2013/07/20: Crewing Grant and other Badwater Reflections

It’s funny how life turns out sometimes……

After crewing my friend Karla during the Badwater 135-mile footrace last year, I knew I wanted to go back and crew in the future.  It’s an incredible experience seeing people push their bodies beyond what most people would think is even possible.  The race, for anyone unfamiliar, takes place in mid-July in Death Valley.  It goes from Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the U.S. at 282 feet below sea level, to the Mount Whitney Portal at over 8,000 feet above sea level.  There are no aid stations; each runner has a crew that shadows them for the duration of the race.

This year, when the selected participants were notified, I turned down three opportunities to crew as I was unable to commit at the time and did not want to say I’d help and then back out later.  As the race got closer, I was confident the stars had aligned and that I could help someone out.  A month before the race, I was so happy I found a stranger who needed a crewmember (who had gotten my name from Karla).  That excitement was short-lived, however.  I was not able to take leave for the days I needed, in spite of the fact I had been told previously I would be able to do so.

Having to drop from someone’s crew just a few days before the race was devastating to me.  I would miss seeing friends, the experience of being out there again, and most importantly, I was letting someone down who counted on me.  I tried finding someone to replace me on the crew, but I was unsuccessful in doing this.  I will say I was picky, though; I told the runner that I would rather provide her with no crewmember than one who would be a liability to the team (i.e. limited running experience, no heat training, etc.).

Even though I was not able to find the runner an extra crewmember, while trying to track someone down, there was a handful of runners who went out of their way to help me.  Some of these people I knew, but others I didn’t.  One such person was a guy named Harvey who saw my request on the Badwater Facebook board and went above and beyond contacting people he knew and putting me in direct contact with a few of them.  Harvey, as it turns out, was a Badwater runner, had done the race before, had gotten 4th place last year, and actually was on the U.S. men’s 24-hour national team—wow!  Yet what was he doing in the days leading up to the race?  Trying to help me (a stranger) find a crewmember for a runner who he also didn’t know.  This sort of willingness to help is why I love runners.

Although I was unable to crew at Badwater, since I live in Las Vegas, where many non-local people fly into, I decided to offer my help where I could during the weekend prior to the race.  I had to work Monday through Wednesday during the race, but I was totally available over the weekend.  One guy named Juan who said he needed a ride from the airport in Las Vegas to Furnace Creek.  I told him that was no problem.  At that time, I had no idea Juan was one of Oswaldo Lopez’s crewmembers; Oswaldo was the 2011 Badwater champion.  (Wow!)  My friend Tammy mentioned that I could stay in her room in Furnace Creek that night (Saturday) if I didn’t want to drive back late; she also asked me if I could do some last-minute shopping, which I didn’t mind.  Tammy had gotten team shirts made that had the names of lots of her friends who had somehow influenced her on them.  I was honored to have my name on the shirt and that Tammy gave me one of the shirts.

Shirt front:
shirt front

Shirt back:
1013118_765738616763_1311863178_n

After shopping Saturday afternoon, I picked Juan up at the airport.  I’d never met him before, but I felt like I’d known him for years.  On the way to Furnace Creek, we realized we had a lot of friends in common.  We also both loved how close-knit the ultrarunning community is and how approachable everyone is, including the elites.  The two-hour car ride flew by.

Prior to talking to Juan, I was aware of Oswaldo’s accomplishments, but I’d never met Oswaldo, nor did I know much about him as a person.  As we pulled up to the lodging building (where coincidentally Tammy and Oswaldo were both staying), I did something uncharacteristic of my introverted self.  I asked Juan if Oswaldo was still awake, and he said he was; I then asked if I could go meet him, and again he said yes.  I wasn’t really sure what I would say to him, which is why I typically don’t put myself in these kinds of situations, but this turned out to be a non-issue.  Oswaldo’s hotel door was open and we walked in; after a brief exchange between Juan and Oswaldo, Oswaldo shook my hand and said, “Thank you for bringing my friend.”  I was touched by how sincere he was.  Juan, Oswaldo, a few other people, and I all hung out for a while before Juan said he was hungry.

Juan and I walked to the restaurant (the only one in Furnace Creek) and Oswaldo came along too.  Along the way, we managed to “pick up” a guy named Ray.  Ray and I are Facebook friends but I don’t recall ever meeting him before.  He does tons of 100-milers and recommended a few to me (enabler!).  I also happened to run into my friend Andrea who I met at Nanny Goat a couple months ago; she was crewing for an Italian runner.  It caught me off guard to hear my name across a road in the middle of the night, but it was neat seeing Andrea again.

Dinner was sort of surreal for me, sitting across the table from Oswaldo.  He was an incredibly humble and friendly person.  At one point, three out of the four of us at the table were on our smartphones.  I added Oswaldo as a friend on Facebook and he immediately accepted the request.  I thanked him, to which he reached across and shook my hand and said, “Thank you for your friendship.  I don’t tell you on here.  I tell you in person because I mean it.”  How sweet.  As we all conversed, Juan mentioned to Oswaldo that I knew Eric Clifton.  (Eric Clifton has a long running résumé, including winning Badwater once.  He has become a friend, but he’s also a mentor to me; he gives me guidance, challenges me, and gives me viewpoints I don’t always consider myself.)  Oswaldo’s eyes lit up and he said how much he respects Eric and how strong of a runner he is.  Seeing this kind of respect from one elite runner for another one made me smile.

Oswaldo sitting across the table from me at dinner:
17599_765864399693_672842524_n (1)

After dinner, we went back to Oswaldo’s room.  He hung out inside while most of his crew (plus me) hung out in the hallway for a few more hours.  They were all very nice.  Another exchange I had with Oswaldo was about the upcoming race.  He said he was going to run it hard and make the best of all of the training he had put in but noted that you never know what will happen during a race that long.  I thought it was admirable that his aim was to run the best race he could and to be motivated by that instead of concentrating on everyone around him.

Here’s a photo of Oswaldo and me right outside his room:
1002439_765875213023_1016865455_n

Sunday morning, I hung out with Tammy and got to chat with a few other runners I’d met last year at Badwater or elsewhere.  I offered to volunteer at runner check-in but I was told they didn’t need any help.  I figured there was no use in me staying around.  However, there was one person I really wanted to see named Chris, as he made the biggest impression on me last year and he’s not online much, so I opted to stay until after the runner group photo in the hope that I would see him.  Another perk of staying for the photo was that I was able to run into some more friends.

As I left the building to go to the group photo location, I looked up and saw Juan coming out of a doorway followed by a few more people, then Oswaldo.  When he saw me, Oswaldo “yelled” at me by name.  I hadn’t thought I’d run into him again, but I’m glad I did.  The night prior, after dinner, I’d sent Eric a message saying I’d crossed paths with Oswaldo and Eric had some kind things to say about him.  I told Oswaldo that Eric said he hoped he would have an amazing race.  He seemed so appreciative that Eric had taken the time to say anything about him.  I got another hug from Oswaldo as well as another photo with him and also one with Juan.  Oswaldo is so kind, and he was genuinely thankful for so many seemingly small things.  It was neat to see.

Oswaldo and me:
36578_766177417403_1632700132_n

Juan and me:
1069134_766166519243_8679774_n (1)

I was grateful I got to see Chris, who I really wanted to see.  Chris is one of the most genuinely beautiful people I’ve met and he exudes warmth.  It made me happy that he not only recognized me but greeted me by name when I walked toward him.  Chris is a double amputee after losing a leg and part of his arm as a result of being blown up while clearing land mines as charity work.  Last year, he took the time to give us, Karla’s entirely rookie crew, crewing advice; I also got to chat with him after the race.  He was trying out a new prosthetic leg that had some new technology.  It was pretty fascinating.  I got to chat with Chris for about 10-15 minutes before the pre-race brief started.  There was no reason to stay for the brief so I left.

Chris and me:
150435_766038236323_263945562_n (1)

Leaving Furnace Creek was bittersweet.  I was happy because I’d gotten the chance to be in the Badwater atmosphere for a little while and see friends, some who I hadn’t seen since last year.  I also got to meet some new friends.  But I hated that I was leaving Furnace Creek before the race even started.

During the race, I was rooting for Oswaldo to win, and I hoped Harvey would finish in the top few too.  Why?  Because I like when good people do well.  This isn’t to say that the other top competitors weren’t good (as I would discover…); I just simply didn’t know them (yet).  However, in a race like Badwater, I hope ALL runners do well.  I posted constant updates online.  When one friend asked who my friends were so she could cheer for them, I told her the people I was following but told her to please cheer for ALL of the runners because they all deserved it and conditions were brutal.  Since there were only six checkpoints plus the finish, there were long periods of times where updates were sparse.  I could only imagine what was going on out there as the leaders, especially the men, swapped around every single checkpoint.

In the end, Portugese Carlos Sa finished first, Aussie Grant Maughan finished second, Oswaldo finished third, and Harvey finished fourth as the first American.  On the women’s side, Cath Todd finished first, Pam Reed was second, and Meredith Dolhare was third.  The men’s race was especially close, with the men’s race still undecided when they got to the base of Whitney with 13 miles left.

I thought a lot about Badwater during the actual race.  When I was in Furnace Creek over the weekend, I was asked multiple times if I wanted to run Badwater myself someday.  I had a canned response to this, something to the effect of, “No, I have no desire to run it, however, I love the atmosphere and really enjoy crewing and pacing.  I’d love to stay involved in the race in future years, but I don’t want to run it myself.”  I’ve adamantly held this stance since last year.  However, after saying it over and over so many times in conversation, I realized I didn’t really believe what I was saying.  I tried re-wording it, but it still sounded dishonest.  I knew that deep down, I did want to run it myself.

When I saw Tammy late on Wednesday when she came back through Las Vegas after the race, I told her I’d had an epiphany.  She said something to the effect of, “You want to run Badwater” immediately.  Then, on the spot, she gave me a lot of the stuff she’d used during her race, including a couple coolers.  She said she did not want to run it again but wanted to stay involved in other capacities.  I was so grateful for her generosity.

Tammy and me right after she gave me her stuff:
1003464_767291424923_1632647862_n

On Friday after the race, I was in Phoenix for my husband’s cousin’s retirement from the Air Force.  I happened to see a posting in a Facebook group I belong to requesting crew for a person wanting to do a Badwater Double.  The person had already run the race, went up to the Mount Whitney summit and come back down to the Portal (a 22-mile round trip), and wanted to run the 135-mile race course in reverse.  Crewing this sounded like it would be exciting; the catch was that the person was going to start within the next 24 hours and I wasn’t even going to be back in Vegas until the following afternoon.  I expressed my disappointment about not being able to crew but said I’d be available Sunday afternoon and evening if the runner found additional crew and was still running then.  The runner, by the way, was Grant, who’d gotten second place in the race.

Eric F (not to be confused with the Eric referenced above or the other one mentioned further down), who had posted the request and served on Grant’s crew during the race, asked me if I knew of anyone else who might be able to help.  I told him I didn’t since most of the local people I knew who were runners had either just run or crewed at Badwater a couple days earlier.  I did not expect anyone to respond, but I figured it wouldn’t do any harm to re-post the request on my own wall.  Surprisingly, within minutes, an online runner friend of mine named Neil who I’d never met in person, and who I didn’t even know lived anywhere in this part of the country responded and said he’s do it.  What?!  He was in a car on his way to Lone Pine before he even had all of the info he needed.

Neil had never crewed before, and now he was somehow going to crew a Badwater runner for many miles (most of the time by himself).  I was originally not going to be able to help until Sunday afternoon as I had a race scheduled Saturday evening and wanted to sleep a few hours after that before driving to Death Valley.  But when it became clear it would be easier on everyone if Grant started Friday night instead of Saturday morning, I realized I’d need to get there earlier if I wanted to help.  It didn’t take much deliberation to drop the race and drive to Death Valley as soon as I got back into town from Phoenix.

Neil was sending updates for the first 40+ miles with some commentary on how Grant was doing, temperature, etc., but he got out of cell range early Saturday morning.  People online were antsy to get updates, while I tried to impress upon them I would post them when I had them (since my friend was texting me and I was posting them), but that no one should assume lack of updates meant anything bad.

I got home a little after 3pm on Saturday and was back on the road with some ice and other supplies by 4pm.  I hadn’t heard from Neil at all in almost 10 hours, but I figured he and Grant would be somewhere between Panamint Springs and Stovepipe Wells, miles 63 and 93 on the return trip back to Badwater Basin.  I decided I would drive to Furnace Creek, drive the course backward, and find them.  Sounded easy enough.

Sure enough, I found them right on the other side of Stovepipe Wells at around mile 90.  I greeted my friend Neil with a hug and commended him on taking care of Grant solo for the previous 20 hours.  I then walked back to Grant when I saw him approaching, gave him a quick hug, and introduced myself.  My first impression was that he seemed nice.  He mentioned that he was going to make a brief stop at Stovepipe Wells because he needed more calories.

This was the first photo I took of Grant, at the very first stop when I got there:
1001689_769132695003_1421807585_n

Running at sunset:
1001810_769132719953_1885191546_n

Gorgeous desert sunset:
22007_769132749893_61785964_n

Sitting in front of the general store in Stovepipe Wells:
1001812_769134536313_366880379_n

I was surprised that all of the calories Grant was taking in were liquid.  He wanted something with protein; the only thing that was available was plain milk, so we picked up two of those and a Coca Cola.  I asked if he wanted me to grab more for the rest of his run and he said to get three (I got five).  He sat down on a rocking chair in front of the general store and commented that was the first time he’d ever sat down in a race (luckily it wasn’t actually a race).  I chatted with him a bit before a guy named Pat came over.  Pat was crewing another runner, Danny, who was also doing the Double.  It wasn’t until later that I realized that “Pat” was Patrick Sweeney, who has his own ridiculously long running résumé.  He was very nice.

When I walked across the street to my car, dressed in running clothes, I saw a guy with a Badwater shirt.  Immediately after looking at what I was wearing, the first words out of his mouth were, “You must be crewing for Grant,” to which I responded, “You must be Danny.”  We were both right.  Danny had initially planned on running a Quad (the Double twice), but he was having shin issues.

As it turns out, Danny and Grant were running their Doubles to honor Lisa Smith-Batchen.  She had intended to do the Quad herself to raise money for water wells for AIDS orphans in India and Ethiopia.  However, she got injured and had to DNF Badwater.  Danny and Grant decided to pick up the charge and each do “their part” (as if running Badwater once wasn’t enough).  By the way, the charity web site if anyone is interested in donating money is http://www.badwater4goodwater.com.  Lisa was incredibly touched by their decisions.  I had a handful of interactions with Lisa, which was also surreal (as I mostly know her from her role in the Running on the Sun documentary).  Runners are awesome and this is proof they’ll go out of their way to help each other out.

In Stovepipe Wells, Neil made room in his truck so that I could sit in it too.  Using one vehicle was more efficient, and the plan was for him to drop me back off at my car after Grant was finished since he was on his way back through Lone Pine.

Grant is a solitary runner and didn’t want company, which made it somewhat easier on us.  However, I realized one of the advantages to pacing is that it’s easier to get an idea of how the runner is doing mostly just through observations.  When instead we used the support vehicle, we had to pay more attention to the short period of time in his vicinity and it required more questions.  Grant was very easy to take care of, though.  His needs consisted mainly of ensuring he always had a water bottle with ice in it, two salt tabs twice every hour, and about 300 calories an hour.  After each encounter with Grant, we’d pull up a half mile or mile, depending on what he wanted.  There were also quite a few times when he’d run by and say he didn’t need anything.  We tried to get an idea of what he’d need at the next stop to be prepared so he wasn’t having to wait on us.

Shortly after Stovepipe Wells, it got windy and dusty!  There was a huge sandstorm that was difficult to even see through.  Watching the sand flow across the road was surreal.  The sandstorm slowed Grant down a bit, but he kept moving forward.  This was quite incredible to watch.  I would have loved a photo during this period, but I knew the fine sand would have destroyed my phone, so I used discretion.  During this section, there was also a bit of rain.  Yes, sand and rain, and it was still 110 degrees outside.

Here are a few photos from the middle of the night, but not during the sandstorm:
1010382_769134561263_1019239319_n

1000496_769134586213_529059143_n

76329_769134611163_1508228938_n

 1069900_769137325723_864279410_n

 1044723_769137370633_394566443_n

There were large gaps in photos, and updates sent to Grant’s friends, throughout the run for a couple reasons.  Updates were sporadic at times because of lack of cell reception.  A much larger reason for gaps in photos and especially updates was due to my priority out there—of course I knew people were excited, anxious, and wanted constant info, however, my role out there was to crew Grant.  Providing updates was very low on the priority list compared to taking care of Grant and ensuring he had everything he needed.  I acknowledge I might have been “frustrating” to deal with at times because whenever I had cell receptions, it seemed people wanted more info than I was providing.  While it might not have been apparent to any one person, I had requests to post detailed info on Grant’s wall, tag a particular person in every post, send the same wall post to someone else via private message, others requesting updates via text, and a barrage of other messages asking questions.  With my limited resources, I did what I could, while keeping my focus on Grant’s well-being.  I hope the affected people understand that.

In the truck, it was fun getting to talk to Neil.  We’d known each other online for a few years even though this was our first time meeting in person.  He’s a person I wanted to meet sometime, but I never thought it would be in those circumstances.  We’ve actually both been running five and a half years and we’re both in the Air Force, just at totally different points.  I’m separating from the Air Force, and after many years of being enlisted, he just for commissioned as an officer a few months ago.  I enjoyed talking to him and sharing stories.

After being awake way too long, I finally convinced Neil to take a nap.  This was shortly after the sandstorm.  It also happened to coincide with a low point for Grant.  He was moving much slower and was not stable on his feet.  He was also not as cognitively alert as he had been earlier.  He was very sleepy too and noted he was “seeing things.”  I gave him some caffeine in the form of a Starbucks shot, but it did little to improve his situation.  I was concerned about him.  If Neil had not just gone to sleep, I would have made the decision for one of us to stay with him for a while.  But since I knew Neil needed sleep, I did the next best thing I could think of.  Regardless of distance, I never pulled up farther than I could see Grant’s red blinky lights.  It was dark and I wanted to be able to visually confirm he was still moving forward.

It was about an hour before Grant said he needed to lie down.  He said he wanted to lie on the dirt.  I quickly tried to think of a better alternative, but he said he didn’t want to be comfortable.  Luckily, I convinced him to at least let me put a towel down for him.  I knew it wouldn’t aid in comfort too much but that it would keep him directly off of the dirt so he wasn’t breathing in as much sand (I figured he’d already had enough in the storm) and that there was no point in him getting even dirtier.  Grant chose to use his Amphipod water bottle as a pillow.  I think he was out before he even touched the ground.  He just sort of fell into a heap on the ground, his blinky lights still flashing.  I thought about turning them off, but I didn’t want to bother him.  In retrospect, I don’t think anything would have woken him up.

Grant’s nap:
1005318_769137405563_1516885087_n

988635_769137385603_2034690849_n

By this point, we were only about a mile from Furnace Creek.  I could only imagine what would have gone through someone’s head if they passed a truck in the middle of the night with a person lying outside in a very awkward looking position.  I chose to stand outside the truck to perhaps make it less suspicious looking(?).  As it turned out, no cars drove by during the time Grant slept.  After my concern for him over the last hour or so, the time he slept was peaceful because I knew he was okay.  His breathing was audible, so I figured he was good as long as he was still breathing.  He asked to be woken up in an hour.  He woke up suddenly on his own after 45 minutes and was quite disoriented for a moment.

Unfortunately, Grant seemed to be in worse condition after his nap.  As he sat there on the ground, I said (rather rhetorically), “Are you going to get up and keep moving forward?”  He responded, “I don’t have a choice, do I?”  Watching him stand up and continue to move forward was inspiring.  But I was more concerned about him and kept a constant eye on him.  I wanted so much to help him somehow, but I didn’t know what to do, so I just monitored him.

After a two and a half hour nap, Neil woke up.  He seemed just as disoriented as Grant had been when he woke up.  He asked where we were, oblivious to what had transpired with Grant.  Grant still had 20 miles to go.  When Neil discovered we weren’t even to the Badwater Road turn-off, my friend realized the journey was far from over.  When he saw Grant at the next stop, it affirmed this.  However, in spite of how he was feeling, Grant kept moving forward.  He also didn’t complain.  If we prompted him, he’d give feedback, but other than that, he was silent.

Not long after turning onto Badwater Road, I witnessed something freaky.  There was a random guy wearing little clothing carrying no water running back toward Furnace Creek.  It happened so quickly, and after seeing no other people for so long, it surprised me.  Clearly I was not alone as Neil immediately turned to me and asked in an excited tone, “Did you just see that guy?”  He seemed reassured by the fact he was not alone in his sighting.  We concluded the chance of us having the same hallucination was rather low, but we vowed to ask Grant about it at the next stop.  It turned out we didn’t need to do this, as the first words out of Grant’s mouth when we saw him again were, “Did you guys see that guy?  He scared the s**t out of me!”  We all laughed.

Something incredible happened with about 16 miles to go.  Grant started to speed up.  He was running again.  A quick look at him told me he was still not feeling good by any stretch of the imagination, but he had somehow transcended the physical pain and was in some sort of weird zone.  I couldn’t comprehend the mental fortitude he possessed.  Constantly, I would say in amazement to Neil, “Look at him; he’s already catching up to us again.  And he’s running!  Look at the way he’s moving.”  It was so inspiring to me.  Neil even commented that he’d been looking for some inspiration recently and that he’d found it out there in the desert.

Just as it was barely beginning to get light, I took this photo.  The little white light is Grant:
992835_769137430513_803194153_n

The sunrise out there was beautiful.  Here are a few photos from that time:
970787_769137460453_713288872_n

603018_769137540293_1085694052_n

15062_769138538293_847678755_n

1012415_769137804763_300793128_n

1013090_769137560253_675129727_n

This is the magnetic sign on the side of the vehicle.  I didn’t realize it until I was looking at it later, but I caught the reflection of the sunrise over the ridge:
993641_769138603163_1325892200_n

Grant’s little mascot drove for a while:
969527_769138578213_845069734_n

Throughout the whole journey, one way Neil would gauge Grant’s well-being was when he drove by him on the way to the next stop, he’d say “woo hoo” and take note of Grant’s response.  Most of the time, he responded with the same; other times he acknowledged it otherwise, while some of the time, he did not respond.  While I don’t know how Grant is outside of running, or how he was during the race or even earlier in the same 135-mile run, my impression of him was that he was quiet and very introspective.  I tried hard to respect this while also getting info on his well-being I needed to ensure we crewed him appropriately and made sure he had what he needed.

Grant shortly after sunrise:
999351_769138558253_1103843635_n

I was so impressed by Grant, but I struggled with how to express this verbally in the moment.  I did my best, but it seemed he was pretty self-motivated.  A few interactions I had with him made me giggle.  One such occasion was when I said, “Regardless of how you feel, you look great!”  I sincerely meant that, but then he looked directly at me and said in his Australian accent, “I look great?  I feel f***ing filthy!”  I’d been awake for 24 hours at this point, so maybe that was part of it, but this really cracked me up.  Another reason I found this amusing was that I was reminded of something my friend Brady told me when I was pacing him during the final few miles of a 100-miler a couple months ago.  After being with me a couple hours, Brady suddenly looked at me in horror and said, “Wow, you are filthy!” which I acknowledged; he then expounded upon the original statement by saying, “No, I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone that dirty!”  Haha.

The long journey took its toll on Grant, even during the “short” (13+ hours) I was there.  This was not long after sunrise around mile 128:
998558_769139915533_1022930064_n

You can see how tired he was, but the sun brings new energy:
972248_769139940483_483161637_n

Looking at photos a few days after the race, Grant looked at this particular photo and said he looked “grimy.”  I told him he looked “bad@$$.” Seriously, this is one of my favorite photos, taken about 130 miles into his final 135-mile run:
1075692_769139955453_170003013_n

Grant was running well toward the end, so I took this opportunity to take some more photos:
1002458_769140414533_1946913990_n

935094_769140394573_589089708_n

971382_769141901553_988262584_n

The scenery out toward the salt flats was beautiful:
998207_769140604153_212406251_n

I like this photo because Grant looks so tiny next to the huge rock wall.  Yet the size of the rocks pales in comparison to the massive distance he just covered.  It’s really incredible to realize what people are capable of doing when they set high expectations for themselves:
1004482_769141976403_1128531558_n

A couple more photos near the end of Grant’s journey:
58888_769141961433_860474649_n

1001677_769141921513_357972276_n

The last mile or so leading to Badwater Basin was in the shade, which was a nice little perk.  Grant finished his Badwater Double on the same section of road where he had begun the Badwater race almost 6 days prior.  (Note that is wasn’t a continuous effort, so it took significantly less time on his feet to cover the 292 miles.)  His final 135 miles took him a total elapsed time of 33:22:54.  For reference, when he ran the Badwater race, he covered the first 135 miles in 24:53:57.

Finishing the final 135 miles:
1069183_768534104583_1013426370_n

1005452_768533850093_814909401_n

Finally done:
1004885_769142200953_110303643_n

60782_769142789773_796331940_n

We all hugged each other after Grant was done and then just stood around for a few minutes.

I took this photo of Neil and Grant:
1012203_769393846653_1206647896_n

He was tired but had a good attitude:
996531_769142759833_1357617253_n

We then went over to the famous Badwater sign.  Grant headed down there first.  I am grateful I was able to take a photo of him by himself looking out across the salt flats.  It’s one of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken, not because of its artistic merits but because of what it represents.

Grant in a photo he titled “Reflections on going backward to go forward”:
Grant at sign

Grant at the Badwater sign (serious and then when I asked him to smile):
1016381_769144321703_939836786_n

935836_769144361623_956245578_n

Neil and Grant:
1005336_769393048253_964463529_n

Grant and me:
971712_769144745853_1061724969_n

Neil, Grant, and me (love this photo):
993355_769393143063_281686557_n

Next, Grant wanted to take off his shoes.  I was interested in seeing what his feet looked like.  Neil said he didn’t want to look, but in the end, he couldn’t stop himself from looking.  Considering he never changed his socks and that his feet had been hurting him for over 50 miles, his feet didn’t look terrible.  This doesn’t mean they looked great either.  I put some ice and water in a small ice chest and helped him ice his feet for a few minutes.  I also helped him his sandals on after that.

Icing his feet:
21417_769147694943_313294451_n

Grant’s feet:
1011353_769152600113_2055567516_n

935062_769152640033_694363747_n

Before heading back to Stovepipe Wells, Neil decided to check an item off of his bucket list: Run a mile in Death Valley.  This is a prime example of the necessity to be careful what you wish for.  Recently, he realized he wanted to run a mile in Death Valley sometime.  Shortly after that, he saw my request for someone looking for a person to crew him in Death Valley.  Grant and I cheered Neil on as he started his run and we drove the first mile of the Badwater course to meet him at the end of his run.  It was about 9am and already 103 degrees.  He said that the single mile felt like he’d raced a 5k.

Neil finishing his bucket list mile:
1000196_769403776753_2079822642_n

On the drive back to Stovepipe Wells, Grant slept.  Initially, he slept sitting up, but he quickly sort of “fell over” and slept on a cardboard box next to him.  It was definitely well-earned rest, so I smiled when I saw how well he was sleeping in such an uncomfortable looking position.

Grant sleeping in the truck:
970809_769152674963_1682715395_n

1004474_769152704903_1780291679_n

When we arrived back in Stovepipe Wells about 40 miles later, Grant was still sleeping.  I moved all of my stuff to my car and then made the tough decision to wake Grant up.  I considered letting him sleep, but I wanted to tell him bye and give him a hug.  He was so out of it.  In an effort to not freak him out, I gently rubbed his back to wake him up.  Well, he woke up, but I did freak him out (or at least surprised him as he was yet again confused where he was and what was going on).  While the reasons I woke him up were admittedly selfish, I think it turned out for the best because he needed calories and I was able to get him some more milk at the general store for his journey back to Lone Pine.

Driving back to Las Vegas on Sunday, I felt so grateful for the experience I’d gotten over the previous 15 hours.  I was SO proud of Neil who had stepped up to crew someone over 135 miles even though he had no previous crew experience.  This was incredibly selfless and I’d learned so much more about him, not just about his life but about him as a person, than I had in years of chatting online.  I have so much respect for him.

And Grant… What an incredibly humble and kind yet totally bad@$$ person.  He shattered his goal time for the Badwater race and earned second place, then chose to go 11 miles up to the summit of Mount Whitney and back down to the Portal, then he ran the race course in reverse and honored his friend/coach Lisa in doing so.  Interacting with Grant, even during his run, it was hard to fully comprehend the huge feat he was undertaking.  He seemed so modest and reserved.  But he was so incredibly tough mentally and physically.

I think everything in life happens for a reason.  I am so glad Neil volunteered to help a stranger in his journey because it would not have been possible without him.  I am also very honored I had the opportunity to play a small role in Grant’s journey.  Grant was very self-sufficient, and there were times my duties out there were minimal.  But looking back, I know my time out there was worthwhile.  The single statement Grant posted (in response to one of the photos of him lying on the ground sleeping) that reaffirmed this to me was this: “I was coming apart mentally by then and wanted to lie down beside the road. I was also having balance and cognitive problems. Have never been so far over the edge before. Thank you for caring about me and making sure I was ok. I certainly couldn’t do it for myself by then…”  This made it all worth it to me because it showed me I served a purpose while I was out there.

After Grant’s Badwater Double, I was chatting with one of Grant’s Badwater (race) crewmembers, Eric S, and I realized something pretty neat.  It was evidence of how things come full circle… When my friend Tammy ran Badwater, due to a weird situation, she was crew-less for a period of time.  Other crews gave her water, including Grant’s crew.  When I saw Tammy after the race and she realized I wanted to run Badwater someday, she gave me a bunch of her stuff, including coolers. Over the weekend, I used those same coolers to carry ice and supplies out to Death Valley…to aid Grant as I crewed for him at the end of his Badwater Double. Neat, right?

Some people have expressed surprise that I drove to Death Valley to crew for Grant,  No, I didn’t know Grant.  I didn’t know his friend, Eric F, who had posted the “urgent” request for someone to help out either.  But that didn’t matter.  Ultrarunners are like my family, even ones I haven’t met (yet), and if I see one who needs assistance that I can provide, I can’t justify not helping.  I have benefited so much from the kindness of others in the ultra community who had nothing to gain by aiding me that I try to give back whenever I can.  Of course, even in trying to give back, I benefit, so I have a feeling I’ll never even break even (but I’ll still keep trying).

I love the ultra community.  As I’ve noted before, it is the first (and only) group I’ve ever felt welcomed into and feel fully accepted within (and this has held true since before I even ran my first ultra when I was just curious about them).  Every ultra experience I have, whether I’m running or crewing/pacing, I am reminded why I keep coming back to ultras.  I truly love the people I meet, and I make meaningful connections with people in a way that just doesn’t happen in “everyday” life.  I’m introverted, I don’t make friends easily, I hate small talk and obligatory superficial social interactions, I’m socially awkward, and I prefer to do most things alone.  People tire me out, so I tend to save my energy for situations I feel are worthwhile.  In ultra settings, I thrive, which is why people who know me in that setting don’t likely understand what I said in the last sentence… but that’s okay. ❤

Katrina

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “2013/07/20: Crewing Grant and other Badwater Reflections

  1. Grant Maughan

    Katrina. You are my friend for ever…& that’s longer than a Badwater Double. I am in your debt. Thank you xxoo

    Reply
  2. Neil

    Well written. It was a pleasure to meet you and crew Badwater. I have no regrets and nothing but respect for everything about Badwater. Thise runners are seriously amazing athletes!

    Reply
  3. bajafishr@aol.com

    Your final paragraph is almost spooky, as I just described myself the exact same way to my wife when she asked about a recent party we were at. I am just getting into ultras but have been running for a long time. Great article, and way to step up when needed! I hope I can find a runner to help crew for at Badwater next year, sounds like a great bunch and an incredible experience.

    Reply
  4. davecockman

    Katrina, I absolutely loved reading your write up. I thank you for what you did for Grant and what you show to to the world, about the giving and kindness that exists so heavily in the “Ultra” community. That giving and camaraderie is what draws me so close to this community. I met Grant at Badwater through a friend of his, Liz, who was on his crew. Liz had done for me, at the Keys 100 in May, what you did for Grant at Badwater. It all comes full circle. I hope to be running or crewing Badwater again next year and I hope to see you out there. Incidentally, Tammy is also a good friend of mine through a joint running club we belong to and also a number of Ultras we have run together. She is always such a joy to be around!
    -Dave

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s