*Originally posted on Runners World forum in July 2012, before I had a blog. 37 lessons I learned at Badwater will also be re-posted in the next post.*
DISCLAIMER: This is a LONG report, but I put lots of photos in it to hopefully keep it somewhat interesting. Also, a lot of the course blended together to me and I don’t necessarily remember what happened during each specific segment; I’ll try my best, but some things may be out of order. This report is going to be more people-oriented as opposed to race-centric. People are what ultras are all about, so the most memorable parts of the Badwater experience to me didn’t concern the course but instead how people conquered the course and pushed their own limits.
ALSO: If you don’t have hours to read this whole thing, that’s okay. Don’t feel guilty if you just scroll through the pics. 😉
I never thought I would be involved in the Badwater Ultramarathon in any capacity. Each year, 90-something people from around the world are selected from thousands of entries to compete in this extreme race. It is 135 miles in length and goes from Badwater Basin in Death Valley (282 feet below sea level) to the Mount Whitney Portal (8,360 feet above sea level). Since there are no aid stations, each runner is allowed up to six crewmembers and two vehicles. The runners are allowed to be paced after 17 miles by one person at a time; the first vehicle leapfrogs the runner every mile or so while the second vehicle, if there is one, leapfrogs ahead at least five miles and is used as a backup and/or to run errands (i.e. to get more ice) if necessary.
A few months ago, my running coach Ian, who is a well-known ultrarunner recommended that I look for an opportunity to crew for one of the runners. He’d crewed for a runner previously and said it was a memorable experience. I was hesitant, primarily because it seemed way beyond something I’d be able to do and I did not want to screw up anyone’s journey to the finish line due to my cluelessness. Ian assured me that there would be enough other crewmembers who would be able to provide me guidance and that I’d learn a lot. That was partially right. 😉
I decided I wanted to crew, but I didn’t know where to find a runner since there were fewer than 100 people running it. I answered a request someone posted online requesting a pacer; of the requests I saw, his seemed the least intimidating. As it turned out, that person, John, already had found a crew but was very appreciative of my offer to help. It’s funny because that “least intimidating” person was actually a Barkley finisher; if you don’t know what the Barkley Marathon is, look it up (hint: it’s not a marathon and most years, there are zero finishers). In other words, his post asking for assistance had been very modest, to say the least. 😉
Since John had a crew, I chose to seek a runner on the Marathon Maniacs Facebook page. I’d previously seen that several Maniacs were running Badwater and posted a message with my running experiences (so people knew how qualified, or unqualified, I was). Someone posted and said a guy named Ed may still be looking for some crewmembers. I’d seen Ed at my 50-miler in April; he’d been doing the 100-miler and was dressed crazily with bright colors and a jester hat. We also exchanged hih fives many times during that race (since it consisted of multiple out-and-backs and the 50-miler and 100-miler were on the same course). Ed already had a full crew but sent a very helpful message back to me mentioning a few people’s names and saying he really thought I’d be a good match for a lady named Karla who lives in Las Vegas (where I live too). He even told me that if I was still unable to find a runner to let him know and he’d see what else he could do to help.
I’d seen Karla at a few local races, although I’d never talked to her. I messaged her on Facebook and she said she’d be interested in running with me sometime since she was still looking for another pacer. We went for an 8-mile run a couple months ago in 95 degree weather and we had a good time talking with each other, so I joined her crew. Since I live in Las Vegas, I was lucky that I had access to hot weather to get used to it. I still really didn’t know what I was getting myself into, though…
Running was going fine for me the last couple months until two weeks ago. I’d suspected I had exercise-induced asthma for quite a few years but never got it checked out. I always assumed I was out of breath and coughed when I ran because I was out of shape. Just recently I had an epiphany that I’m not out of shape (anymore), which is what pushed me to get tested. Two weeks ago, I had a methacholine test and I had an adverse reaction and needed an inhaler. I was told symptoms would only last a couple hours. The next day, I went for a 15-mile run with Karla and I had the worst cardio experience of my life. I literally couldn’t breathe. Even walking wasn’t allowing me to get my breath back. I felt better later in the day but my breathing was labored the rest of the weekend. This freaked me out not just for my own health but because Badwater was only a week away and I knew there wasn’t time for Karla to find another pacer. The following Monday, I went to the hospital and was given an inhaler and sent away. I used it in the following days and I felt a bit better.
I’m a little bit OCD about knowing what’s going on and planning out the details of things. For this reason, I felt like I was going a little bit crazy because Karla is not really a big planner. With the exception of the two runs we’d done and meeting one other time with the rest of her crew, we didn’t have our “logistics” meeting until last Friday (when we were leaving town two days later). As it turned out, we never really talked about specific details, so I just let go of trying to know what was going to happen and I felt a little better…sort of. One thing I did not realize until pretty close to the race is that Death Valley isn’t flat, haha. Granted, I’d never really analyzed the Badwater course, as I had no reason to do so, but it actually consists of two 17-mile inclines before getting to Mount Whitney.
Karla’s crew consisted of four people: her husband Z (who was not a runner), her friend M (who was not a distance runner), J (who was a runner with comparable long-distance races to me, although he’s a lot faster), and me. I was a bit concerned about the crew because we didn’t have anyone seasoned who knew anything about Badwater, and two of the four had no real running (let alone ultrarunning) experience. We had two vehicles.
The runner check-in and mandatory race meeting both occurred at the hotel where almost all of the runners and crews were staying; if you’ve ever been to Furnace Creek, you know there’s not much there. While I was chatting with the other people on Karla’s crew, Ian recognized me and came up to say hello. He’s encouraged me and guided my running in so many ways over the last nine months. I already knew he’d be there crewing someone too, but it was exciting to finally meet him in person. I gave him a hug and then got a photo with him.
We had a little bit of an adventure in the parking lot a little later on: J, Karla, and I were in the vehicle with M in the driver’s seat when M decided to get some water from the back of the vehicle. She got out and forgot a minor detail: She put the vehicle in neutral instead of park and we started rolling backward. We got the vehicle stopped, but of course it had to have happened within the sight of someone else. One of the other runners who none of us had previously met came over and started a conversation with us. His name was Chris Moon. He asked which one of us was running and thought it was me, which I found hilarious since I’m nowhere near the caliber of the other runners there, but then decided to share some advice with our very rookie team. He told us his crew rules, which we thought were good: 1) Everyone will f ck up, so when it happens, just move on without dwelling on it, 2) no negativity, 3) leave the egos behind—the crew is no more important than the runner and the runner is no more important than the crew, and 4) have fun. M said, “Oh, well, that was my f ck up.” To which he said, “No, that wasn’t a f ck up… That was entertainment!”
Honestly, I didn’t notice it when Chris first came up to us, but eventually I gained some situational awareness and realized he was missing an arm and a leg! He’d lost them almost 20 years ago while doing charity work clearing mines. He mentioned he’d run Badwater before but it had been over 10 years and that he was testing out some new prosthetic technology this year. The fact he’d done the race before and was doing it again in spite of missing limbs was inspiring, but beyond that, there was something very special about him. The ultra community as a whole is very down to earth, but even in that group, he stood out. He was genuine, kind, and just seemed to exude warmth. There was something about him that is impossible to explain and could only really been felt. We took a few photos with him and parted ways.
M, Z, J, and I went to an informal crewing question and answer session that evening. It had some good info, but we’d already read through all of the official rules out loud as a team to ensure everyone understood them, so we didn’t learn anything vital.
Dinner the night before the race consisted of pasta we made in our hotel room with a jar of tomato sauce. We couldn’t find the plastic utensils, so we used chopsticks. Beer was the beverage of choice for all of us.
The hotel we stayed at was beautiful, very unlike most places I’ve seen in the U.S.
We only had one room for the five of us, so J slept in the car, Z slept on the floor, Karla and M shared a bed, and I got my own bed (the smallest adult bed I’ve ever seen). I don’t think anyone slept too well the night before the race. We didn’t even lie down until after 11pm and we were all awake before the alarm went off at 6am.
Badwater starts in three waves of a little over 30 runners in each one, at 6am, 8am, and 10am. All of the faster runners start in the latest wave with the slower ones in the earlier two waves. The course has a 48-hour cut-off based on each wave’s respective start time. Karla was in the 8am wave, and driving out to the start line was interesting because the 6am runners were already on the course and running toward us.
The parking lot at the start line was pretty packed with cars; it was no wonder why only one vehicle per runner was allowed at the start. The race begins at Badwater Basin.
The sign at Badwater showing an elevation of -282 is a popular place for photos.
There was a mandatory weigh-in prior to the start of the race.
Since cars were leapfrogging their respective runners, there was a constant line of cars along the course. The cars got more spread out over time, but since there were three waves, there were always other cars within about a mile. As expected, the 10am runners began to overtake the 8am runners before the 8am runners began to overtake the 6am runners.
For the first 17 miles, since Karla couldn’t have a pacer, we’d just walk across the road and swap out water bottle, ice hats and bandanas (one hat with ice and one bandana filled with ice was always in one of our coolers while another one was always on her head). After 17 miles, J and I began pacing her. We’d stay with her for two or three miles at a time before swapping with each other. Once one of us was running with her, when we could see the crew vehicle ahead, we’d start talking about what she needed/wanted so we could run ahead and get it, making it unnecessary for her to stop. Whoever was in the car at the time was keeping track of the total mileage, time, temperature, calorie/fluid intake, electrolyte cap intake, and other notes like when she peed. The log became very important, particularly for the electrolyte caps and gels she was taking because they were on a certain interval and time was going by quicker than it seemed. If we’d just gone by what it seemed, she would have been not getting stuff as regularly as she needed. The whole thing was mainly an experiment because she’d never done that long of a race in high temps. The temperature wasn’t at hot as it normally gets in Death Valley due to a storm a few days earlier. This meant it *only* got up to 118 degrees. 😉
There are large gaps where I didn’t take any photos because I was either pacing Karla or tending to other crew matters.
After pacing Karla the first two times, for a grand total of about three miles, I wondered how I would keep doing that over and over again for nearly two days. I was able to keep up with Karla, but she was still running quicker than I thought she’d be running at that point. When I first ran with her, she’s already run 17 miles and was still ticking off 10-something minute miles. I really wondered what I’d gotten myself into!
Here are a few photos of Karla and J, as well as photos of the course (note that it’s a bit hilly in places), and some dust devils. These were taken just prior to Stovepipe Wells, which was the 41-mile point:
Somewhere in this segment, Ed, who had started at 10am, caught up to and passed Karla. I thought his outfit was photo-worthy.
There was a pool at Stovepipe Wells that was open to runners. Karla opted not to utilize that, although she did rest briefly so Z could massage her legs (again) and I could put some BodyGlide under her bra strap where she’d begun to chafe from the bra getting wet. I told her that if it got any worse that she’d need to swap bras, but it didn’t get to that point, thankfully.
Evidently I didn’t take any photos between Stovepipe Wells and Panamint Springs at mile 72. Between these points was one of the 17-mile long inclines followed by about 8 miles of downhill. On the uphill section, everyone I saw was walking. Somewhere on that stretch, Ian and the guy he was pacing, David, caught up to us and we chatted a bit. I introduced myself to David and told him that his pacer was the person who put the crazy idea of crewing into my head; David seemed amused by this but thought the idea was brilliant, not crazy. 😉 This uphill section was tough not just because of the elevation gain but it was very windy the entire time. At some time, Karla and I passed David and Ian; we also passed quite a few other people as Karla’s walking pace is pretty quick. Passing people was a boost to Karla. David went through a rough spot but ended up doing really well later on and ended up easily breaking the Australian record for the course.
Karla ran most of the downhill section after the long uphill portion, albeit slowly. We were still passing people, although it turned into leapfrogging because runners kept stopping at their crew vehicles, meaning they’d pass other runners, stop, get passed, then start going again and pass the runners who had just passed them.
At some point during this stretch, I had the job of driving the secondary vehicle, which was the job none of us really liked because it took us out of being directly involved, since we’d drive it up five miles, wait, and then drive it up the same amount again. I attempted to sleep, but with the emergency flashers of that car and other vehicles, it was impossible. Plus, I just didn’t feel like sleeping. Instead, I chose to gaze up at the stars, which were brighter than I ever see with the lights of Vegas. I also cheered on runners who were so far ahead of Karla that I hadn’t seen in a while (since the only runners I’d see frequently pacing or being with the primary crew vehicle were ones that were within a mile of her). I loved cheering for all of the runners. There were a few in particular I looked for, including Ed and Chris. Chris was doing awesome, and if I had not been looking for his distinct silhouette, judging by the speed at which he was moving, I would not have been able to tell he was disabled in any way. He always had a very kind response to my words of encouragement, as did most of the other runners.
The only runner I had a bad, or rather less-than-positive, experience with was Pam Reed. Admittedly, I went into the experience having the perception she was arrogant. I based this off of her autobiography I read, which was by far my least favorite ultra-related book I’ve read (and I’ve read quite a few). On more than one occasion, I tried telling her “good job” and instead of saying “thanks,” nodding, smiling, looking, or even ignoring me, she chose to gave me a dirty look. I was personally a bit amused but at the same time a bit saddened because everyone else seemed so down to earth, regardless of how awesome they were.
Karla took a quick break:
After passing through Panamint Springs, there was another 17-mile long climb. By this point, it had been dark for a few hours and Karla was getting very tired. Chris had mentioned that a nap of less than 45 minutes is best so the body doesn’t go into a deep sleep. Karla had never taken a nap in a race before, and we discussed the positive and negative consequences of taking a nap and the best time (when it was still dark or once it got light) if she did take a nap. This was foreign territory for both of us, so she opted to take a nap in the back of the main vehicle. 25 minutes after lying down, Karla woke up refreshed. Perfect!
We had another funny incident around this point. While Karla was sleeping, I had opted to try to sleep and did fall asleep. I was woken up about an hour later due to feeling the vehicle make a U-turn. Z was driving and it was just the two of us in the car. Evidently, Karla had woken up from her nap and took off with M, Z had driven a mile ahead, and then he too fell asleep. When he woke up, he realized Karla and M should have already passed by us, so he thought something had happened and turned around to backtrack on the course. After a mile, he realized they weren’t behind us, so he turned around again, which is when I woke up. After over three miles, we caught up to M and Karla who were waiting with J at the secondary vehicle. M freaked out and started yelling because she thought we’d driven off the road (since the mountain was steep and missing a guardrail in some spots). Karla said she thought maybe that had happened too and kept discreetly looking over the edge. Somehow, not only had Z and I both fallen asleep, but Karla and J passed by our vehicle without realizing it. In retrospect, it was very funny. 😉
Driving along just as it started to get light outside, I noted that the runners I saw looked like complete zombies. The crews of the different runners would exchange words whenever we’d cross paths, and it was pretty common to be parked and waiting for your runner right near where another crew was waiting for their runner. I made the comment that we’d passed some runners that looked like zombies, to which one of the crewmembers on another team responded, “Oh, you must have seen our runner then!” Even though Badwater is a race, everyone is very friendly with one another. Whenever crews see one another, they ask about the other runner, particularly if they looked a little down the last time they’d been seen. This is what I really love about ultras.
Once the sun actually came out, people started to look more alive. Starting on the second day, Z and M started pacing certain parts of the race; by this time, Karla was primarily walking.
Here are some photos taken between miles 71 and 90, including one of M and Karla, one of Karla and me shadows, J and Karla, some beautiful scenery, and the sign marking the boundary of Death Valley at mile 85:
The Darwin time station was located at mile 90 and was very minimalist. They did have some medical people here, though, and J got one of his blistered tended to.
It was around this point J started to become… difficult to tolerate. He was tired, irritated, overly dramatic, and I really just wanted him to be quiet. He was sitting in the front seat of the car moaning and saying how much he was hurting. I was way too busy ensuring Karla was taken care of to have to watch after him too. I kept an eye on him to ensure he was eating and drinking, but beyond that, I couldn’t afford to put any more of my resources toward him. I understood he was tired, but I’d only slept an hour and really just wanted to ensure Karla made it to the finish line. It was very strange, but I felt fresh the entire time, well after the first couple times I paced where I felt in over my head. I wasn’t sore, I had no problems breathing, I wasn’t chafing, and I had no blisters. I think part of this was mental (well, I didn’t have chafing of blisters, but regarding being sore or overly drained). On every one of my races and everyday runs, the experience is all about me, but during Badwater, my focus was almost solely on Karla. Any emphasis I did put on myself was to indirectly help Karla (i.e. if I get too dehydrated to pace, Karla is in big trouble).
There was a long section before getting to the town of Lone Pine (at the base of Mount Whitney) that seemed to go on forever with seemingly no progress. This section was also windy and sandy. Luckily, Z and M started pacing some more. Through talking to M, I realized she runs sometimes on a treadmill and had a very false perception of how fast she thought Karla was running. I recommended that M do a segment with her, even if it’d entail a little bit of slow running. I knew M wouldn’t have any problems keeping up, and I told her that if for some reason she did to not worry and just tell Karla to go ahead; then we’d wait for her after Karla went by. After M paced her first section with any running, she was exciting because she said that was her first time ever running outside. I was shocked by this, but she said she’d always thought it would be too hard so she’d never tried. First time running outside being at Badwater? Awesome for her. 🙂
Another thing worth mentioning is that Karla had felt okay the entire time but had no desire to eat any solid foods for almost the entire second day. This made the nutrition element interesting because I was trying to get her calories in her water bottle without overdoing it and also trying to fit in electrolyte/salt caps too. How this all worked okay was a miracle because I was just experimenting and was the sole person besides her who was responsible for what she consumed (scary, right?)
Getting to Lone Pine at the 122-mile point was exciting because the only thing left was getting up Mount Whitney to the Portal. Z had mentioned he’d make some soup going up the mountain, and I remembered we didn’t have any utensils. I took a quick detour, running across the street and into a McDonald’s (the first fast food place I’d seen since leaving Las Vegas) and asked for some forks and spoons. The guy behind the counter gave me a really weird look (don’t blame him, haha) but complied and I ran back out and caught up to Karla. Somewhere in Lone Pine, there was a funny point where we passed a billboard for Carls Jr. that had a picture of a huge burger and a caption that said, “Running on empty?” Karla looked at it and said, “Uh, yeah!” It made me laugh. I stayed with Karla from about 4.5 miles before the base of Mount Whitney. At that point, everyone except J decided it’d be best to switch off every half mile or mile.
There was a runner from Japan who had a crew (we kept seeing his crew vehicle), but he didn’t have a pacer the entire time on the mountain for some reason. We always cheered for him when we saw him and he always smiled. When he saw M and I take our cameras out, he decided to pose for us. Over the next few hours (the climb takes a long time, even though it’s only about 11 miles), he started hobbling quite a bit, we suspected due to blisters. But he still kept moving forward and he still kept smiling when we told him “good job.”
About six miles from the end, there was a bit of a “discussion” that occurred among Z, J, and me. Karla had said prior to the race that her goal was 40 hours. As the race went on, she said she’d be happy even if she did it in 41 or 42 hours since the 40-hour goal wasn’t based on concrete evidence. Even though she slowed as time went on, at about 129 miles, J was convinced she could go sub-40 hours. Z and I disagreed, based on the pace she was going; when it had gotten dark, she’d also gone into a low spot mentally. J insisted that we tell her to speed up and run 100 meters at a time. Z laughed at the ludicrousness as everyone was at a slow hobble at that point and Karla wasn’t in a place she could run. J said we should feel obligated to tell her she could make her original goal and refused to listen to me when I said she’d told me that going sub-40 was not important. Karla’s smart. She knew the time and the rough distance she had left; I knew she could do the math if she wanted since she was still quite alert mentally.
By this point, I was also getting cranky. I’m normally pretty calm, but J was getting on my nerves more than anyone typically gets on my nerves. I was quite irritable, and I felt bad about this, especially since I’m used to being the mediator, not the arguer. Everyone was sleep-deprived, though, which really didn’t help since there was no “voice of reason” anymore. 😉 Luckily Karla wasn’t too far from the finish by then, so I knew the end was near and I could soon go to sleep!
Even at the pace she was going, she was passing people, which I think boosted her spirits a little bit. However, she was also a bit discouraged seeing vehicles driving down from the mountain as she knew all of those people were already done. Looking up ahead, there was a broken path of blinking lights of runners and vehicles that indicated where we were headed. However, looking behind us, we could see lights way down below, showing all of the people still behind us. Seeing all of the lights coming up to our point seemed to surprise Karla.
The climb seemed to go on forever, and it was very difficult to judge how much distance was left. In the official booklet, there was a chart that showed which landmarks lined up with which miles, but even these didn’t seem right. Also, it wasn’t as relevant early on, but the chart went up to 134.4 miles, not 135, and there was a note saying the official distance is 135 miles but that odometers vary so it’s possible to get different distances, as evidenced by the official chart. .6 miles early in the race equated to practically nothing, but toward the end, it means a lot more. The last time station was at 3.8 miles from the end, and to give a reference point, the fastest anyone covered that distance was 57 minutes (and the winner actually took an hour and 15 minutes for that distance).
Z was with Karla the last 4 or so miles of the course, which was good for the two of them to experience it together and also because she’d resorted to only speaking Czech. While she lives in Vegas, she’s a Czech citizen, and when she got tired, her mind fell back to the language she was most comfortable with.
The last little segment of the course is very steep (160 feet of climb in .1 miles!), but we met her right before the finish line and as is the tradition, we all crossed the line together. She was able to speed up to a very slow shuffle at the end. 🙂
She finished in just after midnight on Wednesday in 40:24, which she was happy about, as she interpreted this as meeting her goal (she’d wanted to finish in 40 hours and her time was 40:something).
The stars looked so bright from the Portal. The stars actually looked closer than all of the lights coming up the mountain. We didn’t stay up there very long, though, as it felt very cold (40s I’d guess).
Driving back down the mountain was a moving experience because we went past dozens of runners still making their way up the mountain. They looked physically pretty broken, but even though they still had hours until they’d finish, they continued to move forward. Every single person who made it to the mountain road crossed the finish line. As a matter of fact, every runner who made it to 90 miles finished. This is impressive considering everything that can happen over the span of 45 miles.
Of the 96 runners who toed the start line, 89 of them finished, which is an extremely high finish rate. The race staff is very picky about who they allow to even enter the race, but even so, only 7 people not finishing is amazing to me. And for the record, the first male finished in 22:52 (a mere minute off of the course record), the first female finished in 29:53, and the last runner finished in 47:08 (well under the 48-hour cutoff).
There was a post-race pizza party at noon after the race. It also doubled as a recognition ceremony as every runner was recognized by time and stood at the front of the room. They also showed a video with highlights from the race, which was great considering the race had just officially ended two hours prior.
Chris came up to us after the party and we chatted some more. I didn’t realize it until I got home and looked it up, but this year at the age of 50, he’d cut almost 12 HOURS off of his time from when he ran it over 10 years ago. He had one of his sons with him (I think he was 13), so that was neat. His son said he wanted to run the race when he was old enough. His son had a very similar demeanor to him; they were both very enjoyable to be around. I told Chris I’d seen him a couple of times the first night and that it looked like he’d been moving along really well; I let him know I cheered for him (well, and everyone else), and he said how much that meant to him and then he apologized for only be able to acknowledge it with a wave and a “thanks” because he was tired. I couldn’t believe he was actually apologizing because I would not have expected any more; like I said before, I’m okay if someone even ignores me…just don’t give me a mean look (especially since mean looks take as much effort as a nicer look, haha). 😉 I got two hugs and kisses on the cheek from Chris before we parted ways. I still say he’s one of the most genuinely beautiful people I’ve met.
I got to meet Dean Karnazes after the party. I wasn’t really sure what to expect because I had a preconceived notion that he might be a jerk. However, unlike my interactions with Pam Reed, I was very pleasantly surprised. I’d actually brought two books for him to sign—one for me and one for a friend. I have a friend named Josh who I met when I was deployed last year, and at the time, he let me borrow one of Dean’s book; I’d accidentally bent the cover of the book, which Josh said was okay, but I felt bad about it. Josh is a great runner himself and runs a sub-3 hour marathon; I keep trying to convince him to get into ultras, but so far he’s declined. To pay him back for the bent book, I decided to give him a book signed by Dean. 🙂 I relayed that whole story to Dean, and in Josh’s book, part of what he wrote was, “Listen to Katrina and start running ultras.” 🙂 Dean also signed the other book to me and also thanked me for my service (since I’d mentioned I met Josh on a deployment).
I also ran into Marshall Ulrich afterward and got a photo with him. Karla was actually leapfrogging him for a significant portion of the second day. It was surreal because I’m in the process of reading one of his books at the moment. Of course I didn’t think to bring it with me to get it signed by him.
Leaving the party, I crossed paths with Ed the Jester. While I didn’t know him beyond seeing him at my 50-miler earlier this year and exchanging a couple Facebook messages with him a few months ago, I still wanted to say hello. I reminded him of the message he sent me and thanked him for recommending I contact Karla to see if she needed another crewmember. He’s an incredibly kind person and he seemed genuinely happy that it had worked out for Karla and me.
Meeting, crossing paths with, and interacting with all of the runners before, during, and after the race was exciting. Some of the people I’d only read about in books or seen on t.v. so it was very surreal. At times, I felt like I’d been swooped up and dropped into one of my books. Strange, but ridiculously awesome!
Before leaving Lone Pine, I took this photo to give some reference. The peak just to the right of the tree is Mount Whitney, and the finish line was about halfway up it. It looks a long way away from the vantage point of where I took the photo. However, by the time runners got to that point in the race, they’d already run 122 miles (and then they STILL needed to go all of the way up there!):
To get back to Las Vegas, we had to backtrack about 100 miles of the course. Driving it seemed to take a long time and it was crazy to think that Karla had covered it all (plus more) on foot.
Looking back at my experiences with Badwater, I am so grateful I had the opportunity to be a part of it in any capacity. I am so proud of Karla! I can’t say I have any desire to ever actually run the race myself, but I would love to be a part of it in other ways in future years. It’s one of the most eye-opening and memorable experiences I’ve ever had.
One of Badwater race reports I read yesterday broke my heart and also inspired me. It was written by John, the guy I talked to via email when I was looking for a runner to crew. To give a little background information: I never got to meet him at the race, and I was never able to confirm which runner he was at the beginning when he was still in the vicinity of Karla. After a couple hours, I never saw him or his crew vehicle again… until many, many hours later when Karla and I ran past his crew vehicle with him sitting behind it. I knew something had to have happened because it made no sense why he was suddenly behind us. As soon as we ran past, he got up and got back on the road with his pacer, but they were just walking. I pointed out to Karla that she’d just passed the Barkley finisher, but I was secretly concerned and knew something was wrong with him. At some point when I was likely in the car, he passed us and I never saw him again, but at the time stations, he was one of a few names I would constantly look up to check that he was still on the course.
John’s race report was painful to read. He got some kind of stomach bug that was wreaked havoc on his gastrointestinal system in the days leading up to the race, and logically, he should not have even started. He continued to have problems and had very intense stomach pains. At mile 30, the medical vehicle approached and recommended he be driven ahead to the next time station that had medical care. (A runner is allowed to seek out medical attention and leave the course to do so, but prior to leaving, they pound a wooden stake with their number into the ground so they can be brought back to the exact same point.) He was in incredible pain and went to the medical area. He lost 2 hours of time but felt a little better, although things got worse again. Someone recommended that he drink some Coke, and he strangely felt a lot better after that. To make a long story short, he finished. The entire time I was reading his report, I couldn’t figure out how he did what he did. Of course it can easily be argued that he should not have even started the race, but to realize that he had to will himself forward under extreme pain ever step for over 38 hours is amazing. His story reaffirmed that the human mind is powerful and that we’re capable of way more than we think they are. It also serves to inspire me the next time I debate not running because I don’t feel quite right. Again, I don’t necessarily advocate his decision to do what he did, but I have the utmost respect for what he did.
Badwater changed me. I’ve been feeling increasingly restless over the past year or so, and the things I experienced and witnessed there have only fueled that. Going back to work on Thursday made me feel like I wasn’t where I belong. There is so much more to life than the monotony of doing the same things every day ad nauseum. While at Badwater, I saw people pushing themselves to the breaking point and then continuing through sheer determination in pursuit of accomplishing their goal of finishing the race. There was something incredibly beautiful seeing people stripped of all of the normal comforts of daily life and truly living way beyond their comfort zones doing things logic says are not possible. I was in complete awe of the feats I saw performed, and while not everyone may want to run 135 miles, I can’t help but think that there is way more out there to experience than the nice, safe cookie-cutter life so many people, including me, have become accustomed to. While I’d heard the quote before, it never had at much meaning before; now I can really relate to it: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” (Neale Donald Walsch)
Random little fact I wasn’t sure where to put elsewhere in the report: I paced a total of 43.5 miles of the course, in segments ranging from 1.2 to 5.4 miles. Ian told me not to do more than 25 or 30. I texted him afterward and told him “sorry.” 😉