Thursday, 8 January 2009

Badwater - The Saga

For me the Badwater dream started only a few years back, I vaguely recall newscasts in the late 70’s about various races between Tony Rafferty and George Perdon across the Nullarbor and later across Death Valley, back then I’d never run a marathon and would only have been in my early teens but these things stuck in my head (as did a lot of other incredibly useless trivia just anybody ask me about a pacer called “Paleface Adios” or his much lesser known contempary “Tan Heel” or many varied weird and probably less than wonderous facts about numerous musical acts and you‘ll see what I mean). By the time I ran my first marathon a number of years later (Melbourne Marathon 12th October 1986) the last thing I ever thought was one day I’d be looking at emulating their feats, in fact I can recall saying never again for something like the next 10 months (until I put my entry in for the 1987 marathon).
After finally run a sub 3 Hour Marathon at my 10th attempt in late 1991, i'd pretty much realised i'd done all i wanted to achieve at that distance and it was time to take on longer challenges, ultimately in the years between then and now i'd run 202 Ultra Marathons although i never claimed that there was anything such as an easy ultra.
I'm getting ahead of myself now, certainly i'd seen footage at times (usually as a filler on the 6:30 news along the lines of “why the hell would you do this ?), of people racing across Death Valley, but it was not until i ran La Transe Gaule across France that i learnt there was actually a race that “normal people” could enter (a couple of other starters had done it and both i had beaten there).
On my return i virtually retired from running (for a whole 5 weeks), i'd achieved what i had set out to do by finishing the run across France and with painful shin splints was both physically and emotionally spent my only motivation being that whatever happened i'd still front up and continue my streak at the Melbourne Marathon, other than that i didn't really care.
However i still had one other Ultra that i'd pre entered the 2007 Western States 100 Miler in June 2007, possibly it would keep me going but frankly the cheaper option was to write off that entry fee and not head to the US, however after a shock sub 3 in the Melbourne Marathon i then rediscovered that zest for running (as my old blog went on about for a couple of months including a couple of wins). Come December 2006 and i'd found out all the details needed to enter the race as well as the fact that entry applications were only open for 3 weeks in January, definitely looked ideal Western States 100 Miler followed up by Badwater 3 weeks later, optimal use of the US trip.
Of course not everything goes to plan, January ended up being the break up in relationship between me and my employer of 23 years Dun & Bradstreet, hard to explain but i'm sure it was similar to a marriage breakdown and quite simply the last thing on my mind those 3 weeks was putting an entry in, me bitter, cynical and at times having incredible mood swings was definitely using running to keep my head above water (and away from booze) but planning a race 6 months away just wasn't in my capabilities at that time (as shown by the fact i finally booked my trip to Western States less than 2 weeks before the event). As this blog shows Western States the race was a complete disaster for me with a cold on arrival on US soil and ultimately dnf'ing for the second time in my career, but there were positives
having 3 weeks before my return home post race it gave me time to enjoy Californian hospitality and also find my way around the state and eventually make it to Death Valley. Whilst i can't claim a day driving and walking around Death Valley made me a local it did however make me realise i had an affinity with the place and simply enjoyed that sort of heat, i'd now discovered what would now be my goal in 2008.
Come January 2008 and as soon as i was able i had my entry application in and was absolutely rapt to be offered a start in February, finally it was going to happen.
That weekend i was in Melbourne doing a race and caught up with another Badwater Starter Brendan Mason so we'd planned sharing some rooms with our crews to save on accommodation costs and with me out the country for 2 weeks (bad timing unfortunately) he'd sort out booking this accommodation whilst i'd email prospective crew members from the BW email list. Whilst in Phuket i managed to get to crew members, both experienced multiple Badwater Crew, Ian Stevens and Steve Ochoa and also a possible 2 others but managing to lose my phone (and therefore internet access) was not able to confirm all this until my return home. Ultimately i picked up another two crew members including Steve Hanes, an experienced 100 Mile runner looking at a start in 2009 and another crew member who ultimately had a job change around Easter and was unable to crew. Come April i'd picked up another very enthusiastic crew member Matt Mundy and i could see things taking shape, now it was just a case of training and racing hard and getting over there in time to acclimatise.
All went to plan and by June 23 i was in Los Angeles and then off to Squaw Valley where i had planned to assist some of the Aussies in this years Western States, again bit of a glitch planwise as the race was called off with bushfires however it did mean i got 3 good days of running in up there as well as a bit of altitude training. Decided to drive home to LA via Death Valley and spent a couple of days there, and also spent much time time sorting out my accommodation both there and in Lone Pine and now Hong Kong Based Brendan was no longer a starter but with bookings in his name and numerous time differences was having a lot of hassles. Two days in Death Valley as well as a hike to the peak of Mount Whitney and decided a few days back in LA for the July 4 long weekend was the way to go, with the plan then to spend the last week back in DV as final acclimatisation.

Sun, surf, live music and beaches with long running paths was the ideal in between break, but with LA barely reaching 80 degrees knew that i'd be heading back to heat once the weekend was over. Still unsure what shoes to wear, i couldn't resist a $77 Pair of ASICS DS Trainers at Sports Chalet, but with still much shopping to do (courtesy of a list from Ian) decided that a couple of days in Las Vegas was the best option, as not only would it be stinking hot, i'd also have mobile phone reception so that i could still talk to my crew just in case there were any purchases we had neglected to think of.
Anybody having read this blog over the last year would know my thoughts on Las Vegas (iredeemably tacky !) but i'll admit massive Walmart stores were a godsend, although i'm not sure what the checkout chicks must have thought as i wheeled out trolley fulls of 50 Cent Quart bottles of Gatorade. Also finally found the ideal legionnaire cap at REI Henderson and mini Clif Bars ultimately essentials as it turned out.
Two nights in Vegas is probably two nights too many so set out happily on the Wednesday to the relative civilization of Furnace Creek. I'd initially planned to camp there until my crew arrived, but in the Visitor Centre was told that the temperature had not dropped below 110 Degrees at night for the last week, remembered just how unervating those sort of night time temperatures were when i was running across the Simpson Desert in 2002 and decided it was worthwhile booking a cabin for a few nights. First night ran the 5 miles to Zabriskie Point just in time for a glorious sunset, dip in a thermal spring heated pool (90 odd degrees) and a cabin, even with an airconditioner, still over 100 degrees.
Next day did Zabriskie Point in the heat and came back via Golden Gully was feeling very confident that the heat wasn't going to be an issue, by now there were a few other runners about and met a German Runner as well as the lone New Zealander (unfortunately on her crew car she had the metric conversion of 135 Miles up until then i hadn't given it a thought and frankly didn't want to know).

Next evening met my first crew member Matt, who'd driven in from Yosemite National Park, great being able to put names to faces, now i just had to hope i didn't scare him too much (after all you don't want your crew thinking you're a
raving nut). Get the feeling it was cooler outside the hut than in that night, but still it wasn't only me that would need to be acclimatised and we went for a run to Zabriskie Point the next morning, i was a little worried that as a non Ultra runner i might have pushed him a little too much but i guess sometimes hindsight is a good thing !!. Now to arrange the room swap, having to vacate my cabin and then move into the new, air conditioned motel rooms without having to stand around in the heat.
That afternoon, finally got to meet the rest of my team and the crew vehicle who had flown into Las Vegas and then driven in, quick hello's finally able to move into our spacious, new, air conditioned rooms.

Dinner that night we all got to know each other better and unfortunately realised that i was the one supposed to supply the magnetic race numbers for our vehicles, so it would be a trip back to Pahrump (the nearest town) for them the next day to get spray paint, had this strange feeling i was going to look like the amateur amongst the hardened pros come race time.

Can't remember much of Sunday, relaxing (or trying to) was my main goal, and it was a case of just waiting for the compulsory race briefing. Certainly everything that was needed to be said was said, but by then my mind had only one thought, i just wanted to be out there running everything else was now there (including the 3rd esky provided by race sponsors Coleman). Once this was over it was off for more ice and also to see how everything would pack into the vehicles. Also bought two hand held bottles, an interesting thought having never run with a handheld before, but assured by my crew they would be necessary.
With a 6AM start, was up early, at least i still had plenty of time for my cereal breakfast, although realising i still had one beer left in the fridge (and didn't want things that weren't going to be used during the race taking up room), decided that would do me for pre race liquid intake to wash down my Gatorade.
We were one of the first cars to actual Badwater (282 Feet below sea level) and it gave us time to look around and also to chat with some of the other runners, i'd finally found the other Aussies as well as honorary Aussie Phil, so a few happy snaps and then weigh in.

Still can't believe i weighed in at 155 Lbs, obviously my clothing was heavy ???.
With the sun not yet up, it meant i could run with just the legionnaires cap “scarf” held on by my headband on my head, Lululemon Bike Top, Nike Fitdry shorts, Aldi coolmax socks (all $2 worth !) and the new DS Trainers, eventually i'd need other stuff to keep the heat off me.
A little bit of a talk from race director Chris Kostman and we were off.

Taking it very easily but surprisingly was one of the leaders, my plan had been to run comfortably and within myself but with the lead at stake decided it was worth pushing a little harder, 1.9 miles in and having climbed 80 odd feet, it was time for a drink stop, knew this would be the first of many and to just take it steadily.

6.7 Miles in and the sun was rising, time for the first Succeed Cap of the day, moving along steadily just enjoying the experience still, particularly as we were heading towards Furnace Creek home of the last few days.

Time now to put the Legionnaires Cap and Sunglasses on as well.

I'd actually expected blistering heat, but the storms towards Lone Pine the nights before had meant steamy, muggy weather and i was sweating way more than in training in dry heat, this was worrying as the running shorts were sticking to me badly and i was beginning to chafe, definitely not good this early on (and my pre race Vaseline was showing no signs of helping), by the time i reached Furnace Creek it was time for food, a few Fig Newton Biscuits seemed the way to go as i'd only been on the road 3 hours or so and really wasn't that hungry. Half an hour on and the chafing was beginning to take it's toll on me, certainly i'd run in lots of heat before in these shorts but my sweat levels were something i'd struggle to replicate, so it was on with a fresh pair of Nike Fitdry shorts and as well as bit of a sit down and contemplation.

Back moving again and essentially every mile or so i'd have alternate Gatorade or water, and some simple food like chips or nuts as well as a spray over the head and legs. 23 Miles in and i was ready for a pacer, Matt got me moving along well and took me through the first Marathon for the day, i was feeling good but worried about the chafing and the humidity. 5 Miles on it was Steve O's turn to pace more than anything just having someone out there was comforting as at that point we were still to see other runners.
With vaseline not doing the trick, it was suggested Diaper Cream was the way to go by Steve H, so with inner thighs coated in thick white cream i set off again.
Was surpised to see a bloke come along from the Australian media somewhere at this point, whilst the running was relatively easy getting an interview out of me was a little like pulling teeth but it was good to have some Aussie support.
Nine and a half hours in finally made it to the next civilization Stovepipe Wells, we were now 42 Miles gone and finally back at sealevel, took time to have a break and best of all some fruit salad.
Steve H took over pacing duties here and again we may have had conversations but i think i was too focussed on just making sure i kept moving to recall whether anything deep and meaningful was said!!.
Soon after RD Chris came along and said that our race would have to be rerouted as the storms had washed out the roads between Lone Pine and Keeler, mentally this was a hell of a blow, it looked like we'd have a 131 Mile run but essentially even if i finished i'd be one of those finishers with an asterisk against my name, but on the other hand i also knew that i'd promised myself that last years WS100 was going to be my last ever DNF short of actually dying in a race so simply i was just going to have to live with it as all the runners were in the same boat.
By this point i'd been passed by a few other runners but really hadn't taken much notice (other than Shanna Armstrong's Disco Mobile !!), but finally a familiar face Dean Karnazes, we talked for a couple of miles and never one to show weakness probably ran a little faster to keep up with him, but ultimately sense prevailed and i dropped back a little, however did pass him again as he sat on the kerb and had some blisters attended to, a very short lived victory for me.
A couple of hours after having our route changed was greeted again by Chris with much happier news, Caltrans had fixed our road and sure enough we were back on the real course, that gave me an extra spring in the step.
At last the sun was setting and with Townes Pass obscuring it's setting finally the sting was out of the heat, time to take the cap and sunglasses off, don't really enjoy running in either as it makes me feel too much like i'm wearing blinkers so know i could go and finally run like at home a great feeling.
Just when things were looking up my body was beginning to betray me, with downhill from Townes Pass we had miles of beautiful running ahead of me and simply i couldn't. It was as though i had a rock in my shoe and just couldn't land on my foot as usual. Had a stop and took shoes and socks off and could see nothing and not even a blister, but i could feel it, did this mean i was going to have to walk the last half ???.
At this point without the extreme heat i was also beginning to drink less as i didn't feel like it, but more importantly because every time i drank i felt bloated, numerous stops every couple of miles as i tried to rid my body (from both ends) of excess but i was having no joy.
Often looked behind me at the incredible procession of car headlights as we wound our way through the night, trying to take my mind of how i felt . I'd reached the conclusion i'd get to Panamint Springs and see the doctor there and get my stomach problems sorted as well as changing shoes and socks to make sure i got rid of the none existent stone.
Whilst i couldn't see far to my side, i could hear the animal life that had sprung up in the temporary pools caused by the storms, frogs and other animals last thing you'd expect in these inhospitable climes.
Panamint Springs was one of those places that seemed to be “just around the corner” for an eternity, possibly the fact the roadhouse was the only thing to be seen for miles made it look closer but i was beginning to feel it was moving away from me, funny how the mind works when tired !!.
Finally Panamint Springs (19.5 Hours) and the closest i'd got to a dummy spit all day as i learnt the race doctor was at Stove Pipe Wells, so crook gut and all i promised myself a 30 minute lie down and then shoe change.
The room that had been booked by the organisers was a welcome sight, particularly with aircon going but with bodies sprawled everywhere and much (i'm guessing well deserved) snoring going on i knew sleeping wasn't an option. Found myself a comfortable bit of ground and just lay motionless and sockless for half an hour.
Changed into the New Balance 901's and another pair of Coolmax socks and after trying to sort my gut problems out in a real toilet, headed back out there with a cold “Ensure” drink. Having described my foot problem to my crew and a number of bystanders the conclusion was reached that it was my metatarsal, as luck would have it Matt has metatarsal problems and also had the piece of rubber that acts as a cushion so couldn't do me any more harm than to try that ultimately all this fiddling around had cost me a total of 80 minutes but by now time was not a great issue to me.
Thankfully after this it was uphill, meaning i could take the pressure of the front of my foot, but i was stuffed if i could run on it, though could walk fastish.
Glad to see daylight again, although it meant back to sunscreen and caps and sunglasses etc, at least chafing no longer seemed a problem (plain label Diaper Rash Cream %40 Zinc Oxide a true godsend), 28:35 for the first 100 Miles possibly not quite the speed i wanted but at least it meant only 35 Miles to go.

Looking behind and in front of me another storm cloud buildup, one worrying thought as roads around here are still very easily washed out, only once i made it to Lone Pine would i be sure of a Whitney Portal finish.
At least we were getting some entertainment now from fighter planes flying over from the nearby airforce base, you'd listen for the supersonic boom and then try to spot the plane, Steve H took over my pacing again and whilst previously having a pacer had spurred me on a bit now it was just a case of keeping pace.
Keeler seemed to have the same “Panamint Springs” problem to me, never seemed to get closer, more worryingly i had a fair idea where it was from Lone Pine and those storm clouds were playing mind games (especially watching rain over Mount Whitney).
Finally Lone Pine, it had taken 35:46 to make the last check point at the Dow Inn, at least it meant i could finally get what i had been wanting got hours a chocolate milk shake, even McDonalds here looked tempting !!!.

Turned into Whitney Portal Road and was suddenly emotionally spent, can't explain it, but i'd spent so much time in Lone Pine of late that mentally it felt like i was home and finished, i'm sure my crew were worried as i sat down and just seemed to have a nice quiet nervous breakdown. Would have spent the best part of half an hour in a state of limbo as i tried to get my head around the last stretch, but finally got myself motivated and headed off.
Having driven this road to Mt Whitney, a week or so previously knew exactly every turn and twist so was quite happy to walk steadily and also to speed up when another vehicle kept on our heels, no way known i was going to let anyone pass between me and the finish (even if with different start times ultimately they would beat me).
Had been walking with Steve O and he was happy to keep it up until the end so even got bit of a chat in. With walking up steep hills, decided i didn't mean to drink as often but after telling the crew to go on another mile at one point was disappointed to find more corners than i thought and much longer between stops than i was prepared for.
Nightfall and i had failed my promise to finish in daylight, to be honest i'd never looked at a watch and only occassionally been told the time, a twinge of disappointment but i knew it would be all over soon.
Half a mile to go and the rest of my crew join me and after miles of walking i decide to run, finally 40 Hours, 23 Minutes later it is all over.

After that things are a blur, tired and a bit emotional it really doesnt sink in till the next day, no going for a jog that morning, but on the other hand the joys of bacon and eggs at a diner.
Definitely an experience i'll never forget, but one i'm aiming to improve on in 2009 !!. Freely admit i'm not used to being crewed but this is one time where a crew is not only compulsory but the only way you'll ever finish, i'm just so lucky i ended up with such a great bunch of blokes, whilst i love to Steve H out there running against me this year, i'd like to think the others with still be willing to put up with me again.

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