Latest News

2013 Badwater Salton Sea Webcast

Blog Reports, Podcasts, Video from 2013 Badwater Salton Sea

Photographer David Nelson’s incredible race photos

Ashley Walsh of Team AAAsugar and

One-Hour Podcast with Jimmy Dean Freeman of Team Coyote and Ashley Walsh of Team AAAsugar

Team Ultra University’s Remarkable Video Compilation

Jimmy Dean Freeman of Team Coyote

Elizabeth Kocek of Team ULTRA University

Davd Krupski of Team Miami Thrice

Molly Sheridan of Team FOMO

John Vigil of Team FOMO Part One | Part Two

Special thanks to the Race Staff!

Michael Angelos, Roving Official, Time Station 3 (Lower Trailhead), Finish

Marco Apostol, Medical Team

Jeff Bell, Roving Official, Time Station 3 (Lower Trailhead), Finish

Tim Kjenstad, Roving Official, Time Station 1 (Mile 14.4), and TS 5 (Ranchita)

Chris Kostman, Race Director, Roving Official, Photography, Webcast, Finish

Laurie Kostman, Roving Official, Finish Line, and Post-Race Brunch

Anna Leeg, Webcast Design

Eric Meech, Medical Team

Don Meyer, Roving Official, Time Station 2 (Borrego Springs) and Finish

Dave and Margaret Nelson, Roving Officials and Photographers

Bradley Zlotnick, Medical Team


Hall of Fame: Lisa Smith-Batchen

In 2012, Lisa Smith-Batchen was inducted into the Badwater Hall of Fame. Her plaque reads:

Lisa Smith-Batchen

is proudly inducted into the Badwater Hall of Fame

in recognition of her seventeen years of devotion

to the world’s toughest foot race

as competitor, champion, and coach

July 2012

Lisa’s Badwater 135 history | An article about Lisa’s induction | Lisa’s Site

Lisa Smith-Batch: A 17-Year Journey at Badwater

Lisa Smith has been synonymous with the Badwater Ultramarathon since the mid-90s when she competing at the front of the race and appearing on magazine covers. As an athlete, she has blazed trails across the globe, winning races like Marathon des Sables, and inspiring others to chase their own dreams. She set the precedent for competing with the top men, paving the way for later standouts like Pam Reed and Jamie Donaldson.

Lisa’s name pops up regularly in the essay section of the race application as the person who inspired the applicant to run, or to compete in Badwater. Coaching athletes is another way Lisa touches athletes across the globe and her students compete every year at Badwater. Likewise for her work as a race promoter; Lisa knows what the athletes need and want in a classic race, and she delivers that with aplomb through Dream Chaser Events, the company she runs with her husband Jay Batchen. Naturally, they met through running and they ran the 2000 Badwater together as newlyweds.

Lisa’s reach extends even further, far beyond sport, as she’s raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for AIDS Orphans Rising, an effort recognized in person by Pope John Paul II at the Vatican.

As an athlete, coach, event promoter, philanthropist, and inspiration, Lisa is an ideal role model and ambassador for the Badwater Ultramarathon. She’s been a shining light at our race for 17 years, and though she has retired from competitive ultrarunning, she will no doubt be a welcome asset to the race for many years to come.

Q&A with Lisa

Why Badwater: The challenge, the people; the desert is where I feel most at home. I love the course and I love Ben and Denise Jones who have inspired me since my first day in Death Valley in 1995. Also, AdventureCORPS always has the most amazing volunteers. As a race director myself, I know all the time, effort and dedication that goes into putting on a successful event. They are very much appreciated!

Funniest moments? Laughing so hard with my crew until I threw up. Sand storms where you are being thrown backwards and all you can do is laugh. Many moments when you would rather cry but choose to laugh: getting a flat tire, hearing people use all kinds of swear words when in there every day life they never swear.

Coaching: I have coached so many people for Badwater: I am coaching four for this year’s race and I have coached every year. My coaching started years ago with coaching high school, then college, and it grew and grew as I learned and learned and learned: Not just through experience but through education. I have coached many of the top runners at Badwater, even Marshall Ulrich and Ray Zahab! I love to coach and even more so now that I have retired from racing!

Badwater Life Lessons: Badwater was my first ultra and my last. I went from a marathon to 135 miles. I fell in love with endurance and distance running. Badwater taught me that it is not really about the race, yet a journey that will stay with you for the rest of your life. I have learned to trust other people who are there to help you, I have learned that most of the time you can work through about anything. I have learned that a “DNF” does not mean you did not finish, it means “MTRC”: Made The Right Choice and learn to race another day. There are reasons people don’t finish a race. We all start a race with the intention and desire to finish. Something goes wrong along the way and you must make a choice that is right for you! Marshall Ulrich got me into my first Badwater and he is still one of my best friends, more like a brother to me. The relationships and bonding with people that really do care about you will stay in your life forever.

Lisa’s Badwater History

1995: 2nd female and 4th overall in 41:24:31.

1997: 1st female and 3rd overall in 37:01, a new women’s course record.

1998: 1st female and 4th overall in 37:33.

1999: Featured in the film, “Running on the Sun.” Finished unofficially in 48:24 after receiving IV fluids.

2000: 3rd female and tied for 17th overall with her husband Jay in 43:23:56.

2001: Crew for Marshall Ulrich during his Death Valley Quadruple Crossing (“I ran over 350 miles with him.”)

2002, age 41: 4th female and 10th overall in 40:28:22.

2003, age 52: 11th female and 33rd overall in 52:11:39.

2006, age 45: 13th female and 55th overall in 49:23:49. Ran a Badwater Double.

2007, age 46: 8th female and 43rd overall in 41:54:17.

2008, age 47: 20th female and 67th overall in 47:17:30. (“This was the year I ran from Las Vegas to the race start. I had the 2nd fastest time up the Portal Road, the last 13 miles, of any male or female who only did the race. I then ran up Mt. Whitney for a total of 306 miles.”)

2011, age 50: Hoping for her 10th finish, Lisa DNF’d. She announced prior to the 2011 race that it would be her last Badwater, regardless of the result that year. (“Yes and after five days in the hospital for almost killing myself, I realized that I have done 10 Badwater races and it is OK for myself to give myself credit for my DNF in 1999, the year I got an IV because I did go on to finish!”)

4-PreRace-Meetings 38

Books About the Badwater Ultramarathon

or authored by Badwater veterans, and featuring Badwater, listed alphabetically by author

The Death Valley 300

by Richard Benyo, published August 1991

In 1989, two runners—Tom Crawford and Richard Benyo—set off to become the first people to run from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney and back…in mid-summer. They completed this first double crossing, which became known as the “Death Valley 300.”

The Athlete’s Way

by Christopher Bergland, published June 2008

The Athlete’s Way presents a practical, motivational fitness program that incorporates brain science, positive psychology and behaviorism to transform lives from the inside out. It is the antidote to the imbalances created by living a sedentary, inactive existence. Badwater Ultramarathon veteran Christopher Bergland has created a program that uses neurobiology and behavioral models to help improve life through exercise.

The Longest Hill

by Jay Birmingham, published August 1983

Jay Birmingham recounts his 1981 Death Valley crossing, the second ever successful run from Badwater to Mt. Whitney.

FINANCIAL FITNESS: The Journey From Wall Street To Badwater 135

by William Corley, published 2017

This book details Corley’s path from being a flat broke 20-year-old kid in Tennessee to making it on Wall Street and becoming a millionaire in his late 30s. He tells the story of his transformation from being a couch potato in his early 40s to running his first 5km event and subsequently qualifying for the Boston Marathon, competing in the New York Ironman Triathlon, and, a decade later, running the Badwater 135.

Death Valley Ultras: The Complete Crewing Guide

by Thesera Daus-Weber and Denise Jones, published May 2006

Written by two runners with years of experience in the Valley, this guide is a collection of everything runners and their crew need to know to crew a successful Death Valley ultra compiled into one well-organized, easy to use reference.

The Clock Keeps Ticking

by Sharon Gayter, published November 2010

Sharon Gayter is one of the world’s top ultra runners. She could barely stagger half a mile before collapsing breathless and exhausted after a friend gave her a first pair of running shoes. She has now run 837 miles from Lands End to John O’Groats in a blistering 12 days and 16 hours and holds the Commonwealth gold medal for running 140 miles in 24 hours. She has run incredible distances all over the world. Sharon Gayter was driven to run. Running gave her freedom, to discover who she was and to make her own life on her own terms with spectacular success. En route to international acclaim she found the perfect husband. An amazing, inspirational story for runners and non-runners alike.

To the Edge

by Kirk Johnson, published July 2002

When his older brother commits suicide, Kirk starts running—running to escape, running to understand, running straight into the hell of Badwater, the ultimate test of endurance equal to five consecutive marathons. From the inferno of Death Valley to the freezing summit of Mt. Whitney, alongside a group of dreamers, fanatics, and virtual running machines, Kirk will stare down his limitations and his fears on a journey inward-a journey that just might offer the redemption of his deepest and most personal loss. Johnson is an editor at the New York Times who completed the 1999 Badwater Ultramarathon and was featured in “Running on the Sun,” the feature-length film about that year’s race.

Run!: 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss

by Dean Karnazes, Published March 2011

From the hilarious to the profound, the linked stories in Run! create an unforgettable tableau, offering a glimpse into the mind-set and motivation of an extreme athlete. Karnazes addresses the pain, perseverance, and emotional state as he pushes the edges of human achievement. The tales of the friendships he’s cultivated on his many adventures around the world warm the heart and are sure to captivate and inspire.

Ultramarathon Man

by Dean Karnazes, Published March 2005

Dean Karnazes is an ultramarathoner, a member of an elite group of athletes who run in 50- and 100-mile races and beyond. In Ultramarathon Man, he recounts some of the biggest races of his life and explains the passion that leads him to push his body to its limits. Although this book was released in early 2005, the year after Dean won the Badwater Ultramarathon, the chapter about Badwater recounts his DNF experience in the 1995 race.

Born to Run

by Christopher McDougall, published May 2009

Born to Run is an epic adventure that began with one simple question: Why does my foot hurt? In search of an answer, the author sets off to find a tribe of the world’s greatest distance runners and learn their secrets; in the process showing us that everything we thought we knew about running is wrong.

Burst This!

by Frank McKinney, published February 2009

Badwater Ultramarathon veteran and “real estate artist” Frank McKinney helps you wash away the worry and anxiety that financial theorists and misguided media constantly dump into the real estate marketplace. During his 25-year career, Frank has thrived through all economic conditions by taking a contrarian approach and making his own markets.

Dead Fred, Flying Lunchboxes, and the Good Luck Circle

by Frank McKinney, published February 2009

Badwater Ultramarathon veteran Frank McKinney boldly enters young reader fiction in this fantasy novel. The story was inspired by the more than 1,250 walks to school McKinney has shared with his daughter and her friends in real life. Come along with Ppeekk and her friends into the fantastical world of Dead Fred, Flying Lunchboxes, and the Good Luck Circle.

The Tap

by Frank McKinney, published January 2009

Renowned “real estate artist” and Badwater Ultramarathon veteran Frank McKinney reveals the most important spiritual principle behind his astronomical success. He explains how God has tapped him (and taps everyone) many times in life, answering prayers and presenting life-changing opportunities. Learn how to listen and respond to your own “Tap Moments.”

The Extra Mile

by Pam Reed, published September 2007

In The Extra Mile we watch Badwater Ultramarathon veteran Pam Reed seek balance in her life as a wife, mother, athlete, and entrepreneur. With astonishing candor she tells of her 15-year-long battle with anorexia. And she helps us to understand her passion for ultrarunning—to discover how far the human body can be pushed.

Into The Furnace: How a 135 mile run across Death Valley set my soul on fire

by Cory Reese, published 2018

When life turns up the heat, you have two choices. You can bend and break, or you can step boldly into the furnace and let your soul catch fire. Into The Furnace explores the inner workings of bravery, hope, and passion. These themes are framed against the backdrop of the Badwater Ultramarathon – a 135 mile race across the hottest place on the planet, Death Valley. Cory Reese has walked into the furnace. He has faced adversity, both in running and in life. His book captures the essence of what it means to suffer, what it means to persevere, and ultimately, what it means to create a life of clarity and purpose..

Running Hot

by Lisa Tamati, published May 2010

The Badwater Ultramarathon through California’s Death Valley is one of the world’s toughest races. Lisa Tamati was the first New Zealand woman to compete in the race alongside such legends of the sport as Dean Karnazes and David Goggins. But Lisa’s story is so much more than that one race.

Running on Empty

by Marshall Ulrich, published April 2011

In the fall of 2008, Badwater veteran Marshall Ulrich clocked the third fastest transcontinental crossing to date and set new records in multiple divisions. In Running on Empty, he shares the gritty backstory. Ulrich also reaches back nearly 30 years to when the death of the woman he loved drove him to begin running—and his dawning realization that he felt truly alive only when pushed to the limits.

Der Wüstenläufer

by Jens Vieler and Klaus Dahlbeck, published 2015

This is the the only book/ e-book in German language about Badwater 135. Vieler is a two-time Badwater 135 finisher in 2011 and 2017.

Jens Vieler has a dream: to start at the legendary Badwater Ultramarathon. The race takes 217 kilometers through one of the hottest parts of the world and at the same time from the lowest point in the USA up to the highest mountain in continental North America. To fulfill the qualification standard alone, he has to perform crazy endurance achievements. When he is finally able to start as one of 100 chosen ones, an adventure begins that demands more than just a runner.

Badwater, Mission Accomplished

Have you ever sat down and set yourself a really big goal, kind of a tongue in cheek one, not really thinking that it would ever eventuate, or come to pass. You might have thought that it was just a little too far out there and not realistically achievable.

Badwater was exactly that, not really an obtainable one as far as I thought. But soon after completing the Brazil Ultra marathon in January 2009, it started becoming a little more tangible.

Missing out on completing Brazil the second time in January 2010, with a dnf at 90km, I thought I’d lost the opportunity. I really needed that result in terms of my CV application for Badwater. Back in New Zealand, my coach, Jon Ackland—Performance Lab, hurriedly pulled some strings and found an event that I could tag onto and a 200km distance run eventuated out of that, which we could record online—a Badwater requirement for all races submitted on CV.

Waitangi weekend rolled around in Auckland, about 10 days from getting back from Brazil empty handed, and I completed 200km’s on the waterfront, running between Mechanic’s Bay and St Helliers Bay in 40 hours, subduing a little the frustration I had felt from the Brazil dnf.

The CV was dually filled out and submitted and I waited with baited breath, not expecting a positive response but knowing I’d given it my best shot.

When the, “yes you are in” came back in March 2010, I couldn’t believe it. However, after the shock of actually getting into what is self promoted as the toughest foot race in the world, the planning and training had to start in earnest for a July 12th D Day. I would be running with some of the world’s elite runners of Ultra distance and it would be a privilege I certainly would not be taking lightly.

Training went well. We mixed it up with flat long stuff, to simulate the salt lake flats of Badwater and hills to simulate the mountains we would be climbing. Where ever possible I integrated the two as you might run flat for 8 hours and then run hills for 6-7, due to the course layout so we factored in both into long days. Rest periods as well were necessary as I find I need these, sometimes a week of nothing to refresh my legs and back. I had a long period of time with hardly any running for the three weeks prior to leaving for Las Vegas, our base for a week prior to the run. This was because I was physically tired but also because I was finding Auckland’s winter just bloody hard to train in for any length of time, so cold! Sauna training was the focus for these three weeks as well, in order to acclimatise to the predicted 50 degree plus heat we would be experiencing.

A week in Vegas at 40-44 degrees, and the meeting of our crew there and we were on our way into Death Valley, a three and half hour drive. I’d interviewed two guys from the “volunteer” section of the Badwater website, both of whom lived in the USA, and offered them roles, and through Jon Ackland had come across another volunteer who herself had unsuccessfully applied a few years earlier. The three joined Lisa, my wife, and I, and we all hit it off straight away.

I got great vibes early on from the way we knitted together. Barb Owen, from Canada, who had many 100 mile events and a Double Ironman finisher herself (that’s 2 Ironmans, one event!!), Jay Riley, a paramedic and fire-fighter, and Jon Olszyk, both with a number of Ultras between them.

They had taken a punt on me and I on them.

We did a lot of purchasing of gear and food at a local Wal-Mart before leaving Vegas. I like supporting the little guy too and even found the spray bottles we would use to douse me down from the heat in a local beauty shop!

The event day dawned, and all the prep and thinking about this race was gone and the realisation that I was running a race that only three other New Zealanders before me had run was hitting me fair and square in the chin. I was nervous, on edge and to be honest just a little concerned that I was out of my league.

I had dreamed about this moment for so long, watched the YouTube clips of all the past races, watched the documentary “Running on the Sun” about 20 times, read up on as much as I could possibly get my hands on, spoken to last year’s runner and crew and here I was, on the start line, having just had a photo with the famous Dr Ben Jones, now Mayor of Badwater. I walked up to the start line having kissed my wife, hugged my crew and smiled for the press gallery. This was it!

The race director Chris Kostman started counting down from 10 and we were off. Along with 30 others I was lucky enough to get the 6.00am wave which meant I had 4-5 hours before it got towards 50 degrees C. The previous days at Furnace Creek had shown us that you wake early to 40 degrees and by about 12.00 it’s close to if not above 50 degrees C. It may climb to 55 but usually that is further into the valley, near the second check point at Stove Pipe Wells, some 68 km’s away.

I did exactly what I had trained to do for all the long runs back in Auckland. I walked for about 20 minutes, before I even thought about running. I let the adrenaline wear its way out and I settled down into my work. By the time I started running I was calmer and feeling good. I had a great first section, 17 miles, 28 km’s, to Furnace Creek, getting there in 4 hours 11 min’s. I felt strong and while my crew wanted me to stop and change shoes, I kept on running and met them further down the road. We had planned to change shoes every 30-40km’s. This was simply to maximise the cushion in the shoe and reduce the heat coming through to my feet. The road temperature gets as high as 80 degrees and the heat through the shoe is very noticeable early on.

Lisa had taped my feet expertly again, each toe cocooned in its own plaster sock and then inside the glove fit of my Injinji socks, no opportunity for any friction or rubbing. I found this taping and sock system to be absolutely brilliant again. I did not blister on any part of my feet for the entire race, and not many racers can attest to that!

Stove Pipe Wells beckoned. This would be a crucial section. Everyone I had spoken to had said the same thing. ‘Just get to Stove Pipe with as little detrimental effect as possible and reassess then’, they told

me. I ground this section out, being conservative at times but always feeling in control. I was becoming comfortable with the heat. I got there in 11 hours 22 minutes, 41 miles, 72 km’s down.

Past competitors had said to me to have a swim in the pool and a rest there. But the 60 hour clock was ticking very loudly in my mind and I was feeling great, so I thought I’d have a full gear change, a quick shower and get on my way. My crew were visibly tired but I had something to eat and got going with a down period of only 23 min’s from stop to start. I could tell that they had been hoping to have spent longer there, the pool looked very inviting! As it was they were to get a reprieve fairly soon.

From Stove Pipe Wells you immediately start climbing with the eventual destination being “Father Crowley’s Point”, 5000 feet up, spread over 30 continuous km’s of straight up climb. However about 2-3 km’s out I was clearly having difficulty. My breathing had started to labour, I was sweating profusely, my speed had dropped off and I felt like crap! I was heating up big time and thankfully I’d picked up on the warning signs quickly. I advised my crew. They dragged out a piece of rubber mat we had and I lay down on the side of the road. They placed ice cold cans between my arms, ice packs over my torso and around my neck and over my legs. I was there for 35 minutes cooling down.

When I got up I felt immediately better and was off again at my normal pace. It had come on incredibly quickly and I’d been very lucky that it hadn’t progressed into anything worse. For others I had spoken to they had had to return to Stove Pipe and recuperate. Every year this section of the race gets a number of people. What I also heard later was that it was 55 degrees C when we arrived at Stove Pipe Wells.

I was approximately 16 hours in at this stage, about 10.00pm, and it was dark. I have never experienced 40 degree night running before. It was great at first but the more we got into the climb the less running we would do and the more walking. It was very steep in sections and just went on and on for what seemed hours. Reaching the summit was a great feeling but my feet were really starting to feel the effects of the race. However, if I thought they were bad then I had no idea how bad they would be in hours to come. Heading down the other side of this mountain to Panamint Springs, the third check point, was truly the toughest section of the race for me so far. I was starting to go into the hurt box and everything was feeling sore, really sore!

Man did I grumble through this section. It seemed to go on and on. The worst thing was that due to the distances being unable to be assessed but the lights of the check point clearly visible, it seemed closer than it actually was. Like a mirage off in the distance it hung there seemingly no closer hour after hour. When I got there I was in a bit of a state, exhausted, very sore in the feet department and very grumpy. None of the crew wanted much to do with me, understandably, but they did correctly enforce a stop and sleep. I had crazily suggested going on but thankfully they forced me to stop. I found a side of a double bed unoccupied in the race rooms allocated to us and crawled onto it, lying next to a Mexican racer in the same state. Neither of us said anything, we were both lights out.

I awoke with Lisa saying I’d had an hour’s sleep to find my Mexican friend had done a runner on me. And we hadn’t even got to introduce ourselves! I got up feeling groggy but soon felt considerably better. I had food, drink and got my shoes back on and took off feeling a huge surge of excitement realising I had got through an incredibly tough section and was into day 2 in relatively good shape.

I had got to Panamint in 22 hours and 44 minutes and spent another hour and a half sleeping, eating and changing. I left there at approx 24 hours but had completed 72 miles, 116 km’s, more than half the course in one day and about 5 miles up on 48 hour pace. This knowledge spurred me on to race up the next climb with what seemed ease at first. My feet had calmed down with the 1 hour rest, and they had cooled down and reduced in swelling. I got to the top where it plateau’s for a while and headed for the next major check point, a downhill false flat to Darwin, 90 miles, 145 km. I got there at bang on 30 hours. I had averaged just 3 miles an hour for the race so far but was 45 miles from the finish line with 18 hours to do it in. It was no longer a 60 hour target but a 48 hour ‘buckle’ now looked achievable.

In terms of talking about my race goal prior to the race I had been very careful to just talk about “completing” the race in the 60 hours available, when asked this question. But secretly I had felt that if I handled the heat well enough I could possibly look at 48 hours and a Badwater Buckle. Now this was visibly in sight.

From Darwin you can see the mountains off in the distance, and the finish line becomes a visible location. You are at about 5000ft and you start to go downhill to 4000ft at Lone Pine, a distance of approx 28 miles, 45 km’s, before you again climb to the finish line at the Whitney Portals, (8360 feet) the entry to Mount Whitney’s summit, (14000 feet). The climb to the portals is 17 miles straight up, about a half marathon, with the reducing oxygen and the affects of the race taking their toll on the speed and progress of all but the very best runners.

From Darwin to Lone Pine, I started to focus heavily on the clock and distance and got regular 1km updates from my crew. What I didn’t know was that they were exaggerating the distance left, each time, to give me an additional buffer. I had been told by Barb that I should allow at least 5 hours to climb the mountain so I had in my mind 13 hours to get through the next 45 km’s to Lone Pine, some of it down hill. I started to feel confident about the 48 hour target for the first time in the race.

However I did not want complacency to set in so worked hard to get to Lone Pine with as much of a buffer as I could manage. It was in the heat of the day now and really hot again. The last few miles to Lone Pine were incredibly tough, the feet were on fire again and I was returning to the familiar territory that I had experienced in Panamint Springs. I had another heat episode on the outskirts of Lone Pine and this time had a reaction to the cooling down effect as well. The same procedure as Stove Pipe was used but this time I cooled down so rapidly that the I went into convulsions and had to put clothing back on to warm up. It was an incredible sensation. One minute so hot I couldn’t go on and the next so cold I couldn’t control my body and the tremors it was racked with. Thankfully I calmed down after getting warm again and was able to keep going.

Lisa advised that race ‘webcam’ was just up the road and that they had had texts from people, as we were back in cell phone range, and that they were watching and following us. I can’t remember what I said to those that were watching at home but I can remember feeling a huge energy rush to know I had support from all those miles away.

The website that I had set up back home, ( in conjunction with The charity I was running for—The National Burn Centre, Middlemore Hospital, Auckland, included a Google map and a ‘virtual’ me running down the course we had pasted onto it, courtesy of a satellite phone we had in one of the cars sending my GPS coordinates back to the website.

I got to Lone Pine with 7 hours and 45 minutes to go to make the 48 hour buckle. Barb, who had crewed before at Badwater, reliably advised me I only needed 5 hours to climb the mountain to the finish line and that most people could do it in that time. To have the buffer I had was a testament to the hard work we had put in from Darwin, and my crew pacing and pushing me along. I had averaged 3 miles an hour from the start of the race to Darwin but had done nearly 4 miles an hour from Darwin to Lone Pine. I could now feel a lot more comfortable about the final climb.

The climb began, once again at about 10.00pm when it was fully dark. This was good in one way, obviously cooler, but disappointing also as it would have been fantastic to have seen the views as we climbed up the mountain. It was a hell of a climb and seemed to go on forever once again. I remember having a pee on the side of the road in the pitch black, most of the way up, and being informed after the race that if I had of stepped off the road at that point I would have fallen a couple of thousand feet, such were the drops from the edge of the road.

Not that I had any idea. I was truly operating now on fumes. It was one foot in front of the other. The lack of oxygen was now becoming a real part of the equation and my whole body was just exhausted.

A very funny thing happened when we were about 200 metres from the finish. The area is renowned for bears, and low and behold we were greeted by a large black bear on the side of the road staring at us as we entered the car park area and final finish line. It was surreal, and quite possibly could have been dangerous, as these guys don’t play and are not cuddly! But we navigated our way past him, my crew actually moving faster than me for the first time for a while as they had fallen into my slow walking mode as well.

My crew held back for me to cross the line and then followed in behind me. 45 hours, 41 minutes and 29 seconds, a medal and a buckle!!

There were no woops of joy or laughs and shouting but just an incredibly intense feeling of satisfaction and pride on my behalf, hand-shakes all round, a big hug from me for Lisa and a whole lot of smiling from all of us. We were all too exhausted to do much else. I thanked my crew from my heart as they were just as instrumental in my success, they were amazing.

Chris Kostman, race director, asked the standard question, ‘so Dave, how do you feel?’ I struggled with a response. It was such an eerie feeling to have accomplished this absolutely huge thing. I think my response was that I felt that we had accomplished a really big mission, a mission that had had incredible up and downs throughout it and that had had a starting point many months if not years before, but that we had accomplished it now and that it was great!

And so it was, mission accomplished!! Thank you to all sponsors, supporters, donors to The National Burn Centre and well wishers. Thank you to my crew!

I loved every minute of it and am proud to have contested and accomplished this challenge. See you out there. Dave Walker

2010 Badwater Ultramarathon: Crewing for Reza Baluchi

I’ve had the pleasure to see the Badwater Ultramarathon from many different perspectives, as participant, crew, race volunteer and spectator. Each experience provides lasting memories and a renewed appreciation for all the effort it takes, on the part of the runner, crew and race organizers, to travel the 135-miles on foot from Badwater to the Whitney Portal.

This year we were fortunate enough to crew for Reza Baluchi, who became the first Iranian to complete the race. The story of Reza’s life is pretty amazing. It is detailed on his Run with Reza website and summarized in a video on his Facebook page.

Reza’s running career and training regimen are as unique as his life story. He doesn’t race much, rather his runs are more self-designed ultra-endurance events, such as running across or around the perimeter of the United States. He trains daily by running to and from work, 26 miles each way.

For Badwater, he stayed in a small tent at a desolate campground in Death Valley for three weeks, from June 20 until we picked him up on July 10 to take him to Furnace Creek for the race. He had no cooking equipment but lived on bread, beans and other basics he brought with him. He trained daily running up and down Hwy 190, the main route of the race course, until the soles of his shoes melted… then he continued to train on them.

Reza had very ambitious plans for the race and brims with confidence. He spent countless hours alone, refining his race plan on scraps of paper he found around his temporary new Death Valley home.

Reza was a Badwater rookie this year and he will tell you that he learned a lot during the race. He began in the 10:00 wave with several former winners and the top three finishers from last year. His relative lack of experience racing showed from the start as he went out well-ahead of his planned pace, chasing the leaders, and was never able to get into the rhythm he’d sought. He also wouldn’t eat or drink according to plan.

It was that combination of things, plus the oppressive heat that is ever-present in Death Valley, that began to slow his pace by around the end of the first marathon, which he completed in just under 4 hours. Of course, he had the equivalent of over four more marathons to go and he was already being slowed by dehydration and intermittent tightness in his quads that would plague him throughout the race.

Reza took frequent stops at the crew van and walked for long sections between Furnace Creek, mile 17, through the hottest part of the day to Stovepipe Wells, mile 42. The temperature gauge in our van was stuck on 104F for the entire first day so we never knew how hot it was. AccuWeather shows an actual high of 120F, though we received reports that it was even hotter than that on the course.

Though he struggled for most of the race and certainly had many down moments, Reza also demonstrated tremendous courage and strength and was able to maintain his unique sense of humor through his discomfort.

Here’s a video shot during a massage session near the Devil’s Cornfield. Reza’s friend Bear is massaging his legs and entire crew is there, including Bear’s girlfriend Raoudha who was a great asset to the team driving our support vehicle, co-crew chief Philip, and Lauren and Rene who did most of the heavy lifting on the crew and, along with Bear, did nearly all the pacing.


At Stovepipe, we weighed Reza at Medical and he was down eight pounds so he rested there for a couple of hours and we all took a dip in the pool. Reza ate and drank enough to gain back much of his weight loss during this break so we continued on up the long, windy 17-mile climb to the top of Towne’s Pass.

A few miles from the summit of this first of three major climbs, we reevaluated our crew schedule, since Reza was well-off his original goal of finishing Tuesday morning. Bear and Raoudha, who had primarily been in the support vehicle, took over as the main crew at about 1:30 in the morning so the rest of us could drive to Panamint Springs, mile 72, and try to get a few hours of sleep since it was clear we’d be on the course for much longer than planned.

Trying to sleep in a car isn’t the easiest thing so most of us got very little. We were however able to rest a bit and had breakfast when the sun came up. We hadn’t mentioned anything to Reza, but most of us thought that he was unlikely to finish at this point and might drop out of the race at Panamint, assuming he even got there. We can credit Bear and Raoudha for reviving Reza overnight and keeping him in the race.

So the rest of the crew was quite surprised to see Reza and Bear bouncing into Panamint Springs at about 7:30 AM, looking remarkably good. They spent about 1:45 having breafast and sleeping in the race-provided room at Panamint, then we were all off again heading up the steep 8-mile climb up to the Father Crowley lookout.

From here it continued to be difficult with a mixture of running and walking, muscle fatigue and blister issues. On the positive side, Reza was eating and drinking much better than the first day and the temps were much cooler, though once again we really didn’t know how hot it was because our gauge was now stuck on 86F.

After Bear massaged him again at Darwin, mile 90, Reza was able to resume running a pretty decent clip on the ensuing downhills until we approached mile 100. Bear and Raoudha had to leave before the 100 mile mark to drive to LA for a brief visit with Bear’s family, but they stayed at the race much longer than planned and played a critical role in helping Reza get to the finish line.

It seemed to get hotter as we entered Owens Valley and the temps were now approaching 100F again. After a brief celebration as Reza reached mile 100, co-crew chief Steve took the support vehicle into Lone Pine to get a hotel room for the night and bring back some pizza for Reza and the crew. During this trip, Reza traveled just four miles, getting sick once and stopping to have Rene cut his shoes to relieve the pressure on his blisters.

2010 Badwater Image Galleries

By Steve Matsuda


Race Morning

Badwater to Townes Pass

Panamint and Beyond

Portal Road to Finish


The break and pizza provided a good opportunity for reassess Reza’s race plan once again. We told him that he could walk the rest of the way and still finish over half a day before the end of the race and hours ahead of the cut-off to earn a 48-hour belt buckle. We also suggested that he walk, chat with his pacers and savor the incredible starry nighttime skies. Certainly he could try to continue to push himself and run and perhaps finish several hours earlier, but at this point it was a chance to simply enjoy himself as much as possible until he reached the finish line.

Reza decided to walk from there, which gave us the confidence to split up the crew again and take turns sleeping in our recently-acquired hotel room. Reza continued through the night at a steady walking pace and arrived in Lone Pine, mile 122, just before 2:00 in the morning. We got him a cup of hot chocolate and he was on his way to final the 13-mile climb to the finish line at the 8300 ft Whitney Portal.

Reza was in great spirits now as we reassembled the remaining crew for final few miles of the race. We stopped with him to take pictures all along the final ascent. We talked and laughed, his final race time becoming meaningless at this point. As a true testament to our support of Reza, the crew donned the dirty, smelly “Run with Reza” shirts he’d worn during the race and his three week stay in Death Valley for the last miles so that we’d have them for the finish line photos.

Reza finished in 44:38:42, far from his aggressive initial goal, but we were all extremely proud of his accomplishment and determination to perserve despite his obvious disappointment. We had joked since dropping him off at his campgound in Death Valley that he needed to finish while they were still serving breakfast at the Whitney Portal Store by the finish line so he could have one of the enormous pancakes they make there. Reza finished just before the store opened on Day Two of the race and was indeed able to enjoy one of those legendary massive breakfast treats.

So ultimately how will Reza remember his 2010 Badwater race?

He’ll tell you he made many mistakes. He’ll say that he also learned many lessons and was so impressed with the other runners, many of whom he now considers new friends. He’ll remember meeting Marco Farinazzo, the 2009 champ, Monica Otero and others from Brazil while training in Death Valley and how they so generously helped him and cooked for him.

But how will Reza be remembered?

Beyond anything he could have accomplished in the race, I think the most important memories will come from the people he met in Death Valley during his three week stay. The employees at the General Store and Hotel at Stovepipe Wells who befriended him, stored his laptop computer during the day, allowed him use of the pool and showers, and played billiards with him in the Saloon some evenings. Several of his Stovepipe friends waited patiently there during the race to cheer him on, despite his arrival being much later than they’d hoped.

He’ll be remembered by the NPS ranger who one day unexpectedly left an ice-filled cooler with food by his tent. And by the three road workers who watched him running there day after day and hung out at Panamint in hopes of seeing him, only to leave in the wee hours of the morning before he arrived. He’ll be remembered by his crew for the kindness and compassion he showed toward us during the race, despite his own struggles.

Ultimately, Badwater always seems to be a jumble of images and moments that are often difficult to put together into a coherent experience. This was no different, but I think the lasting impact that Reza will leave, as often happens as he travels the world, will be on the people he meets along the way and the warm feelings they have when they remember him.

Hall of Fame: Lisa Bliss

In 2010, Lisa Bliss, crew person, competitor, Medical Director, and 2007 women’s champion, was inducted into the Badwater Hall of Fame.

Her plaque reads:
Dr. Lisa Bliss is proudly inducted into the Badwater Hall of Fame
in recognition of her nine years of devotion to the world’s toughest foot race as competitor, champion, and Medical Director

July, 2010

lisaHistory lisaPhoto

Dr. Lisa Bliss: Competitor, Champion, and Medical Director

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The Challenge of Champions

 2009 official finisher

To download a PDF of this story, click here

Where do I start on this one?  After running my longest run ever in Land’s End to John O’Groats the appeal of longer distance was satisfied, now I was going more extreme – unsupported runs such as 190km across the Libyan Desert, the classic Marathon Des Sables, labelled as the toughest race on the planet, 7 days with just water and tents provided and now this – the ultimate in extreme racing – “the Hottest Race in the World”, 135 miles across Death Valley!  Could I survive?

I had originally entered this race for 2008 but a stress fracture to my left hip put me out for 3 months at the end of May and had to enter again for 2009. 2008 finally finished on a high with a new pb in the 24 hour race in the freezing cold Bislett Stadium with 219km, this race was just a fraction shorter at 217km but guessed the heat and the hills would see a far slower performance.

2009 didn’t start the best, yet another bone stress injury to my shin while attempting the 6 day record in the depths of winter, recovered just in time to take my place in the Great Britain team competing in the World/European 24 Hours in Bergamo, Italy at the beginning of May and the Surgeres 48 hours in France at the end of May, neither of which went exactly to plan but learnt a lot of lessons in these hot races which could be put to good use in Badwater.

The problem with my bones had been highlighted some time ago (possibly due to medication I was taking) but due to my age and not quite having Osteoporosis (my bone density is 1.7 deviations below normal and classed as Osteopenia) no treatment would be given. But this was finally changed in June and started on Bisphosphonates to try to improve the situation, which gives me great confidence that may be in a year or so I can have another attempt at the 6 days event.

So onto Badwater, the training had been going well, slightly reduced mileage to help the bones but twice as much cross training to compensate. I try to do at least one aqua-jogging session in the pool per week, do several hours on the elliptical trainer, biking, rowing, two weights sessions a week and around the 70-80 miles a week mark in running. For the last 4 weeks I had been doing my elliptical trainer work in the conservatory with all the windows and doors shut and managed to get the heat nearly up to the 50 degrees mark, regularly it was over 40 degrees. I did struggle with the higher temperatures but also there was little air circulating which did make conditions very hard – the floor looked like I just tipped the drinks all over it such was the sweat rate, but it got me used to drinking and weighed myself to monitor how well I was hydrating, I have always been pretty good at this as long as water is available.

So the training done, the bags packed and off to Las Vegas. We left home immediately after finishing the Mulgrave Woods race on Sunday 5th July, for the drive to Cambridge and an overnight stay with my sister (and five children) and a big Sunday roast dinner that Bill never gets at home. Next morning it was up at 5:30am and away by 6m for the drive to Gatwick, the Dartford Crossing was pretty clear and made good time getting to Gatwick just about on time for the 9am check-in and 11:30am flight with Virgin Atlantic, the only non-stop flight we could find to Las Vegas.

Three films later (including a choc ice) and we arrived in Las Vegas, we walked out of the airport and WOW!!  This was hot, it was 42 degrees and was sweltering, it would be even hotter in Death Valley and this was really unbelievably hot and sticky, it was around 2:30pm in the afternoon (8 hours behind UK time). Immediately onto the air conditioned bus to take us to the car hire centre and collect our Jeep Liberty (air conditioned of course) and a drive up “The Strip” to our hotel at the northern end in the Stratosphere. The hotels here were enormous, something like 15 of the world’s 25 biggest hotels are here, and ours was not to let us down –tower block 3, floor 23 and room 17. The room was massive, one of the biggest I had ever stayed in, super large tv for Bill, plenty of space and roaring air conditioning. We bedded down for a couple of hours to get over the journey and decided to get up at 8pm for a walk along The Strip. It was dark now and the heat was still overwhelming, there were not too many people walking around but guessed they all stayed in the air conditioned hotels, all of which had casinos on the ground floor.  We bought some water and some milk for tea and cereal in the morning and went back to bed again at 10pm.

Tuesday 7th July

I only slept until 2am and then was wide awake. I gave up at 5am and was up making tea. By 7am we were out again, chose which show we wanted to watch, had a ride to the top of the Stratosphere – the highest point in Vegas I believe with views all round to the mountains and of course – The Strip. For lunch we went to the Circus Hotel, a real fun place and had a buffet meal here, the food was good quality, masses of choice and lots of it; we were stuffed by the time we left. In the afternoon we just relaxed by the pool, having a dip every now and then to cool off. That evening we went to see the American Superstars. A tribute show to five famous American singers, Elvis Presley, Britney Spears and Michael Jackson being three of them. Wasn’t long before I was flaked out in bed again – just to wake up at 2am yet again.

Wednesday 8th July

Another early morning and went to the gym for a run on the treadmill, although I wanted to run outside in the heat it was hard to cross the roads and would have to keep stopping so decided it was easier to get a non-stop run without getting run over in the gym. Another great buffet breakfast/lunch at 11am, I got to eat the omelette, pancake and waffles for breakfast I had been itching to try and Bill had just about everything else – hate to admit it but topped this off with cream cakes (not as good as Wednesday afternoon cakes at the Russell’s). We went back to the Circus to watch a few more acts and then mid-afternoon drove the 5 hours to the Grand Canyon. We camped in a massive but basic campsite, facilities were just water and pit toilets.

Thursday 9th July


After an early morning run on a nature trail and the road near the campsite we finally got to the South Rim and the stunning vista that opened up on front of us. It wasn’t quite the view we had when we went to the Verdon Canyon, Europe’s Highest Canyon, the sides were far less steep and more or less like a vast valley below the mountains. We did the scenic drive along the South Rim to the watch tower and went for a few shorts walks and had ice creams. Back at the campsite just before dark I saw what I thought was a wolf running though the campsite just yards away, we finally figured out it was a Cayote. Bears are also prevalent in the area as are Cougar’s. We did see some Elk’s as well. It was dark by 8pm and with all my early rises decided to go to bed early, and yes was awake early yet again. The Cayote’s could be heard howling at night too!!

Friday 10th July


Back at the South Rim for a trek into the Canyon along the Bright Angel Trail. The weather was a bit cooler here than it had been at Las Vegas, may be because we were much higher – the campsite was over 6000ft and the highest point on the rim over 7000ft. There was also some light cloud patches today. The descent began, there were many warnings not to trek to the bottom and back in a day as the exertion and heat would be too much, so we took it one step at a time. This was the most popular route to the bottom of the canyon, it was easy walking and even mules could make the trek, but it was steep and expected the canyon to get hotter the further into it we ventured. I remember the Verdon Canyon being just like this – it was probably the hottest race I had ever experienced before this.

The first stage was to 1.5 mile rest house – a small shelter and drinking water available. The round trip here was supposed to take between 3-6 hours, the one-way trip took us just 30 minutes and had been quite eventful, we had overtaken numerous groups and individuals on the way down, had to stop for a group of mules that were hiking up and even stopped to video a Condor that was perched on a ledge around 200ft above us – it was a magnificent creature. We continued on and 30 minutes later reached the 3 mile rest house – another shelter and water, Bill was feeling fit so continued on to Indian Garden, an oasis of green with campsite, shade, shelter and water. It was teaming with people and Bill sat in the shade for a few minutes while I contemplated the route ahead. There were two choices, Plateau Point was a flat view point 1.5 miles from here directly across some open baking ground and there was a mule trip getting ready for the hike across to the view point to the inner canyon, the other choice was a further 3 mile trek to the Colorado River, which was what I really wanted to do. It depended on Bill, we had walked 4.6 miles all steeply downhill, the temperature was around 115 degrees and it was getting warmer, although we had been lucky with bits of shade and the odd bit of cloud cover. Bill knew what I wanted and said he felt ok so we began the final stage of descent.

It was initially quite flat, into a superb gorge that was cool and shaded and saw another Elk. Then a short open section before another big circling vista opened up in front of us, the path wound around the inner rim and then zig-zagged steeply to the bottom, which was only just visible. We continued on as the heat continued to increase and by 3 hours of walking total we had reached the white roaring Colorado River. It was a great plume of water speeding on it’s way. The panorama looking upwards was magnificent and I enjoyed it far more than looking down, the force of the river was incredible and watched a couple of rafts bump by. You could also do rafting at this point but we refrained, Bill is not the best of swimmers and I didn’t like the force of the water. We rested for a while and watched a couple of squirrel looking animals fight over some peanuts we gave them before starting the long hike back to the top. It had taken just 3 hours to reach here – we had left at 8:30am and we reached here at 11:25am.

We started the hike at 11:45am and were soon back at the base of the zig-zags climbing continuously. I was loving the heat, trying to imagine what Death Valley would be like, Bill was beginning to suffer. The drinks we had consumed so far had all had a tablet of Nuun dropped into water for a bit of flavour and salts, but Bill was now getting a dry mouth and thought he had too much salt, so he relieved me of my only remaining can of coke (he drank his at the bottom of the Canyon) and gave me one small slurp before he polished it off. We made it back to Indian Garden’s, Bill was now in need of some shade and further liquid, another litre of water and he seemed satisfied, we now took extra water for the hotter and slower hike back up, making use of all the rest rooms on the way.

Next up was the 3 mile rest room, Bill was beginning to turn rather pale and feeling a bit sick, he had hardly eaten anything so coaxed him into resting and eating a couple of ginger biscuits while listening to the tales people were telling the ranger in the shelter. They were talking about people who stupidly thought they could walk to the bottom and up again in a day!!  On looking at our legs it was pretty obvious where we had been, the first three miles the track was like white sand that kind of dusted up and stuck to your legs, further down this turned a deep orange – our shoes and legs were deep orange and sat here surrounded by white sand, we just listened and got out about 10 minutes later.  Onwards and upwards and soon we were back to 1.5 mile rest house, what took 30 minutes to go down was only taking 45 minutes to climb up so were progressing well. There was quite a bit of activity at this rest house and being nearer to the top far more people. We stopped only temporarily to refill our bottles and a quick 5 minutes on a rock in the shade. No sooner had we left and we realised what the commotion was about as a helicopter came in to land on an incredibly small perch, someone had collapsed in the heat and needed a lift out (I wonder if they had been to the bottom?). We reached the top at 3:45pm, so only 4 hours to climb out including breaks, not bad going, it had been the highlight of the holiday so far and was really chuffed to achieve this – it all depended on Bill and he did well.

Back to the campsite for dinner and a clean up and then decided to get on our way. Next day we were driving the route of the Badwater race and still had the drive to get there, so we drove for 4 hours to Hoover Dam, just outside of Las Vegas and although we intended to camp it was easier just to put the air beds up in the back of the Jeep.

Saturday 11th July

It was much milder again here and neither of us slept well and were back on the road at 5am again. Through Las Vegas and onto Death Valley. The roads here were very quiet and as we approached the National Park so the warning signs began – “Danger, Extreme Heat” and we watched the temperature rise the lower we sank into the Valley.

We arrived at Furnace Creek around 9:30am and decided to head straight to Badwater where the start of the race was, around 17 miles away, I had wanted to get here for 10am and run the first 3 miles at the time I should be starting the race. We stepped out of the Jeep and the heat was incredible, I didn’t think it was really humanly possible that any of the athletes could really survive this heat, it was scorching just standing around and Bill was plastering himself with sun oil while I got changed into shorts and t-shirt and downed another 500ml of water. But I was here to run and that was what I was going to do – the instructions to Bill were to treat it as though it was the race, park on the right hand side every mile and hand me a drink. So off I went, it was exciting, I could not believe I was actually here and running, the scenery was of desolate sand and rocky mountains, all without colour and the heat haze was rising, giving a kind of shimmering blurriness to the landscape. A mile on and there was Bill, it wasn’t so bad running, it almost felt like standing around was hotter than running, the breeze you got when you ran cooled you down more, onto mile 2 and mile 3 and that was my first training run of the day, 28 minutes and 44 seconds and had tried to mimic race pace – so was definitely heading towards 6 miles an hour that I usually average at 24 hour race, but half guessed I would be walking some to keep the core temperature down.

Back in the Jeep and we drove to the next timing station at Stovepipe Wells, around 42 miles. This first section is supposed to be the hardest and hottest of the entire race and have heard that if you make it this far you have “cracked the race”. We noted the opening times and what supplies could be purchased here – had a coffee and then started to climb the first mountain range. This was 17 miles of non-stop climbing up 5000ft, there were warning signs to turn off the air conditioning to avoid over heating the engine and one stop-over point with water for radiators nearing half way to the top. Every 1000ft of elevation was marked. Over Townes Pass and a 13 mile downhill stretch to Panamint Springs, just one resort with a shop and petrol station here, similar to Stovepipe Wells. We again stopped to see what the supplies were like and opening times.

Then up the next mountain range – 18 steep miles of climbing to Darwin turn-off and then around 32 miles of flat and 1000ft downhill to Lone Pine. This was a real town with many facilities and the post race event and hotel was here. We drove straight through and out onto the Mount Whitney Road. Here I jumped out again for another 3 mile run to experience the gradient. This was around 5000ft of climbing over 13 miles. The gradient was steep but challenging, a steady run on fresh legs but I guessed when I made it here after 122 miles of running I would be walking this. Bill did his usual job of drinks every mile and this time the 3 miles took nearly 34 minutes to run, the heat was still intense and the wind was swirling and nearly blew my hat off, it also blew sand in my eyes despite wearing sunglasses so knew that the Marathon Des Sables glasses would be needed with the sponge protection areas to keep sand out of the eyes.

We continued the trip to the top as the gradient increased and hair-pinned upwards, it was also curious watching the change in temperature the higher we got. There was a campsite and masses of cars and people here so just drove straight around and back down to Lone Pine. We had a late dinner here, Bill got his massive burger he had been itching to try and I had a steak. Then the long, scenic drive back to Furnace Creek to check-in and I took my turn of driving the automatic Jeep, we arrived around 6pm, it had been a long day of driving.

The place was teaming with runners, made all the more obvious because each car had to have the runners name on all four sides with the race number in letters no smaller than 6 inches. My Canadian crew were bringing my race names and numbers, there were many rules and regulations that had to be strictly adhered to. Furnace Creek had a grocery shop, a couple of eating places, a golf course, swimming pool, horse riding and a visitor centre. Our room was on the upper floor of block 9, no lifts here!!  We transported everything out of the car so that it could be sorted and repacked with just the items for the race. I spent the evening putting everything into neat piles – drinks/food/clothing/shoes/medical and everything else was put back in the cases for after the race. My crew were to arrive sometime the next day, they had been competing in a 129 mile bike ride today and had faxed through their signed information to be included in the crew, so half guessed they may not make it for check-in. Finally got to bed around 10:30pm and slept reasonably well for the first time, but the air conditioning was even noisier here and room warmer than Las Vegas.

Sunday 12th July

Up at 7am at last, probably my best night’s sleep so far. We went to the shop and stocked up with all the supplies needed for the race that could be bought now – 20 gallons of water, bread rolls with ham and cheese to make sandwiches, a few snacks for Bill, even a date and walnut cake I quite fancied. Time seemed to whiz by and 12-2pm was check-in time. We got to the visitor centre around 12:15pm and the queue was massive, rather than stand around in the heat waiting to go in I sat in the visitor centre while Bill held my place in the queue. About 20 minutes later he was near to the entrance door and joined him. First paperwork check was at the door, then we were allowed in to join the next queue for numbers. That done we were then split, crew in one queue, runners in the other. Next up was the mug shot, had to stand like a criminal with my number under my chin for a snap shot. It was then join the next queue, which I eventually found out was just to put a sentence on twitter, I was not prepared to queue for this and went straight to the bag collection which had the “caution runners” sign for the cars, a few goodies and books, then onto collect a signed copy of “The Tap” by Frank McKinney who had done the race three times previously and was here to run again – he advised reading the last chapter which was about his journey in this race “The White Line From Hell to Heaven”. I did – and it was highly amusing and inspiring – there is to be no nudity in the race, yet another rule, but poor Frank was suffering and lying naked in the back of his crew’s vehicle and crawled out in this state on all fours to be sick for half an hour, I might add that he went on to achieve his goal of a sub 48 hour performance and buckle that he so wanted after narrowly missing the 48 hour time the previous finish.

Then it was the Moben kit collection, white arm sleeves (XS), white leg sleeves (S) and white head cover (M), these were all the smallest sizes they had in the kit. I had wanted the arm sleeves as these were what I planned to use in the race. Last in line was the purchase of a Badwater bandana which I also intended to use during the race, this has pockets in it to add ice. Finally it was meet up with Bill and get back for lunch and a quick rest as it was nearly 2pm now and we had to be back for 3:30 for the pre-race mandatory meeting.

There was yet another queue waiting for the doors to open for the meeting. I finally saw Mark Cockbain in the queue ahead. Although there were five entrants from the UK, Mark and myself were the only two that currently lived and travelled from the UK. I had met Mark several times before – notably on the Libyan Challenge last year. He was with his crew and guessed mine could even be here now but was not easy to make contact, he re-assured me that there would be lots of people here desperate to crew should there be a problem, it was compulsory to have a minimum of two crew. The meeting was as expected, a quick film of last year’s race, a few race rules, talk from the Sheriff and Doctor, all crew to stand and finally all runners on stage. It was at this point I pondered whether or not to go on stage as obviously the meeting was just about finished but half guessed my crew could be here and may be able to pick me out. Luck was on my side and as one of the last to go on stage exactly that happened and pointed them to Bill for when I came back.

Formalities over it was great to finally meet my crew – Isabelle, Mary and Barb. They were all experienced ultra runners, cyclists, adventure racers, Isabelle had entered the race but had failed to get in despite exceptional credentials – you have to have run at least two 100 mile races and she even placed second on one tough 100 miler and still didn’t get in. By crewing you are given extra points so that improves future success in entering the event. For those of you that are not aware – there is a very strict entry procedure for this race, entry is only open for 2 weeks in January and you have to give details of ultras you have competed in, with times, dates and placing. You are awarded points based on your races and although there are a few “discretionary places”, it is virtually the top 90 athletes that get in. Many are veterans of previous years too. So given how tough this race is supposed to be there are lots of runners out there desperate to run this race.

My crew had sounded great on paper and the contact we had so far had installed much confidence in them. They had made contact with Ferg Hawke who had run and placed in this event previously and were clued up on what to do in the heat. They were a really friendly, happy crew. We all went back to my room after they checked in and quickly went through all my stuff. What happened next was amazing, they left and returned with all kinds of cool boxes and big plastic boxes for my stuff. It was all put in boxes and labelled and prepared ready for transportation in the morning and promptly left me to my evening. Perfect, a competent crew that knew what they were doing, didn’t need much instruction and had far more “packing gear” than me. They had driven across with doing their bike race the day before – their car was easy to pick out with three bikes on the roof rack. Barb had also painstakingly cut out my name and number 8 times on sticky paper to be put on the cars, 4 in black and 4 in white, not knowing what colour my car would be. I took the white ones having  a burgundy coloured Jeep and Barb’s car was a lighter colour better with the black lettering. Out into the heat for one last time to name my car, the lettering stood out really well. Then it was back to the room for more food and finally bed around 11pm.

Monday 13th July

Race day had finally arrived. There had been no need for an alarm clock this morning, although the plan was to get up at 7am for the 10am start we were up and having cereal at 6am and had been awake for ages. This race was beginning to really scare me. Could I really run in these stunning temperatures? Surely it was impossible to avoid heat stroke? Would the stomach hold up with all the fluids it would have to take?  Would dehydration set in?  How would my feet do?  I had seen the horror photos of blistered feet. But this was the challenge, this was what I wanted, the distance was 135 miles, I knew I could do this and so that wasn’t the challenge, the heat and the hills were the challenge, the basic elements that would be thrown at me and deep down was really excited. I had waited a long time to do this race, I had prepared well, the best I could with what I had, it had cost a fortune to get here, and now it was going to start. I wasn’t going to race this one, that would be impossible for my first attempt in such extreme conditions, just a very mediocre goal was to finish in the time limit of 60 hours (that meant a medal and finishers t-shirt) , then of course I had to try to get sub 48 hours to get the buckle, then of course came my overall placing in the women’s race, I had this little goal of half the cut off time which meant 30 hours and this should place me in the top five women. Deep down I was also aware of the time William Sichel had run in 2006, he had been a member of the GB 24 hour team and achieved a time of 31 hours and 36 minutes and claimed this as a British Record. There were other forces against me here – poor Bill hates the heat and this was a mobile support crew, nothing like other events he had supported me on – it was like the 24 hour race but instead of sitting stationary with all the supplies around him he would have to work out the back of a car, drive along with things clattering all over the place, stand at the road side and mix drinks – and then have these three Canadian’s with him helping out – how would it all work out?  Would he get heat stroke?  Would he suffer dehydration? Would the crew all get on with Bill? All this had been highlighted in the pre-race meeting. So many un-knowns, so many questions unanswered, how would it really pan out?  How could I predict what could possibly happen?  It was like being lowered into an arena, with people all around watching, wondering, what would the result be, would I survive to tell the tale…

This was my proposed schedule for Badwater, no idea how well I would stick to it but it would give me an idea of what my finishing time could be depending on how close I was too it.

Miles up/down/flat timing point segment time/speed clock time
0-42 42 miles flat Stopepipe Wells 8.5 hours (5 mph) 18:30 8.5 hrs
42-59 17 miles uphill (5000 ft) Townes Pass 4.5 hrs (3.5 mph) 23:00 13 hrs
59-72 13 miles down + flat (2500 ft) Panamint Springs 2.5 hrs (5 mph) 01:30 15.5 hrs
72-90 18 miles uphill (2500 ft) Darwin Turn 4.5 hrs (4 mph) 06:00 20 hrs
90-122 32 miles down + flat (1000 ft) Lone Pine 6 hrs (4 mph) 12:00 26 hrs
122-135 13 miles uphill (4000 ft) Finish 4 hrs (3 mph) 16:00 30 hrs

8am and Barb, Isabelle and Mary breezed in. They had done the shopping for the three things I had asked for – ice, orange juice and milk. Bill had run to the shop for the bananas I forgot to ask for (but never ate them). The bags disappeared before me, the plan was to use the Jeep as the main car for all race supplies, Barb’s car was for everything else. I couldn’t quite believe that all I had to do was sit there and everything got done for me – this was usually me up and all over the place putting everything where it should be, double checking it was in order and nothing had been forgotten. I just lay on the bed keeping hydrated in the cool, you could hear the commotion in the corridor that had been going for some time. There were three start times – 6am, 8am and 10am. 10am was reserved for the faster runners and had wanted to be on the 10am start as I could never quite extinguish the entire competitive nature inside of me and wanted to see my opposition.

The room was bare, just waiting for me to leave now, there had been no point in leaving earlier than 9am, the 17 mile drive would have little traffic on it other than the runners and there was no point standing around in the heat at the start as there was no shade. Runner’s had to check in and be weighed 30 minutes before the start. So on with the kit and down to the Jeep. We all had to squeeze in the Jeep to get to the start. As parking was limited only one car per runner was allowed on the first 17 miles of the course back to Furnace Creek. The back seats had been laid flat for supplies, I got the comfy front seat. The drive began and within 5 minutes saw the first of the 6am wave just approaching Furnace Creek, soon we saw the second wave of 8am runners and somehow Mark Cockbain managed to wave at me and see me in the car, all I could see was lots of runners dressed in white – the name on the Jeep probably gave me away. We arrived at the start and there was barely anywhere left to park, so had no choice but park in one of the two disabled bays temporarily. One last visit to the toilet, kit got soaked in water – from top to bottom I had a white cap with flap on the back, soaked in water and ice on my head under the cap, bandana soaked in water and filled with ice around my neck, stripped off my white t-shirt to soak in water (this had Darlington Building Society logo on main front and back and Spira logo on sleeves), the Moben arm sleeves that were again soaked in water, white Skins leggings sprayed with water, Thorlo Socks and the red Stinger shoes (from Spira, size 6 compared to my normal training size 5). My number was pinned around my waist above and below my bottle carrier and was number 45. I was weighed in with all my kit and shoes on and carrying a water bottle (120lb) and this was written on the back of my number. It was then off for the photo shoot of all the runners and then onto the start line. Isabelle had asked me if I was nervous, I was probably more scared witless than nervous, but also really, really excited and couldn’t wait to see the event unfold, she thought I looked very calm.

Stood on the start line I got to the far right hand side, the rules were to run on the left hand side of the road at all times, the cars were all instructed to park only on the right hand side of the road and all four wheels had to be to the right of the white edging line. Bill was hovering and the bottle of water he had given me had already gone just standing around in the heat and he promptly replaced it. I had stood on the right so as not to get tripped in the starting of the event and to find my own space rather than be on the inside and squashed out. I don’t know what was going through my mind, I took one last look around me at the dramatic landscape, a big wide desolate valley surrounded by high mountains, no colour, just pale, haze like outlines and sand. The heat was intense, far hotter than anything I had ever experienced, I have raced in Taiwan and Japan when conditions have been hot – one Inernational 100km in Japan had been reported to be 35 degrees and 100% humidity but this felt hotter, I had run across the Libyan Desert for 36 hours, run the Marathon Des Sables in one of the hottest years ever but this was far hotter. Badwater itself is 282 feet below sea level and just has a small pool of very salty water. This is not a town of any kind, just this pool of water, salt flats, a toilet and parking area with information boards.

The countdown began and the journey into the unknown began. Some runners pelted off in the distance like a 10km race and was gob-smacked at this, I had expected a very slow start like the 24 hour event and for runners to be bunched up and gradually find their own space. It was interesting and remember seeing Pam Reed shoot off in the distance – I had read her book (Dean Karnazes was another runner here whose book I had read). Both were previous winners of this race. Jamie Donaldson was another face I recognised from the 24 hour International races, she had been 4th in this year’s 24 hour race in Bergamo a couple of months ago and had set the course record here last year in just under 27 hours. I set off and tried to remain calm and settled in as slow as was practical. I felt great, it felt wonderful to be finally started and I was really running this challenging race, I was kind of smiling to myself and it didn’t somehow feel real, here I was in this hostile environment with warning signs around about the extreme danger of heat and to avoid the heat of the day between 10am and 4pm and not to exercise and yet here were nearly 90 runners all defying the odds. It was great. The instructions were to stop every 1.5 miles to cool me down and give me drinks. So here goes, the car is there, Isabelle was there with the spray bottle, Bill was there with my drink, Barb was ready to take my hat and get it dunked in water and refilled with ice and Mary sprinted alongside when the hat was ready for putting back on – like clockwork, amazing, all smiles and encouragement and so the race began. It felt a bit like whacky races with all the cars overtaking and stopping and although I could not tell who many of the runners were, the names on the cars were the giveaway and no-one could hide. There had been one male runner dressed as a pink fairy on the start line, I was with him for the first hour or two and then left him behind. The first hour ticked by, then the second, this was really happening, I almost had to pinch myself to believe I was running, my crew were so cheerful who could but smile at them.

A female runner called Lorie came alongside for a bit and chatted, she had run this race in around 32 hours last year so was a good guide mark for me – she went ahead as I stopped for my first “pee stop” shortly after the first hour, there was no privacy out here – to the side of the Jeep was the only object I could squat behind. Everything I did – ate/drank/peed got recorded, no privacy out here.

Although the first 42 miles are virtually flat we did climb past Devil’s Golf Course to the Artist’s drive exit which was only 70 feet below sea level, then back down to Mushroom Rock at 170 feet below sea level, back to sea level as the first junction came into view and meant Furnace Creek and the first timing point was not far away at 17.4 miles and 165 feet below sea level. My official time here was 2 hours and 49 minutes – I had estimated around the 3 hour mark so was pleased that I wasn’t too far off, I wasn’t feeling too hot in the slightest, the crew were working very hard to keep me that way, to add to the wet and iced cap and spraying of kit a sponge had now been added so that I could drench my arms and wash my face and head and another was used to douse my back, although the spray gun was doing a great job it must have been hard running alongside on the rough ground at awkward angles spraying me. I had long given up with the sunglasses, the water was getting on them and they were just getting in the way, the cap was keeping the sun out of my eyes quite well.

Although the field had thinned out there were always runners around, always runners in sight and still a constant overtaking of cars. There were now even more cars on the course as at Furnace Creek we could now use the second car and Barb took over the driving for this vehicle. It was after three hours of running that I started my solid food, just one item per hour and started off with a sandwich (about a quarter of a normal sandwich). It was around 4 hours that I had my second “pee” stop, a very good sign that I was drinking enough at present and then shortly after my first “unofficial stop”, I wasn’t sure if it was a stone I had in my shoe or a blister developing but it was right under the sole of my right heel, not a pleasant place for a blister. My hopes of it being a stone were dashed, it was a blister, nothing major, get it popped and hopefully it won’t develop any further, I used the pin off my number to stab right through it, put the shoe back on and was away again, this was around the 25 mile mark now.

I now got back into relaxing mode and remembered – if you get to Stovepipe Wells you have cracked it – I was now approaching the 30 mile mark and Salt Creek turnoff and 5 hours of running. At this rate I would be at Stovepipe Wells in 7 hours, just 2 hours away, this still just didn’t feel real, nothing major had happened, everything was running like clockwork, Bill was happy, he was getting pampered by our wonderful three ladies and was having a ball, I was still trying to pinch myself to believe this was really happening, everything was far too comfortable, something had to happen, something was going to happen, it just doesn’t work this well for an athlete from the UK to come here in this heat and not have problems. Next thing I knew I kept seeing the vans labelled Pam Reed, surely not, surely I wasn’t catching the master of this event, but yes, there in the distance was the distinctive style I had seen in other international races, Pam Reed and her many pacers. After Furnace Creek you are allowed “pacers” which are athletes to run alongside you to support you, but they must remain to the left of the white line. My crew (not Bill) were all able and willing to pace me but I rather liked running on my own, I liked to be at one with my thoughts and don’t do a lot of talking, but liked to know my crew were around me and it was a great comfort to know they were willing and able to run with me had I needed them.

I had been running along the white line, this is supposed to be better to cool the feet rather than the black tarmac that has been reported to melt shoes. I could feel it was now even hotter than at Badwater but had no idea of the exact temperature, I had heard whispers of 118 degrees at Badwater but nothing confirmed. I wasn’t that far off Stovepipe Wells now and was almost tailing Pam Reed. That same blister was beginning to bug me again, it had obviously started growing again, my feet had been permanently wet from the soaking of the kit, good in some ways as probably kept my feet cooler but the downside is that they were now shrivelled like being in the bath too long. My shoes were really comfy and airy and really didn’t want to change these as didn’t feel they were the problem, it was either the heat and water on the feet or the permanent camber on the road or combination of all these things, but decided to stop and pop this again before overtaking Pam, I didn’t want to overtake just to stop and so did this at just after 6 hours of running. It was now three times the size and had turned into a blood blister, oops!  Not a lot I could do about that so another quick stab with the pin, back on with the shoes and off again – “do you want Ibuprofen?” I heard, “no, not yet” was the answer, not in enough pain yet. It was a great moment as I caught and passed Pam, I said “Hi”, but not sure if she responded or not, her pacers were constantly talking to her and had to run very wide to overtake her. Carried on by Devil’s Cornfield and some small sand dunes that were marked (nothing like the dunes in the Sahara on Day 1 of the Marathon des Sables). It was also around this time that I overtook Mark Cockbain, I hadn’t recognised him yet again, he was going ok but was about to hit problems. Mark had done this event several times and is one of only a handful of runners to have done “the double”, now there’s food for thought!!

Stovepipe Wells came into sight, 41.9 miles in 6 hours 54 minutes, this was just incredible, 6 miles an hour and 90 minutes ahead of my schedule, I looked around in disbelief, I had cracked it, but the blister was beginning to worry me as the mountains began to appear ahead, there was now just about 5000ft of climbing and 17 miles of winding roads. Stovepipe Wells was right at sea level and Townes Pass at 58.7 miles was 4965 feet. I decided to relent and take some Ibuprofen to settle into the climbing (and had yet another pee). Pam took me back and forged ahead, I just relaxed and settled into a nice steady rhythm. The heat of the sun was beginning to fade now and with each 1000 ft climbed the temperature was dropping – this is why they say that reaching Stovepipe Wells is the hardest section. This road was warning to turn off the air conditioning and remember Martin Deitrich telling me the story of driving through the mountains and having to stop his car every 10 minutes as it kept overheating. The Jeep had already done this journey once and as it had to keep stopping for me didn’t think it would be a problem. Onwards and upwards and now the strong winds began. It had been almost still at the start and the wind had been getting gradually stronger on the approach to Stovepipe Wells, it had been quite a pleasant wind initially (the kind of hair dryer blowing in your face I had heard of feeling) but now it was quite strong and getting harder to battle against with the gradient. 7pm had marked the official wearing of night kit – fluorescent, reflective kit with flashing red lights front and back.

I had taken my hat off now, I hate wearing hats, but as the sun was retreating there was not the need to keep quite so wet- I was still having a spray down and soaking my face and head with the sponge as it was still quite a high temperature and climbing was creating a lot of internal heat. The signs came and went 1000ft, 2000ft, 3000ft, 4000ft and was still climbing and running well despite the fierce head wind. The darkness set in shortly after 8pm and had to put a head torch on now, didn’t really need it for seeing as such as the moonlight was quite strong but it was difficult for the crew to see me so it felt like having and hat on again and it was easier to see the odd rock or stone that had fallen on the road here. In the dark I missed the sign marking the Townes Pass Summit at 4965ft and 58.7 miles of running, but soon knew when I was running down hill as the tenderness on the right foot screamed at me – it now felt like the whole of the sole of the right heel was a complete blister (and indeed it was) and really just could not bear to put this on the ground, the pain was too much, instead I was trying to run on my toes downhill!!  Not a smooth running action but at least I was still moving, it was quite worrying have such pain at such as early stage, I knew things had gone just too smoothly but didn’t ever think it would be blisters that would stop me – well not blisters – just one blister but a very big one!!  I thought back to the Marathon des Sables again, one of the Sandblasters team – Paul Mott, had both his feet exactly like this after 3 days of running, the 4th long stage he had to admit defeat half way through and was hardly able to walk after that , I now know what pain he was going though – but he had this on both feet, heels and forefoot and was carrying a pack!!  While on the subject of the MDS again – it appears that Mary had run this event last year too – and guess what – our tents were just a few yards apart and must have seen each other many times – I can even remember her Aussie tent mates that I talked to (and borrowed a lighter off at one stage) – she too had been the only female in the tent – such a small world that we could possibly have met before!!

Well the miles ticked by, the arm sleeves and bandana came off and the spray downs with water ceased, it was still very warm but not baking hot, the elevation signs were going down – 4000ft, 3000ft, 2000ft and down to 1640ft before reaching Panamint Springs at 1970ft and 72.3 miles. Looking back at the results and time splits now I was 28th place at Furnace Creek, 11th at Stovepipe Wells and now still in 11th place at Panamint Springs with 13 hours 57 minutes (approaching mid-night). I had maintained my 90 minutes ahead of schedule that I got at Stovepipe Wells, but still kept thinking something else was going to happen, this was a very long hard race, one mountain range conquered, still two more to go and yet another day in the heat. I knew I was still well hydrated but was much easier to go for a “pee” in the darkness and didn’t need the protection of the Jeep now.

Panamint Springs behind me and it was straight into the next climb, Darwin turnoff was 18 miles away and an elevation of 5050ft. I heard the warnings that parking would be difficult on the next section as there was limited places and there were still quite a few cars around, in fact it was the cars that made the next section all the more amazing, as I walked and ran up the next mountain range, although it was dark all you could see was a long streak of flashing red lights from the cars. The rules were that headlights had to be on at all times the car engine was running (day and night) and that four way flashers had to be on when parked, most of the indicators here were red as opposed to the orange we have in the UK, Barb’s car was one of the few that did have orange flashers that made my life a little easier for picking them out (there was one other close by that deceived me every now and then). The higher I climbed and the more switch backs made the more magnificent the line of red lights became, only on this night in Death Valley could you have witnessed this, I felt lucky to be here and experience this and I looked ahead at the next switchback and the red lights above me in the distance.

It was while on this section that I finally had enough of the hourly sandwiches I had been eating from the 3 hour mark, I was struggling to eat them and needed something a bit more moist so opted for the custard now, I was also struggling a bit with tiredness, not something I usually suffer with at night time but my body clock had been thrown out completely with the 8 hour difference and had woken really early most mornings and struggled with sleep. There were no markers on this bleak road and so had to keep asking how far I had run as knew Darwin turnoff was around 90 miles. Although I felt as though I was pestering I got the reassurance from the crew that was nice to hear “you are so low maintenance”, compared to other athletes I requested little, there was a runner close by that was getting weighed very often and given this, that and everything else, I was just water one stop, carbohydrate drink the next and food once an hour (and the soaking of course). My other requests were few and far between and not stressful.

The sun just started coming up behind me as the final approach to Darwin turnoff was made and could finally ditch the head torch, I was disappointed I could not see the sun rise behind me, but did take the odd glance behind to see. Darwin turnoff was nothing spectacular, just a small gazebo tent by the road side, reached in 19 hours and 01 minutes and 13th place, just one hour ahead of my schedule. Then the downhill and flat began, all 32 miles of it as the heat began again. Within 3 miles I was in agony, the right heel was just so tender and the left one was now going the same way, I was trying to tip toe down but the tenderness was increasing, there was no way I wasn’t going to finish this but it was going to be a painful affair and could see the clock ticking against me. I stopped to take a look at my feet and change my socks, they were as expected, the whole of the right heel was loose skin and shrivelled and white like trench foot. I was still very happy with my shoes and reluctant to change them as still didn’t think they were the problem, the toe box was spacious, there were hardly any blisters on my toes – just one toe had a blister and there was one to the side of the left forefoot – probably more to do with running the entire way on a camber.

Slowly, painfully, taking more Ibuprofen I continued, tip toeing gingerly to start with then a little splutter of very slow running, the rest of the legs felt great, quads and hamstrings felt good, stomach was comfortable, although was going off most of my food now, I had tried a mouthful of cous-cous but this had gone off in the heat and did eat a couple of pieces of ginger cake and the date and walnut loaf I had got a Furnace Creek. As Lone Pine was not so far now Barb and Mary drove off in search of breakfast while Bill and Isabelle cheerfully attended my needs. It was shortly after the 100 miles that I really needed “the toilet”, there were very few cars around now, the runners were really spaced out with barely anyone in sight, it was still very early in the morning so chanced my luck just a few yards off the road side – didn’t really want to put the crew through this next to the Jeep!!

How unfortunate was I??  There had been no cars by for ages, finally pulled my tights down for the business and one car was approaching – too late now, it was a Sheriff’s car!!  How embarrassing was that!!  I guess he looked but there was no point in telling me off – where else could I go?  That done I never saw another car for a good 20 minutes, my luck was running out.

The next 30 miles were a long hot painful walk, hobble, stop, change socks, change shoes (into yellow Stinger Elite), dunk feet, change socks again very slow affair, overtook another runner, also got overtaken by a runner. That was Lorie that had overtaken me long ago, had not even realised I was back in front – Isabelle did inform me I was third lady, but it was just as Lorie was approaching. It was almost the last section now and although I could not see Lone Pine I knew I was closing in and if there was anything left in me I had to give it a shot now, this was the only time I could really have a race, I tried to focus, I tried to run, I tried to put the pain in my feet out of my mind, I was frustrated at stopping to cool my feet but it seemed to do the trick and keep me running a bit more so was worth the 10 minutes or so it took that that I could run rather than walk. Barb and Mary returned with breakfast for Bill and Isabelle – the omelette of Bill’s looked good, indeed it was as I ate a few mouthfuls for him. The last suggestion made to me was as my feet were now so wet from the continuous soakings again (the hat, bandana, arm sleeves were all back on and back into yesterday’s routine of ice under the cap and wet clothing) why did I bother taking my shoes off to dunk my feet, why not dunk my feet with the shoes on to save time – why didn’t I think of that?  Saves loads of time and did the trick perfectly, so there was no need to stop before the finish now, just fight it out, the quicker I get there the quicker I can finish and the quicker I can finish the pain. Was I still enjoying it?  Why yes!!  It was fantastic!!  I still looked around me and found it incredible that so much had gone well, the crew were just perfection. I had come here for a challenge, I had come here for an experience, this was all just part of it and was still in my element, the crew were all incredibly happy and still having a ball so why shouldn’t !?  I now knew I would finish, the battle against the elements was won and looked like I would achieve all my initial goals – I was going to finish, I was going to finish in the top 5 women and, although I wasn’t going to get 30 hours, I wasn’t going to be too far out and could still make the fastest time ever by a British Athlete, there was lots still to fight for and being uphill the feet shouldn’t be so bad, that’s even more good news.

I could finally see the final climb up Mount Whitney with the steep hairpins and a small area below that must be Lone Pine, on and on, I was running again and fighting every step, the pain was being blocked and I was on a high. Lone Pine came and went (27 hours 24 minutes and 14th place) and had only lost one place since Darwin turnoff, my time was now around 90 minutes behind my planned schedule, I knew I had lost time but the goal was now to beat that best British time. The final climb was hard, I had written 4000ft in 13 miles in my schedule, Lone Pine was 3610ft, the finish was 8360ft, so that was getting close to 5000ft in climbing, my schedule had 4 hours to do this section, so that made 31 hours 24 minutes and would just shave a few minutes off the 31 hours 36 minutes by William Sichel.

I battled on, it was just far too steep to run which I had known beforehand but certainly wasn’t slouching, the arms were pumping and was striding out the best I could – I can be a pretty good walker when I want to be, the drinks were still going down and just the odd Ritz biscuit now. Barb and Mary had to go straight to the top from Lone Pine as only one car is allowed for support on this section with it being narrower and more restricted parking spaces. But the good news for them was that they got there in time to see Jamie Donaldson win again in 27 hours 20 minutes and take 5th place overall. Second lady in 7th place was Pam Reed with 29 hours 03 minutes, third lady in 12th place was Lorie Hutchinson with 30 hours 23 minutes. Sharon Gayter meanwhile was doing her best, savouring the moment, taking in the glorious scenery that stretched out for miles and miles, head down and there were some curious signs – I had got used to seeing the Union Jack appear on the most weird of places but now, neatly written on paper, held down in the sand by stones were around 10 messages about 10 feet apart alongside the road, can’t remember what they all said but all highly encouraging – along the lines of  – my performance was awesome and inspiring, I was an incredible person, it was a privilege to crew for me, they had all been proud to crew for me, my ability to fight the pain was amazing, Isabelle had written them and taken the time to put these in the sand, how wonderful, it really did the job in perking me up, the last message was one from Bill, I could tell he had written it as the hand writing wasn’t so neat, but just to tell me how proud he was as ever, he had been just champion too!!

The temperature was dropping slightly as the heights were reached and guessed the air was just a bit thinner at around twice the height of Ben Nevis, but on and on, a surprise last checkpoint at 131 miles before the last major hairpin, Bill and Isabelle went straight to the finish shortly after this, I overtook one last runner from the 8am start who was really struggling, Hung-Kwong Ng, the last 4 miles took him nearly 2 hours!!  It was a long winding road and had forgotten just how far this last section was. All the cars coming down were bibbing and waving – many were the earlier finishers, Lorie came down as I approached the last mile and got a hug out the car window.

Around yet another corner and again, just where was that finish? Finally I saw Bill running towards me with two bottles of water in his hands, yes, the drink had gone long ago so long was this last section. “How far?”  I whined  “ooh, still about a mile” he hardly dare tell me, more words of encouragement about how proud he was of my achievement and that the ladies were just around the corner. More shouting and cheering and the smile was back on my face, this crew had just been fantastic, the best ever, they had just understood me so well with such little communication beforehand, did everything just right, knew exactly what to say to me and what not to say, never once put a foot out of place, had kept me cheerful throughout and gave Bill the time of his life, it was absolutely exhilarating the last half mile as we all walked along together, it had been an amazing adventure, a real journey and the event had lived up to all I had expected of it – a real tough challenge.

The finish is round the next hairpin, oops!  No, it wasn’t, may be the next one?  I’ll wait and see until I see that finish line. Finally another hairpin and there was the finishing tent, one last effort to run with me and crew all finishing together and the Union Jack held high, unfortunately we didn’t have a Canadian flag for Mary, Barb and Isabelle. The finishing banner was held across the line for me to break, a big hug from all while I had to fight back the tears of joy, it had been just fantastically painful, unforgettable, incredible and had crossed the line 4th lady, 14th overall and achieved the fastest time ever by a British athlete – 31 hours and 12 minutes, just heaven, it had been and incredibly phenomenal event, not one I will forget in a long time.

So what to do now?  Well there was the race director Chris Kostman to present me with my medal, finishers buckle and finishers t-shirt (made from Bamboo), then there were the photos – of me, the crew and Chris Kostman. A little sit down for a few minutes. Well we might as well just go, the sooner I get back the sooner I can get cleaned up and off my feet. A short stagger back to the Jeep and then Isabelle popped in wanting her drinks bottle – she was running back to Lone Pine, I thought she was joking but she wasn’t – I obviously hadn’t worn her out!!  What a drive back down, watching the poor runners still coming up. I couldn’t stop smiling and believing that I had really done this and all I got was the “odd blister or two”, no heat stroke, no sickness, the crew had a lot to do with this, they must have stopped around a hundred times to look after me, they had been absolutely faultless and couldn’t believe how lucky I had been to have a crew that I didn’t even know do such a good job, I was immensely proud of them as they were of me.

Back at Lone Pine and the Dow Villa Hotel car park was filling up with competitors cars, there were only two floors at this hotel and didn’t we just have to be on the upper floor with a flight of stairs!

No problem. I showered while the crew sorted some bags for me and then went to the medical centre to get “my big blister” looked at. Jon Vonhoff was the footcare specialist – I had read his book “Fixing Your Feet”, but there was little he could do, the blister was popped so it’s just a case of hold the skin on as long as you can while the tenderness underneath subsides. Pretty much what I thought. Back to the room and Bill was there, was just becoming a bit light headed and needed some food – fast food in Lone Pine – only one choice – McDonalds just opposite. So a Big Mac and chips later and was feeling just fine. Bill had his second McDonald’s of the day – hadn’t realised but when I came through Lone Pine I knew it had been a long “1.5 miles” but they had gone ahead to get their lunch – a McDonalds. It was now dark again and little more to do other than settle down for the night, content in my thoughts that I had survived Death Valley and all it had thrown at me.

Wednesday 14th July

Bill finally roused slightly after 8am, I had been tossing and turning all night with my feet on fire. More cereal and tea in bed and it wasn’t until trying to get to the toilet that I realised I really couldn’t walk. I had been so used to running on my toes as the heels were just too painful to touch but my right calf in particular had now completely seized up now that I had stopped running and was not going to let me go any further, I had to literally crawl to the toilet – but at least I could do it in private without the world (and Sheriff) to see!! Today was really a day of lounging around and reflection anyway. Bill and the rest of the crew went back down to sort out the rest of the kit and sort out “ours and theirs” that had been used during the event, the names were taken off the cars and the clean up process began. Bill just popped in intermittently to make me more tea!!  His duties were not over yet – even managed to get a wonderful massage off him – the calf couldn’t take much but sure I got a benefit from it. Late morning I repacked all the cases for the journey home and double checked there was nothing I shouldn’t have, lunch was chicken and noodles in my room and finally after lunch I was brave enough to venture out.

I had heard that during the night there had been a forest fire at the immediate finish and the new finish was as 131 miles at the surprise checkpoint, but that as the road was about to reopen again any 131 milers were allowed to go up and finish the remaining 4 miles if they wished to do so. The clock was still ticking though and their time would be the official time they crossed the line (but a mention would be given to how long they had been delayed due to the fire). I would have felt cheated had I only done the 131 miles so was pretty glad I got there when I did – would I have gone up and done the last 4 miles had I been affected?  Of course I would have done – but don’t think the rest would have helped, more likely would have hindered the state I am walking in today – did I say walking?  Well hobbling and hanging on to Bill for stability more like it.

The first person I met on achieving getting down the stairs was Keith, he was one of the British men that lived in the US, he was the one dressed as a fairy. His thoughts were that he would never do it again and couldn’t understand why anyone would want to do it – it was like sticking your head in a pizza oven and was not fun!!  Well I had kind of guessed that was what it would be like but for me that was the challenge – could you stick your head in a pizza oven and still run? In the Grand Canyon there had been signs that showed you the temperate and read “this is the temperature your brain is being fryed at! .”  Well my brain doesn’t seem any worse for the cooking it’s had, I can still write and still run so all is well.

I finally went out to relax by the pool (in the shade I might add) and finally get to know my crew (Isabelle was returning from yet another run). I bumped into the Doctor, Lisa, she was a previous runner of the event – she was full of congratulations for me and said she had seen me out running but thought I was fine as I was always “smiling”, good to know it wasn’t just in my head that I was happy!!  Although there had been a few visits to the Emergency Room at the hospital (and had seen loads of emergency flashing lights around the course) all had recovered and were well.

The crew had done all this work for me but other than a few emails and the briefest of meetings beforehand I really hadn’t had much chance to chat. It appeared that I certainly had not put them off wanting to run this themselves, Barb definitely had no desire to run this but was up for supporting, both Isabelle and Mary were now even more intent on wanting to complete this event – so good luck to them and really hope the good job they done on supporting me this year will go a long way in getting them a place in next year’s race (I did put a word in to Chris at the finish – but later heard so did just about every other finisher that had a crew that wanted to run). The afternoon was great getting to know my crew a little better, if there was one time you really needed a spot on crew this was the time, I still found it hard to believe how well they got on with the job and understood me so well – apparently they wanted to know my birthday – they had guessed, rightly so, that I am a Scorpion and guessed that from my emails!!

Later that evening was the big pizza party – somehow couldn’t imagine many runners would be dancing – it kicked off at 6pm at the local school – no alcohol allowed!!  Bill drove me there although it was probably only a 400m walk, my excuse we needed to fill the Jeep up with petrol for the journey home the next day!!  Another quick shower and change and off to the party. Well I thought it started at 6pm but many had been here at 5pm and we got there just in time for the second delivery of pizza, it was excellent and loaded the plate up high and devoured the lot!!  Soon the post race event began. First a film of the race – a good couple of shots of me and crew dousing me down with water, a quick report on how the race had gone and the problems with the forest fire and finishers. There were to be two finishers times for 131 miles and 135 miles – now can be seen easily on the results who did what, a salute to all the crew and finally all the runners out at the front for recognition. A final interview with first man – Brazilian Marco Farinazzo (23 hours 39 minutes), first lady Jamie and the youngest ever finisher, Nickademus Hollon, 19 years old in 33 hours 21 minutes – now that was good running from a youngster!!

There was then after drinks in the local drinking place, but as it was likely to be very busy and I was still very wobbly with my feet starting to swell I retreated to my room. My crew got a few cans and found a quite spot to celebrate and dream of next year.

Thursday 16th July

The last drive back though Death Valley and wave the place good bye. We all left at 6am, Barb and Mary had a 17 hour drive home, and Isabelle sneaked a lift with us to Las Vegas airport to fly back as she had work the next day. It was a long journey home, a long overnight flight to Gatwick and over 7 hours to drive home on Friday evening, to be welcomed by heavy rain, I was back in England alright.

At home and the first I saw were the congratulations balloons and banners in the porch for all to see. Inside were even more – and one big massive “congratulations Sharon, 135 miles” that had been intended to go on the front wall of the house but apparently the heavy rain had prevented this, was somehow stuck across everything in the living room – there are still there now as I write this.


So now how am I feeling?  What are the thoughts and reflections on this one. The big flame of desire has been extinguished, I have been there, done that, got the t-shirt,  but there is still a little glow that still says – well you could go faster now you have done it and race it, and “what about the double?”  Who knows, there are many more races still on the agenda, many more places to go, I doubt that any of the others can be more extreme that this one, just different challenges. I was blessed with such a wonderful crew they would be hard to replace or get another crew quite as good as Mary, Isabelle and Barb. They kept Bill highly amused and looked after him as well as me. Their constant enthusiasm just bubbled over and always seemed so cheerful and continuously spurred me on with their encouraging words and actions. My preparation had been as good as I could have expected, my feet were really the only point that let me down and will struggle to know what I could have done to have prevented this, may be taping the whole of the sole of the foot was the answer. I had practised in my conservatory with all my shoes and the Spira Stinger shoes were definitely best for me, the only thing that did make them slightly better was a change of socks, not the change of shoes, I wore thick Thorlo socks to start with, my second pair were thinner and noticed the difference and soon changed back to thicker socks again. May be the point at which the cold water sprays stopped during the evening would have been the point to change into clean dry socks. The Stinger shoes being a very light mesh top dried out very quickly and now home the white walking Spira shoes are definitely the softest, cushioning shoes for recovery.

It is worth noting – there are no prizes for the event, the prize is the glory and prestige of finishing against all odds, medals, t-shirts and buckles are the prizes, only for those that accomplish this feat beyond all imagination, it truly is an inspirational challenge, a really awesome event, there certainly isn’t a hotter race and doubt there are many more challenging courses of this distance so has to rate up there with the toughest ever.

Just a few thoughts and memories to end on

  • The “defying nature” element that I was really running across Death Valley.
  • Reading Frank McKinney’s “The White Line From Hell to Heaven”
  • The feeling running to Stovepipe Wells having “cracked it” on the hardest and hottest section.
  • The great feeling that both Bill and the crew were having a wonderful time (backed up by the forever smiling faces).
  • The “hair dryer” blowing hard and hot in my face on the climb to Townes Pass.
  • The sight of a line of red lights down and up the mountain behind me after Panamint Springs.
  • Bill laughing at the antics of my hilarious crew (didn’t tell you but they put a sign out for Lorie pointing her to the wrong turn-off and Mount Whitney 200 miles!!)
  • Getting caught going “al fresco” by the Sheriff.
  • The desolate feeling and pain between Darwin turnoff and Lone Pine.
  • That long, lonely white line that I followed for miles and miles.
  • The adrenalin rush climbing Mount Whitney to the finish.
  • Another British Record and many goals achieved.
  • The pain and inability to walk the next day!!
  • Getting to know my new friends Barb, Mary and Isabelle – AFTER the race!!
  • I have conquered and survived the 135 miles Badwater run across Death Valley – that memory will live with me forever…


2009 official finisher

I first ran in Death Valley in February ’06 in the Death Valley marathon. That year the Titus Canyon road was closed and we ran out and back on West Side Road. It was the first time I’d traveled to a race. The temperature got into the 80’s. I wasn’t prepared for that. I lost my S-caps right away. I didn’t eat much at all. My legs were locking up from cramps the last couple miles. At the end, as we milled around, another runner came over and asked with concern if I was OK. His girlfriend was embarrassed and pulled him away. He was right, however. I was hot and exhausted, not thinking really clearly.

Since then, I’ve learned a whole lot. I came back and ran the marathon again in’08. This time it was on the much tougher and scenic Titus Canyon route. I did much better that year and began to love Death Valley.

I began to run longer and more difficult courses. The toughest race was Massanutten in ’08. I was 34 ½ hours finishing that 100 miles. I ran 4 100’s in 2008. I applied to Badwater in January ’09 like many other runners. I know I’m not an elite runner by any stretch. I made back up plans for a solo run the week after the official race. I made stay reservations for both the big dance and a solo party.

When the email came from the selection committee came, I opened it with trepidation. I re-read it several times in the next couple of days to be sure it was real.

I had prepared a crew. Denny would be crew chief. He works for the county emergency services He has been a firefighter and ambulance attendant. He is thorough and is an organizer.

My son Mike is an engineer. He too is organized and logical. He is a passionate skier and cyclist. He has done several 100 mile bike rides. My daughter Melinda lives in California. I wanted to make this a family event, so she and her boyfriend Mike were in. My ex-wife rounded out the family. Her nurse skills might come in handy.

We needed one more and were able to find Niki from the Badwater blog crew postings. Niki is a climber and mountaineer, spending time in the mountains all over the world. She is also a cyclist, having covered 200 miles in a 24 hour period.

Mike and Denny had crewed for me before, in Vermont and at Iroquois in New York. The best chance for more crew training came in May at the Keys 100. Mike, Denny, Ron and I flew to Florida. We picked up a rental van and set it up just like we would for Badwater. Keys is a point to point run on a paved road, just like Badwater. It is a great practice event. Several others were practicing there too.

At the 6 am start, I went out a bit fast. The crew said “You’re going pretty fast”

“I know, it feels OK for now”

Around the 17 mile point, I was way up among the relay teams. I was sitting in the shade eating something when Alissa Springman came by. I pointed her out as last year’s winner. That’s when the crew said “You are still holding 9 minute miles.”

“What!! That’s way too fast”

A bit later, my thighs started to feel a bit sore. I started to take walking breaks, then more. I ended up walking the last 30 miles. I was making 15 minute miles, so I didn’t lose any place because of it. I finished in 25:05 much wiser and with an experienced crew.

We flew into Las Vegas Thursday. We picked up our rental van, making sure to get one with two keys. Getting locked out of the car is a disaster we didn’t want. We stocked up in a big store and finished the list in Pahrump. We stopped at Dante’s View so the crew could get a look at the valley. It is stunning and the scope of Death Valley and the task ahead became real.

After supper that evening, we stepped out to a hot evening with a hair dryer wind. That was the only time I felt any concern about the weather. Sunday went by quickly with runner check in and the pre-race meeting. We turned in early and I slept well. We were up at 4:15, nervously quiet. Once we got to Badwater, I felt calm. The point called Badwater is a parking area where the race was to begin. I weighed in, got lots of pictures taken and waited. Even at line up, I was calm. Thalia Kostman, daughter of the race director, sang the national anthem, very moving, in her beautiful voice.

At GO, I moved out with everybody else, intending to stay in the last half of the group. I didn’t have a real strategy, just to remain steady. I had told the crew to keep me under 12 minute miles. I knew the first 42 miles were the key to the race. I walked the upslopes and ran the flat and downhill parts. I found myself running with Frank McKinney from Florida. This was his 4th Badwater. Our pace was well matched and I saw him many more times. We were in the shade of the mountains till around 9:30, when the sun rose above them. I was running easy, looking at the desert scenery, still not sure it was real.

After the Furnace Creek check in, I felt the day warm up. I had done my sauna training, so I was as ready as I could get. The crew started spraying me with water and making ice bandanas for my neck. At Stovepipe Wells, I sat on the shaded porch with my feet up. I ate ice cream and rested. I was videotaped by somebody.

I said “Do I look like I’m racing? There is 100 miles to go, no hurry now”

He thought that was funny. I probably rested 40 minutes. Mike and Niki fueled the van and got more ice. As they were finishing up, I started out. I told Niki, “If we get through Stovepipe with feet and stomach intact, we’re halfway home.”

The walk up Towne Pass is where I got the first company. Mike got out and paced me here. We began to get passed by the faster runners that had started later. There are 3 starting waves, with the elite runners assigned to the later starts. I remembered last year when we were at the Emigrant Canyon turn off, we were told that the course route had been changed due to flash flooding ahead. We got another rain shower right there just like last time too, only no rainbow this time.

I continued to run and walk easily, not feeling any pressure. I came in with a goal of finishing. I really wanted a buckle for finishing in 48 hours or less. During a burst of optimism I had made up a chart showing a 44 hour finish. I was feeling good and ahead of even that.

It got dark as we neared the top of the pass. Niki took a picture of us at the sign on the summit. I ran most of the long downhill to Panimint Springs. There was a crew shift change a few miles outside Panimint. Frank McKinney caught up to me as I ate by the van. He intended a break at Panimint as I did. Jack Denness was running the checkpoint at Panimint. He showed me the cottage set aside for runners. I was able to get a shower, but the bunks were full. My prepared crew laid out a pad for me and I was able to nap just off the parking lot. They let me sleep an hour and a half. I felt good and finished a huge strawberry smoothie they had ready for me when I woke. There must have been 1,000 calories in the thing. I saw Frank’s crew van on the road as we left, he must have been right behind me.

Denny took over pacing up to Father Crowley Point. This long uphill is dreaded by most of the runners. It is 8 miles long, narrow and with few good places for the van to park. Daylight arrived as we moved along. I felt good, felt strong.

After the top, Melinda took over for some pacing duties. It was great to move along and talk and enjoy the sights. There is a long downhill stretch past the Darwin turnoff. I ran the whole thing, 7 miles or so. I ran through the Darwin checkpoint, calling out my race number, 83. For a portion of this I was doing 9 minute miles. Really flying for me. Especially with 24 hours done and almost 100 miles.

At the end of the downhill, I sat down at the van and ate and rested a bit. My plan was to walk the long flat past Keeler. We did get pictures at the 100 mile mark. Right around there, we got a couple F15 flyovers. Around the 115 mile mark, Kelvin Marshall’s crew pulled up behind us. I had crewed for Kelvin last year. This year, he wanted to better his time of 40:20. He hoped to beat the previous time set by another Australian runner. He did so with a 36:30 finish. In a few minutes, Kelvin blasted by me with Steve Ochoa in tow.

Soon it was crew change time again. Niki stepped in to pace. Mike and Mike were the van guys for now. Niki was a good pacer, talking when I wanted to talk, quiet when I was. I got a bit behind in taking in calories around this point. Mike B had come prepared with some MREs. He had a backpacking stove and made me an omelet with turkey and cheese, followed with hot tea. That hit the spot and gave me the boost I needed.

Most runners find the Owens Lake stretch boring and hate that part. I didn’t find it so bad. It took me a while to figure out what I was seeing cross the lake. It looked like a parade of Loch Ness monsters. There was a head and tail and humps in between, black in color and reflecting in the lake. As we got to the lower end of the lake and they got closer to the road, I could see that they were truck tractors pulling two trailers of rock. I don’t know what they were doing, but there was a parade of rock trucks going somewhere.

This seemed the hottest part of the course. Denny’s weather instrument only registered 115. It had been 120 the day before. Maybe the fatigue had something to do with it. I was still moving well with a steady walk. The crew kept spraying and bandanaing. Nothing sounded good to eat and I got behind on calories again. I looked forward to a burger and fries in Lone Pine. I kept underestimating the distance left. By the time we turned onto Route 190, I was way behind the curve, into a bonk. I was tired and a bit cranky. I thought I remembered the walk to the Portal Road as having shade. There was no relief this time. Niki and I checked in at the Dow Villa time station and finally turned onto the Portal Road. I was really ready for that burger and fries.

I had told the crew we would take a break in the first part of the Portal Road. I remembered it as wide and shaded in the first ¼ mile. I sat and put my feet up on the bumper. The food went down well. I was sweaty from the hot walk and when I sat in the shade, I cooled off fast. There was a bit of a breeze and I began to shiver. When I finished eating, I got into the car that had been sitting with the windows up. The warm car felt good, as I was still shivering. I got to doze a half hour. Ron and Denny went back to the Best Western to wait while I went up the last 12 miles. I told them to allow 4 hours.

This is the home stretch, so there was no pressure or doubt of finishing. It’s just late in the race and runner and crew are tired. This is the steepest part of the course and everybody walks here. Part way up the road is along a stream, the first fresh water we’d seen anywhere on the course.

It got dark for the second time and we put on reflective vests and got our lights out. Way below us we heard a siren. It came closer and then a sheriff’s deputy car came screaming up the hill. A couple minutes later another one followed. The last checkpoint is at a wide spot along the road at mile 131. We recorded a time of exactly 40 hours to there. I ate a bit and moved on toward the finish line. The next mile and a half is the steepest of all the course. I got through that well and turned to the left onto the last switchback. From here, the last 2 1/2 miles are much easier. I felt the cool air and knew we were near the pines. Just as we got around the corner, one of the sheriff deputies came down the hill and told us the campground and the area was being evacuated due to a forest fire. We were to go back down off the mountain. About a minute later, this was confirmed by the race director, Chris Kostman. He told us to stake out and return to our motel. The finish line was closed and our race was over.

I didn’t feel let down. I absolutely knew I would finish in 41 hours. That was way beyond my most optimistic hope. The actual finish line wasn’t needed at that point. It would have been only a ceremony.

We went back down to our rooms at the Best Western. The crew was all wound up. I was tired but happy with the whole adventure. We talked a while and I got a shower to wash off the stickiness. My feet were in good shape, just swollen.

After breakfast the next morning, we unpacked the van and cleaned it. Then we went to see if we could get to the top of the mountain. The Portal road was open, so we went on up to see the official finish line. Many other runners were doing the same, so things were crowded at the top, with runners and the usual hikers and campers.

It is such a contrast to run for days through the desert and finish in the cool pine trees with a waterfall rushing nearby. No doubt there is a metaphor there. I got my finisher’s medal from Chris. He must have had some sleep at some time, but he was at all the starts and met every runner at the finish line. His is an endurance event.

As we went down the road, there were runners still coming in. We honked and cheered for them. In all, there were 75 finishers of the 88 starters. That makes it a pretty good year. The medical team reported it was quiet for them.

It has been a month now and I have no doubt lost a few details. The whole thing went so smoothly, it is hard to imagine what could have been better. I do know I want to go back and do it again. It was due to the crew that it did happen so well. I felt like a circus pony doing my bit while they ran the show. In fact, when I go back again, I may well call us Team Trick Pony.

2008 Badwater Ultramarathon: The Call of the Desert

2008 official finisher

Ultrarunning is how I define myself. It is how I dance, how I create art and how I write the story of my life. No other event that I have competed in before has challenged me and changed me in the way that Badwater has. It was the organizing force in my life last year and made me cognizant of untapped human potential, of strength that I was not aware that I had, of the incredible love of my family and friends and of the transcendent beauty of the desert.

Badwater has been a dream race for me since I began ultrarunning 5 years ago. After my first ultra, the JFK 50 Miler, I went right out and purchased “Running on the Sun.” I made anyone who would sit still for 90 minutes watch it and, quite frankly, I think many were disturbed by the gleam in my eye. Even ultrarunning friends thought the race was crazy, but I would not be deterred. I did not think I had the requisite strength or experience to even apply for Badwater until I completed Desert RATS 150 mile stage race and Western States 100. The struggles that I had on these courses convinced me that my mind and body were strong, strong enough to handle the challenges of Death Valley.

In 2006, while completing the 52 mile stage of Desert RATS, I took a wrong turn and became lost in the desert. Alone, with dwindling water and an aid station now at least 20 miles away, I was forced to confront my fears and navigate my way out despite never having used a compass in competition before. By the time I returned to course, I had lost three hours, but had gained an incredible strength of purpose that allowed me to race those 20 miles to the stage finish and lose only 12 minutes of the lead that I had established.

The struggle I faced in Western States 100 in 2007 was a more spiritual and mental one. At that time, just coming out of the Michigan Bluff aid station at mile 55, I knew I was on course, I knew what the cutoffs were, but my mind and spirit were flagging. I had the opportunity to share my experience at the race with our school community and here is how I described the struggle:

“Between the dark, my mental and physical fatigue and my low blood sugar, my mind begins to drift a bit. Every branch becomes a snake, every noise is a cougar or a bear waiting to attack and I am certain I hear coyotes howling. My energy and spirits fail in this section. I am staggering through the woods, barely able to move. All my muscles, not just my legs, feel as though they have been beaten. I am one big walking bruise. I give into the pain for a while and all the doubts I’ve ever harbored about myself come to the forefront of my mind. I am alone on the trail, in the dark, in unfamiliar territory. Surely I am not strong enough, smart enough, pretty enough or good enough to make this journey. I feel I don’t belong out here with these incredible athletes. I’ve spent thousands of hours and thousands of dollars to get here; what could I have been thinking? My ego is crushed; I’ve been stripped of my pride, my vanity and most of my dignity. I want only for the pain to end. I think ‘If I quit now, who would blame me? I’ve traveled further on foot in this one day than most do in a month. What am I trying to prove?’ My mind uses every trick it knows to get me to stop, but there is a faint light still glowing in my eyes. It is a little spark of strength and the memory of all the gifts I have been granted in my life. I find myself: the woman that has strength and the ability to do that which she sets her mind to. I can overlook the bitterness, I can embrace the pain and I CAN put one foot in front of the other. This feeling is what I’ve come for. To have myself pulled apart. To be given the opportunity to know my soul and to choose the person I want to be. All the miles and months of training do not, CANNOT, prepare you for this moment. You must rely only on yourself, on whatever strength you can scrape together. And, in rising from that moment, I know a gratitude that I don’t experience at any other time in my life. By taking away the multitude of modern life’s distractions and demands, to be surrounded by the natural world where my only task is forward motion, I can clearly see that which is most valuable and important in life.”

Quite simply, no other race has given me the experience of being stripped bare and pulled apart like Badwater. As difficult as they are, these low and difficult moments of each race are what I love, what keep me coming back again and again. I truly believe that most individuals really do not know themselves or what they are capable of until they are put in this sort of situation. And, though the struggle is not life and death, it truly illuminates your spirit and strength because the easy way out is almost always available. Badwater 2008 broke me down over and over again, but I was strong enough to get up every time. I want to experience that again, to see if I am strong enough to get up even faster and to hurdle over the barriers rather than crash into them.

The desert calls to me. It is my favorite place to race. I am enchanted by the barren landscape, the wild skies, the extreme weather and environment. To be given a chance to race through Death Valley again in Badwater is a gift. My 2008 Badwater experience was one of the most profound of my life and one that I still have difficulty putting into words. I crave the solitude that can be found in the desert. And while I experienced this solitude at Badwater, I also experienced, in equal measure, the love and support of my incredible family and friends that comprised my crew. Never in my life has my family operated as one unit in pursuit of a goal. As my mother and brother supported me through the race, we became close in a way that I did not think was possible. We have shared an experience that will bind us together forever and for that I am truly grateful. Badwater reinforces the truths that as human beings, we alone are responsible for how far we get along a certain path, but that the path can be made smooth and easier to travel by those who love and support you.

In my profession as a teacher and as a coach, I think perhaps the most important thing I do is to provide a living example of not only a healthy lifestyle, but of an athlete who continues to compete as an adult. I want to be an inspiration to the young women and men that I am responsible for. I wish to challenge them to think beyond the incredible material comforts that their parents have given them and to find an honest and true experience in the world that does not depend on cable TV or computer graphics. I know I have inspired a few young women to get into the sport of running and my experiences as an ultrarunner certainly give me more legitimacy as a coach, but competing in Badwater gives much more credence to the inspiration that I can provide.

Of course, I would be remiss if I did not add that I want to return to Badwater to IMPROVE! I did well last year, to be sure, without course knowledge, without an experienced crew. What I whave learned and what I am prepared to do should allow me to improve upon my performance. I feel as though I can push myself harder, that there was some more of myself I could have left on the course last year and I want to race not only my own demons, but the other athletes as well. 37 hours was great, and I could not have been happier when I finished, but after a few hours off the course, my thoughts were NOT “never again” they were “WHAT IF…” I was already dreaming about the next race.





A Badwater Folly

A folly, a silliness.

Wednesday evening, a friend had been hit by a drunk driver while out on an easy bike ride. Hours later, I watched as life support was removed and she quickly died.

“When do you leave for Badwater?” asked several people, trying to find something “normal” to talk about in the midst of such insanity.

Badwater? It seemed so silly to me now. Running 135 miles across Death Valley. What was the point? Folly.

But I went through the motions, as many of us do in the midst of tragedy. Thursday morning I watched Nancy die. Friday morning I was at Milwaukee’s Mitchell International, waiting for my flight to Vegas. Leaving one surreal situation for another. Golf courses in the desert.

I continued with the motions. There was no enthusiasm for the race, but I knew that if the tables were reversed I’d be mad at Nancy if she had changed her plans. Inertia in one life does not bring back another. And so I wandered through Walmart, getting a head-start on the massive supply shopping before my crew arrived. The oddest things would bring tears to my eyes. A pizza oven on sale. Garden items. There was no logic. Logic took a vacation before I took mine.

Friday night, the first of my crew arrived. By noon on Saturday, the whole gang of four was in Vegas and ready to get to work. I had lost a good friend but was surrounded by so many others. They took charge of the mountains of supplies, turning them into an organized chaos.

The weeping was replaced by laughter; a lot of laughter. One life was gone but so much in life was continuing. Badwater still seemed like a folly to me but perhaps a good folly was what I needed.

Van and car packed, we drove to Death Valley. Three of the crew were veterans, both as competitors and as crew people: Nikki Seger, Bonnie Busch and Scott Jacaway. he fourth was a veteran of ultras but a virgin at Badwater: Stephanie Astell.

I was continuing a tradition. Three years earlier, Jay Hodde asked me to join his crew. Badwater had never been on my radar but, presented with the opportunity, I was curious about it and was glad to experience the race first-hand. Little did I know that I was to be indoctrinated into the Badwater family. Welcome to the family, Stephanie!

Our first stop was Dante’s View. To Stephanie we pointed out the thin ribbon of road that the race would follow. From above, it looks as though someone had just run his finger through the salt and sand to connect the dots between Badwater and Furnace Creek, the first check-point on the course.

We headed to race check-in at Furnace Creek. More friends. Lots of hugs, lots of pictures. Lots of pent-up energy waiting to explode. Runners were ready to run. But first, the paperwork and meeting. We learned more about the impact of recent rains. The desert normally doesn’t host much moisture. When the rain comes to visit, Death Valley simply doesn’t know how to make it feel welcome. Like unruly teens coming home from college, the water spread itself wherever it pleased. Instead of knocking down lamps and leaving food and dirty laundry strewn about the house, the rain moved the house itself — sand poured across roads, making them unpassable. Just the night before, the race route had been closed in several spots. In an area with few roads, there are few possibilities for re-routing. When the main road is closed, the most practical option is to simply wait until road crews can re-open it.

On race morning, it looked like the entire route would be open. But Mother Nature can be a fickle woman and her whims are impossible to predict. Hours into the event thunderstorms caused the course to be re-routed to a partial out-and-back. But road crews working overtime returned the race to its traditional route through the Whitney Portal finish.

We knew we were lucky. Bulldozers and road graders are nothing compared to Mother Nature’s tool box. We would cross the desert and head to Mt. Whitney, but only if she allowed it.

Sunday night. The crew did more sorting and more organizing as I enjoyed the quiet of my own room. I felt a bit over-pampered but sometimes it’s good to be the queen. Nancy’s death was still very much with me, but the rawness of the loss was being tempered by the excitement of the race. Badwater still continued to be a folly to me, a silliness, but I was finally beginning to look forward to it. I was anxious to just get out and RUN.

Monday morning. As we headed down Badwater Road to the start of the 8 a.m. wave, we cheered the 6 a.m. runners already out on the course. I couldn’t wait to join them. I felt like the bucking bronco held in the pen, waiting for the gate to be lifted, waiting for the chance to be let free and GO.

Friends. Many friends. Some new, some very familiar. Hugs and cheers as we greeted each other and headed to the start line. Life is a river. A bucket of water can be removed from it, but the river continues to flow. The energy of life, of friends, continues to flow.

Off we go. FINALLY, bottled energy is set free. Tears turn to smiles, to giggles, to joy. I’m flying. I’m so happy to be a part of the Badwater family, so happy to be a runner this year, so happy to go, go, go…

My crew reminded me that perhaps I was being a bit TOO happy. Running felt so easy, but they reminded me of the many miles I had ahead of me. “Let’s try to slow things down a bit,” I heard over and over. “That’s a hill Mary, you should be walking… why aren’t you walking… WALK!!!”

I got to Furnace Creek a bit quicker than planned. Seventeen miles into the race and it seemed so easy, so relaxing. The temps were warming but they were mild by Death Valley standards. Decked out in my desert best, I looked like a Bedouin midget bouncing along under the sun. Pacers began to join me. It was a delight to hear about the race as it was being experienced by our BW virgin, Stephanie. She was practically reciting my script from 2006. “I never realized how beautiful it is here; this is so incredible; I’m so glad to be here.”

With the heat of the day settling in I began to get a better sense of my pace. Well ahead of even my best hoped-for schedule, I knew that I had to back off. I walked more, taking note of various landmarks, such as the incredible sand dunes that one sees prior to Stovepipe Wells, the second major check-point. At Stovepipe my plan was to jump in the pool and cool off before slipping into new togs for the evening. I checked in, crossed the road, tossed off my shoes and then jumped into the pool, fully clothed. Oh did it feel good. I was like a child at play swimming around with surprised tourists. Stephanie and I made faces underwater as Nikki tried to capture our photos with her waterproof camera.

A bit of nutrition, a change of clothes, and off I headed for the 17-mile climb up to Towne Pass. I knew that it would primarily be a walk for me and I looked forward to just taking it easy and relaxing. No sense fighting with gravity. But it was during the relaxing hike that my monkey first climbed on my back. We all have monkeys in long events. For some it is a cranky knee or ankle. For others, it’s the stomach. Me? My monkey was fatigue. Not a yawn-I-am-bored-at-a-meeting-fatigue, but debilitating, I-have-to-be-prone-right-now fatigue.

Halfway up the pass I laid down on the cot for the first time. Ten minutes off of my feet and I figured I’d be good to go. The rest helped, but the monkey was still riding my back. I thought back to my days in college, remembering that I could never do the all-nighters either academically or around the keg. My tolerance for sleep deprivation has always been low.

Before cresting the summit I took one more break on the cot and then down we ran toward Panamint Valley. The reverse course of gravity perked me up and the monkey slid of my back for a bit. A persistent fellow though, he maintained his pace and stayed with me. I didn’t notice how close he remained until we were near to the valley floor. When I stopped for a moment to change my socks the monkey had his chance. He jumped back on and grabbed hold much more tightly than before. he next time I tried to move he wrestled me down. Literally. I was on the ground with my eyes shut. There is some dispute as to what exactly happened. My crew believes that I either momentarily passed out, or I simply fell asleep on my feet.

But I knew what happened. The monkey had me in a headlock and was holding me down. I was losing this match but knew there would be others in the miles ahead. I gave in to the monkey and laid down on the cot. It was the best sleep I had had in days — about two hours total under the pre-dawn stars of Panamint Valley.

The monkey was satisfied for awhile and so I got up. The first few steps were tentative. Would my legs be stiff? Could I run again?

The legs loosened, but there wasn’t a lot of running to be done after that match with the monkey. I moved through the Panamint check-in and up the next climb — about 13 miles. The sun came up and I was in good spirits again. Coming down the other side I hit the 100-mile mark. I was now venturing into unknown territory, going further in a race than ever before. And the monkey jogged alongside me, every once in awhile, reminding me of his presence — especially when I’d try to run.

Once I was able to knock him down.

Tuesday afternoon, a summer day in the desert, and I was caught in a hail storm. It was cold. Out came the turtleneck and jacket. “Dammit! It’s July in the desert, what the f*ck is this all about?” And then it wasn’t just the hail, but everything in life that didn’t make sense, including friends struck down in the prime of their lives. I was cold, I was tired and I was mad. “What the f*ck, what the f*ck, what the f*ck?!?!?!?!?!”

The monkey was so startled he fell off his back and landed smack on his a**. I ran like I hadn’t in hours. My pacer tried to say nice things, the right things, to perk me up. But there was to be no perking. I was in my own bubble of anger and planned to stay there. I ran and I ran and I ran.

And then the monkey caught up and jumped on again. The hail stopped. The rain stopped. The anger stopped. I remembered all that made sense, the good friends who were with me. The good friends back home who were thinking of me.

I embraced the monkey, made peace with it and wandered down the road to the race end. Occasionally, the monkey still had to be appeased with short naps, but we seemed to be working well together. I was moving with a fatigue that I had never felt before, but I was still moving.

Close to Lone Pine the crew brought out the cell phone and I talked with Dave, my husband — my home crew. A well-insulated man, he knew that the heat of Death Valley wouldn’t be a good match for him. But the race crew stayed in touch with him and he was well aware of how the race was transpiring. It was good to hear his voice. I talked to him again at the Lone Pine check-in. I was enthusiastic. We still had a 13-mile climb straight up to the finish at the Whitney Portal (the trail that takes one to the top of the mountain), but I was near that end and knew that soon the race would be done.

We moved up the hill well. At least the first few miles. And then the monkey wanted to have one last wrestling match. I couldn’t keep my eyes open I couldn’t stay on my feet. A short nap about four miles from the top and I was still struggling. “Suggestions?” I yelled to the crew. They loaded me with caffeine pills and Coke. The gave me caffeine-filled gels. But what finally worked? What finally got the monkey to loosen his grip?

Song. Singing songs. Camp songs, Christmas songs, dirty songs with lots of naughty words. My pacers were incredibly good sports doing their best to join me in some of the worst ditties I could muster.

But it worked. Our final song was “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands!” And we did, running across the finish line, clapping and laughing. The anticipated tears were replaced by hysterical laughter. Even the monkey was laughing. And I’m sure that somewhere in that land of the newly deceased, Nancy was too. She always laughed at me — at me and with me.

I finished my race just before 6 a.m. on Wednesday. At 6:30 a.m. on Thursday, I was back at the Portal Trail with my crew, and two other friends — Lisa and Tim. After visiting the basement of North America, it was time to take a look at the attic of the Lower 48. We were headed for the 11-mile climb to the top of Mt. Whitney. It would be about 22 miles up-and-back. Thirteen hours.

Amazingly, my legs weren’t too bad. Breathing was slow. But I could keep the feet moving as long as I kept my usual chatter to a minimal level. Up we went past the tree line, up though the raindrops, and up to the top where snow flurries greeted us. I stayed long enough to sign the book, noting “Hi Nancy, wish you were here!” and then headed back down.

A bucket of water is removed from a river, but the river moves on, flowing with life.

I enjoyed a lot of life in the midst of Death Valley. And I am grateful to the many friends who journeyed with me through the desert, both physically and in my heart.