Crewing Badwater for Kari Marchant

By Howie Stern, 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.

Click here for Kari's side of the story.