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The Relatively Uneventful Badwater 2000

2000 finisher

I started the 2000 edition of Badwater as a nervous first-time runner. I trained as best I could, running many hours in multiple layers of clothing in Seattle’s tepid summer climate or pacing in the sauna. I covered as many miles as possible, on terrain similar to that in Death Valley. I compulsively planned for every contingency, surfing the Web and driving my car to buy and to test the right equipment and supplies. I made lists and wrote out directions and annoyed my crew reviewing the details. I adjusted my training and planning after the Memorial Day training clinic in Death Valley. I should have felt confident, but I had never actually run 135 miles in Very High Temperatures (VHTs) and had no way of knowing whether I would be sick or faint or hallucinate or collapse of exhaustion as I had heard that so many had. As it turned out, I didn’t do any of those things. With the help of my crew and the encouragement of Race Director Chris Kostman, Dana Prieto Tanaka and Denise and Ben Jones, as well as Denise Jones’ blister advice, I finished with some new-to-me blisters and a few funny stories in a better-than-anticipated time with my crew still speaking to me.

My crew members were my daughters Lauren and Alexis, Lauren’s friend Alana, and my husband David. We lost two other crew members just before the race. Lauren, Alana and Alexis are all marathoners; David has completed several ultras. My family is experienced in crewing and pacing me at ultras, including Western States and a handful of 24-hour runs. The plan was for them to take turns pacing me. Our major problem was that neither of my daughters has a driver’s license, leaving us with two cars and, with the loss of the two crew members, just two drivers. We had worked out a scheme for shuttling the car forward so that Alana and David could do some pacing while the others crewed me from the van, but we weren’t altogether confident that the scheme would work.

I was also worried about my decision to start at 8:00 am. All the Badwater veterans had requested the 6:00 am start, but I knew from previous experience that no part of my body below the neck believes that it is morning, or breakfast time, at 3:00 or 4:00 am. So I decided to get up at my normal time, hit the buffet at the Furnace Creek Ranch and head out to the start feeling comfortable. I still worried.

The start of the race was like the start of any race: I was nervous before and relieved after. The trip from Badwater to Stovepipe Wells passed uneventfully for me, although unbeknownst to me, my crew was having some problems with the VHTs. For the first part, I had the company of other runners. I enjoyed the scenery. I got a fresh desert hat and Keep-Cool bandana soaked in ice water every couple of miles. That, with insulated bottles of my icy sports drink mix, seemed to help me deal with the VHTs. An ice cream bar at Furnace Creek went down easily. A can of Ensure didn’t feel so good. At supper time, I reached Stovepipe Wells, washed down a turkey sandwich and granola bars with a very cold Mountain Dew and felt fine. I was tired, but happy to have reached that point and looking forward to nightfall. We headed up toward Townes Pass. The sunset, filtered through the smoke from the forest fires, was beautiful.

After about 25 miles, my crew had things organized enough that they could start taking turns pacing me. It was nice to have the company, but the VHTs took their toll on both of my daughters. While Lauren recovered fairly quickly, Alexis continued to feel quite ill. Sometime after dark, Alana had to shuttle her up to the pass where David was trying to sleep in the car, so that Alexis could rest undisturbed while I climbed.

The climb to Townes Pass is one of my favorite memories of the race. Once it was dark, the sky was incredibly star-filled. I have never seen the Milky Way so distinctly. Looking up took my breath away. I looked down once and saw a scorpion scuttling along on the white line at my feet as if he too were in a race. Lauren and Alana took turns pacing, and although I can’t remember what we talked about, in all it was a pleasant night.

I arrived at the Pass to chicken noodle soup, heated on the camp stove we’d worried over before the race, and crackers. Despite pre-taping my feet and compulsive sock and shoe changes, my usual heel blisters were starting up, so I got to recline on the back seat of the van while Lauren and Alana collaborated on applying Second Skin and re-taping my feet. Scott McQueeney came by at this point to say “hi” on his way to a nap. David drove Alexis to Panamint Springs so she could sleep some more, with instructions to Alana to come pick him up as soon as I started running again.

I put on the bigger shoes I’d brought to wear on the downhill and took off. As usual, I ran pretty fast downhill, so the time between crew stops was too short for Alana to drive to Panamint Springs and back to retrieve David for nearly an hour. Lauren was trailing me down the hill and decided to take a break after about 6 miles. Around that point I started to notice that my right big toe was rubbing on my shoe, but I thought that the hill was nearly done and didn’t worry about it. Three miles later, the hill finally ended, but my toe was sore and I was in a foul mood by the time I spotted David heading toward me from the van. I was able to run and walk across Panamint Valley, my toe felt better, and eventually my mood improved.

The break at Panamint Springs was a little hard. It was 3:00 am. Lauren and Alexis were asleep. Other runners were coming in and heading to their rooms or to the hospitality suite while I sat in the van getting cheese and crackers down. I knew I should head out, but kept worrying that I was doing something wrong because no one else was starting up the Panamint Grade. Finally, I put on fresh bigger shoes without looking at my toe, and David and I started the long walk up the next hill with Alana in attendance.

Again, the climb was pleasant. Walking is a break, even uphill, or at least that’s what I tell myself. David and I gabbed the rest of the night away. Gradually the sky lit up again, and we could see the impressive view across the valley behind us and a few runners starting up the grade. I don’t remember going on alone, but at some point David and Alana went back to Panamint Springs to pick up Lauren, Alexis and the car. Alana finally got to sleep for awhile. Lauren took up the pacing duties as we were approaching Father Crowley’s Point.

I have several nice memories of this part of the race. Chris and Dana stopped to say “hi” and to tell me that I was doing well. One of Ruben Cantu’s crew members yelled to me that I was making Seattle-ites proud; I recognized him as Mike Devlin whom I’d met at Western States training camp last year. The encouragement really helped. Nicest of all, a little past Father Crowley’s point I was able to start running the flats and downhills, just as Denise Jones had predicted.

Fortunately I felt good as I pulled over to change back into my desert suit shortly after sunrise, because this time it was the sight of my right big toe that took my breath away. The blister under the toenail was nearly as impressive as the scenery. My crew and I gawked for a few seconds. Then I decided that if I’d been running on it 5 minutes ago, I’d be able to run on it now. I put on my shoe and sock and headed down the road to the Darwin turnoff.

This section of the course went slowly. I was sure that every sign I saw was the second 5000’ elevation sign, only to be disappointed as I got close enough to read the sign. My toe started to bother me, and I told Lauren that I would just have to walk the rest of the way to the Darwin turnoff. She replied that it might be more efficient to fix my toe right away, so that I could run. I had been looking forward to a long walking break, but consented to have the necessary toe surgery. The toe-fix accomplished, I took a few hobbling strides and was able to run comfortably— well, as comfortably as could be expected—again.

The Death Valley National Park boundary went by, and finally we arrived at the Darwin turnoff around 9:30 in the morning. I sat down in the shade of the van to breakfast on a turkey sandwich. I tried David’s jalapeño potato chips, but they were too much even for my cast-iron gut. I had to settle for tortilla chips. I made the mistake of asking the timekeeper about my position in the race; he told me that I was the third woman, 45 minutes behind Lisa Smith. As I ran out of the time station, I was mad at myself: Knowing that I might overtake the woman in front of me meant that I would have to keep running.

I remember the trek through Owens Valley as long and hot and intermittently grouchy. The VHTs were more annoying to me than they had been the day before. It was hazy. The scenery didn’t interest me. There was too much traffic, and the cars were going too fast. I was sure they were going to run over my crew, and following my brother-in-law’s command to his dog, frequently yelled “Over!” to get a crew member off the road. My eyes started to sting before I realized that I had neglected to clean my contact lenses, so I ran without corrective lenses, hoping that I could at least see the approaching cars. Every time that I stood still for more than a few seconds, I could feel my feet swelling in my shoes. I had no intention of quitting, but I wasn’t happy. Luckily I still had little trouble wolfing down the Cheetos and strawberries and cookies, so even my bad mood could be energetic.

Finally, my right toes were rubbing together painfully, but I had no larger shoes. I tried Alexis’ one-size-larger shoes; they were too small. We talked about sending David into Lone Pine to buy some bigger shoes, but I was afraid that whatever size he bought would still be too small. Finally, I suggested that David loan me his “sneakers”, a pair of old running shoes that he’d been wearing to knock around in for maybe 10 years. I think my crew was trying to humor me, but they helped me lace up David’s size 11 shoes. I couldn’t run very well in my “clown” shoes, but they felt so good that, for a short while at least, my pacers and I shuffled along singing camp songs and commercial jingles.

Unfortunately, I still had a long way to go through Owens Valley. The newly spread asphalt was still hot, but at least broke the monotony. I was relieved that the work crew had gone home so that my crew would be able to stop for me along the 4-mile stretch of road construction. After awhile I could see where the road turned to head into Lone Pine, but we never seemed to get any closer. A few faster runners who had stopped to take breaks passed me. Keeler seemed a much more extensive town on foot than it had by car. I became convinced that I would not be able to break 48 hours. Fortunately Alexis was feeling better and back on duty. She finally made me understand that I must have read my watch wrong. Even so, it became more and more difficult to keep telling myself “All you have to do is get to Lone Pine.” Mt. Whitney loomed, and I was having trouble not worrying about it.

Rapid mood changes were the theme through Owens Valley and past Lone Pine. We finally reached the “traffic light in Lone Pine” just before 8 pm. I passed Lisa Smith, and although I knew that she was really 2 hours behind me at this point, passing her made me feel more confident. David was pacing me. Somehow we had missed the rest of my crew and the hamburger they had promised when we came through Lone Pine. David headed back to find them, and 30 seconds later my spirits started to flag. My pace slowed to a crawl. Lisa and Jay Batchen and their pacers passed me back. David couldn’t figure out what was going on when he returned a few minutes later with the rest of my crew and the grub. As I sat on a rock munching my hamburger, I just lost it. It was all I could do to get moving again, but not long after I did, everything started feeling ok again.

It grew dark as Alana paced me up the Whitney Portals Road. Alana is new to our family, so we had plenty to talk about. The time passed quickly, but the miles did not. I knew that all I had to do was to keep moving, but the distance to the finish line never seemed to get any shorter. I’ve never felt so tired. Every so often I would feel my head and shoulders droop, and I would stop talking. I believed that I was quiet for long periods of time; Alana told me later that I hardly ever stopped talking for more than a few minutes.

For most of the race, I had felt fairly isolated. Once past Panamint Springs, we had only occasional contact with other runners or crews. On the Whitney Portals Road, it seemed that we caught up with a crowd. I passed or was passed by several runners. Crew vehicles were everywhere. Chris and Dana reappeared to say “hi”, and Chris walked with me a bit. I told him about David’s shoes as if he wouldn’t have noticed what I was wearing. Shortly after David took over as my pacer, Maria Biel, a journalist writing a story for Playboy Germany, recognized me from an earlier meeting at home in Seattle. She walked with me for perhaps a mile, asking questions, and to be sociable, I answered. That mile went by quickly.

The “crowds” seemed to thin out in the last couple of miles. David and I chatted as we walked. We still had a minor crisis and a half to face before the finish. In one half-mile stretch the batteries in both of our flashlights and our backup flashlight went dead. David had the presence of mind to turn his dead flashlight off, so when the backup died we continued on the weakly rejuvenated batteries. Finally we found ourselves completely in the dark with no idea of how far we were from the van. I couldn’t believe how dark it was. We took a few slow steps before we saw van lights flash just ahead, and with what seemed like incredible luck we were saved. I stopped at the van to get a rock out of my (i.e., David’s) shoe. There was no rock, just a wrinkle in the shredded insole and a blister on the ball of my foot. David traded me his left running shoe for his left sneaker. The blister still hurt, but it was the last half-crisis. The end was in sight.

The rest of my crew joined us at the parking lot just before the finish line. The five of us crossed the line together. After a bit there was an awards mini-ceremony at which Chris awarded Art Webb and me our finisher’s medals. I was pleasantly surprised at my time, 41:14:57.

People took pictures. Someone took a picture of me with my crew. In it, David and Alana look half-asleep. Lauren is trying to keep warm by wrapping a towel around her shoulders. Alexis actually looks sort of photogenic in serious runner’s clothes. My hair is matted down. I’m wearing my Sun Precautions long-sleeved shirt with race number still in place and long pants. Around my ankles are reflective strips, nicely setting off two different men’s size 11 running shoes. Everyone is smiling.

Marshall Ulrich’s Solo Badwater to Mt. Whitney Record

My Most Unforgettable Ultramarathon (& What I Learned From It)

Originally published in Marathon & Beyond, Issue #4/4 (July/August 2000), a bimonthly magazine for long-distance runners edited by Richard Benyo.

Photos by Geoff Tropple

 

 

INYO COUNTY, CALIFORNIA, July 1-4, 1999–Thousands and thousands of miles, six continents, 89 ultraruns, and seven adventure races behind me, and I still tend to recall the last event I finished the most poignantly. However, one event in particular does come to mind as exceptional: The Badwater Solo: the first successful unaided, self-contained crossing of Death Valley and the ascension of Mt. Whitney.

It started from Badwater, a sinkhole in Death Valley that at 282 feet below sea level is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere and climbed to the peak of Mt. Whitney, at 14,500 feet altitude, the highest peak in the contiguous U.S. The course covers a distance of nearly 150 miles.

The solo attempt was the culmination of desert racing experiences over a period of many years: seven Badwater-to-Whitney crossings, as well as the only south-to-north Death Valley crossing of what at that time was a national monument (now a National Park), plus two different races in the Sahara. These desert races helped me learn about my body, and what it requires to continue functioning in the extreme conditions one encounters on the journey.

The adventure racing experiences, i.e. Eco Challenges and Raid Gauloises, helped me learn the organizational skills required to take care of myself during the self-contained aspect of the completely unaided solo.

Two key elements come immediately to mind regarding my running.

The first is that none of my accomplishments would have taken place without the support of my friends, whether it be emotional and logistical support, or running at my side. This includes the product and monetary support of my primary sponsor, Pharmanex.

The second is my strong belief that ultra-distance sports are, to me, a life process condensed into an event or series of events. The growth process they provide is what drives me as it opens the window into my very mind and soul. The events are but a vehicle for this to happen, and hopefully I internalize it all effectively, and that is what allows me to evolve–it is the “process” that is so compelling.

Given these statements, you may well suspect where I am going with this story: a factual account of the “solo” may or may not be interesting, and to me it is anti-climactic, in that the significance lies only within the “process” itself. Some runners get this”, but I suspect that some brows may well rise, since many athletes view records, first-run events, and wins as very significant in the whole sceme of life. What is really important is that we fight the fight, dream the dream, and go out and do!

To this end I will address the event, but the “What I Learned From It” is truly the most important piece of the puzzle.

The Badwater-to-Whitney Rules
Most of the governing rules of what is referred to as “The Death Valley course” have been in place since the early 1970s when the course was first recognized. The rules were further codified by The California Ultrarunners Club in the early 1980s and defined in an appendix of the book (The Death Valley 300) covering the first-ever out-and-back crossing by Tom Crawford and Rich Benyo in 1989. The rules are brief and to the point:

  1. The attempts must take place in the July-to-August “window” to officially count.
  2. It must be done beginning between 6:00 a.m. and 11:59 a.m. to count as an “a.m. start”. Any other times are considered “p.m. starts”.
  3. Crew vehicles are allowed as are IVs (with the exception of what was called the Hi-Tec Badwater race, which banned IVs from 1995 on).
  4. Runners are allowed to leave the course as long as they return to that exact spot when they return and continue from there, sacrificing all time spent off the course.

Additional Solo, Unaided, Self-Contained Rules

  1. No IVs.
  2. No aid of any kind from an outside source and/or person.
  3. No using any shelter other than nature’s shade (i.e., boulders, creosote bushes, trees, etc.).
  4. You must have everything from start to finish: food, clothing, equipment, and all necessary water. If a water source along the course is available, it cannot be used.
  5. Trailers or any other apparatus are allowed as long as that apparatus is pushed, pulled, or carried. No motorized trailers. The trailer or apparatus can be disposed of only at the Lone Pine Junction (the intersection of Whitney Portal Road and Hwy. 395) or the Whitney trailhead.
  6. With the exception of water, nothing can be disposed of along the way, not even trash.
  7. Medical emergencies must be dealt with and/or administered by the individual only. No help or supplies can be used from an outside source.
  8. Only a.m. starts are valid.
  9. No leaving the course is allowed; you must remain on the course at all times.
  10. There must be at least one person monitoring the above compliances at all times.

As you can see, some of the rules have been further restricting. This was done only to make the solo attempt as “clean” as possible. With the rules in place, the definition of “solo attempt” is indisputable.

The Trailer & Equipment
The two-wheeled trailer I created consisted of a modified Baby Jogger donated by Equinox. It was stripped down to the bare frame and reduced in width by four inches so it could accommodate snugly an 80-quart cooler, thereby effectively reducing the center of gravity. This arrangement placed the bottom of the cooler only six inches above the ground.

The original 20-inch tires were replaced by two 26-inch road bicycle tires in order to reduce rolling resistance. The “rickshaw”-like boom handle was equipped with two brake handles, one on each side, which controlled the opposide-side wheels. Thus a braking system was created that also served as a steering device, as more pressure was applied to one side or the other. An adjustable mid-bar was attached to the boom, which could be clipped into place using an aluminum backpack frame. This frame could also be coupled to the tubing of the trailer by long webbing straps, which added another way of pulling the trailer, and it was used on the mountain portions using a clip-on backpack/cargo holder of approximately 1,000 cubic inches capacity. These systems of attachment allowed the cart to be pushed or pulled in at least a half-dozen different ways. Flashing red lights were fitted on the front and rear for night safety and reflective tape applied liberally.

The cooler was fitted with baffles spaced four inches apart in order to minimize the sloshing of water and therefore the shifting of weight. A 50-gallon-per-minute submersible pump was dropped inside and hooked to insulated tubing that ran up the boom handle to the front center for easy drinking. This pump was run by a lawnmower battery, which was continuously charged during daylight hours by a 6″X20″ solar panel that was mounted on the side of the cooler. Electrical wiring was then run from the collector, battery, and pump, and was controlled by a switch located near the hand brakes. Detachable cargo webbing was added to the top of the cooler for storage of food, emergency equipment, first aid materials, and extra clothing. The trailer had to be balanced while in motion and the contents within the webbing served as ballast.

The Solo
On Wedneday, June 30, I left Fort Morgan, Colorado, flying to Las Vegas. My two-wheeled cart was disassembled to fit into a bicycle box and the cooler was used for equipment and checked through as common luggage.

I rented a van and drove to Furnace Creek Ranch, approximately 17 miles north of the Badwater starting line. As I arrived at the Ranch, Ben and Denise Jones (the honorary mayor and first lady of Badwater) greeted me. Phil and Kari Marchant were on hand to contribute their Badwater-to-Mt. Whitney crew experience. Phil aided me in putting together the trailer, since he is very familiar with the mechanics of bicycles. Gary Hoover from Florida was also in the area to lend a hand as needed.

Scott Weber, an eight-time veteran of the Badwater-to-Whitney crossing and the only person to do a triple-crossing, arrived later that evening. Scott brought along his five-gallon capacity Igloo-equipped Baby Jogger so that he could get in some training miles along the course while also monitoring my progress and adherence to the rules. That evening, everyone pitched in and helped me make my final preparations, which included First Lady Denise Jones doing a thorough taping of my feet against the punishment they were about to undergo.

The next morning (July 1) at 5:00 a.m., seven of us in five vehicles headed to the Badwater starting line. When we arrived, everyone pitched in to help me get organized.

We filled the ice-chest with 10 seven-pound bags of ice and the balance of approximately 13 1/2 gallons of water. I had experimented with this ratio of ice-to-water and determined that at approximately 120 degrees air temperature and 180 degrees pavement temperature, the water would remain cold and the ice would melt in approximately 48 hours. That was the time frame that I had hoped to use to reach Lone Pine: 122 miles from the start, and 24 miles from there to the top of Mt. Whitney.

Phil pumped up the tires to about 100 pounds and they were bulging excessively. The estimated weight of the loaded trailer was 225 pounds: 170 pounds of water and ice, 30 pounds of food, medical equipment, sundry equipment, and clothing, and 25 pounds of cart weight.

I harbored two major concerns. One of my fears was multiple flats–or even worse, a blow-out or two. I only had one extra tire and two tubes. The other concern was running out of water.

In either case, the Solo effort would be over. Four years earlier I had tried this Solo event using the same trailer, but without the water pump, but made it only six miles before succumbing to symptoms of severe dehydration: vomiting, drowsiness, and intense headache. Tht year Ben Jones brought me back from the dead with IVs. So why try the Solo again?

It is amazing how “unfinished business” can motivate a person. It was also intriguing: Can a person really transport enough water to sustain himself for 146 miles with a cumulative incline of 25,000 feet from the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere to the highest point in the contiguous 48 states?

The Official Start
At 6:00 a.m. Ben Jones yelled “Go!” and I was off and running, so to speak. The reality is that it was hard to even pull the cart while walking! Ben had suggested weeks before that I fly out to Death Valley and do a “test pull” up Townes Pass. My reply was, “I tested it pulling it one mile in Fort Morgan. If I came out for a trial run, there is no way in hell I’d go back out there for more!” At any rate, a few miles north of Badwater I began to question whether or not the Solo could really be done.

I had hoped to average approximately 20-minute miles through the entire portion up to Lone Pine. As I passed Furance Creek at 17 miles, with temperatures already at 110 degrees, I had averaged 16-minute miles. Between Furance Creek and Stovepipe Wells, at 41 miles, the temperature had risen to 128 degrees (in the shade, not that there’s much shade in Death Valley) and winds had added dehydration effects. By then it was 8:00 p.m. and my average was just over 20-minute miles.

Through this first portion of the Solo, I had decided to drink all that I wanted and to never look inside the cooler, as I didn’t want that to deter me from staying ahead of dehydration. I took a first look into the cooler and to my surprise, I had consumed less than four gallons of water! That was the good news. The bad news: all the ice had melted.

The effects of the heat became somewhat intolerable as I looked forward to climbing Townes Pass: 5,000 feet of climb in 17 miles.

The Longest Hill
What transpired was a 15-hour, through-the-night “grunt” pulling of the by-now 200-pound trailer. I was reduced to a seemingly endless repetition of pulling that cart up the steep grade for three-quarters of a mile, dropping to the ground on my back to rest, recovering for five minutes, continuing forward, only to stop and do it over again and again, all the way to the top. By the time I reached the pass, morning had arrived and temperatures had already started to climb.

Downhill 3,400 feet in just over 10 miles and across Panamint Valley proved to be an exercise in controlling the cart. I discovered that turning it around and letting it pull me downhill worked the best. My thoughts turned to: “What if this thing gets away from me?” The graphic depiction of my end generated by a worried mind made me conscious of my mortality.

Fortunately, it did not pull me to my death, but my quads took a fair beating from the marked descent. As I approached the Panamint Springs resort at 72 miles (38 hours from the start) I knew that I would be spending one additional unintended day in the desert. The temperatures had reached over 115 degrees. My tolerance for heat was further reduced and I perceived it as being hotter than the day before.

There is a tree oasis at Panamint Springs and I rested for two hours as I had done at Stovepipe Wells the day before, once again waiting for the sun to go down.

Dusk was at hand and another ascent awaited me. This time it was a 15-mile, 3,000-foot climb to the Padre Crowley Overlook. This ascent was more bearable than the one to Townes Pass, due no doubt to the decreasing weight of the cart as I drank the water inside.

Dawn caught me on the Argus Range (just above 5,000 feet altitude) gazing at the long shadows pointing to the Owens Valley. I was impressed by the images cast by the Joshua trees upon the sand. I was finally beginning to feel human again.

My water level was down to about seven gallons and the trailer was much easier to pull. I was able to actually run with the cart across several of the remaining miles into Lone Pine.

During that period I was visited by Bjarte Furnes from Norway (who would later accompany me up Mt. Whitney), Jeff Tropple from Lone Pine, and Jurgen Ankenbrand from Germany. Along with Ben Jones, these people served as additional documentators and photographers.

The time spent traveling from the Darwin turnoff in the Argus Range into Lone Pine was somewhat unremarkable (especially placed against the events of the previous day) with the exception of a nagging bloody nose that would plague me throughout the solo attempt.

A Nose For Trouble
As I approached the intersection of highways 136 and 395, four miles south of Lone Pine, both nostrils were bleeding profusely. The Vaseline which I normally use to coat the lining of my nose was completely liquified by the heat, and was of no use whatsoever. I tried to pack my nostrils with tissue, but that only complicated the situation, because then I couldn’t swallow any fluids.

Finally, I though of my lip balm. It was thick enough to stay on my finger and, stuffed in my nose, it temporarily stopped the bleeding.

My growing intolerance of the heat had by now become a major “mind funk”. All I wanted to do was find shade, which I finally did as I turned onto Whitney Portal Road, which heads west from Lone Pine into the mountains.

Sixty hours from the start, I took another two-hour naps I waited for the sun to drop behind the towering Sierra Nevada. I had nearly four gallons of water left and a 13-mile pull up to 8,000 feet to Whitney Portal.

John Rosmus and Trina Tropple arrived to help monitor my progress during the night. They brought the total number of monitors/witnesses to 11.

As the cart grew lighter as I consumed the water inside it, the prospects of being successful in my quest to the top grew. Nine miles outside Lone Pine, I reached the significantly steeper switchbacks (Known as the “Z”.) leading to the Portal and the Mt. Whitney Trailhead. Although the trailer now weighed in at just more than 100 pounds, I found myself unable to pull it any farther. I checked the water level and estimated I had 3 1/2 gallons of water left. I determined that I could afford to dump two gallons without fear of not having enough to make it to the top of the mountain. The loss of approximately 16 pounds of water was just enough to allow me to drag the trailer to the trailhead. What I had estimated as a 48-hour trek from Badwater to the trailhead had turned into a nearly 68-hour slugfest (67 hours, 38 minutes, to be exact).

After discarding the cart, Bjarte and I started up the Whitney Trail in the dark. By now, being relieved of my burden, I was happy to have only one gallon of water inside my pack. The pack was attached to the same frame I had used to pull the cart; it was also the same frame I’d used to lay on the desert sands to insulate myself against the baking surface.

The nose bleeds persisted all the way and they caused me to harbor the occasional doubt that I’d be able to make it to the top. These doubts came on in waves until we crested the east face of Mt. Whitney. What is traditionally a difficult climb at the end of the annual Hi-Tec Badwater race became a driven, self-consuming opportunity to “rise to the occasion.” I became preoccupied with survival.

The infernal heat had given way to the cold and I was now thankful for having the extra clothing I’d transported all the way from Badwater. My energy level was pitiful at best, and the additional calories it required to keep warm were just not there. Temperatures at this altitude in the middle of the night drop to near freezing.

Passing along behind the pinnacles on the opposite side of the mountain and knowing that I had just over one mile (and a 500-foot rise) to go gave me renewed faith in myself. Life became good again. I knew the first-ever solo was within my grasp.

After 77 hours and 46 minutes, I reached the top. I’d conquered the course. Or had I? I breathed a sigh of relief as I gazed down wearily back toward Death Valley. Had I conquered the course? Can such a course ever be conquered? I realized how insignificant all events of this nature are when placed against the majestic and frightening landscape. I had accomplished something that had never been done before, but had that in any way really affected the course itself? Now really. The course would remain long after I was returned to dust. I felt humbled, felt that I had not so much conquered the course as redeemed myself when I placed this accomplishment against past failures.

Frozen during the night, Bjarte and I took a few moments to allow the sun to warm us before we started down.

And What I Learned From It

Our Greatest Accomplishments Humble Us Most
The solo attempt served to bring into focus by its very arduous nature the past experiences I’d had both on this unique course and during other races in which I’d participated. This was the most difficult “race” of my life and in the process of doing it, it stripped away one layer after the other until I was totally exposed to myself. It stripped away all notions of ego-based superiority and taught me a more profound sense of humility than I’d ever before experienced.

Self-Imposed Endurance Provides Empathy
For the first time in my life, harnassed to a cart weighing more than 200 pounds, I felt the bondage of the servant animals and the important role they have played in increasing the quality of human lives. The bondage to that cart taught me how we are all united in the universe in spirit, none better than the other, none worse. It also brought home to me how presumptuous I have been in the past by boastfully thinking thoughts toward reaching an idealist’s perfection. Once again I was reminded what a short distance I have covered, and what a marvelously long way I have yet to go. If only I can scratch the surface in my lifetime, I will be content.

Accomplishments Are Merely Extensions Of Ourselves
I realized that many accomplishments that have been of such great importance to me are merely extensions of my personality. They are acted out, at times coming from the purely phusical side of me (including my ego), as opposed to my seeking their spiritual essence. Thus, the Solo becomes a vehicle for exposure of the inner self and psyche–nothing more or less. When someone takes notice of an accomplishment, such as the Solo, the two of us become, for that brief instant, connected. This awareness may or may not have any direct impact on our lives, but if it does affect that person positively (i.e., as inspiration), it then becomes validating. We are suddenly participating in life and in humanity as a joint effort.

We Must Take Responsibility For Ourselves
The Solo effort taught me how we can take responsibility for our lives and thereby guide our own destinies instead of blaming and being victimized by our own imperfections. It confirmed that the anger and rage that exists in most of us is based in our inability to accept our own inadequacies. The Solo taught me that we all have the strength and conviction to deal with adversity–if we will just tap into it. But more than anything, the Solo has given me profound gratitude for my family and friends, appreciation of what I have, who I am, and where I am going in my life.

Real Life For Us Wierdos!

Smilin’ Man (of Badwater), 1998 and 1999 Badwater finisher, current racewalker record holder

Greetings to my fellow Ultra/Extreme/Crazy People!

Most of the time, we all keep connected through competing or by direct communication, or by relay e-mail (we all should thank the specialist in this field: Badwater Mayor Ben Jones!). Usually we relay adventure/race stories, but I wanted to send something more on a personal note. This past year has been such an amazing year for me, adventuring, racing, climbing…. the works. At the same time, this past year has seen the complete collapse of my personal life. Without going into specifics, I did want to pass along something that has become very important in my life: a way of seeing more clearly through hazy and confusing times. Don’t worry! This is not anything religious, cult-related or New Age. It works for me, so I thought that I would pass it along.

Personally, I do long distance (real long) in my training and competing. When I need to sort some things out and try to “see” my way through the haze, I go for a run. I do not go out to train and I leave my watch at home (VERY difficult for me). I push through that first wave of pain and get seriously into the endorphins. After a while, I get past the endorphins and the pain; then I enter a very special place. It’s when the miles and the hours seem to fly. By the time I’m in that state (a demented smile plastered on my face), my brain has completely shut down. That’s the time when I can truly listen to my heart and gut feelings. When I am completely honest with myself and listen carefully, I have always found my answers. For what it’s worth, I have found that our heart and guts should LEAD our lives and our brains are there to work-out the details and logistics. Most people don’t/can’t/won’t do what we all love to do. Since we are such a small group, I thought some of you might find this helpful. Because of what we do, our lives are always interesting and on the edge; this doesn’t mean it’s always easy. I wish all of you All the Best in your pursuits and your lives. Enjoy the Journey!

Death Valley Hallucinations

1999 finisher

Have now completed Badwater 7 times the following are my best hallucinations, during the night-time, when feeling dog-tired.

1. Near Keeler I saw a space-ship which had smashed into the mountain-side. Smoke was still rising from the crash. Around the space-ship were these tiny aliens. I saw this from a distance of seven miles, but as I neared the crash it turned out to be a large overhanging rock and the aliens were small trees!!!

2. Leaving Father Crowley’s viewpoint, I was followed by the devil himself. He was all red, had horns, fork-tail,and carried a three-pronged tripod. It was quite funny as we both made it like a game. Every time I turned around to look for him, he would dodge behind a tree or rock, just showing his face, so we just both kept laughing at each other.

3. 1994 was strange also. On the return leg of my Death-Valley 300 (out-and-back) nearing Furnace-Creek, a black open-top touring car with people wearing old fashioned clothes kept level with me for quite along time. They just stared straight ahead. A little after that, a plane went taxiing slowly past me. At the plane windows the lights were on and the passengers were watching me!

A Badwater High

1999 finisher

It’s been six weeks since the race, and I’m still on a “Badwater high.” I’m high from the unselfish help given to me, and my crew, by Lisa Smith and her sister Julie. Before we even got our bags into the hotel, Julie and Lisa were there to offer crewing and racing tips. I’m high from watching Chris Moon hike the final few miles to the finish line. I’m high ‘cause, when Major Maples became disqualified after accepting an IV, he didn’t quit. He continued on with his crew to lift a fellow crew’s vehicle from the deep sand, then helped Maria DeJesus get to the finish line. I’m high after hugging Louise Cooper-Lovelace, a woman recently out of chemotherapy for breast cancer, shortly after she finished this amazing run. I’m high because when Lisa Smith got to mile 129 and had to go to the hospital for an IV, she didn’t quit either. She returned with her crew to finish what she started; an effort to raise money for breast cancer and spinal cord injury research.

I’ve been trying to succinctly describe my feelings after finishing this incredible event. I’m in awe after witnessing the individual acts of indescribable courage and selflessness. I’ll echo the words of my new friend, Lisa : “I love the people who are involved in this event. There is a silent understanding between us all. You don’t have to explain yourself or get asked WHY you do this? We all know why. It is pure love to test oneself. Badwater. It teaches us so much about ourselves. You feel so strong and powerful. You will always have this with you and the people become your family. We love you unconditionally.”

I had just finished the Leadville Trail 100 on Saturday (09-21-22, 1999), and I had the pleasure of seeing Denise (Jones), Adam (Bookspan), Marshall (Ulrich) and Scott (Weber). Many of Scott Weber’s athletes were also out there to race. I paced one of them to Winfield. Marshall and I were running through the woods at mile 65 in the middle of the night, and we both agreed that our bodies were “beat” from Badwater, although I think Marshall has more reason to feel tired than I do; I didn’t do the Badwater solo, THEN do the race. That man is made of iron!

As for Badwater…

I remember it like it was yesterday. I had the September, 1991 issue of UltraRunning magazine open to page 36 . . . and the title of the article was Death Valley-Mt. Whitney: Some Good, Often Bad, Always Ugly. I began reading about Kenneth Crutchlow and “other adventure racers who lost so many brain cells doing the run from Shoshone in southern Inyo County to Scotty’s Castle at the northern edge, that they had the bad sense to go back to Death Valley on an almost annual basis to do it again and again through the early 1970’s.” The story continued on to tell of the birth of “a run from Badwater, which is the hottest (134 degrees at Furnace Creek in 1913) and the driest place (1.5 inches of rain per year) in the world, to the highest point in the contiguous United States – Mount Whitney’s summit (14,494 feet).” Crutchlow was the first to do it in 1973. (Editor’s note: actually, Al Arnold was the first to do it, in 1977.) The article told of one runner in the 1991 race, Dr. Ben Jones, who “added a little humor by using a coffin to store ice during his race. Having immersed himself in the melted ice water at mile 111, he is reported to have claimed to be the first runner to have risen from a coffin to complete a race.” I was hooked. I knew that someday I’d be on that course killing brain cells.

The day begins at 4:00 a.m. as we leave our hotel and begin driving to the start of the race, 70 miles away. This hotel room, which is at the half-way point in the race (Panamint Springs Resort), will be ours for the next two days in case my crew needs sleep. We meander through the curves of highway 190 as it snakes through the Panamint mountains, then across the valley floor towards Badwater. We stop at Stovepipe Wells to pick up ten bags of ice that we pre-bought the day before, and to fill the van with gas. As we approach the turn to Badwater, we can see a Hi-Tec vehicle blocking access to the turn-off. They wave us to continue east to an alternate starting location. Seems the torrential rains last night washed enough mud across the road to make it impassable. We cruise to the alternate start, but on the way a car passes us just as our van is wading through a mud puddle, and SPLAT! We’re covered with mud! Not such a big deal except that the left window is open and Greg and I get a surprise mud shower. At the alternate start we assemble along the highway with all the other crew vehicles. My crew and I confer on all the last minute details; how much carbo-mix to how much water, what food to have ready, etc. We’re all set to assemble at the start when Ben Jones announces that snow plows have cleared the road to Badwater, and we’re heading back there for a 10:00 a.m. start.

After a nice breakfast at Furnace Creek, we all get our vans moving to Badwater. What a caravan! Forty two race crews and several movie crews all lined up along the bare desert highway. At the starting area all of the racers gather ‘round the Badwater sign for a pre-race photo, then “five minutes to the start” is announced. I hurry to get my race number on my long sleeved Sun Precautions jacket, then take my place among the other 41thrill-seekers. One of the racers, Adam Bookspan, who is a symphony musician, plays our National Anthem on the trumpet. Count-down from ten and we’re off!

I’m VERY happy to be moving as I settle into an eight minute-per-mile pace. The first ten miles are one big traffic jam. Crew vehicles are desperately trying to reach their runners without blocking the course. At about mile five, Andy sets out a hurdle that we brought as a practical joke, so I step over it. Greg and Jeff stop each mile for the first 15, then every two miles after that. I alternate energy drink with water, and keep a bandanna with ice in it around my neck constantly. This allows crisp, cold water to soak the front of my shirt, which feels wonderful even with the slightest breeze. Greg paces me off-and-on for many miles. I feel great as the miles pass. At around mile 20, I’m running with Maria DeJesus from the U.K. She’s running well, but is wearing a soaked cotton tee-shirt. I ask her if she has a racing shirt with wicking fabric, to which her crew man says “yes,” but she refuses to switch shirts because her sponsors names are on it. A few more miles pass and I crest a hill where I can see Jeff and Greg playing hacky sack. At least they’re enjoying themselves!

At mile 40, I approach Stovepipe Wells as a strong cross-wind begins to whip sand across the road. The onset of the sand storm coincides with the onset of a nausea in my stomach. I’m beginning to feel sluggish and tired. I stumble into the general store where I jump on the scale that Greg and Jeff put out to weigh me. 174 pounds – I’ve lost two since the start. I’m met with a movie camera and questions from some of the production crew. They ask how I’m feeling and what I intend to do. I tell them that I’m going to sit down until I feel better, so I get into the van and close my eyes. My heart sinks as I realize I’m getting worse instead of better.

An hour passes, and as I sit in the passenger seat of our crew van, I see other racers making their way past us on the road, bandannas and hoods shielding their eyes from the whipping wind and sand. I long to be out there with them, but the nausea in my stomach and cramps in my legs won’t let me walk. I feel helpless, and as we sit idle with the minutes ticking by, I know my crew feels the same way. It is then that I remember reading a past account of this race, where Dr. Ben had given a sip of carbonated pop to someone in my same condition to make him vomit. His thinking was to empty the stomach, then begin re-hydrating. Greg suggests that I try some 7-UP, so I take a sip, then realize I have a short few seconds to get out of the van before I barf all over the road. I’m scared when I see blood in the vomit. There, kneeling on the side of the highway, with my head spinning, I have only one question; after only 42 miles, is this the end of my race? Later on, Greg will tell me that he and Jeff thought this was the end for me. But the amazing thing is that I feel better almost immediately. We’re worried about the blood, so Jeff and Greg ask a nearby California Highway Patrolman if he knows where the paramedics are. Turns out they are back towards the start tending to others worse than me. Eventually, Noel Hanna and his crew come in and park next to us. We’re thrilled to find out that one of his crew is a nurse, who says I just have a ruptured capillary, or a stress ulcer, and I should take several Tums (which she gave to us), re-hydrate to get my weight back up, then hit the road if I’m feeling okay. We jumped all over that advice. It wasn’t long before we were power-walking our way up the next 5000 foot climb.

As the sun set and the stars emerged, setting off the crickets, we tried to forget about the almost three hour delay at Stovepipe, and focus on our renewed goal of getting to the top of the pass. Several times, Andy would ride his Harley ahead of us, turn around, shut off his engine and headlight, then coast toward us in a weird game of ‘chicken.’ Luckily, he never hit me! Near the top of the pass, Jeff made Greg and me some Ramen noodles; the best noodles I ever had! Then, Jeff left me with my double bottle pack and drove Greg ahead to our motel about ten miles up the road. I reached the top of the pass and started down the other side when Jeff returned.

We re-filled my bottles and I insisted that Jeff increase the stops to three miles, so he could take 20-30 minute naps as we descended the pass. I was finally able to run again and felt so good that I crept up on Jeff at one stop, started making those noises from the Friday the 13th movies, and totally freaked him out! I met and passed several runners on the way down the pass. I was impressed when I met Cathy Tibbets, who had a pacer who turned out to be from the movie production company! I later learned that these movie makers became so enthralled with our race that they lost almost as much sleep as we did trying to personally experience as much as they could. I finally reached the Panamint Valley floor and began walking the last few miles to Panamint Springs Resort, when I remember everything going black, then awoke to find my right leg buckling beneath me. I had fallen asleep while walking! At Panamint Springs, I got in the van with Jeff and we reclined both front seats, set our watches for one hour, and we’re both out cold. When we regain consciousness I’m ready to start climbing up the next mountain pass. Jeff crews me a few more times before he heads back to let Greg take over the crewing duties. Near the top of the pass at 80 miles, Greg, Andy and Bonnie meet me with real food; pancakes, bacon and ham! This tasted sooooooooo good that I devour it quickly. Greg paces me for most of the morning, then alternates with Jeff later on in the afternoon. I alternated walking with running over the pass into the town of Keeler, at 107.8 miles. A California Highway Patrol officer pulls up in front of us, gets out of his car, says “Howdy,” then walks behind our crew van to two tour busses that had been speeding. The officer tells us he’s going to write them tickets for not slowing down for the runners!

At 120 miles, I’m truly in ‘no man’s land’, for I’ve never run past 100 miles in one shot, and I can feel the miles on the pavement exacting their toll on my body. I’m mostly walking now, and as I near Lone Pine, I’m on a ‘death march.’ My crew decides that I should stop at our hotel for one hour of good sleep. We shuffle into town, stagger to the room, pull off my shoes and lay down. I pull the covers over my head and realize that I’m shivering uncontrollably. “Just get some sleep,” I tell myself. Bang! My hotel room door flies open and hits the wall as four very excited people rush into my room. My eyes are wide open and my heart is racing. I’d only been asleep for half-an-hour when Art and Stephen start yelling at me to “get out of bed ‘cause it’s the wrong thing to do and I should just get up now and keep goin’ up the mountain!” Greg and Jeff are asking me what they should do; listen to them or let me sleep? I’m finally able to convince Art and Stephen that I’m gonna be okay. if I can just rest my brain for awhile, then Greg and Jeff usher them out and close the door. I know Art and Stephen are only trying to help me ‘cause I’m a “greenhorn” in this race! After an hour of sleep (and one ugly nightmare), I lace up my shoes and hobble down the stairs. I see my crew and ask them “which way up the mountain?” Bonnie joins me as we begin walking up Whitney Portal Road. Up ahead we can see a string of lights snaking their way up the final 13 miles to Whitney Portals, at 8,300 feet. I can feel the excitement building in my crew again. After two low spots of un-certainty, they are now certain that we’re going to cross the finish line tonight. Andy finds yet another opportunity to scare the hell out of us. He flicks on the halogen spot light 20 yards from us, making Bonnie and me think we’re about to become desert road-kill. At two miles from the end, Louise and Julie hop out of Louise’s crew van to give me a hug. At this point, I tell Jeff and Greg that they’re going to cross the finish line with me, so Andy and Bonnie head to the finish to get pictures. A few more switch-backs and we can see a brilliant flood light shining up to the serrated peak of Whitney. I grab Jeff and Greg’s hands and we raise our arms in victory as we run the last 50 feet to the finish tape! The rush is incredible. This race that I’ve dreamed about for the last decade is over … and we did it.

The Arthur Webb and Steven Silver Badwater Saga

1999 finisher

After driving most of the night through rain and a spectacular thunder and lightning storm, we arrived at the Stovepipe Wells Village shortly before the pre-race meeting. It was good to be back. What a delightful afternoon I had milling about and chatting with some very special people. I met Ben and Denise Jones, Matt Frederick, Lisa Smith and her wonderful sister, Julie. I also became acquainted with many other people that I would have the pleasure of running with during the next several days. Later in the afternoon while relaxing on the porch outside our room, we saw it appear on the horizon.

A dark an ominous thunder and lightning storm began to sweep across the valley floor churning up the desert and creating a huge wall of sand that would soon be thrashing Stovepipe Wells. The ferocious sand, rain and lightning storms that followed inundated the area for over an hour turning the complex and the highway into a river of mud and rocks. It was almost worth the trip just to be here in the middle of this incredible phenomenon. As the storm moved down the canyons, numerous other flash floods created havoc everywhere in Death Valley. The next morning, with the help and cooperation of the National Park Service, plows were use to clear the debris off all the roads. Although the race was delayed four hours, we were all fortunate enough to be able to caravan in for the start at Badwater. Everyone was excited and thankful for this. We are finally at the starting line and will be off in a few minutes. What an honor it is for me to be standing in the middle of Death Valley on this small strip of highway among forty-one other courageous runners and their crews. All these people are my heroes. You can sense everyone’s adrenaline, energy and emotional levels rising a few notches as Adam Bookspan plays the National Anthem for us on his trumpet. It is beautiful. It is hard to believe that the time is near. I have been waiting for this very moment for a year. It is almost surreal, like a dream come true. It would be nice if one could freeze time and put this in a bottle to be savored forever.

After synchronizing our watches and counting the time down, the 1999 Badwater Race begins. This small group of elite runners, with lots of hard and demanding work ahead, are now on a mission to attempt to fulfill their dreams by finishing and conquering the toughest and most extreme race in the world. Early in the race, I run with a group of my friends. There is lots of kidding around as everyone sloughs off nervous energy. Leading this group is Major Maples and his crew hoisting American and Marine Corps flags, which are waiving in the slight breeze. It’s a spectacular and emotional sight.

After several miles the pack thins out as all the runners settle into their own pace and everyone begins to get serious. Running alone, I zero in on the challenge ahead. In my mind I have ran this race a million times since last years finish. After eight months of intense mental and physical preparation, I feel capable of finishing in 37-hours. The unusually high humidity and the temperature hovering around the 115-degree range should not be a problem. Three months of being blitzed in a sauna will take care of this. My crew of experienced runners including Vince Pedroia, Julie Dell’era and John Rodgers, instinctively realize my needs and will be at my side the entire distance.

They will keep me hydrated and well fed. Using squirt bottles and a super soaker (an extra large squirt gun), they will keep my sun suit from drying out during the heat of the day and will massage my legs at pre-planned resting spots. Besides leapfrogging a runner now and then and enjoying the beauty of the ever-changing desert, everything goes smoothly as we reach Stovepipe Wells. Looking across the desert while taking a short dip in the pool not only do I see Lisa Smith passing by, but also another sandstorm being whipped up and heading towards the motel. After a quick massage and a phone call home to my wife, we head up the hill towards Towne’s Pass in an attempt to skirt around this new storm. Too late. Immediately the sandstorm with its intense wind comes crashing down on us. It becomes hard to move up the mountain as I lean into the wind for more than an hour.

Shortly after the storm subsides, Steven Silver catches me. After introducing ourselves, he tells me his game plan which is alternating four minutes of running with four minutes of power-walking. This approach was new to me and sounded interesting, so I joined him for a few segments. The strategy worked so well that by the time we had run the ten miles to Townes Pass, I was hooked. This was the beginning of an amazing partnership, which would last all the way to the finish line some 90-miles away.

Everyone knows there are a thousand reasons a buddy system, even if pre-planned, doesn’t work. What we managed to accomplish together during the next twenty-five hours was definitely unique. Our pre-race plans, finishing goals, and running paces were similar. During numerous low spots we coaxed each other to keep moving forward. During the high periods we simply fed off each others positive energy and picked up the pace. We were captivated by the ‘if he can do it than I can do it syndrome.” Most importantly, we just hit it off really well together. We were always well aware of our mission and constantly made a zillion calculations. We also took time to joke and kid around, which was our way of dealing with some of the tired and frayed edges. We did have a lot of fun out there.

Near Panamint Springs we caught Lisa Smith and tried to sneak by her, but she quickly dusted us off. At Panamint we decided on a well deserved catnap in the hospitality room. We were now talking about a 36-hour finish. There was to be no sleep as my mind continued to calculate all the possible finishing times. Just as we were ready to go the room started spinning and I almost passed out. I had bonked in other races and had some immediate concerns. With the cold shakes, I made my way into the bathroom seeking any kind of relief. Steven was ready to go but I was in trouble. There was no way that this partnership was going to dissolve. So, after a few more minutes I gritted my teeth and started up the mountain with Steven in the cool and dark of the night. Fortunately, I began to recover and felt much better. Near the top a wild burro was about to chase my crew across the road. It backed off as we approached. After cresting the hill and passing Father Crowley’s Point, I became concerned about a large white figure just off the side of the road. Steven assured me that it was only a big white rock and we probably would be safe since it travels only a few inches every million years. Near the Death Valley National Park sign, we discovered the alternating mile marking signs along each side of the highway. We were now able to judge our pace more efficiently which made it easier to calculate estimated arrival times anywhere along the course.

We arrived at Keeler with a burning question. What’s that all about, the grave site and large cross at mile 96? Maybe Ben Jones knows. We could ask him the next time he drives by pulling his goody-filled wagon. After another short rest and massage, off we go. We begin to think a 35-hour finish is possible. My left hip, which would give me problems on Mt. Whitney, begins to hurt. Unfortunately, a few miles later around Swansea, we pass Lisa (who is having a very hard time). I feel sorry for her. Lisa is my number one hero. In Lone Pine, my beautiful wife arrives which gives me a new source of energy. After two malts, some pudding and a quick leg massage we start the climb to the Whitney Portals.

The beauty and majesty of the mountain is powerful and overwhelming. We begin talking about a 34-hour finish as we surge up this long steep 13-mile hill and into the switch backs. Eventually we spot the last mile marker. With nineteen minutes to go we have a chance to break 34-hours. I think we can make it if we power-walk very hard, but Steven tells me we will have to run. I follow as Steven begins to run up the hill. It is hard because the pain in my hip is now excruciating. As we press on I am doing more of a running hobble. Steven keeps yelling back for me to suck it up and keep running. As time is slipping by and everything is hurting, I wonder, how come the last mile always seems the longest. Finally, after one last bend we spot it in all it’s glory. The finish line. Steven is almost there and could easily cross but he is waiting for me. As I hobble up he holds out his hand for me in an unselfish gesture of compassion and sportsmanship. As we clasp hands and head for the tape, we are yelling, screaming and crying. We cross the finish line together in 33 hours and 57 minutes and collapse into each others arms. The mind and body are shot. All that’s left is the emotional release. It is exhilarating. The intense passionate feelings pouring out during the next few fleeting minutes will be cherished forever. It is heaven on earth. It is for this moment that I worked so hard. It makes all the training in the cold, the rain, the heat, the long runs, the 140-mile weeks and the months of baking in the sauna worth every second. In the ultrarunning world it doesn’t get any better than this.

I left the mountain knowing that, if I can do this, then anything is possible. It has made me feel like a giant. This Badwater experience has become part of my spirituality. I know it has made me a better person. I will be back.

Thank you, Matt, Karen and all the other fine people at Hi-Tec. Outstanding job. Thank you, Ben Jones for all your support and compassion. Thanks to all the crews. With your help we are able to achieve our goals. Thanks to all the runners. I admire and honor your courage to even attempt this most difficult of all races. You are all winners. Thank you, Steven Silver for everything. Marian loves you and so do I. A special thanks to my wonderful wife Christine for the thirty-one years of love and support. This one was for you. Being surrounded by so many caring, compassionate and talented people made this one of the most fulfilling five day periods of my life. It was an honor to be a part of the 1999 Hi-Tec Badwater Ultramarathon. Thanks a million to everyone.

To read what Steve Silver had to say about this, click here.

Real Heroes

1999 finisher

During races, all the attention is focused on the competitors. Who is in first or where is so and so? Are they going to break the record? Lets get a picture of the runners for the newspaper. Wow, they look great this far into the race.

Why do they look so good? Who has helped them maintain the lead or even kept them going. The unspoken always giving and sacrificing individuals not in the lime light. The Crews: The Real Heroes.

This is a story of one such crew member who helped an inexperienced runner complete the BADWATER 135.

In the fall of 1998 I was introduced to an incredible man named Greg Jenkins. At the time I was a personal trainer and he became a client of mine. He wanted me to prepare him for an upcoming caribou hunting trip in the arctic. I figured no big deal. That was until I found out both of the man’s knees had been destroyed in motorcycle and car accidents. This man had died and come back twice. I couldn’t believe this guy was even walking. But train we did, Sometimes walking on the treadmill at a pace of 5-6 mph with an incline of 15%. Don’t ask how.

This “should have been crippled man” inspired me. I was contemplating running a 100-mile ultra at the time. I had just finished my first, the JFK 50. I was a little nervous. I didn’t know if I could do a hundred. I told myself if this man with broken knees who never ever complained could hike hundreds of miles across the tundra, well I should be able to run a 135 miles.

I ran my idea by Greg. He said not only was he sure I could do it, but he would go with me to make sure I finished. So I applied, eventually got invited and started preparing for the race. Greg built me a special room in his storage shed to train. It had an industrial gas heater on the ceiling, 5000 watts of halogen lamps hanging over me, floor heaters, a dehumidifier and a treadmill. I thought, “Thanks a lot Greg for the torture chamber.” But train in it I did, hour after hour. The time came to leave. Greg had spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars getting our support vehicle ready. There were so many modifications to that vehicle I can’t even begin to list them all. Then he got supplies out the wazoo and everything he could possible think of which would benefit us in the desert. Greg’s nickname had been “OK Jenkins.” “OK” standing for overkill. We had more food and first aid supplies than an army going to combat. We looked like the Beverley Hillbillies leaving Maryland heading out for Death Valley. We stopped in IL and picked up my brother Greg. To avoid confusion, my brother Greg was to be called “Shag” and Greg Jenkins was to be called “Yukon.” What a trip. You can imagine three guys in an extended cab truck together for over 2000 miles. I need say no more. We arrived in Death Valley a couple days before the race. Yukon immediately went to work getting everything laid out properly. Food went here, the generator went there, first aid supplies went over there. Nothing was left to chance. We were prepared.

Race day: Shag and Yukon have the vehicle ready. They both tell me they know I can do this. Yukon tells me to think of it as a 1000 hundred meter dashes and it shouldn’t be that bad. He also tells me to remember, It’s dry heat. “Yeah right,” Greg. Through the entire race they both were incredible. They changed my shoes and socks, made me eat, drink, and kept me motivated. They were by my side every minute. Never once did they let me out of their sight. At mile 41, I was feeling pretty rough. Yukon pulled out the portable shower and bathed me like a father would a son. He told me, you’re doing great, I know you can do it. Shag fed me and we were on our way.

At roughly 0400 AM into the first night I started to bonk. They were there, always by my side. For a brief moment I lost sight of them around a corner. It was very dark. I was zoning. Then I heard this loud noise and saw I bright light. I thought, “What the hell is that?” Rounding the bend, I see Yukon and Shag standing in the middle of the road. Bob Seeger was blaring and halogen lights were lighting up the entire night. They both have their shirts off and are synchronized disco-dancing like two raving mad men. “Oh my god, this can’t be real.” It was real and extremely funny too. It helped to lighten the atmosphere and got me going. It primarily helped me to get away from these two.

Mile 110. Yukon cuts the sides out of my shoes to relieve the pressure. My feet are so swollen. He tells me to keep going. You can do this.

Mile 130. It’s midnight. I’ve been running for 30 some hours now. My feet are numb. I’m delirious. I haven’t slept in about 45 hours. I’m taking as many steps side to side as I do forward. Stumbling. Hallucinating. Staggering. I can’t do this. Out of nowhere, Yukon is by my side. He grabs me by the arm. He stabilizes me. He pulls me forward, the whole time telling me, “I know you can do this. I’ve got you. You are going to do this. I’ve got faith in you.” His reassurance comforts me and gives me a boost. I feel that thing inside which a son feels towards a father. I can’t let him down. Hours later we stagger across the finish line. We finished together. Without these two, I never would have finished. They gave so unconditionally and unselfishly. Never once did I hear them complain. They are the Real Heroes.

September 15, 1999 my friend, father figure, an hero, Greg (Yukon) Jenkins, died of a brain aneurysm while hunting caribou in the arctic. He died doing what he loved to do best. I plan on going back to Badwater in 2000. It won’t be the same without him, but I know for sure, when I’m feeling as if I can’t go on and want to stop, his spirit will embrace me by the arm and whisper “I’ve got you. You are going to do this. Trust me.”

 

Badwater 1999: What Worked/Didn’t Work For Me

Badwater Finisher: ’94, ’95, ’96, ’97, ’98, ’99, ’00, and ’01

Here’s what worked for me at this year’s 1999 Hi-Tec Badwater race

  1. Compeed secured by Elatikon tape at the forefoot. Stayed in place throughout the race; no blistering.
  2. Compeed ‘mini-strips’ wrapped around ‘little’ toes.
  3. Anklet nylons overlayered with super thin sock liners. ‘Double Layering’ with little or no moisture absorption.
  4. Custom insoles (low volume/full length) molded by Russ Bollig of the ‘Podium’ in Boulder, CO. Eliminated ‘shearing’ and resultant blistering caused by my over-pronation on the right side.
  5. New Balance 1200 shoes. Most comfortable, least problematic shoe I’ve worn at Badwater. Worn them ‘out of the box’. I did cut a hole for my right little toe at mile 72. Tread was completely burned off by mile 135, but that is usual for most footwear I’ve used at Badwater.
  6. ‘Dri-fit’ Nike baggy running shorts (without brief). Added bike shorts with chamois insert later in race.
  7. Solumbra long sleeve running shirt by Sun Precautions. Very comfortable. Wore it ‘out of the box’. The special sun protection aspect of the fabric was excellent: no burning even though the shirt was often wet (wetting cotton reduces it SPF rating, but Solumbra’s sun-protective qualities are not affected by water). Very pliable fabric…no chafing.
  8. Aussie style ‘cowboy’ hat with brim. (Sorry Aussies and Cowboys…I know I’m hopelessly insulting both groups with my poor command of ‘hat terminology’). First time I’ve used this style. I liked the large volume of ‘open space above the head and the flow through ventilation. It allowed for more ice to be dumped in and quicker melting. Plus made me feel very ‘adventuresome’. I did use my standard desert hat for parts of the race.
  9. Black Diamond (Chouinard) climbing pants for Whitney. Heavier, more bombproof, warmer fabric than ‘tights’. Allows more comfortable bouts of whimpering while laying on, beside, under the granite on the Whitney climb. Nothing worse than a cold ass or sharp edges to distract one from their internal misery.
  10. Montrails Vitesse for the mountain. Removed the sock liner and did not use my insoles to give my swollen feet some extra room. Nice grip on the granite.
  11. Blackburn Pack with wide mouth-screw down lid bladder system with spring loaded valve. Have used Blackburn equipment the last several years. Lightweight/bombproof/the ‘bells and whistles’ you **need** (stretch cord to secure jacket etc.)/no fluff equipment. The spring loaded valve beats anything on the market.
  12. Patagonia mid-weight capilene zip-T long sleeve shirt for the mountain. This is the most versatile shirt I’ve ever owned. Light weight/super comfortable/warm!
  13. Patagonia ‘Pneumatic’ Pullover Jacket for the mountain. Still waiting for the perfect jacket that is lightweight/breathable yet can handle a downpour.
  14. 1999 Suburban LS 4 Door 4WD. Huge and comfy. Air conditioning system was the only one that has ever worked effectively for my crew in the race. 4WD is a great safety feature for extracting the vehicle from the ‘soft shoulders’ near the dunes at Stovepipe Wells. Mini-vans no more!
  15. Orange Cytomax. Standard ‘per the label’ concentration. Approximately one quart (32 ounces) per hour during the heat of the day; 20 ounces per hour at night. Supplemented with plenty of icy cold water almost every mile.
  16. 1/4 teaspoon of regular table salt per hour mixed into the Cytomax. NO stomach problems.
  17. Tapioca Pudding; bananas; Pringles; Campbell’s ‘Double-Noodle’ Chicken Soup (straight from the can); Hamburgers; Scrambled Eggs-Hash Browns-Bacon slathered with extra salt, ketchup and Tabasco Sauce.
  18. Bloody Mary Style Tomato Juice. Mr. and Mrs.. T’s Brand has a whopping 2070 mg. of sodium in a 12 ounce can. That will bring you back from sodium depletion in nothing flat! It will kill you in ‘regular life’.
  19. My crew: Theresa (my wife) and Rick Nawrocki (‘Story of a Champion’). They worked in sync and constantly provided the support I required to make the journey from ‘lowest to highest’. In the 92 hours of pre-race and race activity, they got less than 10 hours of total sleep. Despite this, they remained vigilant and responsive. Super people.
  20. The camaraderie and support from my fellow racers and their crews. Badwater is an extraordinary race that attracts extraordinary people (like all ultras). The collective energy/support/understanding/enthusiasm is why I return to Badwater year after year.

What didn’t work

  1. Reliance on training done 10 years ago. I’m thinking about hiring myself to get me back into shape!
  2. Ensure. Usually has worked for me. This time made me instantly nauseous when I tried it at mile 115 or so.
  3. Coca Cola. I usually drink lots on the racecourse. I got that unpleasant ‘this is going to make me sick’ feeling when I tried to use it too often this year.

The Other Half of the Arthur Webb-Steven Silver Story

1999 finisher

Ken Clouber, RD of the Leadville Trail 100 tells everybody at the Friday morning briefing proceeding the LT100, ” You are better than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can.” Never in the thirty-five years as a runner, with ten as an ultrarunner, was that more true than at the 1999 edition of the Badwater 135.

I have run Badwater twice …1996, where I finished 2nd in 37:45 and in 1997 where I finished 6th in 39:15 … nothing great, but acceptable. I started my own business in December of 1997 and for a while I was able to balance my life between work, running and a modest social life ( I separated from my ex-wife a week before BW in July 1996). But a year later (1998) I found myself working sixty-hours a week and running forty miles a week. Formerly I ran eighty to one-hundred mpw. My 1998 Leadville proved to me, at least, that mega-mileage for a somewhat competitive runner, was not that important as I finished it comfortably in 28:07 (my fifth finish, and third fastest). I tried racing a race a month instead of training and living in El Paso, Texas, that meant travelling. That worked for me. I ran a pretty easy 25:30 at the Mochican in June, so I felt confident, and ambitious enough to run a 36-hour Badwater. I told Jim Wolff and Howard Zaitchek, both returning crew and pacers, that this year my goals were a 36-hour finish and top ten and with the field assembled that was an accomplishment.

In the field was a POW (Postal Office Worker) named Art Webb. I thought he was a little odd running with the American flag and all, but who are we to call someone else odd? I paid him little attention and kept my distance, postal worker and all. The race, arguably, underwent some challenges … and they have been documented so I won’t review them again. Once underway, I ran a few miles with Lisa Smith, always a pleasure, and she gets my vote for the most attractive extreme athlete in the world, inside and out. Then I picked up with David Jones, 1997 winner and he was fun to run with until he took off at about 20 miles. Then it was my buddy Howard … all the way until Stovepipe Wells (Are there really wells there?). During that trek we ran into and with Gabriel (Flores) and Carlos (Banderas) and I knew I was over my head … but then Art Webb buzzed by at about 35 miles or so and I thought, “OK so I’m eighth, still on target for top ten.”

Arriving at Stovepipe, I was saw Art take off and he diplomatically offered to run with me if I got going right away. I told him that, if I caught up with him, I’d look forward to running with him for a few miles… little did I know at the time it would be ninety miles. After encountering some wind and rain, between mile 43 and 45 or so, I did run into Art and his wonderful crew, Dr. Vince, Julie and John … and the rest is history. I told him my strategy … four minutes running and for of walking … with downhills all ruinning and uphills mostly walking. If ever there was a team effort it was team Art and Steven. Both of our crews joined in helping each other. Art’s crew, with their massage therapy, in-van supermarket and continually upbeat attitude, made the race not only memorable and outstanding, but also alot of fun. Art, on the other hand was a real trip. We talked most of the way … about a lot of things … like how Norm Klein doesn’t consider Badwater a “real race;” about how the film crew, all thirty-one of them, avoided us like we were lepers and about how we were going to break thirty-six hours, and maybe even do thirty-five … and as it got closer to that town town from the Twilight Zone, Keeler, we started computing a thirty-four hour finish, if we really ran hard to the Portals. Leaving Keeler, we passed a brave and gallant, and still looking great, Lisa Smith. We were in fourth and, in fourth, we were going to finish. We had our trials. Me, I was a wobbling wreck from Father Crowly Point (80 miles) to the 97-mile mark. Art was not a lot fun out of Panamant and up the Whitney Road, but it didn’t matter. We were going to finish this together and together we did. At about a mile and a half to go, there was a “1 Mile to GO” sign, so I got real excited about finishing in under 34 hours. Art felt that we could power-walk the last mile under 18 minutes. Somehow, I didn’t share his confidence. We had to run and for the most part we did, but that was a LONG one mile … actually, Howard said it was 1.3 miles. I kept telling Art we could do it and we did, with WE being the operative word… and yes, I waited a for a few seconds for him to come into view when I was near the finish line, but this was a team effort and that’s how it ended … team Art and Steven, 33:57.

On a personal note, without Art, his crew, my crew and all the encouragement of the Hi-Tec folks, especially, Mariane, whom I still have a crush on, this would have still been a very special race, as both my previous my Badwaters were, but doing this one together, being with each other during the “best of times and the worst of times,” made it the MOST special race and one that I will long remember. Thanks Art!

To read what Arthur Webb, had to say about this, click here.

1999 Badwater Reflections

Age 68, 1999 finisher

As usual, I am a wee bit late with a Badwater story. But I’ve been busy. After Badwater, I went almost immediately back east for over two weeks and then to Leadville for over two weeks. At Leadville I helped with the bike race and with the LT-100. Saw Adam and Denise at the start but never saw them afterwards. I crewed for two people. First one was Ron Vertrees from Vallejo and he dropped out at 60 miles. So then I ran/walked the last 23 miles with Lee Schmidt from Napa. My first time at Leadville in a crew capacity instead of a runner. Crewing is damn hard—I think I’d rather run.

Badwater was a tremendous experience for me this year. I had injured my back early in the year so that AR50 in April was my last run greater than 10 miles. I virtually stopped running in April and all I did from then on until Badwater was walk and the farthest I walked was generally 10 miles with one walk of 20 miles. Most of the time I was taking short daily walks like four miles. Most of my friends and family thought I was crazy to do Badwater with so little training and with a ruptured disk in my back. Since I was already entered into Badwater my intent was to start and walk as far as I could. Turned out to be 135 miles. I think that I only ran about 15 miles total and that was when the camera crews were near. I walked all the rest. Actually, it wasn’t so bad. Who am I kidding. It took me over 53 hours. I had only about one hour of sleep the whole time and my feet starting blistering at 35 miles. Thanks to Mike Paradise, who played doctor with my feet repeatedly, I was able to hobble through, but man were my feet hurting. If I ever do Badwater again, I gotta figure out what to do with my feet.

Hallucinations: I can’t believe the things I saw. I wrote to Dr. Barbara (Warren) and told her all about them. They were very similar to the ones I saw in ’98. Mostly buildings, bridges, and geometric shapes. Also I saw green woolly worms. At one point this year I needed to fix a shoe and I didn’t want to sit on the ground so I started to think about sitting on a post, or bench, in front of the buildings that I was constantly seeing. But then I remembered that hallucinations don’t make good seats. Also, during the second night, a policeman stopped and told me to look out for the snakes (?). I thought he said “snakes.” So the rest of the night I worried, and I saw snakes on several occasions. People keep asking why do I do these strange things. Well at my age, I have more past than I have future. And the past is made up of memories. More memories can be built up at one Badwater event than are built up in several months of the other normal sometimes mundane stuff that we do. So, I think that’s why I like Badwater—it provides a burst of memories. Memories such as running down the road in the middle of the night with Chris Moon (amputee) discussing blisters. I argued that I had more than he did. What an inspiration he was. I might have given up if it hadn’t been for Chris.

I hate to say this but I feel it coming on again. I know that I will want to do Badwater again. When I finished last year (1998), I said never again. When I finished this year, I said never again. What’s wrong with me? Is this a form of Purgatory? Am I condemned to run forever through the desert heat due to something bad that I did in my past life?