Wednesday, July 23, 2008

RACE DAY – BAPTISM IN BADWATER


The alarm went off at around 4:30 in the morning. I was in the 6:00am wave and needed to be at the starting line no later than 5:30. After a quick shower and shave I got into my race gear. For the pre-dawn hours it was simple. I wore my BAR shoes, Kool-Off bandana, sunglasses, REI SPF 55 shirt and shorts. I met Raj, Martin and Carilyn and off we went. Nicole and Lisa were to stay behind and get ahead on their sleep since Raj and Lisa would have to take off after the first 24 hours.

Raj drove us to the starting line – we noted that the ice in the chest/coolers were melting already and would need to be replaced at the mile 17.5 point )Furnace Creek). Once there, I downed some HammerGel and a PowerBar. We posed for a few photos around Badwater. It was really neat to stand at Badwater itself and look over 250 feet up the mountain to see the “Sea Level” sign.

Chris called all the 6:00 am runners over. He gave a few last minute instructions and the Star Spangled Banner was played.
Don and Gillian had coached me that, if I listened to nothing else, to heed their words and walk the first 2 miles. I did – along side me was Bill Andrews and we immediately realized we had the same coaches. We walked a bit with a British runner too. It was so hard to walk – all the other runners were fading away in the distance. But I kept telling myself that this was not my “race” – I wanted that buckle. That meant going sub-48 hours. So, I listed to the ZombieRunner words and walked with Bill through the top of a small hill at mile 2.2 and then broke into an easy jog.

Soon I came up to my support van. Raj and Lisa and Martin jumped out and we re-filled the water bottles (I was doing 1 bottle water, 1 bottle Gu2O). Then I was off again at my easy jog. The van would drive ahead between 1.5 and 2 miles at a time and I would continue my easy jog. I was feeling really good – the sun was still behind the mountain tops and the temps were only around 90 degrees.

Soon though the sun came out from behind the mountain tops and I could feel the radiation. At a support van stop, I grabbed my OR sun hat and had an extra layer of sun protector sprayed on. After 2 miles, I decided that the hat actually was too hot as the sun kept peaking in and out of cloud cover. But by about the 10km point, I put the hat on for good. Soon, I added the SPF “long johns” I found on clearance at REI. The funny thing is that I came across these light weight “pants” that were on sale. They were perfect – loose fitting, very light and a high SPF rating. I don’t know who wears spf 55 long underwear, but it works for Badwater! Right before the race I learned that Gundy had been in REI walking around and came across the same item – so he and I were to be the Badwater Long John Team.

My crew kept their routine up – stopping every 2 miles or so. Pretty soon I could see Furnace Creek in the distance I passed my crew at the side of the road around Mile 15 – they were standing by the side of the van. I don’t recall for sure, but I want to say I entered FC at around 4 hours. Once there, my crew were once again on the side of the van. I walked over and they told me that the side door had popped off the track earlier when they hit the remote open button. I struggled with it for awhile - me in my long johns trying to pick this door back up on the tracks as runners passed by. My crew kept telling me to go, but I stayed trying to get the door fixed. I was worried as I wanted to get the van back to my sister and brother-in-law in the same condition as I received it, not to mention I had to drive it back to the Bay Area. But my crew finally persuaded me to go – I hit the road but stopped at the Furnace Creek Chevron station and asked the mechanic if they could give my crew a hand.

At Furnace Creek, I could now have pacers. I opted to pass on them for awhile, just running at my own pace. Soon, the van came by – the door was back on (some solid repair bills to follow I am sure, but it was closed). Then Raj decided to join me. We worked out a pretty good pattern – run 5 minutes, walk 4 minutes. I really wanted to run longer but Raj has this very persuasive way of reminding me not to be stupid. So we followed that pattern. All the while, Raj entertaining me and giving me positive thoughts and reinforcement.

After about 10 or so miles, Carilyn took over and joined me for the run. We stayed true to Raj’s pattern – somewhat. We ended up following the topography more. We ran downhills, jogged flats and uphills and walked some uphills. We were having a very solid stretch. My legs were feeling good and Carilyn kept and great conversation.

The scenery was amazing – long open desert plains, mountains that had every hue from a palette of browns and greys. I noticed that we were slowly passing other runners, but at the same time other runners were passing us. It became obvious that most of these were the competitive runners from later waves.

One of the first to fly by was Shanna Armstrong, a triathlete turned ultrarunner. She and her pacer were very upbeat and even offered us some food. Then, as I knew it would happen, came Gundy. He had started two hours before me – but by 50km he had caught me looking fresh and relaxed.

We chatted a bit and he took off. Soon I came back on him however – he was the side of the road about to soak in a ice bath! I laughed with his crew (his uncles are hilarious) and then took off again (he passed me once again a short while later).

As we approached the sand dunes before Stove Pipe Wells, the sun was very bright. Soon, Bill Andrews caught up with me. He was looking very string and as I stepped behind a shrub to collect a urine sample, disappeared around a bend. Carilyn was still with me – she had decided to run into Stove Pipe Wells with me – the 42 mile check point. She kept my spirits up – telling me her daughters’ favorite jokes. It turned out that of my team, I have twin boys, Carilyn has twin girls and Lisa has twins a boy and a girl. We were like the Team Twin!

Soon a truck drives by and honks at us – Martin and Nicole lean out and smile. I didn’t know who was driving but I realized it was Joe – my 6th crew member who drove 1000 miles from Colorado to join my crew! By now I had also added my complimentary Moeben arm sleeves to protect me from the hot sun.

As I went up the final climb to Stove Pipe Wells, Jorge came flying by me. He was smoking! Starting 4 hours after me and he made up 40 miles! He was all smiles as he passed. Only a few minutes later came Akos – also flying by. These guys with the natural genetic ability makes it look so easy – almost a weightless glide above the road (although I know that in reality they were working).

I enter Stove Pipe Wells and Don and Gillian pull over and snap some photos. I am feeling great and smiling and joking. Raj leads me over to the medical study tent where I gave more samples. Then I have John V check a small blister on my foot. At this point, Lisa swaps out for Carilyn and the two of us start up the long Townes Pass. This is the first major test of the course.

Very early I begin to think that I spent too much time at the stop. I was there almost 30 minutes. My legs didn’t feel as fresh anymore plus, at this point where the race starts the climb, the sun was at its strongest. I decide to walk a bit and soon I come up to Dan Jensen. Lisa and I start to pass, but I say “Wait! This is like meeting a movie star” so we slow and chat with Dan and his daughter. They are so nice – we exchanged a few words and then wished each other luck.

A short while later Lisa and I were walking up a tough section. Lisa was doing a great job – verbally moving me along. We discussed races and she tells me how she made it to Western States (again) only to be disappointed by the firs. She, like Raj, were doing the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 the following weekend. I kept worrying that their pacing me was to interfere with their TRT run – but they both tell me not to worry and that it was a good “warm up”. So we continue.

Behind me comes Alicia Springman, the woman who took 1st overall at the Keys Ultra. We all chat for a bit but she (like at the Keys) soon leaves me behind. I am not feeling good now – my energy has dropped and my stomach was feeling a bit sour. Finally, about 1/3 of the way up Townes I tell my crew that I need to recharge. I climb in the van – they drive my stake in the ground to mark the spot. They turn up the air conditioner and let me sleep for about 10 minutes. I exit feeling better – not great, but better.

Then as I am starting to run again, a race car stops and Chris Kostman jumps out. He wanted to make sure we had heard the “news”…we had not. He explains that a storm had hit around the 100 mile mark completely washing out the roads. The roads would be closed for at least 48 hours so the course was changed. No Whitney Portal, no Lone Pine, but a downhill finish back to Panamint Springs after a turn-around at around mile 100. I was very disappointed – that was not the Badwater course I wanted (my tired legs and stomach however were secretly smiling).

Lisa and I continued up Townes Pass – my energy was returning and I began moving, I caught Alicia again and after a few words passed by. Then, all the sudden it started raining. Winds that were non-existent were whipping by at high speeds. To our left was a beautiful rainbow. Near the top, Lisa and Joe switch out – Joe has decided to pace me over the Townes Pass summit and into Panamint. Then another race car comes back and a race official tells us “The original course is back on!” So while my body was less than pleased, I was relieved to hear that my race would not be an alternate course.

I start chatting with Joe – he is a great pacer. Very upbeat and engaging. Next thing I know, we are at nearing the top of Townes Pass. I get a second wind and start running – leaving my crew behind. Soon we hit the final summit parking lot area. I had decided to take a nap here – but I was feeling so strong, I opted for some miso soup with my legs elevated on a wheel well. Then Joe and I took off again. It was now solidly at night with stars in the sky and a very bright moon. I love night running and was feeling very good at this stage. Joe and I were in our night vests and had our lights to see the road.

For as much as I had struggled up Townes, after awhile I really did not enjoy the downhill to Panamint. It was steep and it was tough not to “fly” down the hill and burn out my quads. At the same time, the downward grade was causing my ankles to hurt. Joe kept pointing to the distance saying we were close to the flats.

After a long downward walk/jog we made it. The usually dry Panamint valley was now a lake – the moon clearly reflecting off the surface. Panamint Springs was visible in the distance. Joe and I kept running and we were passing some people. As I passed one runner he said “Hi Alan”. I turned and found out it was Gundy. He had a bad time on Townes and actually staked out and went into Panamint to rest. But now he had recovered and was looking really strong – he had a GPS unit and gave Joe and me the correct distance to Panamint and then he disappeared in the distance ahead of me.

The road passed through the now-wet lake bed. The humidity rose rapidly and sweat poured out of us. Soon, after 4 miles of running in what felt like a sauna, Joe and I entered Panamint Springs.

This was a “time check” so I checked in with Jack and Meg Dennis. Meg asked if I was stopping. I misunderstood her and thought she meant “Was I quitting.” I replied “No – the race was far from over.” But she explained that they have two cottages there for use of runners and crew. She offered to lead me to one (with Jack warning her to keep her hands off of me). I decided that I would take a quick shower and a 20 minute nap. I tell Nicole to wake me up in 20 minutes and, after my shower, crash on a couch in a room with other runners.

I wake up and check my watch – a little over 30 minutes had passed and it was around 2:00 am. I jump up and grab my gear and run out to the van. There I learn that Raj and Carilyn has left for their long drive back to Vegas (without allowing me to thank them over and over and over for all their help and support). Nicole confides that Raj had tried to convince the crew to let me sleep for an hour – they had comprised at 45 minutes. I was glad I woke up after 30 minutes though – as I did not want to lose that buckle.

Martin joined me and we started up the steep ascent out of Panamint towards Father Crowley overlook. The skies were unbelievable – darker black with brighter stars and planets visible. Every now and then Martin and I would see shooting stars burning up.

We kept climbing. Here, I need to mention how perfect my crew performed. I told them in advance that I am really bad about forcing food into my system during ultras. They made sure I kept putting calories in. Two suggestions by my coaches worked great: chocolate milk and tuna fish sandwiches (sounds gross, smelled gross to my crew, but they were wonderful!). Also, the delicacy that I discovered above all others was a small piece of soy cheese between two saltines. WOW! The food of the gods!

So up we went, Martin and I climbing until the sun appeared over the mountain tops for the second time. In the early morning dawn, we saw a few bats flying around. Soon we entered Crowley overlook and there saw Dan Marinsik – a local Bay Area runner going for his 6th BW finish. We chat a bit with Dan, but soon I discover a second wind we Martin and I start our descent down the hill.

The views were again, absolutely amazing. Some of the rock formations looked like a Hollywood sci-fi set. Now, the temps were again starting to climb and I found myself donning my hot weather gear again. Martin kept telling me my splits and how I was well within range for a bet buckle. I just could never get confident – feeling that a late melt down would make me miss the buckle.

So, we kept running and soon hit the plains and exited the Death Valley national park. Here, Martin gave the pacer duties back to Lisa while Joe crewed the vehicle. I don’t know why, but Lisa seemed to get stuck with me in some of the hardest parts. This stretch seemed to go on and on and on. At one point I said, “Wow, we must be around mile 100.” only to learn I was still at around mile 94. Ouch – that hurts. So we went on – I tried to run as much as possible, but there was a lot of walking. Lisa developed a game where we tried to watch for and count the number of lizards who ran from our path. Soon we reached the Darwin turn-off.

I walked a bit more and soon was reunited with Dan Jansen and his pacer. We chatted some more and discussed pace and goal (we were both going for the buckle). I did some math in my head and thought that I was running out of time, so I started running more. Soon Lisa and I were cresting a hill and a Naval jet came roaring overhead on a training flight. That marked the crossing over the 100 mile marker! I put on foot over the line at 30 hours 17 minutes. Not bad I thought as I finished my 4th 100 mile distance (the difference being is that I still had 35 more to go in this one).


As we crested the hill, we noticed storm clouds behind us – no doubt people behind us were getting wet. We kept running and soon I saw a patch of green in the distance. I told Lisa “That must be Lone Pine” (the 122 mile mark). But later, when she switched with Joe, I learned that it was Keeler – around mile 108…..a patch of green FAR OUT IN THE DISTANCE was Lone Pine. Man – I could not believe how far away it looked.

Joe and I kept running, at times I would get some bursts and pick up the pace, other times I would slow to a nice walk. Once I realized that the van had pulled about 2 miles ahead – a thought that worried me at that moment as the toilet paper was in the van and I suddenly needed it. Joe, the pacer extradonaire, pulls out a baggie with toilet paper from his running vest. I disappear over a ridge and deposit two medical study magnets in the Death Valley sands.

When I return, I noticed that two runners had passed by. Soon I come up along side one of the runners. It was Anita Fromm and her pacer. We chatted a bit – discussed the BAR shoes and then I was off.

As we approach Keeler (which I pronounced Keebler only to be told by Joe that no cookie-making elves lived there) Joe switched out and Nicole started pacing me. Martin took over the driving and we passed by the town. By now, clouds were forming and a ranger drove by and told us that if it started raining to head for high grounds.

I have no idea why, but all the sudden I had this burst of energy. I started running and didn’t stop. Nicole, my pacer, couldn’t keep up and had to be picked up by Martin who exchanged places. I kept running. Soon a car pulls up and Gillian jumps out – she shouted to Don “Hurry – take his picture! He is running the uphills!” Don jumps out and snaps a few shots. I come up to him and tell him that I am chasing the buckle. He shakes his head and tells me “It is in the bag.” and asks how I feel. I tell him my legs are a little tired and the soles of my feet hurt – he gives me a look of mock sympathy and tells me to get going. I do.

Soon I pass the other runner who had passed me earlier – he was from Germany. I kept going. But after awhile, my second burst slowed and I was walking more. Nicole joined me again and we started the long stretch to Lone Pine. Here, my energy waned yet again and at around mile 115 I told them that I needed another rest. I climbed in the van and slept for 5 minutes. Then, Nicole and I started again.

Finally, after a long time, we entered Lone Pine. It was about 2 miles to the time check. As we passed a nice green lawn, Nicole started going straight but I altered my path to the left and sat down on the lawn in the shade. Nicole joined me and we rested for a few minutes. Then we were up and running again and finally saw the 122 mile time check in the distance. I was 22 miles further than I had ever run before, I still had 13 more long and steep miles to go – but at this point, I ran without stopping.

I entered the time check and met with the full crew again. We chatted and Lisa breaks out two pizzas. Marshall Ulrich then enters the station and I try to grab a camera to get a photo with this legend….but he disappears without stopping. I quickly down two slices of cheese pizza. My plan was to sleep in Lone Pine for 30 minutes to an hour. But after discussion with my crew we decided to keep going. So we make the left turn and enter the road leading to the Whitney Portal. Only a half marathon between me and my BW buckle!

At this point, Joe takes over pacing duties. We begin to climb. There are wonderful rock formations and even a small stream running past us. I get another burst of energy and start running, passing a few runners. Joe has a good laugh at my pain. Now, it is getting late and the sun sets. With about 10 miles to go Joe and I don our night clothes and lights. The road kept going up and it was amazing how much the soles of my feet hurt. I fell into the van multiple times just to rest my feet. At one point, Joe suggested that I run one wrap of tape around the balls of my feet – and that helped a lot (for a few miles).

Once it got dark, the road really started to climb. At this stage, Martin takes over for the final pacing leg. We approach a series of switchbacks. We kept hitting them and I was feeling a bit stronger. Soon, we get to a long winding road and I am thinking that the end must be near – Martin corrects me that we are still a couple miles away. But then the van pulls along side and says “Final mile!” I couldn’t believe it was almost over – I start trying to jog and Martin joins me. Then the van returns and they said “ Oops….2 miles to go. Sorry.” Ouch!

So we went around another corner to see another switch back. We climb it and I think the end must be near. As we turn a corner we see….yet another switchback. Staring at this switchback, 134.5 miles behind me, with about half a mile to go in the race, I turn to Martin and say “F--- it! Let’s just go back.” He laughs and we continue.

Finally we round a corner and see the crew. They join us and the 5 of us run towards the finish line. We cross through the banner. 135 miles done. Time 41 Hours 47 Minutes 17 seconds. (photo by AdventureCorps) Chris Kostman congratulated me and hung my finishers medal around my neck and gave me my official finishers shirt. Then he gave me what I had been dreamin of the past 135 miles – my belt buckle!

Looking back, I can honestly say that this was one of the best endurance events in which I have ever participated. I certainly didn’t set any records (37th finisher out of 80 starters) – but ended up with my buckle, met my goals and took 3rd place overall from the 6:00 am starting wave (proving that walking the first 2 miles will not set a runner too far back). My crew was amazing! Even more so because except for Rajeev, the first time I met anyone on my crew was the day before the race. They were AWESOME!!!!! My only regret in hindsight was to waste my summit permit – I had decided that me feet hurt too much and my legs were empty. But I really wish I had tried to sleep for 3 hours and then attempt the Whitny summit. Oh well, next time – and next time I will try to race this course if I get in (well, race for me – meaning I will shoot for around 36 hours).


In a book, Into Thin Air, the author discusses climbing Mt. Everest. He states that no one climbs the mountain – but that one lays siege to the mountain. In a lesser way, Badwater is similar. One doesn’t just race it – one lays siege to it. From a fully outfitted and supplied support vehicle; to a crew of devoted and experienced runners; to the strategies and plans that are developed; to overcoming various hard ships and twists. It is more than a race – it is truly an experience.

CONCLUSION: CHRIS – WHAT AN AWESOME RACE! LISA, RAJ, MARTIN, CARILYN, NICOLE, AND JOE – MORE THANKS THAN I CAN EVER EXPRESS!

19 comments:

Chihping Fu 傅治平 (超馬阿爸) said...

Alan,

Thanks for the wonderful report! Feel like being around you for 135 miles. Please rest well for the coming Leadville 100M.

Chihping

Rajeev said...

Alan,

It was a wonderful experience tha I would not have missed for anything in the world. The place is indeed magical. Congratulations on a simply superb run. You deserve every accolade and more.

Rajeev

WinstonTan said...

Alan,

Congratulation on your finishing of BadWater. It is great reading your report. You are awesome.

Winston
[TriFam, Singapore}

anil said...

Exterordinary performance and feat Alan. In such a short time in Ultra running you moved from 12hr loop course in 2006 nov to badwater in jul 2008. Thats speaks a lot about a strong athelete like you.

Awesome report. great job your crew as well.

cheers
Anil

Lora said...

Alan,

Mucho congrats on your amazing finish. It sounds like such a life-altering experience and you shared it with us so beautifully.

I look forward to many more reports like this over the years.

May your recovery go fast! Thanks for sharing!

Lora from the Ultralist :)

Peter.Shoemaker said...

Congrats Alan; a great accomplishment. Best wishes for good runs the rest of the year.

Peter

Bedrock said...

Alan,

Congratulations to you and your crew for the success. Great report and I hope you recover well.

Bedford

Peter Lubbers said...

Alan,
Once again, congratulations with this awesome achievement.
You rock!
Peter

lillamb said...

Wow, congratulations. That was immense. I know how impressive the buckle is. Juli Aistars came here wearing one in Feb.

Lynnor Matheney
Houston

Ian said...

Alan

Great report and a perfect Badwater sum up. Great meeting you and some of your crew in the Valley.

All the best
Ian

Rajeev Char said...

Congrats Alan,
Great report - congrats to your crew.
Rajeev

Thomas said...

A truly amazing story, and I enjoyed reading it very much. Thank you for sharing. I'm dreaming of running the race myself one day, but so far it is just a pipe dream.

Alan said...

Thank you everyone for the kind words. The race was amazing and my crew was awesome! Hopefully I can return in 2009.

Marshall Ulrich said...

Alan,

Heather here, Marshall Ulrich's wife. I get "google alerts" for his name, so read about "Marshall Ulrich then enters the station and I try to grab a camera to get a photo with this legend….but he disappears without stopping." I'm sorry we missed you!! Marshall is always happy to talk to folks and/or get his picture taken (although he's a bit shy about it). Of course, he's also a focused competitor (as all you BW folks are! :) and was focused on moving up the portal road (which took him about 3.5 hours, I *think*). So, once again, sorry you didn't get your photo :(. If you see Marshall again, I know he'd be happy to oblige!

Heather Ulrich

Pheid said...

Congratulations, Alan, on a great race. I've been following your build-up to the race on the Ultra List; I was out there crewing Scott Weber this year and I saw you a few times on the course - you looked strong!

Best wishes in the future,

Connie Karras

Pheid said...

Alan,

I love your blog and put up a link at my blog.

Happy trails,

Connie :)

Baldwyn said...

Awesome, awesome, awesome. You must have charisma in your pockets to consistently attract rockstar level crews, btw. What a great run, congrats on it all, finishing, the buckle, a PR distance, everything. Hope you've been resting well, and thanks for letting us armchair spectate!

RunRevRunners said...

hi alan,

what an incredible run and even better report! you almost made it sound easy. :) great job and a giant congratulations! thanks for showing us the toughness it takes to accomplish something like Badwater. hope you are recovering well. look forward to see you at some of the races in the near future.

cheers!

hao

Alan said...

Thanks again everyone. Heather, I certainly understood Marshall's desire to pass through teh stop - he was moving and went up the climb to the portal so much faster than I. There is no way I am in the same league as your husband!

Connie - thanks, I loved your blog too and was great seeing you out in DV.

Baldwin and Hao - well, it sure wasn't easy but what a feeling when it is done!