BADWATER – MY WORST AND BEST RACE – part 2
part 1, of 3
Badwater is a big event, drawing elite men and women from around the world. Excellent times and great competition are the norm. Much can go wrong, and right. Not unexpectedly, some slower runners will do very well, surprising everyone, and themselves. The final time cutoff was 60 hours when I ran.
Though it is a tough event, the runners are prepared for the distance and as heat trained as possible. Sleep would be a concern for many. Final cutoff was 60 hours.
In my experience with long-distance running, I saw that if a runner made it a third of the way, it was likely he or she would finish. It’s the right mental attitude. All are tired and aching, but they are also tenacious, perhaps just stubborn. It might not be pretty, but it gets it done.
Walking some along with running (jogging) until tired enough to be running some (jogging slower) along with walking, and finally walking (when I could no longer run,) was my plan. I knew I’d be walking quite a bit. I was anticipating a good day(s) at the race. I was ready to go.
If not for the qualifying rules for entering the event, many more capable runners would be entered. I was of a group whose entry was granted because I completed the required rules for entry. A large number of entries were reserved for runners like me so that we could be part of a great event. There were eighty-five entrants this year.
Park and State Regulations restricted the number of entrants for reasons of traffic and safety. Except for the miles between Lone Pine and the finish, the race is run on state highways.
There are a number of must dos before the race. Meetings for introductions, rules, crew members, and the press get together made for me a tiring day. Doing nothing before race day, or perhaps a long drive is more to my liking. Still, it was a big event, with world class runners. How could you not want to be part of the goings-on?
THE RACE BEGINS
The day before the race was anxiety-filled, and the night dragged on through restless sleep, and then it was time. One by one crews moved out into the night from Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells to the starting line at Badwater Basin at -282’ below sea level. In a blanket of darkness and stars, tail lights snaked down the highway through the early morning.
The day dawned and once more we gathered for photos. A trumpeter, also a race entrant, trumpeted The Star-Spangled Banner, and the first wave of runners, of which I was one, began our journey back up the road we had just driven down. It was 6 am, and warming up fast.
At about the ten, or eleven, mile mark, a pickup truck came up from behind me and gunning its engine, passed another vehicle. It startled me and I jumped to my left, landing awkwardly and turning my ankle a bit. No harm done and I gave it no more thought. That was the only thing amiss on the beautiful stretch of highway completing the 17-mile first stage to Furnace Creek.
I cleared the checkpoint at just over four and a half hours, a bit behind schedule. After a brief rest, I began the second stage. The next checkpoint would be Stovepipe Wells at mile 42.
The faster runners from the 8 am group were beginning to pass me and I couldn’t help but admire their ability. They were running in four hours what had taken me six. It was already over one hundred degrees and only noon.
I was feeling good. My crew would tend to my needs and switch out water bottles and ice, then drive up about a mile, pull over, and wait again for me to catch up, and repeat. I drank a premade nutrition solution, or ensure, to keep my energy up. I don’t eat much while running, it upsets my stomach. I’ve seen runners run themselves out of a race by eating too much. Digestion takes a lot of energy; energy already being used by muscle. It can be too much stress on the body, and in this heat, a bad mix.
The afternoon of the first day is absolutely blisteringly hot and unforgiving. Midafternoon, with the desert continuing to heat up, a steadily increasing wind from the west blows down Towne Pass feeling like a blast from a furnace. All you can do is embrace it, and get through. A watering down provides only brief relief from the heat.
At about mile 20, my left knee slipped out of joint, but I caught myself before falling. I knew I was in trouble. My head was spinning not wanting to believe the reality. I knew it was the meniscus.
THE BEGINING OF THE END
It had been eighteen years since the first arthroscopic surgery was done on my knee, the result of a motorcycle accident sixteen years before that. A car pulled out in front of me and I went down trying to avoid it.
As the emergency doctor found nothing broken, I would allow my knee to heal on its own. Had I had insurance, I would have followed up on it. The kind fellow who took me to the hospital, and waited for me, returned me to the scene.
I had the use of one leg. I could not step on my left at all. It was all I could do to stand my bike up. There was surprisingly little damage. I straightened out my handle bars, front fender, and lights, and continued on my way.
I was in southern West Virginia having started my trip on Cape Cod, in Massachusetts, on my way to Southwest Louisiana to visit family.
In following years, my knee would slip out of joint occasionally, and it would drop me to the ground, stinging like the dickens. I would be on crutches for a few days until the swelling and stiffness went away.
After the arthroscopy I learned that my ACL was damaged. After the injuries to the knee and the time that had passed, it was beyond repair. Still, it is interesting what can be done physically without the ACL.
Being young, I healed, mostly. But, as time passed, I could tell that my right leg was the stronger one as it slowly took up covering for my left. Later as I began to run regularly and for longer distances, I was thinking it was good for me. But I couldn’t deny that with the longer distances I was getting stiffness and swelling. I took it for arthritis that usually develops over time with an injury to a joint.
BACK TO THE RACE
Until my knee slipped, I had given it no thought since the operation. I tried to run but it continued to slip, leaving me with that familiar feeling I would fall. I wasn’t hurting. I was alright. Walking on it was okay.
By mile 30 my knee was stiff and swollen. I thought that if I was closing in on Lone Pine instead of Stovepipe Wells, I might finish. I was still a hundred miles out. It was not looking good.
At mile 35 my crews changed. Word was there was no ice in Stovepipe Wells. The ice making machine was having a hard time keeping up. They were rationing the bottled water.
It was near 4 pm with the hottest part of the day upon us. The wind blew hot and stiff down Towne Pass into the valley across Stovepipe Wells, right at us.
A couple of my crew members were not dealing well with the heat. We had little water between us. At a walk now for the last fifteen miles, I made two, maybe three more miles, and all things considered, I threw in the towel at the 37-mile mark of Badwater. Five miles from Stovepipe Wells.
At Stovepipe Wells, I saw a race doctor. He thought it not a good idea to continue, as did I. I made it official, and my Badwater was done. It was the first race I didn’t finish.
I think everyone was relieved it was over. Two of the crew left for Las Vegas for their return flight home. The rest of us headed to Panamint Springs, thirty miles up the road where we had a room. We would head home the next morning.
The guys went to the restaurant for eats. I sat on the porch, my knee swelled up and iced down. I was thinking, here I am, in the best shape of my life, all keyed up for a race, and at a stop.
Time would have to pass before I could assess my running future.
And that was the worst of it.
The Best of It - Part 3 of 3, Next Week