Death Valley Sand Dunes


                                                                                             part 1, part 2 

This was the best of my Badwater experience. 

It is interesting how things develop. While visiting home, I went birding with my brother Dale. That began my own interest and as I had been hiking, it was easy to combine them both. I did many miles on nearby Mt. Diablo and Bay Area trails. 

One Saturday afternoon after a hike, I happened upon a website called The Day Hiker, I can’t find it now. This fellow lived in Southern California, and would take off early morning making videos of his hikes of up to 50 miles with the goal of “Going early, going light, going fast, and going home, to his wife, a shower, a hot meal, a good drink, and a comfortable bed.”  

I liked the idea. I would add dog, and guitar. 

One of the links on his site was titled “Tired of walking? Try this.” It linked to an Ultrarunner website. Like an idea whose time had come, I was hooked. By Sunday evening, I was familiar with the races locally, statewide, nationally, and abroad. I was captivated by Badwater. It wanted to do it and I began training. 

This would take time. I was a miler in high school, but I hadn’t run in years (decades.)  

In a few months I ran my first race, the 5K event at the springtime Napa Valley Marathon. I did better than I had imagined, doing well in my age group. When I began running, I wanted to just complete the distance. Now, I saw I could compete. 

Over the next year I increased my distances in step-up fashion with the many race opportunities in Bay Area, both road and trail. I volunteered regularly for a local run organizer, Pacific Coast Trail Runs, and Coastal Trail Runs, and got free entries to their races.  

I ran the Way Too Cool 50K as my first ultramarathon. An Ultra is defined as a run of 31.1 miles, or 50K. There are a few races less than that but always over the marathon distance of 26.2 miles.

I came upon a general rule of thumb that said no matter when you start your running the long distances, it will take five years to get the conditioning and experience needed to be at your peak. With that as a guide, I could project the time for my Badwater run. It would mean a lot of things would have to come together for me to qualify. I was a year and a half into running. 

I volunteered to crew at Badwater the coming summer, and the next two years as well. It was great experience, and also gave me one of the qualifications for the race for when I entered. 

Also, in qualifying for Badwater, you must successfully complete approved longer distances before entering. I ran Western States as my 100-mile qualifier. Western States is also a lottery event, and I got lucky. The timing on this event was crucial as it allowed me a year between it and a hoped for Badwater entry. I now had the qualifications.  

I had successfully navigated the qualifying events. I could now pick my races in my own time as tune ups to Badwater. 

I felt prepared and ready for a good performance, although, I had a couple of aches that stayed with me. The most nagging was the plantar fasciitis. It wouldn’t go away no matter what I did. A dose or two of Ibuprofen would take the edge off most aches for a while. 

Early the next year, I was fortunate, and got my entry. 


My first 50-miler, the out and back Dick Collins Firetrails 50 miler along the San Francisco East Bay Hills and Skyline; the American River 50 Miler, my qualifier for Western States, from Sacramento up along the American River to Auburn; and the out and back Miwok 100K, through the Marin County Headlands; were my big milers. These were the backbone of my training, along with 50Ks as they fit in. 

My first 100 was the Javelina Jundred in Fountain Hills, outside of Then the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. The San Diego 1-Day AUA Nationals, a 1-mile loop run, was four months later. The Consumnes River 24-Hour track run at Consumnes River College, south of Sacramento, three months before Badwater, was my last long, long run. 

 I had a good number of races under my belt, but was mindful of the fact that where I had run four 100 milers, there were those who had dozens of them. It was humbling. These runners had achieved a conditioning that they could run a 100-miler every three or four weeks. There are runners doing races of hundreds of miles, some taking weeks to complete. 

They are the elite. Even if running long and fast is in their genes, it is a beautiful thing to see, male and female, effortlessly racking up the miles. So easily and smooth they run. The faster times belong to the younger, but as they age, they have the innate ability to run well and often dominate their age groups.  

Endurance is slow to come, but lasting, while speed is quick to arrive, but just as quick to depart. 

In my prime, I might have been a 2nd, or 3rd tier amateur Ultrarunner. Still, “on any given day,” I could do well.  

That day happened at the San Diego 1-Day AUA Nationals Championship event for the year. Japan was invited and they sent a contingent of runners adding to the competition. They were very good. 

In my age group I came in 2nd US, and 3rd US/Japan. I ran 100 miles in 20 hours, 7 minutes and 27 seconds. Total distance for the 24 hours was 111 miles. After completing the 100 miles, I took a brief break, and within minutes in the morning air, I got cold and everything locked up. I was walking only for the remaining hours of the race. But I was thrilled! 

Running becomes a habit, and time consuming. It takes putting in the hours on the road and trail to get yourself in shape for these runs. If you can’t occupy your mind during these long runs, you will have a difficult time of it. 

Some have traded drinking or drug habits for the running habit. Running is the better choice, but addicting just the same. 

I entered races regularly, increasing both time and distance, trail, loop, or road. I liked the trails more, but I did best on flat track loops. I would rather not repeat a race when next it came around. I liked doing a course new to me. I liked the travel. The longer races appealed to me. Next, after Badwater, I was wanting to do the New York 2-Day put on by Sri Chinmoy. And Across the Years, outside of Phoenix. And the Spartathlon in Greece. 

My timely entry into Badwater was the result of preparation and the luck of the draw.  

Western States, the oldest 100-Mile trail run, was the pivotal race. The race, in California, runs from Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe down to Auburn, Ca., on Interstate 80. One hundred miles of up and down mountain trails over the crest of the Sierra Mountains.  

It is run on the same course as the Tevis Cup, aka the Western States Trail Ride, a 100-mile endurance race for horses. A veteran rider of the Tevis Cup, Gordy Ainsley, thought he could do the race, on foot, within the required 24 hours. He did, and a new race was born.  

It was a heavy snow year the year I ran it. Considerable snow accompanied us from Squaw Valley to the Robinson Flat aid station. About Thirty miles. Absolutely gorgeous.  

I came up with an ache in my right knee that had me walking. A stinger just under the knee cap. I walked the remaining sixty miles to the finish. I did manage to run the last few hundred yards to the finish in order to “look good.” Not an impressive run, but I did get my qualification for Badwater. I was happy. I have not had that particular running issue again.  

The winner of the race was there at the finish, really friendly, talking to anyone who wanted to talk. He had already showered, eaten, and rested up before coming back out to greet the finishers. 

In general, the time spread for finishing an event is double what the winner is expected to run. In this case, the winner was due at about 15 hours, so 30 hours, was the finish time cutoff. The winner comes in well below the 15-hour time.  


It was time to leave for Badwater. Preparations were done and all loose ends wrapped up. I suspected that running the race would be easier than crewing.     

The day before the race went slow but it was great being there.  

After little sleep, early morning race day arrived. We drove the twenty-five miles to Furnace Creek for last minute supplies and food stuffs, then headed for the starting point seventeen miles away at Badwater. 

My start time was 6 am, with the 8 am and 10 am groups to follow. These start times allowed the runners, crews, and spectators to string out in a timely fashion and avoid congestion. The slowest runners start first. 

Starting line photos, the National Anthem, and finally – Go Time. 

Back on the porch of my cabin at Panamint Springs, lead runners made their way into the check station and quickly out and on their way. Crews get gas and food and can get only rationed water because of the demand. They were just over halfway into the race. With no troubles, they would finish fast and in good standing. The winner came in under 26 hours. 

It wasn’t my day for a good race. I was thinking it might be three years before I could make another attempt. But I had made it to Badwater. Now, I needed to rest my knee for a few days. Then have the doctor look at it and we see what to do about it.  

The arthroscopy was done 6 months later. I started running again. I haven’t had a return of the blister, or the fasciitis. 

I was content. I traveled, and met people from all over and all walks of life. I ran alongside gifted runners, albeit briefly. I was able to compete in my age group, and know that “on any given day,” I could pull off a good one, or even, a bad one. 

It was “way high” on the fun scale. 

                                                                                             part 1, part 2 



Death Valley Badwater sunset
Sunset over Death Valley