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The Grinder

Eight time finisher, including 2006


We are parked just below the sea level sign that is perched high above on the jagged side of a cliff in this Amargosa Mountain Range. As I anxiously sit in the stuffy van, beads of sweat stream down my face as an unusual dose of humidity settles into the area. It’s nine-fifteen in the morning and already a stifling 110-degrees.

In forty-five minutes, thirty-one runners will begin the 135-mile journey through Death Valley and traverse two long mountain passes before finishing at the Portals (8600-feet), halfway up MT Whitney. During the race air temperatures will reach 130-degrees and the pavement will be a toasty 200-degrees. This is the Kiehl’s Badwater Ultramarathon and is billed as the toughest footrace in the world.

As other runners caravan in for the start, I begin to fidget and fuss. Although I am mentally and physically prepared for the enormous challenge ahead, I question everything. Did I do enough heat training? Did I run enough in the hills or on the flats?  Since I am super hydrated, why I am cotton-mouthed and thirsty? Worry wart!

Just before ten o’clock, all the runners are having group pictures taken by the lacquered wooden marker with yellow lettering, noting that this is the Badwater Basin; at two-hundred and eighty-two feet below sea level, it is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere.

As the National Anthem plays, I wonder, what I am doing in this group of incredibly talented athletes. Scott Jurek, Pam Reed, Ferg Hawk, Monica Scholz, Dean Karnazes, and Charlie Engle are here. They have all finished Badwater in less than thirty-hours. Egad!

After the word is given to start this momentous task, I immediately slip to the back of the pack. At 64-years, I am the oldest and slowest. This will not be a tortoise and hare story because I will never deliberately catch any of these runners. My goal is to use course knowledge, a ton of experience and a truck full of tenacity to make it to the finish line. I hope they don’t consume all the pizza and cold beer before I get there.

My crew, three beautiful ladies from Bishop, CA, Debbie Masters, Diane Spieth and Kari Marchant along with my wife Christine, the prettiest of all, will do yeoman’s work by leap-frogging me in the Enterprise rental van and, at times, will pace for me. They will pamper me the entire race.

In order to keep me relatively cool in the scorching heat, they will wrap iced-bandannas around my neck and spray cold water on my light colored safari hat and long-sleeved white Capsilene shirt.

Once every hour, I will snack on a bottle of Ensure or a mix of Hammer’s Perpetuem, chased with a big gulp of Crystal Geyser water, Crystal Light, PowerAde, or a Starbucks Frappacinno. Every twenty minutes, during the heat of the day, I will swallow a couple of Endurolytes (sodium, magnesium and potassium replacement capsules that help ward off dehydration and cramping.) That’s it. Yum!

Although there is absolutely no guarantee of finishing this monster and the next two days will dole out a pinch of misery, pain and a splash of pleasure, it is a privilege to be here. This will be my ninth consecutive Badwater Race.

As I run along Highway 178 on the edge of Death Valley’s sprawling salt basin, which appears to be filled with water as the pure white dried out surface shimmers from the undulating heat, the anticipation, apprehension and jitters begin to fade away as endorphins start flowing through my system.

After a few miles a minor problem has developed. My left foot, which was rubbed with Hydropel (a gel that is advertised to prevent blisters) and not enough foot powder, is sliding in the shoe (blisters are caused by this rubbing friction). Hopefully it will soon settle down. Clomp, slide, clomp.

It takes three and a half hours to run to the Furnace Creek Resort checkpoint station (mile-17). Jack Denness (clipboard check-in man and eleven-time Badwater finisher) tells me, “You have to go back to the start because of a rule infraction.” I think he is kidding me; at least I hope so. I sit on the stoop of the van for a few minutes and place a different pair of shoes and socks over my water soaked and shriveled feet that reveal early signs of ugly blistering.

Ten minutes later I set off for Stovepipe Wells (mile-42). Although there is beauty in the basin and on the colorful stratus of the surrounding hillsides, the searing and intense heat makes this portion of the race a monumental chore. It is almost a marathon in distance as it meanders through the arid desolation in Death Valley.

This year I have strategically broken it down into smaller sections. By focusing on several landmarks, (about four miles apart), Cow Creek, another lowest elevation sign, the Beatty turnoff and Salt Creek, my intent is to cover this part of the race with less stress. It works. By the time the race turns west at the Scotty’s Castle exit (mile-35), I am more relaxed and less tired than usual.

While I run between the incredibly sculptured Sand Dunes to the north and the Devils Cornfield (a sea of crystallized salt clumps) to the south, the wind begins to blow sand and extreme heat across the basin. It never really changes through here. Every year, as if on cue, it gets windy and the suffocating 130-degree blast furnace-like heat stings my face and scorches my lungs.

As I hunker down and run the next seven-miles across the valley, I encounter a major problem, but it is not mine. Something is very wrong because I have caught Pam Reed (two-time Badwater race winner) who is barely shuffling along. “Since the start of the race I have had problems with fluid intake and I think I am severely dehydrated,” Pam says. For health concerns her race will be over in a few miles. It’s sad and I feel bad for her. Unfortunately, even the best athletes have their off days.

With patriotic spinning pinwheels and an American flag flapping in the super-heated breeze, Debbie, Kari and I run yelling and screaming into the Stovepipe Wells check-in station. At nine-hours and thirty-minutes, I am right on schedule.

I forego the small hotel pool that is filled with overheated-runners and their crew. Instead, in a room we have reserved, gingerly step-into the tub for a quick cold shower, but, like a cruel joke, both taps are hot? Before jamming my shoes back on, numerous large blisters on both heels and several toes are sliced open. I use no tape; it’s just cut, drain and get back on the road. Ugh!

Except for a few moments that Kari walks with me, the next seventeen-mile steep trek to Townes Pass (mile-59) is a lonely six hour power-walking struggle. In the past I have ran and alternately walked, but it has been extremely exhausting and, at the top, there was little left in my tank.

As the sun sinks behind the mountains, the intense heat begins to dissipate. Although it is cooler, my body is still under enormous stress as I chug forward. Dehydration is always a major concern and fluid intake, even at night, continues to be a top priority.

To ward off cars and other scary things I wear red flashers on my arms and legs. I also carry a small flashlight, but it’s almost not needed. Billions of stars have lit up the evening sky and comets, meteors, shooting stars and spaceships are streaking everywhere. Although the going is tough, I am fortunate to be here; and, jazzed to see the universe in the raw. Man, this is good stuff. Just before cresting the mountain a ten minute respite, on a lawn chair, is needed.

My favorite part of this race is running down the nine-mile western slope of Townes Pass to the eastern edge of the Panamint Valley Salt Flats (mile-68). In the cool of the evening, I pass Vista Point where you can see MT Whitney about seventy-miles away. Near the bottom, I catch Shannon Farar-Griefer and her pacer who ironically lives only a few miles from me in Northern California.

Along the salt flats, just four-miles from Panamint Springs, I catch Jack Menard who is creeping along and babbling to himself. Jack swears, “I see a bear walking in the scrubby brush.” I tell him, “Bears don’t live out here.” Maybe he has spotted the baby dinosaur that I saw, a few years ago, prowling in the area. Whatever it is, he will have something to mumble to as I forge ahead. In another mile I catch Lisa Smith-Batchen who is struggling and tells me, “I have been nauseous for hours from some horrid stomach problem.”

No one escapes. If you run Badwater something along the way will likely sink its nasty hooks into you. It might be throwing up, cramping, dehydration, heat illness, mental or emotional fatigue or a myriad of other possibilities.

This race is a gut check and it will test you in every possible way. If you are mentally strong and can handle lots of suffering and pain, it’s possible to recover enough to move ahead. Forget the prerace,”The best laid plans of Mice and Men” idea, and put them in the shredder. I don’t know about the front-runners, but for the rest of us getting to the finish line is a constant process of red-lining and overcoming numerous bad episodes. Period.

I am getting extremely fatigued and the last three-miles into Panamint Springs (mile-72) are laborious and slow. Both feet are screaming for relief from the severe blistering. So, I ditch my running shoes for black rubber thong sandals. My reward is the shattering realization that dawn has arrived and not only am I facing a steep eight-mile climb to Father Crowley Vista Point (mile-80), but also another hot day of struggle. Yikes!

I catch Mike Sweeney and David Bursler at the beginning of the climb. One of their crew members is amazed that this is my ninth Badwater and is surprised even more when he sees me trekking up the mountain in sandals. He turns to me and says, “Art, you just grind these things out, don’t you?”

“Yes,” I tell him, “That’s exactly what I do.” For two days I totally zone in on my objective, improvise as needed and keep moving forward. I just grind it out. Perfect, after all these years I have a label that fits. I am the “Grinder of Badwater.”

A few miles later the sandals are not working. They are wet and my feet are slipping out of them sideways. The toe strap is slicing deep into the skin, at the joint, on the bottom of my right toe. “Oops,” I tell my crew, “That was a bad idea.” I try walking barefoot but the asphalt is too hot and my feet literally begin to sizzle and cook. So sans socks it’s back into the painful but bearable running shoes.

As the “wheels are coming off,” the sheer beauty in Death Valley gives me a much needed emotional lift. About a mile from the top, the swath of road below appears to have been carved out by a large snake that had slithered across the iridescent Panamint Salt Flats and through the surrounding brown hued mountain passes. The panoramic view of this vast expanse is breathtaking. The best part is that I have already trekked it.

At the top during another change of shoes and more blister draining, a newly-wed tourist couple saunters over to our van. They are aghast and shake their heads at how many times I have completed this race. Oh well, they just don’t understand! But, that’s okay, because no one else does either.

For the next few miles the road winds along the base of a small mountain outcropping and empties into the Darwin Flats. Sprinkled amongst the sagebrush are weather beaten Yucca trees. Although they provide only a slice of shade, I imagine that all the animal life in this area are nestling at the base of these prickly covered scarecrows. It always amazes me how anything can survive in this oven-baked desert.

Debbie then Diane walks with me during this portion. After the road crests over a rather long knoll, I start to run again. I pass the Death Valley National Park Boundary Sign (mile-85) and cross five-miles of rolling hilly terrain before walking the last few feet into the Darwin turnoff check-in station (mile-90).

Suddenly, I hear the unmistakable roar of jet engines slicing through the morning sky. The noise is loud and almost deafening. “There, look, right up there,” I shout, while jumping up and down. A powder blue F-16 is flying sideways and only a few feet over our heads. Within seconds the pilot tipped his wing, banked to the north and was gone. I have no idea if he was greeting us or simply practicing his strafing technique, but it doesn’t matter. This show was almost worth the price of admission.

Reenergized, I feel I can run the Centennial Flats; the next ten-miles of gradually rolling downhill’s. All goes well until just before the large white cross (mile-96). Although it’s at least twenty-degrees cooler than yesterday and I am still being soaked with cold water, my body begins to overheat. According to the law of diminishing returns, as the body temperature rises, performance suffers. Well, duh!

Just a minute ago I was running okay, but now I have to climb into the van, lie down and cool off. With iced down towels draped on my head and shoulders and Debbie tagging along for moral support, I am soon back on the road. Since I still suffer from some classic heat stress symptoms my condition is tenuous at best, and there are still thirty-nine miles to go. Yuck!

The next eight-miles of running are more of a shuffle-walk. I have another heat episode (mile-104) and have to get into the van again. To cool down, I sit in a bucket of ice water. Then I dip my head into a brain-freezing ice and water filled chest until the back of my eyes feel like they are being clubbed with a hammer. A pounding headache that feels like it is going to explode will bother me for an hour. To give my crunched feet some relief the toe box in my shoes are cut out. Even though I feel pulverized, I continue to shuffle towards the metropolis of Keeler (mile-108), population 98.

Just ahead, ominous thunderheads roll in from the Eastern Sierras and blankets the Owens Valley. Booming thunder fills the darkened sky and crackling lightning crashes into the nearby hillsides. Actually, getting zapped might feel good. Unfortunately, we are on the edge of the heavy rain, and only a few sprinkles splash the roadway. A soaking in a downpour may cool me off, but as we push forward the rolling storm moves away. Drat! There is some minor flash flooding in the area and rumor has it, “The rains have chased the sidewinders onto the road.” Great!

Just before stopping in front of Keeler to ice-down and gorge on a meal of Ensure, an invigorated Shannon and my mountain climbing buddy Bob Haugh, who have been playing cat-and-mouse all day, pass me for the last time.

Doctor Ben Jones, the “Mayor of Badwater” and roving race magician, stops to take a few pictures (I assume cover shots for Men’s Health, GQ or Vogue magazines), gives us a warm greeting and then drives away. I get a short-lived boost knowing that Ben was not too concerned about my condition. So, I must be okay. At least I am vertical. In past races Ben has found me lying in the dirt along this course suffering from dehydration, cramping and other cruddy things.

The brackish pools of water in the area smell musty and pungent and we are attacked by a huge swarm of mosquitoes. As we hurriedly move forward, I blurt out, “Why would anyone live in this bug infested burg?”

In the past I have run the next twelve-miles into Lone Pine, but not this year. As it gets dark, it should be cooler and easier, but it is not. The wet towel routine is no longer working. In this same location last year, I was also unable to run and I can’t figure out why?  Maybe its age related, or maybe it’s a coincidence, or just maybe after two days of strenuous effort the dial on my gas gauge is simply hovering deep into the red.

The last five-miles into Lone Pine is probably the worst I have ever felt on this Badwater course. The listless, nauseating and washed out feeling is like dealing with a horrid hangover or suffering from the ravages of an insidious flu bug. While I run on one or two cylinders, my kiln-dried mind is on the rack having its perseverance checked. I tell my crew, “I may crumple into a ball on the side of the road or have to go into town and cool off in a pool.” Instead, I bite the bullet and carry on the torturous battle to forge ahead. Whoa! “What price Glory?”

I do a “survival shuffle” into Lone Pine (mile-122) and head for the Dow Villa Motel pool. I gradually place my feet into the water and immediately fall backwards and throw up all over the deck. Then I ease into the cool water and start convulsing and shivering. Burr!  Race medic David Bliss tells me, “This is a normal reaction as the body attempts to balance itself.”

Thirty-minutes later, feeling as “balanced and normal” as I possibly can, I put shoes and socks onto my blistered hamburger-like feet, and begin the thirteen-mile steep climb to the finish line at the MT Whitney Portals. It’s three o’clock in the morning.

Howie Stern, a running friend, walks with me for an hour before he has to leave to go to work. Now it’s me and the music-laden iPod that’s strapped on my arm; so, I start singing and power-walking. It’s hard to believe, but less than an hour ago I was spent and totally exhausted. Now I am spunky and for the next hour sashay up the mountain.

In the dark, a few miles from entering several long switchbacks, I get weary again. My biggest concern is whether I will be safe from all the strange figures that are fading in and out of the bushes along the roadside. I tell myself, “Be calm and relax,” although panic is not far behind. Next time I will bring a can of dog repellant. As the sun rises they disappear, and I continue to gulp down Ensure and Frappacinno’s to help ward off exhaustion.

Every runner who finishes this race in less than forty-eight hours is awarded a coveted Badwater belt buckle. My tired and frazzled mind is making a million miscalculations about the estimated completion time. My crew tells me to, “Stop worrying and quit whining, you still have plenty of time.”  I am so close to the end, yet, still not convinced.

At last, I make the right hand turn into the first switchback (mile-131). With the “end in sight,” I figure it should only take about an hour from here.

At the tree lined entrance to the park, with one mile to go, I see the postcard view of the majestic Mt Whitney. Unless something catastrophic happens like walking off one of the steep cliffs, or carted away by the bears foraging for snacks in the parking lot just ahead, it finally sinks in that I am going to make it.

This gargantuan task is almost over. It’s ironic that after two days of self inflicted punishment and an elevated heart rate that is distinctively thumping against my chest wall, I feel strong and wired. “I don’t know,” yelling to my crew, “Maybe its endorphins or the gallon of caffeine that’s finally kicking-in.”

It really gets emotional and I start celebrating by cranking up Led Zeppelin’s, “Stairway to Heaven.” I hold the Stars and Stripes up high, and to prove that you can have some fun at Badwater, “cry out” in victory.

With only a few short turns to go, my crew trots down to meet me. We are giddy and making lots of noise all the way to the finish line. Hurray for all of us; we did it! The time gets a bit slower each year, but at 45:07:21, I will take it. And, I have a little secret confession to make, finishing Badwater keeps getting better and better.

As we begin our trip home, it’s difficult to leave the last six days behind. Especially, the camaraderie, the incredible Badwater journey filled with pain and pleasure and the sheer beauty that is in Death Valley.

This morning, for icing on the cake, I had a reunion with the kids that I ran for at the Valley of the Moon Children’s Home in Santa Rosa, CA. There was some beaming and a bit of pride in their classroom. It was fun rehashing the race, showing some video and answering their great questions.

My ultimate goal is to plant a seed with these kids with the message, that no matter how tough things seem to be at the moment, if you work extremely hard at the goals of your choice and never, ever give up, the respect and confidence that follows will have a major positive influence on you and all the people you touch.

Last year a young teenager came to me and said he had already run away from this (wonderful) facility twice, but now he was going to stay because of what I had accomplished. That stopped me almost dead in my tracks; like a dart to the heart.

People ask me, “Why do you run this race?”

Well, maybe it’s the tremendous satisfaction from overcoming all the adversity, maybe it’s the pain, maybe it’s the challenge, maybe it’s the finish line, maybe it’s the buckle, maybe it’s….… But, to have made such a positive impact in the life of a kid, who struggles each day far more than what we will ever encounter in the desert, is the most special reason of all.

Thanks to race director Chris Kostman, his AdventureCORPS crew and all the volunteers who have made Badwater a top notch race.

Thanks to the ubiquitous Dr. Lisa Bliss, the entire medical staff and the ambulance crew patrolling the area, ready to assist. But, they always seemed to be dogging me like a buzzard ready for its next meal? Easy prey, I guess!

Thanks to all the crews for helping the runners fulfill their dreams.

Kudos and high fives to the runners, and, especially, to those who struggled across the desert but did not make it. The recognition at the awards ceremony for their effort was a real class act.

Congratulations to Lisa Smith-Batchen and John Radich on their successful 300-mile Badwater doubles. Wow! I thought I was tough.

I believe my buddy, Jason Hunter, “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” whose energizing spirit was the secret weapon I had in my hip pocket, would have been proud.

Finally, thanks to Christine, my Rock of Gibraltar wife of 38-years, for steering me in the right direction. Although she has heard it many times before, I believe that next year will be my last Badwater race. Anyone want to buy a bridge?

It was an honor to be a part of the 2006 Kiehl’s Badwater Ultramarathon.

Arthur Webb

Badwater Finisher: 98, 99, 00, 01, 02, 04, 05, 06

“There are those people who say they can and those people who say they can’t. They are both right.”
– Author Unknown

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2006 Kiehl’s Badwater Ultramarathon Race Report

2006 official finisher

There have been many times when I’ve sat alone and cried and wondered if life was worth it. The possibility of ending it all has come to mind a number of times. I’ve sought out death and wanted to die, yet I went to Death Valley in search of life. A journey through the desert would teach me many lessons that ultimately would bring out my inner strength and desire to live my life to its fullest. I would be forced to persevere through the toughest conditions that in the end would teach me that I can be successful at anything life has to offer if I just try. Never be afraid, never give up and always look ahead and success will follow.

Before I could meet the challenge of Death Valley I first had to overcome many obstacles that blocked my path. An injury to my right leg in February hindered my progress and virtually stopped my progression toward my goal. I was diagnosed with a stress fracture that relegated my training to pool running and elliptical training for six weeks. Upon my return to running I found that I still had pain and returned to the doctor to find that I now had tendonitis in the leg along with a pinched nerve. I forced myself to withstand the pain these injuries generated as I trained diligently for my run. The pain never subsided yet my will to succeed allowed me to push forward. I solicited the help of several health professionals including a neurologist, vascular specialist, acupuncturist, and chiropractor to help ease the pain. In the end no one could help and my training along with my mindset suffered immensely. Still determined I set my goals high as the time neared to the start of the race.

Having focused so much on getting healthy, I failed to fully prepare for the race as much as I would have liked. My crew was put together haphazardly but the one constant that always remained was my good friend Rick Palmer. He stood by my side during every set back of the injury and never pushed me into any decision about whether I was going to attempt Badwater. What he did instead was he made me a part of his family. My other crew members came to me by way of recommendations of friends. Lisa Bliss recommended Dori Robertson and Beth Simpson recommended Phil Rosenstein. Just through our few conversations by phone Dori struck me early on as someone I could count on in tough times. She had the experience and background that our team would need for us to be successful. Phil, less experienced than both Rick and Dori, has accumulated quite a resume in the one year he has been involved in ultrarunning. I liked the fact that he has shown determination and guts in several races both qualities that I would need to survive Badwater.

The race itself started in Badwater which, at 282 feet below sea level, is the lowest point in the United States. The view as we started consisted of mountains tight to the side of the road on the right and salt slicks on the left with mountains further in the distance. The shiny salt slicks looked like small lakes or ponds from where I stood on the road. The heat was brutal with start time temps of 110 degrees and humidity around 17%. I felt very odd standing in an area where I knew living things did not exist. One of my concerns going in was whether I would allow my crew to care for me. I’ve always been an independent person and have never leaned on anyone my entire life. In order to succeed in this event it would be imperative for me to step outside of that box and do something that would not feel comfortable.

There were a number of pre-race events that took place before the actual start including fulfilling my responsibilities as a test subject as part of a research study being performed at Slippery Rock University. Periodically during the race a doctor would take blood and urine samples to use to collect data for the study. I had to report to Dr. Lisa Bliss prior to the race to supply the first of these samples. After I fulfilled this obligation I then weighed in and reported for our group photo.

In order to control traffic and pedestrian congestion on the road the 85 participants were divided up into three separate groups, which were scheduled to start at different times. The groups were scheduled to start at 6:00, 8:00, and 10:00a.m. My group was the last to start at 10:00 a.m. Immediately after the group photo we were directed to the start line where the Canadian and U.S. National anthems were played. I patiently waited for the start as some final instructions were given and pictures taken.

I wore a white long sleeve shirt, running shorts with white Tyvek covering my legs, and a white hat with a bandanna covering my neck to stay protected from the sun. I also covered my face with 50 SPF sun block and protected myself from blisters by spreading Vaseline on the most susceptible areas. The race director Chris Kostman counted down from ten and we were off. I felt very strong at the start and initially did not feel the impact from the heat. We ran for about a mile when I saw the first of the crew people caring for their runner. There were a lot of experienced runners and crews in my wave and it showed early on. This was the first time either myself or any of my crew members had participated in the event and because of that our team got off to a bit of a rough start. We were one of the first to the starting area so our vehicle was blocked by others double parking around us. They had to wait for the others to move out of their way before they could get on the road to begin crewing me. I was a little worried when I saw the other runners being helped out so early on and my crew were nowhere to be found. I figured, though, that if I couldn’t run at least a couple of miles through Death Valley on my own I didn’t deserve to be there in the first place. Things were a little confusing once they caught up with me because instead of pulling up the road a mile they stopped immediately. This kind of start made it very hard to get into a rhythm of meeting me every mile. Finally I told them I was willing to bite the bullet for awhile and I asked them to pull up a mile so we could get in sync. It would also give them time to catch their breath and allow them to prepare properly for my arrival. It was at this point that I realized just how hard of a job crewing was going to be. Imagine having to stop at least 135 times over a two-day period with little time to rest.

A group of runners took off very fast but I recognized immediately that last year’s winner Scott Jurek stayed behind so I followed suit. I went into the event like I do any race I enter with the belief that I could win but in order to do so I had to be smart. I had no real plan but thought it would be wise to try to stay behind Jurek even though his pace was very slow. I was a Badwater rookie but smart enough to realize going out too fast could come back to burn me later. Staying behind Scott would keep me in check. I slipped in front of him when Lisa Bliss pulled him over to remove his sweat patch. It kind of threw me off and I was now feeling uncomfortable ahead of him. I watched as his crew of three methodically met his every need. The experience his crew had gave him a definite advantage over those of us who were first timers.

Despite their lack of experience my crew was now on track and doing an awesome job. How could I complain being served with water, getting sprayed down and getting a sponge bath every mile? I told them ahead of time that water would be sufficient for at least the first five miles at which point we could discuss whether Gatorade would be needed from then on. Along with water they started to maintain a schedule of supplying me with two Succeed caps every half-hour. The caplets would be critical in helping me control muscle cramps as the race progressed. Their purpose was to replenish the sodium and potassium that my body would lose through sweating.

I noticed at the five-mile point that my crew had slipped some Hammer Gel into my water. It didn’t set well with my stomach so at the next point I asked them to give me straight water instead of the gel/water mix. They satisfied my request but because the bottle wasn’t rinsed I detected a distinct aftertaste. As soon as I tasted the Hammer Gel I became angry and turned to throw the bottle back in frustration. When I did so a couple of things happened to change my whole outlook of the race. First I slipped and fell on the ground and secondly when I did this my calves cramped immediately. I couldn’t believe that I cramped so early in the run. I became concerned and realized the seriousness of taking care of myself. The fall also made me realize that I was taking things way too seriously and that I needed to lighten up. I had to treat my crew with the respect they deserved because they were there for me and helping me. The least I could do is be respectful. I then told them that no matter what we were there to have fun. I made sure from then on that I always thanked each of them as much as possible and I also checked to make sure they were taking care of themselves. It took a fall but I came to my senses and did what I knew in my heart was the right thing. People in general are important to me but these people in particular would come to mean a lot to me over the coming days.

The next major event occurred around mile ten when I started feeling a pain on the side of my left knee. The course was flat to rolling the for the first 17 miles so even though I had a slight ache the pain was manageable except when going down the few hills. I didn’t let it concern me until I hit the last half-mile downhill stretch going into Furnace Creek when the pain in the knee became excruciating. Furnace Creek was designated as the first major checkpoint and an area where civilization existed so I stopped to rest and refuel. I even took a couple of minutes to stand in the air-conditioned General Store where I could get relief from the heat. When I returned to my crew vehicle Don Lundell recognized that I was having trouble with my knee and allowed me to use his massage stick. The pain was localized on the side of the knee, which immediately told me my IT band was inflamed. Despite the localization of the pain I was sure the cause was actually closer to the hip. Instead of focusing only on the knee I massaged the entire leg from the hip down to the knee.

When we left Furnace Creek I was allowed a pacer for the first time so Rick stepped up and ran with me. We were already running low on ice so Phil volunteered to go to Stove Pipe Wells to buy ice while Dori crewed with the other vehicle. I think it was at this time that Rick realized it was no longer a race but rather survival. I was frustrated and in some serious pain, yet I forced myself to run as much as possible. I planned to take it easy from miles 17-42 anyway because it was the hottest part of the day. Even with that planned ahead of time, being forced to take it slow frustrated me. I schemed and plotted and tried to find ways to reduce the pain so I could run again. My first attempt at this was to try running backwards. At first it felt very comfortable and pain-free but I couldn’t fathom the thought of running the whole race this way so I tried turning around periodically and running forward. The pain made it virtually impossible to do so. Finally I succumbed to Dori’s offer of massage and stretching of the knee. It was painful as hell as she kneaded her fingers deep into my muscle tissue. I just grinned and beared it as much as possible, hoping that what she was doing would help. Before heading back out to run she instructed me to try to modify my stride by either skipping with the affected leg or speeding up the motion of the leg. I thought it might be beneficial to run off the road onto the dirt where the slant was in the opposite direction of the crown in the road. I was hopeful that this would put less stress on the bad knee and reverse the negative effect of the first 17 miles. When I went back out it hurt at the start but after forcing myself to run through the pain it significantly decreased and I was able to run comfortably.

The scenery from miles 17-42 was pretty consistent with what looked like large farmer’s fields on either side of the road, but instead of crops growing the fields were covered with rocks. In the distance, beyond the open fields, beautiful orange colored rocky mountains could be seen. It just didn’t feel real. It felt as though I was caught up in a time warp and I was somewhere I didn’t belong. The course remained flat from mile 17 until about mile 30 when the road gradually started to ascend. I used a run/walk method to get up the hill using the road reflectors as landmarks of where to run and where to walk. I felt good for several miles and still felt confident in my ability to do well. I kept reminding my team that we were in this together and that I needed them to take care of themselves while at the same time taking care of me. I constantly checked to make sure each was eating, drinking and taking salt when needed. They were working so hard and I thought it was important for me to put them at ease. I didn’t want them to worry about me. The knee hurt but I hung in there as I descended the short hill that ended around mile 35.

Dori, Phil, and Rick took turns pacing me only staying in the heat for about one hour each early on. I trusted their judgement as to how long they could withstand the elements, and they did a good job of making appropriate decisions. I was able to handle the heat pretty well early on myself. I was constantly taking precautions to care for blisters, stave off stomach ailments and recognize hydration issues. I weighed myself consistently to keep accurate data as to whether I was gaining or losing weight. I took Pepto Bismol on a regular basis whenever I felt any type of stomach pain. I reacted quickly to burning sensations on the bottoms of my feet by stopping and bandaging the affected areas. My feet stayed in excellent condition until I felt the first burning sensations around mile 40, at which point I stopped and cared for them.

My crew was doing a bang-up job with only minor problems through 40 miles. I did become concerned when Phil started talking about his 17-year vomit streak. It was early on so the conversation didn’t bother me too much but I certainly hoped that he wouldn’t bring up such topics as the race progressed.

A bit of a sand storm kicked up as we made our way toward the mile 42 checkpoint at Stove Pipe Wells. While the sand never reached us, we could see it in the distance being blown around by the breeze that was now in our faces. Again, running was a little bit of a struggle at this point as my knee continued to ache. I was resolved to gritting my teeth and running short stints before relenting to the pain and slowing to a walk. We were only about eight or nine hours into the run so I was still strong both mentally and physically, but now with the knee still aching I realized this was going to be a struggle the entire way.

The road that had been straight for so long now veered sharply to the left as we passed some sand formations that looked like old Egyptian pyramids. Even though I was frustrated I still took the time to soak in the scenery that Death Valley had to offer. David Bliss caught up with us about five miles from Stove Pipe Wells, and since I was at my crew vehicle I stopped to chat with him for awhile. I refused to tell him about my knee problem because I didn’t want him to think I was making excuses for my poor showing. In reality he seemed very impressed with the progress I was making which made me feel good. David is a real upbeat guy and I’ve never heard a negative word come out of his mouth so it wasn’t surprising to hear his encouraging words. Despite David’s encouraging words I knew I wasn’t making good time, so I only spent a couple of minutes talking with him before moving on. Rick and Phil hung around to chat more with him as Dori and I headed back on the other side of the road to continue our journey.

There always seemed to be someone in close proximity to me the entire run either in front or behind me. Noora Alidina and I were bouncing back and forth for a while and Linda McFadden was also near. I only know Linda was around because of the presence of the one and only Catra Corbett who was crewing for her. As we approached Stove Pipe wells I passed ten-time finisher Scott Weber who seemed to be holding his own again this year. I patted him on the back and told him it was a pleasure to share the course with him as I went by. I entered Stove Pipe Wells a battered and beaten man. I stopped at the medical checkpoint to have some blood taken out for the research study and a new sweat patch applied to my back. As I sat down I was flattered to see that the beautiful Leigh Corbin had been waiting for me to arrive to take my picture. Her appearance and enthusiasm was an uplifting moment for me. It made me realize that there were many people out there rooting for me. Phil didn’t allow me to dawdle too long talking with Leigh before he pulled me out of the medical station and up to the pool to dunk my head in what seemed to be 130-degree water. I guess he thought it would be refreshing but in reality it was hard to bend my body over and put my head in. I thought I would make it worth his while though as I dunked my head and kept it under for as long as I could. I really felt out of place as I could feel the cold stares of the others in the pool probably wondering what this dirty, sweaty guy was doing. Once I pulled my head out of the water I quickly made my way back to the van to ask for some aspirin and get my bottles refilled. Every time I stopped moving it made it that much harder to get cranked back up again. The knee would loosen some while moving but when I stopped it tightened up and hurt like hell when I started again.

As I left, David Bliss fed me encouragement and gave me a quick idea of what to expect in the coming miles. He mentioned something about a long section of switchbacks that would be coming up so I assumed he was referring to the first long climb that was staring me directly in the face. Turns out though the switchbacks he was referring to didn’t show up until we left Panamint at mile 72. He also reminded me that darkness was imminent and he said I’d be able to let it loose at that point. Night fall was something I targeted early on as a milestone and definitely thought I would be able to put the jets on when it arrived. Now with a bad knee my strategy had to change and instead of darkness being a blessing it could turn into a curse. I had to stave off the demons of the dark and do my best to control my own mind.

Dori took over the pacing reigns as we made our way up the long climb to Townes Pass. We actually did a lot of running from reflector to reflector because the knee didn’t hurt as much on inclines as it did on descents or flats. I still had a lot of energy and once the sun went down I was able to focus on the beauty of the nighttime sky and the million stars it held. Neither of us astrologers, Dori and I pointed out a couple of constellations that could easily be seen from below. Personally the only formation I could find was the Big Dipper, but with the stars seemingly so close any knowledge at all I should have been able to point out everything the sky held. It was such a perfect night—so peaceful and quiet that I felt at ease even though I knew I had a long journey ahead of me. I never once thought about the work that lay ahead but rather the beauty of the area.

Peacefulness aside, there was the intermittent whines of the suffering runners that could be heard in the distance. Jody Lynn Reicher who took off like a bat out of hell at the start had slipped dramatically and was now close by. I passed by fellow east coaster Bill Ladieu who was not too happy, but based on his pace compared to the other year he did the race he was doing well. It was right around this time that Dori and I saw the first living creature in the dessert. A mouse scampered across the street in the darkness moving his little feet as fast as possible probably in hopes of not getting baked to the street.

Dori took the responsibility of pacing me up the hill while Phil manned the vehicle. It was decided early on that each of the crew members would take some time off during the night to rest, and Rick was the first to take advantage of this. It was so hot and sticky that little sleep could be had, but even just a few moments away from the crew responsibilities had to be welcomed. Once we reached the top of the hill Rick returned to take over the pacing duties while Dori manned the vehicle and Phil napped. I had trucked up the hill at a decent rate of speed, but going down hill would be a different story. What should have been an easy glide downwards toward the Panamint Valley turned into ten miles of pure hell. The knee couldn’t withstand the pounding I was trying to put on it, so we were forced to a walk. Every once in a while I would try to skip down the hill only to be brought to a halt by the pain. It was frustrating but I tried my best to remain upbeat. Obviously at this point I knew the run was going to take a very long time so I couldn’t allow any negative thoughts to enter my mind. Negativity would only make it more of a struggle so I did my best to enjoy the fact that I was participating in the premier event the United States has to offer.

Since we were walking down the hill and those behind us were running, we were passed by more than a few people. First to go by was Maria Lemus. She was sprinting down the hill. I honestly thought that because she was giving so much of an effort that we would meet her later on down the road, but as it turns out she put in a very strong effort and finished well ahead of me. Second to go by was Jody Lynn Reicher. As I was taking a break by my crew vehicle I heard her yell out in the night, “is any one else out here hurting?” I immediately raised my hand and yelled back that I was. I certainly didn’t want her to think she was alone. When we got back out on the course nine-time finisher Art Webb caught up to us. He wasn’t moving too fast himself, but he was gaining more ground than we were. He seemed distant as he talked, but it was understandable that at this point in the race he would be more focused on what he was doing than our conversation. I commented on the fact that he was running without a pacer and his response was that it was the only way to do it. I thought to myself, “not really, you could use a pacer.” I took his comments lightheartedly, as what I saw in Art was a tough man out to prove a point, and a point he did prove as he went on to finish in just over 45 hours. Later on down the road we passed my favorite runner Shannon Farrar-Greifer. She and her very attractive crew made up of four very pretty young ladies and two guys had been very kind to Rick and I the night before in giving us advice about the race. When I went by she was just so pleasant and told me how well I was doing. Normally that would fluster the shy side of me but now a confident runner, I handled it well and even flirted with her a bit before pulling away. This wasn’t the last I would see of Shannon however, as later on in the race she pulled even with me and eventually went on to a strong finish in about forty-five and a half hours.

Despite the fact that I wasn’t giving much of an effort to run down the hill, I was tiring quickly. A bright spot came when Dr. Lynn drove up alongside of us with Dr. Lisa Bliss in the passenger side of the vehicle. A familiar song was blaring loudly from their vehicle. My favorite song “Bridge over Troubled Water” by Paul Simon. Lisa had remembered this from one of our many conversations while I was pacing her at Western States the prior year. It was a heartfelt moment and one that I will not forget. While it didn’t generate any energy or get me moving any faster it touched my heart. Her kindness once again showed me that there are people out there that honestly care about me.

We barely reached bottom before Phil returned from his nap to relieve Dori. He took over pacing duties and Rick took over crewing for the time being as I continued my march toward Panamint. I became bored and disinterested with the course, as what I thought was a steep ascent turned out to be just another flat section of road. The boredom, pain, and frustration from the long downhill had now wore me down to a point where I was thinking about taking a nap. The sun began to rise and my eyes began to close as my pace slowed to that of a turtle. Knowing that it was going to be a tough road to hoe, I made a very difficult decision to take a quick nap. I was hoping a little rest would relieve the pain in my knee and also brighten my spirits. Physical pain and mental pain can be managed when dealing with either alone but in combination with one another it was a constant struggle. If nothing else, a nap would remove the negative thoughts from my mind and give me a whole new outlook on things. The race was now between me and he clock, so it truly didn’t matter who passed me while I was resting. Rick offered to stake me out and run me up to the hotel in Panamint where I would be more comfortable but I stubbornly refused. I had no plans of ever staking out and removing myself from the course and now was not the time to change those plans. The van would be perfectly comfortable enough for me to rest in. I situated myself in a comfortable position and asked Rick and Phil to wake me in 20 minutes. I just happed to look at the clock before going to sleep so I knew exactly what time it would be when they woke me up. I fell fast asleep and before I knew it Rick woke me out of a sound sleep. Boy was I pissed when I found out he had only let me sleep 15 minutes instead of the 20 I requested. Unfairly I chastised him, but later on I told him he did the right thing. The rest indeed gave me new life and I felt very strong, however the pain in the knee not only didn’t get better, but it intensified. It felt as though someone were stabbing me in the knee with a knife. It was constant and throbbing and now hurting not only when I ran but also when I walked. Another fabulous thing happened to me when I fell asleep. A nice big blister formed on the left side of my tongue making it difficult for me to suck water out of my bottle.

Things were growing bleak, but never once did quitting enter my mind. I fell back heavily on my experience and relied on the knowledge that as long as I moved forward things could always change for the better. These were just challenges that I had to overcome, and overcome them I would. In order to keep me full of fluids my crew was now feeding me liquid in a cup rather than my water bottle. I was also now on the verge of having stomach problems so my crew fed me ginger ale. I was always able to settle my stomach with ginger ale and Pepto Bismol, so despite all the other problems I incurred never once did I have to deal with stomach issues.

The sun was now in full bloom and the town of Panamint could be seen in the distance. The buildings seemed to be right around the corner but I could tell we still had a good distance to travel before reaching town. I’m never satisfied, as I either am frustrated because nothing can be seen in the distance or I’m pissed because I can see the town but it never gets closer. I was griping and whining to my crew about my thoughts but with each step we gained ground and the buildings neared. The town of Panamint from a distance looks like a kingdom sitting on a mountaintop but in reality it is just a few nice buildings sitting in a valley. I hobbled into town somewhere around 6:00 a.m. without stopping other than to check in. It had taken me an unbelievable 20+ hours to go 72 miles. Upon leaving the town, we were headed toward the second major climb of the day—a 3000+ foot climb up to Father Crowley. It was at this point that I first realized we were in an ice crisis. My crew had anticipated buying ice in the General Store in Panamint but by the time we arrived there wasn’t a cube to be found. Rick, Dori and Phil put their heads together and came up with a plan. Phil would drive 50 miles to Lone Pine where surely he would be able to buy ice while Dori paced and Rick crewed. It sounded good on paper but Phil wasn’t too happy about the plan. He was sleepy and didn’t feel comfortable making the two-hour out-and-back trip to Lone Pine. Finally, though, he gave in and went. In the meantime I was writhing in pain with every step. Dori offered to once again massage and stretch my knee before I could beg her to do it. It had worked the last time and my only hope was that this time it would allow me if nothing else to walk pain free. She had me lay in the van with my leg hanging out where she could access it. She kneaded, pressed and rubbed deep into my muscle as I literally screamed silently in pain. What she was doing hurt more than when it did while walking on it but if it worked I was okay with it. When she was done with the massage she immediately placed ice on the affected knee and left it there for a couple of minutes before allowing me to go. She warned me that it could be really painful to get started again but as I walked it would loosen up. She was right as it hurt when I first moved, but because she said it would get better I didn’t pay it much of mind. I’m not sure whether her treatment worked or whether it was just mental but after a few minutes of walking the pain subsided to an acceptable level. The pain was still substantial enough that running was out of the question but since we were climbing I was able to accept a fast walk.

I was relaxed and as pain-free as I was going to be at the beginning of the climb, so I took the opportunity to suck in the ambience. The road switchbacked up the mountaintop just as David Bliss told me it would when we were at mile 42 the previous day. The course led us up on a two-lane road with very little shoulder on the left as the road hugged the rugged mountain. On the right there was a deep canyon that looked as if it once was filled with water. The mountains in this area were beautiful as the colors changed from granite to slate never staying consistent for long periods of time.

Just ahead of us were perennial contender Mike Sweeney who had been struggling throughout the event and 64-year-old Art Webb. Like me, both were receiving excellent attention from their crews and were moving forward at a consistent pace. I was feeling strong from the nap and the knee was cooperating for the time being so I was able to pass both Art and Mike at the beginning of the climb. Dori was great company as she seemed to have a million and one stories. I never once had to generate the conversation with her, which really allowed me to focus on what I was doing.

The sun was now in full bloom and it was time to face the heat for the second day. I had given thought to how I would dress for the daytime hours as I trudged along the previous night. The thought of wearing long clothes for a second day in a row just did not sit too well with me. I decided to gamble and continue to wear my nighttime clothes, which consisted of a tank top and shorts along with the white baseball cap. I was told the maximum temperature would probably only reach 110 degrees, which bothered me because I thought that at 5000 feet we would have gotten to a point where the temperatures would be somewhat moderate or at least acceptable. Well no matter what, I had to deal with whatever Mother Nature threw at me. Dori recognized very early on that the heat was once again going to be a factor and she immediately started spraying me with water. Rick busted his butt making sure he had water bottles filled for me each time I arrived at the vehicle. At this point I pretty much had my fill of water so he was mixing it up with different flavor sodas including Dr. Pepper and Ginger Ale. The soda seemed to sit well in my stomach and satisfy my taste buds as well as my thirst. He also periodically wrapped an ice bandanna around my neck to help keep me cool.

I was still lucid enough to make sure I asked my crew every once in a while if they were okay. It was very important to me that each one of them had fun on their trip. They were busting their butts for me so if there was anything I could do to reciprocate I was willing. They never once asked anything from me but rather continued to encourage me and lead me down the path to success.

As we climbed, the views became more spectacular. While I’m not a big fan of open fields filled with what seemed to be lava rocks, it looked so pretty from a distance. It was beautiful, peaceful and serene. It looked like a place where one might go to reflect. In reality it was a dangerous place where if anyone were stranded would become part of the desert itself.

I love to climb, but like everyone else I eventually look forward to a change. Upon every turn I hoped for the top but the hill was relentless and we continued to climb and climb. At no time was the grade unmanageable but it was a bit more than a gradual ascent. I never struggled but I did become impatient. We met up with a photographer about two thirds of the way up and he asked Dori and I a few questions of which Dori responded that she was the president of the Dave Bursler fan club. We both got a good chuckle out of her comment and wondered if indeed that audio would make it to the webcast. We went a little further before we saw Phil returning with the ice. When Phil and Rick met us at the next stop there seemed to be a bit of a power struggle amongst my crew as Dori wanted to complete her trek up the mountain and Phil thought it would be best if he took over. Rick looked a little dumbfounded for a reason that I found out later to be because Phil didn’t actually make it to Lone Pine. He stopped in Darwin and asked for 4 bags of ice from the medical crew. Rick looked dumbfounded but in reality he was upset because he believed we were in an ice crisis and 4 bags just would not cut it. Now I wasn’t supposed to know any of this was going on but I’m the type of guy that it’s pretty hard to keep a secret from. Rick tried to resolve the problem by conserving as much water and ice as he could. He went as far as to not drink any fluids himself for over three hours. This is something I did not realize until later that night toward the end of the race when all was under control. I wasn’t eating or drinking a hell of a lot at this point so in reality we were okay with both water and ice, but without the ability of telling the future Rick reacted in what he thought was the most appropriate manner. While Rick dealt with the ice crisis Phil won the battle with Dori and gained the responsibility of leading me up the rest of the hill where at the top we saw Lisa Smith-Batchen in the parking lot huddled around her crew. This was the first stage of her attempt at the double Badwater. She would be out on the course at least another four days after I finished. An amazing feat by an amazing woman, not to mention a very generous crew of people assisting her.

When we reached the top, the bottom of my right foot was burning up. The humidity was taking its toll on the bottoms of my feet. When I removed my shoe to pop the blisters on my left foot I noticed how wet and wrinkly the foot was. The combination of the moisture in the air and my own sweat had soaked my socks clean through to the skin of my foot. I changed my sock on the one foot after carefully popping the blisters and bandaging them, but I didn’t touch the other foot for fear I might cause problems. Once I was back together I headed back down the road, this time with Rick by my side. I was slowly dying with every step we took. The climb up the mountain had taken its toll on me. I was weary and struggling forward toward the next checkpoint at mile 90, which was in the town of Darwin. I acknowledged Lisa Smith-Batchen as she went by wishing her luck on her double. I also made mention of the fact that Rick and I are both from the East Coast where she previously hailed from. She seemed like a very sweet lady but obviously she was also a very tough lady.

In the distance Rick and I saw what I had been hoping to see for a really long time: Mt. Whitney and the finish line. We still had miles and miles to go, but it was mentally uplifting to see our final destination no matter how far away it was. Dori snapped our picture as we pointed toward the mountain and then almost as quickly as the surge of energy appeared it was gone. I was weary and weak and my feet felt as though they were cast in stone as I raised my legs to take each step. When we came upon a sign on the left that read “Death Valley National Park,” Rick told me it signified the end of our journey through Death Valley. I’m still not sure if what he said was true but it sure made me feel good. Well as good as an overheated, overtired, injured person can feel anyway. I limped my way toward the sign where Dori had parked and told both Rick and Dori that I needed to sit in the air conditioning for a few minutes. My body was beat to a pulp and I was so weak I needed to rest. While resting, Rick and Dori took a moment to snap photographs of one another next to the sign. The a/c felt good but I knew I couldn’t waste too much time sitting in it. Eventually I would have to face the elements once again and what better time than now to do so. So after about a five-minute rest I plopped out of the vehicle and continued my death march toward Darwin.

Dori took over the pacing duties as Rick manned the vehicle. Immediately it seemed as if Dori recognized there was a problem and did everything she could do to figure out exactly what it was. Despite the problems we continued to trudge along at a snails pace with nothing ahead in sight other than more road. Once again, the only scenery provided to us were two big open fields full of rock and mountains in the distance. It was picturesque but I had no inclination to soak up the atmosphere in my current condition. Rick and Phil swapped duties as Rick headed off to Darwin to relax for awhile and Phil manned the main crew vehicle. Since Phil had been to Darwin already I begged Dori to ask Phil just how far we were from town and he said about three miles. Calculating quickly in my head 30 stinkin’ minutes per mile times three—okay, 90 minutes until Darwin. I can do that. The only real problem I had making it from point A to point B was that Phil didn’t really give us a correct distance. As we got closer he kept leading us to believe we were almost there. At 1.5 miles he said we would be able to see the tent as we reached a rise in the road that was directly in front of us. He was wrong. He insisted that we were just about there whenever asked. Every time he was wrong. The anticipation drove me crazy. Dori was still trying everything she could to revive me. She was forcing me to eat and drink and at the same time spraying me with water. Finally she got a big sponge full of water and dumped it over my head and the water went down my back and legs. When the water hit me I immediately got the chills. I was freezing in temperatures hovering around 100 degrees. My core body temperature was out of whack and I didn’t realize it until then. In only a few minutes I was a new man.

Just about the same time I came back to life we reached Darwin. I thought it would be a small town with buildings and people bustling about but that turned out to be not true, or at least they didn’t direct us into that part of town. We landed at an intersection where we could either go straight or turn right or left. There was a big tent on the corner of the intersection that housed the race officials. I was revived but I still sat for awhile to rest while Dori, Rick, and Phil refilled my bottles and got me food. While I was sitting there Shannon Farrar-Greifer made it into the checkpoint looking in great shape. Her crew yelled over to me that the two of us should run together since we seemed to be moving at the same pace. Running with a bunch of pretty women appealed to me so I certainly was not going to disagree. Shannon’s crew was continually nice to me throughout the event. They even offered food to Phil at this particular junction of the race, which he accepted. Personally, if the offer were made to me directly, I would have graciously declined. This was a self-support style race and I truly did not want to take from others. Despite my thoughts, I must say that the fruit they offered came in handy and is partially responsible for giving me the strength to complete the next several miles.

There seemed to be some discussion amongst my crew as to who would go into town to get more supplies. Seems Phil was quite smitten with Shannon and her crew and wanted to run with us but each of my crew members had strengths and right now I needed Dori to run by my side and Rick to crew. That left Phil to go into town. I made the mistake prior to the event of not naming a leader so right then I took command and in front of the three of them pronounced Rick the leader. I knew he wouldn’t be comfortable with such a title but it was a decision I had to make and an easy decision at that. Out of the three of them he knew me best and I trusted him most. I trusted his ability to make wise decisions and guide us safely to the finish line. Very quickly I told each crew member what role I would like them to play and I was off. Rick was to lead and be our crew, Dori was to pace and Phil was to go to town to get supplies. I explained to Phil how Dori had just revived me from the dead and that for some reason I listened to everything she asked me to do. I was positive I would not have responded to either Phil or Rick in that manner. I’m not sure why but I allowed Dori to take complete command over me and I did everything she requested. She did my thinking for me and took care of me and right now that’s what I needed more than anything. When I left, the crew had a little pow wow but ultimately each took the role I requested and things seemed to calm.

I started down the road slowly waiting for Shannon to catch up so we could chat a little. If possible I would have loved to run all the way to Lone Pine and then finish with her but I didn’t want the pressure of having to push when she pushed just to keep up with her. My energy level was now such that I thought I may have some running left in me but that was a decision I wanted to make on my own. I didn’t want to feel as though I had to run just to keep up with Shannon. She still had a bounce in her step so I figured she would be doing at least a little running the rest of the way and that made me uncomfortable. I chatted for awhile and then I forced myself into a jog. I didn’t make a conscious effort to pull away from Shannon but I do think subconsciously that I made myself run to gain some separation between the two of us. The pain in the knee was still sharp but the short jog gave me some hope that maybe I would be able to pull off a few more stretches like that to help get me across the finish line quicker than I projected earlier.

What occurred next was an emotional experience I should have tried to gain control over before allowing it to get out of hand. It hurt me in the long run but it was also something that defines me as a person and something that was going to happen no matter how much control I tried to maintain. While running I thought to myself how I should be able to withstand the pain generated from the knee. Thoughts of how much pain my grandfather had put up with in his lifetime without so much as a whimper made me feel like such a baby. Would he be proud of me at this moment if he saw how I succumbed to the pain of an aching knee? My only answer was no. The more I thought the more I ran and the more I ran the faster I went. Tears started rolling down my cheeks and ultimately I lost it totally. After about a mile of running I yelled to Rick to please get the picture I had of my grandfather that was in my suitcase and pass it to me the next time I went by. Quickly he did as I requested, and I continued now sprinting at max speed down the highway crying like a baby. I’m not sure if anyone other than Dori and Rick recognized what was going on nor did I care. This was a moment I shared with my grandfather. Momentarily he came down from above and watched as I ran as fast as I could for two miles just to make him proud of me to show him that I am tough and I can run with pain. At one point Dori tried to stop me and I slowed a little but I couldn’t stop just yet. I pulled away and fired off another quarter mile or so at top speed before slowing down and finally stopping. I dropped my head for a split second and at that point promised my grandfather that no matter what happens from that point I will make it to the finish line under any and all conditions. I quickly came back to reality and when I did, found that my knee was now aching more than ever. Not only could I not run but also I could barely walk without pain. I felt a little foolish especially after Shannon ran by several minutes later as I hobbled down the highway with Rick by my side. My emotional outburst may have been premature, but after 90 miles and almost 28 hours of running I think I had a good excuse for losing my grip with reality momentarily. Neither Dori nor Rick ever once questioned my thought process. I totally expected to be questioned but they never judged me. They gained my respect and trust after this escapade because I knew most would have asked what the hell was I doing but they didn’t. I knew at this moment that my decision to pick these two people to be on my crew was the best decision I would ever make. While Phil held his own as part of my crew both Rick and Dori would be the main people I would lean on the rest of the way to the finish.

Now with no one in sight and me hobbling in excruciating pain, Rick and I talked about how I could get relief. As he walked from behind I told him that I thought I needed to swap out shoes. He looked down and dramatically said Dave your shoes are definitely your problem. He told me they were shot and by the looks of them may have been how I got hurt in the first place. Before I knew what was going on he began to take his shoes off while at the same time he asked me to remove mine. He demanded that we swap shoes immediately if for no other reason so I don’t injure myself more. Possibly, I may even get some relief from wearing his shoes. I did as he asked and removed my shoes. His absolutely felt better on my feet but they were tight up against my Achilles tendon so I told him I could only wear his temporarily until we met up again with Dori down the road where I could change into my other shoes. I certainly didn’t want him to have to wear my bad shoes the rest of the night so the swap would benefit both of us. His shoes felt better but the damage to my knee had already been done and the pain never relented. We decided that now would also be a good time for Dori to once again work her magic and massage and stretch the knee to get me walking comfortably again. At this point we were about 95 miles into the run with still close to 18 hours left to get into the finish in time to buckle. My past experience told me I had plenty of time to make it. My crew was concerned but I tried to put them at ease by explaining a similar death march I had at Wasatch in 2003 where I was forced to walk the last 40 miles and I did it in less than 18 hours. That experience kept me worry-free but I don’t think it did much for my crew. Despite there concerns I had to take a little time now to get my knee worked on or the pain could potentially slow me to a point where we could be in danger. When we reached Dori it was almost as if she knew what we were going to ask. She immediately went to town on my knee as I quietly screamed. I made no noise yet the expression on my face told the entire story. I teased Dori because it seemed every good thing she did for me initially put me in severe pain before I could see the benefit. I told her I thought she was enjoying watching me scream and make faces. I said it in such a way that she knew I was just teasing.

I overheard Rick wishing his son happy birthday over the cell phone as Dori tortured me. I was humbled by the sacrifices my crew made just to be at Badwater for me. Rick missing his 5-year-old son’s birthday was a perfect example of this. At this time I took a moment to reflect and to thank God for allowing me to have such friends. There have been many times in my life when I’ve felt so alone and so unwanted but times like this make up for any of those times alone. Rick’s call to his son put the thought into my mind that I should try to call my mom to assure her I was okay. I remember from the previous year that the Badwater webcast sometime leaves a lot to be desired and I didn’t want my mom worrying to death about me. After all I was in a death march and certainly not where I thought I’d be at this point in the run. Rick allowed me to use his phone and even dialed the number for me and talked to my dad who answered the phone. He assured him everything was okay but I wanted to talk to him to just so he heard my voice. My dad is a strong man and wouldn’t lead on to me if he were worried even if he really were. I didn’t want to leave him with any doubt that I was okay so I wouldn’t hang up the phone until I was certain he was confident. While talking to my dad my mom walked into the room so he put her on the phone so I could talk with her. This put a smile on my face because I would be able to speak to her personally and be certain upon hanging up the phone that I put her at ease. My mom has been to many of my ultra events before and has seen me do well and has seen me struggle mightily so I was able to give her a point of reference from which to gauge my condition. I asked her if she remembered Wasatch? She said yes. I then told her this race was Wasatch revisited. It was a struggle and I was suffering but I would persevere just like I did then. I told her to be patient and not to worry because it would take some time but ultimately I would finish. I just asked her to trust me and I promised her everything would be okay. Sometimes I’m not sure where my inner strength comes from because deep down inside this was one of those times where I wish I could have been a little boy and just whimpered away crying for my mommy. I had to be strong though and I had to persevere. I had strong reasons for being there and the only thing that was going to stop me was death itself. This was not a message I wanted to convey to my mom at this point in the run so I just assured her that I would be okay and that in due time I would finish. I felt certain that our little talk put her at ease and that her ability to relate this race to Wasatch helped her understand that all would be okay. She sounded good and I was positive she wouldn’t worry so I said goodbye and started on my trek toward the next landmark.

The landmark we were in search of was a cemetery marking that supposedly signified the 100-mile mark. I honestly didn’t even know the landmark existed until Rick made mention of it to me. He stayed on the lookout while I trudged forward. Dori’s handiwork once again allowed me to walk with pain that I could withstand. I focused on the road in the distance hoping for a change of scenery. Seems the entire route leading from the top of Father Crowley around mile 85 to our current location of almost 100 miles was exactly the same, empty rock fields with no signs of life and mountains in the distance on either side and in front. I made mention to Rick that it looked as if there had been a fire on the mountains we were coming upon. A black shadow covered portions of the mountains on the left that led directly over the road and onto the mountains on the right. Turns out that the closer we got it was easier to determine that indeed that it was just a shadow formed by clouds partially covering the sun. It seemed really hot to me but Dori told me that the temperature had been hovering in the mid to low 90’s most of the afternoon. I guess my body was just having a hard time adjusting to the different temperatures it was being exposed to and defaulted to hot all the time.

Just after we passed the 100-mile mark Dori and Rick swapped up once again allowing Rick to get some rest. At this point in the race I felt really comfortable having Dori by my side just because she seemed to know how to react in critical times. She brought me back to life when I overheated and had been massaging my knee constantly since the 17-mile mark of the race. I trusted her and I knew Rick would understand. Phil on the other hand seemed a little distant and I was concerned he felt left out. He had a role to play, however, and he did it to the best of his ability and he never once questioned my decisions. As we walked, I told Dori how disappointed I was that I hadn’t seen the F-16 fighter jets that David Bliss told me we might see. As if God above was answering my prayers an F-16 came out of no where and did a fly by. A few seconds later a second F-16 flew by us. It was an unbelievable experience that gave me an emotional rush. Seems I was going to experience everything Badwater had to offer from the heat, to the sandstorms, rain and finally the pain. I thought to myself that even though I had suffered mightily up to this point this had been the best experience I have ever had in my life. The emotion quickly wore off however and once again I slowed to a snails pace. In the distance severe lightening strikes could be seen in the mountains ahead and Dori became concerned that maybe we would get caught in a storm. I told her I was considering a nap and she responded by saying she thought the group should discuss it first. We were a team so I was okay with her suggestion. Dori and I really seemed to think alike. Earlier in the day she repeated my own words back to me. She told me this was my day and they were there to take care of me. I should allow them to make all the decisions and all I need to do is run. I’ve spoken those same words many times to friends of mine in the past and was astounded to hear them said to me.

A decision to sleep now or to move forward a few more miles to see if we hit the storm was a critical decision. A severe thunderstorm would shut us down and we didn’t have a lot of time to spare so it might be best to keep moving and sleep in the storm rather than sleep in the clear and be shut down later too. When we arrived at the crew vehicle the consensus was that the storm was in the mountains and it was doubtful that it would hit us so they allowed me to sleep. Rick proved to me the first time I napped that 15 minutes would be enough to get myself refreshed and moving again but I still asked the gang to give 20 minutes. I crawled into the van and this time in an attempt to alleviate the pain in the knee my crew told me to elevate my leg by placing it on the dashboard. They also wrapped my knee in ice hoping to keep the knee from getting even more inflamed while I rested. They left the vehicle running with the a/c cranked up to high while I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. I was unable to relax because I knew my time was limited plus I was in an uncomfortable position. I squirmed around in the vehicle before finally just deciding to relax my mind in hopes of regaining my mental sharpness. I breathed easy and thought good thoughts and finally I found a relaxing moment. Before I knew it, though, 15 minutes had passed and I decided it was time to get up and get moving again. Before doing so, I munched on a few tortilla chips that were sitting in the van alongside me. The rest seemed to stimulate my appetite and I felt famished so I was looking for everything and anything to eat. Dori and Rick seemed upbeat about my newfound hunger. Dori for the first time expressed her concern that she didn’t think I had been eating enough the entire race. I couldn’t deny it but at the same time my excuse was that it was way too hot. In reality I was trying to consume calories but instead of doing it through solid food I was doing it through liquids like Ensure, sodas and Gatorade.

As soon as I moved to get out of the van pain shot through my entire body. This time it was not only from my knee but every muscle in my body. Seems fatigue was setting in and this was now going to be the time to see what I was made of. I felt like the tin man in the Wizard of Oz because every one of my muscles felt as though they needed greasing. I grinned and beared it as I hobbled out of the vehicle. I left the ice wrapped around my knee because I thought the numbing affect might help ease the pain. I was taking Advil on a regular basis and was relying on my crew to keep track of how much I was taking. I would ask periodically if I could have some aspirin and they would tell me yes or no based on the time in between doses. Before leaving this time Dori gave me a pain reliever and then urged me to move forward. Once again the short nap brought new life to me. My body was dead but my spirits were up. The storm brought cooler temperatures along with a slight breeze. As we walked it began to drizzle a little which made me wonder if we made the right decision to nap or not. The rain never amounted to much but the cool drops of water gave me new life. Although still walking, we were once again moving at a good pace. The scenery started to change a little as the mountains came closer to us. I could tell we were back in an area where things could actually live because the plant life was green and the best sign of all was the jackrabbit Dori and I saw off to our right. I only caught a glimpse of the animal but it was enough to remain a lasting memory forever.

We came upon a short rise in the road where it looked as if a mountain had been blasted to construct the road through the area. We walked down the road where we were surrounded by rocks on either side making it feel as though we were in a tunnel. It was a short distance through the almost cave like structure but it was very cool. Once again the scene brought back memories of the Wizard of Oz when the story went from black and white to color because as we reached the top of the rise the scenery changed dramatically. In the distance directly ahead the town of Keeler could be seen. Mountains surrounded the entire area with salt slicks on the left and a rock field on the right. It was obvious that Whitney was closer so the end could finally be seen. I saw several crew vehicles winding around the road in the far distance and I imagined what lay ahead. The scenery change was uplifting for a moment but my spirits dropped when I saw the significant downhill section that laid before me and the rolling road that could be seen for miles ahead. When I’m healthy I don’t fare well on downhills, so I knew it would be challenging with the bad kneed to traverse this part of the course.

Dori advised me to allow gravity to take me down and just relax. Unfortunately I tend to fight gravity and make downhills more work than they should be. This particular section would be no exception. I struggled down and exerted a lot of effort to do so. By the time I got down I was wiped out but time was of the essence so I couldn’t rest for very long. The road was rolling so there would be more downhills to tend with but out of all of them the first would be the most difficult.

Dori and Rick had sent Phil off to Lone Pine to pick up burgers for dinner so I looked forward to his return and some good solid food. In the meantime they were satisfying my hunger by feeding me Oreos, Doritos, and slices of turkey. Dori stopped me from eating because she was concerned if I didn’t allow the food to digest properly I could get sick. Once again a very good decision on her part and I listened. I’m totally amazed how such a stubborn, self-sufficient person such as myself was able to allow three people, two of which were total strangers, to take care of me for two straight days. I was fearful going in that I would fight off their help but as it turns out it was an unnecessary fear.

We continued up and down the rolling hills, as Dori seemed to be calculating our pace. In the distance I could see the town of Keeler, which I overheard someone say, was the 107-mile mark of the race. We were still a good ways out of town and seeing it so far away started to drive me crazy after awhile. If I were healthy I could have been there in less than 30 minutes but in my current condition I would be lucky to get there in less than two hours. My goal was to make it there before sunset and I thought that was reasonable based on the distance and our pace. When I mentioned it to Dori she didn’t seem as confident but I remained positive and continued to push forward. Phil finally showed up with our burgers but since I had energy my crew and I thought it would be best if I just maintained my pace rather than stop to eat. I ate as I walked and I enjoyed every bite. I’d say the burger neutralized the negative effect of having to go up and down the hills headed into town. The traffic on this road seemed to be particularly bad. Not really the amount of vehicles but rather the speed they were travelling. It seemed as if some of the vehicles were going 80 m.p.h. I made a conscious effort to stay alert and stay as close to the shoulder as possible.

Badwater legend Ben Jones pulled off the side of the road about 50 yards ahead of us. I wasn’t sure what his intentions were until I saw him pull his camera out of his vehicle. He took a few photos and whispered words of encouragement as we went by. Before we arrived at his vehicle Dori told me to continue on and if he wanted to talk she would do the talking.

After getting by Ben I picked up the pace significantly. Dori had been calculating our miles per hour and what we would have to average to get to the finish in less than 48 hours. She said that at this point we needed to average 2.5 m.p.h. to get in with time to spare and that included the 5000 foot climb over the last 13 miles up Mt. Whitney. When spoken the task seemed kind of daunting and maybe impossible, but I’m not a guy that lives in reality or lives by numbers. I just go and see what happens. I appreciated what both Rick and Dori were doing by advising me what I needed to do but at the same time it was hurting me. I like to focus on fantasy and what seems to be the unachievable rather than reality and what actually needs to be done. First of all, reality takes all the fun out of it. Secondly, it is mentally stressing to think you have to maintain a certain pace over a long period of time to be successful. At this point we were still more than a marathon away from the finish which was way too soon to be pushing hard. They did, however, convince me to pick up the pace and seemed happy when I banged out a few miles averaging the required 2.5 m.p.h. and even a couple at 3 m.p.h.

As we approached Keeler in our night gear, but with still some daylight left, my pace once again began to fade. As the sun dropped so did my energy level. I expended way too much energy worrying about maintaining a quick pace. By this time Rick had headed into Lone Pine to check into our hotel room to get cleaned up and get some rest. When he left I’m sure he was confident that I had made a complete turnaround and would march into the finish with no problem but in reality I was about start the most brutal death march of the entire event. Just as we left Keeler at 107 miles, my body started to slowly shut down. I was unable to control my body temperature. I became cold, yet when I put a jacket on I was too warm. I was able to keep moving for a couple of more hours at a moderate pace but by the time Rick arrived back to relieve Phil I was totally shut down and in need of another nap. I was very aware that my decision to nap at this point put my chances of finishing under 48 hours at risk. At the same time my pace had slowed dramatically, and if I continued I had no chance anyway. I continued to assure my crew that all would be okay. I’m not exactly sure how confident they were listening to words coming from a beaten man but I did my best. In my heart I knew I could do it but at this time even I began to prepare myself for the possibility of something less than what I expected.

As Dori and I made our way toward the van there seemed to be a commotion as Rick and Phil were dancing around the vehicle. As I got closer I noticed Rick taking pictures of the ground and I wondered why. I thought maybe I was hallucinating but Dori confirmed that something was definitely going on. As it turns out Phil had been standing next to a baby sidewinder snake as he was waiting for me to arrive. Eventually he must have looked down and noticed the snake and then called Rick over to look at it. Both were enamored with the reptile, and also brave as it crawled around the road. I got a very quick glance of the snake before it scurried off underneath the van. Dori asked Rick to move the van forward so they could keep an eye on the snake to make sure no one got bit. When all was done they once again got me in the van, elevated my leg, put ice on my knee, and allowed me to rest. I sat there restlessly with thoughts that the snake might once again get underneath the vehicle and somehow get in the ventilation system and bite me. Also I was concerned I had left my shoes on the ground outside and the snake might find its way inside. All these concerns along with the thoughts of the miles that I had left to traverse kept me awake. I knew that the time off my feet would still be beneficial and would allow me to feel refreshed and pick up the pace when I returned to the road.

Ironically, for the third time in a row, I got out of the vehicle after exactly 16 minutes of rest and began to move forward. I was refreshed mentally but physically my body had totally shut down. I hobbled out of the vehicle and somehow got my shoes on and moved forward. The few minutes rest allowed me to regroup and also gave me the opportunity to regain control of my body temperature. Aches and pains are easy to deal with but heat exhaustion or hypothermia would shut me down. Dori continued to walk with me and tried her best to assure me that we were making headway. Before Phil left he said we were on an 11-mile stretch of road that would lead us toward Lone Pine. It was dark but I could still make out that we were going uphill and that there was very little to look at as far as scenery goes. I was going crazy because off to my left I could see white lights lining what seemed to be a shoreline. If I didn’t know any better I would have said there was a river separating the road I was travelling and the white lights I could see in the distance. The reason the white lights were so nerve wracking is because I was certain the lights were those of other runners and crew vehicles and that eventually I would need to be on that side of the fake river in order to finish.

The road I was walking went dead straight ahead for as far as the eye could see. I was certain that eventually we would need to make a sharp left but I never saw any hint of a turn. Dori was trying to get me to relax by looking at it in terms of time rather than mileage. She said look at it as two hours rather than four miles, but finally my frustration overflowed and the expletives started flowing freely. Seemed like every other sentence out of my mouth was where is that f’in town. She would respond in some manner and no matter what it was I would say I don’t care I just want to know where that f’in town is. My next favorite statement was, “what are those f’in lights on the far left side? Is that the f’in town?” Dori was really cool and kept her composure. She tried her best to divert my attention by telling me stories of things that had happened in her life. It had worked earlier on when I was mentally sharp but I had now lost it completely. It was at this point that I knew I needed Rick by my side. Dori had staved off my frustrations all day but now things were slipping out of my mouth that I didn’t want to expose her to. I knew Rick would listen to my whining and somehow make light of it and probably even piss me off generating energy, which would get us where we needed to be. I politely explained to Dori that she had done her job but now I needed Rick to get me into Lone Pine. She accepted what I had to say without a problem and jumped right in the vehicle to take over the crewing duties. Just before she swapped out with Rick I asked the two runners behind us if they knew how far we were from town and in which direction we had to go. Another reference to the Wizard of Oz as just like the Scarecrow in the story each pointed in the opposite direction. I was totally frustrated by this point and really needed someone to gripe to. Rick stepped up to the plate and willingly listened to my whining for the next several miles.

As the night progressed my pace declined to a crawl. It seemed we were stopping every 100 yards to rest, but the stops were short. A bit of excitement that shook things up is when I almost stepped on a scorpion that was scurrying across the road. It lit a fire under my butt and got me moving again for a few moments before I crashed and went back into my death march. I continued my constant cries about the lost town and the lights that were shining off to the left. In retrospect I’m not sure how Rick was able to listen to my constant whimpers. He was patient and kind. He tried his best to divert my attention but it was to no avail as I was frustrated. Along with my cries I begged Rick to somehow motivate me to get to the checkpoint in Lone Pine. I was certain that if he could get me to Lisa Bliss she would find the right words to say to get me into the finish. Finally we turned right off the road we had been travelling and continued a couple of more miles before headlights from the main road leading us in to Lone Pine could be seen. After several stops to rest we finally made it into town but we still had about a one and a half-mile hike before we reached the Lone Pine checkpoint. This is where Rick came up with a simple method of moving me forward. He broke the 1.7 mile route down into sections by having me walk from road sign to road sign. I might be stubborn at times but believe it or not I’m easily motivated even with what most might consider simplicity. Rick’s strategy worked as I plodded forward in the direction of the Dow Villa Motel where the medical staff was positioned. While Rick pushed me Dori called Phil at the Comfort Inn and told him we were in town. It was time for him to rejoin us after his long rest. I would need my entire crew to help me face the final challenge of traversing the last 13 miles straight up hill.

I was literally trashed by the time I crawled into the checkpoint. I struggled, cried, and hurt for 122 miles and I looked and felt terrible yet the crowd of people cheered as I entered. I received encouragement from everyone as Lisa Bliss took blood out of me, weighed me and put a sweat patch on my back for the final time. While this was being done I looked straight ahead and zoned everyone else out but Lisa. I listened intently to every word she had to say while at the same time firing myself up. Lisa assured me everything would be okay but that I needed to make sure I loaded up on glucose tablets, candy and Gatorade as I climbed the final mountain. I briefly glanced down at my knee for the very first time and was shocked at how swollen it was. I also took a look at my hands and noticed that my fingers were very swollen. I had done my best to monitor my weight throughout the event even shutting down fluid intake around mile 110 because my weight had increased almost 10 pounds but it appeared that at mile 122 I had lost control. My weight was 145 pounds up five or six pounds from my initial weigh in at the start. Lisa didn’t seem to be concerned so even though I was swelling, I didn’t get concerned either. I sat for about three or four minutes staring straight ahead before getting up and starting off on the final leg of the run. Just before leaving I asked David Bliss how this climb compared to what Hope Pass at Leadville had to offer. He chuckled and said it’s not even close to being as hard as that. This was all that I needed to hear. I conquered Hope Pass while fatigued so I was confident that Whitney would not challenge me. As I left I became very focused and was ready to get down to business. I told my crew that I would need each of them to take a turn going up the hill with me. My thoughts were that mentally it might make it easier for me to take the hill in segments of four miles. Taking each segment with a new person would mean a new personality and a new topic of discussion. I figured this would keep me from getting bored and would allow time to pass more quickly while also eating up the miles. I also told each that if we needed to we would run. I could suck it up for a few miles for the finish.

Rick took me from town to the Whitney Portal Road where we made a left across the main street and started our ascent up the mountain. Each mile mark was identified by a landmark that was documented in the race manual and Rick knew each so he was able to calculate how fast we were going. I had six hours and 40 minutes to make it to the top in order to finish under 48 hours, which I thought was more than enough time. Personally, I was ready to be done and didn’t want to waste any time so I picked up the pace dramatically. I could feel the adrenaline rush through my body with each step and as the adrenaline levels increased my spirits rose. I felt like a college football player who was fired up to play a big game. There was nothing that was going to stop me. I swung my arms and breathed rhythmically as I got myself into a groove. About a quarter mile up the hill Rick and Dori switched positions because Rick wanted to have the manual handy in order to properly identify each mile mark. While Rick scouted out the mile markers and Dori paced, Phil manned the crew vehicle. Somehow I dug deep inside of myself and blocked out all the pain as we maintained 15-minute miles going up the sharp inclines. Dori fed me water and Gatorade upon request and occasionally slipped me a glucose tablet or a piece of candy to help me keep my energy up. At this point I didn’t allow anything or anyone to distract me. My crew vehicle was only needed a couple of times to fill my bottles but other than that was virtually useless. The information Rick fed me about my pace and the mile markers was what I needed most. Both he and Dori made me feel great with their enthusiastic comments of how well I was doing. After we had climbed about four miles, Dori commented that a sub-48 was in the bag and now the only thing left was to see just how fast we could make it up. I responded by saying let’s go then. Rick told me I was making up so much time that I was gaining on a few people in front of me which motivated me to move even faster. It wasn’t long before we could see Judit Pallos in the distance. I told Dori, “let’s go get her.” We gained ground until the road leveled off a bit at which point we maintained the gap between us but once the road went up again I was able to pass her. I tapped her on the shoulder as I went by and wished her luck the rest of the way. Next up was Art Webb, a gentleman I had spent time with earlier in the race. He was trudging forward as I went by. Again I wished him luck and continued on without even so much as blinking my eyes. I was in a zone and focused on nothing else but the finish line. The incline was not as tough as what I expected and I kept commenting to Dori how I wanted everything the mountain had to offer. I pushed and pushed and maintained my pace through eight miles. I slowed a little as we climbed mainly because we were reaching altitude levels that were affecting my breathing but also because my sub-48 hour finish was in the bag.

As the sun rose I wanted to turn around and look back down the mountain but I didn’t want to do so until I reached Vista Point where the views would be best. The switchback climbs that took us to this point were the toughest of this 13-mile section. Overall fatigue and the altitude were taking its toll on me. I was motivated to finish strong though, so I continued to push. When I reached Vista Point I only briefly turned to observe the scenery below. It was so amazing to see what I believed to be the entire 135 mile course that I had just traversed over an almost two-day period. I was in awe of what I saw below but I was also ready to finish so I turned back around and continued on. Just as we turned to go up, a vehicle from above slowed and came to a complete stop as the ladies inside cheered me on. The ladies that were cheering were members of Shannon Farrar-Greifer’s crew. They had been so nice to me the entire way and it continued even as I was on my way to finish. I’m certain I blushed in shyness, as I never had so many women make such a fuss over me. Their cheers gave me the energy to move forward up the final hills toward the 1-mile to go marker. Upon reaching this mark Rick and Dori both challenged me to move faster in order to break 45 hours. My mind wasn’t sharp enough at this point to determine if a sub-45 was all that important so I put my trust in Rick and Dori and fell back into the zone that allowed me to get to this point so fast. I swung my arms in dramatic fashion, breathed rhythmically and moved my legs quickly. We reached the one mile to go marker in under eight minutes at which point Dori told me that I didn’t even need and even split to break 45 but I moved faster anyway. I yelled for Rick and Phil to be ready to join us, as I wanted all four of us to cross the finish line together. As I yelled Phil seemed to disappear which upset me enough to yell at Rick to get him back. Rick yelled back that Phil needed to notify the race organizers that we were on our way so they could set up. Satisfied with his response I continued on. We made a left turn onto a paved road that led us into a wooded area where we were joined by the rest of our team. We then crossed the finish line together in a time of 44 hours and 56 minutes, mission accomplished. Once across the line Chris Kostman who placed my finishers medal around my neck greeted me and then posed by my side for a few photos.

In the aftermath of the excitement I stood off to the side and became very emotional. As I knew they would tears streamed down my face as I thought of my family and my grandfather and God above. I ran this race not for myself but rather to show my young nieces and nephews that no matter what obstacles stand in the way there is no challenge that cannot be met. My grandfather did this for me and now I have done it for them. The race was also for my family as a way to show them that I’ve implemented the lessons each have taught me over the years and I am successful because of them. It was for my grandfather because he can now rest peacefully with the knowledge that his toughness has been passed on to another generation. I thank God above for watching over me and my crew and for allowing us to overcome the many challenges we faced while protecting us from the elements of the desert.

I said in my opening paragraph that I was looking for life in Death Valley and I believe that the kindness, generosity, and caring that I found out there amongst the competitors and crew alike personifies the life I was in search of. I started running 100 mile races in search of death and now I’m ending because I’ve found life.

Dave Bursler
Bear, Delaware

A Prescription for Lifelong Living – Profile on Ben Jones

 Ben Jones, M.D., has birthed more than 1,000 babies, performed 2,000 autopsies, and run 133 marathons in his 73 years. He’s learned some lessons about living the best life along the journey.

From the March 2006 issue of Men’s Health Best Life

Photograph by Bryce Duffy

In 1963, fresh from a 3-year medical residency, 30-year old Ben Jones hiked to the summit of Mount Baldy and, looking out over the smog engulfing Los Angeles, tried to envision his future in the booming city below.

It was around the Cuban Missile Crisis, just before the Watts riots,” he recalls. “I wanted out of that commotion. I didn’t want to breathe pollution for over 30 years as a city doctor. I decided then, on Baldy, I wanted to be a frontier doctor—like my father.”

He moved to Lone Pine, California, between Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48, and Death Valley, the lowest point in North America (actually the Western Hemisphere). Population: 1,655. Stoplights: 1.

He made house calls. For 43 years, up until retirement last summer, he made them in a Model A Ford, a Datsun 280 ZX Turbo, (during his wilder days), by motorcycle, by bicycle, and in a Cessna 205 he piloted to see patients in Death Valley.

Over the years, “Uncle Ben” welcomed more than a thousand babies to Lone Pine with a slap on the ass. And he sent 2,000 other locals off to their final reward by doing duty as the autopsy surgeon for the coroner’s office. “You can learn a lot about health doing autopsies,” he says while sharing a “pancake sandwich” with a friend at the Whitney Portal Store. (Picture a pizza-sized pancake with four fried eggs and four slices of bacon in the middle.) “Atherosclerosis, for example, is a horrible and scary death,” he says, taking a bite. “But this stuff is okay; I can burn this off in an hour.”

Jones says he became woefully out of shape in mid career.

“I was 45, and I couldn’t keep up skiing with the kids anymore. This was around the time when Bill Rogers and Frank Shorter were doing their thing, and I started seeing people, you know, jogging by the house. So I said, “I’m gonna do that.”

His first long-distance run was the Wild Wild West Marathon, which runs through the Alabama Hills, near Lone Pine, where Roy Rogers and James Garner made westerns. Since 1979, Jones has run 133 marathons, covering every continent, and all 27 Wild Wild West Marathons. He has run 60 ultramarathons—including his hometown favorite, the Badwater Ultramarathon, three times. Dubbed the toughest footrace in the world, the Badwater starts 282 feet below sea level in Death Valley (where it’s 130 F) and ends 135 miles and some 50 hours later at Mount Whitney Portal, at 8,360 feet. (Actually, in those days it ended at the top of Whitney at 146 miles). In 1991, “Badwater Ben Jones,” as he is affectionately known in these parts, became, in all likelihood, the first marathoner to take time out from racing to do an autopsy. (A trekker in Death Valley had died of a heatstroke.)

Badwater Ben knows a lot about the desert and the mountains, about life and death, about career struggles, and the stress that ravages working men. (He suffered from clinical depression until he found relief through shock therapy when antidepressant pills didn’t work.) And he’ll tell you about it all, if you’re buying coffee.

  1. One of the smartest things you can do is pull off the road when you are tired, and take a nap.
  2. Exercise first thing in the morning, before the excuses creep in.
  3. I did a marathon a month for years. I found that if you schedule a bunch of races, you don’t have to train for them; you’re always maintaining your fitness just by racing.
  4. Look at your feet. I tell my patients, Let me see your shoes. People wear terribly hard soles. Soft is better. Go to a running store and get orthotics. Take care of your feet; they’ll take care of you.
  5. I’ve tried all the diets. They’re mostly crap.
  6. There is no way you can gain weight if you burn off the same amount you are eating. So I translate my food into the amount of exercise I need to do to get rid of the glucose that’s in my blood stream so it doesn’t have to turn into glycogen for storage in my muscles and liver. To me, that’s the commonsense way. If you exercise enough, you can eat almost whatever you want three times a day. Why do we make this so complicated?
  7. Quiet is underrated for good health.
  8. I love a world of silence. When I watch TV, I use closed captioning. You should try it.
  9. People overmedicate when they get sick. They rely too much on the over-the-counter stuff. You don’t need it. Just go out and breathe some fresh air. Be active. Take vitamins. Go to bed early. Drink fluids.
  10. I never took an aspirin or anti-inflammatory (pills) to treat pain from exercise. If you are in pain, something’s wrong. Exercise shouldn’t hurt.
  11. I never lit a cigarette. I can’t shed a tear for someone who dies of lung cancer. They brought it on themselves. A smoker’s lung looks as black as a coal miner’s. And that’s a fact.
  12. Depression isn’t your fault. Understanding that helps a lot. Knowing when to give something up works better than a .38-caliber to the brain.
  13. Can’t find time to exercise? Put an elliptical machine in front of your TV set.
  14. Remember how they used to put a governor on a car so it wouldn’t go too fast? When I run, I purposely don’t breathe through my mouth—just my nose. That’s my governor. If I have to open my mouth to breathe, I know I’m going too fast and I’ll poop out sooner.
  15. If you have a lot of outside interests, then you won’t be so reliant on your job for self-esteem.
  16. I try to be behind an 18-wheeler when I drive, so I won’t be wiped out in a head-on.
  17. Do you know what wealth is? It’s you friends and you family period.
  18. The saddest part about dying is that all the stuff you’ve learned goes into the ground with you. Make sure you pass it on before you croak.



To Sleep Now or Later?

2005 official finisher

Only The Softie agreed with me.

I made the mistake of looking at the others. Their facial expressions were unsympathetic, stern and unyielding. One by one, I scanned their faces. The Sister looked away, gazing once again at the amazing stars. The Competitor was frenzied and fanatical, ready to go as always. The Quiet One had his face screwed up in thought. Now I glanced at The Lover—I expected at least some degree of mercy from those eyes—there was none.

See, I thought I had a rather compelling argument after having run 122 miles from Badwater to Lone Pine in roughly 38 1/2 hours. I was completely out of gas. My legs were leaden, feet swollen, shoulders drooping. The remaining 13 miles (with over 6000 feet of ascent) to the trailhead of Mt Whitney seemed impossible. The physical pain of blistered feet and legs covered in heat rash was nothing compared to the teetering edge of complete muscular exhaustion. I could not imagine taking one more step.

I wasn’t ready to give up however. I simply wanted a rest. I was willing to sacrifice a buckling time (finishing the race in under 48 hours) to get a few hours of sleep, to recover, and to finish the next day in under 60 hours. But my crew was having none of it.

Even The Softie began to equivocate, “Maybe you should just eat a cheeseburger?” (He and the lover had sweet-talked the McDonald’s kids into making one last burger just after 10 o’clock at night as they were slacking away at their closing duties.)

And The Quiet One presented the plan. He explained it in terms of an energy equation. I had none. But if I would try to eat some highly sugared gels and guzzle some caffeine drinks, I might rebound. I might be able to start the climb at least.

It was the moment of truth for me. Having served as a crew person for Badwater runners in the previous three years, I knew how important a good crew is in this particular race. A runner’s ability to finish this extreme run is directly related to their crew’s willingness to take care of the runner’s needs: fluids, food, medicines, motivation and companionship. But I had run through the desert rather easily. Sure, it was hot. Yes, I was tired after having run and walked for a day and a half with no significant rest. And the efficiency of the four folks who had been with me from the start of the race insured that I kept moving seamlessly. Finally, the excitement of having one of the crew member’s husband drive my partner out on the race course in a surprise greeting just after having passed 100 miles kept me going through the most desolate part of the course.

But I had really done the race on my own, up to this point. I had predicted exactly my arrival times into each of the time check points with amazing accuracy. I was able to eat and drink hardily throughout the race. The scientists who collected my blood and urine throughout the event were amazed at the normalcy of the results. I remember being happy and chipper throughout most of the miles (check details with the crew on this one!). I had executed my own race plan and done it well, until I had drained myself dry.

The plan was presented: perhaps you should try; perhaps you should go on.

And I did. That’s why you pick a crew. That’s why you trust them. I ate four orange flavored Gu’s. I drank a double-shot expresso. I walked to the stoplight and turned left up the Whitney Portal Road. I ate six more Gu, several Hammer Gels, three Red Bulls, one Amp, another double-shot expresso, several hard candies and a few Succeed e-caps over those torturous miles climbing up Mt Whitney. I put one foot in front of the other, chanting a sing-song left-right-left-right as I stumbled beside the Quiet One. I fantasized about just sitting down in the road and staying there until I felt better. The Crew met me every half mile and prodded me along.

Perhaps you should go on. Perhaps you should try.

Perhaps you should trust your crew.

Check out the results. I finished. Tonight I’m going country-line dancing. I think I’ll wear my newest belt buckle.

Hall of Fame: Jeannie Ennis

In 2005, Jeannie Ennis, one of the four entrants, and only American female, in the original Badwater race in 1987, was inducted.

Her plaque reads:

Jeannie Ennis is proudly inducted into the Badwater Hall of Fame
in recognition of completing the first Badwater Ultramarathon in 1987.

My Life at Badwater

Back in 1989 when I was 54 years old, I read about these runners who had competed an amazing race across Death Valley over the two previous summers. I got very interested and thought to myself that it would be perfect to do this challenge if only I could find some way to get in contact with the organiser, (There were no emails; only faxes and telephones those days!)

The same year I completed the San Francisco Marathon and came down to Lone Pine to hike up Mt Whitney. After coming down, my wife Mags and myself drove across Death Valley and were amazed to see a man dressed all in white walking alongside the road. I realised straight away that it must be one of these “nutters” connected with (by now my dream) the ultimate race. I got out of the car and walked along and wheedled out of him details of the Badwater race. He said he was training for the next Badwater race (1990), He also said to me “Go for it Brit!”

By now I’m completely hooked!!!! But how can I get invited to the race? In 1990, again I read about these “nutters.” This time seven had completed the Badwater race, I bombarded the race organisers at Hi Tec with faxes and telephone calls and finally got accepted to compete in the 1991 Hi Tec Badwater.

I then posted a letter to Bart Yasso of “Runners World” who had completed the race in 1989 for some tips. He willingly obliged by writing back saying: “I wore Coolmax material, the hills are tougher than the heat, heat is the major factor from 12noon to 7pm, but the hills never go away.”

The Badwater race, from a quiet start, has increased interest from the first few years until Chris Kostman’s AdventureCORPS took over the running from 2000. Now it boast full fields of nearly 90 runners spread over three start times with strict qualifying standards. To be in the Badwater “family” is a hard won privilege!!


Here’s a brief recap of my many years out on the Badwater course:

1991: Hi Tec Race Director David Pompel. Start 600pm. 14 start; 14 finish.

My first Badwater Ultra, and what a shock!! In the UK the highest temperature that I’d ever experienced was aprox. 90F. Here I was in temps of 120+F, but it was a beautiful feeling to finish the distance. I raised £4,500 for our local hospital Cancer Scanner Appeal. In my mind I’d achieved the ultimate, so now I could retire from racing and “hang my running shoes up.” (What a joke that turned out to be!)

1992: Hi Tec Race Director Chris Stai. Start 600pm. 16 start; 13 finish.

I decided to do Badwater one more time! That’s all: one more!!!!! During this race I met Richard Benyo at mile 111 (1st runner to do the Death Valley 300 with Tom Crawford) who was on his way back to Badwater on a repeat 300. Mags, my wife, had purchased his book about the Death Valley 300 at Furnace Creek, so she got him to sign it. I said to him that I was interested to emulate his achievement and he replied “If anybody can do it, it will be you!” I raised £3,600 for the Scanner Appeal that year.

1993: Hi-Tec Race Director Chris Stai. Start 600pm. 12 start, 10 finish.

Oh well, one more race, then retire!!! It was a strange race as only twelve started, so the field quickly spread out. There were only a few occasions to see other runners until the finish. I raised £4,100 for our local Air Ambulance

1994: Hi-Tec Race Directors Karen Raby and Pam Riggs. Start 600pm. 23 start; 16 finish.

Remembering Richard Benyo’s remark that I could do the Death Valley 300, I thought “So why not! I will do the 300 with my mate Steve Kerr, then retire, that’s final!!” After completing the Badwater race and hiking to the summit of Mt Whitney (150 miles) our support van broke down on the return leg at Panamint Springs, Now in those days there were no telephones at Panamint—only a radio link to Lone Pine—so after a long hectic time on the two way radio, a replacement van from Las Vegas was arranged via Lone Pine. Not wanting to waste time, we carried on with a car as support until the replacement van caught us. Steve and I completed the out and back and became the joint 5th ever to achieve this challenge. I raised £5,624 for our Air Ambulance.

1996: Hi-Tec Race Directors Matt Frederick/Diane Kurity. Start 600am. 26 start, 14 finish.

It is now a 600am start time because it appears it’s too easy with a 600pm start. Hang on! There is a walk section this year, I’ve never done a walk race, I have to try this, then retire! I really enjoyed this race and finished quite comfortable with hardly any pressure. I raised a lot of funds for Disabled Childrens Stepping Stones and Simon Paul foundation.

1997: Hi-Tec Race Director Matt Frederick. Start 600am. 27 start, 20 finish.

Disaster!!!! My only DNF.—had to drop at Stovepipe Wells because of dehydration, etc. Will have to come back again and put this right. Anyway, still raised £3,500 for Hospital Hydrotherapy Pool.

1998: Hi-Tec Race Director Matt Frederick. Start 600am. 29 start, 20 finish.

First I have to put last years DNF to rest, the second reason to do the race is that “Real TV Productions” are making a documentary with Marshal Ulrich, Lisa Smith, Scott Weber and myself and to show it on TV over a five day period. I raised £2.600 for Marie Curie Appeal. Retire? Not yet, beginning to get a feeling I could get to ten finishes, then retire!!

1999: Hi-Tec Race Director Matt Frederick. Start 1000am. 42 start, 33 finish.

Mel Stuart Film Productions made a 1hour, 40 mins film of the race featuring fourteen competitors of which I was one of the lucky runners to be selected, The film is “Running on the Sun.” Much to the joy of Mel Stuart, the race had a lot of things which don’t normally happen in Death Valley: the night before there was a freak storm and heavy rain with streaks of lightning, Furnace Creek awash with flowing water, the road to Badwater was blocked so instead of a 600am start we had to wait until the road was cleared by the park staff for a 1000am start. With the sun now out, it was perfect conditions for filming, as the storm was still around during the race with the wind and dust. I raised £6.000 for Crohns Research Charity.

2000: AdventureCORPS Race Director Chris Kostman. Start 800am. 69 start, 49 finish.

This race was the beginning of AdventureCORPS’ involvement in promoting the Badwater Ultramarathon and it brought sanity to the entry system and, most important, to the start procedure, as now there was a three wave start which cut out crowding for runners and crew. I had the usual problems in race, i.e. heat exhaustion, too hot, not drinking enough, not eating, but I “enjoyed” it as I’m a bit mad!!! After the finish, we were having a well earned meal in PJs when we were asked if there were any volunteers to help crew my UK friend Chris Moon on the way back to Badwater on his Death Valley 300. Mags said later “I saw Jack look across at Frank McDonagh (crew member) who winked back. They were out the door in a flash. So much for our rest!!!!” I raised funds for a Rotary Handicamp for disabled childrens holiday and for Alzheimer Society.

2001: AdventureCORPS Race Director Chris Kostman. Start 600am. 71 start, 55 finish.

I thought to myself, if I can finish, it will make nine completions, which will put ten finishes one step away. I don’t take any chances and get to the end OK. I raised £1,550 for Crohns Research, more cash for Rotary Handicamp for disabled childrens holiday, and cash for the school where I’m caretaker for playground equipment.

2002: AdventureCORPS Race Director Chris Kostman. Start 600am. 78 start, 59 finish.

It’s the 25th Anniversary of the first Death Valley crossing by my mentor and dear friend Al Arnold who was the guest of honour for the race. He asked me to join him on stage where I gave him a personal souvenir to mark his achievement. A few years earlier I had sent him a letter telling him jokingly that “When we meet in the future I don’t know what to do to you for starting this Death Valley madness: either I will shake your hand or wring your neck.” On stage he turned to the audience and said “Well!, what are you going to do, Jack?” I shook his hand!!!! BUT, this was to be my 10th and final race, what a combination this was to be: The 25th Anniversary and my 10th, with Al Arnold greeting finishers; no way was I going to fail! Yes, I finished the race, and there was Al Arnold at the finish. I was very happy receiving my finisher’s medal, now for a celebration for my retirement. I raised a lot of funds for Cerebral Palsy.

Jack and crew eager for his “final finish” in 2005.

With race director Chris Kostman at the finish. And, keeping with tradition, enjoying a can of Murphy’s.

2003: AdventureCORPS Race Director Chris Kostman. Start 600am. 73 start, 46 finish.

I wasn’t going to race, but just can’t keep away from Death Valley, so decided to crew together with Mags. We enjoyed it, but had a feeling I should be in the roll call at the Badwater start. Stop it, Jack, you are retired!, I know,but!!!…

2004: AdventureCORPS Race Director Chris Kostman. Start 600am. 72 start, 57 finish.

I came out of retirement for this race: I just can’t say no!!! Chris Kostman called Marshall Ulrich and myself on stage at the pre-race meeting and presented the both of us with wooden plaques to mark our ten finishes in the Badwater Ultramarathon. I felt very proud. As for the race, I hadn’t trained much, because having done it so many times I got a bit casual—big mistake! I paid dearly for this lapse, proving that you must always take the race serious. I missed cut-off, but was allowed to be a “Honourable Mention Finisher.” There was a 2nd attempt for a runner to claim the title “first 70 year old to finish Badwater,” but he dropped near Lone Pine, so now I had to come back to get that record in the 2005 race.

2005: AdventureCORPS Race Director Chris Kostman. Start 600am. 81 start, 67 finish.

This is what I’ve been training for! To finally go for the record as the “first 70-year-old to complete the Badwater Ultramarathon.” On every part of course I was encouraged and urged on. It was a fantastic feeling to be known by so many. Wearing the 70 number, with my support crew, the finishing tape coming into view, words can’t describe my gratitude to my team in getting me to my dream. Now I will retire, or maybe?… I raised funds by sponsorship for Cerebral Palsy Care, MS Society, and Stepping Stones Children’s Charity.

This year, 2006, will see me together with Mags back in Death Valley, putting something back in the race by joining Chris Kostman’s team as volunteers.

Over the years I have given respect to all other competitors and the helpers, and have had total respect in return. I’ve had American friends together with my UK friends as support crew, it seemed to work well (bar the language and humour difference, only joking!!) On a serious note I believe the mental strength involved in finishing the Badwater race is in all people—it just takes the right motivation to allow it to surface. In my case, the motivation was seeing the positive reaction of people prepared to sponsor me in the Badwater race in my quest to fundraise for worthy charities.

Reflections on the 2005 Badwater Ultramarathon

2005 official finisher

At 6 o’clock on Monday morning, the starting pistol fired and one-third of the field of ninety runners started off to tackle this 216-kilometre race which would finish halfway up Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the Sierra Nevadas.

I was one of the competitors in this first of three waves, and I was pretty happy to be on the early start; we could make some distance before the real heat kicked in! As it was, it was already 35 degrees, and the sun was nowhere to be seen. What was to come?

Badwater, at close to 300 feet below sea level, is the lowest point in Death Valley (and the Western Hemisphere). And one of the hottest , as we were to find out more about that later on that day!

Flip Jurgens, my fellow South African, had committed himself to be my sighted guide/horse for the race and we were hoping to finish the distance within the 48-hour cut-off, thus qualifying for the coveted “buckle.” A sub-60 hour time was needed to be classified as an official finisher. As we trotted along the first 27-kilometre leg to Furnace Creek, the first check point, we were very conscious of what we were trying to do—all very well to plan a sub-48 hour attempt in the comfort of our own homes in South Africa, but no one had warned us about how horrifically high the mountain passes were and the baking heat had really worried me from the minute we stepped down from the jet at Las Vegas! Having read a fair number of the “blood and guts” articles from past races & having had much warning about Death Valley from the leathery veterans whom we met at race registration, we had decided to take the first 65 kilometres through the Mojave Desert very slowly. (As we saw later from the results, we were the last to leave the valley).

Come mid-morning, Furnace Creek was 40 degrees! A change into our lovely Patagonia tops and trousers was necessary, ice packs under our caps, bandanas and we were off. Just short of a standard marathon to go with supper awaiting us in the swimming pool at Stovepipe Wells: a fantasy which kept us slogging along through the ever-increasing heat of the day. The asphalt road started to stick to our shoes, and our feet felt as though they were being slowly roasted! Our wonderful crew were there for us every two and a half kilometres—smiling faces at every stop—swapping our water bottles, offering us Gu, freshly cut fruit, ice, food, and (most importantly) our salt tablets. We probably took three every two hours in that first day. I, in mentioning crew, cannot without writing a separate book about it, adequately describe their role in our race. Flip and I were blessed with a wonderful group of people, headed up by Bob Sitler, himself a veteran buckle holder of this event.

We passed through a very stark, you could even say ugly, area in the mid-afternoon called the Devil’s Cornfield. The heat topped 50 degrees for our three hours through that arid section, and then Stovepipe Wells came into view. Flip wasn’t sure that he wasn’t looking at a mirage – we had both become pretty quiet during those last three hours. I seem to remember that we occasionally muttered to each other, “dit wort warm” … an attempt at some dry humour? Though we tried to walk along the white line, our feet just cooked; even my trusty Montrails started to sweat!

When we finally turned off into Stovepipe Wells, with Death Valley behind us, our fantasies came true! We were very hot and tired, with my worst memory being of feet too hot to walk on any longer. Off with our clothes and shoes and into the pool—what a great feeling! We had taken 12 hours to do 65 kilometres and we were still within our time window. We had planned to spend only 45 minutes at Stovepipe, but our feet needed some attention and it was still incredibly hot: still well over 40 degrees at sundown, so we decided to wait a while, eat a good meal and then tackle Townes Pass at a respectable hour and temperature! We didn’t care that we were far back in the field at that time. We were still strong and another 150 kilometres of mountain passes and desert valleys still awaited us. We heard that some runners had already dropped out due to the heat, and we were still in reasonable condition. Bob and Patrick were to have a rest and be back with us at 1:00 a.m.—hopefully as we topped Townes Pass with Susanne and Daniel taking us for the climb out of Death Valley.

Townes pass was an experience of its own: 27 kilometres of mountain which took us from sea level to over 5000 feet. The hot wind from the desert was still with us for a while, but the temperature gradually dropped and we reached the top in just under six hours. This section was still and dark with but few vehicles at that time of night. Flip kept a good lookout with his headlamp—there is a snake called the sidewinder which comes out onto the road at night!

We were still on schedule with a couple of hours in the bank for a buckle, even with a planned 20-minute sleep in Patrick’s Sprinter van when we reached the lay-by at the top! All would have been great if he had been there! He and Bob went barrelling past the lay-by; they thought it was still another couple of kilometres.

We sat for a while in another runner’s support vehicle, realising slowly but surely that our dream of a 20-minute sleep was history. Never mind all the other goodies: Coke, sweets, rubdown, etc!!! When our two apologetic crew finally arrived, we had lost 50 minutes and we only wanted to get going. We had another, even higher, mountain, Father Crowley’s, waiting for us at the foot of the next valley and we wished to tackle this one during the cool of early morning. Our next check-point was Panamint Springs, at the foot of Father Crowley’s, and I was hoping to make up some of the time we had lost to give me an opportunity to have some running repairs to my feet when we reached the check-point. I thought that we mike be able to make up the 30 minutes we lost earlier on by running down the 3000 foot descent into Panamint Springs.

I hoped in vain. Flip and I agreed that it was far too steep, taking our quads into account, to run for the next 15 kilos. The best we could do was the last ten. We had now covered 120 kilometres in 24 hours: only 96 to go. Bob ran with us into Panamint Springs to discuss our feelings about buckling. If it wasn’t on, we, including the crew, could ease off a bit. If we were, we would have to watch our stops and now consider taking all our refreshments on the move—no more sitting down for a drink!

We crossed that Rubicon in a fraction of a second, both simultaneously saying “yes!” The game was on! However, I had some thinking to do. I had been holding on for a break to sort out my feet at Panamint, but we had lost the time up Townes Pass when our crew went AWOL. Father Crowley’s—a 25-kilometre climb up to 6000 feet—was patiently waiting to test us, and the sun was remorsefully turning up the heat! I decided to postpone my pedicure until much later in the day: a good decision as things turned out.

I don’t know why, but we were in a really crazy mood going up Father Crowley’s. We had taken the bit between our teeth to go for our buckles, were feeling great and we pushed it up the mountain as though we only had 20 kilos to go to the finish! While we suspected that we would pay for it later, it didn’t kill our mood—maybe we had mountain sickness! Father Crowley’s came and went during the morning and we were finally able to look down into the last valley: 55 kilometres of long, rolling downhills to another stark salt plain, passing through the tiny village of Lone Pine and then only 20 kilometres after that up Mount Whitney. Flip could see its snow covered peak in the distance: a 14,000 foot beckoning finger high in the sky with our own road winding away into the hot, dusty plain below!

While it was good to know that we had done two-thirds of the whole race, and had put two hard climbs behind us, there was still a long, long way to go; and our slog up Father Crowley’s had taken its toll of our legs! While I am not saying that the next five or six hours passed in a blur, we both went very quiet and had to really focus on keeping going.

Although we were now at some 6000 feet, the midday sun was baking. Luckily for us, not as bad as the day before. I seem to have memories of our crew yelling madly whenever we went by; particularly Liza from New York. The US Air Force was doing “beat-ups” almost overhead, and, magically, we seemed to be passing other runners! When I say runners, we all were trudging along, some limping, some chatting, but all taking strain. I had heard that this part of the race takes its toll of competitors: the “melt-down” rate of both runners and crew is high along this stretch, and I could fully understand why!

I was sad to hear that my brother Miles had decided to give up at around halfway. He had trashed his feet and had been pretty drained by the Death Valley section. He, and his crew were now part of our support group during this section. I myself was now going through a pretty bad patch. My feet, which I had been able to put in the back of my mind for many hours, were now giving me stick. My legs were weakening. Basically, we were just tired!

Stop time for Geoff and Flip: do feet, sit down for half an hour and get the body and mind right for the final slog. Only some 40 kilometres to go! We had a very welcome rest, my blisters were sliced, cleaned with what felt like boiling battery acid, and plastered—a few minutes of hell which I prefer not to recall! However, that break was magic.

We were different men when we got to our feet. Could I have been walking on air and no longer on my blisters? Sundown was approaching and we got our second wind. Apart from the raw feeling in my mouth and throat, caused by breathing in all that hot air for all those hours, which made eating painful, I felt pretty good, and we didn’t doubt that we were going to make it! Neither did our crew. There was such a party mood, and all the fatigue of the past 40 hours dropped away! The lights of Lone Pine were in sight for a long while before we arrived, but that only seemed to raise our spirits, not weigh us down. We knew that once we were through Lone Pine, altitude some 3000 feet, there were only 20 kilometres to go! It didn’t seem to matter that we had to climb up to 8500 feet to reach the finish; it was just a monster Polly Shorts—one last vasbyt!

Our time window for Lone Pine was between midnight and 1:00 a.m. We were pleasantly surprised to pass through just before 11:00 p.m. Seven hours to do only 20 kilometres—it certainly did not seem that we would be stressed by the clock—only by that huge mountain! I did not think that we would flag now that were on the very last leg. I was in for a nasty surprise when the hill proper started! I seemed to have no power at all in my legs, although I didn’t feel very tired, just had jelly for quads. On reflection, I realise that, because of my sore mouth, I had not eaten enough during the past eight hours and was much out of fuel. A rehydration drink did not tip the scales in my favour, and I started vomiting until I had absolutely nothing left!

I felt pretty stressed; still 15 kilometres to go. The steep part of the mountain was waiting and I only felt like crawling! Flip was so strong, I think that he could have run up that last section. He was also a race entrant, and had the same expectations of a buckle! At eight to go, I had to call a halt. It was not going well for me at all. Nothing would stay down, not even water, and I didn’t have any idea at all how I would get up those last switchbacks which were looming over us. I felt so drained that all I wanted to do was sit down, better still, lie down.

The exuberance of four hours ago was completely gone. We were now just six very quiet people all wondering how to help me put my race back together! There were very few other runners around. The field had really split up, and all I could hear was the wind through the huge Ponderosa pines and the river making its way down the mountain. We were already at the snowline. The smell of the pine trees was sweet and clean. Did we really spend all that time yesterday traversing a place like Death Valley? Yes, it was so good just sitting on that chair, letting what was left of my mind wander around any and everything but tackling that last eight kilometres. Just another time trial, we used to say in those far away days.

Time to pull myself together. I realised that the stark reality was that it was just between me, the mountain, and the clock. Either I would make it to the top in time to buckle or I wouldn’t. If I fell apart completely, maybe I wouldn’t make it at all! But I had come too far, dreamed and trained too long to let that happen.

Decision time. Flip had to leave me and go on – he was still strong and could cruise his buckle – no more time left to wait for me to recover. All agreed: Flip went off with Bob and Susanne in one of the vans while Henri, Dan and Patrick stayed with me. Well, without going into too much of a story, we just went very slowly up that last bit. The two-and-a-half hours I took must be my personal worst for eight kilometres! But, hooray, we got the buckle! The clock stood at 46-and-a-half hours when we slowly crossed that finish line at 4.30 in the morning—too tired for even the tears which the moment deserved. Flip was 35 minutes ahead, finishing in 39th position and I made 41st —exactly halfway down—or halfway up—the field of the 81 crazy people who tackled this year’s race.

Thanks to our wonderful crew, who had come from Virginia, New York, Albuquerque and Standerton, and who had been with us for every step of the way, we had fulfilled the dream which had started around a little campfire during the 2004 Kalahari Augrabies Extreme!

What’s it all about, Alfie? That has to be the most frequently asked question. Why do we do events like this? On one side of the coin, taking on a 200-plus-kilometre ultra is already a huge challenge. Adding in the heat of Death Valley to total climbing of over 13,000 feet makes the Badwater race a real monster! However, when you flip the coin it has to be seen as one of the greatest races in the world! It is impossible to describe the stark beauty and call of that desert with snow covered mountains looking down at you while you are struggling along in that heat. But, far beyond the pain caused by the temperature, distance, desperate fatigue and multiple loss of toenails, is the comradeship and joy of being part of such an event in a part of the world one would not ordinarily visit.

There is a magic to the place which seems to draw runners back time and time again. A 70-year-old school caretaker from Britain notched up his twelfth this year, and there is undoubtedly a large and very friendly Badwater family who enjoy participating in this very well-organised race.

If you are a South African long distance runner who has become a little restless and looking for new horizons, I challenge you to look at – maybe we will meet at the 2006 race?


Death Valley – Welcome – German

2004 finisher

Click here to read this story in English


Du Trockenlippiger, sei stets auf der Suche nach Wasser!

Die trockene Lippe ist ein sicheres Zeichen

Dass sie am Ende die Quelle finden wird.

Diese Suche ist eine gesegnete Unrast

Sie überwindet jedes Hindernis

Ist der Schlüssel zu dem, was du begehrst.

Wenn du auch kein Gefäß hast, höre nicht auf zu suchen …



Schritt, Schritt, Schritt, nur nicht stehen bleiben. Atmen, ein-, ausatmen, ausgedörrte Luft durchströmt den Körper. Das Ziel in weiter Ferne, den Kopf möglichst leer, den Geist ruhen lassen, je leerer desto besser, weniger Ballast, keine dem Vorankommen abträgliche Gedanken. Schritt, Schritt, Schritt, in Bewegung bleiben.

Über 50°C im Tal des Todes, Death Valley, mit gemessenen 56,7°C neben der libyschen Wüste der heißeste Ort weltweit. Steinwüste, ausgedörrte Salzseen, Sanddünen und vor und unter den Läufern bis zu über 70°C heißer Asphalt. Drei Anstiege, von Badwater, mit -86 m der tiefste Punkt der westlichen Hemisphäre,  auf über 1.500 m zum Towne Pass hinauf, dann hinab, wieder hinauf und als Finale noch ein knapp 20 km langer Aufstieg zum Mount Whitney Portal hinauf auf fast 2.600 m. Gesamtlänge der Strecke 216 km, für die die Läufer nicht länger als 60 Stunden brauchen dürfen.

Bereits 3 Wochen vor dem Lauf reisen Ingrid, meine Frau, und ich an, leben im Wohnmobil, rühren die Klimaanlage nicht an. Langsam wollen wir uns an die Hitze gewöhnen, mit ihr vertraut werden, sie lieben lernen, ist sie doch eine hervorstechende Eigenschaft des Badwater Ultras, der immer dann stattfindet, wenn es im Death Valley am heißesten ist. Zudem möchte ich mit Landschaft und Strecke vertraut werden, Teile von ihr als abschließendes Training absolvieren, Erfahrungen vor Ort sammeln. Bis zum Start kann ich die gesamte Strecke mit geschlossenen Augen visualisieren, habe sie in Teilabschnitte zerlegt, bin sie gedanklich bereits 100-mal gelaufen.

Dennoch, als wir nach 6 Tagen, die wir in den Panamint Ranges und im Panamint Valley verbracht haben, in Stovepipe Wells aus dem Wohnmobil steigen, die brennende Sonne auf unseren Körpern lastet, die Augen von den feurigen, dörrenden Winden, dem Gluthauch des Schmelzofen zu brennen beginnen, wird mir der Gedanke, hier laufen zu wollen, immer fremder, erscheint unwirklich. Alles ist heiß. Du willst duschen, nimmst das Shampoo – heiß. Du willst in Deine Plastiksandalen schlüpfen, die du dummerweise in der Sonne hast stehen lassen, es verbrennt dir die Fußsohlen. Du stellst voller freudiger Erwartung die kalte Dusche an – heiß.

Ca. 75 Läufer werden jedes Jahr beim Badwater Ultramarathon zugelassen. Es handelt sich um ein reines Einladungsrennen, für das man sich auf Basis vorgeschriebener Qualifikationsstandards zu bewerben hat, wobei auch bei Erfüllung der Standards eine Einladung nicht garantiert wird. Jeder  Läufer ist für eigene Betreuer nebst Fahrzeug verantwortlich, 2 Betreuer Minimum sind Pflicht, die im Wagen, manchmal mitlaufend, den Läufer während des gesamten Laufes zu versorgen haben.

12. Juli, 6 Uhr, Montagmorgen an der Lache Badwater. Kein schlechtes Wasser, keine giftige Pfütze. Nur Salwasser, erbarmungslos der Sonne ausgesetzt und dennoch auch an diesen für uns so unwirtlichem Ort – Leben: Salzschilf, Insekten, Gliederfüßler und eine spezielle, nur hier vorkommende Schneckenart. Ein paar Meilen entfernt, im Salt Creek, der von Quellen gespeist wird, lebt der Salt Creek Pupfish, der nirgendwo sonst existiert. Über Jahrtausende hat er sich langsam angepasst als der große See, der einmal das Death Valley bedeckte, allmählich austrocknete, zur Salzwüste sich wandelte, die zurückbleibenden Tümpel immer salzhaltiger wurden.

Noch ist die Temperatur mit knapp 40°C erträglich, im Vergleich zum Glutofen des herannahenden Tages. Aufstellen zum Gruppenphoto, Nationalhymne, dann starten ca. 25 Läufer, hinein in eine grandiose Naturarena, unspektakulär, ohne Trara, jubelnde Menge und VIPs. Um 8 und 10 Uhr folgen 2 weitere Gruppen, der Verkehr wird so entzerrt, Gedrängel und Stau weitgehend vermieden. Insgesamt sind 72 Teilnehmer am Start, darunter 7 Frauen.

Mit dem Startschuss beginnt eines der extremsten Rennen weltweit, eine Gratwanderung in Grenzbereiche des menschlich Erträglichen hinein. Körper und Geist, sofern von Vernunft getrieben, würden schon nach wenigen Stunden aufgeben, gar nicht erst bei diesem Rennen antreten. Jedoch der Wille, der tief verankerte Wunsch durch solch eine extreme Erfahrung hindurchzugehen, trägt den Läufer Stunde um Stunde, Schritt für Schritt noch 2 Tage lang dem Ziel entgegen. Allerdings beenden bis zu 45% der Läufer das Rennen vor dem Ziel. Dieses Jahr ist die Quote der offiziellen Finisher mit 79 % erfreulich hoch, 2 Läufer beenden das Rennen inoffiziell, das heißt nach Ablauf des Zeitlimits von 60 Stunden, 14 scheiden aus.

Die Luft scheint zu brennen, treibt die Körpertemperatur nach oben. Innere Verbrennungswärme kommt hinzu, freigesetzt bei der Energiegewinnung, die den Läufer in Bewegung hält. Der Verstand taucht ab. Unzurechnungsfähig.

Schritt, Schritt, Schritt, immer weiter, ausatmen, einatmen. Trinken, trinken, trinken, mehrere Liter in der Stunde, mögen Kehle und Magen auch rebellieren. Verzweifelt versucht der Körper einer Überhitzung zu entrinnen, Verdunstungskälte durch Schweiß zu erzeugen, Schweiß, den  die Hitze, noch angefacht von starken thermischen Winden, sofort von der  Haut saugt.

Die Sonne, die den Erdball uns erhellt –

Naht sie ein wenig, brennt die ganze Welt.


Meine Betreuer, Bennie, mein Trainer und Gewinner des diesjährigen Swiss Gigathlon (, seine Freundin Birgit und Ingrid, müssen jetzt Schwerstarbeit verrichten, beginnen von außen zu kühlen, laufen mit, legen mir ca. alle 7 Minuten ein nasses, eisgekühltes Handtuch über die Schulter, tränken Mütze und Nackenschutz mit Eiswasser, reichen mir einen Waschlappen, gefüllt mit Eis, den ich unter der Mütze auf dem Kopf trage. Sie hoffen, damit einen Anstieg der Körpertemperatur zu vermeiden, hoffen, mir damit Schäden durch die Hitze wie Krämpfe, Erschöpfung und Hitzschlag zu ersparen. Trinken, Schritt, kühlen, trinken, Schritt, kühlen, nur nicht ans Aufgeben denken.

Dazu kommen noch als zusätzliche Belastung: Die Durchführung psychologische Tests, die Reaktions- und Erinnerungsvermögen im Verlauf des Rennens messen,  6 x venöse Blutabnahmen, Blutdruckmessungen, Urinproben, Messung der inneren Körpertemperatur, wofür ich einen kleinen Sender geschluckt habe, der Magen und Darm durchwandert, und eine Reihe andere Untersuchungen. Zusammen mit 9 anderen Läufern bin ich Teil des wissenschaftlichen Projektes Runex123 unter der Leitung von Dr. Holger Finkernagel, das u.a. Plasmaverschiebungen und psychologische Verhaltensänderungen während einer Extrembelastung untersuchen möchte. Während der Nacht werde ich die psychologischen Test verweigern, zu sehr bin ich mit mir selbst beschäftigt, am nächsten Tag die Blutabnahme, als ich auf den langen Geraden vor Lone Pine unter der erneuten Hitze leide, mein Magen rebelliert.

Am Nachmittag erreiche ich Stovepipe Wells, knapp 70 km liegen hinter mir. Eine erste, kurze Pause, dann beginnt der lange Aufstieg zum Towne Pass,  27 km, 1.500 m Höhendifferenz. Bisher habe ich mich gut gefühlt, bin trotz meines 10+5 Rhythmus (10 Minuten laufen, 5 Minuten gehen), den ich von Anbeginn konsequent eingehalten habe, recht flott unterwegs gewesen. Jedoch, ohne es zu spüren, die Hitze, der Wind sie haben mich ausgelaugt, Energie genommen, die mir jetzt beim Anstieg fehlt. Sieg und Niederlage bei diesem Rennen entscheiden sich weitgehend auf diesen ersten 70 km, in der größten Hitze, wer nicht haushaltet mit seien Kräften, sich verleiten lässt, zu schnell angeht, ohne es zu merken, er hat bereits verloren. An Laufen ist nicht mehr zu denken, der Körper verweigert den Dienst, zügiges Gehen muss reichen. Die Nacht bricht herein, müde bin ich nicht, jedoch auf halber Höhe geht nichts mehr. Essen, 20 Minuten auf dem Boden liegend Ruhe finden, wegdämmern. Meine Crew wacht über mich, ich vertraue ihr blind, lasse mich fallen. Als Läufer bin ich nur ein Rädchen im Getriebe, chancenlos ohne meine sich aufopfernde Crew.

Weiter, zum Towne Pass hoch, dann, ein falscher Bissen, mein Magen rebelliert, entleert sich, ich fühle mich erleichtert. Maria, die ihren Mann Angel betreut, bietet mir gekühlte Obststückchen an, Balsam diese Geste, willkommene Abwechselung. Oben am Pass kurze Rast, dann geht es bergab, endlich, Laufen ist wieder möglich. 20 km hinab ins Panamint Valley lassen die Oberschenkel erzittern. Wieder ist der Körper ausgelaugt, bis zur dritten Zeitstation möchte ich noch, ihre Lichter habe ich in der Dunkelheit vor Augen, wenige Kilometer nur noch. Jedoch, es ist sinnlos, ich komme kaum voran, gehe mühsam. Bennie rät zur sofortigen Pause, widerstandslos stimme ich zu. 45 Minuten Rast, essen, dann auf die dünne Matte, nur ein Laken bedeckt mich, über mir Millionen von Sternen, für die ich keine Augen habe. Spinnen, die tödliche schwarze Witwe, Skorpione, Schlangen, sonstiges Getier, es berührt mich nicht, ich liege am Boden, Ruhe suchend, um neue Kraft zu schöpfen.

Vor der Zeit stehe ich auf, weiter. Gedanken lassen sich nicht vermeiden, warum nur tue ich mir dies an? Genuss am Laufen kann es nicht sein, den finde ich hier nicht. Diese großartige Landschaft, sie kann ich unter anderen Umständen viel besser in mich aufnehmen. Gedanken, nie mehr nehme ich an solch einem Lauf teil. Gründe zum Aufgeben gibt es keine, bei aller Erschöpfung, es geht mir gut, die paar Blasen an den Füßen, Marginalien. Meiner Crew fühle ich mich verpflichtet, sie nennt mich „The Desert Fox“, hat unseren Van damit beklebt, verziert mit so sinnreichen Sprüchen wie: „Pain is temporary – glory forever!“ und  „A goal without a pain – is a dream!!“. Also weiter. Wieder ein Anstieg auf über 1.500 m Höhe. Blicke zurück, eine Scheinwerferkette von Begleitfahrzeugen zieht den Townes Pass hinab, durch das Panamint Valley, tröstlich schön, dort war ich vor Stunden. Wieder rebelliert mein Magen, soll er seinen Willen haben, raus damit. Ich trinke, muss Wasser lassen, immer wieder, mein Körper nimmt keine Flüssigkeit mehr auf, der Salzverlust war zu groß, wurde nicht ausreichend ausgeglichen.

Wieder bin ich bergauf zu einem Kriechtier geworden, ein Powernap von 15 Minuten lässt mich erneut als Läufer erwachen. Endlich geht es bergab, über 50 km bis nach Lone Pine, auf endlosen Geraden, die ich so liebe, die im Unendlichen zu verschwinden scheinen. Zur Linken die Sierra Nevada, dort liegt das Ziel, glasig im Dunst eines heißen Tages. Starke Winde, die Sand über die Straße blasen, den Lauf, ich möchte ihn nun zu Ende bringen, eine zweite Nacht vermeiden. Wieder laufe ich im 10+5 Rhythmus, wieder leistet meine Crew Schwerstarbeit, trinken, Schritt, Kühlung, trinken, Schritt, Kühlung.

Fast im Ziel, ein letzter Anstieg von knapp 20 km auf 2.600 m Höhe, die Stimmung hebt sich, den Zacken des Mount Whitney vor Augen, ein würdiges Ziel, und siehe da, mein Kämpferherz erwacht, unter 40 Stunden sind noch möglich. Zügiges Gehen bergauf, Ingrid gibt das Tempo vor, an ihrem Rücken saugen sich meine Augen fest. Sie geht vor mir her, soweit sie kann, dann löst Bennie sie ab. Es ist überstanden, geschafft. Aus der Trance eines langen Laufes, aus dem innersten Sein erwacht der Läufer, neugeboren, Tränen vergießend. Dies war nicht ein Lauf über 216 km in brüllender Hitze, Pässe hinauf, Nächte hindurch, es war eine Reise durch innere Berge und Täler.

„Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n,

wirst du, mein Staub,

nach kurzer Ruh“.

(Gustav Mahler, 2. Symphonie)

Das Abenteuer Selbsterfahrung, völlige Hingabe, Verzweiflung und Vergessen beim Lauf, das Glücksgefühl Anzukommen ist unbeschreiblich und auch nach Jahren noch ein seltenes, kostbares Gut. Dabei nicht hoch genug einzuschätzen, eine besondere Erfahrung bei diesem Lauf, mein Team, Bennie, Birgit und Ingrid waren der Schlüssel zum Erfolg, ihnen gebührt mein Dank, meine Hochachtung.

Von links: Chris Kostman, der Veranstalter, Birgit Dasch, The Desert Fox, Ingrid Rücknagel-Böhnke, Bennie Lindberg.

Beginnen nicht auch Sie zu spüren, wie etwas in Ihnen erwacht? Nein? Lehnen Sie sich zurück, horchen Sie tief in sich hinein, es muß ja nicht gleich Badwater sein.

„The ability to endure beyond percieved limits requires a desire to continue. But now, rather than an act of will, such excursions are an act of faith.“ (Jay Birmingham, The Longest Hill, Death Valley To Mount Whitney, 1981).

© Günter Böhnke, Juli 2004

Death Valley – Welcome – English

2004 finisher

Click here to read this story in German


You, the one with the dry lips, be always on the search for water!

The dry lip is a sure sign

That it will find the spring at last.

This search is a blessed restlessness

It overcomes each obstacle

Is the key to what you desire.

Even if you don’t have a container, don’t stop searching …


Step, step, step, don’t stop. Breathe, breathe in, breathe out, dried air flows through the body.

The finish line, far ahead in the distance, the head as empty as possible, keeping the mind quiet, the emptier the better, less to carry, no harmful thoughts which make it hard to move on. Step, step, step, remain in motion.

Over 50 degrees Celsius in Death Valley, with measured 56.7 degrees Celsius the hottest place world-wide besides the Libyan Desert. Stone desert, dried up salt flats, sand dunes and in front of and below the runners up to over 70 degrees Celsius hot bitumen. Three ascents, starting at Badwater, with – 86 m the lowest point of the western hemisphere, up Towne Pass, over 1,500 m in elevation., then down, up again and at last still another hardly 20 km long ascent to the Mount Whitney Portal at nearly 2,600 m. Overall length of the distance 216 km, for which the runners may not need more than 60 hours.

Already 3 weeks in advance of the Badwater Ultra, Ingrid, my wife, and I arrive, living in a RV, not touching the air conditioning. Step by step we want to get accustomed to the heat, to become familiar with it, learn to love it, is it of course the special trade-mark of the Badwater Ultra, which takes place whenever it is hottest in Death Valley. In addition, I would like to get well acquainted with the landscape and the course, running parts of it to finalize my training, gain experience here and now. Up to the start I am able to visualize the entire distance with eyes closed, have divided it into sections, have run it already 100-times mentally.

However, when we stepped out of our RV at Stovepipe Wells after 6 days, which we spent in the Panamint Ranges and Panamint Valley, the burning sun resting on our bodies, the eyes beginning to get smart by the fiery, dehydrating winds, the scorching breath of a melting furnace, more and more the thought to want to run here becomes stranger, seems unreal. Everything is hot. You want to take a shower, grab the shampoo – hot. You want to slip into your plastic sandals, which you foolishly have forgotten in the sun, it burns your soles. Full of joyful expectation you turn on the cold shower – hot.

About 75 runners will be invited to the Badwater Ultra every year. It is a pure invitational race, for which one has to apply on basis of prescribed qualification standards, however also fulfilling the standards an invitation is not guaranteed. Each runner is responsible for his own crew members including a support vehicle. 2 crew members minimum is a must, who have to support the runner during the entire run, sometimes driving the car, sometimes running along.

12th, July, 6 o’clock, Monday morning at the pool Badwater. No bad water, no poisonous puddle. Only saline water, pitiless exposed to the sun and nevertheless also at this place, so inhospitable for us – life: pickle weed, insects, other arthropods, and the Badwater spring snail, which is known to live only in this one small pool. The Salt Creek Pupfish, which does not exist anywhere else, lives few miles away, in the Salt Creek, which is fed by springs. Over thousands of years it has slowly adapted, as the large lake, which covered once Death Valley, gradually drained, changed to a salt desert, the remaining pools getting saltier step by step.

Still the temperature with nearly 40 degree Celsius is bearable in comparison to the glow furnace of the approaching day. Set up to the group photo, national anthem, then approx. 25 runners get in motion, into a magnificent natural arena, without up-roar, without hanky-panky, cheering crowd or VIPs. At 8 and 10 o’clock two further groups follow, thus keeping traffic low, avoiding crowding and a traffic jam. Altogether 72 participants are at the starting line, including 7 women.

With the starting signal one of the most extreme ultra races world-wide begins, a burr migration facing frontiers of the human bearable. Body and mind, as far as driven by reason, would already give up after few hours, would not even begin this running. However the will, the deeply embodied desire to pass through such an extreme experience, carries the runner, hour after hour, step by step, through day and night towards the finish line. However, up to 45 % of the runners terminate the run before reaching the goal. This year the ratio of official finishers with 79 % is pleasing high, 2 runners finished after the time limit of 60 hours, 14 did not finish.

Air seems to burn, driving the body temperature upward. Internal heat of combustion adds to it, set free during the release of energy, which keeps the runner in motion. Understanding dips off. Irresponsibly.

Step, step, step, constantly moving, breathe out, breathe in. Drink, drink, drink, several liters per hour, may throat and stomach revolt. Despaired, the body tries to escape from overheating, to produce evaporative cold from sweat. Sweat, which is immediately sucked from the skin by the heat, which is blown into flame by strong thermal winds.

The sun, which illuminates the globe for us –

If it approaches little, the whole world burns.


My supporters, Bennie, my coach and winner of the Swiss Gigathlon this year (, his girl friend Birgit and Ingrid have to carry a heavy load now, begin to cool from the outside, run along, put to me approx. every 7 minutes a wet, ice-cooled towel over the shoulder, soak cap and neck shroud with ice water, hand me a face-cloth, filled with ice, which I carry under the cap on the head. They hope to avoid thereby a rise of body temperature, hope to save me from harm by the heat such as cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Drink, step, cooling, drink, step, cooling, do not think about quitting.

On top of that as an extra burden: the execution of psychological tests, which measure reaction and memory abilities while running, 6-times venous blood removal, measurement of blood pressure, urine samples, measurement of internal body temperature, for which I gulped down a small transmitter, wandering through stomach and intestine, and a row of other medical examinations. Together with 9 other runners I am part of the scientific project Runex123 under the direction of Holger Finkernagel , medical doctor, that among other things would like to examine plasma volume changes and mental and emotional changes in behavior as consequences of extreme prolonged endurance exercise, heat stress, sleep deprivation, and potential nutritional deficit. During the night I’ll refuse the psychological tests, too much I’m engaged with myself, on the next day one blood removal, when I suffer on the long straight lines before Lone Pine under the renewed heat, my stomach revolts.

In the afternoon I reach Stovepipe Wells, nearly 70 km lie behind me. A first, short break then the long ascent to Townes Pass begins, 27 km, 1,500 m in elevation gain. So far I felt well, have been quite quickly on the way despite my 10+5 rhythm (10 minutes running, 5 minutes going), which I consequently kept from the beginning. However, without feeling it, the heat, the wind, they have leached me out, taken energy, which I miss now on the rise. Victory and defeat in this contest is decided on this first 70 km, in the most extensive heat, the one who don’t economize with his strength, who be carried away to go out too fast, without recognizing it, has already lost.  No chance to run any  more, the body refuses the service, brisk going must be enough. The night comes down, I’m not tired, however, half way up, I’m stuck. Something to eat, lying on the soil for 20 minutes to get some rest, dozing away. My crew keeps an eye on me, I trust them blindly, let myself drop down. As a runner I’m only a small wheel in the gear-box, chanceless without my crew devoted to me.

Go on, up to Townes Pass, then, a wrong bite, my stomach bristles up in protest, empties itself, I feel relieved. Maria, who cares for her husband Angel, offers cooled fruit bites to me, balsam this gesture, an appreciated change. A short rest at Townes Pass, then downhill it goes, at last, running is possible again. 20 km of downhill running, my thighs begin to tremble. Again, my body is leached out, to the third time station I still would like to go, its lights glowing in the darkness I already have in eyes, few kilometers only. However, it is senseless, I hardly advance, laborious my stride. Bennie recommends an immediate break, without any resistance I agree. 45 minutes of rest, something to eat, then on the thin mat, only a sheet covers me, millions of stars above, for which I do not have eyes. Spiders, the deadly black widow, scorpions, snakes, other beasts, it doesn’t affect me, I’m lying on the ground, looking for peace, in order to attain new strength.

Before time, I stand up, forwards. Thoughts cannot be avoided, why only do I this to me? Enjoyment of running, this can’t be, doesn’t find it here. This great landscape, under other circumstances I should be able to absorb it much better. Reasons for giving up, none, despite all the exhaustion, I’m quite all right, those few blisters at the feet, marginal notes. I feel obligated to my crew, they call me “The Desert Fox”, have labeled our van which such ingenious sayings like: “Pain is temporary – glory forever!” and “A goal without a pain – is a dream!!”. Come on, then. Again a rise of about 1.500 m in height. Views back, a headlight chain of support vehicles pulls down Towne Pass, through Panamint Valley, warm comfort, there I was hours ago. Again my stomach revolts, should have its will, forth with it. I drink, must pass water, again and again, my body take up no more liquid, the loss of salt was too much, wasn’t sufficiently balanced.

Again I was becoming a reptile uphill, a powernap of 15 minutes let me awake as a runner again. In the end, downhill again, over 50 km to Lone Pine, on endless straight lines, which I love so much, which seem to disappear in infinity. The Sierra Nevada at left, there lays the goal, glassily in the vapor of a hot day. Strong winds, blowing sand over the road. The run, I would like to bring to an end now, avoiding a second night. Again I run, making use of the 10+5 rhythm, again, my crew has to give their best, drink, step, cooling, drink, step, cooling.

Almost at the finish line, a last ascent of about 20 km to a height of 2,600 m, the state of mind is lifting, the spike of Mount Whitney in front of my eyes, a worthy goal, and behold, my brave heart awakes, less than 40 hours is still possible. Brisk going uphill, Ingrid sets the speed, at her back my eyes suck firmly. She walks ahead of me, as far as she can, then Bennie replaces her. It is done, accomplished. Be roused from the absorption of a long run, from the inmost soul, the runner awakes, newly born, tears pouring. This was not a run over 216 km in roaring heat, up passes, nights through, it was a journey through inner mountains and valleys.

“Rise from the dead, yeah, rise from the dead,

You will, my dust,

after a short rest.”

(Gustav Mahler, 2. Symphony)

The adventure self experience, complete devotion, despair and oblivion during the run, the  happy feeling to arrive is indescribable and still after all the years a rare, precious property. Not high enough to appraise, a special experience at this run, my crew, Bennie, Birgit and Ingrid, they were the key to success, them is entitled my thanks, my respect.

From left: Chris Kostman, Race Director, Birgit Dasch, The Desert Fox, Ingrid Ruecknagel-Boehnke, Bennie Lindberg.

Don’t you feel how something awakes inside of you? No? Lean back, listen carefully deep inside yourself, it must not be Badwater to start with.

“The ability to endure beyond perceived limits requires a desire to continue. But now, rather than an act of will, such excursions are an act of faith“ (Jay Birmingham, The Longest Hill, Death Valley To Mount Whitney, 1983).

© Guenter Boehnke, August 2004

Trials and Travails of Team Coonhound and the 2004 Badwater Ultramarathon, or, What I Did on My Summer Vacation

2004 official finisher

Team Coonhound, as we came to call ourselves, was comprised of 9 folks—yours truly in the role of runner, and Carolyn Campbell, Mark Briggs, Harpo Davis, Ron Hershey, David Hodges, Jerry Riddick and Matt Skroch as crew. Harp and Hersh are college buds from my first undergraduate tour of duty, and the rest of the outfit are Tucsonans. Without a good crew and a well supplied crew vehicle, you might as well not even show up to this race, the Badwater 135. We had both; in fact, we probably had one of, if not THE best crew on the course this year. In addition, we also had Al Arnold, the very first person to ever make the crossing from Badwater to the top of Mt. Whitney (in 1977) in the role of Honorary Crew Chief and Spiritual Leader. While Al was not able to attend the race this year, he was clearly there with us in spirit. Carolyn called him once or twice during the race, and he called to congratulate us the morning after we finished.

The race goes off in 3 flights—6, 8 & 10 AM—and starts at Badwater, in Death Valley, the lowest bit of dry dirt in the western hemisphere. We were slotted into the 8 AM start, which was ideal—early enough to still be coolish at the start, late enough that we could get a good night’s sleep. At the start I was pestering the crew with last minute reminders and advice, and it was suggested that I go find something else to do, away from our crew vehicle (a white mini-van Jerry had rented in Las Vegas) while I waited for the call to the start line. So I decided to make sure that I started from the lowest point possible, and walked out across the Badwater salt flats to what appeared to be the low point, maybe ¼ mile away. When I turned around, all the other runners and Chris Kostman, the race director, had gathered by the “282 ft. below sea level” sign for a photo session and so I had to actually run back in to make the picture.

After more photos and a couple of quick interviews with guys with TV cameras, we lined up, listened to the National Anthem, then counted down the last 10 seconds together, out loud, and we were off. The temperature was 98 F. The first couple of miles were nicely shaded by the truncated alluvial fans hanging off the side of the Black Mountains, and then, as we came out into the sunshine, the race began in earnest.

The way we progressed was the crew vehicle with 3 crew members (Matt, Harpo & Jerry at this point—the rest of the crew was resting up to take the later shift) would leapfrog ahead one to two miles, and then pull off the side of the road and wait for me to catch up. As I approached, a crew member would run up the road a ways to meet me and find out what I needed and to grab my water bottle(s). A second crew member would meet me soon after with a lightweight pump sprayer and spray me down, and then I would get the food, drink and/or clothing items I requested as I passed on by the vehicle. If I wanted a lot of stuff, needed to talk to the crew or wanted a little break, I would pause for a minute or two while we took care of business.

While the Badwater Road winds along the foot of the Black Mountains of the Amargosa Range on the east side of Death Valley, Telescope Peak rises straight up to over 11,000 feet in the Panamint Range on the west side of the valley. On top are ancient bristlecone pines and temperatures that drop close to freezing at night in July. The 11,300 feet climb from valley floor to mountain summit represents the greatest direct vertical relief in North America. It was interesting to gauge our progress by tracking the location of Telescope Peak as we crossed the valley floor. Surely and steadily it moved from off my left shoulder, to somewhat behind my shoulder and then out of my field of vision all together. We were making progress.

I ran 11 minute miles more or less all the way to the first time station at Furnace Creek,  17.4 miles (-165 feet elevation, 112 degrees F). We arrived there in 3:13 (11:13 AM), about 45 minutes ahead of our projected time and caught the relief crew by surprise. The only walking I had done up to this point was on one fairly steep hill, and the thinking there was to save my quadriceps muscles for later in the race. As all was in good order psycho- and physiologically, I paused only briefly at the Furnace Creek time check station to check our place (16th not counting the 10 AM starts), while crew members worked to get checked out of the hotel room and into the crew vehicle.

Past Furnace Creek there is a separate paved multi-use path for a few miles, and I was perhaps 3⁄4 of a mile along this section when I heard footsteps sprinting up behind me. It was Mark Briggs, who had volunteered to pace me from Furnace Creek to Stovepipe Wells (from the start to Furnace Creek pacers are not allowed). I asked Mark why he ran to catch up rather than catching a ride with the crew vehicle which had just gone by. He claimed, “that would have been cheating.” His goal was to cover the entire 24 miles through the hottest part of the day on foot, and he was not to be denied.

A mile out of Furnace Creek, the car thermometer read 114 F. Jerry had checked it against thermometers in Las Vegas as he drove over to Death Valley and found it in good agreement. Nevertheless, it is likely that the car thermometer read a few degrees hotter than the “official” National Weather Service temperature for any given time, as a car thermometer is reading the temperature closer to surface than is the NWS thermometer (these are standardized at, I believe, 2 meters above the surface). Near the surface,  the layer of air becomes super heated by the radiation back up from the surface, and this is exacerbated by the black asphalt of the road. Because the temperature we were actually experiencing was in the region measured by the car thermometer (not 2 meters up as measured by the NWS thermometer), the car temps were likely a fair approximation of what we experienced.

The key to successfully running across Death Valley during the day in the middle of July is to make it appear to your body that you are not really doing that. This can be accomplished via evaporative cooling—keep your surface wet and you keep your surface cool. I quickly recognized that getting sprayed every mile or two was not enough to keep me wet and thus cool the entire 10-15 minutes between visits from the crew. In addition, I started the race in a Cool Max shirt, which is a thin, synthetic weave that wicks moisture quickly away from the body and evaporates it to the outside air. This happens so rapidly, though, that the shirt itself does not stay cool for very long (thanks to KJ Glover for pointing this out over a year ago). Thus, I changed into a long sleeve cotton shirt that Harpo had brought along, and this worked perfectly. In addition, after the first few miles, I carried two water bottles with me the whole time—one for drinking either water or a Cytomax and Accelerade mix (fancy sports drinks), and a second for water to douse myself with periodically. For the one mile segments we were now doing, this worked out perfectly—both bottles were emptied just as I rolled up to the crew vehicle time and again.

Nevertheless, there were two body parts that remained all too aware that they were still in Death Valley: my left foot and my right foot. Around mile 25, with the car thermometer registering 120 F, I felt a sore spot develop at the base of one of my toes. I was a little surprised as I have never blistered from running in the past. We pulled the shoes off and had a look, and indeed, found a small blister forming. I put some medical tape—it’s not overly sticky so wouldn’t pull the skin off when I had to remove it later—across the sore spot to reduce the friction. But after putting my shoes back on I discovered that this was not the only sore spot—the tip of my second toe was sore, and a I had a whole band of spots across the ball of each foot. Blisters on the balls of the feet were evidence that the bulk of the blistering was not from friction but rather from the heat conducting directly from the pavement through the soles of my shoes to my feet. In other words, I was burning my feet. In addition, it was clear that my feet had swollen as they were rubbing against the ends and sides of the shoes I was wearing, shoes I’d trained in for the past two months and that fit well. I took the shoes back off, taped up all of the sore spots and then tried on a different pair of running shoes. These were no better, and so I got out my trail running shoes, which I have always complained fit me like shoe boxes rather than shoes. I also put on a pair of toe socks (like gloves for the feet) which reduce the amount the front of the foot can slide around inside the sock. The big trail shoes proved to be the ticket, and with a few awkward steps getting up enough momentum to get over the initial pain, I was off again running.

Not long after the blister debut, I started to have trouble getting food down. The crew had been doing a terrific, if somewhat overzealous job of plunging as many calories down my throat as I could manage, but between the heat, the exertion and the volume of food and liquid that I had been ingesting, my stomach began to rebel. Our food supplies consisted of various items that maximized calories, carbohydrates and electrolytes while minimizing the calories required to digest them. In addition, I needed everything to be at least palatable if not necessarily appetizing. Included in our mobile pantry were cans of Boost and Ensure, gel packets (a high carb sugary formulation not unlike cake frosting), cookies, honey dew, cantaloupe and water melons, turkey and swiss sandwiches, PB&Js, boiled potatoes, potato chips, candies, vegetable and chicken soups, plain white bread, breakfast cereal and soy milk, and the aforementioned Cytomax and Accelerade sports drinks. At one time or another along the route I ate at least a little bit of everything listed except for the boiled potatoes.

But now, 29 miles out, I could not eat another thing, and I was feeling a little light-headed. I decided to stop running and walk a couple of miles and told the crew to take all that food they were trying to force down my throat and eat it themselves if it was so damn good for you. I was only drinking water now, also, and got myself sprayed down extra well. Mark and I walked perhaps three miles in a row, and it all bottomed out when I agreed to eat a Gel pack and, if a mouthful of gunk the consistency of cake frosting wasn’t bad enough, I accidentally scraped the edge of the packet against the back of my throat, perilously close to the auto-gag reflex sensor. I spent a full 10 minutes locked in mortal combat with my stomach which was hell-bent on emptying it all out right there on the side of the road and starting all over again. But finally things started to settle down, I agreed to another bottle of Cytomax and we were off and running again.

We reached Stove Pipe Wells, 41.9 mi. from the start and 5 feet above sea level, in 8 hours 47 minutes (a 12:36 min/mi. average pace). Mark had been doing so well over the 24 miles we had just covered I was sure he was going to want to continue, but when I suggested he keep going he looked at me like I was nuts or something. At the Stove Pipe Wells hotel I took my shoes off, peeled the medical tape off my feet, then walked into the swimming pool in my shirt, shorts and sunglasses and enjoyed a couple of easy strokes and an underwater plunge. Fully refreshed, I wandered over to our hotel room. My stomach was completely settled now, and I was extremely hungry, so I ate some soup while Carolyn made me a bean and cheese burrito for the road. After I’d re-taped my feet the crew was in a deep discussion. As the mysteries of crew logistics were well beyond my ken, I headed off on my own, walking briskly, as the road was now uphill.

Dean Karnazes, who was eventually to win the race, had passed us a couple of miles before Stove Pipe Wells. Chris Bergland, who last year led the race for 112 miles only to finish 4th,  and who had just 7 weeks ago broken the 24 hour treadmill record (153.76 miles), was hot on our tail into Stove Pipe Wells, where he passed us. While I was in the pool at Stove Pipe, Pam Reed, the Tucson woman who had won this race the previous two years and finished 4th this year, also went by. Monica Shultz, a Canadian woman who finished 3rd both last year and this year, now passed us as we started the climb out of Stove Pipe Wells and up Townes Pass. (All of these top runners had been in the 10 AM start.)

After Stove Pipe Wells the course leaves Death Valley and climbs 17 miles up to 4,995 ft. Townes Pass, then immediately begins the “bone-crushing descent” into Panamint Valley—a 9% grade over 12 miles with 3,400 ft. of elevation loss—to the 1,600 ft. valley floor. When we left Stovepipe around 5:00 PM, the temperature was 120 F. By 7:00 PM we had covered 5 miles, were about 1,800 feet above Stove Pipe Wells and the temperature had dropped to 111 F. After 4 ½ hours of temperatures 120 or above, this was getting downright pleasant, and Carolyn commented to Matt, “It’s only 111 degrees!” to which Matt replied, “Nice!” and then they both started laughing and shaking their heads, realizing that never before had they ever thought 111 F might  be considered pleasant.

David walked with me for a time, but the heat was too much for him and he was replaced by Matt. The sunlight at last began to fade and the Panamint Range to our left passed from orange to purple to gray. Matt and I put on reflective vests and blinking red LED tail lights, and Matt strapped on a four LED headlamp and I carried a seven LED flashlight. Around mile 53, 11 miles out of Stove Pipe, the temperature finally dropped below 100 degrees. It was 10:00 PM and we were around 2800 ft. Our notes say “finally ate gel; stomach still raw,” but I don’t recall having stomach problems on this stretch, other than occasionally finding a given food item unappetizing as is most always the case with gels.

Another couple of miles up the hill I recognized Chris Bergland ahead, and started to feel pretty good that we were actually gaining on one of the top competitors in the race. As I caught him he turned around and we started chatting, and it turned out that he hadn’t fully recovered from his 24 hour treadmill run a month and a half earlier, and was about to drop out of the race. He just didn’t have it in him this year, he said. He had never dropped out of a race before, but his crew was pretty happy with him for making the decision because it seemed clear that he was not going to be able to compete this year and was only risking injury. He and his crew then offered us anything we wanted from their supplies as they were not going to need them nor have room on the plane to fly it all back to New York with them. We picked up some Pedeolite Pops, a couple of bottles of Pedeolite (a children’s electrolyte solution), a couple of turkey sandwiches, and some pretzels. We also checked my weight around this time, and I had dropped to 174 pounds.

At the top of Townes Pass (11:03 PM, mile 59) we took a break where it was nice and cool, in the low 80s. After adjusting my shoes, eating a little bit and getting interviewed by yet another guy with a TV camera (about the 4th time since the start), we headed off down the grade to Panamint Valley. I ran for the next two miles with Ron now pacing me on his mountain bike, but then I became concerned that I would eventually ruin my quadriceps if I ran too much down hill on the 9% grade, especially given that my quads were already kind of rubbery and sore. So we backed off to a walk, and passed the 67.5 mile half-way point around 1:30 AM . I felt obliged to quote Eric Clifton from “Running on the Sun,” the 1999 Badwater documentary: “’…now I just have to do it all over again.’”

I continued walking (and Ron riding) until we were a few miles from the bottom of the valley, where the grade eased considerably and I could run again. It took some time to warm up my quads and get my blisters used to being mashed, but once everything loosened up I was able to go at a pretty good clip and peeled off 3 or 4 miles at a 9 – 10 minute mile pace until we had crossed the low point of the valley. While it looked like just another mile or two to go, an hour of walking was required to cover what turned out to be the 4 miles up to the Panamint Springs “Resort,” and the third time station (mile 73, 3:03 AM Tuesday, 19:03, elev. 1,970 ft.). We checked my weight upon arrival and it was good news as I was now at 175 pounds, and Leon, who was working the time station, told us we were in 16th or 17th place.

The Panamint Springs “Resort” (really just an isolated motel and bar taking advantage of good spring water) had a runner hospitality cabin where competitors could nap, shower and use a real toilet. I took advantage of the bathroom amenities including a very refreshing shower and then put on the same sweaty stinky clothes I’d just taken off. A nurse in the main part of the hospitality cabin offered to do a full blown blister tape-job on my feet. I wasn’t sure if I really needed that, and when I took off my shoes to show her my feet she was actually surprised at how good they looked. The blisters under the calluses on the balls of my feet were not evident, and the other little blisters at the base of my toes were pretty minor. I decided to forego the professional taping and headed back out front to where the crew was beginning to wonder if I had fallen in. Over 45 minutes after we had arrived we left the “resort” and headed up the hill toward Father Crowley Point. Ron claimed his hands were starting to hurt thanks to all the braking he had to do coming down from Townes Pass, so he passed the bicycle to Jerry to pace me through the morning hours up into the Argus Range .

Panamint Valley ends in a massive box canyon of volcanic sediments 8 or 9 miles north of where we had crossed the valley on Rt. 190 a few hours before. Now we were climbing up the side of that box canyon into the Argus Range on a fairly narrow, switch-backing road that was often constrained by a guard rail on one side and a rock face on the other. Fortunately, about the only traffic before dawn was vehicles associated with the race and so most cars were traveling at reasonable speeds and gave us a wide berth. I have little memory of what Jerry and I discussed on that hike out of Panamint Valley other than it was all upbeat and wonderfully distracting and made a potentially mind-numbing, torturous climb pass with ease.

We arrived at Father Crowley Point which overlooks the box canyon at 6:40 AM (mile 80, 4,000 ft.) shortly after the sun’s first rays had breached the shoulder of 11,000-plus foot Telescope Peak back on the west side of Death Valley. I was weighed again (174 pounds) then sat down to a bowl of breakfast cereal and milk, which was probably the first normal thing I had done in nearly 24 hours. Back on the road the temperature was  into the 70s. While still climbing from time to time, it was rolling now and I was able to run for a few short stretches. Around mile 85 we got our first view of our destination: the Sierra Nevada. At the same time, immediately to our left, were the first Joshua trees, and to our rear, Telescope Peak had disappeared for good. Less than a mile later we had also passed out of Death Valley National Park.

Matt, Carolyn and Mark arrived sometime after daybreak to relieve Jerry, Ron and Harpo. David arrived later, but then went in to Lone Pine for some blister spray and ice. We reached the fourth time station, an intersection known as the Darwin turn-off, at 10:11 AM (mile 90, 5,050 feet, 26:11:00). The temperature had bounced back to 90 F and about a mile earlier I had felt one of my blisters pop, right at the base of the middle toes on my left foot. Overall, the blisters, which had remained about the same since first appearing back in the middle of Death Valley, had become more painful over the past 10 miles, my quadriceps muscles were, of course, no better, and when next I met the crew I commented to no one in particular and whoever would listen that there was no way I was going to be able to do any more running. In other words, we had 45 miles of walking ahead of us and given the impending fatigue, finishing in 48 hours, my primary goal, was starting to look a little sketchy. (All runners who finish in 48 hours or less receive the coveted Badwater belt buckle.)

I headed back out onto the road with Matt to pace me. Back at the van, Carolyn went out to find a bush and Mark did some math to figure out what pace we would need to finish in under 48 hours. Carolyn climbed back into the van, looked over Mark’s figures, then looked up and Matt and I were nowhere in sight. “Hey,” said Carolyn, “we better get going.” After driving for over 2 miles they hadn’t found us, and Carolyn thought that they somehow had missed us and should probably turn around. They pulled over and another vehicle that had been tailing them also pulled over, and a guy from 60 Minutes, who was doing a piece on Pam Reed, came up to them and said, “Did you know that Bruce started running? He was worried that you wouldn’t know where he was.”

When I’d gotten back out on the road with Matt, I starting to think about the 48 hour goal, and decided I needed to knock off a few miles, so started to run. Now, this so-called “run” was initially only a little faster than a walk, and was probably at least as painful to watch as it was to experience. The pain from the blisters on my feet was overcome in the first 100 yards or so, but the muscle pain from the tight quadriceps, calves, and other fibrous tissue that keeps one ambulatory was another matter all together. After about 5 minutes of the creaking, old-man chicken stepping along, I picked out a low point in the road ahead and told myself I would run to there than call it quits. We got to that point and I realized that now the road was just flat, not uphill as I had thought, so I picked a bush another 100 yards along to run to, and when we got there I finally went back to a walk. Well, it was then that I noticed the vehicle with the TV camera pointed at us up ahead. “Matt,” I said, “we probably ought to put on a good show for the camera,” and I went  back into my rickety running gait. We passed the vehicle with the camera and then, as if by magic, my legs began to loosen up and the pain throughout them steadily decreased until I felt fine and I began to pick up the pace. I could hear Matt behind me starting to breath heavily and actually drop back a few steps. “This is great!” I thought to myself, and kept cranking along.

About a mile after picking up the pace, a vehicle pulled up next to us and a guy leaned out the window. “Bruce,” he said, “what are you doing?” I looked at him, trying to figure out if I knew him since he knew my name, but I didn’t. Then I noticed a sign that said something about 60 Minutes and figured they were with the crew doing the story on Pam Reed.

“I don’t know,” I replied, “I just loosened up so I’m running. My crew has no idea I’m running, and they probably don’t know where we are.”

“You want us to go back and let them know?” he asked.

“Sure. Do you know what our vehicle looks like?”


“It’s a white van, with ‘Team Coonhound’ painted on the windows.”

They drove off to find Carolyn and Mark for us, and after Matt and I had covered something like 3 miles or more, both our crew van and the 60 Minutes guys went by and pulled over ahead of us. I think the camera guys did a little road-side interview with me—I actually don’t recall now—and we thanked them for tracking down the crew and Matt and I went back to walking.

Right around mile 100 we dropped through a short steep cut in the hills and entered the far edge of the Owens Valley. While further north the Owens Valley can be quite pretty, the section that Rts. 190 and 136 cut across just north of the mostly dry lake is pretty desolate and depressing. The temperature gets back up above 100 degrees F (105 was the high on the van thermometer), the wind almost always blows hard, sand and salt drifts across the road, the plants are spindly and beaten, and after a 100 mile hiatus, signs of humanity begin to appear with increasing and depressing regularity: junk cars, old mining scars, run down shacks and trailers and roads branching off here, there and everywhere. And to top it all off, I needed to use the facilities again, and there weren’t going to be any available for another 20 miles at the soonest—7 or 8 hours away. Fortunately, we were prepared for such an eventuality, and the crew set up our portable seat and I was able to take care of business in short order and, after a treacherously wobbly hike back up onto the road, was on my way again.

We were in a never ending pass-and-then-be-passed duet with a couple of other runners—Carolyn Smith initially and then later, Thorsten Treptow, a German. It was funny how I would get to know the other runners’ crews in this situation. When C. Smith (as I came to think of her based on the signs on her crew van) was behind me I would reach her crew before her, and they would shout out all sorts of encouragement to me. They even gave me a popsicle one time which was the absolute highlight of that afternoon, although it was so cold at first that it stuck to my tongue. David, who was pacing me then, had to pour some water on it to warm it up so that I could eat it without endangering myself.

The road across Owens Dry Lake to the town of Lone Pine seems unending. While the road itself sapped my physical strength, the environs sapped my psychological strength. By the time the relief crew of Harpo, Hersh and Jerry showed up around 3:00 PM, I think it was becoming clear to my crew that I was crashing, and I requested an opportunity to lie down. I had gone from consistently churning out 17 to 20 minute miles—or less if I ran a bit—to requiring close to 30 minutes per mile, either from a slowed pace or from stopping at the van for 5 or 10 minutes each time. A space was cleared for me in the back of the van and I lay down with my legs out the back and propped up on a cooler. I was able to nod off for a couple of minutes, but then the crew, all seven of whom were standing just outside the uplifted rear door of the van, started to discuss my condition, and I couldn’t help but eavesdrop. They were starting to think—as was I—that I wasn’t going to make the 48 hour goal if my condition didn’t improve. In particular, if I were to nap on the order of hours and then required 30 minutes to go each mile the rest of the way, the belt buckle would likely be lost. I sat up, quoted Rubin Flores from “Running on the Sun:” “Evvverything is fine!” then asked how long I’d been down (“6 minutes,” said Matt), got a couple of water bottles and headed back up the road. Three miles later I had to lie down again, however, and the crew once again stood outside the rear door of the van prognosticating about our finish time. Again I couldn’t really sleep, and again was back on my feet in exactly 6 minutes.

Back on the road, it now occurred to me that I was entirely focused, to a fault, on the 48 hour finish. It seemed as if, if I couldn’t manage that, then it was all over. I hadn’t necessarily been thinking about dropping, but in my mind, not finishing in under 48 hours would have been failure. It was an epiphany when it occurred to me that JUST FINISHING THE DAMN RACE was a fair accomplishment in itself, even if it was in fifty-some-odd hours. Realizing this, a huge burden was lifted from my shoulders. I then relaxed and was able to enjoy the task at hand once again. In addition, it occurred to me that if I was low on energy, I might want to consider jamming down some nutrition, especially carbohydrates. I hadn’t been drinking my Cytomax-Accelerade mix for a while (it had been tough to hold down), and I hadn’t had a gel packet in ages, since before 11:00 AM, in fact (it was now well after 3:00 PM). I requested gels at the next two stops, ate a cookie, had a few cubes of mellon and got a Cyto-Accelerade bottle to drink during the next mile.

In the meantime, Harpo, my old track buddy from Drake, was finally pacing me. I still felt like roasted dog meat, not interested, particularly, in conversing, and talked with Harpo in hushed tones about not much. We covered two miles together, and then, while he went to get me my second gel packet, I continued on and realized that, when alone, I could lock on to the white line along the side of the road and generate a low-energy but relatively high-output walking pace. It seemed like something that I could continue if I could just stay focused. When Harps caught back up with me I told him, “I think I want to go solo for a while,” and I locked back onto that white line and the driving heel-to-toe motion that I had figured I could keep up indefinitely.

Harpo went back to the crew vehicle, kind of bummed out I think since he had only, just at last, gotten his opportunity to pace after looking forward to it for literally months, and told the rest of the crew, “I think I just got fired. I don’t know, maybe it was something I said?” They all discussed it for a bit and then decided correctly that maybe I just needed the time to focus on what I needed to do to keep going.

After about 5 miles of walking solo plus another gel, a can of Boost and a can of chicken soup, my energy level had come back up. The sun was also lowering and the temperature was dropping back down and Harpo came back and joined me for another 3 miles. Mark, Carolyn, Matt and David met us for another crew change near the end of the Owens Valley crossing, and we charged into Lone Pine, elevation 3,610 feet. I reached the time station at the Dow Villa motel at 9:01 PM (37:01:00) and the temp was now down to 92 F. With my feet up in front of the Dow Villa I had a chance to chat with Leon again, and Jeff, guys I knew who were working the race, and to watch the last light of the day fade behind the towering granite teeth of the highest mountain ridge in the lower 48 states.

And so we began the final stretch: 13 miles of road and nearly 5000 feet of vertical to the finish at the Mt. Whitney Portal. Thanks to my energy rebound over the last 7 or 8 miles coming in to Lone Pine, we were all fairly confident that we would make the finish in under 48 hours. It was now just a question of by how much.

It’s kind of funny, but I really can’t remember who was with me going up the mountain. I think I remember Matt there, at least initially, and I think David might have walked with me a mile or two in the early going, and later Ron stepped up, chattering none-stop about whatever crazy thing might enter his head after pounding 2 cans of Red Bull, and then Carolyn showed up around 1:00 AM and eventually walked the final leg with me.

On the big hill it was pretty much the same routine over and over again: reach the crew, stop and chat for a minute, get something to eat and perhaps refill my water bottle, then head on up the road. After a few minutes the crew vehicle would go by, although I rarely noticed that it had and after a while would wonder what had happened to it until I finally asked whoever was pacing if it had already passed. Invariably the answer was, “Oh yeh; a long time ago.” The miles left to go were spray painted in day glow orange on the left side of the road, and our 1 mile stops were offset from these by about an additional quarter of a mile. After we had walked what seemed like well over a mile, I would begin to strain my eyes looking ahead in the dark for the next orange mile mark, and then I would begin to wonder if I had missed it, walked past it already, and then it would appear out at the end of my flashlight beam and I could never believe that it was correctly marked, and even worse, that we still had another 400 yards to go beyond the mile mark before we’d covered just one mile from my last break. At times I wondered if the crew wasn’t conspiring to make me walk further than I realized just to get the race over with. Finally the van would come into sight, still an impossibly long way ahead, and up we’d go until, at last, I could take another short break and then start it up all over again. This is how it went all the way up the mountain, over and over again, 13 times. The only variety was somewhere in the early going: I remember lying down for 10 minutes, although I haven’t been able to find anyone on the crew who can corroborate this.

As you approach the trail head and parking lots at Whitney Portal you first notice the big ponderosa pines standing out from the walls of the enormous granite canyon. With one mile to go, the campground and parking signs begin, and then, quickly, the parking lots start and this is where it gets deceptive. “Aha,” you think, “a parking lot. I’m almost there.” But you are wrong. Not only does this last mile seem like at least 2, but they’ve also inserted parking lots nearly a mile below the trailhead just to fool you into thinking you’re almost to the end. And then, to make matters worse, I thought I recognized the final switchback, around which would be the last turn that would bring me into view of the finish line and the folks hanging out there, waiting for us to finish. I told this to Carolyn, that we were on the last one, and then, after I had clawed my way up and around, I discovered that I was wrong, way wrong, that we still couldn’t even see the final switchback. But there was little else to do except continue to trudge onward, and that we did. Finally it was, indeed, the true final switchback, and so, before I came into sight of the folks at the finish line, I started that creaky old man sore blistered feet and wasted quadriceps chicken-stepping gait, just to make sure everything was warmed up enough that I didn’t do anything stupid like fall over during the final 50 yards, and I ran on around the corner into sight, up the last straight stretch to the two towering ponderosa pines that watch over the finish line of the Badwater 135. I crossed that line at 2:48:58 AM on Wednesday morning in 26th place, 42:48:58 after the start at Badwater back on Monday morning.

After breaking the tape and crossing the line, I got a little choked up but was able to suck it back down before anyone noticed me over there, shedding a private tear. The crew was there except for Jerry, who had passed out from exhaustion back at the hotel, and David, who was also asleep, but expected us not to finish until 4:00 AM or so and claimed he’d see us then, and would bring Jerry. We took a few finish line photos, then drank some Guinness Stout, then loaded ourselves back into a couple of vehicles and drove back down the hill. Another beer at the hotel and a quick rehash of the highlights for David and Jerry and we all went to sleep around 3:30 AM, except for Red Bull Ronny who was still chattering away to anyone who would listen, which in this case meant only himself.