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Badwater 2004: Bangemachen Gilt Nicht

Ein Bericht von Andrea Schuster-Betz

Für des Menschen Aufstieg ist keine Grenze
und jedem ist das Höchste offen,
hier waltet allein deine Wahl.

Als das O.K. für die Teilnahme von Thomas (*) am Badwater-Ultramarathon kam, dachte ich, na ja, bei 48 Stunden Köln hab ich Thomas ja schon betreut, diverse 24 Stunden-Läufe und 200 km von Perpignon nach Barcelona, aber die Berichte, die ich über den Badwater-Ultra gelesen hatte, haben mir schon Angst eingeflösst; diese Hitze, davon hielt ich gar nicht viel, hatte mal in Südfrankreich eine Sonnenallergie! Ich sagte mir, mit ein paar Stunden Höhensonne und Allergietabletten im Gepäck wird`s schon gehen. Vor Jahren waren wir schon mal im Death Valley, aber nicht zum BadwaterUltramarathon. Großes Unbehagen vor Badwater hat sich in mein Gehirn gefressen….

4. Juli: Flug von Frankfurt nach Las Vegas. Wagen mieten und einkaufen von Dingen, die wir für den Lauf benötigen, stehen auf unserer Zu-tun-Liste. Wir fahren Richtung Grand Canyon, wo wir 4 Tage später vom Brigth Angel Point eine 10 Stunden-Tour zum Colorado River und zurück starten. Ein kleines Training vor Badwater.

10.7.: Es geht Richtung Furneece Creek, mit einem Stop in Badwater. War es vielleicht ein Fehler, die Klimaanlage nicht öfter auszuschalten? Ich kann mir zu diesem Zeitpunkt nicht vorstellen, 2 Tage später einen Begleitung zu einem Ultramarathon zu starten, diese Hitze… Die Stunden unter der Höhensonne waren mangels Zeit ausgefallen, die Organisation einer 350 km Veranstaltung im Juni hatte uns Wochen zuvor keine freie Minute mehr gelassen, die Allergietabletten hatte ich auch vergessen…

Wir machen Rast in Furneece Creek und machen die Erfahrung, dass man hier Auto-Türgriffe besser nicht mit bloßen Händen anfasst, weil man sich dabei leicht verbrennen kann und eisgekühlte Getränke relativ rasch trinken sollte, weil sie sonst innerhalb kurzer Zeit eine „angenehme „ Temperatur von über 30 Grad haben.

11.7.: Nachmittags Einschreibung und Pre-Race-Meeting aller “Wahnsinnigen.“.

Um 16 Uhr über 45 Grad Celcius im Schatten!! Ich habe mir schon einen Fluchtplan überlegt, wie ich aus diesem Hexenkessel flüchten kann, da fiel mir ein, dass außer Thomas nur ich den Führerschein habe, also, Zähne zusammenbeißen.

Letzte Vorbereitungen am Abend, die NamensSchilder müssen am Auto angebracht , Getränke vorbereitet werden usw. Erst nach 23 Uhr heißt es gute Nacht.

12.7. Wecken um 4 Uhr 30. Start ist um 8 Uhr. Sachen zusammenpacken. Von Beatty geht es nun 67 Meilen nach Badwater. Schnell zum Gruppenfoto aufstellen, noch 10 Minuten bis zum Start. Chris Kostman, der Organisator, wirkt beruhigend auf die Teilnehmer ein, nicht an die ganze Strecke zu denken, sondern in kleinen Schritten. Das klingt logisch, diese Erfahrung habe ich auch schon gemacht, hoffentlich hilft sie auch hier den Teilnehmern. In Gedanken wünsche ich allen Teilnehmern ein gutes Gelingen.

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 es geht los. Da läuft er nun. Wieviele Stunden werden vor uns liegen? Thomas lässt es langsam angehen, weiß nicht, wie er auf die Hitze reagiert. Ankommen heißt die Devise und ich weiß, dass Thomas das Wort “ Aufgeben “ nicht kennt. In Furneece Creek wechselt er von seine Kleider, lange Hosen und langes T-Shirt sind angesagt, um sich vor der Sonne einigermaßen zu schützen. Bodo, unser Begleiter bietet sich an, uns einen Kaffee zu holen. Bei dieser Hitze kann das wohl nicht schaden…

Welche Strecke haben wir insgesamt zu bewältigen? 215 km oder 130 Meilen? Ich entscheide mich für die kleinere Zahl!

Es funktioniert ganz gut, alle 1 bis 1,5 Meilen machen wir halt, um Thomas zu versorgen. Am Nachmittag zieht er Handschuhe an. Nein, kalt ist ihm nicht, die Sonne brennt nur unberbittlich. Sieht schon komisch aus, bei über 50 Grad Hitze. Alle sind in guter Verfassung.

Zu meiner Überraschung vertrage ich die Hitze sehr gut, habe keinerlei Beschwerden, lege mir während des Fahrens nasse Handtücher auf Schulter und Beine, die Klimaanlage bleibt aus, da wir öfter anhalten und raus in die Hitze müssen. Wir wollen uns erst gar nicht an die Annehmlichkeiten der Kühle im Auto gewöhnen.

Zwischen Furneece Creek und Stovepipe Wells weht teilweise ein starker Wind, der nicht angenehm kühlt, sondern einem heiß ins Gesicht bläßt. 50 Grad C. Unbeschreiblich.

Stop in Stovepipe Wells. Kein Eis mehr zu kaufen. Nicht so schlimm, wir haben noch etwas und Thomas hat sowieso gemeint, die Getränke sollten nicht mehr so kalt sein. Er wechselt wieder seine Kleider, es ist abend, die Sonne hinterm Horizont untergegangen. Ca 1 Stunde Pause. Getränke vorbereiten, das Übliche.

13. 7. Es geht in die Nacht hinein. Thomas verordnet mir irgendwann eine Schlafpause, er geht alleine weiter, hat Trinken und einen Energieriegel dabei.

Leider vergisst unser “ soll ich noch einen Kaffee holen – Mann “ mich zu wecken, ist wohl auch eingeschlafen. Ich schwinge mich hinters Steuerrad und fahre los und fahre und fahre und fahre. Nein, ich kann mich nicht verfahren haben, es geht ja immer gerade aus. Endlich, er ist in Sicht. Über 2 Stunden ist er alleine gelaufen. Er ist noch am Leben. Wir sind am Towness Pass und machen halt. Thomas ist sehr müde, legt sich ins Auto. 5 Minuten, noch mal 5 und noch mal 5 will er Pause machen. Verordne ihm eine halbe Stunde ab Stück, nach 1 _ Stunden geht es bergab Richtung Panamint Springs. Unser “ soll ich noch einen Kaffe holen – Mann “ wird ihn begleiten, das wird ihm gut tun. Es ist inzwischen hell geworden. Manchmal kommt der Medical Service vorbei und fragt, ob alles o.k. sei, das beruhigt. Diese Sicht den Berg hinunter ist einfach überwältigend. Außer Thomas`s Müdigkeit geht es uns allen gut.

In Panamint Springs bestellen wir Frühstück, es ist 8 Uhr. 35 Grad C. Ein Reporter vom ´Fit for Fun´ Magazin macht Bilder von uns, bin nicht sicher, ob man uns darauf wiedererkennen wird, so müde sehen wir aus.

Lange Meilen wird es jetzt bergauf gehen, die Aussicht phantastisch sein, what a wonderful world! Auch hier herrscht ein sehr starker Wind, aber nicht so heiß.

Müsste mal dringend telefonieren! Fahre 10 Meilen nach Keeler, ein verlassenes Nest, eine Geisterstadt, wo man viele Häuser vorfindet, die mit Holzbrettern vernagelt sind. Muss unverrichteter Dinge wieder zurückfahren.

Es wird langsam Nacht. Thomas Müdigkeit kommt immer wieder mal hoch, so wenige Stunden Schlaf in einem Hotel voller “junger Hüpfer“, die die Nacht zum Tag machen, sind vor solch einem Vorhaben wie der Badwaterultra nicht die ideale Vorstellung

In einer kurzen Pause legen wir uns auf die Strasse und betrachten den schönsten Sternenhimmel, den ich je gesehen habe, what a wonderful world.

14.7. In Lone Pine machen wir wieder Frühstück, ich bestelle Pfannkuchen, aber Thomas ißt nur sehr wenig. Keine Blasen an den Füssen, keine sonstigen Beschwerden; wenn nur diese Müdigkeit nicht wäre. Man gratuliert uns. Nanu denke ich, wir sind doch noch gar nicht am Ziel. Aber wer hier ankommt, gibt sowieso nicht auf, der Rest ist nur noch eine “Kleinigkeit“,

Der Berg ruft und wir brechen auf, eine endlos lange Strecke von 18 Kilometern, die einfach nicht enden will.

Unsere Kräfte lassen jetzt wirklich nach, die Kraftreserven können wir anscheinend nicht mehr auffüllen. Kein Hunger, nur noch trinken. Es wird Zeit, dass es zu Ende geht.

Es wird hell, das belebt noch mal den Geist, aber nur für kurze Zeit. Habe keinen Blick mehr für diese herrliche Aussicht, mein Kopf kann nur noch daran denken, ans Ziel zu kommen. Thomas hat auch große Mühe, einen Fuß vor den anderen zu bekommen, was wohl in ihm vorgeht? „ Ich muß mich noch umziehen, so verdreckt, wie ich aussehe, kann ich doch nicht aufs Finisher Foto“, gesagt, getan, soviel Zeit muß sein.

Nach 47 Stunden und 43 Minuten haben wir es geschafft!!! Und auf dem Foto sehen wir gar nicht so müde aus, wie wir uns fühlen. Nur noch ein Gedanke hält mich aufrecht, der Gedanke an ein kühles Motelzimmer mit Bett. Bis zum gemeinsamen Pizzaessen mit Läufern und Begleitern schlafen wir uns aus, oder sagen wir fast.

… und einen Tag später wird Thomas mit einer Gruppe Amerikanern den Mount Whitney besteigen. Da sie mitten in der Nacht aufbrechen und mir mein Schlaf jetzt sehr wichtig ist , gehe ich nicht mit. „ Die hätten dich mit dem Hubschrauber runterholen müssen“ wird er später sagen, „es war nicht einfach“.

Aber er hat es geschafft, denn das Wort “Aufgeben“ kennt er nicht.

Die Strecke fahren wir auf dem Weg nach Las Vegas noch mal ab. An verschiedenen Punkten machen wir Rast und verinnerlichen uns das, was wir während der Veranstaltung nicht so recht genießen konnten.

Ich bin glücklich, dabeigewesen zu sein und verspüre eine Sehnsucht, wiederzukommen.. Übrigens, die Hölle war es nicht und: bangemachen gilt nicht.

Es gibt nur 3 wahre Gewinner:
Derjenige, der als erster das Ziel erreicht,
derjenige, der das Rennen zu Ende läuft
und derjenige, der sich selbst herausfordert.

Badwater Week And What A Week It Was

2003 official finisher

Following is the report of Badwater participant Scott Ludwig of Peachtree City, Georgia. A Badwater rookie, his crew consisted of Paula May (Crew Chief), Eric Huguelet (Paula’s husband), Al Barker (Scott’s training partner over the past 10 years), Gary Griffin (Scott’s friend and an accomplished ultrarunner from Tallahassee), and Josh (Scott’s 17-year-old son). Everyone on the crew is an accomplished runner. Here is Scott’s story. (Note: there is a reference in the story to a ‘streak.’ Scott has run every day since November 29, 1978—the ‘streak’ being referred to.

Seven days in July. ‘Badwater Week.’ And what a week it was.

Friday, July 18 (-4 days)

Paula, our crew chief, held the final DARKSIDE crew meeting at her house. Gary, Al, Paula and I. Josh? Had to work. Eric? Went to the Braves game. Priorities, you understand.

We went over our final gear check and chronological plan for the upcoming week. It appeared we had our game plan firmly in place. All that remained was the execution. Of the game plan, that is (not me!).

Years of training and months of planning were about to be put to the test. We believed we were ready. And willing. And yes, able. We’d find out soon enough.

Saturday, July 19 (-3 days)

Delta takes us from Atlanta to Las Vegas (by way of Dallas). I’d like to say an uneventful airplane ride, but that would be a lie. As I had been heavily hydrating the past several days, I finished off a 20-ounce bottle of water just before boarding the plane. After sitting on the plane for 30 minutes (we still had not left the gate), I realized I had to urinate. Desperately. Just as I was about to visit the restroom, the pilot announced we were ready to take off and to please be seated. OK, I could wait until we were in the air.

However, we crept along the runway, making my particular condition magnify in urgency. When the pilot announced that we were ‘4th in line for takeoff,’ that was it for me. I jumped out of my seat (figuring I had time, since planes take off at two minute intervals) and headed to the restroom, despite the flight attendant ‘reminding’ me that the pilot asked that we be seated. I told her I couldn’t wait any longer.

While I was inside the restroom, I heard the flight attendant (obviously on the phone to the pilot) saying ‘I’m sorry, sir, he said he couldn’t wait any longer and ignored me.’ Just freakin’ great: two years of dedicated Badwater training down the drain ‘cuz I just know once I exit the restroom I’ll be escorted off the plane. The pressure was so intense that I wasn’t even able to urinate. Upon exiting the restroom, I was relieved (literally, not figuratively) that the flight attendant merely assaulted me verbally (as if I were an 8 year old) about disregarding the pilot’s instructions. I apologized and told her it wouldn’t happen again. Later, once we were in the air, I returned to the restroom, where I was finally relieved (figuratively, not literally).

Once we landed in Las Vegas, we rented our 14-passenger van, dropped off two of the seats (we needed storage space!) at the house of a friend of Paula’s, and made a final shopping trip (cooler, meals, water, miscellaneous items) to Walmart. Finally, we checked into our hotel for some much needed rest (I slept 12 hours—something I haven’t done since college).

Sunday, July 20 (-2 days)

Gary, Eric, Paula and I went for a short run in Vegas. We noticed we were perspiring—something we weren’t expecting considering (a) we were running at a 9-minute pace and (b) there’s no humidity in Vegas. What implications did this hold for Badwater?

We loaded up the van and made the 2 _ hour drive to Furnace Creek, where we were welcomed by temperatures hovering around 120 degrees. Welcome to hell. Once we settled into our rooms, we drove out to the starting line in Badwater, where it was even warmer. Driving back to the hotel, we let Josh out of the van 2 miles out so he could run in to test the conditions.

Gary and I waited for Josh, anxious to hear his report. However, he didn’t need to say a thing: the color in his cheeks said it all. They were BRIGHT RED, approximately the color of a ripe tomato. Later that night, Josh and I went to the pool to cool off. Or so we thought. The water temperature had to have been in the 90’s, and the air temperature was still close to 110. Surely the conditions would improve by Tuesday (race day).

The rest of the evening was spent raiding the hotel’s ice machines and wondering whether or not Al (he was flying to Las Vegas this evening and renting a car) would be able to find us in Furnace Creek. He did. A good omen, perhaps?

Another 9 hours of sleep for me; a good investment for what lies ahead.

Monday, July 21 (-1 day)

A short run to start the day, followed by a visit to the hotel’s breakfast bar. Actually, breakfast buffet is more like it. Fresh fruit, cereal, breakfast burritos, eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, English muffins, biscuits and gravy, pancakes, apple fritters, juices, coffee, soda, water…good timing, as the crew and I were able to load up on some much-needed calories. After all, we would be living on fig newtons and pretzels for the next two days.

We made a trip to the Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center at noon to pick up my race number. We met Jay Birmingham, the first man to officially ‘race’ from Badwater to Mount Whitney over 20 years ago. He autographed a copy of his book about his feat, The Longest Hill, for me. I met Chris Kostman, the Race Director, and had my pre-race ‘mug shot’ photo taken. Three hours later my crew and I would return for the pre-race clinic.

Imagine 300 people in a room…for almost two hours…with weak air conditioning…and temperatures outside over 120 degrees. Sound like fun? Sounds like pre-race conditioning, if you ask me. I can’t remember the last time I was that hot (wait—yes I can, it was yesterday!). But you get the picture. We were all familiar with most of the information presented in the clinic—race rules, race history, etc. A short video of last year’s event was shown, focusing on Pam Reed’s historic finish (first female winner of Badwater!). Pam was back to defend her title, and she was assigned to my time group (10:00 a.m., the other two groups starting at 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m.). Pam, deservedly so, was presented with a plaque in honor of her accomplishment. At the end of the clinic, all runners were invited on stage to be introduced to everyone else in the auditorium. It was so hot on stage, my knees started to perspire. Drops of perspiration were literally saturating my shoes. More pre-race conditioning, I assume. 20 painful minutes later, we were free. Unless, of course, you opted to attend the foot clinic. Which we did. Fortunately, Paula felt comfortable that she knew how to take care of my feet should problems arise, but she and Gary attended anyway. Me? I went outside to get Marshall Ulrich’s autograph for a friend of mine. Plus, it was cooler outside than it was in that damn auditorium…

We ate dinner as a crew one last time before tackling the beast. The crew gave me a card wishing me well, with a personalized message from each one of them (particularly Josh’s, which he had signed with the insightful message ‘Your son, Josh’). Early to bed: 9:00 p.m. The game plan was for me to sleep until 6:00 a.m., eat breakfast at 6:30, and then nap a few more hours before we headed to Badwater at 8:55. Great plan.

Tuesday, July 22 bleeding into Wednesday, July 23 (0 days)

Great plan, but terrible execution. I was awake at 1:05 a.m., and absolutely could NOT get back to sleep. I was, however, ready to eat at 6:30 (although it killed me to make another pass through the breakfast bar and only eat 2 pieces of French toast, some eggs, and a few pieces of melon). Such a deal for $8.50. Next on my schedule? A short nap. If ‘short nap’ means lying on the bed staring at the ceiling for 90 minutes, then my ‘nap’ was a success. At 8:55 I was more than ready to go. It was time to get this show on the road, or as one of the support vans had written on both sides, to ‘shut up and run.’ My crew and I boarded the van at precisely 8:55 a.m. and headed over to Badwater, semi-oblivious to what lied ahead. Soon enough I would be totally oblivious to just about everything.

We arrived at the starting area on schedule, just in time for the Race Director to call the runners over to the ‘Badwater sign’ for pre-race photos. We assembled at the starting line around 9:58, listened to the starter’s instructions, stood silently for the National Anthem, and shook off any remaining pre-race jitters. At 10:00, we were on our way to a destination some 135 miles away.

First Checkpoint – Furnace Creek (18 miles)

Pacing was prohibited in this segment, so my crew provided me ‘pit stops’ every mile or two (depending how I felt). At first, the entire crew would tend to me at once (imagine being mugged by five people armed with spray bottles, water bottles, wet towels, a wet shirt, and sun-block—it’s the best description I can offer). Soon enough, they would develop an ‘assembly-line’ rhythm that was much more efficient and effective. I ran with Pam Reed, the defending champion, for…oh, let’s call it four miles…before she pulled away. I was content to run alone, not wanting to expend valuable oxygen by making small talk with any of the other competitors. My sole focus was to move forward…at all costs. I reached Furnace Creek in 3:02, an average ‘pace’ of 10:06 per mile. I changed shorts, shoes and socks, as they were totally soaked with perspiration and water.

Second Checkpoint – Stovepoint Wells (42 miles)

Gary was my first pacer, and he opted to run this entire 24-mile stretch so that he could develop a feel for this event. As we got close to Stovepoint Wells, Gary and I both got to experience what 130 degrees feels like. For weeks leading up to this event we had heard the analogy that the heat ‘feels like putting your head inside a hot oven’ or ‘is like blasting a hair dryer directly in your face.’ Gary and I and the rest of the crew can now say that is exactly what 130 degrees feels like! It was so hot the palms of my hands felt like they were on fire (due to the heat radiating off the road surface). I continually asked Gary to splash water on my hands to cool them off. A crew member for another runner said they put a thermometer on the blacktop road and it read 141 degrees. The soles on Gary’s (brand new!) shoes began to separate, as the heat was melting the glue.

Occasionally a desert wind would blow across the highway. If you’re thinking this served to cool us off you would be mistaken: these desert winds felt like blasts from a roaring fire, and the best thing I can say about them is that they didn’t singe my eyebrows. Even if it felt like they did. We completed our second leg in 6:28, an underwhelming pace of 16:10 per mile. At least we were getting ready to ‘cool off’ by heading up to Townes Pass.

Third Checkpoint – Panamint Springs (72 miles)

OK, so maybe heading up to Towne’s Pass isn’t such a great thing after all. A seemingly endless (18-mile) climb to 5,000 feet. Eric accompanied me for this portion of the course, and the only analogy I can make is that it was similar to walking up flights of stairs for the better part of five hours. Now’s probably not the best time to mention that I detest walking up stairs. I experimented with trekking poles, but it was difficult to say if they were more of a help or a hindrance. Once we reached the summit, I changed (actually, the crew changed) into my running sandals, so that my toes would not ‘bang’ the front of my shoes on the downhills. (I would repeat this for the duration of the event on the downhills) The rest of the crew alternated pacing me once we reached the summit, before Paula took the final stretch right before the checkpoint to allow the other crew members to use our room at Panamint Springs to shower and/or take a quick nap. I mentioned to Paula that I was debating on whether or not I should stop at the room, and finally decided that I did want to take a quick shower and short nap so that I could psychologically divide the remaining 63 miles into a ‘different day’ from that of the first 72 miles. We completed the third leg in 9:04, a robust 18:08 per mile pace.

Intermission

Somewhere around 5:30 a.m. Paula and I entered our room at the Panamint Springs Resort. If ‘resort’ means ‘Norman Bates Motel,’ then, yeah, this was a resort. I took a quick shower (I forgot to remove my watch, so once it got wet it became so fogged that it was of no use for the remainder of the event). I lay down and managed to fall asleep, and the next thing I knew Paula was out of the shower. She lay down on the other bed and said she was going to sleep for ‘5 minutes.’ As we had no alarm clock, I was afraid to fall back asleep for fear that we would not wake up in ‘5 minutes’ and sleep away valuable time. In approximately 90 seconds Paula bounced up and said ‘Let’s go!’ She never fell asleep. I found out later that my sleep consumed a whole 60 seconds. Fortunately, in my mind, I did fall asleep, and I could now mentally ‘divide’ the race into two different days.

Forth Checkpoint – Darwin Turnoff (90 miles)

Eric was called back into active duty, as the next 18 miles were uphill—all of them! There was very little terrain that was even remotely runnable. Eric did a superb job keeping me motivated, focused and hydrated during this period. We even managed to pass a few other runners (climbers?) during this portion of the course. Eric (rightfully so) reprimanded me when I broke one of my race guidelines (‘no wasted motion’) by taking a few steps backward to see a wounded bat on the side of the road. The forth leg took 6:22, an it-could-have-been-worse 21:13 per mile.

It was during this stretch that my crew and I realized just how difficult it could be to consume 300 calories per hour during an ultra event such as Badwater. Up until now, I was taking my Sustained Energy (SE) drink (flavored with Crystal Lite lemonade) for the bulk of my calories, occasionally eating pretzels, jellybeans, or peanut butter to round out my 300 calories per hour. But at this point, I was starting to gag at the thought of drinking any more SE (without the flavoring, it honest-to-God smells and tastes like swampwater). Paula asked me what I would like to eat, and I replied ‘popsicles.’ Al made a quick trip in the extra car to find some. When he returned we were disheartened to find that after eating two popsicles, I had consumed a whopping…30 calories! At that point I began eating small portions: 3 pretzels, 4 jellybeans (‘how many calories now?’), 2 bites of peach jello (‘how many NOW?’). Unfortunately, I had to take ‘a swig’ of SE to round out my 300 calories. Gag.

Fifth Checkpoint – Lone Pine (122 miles)

I don’t know who was looking forward to this 32-mile stretch more: my crew or me. After seeing me walk for the better part of 30 miles over the last 48 miles, they were ready to run (‘run’ in this case meaning ‘get this thing over with’). Paula (our downhill specialist) took the first pacing assignment, and before I knew it we were off at an 8:00 minute pace. I would pick out ‘targets’ from which to run from and to, and would continue this practice over the next 32 miles. With the exception of Eric (who we were ‘saving’ for the final 13-mile climb up Mount Whitney), Paula, Gary, Josh and Al would take turns pacing me for two miles at a clip. This exercise evolved into my first official 32 mile ‘fartlek workout.’ Fortunately, I was on a ‘second wind’ (actually it was more than a ‘second,’ but I lost count) and managed to complete this stretch fairly comfortably in a time of 7:27, a pace of 13:58 per mile. It was during this stretch that Josh got excited and broke a pre-race request of mine (‘don’t tell me how my fellow competitors are doing’) by mentioning I was in 8th place.

Being this late in the race, knowing where I stood wasn’t such a bad thing, as holding my place and finishing in the Top Ten at Badwater was certainly a realistic expectation at this point. An expectation I was fairly comfortable with, until Eric tells me around mile 115 that there’s a runner up ahead, and I should be able to catch him in four or five miles. Josh was my next pacer, and I asked him if he wanted to catch the other runner NOW. He did, and so did I. We sprinted approximately a mile where we caught and passed this runner, one who I had last seen over 100 miles ago. Eric unofficially timed our mile in 8:15, but it felt like a sub-6:00. Gary took the next leg, and Eric mentioned there was yet another runner about a mile ahead who I could catch in four or five miles. Gary and I shuffled along, until we spotted this runner in the distance. As I did with Josh, I asked him if he wanted to catch the other runner now. He did, and so did I. We took off at a 6:00 minute pace (or 8:15 if you believe Eric) and caught him within a mile. Adding insult to injury, we caught him on an uphill. At mile 120. Ouch. (We found out later this particular runner finished an incredible nine hours behind us) Josh took the final two mile stretch into the checkpoint in Lone Pine, where we found out we were now in 6th place.

Paula had prepared some Raman noodles for me, the first food I had in 36 hours that remotely resembled an actual meal. It was heavenly. All five bites.

Sixth Checkpoint – Mount Whitney (135 miles)

As Josh will be quick to tell you, I was absolutely dreading the final 13-mile leg to the portals of Mount Whitney. And rightfully so: after 122 miles of desert and two mountain ranges, making a runner cover these final 13 uphill miles is just plain mean! Eric was once again my pacer, and he did everything in his power to keep me focused, positive, and hydrated. I managed to stay focused, positive, and hydrated—for 7 miles. At that point—6 miles from the finish line—I fell backwards, barely maintaining consciousness. I asked for some more Raman noodles, but Paula had nothing to heat them with except for the radiator of the van. The noodles warmed—slightly—but they were extremely ‘crisp.’ Paula, Gary and Al provided shoulders to (literally) lean on, as there were a few moments I nearly fell off the side of the mountain. Paula was force-feeding me Gatorade, and Gary was continually splashing my head and shoulders with ice cold water. I asked one of them to slap me in the face, but they wouldn’t do it. I guess they thought a slap might knock me totally out, which would put a serious cramp in completing our journey. I continually asked Josh ‘who was behind me,’ thinking that—surely—someone would be passing me in my limited condition. Unfortunately, if someone did make an attempt to pass me at this point, there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. Fortunately, no one did.

The last 2 miles seemed endless, as we wound around the mountain with no end in sight. Cars were passing us in both directions, many shouting words of encouragement as we neared the finish line. At least I think we were nearing the finish line. Occasionally I would find myself walking more side-to-side than forward, a victim of fatigue, exhaustion, and (I’m convinced) oxygen deprivation (we were at altitude, remember?).

Eric drove the van ahead to take his video camera to the finish line officials, hoping they would film us as we ‘triumphantly’ completed our mission. He agreed to meet us at a point one mile from the finish, where the six of us would congregate and run the rest of the race ‘as one.’ When we caught a glimpse of Eric in our headlamps, it was a bittersweet feeling as thankfully, we only had a mile to go, but nonetheless we still had a mile to go!

After what seemed like another hour, we saw the lights at the finish line (it was now just past 10:30 p.m.). The six of us ran (assuming ‘ran’ means ‘shuffled sort of fast’)—with our heads held high—through the finish line banner, officially signifying the successful completion of our journey. Hugs all around! Chris Kostman officially told us that we finished in 6th place and we were the 3rd place male finisher. Not bad for a bunch of Badwater rookies. The sixth leg had taken 4:10 to complete, a 19:14 per mile pace. Not bad when you take into account the last two miles consumed a full hour.

I sat down in the official finisher’s chair—surrounded by my wonderful crew—for some final photographs for the website. I literally looked like death warmed over, but I couldn’t have cared less.

We enjoyed our journey, and we were successful. We couldn’t have asked for anything more.

Thursday, July 24 (+2 days)

My crew—God bless ‘em—join me for a 3-mile run (gotta keep the streak alive!). Afterwards, a little housekeeping on the van followed by an incredible lunch at the pizza parlor across the street from our hotel, the Dow Villa. Josh and I split a large cheese pizza, but we eat less than half of it (Josh because he ate everything on the late-nite menu at the hotel’s diner last night; me because my stomach had apparently shrunk over the past two days). I spend the afternoon limping back and forth across the street to the laundromat the wash some of the dirty clothes Josh and I have generated this week. I met the wife of a Badwater entrant (Art Webb) at the laundromat, and she told me her husband was still on the course. (We passed him on our way back to Las Vegas the next morning; he was at the half-way point of the course) as he was experiencing some difficulties (he did eventually finish, however)

All Badwater participants and crew members were invited to a pizza dinner at a local elementary school that evening. We spent a lot of time talking with Pam Reed about her performance and her training. She said she has to run 3 times a day, as she has to manipulate her running around her demanding schedule as a mother of three. I invited her to our 50K race in November, and she said she’d run (we’ll see!) if I’d return the favor and run her race (the Tucson Marathon) in December.

After dinner, a short video of this year’s race was shown. As my luck would have it, there was a special feature on each of the top five finishers (I finished 6th, remember?). Regardless, it was well made and very inspirational (up to the point that it didn’t convince me to run it again).

Following the video, Chris Kostman hosted the awards ceremony. He asked all runners who failed to complete the course to stand, and they were given a rousing ovation for ‘having the guts to try.’ Very deserved. Then, all finishers were called to the front of the room to receive their finisher’s medal and, for those finishing under 48 hours, the coveted belt-buckle. We posed for photographs—I’ve never been in front of so many flash bulbs before—and then Pam and men’s winner Dean Karnazes were asked to say a few words. Chris closed the evening by referring to us all as part of the ‘Badwater family.’

A pretty nice honor.

Post Script: On Friday, we made the drive back to Las Vegas. Obviously, we ‘retraced our steps’ along the same route we had started 3 days ago in Badwater. If I hadn’t already decided I would never run the race again, this would have done it for me. I realized that yes, the heat was a huge factor in my performance, but the mountains were much more significant. We stopped in Stovepipe Wells for a drink, and the heat—only slightly over 110 degrees today—still felt like we were sticking our heads inside a hot oven.

Friday night, we enjoyed a crew ‘victory dinner’ at the Pink Taco in Las Vegas. Afterwards Paula, Eric, Al and Gary returned to the hotel for some much-needed rest before our 6:00 a.m. flight to Atlanta the following morning. Me? I had promised Josh that if I was still able to walk after the race—and at this time I barely ‘qualified’—I would take him to see the casinos before we returned to Atlanta. The four hours Josh and I spent—at MGM Grand, New York New York, Mandelay Bay, Excalibur, Luxor—I wouldn’t trade for anything. Josh was so impressed with the large casinos, the bright neon lights, and the endless ‘eye candy’ the city has to offer. But for me, walking on two severely blistered feet was a true test of my pain threshold (I’m sure I exceeded it somewhere during the night). We finally got to bed just after midnight, allowing me two hours sleep before I had to get up for one last run with Gary before we all headed to the airport for our long-awaited (and triumphant) return to Atlanta.

And yes, you read the previous sentence correctly.

Badwater Runners’ Report for the JustDo262 Yahoo Group

2003 staffer & 2002 finisher

The Runners’ Report did indeed spend part of last week in and around Lone Pine for the end of the Kiehl’s Badwater Ultramarathon. I had hoped to be there for the whole race, working on the webcast, but that nasty four-letter word, “work”, got in the way. I was, however, able to leave after work on Wednesday and pulled into the parking lot of the Dow Villa at about 8:45 PM.

When I got there, the race was actually over. In fact, beating everyone, including the first wave of runners who started from Badwater at 6 AM Tuesday morning, was winner Pam Reed who had already crossed the finish line at the Whitney Portals at 2:26 PM on Wednesday afternoon. By the time I got there, four of the 73 starters had finished and 6 others had passed through Lone Pine and were on the Portal Road. Among those already on this last stretch to the finish were Louise Cooper and Bill Lockton who both ran phenomenal sub-40 hour times.

But that is not to say that there weren’t many more amazing feats to witness. I worked the Lone Pine aid station on Thursday, through the early morning hours and then again as the final runners passed through. I also helped Greg gather some info for his webcast duties. I’m sure that many of you were anxiously following the progress of the race through the webcast. Greg and the whole staff did an absolutely fantastic job this year. I can honestly say that those working at race headquarters got about the same amount of sleep as the weary runners and crews. Everyone associated with supporting this event were so passionate about their work and should be sincerely thanked for their efforts.

In between these volunteer stints, I got a couple of chances to see Nancy Shura making her way along the course. She looked strong on each occassion, except for a zombie-like stare she wore on the final arduous climb up to the finish. Nancy and her crew (Saundra, Wendy, Michele, Sandy, Mike, Larry, and Heather, with a final assist from Craig) did a fabulous job and she completed the course in 52:35.

One of the things I really enjoy are the first-person accounts of the race written by runners and crew members. I’ll spare you any more of my perceptions under the assumption that we’ll be reading more in the future from the participants. But I will add some miscellaneous notes about what I saw and heard at the race this year:

  • Temperatures on Tuesday were said to be absolutely miserable. The “official” weather service report was about 125F but most who were there would swear it was at least 130F.
  • A number of well-known Badwater veterans including Mayor Ben Jones, Major Curt Maples and the 2nd person to run from Badwater to Mt Whitney, Jay Birmingham had to drop out. Ben actually “staked-out” twice, leaving the course to try and cool down but eventually had to drop.
  • Race organizers provided a valuable service this year by adding several mobile “Medic” units who patrolled the course and provided essential emergency medical services. 40% of their services were provided to crew members, including one person who needed seven IVs. Deb Clum was one of these important medical professionals.
  • 46 of 73 starters finished (under 60 hours) and 30 buckled (under 48 hours).
  • Women placed 1st, 3rd, 5th and 9th overall (Pam Reed – 28:26, Monica Scholz – 33:41, Tracy Bahr – 35:16, Louise Cooper 39:22).
  • Don Lundell came through Lone Pine station (mile 122) at about 10 PM on Wednesday. Just 5 hours earlier, his girlfriend Gillian Robinson had arrived at Panamint Springs, some 50 miles behind. Don finish in 45:10 and Gillian finished in 58:38.
  • Lisa Smith-Batchen and Joe DeSena ran the Vermont 100 mile endurance run in around 24 hours on Saturday/Sunday, took a day off, then began Badwater on Tuesday. DeSena completed Badwater in 42 hours and might have run the fastest race split ever from Lone Pine to the finish at the Whitney Portal in 2 hours and 53 minutes. Lisa took a 12 hour rest in the middle of the race and still finished in 52 hours.
  • Barb Elia pulled a “Steve Matsuda” becoming the “crooked woman” for much of the last part of the race.
  • Dan Marinsik was told in May that he had a brain tumor. Against doctor’s orders and the urgings of his family, he told the doctors to postpone surgery until after the race. He completed his first Badwater attempt in 53:36.
  • Dean Karnazes, the 2nd overall finisher and men’s winner, was one of many early finishers to stop by the station at Lone Pine asking about locations of the runners still on the course so they could give them their excess food and drinks. Dean also holds the world record for the 200 mile run.

Miles and miles of congrats to everyone involve in the race this year… especially RD Chris Kostman who took a great event and has somehow managed to improve it every year.

2002 Badwater…The Tuffest

 2000, 2001 & 2002 Finisher

Training hard & being in great shape doesn’t always mean achieving one’s goal. That was the story at this year’s Badwater. I had the best crew that any runner could dream of: experienced runners with great backgrounds to help me achieve my goal. This year started out great & turned into managing injuries just to finish.

I met Ken Eielson Sunday in Lone Pine & we drove together in the crew van to Furnace Creek. He had driven out from Colorado. The next day we did the pre-race check in and met the rest of my crew by the cabins at Furnace Creek. Theresa Daus-Weber & Scott Snyder who flew out from Colorado to Vegas and drove a rented car to meet us. We all went to the meeting and I got to know the two men on my crew. I crewed with Theresa in 1999 so we knew each other pretty well. I had pre-taped my feet that morning so now it was time to rest & let my crew arrange the van the way they wanted to.

I started at 8am and we had my splits figured out for a 45 and a 47 hour finish, since this year I was going for the buckle. I was about 10 miles into the race when I felt a twinge in my left groin. No, you have got to be kidding I thought, not this early in a race of this length. I kept running hoping it would go away. I got to Furnace Creek 45 minutes ahead of a 45 hour finish. So I ran off to the next check point. It seemed hotter than usual, especially out by the dunes, but again I ran into Stovepipe still 45 minutes ahead of schedule. I noticed I was running a little different since I was favoring my left leg & the blisters on the balls of my feet were proof of that, but I opted not to look at them.

I headed up Townes Pass and was strong till the summit with the help of Scott pacing me. Now started the real problems. The down hills really seemed to aggravate my groin (psoas muscle) so I limped my way down. Near the bottom Chris Frost, a friend from Malibu, passed me & hooked me up with a guy on another team who was a masseuse, He worked on my quads for about 10 minutes & off to Panamint I went. I still was in good shape to buckle. I had some breakfast & headed up Father Crowley’s. Now Ken was back with me & we talked and joked while we were entertained a few times by some of the jets. At about mile 87 Shannon McQueeney & her Mom caught up with us. I knew her dad Scott from the 2000 race & had been in contact with both of them as Shannon battled cancer for the last 6 months. We had so much in common, catheters, chemo, radiation & hair loss. I knew of what she had to go thru first hand. It had just been 17 months since my bone marrow transplant. Shannon came out and ran a mile with me & really pumped me up. So I asked my crew for some wild music for my mini disc player & started to run strong to Darwin. That is where the next major problem showed up. Since I was favoring my left leg my feet blistered worse than usual and because of that I was running on the edges of my shoes which caused my right ankle ligament to hurt or tear. Now at Darwin my goal changed from the buckle to just finishing, I had to finish. My crew wrapped a small bag of ice with a Ace bandage to my ankle and I was off.

We got to the 100 mile mark and Scott rejoined me. I couldn’t believe how bad the smoke from the fires had gotten. Now was the 20 mile, 2nd night, death march to Lone Pine. At 40 hrs. my crew decided I needed to lay down & rest my mind for 30 minutes because that is where my fight was going to come from, my body was spent. This is where I lost all the time, getting to Lone Pine and going up the Portal Road. Coming into Lone Pine I got charged up again, made the left turn and started up. Around 8 miles from the top Shannon & her Mom caught up to me again and Shannon came out and did another mile or so with me. We talked about doing the last mile together. I talked it over with my crew & we all decided to meet 1 mile from the finish. Last year I did that mile alone & reflected on my transplant. But this year I was going to do it with another cancer survivor. My crew continued to give me fresh cold bottles every mile and I worked my way up. What a climb at the end of a 135 mile race. Shannon and I started on the last mile. We rounded the final turn and decided to join hands and finish with arms in the air as cancer survivors. I did it! Number three! I received my medal from Chris Kostman, got congratulations from my crew, friends & Al Arnold, the 1st man to do the course 25 years ago. What a finish!

I think this will be my last Badwater: 3 for 3. Next year I will probably crew for someone, maybe even one of my crew, because it looks like both Ken & Scott might want to run this race. Otherwise I will drive the course & try to help as many people as I can, achieve there dream, and finish this race. I would like to thank my crew who was flawless for the entire 53:20:07. No way I would have finished this year without their constant devotion.

Bad Water Maybe, but a Good Experience, Nonetheless

2003 race official

Joyce and I were at the 6am start of the Badwater Ultramarathon on Tuesday morning, July 22. We had been designated as one of the two medical teams (since Joyce is a registered nurse) to drive the course and assist runners with medical difficulties. Things were quiet until the temperature reached the 130 degree mark. Then, all hell broke loose. Many runners and crew personnel were taken to, or stopped at, Stovepipe Wells (approximately 40 miles) for a dunking in the pool and/or emergency medical assistance. For a while, there, a couple of the hotel rooms looked as though they were MASH units: People stretched out on beds, some with ice-packs and some with IV’s. One crew member was sent to Lone Pine (approximately 122 miles) for immediate treatment (we learned that he took 7 liters of IV).

But, eventually, we were blessed with nightfall and higher elevations as we progressed along the highway with the lead group of runners. We slept about 3-4 hours in Panamint Springs (approximately 70 miles), and then headed back out on the course to offer our services. A runner who led for the first 100 miles required assistance, and Joyce eventually got him up and moving forward. He had to reduce his speed considerably, but he did hold on for a 4th place finish. He just asked too much from his body.

At the Portal to Mt. Whitney (the finish and the 135 mile mark), Pam Reed repeated as the winner in approximately 28.5 hours, followed by the first male runner in about 29 hours. Out of the first 5 finishers, 3 were females. In total, 47 runners finished, from the starting field of 73—a 64% completion rate, and testimony to an effective pre-race, runner-screening / invitation process.

Maybe my hernia surgery which precluded me from competing was a blessing, because the heat on the first day was extreme, even by Death Valley standards. With the humidity in the mid-20’s, it was, all-in-all, a pretty challenging combination. Although I didn’t participate as a runner, I learned a great deal about the course, the pacing needed to finish, the typical medical problems, and the sheer determination that must be brought to the event.

Of course, we came away with many memories, but none more vivid than the management responsibilities of the runner and the crew. Badwater has no aid stations, and all runner support/success comes from runner awareness and the mobile crew. I liken the situation to a multiple-day endurance ride: Everything has to be kept in perspective for an extended period of time. The runner, like the endurance horse, must be physically expended, but, then, readied to keep going.

We had other memories, too. Wednesday evening we exited from our race responsibilities to help a woman with two young kids, whose car had broken down in the middle of the Death Valley National Park. We drove 6 miles back to Panamint Springs and called a Park Ranger for emergency assistance. Then, we returned to the woman, gave her and the kids peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and some chips for dinner. When the Ranger arrived, we left to rejoin the race.

Our most unlikely and unreal memory is of the fighter-jet which buzzed us as we drove along the desert highway. It was as though we were at a baseball stadium and a military jet emerged from the top of the stands in a fly-over. We were driving along and suddenly a fighter-jet was coming right at us, following the highway, just a few hundred feet off the desert floor. The pilot must have been practicing low-level maneuvers. I went into my “earthquake mode,” meaning that I just sort of mentally suspended my reactions, knowing that I was powerless to change the circumstances. It was an unreal situation. But it became real as the plane passed over us and climbed back to altitude. The jet exhaust blasted everything.

Badwater is over for this year, but Pam Reed, the winner, gave the race some nice publicity with her appearance on the David Letterman show Thursday night, July 31st. Letterman could not believe that she did all that for a belt buckle, but what does he know? Aren’t we are all nuts in our own way? I admit that I am, and I’m penciling-in the event on next year’s calendar.

A DNF Story, One Step at a Time

2003 entrant and 2002 finisher

There is stress prior to any big event, especially Badwater. The idea is to keep it to a minimum. However, if you are the husband and crew chief of the runner, as a husband you never have the right answer. As the crew chief prior to the event, you know you are ultimately responsible for everything that happens. As the husband of the runner, your heart aches during their suffering, and as the crew chief you have to deal with people stressing out who don’t realize they’re stressing out (they are in denial). Why? One word, Badwater.

“This is the most stress we’ll ever be under!” states hubby/crewchief. It’s one week before Badwater and 3 weeks before going to China to pick up Sarah Qi Qi, our first child we’ve been expecting for 2+ years. The journey for great running has been 27 years thus far, and the task of creating a family began over 15 years ago, 4 years into our marriage. Believe it or not we’ve been through a hell of a lot worse. So technically I think ‘this is child’s play’. Then we look at each other now calmer and say, “Well it’s just that we’re excited.” Then hubby/crew chief states, “Jody I got to deal with your adrenalin too. You’re bouncing off the walls venting on me.”

I laugh in agreement, “Yeah, sorry hun. I’m just so psyched. But I got it together” I pause as I listen for dinner burning, I hope not as Norm unloads the washer. I continue, “I’m sorry, honey. I’ve cut back so well on mileage this week, I’m just cranking.”

“It’s okay,” he replies. “I’m just letting you know, so if I seem edgy you’ll know why.” In our nearly 22-year relationship we’ve learned to pre-warn. At about 5000 RPM is the pre-warning. We redline like our VW at about 7000-8000 RPM. Norm and I sit down to eat and start to discuss Badwater.

“Call Rudy. He called before,” Norm reminds me.

I respond, “I’ll call him at work tomorrow, my brain just needs a rest.” I know when I call Rudy we’ll be on the phone for at least an hour. Norm is just finishing up the signs for the vans. His back bothers him from leaning forward stenciling 6-inch letters in black. We’re awaiting phone calls from the agency on the China travel meeting, the travel agent for China and our guide. Norm’s double checking Badwater and hotel reservations. He’s finishing up sewing another ice hat and special gloves for me. We get phone calls about the baby, wanting to know where I’m “Baby Registered”, etc… These people don’t care about Badwater because they can’t even run a mile so they can’t relate! In lieu of this, we discuss greed and obesity.

We dream of owning a second home in Death Valley. We love it there. Norm states, “I checked the internet for anything new from Chris and the weather in Death Valley. By the way, double check the runner and crew forms. Did you fill yours out?”

“Yes,” I reply.

Norm continues, “So we got the VISA’s for China. God I hate going into the city. But while I waited I went to the Intrepid and did the tour. The Park and Drive situation was screwed up.”

“Well the Secaucus train derailment messed everything up,” I respond.

“You’re not working a full day Friday?” Norm asks.

“Yes Honey,” I answer, “a full day.”

“Isn’t that a bit much?” he asks.

“Honey, it’s only a 10 hour day. People need me and I’ll have a total 3 weeks off plus a partial week of work after China. Some people I treat are not so accepting of this. If I don’t work, I still have to pay 2 rents ahead on my office, I have payroll, I have monthly tax payments, you know,” I reply.

“Jody, don’t get so stressed. I just thought you took more time off from work for Badwater last year.”

“No, that’s not what I did,” I say. “It’s the same. I’m OK with this. I have 3 days of no bodies before the race. I’ll be fine.” I then say a little prayer that I don’t get anyone too emotionally unstable in my office for the rest of the week.

When I get drained, one thing I’ve learned is to pray for that, to conserve energy. Fortunately or unfortunately, I get so emotionally involved with people at work it drains me. I’m concerned with quality of life for everyone and if anyone knows this about me, better than anyone else it’s Norm. He sees the train coming and lassos me from the tracks before I get clobbered. It’s funny, we even finish each others sentences sometimes. I had an acquaintance point this out to me last year. Meanwhile, Norm is counting batteries, flashlights, etc…”Where’s the GU?”

“Uh, in my bag?! I think,” I respond. “OK, let me dig.” As I unpack, find them and re-pack for the tenth time in a week he continues.

“So how many bottles of Succeed Caps did you pack again?”

I sigh, man I want to veg. “Well, I put 2 _ bottles in the big bag, I have 1 full bottle in my carry on, uh, hmm. What are you thinking?”

“What about the crew?” Norm says.

“I’m paranoid, lets bring another bottle. That’ll be 450 Succeed caps. How’s that?” I ask.

Norm laughs. “Paranoid is good.” During that night we do this gibberish back and forth with a little China and baby thrown in to amuse ourselves. “Honey, I have a 12 hour day tomorrow, it may be reduced by an hour but I really need to be stupid and watch the boob tube for an hour and go to sleep.

The next few days our adrenaline is getting more pumped. Saturday (7/20) we get to Newark Airport. The hour before out flight, Norm asks, “Where’s Gary (one of our new people)?”

“Oh I’m sure he’s here. I bet you he’s eating. Don’t worry Norm, he’ll be here. He’s an ‘on time’ kind of guy,” I assure him.

Last year I was the one paranoid about the crew getting to Death Valley. Last year I was the runner, the setter-upper and the crew chief. I had all the worries last year. That drained me last year. This year was different. Norm set up 95% of the stuff, me 5% and I was really able to focus on being the runner. Just then Gary shows up.

I smile and say “Hey, how you doing? When did you get here?”

“Oh I got here a while ago. I was eating,” Gary answers.

I turn to Norm. “See I told you. Norm got scared, Gary. I told him you were probably eating because you’re always on time for stuff.”

The flight is uneventful. I sleep most of the time. I even slept through breakfast. After we land, the three of us make our way to baggage claim. Norm comments, “We had seven bags last year. It was crazy. I can’t remember what we brought.”

“The chairs, Norm. Remember that?” I remind him.” We found out I preferred the bumber and can’t sit long anyway, my back hates sitting. Oh yea, we had a porta-pottie with us. I couldn’t sit in that position. It burned my butt and legs too.”

“Oh yeah,” Norm says. Meanwhile Gary’s probably wondering, ‘What the hell did I just get myself into?’ We get to the baggage claim area and Gary’s brother Tom is there to take him golfing. Norm and I will be traveling to Stovepipe from LV alone and we’ll meet Gary, Al and Carol on Sunday at Stovepipe Wells. After we depart Norm marvels, “Only four bags, Jody. That’s so amazing.” I agree. Norm and I pick up our rental van and go off food shopping.

I’m obsessing. “Seedless Watermelon, we have to get it in Las Vegas, not Pahrump. If we wait till then and they don’t even have watermelon. Well you know how it works.”

“Jody, whatever makes you comfortable,” Norm says. The lady at the car rental is interested in watching the race and tells us where we can get seedless watermelon. As I write out the Badwater website, I can’t stop seeing watermelons. I write “www.badwatermelon.com” Then Norman corrects me, we laugh, I write “www.badwaterultra.com”. I say to the car rental lady as I hand her the website, “Thank God I didn’t write peanut butter and jelly instead.” We laugh. Some day I’ll have to tell you guys about my obsession of my doing a “Cliff Claven” from Cheers impersonation at work, making everyone laugh for a week until a guy named Cliff came in and I called him Cliff Claven in front of him after I treated him. It was an accident I was having my secretary fill out his bill in front of his.. Talk about embarrassment.

After food shopping and lunch we drive into Pahrump, it begins to pour. Yup, you heard me, pour. Like as in rain real heavy. I get a bit perturbed, “Norm, Badwater better be hot. Because if it’s not, it’s not Badwater. It’s just not the same.”

Norm replies, “Don’t worry Jody, it’ll be 130 degrees on race day.”

I reply, “Okay, I’m just checking.”

I notice the temps seem cool at 94 degrees. Anyone else not understanding the essence of the Badwater race could not appreciate my comments. It’s comparative to Crocodile Dundee’s comments, “That’s not a knife.” As he pulls out a machete, “This is a knife.” And the muggers run away.

Before we know it, there’s flash flooding as we drive to Stovepipe Wells. Norm has to drive through about 5 major flash floods. I squirm as he drives. I remind him I need to go train in Badwater by about 5pm for a few miles. After we check-in at Stovepipe Wells, we get our running and hydration items together and drive towards Badwater. At about Artist’s Entry on the left, there’s a roadblock; a flood is coming. We are warned by the Park Rangers we might not be able to pass back through again. We figure we’ll take a chance. We continue to Badwater start line. Norm will leap frog me every _ mile. I need splits. I’m imitating the first 3.1 miles of the race; this is to get into the right frame of mind. I’ll do this again Sunday morning too. We get done 30 seconds sooner than I planned. “Norm, I have to do this slower tomorrow and Tuesday by 30 seconds or I’ll be dead in the water.” We drive back to Stovepipe Wells making it through the flooded road we were warned about. At dinner that night, one of the waiters we’ve become familiar with, Andrew states “ There’s no traffic allowed through Townes Pass, there’s flooding. I don’t know if your race will take place.” I state, “The race is Tuesday. It’ll be okay.”

Upon waking Sunday, I stretch as Norm buys ice. Norm drives me to Badwater. I do my little run like last night, only this time only 3 seconds slower than I plan on Tuesday. Now I feel comfortable. I have a sense of pace back in my legs. After that I have 3 bowls of cereal, 70 ounces of water, gatorade, and a banana. I rest, I take a 2 hour nap. Before we know it, the rest of the crew arrives. Gary accompanied Al and Carol from Las Vegas to Stovepipe in our second van.

The plan: have everyone rest for a bit, go to dinner in Panamint and tomorrow show the crew the rest of the course from Stovepipe to Whitney Portal before the check-in and meeting in Furnace Creek. Monday we awoke at 5:45am. I stretch, have tea, and eat and rest. Norm takes the crew and drives over the course. I get out to run at 6:30am. I jog for a minute and then I hear a familiar voice. It’s Rudy, strolling, coffee in hand, sandals on, “You’re crazy, man!”

I smile, stopping my watch. “Rudy! Hey, I called you this week, left a message. You want to do a two mile jog?”

Rudy gives me a hug. “Nah.”

“You sure?” I egg him on. “C’mon. It’s only 2 miles. I’ll share my water with ya. Huh?”

He smiles and shakes his head no I continue on. My crew leaves for their tour. I have gatorade, water, fruit, and 4 bowls of cereal and fall asleep for 2 hours. Before I know it, Norm and crew are back. We drive to Furnace Creek, except for Gary, he left something at his brother’s Gary has to meet his brother in Pahrump. He gets back just after everything is over. We get back to Stovepipe Wells for preparing ice chests and then dinner.

Before dinner, we decide we want a couple of group pictures. We coax a guy we see by his car in front of the Road Runner section of Stovepipe to take our picture. Somehow, he knows we’re here for the Badwater Race. After he takes our picture, he makes a not-so-thought-out statement in his foreign accent, “You must all have big egos.” We all shake our heads, laugh, and say “Yeah, right.”

He leaves, Al makes believe he’s talking back to the guy and says, “Oh yeah. We have a third crew vehicle bringing our balls in.” Now we can’t stop laughing. The comments fly.

During dinner at Stovepipe Wells, we start discussing foods to eat to gross other runners out. I suggest the pink hostess twinkie snowballs. Or cheesecake with tuna fish. Then Gary says, “we need a team sign.” Meanwhile, Al and Carol are yelling “Where’s my soup? What took you so long. It’s a 15-minute drive. You were gone 3 hours.” During this, I make Nick’s hand gestures of a woman who’s top heavy.

“That’s the sign,” Gary states. We ROAR. Then I say, we have to say “Pink snowballs” when we do the Nick Palazzo sign. All of us have the sign down pat now. So after this during the entire dinner, we’re doing the Nick Palazzo gesture.

Before we know it, its Tuesday morning Race Day. Norm sees cloud cover near Badwater. In my mind, I know it will soon abate. You just have to face the music when you’re in Badwater. As my husband says, “Nothing personal, it’s just Badwater.” I eat PBJ, a banana, take in water, Gatorade, and a Succeed Cap as we drive to the start. I have the 10am start. Before I get out of the van to go to the bathroom in Badwater, I put on an ice cap. I’ll not take any chances. I had the runs a bit, but shook them off. It was only positive thinking. I would tolerate. Major Maples knocks on my van window and gives me some good news. Saddam Hussein’s sons Ebay and Yahoo are dead. This gives me extra energy. I’m really pumped now. I thank him for such motivating news. I drink more, then go take pictures with him.

Before we know they play the Anthem and we’re off and racing. My stomach feels crampy, I figure adrenaline. I look at my watch at Telescope Peak and realize it’s 11 seconds too fast per mile back off by 30 seconds. My stomach gets worse. By 3 miles, my legs are dead. My arms get shaky. Norm hands me a new ice hat. The string in the front gets tangled. I yell to get me another one and toss the one just made. Too much ice in the cap, I let them know. About 1/4 mile later, Juan Olivera, one of Rudy’s crew, is holding an ice hat similar to one of mine.

“Is this mine?” I say, confused.

“No,” Juan says. Then I realize, what am I thinking? At 3.5 miles I feel worse. At 5.5, I’m by the van. My stomach is so bad I just want to curl up in a ball. My arms are shaking, my legs have been wobbly for a good 2 miles. I think it’s a sugar problem. Norm massages my stomach, I eat more, I get worse. By 11 miles, I’m in the van. I feel sick. We call the medic, then we stake me at 11 miles and drive to Furnace Creek to get my blood sugar checked. After putting ice on and popsicles 45 minutes later. I see Dr. Lisa Stranc. She takes my temperature; it’s 104.3 degrees. I know it was not initially the heat. I take a 2+ hour break. I get back to the stake at 11 miles at 2:30pm. I begin to walk like Lisa advised. My stomach still hurts, but the rest of me seems fine. By Furnace Creek, I have hope. Whatever it was must be gone now. I’ll run soon, I figure. I don’t start running until 30 miles. I walk with Major Maples for quite some time before then. We have a good talk. By 38 miles, I start to feel like a runner.

It’s dark out by Stovepipe Wells, I find out many have dropped, including Rudy. During this, I realize it was food poisoning. The oil I poured on my spaghetti Monday did taste slightly rancid, but I was hungry and had not a care in the world. But I figure I’m over it. I’ve had food poisoning before 4+ years ago and ended up in the hospital for 6 hours to get IVs in. Perhaps the reason why it didn’t put me completely down is that I was well-rested and hydrated. Last time, I was overworked and overtrained. I’ve ran and worked through worse. It’s all what you’re used to. Or willing to go through, sometimes. I was terrificly motivated when I arrived at Stovepipe Wells. I gulped my Gpush and began my favorite part of the run, up to Townes Pass and then that beautiful downhill to Panamint. After I got past Wild Rose, I’d passed several racers. My body, for some reason, wanted to slow down. I couldn’t for the life of me think why. By Townes Pass my body hated me for walking. Actually, my back is not designed for walking. Norman and Al were buzzing around trying to get ice.

21+ hours had passed. I sat just before Townes Pass on the roadside. My back was screaming, I felt my posterior legs warning me not to run down the hill without Norm massaging me. Gary and Carol crewed and waited with me. I waited 12 minutes. Al and Norm showed. They got the last bags of ice between Furnace Creek and Lone Pine. Norm sent Carol and Gary for rest in Panamint. 15 minutes into Norm working on me, a friend showed up; Rae Clark. He stopped by to see how I was doing. He basically told me to be smart. He knew I was not racing well. Nothing was worth injury or death. Up until this point, both of our adapters in our vans weren’t working for our phones, mashed potatoes and the like. The air conditioning, primarily in the white van, would only work if you drove it 10 or more miles, which only was done 2 hours of the race so far. I felt bad for the crew. I expected discomfort, all this stomach delay was not good for the crew, it adds more stress. At about 30 miles, our battery went dead in the white van and we were SOL for 10 mins. Major Maples and his crew were with us, however, no jumper cables. Just in the nick of time, the Race Medic car drove up to check on us. We’d seen him most of the first 50+ miles. Nice guy. Well, he jump-started us. Thank God.

Soon after a 20-minute sport massage, I was running like my old self, hauling butt down towards Trona Lane and Panamint Springs. It was still mostly cloudy at this point. However, at that point, I started to burn up more. My stomach rumbled. I ignored it until I had about 4-5 miles until Panamint Springs. Then, the sun burst out. I put on my white shirt, sunglasses, and ice cap. I knew I maintained a fever since I began running at 11 miles. I had been sweating profusely since about 14 hours into this thing and now, just as I’d run downhill, I’d drink 10 ounces every 15 minutes. Sweat was pouring off my hands and my stomach was still cramping and bloated. It never cleared up. My legs began the wobble before the sun even came out again. I felt weaker still. This time my brain just pulled me forward. And when the sun came out, I kept thinking ‘get air-conditioned’ just for a little bit at Panamint. I prayed one of our cans had A/C. I had Al radio ahead, yes they had A/C in Gary and Carol’s van.

With 3 miles to go, I lost mental focus. I could see I knew what I wanted. Norm walked to my left. One thing I know if I notice pain; then my brain is shot. I can usually associate into pain if my brain is functioning even 50%. It was not. I remember it was an effort to speak because I needed to focus on placing my feet on the ground. I knew if I wobbled it was over. The brain can only think of 3 things at once when on optimum capacity. I could think of one at best. I didn’t know what a mile was anymore. I’m a numbers person. Jokingly, some call me “Rainman.” My husband calls “The Good Little German.” I began to notice the pain that it normally would be considered a mere annoyance. Now it was on my mind. I knew not to scold it. I always tell myself, ‘You won’t die of pain. Pain doesn’t kill.’ Because if it did, many of us who do ultras would be dead. You can heed pain and still enjoy life. But don’t fear it, or it will take away your freedom. I dragged myself to sunny Panamint Springs Resort, and focused now only on the van.

I can’t remember if I said anything. I don’t remember getting into the van. I remember having ice on me and eating mashed potatoes. I spoke with Dr. Lisa Stranc. Norm and I were worried about another runner. She told me she was going to check on him. I was relieved. Then I fell asleep 4-5 times and had nightmares. Then fell asleep for about an hour. And when I woke up, I felt 5 times worse. I couldn’t think. Norm asked me a question. I was slow to respond. He suggested we cross the parking to the hospitality runners’ suite.

“How about 4-5 hours of more rest?” I asked. I didn’t want anymore sun, that was my initial reaction. About 20-25 minutes after that I DNF’d. I felt worse than at 11 miles. But it was like I didn’t really know how I felt. I usually can describe stuff but this time for some reason I just couldn’t. It was like I forgot how to. That’s what bothered me.

Hall of Fame: Jay Birmingham

In 2003, Jay Birmingham, the second man to ever run from Badwater to Mt. Whitney, breaking Al Arnold’s record in the process in 1981, was inducted.

His plaque reads:
Jay Birmingham is proudly inducted into the Badwater Hall of Fame
for making it a race in 1981 and again in 2003.

To download and read Jay’s book, “The Longest Hill,” about his 1981 run from Badwater Basin to Mt. Whitney, click here.

Read all our Jay Birmingham posts and stories on this website by clicking here.

Rookie to Veteran, Ultraladies’ Style

More Ultra, Less Lady

2003 official finisher

There is nothing “lady-like” about ultra-running, my personal motto being “I don’t do it for the glory… I do it for the gory”! Ultra-running has often been compared to childbirth in the sense that with both, you surrender to the forces of nature, and in the process toss aside your modesty. With this thought, I wanted my Badwater (BW) crew to be made up of UltraLadies Sandy Gitmed, Saundra Whitehead, Michele Vela, and Wendy Young (I believe in midwives over obstetricians), plus my darling Larry Dervin (who was never in the delivery room with me), and my daughter Heather Shura (who was in the delivery room with me, but doesn’t remember). A late arrival to our crew was Mike Stephens, an accomplished 100-mile runner and emergency room nurse, who should be able to handle the “gory”!

On the morning of the “big day”, Heather said something to calm my nerves, “Mommy, it’s scary!” Being Mommy, I consoled her, “Don’t think of it as 135-miles… just break it into little goals… we’re just going to Furnace Creek and then to Scotty’s Castle turnoff… then Stovepipe Wells.” I suddenly felt in control and ready to go!

So here is my BW story, goal-by-goal:

Training: The first goal was to balance training for a high-profile race such as BW, while maintaining work commitments, family relationships, UltraLadies’ training, and my responsibilities as race director for the Valley Crest Half Marathon held in June. Fortunately, no one area suffered too much: The Valley Crest race was a huge success; the UltraLadies are training on schedule; I am still employed at USC and most important, my family and friends still speak to me! Because of time constraints, the theme for my BW training was “moderation”. I always kept my total weekly mileage below 75, with no run exceeding 35- miles.

Heat Training: I did a significant amount of heat training. About 8-weeks before BW I began driving home from work each afternoon with the windows rolled up and the heater blasting through the AC vents. I also spent 45-minute sessions in a 180-degree sauna, several days each week. The dilute salt concentration of my sweat was quite noticeable after just a couple of weeks. I believe in simulating race conditions so I went to both official training weekends in Death Valley (DV), plus my crew and I went to DV two additional weekends during June. I would typically start my desert runs at 10:00 or 11:00 AM, to benefit from the maximum high temperatures. Once, when the temperature only reached 108, I jogged through DV wearing my black, long-sleeve, fleece over-shirt. What I sight I was! The hours I spent training in DV were invaluable in helping me to work through problems I would expect during the race. On some of the runs I experienced prostration, headache, vomiting, and one particular time I developed debilitating heat cramps of the skeletal muscles of my limbs and torso. Needless-to-say, I left the course that day and went straight to bed! My heat training mantra became “the more I suffer now, the less I’ll suffer later”. Fortunately, all of my heat-related problems were left back at the training runs. My crew and I had learned the fine balance between pace, cooling, hydration, electrolytes and calories… another goal accomplished.

Pre-Race Jitters: I needed to keep my psyche relaxed so as not to use up unnecessary energy. By the time I made my last drive to DV, I knew that I had done everything possible to be ready. Humor really helps me relax, so my crew and I marched into the pre-race meeting wearing “UltraLadies… More Ultra… Less Lady” yellow t-shirts and of course I wore my big nose glasses, which have been with me through all my 100-milers! Even though one finds her self at the premier ultra event in the world… it pays not to take oneself too seriously!

Middle of the Pack: I was starting in the 8:00 AM group… middle of the pack… hopefully I would finish near there! I liked the fact that I could sleep until a normal time, eat breakfast, etc. I will admit to feeling a few butterflies on the drive out to BW but before long I was standing on the runner’s side of the start banner, some photos, a few deep breaths, and I was off, with nothing to think about except getting to Furnace Creek in good condition.

BW to Furnace Creek (miles 0-17): The first stage of the race was my settling in period, getting my body working in the 100-plus degree heat, adjusting to my liquid diet of multi-flavored Gatorades, Chocolate Slim-Fast and Club Soda. Over the next 52-hours, I would consume nearly 1-bottle per hour of each of these three beverages. My crew (Larry, Heather and Mike) settled into spraying me, replacing iced bandanas, and monitoring my pee, while doing the same for themselves to keep in good condition for me. By 10:00 AM the temperature had risen to 119 degrees. We reached Furnace Creek at 12:45 PM, a few minutes after being passed by the eventual winner of the race, Pam Reed. A short rest in the shade and we were off to pursue our next goal… Scotty’s Castle turnoff.

Furnace Creek to Scotty’s Castle Turn Off (miles 17-35): Here the heat really fired up. Several reports had the temperatures peaking at over 130. Some leg cramping at mile 28 cautioned us to increase my sodium and potassium, which corrected the problem. At 5:00 PM, mile 29, we changed crews and on came Wendy, Saundra, and Michele. Admittedly, this stressed me a little as it altered the routine during a time when I was feeling tired, sore, and vulnerable, but I stayed deep into my techno music and before long the new crew had it all together. Although I managed to avoid blisters on the training runs, it was here that I began to feel them forming on both heels and pinky toes, so I changed into my Asic DS Trainers and did some major insole trimming to get me to Stovepipe Wells. I wanted any “down time” fixing my feet to coincidentally occur in an air-conditioned room! The liquid diet was holding me along with saltine crackers and continuously nursing my re-hydration salt solution. The turn at Scotty’s Castle was eventful in that I knew that I only had about 7-miles remaining to get to Stovepipe Wells… 7 long miles!

Scotty’s Castle Turn-Off to Stovepipe Wells (miles 35-42): During this section my crew suspected that I needed more calories and began to feed me little squares of PB&J sandwich. I had minimal pacing before mile 35, as I was content to stay in my techno zone and wanted to keep my crews as fresh as possible during the heat. My friend Greg Minter stopped by to pace a little on the way to Stovepipe. A light show was visible in the northwest sky and the hot wind blew so hard at times that Greg had to hold onto my shirt to keep me on the road. Coming into Stovepipe was a great feeling. I just wanted a cool shower and to get my feet fixed.

Stovepipe Wells to Townes Pass Summit (miles 42-59): At Stovepipe, we spent 90-minutes to shower, repair blisters, and drink chicken broth. Mike, in his first ever attempt at blister treatment/taping, did a mean job! It was well worth the time spent, as we did not need to tend to blisters again during the remaining 93-miles! Marching up the lower half of Townes Pass was a grind. The air was hot and the sets of red eyes ahead of me seemed to be ascending straight up, as though on an escalator. Around 1:20 AM, I felt groggy and was allowed a 15-minute nap in the front seat of the van. At 2:00 AM another crew change occurred and I was back with Larry, Heather and Mike. As Larry paced me up the mountain, it began to sprinkle, and we enjoyed the cool 88-degrees and a magnificent blanket of stars. At 6:30 AM (55 miles) I took a 30-minute nap on the ground. This would be the last time I would sleep for the remainder of the race. I reached the summit at 7:57 AM, 24-hours into the race. Another goal accomplished!

Townes Pass Summit to Panamint Springs (mile 59-72): I was warned that this would be a long stretch so I took it slow, covering the 13-miles in just under six hours. I wanted to run some of the downhills but my blisters prevented it. During this time I was visited by a couple of dropped runners. Norm Haines met me just as I began the descent into Panamint. Ben Jones drove slowly past, leaning out of his window to talk. The appearance of these disappointed athletes increased my caution, causing me to slow down, probably more than I should have. I mentally envisioned all of us as little ducks in the shooting gallery, moving along the white line… oops, down goes another one! The break at Panamint was longer than expected partly because it was timed with a crew change and partly because of the air-conditioned trailer but by 1:45 PM we were moving up the second mountain!


Panamint to Father Crowley’s Point (mile 71-80):
The first few miles leaving Panamint were uncomfortably hot, but I began to rally as the temperature cooled. Michele, Saundra and Wendy got me up the mountain, each one pacing me in two-mile stretches. At Father Crowley’s Point I took a short break in the van, did some creative shoe cutting, and had my dead feet rubbed back to life, something that would be repeated often in the hours to follow. It was probably here that I transitioned into my “robot mode” and began my “Lamaze breathing” and stopped asking stupid questions like “Where am I?” or “Didn’t I just take a salt tablet?” At 4:26 PM, I passed into new territory, where every minute spent on my feet was a new personal record.

Father Crowley’s Point to Darwin turnoff (mile 80-90): The 10-mile stretch to Darwin turn-off was exciting for me. Darwin was a major hurdle, because it was the beginning of some long down hills and was also the beginning of the second night. The dark clouds ahead brought lightening, headwinds and rain blowing in my face. My pacer Wendy and I wondered out loud if the trekking poles I was using would attract the lightening, but an even greater concern were the cars speeding by on the wet pavement. A bright spot here were visits from Rick Nawrocki and Denise Jones, who both smiled from ear-to-ear for me! Darkness fell early and we put on our reflectors and lights. We left the Darwin checkpoint at 8:05 PM, after checking on my friend Louise’s progress earlier in the day… a little before 11:00 AM… WOW, I was so excited for her!!! I think this great feeling led to renewed energy for me in the miles ahead.

Darwin turnoff to Second Sunrise (mile 90-117): This was a great part of the race for me. The girls added Hammer Gel and Coke to my diet, a couple of caffeine pills, and I was good to go! I felt cooler and quite refreshed on the down hill sections. My legs felt good enough to run but my feet felt like hell. I had intense foot throbbing that was temporarily relieved by really vigorous foot scratching/rubbing, which I think got the blood to circulating. I bargained with my crew that I would run on the down hills in exchange for 5-minute foot rubs, to be performed every three miles. My feet would feel quite good for a mile and a half after each massage. We covered miles 90-110 in about 6-hours, passing several runners/crews along the way. 2:00 AM was another crew change and seeing Larry and Heather again was a big boost to me. As Larry and I walked quietly together in the pre-dawn darkness, I finally began to allow myself to think about the finish line just 20-miles away.

Sunrise to Lone Pine Checkpoint (mile 117-122): The long march into Lone Pine was rewarded with a short rest in the lounge chair and a nibble on McDonald’s scrambled eggs, and of course… another foot scratching!!! Mike had to leave for work so we hugged good-bye. Some of Louise’s crew came over to say hello and knowing that Louise finished the race about 12-hours earlier I commented, “Aren’t you glad you didn’t crew for me?”! Only the final goal remained… the climb up Whitney Portal Road to the finish!

Lone Pine Checkpoint to Mt. Whitney Portal (mile 122-134.9): I had 12-hours in the bank to complete the 13-mile climb… no sweat! But for the first time in the race, I nearly lost it in those early uphill miles. I felt incredibly hot, sweaty, dizzy and sleepy. My heart pounded with every step. Larry asked me to pick up the pace after I had just completed a 40-minute mile. I was trying to calculate the exact mileage versus time in my head, but all I could compute was that I had fewer miles remaining than fingers on my hands, and I was not going to throw it all in the toilet! With Larry, Saundra, Heather and Michele pacing 1-mile intervals, we picked up the pace. With about 4 miles remaining, I saw a familiar face, Craig Chambers, by the side of the road and asked him to jump in. Craig took me the rest of the way up the mountain, giving my crew a much-needed rest. Craig was telling me that I was moving strong, and that the last mile would be wonderful. Craig’s smile in the photos more than makes up for the lack of mine. The portal road climb was the toughest part of the race for me. I moaned and groaned with each step. After more than 50-hours of creeping along this “comfortable road”, changing clothes, peeing, and pooping in public view, every ounce of modesty was gone. I had morphed into some kind of wild animal grunting up the mountain, which is how I must have sounded. I had such a feeling of urgency knowing I would make it, but at the same time, fearing I wouldn’t. My wonderful crew kept appearing around each turn, smiling at me and just like women about to give birth, I wondered out loud “What the hell is everybody smiling about?”

The Finish Line (mile 135): Just as more rain began to fall, my team of yellow shirts came out to greet me. Larry, Heather, Sandy, Michele, Wendy, Saundra, Mike (actually dummy-Mike filling in for the real Mike), Craig and I all crossed the finish line together. To run 100-miles, meeting your crew here and there, is one thing, but to complete this incredible journey, where your accomplishment and perhaps your very life, is in the hands of your entire crew, is quite another thing. And just as each mile was shared, so the finish should be!

Post Badwater: Three weeks later I am feeling wonderful and back to running. I attribute my physical condition to the special care given to me by my exceptional crew. Words cannot express the gratitude and love I feel for them: My beloved Larry Dervin, who believes in me more than I believe in myself; My daughter Heather Shura, who totally gave herself over to helping me (even though she herself has yet to become a runner); My selfless friend Sandy Gitmed, who was the backbone of our crew, performing all the ice runs, hotel arrangements and shuttling and feeding the crew; My special UltraLadies’ friends Wendy Young, Saundra Whitehead, Michele Vela and Mike Stephens (UltraLadies’Man), who spent time away from work and family to be a part of this amazing venture. I thank you all, and I hope to return the favor some day!

Starry-Eyed Surprise
Lyrics by Paul Oakenfold

(BW memory walking up Townes Pass under a blanket of stars with a lightening show)

Oooh La La
I see stars
I’m seeing stars…

Like the record spins on the trails we blaze
The walls are closing in but that’s okay.
‘Cause I’ve been waiting all week to feel this way
And it feels so good, so good.
I’m on top of the world, the coolest kid in the neighborhood.
So let me be your star for one night, that’s right.
Sweatbox, laser beams, flashing lights.
You’ve got to feel the rush, feel the spice of life.
Love life, shifty rolls the dice, snake eyes surprise.
Iceing… Mesmerizing. The minds are sick ones.
‘Cause what we are, is victims of fun.
Come on, come on, the fun is just begun;
Come on the fun is just begun.

Oh my, starry-eyed surprise
Sundown to sunrise, I dance all night.
We’re gonna dance all night,
Dance all night to this DJ.

Badwater: My 4 and 1/2 Minutes of Fame

2003 official finisher 

lockton01 lockton02 lockton03 lockton04

Hello, friends. Here’s my Badwater report – finally. Let me tell you how this is organized, so you can skip the bits you don’t want to read. A lot of people getting this are athletes, so I’ll be going into the numbers and training methods, etc. that I would want to read about if I were reading someone else’s account. You’ll see headers for each section. If you’re not a runner, the Numbers section might not be of any interest to you, for example.

Television

You can skip this entirely and just watch the TV coverage. Linda Alvarez, a local reporter for CBS has a show called “Special Assignment” and was putting one together on extreme endurance athletes. I don’t know if that’s what it will be listed as in your TV Guide, but that’s the way they referred to it internally. They met me somehow, and followed me around during much of my training and then again at the race. The segment I am in will probably be a piece on the race with some footage of me, but it should give you a good overview of what it was like. They told me they were so thrilled with the footage that they devoted an extra 2 minutes to it, a lot on a 22-minute (not counting commercials) show.

It will air Sunday, August 3rd at 6:30 P.M. in LA, and is syndicated around the country, so it may be a different date and time in your area. Check your local listings. After the initial airing, it will be posted at www.cbs2.com , so you can still see it later on.

The Report

Badwater is over and done with, and I’ve had a week to try to put it all together. I’ve been having difficulty. There’s too much to say, and there’s too little to say. In reality, all I did was run, drink, go to the bathroom, and finish. My crewmembers have all the stories to tell, not me. (They were great, and a ton of fun. Because there are no bathrooms out there in the middle of the desert, one of them coined the phrase, “The world is my toilet”. I swear it was funny at the time. It was amazing how many sentences he was able to squeeze it into. They also wanted to make up t-shirts for themselves that say, “The Lockton Crew: Only Slightly Less Crazy!”)

I’m also having trouble coming to grips with the fact that I did so well. By my own definitions, I’ve always been athletic, but never an athlete. I refer to my performances in events as “my usual, slightly-better-than-average mediocre results.” That my goofing around performance at the 24-HR run I used to qualify to apply to Badwater was ranked the 25th best performance in the country last year (male) seemed to be a fluke.

I ran Badwater with expectations of my usual results, just hoping to earn the belt buckle by breaking 48 hours, having a secret desire to break 45. Imagine my surprise when I broke 40 hours, with a time of 39:39:32! Then, the next day, I found out that brought me in 10th overall, the 6th male finisher. I’m still kind of in shock. You have to realize who I was competing against, and how much of a chance the Race Director was making in extending me an invitation. To quote Luis Escobar, the 7th place finisher, on his website: “These runners are big time, hard ass, no nonsense kind of people. The extreme of the extreme. Each one has an impressive bio and a list of credentials a mile long. These people mean business. It was more than a little intimidating to line up with runners of this fine caliber. Everyone at Badwater is good.” Out of all the qualified applicants, RD (and LATC member) Chris Kostman handpicked the entrants. Luis’s estimation of the quality of other entrants really did not apply to me because I had no track record to speak of. Of the American men, I had the 2nd best 24-HR performance last year, but many had better performances in years past. (Scott Ludwig, the one who beat me last year, also beat me at Badwater, finishing 3hr7min ahead of me, taking 6th overall and 3rd man. He had the 4th best 24-hr performance in the country last year, and I felt honored to run part of the race with him.)

During the race, I couldn’t figure out where all the fast runners were. Only a few passed me, and I kept wondering where all the famous names behind me were. Now I realize that the reason they didn’t pass me was that I was beating them. This is causing severe distress to my self-image! It’s being forced to recreate itself.

The Conditions

As you know by now, the race was 135 miles long, goes over 2 mountain ranges before it reaches Mt. Whitney for a total vertical rise of 13,400 (It also has descents of close to 7,000 ft – tough on the quads!), and goes through Death Valley in the heat of the day at the end of July. It has the reputation of being the most grueling ultramarathon on the planet. This year there was a lot of debate about exactly how hot it got. The consensus seems to be 130, although many people told me they got higher readings, all the way up to 135! The humidity, typically around 4-6%, was in the 15-18% range, which was even more of a factor since every increase in humidity makes you feel the heat even more. I was blown away last year by its 125 degrees and 6% humidity. This year was epic! Several veterans told me it was the most extreme they ever experienced.

The Training

The only way I could figure to train for the race was to make my workouts so much more grueling than anything I would expect to experience at the race that the race would seem easy in comparison: the Train Hard, Race Easy formula. It worked. For the athletes reading this, a typical weekend towards the end would be to run 18-miles of hard hills on Saturday, then on Sunday morning, take those aching quads on a 55-mile bike ride that had some significant hills in them and try to hold on to the wheel of the leader as long as I could (impossible for me even when I’m fresh), and then after the ride, go run another 20 miles of hills. One of those routes was 10 miles straight up at an incline steeper than anything at Badwater but the finish, and 10 miles back down. I hurt more any Sunday night than I did during the race, but taught myself how to continue on, and in fact do surges, when my body was already beat. For heat training, I went out to Death Valley over both Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends, and after the latter, came back and trained in the sauna for 12 days. That was the worst! I’d go in for 90 minutes, keep it around 165-170 degrees, and eventually worked up to doing a 5 + 5: 5 minutes rest followed by 5 minutes doing anything to get my heart pumping hard: pushing off the walls, modified pushups off the bench, jumping jacks, running in place, etc. As a consequence, although I was clearly aware that it was hot during the race, I was surprised to find out it was hotter than anything I had ever experienced out there. The training worked.

PreRace

People kept asking me if I was scared, nervous, or anything. I wasn’t. It seemed perfectly natural that I was about to do this thing, and there was no sense of trepidation at all. I was aware of the fact that people tend to drop like flies, but there’s no use anticipating some Act of God coming along to wipe you out, and I had done the work. I felt strong and confident, with only a slight concern that I had tapered too long. I hadn’t. It takes at least 2 and maybe 3 weeks for your body to recover from the kind of damage my training had done while strengthening me.

The Race

In many respects, this is the most boring part in that there really isn’t much to report. I ran it as a fun run, and I think that is confirmed by the facts that I stopped at mile 41 to jump in the pool at Furnace Creek, and then took a 2 hour break (1 _ hour nap) at Panamint Springs (mile 72). That was my only down time. Other than that, I did have a fun run. I ran within myself, met a lot of really nice and interesting people along the way (mostly as I passed them). I had stomach problems once, but that cleared up quickly. I ended up taking no solid food whatsoever, getting my calories from Accelerade and Slim Fast, which for some reason went down (and stayed down) really easily. Sure, I got tired, and every time my crew would work on me (feet, legs, etc.) I’d lay back and close my eyes until they were done. Fortunately/unfortunately, that only lasted about 5 minutes each time. There was one point where I thought I’d have to stop running. Starting up after a walk break, I got a sharp shooting pain in my left calf that stopped me cold. Trying it again after a couple of paces, that shooting pain went across the back of my knee. At that point, I could have walked the rest of the way in and still earned the buckle, so it wasn’t the end of the world, but I wanted to run and I think we spent close to 45-minutes working on it. This happened shortly before the Darwin Checkpoint, which is why if you look at the charts you see that a lot of people who I led into Panamint checked into Darwin ahead of me. It took a hour or so for my leg to let me get back up to my regular pace, at which point I was able to catch almost all of them.

The Numbers

1st leg from Badwater to Furnace Creek: 23rd fastest out of 73 runners, 23rd overall, covering the 17.4 miles at an 11:19 pace.

2nd leg from Furnace Creek to Stove Pipe Wells: 10th fastest of 58 runners still in the race, which moved me up to 10th place. This was the hottest stretch and my time slowed to14:18 for the 24.5 mile leg, 13:10 overall. Note that 15 competitors had already dropped out.

3rd leg from SPW to Panamint: 12th fastest of 50 runners still in (lost 8 more), which dropped me to 11th place. 20:18 pace for the 31-mile leg and 16:06 pace overall. This time includes an hour stop at SPW for a swim and an ice bath, then an 18-mile hill that climbed 5,000 ft; subtract the hour off, and I ran it much faster.

4th leg from Panamint to Darwin: 29th fastest of 47 runners still in (3 more dropped), dropping me to 18th place. A 25:34 pace for the 18-mile leg, and a 17:58 overall. The time for this 18-mile leg included both the 2-hour stop at Panamint (1 _ hours of sleep in there) and the time working on my cramp. It was also mostly all uphill.

5th leg from Darwin to Lone Pine through the Owens Valley: 10th fastest of 46 runners still in (the final person dropped), moving me up to 13th place. Even though I had to start slowly for the first hour because of the cramp, I averaged 16:26 for the 32-mile leg, for an overall pace of 17:34.

Final leg from Lone Pine to the Whitney Portals: 7th fastest of the 46 runners still in, moving me up to 10th place overall. This mountain just continually gets steeper the further you go. I burned out my pacer and had to have him relieved. I did this 13-mile leg at an 18:13 pace, for a final overall average pace of 17:37.

Then, the next day, 3 of us climbed Mt Whitney, for another 22 miles. At the top, the clouds rolled in, it hailed on us, and the thunder and lightening off in the distance started coming closer, so we ran most of the way back down.

After the Race: I was very lucky. I had no blisters to speak of, except for a very tiny one my crew insisted needed fixing. I think they were just bored and needed something to do. I will probably lose 2 toenails from the run and another for sure from Whitney, but as many of you know, that is a fairly common occurrence even in marathons. Not a big deal. I don’t feel like running much, but I have led pace groups for Nike’s Club Run LA for the past two nights without difficulty, and it hasn’t been a week from the end of the race. I’m losing more weight after the race than I did during, where it didn’t really change much. My body fat dropped 3 percentage points from the day I left for the race to the day I returned. Interestingly, it makes me look fatter. Go figure! Because everywhere else is slimmer, the deposits that remain actually stand out more than they did when their appearance was smoothed by the presence of more body fat around them. I’m going to cool it for a while, mostly biking and swimming for the first month before I gear up to start training again.

The Future: Would I do it again? Absolutely! I could have completed this one faster by shortening the breaks. Will I do it next year? We’ll have to see. My business partners are very glad it’s over; they were feeling neglected because of all the attention I had to put on preparing for the race, and were concerned it was eating into my productivity. They are right; there is no doubt that it was. This kind of training can be destructive to relationships in general, something all you Ironman competitors know about. I have a few bridges to mend (you know who you are), if it’s still possible.

Death Valley is incredibly beautiful. While running through it, I kept being struck by the utter tenaciousness of Life. No matter how extreme the conditions, no matter how apparently barren the surroundings, if you looked closely you saw Life teeming everywhere. It was truly magnificent.

My crew people were brilliant. They were all rookies out there, but I had taken 3 of them with me over the Fourth of July Heat Training clinic. They became a good crew there. At the race, they became a great crew. I fell in love with every single one of them, and their devotion to getting me through this event was nothing short of humbling. One of those crewmembers was my son, Andrew, and that was especially great. I was thrilled to have him there helping me through this. His Ironman training made it a fairly easy task for him to keep up with me.

To all of you who sent me your good wishes pre-race, thoughts during, and congratulations after, thank you very, very much. You inspired me.

The Last Lone Runner

2003 honorable mention finisher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to Ben and Denise Jones for their hospitality.

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

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

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

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

I can’t wait until next year.

I will be back.

Arthur Webb
Badwater
98,99,00,01,02,03