Crewing for a Champion
Crew person for 2007 women’s champion Lisa Bliss
In the world of a person who lives far away from me lays the dreams of a champion that will soon be realized. What does it take to be a champion? It takes hard work, passion and a competitive spirit willing to risk all in order to make it to the finish line first. In the minds of most Lisa Bliss was not a favorite to win Badwater but she shocked the world. A pretty young girl who smiles all of the time yet has a burning desire to succeed and will risk all to do just that. She welcomes all into her world but on the racecourse she is a fierce competitor. While she talks, smiles and giggles she runs with purpose and the heart of a lion.
When Lisa Bliss asked me to be a part of her Badwater team in 2007 I accepted her offer without hesitation. She is someone who immediately gained my trust, put me at ease and accepted me for who I am without judgement. She saw through all of the barriers and disguises that I put up and looked directly into my heart and saw things that others missed. She is a very nice person who gives everyone a chance.
We first met when I paced her at Western States in 2005. While she had a successful race I walked away feeling as though I had failed her. I had promised her that I would do my best to help her achieve a sub-24 hour finish and I walked away knowing deep inside that I could have given her more. Since that day I’ve spent all of my time waiting for a second chance. A chance that would make it all okay. Badwater 2007 would give me that second chance.
The most difficult task for me and probably the others as well would be to find the courage to be a part of a team of people who barely knew each other. Though we did not know one another, Lisa trusted us to care for her and to guide her safely across the desert while also making sure we cared for ourselves as well. Though fearful, I had no doubt that the five of us would mesh together and strive for the common goal of getting Lisa to the finish line as quickly as possible.
The five individuals that Lisa chose for her crew each brought a different flavor to the team. Larry Ham was the only person that served on Lisa’s crew on her first attempt in 2004. I personally relied upon him to take the initial lead because he knew how to serve her best. Larry was a critical asset to the team because his profession as a physical therapist gave him the skills necessary to put Lisa back together if need be. Larry is a regular guy who lives in the real world and has no ambition to be an ultrarunner. He worked feverishly in elements that are not common in his world and was asked to sacrifice his own well being for a friend. Sacrificing sleep and food would be easy for those of us who participate in the sport and understand the nature of the event but it was quite a task for an outsider. Larry adapted well and contributed a great deal to the team effort.
Dori Robertson was a member of my Badwater crew in 2006. I knew her strengths prior to this year’s run and in fact recommended her to Lisa early in her selection process. Dori is a teacher and a communicator. While I can’t honestly say that I listened to every word that Dori spoke to me in 2006, I will admit that she tried her best to distract me from any pain I was experiencing at any time during my race. She’s a ball of energy, enthusiastic and competitive.
Dave Heckman brought humor to the group. He had a knack for making everyone laugh but more importantly he seemed to be able to take the edge off of Lisa. When he was by her side she smiled, laughed and absolutely enjoyed her surroundings.
Glenn Tachiyama brought a winning attitude to the group. His experience crewing for Scott Jurek in 2005 and 2006 was invaluable. While others at first reneged at his ideas we all concluded that there was no other way to do our best than to copy what the best did. Glenn is a quiet, kind yet powerful guy with a contagious laugh. In his presence everything seems so calm and nothing is pressing or urgent. He has the remarkable ability to relax even in the most tense of situations. His job was to keep Lisa calm while pushing her hard and he was very successful at doing so. Oh and late in the race his presence motivated Lisa to run as she refused to be captured on film while walking.
Me, well my job was to jump in anywhere that I was needed. Even though I can be quite shy at times I have the ability to organize people so that they work well together. I knew that over a 30-40 hour period of time that there could be some conflict amongst the group and the conflict had to be resolved quickly. My main goal going in was to do just that. Also I had hoped to find a way to motivate Lisa in her toughest times and ultimately bring her to the best finish that she could possibly expect. She has always told me that she feels as though she has never given enough effort in an ultra. Well I owed her my best effort to find a way to motivate her and keep her moving forward.
Glenn offered his suggestion as to what method we should use at the start to satisfy Lisa’s needs through the first seventeen miles. Since we were allowed only one crew vehicle until the 17 mile mark at Furnace Creek Dori volunteered to stay back until we reached that mark. The duties assigned were as follows: Dave Heckman would meet Lisa and immediately take her empty bottles and used ice bandanna. I would then meet her next about 10 yards up with new bottles filled with ice and water along with a new ice bandanna. Also I was responsible for getting her food if needed. Larry would then see her off by spraying her down with water from a large garden sprayer that was filled with ice. Finally it was my responsibility to document all of the activities that took place including her food and fluid intake.
The field along with Lisa posted some very fast opening splits with the leader pulling off a 7:30 first mile. Unknown to me at the time, the fast splits would not come back to haunt anyone as the 93% finish rate was un-freakin’ believable. The first day was beautiful with a slight cloud cover, a nice 20-25 mph tailwind and temperatures topping out at about 105° at the start. It may have been cool for Death Valley but the Valley is not a foe to be taken lightly. There are many challenges along the way that if not met with total concentration would overcome a runner and end his or her day very quickly.
Lisa had no trouble navigating her way down the hilly road that led from Badwater to Furnace Creek. In fact, I think her biggest worry was how her crew was doing. Early in the race she yelled over to us that she loved us which I took as a sign that she was concerned and needed to be reassured that we were okay. I didn’t really say anything but instead just kept working. The runners were fresh this early on and since we stopped every mile we stayed busy filling bottles, loading ice to the bandannas and trying to figure out what she might like to eat. We never really struggled with our organization and in fact we all stayed busy trying to satisfy the task we were assigned.
When we reached Furnace Creek at seventeen miles Dori jumped in and started to pace Lisa. Prior to pacing I told Dori and the rest of the group that I thought it would be best if each of us only ran 5 mile legs with her. One of the mistakes I made last year was not assigning limits to my crew ahead of time. We were there to help Lisa and the best way to do so was to keep ourselves strong and never allow ourselves to get totally depleted. Dave Heckman told me immediately that five miles might be a little too much for him and we all agreed that it was okay. Five was the limit but if one of us only felt comfortable running one or two than that would be okay too. Larry had already told us up front that he was only capable of running a mile and it would be best if it happened when Lisa was moving slow later in the race or up a long hill. Glenn let us know that he would prefer to help out in the van on the first day and then pace on the second. That being said the pacing duties would be the primary responsibility of both Dori and I on the first day. We were all in agreement that no matter how we divvied up the mileage the five-mile limit would stay in effect.
Lisa ran into some minor trouble with an imbalance of electrolytes on her way to the forty-two mile mark at Stove Pipe Wells. Her fingers and wrists had swelled to an uncomfortable state and her weight increased by two percent from where it was at the start. She was also suffering from some minor cramping which is something she had never experienced in past races. She recognized the conditions immediately and knew exactly how to instruct us to react. We followed her instructions and her body responded quickly. Within a few miles the cramping was gone but the scare made us realize just how critical it was to stay on top of her water, food, and electrolyte intake. We monitored her weight every hour and reacted based upon the outcome. Lisa was also very good at letting us know how she felt. Her knowledge of how to care for her body in the brutal conditions was unbelievable and her guidance was something that was valuable.
The weather in the late afternoon changed significantly from that of the morning. The temperature registered by the gauge in our vehicle had risen to 116° and the cloud cover was now gone leaving those outside more exposed to direct sunlight. Even though the scenery of the sand dunes on the right hand side of the road was spectacular I’m certain that those running could only concentrate on placing one foot in front of the other.
It was now late afternoon and I felt that the steady diet of honey on tortillas that we had been feeding Lisa was not enough of a variety for her. While she had an assortment of foods to select from they honestly did not look very appetizing to me. I struggled to find something that I thought would not only give her energy but something that would also satisfy her taste buds. Soy chips, organic Cliff bars and trail mix amongst several other items that she had purchased at a health food store most certainly would supply her with needed energy but where was the taste? I guess I’m just used to the aid stations at ultras where the mainstays of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, M&M’s, regular potato chips (with a lot of fat!), and real cookies are served. I was doing way too much thinking which made the job harder than it should have been. The funny thing is that by not accepting the food that I had to offer early in the race Lisa further solidified my belief that what she had was not satisfying her. I told my fellow crew members that I was living in bizzarro world and that instead of offering her what I wanted I should offer her the opposite. Truthfully Lisa was very nice the entire time and always managed a smile no matter the situation. Early on I found it tough to get her to eat something other than the honey on tortilla but as the race progressed she became more accepting of anything I had to offer.
As we approached Stove Pipe Wells Lisa’s pace had slowed to that of a turtle. She was experiencing some pain from injuries that existed prior to the race. When she reached the mile forty-two checkpoint she changed clothes, grabbed some food and regrouped before fulfilling her duties as a test subject for a study performed by the medical staff.
Prior to the race those of us on the crew agreed that it would be important for each of us to get away for a couple of hours to relax our minds or sleep if need be. Getting away from the intense action would allow us to be fresh throughout the night and into the next day. Lisa had reserved a room at a hotel in Stove Pipe for us to use if need be and that is exactly what we planned to do. Dave Heckman made it clear at Stove Pipe that he was ready for a break so it was decided that he would sleep first. Larry wanted to sleep when normal people sleep so he volunteered for the 11 p.m. slot. The group determined that I would go next at 9 p.m. at which time I would return with the car and wake Dave up. I only wanted to be a way a couple of hours so I asked Larry to return by 11 p.m. and then finally Glenn would return at 4 a.m. to get Larry. Glenn sacrificed the most, as his sleep would be had in the car during the one-hour trip back. Dori wasn’t interested in going to the hotel so instead she took the car up a few miles and slept on two occasions. Everyone found time to get a way for a while so I felt good that we were doing everything right in order to give Lisa our best effort. Whether it was just time alone to relax or sleeping when each of us returned to the scene we were raring to go.
Lisa’s progress on the course was steady despite the fact that 50 miles into the race she was hampered by blisters that were forming on the balls of both of her feet. It was around 8:00 p.m.when she first made us aware of the problem. She voluntarily came over to the vehicle where she proceeded to remove her shoes and socks so that Larry could take a look. There were no visible blisters leading Larry to believe that she might be suffering from a neuroma or bruised feet. Lisa was prepared for any situation and had a bag set aside with supplies for just such an occasion. She along with the help of Larry fabricated a cushion for her shoe that would protect the affected area and hopefully allow her to run again pain free.
By the time she was done and running again it was getting dark and we needed to start gathering Lisa’s nighttime gear. Dori had taken the car up the road a few miles to get some shuteye and unfortunately had taken Lisa’s flashlights with her. I was somewhat concerned because it was getting late and we really didn’t know for sure where Dori was. Glenn and I calmly drove up the road to find Dori while Larry ran by Lisa’s side. My concern was unwarranted as we easily located Dori, found the lights and returned before darkness set in. Once Lisa was all geared up for the dark it was time for me to head back to the hotel in Stove Pipe Wells to wake Dave Heckman. I wasn’t too keen on leaving but I knew it was the best thing to do and besides I couldn’t leave Dave back at the hotel.
I made it back by 9 p.m., woke Dave, and then talked with him until he left around 9:45. I took a shower and watched WWE wrestling as a way to unwind. When Larry hadn’t returned by 11 p.m. I became antsy and went for a walk outside of the hotel. When I went out front I saw my friend James Moore arriving at the checkpoint. I took the opportunity to wish him well on the rest of his trek to Whitney and also took the time to chat with Badwater veteran John Dodds who was serving on his crew. Despite the fact that it had taken James some time to make it to Stove Pipe he had a big smile on his face and he was upbeat. I saw the smile on his face and was certain he would be okay but in the end he found himself moving too slow and had to bail at the seventy-mile mark in Panamint Springs. James is a very accomplished runner and someone who is not afraid to take risks and I applaud him for his effort.
When Larry finally pulled into the parking lot around 11:30 p.m. I showed him to the hotel room and immediately headed back out to the course. Larry had told me that Lisa had crested the long hill at Towns Pass and should still be making the long descent into the Panamint Valley by the time I got there. I drove twenty miles with the fear that I would not be able to locate our team in the dark but the green night lights that Lisa and our team were wearing as opposed to the red that most selected were easy to detect. Just as Larry had said Lisa was making her descent into Panamint but to my surprise she was running by her lonesome. When I arrived at the scene Dori told me that she had started out running with Lisa but that the fear of aggravating an old injury forced her to the sidelines. Both Dori and I thought that it would be best if I jumped back out there to run with her if for nothing else to allow her to feel somewhat protected against the demons of the dark.
When I started running Lisa was cruising at a good rate of speed on an easy but long down hill section. I was a little worried that the long down hill could aggravate an old injury of my own but I was ready for it. The beautiful night time sky filled with a million stars kept my mind off of everything including any pain that I may have had. The sky and the surrounding mountains put me in such a relaxed state that for a few minutes I forgot why I was even there. I snapped out of my trance and chatted with Lisa a bit to see if she too had recognized the sky that was directly on top of us. She acknowledged that she had noticed and even pointed out that the moon was missing as she watched it earlier dip below the mountains in the background.
Lisa was relentless as she ran every inch of the way down the road into the valley below. Several miles later and a few thousand feet lower we reached the bottom only to find Lisa in severe pain. The pain in both of her feet had intensified to the point where she needed to stop to tend to the problem immediately. This time when she removed her shoes and socks large blisters were noticeable on the balls of both of her feet. We retrieved her foot care kit and allowed her to go to work on herself. She stubbornly refused to allow anyone else to pop the blisters or help her in any way. The only role I could play was that of comforter. I reassured her that once the blisters were drained that the pain would decrease to an acceptable level. She poked and prodded at the blisters on the right foot but they were so deep that very little fluid was released. The blisters that were on her right foot were not as deep and could be drained with ease. She allowed Dave Heckman to bandage her feet but showed concern when he placed an adhesive bandage directly on to the skin. She was worried she would never be able to remove it without tearing the skin off but once it was on it was too late. Now that the bandages were on and her feet were wrapped in tape it was time for Lisa to make an attempt to move again. I felt so bad inside when she whimpered as she rose to her feet and moved forward. I had not treated her like a girl all night long but I was so tempted to do so at this point. I could not enable her but instead I needed to find a way to make her fight. I promised her that the more she walked the less pain she would feel. She continued to make noises but never complained or stopped. It hurt me deep inside but I never let her know and instead I continued to urge her to walk.
I looked at my watch and noticed that at 2:20 a.m. we still had time to travel the three miles uphill to make it to Panamint before 3 a.m. After we traveled a mile and a half Lisa asked Glenn and Dave Heckman to go ahead into town and get her some breakfast at the all night restaurant. She thought that the warm food would help her relax and recover. She was also hopeful that John Vonhoff or someone from Zombie Runner might be there to treat her feet. We moved at a slow rate of speed but as she walked her stride became smoother and her pace picked up despite the pain. The only thing I could do was to continue to reassure her that the more she walked the less pain she would feel. I worked hard to convince her that her pain would decrease in intensity as long as she continued to walk. She accepted my comments with the same smile that was on her face at the start and the same smile that remained throughout. Her words expressed pain yet her face expressed joy.
When we reached the town of Panamint a little before 3 a.m. and found that no one was there who could treat her feet we continued straight through without stopping. Before catching back up to Lisa I quickly popped my head in the restaurant to let Glenn and Dave know that we were moving on by. Both Dave and Glenn seemed frustrated because the food was taking a little longer than expected and also because the restaurant was not yet serving breakfast. Lisa would have to settle for spaghetti and meatballs instead of the eggs that she wanted. Just like every thing else though Lisa took it in stride and accepted the food with a big smile on her face.
We left Panamint in the dark starting the long climb up to the top of Father Crowley. I knew from my experience last year how spectacular the view was at this point. This year, however, I would have to allow my imagination to run wild because darkness concealed the beauty of the area. Lisa may have been in pain but her consistent pace had her catching up quickly to a runner just a head. The person she was gaining ground on was not just any runner but one of the best and a Badwater legend in Lisa Smith-Batchen. Both Lisa’s had faced some adversity throughout the night and shared stories as they walked together. They walked and talked for a quarter mile before Dave and Glenn showed up with Lisa’s food. When Lisa slowed to eat Dave took over the pacing duties and I joined Dori in the crew vehicle. Dori suggested that we head back to town and buy more ice since we were running low. Dave had Lisa giggling like a little girl and back on track so Dori and I felt comfortable leaving the two alone for a little while without support. We backtracked and headed into town where there was a little mini-mart/gas station that sold ice. I was shocked that the price of gas at this particular station was $4.39 a gallon. I may have been shocked but I also understood good business practices. The local stores knew they had us by the you know whats and like any smart business they took advantage. I went inside and bought six bags of ice at a $1.89 a bag and after seeing the price of gas felt as though I got a deal. When I put the ice in the coolers I took a peek in the vehicle and looked around for the first time since the early afternoon hours. The inside was a mess and totally disorganized. I looked at Dori and she looked at me and without a word said we both jumped in and started cleaning up. We discarded all of the trash and reorganized the entire van prior to heading back out.
When we caught back up to Lisa and Dave they were both still giggling and having a good time. It was as if we weren’t even missed. We were back and as a group we continued the eight mile, three thousand foot climb leading up to the top of Father Crowley. Lisa told me earlier that she had run most of this section in 2004 and was concerned that her feet would not allow her to do so again this year. Her confidence level was not high early on because her race this year was quite different from that of 2004. In fact, as funny as it may sound she questioned her ability to buckle. I responded by referring to my own race of the previous year in which I was well behind the pace she was setting on this day. I assured her that she could easily walk from here and still break the forty-eight hour time limit needed to buckle. I felt uncomfortable making references to my own struggles in races but it was the only thing that I knew to do. This race was all about Lisa not all about Dave but I had hoped that she would see that if I could overcome different challenges than she could as well. My purpose was to help her relax and allow her mind to rest knowing that she was not alone, anything was still possible!
As we climbed the mountain the sun rose. This gave us an opportunity to see the crew vehicles that led down the long stretch of highway into Panamint Springs. As Dori and I admired the scenery Dave continued to walk with Lisa up the mountain. We were about two thirds of the way to the top when Larry and Glenn returned from resting. We all pulled off into a large parking area where at four thousand feet we had a 360° view of our surroundings. Lisa, Noora Alidina and Lisa Smith-Batchen were running neck and neck as she came into our view but instead of trying to gain ground she opted to take a five-minute break instead. Dave Heckman had brought a comfortable lounge chair along for the ride and now it was time for it to serve its purpose. He pulled it out of the vehicle, assembled it in the proper position, and allowed Lisa to sit. The big smile that had been plastered on her face since the start was now even wider as she rested.
Once her five minutes was up Lisa laughed in pain as she struggled to rise from the chair. She hobbled forward but then quickly regained a smooth stride. Larry tagged along with her for about a mile before handing over the pacing duties to Glenn. Lisa and Glenn crested the mountain together and were rewarded with a spectacular view of Mt. Whitney well off in the distance. Though Whitney looked like it was just a hop, skip and a jump away in reality there were many miles to travel before reaching our final destination.
When Lisa and Glenn made their approach toward the crew vehicle we were about to experience our lowest point of the race. Lisa’s smile was replaced by a look of concern as she limped dramatically toward us. Seemingly out of no where an angel of mercy arrived. Jamie Mieras, a race medic, had been traveling in the area and decided to stop when she spotted Lisa. Once she saw how much pain Lisa was in she offered to help. Jamie quickly located her medical supplies and brought them to our location and went to work on both of Lisa’s feet. There wasn’t a lot that any of us could do at this point except pitch in to do minor tasks and clean up the trash that was left over. It took 43 minutes before Lisa was up and running again but the time lost was well worth it as the intensity of the pain in her feet significantly decreased. We cleaned up the area, thanked Jamie and quickly moved on.
While we were making our way to the mile 90 mark in Darwin Lisa asked us how many people and who had passed her during the down time. I assured her that only a couple of people had passed and for the most part those that did were early starters. I wasn’t 100% sure that my answer was correct but I thought it was more important for her to remain focused on her race and not that of others.
Lisa seemed to pick up speed when she found out that she had a chance to make it to Darwin in less than 24 hours. We were about three miles out when Larry sent Dave ahead to find out the exact mileage from where we were into Darwin. When Dave came back with the news that we were closer to two and a half miles than three it was a no brainer that Lisa would make her goal. She kicked it into gear and when there she looked as if she had been reborn. We stopped in Darwin where Lisa weighed and rested for a few seconds before kicking it back into gear and heading out once again.
Almost immediately after leaving Darwin Larry and Dave took over the crewing responsibilities and Dori headed into town to pick up the Mt. Whitney passes. There was a small chance that after crossing the finish line Lisa and crew would attempt to summit Whitney and return in record time. We weren’t sure at this point in the race if we would make the attempt or not but there was still a chance so as planned Dori went into town.
Predictably Lisa ran almost the entire stretch of downhill road leading out of Darwin. It was a beautiful setting in which to run as Mt. Whitney could be seen directly ahead and the dessert colors now included something other than brown. Lisa’s confidence level increased brightening the spirits of the crew but there was still one more down period lurking just ahead. When we reached the 103-mile mark the town of Keeler could be seen well off in the distance. The road leading to the town was winding and rolling and though it seemed so close we knew it was still far away. Suddenly the wind stopped blowing and the heat beat directly on Lisa’s brow, which compounded the mental struggle she was already experiencing. The knowledge of having to travel the long, winding road before reaching town along with the brutal heat was devastating. Her pace slowed and her spirit took a beating but amazingly enough she still smiled.
As we neared Keeler she asked me two questions both of which I could not answer. I was flustered when she asked what time of day it was and what mile mark we were at. My watch was still on Eastern Standard Time and for one reason or another I couldn’t figure out how to subtract three hours from whatever time it read. I told her she would have to wait until we reached the van to get the time but I gave her a good guess as to what mile mark we were at. When we arrived at the crew vehicle I was hoping that Larry would know the time and exact mileage mark and lucky for me he did. Personally I’m not a big fan of calculating pace because if it’s not what I want it to be it can be deflating. Sure enough when Lisa found out what her pace was over the last five miles she seemed quite dejected. It was at this time when it seemed as though she made a conscious decision to dictate the outcome of her race. I looked at her and I saw a spirit that was intact and a ton of energy and strength that remained inside. I attempted to draw what remained inside by urging her to concentrate on her race and to focus on running as much as possible. She responded positively to my words and listened to me instead of the IPOD that she had been listening to the entire race. Her positive response gave me permission to let loose every bit of passion that I had inside. I scare most when I let loose but Lisa sucked up every ounce I had and wanted more. I felt a rush of energy and somehow it made its way to Lisa. She was in no way intimidated but instead listened and followed my guidance. I had lit a spark, which Lisa used to ignite a fire. She was running and running hard and it would last until the very end.
Once she was running I asked her to communicate her needs to her pacer and allow him or her to get what she needed. It made no sense for her to come out of her zone and lose energy just to get what she needed when we could do it for her instead. I thought it was important for her to stay focused for this would allow her to defeat any mental challenges that could arise along the way.
At mile 111 it was Glenn’s turn to pace and his job would be to keep the fire burning in Lisa’s heart. The mix of my emotion, Glenn’s patience and comforting presence and Dori’s ability to teach was exactly what Lisa needed to get her to Lone Pine. Our plan was for each of us to run three miles with Lisa until we reached the Portal Road at mile 122.
The crew played a critical role in what was about to occur over the next five miles. Dave Heckman had earlier drove up ahead to do some reconnaissance work and when he returned we were surprised by what he told us. He said that Lisa was gaining ground on the second and third place females and that the first place female had less than a two-mile lead and all were struggling. It wasn’t long after Dave broke the news when Noora Alidina came into view. We saw her hobbling and moving slow and knew that it was only a matter of time before Lisa would catch her. Larry, Dave and I discussed how we should proceed with the crew vehicles and concluded that we should stay out of view of Noora and her crew until Lisa was close and ready to pass. We figured that if we got too close the nervous energy generated from the knowledge that Lisa was on her tail might give Noora second life and make it more difficult for Lisa to pass. We implemented our plan precisely and before we knew it the time had come for Lisa to make her move. The competitive juices were flowing in every one and everything we did was for one purpose and one purpose only, to help Lisa win.
Just prior to our decision to pass Noora’s crew vehicles I ran over to Dori and Lisa and told them “ladies let the games begin”! Lisa was now aware that she was in contention and she literally responded by putting the hammer down. Not only did she pass Noora but unknowingly to me she also passed Tracy Thomas. I saw Tracy’s crew vehicle but did not see her so I assumed that she was still running up ahead. Turns out I was wrong as Dori and the others had seen Tracy in the vehicle. Once Dori guided Lisa by Noora and Tracy it was my turn to keep the fire burning in Lisa’s heart.
Lisa was easily motivated but also easily distracted by spectators who happened upon the course. It angered me when someone would drive up along side of her or walk up to her to chat. She’s a nice person and very approachable on the outside but on this day she’s a competitor attempting to realize a dream. While I didn’t feel comfortable screening Lisa from the public the race was now on so I not only felt comfortable but I felt it was my duty.
Lisa had just taken over second place when I started pacing her and my goal was to keep her relaxed and focused. I wanted her to focus ahead and not behind. This was not an easy task because Noora’s crew vehicles had to come right alongside of Lisa to park to wait for their runner. This led both Lisa and I to believe Noora was right on her tail and truthfully maybe she was. I refused to look back so I honestly do not know how close Noora was at the time. It was all strategy and tactics from here on out, don’t smile at your competitor, don’t acknowledge her or her crew but instead run forward looking strong and confident. That’s a winning attitude and something that will build confidence and allow you to run with authority and not in fear.
Glenn ran with Lisa the last two miles into Lone Pine. They made a right turn on the main highway and then ran another half mile before they excitedly caught a glimpse of the female leader. Jamie Donaldson fought a good fight but was now hobbling toward the Lone Pine checkpoint. Once Lisa saw Jamie she became a woman possessed and pushed hard toward the town. She stayed way over on the left side of the road away from race officials and ran strong toward the Portal Road. She had absolutely no interaction with any of the officials but instead depended upon her crew to check her in.
The crew had worked feverishly to get her to this point but now our lack of knowledge of the rules left us a bit exposed. Someone remembered that the runner is allowed only one crew vehicle to follow him or her up the Portal Road. Since we had two crew vehicles and a five-member crew we were not sure what to do. I got a little nervous because everyone looked at me for direction so I quickly sought out assistance from one of the race officials. He told us that it would be okay to have two crew vehicles as along as we stripped all of the identifying marks off of one of them, kept them a good distance apart and only used one as a crew vehicle. Since he was an official I listened to him, but once I told Lisa our plan she refused to allow us to do it. She was a stickler for rules throughout making sure that we stayed behind her and off of the road when we paced and that our vehicles complied with all of the rules as well. Though tired, she was not going to change now and demanded that we take the car all the way up the mountain. I assured her that we were given direction by one of the officials and that we did not deliberately set out to break the rules. I promised her that we would obey her by moving the car all of the way up the mountain and that’s exactly what we did.
I’m not sure why, maybe because I’ve done Badwater or have experience as an ultrarunner but for some reason the others in the crew looked to me for guidance. I had been leading since we were five miles outside of Keeler and continued to do so as we approached Lone Pine and our final destination. I say it was my experience but I have a feeling that my peers deemed me the leader because I was so emotional and fiery and truly wanted Lisa to win. I found it hard to make decisions that could potentially hurt someone else’s feelings but any decision I made was made because I was certain it was best for Lisa. I went back to our team and explained exactly what we needed to do and though my decisions may not have been popular everyone accepted his or her role. Our plan to get up the mountain would be that Dori, Glenn and I would continue rotating the pacing duties every three miles, Larry would drive the crew vehicle while Dave drove the other up the mountain.
I was first to pace and immediately I challenged Lisa to move as quickly as possible and even run when she could. Larry had told me that in 2004 she made it up the mountain in four hours and ten minutes. I told Lisa that the race was hers if she could post that same exact time again. I told her all of this not knowing that she was already in the lead. I must have left my mind in Lone Pine because I thought she was still the chaser not the one being chased. Lisa slowed a bit and even asked Larry to give her the hairbrush that he had been guarding with his life for over 123 miles. I wondered why Larry had a hairbrush in his lap for so long but now I know. I think Lisa’s plan was to use the brush to help her relax and it served its purpose as she zoned out for a few minutes. In a way it drove me nuts so in response I urged her to give more effort if she could but I let up when she told me that her hip would only allow her to go so fast. While Lisa was brushing her hair Dave Heckmam ran up beside me and told me that Lisa had nine tenths of a mile lead on Noora. When Lisa asked me what Dave had said I would only tell her that she had a significant lead. In retrospect I should have told Lisa exactly how much of a lead she had because now that I know she would have found another gear and put the race away even earlier. I found this out when Dori jumped in to pace. She immediately told Lisa that she had less than a mile lead on Noora and that all would be okay if she maintained. That lit a fire under Lisa’s ass for two reasons first because she felt threatened by Noora and secondly because she was mad at me for not telling her how close Noora was.
I made a mistake at the 127-mile mark of the race when I allowed my feelings to get hurt. One of the main duties of a crew person is to build walls and to not allow emotions to affect his or her job. It is critical to the runner that the crew works out their own problems and is able to handle any thing the runner throws at them. No anger, no hurt feelings and no frustration. At the 127-mile mark the walls I had built fell to the ground and I allowed my feelings to get hurt. I was sad because Lisa thought I had lied to her and I was sad because I had made Lisa mad at me. It hurt me and I felt it but still I did my job. I couldn’t face her eye to eye but instead what I did was fill her bottles and prepare her food only to ask Glenn to give it to her. It broke my heart that I couldn’t be out there but I figured that my presence would only piss her off more. The good thing is that the anger that was generated lit a fire under her ass and she started to run up the mountain. I was sad and happy at the same time. A bad thing may have occurred but she turned it into a positive. I thought it was totally amazing that she could dig so deep inside of herself to find the energy to run up the mountain. This allowed her to crush the 4:10 time she posted in 2004 by twenty-eight minutes.
Glenn paced her the next three miles before Lisa looked over to me and asked if I was next. I jumped at the opportunity and melted like butter when Lisa expressed her appreciation for all of my help. Any hurt feelings I had were now gone as together we walked up the three steep switchbacks that led up the mountain. I continued to walk with her until we reached the 1.5-mile to go marker at which point Larry took over for the next half mile. Dave took the final leg with Lisa to the finish as the rest of us waited patiently for her to arrive. At 8:33 Pacific Standard Time Lisa Bliss crossed the finish line and became the 2007 Badwater ladies champion in 34:33.
While Lisa was being interviewed Larry and I stood together speechless but the smiles on our faces said it all. The team spent many hours together, struggling when Lisa struggled, laughing when Lisa laughed and feeling bad when Lisa cried. Now that she had crossed the finish line and all was over I wasn’t sure if I should be sad or happy. I had just spent the last day and a half with people I barely knew yet somehow at this time each felt like a part of me and I never wanted the time to end. Reality set in quickly and I realized that it was over. Though the thought of leaving was sad I knew the events of this day would be played over and over again in each of our minds until the end of time. There was more to this than just winning a race as each of us took home a part of the other. Congratulations Lisa you are a true champion!