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Badwater to Mt. Whitney: The Way to Happiness

Crew for 2003 official finisher John JR Radich

Last week, we crewed and paced one of the Kiehl’s Badwater Ultramarathon runners, John “JR” Radich. JR’s dedicated crew support consisted of 4 ultrarunners and bikers: Mark, Charlene, Jesse and Ivory. Marathons are a regular fare for the 49-year-old Monrovia resident, JR, who has been running extreme-endurance races for some 25 years, so he sets his sights even higher. As you know, Badwater (Death Valley) is the lowest point in the Americas. Then on Saturday, after the race, extreme ultrarunner “JR” and I ran to the “summit” of Mount Whitney. This was my first and about his 3rd MW summit climb (run).

During an interview early in the year by the Pasadena Star News, JR (who will run in the race for the fourth time) said: “There’s nothing like it. It’s the most intense race I’ve ever done. This race doesn’t care who you are, how many races you’ve won or how strong you are. It will test your mind and body to the limit and it will try to break you.”

News traveled fast back to Badwater event participants, as we heard about Sacramento Bee and other newspaper articles, plus that L.A. Times front page had a 7-page story on the Death Valley race and runners. The winners were one thing, but returning to watch and pay tribute to the very last finishers was more amazing, because you realized they had their very own interesting stories to tell. This year, his Badwater 135 mile finish time was about 10 minutes slower than last year’s Buckle. However, his team believes JR would definitely have broken below 40 hours, if a brand new Enterprise rental SUV with only 21-miles had not broken-down, with the A/C off during the entire event, in unrelenting heat. As a result, the runner and team lost about 4 hours off-loading all gear, ice and supplies onto a backup truck, plus the many long phone calls about the failed (“heat stroke”) Chevy Ventura SUV.

But a lot of extreme or bad things happened this year. Unofficial comments were: there was an unusually high 27 DNF (about 35 %), plus crews received about 40% of all medical attention (7 IV bags, etc) . And various running teams reported measured temps of 133 to around 140 degrees F! But Charlene deserves “Team Radich” commendations, for disappearing to sit in the dangerously hot broken-down van near the Scotty’s Castle road, while waiting for tow services, with only a jug of hot water and a popcicle delivered by a park ranger. And oh—projectile vomit that ultrarunner JR placed on my Brooks Adrenaline shoes in the “death zone” (between Furnace Creek & Stovepipe Wells, when he dropped to the hot ground covered with iced-towels), may be shipped to the highest bidder advertised on E-Bay.

Getting to sign your name & address in the Summit Log Book, stored in the locker right on the summit outside the Summit Cabin, is a reward. There was a slight bit of shivering plus quivering quads noticed up there. Perhaps to keep himself warm & know where I was, despite 2-way radios, JR ran back down to meet me along the last set of southwest trail switchbacks. No bothersome insects at high altitudes, was a treat! But since mountain lions or bears were no trouble, I understand that balloon-like swelling fingers and hands bother a few folks at higher altitudes (HAPE). We had departed in total darkness around 3:30 am Saturday morning. We made it back off the mountain to the vehicle at the Whitney Portals trailhead before dark after 7 pm. Of course we were very tired, from the treacherous ascent & descent. Later, one realized that there’s only 2 ways getting there – either by foot or helicopter. Rocky, boulder-laden trails would kill a horse! For fast hikers or runners at altitude, you will notice slight difficult breathing. Oh—the rocky 1,000 switchbacks were killers. Plus, passing through several spectacular meadows, blazing flowers, glaziers, and unbelievable views overlooking the PCT/JMT, Inyo, Lone Pine proper, Sequoia and Sierra Nevada’s was indescribable.

As you know, Mt Whitney (14,496 feet) was the tallest mountain in the USA, until Alaska’s Mt McKinley (20,320) was added. At one point on the summit, there was a furiously loud thunder, then within only about 2 minutes, rain and hell made us put on ponchos. Exposure to lighting is taken very seriously there! On the evening before running the summit, I purchased an “I Climbed Mt Whitney” shirt, so I had to live-up to it or never be seen wearing it. I felt sorry, as JR ran down carrying both our heavy packs to make time at several points, so I had to treat him later. What an incredible person. Wow – to pee or crap at the lowest or highest places on mother Earth! And oh, Rae Clark ran past me and others going up the 1,000 switchbacks, and was out-of-sight in no-time. As you know BTW: National Ultra Champion Rae Clark held the fastest time for the American World Record 50 km race (still unbroken, i think). I had dinner Tuesday night in Death Valley at SPW with Grand Slam awardee Errol “Rocket” Jones, Rae Clark & the “Skyline to the Sea” 50 km race director. Moments later at SPW, their Badwater race team & our team took group photos.

Interestingly, the local female cyclist on our team has biked over 18,000 miles around the world on every continent except Australia. Who knows what’s next for some of them, as Mt Kilimanjaro, Mt Everest, Dead Sea and other ultraruns interest them more than watching soaps from a coach to combat city crimes, diseases or other causes. JR Radich’s fundraising goals for The Way To Happiness’ “Run The Crime Out of Los Angeles” was exceeded last year. Your deeply appreciated contributions and help are tax deductible and can still be accepted, by contacting or sending your donations to TWTH organization. HELP with the “Creating a Better World Youth Program.” MAKE A PLEDGE FOR THIS CAMPAIGN TODAY! Call, mail or fax it in at: The Way to Happiness International, 6381 Hollywood Boulevard, Suite 250, Hollywood, California 90028, Phone: (800) 255-7906, or (323) 962-7906, Fax: (323) 962-8605, Email: info@twth.org, or visit www.twth.org to donate online on our secure web site. Make a pledge—even if only a dollar per mile! By continuing to set his goals high, Radich said he hopes to exhibit one of the 21 precepts set forth in The Way to Happiness: “Set a good Example.”

It seens that TWTH’ “Set a Good Example” precept is a very good one. My knees are still dirty—bowing to the incredible BW entrants and finishers!

Ivory Phillips <team John “JR” Radich #77>

Badwater, A Good Comfortable Road

2003 official finisher

After running Badwater in July I have gotten many requests to write a short report of my adventures in the desert. Well I am not the keenest wordsmith, but I will nevertheless give it a try.

When I decided to run Badwater in summer of 2003, my loving wife, Marilyn was not very enthusiastic about this race. She was concerned about the extreme conditions, but excited about seeing Death Valley. Marilyn’s brother, Dave was much more enthusiastic over the whole idea and offered to crew for me, assuming that I was accepted into the race. So with the makings of crew I began in earnest to plan for 2003 edition of the race. To finish out my crew Dave recruited his son, Scott and we lined up good friend Stan Clarkson who was keenly interested in the event once he heard about it.

My first major training run was to do the Virginia Happy Trails Fat Ass 50 K in December. I rode down to the race with my training partner, Randy Dietz. As runners are wont to do we spent our time together talking about what our plans for the coming year. I told Randy that I was going to do Badwater. Randy thought that was really neat but thought I was crazy, reminding me that the run is all on the road and my feet would probably hurt when considering my plantar faciitus. I admit I hadn’t considered that possibility, but figured since my feet hurt most of time anyway, could it be much worse at Badwater? At the Fat Ass we had great Badwater Training conditions: mud, hills and lots of water. I figured if I could survive this run, a little trot through the desert with a crew at your beck and call couldn’t be that tough!

My training went really well. Randy and I did multiple long runs in the Pennsylvania mountains. A typical run would be to get up at some ungodly hour of the morning, drive to a remote trail head, run all day on wet rocky trails at the lightning quick speed of 3-4 miles per hour and conclude the run by quaffing a couple of beers. With this strict training regime plus numerous sessions of baking in the sauna at 150+ degrees prior to leaving for Death Valley, I felt that I was ready for the race.

The plan was to travel to Las Vegas where we would purchase most of our supplies. I had decided to run in shorts and a tee shirt, foregoing the haz-mat style sun protection suit that many runners prefer; I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. A major issue for this run was to make sure that we had enough ice for the race before arriving in Death Valley. To accomplish this we filled a 120-quart cooler with 100 pounds of ice and layered 35 pounds of dry ice on top to keep it frozen. This worked very well, the ice lasting intact throughout the first day

My crew, consisting of Marilyn, Dave and Scott Wilbur and Stan Clarkson and I arrived at Furnace Creek Ranch on Monday just in time for registration and the prerace briefing. I had my first opportunity to experience the desert heat first hand (it was in the low 120’s) and was it ever hot, especially with the heat radiating up from the pavement. Race registration and briefing was a protracted affair lasting about two hours in a hot auditorium. With conditions being so tough during registration I figured that the race would be piece of cake. At least we would be outside where there would be a breeze.

I was assigned the 8:00 AM start time.. After a good night’s sleep we all filed down to breakfast at 6:00 AM for the buffet. set up early for the race by the folks at Furnace Creek. After getting ourselves more or less organized, we traveled to the start at Badwater for the obligatory pictures and runner check-in. The race started promptly at 8:00 AM and we sauntered off toward Furnace Creek (mile 17.4).

My crew met me every mile or so to replenish my fluids, electrolytes and to make sure that I was eating. I really enjoyed this section of the run, as I was able to visit with the other runners and just cruise along.

After Furnace Creek the race began to get interesting as we were now in the heat of day. It became very tough to maintain anything resembling a run. I was relegated to walking after about 35 miles or so. During this section I spent some time with Barbara Elia, a Badwater veteran. She told me to make sure that I took a swim at Stovepipe Wells to cool down and regroup before heading up to Towne Pass.

As I was on the edge, I considered this to be good advice. At the sand dunes just outside of Stovepipe Wells, I got sick and puked my entire stomach contents. I am not sure if I was sick because of what I was eating or the heat and hot wind, which had come up that afternoon (It was reported that the temperature that afternoon were 130 + degrees F). After puking I felt better, but had no energy as I stumbled into Stovepipe Wells (mile 42.7) where we all jumped in the pool to cool off. Fortunately, I was cognizant enough to take off my shoes and socks. We spent about a half hour swimming and getting our act together before venturing into the dark up the mountain to Townes Pass.

While all this was going on my wife Marilyn was having trouble with the heat. Dave told her to get off the course to cool down. She spent some time in the AC at the Stovepipe Wells store before Stan drove her ahead to Panamint Springs where we had reserved a room to rest. I didn’t see her again until the next morning when I arrived there.

The climb up Townes Pass (5000 vertical feet in 17 miles) was interesting to say the least. It was hot and very dark, which coupled with fact that I didn’t feel that particularly well made for a long night. The climb went something like this: walk a couple of miles; get into car to whine about how slow and bad I was feeling. Then finally I would eat and drink. I was in “Poor Little Old Me” mode big time. Dave, Scott and Stan were great during this section in that they kept me hydrated, fed and didn’t pay attention to my moaning and groaning. In retrospect, I was pretty pitiful. With the rising of the sun I started to feel better, especially after drinking several bottles of half coke and half water. I reached Towne Pass (mile 58.7) early on Wednesday morning feeling somewhat peeked as I had pushed rather hard for the previous 3-5 miles or so. After some down time to get myself back together I got up feeling rather good and started the long down hill into Panamint Valley.

The downhill into Panamint Valley was probably the highlight of the race for me. I felt great, the views were spectacular and all I wanted to do was run. I cruised down the mountain at good steady clip just enjoying myself. I was higher then a kite; life couldn’t have been better. Dave came riding by in my crew car and hung his head out the window to comment: “Are you @%^#$^ nuts!” I guess he couldn’t rationalize why I could feel so bad one minute and so great the next. As it turned out the bad patch at the top of Towne Pass was my last for the race.

I arrived in Panamint Springs (mile72.3) at about 10:00 AM on Wednesday morning. I was tired, but otherwise feeling good. I took a short nap on a real bed to get off my feet, reenergizing myself for the second half of the race to the Mt. Whitney Portals.

Leaving Panamint Springs I started the climb to Father Crowley Turnout. It was overcast but turned bright and sunny shortly thereafter. I ended up doing most of the climb in the heat of the day, which really took stuffing out of me. During the climb you could clearly see your position in the race with respect to the other runners while switch backing up the pass. Coming up behind me was Marshall Ulrich, who finally caught me at Father Crowley’s Turnout. (mile 80.2). I walked with Marshal and his wife Heather for a mile or so. It was great to get some perspective on the race from one of the legends during our short time together.

After Father Crowley the wheels started to come off. My ITB started to tighten up which made it difficult to run. Even walking was becoming uncomfortable. Recognizing that I couldn’t maintain a pace fast enough to earn a buckle for a sub 48-hour finish, I shut it down and elected to enjoy myself, go for a finish and not worry about speed.

I arrived at the Darwin Turnoff (mile 90.1) at about 6:00 PM on Wednesday just in time to experience a late afternoon desert shower.

To illustrate how “loopy” one can get during a run like this, I was talking strategy (as if I had one at this point) with Dave and Scott at the turnoff. We were standing out next to the time check when I decided I needed to pee, which I did without hesitation. Neither Dave or Scott noticed that I was peeing until Scott remarked: “Uncle Bill you are pissing on my foot!” to which I replied much to my surprise “Sorry“ and continued peeing, although I did shift slightly to the left just missing Dave’s foot. I was the butt of many jokes as this story was retold countless times over the next couple of days.

Shortly after Darwin Turnoff Marilyn and Stan rejoined us. They had gone onto Lone Pine to pick up ice and other miscellaneous supplies. While in Lone Pine Marilyn and Stan decided to pick up subs for everyone except me! As I was coming down the road I saw both crew cars together and everyone eating a delicious looking sub. Marilyn offered me a bite, which I graciously accepted. I could have eaten the whole thing but didn’t want to eat her supper. After eating supper my crew stayed together for the next couple of hours while I leapfrogged positions with Ken Eielson, of Colorado. The highlight of this section was the ice crème bars that Ben Jones’ crew gave us while on they’re way to Lone Pine. With the coming of darkness Dave and Stan went to Lone Pine to sleep while I was crewed by Marilyn and Scott.

My ITB had really tightened up and I was having a lot of trouble making forward progress. Scott suggested that I get into the chair so that he could stretch my ITB and hip flexors. After that he stretched my legs about every two miles or so, which worked great on the right leg, but the left leg remained very sore. With the coming darkness we lost all perspective of where we were on the course; it was just flat and dark. I had trouble gauging my pace and staying focused, which coupled with my sore left leg, made for a very long night. I found that I could run somewhat more comfortably than I could walk, however I didn’t have the energy to run so I just shuffled along as best I could. I reached Keeler (mile 107.8) at about 1:45 AM where Stan and Dave came back from their break to relieve Marilyn and Scott. They were with me for the rest of the night on the run (walk???) into Lone Pine.

Both Dave and Stan walked with me for the next several hours to keep me company. While on the way into Lone Pine we could see the lights of runner’s crew vehicles as they made their way up the Portal Road off in the distance. This was discouraging, as I knew that I had several more hours before I too would be climbing. Dave and I got into a big discussion of how far it was to Lone Pine. I was really focused on Lone Pine because I knew once there the end was in sight. Since we really didn’t know how far it was we sent Stan to clock the distance to the Dow Villa Hotel. Stan took off in the crew car and left Dave and me walking toward Lone Pine. By this time I was becoming irritable and very impatient. I had it in my head that I had 4 miles to go; however when Stan arrived he reported that the distance was closer to 7 miles, which really sent me into a tizzy. I was took off running as I had no intention of spending the next two to three hours on this long straight road. I ran most of the way to the Hwy.190/395 intersection (mile 120.3). I had had enough fun for the past two days and was anxious to get the whole thing over with.

I reached the Dow Villa (mile 122.3) at about 7:30 AM. Dave and I chased Scott out of bed and I went into the bathroom in an attempt to wash off a tube of SPF 50 Sun Block, which was on my hands and arms, religiously applied by my crew throughout the race. I felt like a grease ball. After washing up, I bolted out of the Dow Villa heading for the Portal Road, only I didn’t know where it was. Dave and Stan were getting a cup coffee and noticed me going up the wrong road. Dave took off after me and finally got me headed in the right direction. Needless to say I was somewhat irritated at this point and in no mood for jokes.

With my full crew intact we headed up the Portal Road though the Alabama Hills to the Mt. Whitney Portal and the finish. This portion of the race went very well for me. I had plenty of energy and was able to climb at a good pace despite my sore left leg. I enjoyed walking with my crew and the spectacular views as I progressed up the mountain. I finished the race at 12:49 PM for a total elapsed time of 52:49:18; all in all a very satisfying and memorable experience.

Out of My League, or Home at Last?

2002 finisher

The first time I went to Death Valley to train for the world’s toughest Ultra marathon I realized I was out of my league. I ran four hours in 110-degree heat when I started crying for no reason and my nose started to bleed. I’m going home, end of discussion.

When you sign up, if invited, they make you sign a death waiver. The pavement can get to 200 degrees, and heat can get to 135-plus during the race. I’ve done stupider things, but can’t really put them to print. The thought of running for 2 days and 2 nights with 13,000 vertical feet and a 4,700-ft descent, from the lowest point in the US to the highest, caught up with me. “Going home. End of discussion. I made a mistake.”

The fear sets in. Fear of failure, ridicule and anger. All that training of running up and down Mt Tam with a backpack in the ski parka, and sitting in the sauna endless hours will go to waste. “Nahhhh…..suck it up, you wimp.”

I train 3 more weekends in the desert. I start to get it. Two weeks before the race I run 7 hours in 120 degrees and love it. Confidence is a good thing in a race like this, humility even better.

Race morning we drive the support van to the starting line 18 miles away. Rich Clark, my training buddy, is with me. He holds almost every Ironman course record in the world in the 60+ age category. Joe Amato, one of my best friends for 30+ years, is in the back. I call Joe the Human Calculator. He also knows how to piss me off if I need it. I found this out playing golf and chess over the years where he routinely humbles me at both. Just in case I need a little prodding I know it will descend on me if I dare start to whine. Mental is 100% of this race. To have the best crew is even more important. We become so interdependent on each other physically and emotionally throughout the event it is hard to describe. They are the real heroes. I’m merely the one stupid enough to have signed the death waiver.

Ten miles from the starting line I see two Germans running and warming up. I once again question the IQ of the company I’m in. (It turns out they weren’t just warming up; they were just finishing running 135 miles from the finish line before the race even started!) Lots of activity at the Start. Pictures, Discovery Channel, interviews with Runners World, endless press. You get the feeling they are interviewing morons who are on a one-way path to …well, Death Valley.

They have 3 staggered starts to spread out the field. We are the second group and go off at 8am. The first 40 miles are flat but also the hottest part of the course. Logic says, “Conserve once you get through this part–you have a nice 5,000-ft climb of 13 miles, so why run hard now?”

We have a long-term plan and are sticking to it. Start slow, walk a lot, shuffle along, drink a half-liter every mile. Stick with your diet as planned. Temperatures were recorded 126 in the shade, but you can add 10 to 15 degrees in the sun. Around 4-5pm is the hottest part of the day. Here we shuffle past sand dunes and Devils Cornfield with a nasty 20-naut breeze in our ear. The sun is now setting and square in your face. The front of the shoes are ever so hot. I try hard to keep my heels in the back of my shoes…feet are on fire. Stove Pipe, first checkpoint: 42 miles, 11+ hours. We move right through it. As we start the climb there are some thirty vans parked here–racers taking a break, some drop-outs, some Bonk-ers. We never stop, instead move right through the checkpoint. Many racers run a mile, stop for a minute or two for water. The Human Calculator, Joe, says, “Hey, that’s 135 stops and takes over 2-4 hours off your time.”

We believe strategy is the key for this race. I keep moving. They bring me the water. I think, “A smart crew, combined with a sense of humor, is a must.” The next 6 or 7 hours are straight UP to 5,000 feet. We have a full moon, experience many strange shadows and encounter many racers along the long climb. On a particular 1-mile stretch there are about twenty of us having a barfing contest. I’m in front of this parade of athletes and vans and am convinced I won First Prize: First in “Volume Discarded” and First in “Sound Made in the Process.” Seals would have been jealous of us of our tenor talent.

During the race, we call home as often as we can, but cell phones don’t work out here so wife Linda is enduring 8- to 10-hour intervals between updates. She is the liaison between our friends and family. She is taking care of Ben, age 4, who is not really safe to be here in this heat.

Around 2 or 3am, just short of the summit, I decide I need a 5-minute nap. They wake me up 52 minutes later. “Yikes! Why so long, Guys?” “You needed it,” came back the answer.

I took a total of five or six 5-minute naps, which seemed to work wonders. I was able to fall asleep in about 2 seconds. It worked wonders for my energy level during the race. The descent is short and very steep. It was around 90-100 degrees during the night and very comfortable. Rick shows me a lacing trick so I don’t slide forwards in my shoes. My blisters, though, do need attention, but I wait ’til the sun comes up. 6am: Dr. Rich the Surgeon takes over. Blisters on the balls of my feet get cut, drained, taped and sanitized. We lose 7 minutes then head across the second valley.

We go through a long, barren, sandy stretch. Joe hits golf balls as I shuffle by. He manages to find the only bush in the valley. The humor is high, the spirit outstanding. We get dive-bombed by fighter jets, just like in the movie Top Gun. Nice break in the routine. Fascinating to see them zip by 100 yards above the ground. Rich and Joe go ahead to replenish ice and supplies at the next checkpoint. I order eggs, toast and real food. I wolf it down in 5 minutes. Off we go. Back up to 5,000 feet in a long and winding ascent we climb. Much like what you see at the Tour de France.

It is early afternoon the next day and hot, hot, and hot! We pass a few athletes, as we seem to get stronger as the day goes on. Thirty hours of racing. Joe plays the radio over the walkie-talkies. The Dow is up almost 500, and Lance is kicking ass on the Tour de France. The cell phone finally works. I call Linda on her cell phone hoping she won’t answer. I can’t handle that love stuff right now. Need to stay tough and focused. The slightest “I love you” from her would make me melt, so I tell her, “I love you,” instead and pass the buck. Glad I have my sunglasses on so my crew can’t see my eyes.

We reach the next summit, and it is a brownish haze. Somewhere out there is a 34,000-acre wildfire ablaze. We smell it, taste it, and see ash flying. The sun sets at 3pm in a dark mango color. Eerie feeling. It feels like we are on Mars. This long, gradual downhill stretch seems endless. When I tell my crew based on my calculations I don’t think we can make the 48-hour cut-off to get the prestige buckle award, they seem rather calm about it. Do they know something I don’t know?

When I tell Rich, “I want to run a while, lace up and help me,” he is almost adamant about me walking. We run anyway. When he tells me Joe’s calculations are off by a mile, I get more suspicious. The Human Calculator doesn’t make mistakes. They are sandbagging some time. I don’t say a word.

It’s dark as hell now. The moon is full, but dark orange. There is no depth perception. The stretch goes on for eternity. Run a little, walk a little, run a little …

As I bend over to stretch, I look at the pavement and there are thousands of bats flapping their wings, all in 3-D. I pee in the sand, and the entire ground turns into living plant life moving up to knee-level. Everything around me is in motion. I hallucinate for the next 8-10 hours. During the night I experience the most fantastic visual experience I’ve ever witnessed. (I know. I went through the 60’s!) Plants and bushes turn into dinosaurs snapping at me as I go by. I see pianos and furniture in the middle of the road. Physically, I’m fine, but the visual deserves an Oscar.

Finally, we hit Lone Pine now. Start heading up towards the 8,000-ft finish line. We have 14 miles to go and 7 hours to do it in. This seems absurd, but the race manual says, “Be prepared to do 1 mile an hour.” It is that steep. We figure if we do 40-minute miles we can still buckle. Rich, who’s been on the road with me for 26 miles now, laughs and we all get giddy. Joe’s humor is endless. He gives us our stats as we head straight up Mt Whitney.

We do the first mile in 17 minutes, the second in 17 minutes, Mile 3 in 19 minutes. We are flying uphill. “It’s in the bag,” or so we think. We back off and settle into 20-minute miles. Four miles to go. I need to sit down. I sleep instantly while sitting up. I wake up seconds later and freak out, “Let’s go. Let’s go.” “Take your time,” Rich let’s it slip, “you got more time then you need.” They conned me the last 24 hours, always putting time in the bank. We have 3 hours to do 2 miles. What a team, what a crew!

I’m numb as I cross the finish line, too tired to cry. I am overwhelmed and still not fully comprehending what has transpired. Maybe as I unwind I’ll figure it out. Right now as I sit on a plane to London with family I feel like a servant of the gods who was allowed to play in their backyard for a couple of days and survive.

Total time: 45 hours, 52 minutes, 6 seconds.
20th Male finisher out of 64 (21 did not finish).

Running with the Gods

2002 official finisher

It was a Runner’s World article about Marshall Ulrich’s run through Death Valley, California, that captured my fascination with the race, Badwater 135.

Then, last year, as crew for Paul Stone I attended the pre-race meeting. I felt like I was an impostor. Did I have the right to be in the company of these super humans, these gods who could cover 135 miles in such an extreme environment?

Still, a few months later I completed my own qualifying race. Further training was delayed due to a serious leg infection. To make things worse all the old leg problems came out to haunt me. The confidence was starting to shake. But if cancer victim Rick Nawrocki did it, I had no excuses. This was going to be total immersion into planning, recovery and training. This was my Olympics!

My wife, Erlinda, and I packed our trailer and left Newmarket, Ontario, Canada, for a six-day drive to the southwest United States. Car problems requiring a new transmission only briefly dampened our spirits. We stopped at Grand Canyon for some serious hill training. Fulfilling Erlinda’s wish, we did a double-crossing hike of the Canyon in two days.

After a supply pit stop in Las Vegas, we arrived in Death Valley for the July 4th clinic, “The Jones Experience.” Ben warmly introduced himself at poolside. Soon all the excited invitees and crew were chatting away. We became instant friends with Dave Remington and his friend, Helen Jones. In her caring way, Denise Jones reviewed foot care with obvious expertise.

The small western town of Lone Pine was going to be our home base for the next ten days. I expected John Wayne to come riding down the road. The daily routine was simple: train in the Valley heat and spend a lonely night in the Mt. Whitney Portal’s altitude (8,300 ft.). On one run, I met the friendly Mike Haviland, who was with the friendly Drina, Hirst. He had just finished his own hard workout. We had the good fortune in enjoying Ben and Denise’s company.

The much-anticipated day of the pre-race meeting had arrived. This time, I felt I belonged there. Dave Remington came over with a gift, a rather expensive shirt. Moved by this gesture, I promised to wear it. Among the international field of athletes was Marshall Ulrich, an incredible specimen of fitness with an equally impressive list of achievements. The charming and unassuming world-record-holder, Monica Scholz, came in with her mom. Pioneer Al Arnold, the first to have completed the route back in ’77, held everyone’s attention. When Ben introduced me as the person who most represented what the race was about, I was stunned. Did an ordinary guy who just worked hard deserve a nod? But there was no time for an inflated ego. The crew and I rushed to a nearby hotel, where, over dinner, we reviewed the details of our strategy. They were pumped and jovial. Later I would find out that Erlinda, because of all the responsibilities and excitement, would not sleep for the next 70 hours. Affectionate hugs and well wishes were shared with Paul and Abby Stone.

Next morning, like clockwork we drove to Badwater, 280 feet below sea level, for the 0800-start. The first wave of runners had already been released at 0600. One by one these galloping golden Gods waved as they flew by. At the start, events were moving quickly. I had a brief stretch and then a stop in the outhouse, affectionately known as Ben’s office. Then I made a dash to the Badwater sign for a group photo and another, at the start-line. Then, with a kiss from Erlinda, a hug from Denise, and thumbs up from the guys, I stood ready savoring the moment. Thirty proud and united souls were ready to take on this monumental challenge. The start was both civilized and majestic. Ah, the joy of running. Freedom. Wide, blue sky. My body felt light but powerful as I skimmed the winding road over dips and curves. The awakening desert was bright with optimism. Race director, Chris Kostman, zoomed by on his motorcycle keeping an eye on things.

Easily we moved to the first station, Furnace Creek (17 miles), a palm-treed oasis. The crew consisting of Tony Bridwell, Larry James, little brother Joe, and Erlinda checked us in and topped up the four critical ice chests. Then we entered the death zone. The scorching sun brought all runners to a walk. The Continent’s highest temperature enveloped us. It was 125 degrees in the shade, if you could find it. Survival took top priority. Soaking cloths with water and ice and drinking was our defense. Frankly, the beautiful sand dunes got little notice. At the Stovepipe Wells (41 miles) station the media mixed questions with pictures, as we ate, stretched and rested. Some small, unfortunate miscalculation would keep 25% of us from proceeding. It could happen to anyone.

The first “hill” rose 5,000 feet over the next 18 miles. Two miles up the lights nearly went out for me. The crew sat me on a chair, placing ice on my head and neck. With wobbly knees we inched our way up wards. On the shoulder of the road, in her van and surrounded by crew, Ernie Rambo appeared to be in trouble. “Good luck, Ernie” was all that came out, in response to her faint smile. Denise was making her rounds to see if we were OK. As soon as sun dipped below the mountains everything changed. Tony with Clydesdale power paced us yet kept the conversation light. Strength returned. The full moon shown so brightly that a flashlight was not necessary. Towne’s Pass (59 miles) brought on great exhilaration. Jack Menard and his crew were not about to hold back. Their joy was quite contagious. We rapidly moved down into Panamint Valley, drinking and eating as much as possible. Without losing a beat we pushed through the next station at Panamint Springs Resort (72 miles) and up the next hill. Our goal was to reach the top before sunrise and the dangerous heat. Just slightly ahead, Jody-Lynn Reicher was bounding effortlessly over stones and shrubs. The 180-degree pavement heat had penetrated through her shoes burning her feet and thus forcing her to the difficult shoulder. Now I started to fade. Her advice to focus on the horizon helped greatly. Still, the time came where only yards from the crew, I came to a stop. No muscle could be willed to move. The gang moved quickly. Some pumped liquids and energy gel into me while others broke ugly blisters and cut out the edge of my shoes to relieve pressure. As he passed by, Marshall Ulrich offered help. In minutes we were on our not-so-merry way. Lone Pine (122 miles) seemed to be on the other side of the planet. As he was driving by, Ben instantly calculated that a 40-hour finish was attainable by continuing at a 22:18 pace. Our spirits were lifted again, upon entering the town. The crew worked franticly to get ready for the home stretch, the last 4.600-foot hill. Again the setting sun made it easier. Tony was doing everything for me, except walk. Larry, while joking around, was supplying drinks and food. Erlinda was comforting with her soft, soothing tones. Joe, a brilliant strategist, kept track of the distance and time remaining to get under 40 hours. Mile after mile I repeated the mantra “I can do this”. It was working! Over the last few yards we held hands unified by this great achievement. Just before midnight, we crossed the finish line, utterly exhausted, but completely satisfied. I was oblivious to the great news that a woman (Pam Reed) had won in record-breaking time. As we drove down, I kept fading in and out of sleep, in mid sentence. At one point we stopped, when Jody-Lynn Reicher, in her amazing way, pushed an energetic hand through the window in congratulations.

The post-race get together was filled with lasting stories and sweet emotion.

A few hours later, upon Ben’s encouragement, I returned to the finish line. I was there in the darkness to hike the unofficial 11 miles and 6,300 feet to Mt. Whitney’s summit, solo. By noon, on the 14,497-foot peak, I was basking in perfect sunshine and relaxing in conversation with fellow Badwater runners Linda McFadden, Barbara Elia, and Jan Levet (crew). I gave someone my camera. With one hand pointing at the lens and the other over my heart, I said, “take one for my wife”. For the first time I lost control of my emotions and then wept. The summit was so seductive that it would have been easy to spend the day there. But there was no time to waste. I had to get off the mountain and get to safety. Between the altitude and the rationing of food and water, I drifted into a catatonic state. I was a horrifying bag of bones. The return was a slow, agonizing step at a time. Just minutes before nightfall it was over. Humbled. I was reminded that we are mere mortals just straining to be like Him/Her. I hope He/She approved of our efforts. For a while we saw a little bit of Him/Her in each other’s faces and actions. What a thrill!

Desert Dance

 

Doors shield no longer.
Out, heat, fear, long, slow.
Winds, Dust, Smoke, Roads cheer.
Badwater, Desert Dance.

Desert Flowers, Hot Running.
Desert Flowers, Natural Watching.
In, heat, fear, long, slow.
Winds, Dust, Smoke, Roads cheer.
Badwater, Desert Dance.

In, heat, fear, long, slow.
Sunrise greets, spirit, will.
Sunrise, Dry Wind, Distance.
Winds, Dust, Smoke, Roads cheer.
Badwater, Desert Dance.

In Sunrise, Dry Wind, Distance.
Sunrise greets, spirit, will.
Lonely Slope, upward endless.
Winds, Dust, Smoke, Roads cheer.
Badwater, Desert Dance.

Lonely Slope, upward endless.
In Stars, night, pushing, wandering
Miles away, misery, mercy.
Winds, Dust, Smoke, Roads cheer.
Badwater, Desert Dance.

In Stars, night, pushing, wandering.
Lonely Slope, upward endless.
Victory, Tomorrow, Finish, Still.
Winds, Dust, Smoke, Roads cheer.
Badwater, Desert Dance.

Out, Cool, Rest, Home.
Cool, Sleep, Water, Home.
Winds, Dust, Smoke, Roads cheer.
Badwater, Desert Dance.

The Badwater Report by 2002 finisher

Originally published at www.StLouisUltraRunnersGroup.net

This is a long report—but then so was the race!!

When I first read about Badwater several years ago I was intrigued—135 miles across blazing hot Death Valley in the middle of summer—starting at the lowest point in the country and ending more than half way up the highest. As I ran more and more ultras I discovered that I like and do well in road and track races and that I don’t mind hot weather. I knew that at some point I had to try BW—it was my kind of ultra. Seeing the video “Running on the Sun” and reading Kirk Johnson’s book “To the Edge” clinched it. I applied and was accepted into the 2002 Badwater 135. This is an account of my race.

I obtained advice from a number of folks with BW experience including Steve Silver, Paul Stone and Jay Hodde and I read as much as I could get my hands on about the event and how to train for it. I actually started training for BW in January with gradually increasing long runs on consecutive Saturdays which continued through February and March, building up to a 38 miler. I would then do half the distance that I ran on Saturday the next day on the Sunday morning. I had weekly totals of 70 – 80 miles towards the end of this period. In April I ran the Double Chubb 50K in 5:26 and in May I ran 104.56 miles at the Cornbelt 24 hour and then the Berryman 50 miler on Memorial weekend in 10:24. I backed off a bit on the mileage for a couple of weeks and then ran a couple of 70+ mile weeks a good deal of which was in the midday or afternoon sun. This brought me to the end of the first week of July and then I tapered down to 30 miles a week running almost every day but keeping the runs short. My last run was an easy 3 miler on the Saturday before the race which was to start on Tuesday July 23rd.

I began my heat training in late April. This consisted of the following:

  1. Sitting in the dry sauna at the gym (no thermostat, they always kept the temp about 165 F – I could only stay in for 15-20 minutes).
  2. Walking up and down 12 flights of stairs at work, the stairwell was not air conditioned and faced the southeast so the temp would get well over 100 F by midday.
  3. Driving home from work with the windows up in the van and with the heater and fan all the way up blasting hot air in my face for 30 minutes.
  4. Getting into heavy sweatpants, two long sleeve shirts, a nylon jacket zipped up to the chin, a winter wool cap and gloves for a an hour workout on the Nordic Trac ski machine in the 90 – 100 F sun or for cutting the grass or for running/walking miles and miles at the track.

I went to Badwater knowing I had prepared well but I was still very nervous because I’d never been to Death Valley and I had no idea how my body would hold up under those brutal conditions. Suffice it to say my training must have worked as I finished in 40:45, well under the 48 hour time required to buckle and good for 11th place overall and 7th place among the men (out of 80 + starters). Not bad for a 56 year-old Badwater novice, if I do say so myself. Here’s how it went.

I had a good crew, consisting of Tom Reich, an ultrarunning buddy from home in St. Louis and Naeem Ravat, a Badwater wanna-be from Houston. I thought long and hard about what supplies I would need which we picked up in Las Vegas on Sunday on the way to the race. I had arranged for two more crew and a second car but unforeseen circumstances prevented them from making the trip. We had a rental minivan with the two rear bench seats removed to make room for all of our supplies. One large cooler was packed with three ice blocks, ice cubes and filled with water. This would be our ice cold water supply, and it worked really well – we never ran short of cold water. We had 3 additional small Styrofoam coolers with ice for food, other drinks and cold towels and sponges.

I set out from BW (I was in the 6 am start group) at a 13 min/mile pace and felt very good through the first check point at Furnace Creek (17 miles). In fact I was sweating enough under my white long sleeved Sun Precautions top that the evaporating sweat made me feel quite comfortable. I started out by running 3 minutes and walking 4 minutes when I could, although sometimes the course dictated when I would run or walk. I didn’t want to run up the hills and I didn’t want to walk on down-hills. Right from the start I took an electrolyte cap and a GU every hour – and continued this for the duration of the race. I would also drink two 20 ounce bottles of fluid, one water and one Succeed Ultra approximately every 25 minutes. It was 9:30 when I checked in at Furnace Creek, the sun was well up and the temp was around 110 F.

One aspect of this race which attracted me was the scenery—at the start you have mountains on both sides as you make your way north through Death Valley. The light cast by the rising sun on the mountains to the west was spectacular. The next 25 miles to Stovepipe Wells (42 miles) is gently undulating road through the hottest part of the course. By this time I was drinking close to a gallon of fluid (water, Succeed Ultra and Gatorade) per hour. Interestingly, I remained very well hydrated throughout the entire race as my urine never got yellow – first time ever that my pee remained clear for the duration of an ultra. The temp in the support van read 130 F as I was coming into Stovepipe Wells at 4 pm. A woman runner who had passed me around 30 miles said try putting a cold wet towel over your head (under your hat) and shoulders while running to help keep you from overheating which I found to be good advice, it helped keep me cooler and more comfortable than I otherwise would have been. I was also tying a fresh ice cold neck cooler around my neck every two miles which helped keep you cooler.

Somewhere in here I sensed a hot spot on my left heel—a developing blister. Not wanting to let it get too bad I stopped and had my crew bandage it up. Naeem had stayed for Denise Jones’ foot clinic after the pre-race meeting and he knew exactly what to do – pop the little sucker, add bandage, cover with elastakon tape, add tincture of whatever its called to the edges of the elastakon and cover edges with micropore tape to prevent rolling. I could feel the blister for a few miles and then never heard from it again until the race was almost over. I had run the first 40 miles or so in my Nike Pegasus and now I changed into a lighter pair of shoes, my Addidas Tapers. They felt good on my feet if a little tight in the toes as my feet were swelling.

By Stovepipe Wells I was really feeling the heat and needed to lie down in the shade on the concrete porch in front of the store with ice cold wet towels over me for 15 minutes. Tom and Naeem went in and bought me a popsicle—ahhhhh—very good, so I had two more. After stretching my back it was up and going again, up the long 17 mile ascent to Townes Pass at 59 miles. Tom was with me now, keeping me company as we talked on the long ascent. For the first few miles of this climb I stopped every two miles to sit and cool down my core body temp with cold wet towels. Naeem was handing off fresh bottles of water and Succeed Ultra, and various food items. I was eating grapes, cherries, pretzels, dates, p and j sandwiches, turkey and cheese sandwiches, cold canned fruit, yogurt and chocolate pudding. A gusty wind was blowing the 120 + F air straight down the road into our faces—something like standing in front of a very large and very hot hair drier. Dusk arrived and we turned to look back down into Death Valley which was receding in the distance. Soon the full moon peeked over the mountains to the east, it was so bright flashlights were not necessary—the moonlight cast our shadows across the road to our right. Up, up and up, mostly walking.

Near the top of the pass there were some flat stretches and little dips in the road which I ran. At the top of the pass at 59 miles, I lay down on a towel on the road and stretched my back and then was off running down the long descent into Panamint Valley, not too fast or too hard because I didn’t want to trash my quads, short steps with frequent short walking breaks was the ticket for me. There were still another 7 miles to get to the half way point. Running shirtless and hatless in the dark felt really good. It had cooled a bit at the top of the pass at 5000 feet (down to around 90 F) but now was warming up again as Tom and I approached the valley floor. I began to smell smoke from the forest fires burning off to the west. As you descend into the valley you can see the lights of Panamint Springs (72 miles) off in the distance across the valley but it will take several hours to get there. We made decent time across the valley and then started climbing again arriving at the Panamint Springs check point about 3 am. Many crew (and some runners) stop at Panamint Springs for some sleep as the resort provides a large room to sack out in, however after a short rest and stretch break I was up and moving out onto the 8 mile ascent to Father Crowleys Point at 80 miles.

This was a very twisty road with sharp blind turns. Good thing it was very early morning and there was very little traffic on the road. During this time my pacer and I heard a snarly growl come from the rocks off to our left. A minute later it was repeated, it sounded like a large animal and was cat-like, a bobcat or mountain lion perhaps. Tom left me shortly later and I was on my own for the remainder of the ascent to Father Crowley’s Point. The sun had come up a couple of hours prior to this and I marveled once again at the beauty of the mountains and shadows in the deep valleys. You go higher and higher here and have a great view back down along the twisty road. I see some runners way down there, tiny figures with toy-sized cars beside them.

Once up to Father Crowley’s point, the course levels off in an undulating sort of way. A car comes alongside of me and Tom, who is back running with me again, and a man jumps out with a camera. He runs ahead snapping photos. We run up the little hill in front of us trying to look good for the camera. He gets back in the car and as soon as it disappears around the next bend we walk again. However, with the morning sun I seem to get renewed energy and we began to put in some good miles running and walking along this stretch terrain into Darwin check point at 90 miles which I go through a little past 9 am. Between 85 and 95 miles I felt really strong and Tom and I pass 4 or 5 other runners and their crews. We hear a deep noise building quickly ahead and then a fighter jet zooms overhead with a deafening roar. He’s flying low and fast – open airspace out here I guess – no constraints – I feel as free and alive and unrestrained as that pilot must feel here in the high desert in the early morning sun, an exhilarating feeling. At Darwin I think to myself, wow you’ve gone 90 miles!! and then I realize I still had 45 miles to go, I’m only 2/3 done with this thing. But I’m feeling good and strong and ready to run. After leaving Darwin you work your way though a cut in the mountains and gradually descend from 5000 feet to about 3000 feet to the Owen Valley floor. There is a big dry salt lake bed off to the left and mountains off to the right. The jet roars past again. Dead ahead is the longest straightest black asphalt road I’ve ever seen, it just goes on and on and yup, that’s where we have to go.

This is a difficult part of the race because you don’t seem to get very far very fast, and you have to work hard mentally to keep focused and to keep up that relentless forward progress. Tom and I make a big sweeping turn and there stretched out in front of us was another seemingly endless stretch of asphalt road. The smoke from the nearby forest fires prevents us from seeing the mountains and Mount Whitney off in the distance. We run between two reflector posts alongside the road, then walk to the next one, then run, then walk, over and over again. We stop briefly every two miles for more drink and food and then go again. Every hour I still take a GU and an E-Cap and as I have been doing from the start I take some food with me back out on the course – maybe some pretzels, grapes, cherries, sandwiches, or canned fruit, yogurt or chocolate pudding. I hand off the empty containers to Naeem.

During this time I go through 100 miles in 29:27, still a little over 50K to go. Again its run a couple hundred yards, walk a couple hundred yards, from one road marker post to the next, over and over again. I changed shoes again back at about 80 miles – into my lightest shoes, my Addidas racing flats which I bought one size larger than normal. They felt good but my toes are now starting to hurt. I’m afraid to look. I change into a pair of Nike Pegasus with the toes cut out but they don’t help and I go back into the Addidas racing flats. 110 miles and 120 miles pass and then finally we come to the right turn for the 2 mile trek into Lone Pine check at 122 miles. I check in at 6:30 pm and continue directly to Whitney Portal Road for the last grunt of a climb up Mount Whitney.

Lone Pine is at 3600 feet and I have to climb 4700 feet in the next 12 miles. I’m alone now, focusing on the final stages of this race. I still have plenty of energy and determination and at first I alternate running with a very fast power walk, thinking with 2 hours and 40 minutes and 7 miles to go that maybe I can break 40 hours. It gets dark and the bats swoop low over my head investigating. A pleasantly sweet pungent odor drifts up from a valley off to my left. I’m still pushing hard with 5 miles to go at 38:45. But the climbing starts to get tougher and tougher, up the steep switchbacks and I’m reduced to 30 minute miles. I’m running out of energy. It seems to take sooooo long to go a mile at this point but finally I see the last turn in the road and the lights of the finish line. Forty hours and 45 minutes. I tell them I couldn’t get under 40 because I’m a poor climber but they quickly calculate that my time was four hours and 16 minutes from LP to the finish and tell me that is very good, that most people take 5 to 6 hours for the climb. That makes me feel better. I sit and rest. It is finished.

It is now one week later. I’m back at home in St. Louis. My feet were so swollen so badly it took 5 days before I could get my feet in my street shoes. The two worst blisters (the one on the heel and one around a big toe) are gradually healing and I’m starting to walk normally again. Everything else was fine—no pain in my legs, knees or hips. Looking back on this experience all I can say is that it was a totally awesome adventure – it’s a tough but beautiful course. Two sunrises, two sunsets, three valleys to cross and three mountain ranges to climb. I looked out at the high desert and the mountain passes in the daylight and in the moonlight and I liked what I saw. I’m glad I’m an ultrarunner. And I’m glad I took the Badwater challenge. I can’t wait to do it again.

A final note. I had heard that when you go to Badwater that you are treated like family. That’s exactly the way RD Chris Kostman, Dr. Ben and Denise Jones and all their support staff made me feel. Thanks to all of them for the hard work they put into organizing this event and keeping it alive and well. It was also a treat to meet Al Arnold, the man who started it all by being the first person to run from Badwater to Whitney Portal 25 years ago in 1977.

“Trail Turtle”; now “Desert Turtle”

Hall of Fame: Al Arnold

The Badwater Hall of Fame was created in 2002 with the induction of its first member, Al Arnold, who in 1977 became the first man to successfully run from Badwater to Mt. Whitney.

His plaque reads:

BADWATER ULTRA MARATHON – 25th Anniversary

A Short History of the 20th Century:
1927: Charles Lindbergh flies solo across the Atlantic
1947: Thor Heyerdahl sails a raft across the Pacific
1953: Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary summit Mt. Everest
1969: Neil Armstrong walks the Moon
1977: Al Arnold runs from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney

The 2002 Badwater Ultramarathon is proudly dedicated to AL ARNOLD
on the 25th anniversary of his record setting trek from Badwater to Mt. Whitney.  In recognition of his pioneering efforts, Al Arnold is also hereby and forever recognized as the first inductee into the Badwater Hall of Fame.

Read Al’s ongoing column here on the Badwater.com site at this link.

Marathon is a Breeze Compared to this One: Tucson Marathon Organizer Recalls 135-miler

Originally published in the Arizona Daily Star, December 7, 2002, Sports page C1

It was 3 a.m. on July 24 when Chris Kostman pulled up next to Pam Reed in Death Valley, Calif.

Reed was running down a road guided only by the headlights of her support vehicles and a full moon. Smoke from a burning forest nearby filled her lungs. Water was constantly being sprayed by a friend biking alongside. The terrain was dirt.

And Reed was on mile 115.

The mercury had reached 126 degrees the previous afternoon. But it was much cooler at night in arguably the world’s most difficult sporting event.

“I told her that at the rate she was going she’d be winning the race overall very handily and putting her name in the history books,” said Chris Kostman, race director of the 25th annual 135-mile Badwater Ultra Marathon. “Two of the top men had dropped out.”

Reed became the first woman to win the race outright and shattered the women’s course record by 1 hour and 35 minutes. She ran over 94 percent of the race, finishing in 27 hours and 56 minutes. And she ran nine miles the next day for fun.

On Sunday, Reed, 41, will be in charge of more than 4,000 runners at the ninth annual Tucson Marathon. The heavily downhill 26.2 mile course begins in Oracle, winds along the Santa Catalina Mountains on Oracle Road, and finishes at the Sheraton El Conquistador Resort. Reed is the race owner and organizer.

“It was just so dry,” said the 5-foot-4-inch, 100-pound Reed of her Badwater experience. “You just have to drink every couple steps, which I don’t normally have to do at all.”

Normally, Reed runs 100-mile races in cooler places such as Colorado or Utah. Normally, she gets sick, maybe throws up, and runs the entire race alone.

She says it was different in July, thanks mainly to her crew organizer Chuck Giles, and six people in two vans. They ensured she was hydrated, fed, happy and alive.

The course began in Badwater, Death Valley, the lowest point in United States at 280 feet below sea level, and ended halfway up the 14,494-foot high Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States. It featured 79 runners, reached a low temperature of 35 degrees on Mount Whitney and included a total ascent of 13,000 feet.

Reed began the race at 6 a.m. on July 23. After Mile 17, she always had a crew member running or biking alongside her as did other competitors in the race. When she approached Mount Whitney, she remembered the previous record-holder had stopped for an hour and a half at the mountain’s base.

Reed just kept going.

On her way up, she called her husband to tell him she would win. When she crossed the finish line, tears flowed

“It took me a long time, up until a couple months ago, to realize it was 135 miles,” said Reed. “It didn’t feel that hard. I don’t know if (the other races) were harder or this was just my day.”

After the race, she went to the hotel, showered and slept – for 15 minutes. She didn’t go to bed until 9 that night. She woke up at 6 the next morning and dragged her friend Susy Bacal for a nine-mile run up and down Mount Whitney.

Kostman considers Reed’s run one of the greatest athletic achievements he has witnessed in his 20 years of extreme sports. He credits that in part to the fact that she ran all alone after the 42nd mile, never changed clothes, and ran on an all liquid diet.

“It’s completely unparalleled, her achievement, on many levels,” said Kostman. “Frankly I think it went improperly unnoticed by the mainstream media.”

Reed was 20 years old when she first heard of ultramarathons. Channel surfing, she came upon the Hawaiian Ironman and the Western States 100 races the same day on TV. It spiked her interest.

She moved to Tucson from Michigan in 1981, and in 1988, she ran her first marathon. Three years later she completed her first 100-mile race. In 1995, she came full circle, completing both those races she had watched on TV in the same year.

This year alone, she has run seven marathons, six 50-mile races and three 100s. Ten days before Badwater, she ran a 100-kilometer event in Montana. Three weeks after Badwater, she ran 100-mile race in Leadville Colo.

“The blisters thing, that was a little longer (after Badwater),” said Reed. “I continued to run. It’s just my feet; they didn’t heal as fast.”

In April, she ran the Boston Marathon, in reverse, four hours before the race started, in 3:36. Then she stopped at the start line, got a drink, and ran with the crowd in 3:30. It was training for Badwater.

Why does she do it?

“I (just) love running,” she said. “For a lot of people, running is so much work, and it’s not for me. It’s just so much a part of me.”

Reed’s daily routine includes three runs per day for about 10 to 15 miles, including one run at noon, year-round. She says her husband is supportive, but her five children think she’s a little “nutso.” They expect her to win every time.

Right now, Reed is not sure whether she will plunge into the desert again next year to defend her title. She says it depends on whether Giles will take the chief operating role and organize her crew again.

“It’s wonderful to do really well and win. That is not the reason I do this,” said Reed. “If I didn’t ever win again, I guess I would be disappointed, but it wouldn’t stop me from (running). I do it, because it’s (for) my sanity.”

Crewing Badwater for Kari Marchant

Crew for 2002 finisher Kari Marchant

Click here for Kari’s side of the story.

I would first like to congratulate all of the runners and crews who participated in the 2002 Badwater Ultramarathon. This is the most unique race I have ever participated in and can’t wait till next year to be in the race as a runner.

My name is Howie Stern and for this torture fest I was acting a pacer/crew for Kari Marchant. I have run several mountain 100 milers but have yet to be on the crewing/pacing side of the equation. A word about Kari, for those of you who have never met her: she is probably one of the most energetic and kind hearted people you will ever meet. It was an honor and a privilege to crew for such a wonderful person.

On Monday we all met at Kari’s to caravan over to the race. Each of the crew were characters in their own right. First there was Rosy, a co-worker of Kari’s. She was like the Grand Pubah of the mini-van. If you needed to find anything among the mess, she would instantly know where to look. She was like mom out there, always watching out for and taking care of us all. Next was George. He has done more 100 milers than I can imagine. Together, George and Kari are like totally disfunctional siblings, yet they still love each other through it all. They also have a tendency to speak dialogue that is a cross between a Dinero filck and bad porno. Then there was Fred. Fred is a two time winner of the Angeles Crest 100. In his words, crewing Kari was like crewing an alien. During the race he was Mr. Calm, Cool, and Collected. Always relaxed, never a hair out of place, and somehow, he never sweated no matter how hot it got. Last was Kari’s husband Phil. He was only able to join us later in the race after he was finished at the Stovepipe time station. If ever two people were a perfect match, they’re it.

It was decided that we would break down crewing into shifts so that there would always be fresh people in the van. A tired crew would be useless. George and Rosy were up first while Fred and I would take over at Furnace Creek. I had no complaint because it meant I could sleep in! Our only task that morning was to get ice. Apparently, Kari had some sort of scheme going to get ice from the restaurant. As Murphy would have it, that fell through. Not looking to spend any money, this left us at the hotel ice machine for half an hour filling our ice chests.

About 10 o’clock Kari came through Furnace Creek. She was her usually bubbly self and was feeling good. This is where I got my first glimpse of her alien eating habits. Pedialyte, Slim Fast, protein/calcium/magnesium laced orange juice/strawberry shakes, a whole host of other powders and pills. Somehow she would scarf it all down and still be able to function. Just the thought of some of it made me want to hurl.

I was really worried that the leapfrogging game would get really boring but it actually turned out to be quite entertaining. Seeing all of these ghostly figures in white cruising along the desert floor in absurdly hot temps was quite amusing. Plus, usually the desert is whizzing by you at 70 m.p.h. but now I got to see things up close that I never before noticed.

George paced Kari most of the way through the valley floor. I guess George hadn’t done much training cause as they neared SPW he started to go down from the heat. At one point they were both wasted and while in the van, Kari thought that George had wandered off into the desert. She started freaking going “Oh my God, I’ve lost George!” She didn’t realize that he was sitting with a towel on his head on the seat right behind her.

About 6 p.m. Kari made it to SPW where she immediately went for a swim to cool down. Again I went on a wild goose chase for another one of her ice scams. Strike two. Kari got all pissed when Phil and I actually went to the store and paid for ice! Oh well, all the running I did looking for the ice guy was a good warm up for the next 30+ miles of pacing to come.

We left at about 7 p.m. with Fred behind the wheel and me finally out on the road with Kari. As we were starting up Townes Pass, Kari was finishing one of her alien shakes. Unfortunately it pretty much wasted her stomach and it took her about the next five miles until she could do a Major Maples and hurl for all she was worth. Oh what a lovely sound it made as it splashed proudly upon the pavement.

Now we were ready for some work. My job was to get her to the top of the pass as quickly as possible without killing her or her wanting to kill me! We managed to keep up a pretty steady 2.5 to 3 mile per hour pace while having a good time chatting with other racers and crews. The night was absolutely beautiful with the full moon. I knew then that I would probably come out next year as a competitor. It was so surreal out there with the moonlit ribbon of road, blinking runners and the mysterious red eyes of the crew vans in the distance. At one point we accidentally exchanged pacers and runners. Someone had caught us and before we knew it, the other runner was following my pace and Kari was following the other pacers pace. Oops!

The climb went smoothly and we topped out a little before 2 a.m. Fred was now relieved by Rosy and George, who had taken a nap at the hotel at stovepipe. Fred went back to Stovepipe to get some much needed rest.

We took a short break and let’s just say, started swapping stories about bad bowel experiences during races. George had us all laughing so loud that a crew sleeping nearby told us to shut up. Whatever!

Time to start running! We took off down the hill at a blistering 10-12 minute pace. It felt good for both of us to finally run. Unfortunately it was short-lived. After 3 miles or so, the pounding was getting to Kari. We switched to alternating walking and running. Around 4 a.m. Kari began to get really sleepy. Apparently so did our crew. Every time we got to the van, the lights were off and they (mainly George) were asleep! I once came up real quietly and screamed as loud as I could scaring the crap out of Rosy in the process! Gotta have fun out here somehow.

Around 5 a.m., Kari tried to lie down in the road. I got her up and tried to keep her focused on reaching Panamint, which was only little over 6 miles away. She was fighting sleep really hard. 100 feet later she did the same thing. At this point I new she needed to rest so I picked her up off the road and told her to lie on the dirt. She was afraid the bugs would get her but I reminded her she would be asleep and not even notice them dining on her flesh. I ran about 5 minutes down the road to my sleeping crewmates and told them to bring the van back up to Kari. When we got to her, she pretty much looked like road kill. We set up a small blanket and let her rest for about 15 minutes. From here, we ran the next 3 miles across the floor of Panamint until reaching the final 2.5 mile slog up to the resort. She was getting tired again and so was I after nearly 13 hours out on the road.

At this point Kari took a shower and caught about a half hour of sleep. She was now refreshed for the death slog up Father Crowley. I showered and had breakfast as well but fortunately, I was able to drive to Lone Pine to catch some sleep and get ready for the next round of pacing later that evening.

At around 7:30 p.m. I cam back out on the course and found Kari out past Darwin. Phil was with her and they were laughing so loud you could hear them a half mile away. I don’t know what got into her but it was an amazing turnaroud. I guess she wasn’t too happy earlier in the day going up Father Crowley.

Upon seeing me she said, “Oh no, Mr. Meanie’s back. He’s going to make me run again!” In contrast to the previous night, this one was to be filled with smoke and ash from a fire burning near Kernville.

We took off speed walking at about 3.5 mile/hour pace. This was good but I really wanted to get her running on all this flat terrain while it was under cover of darkness. I told her we were going to play a little game Denise Jones told me about. She instantly knew what I was taking about because she had crewed Denise during her successful 1999 run. The game involved running from one reflecting pole to the next, then walking to the next, then running again and so on. By doing this for each mile traveled we usually ran at least half of it. This method worked really well because it broke everything down into little manageable chunks. The miles just seemed to peal away. Rosy was now just going a mile up the road and it seemed like we would come upon her in no time at all.

Kari was really strong through this stretch, putting distance on runners behind her and catching up to runners in front of her. I knew she had a lot in her and I tried to keep her focused on getting to Lone Pine by 6 or so in the morning. She only took infrequent breaks to rub her feet. Even when she got real sleepy I told her to close her eyes while she walked until we reached a pole and it was time to run again.

Rosy did an awesome job all night long with all of our food, drinks, and just plain positive personality.

A bit before 5 a.m. Phil and Ben Jones dropped by and I think that picked up her spirits. I think they were really surprised to see her actually running out there. I must admit I was really proud when they came by and she looked so good.

Before we knew it we were in Lone Pine and it was just after 6. You could smell the barn. I had been with Kari for over 25 miles and she was her strongest yet. She looked forward to a quick shower before powering up to the portal.

It was really cool coming into the time station with everybody there waiting. As my hello to a couple of people videotaping us, I mooned them as I went by and I think gave Mary a bit of a shock! We went to the corner to place our stake before leaving the course.

After a quick reconnoitering at Denise and Ben’s house we set off for the Portal road. Kari seem to be felling really good now. I took the wheel and Fred and George alternated pacing duties. One by one, Kari passed runners who were looking quite tired. Each person she caught gave her more and more momentum.

Before we knew it she was at the end of the first switchback. I could see that she was beginning to feel the toll of the road. Of course being the evil crew that we were, we wouldn’t let her ease up.

With about a mile and a half to go we all joined her to share in the final moments of her journey. It was really emotional. She was working so hard and feeling pain, but I’m sure the thought that the end was just around the corner enabled her to keep chugging. At this point, the curse words and porno dialog were flying between her and George. You had to be there.

Anyway, the road finally flattened out and we began to run. Tears began to fly. Then there it was. 53 hours, 27 minutes, and 14 seconds after the journey started, Kari, Phil, Kari’s son Richard, Rosy, George, Fred and myself all crossed the line into a memory that will last a lifetime.

My Badwater 2002 Story

Click here for the perspective of Kari’s crew / pacer, Howie Stern.

Pre Race

Everyone says they had the best crew, but they didn’t have mine. So, they had great crews, but MINE was the BEST! Don’t tell them, but I could have finished in less than 48 hours. I was afraid Al Arnold would be sleeping and I didn’t want to cross the finish and not see his face (just kidding). Truthfully, seeing him at the finish was one of the highlights of my race.

Here I go, starting at the end. This is why I didn’t want to write a story. I have a hard time in everyday life. But after crossing Death Valley, being almost dragged by my wonderful husband, Phil, to the summit of Mt. Whitney on the Sunday after the race. This is really bad.

Here it goes. It all started back in 1994 when Angie Tapley, Denise Jones’ daughter, and I became friends. She told me about her MOM doing this nutty race across Death Valley and up to the summit of Mt. Whitney in JULY. Yeah right! I thought it was stupid to do something like that to your body. I wasn’t a runner at all. At the time, mountain biking was my sport. Runners all needed to go get themselves a mountain bike. Why waste their time running.

Then in 1995, Angie asked Phil if he could crew this guy, Whit (Rambach). Phil said “sure, sounds easy. Just drive in an air conditioned car, up a mile and give some guy water: “no problem”. Little did Phil realize what he was in for. Phil was Whit’s only crew person. So you probably know, if you have even stepped out of your car in Death Valley, in July, it wasn’t at all what Phil or Whit had planned.

After Phil got back with all his stories about the heat, Lisa (Smith), Marshall (Ulrich) and all the weird people, I had to go check it out for myself. I offered to crew for Ben and Denise in 1996. Then right before the race, after hearing all the stories about the crew getting sick, peeing and pooping, etc., in the desert, I got scared and called Denise to tell her I was too busy at work and couldn’t do it. She wasn’t happy. To make a long story short, I ended up going and have gone back every year except 1997.

Now about the 2002 Badwater race. First, this race is not about just me. It’s about a team of dedicated people: Rosie Roccoforte, Fred Shufflebarger, George Velasco, Howie Stern, Phil Marchant, June Mikes, Richard Marchant, Jamie Wiley and Denise Jones. My main team consisted of Rosie, Fred, George and Howie. The other loving people spent time driving, getting things like pizza, masks for the heaving smoke (thank you June), etc.

It is 5:45am, Tuesday, July 23, 2002, Badwater, California. I am so scared. Where is Adam Bookspan to play the National Anthem? It’s 5:58am. I am standing at the start and Marshall is pulling at my cover up and saying something. I cannot hear because my heart is beating so loudly. I just see his lips moving. I give him and Lisa a hug and we’re off. Leaving Peaches and Cream (the two desert tortoises who my wonderful friend Sharon brought to the start). Sharon is also known as the “Turtle Lady” (thank you Sharon)! I don’t remember much from Badwater to Furnace Creek. It’s still sketchy.

Furnace Creek to Stovepipe Wells

I do remember thinking, we lost George somewhere around the Devil’s Corn Field and my husband wondering why I was crying and saying “we had lost George because he was right in front of him. Rosie was smiling, changing my ice bandana and telling me how great I was doing. Fred kept everyone from going crazy. Howie was waiting like a race-horse in the gate at Stovepipe to get my sorry butt up to Townes Pass. Denise had loving words telling me to move my arms. Jumping in the pool at Stovepipe Wells was refreshing. I liked drinking the smoothie that Fred told me not to. Next was throwing up at Townes Pass because I didn’t listen to him. THANK GOD to Major Maples for his purple pedialyte (thank you Major).

Stovepipe Wells up to the top of Townes Pass

I remember so little, again, but here it goes. Throwing up; telling Major’s crew to make him drink the slim rite we had given them; Anita (Fromm) having the same ups and downs as I was having; Denise making me drink pedialyte and feeling so much better. Getting to the top and getting told to quiet down; people are trying to sleep? (I guess they didn’t like our poop talk; sorry whoever that was) Howie trying to make me run down. I think he could only get me to run a mile.

Top of Townes Pass to Panamint Springs

Here’s where we start really having fun. Howie and I are trucking along and all of a sudden, we see my friend Art (Webb), squirting himself with his squirt bottle that he was carrying and slowing down just long enough to give me inspiration. He told me I can finish this damn race, “just keep moving,” and off into the night he went, laughing and squirting. Howie and I got such a kick out of him. He is such a cool guy (I love you Art). Next, here comes someone who reminds me of Marshall on uppers. Christ Frost, he’s the same sort of space alien, just not as mellow. And right before him, we see his beautiful fiancé, Tracey, what a lady.

Then we got to the bottom. I crashed right on the white line just as the van was pulling away. Howie said “please get on the dirt and I’ll run up and get the van.” So, with a mound of dirt for my pillow and bugs crawling all over me (I thought), he ran a mile to the van where Rosie and George had already fallen asleep. George woke up and I guess started running back to get me. Howie said, “where you running to, she’s way back there. See that little light, that’s her headlamp.” That’s how they found me. Sleeping like a baby.

Panamint Springs to the Finish

When we got to Panamint Springs, they let me take a shower and nap in a bed for 30 to 45 minutes (they told me?). I truly don’t remember much going up to Father Crowley Point, except walking with Rosie and ripping my pants on the wrong side of the guard rail, upsetting George because I took off my freshly iced towel to wave it in the air so Anita could see where we were. I kept wanting to visit with everyone and my crew knowing that I was trying not to move. They wouldn’t let me talk to anyone (thank you guys, we would still be out there). I remember crying because I wanted my white rice (Angela’s secret weapon) and not being able to find it. Then I think I asked Fred if he was sure we were going the right way. I thought for sure, I was sick and had a temperature, so they would surely make me quit. Those sneaky sons of you know what’s, got the medic to check me at Darwin. He told me to get moving. We have that on video. It’s funny. I put my head in my lap (how does one do that?) and said I have to regroup. Then, Phil took over and we had a laughing fest for miles. The other runners and crews were wondering what was going on. That was fun. Then we had the long haul from before Keeler to Lone Pine with Howie and Fred ? then Howie and Rosie. This was so hard. It was smoky. I kept cursing out Chris Kostman, because I told him I wanted it hot and clear, not hot and smoky. This is where Howie said we have to pick up the pace. So he made me run to one stake and walk to one stake. It was hard, but we made up some time. Then Lone Pine, yeah! There was Phil, Denise and Nikita (Siberian Husky) waiting at 395. I still wasn’t able to visit though. Howie said “keep running one, walking one.” (I think he threw out all the beautiful rocks I had found on the trip).

They promised that when I got to Lone Pine, I could take a bath, eat and take a one hour nap. I put my flag out at the corner of 395 and Whitney Portal Road. Then I went to Denise’s (in the van, yeah). I took a bath, ate, had ?NO NAP? and hauled ass up the Portal Road. I saw lopsided Steve Matsuda and once again, they wouldn’t let me visit. I had my whole crew plus my great kid, Richard. Denise was present, telling me to keep moving those arms. Jones and Phil were there when we got closer to the finish line. Then I saw the finish and then Al Arnold. I then knew it was worth it to cross the Valley of Death. Just to see his face, with so much life in it. Thank you Al. Words cannot describe what this race has done for me as a person. I must thank Chris Kostman for keeping it going. Without Chris, many others and myself could not have fulfilled their dream. Thanks to Debbie Caplan, his beautiful lady. Remember Chris, behind every great man, there’s a great woman.

Thanks to Lisa Smith Batchen, my friend and coach. She gave me the strength I never knew I had. Not just physically, but mentally and spiritually too. Thank you so much, Lisa.

Ben and Denise Jones, I know I could not have done this race without their love and support. For taking time out of their busy lives to crew me on the training days in Death Valley. Words cannot express my appreciation, so I’ll just say thank you so much. I love you both so much.

And most of all, thanks to my family … Richard, Ashley and Phil … for putting up with fast food and no milk in the house … and one absent mother. I love you guys so much. Ooops, forgot the “whole” family, Lucy, Winnie and Copper, my dogs … for not being able to go for your walks because I had to do my gym workouts.

Love and Aloha, Kari

P.S. Sunday morning, my wonderful husband and I got to the summit of Mt. Whitney. It took 9 hours to get to the top (not fun) but that’s another long story.