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He’s Not Heavy, He’s My Brother

Crew for Marshall Ulrich and his Badwater Quad for Starving Children

I can honestly say that I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I committed to being a member of Marshall Ulrich’s crew as he attempted a Badwater Quad, an unprecedented feat of running 600 miles through Death Valley. To cover the miles, he would travel back and forth from Badwater, -282 feet below sea level, to the top of Mount Whitney, +14,500 feet above sea level, twice. The adventure sounded exciting and the opportunity to be involved in such a record-breaking event lured me in and drove me to want to add my name to the list of crewmembers. Not only was I enticed by the adventure but also by the inspiration behind the run. This was an undertaking to help raise money for the Missions of the Religious Teachers Filippini which help save the world’s starving children. Because of its inspiration I knew there was something more, something special, about this journey and about Marshall.

Although I was basically clueless about Death Valley and what exactly my role was going to be in helping Marshall, I admit that I did have two preconceived notions about the experience. First, I knew it would be hot. I also knew that in being a part of this once in a lifetime event and witnessing this extreme athletic undertaking and ultimate test of one’s own body and soul for the benefit of others, I would be changed forever. I was right on both accounts- it was hot and I have been forever changed.

After a two-hour drive from the Las Vegas Airport, Jay, David, and I arrived at our motel in Stove Pipe Wells where we were to meet Marshall, Lisa and the rest of the crew. Those we were meeting had already completed the first two legs of the journey, approximately 300 miles. Immediately upon our arrival I got a taste of what makes Death Valley so famous- high temperatures. I stepped out of the car into an oppressive heat and a strong desert wind. It was 5:00pm and I was overwhelmed by the dense, hot air that surrounded me. With such heat present in the evening, I grew anxious about being introduced to the desert heat at high noon.

The room at the Stove Pipe Wells Motel served as our race headquarters. From the outside, the room had few visible signs that this was the camp of a man who had plans to run 600 miles through the hottest place in America. The only signs of life were the few shirts and socks left out to dry in the sun. However, once I walked into the room, I entered a new world. My assumptions about this experience were confirmed as I stood in the doorway. It was going to be hot and unlike any other experience in my life.

The room was a bit of organized chaos. It was stocked with supplies that would be Marshall’s lifeline for his journey- food, cases of O2GO, extra clothes all embroidered with the North Face logo, boxes of new running shoes, a bike, and first aid kits. Although I was a bit overwhelmed by the scene, I didn’t have time to get too frazzled because a gold Chrysler mini van packed with people soon pulled up to the door. It was Marshall, Lisa and the rest of the crew. Although they were all tired and hadn’t slept in 24 hours, they greeted Jay, David, and I with smiles and hugs. Immediately my worries were eased, my fears pacified. Although I was the youngest of the group, I was welcomed with open arms, literally, big hugs from everyone. In a matter of seconds, complete strangers made me to feel like part of the family. Again my assumptions about this trip and the people involved were confirmed. These were special people and this was a special event.

At four o’clock the next morning, two mini vans filled with crew and supplies left the motel at Stove Pipe Wells to escort Marshall to the starting line of the race where his third crossing would begin. Marshall’s third crossing was in conjunction with the Badwater Ultra Marathon where he would be joined by 71 other athletes hoping to run 135 miles from Badwater to Mount Whitney. Twenty-five miles from the start, Marshall began to experience tendonitus in the left shin. Only a few miles later, the same fate befell the right shin. At this point, a plan was devised to help reduce pain and swelling. Ice, changed approximately every 20 minutes, was ace bandaged to his shins until he crossed the finish line.

As if running 600 miles through Death Valley in July does not present enough of its own obstacles, having to endure crippling pain in the legs for close to 300 miles, which include drastic changes in elevation as three major mountain ranges are crossed, adds another large hurdle. It is in the face of adversity, however, that the true character of a person is revealed. It is only the toughest of people that can stare adversity square in the eyes, then poke them out. I don’t know if Marshall Ulrich can be described as tough. That would never do him justice. I don’t think there is a word in the English language or any language for that matter that could describe this man.

Although sharp pains pierced his legs with every step, blisters appeared on his feet, the sun beat down hard on him every day, wind blew at his face, and sleep was a word missing from his vocabulary for 10 days, Marshall kept moving with a smile on his face. You would be hard pressed to remember a time that he complained or didn’t ask how everyone on the crew was holding up. In all of his pain and suffering, Marshall never lost a sense of something beyond himself- the children he was running for. In his moments of greatest suffering, it was not about him, it was about the children. For them, he pushed himself to continue even if that meant slowing from a run to a walk. Marshall offered all of his own pain to help relieve some of the suffering that these children endure every day.

As Marshall made the final turn onto the road leading back to Badwater for the last 17 miles of the Death Valley Quad, after having covered approximately 580 miles, the desert did not yield. It maintained the most vicious and unforgiving conditions. Temperatures were extreme, approaching 130 degrees and wind whipped at close to 30 miles an hour. Most mortals would have long since crumbled but Marshall pressed on and arrived at the finish line as the sun was setting 10 days and 13 hours after the start of the Quad.

No big fanfare waited for our arrival at the finish. A few photographers were present as Marshall along with his seven crewmembers walked arm in arm across an ever so appropriate ace bandage finish line. There was no need for fanfare as no fanfare or celebration could do this feat justice. A douse of champagne and a few loving words from crewmembers while Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best” played in the background was all that was needed to commemorate the finish. In his own quiet way, Marshall overcame all odds and accomplished a goal that even in the face of adversity he never dreamed of letting slip away. He taught us all a lesson about will power, determination, courage, and dedication to other people.

As Marshall was getting his picture taken after the finish, I stared out into the open desert and looked up into the blue sky filled with pink clouds as the sun quietly slipped away behind the horizon. Lisa put her arm around me and a chill ran through my body. Never before had I seen such an athletic pursuit and strong display of human will power. Marshall has shown me that there are no limitations. The human mind is a powerful thing capable of conquering anything it wants. Life is about desire. With desire, passion, strong will and help from other people, anything is possible. You just have to believe.

Click here to read Marshall’s report and to view an incredible finish line slideshow by Tony DiZinno.

My Time in the Desert, the Badwater Ultramarathon

2001 finisher

A 135-mile road race. OK, but 135 miles is longer than I had ever run. No aid stations so one would need at least a four-person crew and two vehicles. OK, I’ll get a crew. Start at 280 feet below sea level and finish at 8,340 feet including going to 5,000 feet twice for over 13,000 total feet of climb. OK, maybe I can do it. The average high temperature is 115 degrees and the low is 87 degrees. Well, now I’m scared.

For the past nine months I had thought of the Badwater 135 every day and night. I had signed up for one of the world’s toughest foot races. I bought the movie, ’Running on the Sun ’documenting the 1999 race. I had never seen such blisters, puking, and excellent runners talking incoherently. I read everything about the race and visited the race’s excellent web site at www.badwaterultra.com.

The race goes from Badwater, the lowest point in the US to the Mt. Whitney Portal through Death Valley during the hottest week of the year. Although not part of the race one can get a permit to go to the top of Mt. Whitney, at 14,494′, the highest point in the continental US.

Wow! How to do it all? The hard drive of my brain was flashing overload. The Mt. Whitney hike would take 12 to 15 hours. A difficult long day by itself but after 135 miles? I read several hiking reports and books. Mt. Whitney was considered a separate event and I packed a pack with gear just for the ascent. My pack would be ready to go at the Mt. Whitney Portal. My lottery permit was for Friday, which gave me the freedom to start as early as midnight or a practical late start of noon. With the Mt. Whitney planning out of the way I could concentrate on the Badwater 135.

Since Badwater is a road race, training was just miles of more miles. Everytime I looked at the end of my driveway there were an infinite number of roads to run but how much was enough or too much? An injury would wreck months of planning and training. Training for heat was another problem to solve. There are many ways to heat train. One method is to workout in a sauna increasing the temperature gradually to 160 degrees. Working out in a sauna to the same temperature as cooked meat didn’t sound reasonable so two weeks before the race I started wearing more clothing on my daily training runs. Starting with a black long sleeve poly top eventually I was wearing three layers of black clothing. The same gear as running at 20 degrees in the winter. The topper was the black wool stocking cap. After a few miles my brain felt like popcorn in a microwave oven. I was at my limit, if Badwater was hotter then I would be cooked.

Fluids, food, clothing, and medical gear were the main elements for race day. Clothing was easy, two sets of coolmax T shirts with black compression shorts, a few pairs of socks, one pair of NB 1220 road shoes and a Sun-Precautions desert type white hat. Exposed skin would get a coat of 30 Sunblock. The medical kit was a big bag with a variety of tapes, ointments, New Skin, needles, Band-Aids, and Succeed capsules.

We bought the food in Las Vegas. The full shopping cart had almost everything I had ever eaten at an ultra. I wasn’t sure what would taste good during the race.

Fluids were easy, ten gallons of water, two gallons of Succeed, and four liters of Coca-Cola. After adding the crew’s food and fluids we had to tie two suitcases onto the roof of the rented Ford Expedition.

By lottery I would start at 6:00 AM. Other starts were 8:00 and 10:00 AM. 6:00 AM was the coolest start but the 10:00 AM start had the advantage of knowing all the other runners’ checkpoint times.

At 6:00 AM it was 90 degrees, the sun hadn’t cleared the mountains yet to start baking Death Valley. The early miles were fun. I met a few people and played a game of leapfrog with runners and pace cars. My son, Aaron and daughter, Lorraine were crewing me for the first ten hour shift. My wife, Lorraine, son-in-law John Kulas and daughter-in-law Allison and grandsons Austin, Jordan, and Carter were back at Furnace Creek Ranch, the seventeen mile check point to cheer me on. The checkpoint was just a person with a clipboard. No stopping just a verbal acknowledgement as I ran by.

By now the race was getting a rhythm. The crew knew when I needed fluids and the temperature was rising. The next checkpoint was Stovepipe Wells at mile 42. At 118 degrees leaving Stovepipe Wells valley was slow and hot. I knew there were two runners ahead of me but couldn’t see their pace vehicles. There was no one close behind me. I was alone on the road with my pace vehicle and the heat. I won’t see another runner until dark near the Panamint Springs checkpoint.

Townes Pass summit at 4,965 feet marked the end of the long hot walk out of Stovepipe Wells. Ahead of me was six miles of steep downhill. The sun had slipped behind the West Mountains and it felt almost cool although it was 102 degrees. It was time to run. The grade was almost too steep but it felt good to be pounding down the road. My knees got a little sore so I eased up because I had only completed the easy half of the race.

Several hours ago I came up with my race plan. This race was so different with checkpoints about 25 miles apart and few major landmarks other than road signs. I was used to running from aid station to aid station four to ten miles apart. Sometimes my crew vehicle was stopping every quarter mile. The Vermont Trail 100 race popped into my mind. I had run this race in 1994 and 1995 and it was hot with miles of road running. My time averaged 21 hours for 100 miles. My plan was to complete the first 100 miles in 21 hours. I knew that the last 13 miles were all up hill and almost everyone walked to the finish line. My only problem was the 22 miles after the first 100 miles. But at least I had a goal although 100 miles was still a long way away.

As I neared Panamint Lake I could finally see the taillights of a pace car miles ahead. Supper was a seven-minute break next to Panamint Lake. The sun shining across the dry sand lakebed surrounded by pink and purple mountains was beautiful. My eyes were enjoying the beauty but the rest of my body was tired and sore. Still 100 plus degrees.

I passed Rudy Afanador a mile before Panamint Springs Resort. He was at the side of the road dressed in full whites, head down not looking good. In a few minutes he passed me just ahead of the check in but headed back to the crew vehicle after saying no one was ahead of us. A short time later wearing shorts and a singlet he repassed me in the dark speedwalking that long up hill to 5,050 feet. I would see the taillights of his crew vehicle moving further away the rest of the night. He would be the only runner I would see until the race ended.

The Darwin checkpoint at 5,050 feet was just a guy under a canopy. Easy to see if you are the only person on a dark road but my crew vehicle never saw the checkpoint. From Darwin it was a gradual 17 miles downhill. Good running. A million stars in the sky and 70 degrees. It felt almost cold, as it was a 50-degree temperature change on my body. My crew cheered me on as I hit the 100-mile mark at 21:35 hours. Not bad, only 35 minutes off my goal. The new goal was Lone Pine. The next 9 miles were gradual down hills but now my legs and back were sore. My stomach was upset, I was retching beside the road, and I could feel two blisters on my left foot. I hadn’t sat down in three hours. I told Aaron and Allison I needed a 15-minute nap but not to let me oversleep as I crawled into the back seat with my Mt. Whitney gear as a pillow. Leg pains woke me every five minutes. Aaron drained and taped my blisters. His first experience at blister repair. He reminded me later that my feet weren’t too sweet after 23 hours in the same socks. It was now dawn, I had fresh socks, taped blisters, and my stomach felt good. I was running down the road again but now I faced 11 miles of flats and the sun was heating the road up again. My body was extra sensitive to the heat and it seemed like it took forever to make any progress. Just run to the next road sign. Just run to the next road sign. My new goal. Easy to say but so hard to do when one can see a sign for miles. There were many walk breaks. Finally I arrived at the intersection that I thought was Lone Pine. When Allison said it was two more miles to the Dow Villa check point and the Whitney Portal road in Lone Pine I thought it was a cruel joke. It was a long two miles surrounded by truck traffic.

Finally I saw the turnoff to Mt. Whitney Portal road. 13 miles uphill and it was hot, over 100 degrees again. When asked how I felt I didn’t say hot anymore. Toast was my new word. I felt like I was in a toaster. I was hydrated but felt awful. I was only trudging up that long road because it was the quickest way to the finish line. It felt like the sun was baking my back and legs. Toast, just like toast in a toaster. Going through the Alabama Hills was pretty. 300 plus movies were made there. I hoped to hallucinate a few cowboys and Indians from those movies as I could have used the entertainment. We estimated it would take another 3 to 4 hours to get to the finish line. It seemed so far away but the only thing to do was to keep walking. The second crew vehicle arrived a few miles from the finish. Seeing the whole family boosted my energy. Daughter Lorraine would pace me to the finish. I joked about which was harder, running the race or taking care of three little boys. We passed a race sign that said one more mile. I was going so slowly that it felt like three miles. Eventually I could hear people clapping and ran the last 50 yards to the finish line. Chris Kostman, RD, took a few photos of my crew while I sat in a chair drinking water. 31:16:24 hours, earning a fifth place. Riding back down the mountain I yelled encouragement to a few runners but soon fell asleep, my legs would jump every few minutes reminding me of this long run. At the motel I headed for the shower and Aaron delivered a cold beer as requested days ago. I drank half a beer then flopped into bed for a short nap.

Later that night we walked across the street for beer and pizza. We ordered too much food. Before bed I double-checked my pack for the trip up Mt. Whitney. The alarm rang at 2:45 AM and we were driving to the trailhead by 3:30 AM.

We started up the trail at 4:22 AM. There were at least twenty other hikers around us. I didn’t feel bad just a little stiff and a cup of hot coffee had cleared my head. I was ready to begin another full day. I was in the middle between John and Aaron but after a while I took the rear. I was too slow. We made treeline around sunrise as planned. It was spectacular. Aaron and John had never been on a big mountain and didn’t know what to expect but now they were all smiles. Later at 13,000 feet the dull headaches would start. We summited at 11:50 AM and took all the obligatory photos. It was beautiful. The trail down was long and slow. I didn’t feel bad I just couldn’t move very fast nor accurately and there weren’t any good places to fall. We did run the last mile, as it was a wide section finishing at 5:23 PM. Just over 13 hours. I had gone from the lowest point to the highest point of the continental US in 53:50 hours. After all the months of planning and worry my race was concluded. The next day driving back along the course there wasn’t a trace of the seventy-one runners, their crews, or vehicles. Looking at the empty road I felt like it was all a desert dream.

A Badwater Poem

By 2001 Finisher 

I’ve caught the Badwater-Fever too,
and this is a poem from me to you.

The way to the Whitney Portal is long,
I say to myself I will be strong,
the days are hot and the sun is burning,
I have to control my power, and that’s much for learning,
Oh highway to Lone Pine, I love you so,
sometimes I run, sometimes I go,
Running on the sun,
what a fun,
climbing up the hill by night,
it’s so beautiful, the stars shine bright,
And then I can see the finish line,
A look to my watch: Badwater Buckle, you are mine!

I can’t wait a so long time to race again,
Oh yeah, I’m a real Badwater Fan!

Meeting the Challenge at the 2001 Badwater Ultramarathon

Originally published in the Tyler (Texas) Morning Telegraph

It’s called “Running on the Sun” and I have the blisters to prove it. Actually, there was no running on my part, since I was a crew member for my friend, Paul Stone, who took on the Badwater UltraMarathon, a 135-mile race through Death Valley, Calif.

Why anyone would want to take on this challenge is unbeknownst to me. However, 71 brave souls took on the challenge of racing through one of the most unforgiving deserts in the world. As I stood at the starting line in Badwater — the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere at 282 feet below sea level — and the temperature was hovering at 108 degrees at 10 a.m., I was asking myself why am I here? Well, Stone had asked me to crew for him back in December and he said we would be stopping in Las Vegas. It’s hard to turn down a trip to Vegas. Plus, he was raising money for a charity, Living Alternatives, an organization that reaches out to young girls who are experiencing unplanned pregnancy.

Death Valley may be close in distance to the Strip, but in reality it’s light years away. A crew member’s responsibility is to take care of the runner, whether it’s giving him or her food, water, salt pills, keeping their spirits up, etc. Our crew chief was Stone’s wife, Abby, who was prepared for everything. President Bush needs her to run the country while he’s on vacation. Joining Abby and I were a delightful couple, George and Erlinda Biondic from near Toronto. It was a team effort, but the runners take on the heat and the altitude.

As Dr. Ben Jones, three-time Badwater finisher and anointed mayor of Badwater, says, “I don’t think there’s anything about it that’s good for the body.” And his wife, Denise Jones, the first lady of Badwater, told crew members to expect extreme heat, extreme exhaustion, extreme frustration at times, extreme confusion and extreme joy — when’s it’s over. How right she was.

After the start at Badwater, the racers go about 41 miles past Furnace Creek and the sand dunes to Stovepipe Wells. Then it’s uphill — about 18 miles and 5,000-feet — to Townes Pass. In the middle of the night at Towne Pass, eight or so crews gathered, much as troops who had battled that day and were preparing for the next assault. That’s followed by 31 miles downhill to Panamint Springs Resort, back up 3,400 feet to Father Crowley’s Point — a dangerous narrow path — and back down again toward Lone Pine, Calif., a quaint resort area at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The race then concludes with 13 miles up to 8,400 feet on Mount Whitney.

I’m tired again just writing about it.

Through the heat, dust storms, bats, laughs and cries, our runner finished. Stone finished the run in 37 hours, 51 minutes and 21 seconds. He received the Most Improved Award by finishing some 15 hours better than his 2000 finish (53:21.20). Taking first place was Michael Trevino of San Diego in 28:18.12. The top female finisher was Anne Langstaff, a 40-year-old personal trainer and exotic dancer from El Cajon, Calif. She finished in 40:13.21.

It’s a unique race in that the length is more than five marathons and there’s three ascensions on the route as you begin below sea level and end up a little over halfway up Mount Whitney at 8,400 feet. As we baked under the 121-degree heat, I asked Stone why couldn’t he at least pick a run in Alaska or Hawaii? It’s ironic you can feel so close to God in that environment, which has such sites as Dante’s View, the Devil’s Golf Course and the Devil’s Cornfield.

Night is the most breathtaking of all. The stars are big and bright deep in the heart of Texas, but no where have I felt like I could reach up and grab the Big Dipper. And I’ve never seen so many shooting stars. Abby and I counted 23 and I made a wish each time. As we neared the finish line, a crew member of Mark Henderson’s squad, a fellow Texan from Houston, told us a bear was ahead. Mount Whitney is known for its bear activity. We had come 134 miles and I told Stone either I was running over the bear (I wouldn’t have done it animal lovers) or he could just run around or over it, because we had come too far to stop now. Luckily, the bear disappeared and Stone crossed the finish line as the temperature gauge read 61.

It was quite an achievement. Of the 71 runners who began, 55 finished. Why people do this run, I still don’t understand completely, but I do understand trying to meet the challenge. There’s people like Chris Moon, a former British soldier who lost an arm and leg when he was volunteering with an organization to defuse land mines around the world. Moon used a prosthetic arm and leg and finished at 53:47.07. He met the challenge. Or someone like Rick Nawrocki of Torrance, Calif., who, despite battling cancer and having a recent stem cell transplant, finished in 51:51.08. He met the challenge. The competition is testing oneself and your limits and not against each other. The encouragement you hear is very inspiring. Quite an experience.

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 http://www.badwaterultra.com/.

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 http://www.badwaterultra.com/.

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.

Badwaterultra.com: 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, badwaterultra.com, 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.”

end

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.