Ken Clouber, RD of the Leadville Trail 100 tells everybody at the Friday morning briefing proceeding the LT100, ” You are better than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can.” Never in the thirty-five years as a runner, with ten as an ultrarunner, was that more true than at the 1999 edition of the Badwater 135.
I have run Badwater twice …1996, where I finished 2nd in 37:45 and in 1997 where I finished 6th in 39:15 … nothing great, but acceptable. I started my own business in December of 1997 and for a while I was able to balance my life between work, running and a modest social life ( I separated from my ex-wife a week before BW in July 1996). But a year later (1998) I found myself working sixty-hours a week and running forty miles a week. Formerly I ran eighty to one-hundred mpw. My 1998 Leadville proved to me, at least, that mega-mileage for a somewhat competitive runner, was not that important as I finished it comfortably in 28:07 (my fifth finish, and third fastest). I tried racing a race a month instead of training and living in El Paso, Texas, that meant travelling. That worked for me. I ran a pretty easy 25:30 at the Mochican in June, so I felt confident, and ambitious enough to run a 36-hour Badwater. I told Jim Wolff and Howard Zaitchek, both returning crew and pacers, that this year my goals were a 36-hour finish and top ten and with the field assembled that was an accomplishment.
In the field was a POW (Postal Office Worker) named Art Webb. I thought he was a little odd running with the American flag and all, but who are we to call someone else odd? I paid him little attention and kept my distance, postal worker and all. The race, arguably, underwent some challenges … and they have been documented so I won’t review them again. Once underway, I ran a few miles with Lisa Smith, always a pleasure, and she gets my vote for the most attractive extreme athlete in the world, inside and out. Then I picked up with David Jones, 1997 winner and he was fun to run with until he took off at about 20 miles. Then it was my buddy Howard … all the way until Stovepipe Wells (Are there really wells there?). During that trek we ran into and with Gabriel (Flores) and Carlos (Banderas) and I knew I was over my head … but then Art Webb buzzed by at about 35 miles or so and I thought, “OK so I’m eighth, still on target for top ten.”
Arriving at Stovepipe, I was saw Art take off and he diplomatically offered to run with me if I got going right away. I told him that, if I caught up with him, I’d look forward to running with him for a few miles… little did I know at the time it would be ninety miles. After encountering some wind and rain, between mile 43 and 45 or so, I did run into Art and his wonderful crew, Dr. Vince, Julie and John … and the rest is history. I told him my strategy … four minutes running and for of walking … with downhills all ruinning and uphills mostly walking. If ever there was a team effort it was team Art and Steven. Both of our crews joined in helping each other. Art’s crew, with their massage therapy, in-van supermarket and continually upbeat attitude, made the race not only memorable and outstanding, but also alot of fun. Art, on the other hand was a real trip. We talked most of the way … about a lot of things … like how Norm Klein doesn’t consider Badwater a “real race;” about how the film crew, all thirty-one of them, avoided us like we were lepers and about how we were going to break thirty-six hours, and maybe even do thirty-five … and as it got closer to that town town from the Twilight Zone, Keeler, we started computing a thirty-four hour finish, if we really ran hard to the Portals. Leaving Keeler, we passed a brave and gallant, and still looking great, Lisa Smith. We were in fourth and, in fourth, we were going to finish. We had our trials. Me, I was a wobbling wreck from Father Crowly Point (80 miles) to the 97-mile mark. Art was not a lot fun out of Panamant and up the Whitney Road, but it didn’t matter. We were going to finish this together and together we did. At about a mile and a half to go, there was a “1 Mile to GO” sign, so I got real excited about finishing in under 34 hours. Art felt that we could power-walk the last mile under 18 minutes. Somehow, I didn’t share his confidence. We had to run and for the most part we did, but that was a LONG one mile … actually, Howard said it was 1.3 miles. I kept telling Art we could do it and we did, with WE being the operative word… and yes, I waited a for a few seconds for him to come into view when I was near the finish line, but this was a team effort and that’s how it ended … team Art and Steven, 33:57.
On a personal note, without Art, his crew, my crew and all the encouragement of the Hi-Tec folks, especially, Mariane, whom I still have a crush on, this would have still been a very special race, as both my previous my Badwaters were, but doing this one together, being with each other during the “best of times and the worst of times,” made it the MOST special race and one that I will long remember. Thanks Art!
To read what Arthur Webb, had to say about this, click here.