2012 Badwater Ultramarathon – Race Reflection

“The time is near.  A race that runs through the valley of your soul.  Find your destiny and the calm and beauty in the heart of the fire.” –Mitch Keiler

The Badwater Ultramarathon (BW) is notorious for its reputation as the world’s toughest footrace “aka” the challenge of champions.  BW represents a myriad of things to all those who show up to check-in at Furnace Creek: a culmination of one’s athletic career, a reunion with fellow runners from points across the globe, another opportunity to explore a new environment on foot, a long training run for perhaps something a bit beyond the pre-conceived norm, a chance to promote one’s cause and/or sponsors, and a chance to test one’s self against some on of the toughest venues provided in the United States.  For me this event represented the intersectionality of years of running, a passion pursued relentlessly, and a cause worth running myself into and out of the ground.  I’ll be perfectly honest, I do not go into most ultras with the foremost concern being whether or not I will make it; I focus on the experience or the results—both if the stars align.  But I would be a damn fool if I did not admit that I had a recurring bout of trepidation at the thought of tacking the course.

BW Sea Level

BW has been a dream in the making.  I have wanted to be part of this experience since I was introduced to ultramarathons in 2004.  My outlook on life has always been positive.  However, I know that this thread of life can be flimsy.  It is why I believe that if one has dreams, whether for self or facilitating the goals of others, those dreams should be pursued relentlessly.  To elaborate on my personal progression of endurance events–I was the small kid on the eighth-grade football team who began running, track at the time, because I was faster than my teammates during our one-mile warm-ups than during “Oklahoma” drills; during that first year, I was posting 23-minute 5K runs and had great difficulty breaking the eight-minute barrier for the mile.  I never ran a 4-minute mile in high school.  In short, I was on the small end of mediocre.  But I knew that I enjoyed long-distance running with virtually unrivaled delight.  I have had the privilege of running with many individuals, far talented than I, and I am forever indebted to them for imparting the lessons of persistence, discipline, and preparation.

Coming into this run made the need for preparation more inherent than any challenge I have encountered to date.  With each 100-miler, I have gained more insight and firsthand experience with varying terrain and climates.  During the years prior to this event, I studied race reports, weather reports, heat training research, course maps, and any materials I could get my hands on in preparation for this event.  I conversed with BW veterans–runners and crews alike.  Given these actions, I still felt unprepared.  When Chris Kostman sent the entry confirmation email, I was absolutely beside myself.  I am certain the folks eating lunch at Leeward Market & Davis’ Pub heard the jubilant shouts from my apartment windows.  Badwater was a dream deferred no longer.  Much of this dream-meets-reality moment was due to the awareness campaign that Captain Robert Hillery, USMC, and I started three years ago in order to increase visibility and support for the Semper Fi Fund—a 501(c)(3) that we believe in that has positively impacted our Marines.  After eight years, the opportunity was in front of me.  Moments after the initial shock wore off, the feeling of apprehension followed on the heels of elation.  I needed to prepare mentally and I needed to assemble a super-group of like-minded individuals that would accompany me on this journey.

There are few ultras in the country that have a format similar to BW; to think of it, the Rouge Orleans 126.2, Run Across Georgia, VolState, and the Keys Ultras are just a few of the events that come to mind when reflecting on venues where it is advantageous to have and exercise a dedicated crew and vehicle(s).  For BW, this notion is not an option but mandatory; teamwork is the most significant cornerstone of this event.  There have been multiple runners who have made the crossing (single, double, triple and even the quad) under solo efforts.  However, for a rookie undertaking, a team is prescribed.  The crew assembled, the type of vehicle(s) consolidated, and the appropriate type/amount of supplies gathered WILL have a direct outcome on one’s ability to complete the race.  The crew is responsible for everything from providing you enough water/electrolyte mixes per hour, spraying you down to keep you cool, providing you food on the run, dressing you in the right clothing for changing, weather conditions, checking urine volume/color for adequate hydration, tracking each calorie consumed, observing fecal matter content, and even speaking with the media when you are in that special place of focus…they do it all.  Most importantly, they motivate the runner and serve as pacers for indeterminate periods of time or mileage.  The crew becomes the runner’s lifeblood and connection to humanity.

For an event like BW, the optimal crew size is recommended at three.  However, there were many folks that reached out.  So I chose six people plus myself.  Provided are the folks who made the magic happen for me in the desert this summer:

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2012 Team BeastMode

Crew Chief – Trish Jackson

Assistant Crew Chief – Arylis Scates

Logistics/Camera Dude – Kevin Booher

Motivation – May Wedlund

Public Relations – David Huckobey

BAMF – Brad Reed (in spirit)

Each of these people had an effect on my life whether it was prolonged or immediate.  I selected these individuals because I knew them to be of good character, good athletes, and seemingly compatible personalities.  This last component you never knew about because the desert is such a harsh mistress.  This race can bring out the best and worst in people as time and efforts wear on.  However, I knew that if I were in a less-than-ideal spot, I would hope they would support me.  Brad is the change agent that introduced me to ultras back in ’04.  We have run several, of varying distances, together since then; he has crewed me before he seemed the perfect fit for the Chief.   However, Brad could not escape the clutches of his business to come out so we made do.  Trish and I met at our first 100-miler-the Javelina Jundred (JJ100) in ’08; we have kept in touch ever since.  To be honest you don’t see many ultrarunners of color.  So it is an unspoken norm that we would keep in touch.  Kevin was also at the JJ100 and crewed me through the experience.  He is sharp as a razor and even-keeled.  We lived together and deployed together; he had my undying trust and I knew things were organized a bit better for his presence.  May & Huck were there for crew support and emotional support.  May has been a solid athlete for the vast majority of her life and has been fringing on the ultra experience with her first one being the Endless Summer 6-Hour Run this year.  She’s been an avid supporter since the start of “1in10” awareness campaign for the Semper Fi Fund.  Furthermore, I knew that she was reliable; in ’09, she jumped in the last 40 miles of the Grindstone 100-miler and went every step of the way with me—solid!  Huck is a retired Marine I met through Rob [Hillery].  Huck has been coming into his own as a solid, ultradistance cyclist and triathlete (multiple Ironman finishes, the Race Across the West, the Race Across AMerica); additionally, Huck has one of the most jovial dispositions I have seen in a Marine.  He always had a way to keep the mood light.  Lastly, Arylis arrived by way of Alaska.  I met him a few years ago with a group known as Team InkNBurn.  Arylis is a retired Army Special Forces cat and someone that has yet to “drop the pack”.  He is always pushing himself to be better across multiple facets–a family man, an avid outdoorsman, an ultrarunner, and a philanthropist.  He was always a positive cat with consistent feedback during our InkNBurn discussions; I told him my BW aspirations many moons ago and he promised that he would crew for me when the time came.  The last thing you should know about Arylis is that he is a cyborg; the dude has had some pretty amazing life experiences that would lead most people to become sedentary in their later years.  I wanted him on the team.  And with the last member, we formed…Team BeastMode—a group of cats willing to surmount adversity while having fun in the process.  So now that we had the people, we needed to ensure the vehicles and gear were ready.

The primary purpose behind our crew and gear breakdown was agency.  We used the 2-SUV setup, a Ford Edge & Hyundai Santa Fe, with mirrored race gear setups as our crew vehicles.  The justification was that if one crew had a vehicle breakdown, the other could run alone for hours if needed; if another runner needed surge personnel, they could use our crew.  Additionally, this minimized the amount of time necessary to transfer gear back & forth between vehicles; the 5-person crew allowed for continuity of communication as to the runner’s current status of mind/body and allowed for an extra person rotating through the vehicle’s sleep plan.  The majority of the equipment and foodstuffs (to include (10) 5-gallon drums of water {which was calculated by 20oz per person per hour for 48 hrs} and running gear were stored in (2) huge Rubbermaid bins, (4) 70-quart coolers, and (2) 5-gallon drink coolers—the containers and contents within were split evenly between vehicles.

For the cold storage, we grabbed (16) regular bags of ice, (4) larger bags of ice, & (4) blocks of dry ice.  The 5-gallon cooler was the drink cooler and had a couple bags and a fresh topping of water.  The first 70-quart cooler was the “refrigerator” and held all the food for that vehicle plus several more bags of ice.  The last 70-quart cooler was the “deep freezer” and held nothing but the remaining ice and (2) blocks of dry ice to keep the regular ice in a solid state.  Now multiply the cooler setup twice and you have got our complete, crew setup…nice.

Provided are the contents (foodstuffs & runner provisions) stored between the two vehicles for use by the runner (primarily) and crew:

  • PB&Js, potatoes, pasta, yams, watermelon, ginger
  • Pretzels (lots), beef jerky, Nutri-grain bars (lots), dried cranberries, almonds
  • Tylenol, rescue inhaler
  • Water (10-5gallon jugs), Hornet Juice, ONE Coconut Water, NUUN, HammerGel (Tropical & Espresso), GU Roctane (variety of single servings), Natural Vitality Calm (Calcium/Magnesium), Natural Vitality Energy28 (an organic form of energy supplement) and Succeed S! Caps
  • Two extra pair of shoes (Nike LunarGlides 3), two pairs compression socks (white CEP brand), two pairs UnderArmour undershorts, one pair of Brooks running shorts, (2) Nike UV-protection CoolMax shirts, Outdoor Research white cap (with sunshade), (2) set of white MoeBen arm-sleeves, (6) nighttime running vests, gloves/beanie for the weather on Mt. Whitney, (2) lightweight jackets (for nighttime & higher elevation),
  • (12) clip-on LED blinkers (8 were required), (1) Petzl MyoXP headlamp, (1) Mylar blanket (cut into the shape of my footsoles to minimize the amount of heat pushed into my feet from the road surface), Death Valley road maps, sponges, food cups/bowls/utensils, garden sprayers (keep the body moist), BodyGlide, emergency first-aid kits, Zombie Runner blister-kit (tincture, bandaids, and tape were the only things used), (8) Ultimate Direction water bottles/holders (designate ones for the crew), (8) Ultimate Direction gel flasks (held 5 servings), (4) sets of batteries (AA & AAA), plastic baggies (for organization & container), gloves (hygienic handling of food), electric thermometer, bandanas (regular & “Cool-Off” variety came in handy for cooling and nose-bleeds coming down Mt. Whitney), neck gaiter (protection against saind blown in face), glasses (wrap-around Oakleys for wind and sand protection), Wet Ones (for personal hygiene and gear clean-up), sunscreen (Scape/Alba Botanica/Coppertone/Banana Boat-the spray variant was more expedient and cleaner), eye drops (for the wind and dry conditions), chapstick (in a squeeze tube), pens/notepad (to record fluids & food consumption and poop rates), camera (to document the experience), aloe (for sunburns (it will happen), music (CDs/iPod…to keep the crew awake), (1) satellite phone, and a folding chair or a collapsible cot (for crew breaks and/or rest-stops)

Now that we had the equipment and supplies, the next focus was getting into a rhythm from the start and mitigating the effects of the course and the elements.  BW has remained true to the first crossing by Al Arnold—an experience of self-discovery in an austere environment.  Competitors start at the lowest elevation point in the U.S.–the Badwater Basin @ 282 feet below sea level and proceeds to the portal of Mt. Whitney (8,360 ft and the summit at 14,495 ft).  The course is all road (mostly Highway 190) and heads north through Furnace Creek before meandering in a westerly fashion to Lone Pine and the Mt. Whitney portal.  If one is looking for relief by way of shade, it is damn near impossible that you will find it immediately on the course.  There are (3) major peaks: Townes Pass (4,965 ft) @ mile 58.7, the Darwin turn-off (5,050 ft) @ mile 90.1, and the portal (finish line).  Temperatures can hit 130 degrees Fahrenheit averaging 120 degrees (F) during peak hours in Death Valley.  One last bit of info: runners are on the clock to cross the finish line.  A couple of years ago, there was a 60-hour cutoff for competitors to traverse the 135-mile course.  However, the cut-off is now 48-hours for all runners seeking an official finish…and of course the belt buckle.

I will be the first to admit that my training was less than optimal in the run-up for BW.  As far as training miles, the majority of my training culminated with the exodus of my Midshipmen during their spring break period in March.  Much of May and virtually all of June were spent performing duties to support the Midshipmen as they headed out the door with graduation or their summer training exercises.  There was a little training blessing that occurred when a summer heat wave hit the DMV {DC/Maryland/Virginia} area; I was able to squeeze in a few short runs in the heat.  The biggest gains in heat acclimation came from sauna sessions and Bikram yoga classes.  During my last yoga class, as I lied there in savasana, I felt that I was almost ready.  Truth be told-I was still on the verge of passing out earlier in that class while in the eagle pose.  Aside from that moment, I felt that I accomplished the main purpose of becoming an “acquaintance with heat”—being comfortable in my body in those conditions.

Returning from the Western States Endurance Run (only 3 weeks prior to BW), my focus shifted back to the upcoming run on the sun.  Amidst the low tempo at work, short runs at noon, and bouts of fitful sleep, I spent the remaining time working the “L” word: logistics.  Travelling light and linking up with the crew in Southern California meant that much of the necessary equipment would have to be acquired, shipped ahead, and consolidated for on-hand preparation.  I would have less than a week on the West Coast to make preparations prior to the start of the event.  Friday afternoon, prior to race weekend, May, Arylis, and I drove up to Santa Monica to link-up with Tricia, Kevin, and Huck.  The next couple of days were spent in prep, relaxation, and more prep.  Saturday evening, Rebecca & Chris (ChriBecca) Reinbold treated the crew to dinner at their house.  It felt like one of those last meal moments as we sat outside sharing food and tales of the past.  The moment went by too soon.  Zero-dark-thirty came Sunday morning.  We loaded the SUVs and crossed the line of departure headed for the desert.  I slept for most of the trip from Trish’s place in Santa Monica to Furnace Creek.  My dreams drifted from vistas of the open desert to the trails of Rosaryville to the switchbacks of Devil’s Thumb.  I felt an odd sensation of peace that I never felt before events of this nature.

We finally arrived at Furnace Creek to runner & crew check-in.  I slowly exited the vehicle to savor this moment.  The gravel lot was abuzz with crews and runners pouring in to the conference room.  Some of the vehicles were already prepped with placards consisting of their runner’s names and numbers.  I was swimming in a sea of some of the champions of this sport.  People with the monikers of Reed, Karnazes, Ulrich, Radich, Lopez, Palmeiro-Winters, Gingerich, and so forth, popped in my mind as I recalled their accomplishments, contributions, first encounters, etc.  It was not long after standing in the entry line that Tricia and I were ushered through the check-in.  While taking the racer “mugshots,” I made sure to smile for my family, friends, and supporters back home.  Save for a couple moments, I do not believe that smile left my face from that moment forward.

Monday morning greeted us with a beam of bright light entering the doorway of the hotel room.  Team BeastMode huddled for one more picture before splitting ways.  I wouldn’t see the entire team until we were 17 miles into the run.  Tricia, Kevin, & I jumped in the packed SUV and headed south towards the Badwater Basin.  As we got closer, we began to see streams of runners from the 6:00am start wave streaking back towards Furnace Creek.  We arrived with plenty of time for one last pep-talk and a few more pictures.  Slowly but surely, racers and crews began pouring into the starting area parking lot.  Shortly before our start, the race director (Chris Kostman), gathered the tribe at the starting line on Badwater Road.  From the starting line, I looked up to the rock wall immediately to our east (just right of the starting line) and saw the “Sea Level” at a distance that would’ve been alarming had we been expecting flash flooding.  The temperature for this year’s BW would not be as hot as in previous years; days prior, there was a heavy rain that cooled off the area, left sporadic puddles, and bumpStarting Lineed up the relative humidity.  Being at the start line was one of the weirdest sensations I have experienced to date.  I felt years of frustrations and focused effort swelling up and a mixture of disbelief as it was still hard to fathom that this was actually happening.  Chris [Kostman] said a few words and we stood in silence for the national anthem.  I reflected on past experiences, the people who helped me get to that point, and the Marines that I knew were out there at that moment getting after it in Afghanistan.  My nerves relaxed, my mind went blank, and I felt primed.   And with the official start of the 8:00am wave, we were on the move!

 

“Stone Mountain, you raised me well…” – Donald Glover

Leg: Start at BW Basin  Furnace Creek  (0 – 41.9 miles)

I learned a long time ago that you run a race but to manage it with your mind, you must chunk it into manageable sections.  It is a difficult task for me to breakdown a mile-by-mile re-cap of any given ultra.  Sometimes, it is easier due to the nature of the course (repeated out-and-backs, loops, etc.).  But in a point-to-point, I recall significant events whether they are serious or humorous in nature.  I started my Garmin 910XT at the starting line, and save for the occasional vibration at each mile, I barely paid attention to it.  My focus was on the climate, heat management, and initial pace.

Prior to the start, my strategy was to be as conservative as possible and even take walk breaks within the first ten miles if necessary.  As we proceeded north from the basin, I noticed the sun was at an angle where we were provided enough shade, from the eastern hills, to run the first several miles sans direct sunlight.  In my mind, I wanted to stretch out the time spent in the shade…so I pushed it a bit.  I recall chatting and taking turns in the pace-line with runners like Tim Hardy, Crystal Basich, & Hannah Roberts.  At one point, I recalled getting sucked into a trance following Crystal that I actually stopped to walk for a brief moment to reel myself back.  It was around mile five that I noticed a slight twine in my Achilles.  I considered it a parting gift from Western States and nothing more than a nuisance at the time.  The drop in pace did not last for long as I saw Tim ahead and caught up with him prior to the turn onto Highway 190.  We exchanged encouragement and continued on.  Less than five minutes later, Tim flew past like a bat out of hell.  I was impressed!  I picked it up a bit motivated by his panache but thought better of it and slowed down as I entered the first check-in at Furnace Creek.  I did not have any major concerns at that point so I told the crew we’d meet every couple of miles to refuel/refit.

Somewhere several miles down the road, I recall looking off into the distance and getting an understanding of the reputation this place has built.  In the distance, at every angle, I could see heat waves blanketing the vista doing their dangerous dance in the desert.   Around the first marathon or so, I came across a gentleman by the name of Chris Frost dubbed the “Mayor of Malibu.”  In the days prior to the run, my friend Melanie told me to be on the lookout for him.  It was apt that the first soul that I came across at this point would be him.  We shared “trail” for few minutes before being blind-sided by a dust devil.  It provided a few laughs and soon enough we parted ways.  As I got to the point where Stovepipe Wells Village was in view, Hannah Roberts blew by hauling ass down the road-STRONG.  In the minutes after, I was hit with a moment of anxiety.  I realized that my urine output was low (read: a shot glass worth every couple of hours).  One of the most destructive things you can do during a race like this is focus on the negative.  I spent the next several miles running over root causes to the symptom.  I needed to slow down, cool down, eat some solid food, and put fluids into my body.  Stovepipe Wells was a good place to get it done.  As I pulled off the road to meet the crew, Tricia ushered me to the pool deck, stuffed pasta in my hands, and barked, “Eat it!”  I couldn’t argue!  I sat there for what felt like fifteen minutes talking to the crew and [Lucy Ryan].  Lucy is a wonderful athlete from Canada and it just so happened that she met my brother-from-another-mother (Capt Rob Hillery, USMC) at Ultraman Canada.  I wish I could’ve stayed long but the road called and I was determined to cover the next leg before sunset.

 

“Running Up that Hill” – Placebo (covering: Kate Bush)

Furnace Creek → Towne Pass (41.9 – 58.7)

If I had to classify the toughest part, for me, of this course, it would be the climb up to Towne Pass summit.  Imagine moving forward steadily uphill (from sea level to 4,965 ft) with the sun slow-cooking the asphalt, a constant headwind blowing at a refreshing rate of 30mph, and that is in short the essence of the climb.  The most memorable moments were running, for a brief period, with Harvey Lewis from the Natti, Ohio.  I met this gentleman at the entrance to Death Valley National Park during our drive up.  His presence exuded excitement, warm-heartedness, and goodwill.  It was good to share a bit of time and tactics with Harvey.  It was shortlived as I was afraid to slow up his pace; Harvey would go on to finish in a time of 26:15 for fourth overall.   A while after parting with Harvey, I saw Claire Heid and her pacer as they pushed at a solid pace up the hill.  I wished her well and inside I hoped that she would continue the strong movement beyond the next hill.

As day turned to night, and my lipped chapped for sunburns, I realized a summit would not occur at the planned interval.  But I was happy to still be moving on my own two feet with a bit of cognizance.   As we summited the pass, the sky opened before us once more, and quiet darkness covered the landscape.  The only path was lit by a steady stream of lights from crews and runners making their way ahead of us through the Panamint Valley.

 

Townes Pass → Father Crowley (58.7 – 80.2)

As the summit came, I called upon Team BeastMode to lend a hand by way of pacers.  Huck and Arylis were among the first that I remember to come to aid.  Huck took first shift and we were off downhill.  To give you an idea of the elevation change for the Panamint Traversal, we started at Townes Pass (4,965 ft) dipped to the Panamint Valley lake bed (1,640 ft) and continued our movement up long switchback and false summits to Father Crowley’s Point (4,000 ft).  Recalling a hard lesson I learned at the 2009 Grindstone 100, I remembered the effects of downhill running on the quadriceps; I was reduced to the walking dead before the last twenty miles.  I was determined not to let history repeat itself in this environment.  Huck helped to keep me at bay with a slow, gingerly trot.

Before long, Tricia called a time-out.  She said it was time to lay it down for a bCot of Doomit.  We’d discussed this many times over the phone prior to gameday.  I was ardently against sleeping during a race.  But in my discussions with her regarding previous BW crew experience, backed by experiences from other veterans, I began to see the validity.  So both crew vehicles circled up the “wagons” at a turnout and broke out the “cot of doom.”  It really was not that bad but I had hyped it up in my head so much prior to it happening that I could not fall asleep.  The crew was moving like a well-oiled machine it seemed.  There were hands everywhere: feeding food, giving fluids, and checking my feet.  Tricia gave my legs a good rubdown that would have reduced me to baby talk in ordinary circumstances.  However, at thirty-five minutes, we packed up and got ready to get back on the road.

Huck & I picked up where we left off in exchanging tales of the Old Corps and the New Breed and before long something miraculous occurred.  I began to pee!  I know it seems childish but I was relieved at the moment of relief that was occurring on the side of the road.  The seal had been broken!  From that moment forward, there was not an hour that went by without reprieve.

We arrived to the checkpoint at Panamint Springs around 2:31am without incident.  In my mind, I recall hoping that I would see Tricia so that I could give her a “Low-5.”  It was hard to tell, but I saw loads of crew vehicles parked at the Panamint Springs Resort; it seemed plausible that most runners and crews would choose to bed down at the resort vice an expedient roadside campout.  I felt a third wind come on.  May handed Arylis a cup of chicken noodle soup as Huck and Arylis traded out.  The wind was short-lived as I recall being hit so hard with sleepiness that I staggered towards May & Kevin’s crew vehicle.  I bypassed the aid offered and threw opened the passenger door.  I shouted, “Gimme 5!”  I lost that bout to the Sandman but woke up with shocking clarity.  Before May could ask whether I wanted Hornet Juice or water, I was inquiring about a bruise on her forehead.  She saved the humorous story for later down the road.

Arylis and I spent the next several hours climbing towards the pass that would take us through the Coso and Inyo Mountains.  It was a time of pure focus.  My Achilles was calling out to me again and I told Arylis what was going on.  I began running time/distance/pace calculations in my head in the event I was reduced to hobbling a brisk 2 pm down the road.  It wasn’t a matter of if but a matter of when we would complete this.  Arylis kept me engaged with stories of training and racing in the Alaskan wilderness.  Most of which I would be hard pressed to recall without deep thought and a bit of prompting.  However, I recall Arylis saying something to the effect of taking the time to stop and appreciate nature.  With that, I stopped to look up and I could only recall times in 29 Palms or in Iraq when I witnessed skies clear enough to see the Milky Way.  But it was right there above us.  Stretched out in the Panamint Valley below was that same stream of lights I witnessed upon cresting Townes Pass.  Like runway lights on a flight line, each of us continued our journey onward and into the night.

The sunrise began to greet us as we neared the top.  The sun also brought a familiar face: Tim Hardy.  Tim was pushing solo up the mountain and reveling in the morning twilight with a cigar.  The smoke was pleasant to the lungs and I really wanted one.  Tim powered up the climb and propelled himself into a strong run down the road.  It was roughly around reaching Father Crowley that the crew broke out the chair to sit me down and run a blister check.  Everything was fine but my feet were throbbing stumps of meat.  Tricia rubbed my head and I succumbed to what felt like a 5-minute slumber as the sun warmed us up.  In reality, and fifteen minutes later, I got up and back on the road to continue.  Tricia would accompany me for the next several miles.  I tried to get up to speed to break into a trot with no go.  My Achilles was, for lack of better slang, “proper fuct.”

 

“…may your heart be calm and your legs be strong…” – Tosh.1

Father Crowley  Lone Pine (80.2 – 122.3)

Things hurt to the point where I was limping down the road.  At some point between leaving Father Crowley and shortly before exiting Death Valley National Park, Tricia talked to Lisa Smith-Batchen  &

(Courtesy: Doug Hardy)

(Courtesy: Doug Hardy)

Matt Nelson.  Just prior to the park boundary, Tricia had me come off the course to ice my Achilles.  Matt pulled up with a med-kit bag of goodies.  He touched my lower leg in several spots and pulled out several pre-fabricated strips of K-Tape.  After careful application and two Tylenol, he told me to give it a shot.  I could feel my Achilles was capable of taking my full body weight now.  I gave him hearty thanks and stepped off down the road.  Tricia accompanied me.  Before we could get roughly half a mile down the road, I began to feel good.  Better than good–GREAT!  I told Tricia of the 180-degree turn.  Like Phidippedes reincarnated, I had my running legs back!

Much of this leg was spent on an upswing in mood due to physically feeling great.  The crew swapped out for intervals.  I felt like a kid running in the sunlight down the highway.  The crew was feeling upbeat as well.  While running with May, we passed the 100-mile mark like we were on a run through Quiet Waters Park.  I tried to make things interesting enough for them by talking more and playing games.  Our routine when approaching the crew vehicle would be to slow down and walk until the full exchange of fluids/foods and a good spray down occurred.  We mixed the walking with jogging and whenever the hand-offs were occurring, I would giggle like a schoolboy and haul ass down the road a quarter-mile down the road often at the expense of Kevin.  But I have to give props to Kevin for keeping up.  Furthermore, I’m thankful to Kevin’s older brother [Liam Booher].  Somehow Kevin, with the help of Liam and some of his buddies still on active duty, arranged for a well-timed flyover of Owen’s Valley.  It was a beautiful sight to see those aircraft drawing streaks across the sky so close to us.

We spent time pacing back and forth with runners, like [Kenneth Posner] until at a certain point I was reduced to walking again.  It was pain and it wasn’t depletion.  I couldn’t wrap my mind around it but I began to feel an uprising anger.  I was pissed off but it was not directed towards anybody or anything in particular.  Somewhere around the Dolomite loop turn-off (yes, Dolomite…like the pimp), I got pissed enough that I entered the “hallway” and began running fast.  It seemed like I was racing a 5-miler at that point.  As an aside, the “hallway” is what I call the state of mind similar to the zone but with exception that you are feeling terrible.  I terrible feeling was completely removed from this experience.  I felt this anger began the energy source that was propelling me down the course.

To expound–being in the “hallway” is good and bad. Energy conservation becomes critical.  Movements are reduced to what keeps you moving forward.  Breathing becomes quieter if not close to silent.  Sentences are pairs down to concise words or hand gestures.  Time usually crawled but it flew at warp speed on that day.  My mind was still “in it” and able to process external stimuli.  But I was focused on getting to Lone Pine.  Shortly after turning off Highway 190 and heading north on to Highway 395 (mile 120.3), I fell out of the zone.  I was thankful that Huck was waiting for me at a street corner.  We took the stride of pride down the main drag of Lone Pine and soaked in the bustle of civilization in the afternoon sun.  Upon reaching the check-in at Dow Villa Hotel, my crew embraced me in a premature celebration.  Even Tammie Massey showed up to help crew for a bit.  As with most moments during this event, it was short-lived.  Arylis and I said goodbye to half of the crew, as we would not be together until we were crossing the finish line.  With that, we turned right out of the Dow Villa parking lot and proceeded toward Portal Road for the last leg of this journey.

 

Lone Pine  Mt Whitney Portal (122.3 – 135)

Earlier that morning, while we were out on Highway 190, Arylis pointed out the switchbacks of the climb up to the portal.  But it was not until we came face-to-face with the last climb that I could appreciate just how close we were to achieving what we set out to do on Monday morning.   As we turned on to Portal Road, there was one final climb to surmount.  We proceeded from 3,610 ft to 8, 360 ft of elevation.  The last stretch of paved road seemed to continue on and on and on.  But to pause and admit a smidge of defeat would be a waste of time…so we pushed.  I could not help but pick up small mileage markers along the right side of Portal Road.  I began to play mind games with myself to pass the mileage and chatter with Arylis.  We continued encouragement with the runners and crews we passed along the climb.  Huck and Tricia would intermittently pass by in the crew vehicle shouting non-sense to keep us laughing.  The sun slowly closed with its race towards the western horizon and our side of the mountain began to draw down its warm coat of late afternoon shade.

Arylis and I reached the Portal Road (final) check-in roughly before 8:00pm.  Damn it felt good A walk in the sunsetto get off of the pavement for the last four miles.  As with the night before, we swapped stories and soaked in the scenic vistas of the desert floor that only a vantage point like Mount Whitney could provide.  Looking out as the sunlight danced on the desert and painted our surroundings in multicolored hues that would make Ansel Adams want to shoot in color full-time, I reflected once more on the people and events that supported me along to this point.  I was thankful.  So as not to be struck with another bout of altitude sickness, as with Western States, Arylis reminded me early on to take deep breathes periodically as we ascended.  Nothing but the steady cadence of rhythmic breathing and footfalls filled the evening air.  We pushed and pushed and pushed until the sunset down on us for the second time.  It was quite fitting that at that time, Arylis remarked, “Mosi, I swore to myself that I ‘d never walk off into another sunset with you.”

On the heels of the moment of levity, Huck pulled up and handed off Old Glory.  Arylis, Old Glory and I continued to wind our way around the weaves of the road until finally we could hear the exuberant shouts of the BW Race Crew at the finish line.  In moments before I was struck with a brief bout of sadness.  I was sad that the moment, this seemingly everlasting experience, would be over.  Gone would be the simple purpose of relentless forward motion.  Gone would be the quiet surroundings of the soul-cleansing desert.  We would proceed back to our corners of the world to be thrust back into society and inundated with technology.  I wanted to hold on to this moment as long as I could.  But in thinking this through, I realized that this moment never dies.  It’s deep within us to be brought forth the moment we step out the door, the moment we set foot on trail, the moment we pursue the undertaking of forward motion in whatever environment we make our home.  Amid the flash photography and shouts of triumph, Team BeastMode linked together, arm-in-arm, one last time that day and cross the finish line of the Badwater Ultramarathon.  It was not a moment of solitude but a moment of shared triumph.  We embraced altogether and in that moment, I felt that the energy from our circle could not be stopped by an atomic bomb.

Finish Line Hug

Would we do it again?  Hell yea.

 

Stats on stats on statsTeam BeastMode Finish

Time: 37 hours, 11 minutes, 8 seconds

Place: 44th out of 96 overall

Calories burned: 22,000+

Food consumed:

Vehicle Breakdowns: 0

#1s: Lost count after twenty

#2s: 3

High-5s: 2Walking up Portal Road

Low-5s: 0

Cumulative elevation gain: 13,000 ft

Hammer Gel:

Hornet Juice:

Weight @start: 166/161

Succeed S!Caps consumed: 35 (somehow I think that is low)

Sweet potatoes scored: 1

Highest, personal body temperature: 101.8 degrees Fahrenheit

Distance from home: 2,575 miles

 

 

 

 

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