Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Badwater Ultramarathon race report

Badwater Ultramarathon
July 14, 15, 16, 2008
Time limit: 60 hours

Monday, July 14th, 2008. Time is 8:00 am.
A wave of runners begins the 135-mile trek across Death Valley to Mt. Whitney Portal. Temperature is about 100 degrees, overcast and very humid. It had been raining off and on the past few days. There were several places along the course that had washouts. The day before at pre-race meeting, we were warned about the possibility of course change due to major road washouts. But that would only be a last minute change.

The 8 am wave consisted of 30 runners. One of them was Cheryl Zwarkowski from Victorville, CA. I was privileged to be part of her six men road crew. This would be my first crewing/pacing at Badwater.

Temperature is rising as the field heads toward Furnace Creek (17.4 mile marker). The field spreads out quickly after 5 miles. The veterans go out fairly quick, knowing from experience as to how they can pace themselves. While those making their first Badwater attempt, they cautiously make way to Furnace Creek. Cheryl reaches Furnace Creek in 3 hrs 24 minutes. Up to this point, crews are only allowed to aid runner’s needs, but no pacing.

Time is close to noon, humidity is all but gone, but the temperature is rising past 110. Cheryl begins her next leg to Stovepipe Wells (42 mile marker). I begin pacing Cheryl first. Since I was assigned to crewing/pacing her through the night, I wanted to do some pacing early. We get into a slow running mode. After going about 2 miles, the heat really sets in. Temperature was now around 115. We continue to take in fluids, and the crew sprays us with water. We walked the ups, and slow jogging on the flats and downhill. The crew leap frog us and waits at the next mile. They replenish our water bottles, and we take in Thermolytes and Carbo-pro mix drink. Cheryl and I continue. The road was very busy. As a pacer, I also had to make sure Cheryl does not wonder to far into the road, as well as watching out for her well being.

We reached the 23-mile mark. My pacing was done for the day. Day shift took over, while night shift, including me, head to Stovepipe Wells and rest up for the long night.

When I was pacing Cheryl, it seemed like I wasn’t sweating a lot. Cheryl and I were completely covered head, neck, and upper body from sunburning. At temperature around 115, any sweat was just evaporating. The crew would have to spray us down with water to keep us cool. After the pacer exchange, I got in air-conditioned van. I started sweating like crazy. It’s mind-bogging how the harsh heat can drain your body if you not replacing lost fluids.

Cheryl was expecting to arrive in Stovepipe Wells between 5 and 6pm. Apparently she had major stomach problems somewhere around mile 30 to 35. She took more breaks then she expected. She arrived at Stovepipe Wells at 5:49pm. Time elapsed 9 hrs. 49 minutes. Cheryl takes a break for about 30 minutes to eat, change clothes, and re-dress her foot. At this point, there were no blisters.

From Stovepipe Wells to Towne’s pass, it is a torturing 17 miles, 5000 ft climb. Most runners will walk this part of the course. Even the front-runners will walk at some point of this climb. The night crew takes over at mile 50. I begin the pacing duties again. The plan was to pace 2 hrs and switch off. Cheryl is having stomach problems again. As we begin to assess her condition, we encourage her to keep walking instead of completely stopping and re-coup. She needed more solid food. The liquid diet she was doing in the heat of the day took its toll. The body was going down the tubes. She begins to take in solids i.e. Potatoes with salt, chips, PB&J, and drinking Dr. Pepper, Coke, and Mt. Dew with Carbo-pro. The crew vehicle stops at every mile. At each stop, Cheryl eats a little bit. She continues to regain her strength up the climb. Her walking pace increases. Almost two hours into my pacing duties, I begin to develop cramps in my calve muscles. I told Cheryl that I’m not much of a walker for long stretches on an uphill. So I start into a small shuffle, and Cheryl continues with her power walking.

Time was now close to midnight, and we’re reaching 4000 ft. There’s a small breeze, temperature was getting cooling as we approach the top. But it was in the upper 80’s. Compared to a scorching daytime 115 degrees, upper 80’s was cool. About 6 miles from the top, severe cramps hit my calf muscles. I made the mistake of not eating several hours earlier. Now I’m paying the price. Fortunately, it was time for pacer change. Man …was I glad. I got in the crew vehicle and start eating solid food and drinking Gatorade. We continued our climb to the top. Cheryl reaches Towne’s pass around 2am, taking about 7 hrs from Stovepipe Wells.

Once we hit Towne’s pass, it’s bone-crushing decent of 14 miles into Panamint Valley and Panamint Springs, which is the next time station. After going about 7 mile downhill, Cheryl gets really tired and decides to take a 30-minute break. I didn’t sleep and kept my eye on the clock. Making sure the others don’t sleep past the 30 minutes. I take over pacing duties again on the final 7-mile stretch into Panamint Springs. Time was now 6:37am; Cheryl and I make it to Panamint Springs time station. It took almost 13 hrs to cover 31 miles. It was a very long night. At Panamint Springs (72.3 mile marker), we are now 22 hrs 37 minutes into the race. We have passed the halfway point.

At Panamint Springs, Cheryl takes 45-minute break for change of clothes, food, and re-dressing her foot. She was beginning to develop blisters on the outside of her foot. Time is now 7:15am. Cheryl hits the road to Father Crowleys’ point. She is feeling much better now, after taking in solid food through the night. Again it’s another hard climb, an accent of 2000 ft. in 8 miles. The day crew arrives around 8:00am. We go now to Lone Pine to eat breakfast and rest up for the ensuing second night on the road.

I managed to sleep about hour and a half. Around 3pm, we get a call that Cheryl had just passed the 100-mile marker. Lone Pine is at 122-mile marker. She was closing in. About 6pm, we meet up with Cheryl and the crew, she was 8 miles from Lone Pine. We relieve the day crew. Now it was our turn to get her into Lone Pine and up Mt. Whitney portal road.

I begin the pacing duties with 3 miles outside of Lone Pine. Cheryl decides to walk it into Lone Pine, saving some energy for the final climb up Mt. Whitney portal road. We get into Lone Pine time station (122 mile marker) just before midnight. Time elapsed is now 40 hours. Cheryl takes a short 15-minute break for food, change of clothes, and re-dressing her foot.

I continue with Cheryl up the portal road. It is a 13 mile climb. From Lone Pine, the grade increases with every mile. By mile 8 up the portal road, it becomes a steep climb for the last 5 miles. It is the hardest finish of any race. I finished my pacing duties to mile 127.

The day crew catches up at mile 130. While only 2 crewmembers take Cheryl up the portal road, the rest of us drive to the finish line. Cheryl made it to Mt. Whitney trailhead finish line at 4:26am. We all cross the finish line with her. Her finish time was 44 hrs. 26 minutes. 15 sec. She earned the coveted Badwater Ultramarathon belt buckle for finishing under 48 hours.

Out of 80 starters, 73 finish under the time limit of 60 hours. A new womans’ record is set this year by Jamie Donaldson with time of 26 hrs. 51 minutes, 33 sec.

Crewing/pacing at Badwater was a big thrill for me. It was more than I had ever imagine. I congratulate Cheryl for her accomplishment. It was an honor for me to crew and pace her. For me, I look forward to participating in next year’s Badwater race.

photos by AdventureCorp/Chris Kostman


TrailHonky said...

Nice race report. Good luck next year!

T Z said...

Very nice well written report, Arnold. Reading accounts of this race makes me think it belongs on my wish list. Hmmm....

Candice said...

It was nice meeting you this weekend! I really enjoyed the whole "trail" thing, and I'm planning to do an ultra of my own eventually, so maybe I'll get to run with you again while you're training for your own attempt at Badwater. Good Luck!

AB said...

Thanks trailhonky.

TZ.. that's where it all begins ..a wish list.

Candice.. it was nice meeting you too. TZ sure knows how to throw a party... night time trails!!! yeah!!

Hopefully we'll do some long training runs for Badwater.

Anonymous said...

Dear Cheryl, It was nice meeting you at Calico. I got some good shots of you. I need your email address so I can connect with you. I got the "reunion" invitation but didn't subscribe. Send me a note to:
Thanks, Ben