during a race,” he adds. “Besides that, I used a water-filled casket … for immersing myself in to cool down during the race. I am also the only one I have heard of to successfully get into and out of a casket and finish the race.” The doctor believes racers should begin heat training at least three weeks before the race. In addition to wearing dark, heat-absorbing clothing while running, racers should avoid air conditioning. He often drives around the Death Valley area with his windows rolled up and the heater on full-blast. “I have done these things, and when it is 120 degrees, I don’t even notice the blast from the heater,” he writes. But, after instructing Web surfers in the best ways to brutalize themselves, he adds what must be an inadvertently comic touch: “Be careful.”


Badwater Threepeat

Three time finisher

I have run the Sun Precautions Badwater Ultramarathon the last two years. Both years I ran the race in 42 plus hours. Since that is considered a good time for a runner my age (now almost 60), I was thrilled with my finishing time but felt I could still improve it. So this year I went to Death Valley with the intention of trying to break the 40-hour barrier. It should be spelled “bearier” because it is a bear.

Considering my last two finishes as quite successful, I thought I had Badwater and Death Valley figured out. Piece of cake. Just go out and stay focused, drink the normal ration of Gatorade and other liquids, pee a lot and everything will be OK. I eschewed the idea that runners need supplements so I never before took any like those “other” runners. All I need is my Gatorade, which I drink by the gallon, and it will provide me all of the electrolytes and sodium that I need. BOY was I ever wrong. I have said many times that you can never be sure of how things will go in Death Valley, I simply did not listen to myself. Just when you think you have the right formula, the rules change and everything goes bonkers.

Now that I have had time to analyze and think about what went wrong, I have a story to tell. I have written an article about my experiences after each of my two previous Badwater finishes. This year I had decided that if all went as before, there would be nothing new to write about. As I said, I had this race pegged. But this story has something to tell and perhaps help other runners from experiencing what I went through.

Heat? I did not think this year, 2002, was as hot as 2000 or 2001, but it sure was humid. I was not ready for the humidity brought in by a thunderstorm that was expected but did not materialize. However, the humidity that accompanies a thunderstorm was certainly present. The heat index must have shot way up because I was unable to maintain my electrolytes at a normal operating range and by mile 36 I was starting to cramp. First I felt my hips tightened up and then slowly my hips and other parts of my body started cramping. I did not see it coming on until it was too late. I found out that cramping is a major symptom of electrolyte deficiency.

Besides my hips cramping, whenever I stopped to rest, my legs would also cramp so I decided to not stop. I was definitely slower than the previous two years and was slowing down even further. I had gained time over the last two years going into Furnace Creek but lost it all even before I got to Stove Pipe Wells. I had never experienced electrolyte deficiency before so I was totally unaware of my problem. I knew I was hydrated as I was drinking my “normal” amount and was urinating regularly, fairly clear urine, which is a sign of proper hydration. I needed time to recover but time down lessens the chances to “buckle”, that coveted carrot.

Jane, my crew person in charge of monitoring my medical condition, suggested that I take a break and try to determine what my problem might be and take care of it. This meant getting a room at the Stove Pipe Wells’ Hilton. She volunteered to go up ahead to Stove Pipe Wells and get us a hotel room. I was in denial so refused to give in and acknowledge having a problem. When I finally agreed to taking a break, it was almost too late. Jane did manage to commandeer a room for me in which to shower, lay down and recoup. Unknown to me, my son Kevin had queried the race’s medical team concerning my condition. The doctor immediately recognized the symptoms and recommended he pump e-caps into me. E-caps are these “magical” capsules that provide the electrolytes your body requires when it is stressed by the conditions under which we were running in Death Valley. Kevin and Heidi started feeding me e-caps in my drinks without my knowledge, thank God, because had it not been for that, I don’t know what the results might have been.

When I finally crawled into the hotel room I got into shower before I laid down to rest and rehydrate. The water in the shower was on full cold yet the water temperature never cooled below about 105F degrees. After the mid 120s outside, 105 was not too bad. I laid down and immediately my body started cramping from my back down to my toes. It might have been the right thing to do but I was concerned about my time and not being able to continue in the condition I was in. Everything cramped whenever I moved. Again Jane came to my rescue. She massaged my cramping legs and was a major factor in my ability to continue.

After about one and one half to two hours and gobs of e-caps shugged down with copious amounts of Gatorade, coke and water my body quit cramping and I was able to sleep for a couple of hours. Kevin and Heidi then went out to our crew support vehicle and made bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches, which we devoured and washed down with more water, coke and Gatorade. By this time it was getting time to continue and so we did. We left Stove Pipe Wells (mile 41) at about 12:40 AM Wednesday morning.

The rest of the story, as is often said, is history. I ran/walked for the next 24 hours and managed to limp into Lone Pine (mile 122) by very early Thursday morning. Then we slogged up the Portals Road in just over four hours to finish in a very good time, considering the problem the day before. Final finishing time was 45:56. About three hours slower than my slowest previous time but considering I spent six hours in a hotel room, I am again very happy with my overall time. Great crews are hard to find but I have always managed to find the right crew for me. They were wonderful.

What is next? Well, if you think running for 45 hours in Death Valley in July is crazy, as is the general consensus, wait until you hear about my plans for next year….

Crewin’ for “Cry Tuff”

Crew for 2001 finisher Rick Nawrocki

Damn! I can’t even run down my street.Bad knees, pins in my ankle, still smoking, and just out of shape. How the heck can I crew and then try to summit Whitney? All I did was send some jokes over the net to try to cheer him up. Hadn’t seen the guy in 27 years. His brother, Rob and I have been friends for years and he told me about Ricks bone marrow transplant. In the course of sending jokes I mentioned how cold it was in Ohio and Rick said, “If you’re looking for some heat, I do this little thing called Badwater out in Death Valley, maybe you would like to crew for me.” That was back in March!

Sounded fun. Buy some cool equipment. Hang out with friends. See death valley and the top of Whitney. Wrong! The experience was 100 times more enriching, exciting, and rewarding than I could ever imagine!

I thought the idea of summiting Whitney was the big treat, crewing was just something to do until you got there. Wrong again! In fact, who was I kidding? I was in no shape to climb a mountain like that! Well, I still bought cool stuff just in case. I joked with Rick that I was doing altitude training in Ohio by “smoking on the roof”. OK, I did quit smoking for the trip and remain a non-smoker still.

Two weeks before the race I ruptured my left calf muscle jumping off a diving board. How the heck could I crew? I couldn’t even walk. But I cant let Rick down! Besides, compared to what he went through battling cancer, I felt like such a wimp! OK, summiting Mt. Whitney was probably out, so I had all this cool equipment that I would never use and felt cheated. I would just go out and do my best as a crew member.

Saturday before the race, still limping and wondering if this is such a good idea, My brother calls, ” Dad died this morning”. What the hell do I do? Dad’s time was due and we were all prepared for this day for a long time. Rick is counting on me to help him reach his goal. Dad would want me to go, I am sure. My Brother and I put together a service for the following Sunday to give relatives time to plan and off I flew to Vegas. Rick and Rob lost their Dad years ago and knew what I was feeling. I also arrived in Furnace creek on my 49th B’day!

Rick was the best at getting Rob and I prepared for what was ahead.Even though I felt like the Jamaican bobsled team compared to what I saw going on with other crews.

At this point reviewing the race would be pointless to all of you who participated in any way. The whole experience was about so many other things than winning. (Even though the winners were incredible, and congratulations!) Seeing Death valley at 3 mph with no sleep over 51 hours puts an emotional perspective on things too.

Most importantly, I never felt cheated by not being able to try to summit the mountain, Crewing was “the treat”. Being with Rick seeing his highs and lows, watching two brothers love and support of each other, meeting and getting support from so many of you. The best examples of the human spirit, the will to succceed, the drive to achieve, was never more apparent to me as in that dessert. I think often of the last mile of the race. After trudging up Portal Rd., Rick turned to Rob and I and said,” Guys, I need to do the last one alone.” To be sitting at that finish when Rick came running over the top through the tape into his brothers arms with all of you cheering still chokes me up as I write this.

Lisa, David, Marshall, what a privelage to have met you and spent some time walking with you. You all were truly the inspiration that helped Rick accomplish his goal. Your experience and knowledge were great for Rob and I in showing us how to better support Rick Rick and Rob, thanks for letting me join you, I love you guys. I would do this again in a heartbeat. Dad, we did it!

To read Rick Nawrocki’s account, click here.

From Lowest to Highest in the 2001 Badwater Ultramarathon

Cancer Survivor, and 2000 and 2001 Finisher

Getting to the starting line this year took a lot more than just normal training. Two weeks of high dose Chemo in December & January, followed by a month in UCLA Medical Center in Westwood to receive a Bone Marrow Transplant using my Stem Cells.

I told everyone when asked I thought I was back to about 85% of last year, but what I lacked physically I made up in mental toughness & faith. I was right, but I was off on the %, more like 50%.

The race started and everything fell into place. My crew, Rob (brother) and Al (long time friend) were ready to roll. Our 4×4 Tahoe was loaded with ice and supplies.

At the 1st Check Point I was only 5 minutes off last years time. Check Point 2, I was only a total of 20 minutes behind, then spent another 20 minutes dialing in my clothes & socks for the evening and was off up Townes Pass. At the top of Townes, my quads never hurt so bad, worse by far than after the entire race last year. I thought I might had bitten off more than I was really ready for because I had lost another hour.

But I had to have this goal while in the hospital and recouping. I talked to my crew about maybe having to drop out at Panamint. They said they understood and not to worry about them coming out from Wisconsin and Ohio, they could see I was giving it 100%. They went ahead 1 mile and I said a prayer and asked God for some major help. Within a minute a Van pulled up and turned around. It was Lisa Smith who asked “How ya doing Rick?” She had been in contact with me in the hospital along with many other Badwater racers. I told her, not good, I was thinking of dropping. She said, “No Way, there was still a lot we could do.” At the next stop she had my crew get out a chair and iced my quads, then massaged out the lactic acid. 22 minutes later we were back running. She had the crew she was with check with Marshall to see if it would be OK for her to stay stayed with me till Panamint. He said sure. Lisa was a gift from God.We got to Panamint hours ahead of my projected time. We made up the 1:40 minutes I had lost and gained about another 25 minutes. She had my crew get me breakfast and worked on my quads again.

Then she asked David, a photographer and friend, to pace me up Father Crowley’s. He and my crew shuttled his van a few miles ahead every hour or so and he gave me reports… Marshall’s X amount of miles ahead and would love to walk/run with you, but you have to catch him, he’s not going to wait. My only chance was about every 25 minutes Marshall had to stop so his crew could wrap fresh ice on his shins. I think about 5 or 6 hours later, after I made it over the 5,000 ft. marker, I finally saw him!!! Now, I was getting close. I new I would be with him in a while. See, Marshall is another one of my Heroes and this was going to be great.

They gave me a 10 minute rest when I got there. I had a sandwich, pudding and Lisa worked on my quads one more time. Then we were off. We got to Check Point 4 in the late afternoon, and it was still light out. I couldn’t believe it. I started 4 hours later this year and still got to Darwin while it was light. We got to watch an unreal sunset. Marshall made me feel so confidant. We talked and joked together, and with our crews. My crew was doing great keeping me fuled with Sustained Energy once an hour. Food in between that, new iced bandannas every other mile and anything else I needed to keep me going strong. It was great!

Around midnight we were taking a 2 minute break & a Big Harley pulls up and this guy yells out, “#81, Ready to Rumble!!!” I couldn’t believe it. It was one of my crew from last year, Joe. He flew out from Wisconsin to Arizona, rented a Harley and found us in Death Valley. What a surprise! Around 4 am both Marshall and I decided to take a 30 minute power nap, so we went to our crew vehicles and got some much needed rest. It was my first sleep in about 48 hours.

The sun rose, and we were out by Keeler heading into Lone Pine. We got to LP to the cheers of many. I couldn’t believe it, I think it was 8:07 am and I was hoping to get there around 3 pm. We had my brother Rob get us both breakfast at PJ’s and decided to eat under a shade tree at the start of the Portal Road.

After we got started again, Marshall still had more in him than me, so I thanked him and Lisa and told them I would see them at the finish. Joe was a great influence to pump me up during those late hours. Going up the Portal road I thought was he a vivid hallucination or had he really pulled up on that Harley? He was really there… LOL. My crew was now using every trick they had learned to keep me pushing up the Portal road. At 51:51:08 I crossed the finish line; 3: 53 minutes faster than last year.I could barely believe it. I almost can’t remember feeling joy of this magnitude. We took pictures, got the medal and had to head back down to Lone Pine to get ready for the Summit attempt in the morning.

We decided to go to the post race meeting to see about other runners who might be summiting. More luck we hooked up with Denise, Scott (a climber) & Phil who were going with Shannon. Rob, my brother, was going to try his luck at Whitney in a day. See the rest of us train hard for 50’s , 100’s or Badwater or have climbed big mountains. Rob was here from Wisconsin but had every ounce of himself ready for the adventure. Al had to fly back to Chicago for a service for his Dad who passed away just days before the race. So, we were doing it in His Honor for Al, but Al was there in spirit! We got to the Summit at 12:30 pm, 5:22 minutes faster than last year. What an achievement, we were so happy. Going down was long and slow with never ending switchbacks, but we got back to the Portal parking lot at dusk. My brother was AWESOME!!! He hiked and had the time of his life with the rest of us, I was so proud of him.

I would like to THANK my Crew, Rob and Al, Lisa, Marshall, Jay and the rest of Marshall’s crew. I couldn’t have done it without the combined efforts of everyone.

Also, I would like to Thank everyone at SIGNTRONIX where I work for their love and support through all of this. They have been behind me 100%.

This was truly a dream come true. All during my Bone Marrow Transplant all I could think about was getting well and this race. Enlargements of pictures from The 2000 Badwater Ultra Marathon were all over the walls of my hospital room for the entire month. All I can hope is I always have a dream and a goal and never forget, No Matter How Bad Things Get, with Faith and hard work I can always try and give it my best. Lance Armstrong and I had both had a good month and showed Cancer Survivors are not damaged merchandise.

To read crew member Al Parell’s account, click here.

Industriekaufmann Eberhard Frixe aus Meine durchquerte Death Valley in knapp 41 Stunden

Laufen zum Takt der Rolling Stones

BRAUNSCHWEIG. Wenn er sich nachts vor Müdigkeit kaum noch auf den Beinen halten konnte, ermunterte ihn die Stimme des Rolling-Stones-Sängers Mick Jagger, die aus dem Auto dröhnte, zum Weiterlaufen. Eberhard Frixe hat geschafft, wovon viele Marathonläufer träumen: Er überstand das über 216 strapaziöse Kilometer führende Badwater-Race im amerikanischen Death Valley.

Die Tour gelte in Läuferkreisen als eines der härtesten Rennen der Welt, erklärt der Industriekaufmann aus Meine. Er stand bereits zum zweiten Mal am Start. Im vergangenen Jahr hatte er nicht durchgehalten – so wie 16 der 80 Teilnehmer aus aller Welt in diesem Sommer. “Nach 20 Kilometern war ich zusammengebrochen”, erzählt der 51-Jährige, der bereits vor 21 Jahren mit dem Extremsport begann. Diesmal hatte er sich vorbereitet: “Ich bin drei Tage vorher angereist, um mich an das Klima zu gewöhnen.”

Gestartet wurde am tiefsten Punkt der USA, 85 Meter unter dem Meeresspiegel. Die Strecke führt hinauf auf das Mount Whitney Portal, das 2548 Meter hoch liegt. Insgesamt müssen die Läufer 3962 Höhenmeter überwinden. Sollzeit: 60 Stunden. Die hat der Sportler unterboten. Exakt 41 Stunden, 39 Minuten und 35 Sekunden brauchte er. Damit platzierten sich Frixe und Laufkollege Uli Weber aus Franken unter den besten 30. Wer unter der magischen Marke von zwei Tagen bleibt, bekommt die begehrte Badwater-Race-Gürtelschnalle.

Die Bedingungen waren extrem: Tagsüber brannte die Sonne bei 53 Grad Celsius, nachts sanken die Temperaturen auf minimal besser verträgliche 30 Grad. Ein Cap mit Nackentuch schützte ihn vor der Einstrahlung. “Andere trugen weiße Leinenanzüge.” Auf den letzten 40 Kilometern hat Frixe nochmal zwölf Konkurrenten überholt, jedesmal ein neuer Adrenalinstoß. Gerade mal eine halbe Stunde Schlaf hat sich der 51-Jährige innerhalb der 41 Stunden gegönnt. Gegessen wurde halbwegs im Stehen, und zwar Trekkingnahrung: “Spaghetti Bolognese, einfach Wasser dazu. Ein wunderbares Gericht”, beschreibt der Extremsportler. Oder Bananen, “die sind schnell im Körper verfügbar”.

Begleitet wurde Frixe von seinem Team, das in einem Van nebenher fuhr: ein Physiotherapeut, der die Waden massierte, wenn sie zu sehr verhärtet waren, ein Fernsehreporter und dessen Freundin, eine Krankenschwester, betreuten ihn. “Ein eingespieltes Team”, lobt Frixe. Gegen die Hitze legte er sich nasse Handtücher um den Hals, seine Crew spritzte ihn mit kaltem Wasser ab.

Trotz der Strapazen dieser Woche fühlt sich der braun gebrannte Frixe super: “Das liegt an den Endorphinen.” Das so genannte Runner’s High halte eine gute Woche an. Muskelkater habe er nicht.

Dennoch trainiert der Meiner bereits wieder fleißig in heimischen Gefielden. Allerdings auf Sparflamme – etwa 20 Kilometer läuft er jeden Tag. Sein nächstes großes Ziel hat der Läufer, der den diesjährigen Hannover-Marathon in zwei Stunden und 57 Minuten rannte, schon vor Augen, für den Herbst: La Réunion, die Nachbarinsel von Mauritius. Sponsoren buttern für die Reisekasse zu. “135 Kilometer, 8000 Höhenmeter Unterschied, durch fünf Klimazonen”, sagt er. Seine Familie habe dafür Verständnis: “Meine Frau und meine beiden Kinder laufen selbst Marathon.”

Badwater 2001 Double Story

I won’t make this long as I don’t have a choice because, slowly but surely it is all coming back to me. I started with the 6 AM Badwater runners. As I was driving to the race, the crew van had a flat tire. The only thing I could do then was to hitch-hike with my one hand-held bottle. I knew that this was just one of my little hurtles with the race. Marshall Ulrich’s crew picked me up and brought me to the start. Anne Langstaff offered to share her crew with me until my crew fixed the flat. I knew I could not stay with her. She is just way too fast. I bummed water from whomever I saw. Soon my crew came and I felt a sense of security. I had Denise Jones, Kari Marchant, my masseuse Michelle Gardner. I couldn’t ask for a better team. My family including my husband, Alan, my two boys, Maurice and Ben, my mother, Jackie, and my sister, Beth, arrived for the mid-performance. I will never forget them for their love and support through this journey.

What a beautiful day, not as hot as expected, and I couldn’t believe it, I was finally here, after training for a year, sacrificing family obligations, sauna training and the obsession with the race. Jay Grobeson picked me up at Furnace Creek (17 miles) and slowed me down a bit. His experience and company were main factors for my success with the race. I felt so safe with him. I knew he would look out for my best interest. I reached the finish at the Portals (135 miles) in 51:41:47. To run through the tape with my family, I couldn’t ask for more in my life than this. I could only compare this to giving birth to triplets. I had other plans. This was the delivery of my first (born) my second (delivery) is to summit the mountain. Between these times, I wanted to participate in the post-race dinner and be a part of this event of the race. I felt we were all a team. My next attempt could wait a few hours. At 2 AM Saturday, I started my summit quest. What an amazing sunrise happened. I will never forget it. Although I was hoping to be on the top at the time of the sunrise, we caught it half way up. The summit of Whitney (146 miles) was reached in 78:30. Coming down from the mountain, my body finally felt the fatigue. At this point I had less than 3 hours sleep since the start of the race. I couldn’t recognize my crew. I started to feel weak and I slipped on a rock. This was a concern, I felt. My family was at the bottom of the mountain. I so badly needed to see their faces and kiss my family. I felt safe again. I had just delivered my second (born) and my third (delivery) was about to happen. I just needed to be with my family and have a few hours of sleep. I went back to the hotel. I think I ate dinner, but I can’t remember if I did. I fell asleep with my son Ben in my arms. I awakened to attempt the return. My crew took me back to the Portals (146 + 13 miles), where I left off the day before. Badwater was my next destination (third delivery) at 292 rounded off to 300 miles.

I knew this would be more difficult as I was beyond fatigue. There was no entertainment with the race and other runners. It was just I and my crew on this fantastic journey. I had bad stomach problems coming down from the Portals. Not much wanted to stay down. By the time I reached Keeler (146 + 36 miles), my crew called for an IV. The IV solutions arrived. Dr Ben Jones thought my crew needed it more than I did. I was happy that I was able to do this without IV’s. I could eat and keep food down. I just kept with the ultra shuffle. The nighttime was hard for me. I wanted to be home with my family, however I had Kari call her husband, Phil, to come run with me. He had left the racecourse and had been working all day in Bishop. He came with his son, Richard, a 13-year old, who has the desire to be the youngest Badwater competitor in the future. I know he can do this. He was so amazing with me. I needed their bodies next to me so badly. I began to feel safe.

I never thought I would be so excited to see Panamint Springs (146 + 74 miles) the next day. I had all my other landmarks, but I had to chop this up into little goals. At Stovepipe Wells Village (146 + 95 miles), I found a phone booth and called my son, Maurice. When I heard his voice, I couldn’t stop crying. He told me to go on, that he loved me, and that I can do it. Denise re-taped my feet in the public gas station bathroom as I ate a burrito. A far cry from my Calabasas lifestyle, but so is lying on the middle of the asphalt at 4 AM.

As I left Stovepipe Wells, the headwinds were fierce with the heat blowing into my face. I just broke down at this point, but the shuffle kept me moving. The icepacks on my right shin kept the pain down to a mild ouch. I had Chris Moon, a double amputee, just ahead of me. He was doing his second double, this time with a new prosthesis. I knew he was feeling the same. He gave my crew words to give me to keep moving. He was my inspiration along with my charity. I know that the children for whom I run are still in pain. [Today as I write this, I am home trying to get my life back to normal, they are not, and they might not]. I can’t quit or give up. I wouldn’t want the children with cancer to give up, so this kept me moving. My crew was so committed. I still can’t believe the love that they have given me during these days.

As I turned the corner to see the Badwater sign, this was the delivery of my third (born). I could not feel any emotion. Although I was told it was a triumphant finish, I felt as if I had to detach myself from the pain. This left me emotionless. It was 180:15:15-hours later. I had done it. I did the “double” with Badwater. I had the best crew. I never thought the body and mind could do this. I proved myself wrong. I will always have the greatest respect for the desert, for Jay, Denise and Ben Jones, Kari, Phil, Ashley and Richard Marchant, Luke and Alexis, Scott, Michelle, George Velasco and June, and all those who kept me moving, Chris Moon, Marshall Ulrich, Chris Kostman, Mary Campilongo, Art Webb, Steve Silver, Blade and his elephant sandwich theory, my family, and all of the Badwater runners, because we share a special bond. I don’t know if this makes sense, but I’m still a little whacked out. When I wake up in the morning, I have to think, “Am I making breakfast for my kids, or am I running to Darwin?” Each day gets better. The memories are coming back and are fresher than ever. I just wanted to post this, as I want to share my experience. This race has changed my life. It was more of a journey for me on personal growth. It validates the beauty of the sport and the camaraderie and just knowing how powerful we are as human beings. My time might not be one to be admired, but I’ve never been about that. The destination was almost sad for me, as I wanted to sit down before I reached the finish. In a way I didn’t want it to end. The journey was the best, not the finish, yeah … I say that now.

Shannon Farar-Griefer

PS: I would like to conclude by recognizing for their support and Slim-Fast for providing me with the proper fuel to get me through the 300 miles and New Balance for putting the perfect shoes on my feet to keep me moving.

Action Figures

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

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

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

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

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

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

• • •

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• • •

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• • •

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

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


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

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

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