Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bad to the Bone - Badwater Memories

Last week, as I was sitting in my air-conditioned office and swilling beers at night to keep cool in the Ohio “heat wave,” some of my US National 24-Hour teammates were tearing up the course at Badwater.  When the dust settled, Mike Morton had an amazing performance, missing the course record by a heartbreaking 76 seconds.  He covered the 135 mile course in 22:52:55.  Harvey Lewis was 4th overall with a time of 26:15:31 and Phil McCarthy was 6th overall with a time of 26:52:01.  Way to go guys!

The last place finisher’s time was a mere 47:08:14.  The field this year was super fast.  Each year, the times just keep getting faster and faster.  This takes me back to 2002 when I actually ran Badwater – 10 years ago.

I had only finished a few ultras before I decided to tackle Badwater, after first hearing about the race from an interview given by Kirk Johnson, author of a book about the Badwater race called To the Edge.  I thought the whole idea was so crazy that I had to see if I could actually do it, given that I absolutely hate hot-weather running.

Badwater poses many obstacles, the first of which is conning (I mean convincing) people to take vacation days and travel to the desert to be your crew.  My obvious victims were my boyfriend, Roger, and my sister, Sue.  Neither were runners so my crew was looking kind of bleak until I recruited two California runners I did not know from the Badwater message board, Kelly and Shawn.  This would be a very good thing.

At the start with my awesome crew, Kelly, Sue, Roger and Shawn
I, along with all the women and the “old” men, started at 6:00 AM.  Other male runners started in either the 8:00 AM or 10:00 AM waves.  The temperature was already unbearable.  The air was so hot that I could hardly breathe, and this was the cool part of the day.  As we started, Roger commented that he hadn’t taken a photo of the runner in a pink bunny suit (yes, someone had a full-bunny suit on like the Energizer bunny) but that he would get a photo when the bunny/runner ran by.  Now, the only way he would get a photo was if the bunny was ahead of me because a runner’s support team was always ahead of their runner.  There was no way a bunny was going to pass me, so that became my number one goal…. Beat the bunny.  And in fact the bunny dropped out before even getting to the first check-point at Furnace Creek.  My second goal was to run the race in under 48 hours so I could get a buckle.  My final goal was to be in good enough shape to hike up to the top of Mount Whitney after the race.            

For much of the race I felt like I was running in a blast furnace.  At some point, I actually put pants on because it felt like hot irons were being applied to the back of my calves.  But the scenery made up for the pain I was feeling.  I was surprised how beautiful everything was and strange to me at the same time.  I passed such locations as Devils Cornfield and Devils Golf Course and got caught in some Dust Devils.  According to the race report, the high temperature for the race was 126 degrees.

Running the the white line, coolest part of the road!!
Running up and down two mountain ranges was another new experience for me being form the flatlands of Ohio. My quads were trashed by the time I hit Panamint Springs about mile 72.  I took a shower there with all my clothes on and then started back out on the course.  My clothes dried almost immediately.  As I neared Lone Pine (around 120 miles), my crew calculated that I was actually way ahead of the 48 hour time goal and quickly had to arrange for accommodations in Lone Pine a day earlier than planned. 

As I hit the Portal Road for the last 13 miles of the race, for the first and only time in an ultra I started hallucinating.  This was actually entertaining because I knew what I was seeing was not real so it was a bit like watching TV.  There were people crawling along side of me (not really there) and flowers and plants jumping out at me along the road.  I had to quit looking at them because it was too distracting!  I had to finish the race!  I finally crossed the finish line in 42 hours and 21 minutes.  I ended up as the 5th female and the 16th overall.  Contrast that time to the 2012 race:  5th female time was 35:46 and 16th overall was 31:04.  In 2002, the race cut-off was 60 hours, now it is 48 hours. 

Things have definitely changed at Badwater from the runner in the bunny suit in 2002….. And while compared to today’s standards I wasn’t too speedy, I did make it to the top of Mount Whitney.

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