Friday, July 23, 2010

Race Report - 2010 Badwater Ultramarathon - 135 Amazing Miles

Death Valley and the Badwater Ultramarathon hold a very, very special place in my heart.  They always will.  It has become for me a place to an individual, a husband, a father, a son, and a friend.  It is a place that affords plenty of time for internal reflection in the amazing solitude of the desert.  It is, so often, dichotomous - vast, yet bounded.....wondrous and glorious, yet wearisome and humbling.....desolate and forsaking, yet so full of hope and promise.  Badwater is filled just as much with desire and triumph, as it is with suffering and defeat, and in running this race, one often goes far beyond his or her own personal sense of being, into an almost perfected, intertwined state of existence - an undeniable union with and connection to the environment and the other participants.  But, above all, it is the grandest venue in which one can bear witness to the ultimate triumph of the human spirit.

American running legend Deena Kastor, crew member for now 5-time Badwater finisher Shannon Farar-Griefer, would describe the Badwater Ultramarathon as "a true test of human spirit," that "makes me believe far more is possible than we give ourselves credit for."  Commenting on the conditions at Badwater, she said it was, "the most oppressive conditions I have ever witnessed."  What she said that made me smile the most was, "Badwater was awesome...Next year I want to pile you and your friends into an air-conditioned bus so you can witness this amazing 135-mile race."  Badwater truly is awesome.

My second Badwater Ultramarathon was as phenomenal as the first. The race report I wrote about my 2009 crossing (see "Race Report : Badwater 135 Mile Ultramarathon") was, at the time, the most difficult race report that i had written, and this one is no different. It was a continuation of a journey that started last July, one that continues even beyond the 2010 finish.  It was another journey of self-discovery and awareness, and a battle against both external elements and internal demons.  The experiences I have had at Badwater have become the source of my inner strength, and I very often turn to those experiences (the challenges, the journey, the triumphs, the memories, both good and bad) in times of despair, desperation and hopelessness, not just in ultra-running, but in life itself.

As was the case in 2009, I would have never been able to cross the finish line without the help of 6 people that I consider family, my amazing crew, Meredith, Eddie, Eric, Herb, Chris and Steve.  These six amazing people took valuable time away from their families to help make this journey amazing.  They are just as much finishers as I am, and I will thank them in due course at the end of this race report.  In summarizing this amazing, life-confirming journey I will break things down into sections of the course that correspond to the below time station splits.  So, away we go....

Time Station Splits - started out a bit too fast, paid for it, but finished strong.

Pre-Race : Was this a sign of things to come?  The temperature at Furnace Creek maxed out the thermometer, but in all fairness, this puppy was in direct sunlight.  Me, Eric and Steve arrived on Friday, July 9, a day earlier than last year.  The hope was to get all of our pre-race shopping done so that Saturday was a relaxing day in the heat. We bought so much junk at Walmart that we had to get it in two separate trips.  Tons of water, coolers, food for the race (crew and runner), and some snacks and post-race beer were on the list.  Of course, like last year, there was a bit of humor when picking up the crew van.  When we got to the van the first thing we noticed was that it was blue.  Ok, no problem, because there is a white van right next to it.  Perfect.  Back to the counter we go, where we had the following conversation with the very nice Hertz employee :

Us: Hey, do you think we can get the white mini-van that is next to the blue one that you gave us?
Car Rental Agent: What's the matter, you don't like the blue one?
Us: Well, no, blue is a very nice color, but we are running a race in Death Valley on Monday and the white van will stay much cooler than the blue van.
Car Rental Agent: You guys are racing the mini-van in the desert?

Well, we got the white one, headed off to do our shopping, and arrived at Stovepipe Wells around 7 PM.  Saturday morning was gorgeous.  We went for a short run, saw and chatted with Frank McKinney, and drove the course from Stovepipe Wells to Lone Pine.  We took some fantastic pictures along the way:

The rest of the crew (Herb, Chris, Meredith, Eddie and little Zoe) arrived late Saturday night. It was great to finally have the entire group together.  Sunday was filled with pre-race activities - check-in, meetings, van preparation, and of course, pictures.

My Buddies From Brazil 135 - Ashley and Michelle (crewing Ray)
The Amazing Zoe !!
A Special 9th Birthday Wish to Carson
All of the pre-race preparations were out of the way, and after a few chats with some old friends (the great Marshall Ulrich, my Brazil 135 friends Ken and Jarom, a few of my 2009 crew members who were running this year - Lane and Brian, Mike E., two of my favorite friends of all-time, Jamie and David and their crew which included Sean and Rob, and many more) it was time to hit the sack.  With a 3:30 AM wake-up call on the horizon, I admit it was difficult to sleep, but I was excited and ready to get this thing rolling.

Race Start - Monday, July 12, 6:00 AM : It was just as humbling to stand at the starting line this year as it was in 2009.  There were some Badwater legends in my starting group - Marshall, Jack Denness, and Art Webb for starters.  It was also a Brazil 135 reunion as also in the group were Connie Dockendorf, Dan Marinsik, Ken Posner, and Brian Recore.  I also couldn't resist a picture with the highly accomplished Shannon Farar-Griefer (creator of one of my favorite products, Moeben Running Sleeves) and the Moeben Girls (yes, that is Deena Kastor on the far right):

Marshall and Me
Dan, Brian and Me

Badwater to Furnace Creek (17.4 miles) - Monday, 6:00 AM to 9:01 AM : The first thing I noticed about the 6:00 AM start (vs the 8:00 AM start last year) was that it was considerably cooler, with a ton of shade.  I suppose this was both a good thing and a bad thing.  Brian and I headed out at a pretty fast pace, likely too fast.  But, we got lost in chatting about Brazil and other things, and before we knew it we were actually in front of the 6:00 AM group.

Simply Amazing Picture Taken By Luis Escobar
Brian and I made the turn toward Furnace Creek.  It was so cool hearing the cheers and seeing many of the 10:00 AM starters heading off to the starting line.  But, the sun was was getting warm...I had just run the first 17.4 miles at 10:24 pace.  How long could this last?  Not much longer.

Furnace Creek (17.4 miles) to Stovepipe Wells (41.9 miles) - Monday, 9:01 AM to 4:22 PM :  Well, the good times lasted for about another 8 miles.  Brian and I were still together until around mile 25.  We had talked about a "goal time" to reach Stovepipe Wells.  He had mentioned in the 9 hour range.  I thought that was too aggressive for me and soon lost him as he faded in the distance ahead.  It was time for a shoe change - the sole of my left shoe (Brooks Racer ST 4) was burning off! Herb came out to pace.  It got hotter...I slowed.  Remembering last year's issues, we made sure to address cooling early and often.  Several times I found myself lying on the floor of the van with a bag of ice on my chest to cool down.  I'd always rise up with renewed energy.  But the heat this year seemed more brutal than last year.  One of my crew mentioned that there was "carnage" behind us.  Well, I'm sure I was right in the middle of the carnage.  But, Badwater brings many, many ups and downs.  One moment you are flying high, the next you are beaten and deflated.  Yet, there is always hope, and runners here very often get back on their feet and tackle the challenge.  We did just that, several times.  Eric paced for a bit until we arrived at Furnace Creek.  Mile 41.9 at 10 hours 22 minutes.  About where I'd hoped to be, but a little more beat up than I had wanted to be.  Fuel-wise, I had basically been living off of Perpetuem and gels.

I had only managed 3.33 miles per hour since Furnace Creek and I was tired.  We decided to head into our room at Stovepipe Wells for just a bit to cool down.  No ice bath this year.  I changed clothes, iced down, had a few cramps in my legs (not nearly as bad as last year), and we headed back out.

Stovepipe Wells (41.9 miles) to Panamint Springs (72.3 miles) - Monday, 4:22 PM to Tuesday, 5:15 AM : The climb from Stovepipe Wells to Townes Pass Summit is brutal - almost 17 miles and 5,000 feet of climbing.  It led to two more stops in the van to cool off, where I at one point joked that "I almost died" (one of the very few videos we took this year):

Chris was pacing up Townes pass.  He is awesome. We had such a blast out there together. Herb played the role of the motivator when pacing to Townes Pass.  Chris and I were like a comedy team.  Somewhere around mile 50 the crew asked if I had any needs - "women" I said (no clue where that came from).  A mile later they wrote in the crew log that I replied "more women"...a mile later, "any woman"...a mile later, "anyone at all".

After reaching the summit of Townes Pass, it is time to descend to around 2,000 feet and the Panamint Springs Resort.  Mile 59, 1:30 AM on Tuesday, things start to turn for the better.  We run.  Knowing that a fruit smoothie awaits at Panamint Springs, we pick up the pace and begin to pass many of the folks that had passed us by while we took a break at Stovepipe Wells.  I knew that reaching Panamint Springs would be followed by another 17 miles and 3,000 feet of climbing to Darwin, so I wanted to get there quickly.  I am pretty sure that somewhere before Panamint Springs I ran into Lane (he crewed for me last year).  He wasn't looking good, and for good reason.  He held up 9 fingers and said, "do you know what this represents?"  I kind of know. Yes, it was the number of times he had already thrown up.  Yikes.  We reached Panamint Springs, grabbed a smoothie, and started the next climb to Darwin.

Lane and His Crew
Running With Chris to Panamint Springs
This stretch also included one of my favorite interactions regarding my @#$@%@# turkey sandwich.  I had wanted a turkey sandwich.  Actually, I was a bit picky about it - turnkey sandwich, mayo, crusts cut off.  What am I, 6 years old?  Chris was waiting for his water bottle and was going to tell Steve and Eddie to have it made for me. 

Chris: He needs a turkey sandwich with mayo and the crusts cut off,.
Steve: Ok, for now take your water bottle.
Chris: Ok, thanks, but we need that turkey sandwich with mayo and the crusts cut off.
Steve: Sure, no problem.  See you in a mile.
Chris: What the #$%#?
Me: What the #$%#?

I was cracking up.  Actually, the first thing I said, a la Nick Palazzo and his "where's my $%@#$#@ soup" line from Running on the Sun, was where's my #%@#$#@ turkey sandwich.  Chris and I came up with so many funny lines to stay to Steve when we caught up to the van.  We had the, "hey, why don't you just go ahead and drive to Lone Pine and we'll meet you there," and a few others, but settled on the "please, when I ask for a turkey sandwich and don't say I'll take it in a mile, I really mean I want it, like, now."  :)  It was really a comical exchange that put some new life us all.

Panamint Springs (72.3 miles) to Darwin (90.1 miles) - Tuesday, 5:15 AM to 11:29 AM : Some of the climb to Darwin was spend with Lane and his crew, Jen, Sarah, Scott and Mike.  We would flip-flop a bit until Lane finally pulled away for good, but the conversations we had were memorable.  My favorite one was discussing what Lane had said to Jen a while back in the race.  Commenting on last year vs this year, Lane said something along the lines of, "Last year I thought you were being a big sissy," (sissy wasn't exactly the word, but it is better suited and less vulgar than the real word), "but man do you have guts and balls...this race is $%@#$#@ tough!" 

Lane and Sarah

Darwin (90.1 miles) to Lone Pine (122.3 miles) - Tuesday, 11:29 AM to 11:36 PM : For me, this is the longest, most painful stretch of the course.  It is hot again during the day.  Although we are moving better, it is still slow, and I would continue to labor averaging less than 3 miles an hour to Lone Pine. Turkey sandwiches and cantaloupe are working the best.  I'm even treated to ice cream, pizza, and a burger.  We spent a lot of time with Alisa Springman and her crew.  She had gone through some tough times, but she was always smiling.  Her crew is just awesome.  At around mile 116 we start to run again, but not for long.  Something really cool happened about 3 miles before the turn into Lone Pine - a call from Badwater veteran Charlie Engle.  I've gotten to know Charlie a bit in the past few months, and he offered up some amazing words of encouragement.  I had wanted to sleep, I was tired.  He told me to press on, be strong, never quit.  I would...and I wouldn't.  It was a big boost, and as I came into Lone Pine I was excited.  13 miles to go.  I gave Lisa Bliss a big hug, headed for Whitney Portal Road, made the left hand turn, and stopped.  No, I didn't stop for good...chaffing!!!  Ouch.  Wrapped in a towel, the crew cut my CW-X compression shorts off of me so I could change into a lighter undergarment.  A little Sportslick on the tender areas, and we were ready to roll.

Around Mile 110 - Still Having Fun

Lone Pine (122.3 miles) to Portal Road (131.0 miles) - Tuesday, 11:36 PM to Wednesday, 2:52 AM :  13 miles and almost 5,000 more feet of climbing remained.  As I had come into Line Pine, Brian and his group were drinking beers and hanging out after his great finish.  He said that he had run the fastest last 4 miles (from Portal Road to the Finish) than any other competitor.  I would store that into the back of my mind.  :)

Things started out slowly.  Eric was pacing at this point, and we were focusing on keeping 20 minute miles.  I was counting every mile on my fingers.  12 more to go.  11...10...9...8.  At around mile 126 or 127, Herb had grown tired and had Steve pick him up so he could get some rest in the hotel.  Herb said, "see you in about 4 hours."  I put that one in the back of my mind as well, and although he probably didn't mean it to be motivating, it was.  Then, mile 128.  I vaguely remember a comment from the crew van to which I responded, "fine, you want me to run, give me my headphones."  With my Ipod turned up full blast and Chris pacing, we ran.  10 minute miles, maybe even a tad faster.  The crew log has written on it, "TONY GOING BANANAS...Woo hoo," and "Chris says Tony looks like a white Teletubby with his white headphones and outfit."

Portal Road (131.0 miles) to Finish (135.0 miles) - Wednesday, 2:52 AM to 3:58 AM :  We continue to run, passing other runners, some of which seemed to be in the midst of a death march.  Meredith comes out to pace and tells me that Alisa is only 3 or 4 minutes ahead of me.  3 miles later, the crew log says "Meri died."  Well, she didn't die.  We were running, and I asked her to make sure she shined her light in front of us so we could see.  She said, "dude, this is my speed work pace, I can't keep up with you."  Cars coming down from the top are honking, we are moving, Eric is pacing, all is good.   We pass Alisa, but I don't even notice because we are flying.  Finally, we finish.  45:58:15.  Buckled!

Race Director Chris Kostman Giving Me My 2nd Badwater Buckle
The one unfortunate part about moving so quickly up the Portal Road was that Steve and Herb were unable to make it back in time to finish with us.  It sucked, but we were able to get in a good group picture when they arrived (Eddie was unable to make it as he was watching Zoe back in Lone Pine).

After spending so much time with Alisa and her crew on the course, we just had to wait to congratulate her on her awesome finish:

It was really cool when someone pointed out our time split for the last 4 miles (1:06:15), and that of the 76 finishers, only 9 of them ran those final 4 miles up Whitney Portal Road faster than we did.  It looks something like this :

0:57:00 - Brian Krogmann (12th overall)
0:58:00 - Nick Hollon (13th overall)
0:59:48 - Zach Gingerich (1st overall)
1:00:30 - William Ansick (28th overall)
1:02:04 - David Ploskonka (17th overall)
1:02:38 - Ian Adamson (18th overall)
1:03:38 - Oswaldo Lopez (2nd overall)
1:05:12 - Jamie Donaldson (3rd overall, 1st female)
1:06:02 - Iso Yucra (32nd overall)
1:06:15 - Me problem.  I had thought I might have some blisters, but holy crap were my feet in great shape.  Using Drymax Maximum Protection Running Socks, my feet were virtually flawless - two tiny blisters of no consequence, literally the size of a dime or smaller, one on my right heel, the other in between my big toe and 2nd toe. Just some sore and swollen feet.  Thanks again to Drymax Socks for keeping my feet in great shape.

Also, Moeben Sleeves...these are the bomb!  Loved them for the protection from the sun, and they were great to soak with cold water.  I even put some ice underneath them to keep me even cooler.

The Aftermath :  There was more fun to come.  Off to Vegas we went to spend a few days with Jamie and her amazing crew - what a blast we had.  We also spent an evening of drinks and gambling with Alisa and her great team.  It was the perfect way to relax and celebrate our accomplishments, including Jamie's 3rd Badwater victory in a row.

Herb, Steve, Rob, Me, Sean, Jamie and David 
I had the most amazing crew.  I can't even find the words to explain how much these people mean to me. A finish would not have been possible without each and every one of them.  They gave themselves completely to this journey, and we succeeded only because of them.  They are forever family.  A ginormous thank you to Eric, Chris, Herb, Meredith, Eddie and Steve for everything they did to get us to that finish line!

The time and effort put into this event by the race staff and all of the volunteers is absolutely extraordinary.  A huge thank you to Chris Kostman and his entire staff for all that they do!

Badwater is simply amazing.  I cannot imagine it not being part of my running life.  I miss it already.  I miss all the old and new friends I got to visit with while in Death Valley, and the time (sometimes brief) on the course I got to spend with folks like Jimmy Dean Freeman, Alisa and her crew, Lane, Shannon, Iris Cooper Imhof, and many others.  Thank you Iris for that coconut ice cream and rice pudding!

It is an honor and privilege to get accepted to run in the Badwater Ultramarathon, an opportunity that I do not take lightly. Will I give it yet another go?  Well, one way or another I hope to be a part of Badwater for years to come, whether it be as a runner, a crew member or volunteer.  Part of me would love to go back and experience it as a crew member or volunteer, to help others experience this life altering event. But, if I am blessed and lucky to get accepted to run again in the future, you can bet your ass I'm jumping all over it!


  1. awesome race report. it was such a great pleasure to be there with you :)

  2. "Somewhere around mile 50 the crew asked if I had any needs - "women" I said (no clue where that came from). A mile later they wrote in the crew log that I replied "more women"...a mile later, "any woman"...a mile later, "anyone at all".


  3. Tony, What a great re-cap! Always well worded and it's just what I would say if i were a good writer! Awesome race my friend, it was great to be out there with you!


  4. Thanks Meredith.

    Brett, I am sure there were other funny quotes. I think we quoted parts of Running on the Sun throughout, especially the "I am fine, everything is o.k." and "he's my brother too" lines.

    Lane, awesome job out there. Way to survive that heat and finish strong. What a great race you had!

  5. Mazel Tov Tony!
    You and your crew are quite inspirational.
    Thanks for sharing your journey.

  6. Awesome report Tony! You put it into words perfectly! Congrats on a amazing journey!

  7. Tony, this is a great race report, with some fantastic photos. Congrats on workin' it. I hope you are taking some well deserved rest!

  8. Big, big congratulations, Tony. And thanks for taking us along on the, run. Loved the photos and the point-to-point commentary - @#$@%@# turkey sandwich and all.