Okay, this is going to take a couple of posts because there is a lot of stuff to cover and I don't want to skimp on it as Badwater and Molly deserve every bit of it. Just so we know, the starting line at Badwater, Death Valley, which marks the lowest elevation in North America at -282 feet below sea level. The race finishes at Mt. Whitney Portal at 8,360 feet about sea level. The course covers three mountain ranges for a total of 13,000 of cumulative vertical ascent and 4,700 of descent. Whitney Portal is the trail head to the Mt. Whitney summit, the Highest point in the contiguous United States. Competitors travel through places and landmarks including Mushroom Rock, Furnace Creek, Salt Creek, Devil's Cornfield, Devil's Golf Course, Stovepipe Wells, Keeler and Lone Pine.
On Sunday, it was breakfast at Egg Works with the crew and a few pictures before heading out. We were all excited and not really sure what we were in for. If you would have asked me at this time I would have said, Heat, little sleep, and some pretty hard roads. Little did I know it would become much more than that could even describe.
As we headed towards Death Valley, we stopped and took a couple of pictures along the way and soon my cell phone lost reception and I would not gain it back for 3 days!! Yes, no cell signal to be found, so the only communication is something they call a "pay phone"?? When we finally reached Furnace Creek, (yes, they call it this for one simple reason, can you guess?) it took a while to check into our motel. When I first stepped outside the car I was like, WOW, it's Hot! and it was only 10am. At this point it didn't feel any hotter than Vegas weather but then again it was only 10am. As we walked around the gift shop, ate a quick lunch snack and waited for the motel room it was soon time to head to race check-in. During this time, there was numerous vehicles pulling in and all had race numbers and names on them from various countries and it was quite evident that you were in the presences of great athletes, and Molly was sure one of them.
Heading over the race check in all went relatively quickly and smoothly. We saw Dean Karnazes and part of the crew took pictures with him. After Molly got all checked in we headed back to the motel area and ate lunch and finally got our rooms. We rested a while and then it was time for the Pre-race meeting for racers/crews.
We got there early enough to get in line and get a great seat up front. The meeting was funny and informative with all the rules and do's and don'ts of the race, all pretty basic but as the days played out there were several teams that didn't follow the rules! Cheaters!! (which became a joke on the 2nd day) After the meeting it was to the motel room to relax, eat dinner and get ready for the 4am wake up call. Lights out and next thing you know its 4am go time!
Monday, July 13
To start off, there are 2 vehicles in Molly's crew. The Mothership, which is the main crewing van and the Crew's ship, which is the shuttle, rest, and backup. The Crew members are: Crew Chief - Bailey (molly's daughter), Jimmy, Georganna aka Georg, Brendan, Justin (videographer) and myself. As we prepped the Mothership for departure to the starting line as only 1 vehicle was allowed for the first 17 miles, we all huddled up, and Molly had some great encouraging words. You could feel the Excitement and the energy in our circle and we all knew that she was counting on us to stay safe, have fun and keep good energy! Molly, Bailey, Jimmy and Justin all headed out to the start of 6am while Brendan and I would supply the crew's ship and be ready to go when she arrived. In the mean time we had breakfast, checked out of the room and got supplies.
When Molly arrived at mile 17 she was running great and it was my time to jump into the Mothership and learn my duties as a crew member. So I got a crash course on what to do and a full On the Job Training as she came by for my first run out. "Hi John" Molly says, "good to see you, did you rest?" Yea, I sure did I said as she grabbed some chips and watermelon from the cups I was holding as we were running. It all happens so fast that next thing I know she's off and it's back to the Mothership. More crash course on charting what she ate, how much, and what time is to be wrote down as well as prepare for any special request she may have for the next stop. Then it's drive up the road for about .3-.5 miles and repeat the process, except this time I am in charge of spraying her down with some cold water from a bug sprayer pump that was bought from Home Depot. All this would continue now for the next 2 days!
At mile 17 Molly was also able to pick up a pacer for the remainder of the race, All racers must run the first 17 alone with only the Mothership helping and after that they are allowed to have company with them. So Jimmy was out first to check on her and assess her needs and anything else that is going on and relay the information back to the Mothership and Crew Chief to make decisions. Finally around 1pm it's JT's time to pace and I gear up, sun block down, ice bandanna around my neck and I'm off with Molly. It's about 115* and boy is it Hot!!! Molly talks a little and asks how crewing is going and if I am getting it down or any questions. I obviously don't say anything about the Heat b/c there is lot's more to come and it's really not as hot as it's going to get. So we run walk for a while and the crew takes care of Molly and me as we go down the road and finally we come to a sign that says" Sea Level - Elevation 0 Feet" As I see this I tell Molly, "well at least your head is above water now".. She looks at me and laughs and we keep going. During my times to pace I seem to have something to make her laugh and I will share when we get there.
After about 6 miles or so I am off the pacing duty and back to crew duty which is fine b/c it's really heating up. As the afternoon wears on so does a small Achilles problem that has started to nag Molly. After a while there is some slight bruising on the Achilles and we are only about 40 miles into the race, not necessarily a good thing to happen so early. As we start approaching Stovepipe Wells (42 miles and 0 Feet elevation) our plan is give Molly an Ice bath and the Crew's vehicle is already checked in and has it ready. Molly will also eat some food and with the help of Georg we will tape up her Achilles and massage her feet while she eats. I determine that her shoe is causing this irritation which seems odd to Molly b/c it's the same shoes she has worn and trained in before but you have to remember, this is BADWATER, and your body and equipment will be test beyond the limits. Also to note coming in to Stovepipe Wells it's seriously Hot now, around 125* and for the last hour Molly has really slowed down on eating and is not wanting to take anything. So it was important for her to eat as much as she could at the motel room while getting the ice bath to restore the lost calories over the last hour. Her overall goal was 200 calories per hour and if I remember correctly it was barely 100 during this last hour and the previous hour was less than 200 as well. As you can see the pattern, the Heat totally kills the need to take in food and it's a tough thing to do when you HAVE TO! After her ice bath she was off again and into the heat.
This time I was on rest with Jimmy and Brendon we were able to grab some food, take a shower and rest up for a couple of hours. Then it was time to head back out and join the Mothership. Once linking back up we quickly found out that it was clocked at 127* and since then Molly was not that far up the road due to the heat she had become sick and was not holding down Any food or Liquid, which in Death Valley is not a good thing. There was an hour rest that was given to her to help her cool down and settle her system down and she finally was back on the road but I cant even imagine being sick to your stomach, being in 127* heat and still walk/running! The Crew was so waiting for the sun to go down to start bringing the temperature down and finally we got our relief. (Please remember that while we are crewing Molly and following up the road just a short ways, so are all the other runners and after a while just like an other run the runners sometimes group together for a while but for the most part it's a SOLO run other than your pacer and many crews are leap frogging each other to stay with there runner, so it's kind of neat to chat briefly with other crews and see how there runner is doing)
Finally, night time came and around 10pm Bailey and I headed up the road a ways to get some rest but I was simply not tired and so while Bailey slept for about 45 mins I simply stared at the wonderful stars and sky and watched as runners/crews came by. Then Molly caught up to us and it was back to work following along for a while and then back out pace at 2am. Now it was somewhat nice and although Molly had been going for 20 hours she was still in good spirits and of course wanted to know if I was getting rest, having any difficulties (like mine could even amount to anything compared to what she is doing) but just the simple fact that she wanted to make sure all the Crew was Okay says more than enough about her not even having a selfish bone in her body. As we continued on it was nice to just be out there and enjoy the desert in a different type of way. We looked for snakes and any other creatures but really there was nothing. At this point just before I took over pacing Molly was coming up on what is called Townes Pass (mile 58.7 Elevation 4956) Yes, you read that correctly! From Stovepipe Wells at mile 42 to the summit of Townes Pass, 16.7 miles you climb 4,956 feet. This is many of my are you fucking serious thoughts as the days pass. Once at the top of summit I was driving and as we clear the top and start to desend you could see the valley below and it was quite the sight to see all the blinking hazard lights so far down in the valley but then comes Are you fucking serious thought again as I look across the valley and see the ridge line in the dark which is called Farther Crowley's point which is 21.5 miles away! and you could see the lights as little specks on the road and that is where we were heading. I was completely dumb founded and speechless to see how far it was and as a runner if you can see how far you have to go after 58 miles, it's probably not the best thing but then again, this is BADWATER! I asked the crew about how long to get to Father Crowley's point, as it was almost 1am, they said we'll be to the top about 8am! if all goes well. SHIT! It just doesn't stop. After pacing for about 2 hours and it was mostly walking, we chatted, she listened to music and enjoyed the night and no direct sun light she was doing relatively great. Finally we reached the check point at Panamint Springs and began the climb to Father Crowley's point. We just dropped from 4956 to 1920 feet and now its time to climb back to 4000 feet in about 8 miles! Yes, 8 miles!
Once the sun came up and Molly was working up the climb to Father Crowley's point she was feeling good and power walking really well. She was making up time and all was wonderful, even eating and not having any complaints. When she reached the top of Father Crowley's we gave her a short break, put her legs up and she refreshed for about 20 mins as planned. Then it was back on the road and basically the start of day 2.!!
Day 2 will continue to bring Heat, sickness and even some more fun stuff but I will get to that next. ... To Be Continued....