Well, I was entered and committed to Badwater, regardless of how things went at Western States, and I had two weeks to get my mind and body right to face that battle.
For the next week, I did a balancing act between staying off my feet, and trying to recover from Western States, and spending time hiking in the desert, with hikes up to 3 ½ hours to acclimate to the heat. That weekend, I was very fortunate to hook up with some friends, who needed one more person to help crew a guy doing a ‘solo’ effort of the Badwater course.
So Saturday/Sunday and part of Monday, I spent doing a ‘practice run’ of the whole Badwater course, from Badwater to Mount Whitney. Steve James, our runner, did the course in 52 hours, and showed courage that would really help me in my race the following week. The things I learned doing that were key to my success to come.
After crewing that solo effort, I headed to Las Vegas to get the two crew vehicles lined up, buy 3 days of supplies for me and 4 crew members, and meet my crew at the airport. Greg, Robert, Vince and William came in from Louisiana and Alabama, not one mile of ultra running experience among them. None had ANY endurance sports knowledge, with the exception of High School graduate William, soon to be Pre-Med student, who had done 2 sprint triathlons.
That being said, the team did consist of an FBI agent, a FireChief and Paramedic, and a Computer guy and triathlete. They listened to everything I told them that needed to be done, they read everything I told them to read, they went over our strategy and committed to following it. In the end, I would not have traded those guys for any other 4 in the world.
They came through when things got tough, the gave me what I needed and left me alone when I needed that. They pressed me when I didn’t want to eat or when I wanted to deviate from our pre-planned strategy of rest breaks. They did everything right, they didn’t slow me down, and they protected me from myself if I was being self destructive with my pace.
They tolerated my hissy fit when they gave me a Granola Bar when I’d asked for a PowerBar, and the same fit when Perpetuem sports drink was substituted in place of the Gatorade I asked for. And they were impressed and proud when we started passing people the last 40 miles of the race. Awesome guys!
The start was anticlimactic. 30 or so runners(3 waves of 30 runners started at 2 hour intervals), started off down a long long road. The only thought being, “WOW, Here I am, Badwater. Can you believe? Are you nuts?”
Welcome to Death Valley, hottest place on the planet!
From Furnace Creek to Stovepipe Wells, at mile 42, things get serious. By that time, it is getting ferociously hot, the wind is turning into a blast furnace. During the course of the day, the rocks in Death Valley become superheated, so hot you can’t touch them. When that happens, and the wind blows over them, it makes the wind worse than a hair dryer turned on HOT blowing right in your face. This transition seems to start around noon and persists until well after dark, several hours after dark.
It is a long hot section, that mile 17 to 42, and everyone is happy to pull into Stovepipe Wells. That will be the end of Death Valley, and the start of the 18 mile climb over the Panamint Mountains into Panamint Valley.
Let the real fun begin! Stomach Cramps, Vomiting, 5000 foot elevation change, medical crew taking blood samples.
I made it to Stovepipe Wells, mile 42, in good time, about 11 hours and feeling fairly good, but hot. I actually rested there for an hour in air conditioned hotel room, which was part of our initial plan. Going from Badwater to Stovepipe Wells is like an ultra in itself, and I thought of it that way, just get there in one piece, take a break and recover and move on.
At the medical check, my weight was good, close to starting weight, but the salt levels in my blood were dangerously low. They demanded that I drastically increase my salt intake. I also had hardly peed at all in the previous 11 hours, thought I’d been drinking close to 60 oz of fluid an hour.
Within 4 miles of leaving Stovepipe Wells, I was so overwhelmed by the heat, I really didn't know if I'd be able to go on. Stomach cramps force me to stop and take a 30 minute break. Immediately when I got back in the blast furnace of the wind I would have this overwhelming feeling of being crushed by the heat. I was losing the battle and I knew it. I can’t even describe it accept that I was overwhelmed and within minutes I would start vomiting again. After 3 bouts of that, my crew packaged me up, put my number 41 stake in the ground, and took me back to the hotel for 4 hours of rest.
We aren't finished yet, but we're thinking about it.
Eventually, I returned to that point 4 miles out of Stovepipe Wells, and got up and over 5000 foot Townes Pass. It was slow going, and I had to take some breaks, but I was able to run good coming down the other side of Townes Pass.
Our concern, we came in to Panamint at mile 72 in dead last place, (other than those that had already quit). From the time I came into Stovepipe Wells at mile 42, and got to Panamint at mile 72, was a 20 hour ordeal(30 miles, 20 hours).
As we approached Panamint, the crew was concerned about my condition, and whether I had any chance to finish. They did not want me to needlessly suffer if there was not a possibility (or they wanted to go to Las Vegas and gamble, I’m not sure which, I’d like to think they were thinking of me.)
This was at 4:00pm, 32 hours into the race. We were at Panamint an hour while I ate some real food(Tuna Salad and French Fries). I couldn't bear the thought of quitting there, and driving into Lone Pine, and seeing all those runners still on the road. I told the crew I wanted to start the 12 mile climb out of Panamint alone so I could set my own pace and think about my options, and would go for 3 hours to the 36 hour mark. We could have a meeting then, and analyze my progress and desire to continue. Options then would be to stop there, to try to go on for another 12 hours to the 48 hour mark and again, look at whether I had a chance to finish or not, etc.
The turning point. We ARE going to finish if it takes us a week. (glad it didn't take a week)
When we got to that point, and the crew stopped me to talk, I told them I was going to stay on the road, and finish the course, regardless of the time and regardless of whether I was considered an ‘official’ finisher or not. If it took 70 hours, so be it, if I had to sleep a night in the hotel, and finish on Thursday, so be it, we were going to go from Badwater to Whitney Portals, official finisher or not.
They fully supported the decision and off we went.
I still asked that no-one pace me, I wanted to go alone into the night until or if, I needed help staying awake. In the end, I kept a very strong pace, with a good bit of running thrown in all the way to the finish. I only let the pacers join me on the last climb. I took one 30 minute break in the night from 1:00am to 1:30am.
After a few races under my belt, I think I do better without pacers, having a fresh person join me when I'm tired only seems to pull me down, and make me try to 'impress' them by going harder than I need to go. Being alone really let me control my effort, slower when I needed to, faster when I could.
I was able to cover the last 63 miles in 20:26, a pretty respectable pace that compares with some pretty fast finishers. I passed about 20 people on the road, probably 8 or 9 of them on the last 13 mile climb to the Portals(which took me just under 4 hours, again a very good finishing pace)
During that last climb, there were many times when I really could hardly believe I was there, doing the last few miles of the Badwater Ultramarathon. It's an incredible feeling and far surpasses the Ironman triathlons or other ultras that I have done.
Would I do it again? I’ve had my crew offer to crew again, and other friends have called and said if I did it again they wanted to crew me. At this point I don’t know. I know I'm not interested in doing any other 100's except these two, and possibly Leadville, which is all at 10,000 feet elevation.
There are lots of wonderful and nice 100 mile races out there, but for me these few are the biggies that interest me ath this time. I feel like I can do both Western States and Badwater much faster than I have done them, but it’s too early for me to think about that now. These races are a great challenge, and these two are the greatest races of them all, but I’ve done them. They are more fun to have done them, than to actually be doing them or to be training for them.
had the running
a lifetime, and
to take a break