Sunday, August 8, 2010

Toodle Pip!

Off to the land of Queen Elizabeth II, The Beatles, Cricket, Big Ben, Fish and Chips, Bangers and Mash... all things properly English. It's time to take the boys "home" to visit the English side of the family and find out why Mom talks funny. It will be a whirlwind tour, only 3 weeks to visit Slough, Eastbourne, Mousehole, Stoke-on-Trent, Lincoln, Coventry and London. Lots to see, lots to do, lots of driving. I wonder if the boys will understand a word anyone says to them?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

You might as well be walkin' on the sun

Badwater Basin - 282 feet below sea level, the lowest point in North America.

Whitney Portal - 8,360 feet above seal level, the gateway to Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous 48 states at 14,505 feet.

Who on earth would be crazy enough to run 135 miles across Death Valley to get from Badwater Basin to Whitney Portal? 80 ultra runners, that's who. 2010 was the 33rd year of the race! And I was lucky enough to get to witness first hand the crazy, surreal experience that is Chris Kostman's AdventureCORPS Badwater Ultramarathon.

I had met Dan Marinsik at various races last year, usually hanging out with my SD100 buddy, Jakob Hermann, so when I saw that he was going to attempt his 8th consecutive Badwater, I jumped in and offered to crew/pace for him. I was lucky that Dan was a crew member short (Jakob) and I got the crew spot.

On Saturday July 10, I met Dan and the rest of the crew (Clare Abram, Terry Ridgway and wife Kelly, Scott Corchero and Danielle Marinsik) at race finish HQ, the Dow Villa in Lone Pine. We drove in the two rented crew vehicles to race start HQ in Furnace Creek which gave me the chance to get to know Clare, Terry and Kelly. Who would have imagined that 3 British-expats (me, Clare, Terry), who all grew up within probably a 50-mile radius of each other, would meet at the 2010 Badwater Ultramarathon. More proof of my husband's theory "all Brits know each other".

Furnace Creek, an oasis in the middle of Death Valley. A beautiful resort but hot, hot, hot. I called my boys to tell them it was 118 degrees (is that really hot, Mom?). So hot that water coming out of the cold faucet is not appreciably cooler than water coming out of the hot faucet. Out on a team run at 6am on Sunday, it was already 106 degrees. What had I got myself into?
L to R: Clare, Terry, Rachael
I have to say I was somewhat in awe seeing big name ultrarunners, veteran Badwater runners and rookies all mingle at pre-race check in and briefing. What an amazingly talented group of people! My friend (and the person responsible for me ever thinking I could run 100 miles) Michelle Barton was there too, supported by her crew of Team INKnBURN runners all decked out in their colorful team shirts.
Race morning was an early start for all. Dan was on 6am start so we were all packed the night before and up and out the door by 5am. It was already toasty!
Badwater Basin
6am starters
Dan with the star of "Running on the Sun", 75-yr old Jack Denness
At 6am, they were off. Some running, some walking but all moving forward enthusiastically. Somewhat naively, I hadn't fully understood that although Dan was running unaccompanied for the 17.4 miles back to Furnace Creek, crewing duties would start a half mile up the road. I don't think we ever drove more than 0.7 miles up the road before stopping to wait for Dan. Out here, water in liquid and solid form is life. No water to drink, you're toast. No ice to keep yourself cool and food/drinks cold, you're in a whole heap of trouble.
Dan in his Solumbra sun protective suit
Dan was pretty much on pace at Furnace Creek but soon started to slow. The heat was taking its toll, the water he poured over himself continuously to cool down was seeping into his shoes causing blisters and causing chafing in unmentionable places. Plus he was tired very early on. As crew/pacer, my job was to wait on him continuously - anticipate his needs as much as possible, feed him GU every 20 minutes or so, give him SaltStick every 30 minutes and keep him moving at a decent pace.
Unlike most races, pacers stay behind the runner except to hand off bottles and shout words of encouragement.
There's a whole lotta nothin' out here!
Was I mean to him? If I was I didn't mean to be (no pun intended). He may have thought so, but I took my job seriously. To get him safely to the finish line, hopefully in under 48 hours.

Around 6pm, we reached Stove Pipe Wells (mile 42) and the night crew of Clare, Terry and Kelly took over. We switched roles, cars and the day crew headed back to Lone Pine to clean up, eat and sleep while the night crew got ready for the long climb up Townes Pass to Panamint Springs (mile 72).

It's a small world afterall - who should I meet in the pizza restaurant across the road from the Dow Villa but Lorraine "Croc Lady" Gersitz, Janet Waugh and Lori H-C, my San Diego 100 pacer - all friends and Headzettes. The day crew crashed but all to soon it was time to head back to find Dan and the night crew.

More climbing, more endless stretches of nothing, some running, lots of walking. Half mile by half mile, Dan moved closer to the finish line. SaltStick every 30 minutes, GU every 20 minutes, chunks of blueberry muffin, cold cheeseburger, cantaloupe, Gatorade, water. For runners, the focus is to simply keep moving. For crew members, the focus is on the runner - hydration, nutrition, preventing him overheating, taking care of blisters, keeping his spirits up, keeping him moving. It's an exhausting routine but tremendously rewarding too.

6pm came around again and we hadn't quite made Keeler. I calculated that if Dan could maintain 3.5 mi/hr pace, he could reach Lone Pine in 41 hours, giving him 7 hours to climb 12.7 miles and 4,671 feet up to the finish line at Whitney Portal. I was honored that Dan asked me to join Clare in helping him make the final climb. It meant not much sleep for the day crew but we'd intended being with him at the finish anyway.

Unfortunately, the pain from blistered feet took it's toll mentally and Dan didn't make the 48 hour cutoff to buckle. His requests for 10 minute breaks turned into frequent requests for 2 minute breaks. He was struggling, he was totally spent but Dan is not a quitter. He missed it by 8 minutes that's all. His 8th consecutive finish.
Team Marinsik at finish line
I came away with valuable information. This race is amazingly tough both on the runner and crew. Runners battle heat early on, then exhaustion towards the end, not to mention the blisters, chafing, GI issues etc. I saw first hand what Dan went through. I saw Michelle Barton in the worst condition I've ever seen her, both physically and mentally. But both runners pushed through it to finish strong. Amazing! Crewing takes a lot out of you too. You have to take care of yourself as well as your runner. No runner finishes this race on their own. A competent, positive crew is essential.

That said, nothing I saw or experienced out there has changed my mind. I will buckle at Badwater and who knows, one day I might just win it!

Dan Marinsik 48:08:04
Michelle "Badwater" Barton 45:54:20