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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

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:


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 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.

Steven Silver @ Badwater 2002

Crew for 2002 finisher Steven Silver

Why would an otherwise sane individual stand at a brick wall and repeatedly bang their head into said wall? The answer to that question is obvious. Because it feels so good when they stop. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out. Now, why would the same sane person keep coming back to the Badwater 135 mile Ultramarathon for the pain and punishment it dishes out three, four, five and now even six times? Well, that one is a little harder to explain. But that’s what Steven Silver of El Paso has done and he now ranks number three for the “most BW buckles” and somewhere near the top of the “biggest badass” list. It’s my duty as this years crew chief to file the report, so here goes. Names have not been changed, so as to incriminate the guilty.

Last year was the fifth Badwater for Silver and I was privileged to serve on the crew with Jim Wolff as chief and Steve James/Laura Bernal as the other crew understudies. This year it was up to me to direct the dance. David Bliss and Lisa Stranc-Bliss were the other two chaperones this time (from Chicago) and we all hooked up in Vegas two days before to prepare for this year’s carnage. Badwater requires preparation out the wazzoo and I had taken good notes last year. It’s just a shame I didn’t remember to bring them along for this time.

Steven had secured an Astro Van for the journey (same as last year) and we made the require stops at “Sam’s” and “Albertson’s” on Sunday to stock up for the coming death march. Anyone that is considering a try at BW should be forewarned that the runner and crew must be prepared for self-reliance. You are expected to provide all your own support on this desert trek. There won’t be anyone out there to wipe your asses for you, or give the runner chocolate and gummie bears along the way. Remember mostly that water, ice and Gatorbarf are worth their weight in gold and you can’t cool down with or drink gold. As it turned out, this year was a hot one even by Badwater standards and the DNF ratio was high with approximately a quarter of the field dropping out. I think that the heat of the first day particularly, played a big part in this.

We arrived at Furnace Creek on Monday and attended the pre-race meeting. Chris Kostman had his usual warm and caring demeanor about him and a special part of this years’ meeting included an appearance by Al Arnold. (The first man to successfully complete BW back in 1977) Ben and Denise Jones gave their talks/ other celebrities were introduced and all the playing around was pretty much over… Time to shut up and do it. We ate dinner and went to bed. Ten a.m. and it’s time for Steve’s start…We had already seen a few runners come through Furnace Creek before we drove down to “Hell on Earth”. No pacers are allowed now between BW and FC so Steve and the other runners trudged off on the first section unaccompanied. We took our vehicle ahead about 2 miles and got ready for the first of countless pit stops. Steve had said that he wanted cold water only for the first 17 miles into FC. There would be plenty of time for Gatorbarf and other goodies as time progressed. This year’s secret weapon was “Sustained Energy” endurance powder. It’s made by the Hammergel people and mixes with water into a milky white muck. Good stuff though… Now in retrospect, we can say it delivered as promised and kept Steve from bonking calorie-wise.

So it’s drive a little ways, stop and prep water/refill the water cannon and repeat. Pretty much the same as last year except that I’m the one in charge instead of Wolff. It’s damn hot already and as we drive forward and park each time it affords the chance to see how the other runners/crew are tackling their task. Of course, we were doing shit right and everyone else was doing it all wrong. (ha) Right before the start some crew person had come up to Lisa and asked her “Was one ice chest enough?” and “How many bottles should their runner drink every hour?” I wouldn’t swear to it, but somehow I have the feeling that bunch probably was a DNF.

A little short of 3 hours, we had made it to Furnace creek. The first checkpoint. I ran into get extra ice and David pulled over to the gas station to top off the tank. No need to at this point really, however my feeling is to take advantage of every resource available. Steve was going to sit down and eat something here, so why not get ice and petrol too? Lisa’s job was to check our runners’ feet at this point. It had already been decided that there was to be no whining about bloodied and blistered feet this year. Bitching and crying was not to be tolerated. As head hard-ass, I would see to this. The second rule was that there would be a tight rein kept on the breaks. Less than 15 minutes and Steven was headed back down the road with Lisa pacing now.

I can say right here, another important key is to keep the pacers fresh by swapping out frequently. The runner is going to be fried by day two. That’s a given…but if the crew can remain relatively fresh it’s a big plus. I remembered this distinctly from last year. David took a turn pacing, then I ran with Steve… back to Lisa. This would more or less be repeated ad nauseum for the next 38 plus hours.

Somewhere past FC Steven started swapping out water for an occasional bottle of the Sustained Energy brew. Also, we began using the gatorbarf at this point and continued to use the water cannon liberally. I remember from last year Steven bitching about how much the section between FC and Stovepipe sucks but this year it was different. As we ran and walked we joked about the heat and speculated on things to come. For example, we weighed our chances of viewing Curt Maples puking his guts out by the pool at Stovepipe again this year. As it would be, we would not enjoy that treat until somewhere up the Townes Pass climb. The Major did recover and finish this year though, so I guess the purple pedialyte worked. The Major buckled with about a 47:20 I believe, so I lost that bet.

Other highlights along the stretch to Stovepipe include the Devils Cornfield and the Sand Dunes. Last year, Jim Wolff had chastised me for taking a squirt too close to some kind of rare desert grass in the Devil’s Cornfield but this year I was a “Good Boy”. I’m proud to say that we were all ecologically friendly. Well, except for that big desert spider I stepped on but nobody has to tell Wolff about that. The Sand Dunes were magnificent again this year and as we finally neared Stovepipe Wells a few “dust devils” were spinning out on the flat areas. Most of the section between FC and SW had seen temperatures in the 125 to 128 range. Time to prepare for the next big pit stop and as Steven made his way in on the last mile I drove ahead for gas and ice.

It was over by the pool now for Steven and Lisa, while David and I got gas and ice. There was a lot of action at the store and I had to elbow some old crippled lady out from in front of the ice machine, as she was trying to get the last few bags (not really!) Meanwhile, Lisa was working on Steve’s feet and forcing him to down a bottle of Sustained Energy before we left. I walked over to the pool and dove in for a quick cool off. I got straight out and told Butthead we needed to go. We had spent nearly 30 minutes here now and I was determined not to waste any more time. We were leaving Stovepipe ahead of last year. So far, so good….

Now begins the long arduous climb to Towness Pass. We had made up the time gap on several of the eight o’clock starters by now and were into the “leapfrog” mode with several others groups. It was dark by the time Steven crested the top of TP and I mandated that no stop was to be enjoyed here. We had been swapping pacers frequently and things were going reasonably well. I got out for my turn at running and Steve and I moved on down the backside of TP. The front side of this long climb is basically a power-hike and on the backside you can cruise nicely in the dark. It flattens out as you proceed across a salt flat and Panamint Springs can be seen for quite a ways in the dark. This year there was a full moon and you could really have run without lights. (Except for the safety factor)

Last year coming into Panamint, Steve had hit his first major “bad patch”. I remember him feeling sick and lying down at the side of the road during this section and it seemed to take forever to get to PS. There would be none of this bellyaching, this year. Before long it was time to check in at the Panamint time station and mark another milestone. Panamint is seventy-something miles into the run so you know that you’ve got more than half of it licked. There is a also a guesthouse at Panamint where the runners can rest. Steve was going to be allowed a thirty-minute nap. No more. Often, this is a point where runners take a significant amount of down time and even bag it in. Not for our group though. We woke Steven and told him his 30 minutes were up. (It had really only been 25, but this was an old crew chief trick I learned from Wolff, last year.) Daylight was coming soon and it was time to head up the 13-mile climb to Father Crowley’s point. We moved out from Panamint… The section from PS to Father Crowley can be described best as “a bitch of a climb”. It has beautiful views in the early daylight but you have to be careful… This can also be a dangerous section because of some tight turns and severe drop-offs as you wind your way up to 5000 feet. We made strong progress over Father Crowley’s point and into Darwin Valley. There are several rare types of desert plants now and some of the rock formations appear surreal. At one point David commented “You know, somehow that pile of boulders just doesn’t look right”. In fact, there are many areas on the BW course where you find yourself asking, “how in the hell did that occur?” I’m sure some kind of a rocket scientist can probably explain it, but I can’t.

We finally reached the Darwin Cutoff at mile 90.1 just before 11:00 am. It was time for another major pit stop to work on feet, force Sustained Energy down Silver’s gullet and check the time board. This is one of the three places on the course where you make a turn, I believe. Badwater really is a simple race, isn’t it? There is certainly no need for marker ribbons or glow sticks. Oh yes, we also forced Silver to change shorts and shirt here at the Cutoff, as he stunk to high heaven by this time. Note to self: Next year bring nose clips…

So it’s into Owens Valley and on toward the 100 mile point. It was heating up again and I knew that our ice was not going to hold up. We started making plans to leave Steve and a pacer walking with the remaining ice and haul ass up to Lone Pine for more. This was what we had to do last year and we were almost to that point now. But the BW gods had pity on us this year and with perfect timing our prayers were answered. Coming down the road in the opposite direction was a Coachman RV and the driver stopped, yelling out the window… “You guys want some ice!?” Well, that was a big no shit and he then opens a freezer in the back and hands us 2 bags. We thank him and he heads off further down the road. I guess someone had sent him out from Lone Pine to help. He certainly made our day.

Now our group was stoked. Nothing could stop us now. (Except maybe the 50 kilometers or so left to the end.) It was now that we began to notice the smoky haze in Owens Valley. Normally you can see Whitney up ahead from far out, but not this year. Fires in the forests west of Lone Pine were making the otherwise pristine view appear more like the air of Mexico City. As it would be, we could not make out the outline of Whitney this year until about 4 miles from the turn into Lone Pine. A dust storm also kicked up this year at the stretch just past Keeler and things were slowing down. Each mile seemed to take forever now and I knew that we needed to get to the turn badly for the psychological lift it would give everyone. We passed the Dolomite slant and then crossed the bridge over the creek east of Lone Pine. Last year, it was here where we were attacked by blood sucking mosquitoes. No repeat of that fiasco, this time and it was now only 3 miles to the turn. As we came to the turn, David and I left Steve/Lisa to head into the Dow Villa checkpoint and drove quickly into Lone Pine for final duties. We checked into the room where we would crash after the assault on Whitney was through. Then we went into the check point room at Dow Villa to let them know Silver would be coming soon. Finally, I pulled over to the McDonalds to grab a hamburger for Steve, as he requested before we left.

David and I head backwards now and meet up to Steve and Lisa just coming into town. It’s over to the Dow Villa check-in and then two more blocks to the turn on the Portals road. He enjoyed a quick sit down and the burger as I got a couple of blinkers and lights ready for the final push. It would be dark soon and we were now ready. Last year it took over 4 hours to march the 13 miles up the mountain, but this would not be allowed this year. David took the wheel of the van and drove ahead as the rest of us began climbing. Up, up, up… the three main switchbacks loomed ahead and as the sky darkened, the moon appeared as a glowing orange ball due to the forest fire smoke. The temperature was dropping now as we gained altitude. Silver pressed on to his six-peat destiny. Lisa and I offered encouragement as the groups’ hero fought on up the switchbacks. “We go into the woods just around the corner now and then it’s only 2 more miles…” Steve proclaimed as we finished the third switchback. “We’ll be there in 30 minutes”.

“You’re full of shit Silver…” was my response. “It’s still at least 3 miles so get your ass in gear or we’ll be out all night”. Everyone was in sleep-dep. mode now after 38 hours. We were functioning now on pure adrenaline and excitement and finally we entered the woods. David was stopped up ahead and as we came by he asked, “how much farther is it?” “This is it…Drive up to the end and find a place to park and get out. We all want to be at the finish together” In reality it was still closer to one more agonizing mile and as we drew ever closer Steve would ask “Is this it?…Where is it?…What’s that sign say?…Did we make a wrong turn?”

You’d think that after six times he’d know but everyone gets brain dead at the end and the anticipation is excruciating. Finally parked cars on the left came into view and we ran down to the finish. Steven crossed the line in 38:36:00 as 5th overall male and now 6-time BW finisher. His time was nearly 2 hours better than last years’ forty-plus hours, despite hotter conditions and the lung searing smoke on the second day. Of course, he had the best crew/crew chief on the course. (Eat your heart out Wolff…) It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out.

Bridge Over Troubled Badwater: A Badwater 2002 Race Story

Official Finisher, 98, 99, 00, 01, 02

Bolts of lightening are slamming into the mountains and the windshield is being pelted with rain from the giant thunderheads filling the evening skies, as our mini-market laden van rolls south along Highway 395 towards Lone Pine and our eventual destination in Death Valley. Each year along this stretch of pavement, it becomes starkly clear, that soon I will be faced with the momentous challenge of running the toughest footrace in the world. Although I have worked very hard and I am completely trained, the harsh weather surrounding us reminds me of the enormous task ahead. I am confident, apprehensive and scared to death.

Every July ninety long distance runners from around the world are invited to compete in the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon. This event starts at Badwater, CA the lowest spot in the United States. It snakes through Death Valley and crosses three mountain ranges before finishing at the Portals on the flanks of MT Whitney. To receive a coveted belt buckle one must finish in less than forty-eight hours. This will be my fifth consecutive Badwater race.

The next day at the pre-race meeting in Furnace Creek, I am inspired by the presence of Lisa Smith and Marshall Ulrich, two of my heroes and Badwater ultrarunning giants. Everyone in the building chokes up when the first man to complete Badwater in 1977, Al Arnold, gives an emotional speech.

To prevent congestion in this National Park there are three starting times (6:00 am, 8:00 am and 10:00 am) with twenty-seven runners in each group.

While driving in for the ten o’clock start I am surprised to see United States Marine Corp, Major Maples, (well known for his multicolor Badwater barfathons), in second place only a few feet behind the leader. He said he would be taking it easy this year. It must be the Marine esprit de corps and all that stuff. I hope he makes it

The moment that everyone has been waiting for is now only minutes away. To preserve these memories truckloads of photographs are taken as we straddle the starting line and stare into the teeth of this most difficult race. During the next few days of roller-coaster highs and lows, having a good time is guaranteed, as well as, getting blitzed by plenty of heat, misery and pain. But, as far as finishing goes, it will be a coin toss, a crapshoot, and the luck of the draw. Yet, we are all still here, drawn to this race like a moth to a hot light bulb. Even though it is already 110-degrees, I get goose bumps and butterflies when the National Anthem is played to honor all the runners. It is good to be back.

The word is given and off we go. “Start slow and then taper,” said the legendary San Franciscan marathoner Walt Stack. Okay. Plan A is to take it fairly easy for the first 42-miles to Stovepipe Wells. If I am conservative during this part of the race I should be able to attack the rest of the course. Sounds good anyway.

My crew, Christine Webb, Lina and Jacqueline Young and Jason Hunter will leapfrog me every mile in the van and attempt to keep me hydrated and well fed. Trying to keep me cool, they will use a super-soaker to wet down my Sun Precautions hat and jacket during the extreme heat of the day. For the first time my beautiful wife is here to help crew the entire race. I told her that if she came along this would be my last Badwater. I don’t think she believes me.

During the early part of the race when we are all full of energy and clicking on all cylinders we run past the colorful landmarks of Furnace Creek, Devils Cornfield, Devils Golf Course and Dantes Point. It’s almost impossible to believe that this barren and arid basin was once filled with water.

Even though the temperature begins to climb into the 120-degree range, I am running at a comfortable pace and having a good time. Fortunately I have started this race relatively healthy. Although I am still pestered by the Achilles tendonitis I developed in last year’s race, it should only be a minor nuisance. At the start of other Badwater races I have been handicapped with inflamed sciatica, stress fractures and a broken toe that I had crunched on a chair leg the day before. Still, I have managed to finish every race.

Through the grapevine we learn that a British runner (promoting Roger Rabbit) started this race in a bunny suit, including the head. He had already collapsed from heat exhaustion. He was evacuated to a nearby hospital. He recovered, but by mile nine the race had claimed its first victim.

This year more than ever the runners are spaced farther apart and there are periods of time when no one is in sight. At times, while I run alone, I listen to the sounds of silence that are gently rising from this great sprawling salt basin, which is surrounded by incredibly chiseled mountains that are brushed with sparkling burgundy and other softer rainbow colors. I am easily hypnotized and totally engulfed by the immense beauty of Death Valley. This place is one of the most picturesque on earth and is a gift for man to treasure. It is a litmus test for one’s spirituality. It is a privilege to be running here.

There are little piles of reminders along the road noting that other runners are having a tough time keeping food and liquids in their stomach. This is never a good sign because vomiting too much lends itself to severe dehydration and an early exit. I haven’t seen any colorful displays yet, which means the Major must be okay.

For brief moments during the day and into the night, I run with my friend Paul Stone. He is crewed by his lovely wife, Abby, a budding cinematographer. She is worried when he is slowed by some horrid stomach problem, but I know that Paul’s tenaciousness will fight this thing off and she can videotape him and everybody else at the finish.

While taking a drink around mile-20, something unusual happens. I knock out one of my front crowns and break the tooth behind it with my water bottle. Strange, I don’t remember this in my race plans.

Just before the Beatty turnoff (mile-28) I catch Chris Frost who is captivated by the super soaking that my crew was giving me. My crew relented and gave him our spare soaker to keep himself cooled down. I hope it helped. I was also glad that mine kept working.

The last five miles into the small resort of Stovepipe Wells (mile-42), where one has a grand view of the famous Death Valley Sand Dunes, which are now stunningly shadowed by the early afternoon sun, has always been the hottest part of the race. This year is no different. Even as I begin to wilt in the 126-degree heat that can be seen undulating from the surface of the road, I continue to run at a brisk pace knowing that a shower at the motel is beckoning. Although it is enticingly inviting, I manage to stay out of their small pool. For unknown reasons jumping in the water has given other runners and myself incredible cramps. I have seen runners go into convulsions and know others who have vomited parts of their stomach lining. For these runners it becomes a frustrating early exit.

After a shower and a 15-minute respite to snack on peanut butter, olives and power gel, I begin the sixteen-mile long and relentless trek up the tough grade to the top at Towne’s Pass.

Except for the overwhelming record setting 130-degree temperatures during my first Badwater race in 1998, when my toenails exploded like kernels of popcorn, the first few miles out of Stovepipe Wells were the hottest I have ever been in my life. A gentle mountain breeze was picking up the 200-degree radiated pavement heat and blowing it right in my face. Nor was there any relief walking on the hot berm of sand on the shoulder of the road. I had trained for months in a 170-degree sauna in order to adapt to this heat. In a sauna you can cool off by leaving the room, but out here there is no escape. The heat clings to you and cannot be washed away. I felt like I was in a frying pan and would soon melt.

My race plan was to jog at a slow pace to the top of this grade. Unfortunately the extreme heat was taking its toll. I was having trouble breathing in the oven-like air and my legs began to feel like heavy logs. I became extremely fatigued and even walking was torturous. But I knew from my 25-years of running that even when the body is subjected to extreme conditions, it has a miraculous way of recovering. It just has to be fed the proper food and fluids. As I inch forward, I consume lots of PowerAde, water and Power Gel. As it starts to get dark and cools down to a pleasant 100-degrees, I begin to feel better.

Somewhere around mile forty-eight, I came upon one of the South American runners who I thought had a chance to win this race. He and his crew were sitting on the side of the road commiserating and consoling each other. The strained look in their eyes told me that he was finished. So much training, preparation and dreaming and now it was all over. The harsh day had taken another victim. He had rolled snake eyes with 88-miles to go.

Although I felt more rested, I knew that I could not run all the way to the top. I was forced to resort to plan B. I strapped on my Sony CD player and I listened to my favorite music. I would run during a song and then power walk the next one. This alternating scheme worked so well that I was able to charge up the mountain pass. My crew said that all that they heard, for the next two days, was Arthur Webb merrily singing along and creating havoc with the music from the Simon and Garfunkel Greatest Hits Album.

By the radiator stop at the top of Towne’s Pass (mile-59) I felt a ten-minute well-deserved catnap was in order. Mistake number one. After a few minutes on the cot, my body was hammered everywhere with incredible cramping. My body was suffering from severe dehydration. Knots the size of walnuts began to surface first in my hamstrings and then in my stomach and quadriceps. Any movement caused a dozen more cramps. Instead of letting me bend up like a pretzel, my crew yanked me to a standing position. After walking around and consuming large amounts of electrolytes my system stabilized.

Then I began the thirteen-mile segment to the Panamint Springs Resort. The first six-miles are quick as I run down the mountain pass in the cool of the evening and then face the more difficult seven-mile run across the Panamint Valley. Near the bottom I run into Kari Marchant who is suffering but still full of energy. After a few minutes of censored chitchat, I charge ahead into the dark of night.

It was time for a refill of inspiration as I catch Rick Nawrocki by the Panamint salt flats (mile-65), which were iridescent from the glowing full moon. This man, his life in peril from an invasion of cancer and suffering from the side effects of chemotherapy, had finished the last few Badwater races. Fortunately he has been cancer free for a year, but now is struggling with a groin pull and other problems. If you ever want to really get emotional just wait for Rick at the finish line. He will be there. This gentle giant will never quit. Rick is my super hero.

After reaching the Panamint Springs Resort (mile-72), I stopped in the hospitality room for a bathroom break. Then I sat down in the parking lot and waited for my crew to make the scrambled eggs that I always crave. Whoops, another big mistake. Ten minutes later I felt woozy and blacked out for a few seconds on the desert floor. While I was laying low and looking around at the sympathetic eyes of my wife and crew, I flashed on the dreaded DNF (did not finish) column during a brief weak moment.

I could feel the tension among my crew as they attempted to figure out how to help me. They have been working hard for the last twenty-four hours catering to all my needs. They are also tired and weary from all the blistering and punishing heat. I tell them that salt and water is what my system needs the most. Dehydration continues to be the problem and I will be redlining it the rest of the race.

Although I was feeling awful, I knew that I was never going to quit. The kids that I run for at the Valley of the Moon Children’s Home, a crisis center for abused and abandoned children in Santa Rosa, CA, were following this race on local radio and on the Badwater race website. How could I ever face them if I folded up my tent and went home. They have already seen enough giving up in their lives. Besides, my few hours of suffering would be nothing compared to the anguish that some of these kids will have to face their entire lives. Also, scrawled on the side of my van was the motto, “The objective is to finish. We didn’t come out here to quit. Do it for the kids.” This was strong medicine and a powerful incentive.

My biggest concern was that besides the Crystal Geyser water, PowerAde and my secret favorites, Cheetos, Starbucks Frappuccinos, and O’Doul’s, there was nothing in my goody filled van that would satiate me. I even spat out the eggs I was craving. Remember the saying food, food everywhere but nothing to eat?

Time for Plan C. Get to the finish line the best way you can. I got off the ground and started the gigantic snail-like struggle up the extremely steep eight-mile mountain pass. The first few miles are sheer torture as the disoriented, nauseated and physically worn body just wants to stop, lay down and sleep. I had just slammed into the well-known “Marathoner’s Wall” and now was attempting to drag it up this hillside. In order to finish, I had to somehow dig down deep to find a way to continue to push forward.

Amazingly our cell phone rang. It was my father-in-law and sister-in-law driving in from Los Angeles checking in on our progress. I told them to stop at a Subway and bring me an assortment of cheese and meat sandwiches. By the time I reached the summit at Father Crowley’s Point (mile-80) they were just arriving. Unbelievable. A special delivered catered lunch out in the middle of the desert. I sat on the stoop of the van (there will be no more lying down) and gobbled a sandwich and washed it down with Ensure. Feel better? Yes. A Small miracle? Maybe.

A few miles later, where the road snakes along the side of the mountain and we have a spectacular view of a mini-like Grand Canyon, an F-15 on a training mission passes just above our heads. It was amazing to watch this silver bird sailing along the canyon walls. Near the bottom it went vertical for a few seconds then rolled over several times and disappeared into the horizon. Minutes later as he repeated the exercise we began jumping up and down honoring this awesome air display. Stay tuned Saddam.

The next ten miles of gently rolling hills should be easy to run but they are not. Having to face another hot day, the sleep deprived and overworked system begins to fight back. Foods in liquid form are poured down the throat and chased with gulps of water since chewing and swallowing have become difficult. It is ironic that we have to eat and hydrate constantly to maintain, while the myriad of fragile desert plant life everywhere in this valley struggles for survival all summer long on only a few drops of water. And we think we are tough.

I am still struggling at the Darwin checkpoint (mile-90), yet I somehow manage to run the next ten miles of slight down hills before stopping and taking group pictures at the 100-mile mark. Usually from this vantage point one can view the Owens Valley ringed by the massive granite walls of the Eastern Sierras and the equally impressive White Mountains. But not this year. The smoke from a gigantic forest fire on the western side of the mountains had blanketed the region. A notable race landmark, the burg of Keeler (mile-108), which is nestled on the edge of the dried up Owens Lake, was also blotted out. Not all news is bad. Only thirty-five miles to go.

Near Keeler the setting sun and rising moon are full and brilliant and orange from the fog-like smoke. Somewhere in the distance, in this Mars-like landscape, there is the clanking of a piece of machinery. From the dark crevices of the tired mind strange movements begin to appear and at any moment I expect to see Star Wars creatures crawling across the eerie scenery.

Dinner (a can of cold Campbell’s Chunky soup) was served on the side of the road at Keeler (a.k.a. Killer). Four years ago at this same spot it was 125-degrees at six in the afternoon. I was suffering from heat exhaustion and had to be wrapped in an ice bag for twenty minutes before I could continue. Two years ago CalTrans paved five miles of road along this stretch earlier in the day. The soles of my running shoes began melting as the 200-degree pavement began to skewer me.

Reinvigorated by the sense that the end is relatively near, I run the last 14-miles into the city of Lone Pine. Before the final climb, I socialize with Lisa Smith’s husband, Jay (Mr. Mom), at the Dow Villa Hotel while my crew tended to a minor emergency.

As Jason and I make the left turn on the MT Whitney Portal Road for the thirteen-mile climb to the finish line, we see the large white LP (Lot of Pain) lettering appropriately emblazoned on a knoll high above the amazingly crafted Alabama Hills. Minutes later, in total darkness, a profound tic-tic-ticking began to close in from below. Heck, we had just started this climb and something was already after us. Fortunately it was just Major Maples tapping the pavement with a stick in each hand for cadence and balance. With his determined look and quick pace, he appeared to be storming the beach. He would get his buckle. Semper Fi Mr. Maples.

Weariness is again creeping in as I begin to think and speak in fragments. I spend half an hour trying to recite (race winner) Pam Reed’s Macbethian approach to this event, “If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly.” But it only gets mixed up with other Shakespearean stuff. Although I never did manage to say it correctly, it will be my theme song for next year.

Suddenly from the pavement up ahead came this huge ghostly glob of transparent goo with a face full of beady eyes. It was heading straight for me but I was able to dodge away. Then little humanoids began to appear along the road and strange animals were crouched amongst the fern-like shrubbery waiting for us to falter. Jason also sensed their presence as we both picked up the pace and managed to pass safely. Several years ago at this same spot a group of Yetis and a flock of prehistoric pterodactyls were escorting me up this mountain. Hallucinations or not, this is great stuff.

Just after our narrow escape I catch Toni Miller from the six o’clock start. She was concentrating hard and was handily moving up the mountain. Two more hours at the current pace and she would buckle. For encouragement and confidence, I praised her on the great job she was doing. I added that the last bit of struggle and suffering would be soon forgotten while the finish line and her prized buckle would last forever. Then I went twenty feet ahead at a slightly faster pace and started cutting all the corners to save precious time. I was hoping that she would follow suit, which she did. With two miles to go I told her that the sweet smell in the air was the finish line. Nothing was going to slow her down now.

When she realized that the end was near, her emotions began to take over. Toni excused herself for all the tears. Forget it. Cry a river. This is the best part. She wanted me to cross the finish line with her. I begged off. This crowning moment was hers. It was the reward for all the hard work that she had done. I stepped aside and watched Toni and her friends break the tape in forty-seven hours and thirty-nine minutes. It was worth the trip just for this touching moment. Toni would have made it without my intervention; I just hope I helped make it a little easier.

Minutes later I cross the finish line with my excited crew. This most incredibly difficult forty-three hour mission is finally over. The next few minutes are filled with enormous pride and satisfaction as the yelling and weeping spill forth. This celebration is the culmination of a successful yearlong journey that thoroughly tests you mentally, physically, emotionally and at far greater depths where the will and soul reside. I firmly believe that if one can finish this race than anything is possible. In my little running world completing Badwater is as good as it gets.

After crossing the finish line the body that has struggled and worked so hard needs to recover and immediately begins to shut down. Only minutes before I was trudging up a difficult thirteen-mile grade and now I can’t walk five feet. I am literally poured into the van and we head down the mountain. There is a string of runners pushing up the hill attempting to fulfill their dreams. I think they are all going to make it.

After we arrive at the hotel, my shoes are pried off and the socks are peeled from my severely blistered and swollen hamburger-like feet. Unable to sleep from a post-race buzz, I start to shuffle down Main Street. Seconds later I trip on a small rock and do a belly flop in front of a group of tourists. As I was on my knees, wiping the gravel and dust from the strawberries across my elbows, one of the spectators gives me a seven point five for the sidewalk springboard dive. To prove it was no fluke I did it again one block away in front of the post office. I better get to bed before I really hurt myself.

The next day, during the long drive home, the adrenaline begins to dissipate and my frayed mind and body are totally consumed by extreme fatigue. Although my thoughts are many miles away and this race seems just like a dream to me now, there is still a small pocket of endorphins racing around deep inside that are already looking forward to the 2003 Badwater race.

Although it will take several months to fully recover, I can’t wait to start the 120-miles a week running regimen. I also look forward to the daily Nautilus workouts and the baking sessions in the sauna at the 24-Hour Fitness Center. Even at 61-years-old, I should do better. I believe that I have finally figured this race out. And, as they say, the sixth time is a charm.

I can’t wait for the summer training sessions when I can hang around with all my friends and heroes. The camaraderie here is top-notch.

I can’t wait for the preparation and the journey across the desert when we drive to the starting line and everyone is full of energy and excitement.

I can’t wait to run through all the beauty and majesty that is in Death Valley and on Mt Whitney. This place refreshes my faith and helps me feel young and alive.

Although someone once said that the special ring to this Badwater race is similar to the tolling of Edgar Allen Poe’s “Bells”, I can’t wait to come back.

Thanks to Race Director Chris Kostman and his support team at AdventureCORPS. This was your best race.

Thanks to Ben and Denise Jones for all your help and compassion. Everyone loves you.

Thanks to my crew for suffering along with me in the desert. Without your help I would not have made it.

Thanks to Ted and Suzie’s Deli Express. I promised I would do anything for those sandwiches. Yes, I am still going to paint your house in September. (I did).

Thanks to all the Santa Rosa Postal Workers, Post 21 of the American Legion, KMGG-FM, KSRO-AM and Channel 50 for all their support and contributions for all the kids and the special interactive program at the Valley of the Moon Children’s Home.

Thanks to my wonderful and understanding wife. Honestly next year will be my last Badwater race. Maybe.

It was indeed an honor to be part of the toughest footrace in the world the Sun Precautions 2002 Badwater Ultramarathon.

Badwater Runners’ Report for the JustDo262 Yahoo Group

2002 Finisher

Well, I can’t believe it’s over!

The planning, training, worrying, running, walking, limping and crying are done. All that is left of the 2002 Sun Precautions Badwater Ultramarathon are the memories. And what wonderful memories they are. At some point, I’ll try and put together a more profound piece about the experience, but for now, here’s what I recall about what happened:


I won’t have had the slightest idea of how to train for Badwater if my buddy Greg Minter hadn’t done it last year. In fact, I would never have even considered doing the race if not for Greg. I’ve been able to “participate” in 100 milers in Vermont and Angeles Crest and for the 135 mile Badwater race as a crew/pacer for Greg. That was more than enough to keep me happy. But there was something about Badwater (and maybe Greg’s subtle pressure relentlessly applied) that inspired me to step out of the shadows and put myself on the line.

I almost hate to admit it, but I really enjoyed training for Badwater. All the runs we did were at “Badwater pace,” which, for us, meant somewhere between 10-12 minute miles. Too slow to run with most of the runners we know so we trained mainly by ourselves. We ran between 70 and 90 miles a week with our long run averaging over a marathon (about 27 miles) for about 4 1/2 months.

Diana Rush was the only person we really ran with regularly. She was great. She never complained about our pace and always pushed to make sure we did all the miles we’d planned. She even tolerated driving around with the heater on from January through the final heat waves we got in July. We went to the gym and sauna regularly. By the end, Greg, Diana and I had used up most of our stories and began to long for others to talk to. 🙂


Greg and I were blessed to have absolutely incredible crews. In fact, I can say without hesitation that I would not have finished if it weren’t for my crew. The day shift consisted of Linda Daniels-Hernandez, BJ Anderson and Diana. Their shift was from 10 AM to 10 PM. This all-female crew earned the nickname the “Desert Wildflowers” at one of the training clinics we attended. They seemed to attract so many of the male runners/crew at the clinic that I thought I’d have to bring twice as much water and ice to “support” these friendly guys. The night crew, for the 10 PM to 10 AM shift was Wendy and JR Young for the first night. Wendy was joined by Saul Hernandez and my daughter Stephanie for the second night as JR went over to help Greg’s crew.

Suffice it to say, my crew was incredible. In the months leading up to the race, their excitement was clear and they gave so freely of their time to attend meetings, training clinics, request vacation time, etc, anything that was necessary. During the race they put so much effort into making sure I was OK. I felt so well-supported out there, I can’t imagine anyone being able to complete this event without such a caring group of people.

I must also thank Greg’s crew for all they did for him and for the support they gave me. Mark Giebel, Mark Gilmour, Charlie Marko and Charlotte Vernon did an absolutely wonderful job with Greg. He had some tough stretches that he had to fight through but his crew was great and were invaluable in helping him recover. Tying our crews together were Greg’s parents Lewin and Sue. They are the parents that everyone longs to have. I think every one of our crew members was calling them “mom & dad” by the end of the week. Somehow they were able to keep all of our crews supplied with ice, water, whatever, always seemed to know how Greg and I were doing, and were waiting at the perfect places to give us a hug along the way.


There were 3 starting blocks to minimize traffic on the two-lane highway from Badwater to the first timed station at Furnace Creek. I ended up starting 4 hours ahead of Greg at 6 AM. We had hoped to start together since all of our training was done together but, as race day approached, we decided that the 4 hour stagger might be better because Greg would probably run faster than I and would catch up at some point along the course. As expected, Greg did run faster but he never did catch up so, consequently, we never saw each other on the course. We did get an occasional update of how the other was doing, but we each ended up running our own race.

The 6 AM start was packed with all the female competitors in the race. Also in my starting block were some of the more well-known Badwater runners (Marshall Ulrich – only person do a “quad” – four crossings during last years race – and a solo unassisted-crossing; Major Curt Maples, Lisa Smith-Batchen and Jack Denness of Running on the Sun fame; Scott Weber – first to do a triple crossing). There was even a guy who ran dressed in a Roger Rabbit costume. Heard that he didn’t even make it 10 miles and had two 911 calls.

The beginning of the race went really well. It was in the low 90s when we started at 6:00. I was probably near the back of the pack and running comfortably. My plan was to take advantage of the “cool” start and run most of the way to Furnace Creek. Wendy and JR were crewing that section and everything felt fine – just like the previous times I’d run this section in the clinics and the race last year. I got to Furnace Creek in 3:47, almost 15 minutes ahead of schedule, feeling good.

The Desert Wildflowers took over from there. I think I ran a little bit after Furnace Creek but my plan was to walk all the way to Stovepipe Wells (mile 42). This is the hottest section of the course, through the heart of Death Valley. It is here where most DNFs occur. The crew kept me cool with iced bandanas around my neck and a cool-water soaking every mile. Linda found a clever way to get ice onto my head without needing to take off my hat. I had bought an ice cap with a zippered compartment for ice. She would just unzip the pouch and scoop ice directly in. It looked like she was actually pouring ice INTO my brain. It all worked well to help manage the heat. I didn’t want to ever know the temperature but afterward we heard that the reported high was 123F and most of the car temperature gauges were reading 130F. Regardless, it was hot.

I reached Stovepipe Wells at about 6:30 PM, a half-hour behind schedule. I felt good and took a few minutes to have BJ massage my legs and feet (she’s a massage therapist in addition to her many other skills). After about a half-hour I was heading out of Stovepipe and up the 18 mile climb to Townes Pass. Almost immediately out of Stovepipe I started to get sleepy. Yikes, it’s only 7:00 PM, I thought. After a Starbucks Frappicino and Hansen’s Energy drink, I was alert again and digging out the night gear (head lamp, flashlights and reflective gear) that all runners and crew must have for the dark. Basked in the light of the full moon, I trudged up to Townes Pass with the Wildflowers until Wendy and JR relieved for the night shift.

I finally began to see more runners on the Townes Pass section. Many of those who started at 8:00 or 10:00 were now passing me. In fact, we saw Matt Penn, a Runners’ Reporter who now lives in Tucson. He had inquired about crewing for me but heard that my crew was pretty full so he offered to be the 2nd crew member for a runner from Idaho whom he’d only corresponded with a few times over the internet. Nice guy, that Matt.

It must have been at the shift change that I heard that Greg had gotten sick a couple of times in Death Valley. Didn’t hear much other than that but I started to get worried. He had gotten sick at the clinics last year but not at all during the race. I also heard that lots of guys in the 10 AM start had been sick because it was well over 100F when they started.

My pre-race plan was to run, very slowly, up much of the climb to Townes Pass. That didn’t happen. I was more than happy to just walk the hill but it set me back a few hours on my projected race time. There’s a steep downhill section after the peak at Townes Pass. I ended up walking most of that too, casually stopping every mile to snack with Wendy or JR. I probably took too long at these aid stops this first night but my stomach was a little queasy and I wasn’t really sure what to eat. Root beer, Fritos, Quench gum and that magic elixir – chicken soup – seemed to do the trick. I did start to get a little tired in the wee hours of the morning but managed to stay awake and moving.

Near the bottom of the hill, I decide to run. Mistake. There’s a seemingly endless flat section through Panamint Valley after the downhill from Townes Pass where I though I might be able to make up some time. I figured I could get a running start and make up some time before the next time station in Panamint Springs. Shortly after I picked up the pace, I started to feel tightness in the upper part of my right calf and up through the knee. I know now that I either strained, pulled or partially tore something. I was still able to walk/limp but running was out of the question.

We finally got to Panamint Springs at about 8:30 AM, 2 1/2 hours behind schedule. There was a hospitality suite set up for runners to shower/sleep so I hobbled in to change my clothes for Day 2. I stayed at Panamint for about 20-30 minutes. I ended up passing some people here who took sleep breaks. My placing in the race wasn’t really the issue here. I just wasn’t sleepy so I decided to keep moving.


Immediately out of Panamint Springs is a steep 8 mile climb to the Father Crowley Lookout at mile 80. This was a slow, arduous climb. The highlights here were the 10 AM crew change where Linda, BJ and Diana rejoined me and some low altitude flybys from jet fighters who use the area for training. They seemed close enough to touch and their power was both exhilarating and frightening. I think I must have started to look kinda bad on the climb because Linda went into assessment mode (she is a social worker who works with cancer patients) and kept asking me my name, address, today’s date, and to do “simple” math like counting backward from 100 in “serial 7s.” I got my name and address right, and relied on looking at my watch to get the day/date correct (that’s a lot to expect when I hadn’t slept in over 30 hours) but I could never do mental math when running anyway so the serial 7s were out!

Near the top of Crowley, I tested my feeble mental math skills and tried to figure out how fast I need to move in order to finish within the 60 hour time limit. There were 55 miles left and I’d miscalculated so I really began to question whether I’d make the cutoff. Finally I asked the crew to figure it out. They said I only needed to go 2 mph and would finish with 3 hours to spare. Not bad, I thought. I could do that.

Maybe not. The next time station was at the Darwin cutoff at mile 90. My paced slowed quite a bit on the long downgrade to Darwin. My leg was really tightening up and I was limping badly. I hadn’t taken any medication up to this point but I was getting really concerned about finishing so I took some Aleve. BJ had some homeopathic anti-inflammatories so I took those too. I noticed that stopping made my leg tight up even worse so I tried to limit my stops at the van and kept walking through the aid stations.

I finally got to Darwin just before 5 PM on Wednesday, 35 hours into the race. I’m approaching virgin territory now. The longest I’d ever run was 91 miles at a 24-hour track run a few years ago. I remember how sore I was after that and don’t even want to think what 45 more miles will do to me.

Every day at dusk, we’d see smoke from the fire in Sequoia. Wednesday evening was something else. The air was think with black smoke and ash. The rising moon had an orange cast to it. The gloom brought my spirits down too. Too far to go on a hobbled leg. How will I get through another night without sleep? Too many questions left and not enough energy to search for answers.

Somewhere around mile 95, Linda’s husband Saul arrived. A godsend. Saul is an emergency room nurse with a very quiet and caring manner. I had originally wanted Saul there because of his medical background. Unfortunately, his request for vacation during the race as turned down. But, as things have a way of working themselves out, he was schedule off on Wednesday and Thursday which, at the last minute, made him available for the Wednesday night shift.

What I hadn’t counted on was Saul’s ability to immediately assess the situation and develop an emergency plan. This plan was to get me to the finish line. I don’t really know what happened, but Saul, Linda and BJ got together and figured out exactly what was needed to get me to finish the race. It was as if I was plopped down into this finely tuned machine. Things went from them asking me what I wanted to my crew taking over. They made things simple. Just keep walking, keep up with my pacer and let them know how I was feeling. They did the rest. They calculated how fast I needed to move, spaced out my advil and homeopathics, massaged and wrapped my leg with ice and an ace bandage, kept me hydrated and fed, spaced out doses of caffeine to keep me awake and alert. In short, they did everything. All I did was walk.

From this point, almost everything was a blur. I just walked and did what they said. Sometime that evening I became the “crooked man.” I hadn’t even noticed it but others kept asking why I was leaning to the left. With my entire right leg bandaged and my upper body listing severely to the left, I was quite a pitiful sight. Had I known I looked that bad, I might have reconsidered going on.

Through the blur of the 2nd night, I do recall a few things. The crew stretched a roll of toilet paper across the road at mile 100 so I could “break the tape.” This was the first time I “lost it.” Stephanie showed up at about mile 105 with Wendy for the night shift crew change. My daughters have always been very supportive of my running and it was wonderful to have Stephanie there. I was glad that she could see how great my friends are and how hard they were working to get me through this thing. It seems like people don’t really “get” why runners do Badwater until you are there to experience the race. I’m happy that Stephanie now really “gets it.”

Saul stayed on the night shift that 2nd night with Wendy and Stephanie. With my leg in the state that it was, I wanted to make sure that either Saul or BJ were on shift at all times for their knowledge of traditional and alternative medications. I made steady progress the 2nd night. Saul had told me earlier that, because my pace had slowed and we’d taken some time to refigure the crew shifts. I needed to do 2 mph but would only have a 45 minute cushion to finish. They were trying to build up that cushion because the last 13 miles of the course is the climb up to 8300 ft on the Whitney Portal Road. With my leg in such bad shape, their goal was to get me to Lone Pine by 6 AM so I’d have 12 hours to do the final climb.

On the way to Lone Pine, I kept hearing that Greg was only 1 1/2 to 2 miles behind. I’d heard that repeatedly throughout the 2nd day and was constantly expecting him to catch up. Then, I’d start to worry again. I knew I was moving slowly so I thought the worst. He’s sick again. He’s injured. Maybe he just stopped to sleep. Regardless, we never did see each other.


I got to the Junction of the 395 in Lone Pine at 5:30 AM, a half-hour ahead of schedule. Our hotel was just past this intersection but I didn’t stop at the room. Instead, I got a hug from Greg’s mom, Sue who was waiting in front of the motel. I lost it again. She’s wonderful. The walk to the time station at the Dow Villa Motel was long and slow. This is the point of the race when it begins to sink in that I’ll finish. Again, no real break in Lone Pine and I head up to Mt Whitney.

Last night, Wendy and Stephanie made a trip into Line Pine to get some trekking poles that I might use for the climb. I try them but they are too awkward on the road. Linda, BJ and Diana drive by and I ask them to drive 1 mph. I want to know that I’m going at least that fast. I am. I’m going to finish.

The climb up the Portal Road was quite an experience. I knew that I had plenty of time so my pace was somewhat leisurely. By now I am really leaning to the left. Every car that drives by applauds and shouts encouragement. I feel odd because I don’t feel that bad or in much pain but I know I look horrible. I start to get double vision when I look too far up the road, so I stop looking ahead. By now, the entire crew is here. We take turns so that everyone does a mile with me. Matt Penn is there again. His runner had to drop. He takes lots of pictures of the crooked man. I’m still getting the same reports about Greg. He’s doing well and is only about a mile or two behind. I want to stop and wait to cross the finish line with him but my leg won’t let me. I need to keep going or it gets really tight.

Near the finish, a photographer from the San Diego Union-Tribune snaps picture after picture of the crooked man. They are doing a feature article on Badwater for the paper in August and a reporter will interview me after the race. I guess the crooked man sells papers.

If I can’t finish with Greg, I want to finish with my crew. They are responsible for me completing this race so they deserve to cross the line just as much as I do. BJ, Saul, Diana, Stephanie, JR, Linda, Wendy and I cross the finish line of the Badwater Ultramarathon in just over 55 hours. We cried a lot after we finished. It was wonderful.

Shortly afterward, Greg got to the finish line in 51 1/2 hours. I guess he WAS just a mile or two behind. We hugged and he finishes his SECOND Badwater.


This turned out to be quite a year to do Badwater. First, it was the 25th Anniversary of the first run from Badwater to the top of Mt Whitney. That first runner, Al Arnold was there for the whole week and congratulated us at the finish line. Then there were a couple of big articles in the LA Times after the race. Well, it was after the race for some but many of us were still out on the course when the first article appeared. This race will have special meaning because, for the first time at Badwater, a woman was the overall winner. Pam Reed cut nearly two hours off the women’s course record and finished just under 28 hours. And the fires posed and interesting atmospheric challenge for many of us.

Next year? I don’t think so. This was to be my one shot at Badwater. I’m glad I finished. I love the race and the people associated with it but I want this to be my memory of Badwater. I doubt that running a faster time would give me any more than I got this year. I’ll be indebted to my crew always and feel confident that this will be an experience that they will never forget.

Thanks also to all of you who have support our training efforts and were thinking of us during the race. So many of you have said they were checking our progress on the webcast. In case you missed the NPR piece yesterday, Mike Howard send the following website when you can hear a replay: click here.

The NPR interview features Angela Brunson who runs with the Mountain Goats and is on the Runners’ Report. We were fortunate to get to know her and her crew (including boyfriend Brian and fellow Runners’ Reporter Bill Lockton) during the training clinics and at the race. Angela looked amazingly perky at the finish line and I hear she even came back and ran with the Goats last weekend! Angela and I started together but I never saw her in the race either as she buckled, finishing in 45 hours..

Thanks also to Duffy and Stan who got updates and other info and photos onto the NBB website during the race.

Also, JR has posted some of his pictures of the race: Badwater Ultra Heat Training Clinic-2002

2002 Badwater UltraMarathon Group 1:

2002 Badwater UltraMarathon Group 2:

Ben Jones, the honorary Mayor of Badwater is also the coroner up in INYO County. He sent the following are the race: “I did a coroner’s case the other day on a 39 year-old Swiss professor who tried to go from the DV floor to Telescope peak and back. He drove out the West Side Road and 4 miles up Hanaupah Canyon Road. He parked there one or two days earlier. He made it back to within a few hundred yards of his vehicle. He died of heat stroke with extreme dehydration. His body was partially mummified within hours of his demise on the Wednesday of our Race.”