3 years, 405 Badwater miles, and FINALLY a buckle!

FINALLY!   I earn the Badwater 48 hour belt buckle!  

Badwater Sub-48 Hour Buckle

It only took 3 years and 405 Badwater miles to do it, but I finally got my SUB-48 hour buckle.  In my 3 completions in a row of the Badwater course, 2 of those were near disasters with many hours of downtime that cost me a chance at the buckle. If finished the race each time, but 4-6 hours slower than I hoped.  Third time is a charm I suppose, because this year, with pretty much the same crew, we managed to keep it all together, to move continuously with no more than 20 minutes of downtime at any one point, excepting one longer stop at Panamint while we gassed up, bought food, got cleaned up and just took a little too long. 

Photos of our journey from Badwater to Mount Whitney http://daveharperphotos.irun100s.com/GalleryThumbnails.aspx?gallery=26668

We had highs and lows, as is to be expected over 48 hours of continuous effort, but we contained the lows, and moved really well during the highs, and by the time we were within 100 miles, I knew I had it.  I think the crew knew it about mile 110 or 120.  The last climb, was so long and seemed to go forever, but we were never in danger of letting the 48 hour buckle slip away.  The crew performed magnificently.  They really did take so much pressure off of me, and were so sharp and clear thinking when I was in an exhausted fog and not sure what to do.


Recap of the event.


We stayed two nights at Furnace Creek.  This was very relaxing and I enjoyed it.  This is race headquarters before the race, where the pre-race events, and only 17 miles from the actual start line.  I did not have to do much of anything but relax and get my mind prepared for the next two days.  The crew was working hard getting our two vehicles properly setup.


Start to Furnace Creek.  17 miles. 

This section always goes by so fast.  A quick 17 mile warm-up to the first check station.  No pacers allowed.  The pre-race excitement and adrenaline carry me most of the way on this section, though reality is setting in around 12-13 miles and I start looking for the green trees of Furnace Creek Resort around each curve.  I was moving very good and feeling comfortable here, though probably going a little fast.  The crew wasn’t hassling me about it and I was enjoying myself. ,(they can sometimes be real nags when I run too fast for their liking, admittedly for my own good)   As we neared Furnace Creek, maybe 1.5 miles out, I took a Pop-Tart and bottle of water and assumed the crew would wait for me at the left turn to Furnace Creek, exactly one mile out, but we hadn’t discussed it.  Well, I used my whole bottle of water to get this dry Pop-Tart down, and the crew did not stop but rolled on into Furnace Creek, figuring I had plenty of water.  It is truly unbelievable how quickly a person dries out in that heat, but even though it was all slight downhill into FC, I was not able to run it all, I had to stop and walk a good bit as I felt I was overheating and getting too dry with no water.  I came into FC and sat in the van for a few minutes, and ate an ice cream bar.  All was well, and the little SNAFU of running out of water was forgotten.  It had scared me to be out of water, but I really don’t think much if any harm was done.  Simple miscommunication between what I thought they were doing and the fact that I’d had to consume a full bottle to get my food down.


Furnace Creek to Stovepipe Wells.  Mile 17 to 42.

This section is HOT.  We are completely exposed, the excitement of the start is worn off, and the reality of attempting to run through Death Valley in July is upon us.  Our race plan here is pretty simple, SURVIVE.  To simply get through this section with enough strength left to move continuously forward through Stovepipe and start the 18 mile climb over Townes Pass.  It is so easy to let things slip away on this section, as the pace slows, the heat increases, and things begin to fall apart.  We knew what we needed to do, and it did all come down to that one word, SURVIVE it so you can continue the race.  Pace and time in this section were meaningless to us, as long as we were moving and not creating a deficit that I could not recover from.  What in fact happened, was soon after leaving Furnace Creek, my legs were feeling very tired, and I was feeling my energy slipping away.  My stomach wasn’t feeling well.  It was way too early to be going through this.  I hated it, but had to tell the crew I wasn’t feeling well, something was wrong.  I could imagine what they would think, “oh, here we go again, a long, slow, slog to the finish in 50 some hours.”  But their confidence and clear heads had not time for that, they simply went about the task of solving the problem.  They first wanted to check my weight.  What do you know, I had gone from 3 lbs UP about mile 8-10, to 5 lbs DOWN at mile 20-22.  That is too much weight loss, and the obvious source of my problem.  I was sweating too much, and not getting enough fluids to digest.   Solution?  Slow down, drink more.  It’s an easy thing to do almost anywhere, but not easy in Death Valley.  I know of no place more difficult to stage a rebound than while actually making forward progress in Death Valley.  But recover we did, continuously drinking, being VERY slow with my pace, and checking weight often, we were able to slowly get my weight back, and my legs feeling good again.

We actually went through this iteration of getting my weight up, then picking up the pace and having it get dangerously low two times in that stretch.  But we made it to Stovepipe Wells, feeling pretty good, in about 12 hours, slower than in either of my two previous years in this race.  During this section we made several stops to ice my legs and feet, and put tape on blisters or hotspots.  The crew did a super job of doing almost all of this work on me, so I could relax or eat while they took care of my legs and feet.

Frank McKinney caught and passed me as we came into Stovepipe.  He had started 2 hours after me, so was making very good time.  Oddly enough though, from that point to the finish, he and I were back and forth the rest of the race.  We ran together for some points and in general had a great time with him and his crew throughout the upcoming night and following day and night.  We were able to show them the Sidewinder Rattlesnake in the Keeler area the next night as he was just behind me when we ran up on the snake.


Stovepipe to Panamint Springs.  Mile 42 to 72

Leaving Stovepipe Wells and heading toward the climb out of Death Valley is horribly tough, both mentally and physically.  Though technically, you are ‘leaving’ Death Valley, it’s still just as hot as it’s been all day, the wind is usually blasting you, and there are 2-3 hours of very tough conditions before the night and altitude of the climb combine to ease the temperature.  Of course, continuous climbing for hours is not easy either.  I moved well out of Stovepipe, but slowed as the actual climb started.  I was struggling with a slow pace, but still moving.  We continued up the climb, with several stops for ice massages and sock/shoe/tape adjustments.  Soon after we passed the 3,000 foot mark of the climb, we made another stop for massage, with Vince really focusing on my calves, and I ate my second Pop-Tart of the day.  Tom joined me to pace here, and I don’t exactly know what did it, the new style massage, the Pop-Tart, but I felt like a new person.  My legs did not hurt, my feet did not hurt, I was moving SO well, just going and going.  I kept going on and on about how great I felt.  It was late night by this time, with the beautiful Death Valley stars lighting up the sky.  I was amazed and surprised when we crested the top of Townes Pass, and I could not wait to start the long descent down into Panamint Valley.  13 miles of almost all downhill, it is a great run if the legs are strong enough for it, but it is a long, painful grind if not.   William joined me as we began our run.  And run we did.  Basically non-stop from top to bottom, then as the road flattened into Panamint Valley, I suggested we run at least to the near edge of the dry lake bed a few miles away.  We did that, and I suggested we continue, to the OTHER side of the dry lake bed, and continue up the incline until a specific point were the grade got steeper.   We did that too.  What a great run and effort.  We caught and passed Nicki Seger in this section.  We chatted a little, and she and I were back and forth until very near mile 90 where I’m not sure what happened to her.  As we were crossing the dry lake bed, the sun was just starting to peek over the mountains to begin our second day.  We had not stopped at all for any significant amount of time, no sleeping for me, and I felt great.  As we approached Panamint Springs, I was picking out objects for us to run to, as I raced to get to Panamint before the 23 hour timeframe(meaningless time, but I was having fun).  William later confided that he was ready to stop running and didn’t really want to go across the lake bed.  He’s a great runner, and the fact that I could in any way make him run to the point of being ready to stop can’t do anything but make me feel proud.  He’s performed so superbly for me 3 years in a row out on the Death Valley course.   I hope that one day I’ll get the opportunity to crew for him out there.  We stopped at Panamint to recoup, recover, and prepare for the coming heat and the next long climb up to Father Crowley’s point.

Panamint Springs to Darwin Cutoff. Mile 72 to 90.
Nothing eventful here.  We just kept moving at a really good pace.  A couple stops for Vince to work on my legs, but other than that we just kept on going.  It was hot, with full sun most all of this section.  The long climb was not distressing to me, I was comfortable and surprised how quickly we arrived at Father Crowley’s Point.  Nicki, Frank and I were all on this section together. 

I was very excited to come into Darwin(mile 90), I had been moving very well.  But as I stopped to take a break and started to leave, I suddenly felt very tired.  I mentioned to the crew, that I was just feeling like I was exhausted and might need to sleep at some point.   That maybe I could build a big enough cushion that I could stop and sleep before the last 13 miles of climbing.  But off, we went, to begin the next 30 miles to Lone Pine.  As long as I kept moving well, I had the 48 hour’s in the bag.


Darwin Cutoff to Lone Pine Mile 90 to 122.

As soon as I started running, I felt horrible.  I was so weak and feeling light headed.  Vince and William had already left and I knew were at least a mile up the road.  Though this was a light downhill section, I was not comfortable running.  I had to walk, my legs were weak and wobbly.  I got to the van I hopped in, I had to stop and eat.  I was bonking.  Though I had just ate a sandwich at Darwin, apparently that wasn’t enough.  I was depleted and in trouble.  Gatorade, peanut butter crackers, peanut butter, Pop-Tarts, I took in about 6-700 calories in 15 or so minutes. I took a 15 minute rest, all that I dared at this point, and went back out.  Vince and William were worried, Tom had gone into Lone Pine to secure motel rooms, and it was just us three.  I was walking, trying to let my body recover and get back to be able to run.  Any big downtime here would put 48 hours in serious jeopardy, and I’d just wasted 15-20 minutes sitting in the car.  The sun was beating down on us, and even the easy downhill’s, I couldn’t yet run.  Vince suggested I really needed to pick it up to make the time.   I knew he was right, but I couldn’t do it.  I stuck to my guns, told him if I ran these downhill’s now, I’d probably blow myself up and be finished,  I had to just keep moving, let myself recover, and wait for the cool of the evening and night to pick up the pace.    It did not take long, before I WAS feeling better.  I jogged the downhills.  Vince let’s out a war whoop as he drives by.  We’re back, and making the progress we need to be making.   I continue feeling better, and doing more running.  As we approach the 100 mile marker, I’m checking my times splits to determine what I have to do to make the 48 hour time I am shoot for.

Basically every mile, I am putting time in the bank.  As long as I continue moving I am going to make it.  We approach the little community of Keeler, and the winds pick up and we’re hit right in the face with a sandstorm.  Me and crew just keep motoring, I had goggles to put on for just such an occasion, but instead, kept my head down and stared at the white line under my feet and kept a strong power hike into the wind.  Eventually that wind would let up and we continued the march into Lone Pine.  Since about mile 100, my feet were really starting to hurt, with blisters on the balls of both feet.  They continued to worsen, and there wasn’t really anything I could do with them at this point but suffer through it and keep going.  I was making the time I needed, and just had to shut out the pain in my feet.  I decided it was not worth trying to stop and work on them at this point.  If you don’t want your feet to hurt, don’t enter 135 mile road races, DUH!

It’s a long, lonely featureless stretch of road, but eventually we made the right turn to head to Lone Pine and the 122 mile checkpoint.


Lone Pine to the Finish (mile 122 to 135)

We have done it.  We still have 5-6000 feet of climbing in 13 miles, but barring some complete disaster, we all know I’m going to make it.  William asked me about my thoughts on sleeping, I had mentioned maybe I’d want to sleep a little before finishing the final climb.  No, I say, I’ll push on, let’s get this done.  His reply?  “Good, because we were never going to let you sleep anyway”.  What a nice group of folks I have supporting me, huh?  I have done this climb in 3:59 and 4:00 the last two years.  At the bottom I told William it would be 5 hours this time.  My feet were killing me, and I didn’t need to push that hard this time.  In fact I did it in 4:47 for a finish time of 46:13.   The last climb was interesting, first time I’ve done it in the dark, and I was 46 hours with no sleep at all.  I was pretty out of it, and not having a lot of fun.  Moving very slowly, I was having issues with time and where I really was.  Once I covered a full mile, and it felt like it took 20 seconds, I literally was ‘gone’ for the full mile. Other times, I would look at my watch, and what felt like 20 minutes later, check it again and less than a minute had passed.  Very odd.  I couldn’t stay focused, and my feet were really distracting me.  Crew member Vince is not a runner, and had not paced me any the whole event.  I asked him to join me here, which he did for the full Lone Pine to Whitney Portal climb.  It’s all steep uphill, not easy for ANYONE, and it surely wasn’t easy for him.  I think it’s farther then he’s ever been on his feet and I’m proud he did that with me.  I was comfortable having my old friend beside me on this last climb.  At some point, I did manage to gather my resources, and focus, and push a pretty decent pace.   I don’t know for how long but it couldn’t have been very long, but I remember feeling good for a very short time there.

Even at the finish, I was more relieved than joyous.  Other people were finishing, I was very irritated and ready to get off the mountain and get some sleep.  Down we went, and two hours of sleep later, and I was a very happy person.  We did it.  Sub-48 hours, and a Badwater 30th Anniversary Belt Buckle was mine. 

Thanks a million times over to my crew, who really worked so well together and kept their eye on the ball even when I had my down times, and to my wife Tamara, who kept my friends across the country informed as to how things were going for me.  Her several handwritten worksheets of calculations of where I was, what my average paces were, how long till next checkpoint, etc, look like she was working on complex mathematical proofs.  I appreciate so much all her work and support in my crazy athletic pursuits.

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