Racing Badwater for Camp Sunshine

By Mike Brooks, 2004 finisher

I got the urge to do the Badwater ultra after crewing for Mike Smith in 2002. I filled out an application that was more like a runner's resume for the 2004 race and was lucky enough to be picked for one of the 80 or so slots.

My first job was to assemble the best team to help me finish the race. The team consisted of Bob Brainerd from Maine my coach, trainer and he is a triathelete. Carl Hunt from CT. ultrarunner. Walt Prescott from NH, ultrarunner, pace and crew person at Badwater 2002 and 2003 and ultrarunner. Mike Smith from IN, Badwater finisher 2002, crew person 2003. Andy Velazco from GA, orthopedic surgeon, 2003 Badwater finisher, crewed Badwater 2002. These five people are all very close friends of mine who  gave up their time and worked under extremely hard conditions to help me at Badwater.

The crews would be with me supplying food and drinks, moral support and much more constantly for over 85 hours. They would pace me from mile 17 until the finish. They put up with my vomiting, diarrhea and hallucinations. They also kept me motivated, taped my feet, treated my blisters, changed my shoes and socks etc...

This incredible team gave me the confidence I needed to take on Badwater and Mt Whitney. Another motivating factor was the  goal of raising $25,000 for Camp Sunshine and knowing that if I finished Badwater, I would raise even more money.

My "dream team" and I all met in Las Vegas July 10th 2004 and proceeded to Furnace Creek, Death Valley, CA for what turned out to be a most memorable four days of challenging myself.

The first challenge was the Badwater Ultramarathon. This race is 135 mile footrace from Badwater, 282 feet below sea level to Mt Whitney ending at 8,400'. These two places are the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere  and the highest mountain in the lower 48 states. There is no food or water on the course you have to supply your own.

I had the 8:00 am start on Monday July 12th. There are three starts 6, 8 and 10 am each consisting of about 25 runners. It was about 85-90 degrees at the start. By mile 13 I was already in trouble suffering from the "runs". I had been taking in drinks with too much sugar, this continued to bother me for the next 6 hours or so. By 28 miles into the race a temperature of 123 degrees had been reached as we traveled over the rolling asphalt road through Death Valley. At mile 42 I took my longest break of the race at a motel in Stove Pipe Wells. I spent about 15 minutes in the pool trying to cool down my body. Then I had a pasta dinner as Andy partially retaped my feet in an effort to prevent blistering. In less than an hour I was back on the course starting up a 5,000 feet climb for 18 miles. Around mile 53—I "blew lunch" in front of my crew and lost my pasta dinner and anything else that was in my stomach. The guys were great about putting up with my disgusting bodily functions, keeping me hydrated and moving forward.

Reaching Townes Pass summit  at mile 59 and starting the 8 mile downhill towards Panamint Springs I knew that I had the hottest portion of the race and one of the Mountain ranges behind me.

I ran the first 17 miles without a pacer, but had someone with me from that moment on. At about mile 70 I started another mountain climb to Father Crowley's 5,050', reaching the 90 mile mark on July 13th at 2:30 PM. 30.5 hours into the race, I had climbed 2 mountain ranges and descended a long downhill to find a flat stretch of road ahead of me. This took me to mile 122 where I would start another long climb up to 8400' to Mount Whitney Portals and the finish line.

Darkness arrived for the second time around mile 112 (about 36 hours into the race) this brought on some hallucinations, I was seeing things that I now know were not there. There are miles of the race that I don't remember, but as Bob started pacing me at mile 122 (at 1215AM) up toward Mt Whitney portals I was again hallucinating in 3D. When I would stop, the asphalt road would move, becoming 3 dimensional and mosaic.  This was not a frightening hallucination, just worrisome that I would lose my balance and fall.

With Mike Smith there with the SUV, moving it just ahead by 1/2 mile at a time, and Bob there to encourage me and keep me moving forward, I knew that if I didn't stop too often or for too long, I would "buckle". To receive the coveted "Badwater belt buckle" would mean that I would need to finish this in under 48 hours.

Forty Six hours and seventeen  minutes after starting out at 282' below sea level, I crossed the finish line with my crew of 5 at my side. I was exhausted, filthy and in pain but I was happy as hell. After a few pictures were taken with my crew and with the race director I called my wife at work to share my victory with her. We  then headed to Lone Pine CA for a shower, some food and some sleep.

Three of my crew members, Andy, Walt and Mike S headed back to Las Vegas that afternoon to fly to Vermont and run in the Vermont 100 mile trail race. (they all sucessfully completed this race with Mike buckling).

I had  finished the Badwater 135 miler, "buckled", summitted Mt Whitney and returned. I had run, walked and crawled from the lowest point in the Western hemisphere to the highest mountain in the lower 48 states.

The one goal that has not yet been reached is raising the $25,000 that I had hoped I could raise for Camp Sunshine. I will continue to work towards that goal and hopefully reach it in the near future. The website www.runningonthesun.org will be open for another year for donations.  There is also more info there regarding the race.

Thank you Andy, Bob, Carl , Mike S and Walt for all that you did!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I would also like to thank all the people who gave me moral support before ,during and after the race. And a special thanks to everyone who contributed to Camp Sunshine, I never thought I would be so close to my goal at this point, you poeple are truly  generous and thoughtful. Ten families plus are now going to Camp Sunshine thanks to your generousity.