2006 Badwater

Blisters, broken van, dust devils, high humidity

If you're going through hell
Keep on going, Don't slow down
If you're scared, don't show it
You might get out
Before the devil even knows you're there
Yeah, If you're going through hell
Keep on moving, Face that fire
Walk right through it
You might get out
Before the devil even knows you're there

Country Song by Rodney Atkins, played for me at some point during the race.

  Orlando Sentinel Article Sept 4, 2006

(click photos for larger images) These are very limited photos, I have complete photo albums coming soon

July 24, 2006 135 Mile Badwater Ultramarathon

No matter how much you prepare, plan and strategize for the Badwater 135 mile Ultramarathon, you can almost count on something going wrong. Anything from a few unexpected issues and well laid plans going awry, to more likely, complete chaos and real questions about whether finishing the race is actually going to happen. That seems to be the common theme for Badwater. Prepare, Plan, Strategize and be prepared to throw all of that out the window and resort to adapt, improvise and persevere.

2006 proved that this can be the case for anyone, including the best in the sport. Pam Reed, two time overall winner of Badwater and last years female winner was out at mile 42 with dehydration issues. Scott Jurek blew the course record away last year and was expected to do so again this year with an under 24 hour effort. He focused seriously on Badwater this year. Yet mid race he had serious thoughts of stopping. He did win the race, but only by 17 minutes and with a time over an hour slower than last year. Badwater has a way of forcing all of us to change our plans and our goals in the middle of the race.

I had the perfect crew, and what we thought were perfectly laid out plans. Our calories in, fluid requirements, rest times, how we would deal with the heat and the climbs, we had time splits and logs from 2005 as a reference. We knew the problems I had in 2005 and were prepared to not let those happen again. Don’t overheat, don’t get nauseous, get plenty of salt and fluids, don’t run too hard but don’t rest too much either.

And prepared for those we were. I handled the heat fine and never was overly hot, my stomach never gave me any problems, my weight never varied from loss of fluids, I never crashed from complete exhaustion and never wasted time resting when I didn’t need it. But Death Valley knows. She knows better than to use the same weapon twice. No, none of the problems from 2005 caused me a second of problems, but in their place, a whole new set cropped up to see how we would cope. I suppose that’s why we come here.

We had 4 crewmembers and two vehicles with the perfect strategy to quickly and efficiently cover the Badwater course. PERFECT strategy.

But we didn’t have a plan in place for a broken vehicle 17 miles and 3 ½ hours into the 135 mile 60 hour race. That completely ruined our vehicle packing, leapfrogging and crew rest strategy before I was even warmed up.

We thought we had everything we needed to handle any foot or blistering issues, especially since in 2005 I had not had ANY problems with my feet. But it was 40 miles into the race, when we realized that due to the high humidity, my feet had been soaking wet for hours, and had gone completely soft and started to blister. Just as we were beginning the 13 mile climb over Townes Pass out of Death Valley. Blisters with 95 miles still to run is not a good thing.

At 80 miles into the race, when my tolerance for the pain and my weakening condition was putting a finish in jeopardy, we had to completely change our strategy and improvise a completely new one. But persevere we did.

The day before Badwater, Sunday. Before leaving for Death Valley and the pre-race meetings and registration, we load up with 100 lbs of dry ice and 300 lbs of regular ice, and enough food calories to feed an army it seemed.. We will buy 30-40 more pounds of ice on race morning to top things off before we head to the race start.

On the way to the pre-race meeting in Furnace Creek, we stopped at Badwater for a few minutes since one crew member hadn't been there. To see Badwater and the incredible salt flats and 11,000 foot mountains right beside them. It seemed terribly hot. Quite a shock to me to be honest, though I did not say anything to the crew I was quite surprised to feel that way. I had wanted to spend a few weeks before the race in the desert, but business commitments just would not allow it. As soon as I felt the heat, I knew I had possibly made a huge mistake in not spending that time in the desert. Our electronic thermometer was reading 121-124 at 6 feet off the ground, and 152-154 a few inches above the blacktop. That is the temperature we are actually trying to perform in during the race. Even after doing this race twice, I find it somewhat incredible that it can be that hot.

Our race plan calls for two crew vehicles, one that will be with me, leapfrogging me every mile or so. That vehicle has my and the crews immediate needs available. The second vehicle, has extra food, ice, luggage, and gear for Whitney. It will be used to re-supply vehicle one as needed and is packed full, with room for only driver and passenger. After Stovepipe Wells, (mile 42) it will be a rest vehicle for one crew member at a time. That one crew member will be leapfrogging ahead 5 miles or so, resting while waiting for us to arrive, and another crew member will then do the same thing. Walkie Talkies will be used between the vehicles, and between my pacer the vehicles. Cell phones do not work in Death Valley, and the only pay phones are at miles 17 and 42, and Lone Pine at mile 122.

I’ll be taking almost only fluid calories, staying away from solid food if possible, and going on very little rest. I intend to go right through Stovepipe Wells, which is a very common stop and rest/cool off point for many. I think doing that created more problems for me last year, and even though this is the part of the course and time of the day that is the absolute hottest, I do not plan to stop but to simply keep moving. I do not plan to stop and rest unless I absolutely cannot go on and need a rest.

Race Start. 6:00am. The first group of 30 of us hit the road. I am glad to be in this wave. It gives us a cooler start than the 8:00am and 10:00am starters, and we won’t have the sun on us for a couple of hours. The downside is we had to get up VERY early to make it to Badwater by 5:30am. Around 3:30am we’re having to get up, so I lost a few hours sleep with the earlier start time. Still, I think it’s better for me, as I am seriously concerned about my heat tolerance this year. I’ve trained very hard in Florida for the heat, but it is so different, 90’s and high humidity vs. 120’s and almost no humidity. The prior day at Badwater and at the race meeting, I felt the heat, and was not very comfortable with it. Nothing I can do at this point but run, drink, and be careful. The start goes well. A group goes off the front but I maintain a conservative pace. We click off the first 17 miles to Furnace Creek like it’s nothing.

My pace is good, about 5 minutes slower than last year. I don’t stop at all at this check station, my crew checks me in and we continue down the road. It is getting very hot by this point of the race, and unlike last year, when the wind was at our back, this time it is straight in our face.

This is the point at which I can begin to have a pacer running with me, and also where we had left our number 2 vehicle, and would begin using it to re-supply our first vehicle. The crew stays behind at this point to make phone calls, get any supplies from the store and prepare to split up and be using the second vehicle. Brian starts running with me at this point. Odd thing, when the vehicle does catch up to us and gives us our water/calories, it’s the number two vehicle. I don’t ask anything but keep moving down the road. Brian stopped to talk with the Tom and William. I don’t see Vince. When Brian gets back to me, he explains that the van made some bad noises coming into Furnace Creek, and now will not start. They have given Brian extra water, and will go back, and continue working with the van. I don’t like this, being out running without a crew vehicle close. That’s my guardian angel, I always have what I need no more than one mile away. Now they are gone, and will ‘be back soon’. What does that mean? ‘Soon’ may not mean the same thing to a person who’s been in 120 plus temps for the last 4 hours as it does to a person who’s occupied with something else. I can do nothing about it but go on, but I am very concerned.

They continue a few iterations of this process, coming back to us, reloading Brian with supplies, then back to Furnace Creek. Each time the drive get’s farther for them until it is evident the van is broke, will not start and is not going to start, and we are reduced to one vehicle. With all the wrong stuff in the vehicle we are using, and far too much gear in both vehicles to fit in only one. Eventually, I am informed that the crew has transferred most of what we need to the 2nd vehicle, Vince is working with the rental car company to try to get a replacement vehicle, and will stay in Furnace Creek to deal with it. Let’s see, 3 hour drive to Las Vegas, and we are trying to get Hertz to get us a vehicle in basically the middle of nowhere, ASAP. I am not confident, but it’s not my job to worry with it now. It’s my job to run. So that’s what I do.
It’s HOT, the wind has continued to blast directly in our face, I can feel it, and I’m worried about it, but it’s not really bothering me. I’m handling it rather well as a matter of fact. But I remember the brutal heat as I approached Stovepipe last year, and I remain somewhat concerned about what is coming. As we make the left turn toward Stovepipe Wells, mile 42 of the course, I expect the wind would be more of a quartering away wind, much better than last year. I was wrong, and somehow, the wind was still smacking us right directly in the face. “Bring it on Death Valley, show me what you’ve got”, is all I can think. My changing pacers and myself watched as multiple dirt devils(mini tornadoes full of sand/dust) danced across the Sand Dunes outside of Stovepipe Wells. Where we were headed. We’d not had that last year.
All the concerns abated as we got within a couple miles of Stovepipe. I felt great, was about an hour ahead of last years time and knew I was going to be able to go right though Stovepipe Wells without even stopping to say hello. We were going straight up Townes Pass, 13 miles, 5000 feet, and right out of the brutal heat of Death Valley!

Though I had noticed the day before, at the pre-race meeting and just walking around, that my shirt/clothes were staying more damp and wet than I remembered from last year, and a few people had commented about the high humidity, I really did not put the two together, that this year, sweat and water poured over me were simply not evaporating at nearly the rate that I was expecting. Last year, I was dry to the bone ALL the time, though I was heavily sweating and pouring water over my head, it all dried almost immediately. This year, I was wet, my shirt stayed wet and damp almost all the time. I was also being very liberal with the use of water and ice to avoid any heat issues like last year. What I did not know, was much of this sweat and water had been finding its way into my socks, shoes and taped feet for several hours. Ever spend enough time in the pool to have your feet all wrinkled and soft? That’s what had happened to mine. Let’s think about this… wet, soft feet, being slow baked for hours at 150 plus degrees coming up through the bottom of my shoes, while additional heat and friction are being created as I run and walk up and down hills. That is called a recipe for disaster. I just didn’t know it yet.

I was about to find out. A mile from Stovepipe Wells, I feet a blister on my heel, and what feels like a piece of rolled tape under the ball of my foot. I don’t want to let these things go, so we stop to remove my shoes and socks and check things out. To my surprise, I am soaking wet, the tape on my feet is wet, my shoes are wet, my socks are wet. I have blisters forming on the balls of both feet, on both heals, and on the ends of a few of my toes. It is obvious I am going to have to remove the tape and put on dry socks, but I stay with the same shoes. They have worked great in training, and do feel good on my feet, though are maybe a little tight at this point. I assume if I can protect them from getting wetter and they will dry quickly. We move on through Stovepipe an hour faster than last year, and go straight to the climb up Townes Pass. That is 13 miles and 5,000 feet, and a few hours of continuous climbing.

Soon after, Vince arrives, in a newly delivered van from Hertz. WOW! He’s remarked the van with my name/number, transferred everything that was in the old van to the new one and caught up with us. HERTZ, is now my official rental car company. In 4 hours from call to delivery, they arrived with a flatbed truck out of Las Vegas, in the middle of Death Valley, with a replacement vehicle. What a disaster this could have been to my race, in fact had I had only one vehicle, or only two crew members, or had broke down somewhere else, it likely would have been the end of my race right there. Vince was there, and talked for quite a while with a woman(not in the race) who had rented from Enterprise, and had her vehicle break down the day before, on Sunday. She was in tears and still waiting (on Monday)in Furnace Creek for a replacement when Vince drove away. Thank you Hertz. We do have a problem that now we have things in BOTH vans we need, and our pre-race organizational efforts are for naught. We will pretty much have to keep both vehicles with us from this point forward. As the hours and miles go by, it seems to me that every time one of the vehicles leaves for some reason, I need something that is in the vehicle that is gone. It’s probably not as bad as I remember, but that seems to be an irritating point and I grow weary of hearing, “it’s in the other vehicle”.

As we continue up Townes Pass, going uphill for such a long time always puts a different set of stresses on the body, everything is more difficult, heart-rate is higher, sweating is more profuse, perceived exertion is higher, AND in this case, it just accelerated heat and friction in the bottom of my feet as I pushed off with every stride. I was building blisters that would cover the front pad of both feet, much of that being under already calloused skin, putting them deep in my foot.
The second challenge that hit us straight in the face about an hour out of Stovepipe Wells was the wind. I don’t know how hard it was, 40 miles an hour? 60? It was truly incredible, and reminded me of the hurricane winds we’d had at our home in Clermont last year. In a run back into Stovepipe to make a phone call, the crew said the resulting windstorm around the Sand Dunes at Stovepipe had the place engulfed in a sand storm. I was leaned into the wind and up the hill so steeply that I would have fallen flat on my face had the wind not been supporting my weight. I actually felt very good at this point, and was powering up this climb. I almost felt like Death Valley was making one last attempt to stop me before I left, and as hard as it was, I was relishing this climb and loving every second. I had beat the heat, and was on my way out of Death Valley. The top of Townes Pass, and the decent into Panamint Valley await. Scott Jurek, the eventual winner caught me in this section. I slipped in behind him and drafted for about a ½ mile. He did not seem to be having much fun.

As day turned to night, and I got higher up the pass, I realized how truly tired I was. There was no way I would be able to stay awake for a full 48 hours. In preparation for Badwater, I had avoided all caffeine for the month of July, so I could get maximum effect when I used it. But even with that, I needed a break. At this point, I stopped for my first rest, instructing the crew to let me sleep one hour and no more. They swear they did that, but it felt like about 1 ½ minutes to me.
In my exhaustion, I was continually paranoid and questioning the crew as to whether they were actually giving me the right calories and electrolytes. I was continually thinking they had forgotten, or were doubling up on things. After the race, I was able to see their logs and realized how precise and on target they were with everything they had done. They did such a good job.

After the rest, we were back on the road with Tom pacing me, and within a couple minutes, I was feeling very good and could tell the rest had a positive effect. We continued to the top of Townes Pass, and began the long descent into and across Panamint Valley.

Unlike last year, when I had to cross Panamint valley and the dry lake bed in full daylight and Death Valley like temperatures, this time it was still night. We arrived in Panamint at dawn, 23:35 hours into the race, and 8 hours faster than I was there last year. By this point, I was very tired, my feet were really bothering me, and we needed to regroup for the next 63 miles. I took advantage of a room reserved for runners to use, to take a quick shower and get into some fresh clothes while the crew ordered breakfast. At this point, my fluid calories were doing well, but I was ready to eat something. I ate some eggs and bacon, but the pancakes did not appeal to me.
A little more rest here, and we left Panamint Valley for the several miles and few thousand feet of climbing, up to Father Crowley’s point, back to 5,000 feet and eventually out of Death Valley National Park, then down into Owens Valley. I was moving very well as we left, running when I could, walking as the incline became too steep. But within an hour, my feet were causing so much pain, I could not really take a good stride. Every step was becoming excruciating, and I had 60 miles to go.
This was the point where I began to seriously consider that I may not want to continue this effort. Up this climb, we continually stopped and re-taped my feet, changed my shoes, changed my socks, tried double socks, cut up my shoes to try to provide relief, cut the insoles of the shoes, cut holes in them where blisters were, used superglue to hold things in place in the shoes. It seemed an endless process of trying something, getting on the road for 100 yards, stopping to change that and try something else.
We were just trying everything we could, but the bottom line was, my feet had swollen, I had very large blisters all over them, and none of my shoes were going to work for me. One crew member took the van back on the course to find Gillian of the Zombie Runner company , who probably knows more about foot and blister care than just about anyone, to come see what she could do to help me.
I knew there was nothing they could do. I have seen Gillian and Denise Jones both do foot taping, blister care, I’ve read the books, and have tried many products and taping methods, and I knew what we had done was very good. But my weight is on the bottom of my foot, and that’s where the blisters are, with the additional tape and foot swelling, my shoes are really too small. I know there is nothing to be done but suffer through this, or stop. By the time we reach Father Crowley’s point, I have been reduced to a very slow pace, I simply am moving so slowly that I know I won’t make my 48 hour target, but very probably can still go under the 60 hour race limit.
The issue I’m having, is WHY? I am desperately looking for a good reason to continue suffering like this just to say I finished Badwater. Billed as the toughest run in the world, it is a great accomplishment to finish, but I’ve done it before already, I know I CAN do it, I’ve done it. I’ve completed five 100 mile (or more) races already, why do I have to do six? What is there to prove? I think about my kids, and my speeches to them about not quitting, I think about my friends who’ll ask how I did, I think about all the people that are watching on the web, I am HAUNTED by those words I wrote in an e-mail that was distributed to a few hundred people. In that e-mail I wrote “…But not because it’s hard, never quit because it’s hard, getting through those difficult obstacles is what makes you great, it’s what makes you proud, it’s what inspires others. It’s what they call character. Embrace those difficult times, they make the success so sweet. Live your life to the fullest, it’s the only one you’ve got!”
Oh how I regretted having sent that e-mail and writing those words that flowed so easily as I sat in my air conditioned Florida home! But I also knew, in my core, I knew the whole reason I do these crazy races because I LOVE being put in that situation, where many people would quit, and I choose to continue.

Many people do so called challenging events with little question of the outcome. We all have our own motivations and reasons for doing these events. I have many reasons, much of it is I really love participating in the endurance sports, sometimes I’m racing to see how fast I can go over a short distance, sometimes I’m looking for a challenge just to see if I can do it. Mostly it is simply a personal challenge and quest to see what I’m made of, and to try and experience new things. I was not born with the natural talent to be a great endurance athlete, and will never win a race like this. The best I ever do is place 2nd or 3rd in my age group if the race happens to have some such designation, and that’s only when I run very well( and not a lot of other racers show up :).

My first 100 mile race was intentionally the oldest and most prestigious mountain trail 100 there is, with 18,000 feet of climbing in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I had no idea whether I could really do this, I’d never even seen mountains that large when I entered, much less tried to run in them. I didn’t do any ‘easeir’ 100’s to prepare myself, or spend years working my way up a ‘ladder’ of increasing difficulty. It wasn't a quest to see if I could become a great 100 mile runner, but a quest to see if I could finish the most challenging 100 mile race. Following that, the next step up seemed Badwater. I had no peers that had run 100’s to follow their footsteps, to compare myself to or to learn from, though I did meet and learn from many as I prepared for my first 100. I did much the same thing as I did my first Ironman triathlon. I didn’t actually know anyone who had finished an Ironman, I set the goal, prepared the plan, and completed it. It is a different situation when you are breaking new ground for yourself. It’s different to go where you’ve not been and you don’t know anyone else who’s been there, and to do it knowing failure is very possible, and even a likely outcome. But that attitude is also what has helped me so much in other parts of my life. To be able go without the safety net, to step out, set the goal, face your fears and move forward. I’m proud of having developed that ability in myself, but it is still a great challenge at times to do the right thing, to do what you know you expect of yourself.

The well wishes that had come back to me from my e-mails, so many had told me good luck, had passed along ‘all of their non-quit-ed-ness’ as one good friend wrote me, were watching via the web and my wife’s communications, I had to go through that list of people in my mind and think of the e-mail I’d send to them to explain why I quit. I’d crewed a Badwater attempt before, and seen the great courage of that runner to continue on to the finish, I was wearing the good luck bracelet that my daughter had made for me, who I would have to face and come up with a reason that I had quit.

I thought about all of this as I contemplated what I needed to do in this particular situation. But WHY? I never let myself ask that question DURING an event, but I was asking it now. I HAVE DONE THIS ALREADY, I DON’T HAVE TO PROVE ANYTHING TO ANYONE, I’VE DONE MORE THAN 99.99% OF THE PEOPLE IN THE WORLD OF ENDURANCE SPORTS. I CAN WALK AWAY FROM THIS AND BE VERY PROUD OF WHAT I’VE DONE. THIS IS WAY PAST THE POINT OF HAVING FUN. But I really don’t think like that, I don’t live in the past, I don’t live on past accomplishments and deeds, I believe I am as good as my last race, I believe in finishing what I start, and in doing the best I can. Though many will say 'just trying makes you a winner', I don't buy that, I believe it takes more courage to get to the finish line than the start line. Anyone can start, anyone can "try their best", the event IS the test, and if you don't finish, you failed. If you start it, you should do a good job, and finish it. If you never want to do it again, that’s fine, you don’t have to enter again. That is what I believe and the standard I try to hold myself to, but that doesn't make it easy. (That may sound harsh, but it's what I believe, I'll also say, to fail in an event or miss a target goal is ok. If you've never failed or missed your goal, you've probably don't really push the envelope or set very high goals. I HAVE come up short before.)

I was continuing to wrestle with this problem and the pain in my feet was continuing to get worse. At Father Crowley’s Point, I told the crew I was seriously considering stopping. I just couldn’t come up with a reason to continue for 55 or so miles like this. I was hurting, I was not feeling proud about going on at the snail-like pace. I wasn’t quitting yet, but I was letting them know I was seriously thinking about it. They pretty much understood, three of them told me they understand, to think about it, they’ll stand by my decision. Vince didn’t say much, but I saw in his eyes he was not happy with that. I knew he would be the one to give me a very difficult time should I truly decide to quit. He knew me better than the others, we’ve been friends for 17 or so years. He’d been to my first ultra and to many of my triathlons. His 19 year old son William has been to those races also, and was now doing triathlons and ultra-running events and has seen me finish everything I’ve ever started. I think or hope I’ve helped inspire some of that in him. William has been a great crew member and pacer in this and last years Badwater. I could see Vince was not going to let me stop without a fight. But I’m not to that point now, and Vince saves any of his words for that time should it come.

I don’t know who suggested it, but someone at that point asked about my sandals. What about the Keen sandals that I had been wearing pre-race? Hmmm. That is an interesting thought. These are the shoes I wear AFTER all my races, as they have a very roomy toebox, the bottom has a deep dish that seems to relieve my sore feet after a race more than anything. In fact, I’ll put them on as I get out of bed in the morning for a few days after my races when my feet are blistered or sore. They are MUCH more comfortable than barefoot.

Of course, they are in the OTHER vehicle, that’s out doing God knows what, (that is my thought, even though I know that it’s being used by my desperate crew to find the ‘blister experts’ to help me with my feet.), so I have to continue on until the van arrives back to us. We stop again, and I get them on. Immediately, I can feel the difference, they are so much better than my running shoes. I still feel my blisters, and they don’t feel good, but they aren’t really painful, at least not compared to what I had been going though. This is great.

My pace gets a little better, I’m 55 miles from the finish, maybe I can do this. Gillian eventually catches up to us to check on my feet and possibly re-tape them. I know I don’t want that as I know the taping on my feet is very good, but I don’t say anything, I want her true opinion and if she can do things better, I want her to do it. We stop and remove sandals and socks and she checks things out. She immediately states that the tape is perfect, “Better than I could do” she says. I know it’s not better, but I’m happy she acknowledges that there is really no more to be done. She suggests powder would help, and applies a liberal does of powder to my feet and socks, and we get back on the road.

I am good for a several miles, but eventually, even the Keens are starting to hurt, and I am returning to my slow, painful pace. By this time, we are almost to Darwin, the 90 mile point of the race, with 45 miles to go. I am again at my wits end, growing weaker, getting tired, and the pain in my feet has returned. I am struggling again with continuing for 45 miles at this pace. I am still about 6 hours ahead of last years time, but am losing that advantage with every step.

We had sent William back to Panamint for food, and he had returned with fries and a chicken salad sandwich. He earns a gold star for scoring this food, as when he arrived at Panamint, they were shutting down the kitchen as the cook had apparently walked out, simply quit. A conversation with the manager as to how important it was to get this food for me, got him in the kitchen to fix me a sandwich and fries. What a great crew I had working for me.

As I ate that, I contemplated what I needed to do to finish this race. I had two main thoughts, one was that I still had a shot at 48 hours if I could move fast, but that couldn’t happen the way I was going. The second was that I had little desire to continue the race if I could not get away from the pain that was back in my feet, and the slow pace.

Sitting in the van eating the sandwich I made the executive decision, to put my number 32 marker stake in the ground. Drive the 45 miles into Lone Pine and get to our hotel. Get some food, a shower, re-tape my feet in the better hotel situation, and get a little sleep. I hoped I could take about 3-4 hours to do this, and return to the course with the ability to actually run. The crew jumped on that idea and all agreed that was good alternative to try. We put our stake in the ground one mile short of the Darwin Cutoff Time Check, and off we went to check in our motel in Lone Pine. I think I feel asleep before we even pulled the van into the road, and I slept hard until they woke me up in Lone Pine.

When checking in, the hotel owner asked my status in the race, we told him were there for a short rest and would return to the course. In his Indian accented English, he was adamant that I MUST finish, in fact, he told me if I did not go back out and finish the course, I would not be welcome to stay in his hotel again. It was quite funny, and I promised him I would return to the course and complete the race. He continued to tell me “You must finish, you have time, short rest, and you go back out and finish, if you don’t finish, you will not be allowed to stay here again, you have time…”.

Three hours later, shower, food(double cheeseburger, a large fry and large coke), rest, re-taped feet. We began the drive back to my start point. I cannot believe how far it is. I slept when driving in, so didn’t see all of this, but my gosh, we drive forever. I’m intimidated as we go along, see other runners and walkers, and just keep going and going, eventually getting back to our start point. I am now looking at this as I have a 45 mile race, and if I can push it, possibly still have a 48 hour finish. I believe I can do it, I feel pretty good. I immediately go into a very easy jog. William is with me, he keeps having to transition from a fast walk to a slow jog. It’s an awkward pace for him, and for all my pacers as they join me, but it’s a running pace that I can maintain. I am right on the bubble as far as 48 hour time. I HAVE to keep exactly the same pace I am going to hit that mark. I know how long the last 13 mile climb to Whitney Portals will take, and I know I don’t have a second to spare. I also know that doing the additional 11 miles to the top of Whitney is now out of the question. Regardless of how I feel or how strong I am, I cannot do those trails wearing sandals, and nothing else can go on my feet at this point. I’m fine with that, Badwater is the race, and I really want to get it done.

I do feel good, I am racing now, not just surviving, the decision to give up 3-4 hours for the trip to Lone Pine was a good one. I run continuously for 20 miles, not really even stopping for nutrition, I just grab it and go. The crew is pumped and we are moving well, but we also are right on the bubble, and eventually slowly slipping behind the 48 hour pace I need. Between 20 and 25 miles of running, and again, my feet start to grow worse, and my legs start to grow weary. I have to take some walk breaks, which are actually harder on my feet. But when I try to run, my legs don’t want to go. It is a vicous cycle that I can do little about, but to accept the fact that 48 hours is out of the question, the next mark is to go faster than I did last year, 52 hours and 41 minutes.

At one point, as Brian and I approach the crew vehicles in the night, it is eerily quiet. Not the usual activity, questions of what we need and preparing my water or food. We get to the vehicles to find everyone asleep. That section, I also was exhausted and in fact, I had been closing my eyes, going 10 strides, opening them to see where I was, then closing them again for 10 more strides. I literally was falling asleep on my feet. We decided to take a 30 minute sleep break, we all needed it. If there were any question of 48 hours, this would be the end of those thoughts.

Still, I am happy with what we’ve done. We made some tough decisions and we made a very serious run at it. That is all we could do. I ran for 20-25 miles without a stop, which is mile 89 to 115 or so of the race course. I’m impressed with that, and I’m pleased at the effort. The crew was uplifting and also proud to make this attempt, as opposed to just surviving at a terribly slow walk for the 45 miles to the finish.

We do the best we can as we arrive at Lone Pine, and I get a renewed energy to try to get to the top as fast as possible. I was just under 4 hours last year for the climb to the 8,300 feet Whitney Portals. I attack this climb with a lot of running as we leave Lone Pine. Strong headwinds blast us again as we move through this section. Almost the whole 135 miles, that has been the theme, there has been a very strong headwind directly in our face. I don’t care, and in fact I think it’s a fitting end. I want this course to give me all it’s got. I’m going to do this, and I want to finish strong. Tom comments that he’s worried about getting dropped. I know that’s not really true, he’s a great runner, but it makes me feel good that he’s impressed with the pace and I am running faster than I have since very early in the race. With William and Brian, I continue to push, and I hear their breathing. I know I’m moving well. The grade get’s steeper, just as Vince says he wants a turn to go along. 100 yards later, and the pace is too fast and he has to get back in the van. Vince is not into this endurance crazyness, and it’s not fair to expect him to do this, but again, after 130 miles and two days on my feet, it feels good to be able to set a pace that someone else finds difficult. Besides, Vince’s job in this event is as a sprinter to go for the beer at the finish and get it to me as quickly as possible. I want him fresh for that important task.

We climb and climb, several thousand feet, and incredible views from whence we came. As far as we can see, and farther was the start point. It all sinks in at this point that I’ve done it. That WE’VE done it. A team of five, that endured a broken vehicle, miles and miles of brutal headwinds, unbelievable, furnace-like heat, taping, re-taping, re-taping, re-taping… of my feet, long drives for food or rest, and two days on about 2 hours or less sleep, all of that without an a cross word between crew or between runner and crew.

But we’re there, the last few switchbacks to the top. We all cross the finish line together, all smiles, a few photos, a finishers medal and congratulations, and a story to be remembered.
People that can’t believe I went 55 miles wearing sandals. A short(actually it felt pretty darn long) walk back down ¼ mile to our vehicles and a few very cold beers. I was correct when I wrote “Embrace those difficult times, they make the success so sweet.” They do, all those thoughts of WHY?, of rationalizing that I didn’t need to finish this race that I’ve started, all the excuses and plans of what I would say when people asked how I’d done are now gone. I don’t have to worry about any of that. My crew came through, and I came through, and I’m better for it. There is something very special about going to the brink of endurance, and continuing. I simply do not have the words to explain it, except that I love it, and I’m proud of it. I finished about an hour faster than last year, and did the final stretch in exactly 4 hours. Excellent.

Thanks to Tamara and my children for putting up with me and being proud of what I do, and to Vince, William, Brian and Tom for sharing the experience, the suffering, the success.

As we drive down the mountain, back to our hotel, we cheer for those that are still coming up the mountain. We are pulled over twice by friends to give me bear hugs and congratulations, one that lives out West and missed me at the finish, and another from Florida that just happened to be out there mountain climbing. He’d descended the Whitney Trail about 5 minutes after my finish, and was coming down to try to catch up with me. What a great way to complete the journey.

Back home, I’m recounting the story, collecting the photographs, and turning the 2006 Badwater race into another little piece of my past.


Update to Original Race Report

While my writing in this race report focuses so much on the adverse conditions, the problems, and the pain of completing Badwater, there is SO much more to the story that I do not bother to mention. I do these races with the best of hopes that I will meet all my goals with few problems, but I also know by doing the tough events, I am inviting the unknown, the adverse conditions and the real challenge of finding a way to continue. I absolutely love it. If I wanted an easy, sure finish, I’d be running local 5k’s and sprint triathlons.

So while my race report is all about those problems, the broken vehicles, furnace like headwinds and painful blisters, it’s really a disservice to not mention the other side of that story.

Death Valley is one of the most beautiful, spectacular places I have ever visited. The huge expanses of dry lake beds and salt flats, leading to the base of tremendous mountains. The unbelievable geology, the absolute quiet, and the brutal heat are something that has to be experienced to be believed. The history all around of the TRULY hardy souls who crossed, worked, and lived in this deadly part of the world as our country was settled. It is simply incredible and I feel so priviledged to have been able to experience it.

What did I leave out of my race report? The great memories that I will remember from this race, long after the blistered feet are healed, are those first 42 miles to Stovepipe Wells. I ran so well, my crew was clicking, I did have worries about the broke van, but mostly, I was doing what I love, with great friends and 80 other like minded runners, through some of the most spectacular and extreme country in the world.

Climbing Townes Pass with what felt like a hurricane force wind, Scott Jurek coming by and me seeing how long I could stay with him, my legs feeling strong and I was loving every second of it.

I remember both nights with my crew, turning off our lights and gazing at more stars than I ever could have believed are in the sky. It was more white than black. I don’t even remember the count of shooting stars I saw. I will take my children to see that some day, I can imagine us laying on a blanket, staring at the heavens.

I remember some point after Darwin, when Whitney was in sight surrounded by dark thunderclouds, with a few beams of sunlight beaming through holes in the clouds directly onto Mount Whitney, like God was shining a great spotlight on it, beconing us closer. We tried to get to the van to get a picture, but the angle wasn’t the same, it's only recorded in my memory..

I know I’ll never forget when I got in the van at one point, and William excitedly tells me “Here’s a song just for you”, the first words I heard of that song listed at the top of this page were “Things go from bad to worse -- You'd think they can't get worse than that
-- And then they do
”. I just laughed, “Gee, Thanks William”. He backpedals and tells me, “No, No, not that, this part, it's coming up…”.
Or coming up on the van, and finding the whole crew sound asleep. Brian and I standing outside shining lights on them to no avail, they are OUT.

The final 4 hours, climbing the mountain, knowing you have finished the 135 mile Badwater Ultramarathon, a memory that I’ll cherish forever. As much as I remember that, I also remember the short walk downhill, back to the car, and a cold beer. We were all a little shell-shocked, all we could really say was “We did it” and smile.

Or 2 hours after eating enough Pizza to kill a normal person at the awards ceremony, some of us have to go buy burgers and fries because we are already hungry again.

So many little things, that made those 51 hours such a special time. It truly ranks as one of the most memorable times of my life.

An accomplished ultra-cyclist friend of mine, who has shared many of his experiences on the road with me, wrote this to me… Funny thing is you will remember things even a quarter of a century later that you never remembered before about your endeavor; just a funny little thing or a real big thing, a view, etc., or something that went into your memory bank, and comes back at the darndest times but puts a smile on your face.

I hope he’s right.