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Crewing for a Champion

Crew person for 2007 women’s champion Lisa Bliss

In the world of a person who lives far away from me lays the dreams of a champion that will soon be realized. What does it take to be a champion? It takes hard work, passion and a competitive spirit willing to risk all in order to make it to the finish line first. In the minds of most Lisa Bliss was not a favorite to win Badwater but she shocked the world. A pretty young girl who smiles all of the time yet has a burning desire to succeed and will risk all to do just that. She welcomes all into her world but on the racecourse she is a fierce competitor. While she talks, smiles and giggles she runs with purpose and the heart of a lion.

IMG_2602When Lisa Bliss asked me to be a part of her Badwater team in 2007 I accepted her offer without hesitation. She is someone who immediately gained my trust, put me at ease and accepted me for who I am without judgement. She saw through all of the barriers and disguises that I put up and looked directly into my heart and saw things that others missed. She is a very nice person who gives everyone a chance.

We first met when I paced her at Western States in 2005. While she had a successful race I walked away feeling as though I had failed her. I had promised her that I would do my best to help her achieve a sub-24 hour finish and I walked away knowing deep inside that I could have given her more. Since that day I’ve spent all of my time waiting for a second chance. A chance that would make it all okay. Badwater 2007 would give me that second chance.

The most difficult task for me and probably the others as well would be to find the courage to be a part of a team of people who barely knew each other. Though we did not know one another, Lisa trusted us to care for her and to guide her safely across the desert while also making sure we cared for ourselves as well. Though fearful, I had no doubt that the five of us would mesh together and strive for the common goal of getting Lisa to the finish line as quickly as possible.

The five individuals that Lisa chose for her crew each brought a different flavor to the team. Larry Ham was the only person that served on Lisa’s crew on her first attempt in 2004. I personally relied upon him to take the initial lead because he knew how to serve her best. Larry was a critical asset to the team because his profession as a physical therapist gave him the skills necessary to put Lisa back together if need be. Larry is a regular guy who lives in the real world and has no ambition to be an ultrarunner. He worked feverishly in elements that are not common in his world and was asked to sacrifice his own well being for a friend. Sacrificing sleep and food would be easy for those of us who participate in the sport and understand the nature of the event but it was quite a task for an outsider. Larry adapted well and contributed a great deal to the team effort.


Dori Robertson was a member of my Badwater crew in 2006. I knew her strengths prior to this year’s run and in fact recommended her to Lisa early in her selection process. Dori is a teacher and a communicator. While I can’t honestly say that I listened to every word that Dori spoke to me in 2006, I will admit that she tried her best to distract me from any pain I was experiencing at any time during my race. She’s a ball of energy, enthusiastic and competitive.

Dave Heckman brought humor to the group. He had a knack for making everyone laugh but more importantly he seemed to be able to take the edge off of Lisa. When he was by her side she smiled, laughed and absolutely enjoyed her surroundings.

Glenn Tachiyama brought a winning attitude to the group. His experience crewing for Scott Jurek in 2005 and 2006 was invaluable. While others at first reneged at his ideas we all concluded that there was no other way to do our best than to copy what the best did. Glenn is a quiet, kind yet powerful guy with a contagious laugh. In his presence everything seems so calm and nothing is pressing or urgent. He has the remarkable ability to relax even in the most tense of situations. His job was to keep Lisa calm while pushing her hard and he was very successful at doing so. Oh and late in the race his presence motivated Lisa to run as she refused to be captured on film while walking.

Me, well my job was to jump in anywhere that I was needed. Even though I can be quite shy at times I have the ability to organize people so that they work well together. I knew that over a 30-40 hour period of time that there could be some conflict amongst the group and the conflict had to be resolved quickly. My main goal going in was to do just that. Also I had hoped to find a way to motivate Lisa in her toughest times and ultimately bring her to the best finish that she could possibly expect. She has always told me that she feels as though she has never given enough effort in an ultra. Well I owed her my best effort to find a way to motivate her and keep her moving forward.

Glenn offered his suggestion as to what method we should use at the start to satisfy Lisa’s needs through the first seventeen miles. Since we were allowed only one crew vehicle until the 17 mile mark at Furnace Creek Dori volunteered to stay back until we reached that mark. The duties assigned were as follows: Dave Heckman would meet Lisa and immediately take her empty bottles and used ice bandanna. I would then meet her next about 10 yards up with new bottles filled with ice and water along with a new ice bandanna. Also I was responsible for getting her food if needed. Larry would then see her off by spraying her down with water from a large garden sprayer that was filled with ice. Finally it was my responsibility to document all of the activities that took place including her food and fluid intake.

The field along with Lisa posted some very fast opening splits with the leader pulling off a 7:30 first mile. Unknown to me at the time, the fast splits would not come back to haunt anyone as the 93% finish rate was un-freakin’ believable. The first day was beautiful with a slight cloud cover, a nice 20-25 mph tailwind and temperatures topping out at about 105° at the start. It may have been cool for Death Valley but the Valley is not a foe to be taken lightly. There are many challenges along the way that if not met with total concentration would overcome a runner and end his or her day very quickly.

Lisa had no trouble navigating her way down the hilly road that led from Badwater to Furnace Creek. In fact, I think her biggest worry was how her crew was doing. Early in the race she yelled over to us that she loved us which I took as a sign that she was concerned and needed to be reassured that we were okay. I didn’t really say anything but instead just kept working. The runners were fresh this early on and since we stopped every mile we stayed busy filling bottles, loading ice to the bandannas and trying to figure out what she might like to eat. We never really struggled with our organization and in fact we all stayed busy trying to satisfy the task we were assigned.

When we reached Furnace Creek at seventeen miles Dori jumped in and started to pace Lisa. Prior to pacing I told Dori and the rest of the group that I thought it would be best if each of us only ran 5 mile legs with her. One of the mistakes I made last year was not assigning limits to my crew ahead of time. We were there to help Lisa and the best way to do so was to keep ourselves strong and never allow ourselves to get totally depleted. Dave Heckman told me immediately that five miles might be a little too much for him and we all agreed that it was okay. Five was the limit but if one of us only felt comfortable running one or two than that would be okay too. Larry had already told us up front that he was only capable of running a mile and it would be best if it happened when Lisa was moving slow later in the race or up a long hill. Glenn let us know that he would prefer to help out in the van on the first day and then pace on the second. That being said the pacing duties would be the primary responsibility of both Dori and I on the first day. We were all in agreement that no matter how we divvied up the mileage the five-mile limit would stay in effect.

Lisa ran into some minor trouble with an imbalance of electrolytes on her way to the forty-two mile mark at Stove Pipe Wells. Her fingers and wrists had swelled to an uncomfortable state and her weight increased by two percent from where it was at the start. She was also suffering from some minor cramping which is something she had never experienced in past races. She recognized the conditions immediately and knew exactly how to instruct us to react. We followed her instructions and her body responded quickly. Within a few miles the cramping was gone but the scare made us realize just how critical it was to stay on top of her water, food, and electrolyte intake. We monitored her weight every hour and reacted based upon the outcome. Lisa was also very good at letting us know how she felt. Her knowledge of how to care for her body in the brutal conditions was unbelievable and her guidance was something that was valuable.

The weather in the late afternoon changed significantly from that of the morning. The temperature registered by the gauge in our vehicle had risen to 116° and the cloud cover was now gone leaving those outside more exposed to direct sunlight. Even though the scenery of the sand dunes on the right hand side of the road was spectacular I’m certain that those running could only concentrate on placing one foot in front of the other.

It was now late afternoon and I felt that the steady diet of honey on tortillas that we had been feeding Lisa was not enough of a variety for her. While she had an assortment of foods to select from they honestly did not look very appetizing to me. I struggled to find something that I thought would not only give her energy but something that would also satisfy her taste buds. Soy chips, organic Cliff bars and trail mix amongst several other items that she had purchased at a health food store most certainly would supply her with needed energy but where was the taste? I guess I’m just used to the aid stations at ultras where the mainstays of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, M&M’s, regular potato chips (with a lot of fat!), and real cookies are served. I was doing way too much thinking which made the job harder than it should have been. The funny thing is that by not accepting the food that I had to offer early in the race Lisa further solidified my belief that what she had was not satisfying her. I told my fellow crew members that I was living in bizzarro world and that instead of offering her what I wanted I should offer her the opposite. Truthfully Lisa was very nice the entire time and always managed a smile no matter the situation. Early on I found it tough to get her to eat something other than the honey on tortilla but as the race progressed she became more accepting of anything I had to offer.

As we approached Stove Pipe Wells Lisa’s pace had slowed to that of a turtle. She was experiencing some pain from injuries that existed prior to the race. When she reached the mile forty-two checkpoint she changed clothes, grabbed some food and regrouped before fulfilling her duties as a test subject for a study performed by the medical staff.

Prior to the race those of us on the crew agreed that it would be important for each of us to get away for a couple of hours to relax our minds or sleep if need be. Getting away from the intense action would allow us to be fresh throughout the night and into the next day. Lisa had reserved a room at a hotel in Stove Pipe for us to use if need be and that is exactly what we planned to do. Dave Heckman made it clear at Stove Pipe that he was ready for a break so it was decided that he would sleep first. Larry wanted to sleep when normal people sleep so he volunteered for the 11 p.m. slot. The group determined that I would go next at 9 p.m. at which time I would return with the car and wake Dave up. I only wanted to be a way a couple of hours so I asked Larry to return by 11 p.m. and then finally Glenn would return at 4 a.m. to get Larry. Glenn sacrificed the most, as his sleep would be had in the car during the one-hour trip back. Dori wasn’t interested in going to the hotel so instead she took the car up a few miles and slept on two occasions. Everyone found time to get a way for a while so I felt good that we were doing everything right in order to give Lisa our best effort. Whether it was just time alone to relax or sleeping when each of us returned to the scene we were raring to go.

Lisa’s progress on the course was steady despite the fact that 50 miles into the race she was hampered by blisters that were forming on the balls of both of her feet. It was around 8:00 p.m.when she first made us aware of the problem. She voluntarily came over to the vehicle where she proceeded to remove her shoes and socks so that Larry could take a look. There were no visible blisters leading Larry to believe that she might be suffering from a neuroma or bruised feet. Lisa was prepared for any situation and had a bag set aside with supplies for just such an occasion. She along with the help of Larry fabricated a cushion for her shoe that would protect the affected area and hopefully allow her to run again pain free.

By the time she was done and running again it was getting dark and we needed to start gathering Lisa’s nighttime gear. Dori had taken the car up the road a few miles to get some shuteye and unfortunately had taken Lisa’s flashlights with her. I was somewhat concerned because it was getting late and we really didn’t know for sure where Dori was. Glenn and I calmly drove up the road to find Dori while Larry ran by Lisa’s side. My concern was unwarranted as we easily located Dori, found the lights and returned before darkness set in. Once Lisa was all geared up for the dark it was time for me to head back to the hotel in Stove Pipe Wells to wake Dave Heckman. I wasn’t too keen on leaving but I knew it was the best thing to do and besides I couldn’t leave Dave back at the hotel.

I made it back by 9 p.m., woke Dave, and then talked with him until he left around 9:45. I took a shower and watched WWE wrestling as a way to unwind. When Larry hadn’t returned by 11 p.m. I became antsy and went for a walk outside of the hotel. When I went out front I saw my friend James Moore arriving at the checkpoint. I took the opportunity to wish him well on the rest of his trek to Whitney and also took the time to chat with Badwater veteran John Dodds who was serving on his crew. Despite the fact that it had taken James some time to make it to Stove Pipe he had a big smile on his face and he was upbeat. I saw the smile on his face and was certain he would be okay but in the end he found himself moving too slow and had to bail at the seventy-mile mark in Panamint Springs. James is a very accomplished runner and someone who is not afraid to take risks and I applaud him for his effort.

When Larry finally pulled into the parking lot around 11:30 p.m. I showed him to the hotel room and immediately headed back out to the course. Larry had told me that Lisa had crested the long hill at Towns Pass and should still be making the long descent into the Panamint Valley by the time I got there. I drove twenty miles with the fear that I would not be able to locate our team in the dark but the green night lights that Lisa and our team were wearing as opposed to the red that most selected were easy to detect. Just as Larry had said Lisa was making her descent into Panamint but to my surprise she was running by her lonesome. When I arrived at the scene Dori told me that she had started out running with Lisa but that the fear of aggravating an old injury forced her to the sidelines. Both Dori and I thought that it would be best if I jumped back out there to run with her if for nothing else to allow her to feel somewhat protected against the demons of the dark.

When I started running Lisa was cruising at a good rate of speed on an easy but long down hill section. I was a little worried that the long down hill could aggravate an old injury of my own but I was ready for it. The beautiful night time sky filled with a million stars kept my mind off of everything including any pain that I may have had. The sky and the surrounding mountains put me in such a relaxed state that for a few minutes I forgot why I was even there. I snapped out of my trance and chatted with Lisa a bit to see if she too had recognized the sky that was directly on top of us. She acknowledged that she had noticed and even pointed out that the moon was missing as she watched it earlier dip below the mountains in the background.

Lisa was relentless as she ran every inch of the way down the road into the valley below. Several miles later and a few thousand feet lower we reached the bottom only to find Lisa in severe pain. The pain in both of her feet had intensified to the point where she needed to stop to tend to the problem immediately. This time when she removed her shoes and socks large blisters were noticeable on the balls of both of her feet. We retrieved her foot care kit and allowed her to go to work on herself. She stubbornly refused to allow anyone else to pop the blisters or help her in any way. The only role I could play was that of comforter. I reassured her that once the blisters were drained that the pain would decrease to an acceptable level. She poked and prodded at the blisters on the right foot but they were so deep that very little fluid was released. The blisters that were on her right foot were not as deep and could be drained with ease. She allowed Dave Heckman to bandage her feet but showed concern when he placed an adhesive bandage directly on to the skin. She was worried she would never be able to remove it without tearing the skin off but once it was on it was too late. Now that the bandages were on and her feet were wrapped in tape it was time for Lisa to make an attempt to move again. I felt so bad inside when she whimpered as she rose to her feet and moved forward. I had not treated her like a girl all night long but I was so tempted to do so at this point. I could not enable her but instead I needed to find a way to make her fight. I promised her that the more she walked the less pain she would feel. She continued to make noises but never complained or stopped. It hurt me deep inside but I never let her know and instead I continued to urge her to walk.

I looked at my watch and noticed that at 2:20 a.m. we still had time to travel the three miles uphill to make it to Panamint before 3 a.m. After we traveled a mile and a half Lisa asked Glenn and Dave Heckman to go ahead into town and get her some breakfast at the all night restaurant. She thought that the warm food would help her relax and recover. She was also hopeful that John Vonhoff or someone from Zombie Runner might be there to treat her feet. We moved at a slow rate of speed but as she walked her stride became smoother and her pace picked up despite the pain. The only thing I could do was to continue to reassure her that the more she walked the less pain she would feel. I worked hard to convince her that her pain would decrease in intensity as long as she continued to walk. She accepted my comments with the same smile that was on her face at the start and the same smile that remained throughout. Her words expressed pain yet her face expressed joy.

When we reached the town of Panamint a little before 3 a.m. and found that no one was there who could treat her feet we continued straight through without stopping. Before catching back up to Lisa I quickly popped my head in the restaurant to let Glenn and Dave know that we were moving on by. Both Dave and Glenn seemed frustrated because the food was taking a little longer than expected and also because the restaurant was not yet serving breakfast. Lisa would have to settle for spaghetti and meatballs instead of the eggs that she wanted. Just like every thing else though Lisa took it in stride and accepted the food with a big smile on her face.

We left Panamint in the dark starting the long climb up to the top of Father Crowley. I knew from my experience last year how spectacular the view was at this point. This year, however, I would have to allow my imagination to run wild because darkness concealed the beauty of the area. Lisa may have been in pain but her consistent pace had her catching up quickly to a runner just a head. The person she was gaining ground on was not just any runner but one of the best and a Badwater legend in Lisa Smith-Batchen. Both Lisa’s had faced some adversity throughout the night and shared stories as they walked together. They walked and talked for a quarter mile before Dave and Glenn showed up with Lisa’s food. When Lisa slowed to eat Dave took over the pacing duties and I joined Dori in the crew vehicle. Dori suggested that we head back to town and buy more ice since we were running low. Dave had Lisa giggling like a little girl and back on track so Dori and I felt comfortable leaving the two alone for a little while without support. We backtracked and headed into town where there was a little mini-mart/gas station that sold ice. I was shocked that the price of gas at this particular station was $4.39 a gallon. I may have been shocked but I also understood good business practices. The local stores knew they had us by the you know whats and like any smart business they took advantage. I went inside and bought six bags of ice at a $1.89 a bag and after seeing the price of gas felt as though I got a deal. When I put the ice in the coolers I took a peek in the vehicle and looked around for the first time since the early afternoon hours. The inside was a mess and totally disorganized. I looked at Dori and she looked at me and without a word said we both jumped in and started cleaning up. We discarded all of the trash and reorganized the entire van prior to heading back out.

When we caught back up to Lisa and Dave they were both still giggling and having a good time. It was as if we weren’t even missed. We were back and as a group we continued the eight mile, three thousand foot climb leading up to the top of Father Crowley. Lisa told me earlier that she had run most of this section in 2004 and was concerned that her feet would not allow her to do so again this year. Her confidence level was not high early on because her race this year was quite different from that of 2004. In fact, as funny as it may sound she questioned her ability to buckle. I responded by referring to my own race of the previous year in which I was well behind the pace she was setting on this day. I assured her that she could easily walk from here and still break the forty-eight hour time limit needed to buckle. I felt uncomfortable making references to my own struggles in races but it was the only thing that I knew to do. This race was all about Lisa not all about Dave but I had hoped that she would see that if I could overcome different challenges than she could as well. My purpose was to help her relax and allow her mind to rest knowing that she was not alone, anything was still possible!

As we climbed the mountain the sun rose. This gave us an opportunity to see the crew vehicles that led down the long stretch of highway into Panamint Springs. As Dori and I admired the scenery Dave continued to walk with Lisa up the mountain. We were about two thirds of the way to the top when Larry and Glenn returned from resting. We all pulled off into a large parking area where at four thousand feet we had a 360° view of our surroundings. Lisa, Noora Alidina and Lisa Smith-Batchen were running neck and neck as she came into our view but instead of trying to gain ground she opted to take a five-minute break instead. Dave Heckman had brought a comfortable lounge chair along for the ride and now it was time for it to serve its purpose. He pulled it out of the vehicle, assembled it in the proper position, and allowed Lisa to sit. The big smile that had been plastered on her face since the start was now even wider as she rested.

Once her five minutes was up Lisa laughed in pain as she struggled to rise from the chair. She hobbled forward but then quickly regained a smooth stride. Larry tagged along with her for about a mile before handing over the pacing duties to Glenn. Lisa and Glenn crested the mountain together and were rewarded with a spectacular view of Mt. Whitney well off in the distance. Though Whitney looked like it was just a hop, skip and a jump away in reality there were many miles to travel before reaching our final destination.

When Lisa and Glenn made their approach toward the crew vehicle we were about to experience our lowest point of the race. Lisa’s smile was replaced by a look of concern as she limped dramatically toward us. Seemingly out of no where an angel of mercy arrived. Jamie Mieras, a race medic, had been traveling in the area and decided to stop when she spotted Lisa. Once she saw how much pain Lisa was in she offered to help. Jamie quickly located her medical supplies and brought them to our location and went to work on both of Lisa’s feet. There wasn’t a lot that any of us could do at this point except pitch in to do minor tasks and clean up the trash that was left over. It took 43 minutes before Lisa was up and running again but the time lost was well worth it as the intensity of the pain in her feet significantly decreased. We cleaned up the area, thanked Jamie and quickly moved on.

While we were making our way to the mile 90 mark in Darwin Lisa asked us how many people and who had passed her during the down time. I assured her that only a couple of people had passed and for the most part those that did were early starters. I wasn’t 100% sure that my answer was correct but I thought it was more important for her to remain focused on her race and not that of others.

Lisa seemed to pick up speed when she found out that she had a chance to make it to Darwin in less than 24 hours. We were about three miles out when Larry sent Dave ahead to find out the exact mileage from where we were into Darwin. When Dave came back with the news that we were closer to two and a half miles than three it was a no brainer that Lisa would make her goal. She kicked it into gear and when there she looked as if she had been reborn. We stopped in Darwin where Lisa weighed and rested for a few seconds before kicking it back into gear and heading out once again.

Almost immediately after leaving Darwin Larry and Dave took over the crewing responsibilities and Dori headed into town to pick up the Mt. Whitney passes. There was a small chance that after crossing the finish line Lisa and crew would attempt to summit Whitney and return in record time. We weren’t sure at this point in the race if we would make the attempt or not but there was still a chance so as planned Dori went into town.

Predictably Lisa ran almost the entire stretch of downhill road leading out of Darwin. It was a beautiful setting in which to run as Mt. Whitney could be seen directly ahead and the dessert colors now included something other than brown. Lisa’s confidence level increased brightening the spirits of the crew but there was still one more down period lurking just ahead. When we reached the 103-mile mark the town of Keeler could be seen well off in the distance. The road leading to the town was winding and rolling and though it seemed so close we knew it was still far away. Suddenly the wind stopped blowing and the heat beat directly on Lisa’s brow, which compounded the mental struggle she was already experiencing. The knowledge of having to travel the long, winding road before reaching town along with the brutal heat was devastating. Her pace slowed and her spirit took a beating but amazingly enough she still smiled.

As we neared Keeler she asked me two questions both of which I could not answer. I was flustered when she asked what time of day it was and what mile mark we were at. My watch was still on Eastern Standard Time and for one reason or another I couldn’t figure out how to subtract three hours from whatever time it read. I told her she would have to wait until we reached the van to get the time but I gave her a good guess as to what mile mark we were at. When we arrived at the crew vehicle I was hoping that Larry would know the time and exact mileage mark and lucky for me he did. Personally I’m not a big fan of calculating pace because if it’s not what I want it to be it can be deflating. Sure enough when Lisa found out what her pace was over the last five miles she seemed quite dejected. It was at this time when it seemed as though she made a conscious decision to dictate the outcome of her race. I looked at her and I saw a spirit that was intact and a ton of energy and strength that remained inside. I attempted to draw what remained inside by urging her to concentrate on her race and to focus on running as much as possible. She responded positively to my words and listened to me instead of the IPOD that she had been listening to the entire race. Her positive response gave me permission to let loose every bit of passion that I had inside. I scare most when I let loose but Lisa sucked up every ounce I had and wanted more. I felt a rush of energy and somehow it made its way to Lisa. She was in no way intimidated but instead listened and followed my guidance. I had lit a spark, which Lisa used to ignite a fire. She was running and running hard and it would last until the very end.

Once she was running I asked her to communicate her needs to her pacer and allow him or her to get what she needed. It made no sense for her to come out of her zone and lose energy just to get what she needed when we could do it for her instead. I thought it was important for her to stay focused for this would allow her to defeat any mental challenges that could arise along the way.

At mile 111 it was Glenn’s turn to pace and his job would be to keep the fire burning in Lisa’s heart. The mix of my emotion, Glenn’s patience and comforting presence and Dori’s ability to teach was exactly what Lisa needed to get her to Lone Pine. Our plan was for each of us to run three miles with Lisa until we reached the Portal Road at mile 122.

The crew played a critical role in what was about to occur over the next five miles. Dave Heckman had earlier drove up ahead to do some reconnaissance work and when he returned we were surprised by what he told us. He said that Lisa was gaining ground on the second and third place females and that the first place female had less than a two-mile lead and all were struggling. It wasn’t long after Dave broke the news when Noora Alidina came into view. We saw her hobbling and moving slow and knew that it was only a matter of time before Lisa would catch her. Larry, Dave and I discussed how we should proceed with the crew vehicles and concluded that we should stay out of view of Noora and her crew until Lisa was close and ready to pass. We figured that if we got too close the nervous energy generated from the knowledge that Lisa was on her tail might give Noora second life and make it more difficult for Lisa to pass. We implemented our plan precisely and before we knew it the time had come for Lisa to make her move. The competitive juices were flowing in every one and everything we did was for one purpose and one purpose only, to help Lisa win.

Just prior to our decision to pass Noora’s crew vehicles I ran over to Dori and Lisa and told them “ladies let the games begin”! Lisa was now aware that she was in contention and she literally responded by putting the hammer down. Not only did she pass Noora but unknowingly to me she also passed Tracy Thomas. I saw Tracy’s crew vehicle but did not see her so I assumed that she was still running up ahead. Turns out I was wrong as Dori and the others had seen Tracy in the vehicle. Once Dori guided Lisa by Noora and Tracy it was my turn to keep the fire burning in Lisa’s heart.

Lisa was easily motivated but also easily distracted by spectators who happened upon the course. It angered me when someone would drive up along side of her or walk up to her to chat. She’s a nice person and very approachable on the outside but on this day she’s a competitor attempting to realize a dream. While I didn’t feel comfortable screening Lisa from the public the race was now on so I not only felt comfortable but I felt it was my duty.

DSCF0173 Lisa had just taken over second place when I started pacing her and my goal was to keep her relaxed and focused. I wanted her to focus ahead and not behind. This was not an easy task because Noora’s crew vehicles had to come right alongside of Lisa to park to wait for their runner. This led both Lisa and I to believe Noora was right on her tail and truthfully maybe she was. I refused to look back so I honestly do not know how close Noora was at the time. It was all strategy and tactics from here on out, don’t smile at your competitor, don’t acknowledge her or her crew but instead run forward looking strong and confident. That’s a winning attitude and something that will build confidence and allow you to run with authority and not in fear.

Glenn ran with Lisa the last two miles into Lone Pine. They made a right turn on the main highway and then ran another half mile before they excitedly caught a glimpse of the female leader. Jamie Donaldson fought a good fight but was now hobbling toward the Lone Pine checkpoint. Once Lisa saw Jamie she became a woman possessed and pushed hard toward the town. She stayed way over on the left side of the road away from race officials and ran strong toward the Portal Road. She had absolutely no interaction with any of the officials but instead depended upon her crew to check her in.

The crew had worked feverishly to get her to this point but now our lack of knowledge of the rules left us a bit exposed. Someone remembered that the runner is allowed only one crew vehicle to follow him or her up the Portal Road. Since we had two crew vehicles and a five-member crew we were not sure what to do. I got a little nervous because everyone looked at me for direction so I quickly sought out assistance from one of the race officials. He told us that it would be okay to have two crew vehicles as along as we stripped all of the identifying marks off of one of them, kept them a good distance apart and only used one as a crew vehicle. Since he was an official I listened to him, but once I told Lisa our plan she refused to allow us to do it. She was a stickler for rules throughout making sure that we stayed behind her and off of the road when we paced and that our vehicles complied with all of the rules as well. Though tired, she was not going to change now and demanded that we take the car all the way up the mountain. I assured her that we were given direction by one of the officials and that we did not deliberately set out to break the rules. I promised her that we would obey her by moving the car all of the way up the mountain and that’s exactly what we did.

I’m not sure why, maybe because I’ve done Badwater or have experience as an ultrarunner but for some reason the others in the crew looked to me for guidance. I had been leading since we were five miles outside of Keeler and continued to do so as we approached Lone Pine and our final destination. I say it was my experience but I have a feeling that my peers deemed me the leader because I was so emotional and fiery and truly wanted Lisa to win. I found it hard to make decisions that could potentially hurt someone else’s feelings but any decision I made was made because I was certain it was best for Lisa. I went back to our team and explained exactly what we needed to do and though my decisions may not have been popular everyone accepted his or her role. Our plan to get up the mountain would be that Dori, Glenn and I would continue rotating the pacing duties every three miles, Larry would drive the crew vehicle while Dave drove the other up the mountain.

I was first to pace and immediately I challenged Lisa to move as quickly as possible and even run when she could. Larry had told me that in 2004 she made it up the mountain in four hours and ten minutes. I told Lisa that the race was hers if she could post that same exact time again. I told her all of this not knowing that she was already in the lead. I must have left my mind in Lone Pine because I thought she was still the chaser not the one being chased. Lisa slowed a bit and even asked Larry to give her the hairbrush that he had been guarding with his life for over 123 miles. I wondered why Larry had a hairbrush in his lap for so long but now I know. I think Lisa’s plan was to use the brush to help her relax and it served its purpose as she zoned out for a few minutes. In a way it drove me nuts so in response I urged her to give more effort if she could but I let up when she told me that her hip would only allow her to go so fast. While Lisa was brushing her hair Dave Heckmam ran up beside me and told me that Lisa had nine tenths of a mile lead on Noora. When Lisa asked me what Dave had said I would only tell her that she had a significant lead. In retrospect I should have told Lisa exactly how much of a lead she had because now that I know she would have found another gear and put the race away even earlier. I found this out when Dori jumped in to pace. She immediately told Lisa that she had less than a mile lead on Noora and that all would be okay if she maintained. That lit a fire under Lisa’s ass for two reasons first because she felt threatened by Noora and secondly because she was mad at me for not telling her how close Noora was.

I made a mistake at the 127-mile mark of the race when I allowed my feelings to get hurt. One of the main duties of a crew person is to build walls and to not allow emotions to affect his or her job. It is critical to the runner that the crew works out their own problems and is able to handle any thing the runner throws at them. No anger, no hurt feelings and no frustration. At the 127-mile mark the walls I had built fell to the ground and I allowed my feelings to get hurt. I was sad because Lisa thought I had lied to her and I was sad because I had made Lisa mad at me. It hurt me and I felt it but still I did my job. I couldn’t face her eye to eye but instead what I did was fill her bottles and prepare her food only to ask Glenn to give it to her. It broke my heart that I couldn’t be out there but I figured that my presence would only piss her off more. The good thing is that the anger that was generated lit a fire under her ass and she started to run up the mountain. I was sad and happy at the same time. A bad thing may have occurred but she turned it into a positive. I thought it was totally amazing that she could dig so deep inside of herself to find the energy to run up the mountain. This allowed her to crush the 4:10 time she posted in 2004 by twenty-eight minutes.

DSC02254Glenn paced her the next three miles before Lisa looked over to me and asked if I was next. I jumped at the opportunity and melted like butter when Lisa expressed her appreciation for all of my help. Any hurt feelings I had were now gone as together we walked up the three steep switchbacks that led up the mountain. I continued to walk with her until we reached the 1.5-mile to go marker at which point Larry took over for the next half mile. Dave took the final leg with Lisa to the finish as the rest of us waited patiently for her to arrive. At 8:33 Pacific Standard Time Lisa Bliss crossed the finish line and became the 2007 Badwater ladies champion in 34:33.

While Lisa was being interviewed Larry and I stood together speechless but the smiles on our faces said it all. The team spent many hours together, struggling when Lisa struggled, laughing when Lisa laughed and feeling bad when Lisa cried. Now that she had crossed the finish line and all was over I wasn’t sure if I should be sad or happy. I had just spent the last day and a half with people I barely knew yet somehow at this time each felt like a part of me and I never wanted the time to end. Reality set in quickly and I realized that it was over. Though the thought of leaving was sad I knew the events of this day would be played over and over again in each of our minds until the end of time. There was more to this than just winning a race as each of us took home a part of the other. Congratulations Lisa you are a true champion!

Romancing the Stone

A 2007 Badwater race story

I am at the starting line and in a few minutes will be joining the six and eight o’clock runners who are already well into the march of madness across Death Valley and two mountain ranges and then to the finish line, at the Portals, halfway up MT Whitney. We are at the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon. It is the toughest footrace in the world.

Although I am here, it was questionable a week ago. Excruciating back pain from a mean-spirited and jagged-edged kidney stone had me digging in my heels and white knuckling the rails of a gurney in an emergency room. A dose of morphine gave me temporary relief but during the week there was more pain as gravity continued to drag the cruddy little thing through my plumbing system. It is quiet now; knock on wood.

My goal is to be the first runner over sixty (I am 65) to ever-complete Badwater in less than forty-hours. For months, I averaged 120-miles a week and everyday baked in a 170-degree sauna. I am physically ready.

I have run this race nine consecutive times and have created a race plan, which incorporates everything that has worked on this course. I am mentally prepared.

My support crew, Christine Webb, Julie Strong and Alfonso Partida have met a dozen times to cover possible contingencies. They are ready.

Our support van contains a large chest filled with dry ice, cubes and blocks. This is used to top off four smaller chests containing liquids of choice and two five-gallon coolers of water for drinking and spraying. If overheated, I will climb inside the large chest to cool off. Sizzle!

I will down one cold Ensure Plus every hour and an occasional Power Gel or GU. Every few miles I will hydrate with 16-ounces of cold Crystal Geyser water, PowerAde or a Starbucks Frappuccino (my preferred drinks). I will only carry an eight ounce spritzer of ice water. The mist I spray on my face and other hot spots is a refreshing coolant.

Since I only drink a thimble full on my daily runs, I have not over-hydrated. This will help avoid the numerous nasty water polluted health issues, which includes waddling down the road feeling sluggish and bloated. To eliminate any guesswork we use an electronic scale, which allows us to immediately adjust my hydration level and to help prevent cramping and dehydration I will take Endurolytes.

It is 105-degrees, humid and windy. To prevent moisture loss, I wear a long-sleeved Patagonia Capilene white shirt, matching pants and a shrouded hat. When it is really hot my crew, who will leapfrog me in the support van for the entire race, will soak me with cold water from a garden type sprayer.

Race director Chris Kostman gives the countdown and off we go. The last thing I want is to get caught up in a jackrabbit start; egad, after a few minutes, I am dead last.

I have modified Tim Twietmeyer’s (five-time Western States 100-mile endurance race winner), “I run the hard parts easy and the easy parts hard,” to Arthur Webb’s mantra, “I will run the easy parts easy and power walk the hard parts.” There will be no exceptions. Well, okay, maybe a few.

The early miles along the edge of this pure white salt basin is a music laden iPod sing-along and endorphin filled run. At the Furnace Creek Hotel (mile-17) I jump into the pool for five minutes to cool down. It’s twenty-five miles to the next time station and it would be a mental handicap heading into the next marathon of arid rolling hills and extreme temperatures, overheated. After filling my shoes with Gold Bond blister preventing foot powder, I am quickly back on the course.

We have a second vehicle that my wife uses to help crew for the next two hours and then drive to a hotel to rest.  A major objective is to keep the crew fresh, especially during the second day.

The seven race time stations that are about twenty-miles apart are too much to grapple with. To compress the 135-miles into bite size comfortable mental running zones, I concentrate on the landmark and turnoff signage spaced every three to four miles. As weariness creeps in, I will shorten that distance by using the highway marked mile-posts and on the opposite side of the road, the alternating one-half mile-posts.

As I handily run across the barren heat filled and unforgiving landscape, I catch a runner who is sitting on a mound of sand. He says, “I am cramping and my pacer is looking for my crew.” He has no water, appears dehydrated and is overheated. His crew is too far ahead, has few supplies and is puzzled. What! How can this happen? I tell them, “He can stay in the hunt if he is cooled down and given lots of water and electrolytes (my wife gave them a full bottle).” It is too early to be suffering so much. I hope he makes it.

Nestled between the sculptured sand dunes and the multicolored segmented chiseled mountains is the Stovepipe Wells Resort (mile-42). The white metallic roof of this next time station shimmers in the distance and looks like a Star Wars movie outpost: desolate and eerie. Maybe aliens in the spacecraft that I have seen hovering in this area during previous Badwater races think so too.

The seven-miles that cross the Death Valley basin are mostly downhill and are usually run in oppressive, suffocating 130-degree furnace-like heat. But as I run past the Devils Corn Field and into Stovepipe Wells it is a comfortable and less punishing 120-degrees. Thumbs up for heat training.

After a splash in the small tepid pool, a Slippery Rock University research vampire team doing a volunteer study on dehydration drains a sample of blood. Since it will be dark soon, I strap red flashers on my arms and legs and begin to charge up the 16-mile mountain pass that has always been a monumental struggle.

Nine miles into this teeth gritting effort, I am concerned about a sharp twinge in my lower back. Terrific! The last thing I need is the kidney stone to rear its ugly head and curl me up on the ground with knife stabbing pain. Maybe it is just teasing me since it settles down after a few miles. Hopefully, the pounding on the pavement has either jolted it free or the liquids have washed it into my disposal system. Splash! Adios.

At his memorial in June, I promised family and friends that I would dedicate this Badwater race in honor of ultra running giant, friend and crewperson, Vincent Pedroia, who had just crossed his last finish line. This is swirling about in my head as I move straight up the pass into the billions of stars. Fortunately, Julie is walking with me because my heart is in my throat and I need her to lean on.

At the top of Townes Pass (58-miles) I am washed with fatigue. As I lay on the ground for a short respite and a leg massage, will be the only time during Badwater that I momentarily question “what am I doing here?” Yuck, scratch that negative thought. After a failed catnap, I am still fresh enough to run the downhill miles and surprised to pass about a dozen runners who are walking this section.

Near the bottom the winding road straightens and I see about fifteen crew vehicles strung out across the desert floor. The caravan of flashing red taillights energize me enough to handily finish this grade and trek across the salt basin and up the three-mile incline to the Panamint Springs Resort (mile-72).

I chat with volunteers, Mags and Jack Denness (eleven-time Badwater finisher), as the van is filled with gas. I am always toast here and require a long break, but this morning moving forward has a higher priority. Shortly, I start up the eight-mile steep winding hill to Father Crowley’s (mile-80). I will not take another break for fifty-miles.

Chris Frost “zips” by me and says, “Arthur you have a very good thirty-seven hour race going for you.” I lightly brush it aside. It is too early to be thinking about finishing times. Besides I am still doing my three-mile at a time chunk thing.

Although the stark beauty in this area captivates and inspires, it remains a difficult climb. I have run this section in two hours but was totally drained. Today, I will walk at a two and a half-hour clip and after cresting have enough energy to keep on moving.

It is early morning as my wife returns full of energy and relieves the tired crew. We will do the same things that worked yesterday and hopefully it will be deja vous all over again.

The next ten-miles of rolling hills are sprinkled with sagebrush, sparse yucca trees, dinosaur flashbacks and 110-degree heat. To feel at ease with the extreme fatigue that is assaulting me, I gear down into a one mile at a time mode.

At the Darwin checkpoint (mile-90) it’s a hello, goodbye and keep on trucking. The next ten miles along the Centennial Flats are mostly downhill and before it gets super hot, I want to take full advantage.

I believe the halfway mark in a 100-mile race is about mile eighty. At Badwater it’s the large white cross and gravesite at mile ninety-six. It is noon and hot and I am struggling.

At the one hundred-mile marker, we clip a water soaked white towel over my shoulders and I am cooler. I see the weather-beaten trailer park burg of Keeler on the edge of the dried out Owens Lake bed, eight miles in the distance. Burdened by the heavy towel, I am still able to run to its front doorstep, where I run out of gas. Sputter! Sputter!

While my wife power walks with me for the next nine miles, swirling winds filled with sand and extreme heat blow across the road and thrash us. Whoa! Not only is it difficult to breathe clean air, but this battering is taking its toll. As weariness sinks deeper into my body, it is now Badwater one half mile at a time.

Howie Stern, from Mammoth Lakes, CA arrives and relieves my wife. After shuffling into Lone Pine (mile-122) I ease my overheated body into the Dow Villa hotel pool. Minutes later after gorging on turkey slices and Starbucks doubleshots, I grudgingly begin the extremely steep final thirteen mile climb.

The first few miles up the Whitney Portal Road are punishing as strong headwinds make it tough to advance. Howie leads the way and is figuratively dragging me up the mountain. The pace picks-up as we realize that the end is near and there is a sense of urgency to polish this thing off. It’s analogous to the cows smelling the barn thing. Moo!

Just below the two long switchbacks we know that if we charge the last five miles a sub thirty-eight hour finish is possible. But, I am struggling with bone marrow penetrating fatigue, strained hamstrings, and a painful sciatica exacerbated by a chronic lumbar disc problem. Great!

I have a few fleeting doubts as Howie says to me, “Art, whether you crawl or surge either way it’s going to be painful.” He is right. So I tell him, “Okay let’s go for it; besides it will be over sooner.”

In the past I have been visited by Yetis, Pterodactyls and other strange creatures in this area, but not tonight. Without the distracting “hallucinations” the switchbacks seem brutally longer and it has become extremely difficult to push forward.

With a mile to go and time slipping away at warp speed, it would be easy to ratchet down to a less taxing one step at a time survivor shuffle. Instead, I dial up the worn but still motivating “Pain is temporary. Pride is forever.” cliché and continue to press on.

At last, with only a few turns to go, this seemingly endless chore is almost over. My crew joins me and we cross the finish line holding hands, screaming and hollering. We have a mini celebration for the 37:48:35 finish. Yes! We did it. And it sure feels good.

I usually get very emotional at the finish. But, I have reserved it for tomorrow’s MT Whitney summit, when I will write in the logbook attached to the side of the cabin, a respectful farewell to my fallen friend.

Later after everyone is in bed and I soak in a whirlpool to begin the long recovery process, I realize that I owe this memorable finish to my crew for their relentless, unwavering and successful race management. Yeah team!

Thanks to race director Chris Kostman, his AdventureCorps crew and all the volunteers for staging this spectacular event.

Thanks to Heidi and Cameron Steele, Carmen Kaplan, SCORE International, Barbie and Jim Riley for their support and the smiley face poster I taped to the back of the van, which gave me a buzz for two days.

Thanks for the motivational drawings that I had taped to the side of the van from the youngsters that I ran for at the Valley of the Moon Children’s Home in Santa Rosa, CA. Hopefully, the inspiration is mutual.

Thanks to nurse Kelly Ridgway and all my friends for looking over my shoulder and nudging me on the web cast. I knew you were there. Whew!  Paybacks are tough.

Thanks that the kidney stone I nursed for a week was never a major factor and hopefully it is now a permanent resident somewhere on the desert floor.

Congratulations to the “Mayor and First Lady of Badwater” Ben and Denise Jones for their induction into the Badwater Hall of Fame. Yeah.

Congratulations to race winners Valmir Nunes and Lisa Bliss. Hurray!

Thanks to protégé’s Julie Strong, Alfonso Partida and Howie Stern for their unselfish and stalwart help. It’s your turn now.

To Trisha, family, friends, Sassy and all the other animals in his charge, it was an honor to “carry the torch,” and a montage of memories taped to the van, at Badwater and to the MT Whitney peak, in memoriam, for the beloved Vincent Gerard Pedroia. Amen.

And finally a huge thanks and much more to my beautiful wife, Christine, for everything. Next year during the Badwater race we will take a dip in the pool, but in Hawaii. Oops! Maybe?

That’s ten Badwater’s down and (?) to go.

It was a privilege to be part of the 2007 Badwater Ultramarathon.

Arthur Webb

Badwater Finisher

98, 99, 00, 01, 02, 03*, 04, 05, 06, 07

*Honorable mention



Badwater Runner Adopted by Dr. King School

August 5, 2007

Dear Chris,
I decided that you have to know about this. A few days after my return from my participation in the Badwater Ultramarathon, I received a large envelope in the mail. My wife, Laurel, opened it and started to cry. I could not believe that a class of children in Syracuse, NY, near where I live, completed a project on the California deserts. They sent me a 3 ring binder that has 29 letters to me from the students congratulating me on my race. They had followed the website and race closely. In so doing, they learned about computers, the deserts, and one very amazing athletic event. Attached are some examples of their work.

Al Arnold needs to know the significance of his legacy, and you need to know the significance of your work.
Todd Baum, Syracuse, NY

scan00011 scan00081 scan00071 scan00061 scan00051 scan00041 scan00031 scan00021

On September 24, 2007, Todd Baum and his wife visited the Dr. King School. They brought Badwater Ultramarathon hats for all the kids, plus race magazines and DVDs for the teachers. Here is the report by journalist Amber Smith from the local newspaper:

Syracuse school children, enrolled in a summer camp at Dr. King School, were reading Gina Gershon’s “Camp Creepy Time” this summer. It’s set in the Mojave Desert When their teacher, Pam Angotti saw an article in The Post-Standard about Fayetteville nurse Todd Baum preparing to run 135 miles through the desert, she incorporated his undertaking into her lesson plan.

When he returned from the Badwater Ultramarathon, Baum received a packet in the mail of notes the students wrote, bound together in a notebook with pictures they printed from the Internet. It touched him.

Monday, he met with the students at the end of the school day. About 30 third- and fourth-graders gathered to hear about Baum’s adventure. He passed around the hats he wore, the medal and belt buckle he won. He answered their questions.

One student wondered why he wore shorts instead of pants. Baum explained that he wore long white pants when it was sunny, to protect himself from sunburn, and then switched to shorts as the sun set.

Another student asked if he saw any animals along the way. Baum mentioned crows, a group that assembled in the shade, their beaks gaping open as if trying to stay cool. His wife, Laurel, part of his support group, told about the coyotes and roadrunners.

September 25, 2007

Dear Chris,
I wish you were there yesterday. You would have been proud of those students and teachers. All the children in the summer literacy program were let out of their respective classes and came together in an open class with a TV/DVD player. The students sat around on the carpeted floor. I think they are in the 3rd grade. I spoke and explained how the finisher’s metal and belt buckle were wonderful awards, but it was their project and letters that really captured my heart, and I thanked them.

I explained that you, Mr. Kostman, were also very happy to see the work they did. I explained that the Mojave Desert and the Badwater Ultramarathon are very important to you, and that you are very happy to see them, the students, learning about the deserts and the race. I went on to say that the runners are not the only participants in the race, that each runner has a crew, and that they, the students, were also participants in the race since they learned so much and came to appreciate what a special place the desert can be. I told them you had sent them gifts. It was really an exciting time.

We watched the 2006 Badwater Party film clip that you sent, and then I took about 100 questions. The kids passed around and tried on my Sun Protection clothing and hats. I also gave them the race magazines and several 8.5 x 11 pictures of the race. Every student was African-American and they were especially interested in Mr. Goggins. They all giggled when they saw him running in the film clip. The desert, the race, and the athletes blow away many paradigms, don’t they?

I gave the DVD to the teachers and encouraged them to consider the same theme for next summer’s program. Your gifts, the hats, were given to the students. It meant a lot to them. We said our thank yous and good-byes. I met many teachers, even the principal came to introduce herself. Pam Angotti, the teacher, along with Amber Smith, Health and Fitness editor of the Post Standard, my wife Laurel, and I went to the school cafeteria. A large board was on display with many pictures from the summer program which was called Camp Creepy Time (see below). When I went to my car, I saw the children walking home with their hats on. 30 children were walking toward South Salina Street, or were they?

Camp Creepy Time is the book that the students read in the literacy program. It is set in the Mojave Desert. The children were divided into different “camping grounds.” Death Valley and Joshua Tree were two of them. The classrooms had tents, sleeping bags, coolers, maps etc. Just as things were getting started last year, Pam read about me in the paper. Well, the curriculum adopted the Badwater Ultramarathon and now you see the result.

Above: Todd participated in the 2007 Furnace Creek 508 and brought Chris a copy of Camp Creepy Time.

Below are some pix of Todd in the 2007 Badwater Ultramarathon.

IMG_2637 DSC02334 DSC01416







Links to media coverage of Todd’s participation in the 2007 Badwater Ultramarathon and Furnace Creek 508:

Video: The Ultimate Marathon, April 10, 2007: Click here.

Video: Local Marathoners attempts Badwater Ultramarathon: Click here.

Video: Training for the Badwater Ultramarathon, July 9, 2007: Click here.

Baum Speaks at School, September 24, 2007: Click here.

Back to Death Valley, September 24, 2007: Click here.

At Furnace Creek…, October 11, 2007: Click here.

Hall of Fame: Ben & Denise Jones

In 2007, Ben and Denise Jones, both of them three-time official finishers, as well as training camp hosts, mentors to many Badwater runners, and more, were inducted.

Interview with Ben and Denise Jones, 2007 Badwater Hall of Fame inductees
Audio File by Marlis Schmidt: 2.2Mb

Their plaque reads:
Badwater Hall of FameBen and Denise Jones In Recognition of their 17 years
on the race course as athletes camp hosts, volunteers, crew members, Race Ambassadors, and Mayor and First Lady July, 2007.

What can Running for a Charity do for Your Race?

Each Badwater Race Experience is Different
Keeping Track of Nutrients – Spreadsheet you can use

Click here to download this article in PDF format

Click here to download the Excel spreadsheet for nutrient tracking

Running for a Charity

There were a number of inspirational factors that led me to commit to dedicating my 2007 Badwater race to a local charity:  many Badwater runners run for a charity (including Dr. Lisa Bliss, who won the 2007 woman’s race); Chris Kostman doing the Ironman Revisited each year for the Challenged Athlete Foundation; and a desire to have my life-in-retirement make a difference by giving back.

The charity was Mobius Kids in Spokane, WA, where I live. Mobius Kids is a children’s museum for young children and their families for hands-on arts, culture and science learning. The museum offers seven interactive exhibit and gallery areas along with community outreach camps, classes, programs and special events. Since opening in September 2005, Mobius Kids has hosted more than 160,000 visits.

Unfortunately, a fact-of-life for children’s museums is that they cannot make ends meet from only user fees and ticket sales. They must raise money each year from their local community and foundations to keep the doors open.

The result of my commitment was 2,000 letters going out to Mobius Kids members about my race, a mention in the monthly Mobius Kids newsletter and on their website, an interview on local TV that ran both on the morning and evening news, a blog that I created for the race ( and $12,000 raised!  This greatly exceeded my expectations, as I thought $2,000 or so would be a “good show.” I was very moved and humbled by the outpouring of support.

So, what was the impact during the race? My dedication of the race to a charity both inspired my crew and me. My crew viewed what they were doing as having a higher and additional purpose. They had to make sure they kept me going all the way to the finish line “for the kids” and often mentioned to me that we had to remember “the kids.”

As for me, during the race I often thought of the children and parents that go to Mobius Kids—the smiles on the faces of both—and how my running would assist in keeping that opportunity open for them. It kept me going. It was a clear purpose outside of a self-absorbed interest. As stated in the race blog:

Why Did I Do This Blog?

Running races like the Badwater 135 is essentially a self-focused and self-absorbed effort. While a successful race is indeed satisfying and there is for me an essential joy in running reflective of my appreciation of life, I wanted to achieve a balance—to do something for others so as to balance a self-focused effort.

I highly recommend dedicating your race to a charity. The inspiration and satisfaction that comes from knowing you can—and did—make difference is remarkable, humbling and very satisfying.

Every Race is Different

I have done the Badwater Race twice officially and once as a solo runner outside of the race. I have also started the race once, having to drop out due to a knee injury from a biking accident before the race. In addition I have volunteered, having been a course marshal and on a medical team. Consequently, I have seen the race from several perspectives.

Each race has been different, in part because of my advancing age (66 in 2007, five years after my first Badwater race in 2002), the effects of which I resist acknowledging. The solo race was by far the best in terms of energy level, freedom from pain and distress, relaxation and enjoyment. What I did miss, however, was the accompaniment of other runners. Perhaps the solo not being in a competitive environment was a big plus. The 2007 race was memorable too because of several distinct phases.

During the miles up to Stovepipe Wells, I felt good, strong, and pushed the pace a bit. However, my left hip kept hurting, and by Stovepipe Wells, every step hurt. Luckily, I had a chiropractor on my crew. He worked on my hip for about an hour until he got it fixed, and it never bothered me for the rest of the race!

Moral of the story: see if you can have at least a massage therapist on your crew, and a chiropractor if possible (but only if you have been seeing that person beforehand). Note: this may be good advice mostly for folks like me, whose “bolts” have become loose after so many years of running (first 100 miler in 1978). Try to take care of problems when they arise.

Here are comments from my crew in a spreadsheet log for this phase up to Stovepipe Wells:

  • Complained of left anterior and lateral hip pain with SI immobilization.
  • Left sacroiliac joint (“SI”) posterior, adjusted with blocks and activator, left adductor tight, left piriformis tight, stretch and muscle work. Dave put on SI belt. Also peed.
  • Singing [ran with MP3 player].
  • Time check in, picnic table massage, peed (yellow). Distraction of left hip, left inferior pubic bone, left TFL muscle work, left temporalis tight and tender.
  • 124 F on asphalt with cloud-cover.
  • Dave said his hands felt swollen (possibly b/c he took excessive Endurolytes). Feeling pain in his feet, legs, and body. Observed ingestion of extra pills (possibly electrolytes) from secret stash!
  • Commented that it was a long damn race and wished he’d never written the blog for Mobius Kids – all with a smile.
  • Got chair to sit for a 10 minutes. Said he had never felt this bad 46 miles into a run. Feels “wiped out; no energy.”  Closed eyes for a few minutes. Changed shoes to Mizuno, kept same insoles. Urinated.

At Stovepipe Wells I also took the time to have a foot specialist fix a minor blister to make sure it did not get worse. Worked, never bothered me for the rest of the race.

The downside: total time at Stovepipe Wells was 1.5 hours.

The next unusual aspect was getting so very sleepy that I just had to stop and sleep about half way up the climb to Townes Pass. This happened during the 2002 race as well, and was unexpected so early into the race. I lay down on an air mattress, was out in a few minutes, and woke up two hours later, feeling refreshed and ready to go.

Total time off course: 3.5 hours. This, of course, concerned me although it seemed necessary.

Have since read somewhere that intense exercise can deplete a hormone that then lets another hormone take precedence, causing one to become very sleepy. Would love to know how to prevent this from happening again.

The sleepiness also may have been due to an allergic reaction to blowing dust and pollen.

Notes from crew:

  • Exhausted; voice lower than normal (pollen and dust); throat dry; breathing hard.  Reported one allergy tab helped some.
  • Exhausted; wanted to sleep. Before sleep 2 scoops from double-zip bag in shaker – drank all before sleeping for two hours. Snored, very congested. Drank Cytomax Lite one scoop in 8 oz. – drank all after waking. Upon waking weight was 159 without ice scarf. Started walking again at 12:37 am. Crew could not find Hammer gel boxes.
  • Hands are swollen; breathing is more difficult than usual.  Sounds like head is stuffy.

During the rest of the race, including the second night, never even thought about sleeping or stopping. So, a bit of a mystery.

One of my crew, an experienced Badwater runner, George Biondic, suggested later at Panamint Springs that I climb up to the Darwin time station at a very slow pace, as the climb was deceiving. He suggested that I keep my heart rate at 50-55% of maximum or so. So I did, even though 50-55% seemed ridiculously low and slow. But, as a consequence, after Darwin I was strong and passed many runners, especially coming into Lone Pine. I saw many who were barely walking and obviously in pain, while I was feeling great. It turned out to be very useful advice, as I had one of the faster times from Lone Pine to the finish line.

Comments in crew log:

  • Continues to urinate frequently – clear, good stream; Cytomax Lite drink 0.6 [drank only 0.6 of 20 oz bottle]. Question the scale reading at 166 given last reading at 162.
  • As above re: urine, seems content; no reported pain; stride is strong.
  • Cytomax Lite drink 0.6. Changed shoes at 2:15 p.m. midway of mile. Listening to Pink Floyd “over and over and over again.”  And is it working?  “Yes!”  Smiles!  Still urinating frequently. Put straps just below knee.
  • Drink – Cytomax Lite plus previous drink mixed with D-Ribose (approx half consumed previously) plus gel. Is singing along with his music now.
  • Hands still swollen.
  • Does not stop. Is running.
  • He is truckin [mile 115].

Last, I wanted to thank my crew with a gift that they would appreciate, beyond my many verbal thanks. Fortunately two of my crew took some wonderful pictures of the adventure and I found a site that makes putting together a “coffee table” picture book a breeze; Picaboo:

I put together a book that was focused mostly on my crew’s experience and their contribution, rather than on me. It was a hit with them. You can view it at:

Post script: kept changing shoes in the race, as my right foot hurt. Found out after the race that I had been running with a stress fracture of the fifth metatarsal.

Hope the above may assist some.

Keeping Track of Nutrients – Spreadsheet you can use


One of the mysteries of running in very hot weather is how many electrolyte tablets to take. With a constant intake of water, if one takes too little sodium (“Na”) one can gain weight as one has a too dilute a concentration of Na in the blood for the body to excrete excess water. One has “too much water on board relative to sodium” (this, by the way, is from Dr. Lisa Bliss, who is the medical director for the race; I asked her to review this article for accuracy—thank you Lisa).  On the other hand, if one takes too many tablets (containing Na), one also can gain weight, as the high Na will tend to retain water. There is a delicate balance, just the right amount of Na so you do not retain water and gain weight, and historically I have found it hard to find.

For example, during my solo run, I took too many electrolyte tablets, thinking I needed to do so to get my weight down. Instead, I gained about ten pounds, with swollen hands and legs. Fortunately, it did not seem to have any other ill effects, although being hyponatremic can be deadly.

Also, unfortunately there is a wide range of what is normal for electrolyte intake, depending on individual physiologies. Information from the Hammer Nutrition folks indicates a probable range of 300-600 mg of Na per hour.

Also, Hammer Nutrition’s recommended maximum ingestion of carbohydrates per hour is 280 calories.

I found that typical recommendations for mixing energy drink powders are normative for much cooler conditions, wherein one does not consume as many water bottles per hour as one does at a high temperature race like Badwater. At Badwater, if one mixes to manufacturers’ recommendations, one would be getting too many carbohydrate calories per hour and possibly too much sodium as well, depending on the brand used, unless one also took in plain water from time to time.

So, for the 2007 race I was determined to figure out my needs by training in hot weather and periodically noting my weight and intake of tablets, food and drink. Fortunately, I was able to go down to Death Valley for two long weekends to experiment.

One technique I used there when I was alone was to park my van, weigh myself with a small scale, run out for a mile and then back to the van, and then weigh myself again. Then I drove forward a mile and repeated the process.

What helped figure things out, and was remarkable, was running with two water bottles—one with only plain water and the other with an energy drink mix. I found that sometimes plain water tasted wonderful and “my body” wanted it, and at other times it tasted terrible and my body did not want it. Also found that when I did not feel like plain water I wanted the energy drink mix. Once, when plain water tasted good, I found myself taking a mouthful of energy drink (thinking that I should have some) and involuntarily spit it out. Evidently my body was telling me it wanted plain water and not energy drink!

I started by taking a pre-set amount of electrolyte tablets, plain water in one bottle, and one bottle of energy drink at a certain concentration, per two miles. If after a number of out-and-backs my weight was going up, I took more tablets until it started to come down. Once, however, I had an intuitive sense that my weight had gone up because I had already taken too many tablets, so I backed off on tablets and my weight then came down.

I noted what and how much I drank (how much of each bottle I used) and ate, and how many tablets I took for each two mile repeat. I also tried going out 1.5 or 2.0 miles before turning around, but found that the cumulative out-and-back mileage exceeded the capacity of two water bottles in the heat (115F). Back at Furnace Creek, I then figured out my consumption of carbohydrate calories and sodium with my laptop.

The result was that I felt I had dialed in my calorie and Na needs for the race, having found amounts that kept my body weight perfectly even for many hours (longest run in Death Valley in training was 8.5 hours).

In the end I built an Excel spreadsheet to come up with a plan for the race. During the race it allowed my crew to input what I was taking real-time to make sure I was on plan with nutrients and fluids.

The spreadsheet is available for download in both XLSX and XLS format.

You will note it has a “plan” section to the left, and an “actual” section to the right. The actual section is broken down into two areas: one for primary fuels that I planned on taking, and a secondary fuels section that lists fuels that I might also take. The division was made so the crew, who used the spreadsheet with a laptop and DC/AC converter in a crew van, could see the most important parts of the spreadsheet in one screen view.

Since the race I have added graphs that show planned and actual weight, pace, calories per mile and hour, Na (mg) per mile and per hour, and H2O (oz) per mile and per hour. It would have been helpful to have had the graphs for the race, as it would have been easier for the crew to how I was doing relative to plan over time.

My plan overall was to take in 270 calories per hour, 296 mg of Na per hour, and 64 oz. of water per hour. Yes, I know, 64 oz. an hour is a lot; however, I used about that amount in heat training over long periods with no apparent ill effects, both in Death Valley and in a sauna.

My actual average consumption was much less in every category, at least on a per hour basis: 202 calories, 156 mg of Na, and 28 oz., all per hour. Calories were about 2/3 of plan, and Na and water were about one-half of plan.

On a per mile basis, the plan average was: 80 calories per mile, 88 mg of Na per mile, and 19 oz. of water per mile. Actual average figures were less: 71 calories, 55 mg of Na, and 10 oz. of water, all per mile. Calories were not too far off (10% down), but Na was about 1/3 down, while water was 50% down.

However, averages are one thing, patterns and trends are another.

Starting weight was 160 lbs., and for the first 70 miles or so it averaged about 1 lb. above. Thereafter, weight started climbing steadily to 166 lbs. (see weight graph). Why? Looking first at water intake, using the H2O per mile graph, the water I took in per mile was remarkably within a small range for most of the race, and came down only slightly around mile 70. However, looking at the Na (mg) per mile graph, Na fell off per mile about mile 70 and continued downwards thereafter. Consequently, my hypothesis for the weight gain is that, from mile 70 on, I was taking in too much water relative to Na or, equivalently, too little Na relative to water.

Dr. Lisa Bliss, however, has a different take of sorts, leading also to a conclusion of too much water but in a different way—a conclusion of my having taken too much water from the beginning (see H2O per hour graph, which shows starting consumption about 40 oz. per hour, down to 30 oz. per hour at mile 50): “Weight goes up because of water (with some contribution of calories). Here, I would think, [look at] water first. That is, you were either taking in too much water (regardless of sodium intake) or you were taking in too much salt, which caused you to retain water. … Your overall calorie intake/ hour and sodium/hour seem spot on for you. The overall water intake, however, seems high since the maximum absorption rate from the gut is about 2.4L/hr, but running at slower intensities (< 75% VO2max) may allow for increased absorption. In any case, I think the extra water, accumulated over that many miles, caused the extra weight and maybe even slowed you down. The fact that you continued to urinate frequently at the time when your weight was up also suggests that your body was appropriately getting rid of excess fluid.”

Lisa recommends the following for a lay person:

In addition, around mile 100 I was “running out of gas,” and asked the crew to show me the spreadsheet so I could figure out where I was off. Upon seeing it, it was obvious that I was running far below plan for calories, which you can see quite easily from the graphs of both calories per hour and per mile. Consequently I started taking more calories, which had a noticeable positive effect.

“Wow,” you might say, “not sure I want to be that detailed.” There are many runners who are very successful at Badwater without the kind of record keeping shown in the spreadsheet. Perhaps their intuitive sense is more powerful and discerning than mine. Nonetheless, it was interesting to find out after the race that Michael Emde, who won both the 2006 and 2007 Furnace Creek 508 bicycle race, has his crew keep extremely close track of even more nutrients than I show in my spreadsheet.

Hall of Fame: Rhonda Provost

In 2006, Rhonda Provost, who became the first woman to complete a double Badwater in 1995, was inducted.

Interview with Rhonda Provost, 2006 Badwater Hall of Fame inductee

Her plaque reads:

Rhonda Provost is proudly inducted into the Badwater Hall of Fame
in recognition of being the first woman to complete a double Badwater
and her many years of support of the race

July, 2006


Rhonda Provost, 2006 Badwater Hall of Fame Inductee

Hall of Fame: Jack Denness

In 2006, Jack Denness, the eleven-time official finisher and first ever 70-year-old finisher (in 2005), was also inducted.

Interview with Jack Denness, 2006 Badwater Hall of Fame inductee
Audio File by Marlis Schmidt: 2.3Mb

His plaque reads:
Jack Denness is proudly inducted into the Badwater Hall of Fame in recognition of his eleven official finishes of the Badwater Ultramarathon, including his 2005 finish at age 70 July, 2006.

The Grinder

Eight time finisher, including 2006


We are parked just below the sea level sign that is perched high above on the jagged side of a cliff in this Amargosa Mountain Range. As I anxiously sit in the stuffy van, beads of sweat stream down my face as an unusual dose of humidity settles into the area. It’s nine-fifteen in the morning and already a stifling 110-degrees.

In forty-five minutes, thirty-one runners will begin the 135-mile journey through Death Valley and traverse two long mountain passes before finishing at the Portals (8600-feet), halfway up MT Whitney. During the race air temperatures will reach 130-degrees and the pavement will be a toasty 200-degrees. This is the Kiehl’s Badwater Ultramarathon and is billed as the toughest footrace in the world.

As other runners caravan in for the start, I begin to fidget and fuss. Although I am mentally and physically prepared for the enormous challenge ahead, I question everything. Did I do enough heat training? Did I run enough in the hills or on the flats?  Since I am super hydrated, why I am cotton-mouthed and thirsty? Worry wart!

Just before ten o’clock, all the runners are having group pictures taken by the lacquered wooden marker with yellow lettering, noting that this is the Badwater Basin; at two-hundred and eighty-two feet below sea level, it is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere.

As the National Anthem plays, I wonder, what I am doing in this group of incredibly talented athletes. Scott Jurek, Pam Reed, Ferg Hawk, Monica Scholz, Dean Karnazes, and Charlie Engle are here. They have all finished Badwater in less than thirty-hours. Egad!

After the word is given to start this momentous task, I immediately slip to the back of the pack. At 64-years, I am the oldest and slowest. This will not be a tortoise and hare story because I will never deliberately catch any of these runners. My goal is to use course knowledge, a ton of experience and a truck full of tenacity to make it to the finish line. I hope they don’t consume all the pizza and cold beer before I get there.

My crew, three beautiful ladies from Bishop, CA, Debbie Masters, Diane Spieth and Kari Marchant along with my wife Christine, the prettiest of all, will do yeoman’s work by leap-frogging me in the Enterprise rental van and, at times, will pace for me. They will pamper me the entire race.

In order to keep me relatively cool in the scorching heat, they will wrap iced-bandannas around my neck and spray cold water on my light colored safari hat and long-sleeved white Capsilene shirt.

Once every hour, I will snack on a bottle of Ensure or a mix of Hammer’s Perpetuem, chased with a big gulp of Crystal Geyser water, Crystal Light, PowerAde, or a Starbucks Frappacinno. Every twenty minutes, during the heat of the day, I will swallow a couple of Endurolytes (sodium, magnesium and potassium replacement capsules that help ward off dehydration and cramping.) That’s it. Yum!

Although there is absolutely no guarantee of finishing this monster and the next two days will dole out a pinch of misery, pain and a splash of pleasure, it is a privilege to be here. This will be my ninth consecutive Badwater Race.

As I run along Highway 178 on the edge of Death Valley’s sprawling salt basin, which appears to be filled with water as the pure white dried out surface shimmers from the undulating heat, the anticipation, apprehension and jitters begin to fade away as endorphins start flowing through my system.

After a few miles a minor problem has developed. My left foot, which was rubbed with Hydropel (a gel that is advertised to prevent blisters) and not enough foot powder, is sliding in the shoe (blisters are caused by this rubbing friction). Hopefully it will soon settle down. Clomp, slide, clomp.

It takes three and a half hours to run to the Furnace Creek Resort checkpoint station (mile-17). Jack Denness (clipboard check-in man and eleven-time Badwater finisher) tells me, “You have to go back to the start because of a rule infraction.” I think he is kidding me; at least I hope so. I sit on the stoop of the van for a few minutes and place a different pair of shoes and socks over my water soaked and shriveled feet that reveal early signs of ugly blistering.

Ten minutes later I set off for Stovepipe Wells (mile-42). Although there is beauty in the basin and on the colorful stratus of the surrounding hillsides, the searing and intense heat makes this portion of the race a monumental chore. It is almost a marathon in distance as it meanders through the arid desolation in Death Valley.

This year I have strategically broken it down into smaller sections. By focusing on several landmarks, (about four miles apart), Cow Creek, another lowest elevation sign, the Beatty turnoff and Salt Creek, my intent is to cover this part of the race with less stress. It works. By the time the race turns west at the Scotty’s Castle exit (mile-35), I am more relaxed and less tired than usual.

While I run between the incredibly sculptured Sand Dunes to the north and the Devils Cornfield (a sea of crystallized salt clumps) to the south, the wind begins to blow sand and extreme heat across the basin. It never really changes through here. Every year, as if on cue, it gets windy and the suffocating 130-degree blast furnace-like heat stings my face and scorches my lungs.

As I hunker down and run the next seven-miles across the valley, I encounter a major problem, but it is not mine. Something is very wrong because I have caught Pam Reed (two-time Badwater race winner) who is barely shuffling along. “Since the start of the race I have had problems with fluid intake and I think I am severely dehydrated,” Pam says. For health concerns her race will be over in a few miles. It’s sad and I feel bad for her. Unfortunately, even the best athletes have their off days.

With patriotic spinning pinwheels and an American flag flapping in the super-heated breeze, Debbie, Kari and I run yelling and screaming into the Stovepipe Wells check-in station. At nine-hours and thirty-minutes, I am right on schedule.

I forego the small hotel pool that is filled with overheated-runners and their crew. Instead, in a room we have reserved, gingerly step-into the tub for a quick cold shower, but, like a cruel joke, both taps are hot? Before jamming my shoes back on, numerous large blisters on both heels and several toes are sliced open. I use no tape; it’s just cut, drain and get back on the road. Ugh!

Except for a few moments that Kari walks with me, the next seventeen-mile steep trek to Townes Pass (mile-59) is a lonely six hour power-walking struggle. In the past I have ran and alternately walked, but it has been extremely exhausting and, at the top, there was little left in my tank.

As the sun sinks behind the mountains, the intense heat begins to dissipate. Although it is cooler, my body is still under enormous stress as I chug forward. Dehydration is always a major concern and fluid intake, even at night, continues to be a top priority.

To ward off cars and other scary things I wear red flashers on my arms and legs. I also carry a small flashlight, but it’s almost not needed. Billions of stars have lit up the evening sky and comets, meteors, shooting stars and spaceships are streaking everywhere. Although the going is tough, I am fortunate to be here; and, jazzed to see the universe in the raw. Man, this is good stuff. Just before cresting the mountain a ten minute respite, on a lawn chair, is needed.

My favorite part of this race is running down the nine-mile western slope of Townes Pass to the eastern edge of the Panamint Valley Salt Flats (mile-68). In the cool of the evening, I pass Vista Point where you can see MT Whitney about seventy-miles away. Near the bottom, I catch Shannon Farar-Griefer and her pacer who ironically lives only a few miles from me in Northern California.

Along the salt flats, just four-miles from Panamint Springs, I catch Jack Menard who is creeping along and babbling to himself. Jack swears, “I see a bear walking in the scrubby brush.” I tell him, “Bears don’t live out here.” Maybe he has spotted the baby dinosaur that I saw, a few years ago, prowling in the area. Whatever it is, he will have something to mumble to as I forge ahead. In another mile I catch Lisa Smith-Batchen who is struggling and tells me, “I have been nauseous for hours from some horrid stomach problem.”

No one escapes. If you run Badwater something along the way will likely sink its nasty hooks into you. It might be throwing up, cramping, dehydration, heat illness, mental or emotional fatigue or a myriad of other possibilities.

This race is a gut check and it will test you in every possible way. If you are mentally strong and can handle lots of suffering and pain, it’s possible to recover enough to move ahead. Forget the prerace,”The best laid plans of Mice and Men” idea, and put them in the shredder. I don’t know about the front-runners, but for the rest of us getting to the finish line is a constant process of red-lining and overcoming numerous bad episodes. Period.

I am getting extremely fatigued and the last three-miles into Panamint Springs (mile-72) are laborious and slow. Both feet are screaming for relief from the severe blistering. So, I ditch my running shoes for black rubber thong sandals. My reward is the shattering realization that dawn has arrived and not only am I facing a steep eight-mile climb to Father Crowley Vista Point (mile-80), but also another hot day of struggle. Yikes!

I catch Mike Sweeney and David Bursler at the beginning of the climb. One of their crew members is amazed that this is my ninth Badwater and is surprised even more when he sees me trekking up the mountain in sandals. He turns to me and says, “Art, you just grind these things out, don’t you?”

“Yes,” I tell him, “That’s exactly what I do.” For two days I totally zone in on my objective, improvise as needed and keep moving forward. I just grind it out. Perfect, after all these years I have a label that fits. I am the “Grinder of Badwater.”

A few miles later the sandals are not working. They are wet and my feet are slipping out of them sideways. The toe strap is slicing deep into the skin, at the joint, on the bottom of my right toe. “Oops,” I tell my crew, “That was a bad idea.” I try walking barefoot but the asphalt is too hot and my feet literally begin to sizzle and cook. So sans socks it’s back into the painful but bearable running shoes.

As the “wheels are coming off,” the sheer beauty in Death Valley gives me a much needed emotional lift. About a mile from the top, the swath of road below appears to have been carved out by a large snake that had slithered across the iridescent Panamint Salt Flats and through the surrounding brown hued mountain passes. The panoramic view of this vast expanse is breathtaking. The best part is that I have already trekked it.

At the top during another change of shoes and more blister draining, a newly-wed tourist couple saunters over to our van. They are aghast and shake their heads at how many times I have completed this race. Oh well, they just don’t understand! But, that’s okay, because no one else does either.

For the next few miles the road winds along the base of a small mountain outcropping and empties into the Darwin Flats. Sprinkled amongst the sagebrush are weather beaten Yucca trees. Although they provide only a slice of shade, I imagine that all the animal life in this area are nestling at the base of these prickly covered scarecrows. It always amazes me how anything can survive in this oven-baked desert.

Debbie then Diane walks with me during this portion. After the road crests over a rather long knoll, I start to run again. I pass the Death Valley National Park Boundary Sign (mile-85) and cross five-miles of rolling hilly terrain before walking the last few feet into the Darwin turnoff check-in station (mile-90).

Suddenly, I hear the unmistakable roar of jet engines slicing through the morning sky. The noise is loud and almost deafening. “There, look, right up there,” I shout, while jumping up and down. A powder blue F-16 is flying sideways and only a few feet over our heads. Within seconds the pilot tipped his wing, banked to the north and was gone. I have no idea if he was greeting us or simply practicing his strafing technique, but it doesn’t matter. This show was almost worth the price of admission.

Reenergized, I feel I can run the Centennial Flats; the next ten-miles of gradually rolling downhill’s. All goes well until just before the large white cross (mile-96). Although it’s at least twenty-degrees cooler than yesterday and I am still being soaked with cold water, my body begins to overheat. According to the law of diminishing returns, as the body temperature rises, performance suffers. Well, duh!

Just a minute ago I was running okay, but now I have to climb into the van, lie down and cool off. With iced down towels draped on my head and shoulders and Debbie tagging along for moral support, I am soon back on the road. Since I still suffer from some classic heat stress symptoms my condition is tenuous at best, and there are still thirty-nine miles to go. Yuck!

The next eight-miles of running are more of a shuffle-walk. I have another heat episode (mile-104) and have to get into the van again. To cool down, I sit in a bucket of ice water. Then I dip my head into a brain-freezing ice and water filled chest until the back of my eyes feel like they are being clubbed with a hammer. A pounding headache that feels like it is going to explode will bother me for an hour. To give my crunched feet some relief the toe box in my shoes are cut out. Even though I feel pulverized, I continue to shuffle towards the metropolis of Keeler (mile-108), population 98.

Just ahead, ominous thunderheads roll in from the Eastern Sierras and blankets the Owens Valley. Booming thunder fills the darkened sky and crackling lightning crashes into the nearby hillsides. Actually, getting zapped might feel good. Unfortunately, we are on the edge of the heavy rain, and only a few sprinkles splash the roadway. A soaking in a downpour may cool me off, but as we push forward the rolling storm moves away. Drat! There is some minor flash flooding in the area and rumor has it, “The rains have chased the sidewinders onto the road.” Great!

Just before stopping in front of Keeler to ice-down and gorge on a meal of Ensure, an invigorated Shannon and my mountain climbing buddy Bob Haugh, who have been playing cat-and-mouse all day, pass me for the last time.

Doctor Ben Jones, the “Mayor of Badwater” and roving race magician, stops to take a few pictures (I assume cover shots for Men’s Health, GQ or Vogue magazines), gives us a warm greeting and then drives away. I get a short-lived boost knowing that Ben was not too concerned about my condition. So, I must be okay. At least I am vertical. In past races Ben has found me lying in the dirt along this course suffering from dehydration, cramping and other cruddy things.

The brackish pools of water in the area smell musty and pungent and we are attacked by a huge swarm of mosquitoes. As we hurriedly move forward, I blurt out, “Why would anyone live in this bug infested burg?”

In the past I have run the next twelve-miles into Lone Pine, but not this year. As it gets dark, it should be cooler and easier, but it is not. The wet towel routine is no longer working. In this same location last year, I was also unable to run and I can’t figure out why?  Maybe its age related, or maybe it’s a coincidence, or just maybe after two days of strenuous effort the dial on my gas gauge is simply hovering deep into the red.

The last five-miles into Lone Pine is probably the worst I have ever felt on this Badwater course. The listless, nauseating and washed out feeling is like dealing with a horrid hangover or suffering from the ravages of an insidious flu bug. While I run on one or two cylinders, my kiln-dried mind is on the rack having its perseverance checked. I tell my crew, “I may crumple into a ball on the side of the road or have to go into town and cool off in a pool.” Instead, I bite the bullet and carry on the torturous battle to forge ahead. Whoa! “What price Glory?”

I do a “survival shuffle” into Lone Pine (mile-122) and head for the Dow Villa Motel pool. I gradually place my feet into the water and immediately fall backwards and throw up all over the deck. Then I ease into the cool water and start convulsing and shivering. Burr!  Race medic David Bliss tells me, “This is a normal reaction as the body attempts to balance itself.”

Thirty-minutes later, feeling as “balanced and normal” as I possibly can, I put shoes and socks onto my blistered hamburger-like feet, and begin the thirteen-mile steep climb to the finish line at the MT Whitney Portals. It’s three o’clock in the morning.

Howie Stern, a running friend, walks with me for an hour before he has to leave to go to work. Now it’s me and the music-laden iPod that’s strapped on my arm; so, I start singing and power-walking. It’s hard to believe, but less than an hour ago I was spent and totally exhausted. Now I am spunky and for the next hour sashay up the mountain.

In the dark, a few miles from entering several long switchbacks, I get weary again. My biggest concern is whether I will be safe from all the strange figures that are fading in and out of the bushes along the roadside. I tell myself, “Be calm and relax,” although panic is not far behind. Next time I will bring a can of dog repellant. As the sun rises they disappear, and I continue to gulp down Ensure and Frappacinno’s to help ward off exhaustion.

Every runner who finishes this race in less than forty-eight hours is awarded a coveted Badwater belt buckle. My tired and frazzled mind is making a million miscalculations about the estimated completion time. My crew tells me to, “Stop worrying and quit whining, you still have plenty of time.”  I am so close to the end, yet, still not convinced.

At last, I make the right hand turn into the first switchback (mile-131). With the “end in sight,” I figure it should only take about an hour from here.

At the tree lined entrance to the park, with one mile to go, I see the postcard view of the majestic Mt Whitney. Unless something catastrophic happens like walking off one of the steep cliffs, or carted away by the bears foraging for snacks in the parking lot just ahead, it finally sinks in that I am going to make it.

This gargantuan task is almost over. It’s ironic that after two days of self inflicted punishment and an elevated heart rate that is distinctively thumping against my chest wall, I feel strong and wired. “I don’t know,” yelling to my crew, “Maybe its endorphins or the gallon of caffeine that’s finally kicking-in.”

It really gets emotional and I start celebrating by cranking up Led Zeppelin’s, “Stairway to Heaven.” I hold the Stars and Stripes up high, and to prove that you can have some fun at Badwater, “cry out” in victory.

With only a few short turns to go, my crew trots down to meet me. We are giddy and making lots of noise all the way to the finish line. Hurray for all of us; we did it! The time gets a bit slower each year, but at 45:07:21, I will take it. And, I have a little secret confession to make, finishing Badwater keeps getting better and better.

As we begin our trip home, it’s difficult to leave the last six days behind. Especially, the camaraderie, the incredible Badwater journey filled with pain and pleasure and the sheer beauty that is in Death Valley.

This morning, for icing on the cake, I had a reunion with the kids that I ran for at the Valley of the Moon Children’s Home in Santa Rosa, CA. There was some beaming and a bit of pride in their classroom. It was fun rehashing the race, showing some video and answering their great questions.

My ultimate goal is to plant a seed with these kids with the message, that no matter how tough things seem to be at the moment, if you work extremely hard at the goals of your choice and never, ever give up, the respect and confidence that follows will have a major positive influence on you and all the people you touch.

Last year a young teenager came to me and said he had already run away from this (wonderful) facility twice, but now he was going to stay because of what I had accomplished. That stopped me almost dead in my tracks; like a dart to the heart.

People ask me, “Why do you run this race?”

Well, maybe it’s the tremendous satisfaction from overcoming all the adversity, maybe it’s the pain, maybe it’s the challenge, maybe it’s the finish line, maybe it’s the buckle, maybe it’s….… But, to have made such a positive impact in the life of a kid, who struggles each day far more than what we will ever encounter in the desert, is the most special reason of all.

Thanks to race director Chris Kostman, his AdventureCORPS crew and all the volunteers who have made Badwater a top notch race.

Thanks to the ubiquitous Dr. Lisa Bliss, the entire medical staff and the ambulance crew patrolling the area, ready to assist. But, they always seemed to be dogging me like a buzzard ready for its next meal? Easy prey, I guess!

Thanks to all the crews for helping the runners fulfill their dreams.

Kudos and high fives to the runners, and, especially, to those who struggled across the desert but did not make it. The recognition at the awards ceremony for their effort was a real class act.

Congratulations to Lisa Smith-Batchen and John Radich on their successful 300-mile Badwater doubles. Wow! I thought I was tough.

I believe my buddy, Jason Hunter, “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” whose energizing spirit was the secret weapon I had in my hip pocket, would have been proud.

Finally, thanks to Christine, my Rock of Gibraltar wife of 38-years, for steering me in the right direction. Although she has heard it many times before, I believe that next year will be my last Badwater race. Anyone want to buy a bridge?

It was an honor to be a part of the 2006 Kiehl’s Badwater Ultramarathon.

Arthur Webb

Badwater Finisher: 98, 99, 00, 01, 02, 04, 05, 06

“There are those people who say they can and those people who say they can’t. They are both right.”
– Author Unknown

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2006 Kiehl’s Badwater Ultramarathon Race Report

2006 official finisher

There have been many times when I’ve sat alone and cried and wondered if life was worth it. The possibility of ending it all has come to mind a number of times. I’ve sought out death and wanted to die, yet I went to Death Valley in search of life. A journey through the desert would teach me many lessons that ultimately would bring out my inner strength and desire to live my life to its fullest. I would be forced to persevere through the toughest conditions that in the end would teach me that I can be successful at anything life has to offer if I just try. Never be afraid, never give up and always look ahead and success will follow.

Before I could meet the challenge of Death Valley I first had to overcome many obstacles that blocked my path. An injury to my right leg in February hindered my progress and virtually stopped my progression toward my goal. I was diagnosed with a stress fracture that relegated my training to pool running and elliptical training for six weeks. Upon my return to running I found that I still had pain and returned to the doctor to find that I now had tendonitis in the leg along with a pinched nerve. I forced myself to withstand the pain these injuries generated as I trained diligently for my run. The pain never subsided yet my will to succeed allowed me to push forward. I solicited the help of several health professionals including a neurologist, vascular specialist, acupuncturist, and chiropractor to help ease the pain. In the end no one could help and my training along with my mindset suffered immensely. Still determined I set my goals high as the time neared to the start of the race.

Having focused so much on getting healthy, I failed to fully prepare for the race as much as I would have liked. My crew was put together haphazardly but the one constant that always remained was my good friend Rick Palmer. He stood by my side during every set back of the injury and never pushed me into any decision about whether I was going to attempt Badwater. What he did instead was he made me a part of his family. My other crew members came to me by way of recommendations of friends. Lisa Bliss recommended Dori Robertson and Beth Simpson recommended Phil Rosenstein. Just through our few conversations by phone Dori struck me early on as someone I could count on in tough times. She had the experience and background that our team would need for us to be successful. Phil, less experienced than both Rick and Dori, has accumulated quite a resume in the one year he has been involved in ultrarunning. I liked the fact that he has shown determination and guts in several races both qualities that I would need to survive Badwater.

The race itself started in Badwater which, at 282 feet below sea level, is the lowest point in the United States. The view as we started consisted of mountains tight to the side of the road on the right and salt slicks on the left with mountains further in the distance. The shiny salt slicks looked like small lakes or ponds from where I stood on the road. The heat was brutal with start time temps of 110 degrees and humidity around 17%. I felt very odd standing in an area where I knew living things did not exist. One of my concerns going in was whether I would allow my crew to care for me. I’ve always been an independent person and have never leaned on anyone my entire life. In order to succeed in this event it would be imperative for me to step outside of that box and do something that would not feel comfortable.

There were a number of pre-race events that took place before the actual start including fulfilling my responsibilities as a test subject as part of a research study being performed at Slippery Rock University. Periodically during the race a doctor would take blood and urine samples to use to collect data for the study. I had to report to Dr. Lisa Bliss prior to the race to supply the first of these samples. After I fulfilled this obligation I then weighed in and reported for our group photo.

In order to control traffic and pedestrian congestion on the road the 85 participants were divided up into three separate groups, which were scheduled to start at different times. The groups were scheduled to start at 6:00, 8:00, and 10:00a.m. My group was the last to start at 10:00 a.m. Immediately after the group photo we were directed to the start line where the Canadian and U.S. National anthems were played. I patiently waited for the start as some final instructions were given and pictures taken.

I wore a white long sleeve shirt, running shorts with white Tyvek covering my legs, and a white hat with a bandanna covering my neck to stay protected from the sun. I also covered my face with 50 SPF sun block and protected myself from blisters by spreading Vaseline on the most susceptible areas. The race director Chris Kostman counted down from ten and we were off. I felt very strong at the start and initially did not feel the impact from the heat. We ran for about a mile when I saw the first of the crew people caring for their runner. There were a lot of experienced runners and crews in my wave and it showed early on. This was the first time either myself or any of my crew members had participated in the event and because of that our team got off to a bit of a rough start. We were one of the first to the starting area so our vehicle was blocked by others double parking around us. They had to wait for the others to move out of their way before they could get on the road to begin crewing me. I was a little worried when I saw the other runners being helped out so early on and my crew were nowhere to be found. I figured, though, that if I couldn’t run at least a couple of miles through Death Valley on my own I didn’t deserve to be there in the first place. Things were a little confusing once they caught up with me because instead of pulling up the road a mile they stopped immediately. This kind of start made it very hard to get into a rhythm of meeting me every mile. Finally I told them I was willing to bite the bullet for awhile and I asked them to pull up a mile so we could get in sync. It would also give them time to catch their breath and allow them to prepare properly for my arrival. It was at this point that I realized just how hard of a job crewing was going to be. Imagine having to stop at least 135 times over a two-day period with little time to rest.

A group of runners took off very fast but I recognized immediately that last year’s winner Scott Jurek stayed behind so I followed suit. I went into the event like I do any race I enter with the belief that I could win but in order to do so I had to be smart. I had no real plan but thought it would be wise to try to stay behind Jurek even though his pace was very slow. I was a Badwater rookie but smart enough to realize going out too fast could come back to burn me later. Staying behind Scott would keep me in check. I slipped in front of him when Lisa Bliss pulled him over to remove his sweat patch. It kind of threw me off and I was now feeling uncomfortable ahead of him. I watched as his crew of three methodically met his every need. The experience his crew had gave him a definite advantage over those of us who were first timers.

Despite their lack of experience my crew was now on track and doing an awesome job. How could I complain being served with water, getting sprayed down and getting a sponge bath every mile? I told them ahead of time that water would be sufficient for at least the first five miles at which point we could discuss whether Gatorade would be needed from then on. Along with water they started to maintain a schedule of supplying me with two Succeed caps every half-hour. The caplets would be critical in helping me control muscle cramps as the race progressed. Their purpose was to replenish the sodium and potassium that my body would lose through sweating.

I noticed at the five-mile point that my crew had slipped some Hammer Gel into my water. It didn’t set well with my stomach so at the next point I asked them to give me straight water instead of the gel/water mix. They satisfied my request but because the bottle wasn’t rinsed I detected a distinct aftertaste. As soon as I tasted the Hammer Gel I became angry and turned to throw the bottle back in frustration. When I did so a couple of things happened to change my whole outlook of the race. First I slipped and fell on the ground and secondly when I did this my calves cramped immediately. I couldn’t believe that I cramped so early in the run. I became concerned and realized the seriousness of taking care of myself. The fall also made me realize that I was taking things way too seriously and that I needed to lighten up. I had to treat my crew with the respect they deserved because they were there for me and helping me. The least I could do is be respectful. I then told them that no matter what we were there to have fun. I made sure from then on that I always thanked each of them as much as possible and I also checked to make sure they were taking care of themselves. It took a fall but I came to my senses and did what I knew in my heart was the right thing. People in general are important to me but these people in particular would come to mean a lot to me over the coming days.

The next major event occurred around mile ten when I started feeling a pain on the side of my left knee. The course was flat to rolling the for the first 17 miles so even though I had a slight ache the pain was manageable except when going down the few hills. I didn’t let it concern me until I hit the last half-mile downhill stretch going into Furnace Creek when the pain in the knee became excruciating. Furnace Creek was designated as the first major checkpoint and an area where civilization existed so I stopped to rest and refuel. I even took a couple of minutes to stand in the air-conditioned General Store where I could get relief from the heat. When I returned to my crew vehicle Don Lundell recognized that I was having trouble with my knee and allowed me to use his massage stick. The pain was localized on the side of the knee, which immediately told me my IT band was inflamed. Despite the localization of the pain I was sure the cause was actually closer to the hip. Instead of focusing only on the knee I massaged the entire leg from the hip down to the knee.

When we left Furnace Creek I was allowed a pacer for the first time so Rick stepped up and ran with me. We were already running low on ice so Phil volunteered to go to Stove Pipe Wells to buy ice while Dori crewed with the other vehicle. I think it was at this time that Rick realized it was no longer a race but rather survival. I was frustrated and in some serious pain, yet I forced myself to run as much as possible. I planned to take it easy from miles 17-42 anyway because it was the hottest part of the day. Even with that planned ahead of time, being forced to take it slow frustrated me. I schemed and plotted and tried to find ways to reduce the pain so I could run again. My first attempt at this was to try running backwards. At first it felt very comfortable and pain-free but I couldn’t fathom the thought of running the whole race this way so I tried turning around periodically and running forward. The pain made it virtually impossible to do so. Finally I succumbed to Dori’s offer of massage and stretching of the knee. It was painful as hell as she kneaded her fingers deep into my muscle tissue. I just grinned and beared it as much as possible, hoping that what she was doing would help. Before heading back out to run she instructed me to try to modify my stride by either skipping with the affected leg or speeding up the motion of the leg. I thought it might be beneficial to run off the road onto the dirt where the slant was in the opposite direction of the crown in the road. I was hopeful that this would put less stress on the bad knee and reverse the negative effect of the first 17 miles. When I went back out it hurt at the start but after forcing myself to run through the pain it significantly decreased and I was able to run comfortably.

The scenery from miles 17-42 was pretty consistent with what looked like large farmer’s fields on either side of the road, but instead of crops growing the fields were covered with rocks. In the distance, beyond the open fields, beautiful orange colored rocky mountains could be seen. It just didn’t feel real. It felt as though I was caught up in a time warp and I was somewhere I didn’t belong. The course remained flat from mile 17 until about mile 30 when the road gradually started to ascend. I used a run/walk method to get up the hill using the road reflectors as landmarks of where to run and where to walk. I felt good for several miles and still felt confident in my ability to do well. I kept reminding my team that we were in this together and that I needed them to take care of themselves while at the same time taking care of me. I constantly checked to make sure each was eating, drinking and taking salt when needed. They were working so hard and I thought it was important for me to put them at ease. I didn’t want them to worry about me. The knee hurt but I hung in there as I descended the short hill that ended around mile 35.

Dori, Phil, and Rick took turns pacing me only staying in the heat for about one hour each early on. I trusted their judgement as to how long they could withstand the elements, and they did a good job of making appropriate decisions. I was able to handle the heat pretty well early on myself. I was constantly taking precautions to care for blisters, stave off stomach ailments and recognize hydration issues. I weighed myself consistently to keep accurate data as to whether I was gaining or losing weight. I took Pepto Bismol on a regular basis whenever I felt any type of stomach pain. I reacted quickly to burning sensations on the bottoms of my feet by stopping and bandaging the affected areas. My feet stayed in excellent condition until I felt the first burning sensations around mile 40, at which point I stopped and cared for them.

My crew was doing a bang-up job with only minor problems through 40 miles. I did become concerned when Phil started talking about his 17-year vomit streak. It was early on so the conversation didn’t bother me too much but I certainly hoped that he wouldn’t bring up such topics as the race progressed.

A bit of a sand storm kicked up as we made our way toward the mile 42 checkpoint at Stove Pipe Wells. While the sand never reached us, we could see it in the distance being blown around by the breeze that was now in our faces. Again, running was a little bit of a struggle at this point as my knee continued to ache. I was resolved to gritting my teeth and running short stints before relenting to the pain and slowing to a walk. We were only about eight or nine hours into the run so I was still strong both mentally and physically, but now with the knee still aching I realized this was going to be a struggle the entire way.

The road that had been straight for so long now veered sharply to the left as we passed some sand formations that looked like old Egyptian pyramids. Even though I was frustrated I still took the time to soak in the scenery that Death Valley had to offer. David Bliss caught up with us about five miles from Stove Pipe Wells, and since I was at my crew vehicle I stopped to chat with him for awhile. I refused to tell him about my knee problem because I didn’t want him to think I was making excuses for my poor showing. In reality he seemed very impressed with the progress I was making which made me feel good. David is a real upbeat guy and I’ve never heard a negative word come out of his mouth so it wasn’t surprising to hear his encouraging words. Despite David’s encouraging words I knew I wasn’t making good time, so I only spent a couple of minutes talking with him before moving on. Rick and Phil hung around to chat more with him as Dori and I headed back on the other side of the road to continue our journey.

There always seemed to be someone in close proximity to me the entire run either in front or behind me. Noora Alidina and I were bouncing back and forth for a while and Linda McFadden was also near. I only know Linda was around because of the presence of the one and only Catra Corbett who was crewing for her. As we approached Stove Pipe wells I passed ten-time finisher Scott Weber who seemed to be holding his own again this year. I patted him on the back and told him it was a pleasure to share the course with him as I went by. I entered Stove Pipe Wells a battered and beaten man. I stopped at the medical checkpoint to have some blood taken out for the research study and a new sweat patch applied to my back. As I sat down I was flattered to see that the beautiful Leigh Corbin had been waiting for me to arrive to take my picture. Her appearance and enthusiasm was an uplifting moment for me. It made me realize that there were many people out there rooting for me. Phil didn’t allow me to dawdle too long talking with Leigh before he pulled me out of the medical station and up to the pool to dunk my head in what seemed to be 130-degree water. I guess he thought it would be refreshing but in reality it was hard to bend my body over and put my head in. I thought I would make it worth his while though as I dunked my head and kept it under for as long as I could. I really felt out of place as I could feel the cold stares of the others in the pool probably wondering what this dirty, sweaty guy was doing. Once I pulled my head out of the water I quickly made my way back to the van to ask for some aspirin and get my bottles refilled. Every time I stopped moving it made it that much harder to get cranked back up again. The knee would loosen some while moving but when I stopped it tightened up and hurt like hell when I started again.

As I left, David Bliss fed me encouragement and gave me a quick idea of what to expect in the coming miles. He mentioned something about a long section of switchbacks that would be coming up so I assumed he was referring to the first long climb that was staring me directly in the face. Turns out though the switchbacks he was referring to didn’t show up until we left Panamint at mile 72. He also reminded me that darkness was imminent and he said I’d be able to let it loose at that point. Night fall was something I targeted early on as a milestone and definitely thought I would be able to put the jets on when it arrived. Now with a bad knee my strategy had to change and instead of darkness being a blessing it could turn into a curse. I had to stave off the demons of the dark and do my best to control my own mind.

Dori took over the pacing reigns as we made our way up the long climb to Townes Pass. We actually did a lot of running from reflector to reflector because the knee didn’t hurt as much on inclines as it did on descents or flats. I still had a lot of energy and once the sun went down I was able to focus on the beauty of the nighttime sky and the million stars it held. Neither of us astrologers, Dori and I pointed out a couple of constellations that could easily be seen from below. Personally the only formation I could find was the Big Dipper, but with the stars seemingly so close any knowledge at all I should have been able to point out everything the sky held. It was such a perfect night—so peaceful and quiet that I felt at ease even though I knew I had a long journey ahead of me. I never once thought about the work that lay ahead but rather the beauty of the area.

Peacefulness aside, there was the intermittent whines of the suffering runners that could be heard in the distance. Jody Lynn Reicher who took off like a bat out of hell at the start had slipped dramatically and was now close by. I passed by fellow east coaster Bill Ladieu who was not too happy, but based on his pace compared to the other year he did the race he was doing well. It was right around this time that Dori and I saw the first living creature in the dessert. A mouse scampered across the street in the darkness moving his little feet as fast as possible probably in hopes of not getting baked to the street.

Dori took the responsibility of pacing me up the hill while Phil manned the vehicle. It was decided early on that each of the crew members would take some time off during the night to rest, and Rick was the first to take advantage of this. It was so hot and sticky that little sleep could be had, but even just a few moments away from the crew responsibilities had to be welcomed. Once we reached the top of the hill Rick returned to take over the pacing duties while Dori manned the vehicle and Phil napped. I had trucked up the hill at a decent rate of speed, but going down hill would be a different story. What should have been an easy glide downwards toward the Panamint Valley turned into ten miles of pure hell. The knee couldn’t withstand the pounding I was trying to put on it, so we were forced to a walk. Every once in a while I would try to skip down the hill only to be brought to a halt by the pain. It was frustrating but I tried my best to remain upbeat. Obviously at this point I knew the run was going to take a very long time so I couldn’t allow any negative thoughts to enter my mind. Negativity would only make it more of a struggle so I did my best to enjoy the fact that I was participating in the premier event the United States has to offer.

Since we were walking down the hill and those behind us were running, we were passed by more than a few people. First to go by was Maria Lemus. She was sprinting down the hill. I honestly thought that because she was giving so much of an effort that we would meet her later on down the road, but as it turns out she put in a very strong effort and finished well ahead of me. Second to go by was Jody Lynn Reicher. As I was taking a break by my crew vehicle I heard her yell out in the night, “is any one else out here hurting?” I immediately raised my hand and yelled back that I was. I certainly didn’t want her to think she was alone. When we got back out on the course nine-time finisher Art Webb caught up to us. He wasn’t moving too fast himself, but he was gaining more ground than we were. He seemed distant as he talked, but it was understandable that at this point in the race he would be more focused on what he was doing than our conversation. I commented on the fact that he was running without a pacer and his response was that it was the only way to do it. I thought to myself, “not really, you could use a pacer.” I took his comments lightheartedly, as what I saw in Art was a tough man out to prove a point, and a point he did prove as he went on to finish in just over 45 hours. Later on down the road we passed my favorite runner Shannon Farrar-Greifer. She and her very attractive crew made up of four very pretty young ladies and two guys had been very kind to Rick and I the night before in giving us advice about the race. When I went by she was just so pleasant and told me how well I was doing. Normally that would fluster the shy side of me but now a confident runner, I handled it well and even flirted with her a bit before pulling away. This wasn’t the last I would see of Shannon however, as later on in the race she pulled even with me and eventually went on to a strong finish in about forty-five and a half hours.

Despite the fact that I wasn’t giving much of an effort to run down the hill, I was tiring quickly. A bright spot came when Dr. Lynn drove up alongside of us with Dr. Lisa Bliss in the passenger side of the vehicle. A familiar song was blaring loudly from their vehicle. My favorite song “Bridge over Troubled Water” by Paul Simon. Lisa had remembered this from one of our many conversations while I was pacing her at Western States the prior year. It was a heartfelt moment and one that I will not forget. While it didn’t generate any energy or get me moving any faster it touched my heart. Her kindness once again showed me that there are people out there that honestly care about me.

We barely reached bottom before Phil returned from his nap to relieve Dori. He took over pacing duties and Rick took over crewing for the time being as I continued my march toward Panamint. I became bored and disinterested with the course, as what I thought was a steep ascent turned out to be just another flat section of road. The boredom, pain, and frustration from the long downhill had now wore me down to a point where I was thinking about taking a nap. The sun began to rise and my eyes began to close as my pace slowed to that of a turtle. Knowing that it was going to be a tough road to hoe, I made a very difficult decision to take a quick nap. I was hoping a little rest would relieve the pain in my knee and also brighten my spirits. Physical pain and mental pain can be managed when dealing with either alone but in combination with one another it was a constant struggle. If nothing else, a nap would remove the negative thoughts from my mind and give me a whole new outlook on things. The race was now between me and he clock, so it truly didn’t matter who passed me while I was resting. Rick offered to stake me out and run me up to the hotel in Panamint where I would be more comfortable but I stubbornly refused. I had no plans of ever staking out and removing myself from the course and now was not the time to change those plans. The van would be perfectly comfortable enough for me to rest in. I situated myself in a comfortable position and asked Rick and Phil to wake me in 20 minutes. I just happed to look at the clock before going to sleep so I knew exactly what time it would be when they woke me up. I fell fast asleep and before I knew it Rick woke me out of a sound sleep. Boy was I pissed when I found out he had only let me sleep 15 minutes instead of the 20 I requested. Unfairly I chastised him, but later on I told him he did the right thing. The rest indeed gave me new life and I felt very strong, however the pain in the knee not only didn’t get better, but it intensified. It felt as though someone were stabbing me in the knee with a knife. It was constant and throbbing and now hurting not only when I ran but also when I walked. Another fabulous thing happened to me when I fell asleep. A nice big blister formed on the left side of my tongue making it difficult for me to suck water out of my bottle.

Things were growing bleak, but never once did quitting enter my mind. I fell back heavily on my experience and relied on the knowledge that as long as I moved forward things could always change for the better. These were just challenges that I had to overcome, and overcome them I would. In order to keep me full of fluids my crew was now feeding me liquid in a cup rather than my water bottle. I was also now on the verge of having stomach problems so my crew fed me ginger ale. I was always able to settle my stomach with ginger ale and Pepto Bismol, so despite all the other problems I incurred never once did I have to deal with stomach issues.

The sun was now in full bloom and the town of Panamint could be seen in the distance. The buildings seemed to be right around the corner but I could tell we still had a good distance to travel before reaching town. I’m never satisfied, as I either am frustrated because nothing can be seen in the distance or I’m pissed because I can see the town but it never gets closer. I was griping and whining to my crew about my thoughts but with each step we gained ground and the buildings neared. The town of Panamint from a distance looks like a kingdom sitting on a mountaintop but in reality it is just a few nice buildings sitting in a valley. I hobbled into town somewhere around 6:00 a.m. without stopping other than to check in. It had taken me an unbelievable 20+ hours to go 72 miles. Upon leaving the town, we were headed toward the second major climb of the day—a 3000+ foot climb up to Father Crowley. It was at this point that I first realized we were in an ice crisis. My crew had anticipated buying ice in the General Store in Panamint but by the time we arrived there wasn’t a cube to be found. Rick, Dori and Phil put their heads together and came up with a plan. Phil would drive 50 miles to Lone Pine where surely he would be able to buy ice while Dori paced and Rick crewed. It sounded good on paper but Phil wasn’t too happy about the plan. He was sleepy and didn’t feel comfortable making the two-hour out-and-back trip to Lone Pine. Finally, though, he gave in and went. In the meantime I was writhing in pain with every step. Dori offered to once again massage and stretch my knee before I could beg her to do it. It had worked the last time and my only hope was that this time it would allow me if nothing else to walk pain free. She had me lay in the van with my leg hanging out where she could access it. She kneaded, pressed and rubbed deep into my muscle as I literally screamed silently in pain. What she was doing hurt more than when it did while walking on it but if it worked I was okay with it. When she was done with the massage she immediately placed ice on the affected knee and left it there for a couple of minutes before allowing me to go. She warned me that it could be really painful to get started again but as I walked it would loosen up. She was right as it hurt when I first moved, but because she said it would get better I didn’t pay it much of mind. I’m not sure whether her treatment worked or whether it was just mental but after a few minutes of walking the pain subsided to an acceptable level. The pain was still substantial enough that running was out of the question but since we were climbing I was able to accept a fast walk.

I was relaxed and as pain-free as I was going to be at the beginning of the climb, so I took the opportunity to suck in the ambience. The road switchbacked up the mountaintop just as David Bliss told me it would when we were at mile 42 the previous day. The course led us up on a two-lane road with very little shoulder on the left as the road hugged the rugged mountain. On the right there was a deep canyon that looked as if it once was filled with water. The mountains in this area were beautiful as the colors changed from granite to slate never staying consistent for long periods of time.

Just ahead of us were perennial contender Mike Sweeney who had been struggling throughout the event and 64-year-old Art Webb. Like me, both were receiving excellent attention from their crews and were moving forward at a consistent pace. I was feeling strong from the nap and the knee was cooperating for the time being so I was able to pass both Art and Mike at the beginning of the climb. Dori was great company as she seemed to have a million and one stories. I never once had to generate the conversation with her, which really allowed me to focus on what I was doing.

The sun was now in full bloom and it was time to face the heat for the second day. I had given thought to how I would dress for the daytime hours as I trudged along the previous night. The thought of wearing long clothes for a second day in a row just did not sit too well with me. I decided to gamble and continue to wear my nighttime clothes, which consisted of a tank top and shorts along with the white baseball cap. I was told the maximum temperature would probably only reach 110 degrees, which bothered me because I thought that at 5000 feet we would have gotten to a point where the temperatures would be somewhat moderate or at least acceptable. Well no matter what, I had to deal with whatever Mother Nature threw at me. Dori recognized very early on that the heat was once again going to be a factor and she immediately started spraying me with water. Rick busted his butt making sure he had water bottles filled for me each time I arrived at the vehicle. At this point I pretty much had my fill of water so he was mixing it up with different flavor sodas including Dr. Pepper and Ginger Ale. The soda seemed to sit well in my stomach and satisfy my taste buds as well as my thirst. He also periodically wrapped an ice bandanna around my neck to help keep me cool.

I was still lucid enough to make sure I asked my crew every once in a while if they were okay. It was very important to me that each one of them had fun on their trip. They were busting their butts for me so if there was anything I could do to reciprocate I was willing. They never once asked anything from me but rather continued to encourage me and lead me down the path to success.

As we climbed, the views became more spectacular. While I’m not a big fan of open fields filled with what seemed to be lava rocks, it looked so pretty from a distance. It was beautiful, peaceful and serene. It looked like a place where one might go to reflect. In reality it was a dangerous place where if anyone were stranded would become part of the desert itself.

I love to climb, but like everyone else I eventually look forward to a change. Upon every turn I hoped for the top but the hill was relentless and we continued to climb and climb. At no time was the grade unmanageable but it was a bit more than a gradual ascent. I never struggled but I did become impatient. We met up with a photographer about two thirds of the way up and he asked Dori and I a few questions of which Dori responded that she was the president of the Dave Bursler fan club. We both got a good chuckle out of her comment and wondered if indeed that audio would make it to the webcast. We went a little further before we saw Phil returning with the ice. When Phil and Rick met us at the next stop there seemed to be a bit of a power struggle amongst my crew as Dori wanted to complete her trek up the mountain and Phil thought it would be best if he took over. Rick looked a little dumbfounded for a reason that I found out later to be because Phil didn’t actually make it to Lone Pine. He stopped in Darwin and asked for 4 bags of ice from the medical crew. Rick looked dumbfounded but in reality he was upset because he believed we were in an ice crisis and 4 bags just would not cut it. Now I wasn’t supposed to know any of this was going on but I’m the type of guy that it’s pretty hard to keep a secret from. Rick tried to resolve the problem by conserving as much water and ice as he could. He went as far as to not drink any fluids himself for over three hours. This is something I did not realize until later that night toward the end of the race when all was under control. I wasn’t eating or drinking a hell of a lot at this point so in reality we were okay with both water and ice, but without the ability of telling the future Rick reacted in what he thought was the most appropriate manner. While Rick dealt with the ice crisis Phil won the battle with Dori and gained the responsibility of leading me up the rest of the hill where at the top we saw Lisa Smith-Batchen in the parking lot huddled around her crew. This was the first stage of her attempt at the double Badwater. She would be out on the course at least another four days after I finished. An amazing feat by an amazing woman, not to mention a very generous crew of people assisting her.

When we reached the top, the bottom of my right foot was burning up. The humidity was taking its toll on the bottoms of my feet. When I removed my shoe to pop the blisters on my left foot I noticed how wet and wrinkly the foot was. The combination of the moisture in the air and my own sweat had soaked my socks clean through to the skin of my foot. I changed my sock on the one foot after carefully popping the blisters and bandaging them, but I didn’t touch the other foot for fear I might cause problems. Once I was back together I headed back down the road, this time with Rick by my side. I was slowly dying with every step we took. The climb up the mountain had taken its toll on me. I was weary and struggling forward toward the next checkpoint at mile 90, which was in the town of Darwin. I acknowledged Lisa Smith-Batchen as she went by wishing her luck on her double. I also made mention of the fact that Rick and I are both from the East Coast where she previously hailed from. She seemed like a very sweet lady but obviously she was also a very tough lady.

In the distance Rick and I saw what I had been hoping to see for a really long time: Mt. Whitney and the finish line. We still had miles and miles to go, but it was mentally uplifting to see our final destination no matter how far away it was. Dori snapped our picture as we pointed toward the mountain and then almost as quickly as the surge of energy appeared it was gone. I was weary and weak and my feet felt as though they were cast in stone as I raised my legs to take each step. When we came upon a sign on the left that read “Death Valley National Park,” Rick told me it signified the end of our journey through Death Valley. I’m still not sure if what he said was true but it sure made me feel good. Well as good as an overheated, overtired, injured person can feel anyway. I limped my way toward the sign where Dori had parked and told both Rick and Dori that I needed to sit in the air conditioning for a few minutes. My body was beat to a pulp and I was so weak I needed to rest. While resting, Rick and Dori took a moment to snap photographs of one another next to the sign. The a/c felt good but I knew I couldn’t waste too much time sitting in it. Eventually I would have to face the elements once again and what better time than now to do so. So after about a five-minute rest I plopped out of the vehicle and continued my death march toward Darwin.

Dori took over the pacing duties as Rick manned the vehicle. Immediately it seemed as if Dori recognized there was a problem and did everything she could do to figure out exactly what it was. Despite the problems we continued to trudge along at a snails pace with nothing ahead in sight other than more road. Once again, the only scenery provided to us were two big open fields full of rock and mountains in the distance. It was picturesque but I had no inclination to soak up the atmosphere in my current condition. Rick and Phil swapped duties as Rick headed off to Darwin to relax for awhile and Phil manned the main crew vehicle. Since Phil had been to Darwin already I begged Dori to ask Phil just how far we were from town and he said about three miles. Calculating quickly in my head 30 stinkin’ minutes per mile times three—okay, 90 minutes until Darwin. I can do that. The only real problem I had making it from point A to point B was that Phil didn’t really give us a correct distance. As we got closer he kept leading us to believe we were almost there. At 1.5 miles he said we would be able to see the tent as we reached a rise in the road that was directly in front of us. He was wrong. He insisted that we were just about there whenever asked. Every time he was wrong. The anticipation drove me crazy. Dori was still trying everything she could to revive me. She was forcing me to eat and drink and at the same time spraying me with water. Finally she got a big sponge full of water and dumped it over my head and the water went down my back and legs. When the water hit me I immediately got the chills. I was freezing in temperatures hovering around 100 degrees. My core body temperature was out of whack and I didn’t realize it until then. In only a few minutes I was a new man.

Just about the same time I came back to life we reached Darwin. I thought it would be a small town with buildings and people bustling about but that turned out to be not true, or at least they didn’t direct us into that part of town. We landed at an intersection where we could either go straight or turn right or left. There was a big tent on the corner of the intersection that housed the race officials. I was revived but I still sat for awhile to rest while Dori, Rick, and Phil refilled my bottles and got me food. While I was sitting there Shannon Farrar-Greifer made it into the checkpoint looking in great shape. Her crew yelled over to me that the two of us should run together since we seemed to be moving at the same pace. Running with a bunch of pretty women appealed to me so I certainly was not going to disagree. Shannon’s crew was continually nice to me throughout the event. They even offered food to Phil at this particular junction of the race, which he accepted. Personally, if the offer were made to me directly, I would have graciously declined. This was a self-support style race and I truly did not want to take from others. Despite my thoughts, I must say that the fruit they offered came in handy and is partially responsible for giving me the strength to complete the next several miles.

There seemed to be some discussion amongst my crew as to who would go into town to get more supplies. Seems Phil was quite smitten with Shannon and her crew and wanted to run with us but each of my crew members had strengths and right now I needed Dori to run by my side and Rick to crew. That left Phil to go into town. I made the mistake prior to the event of not naming a leader so right then I took command and in front of the three of them pronounced Rick the leader. I knew he wouldn’t be comfortable with such a title but it was a decision I had to make and an easy decision at that. Out of the three of them he knew me best and I trusted him most. I trusted his ability to make wise decisions and guide us safely to the finish line. Very quickly I told each crew member what role I would like them to play and I was off. Rick was to lead and be our crew, Dori was to pace and Phil was to go to town to get supplies. I explained to Phil how Dori had just revived me from the dead and that for some reason I listened to everything she asked me to do. I was positive I would not have responded to either Phil or Rick in that manner. I’m not sure why but I allowed Dori to take complete command over me and I did everything she requested. She did my thinking for me and took care of me and right now that’s what I needed more than anything. When I left, the crew had a little pow wow but ultimately each took the role I requested and things seemed to calm.

I started down the road slowly waiting for Shannon to catch up so we could chat a little. If possible I would have loved to run all the way to Lone Pine and then finish with her but I didn’t want the pressure of having to push when she pushed just to keep up with her. My energy level was now such that I thought I may have some running left in me but that was a decision I wanted to make on my own. I didn’t want to feel as though I had to run just to keep up with Shannon. She still had a bounce in her step so I figured she would be doing at least a little running the rest of the way and that made me uncomfortable. I chatted for awhile and then I forced myself into a jog. I didn’t make a conscious effort to pull away from Shannon but I do think subconsciously that I made myself run to gain some separation between the two of us. The pain in the knee was still sharp but the short jog gave me some hope that maybe I would be able to pull off a few more stretches like that to help get me across the finish line quicker than I projected earlier.

What occurred next was an emotional experience I should have tried to gain control over before allowing it to get out of hand. It hurt me in the long run but it was also something that defines me as a person and something that was going to happen no matter how much control I tried to maintain. While running I thought to myself how I should be able to withstand the pain generated from the knee. Thoughts of how much pain my grandfather had put up with in his lifetime without so much as a whimper made me feel like such a baby. Would he be proud of me at this moment if he saw how I succumbed to the pain of an aching knee? My only answer was no. The more I thought the more I ran and the more I ran the faster I went. Tears started rolling down my cheeks and ultimately I lost it totally. After about a mile of running I yelled to Rick to please get the picture I had of my grandfather that was in my suitcase and pass it to me the next time I went by. Quickly he did as I requested, and I continued now sprinting at max speed down the highway crying like a baby. I’m not sure if anyone other than Dori and Rick recognized what was going on nor did I care. This was a moment I shared with my grandfather. Momentarily he came down from above and watched as I ran as fast as I could for two miles just to make him proud of me to show him that I am tough and I can run with pain. At one point Dori tried to stop me and I slowed a little but I couldn’t stop just yet. I pulled away and fired off another quarter mile or so at top speed before slowing down and finally stopping. I dropped my head for a split second and at that point promised my grandfather that no matter what happens from that point I will make it to the finish line under any and all conditions. I quickly came back to reality and when I did, found that my knee was now aching more than ever. Not only could I not run but also I could barely walk without pain. I felt a little foolish especially after Shannon ran by several minutes later as I hobbled down the highway with Rick by my side. My emotional outburst may have been premature, but after 90 miles and almost 28 hours of running I think I had a good excuse for losing my grip with reality momentarily. Neither Dori nor Rick ever once questioned my thought process. I totally expected to be questioned but they never judged me. They gained my respect and trust after this escapade because I knew most would have asked what the hell was I doing but they didn’t. I knew at this moment that my decision to pick these two people to be on my crew was the best decision I would ever make. While Phil held his own as part of my crew both Rick and Dori would be the main people I would lean on the rest of the way to the finish.

Now with no one in sight and me hobbling in excruciating pain, Rick and I talked about how I could get relief. As he walked from behind I told him that I thought I needed to swap out shoes. He looked down and dramatically said Dave your shoes are definitely your problem. He told me they were shot and by the looks of them may have been how I got hurt in the first place. Before I knew what was going on he began to take his shoes off while at the same time he asked me to remove mine. He demanded that we swap shoes immediately if for no other reason so I don’t injure myself more. Possibly, I may even get some relief from wearing his shoes. I did as he asked and removed my shoes. His absolutely felt better on my feet but they were tight up against my Achilles tendon so I told him I could only wear his temporarily until we met up again with Dori down the road where I could change into my other shoes. I certainly didn’t want him to have to wear my bad shoes the rest of the night so the swap would benefit both of us. His shoes felt better but the damage to my knee had already been done and the pain never relented. We decided that now would also be a good time for Dori to once again work her magic and massage and stretch the knee to get me walking comfortably again. At this point we were about 95 miles into the run with still close to 18 hours left to get into the finish in time to buckle. My past experience told me I had plenty of time to make it. My crew was concerned but I tried to put them at ease by explaining a similar death march I had at Wasatch in 2003 where I was forced to walk the last 40 miles and I did it in less than 18 hours. That experience kept me worry-free but I don’t think it did much for my crew. Despite there concerns I had to take a little time now to get my knee worked on or the pain could potentially slow me to a point where we could be in danger. When we reached Dori it was almost as if she knew what we were going to ask. She immediately went to town on my knee as I quietly screamed. I made no noise yet the expression on my face told the entire story. I teased Dori because it seemed every good thing she did for me initially put me in severe pain before I could see the benefit. I told her I thought she was enjoying watching me scream and make faces. I said it in such a way that she knew I was just teasing.

I overheard Rick wishing his son happy birthday over the cell phone as Dori tortured me. I was humbled by the sacrifices my crew made just to be at Badwater for me. Rick missing his 5-year-old son’s birthday was a perfect example of this. At this time I took a moment to reflect and to thank God for allowing me to have such friends. There have been many times in my life when I’ve felt so alone and so unwanted but times like this make up for any of those times alone. Rick’s call to his son put the thought into my mind that I should try to call my mom to assure her I was okay. I remember from the previous year that the Badwater webcast sometime leaves a lot to be desired and I didn’t want my mom worrying to death about me. After all I was in a death march and certainly not where I thought I’d be at this point in the run. Rick allowed me to use his phone and even dialed the number for me and talked to my dad who answered the phone. He assured him everything was okay but I wanted to talk to him to just so he heard my voice. My dad is a strong man and wouldn’t lead on to me if he were worried even if he really were. I didn’t want to leave him with any doubt that I was okay so I wouldn’t hang up the phone until I was certain he was confident. While talking to my dad my mom walked into the room so he put her on the phone so I could talk with her. This put a smile on my face because I would be able to speak to her personally and be certain upon hanging up the phone that I put her at ease. My mom has been to many of my ultra events before and has seen me do well and has seen me struggle mightily so I was able to give her a point of reference from which to gauge my condition. I asked her if she remembered Wasatch? She said yes. I then told her this race was Wasatch revisited. It was a struggle and I was suffering but I would persevere just like I did then. I told her to be patient and not to worry because it would take some time but ultimately I would finish. I just asked her to trust me and I promised her everything would be okay. Sometimes I’m not sure where my inner strength comes from because deep down inside this was one of those times where I wish I could have been a little boy and just whimpered away crying for my mommy. I had to be strong though and I had to persevere. I had strong reasons for being there and the only thing that was going to stop me was death itself. This was not a message I wanted to convey to my mom at this point in the run so I just assured her that I would be okay and that in due time I would finish. I felt certain that our little talk put her at ease and that her ability to relate this race to Wasatch helped her understand that all would be okay. She sounded good and I was positive she wouldn’t worry so I said goodbye and started on my trek toward the next landmark.

The landmark we were in search of was a cemetery marking that supposedly signified the 100-mile mark. I honestly didn’t even know the landmark existed until Rick made mention of it to me. He stayed on the lookout while I trudged forward. Dori’s handiwork once again allowed me to walk with pain that I could withstand. I focused on the road in the distance hoping for a change of scenery. Seems the entire route leading from the top of Father Crowley around mile 85 to our current location of almost 100 miles was exactly the same, empty rock fields with no signs of life and mountains in the distance on either side and in front. I made mention to Rick that it looked as if there had been a fire on the mountains we were coming upon. A black shadow covered portions of the mountains on the left that led directly over the road and onto the mountains on the right. Turns out that the closer we got it was easier to determine that indeed that it was just a shadow formed by clouds partially covering the sun. It seemed really hot to me but Dori told me that the temperature had been hovering in the mid to low 90’s most of the afternoon. I guess my body was just having a hard time adjusting to the different temperatures it was being exposed to and defaulted to hot all the time.

Just after we passed the 100-mile mark Dori and Rick swapped up once again allowing Rick to get some rest. At this point in the race I felt really comfortable having Dori by my side just because she seemed to know how to react in critical times. She brought me back to life when I overheated and had been massaging my knee constantly since the 17-mile mark of the race. I trusted her and I knew Rick would understand. Phil on the other hand seemed a little distant and I was concerned he felt left out. He had a role to play, however, and he did it to the best of his ability and he never once questioned my decisions. As we walked, I told Dori how disappointed I was that I hadn’t seen the F-16 fighter jets that David Bliss told me we might see. As if God above was answering my prayers an F-16 came out of no where and did a fly by. A few seconds later a second F-16 flew by us. It was an unbelievable experience that gave me an emotional rush. Seems I was going to experience everything Badwater had to offer from the heat, to the sandstorms, rain and finally the pain. I thought to myself that even though I had suffered mightily up to this point this had been the best experience I have ever had in my life. The emotion quickly wore off however and once again I slowed to a snails pace. In the distance severe lightening strikes could be seen in the mountains ahead and Dori became concerned that maybe we would get caught in a storm. I told her I was considering a nap and she responded by saying she thought the group should discuss it first. We were a team so I was okay with her suggestion. Dori and I really seemed to think alike. Earlier in the day she repeated my own words back to me. She told me this was my day and they were there to take care of me. I should allow them to make all the decisions and all I need to do is run. I’ve spoken those same words many times to friends of mine in the past and was astounded to hear them said to me.

A decision to sleep now or to move forward a few more miles to see if we hit the storm was a critical decision. A severe thunderstorm would shut us down and we didn’t have a lot of time to spare so it might be best to keep moving and sleep in the storm rather than sleep in the clear and be shut down later too. When we arrived at the crew vehicle the consensus was that the storm was in the mountains and it was doubtful that it would hit us so they allowed me to sleep. Rick proved to me the first time I napped that 15 minutes would be enough to get myself refreshed and moving again but I still asked the gang to give 20 minutes. I crawled into the van and this time in an attempt to alleviate the pain in the knee my crew told me to elevate my leg by placing it on the dashboard. They also wrapped my knee in ice hoping to keep the knee from getting even more inflamed while I rested. They left the vehicle running with the a/c cranked up to high while I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. I was unable to relax because I knew my time was limited plus I was in an uncomfortable position. I squirmed around in the vehicle before finally just deciding to relax my mind in hopes of regaining my mental sharpness. I breathed easy and thought good thoughts and finally I found a relaxing moment. Before I knew it, though, 15 minutes had passed and I decided it was time to get up and get moving again. Before doing so, I munched on a few tortilla chips that were sitting in the van alongside me. The rest seemed to stimulate my appetite and I felt famished so I was looking for everything and anything to eat. Dori and Rick seemed upbeat about my newfound hunger. Dori for the first time expressed her concern that she didn’t think I had been eating enough the entire race. I couldn’t deny it but at the same time my excuse was that it was way too hot. In reality I was trying to consume calories but instead of doing it through solid food I was doing it through liquids like Ensure, sodas and Gatorade.

As soon as I moved to get out of the van pain shot through my entire body. This time it was not only from my knee but every muscle in my body. Seems fatigue was setting in and this was now going to be the time to see what I was made of. I felt like the tin man in the Wizard of Oz because every one of my muscles felt as though they needed greasing. I grinned and beared it as I hobbled out of the vehicle. I left the ice wrapped around my knee because I thought the numbing affect might help ease the pain. I was taking Advil on a regular basis and was relying on my crew to keep track of how much I was taking. I would ask periodically if I could have some aspirin and they would tell me yes or no based on the time in between doses. Before leaving this time Dori gave me a pain reliever and then urged me to move forward. Once again the short nap brought new life to me. My body was dead but my spirits were up. The storm brought cooler temperatures along with a slight breeze. As we walked it began to drizzle a little which made me wonder if we made the right decision to nap or not. The rain never amounted to much but the cool drops of water gave me new life. Although still walking, we were once again moving at a good pace. The scenery started to change a little as the mountains came closer to us. I could tell we were back in an area where things could actually live because the plant life was green and the best sign of all was the jackrabbit Dori and I saw off to our right. I only caught a glimpse of the animal but it was enough to remain a lasting memory forever.

We came upon a short rise in the road where it looked as if a mountain had been blasted to construct the road through the area. We walked down the road where we were surrounded by rocks on either side making it feel as though we were in a tunnel. It was a short distance through the almost cave like structure but it was very cool. Once again the scene brought back memories of the Wizard of Oz when the story went from black and white to color because as we reached the top of the rise the scenery changed dramatically. In the distance directly ahead the town of Keeler could be seen. Mountains surrounded the entire area with salt slicks on the left and a rock field on the right. It was obvious that Whitney was closer so the end could finally be seen. I saw several crew vehicles winding around the road in the far distance and I imagined what lay ahead. The scenery change was uplifting for a moment but my spirits dropped when I saw the significant downhill section that laid before me and the rolling road that could be seen for miles ahead. When I’m healthy I don’t fare well on downhills, so I knew it would be challenging with the bad kneed to traverse this part of the course.

Dori advised me to allow gravity to take me down and just relax. Unfortunately I tend to fight gravity and make downhills more work than they should be. This particular section would be no exception. I struggled down and exerted a lot of effort to do so. By the time I got down I was wiped out but time was of the essence so I couldn’t rest for very long. The road was rolling so there would be more downhills to tend with but out of all of them the first would be the most difficult.

Dori and Rick had sent Phil off to Lone Pine to pick up burgers for dinner so I looked forward to his return and some good solid food. In the meantime they were satisfying my hunger by feeding me Oreos, Doritos, and slices of turkey. Dori stopped me from eating because she was concerned if I didn’t allow the food to digest properly I could get sick. Once again a very good decision on her part and I listened. I’m totally amazed how such a stubborn, self-sufficient person such as myself was able to allow three people, two of which were total strangers, to take care of me for two straight days. I was fearful going in that I would fight off their help but as it turns out it was an unnecessary fear.

We continued up and down the rolling hills, as Dori seemed to be calculating our pace. In the distance I could see the town of Keeler, which I overheard someone say, was the 107-mile mark of the race. We were still a good ways out of town and seeing it so far away started to drive me crazy after awhile. If I were healthy I could have been there in less than 30 minutes but in my current condition I would be lucky to get there in less than two hours. My goal was to make it there before sunset and I thought that was reasonable based on the distance and our pace. When I mentioned it to Dori she didn’t seem as confident but I remained positive and continued to push forward. Phil finally showed up with our burgers but since I had energy my crew and I thought it would be best if I just maintained my pace rather than stop to eat. I ate as I walked and I enjoyed every bite. I’d say the burger neutralized the negative effect of having to go up and down the hills headed into town. The traffic on this road seemed to be particularly bad. Not really the amount of vehicles but rather the speed they were travelling. It seemed as if some of the vehicles were going 80 m.p.h. I made a conscious effort to stay alert and stay as close to the shoulder as possible.

Badwater legend Ben Jones pulled off the side of the road about 50 yards ahead of us. I wasn’t sure what his intentions were until I saw him pull his camera out of his vehicle. He took a few photos and whispered words of encouragement as we went by. Before we arrived at his vehicle Dori told me to continue on and if he wanted to talk she would do the talking.

After getting by Ben I picked up the pace significantly. Dori had been calculating our miles per hour and what we would have to average to get to the finish in less than 48 hours. She said that at this point we needed to average 2.5 m.p.h. to get in with time to spare and that included the 5000 foot climb over the last 13 miles up Mt. Whitney. When spoken the task seemed kind of daunting and maybe impossible, but I’m not a guy that lives in reality or lives by numbers. I just go and see what happens. I appreciated what both Rick and Dori were doing by advising me what I needed to do but at the same time it was hurting me. I like to focus on fantasy and what seems to be the unachievable rather than reality and what actually needs to be done. First of all, reality takes all the fun out of it. Secondly, it is mentally stressing to think you have to maintain a certain pace over a long period of time to be successful. At this point we were still more than a marathon away from the finish which was way too soon to be pushing hard. They did, however, convince me to pick up the pace and seemed happy when I banged out a few miles averaging the required 2.5 m.p.h. and even a couple at 3 m.p.h.

As we approached Keeler in our night gear, but with still some daylight left, my pace once again began to fade. As the sun dropped so did my energy level. I expended way too much energy worrying about maintaining a quick pace. By this time Rick had headed into Lone Pine to check into our hotel room to get cleaned up and get some rest. When he left I’m sure he was confident that I had made a complete turnaround and would march into the finish with no problem but in reality I was about start the most brutal death march of the entire event. Just as we left Keeler at 107 miles, my body started to slowly shut down. I was unable to control my body temperature. I became cold, yet when I put a jacket on I was too warm. I was able to keep moving for a couple of more hours at a moderate pace but by the time Rick arrived back to relieve Phil I was totally shut down and in need of another nap. I was very aware that my decision to nap at this point put my chances of finishing under 48 hours at risk. At the same time my pace had slowed dramatically, and if I continued I had no chance anyway. I continued to assure my crew that all would be okay. I’m not exactly sure how confident they were listening to words coming from a beaten man but I did my best. In my heart I knew I could do it but at this time even I began to prepare myself for the possibility of something less than what I expected.

As Dori and I made our way toward the van there seemed to be a commotion as Rick and Phil were dancing around the vehicle. As I got closer I noticed Rick taking pictures of the ground and I wondered why. I thought maybe I was hallucinating but Dori confirmed that something was definitely going on. As it turns out Phil had been standing next to a baby sidewinder snake as he was waiting for me to arrive. Eventually he must have looked down and noticed the snake and then called Rick over to look at it. Both were enamored with the reptile, and also brave as it crawled around the road. I got a very quick glance of the snake before it scurried off underneath the van. Dori asked Rick to move the van forward so they could keep an eye on the snake to make sure no one got bit. When all was done they once again got me in the van, elevated my leg, put ice on my knee, and allowed me to rest. I sat there restlessly with thoughts that the snake might once again get underneath the vehicle and somehow get in the ventilation system and bite me. Also I was concerned I had left my shoes on the ground outside and the snake might find its way inside. All these concerns along with the thoughts of the miles that I had left to traverse kept me awake. I knew that the time off my feet would still be beneficial and would allow me to feel refreshed and pick up the pace when I returned to the road.

Ironically, for the third time in a row, I got out of the vehicle after exactly 16 minutes of rest and began to move forward. I was refreshed mentally but physically my body had totally shut down. I hobbled out of the vehicle and somehow got my shoes on and moved forward. The few minutes rest allowed me to regroup and also gave me the opportunity to regain control of my body temperature. Aches and pains are easy to deal with but heat exhaustion or hypothermia would shut me down. Dori continued to walk with me and tried her best to assure me that we were making headway. Before Phil left he said we were on an 11-mile stretch of road that would lead us toward Lone Pine. It was dark but I could still make out that we were going uphill and that there was very little to look at as far as scenery goes. I was going crazy because off to my left I could see white lights lining what seemed to be a shoreline. If I didn’t know any better I would have said there was a river separating the road I was travelling and the white lights I could see in the distance. The reason the white lights were so nerve wracking is because I was certain the lights were those of other runners and crew vehicles and that eventually I would need to be on that side of the fake river in order to finish.

The road I was walking went dead straight ahead for as far as the eye could see. I was certain that eventually we would need to make a sharp left but I never saw any hint of a turn. Dori was trying to get me to relax by looking at it in terms of time rather than mileage. She said look at it as two hours rather than four miles, but finally my frustration overflowed and the expletives started flowing freely. Seemed like every other sentence out of my mouth was where is that f’in town. She would respond in some manner and no matter what it was I would say I don’t care I just want to know where that f’in town is. My next favorite statement was, “what are those f’in lights on the far left side? Is that the f’in town?” Dori was really cool and kept her composure. She tried her best to divert my attention by telling me stories of things that had happened in her life. It had worked earlier on when I was mentally sharp but I had now lost it completely. It was at this point that I knew I needed Rick by my side. Dori had staved off my frustrations all day but now things were slipping out of my mouth that I didn’t want to expose her to. I knew Rick would listen to my whining and somehow make light of it and probably even piss me off generating energy, which would get us where we needed to be. I politely explained to Dori that she had done her job but now I needed Rick to get me into Lone Pine. She accepted what I had to say without a problem and jumped right in the vehicle to take over the crewing duties. Just before she swapped out with Rick I asked the two runners behind us if they knew how far we were from town and in which direction we had to go. Another reference to the Wizard of Oz as just like the Scarecrow in the story each pointed in the opposite direction. I was totally frustrated by this point and really needed someone to gripe to. Rick stepped up to the plate and willingly listened to my whining for the next several miles.

As the night progressed my pace declined to a crawl. It seemed we were stopping every 100 yards to rest, but the stops were short. A bit of excitement that shook things up is when I almost stepped on a scorpion that was scurrying across the road. It lit a fire under my butt and got me moving again for a few moments before I crashed and went back into my death march. I continued my constant cries about the lost town and the lights that were shining off to the left. In retrospect I’m not sure how Rick was able to listen to my constant whimpers. He was patient and kind. He tried his best to divert my attention but it was to no avail as I was frustrated. Along with my cries I begged Rick to somehow motivate me to get to the checkpoint in Lone Pine. I was certain that if he could get me to Lisa Bliss she would find the right words to say to get me into the finish. Finally we turned right off the road we had been travelling and continued a couple of more miles before headlights from the main road leading us in to Lone Pine could be seen. After several stops to rest we finally made it into town but we still had about a one and a half-mile hike before we reached the Lone Pine checkpoint. This is where Rick came up with a simple method of moving me forward. He broke the 1.7 mile route down into sections by having me walk from road sign to road sign. I might be stubborn at times but believe it or not I’m easily motivated even with what most might consider simplicity. Rick’s strategy worked as I plodded forward in the direction of the Dow Villa Motel where the medical staff was positioned. While Rick pushed me Dori called Phil at the Comfort Inn and told him we were in town. It was time for him to rejoin us after his long rest. I would need my entire crew to help me face the final challenge of traversing the last 13 miles straight up hill.

I was literally trashed by the time I crawled into the checkpoint. I struggled, cried, and hurt for 122 miles and I looked and felt terrible yet the crowd of people cheered as I entered. I received encouragement from everyone as Lisa Bliss took blood out of me, weighed me and put a sweat patch on my back for the final time. While this was being done I looked straight ahead and zoned everyone else out but Lisa. I listened intently to every word she had to say while at the same time firing myself up. Lisa assured me everything would be okay but that I needed to make sure I loaded up on glucose tablets, candy and Gatorade as I climbed the final mountain. I briefly glanced down at my knee for the very first time and was shocked at how swollen it was. I also took a look at my hands and noticed that my fingers were very swollen. I had done my best to monitor my weight throughout the event even shutting down fluid intake around mile 110 because my weight had increased almost 10 pounds but it appeared that at mile 122 I had lost control. My weight was 145 pounds up five or six pounds from my initial weigh in at the start. Lisa didn’t seem to be concerned so even though I was swelling, I didn’t get concerned either. I sat for about three or four minutes staring straight ahead before getting up and starting off on the final leg of the run. Just before leaving I asked David Bliss how this climb compared to what Hope Pass at Leadville had to offer. He chuckled and said it’s not even close to being as hard as that. This was all that I needed to hear. I conquered Hope Pass while fatigued so I was confident that Whitney would not challenge me. As I left I became very focused and was ready to get down to business. I told my crew that I would need each of them to take a turn going up the hill with me. My thoughts were that mentally it might make it easier for me to take the hill in segments of four miles. Taking each segment with a new person would mean a new personality and a new topic of discussion. I figured this would keep me from getting bored and would allow time to pass more quickly while also eating up the miles. I also told each that if we needed to we would run. I could suck it up for a few miles for the finish.

Rick took me from town to the Whitney Portal Road where we made a left across the main street and started our ascent up the mountain. Each mile mark was identified by a landmark that was documented in the race manual and Rick knew each so he was able to calculate how fast we were going. I had six hours and 40 minutes to make it to the top in order to finish under 48 hours, which I thought was more than enough time. Personally, I was ready to be done and didn’t want to waste any time so I picked up the pace dramatically. I could feel the adrenaline rush through my body with each step and as the adrenaline levels increased my spirits rose. I felt like a college football player who was fired up to play a big game. There was nothing that was going to stop me. I swung my arms and breathed rhythmically as I got myself into a groove. About a quarter mile up the hill Rick and Dori switched positions because Rick wanted to have the manual handy in order to properly identify each mile mark. While Rick scouted out the mile markers and Dori paced, Phil manned the crew vehicle. Somehow I dug deep inside of myself and blocked out all the pain as we maintained 15-minute miles going up the sharp inclines. Dori fed me water and Gatorade upon request and occasionally slipped me a glucose tablet or a piece of candy to help me keep my energy up. At this point I didn’t allow anything or anyone to distract me. My crew vehicle was only needed a couple of times to fill my bottles but other than that was virtually useless. The information Rick fed me about my pace and the mile markers was what I needed most. Both he and Dori made me feel great with their enthusiastic comments of how well I was doing. After we had climbed about four miles, Dori commented that a sub-48 was in the bag and now the only thing left was to see just how fast we could make it up. I responded by saying let’s go then. Rick told me I was making up so much time that I was gaining on a few people in front of me which motivated me to move even faster. It wasn’t long before we could see Judit Pallos in the distance. I told Dori, “let’s go get her.” We gained ground until the road leveled off a bit at which point we maintained the gap between us but once the road went up again I was able to pass her. I tapped her on the shoulder as I went by and wished her luck the rest of the way. Next up was Art Webb, a gentleman I had spent time with earlier in the race. He was trudging forward as I went by. Again I wished him luck and continued on without even so much as blinking my eyes. I was in a zone and focused on nothing else but the finish line. The incline was not as tough as what I expected and I kept commenting to Dori how I wanted everything the mountain had to offer. I pushed and pushed and maintained my pace through eight miles. I slowed a little as we climbed mainly because we were reaching altitude levels that were affecting my breathing but also because my sub-48 hour finish was in the bag.

As the sun rose I wanted to turn around and look back down the mountain but I didn’t want to do so until I reached Vista Point where the views would be best. The switchback climbs that took us to this point were the toughest of this 13-mile section. Overall fatigue and the altitude were taking its toll on me. I was motivated to finish strong though, so I continued to push. When I reached Vista Point I only briefly turned to observe the scenery below. It was so amazing to see what I believed to be the entire 135 mile course that I had just traversed over an almost two-day period. I was in awe of what I saw below but I was also ready to finish so I turned back around and continued on. Just as we turned to go up, a vehicle from above slowed and came to a complete stop as the ladies inside cheered me on. The ladies that were cheering were members of Shannon Farrar-Greifer’s crew. They had been so nice to me the entire way and it continued even as I was on my way to finish. I’m certain I blushed in shyness, as I never had so many women make such a fuss over me. Their cheers gave me the energy to move forward up the final hills toward the 1-mile to go marker. Upon reaching this mark Rick and Dori both challenged me to move faster in order to break 45 hours. My mind wasn’t sharp enough at this point to determine if a sub-45 was all that important so I put my trust in Rick and Dori and fell back into the zone that allowed me to get to this point so fast. I swung my arms in dramatic fashion, breathed rhythmically and moved my legs quickly. We reached the one mile to go marker in under eight minutes at which point Dori told me that I didn’t even need and even split to break 45 but I moved faster anyway. I yelled for Rick and Phil to be ready to join us, as I wanted all four of us to cross the finish line together. As I yelled Phil seemed to disappear which upset me enough to yell at Rick to get him back. Rick yelled back that Phil needed to notify the race organizers that we were on our way so they could set up. Satisfied with his response I continued on. We made a left turn onto a paved road that led us into a wooded area where we were joined by the rest of our team. We then crossed the finish line together in a time of 44 hours and 56 minutes, mission accomplished. Once across the line Chris Kostman who placed my finishers medal around my neck greeted me and then posed by my side for a few photos.

In the aftermath of the excitement I stood off to the side and became very emotional. As I knew they would tears streamed down my face as I thought of my family and my grandfather and God above. I ran this race not for myself but rather to show my young nieces and nephews that no matter what obstacles stand in the way there is no challenge that cannot be met. My grandfather did this for me and now I have done it for them. The race was also for my family as a way to show them that I’ve implemented the lessons each have taught me over the years and I am successful because of them. It was for my grandfather because he can now rest peacefully with the knowledge that his toughness has been passed on to another generation. I thank God above for watching over me and my crew and for allowing us to overcome the many challenges we faced while protecting us from the elements of the desert.

I said in my opening paragraph that I was looking for life in Death Valley and I believe that the kindness, generosity, and caring that I found out there amongst the competitors and crew alike personifies the life I was in search of. I started running 100 mile races in search of death and now I’m ending because I’ve found life.

Dave Bursler
Bear, Delaware

A Prescription for Lifelong Living – Profile on Ben Jones

 Ben Jones, M.D., has birthed more than 1,000 babies, performed 2,000 autopsies, and run 133 marathons in his 73 years. He’s learned some lessons about living the best life along the journey.

From the March 2006 issue of Men’s Health Best Life

Photograph by Bryce Duffy

In 1963, fresh from a 3-year medical residency, 30-year old Ben Jones hiked to the summit of Mount Baldy and, looking out over the smog engulfing Los Angeles, tried to envision his future in the booming city below.

It was around the Cuban Missile Crisis, just before the Watts riots,” he recalls. “I wanted out of that commotion. I didn’t want to breathe pollution for over 30 years as a city doctor. I decided then, on Baldy, I wanted to be a frontier doctor—like my father.”

He moved to Lone Pine, California, between Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48, and Death Valley, the lowest point in North America (actually the Western Hemisphere). Population: 1,655. Stoplights: 1.

He made house calls. For 43 years, up until retirement last summer, he made them in a Model A Ford, a Datsun 280 ZX Turbo, (during his wilder days), by motorcycle, by bicycle, and in a Cessna 205 he piloted to see patients in Death Valley.

Over the years, “Uncle Ben” welcomed more than a thousand babies to Lone Pine with a slap on the ass. And he sent 2,000 other locals off to their final reward by doing duty as the autopsy surgeon for the coroner’s office. “You can learn a lot about health doing autopsies,” he says while sharing a “pancake sandwich” with a friend at the Whitney Portal Store. (Picture a pizza-sized pancake with four fried eggs and four slices of bacon in the middle.) “Atherosclerosis, for example, is a horrible and scary death,” he says, taking a bite. “But this stuff is okay; I can burn this off in an hour.”

Jones says he became woefully out of shape in mid career.

“I was 45, and I couldn’t keep up skiing with the kids anymore. This was around the time when Bill Rogers and Frank Shorter were doing their thing, and I started seeing people, you know, jogging by the house. So I said, “I’m gonna do that.”

His first long-distance run was the Wild Wild West Marathon, which runs through the Alabama Hills, near Lone Pine, where Roy Rogers and James Garner made westerns. Since 1979, Jones has run 133 marathons, covering every continent, and all 27 Wild Wild West Marathons. He has run 60 ultramarathons—including his hometown favorite, the Badwater Ultramarathon, three times. Dubbed the toughest footrace in the world, the Badwater starts 282 feet below sea level in Death Valley (where it’s 130 F) and ends 135 miles and some 50 hours later at Mount Whitney Portal, at 8,360 feet. (Actually, in those days it ended at the top of Whitney at 146 miles). In 1991, “Badwater Ben Jones,” as he is affectionately known in these parts, became, in all likelihood, the first marathoner to take time out from racing to do an autopsy. (A trekker in Death Valley had died of a heatstroke.)

Badwater Ben knows a lot about the desert and the mountains, about life and death, about career struggles, and the stress that ravages working men. (He suffered from clinical depression until he found relief through shock therapy when antidepressant pills didn’t work.) And he’ll tell you about it all, if you’re buying coffee.

  1. One of the smartest things you can do is pull off the road when you are tired, and take a nap.
  2. Exercise first thing in the morning, before the excuses creep in.
  3. I did a marathon a month for years. I found that if you schedule a bunch of races, you don’t have to train for them; you’re always maintaining your fitness just by racing.
  4. Look at your feet. I tell my patients, Let me see your shoes. People wear terribly hard soles. Soft is better. Go to a running store and get orthotics. Take care of your feet; they’ll take care of you.
  5. I’ve tried all the diets. They’re mostly crap.
  6. There is no way you can gain weight if you burn off the same amount you are eating. So I translate my food into the amount of exercise I need to do to get rid of the glucose that’s in my blood stream so it doesn’t have to turn into glycogen for storage in my muscles and liver. To me, that’s the commonsense way. If you exercise enough, you can eat almost whatever you want three times a day. Why do we make this so complicated?
  7. Quiet is underrated for good health.
  8. I love a world of silence. When I watch TV, I use closed captioning. You should try it.
  9. People overmedicate when they get sick. They rely too much on the over-the-counter stuff. You don’t need it. Just go out and breathe some fresh air. Be active. Take vitamins. Go to bed early. Drink fluids.
  10. I never took an aspirin or anti-inflammatory (pills) to treat pain from exercise. If you are in pain, something’s wrong. Exercise shouldn’t hurt.
  11. I never lit a cigarette. I can’t shed a tear for someone who dies of lung cancer. They brought it on themselves. A smoker’s lung looks as black as a coal miner’s. And that’s a fact.
  12. Depression isn’t your fault. Understanding that helps a lot. Knowing when to give something up works better than a .38-caliber to the brain.
  13. Can’t find time to exercise? Put an elliptical machine in front of your TV set.
  14. Remember how they used to put a governor on a car so it wouldn’t go too fast? When I run, I purposely don’t breathe through my mouth—just my nose. That’s my governor. If I have to open my mouth to breathe, I know I’m going too fast and I’ll poop out sooner.
  15. If you have a lot of outside interests, then you won’t be so reliant on your job for self-esteem.
  16. I try to be behind an 18-wheeler when I drive, so I won’t be wiped out in a head-on.
  17. Do you know what wealth is? It’s you friends and you family period.
  18. The saddest part about dying is that all the stuff you’ve learned goes into the ground with you. Make sure you pass it on before you croak.