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|
|Dan with the star of "Running on the Sun", 75-yr old Jack Denness|
|Dan in his Solumbra sun protective suit|
|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!|
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|
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