Wow 2012 Badwater 135 Ultramarathon, my 4th year crewing for this amazing race put on by AdventCORPS and race director Chris Kostman.
Badwater takes place in Death Valley, Ca. starting from the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere, -280 Feet below Sea Level and finishes at the top of the Mt. Whitney portal road nearly 8,300 feet above Sea Level.The Badwater course covers three mountain ranges for a total of 13,000 ft of cumulative vertical ascent and 4,700 ft of cumulative descent. The Portals are the trailhead to the Mt. Whitney summit, the highest point in the contiguous US. Competitors run through places and landmarks with names like Mushroom Rock, Furnace Creek, Salt Creek, Devil's Cornfield, Devil's Golf Course, Stovepipe Wells, Keeler and Lone Pine.
I was luckily enough to get asked to crew for Catherine Todd, who is a citizen of Australia and resident of Dubai. She would arrive on Saturday with a good friend named Darryl Chiles. We would also have veteran ultra-badass Molly Sheridan of DesertSky Adventures, 2009 Badwater Finisher, and 2010 La Ultra - The High 138 mile finisher, who I also crewed both events for. I would arrange the logistic with Cath via Skype and make sure we had all the necessary supplies, coolers, and all night gear for the trip. The coordination of the MotherShip and race day tactics were all planned.
When Cath and Darryl arrived on Saturday afternoon we finalized grocery store shopping and last minute REI supplies needed. It was then off to bed and I would pick them up early Sunday morning to head to check in at Furnace Creek between 10:30-12pm. We headed out about 7am stopping off for breakfast, Ice, and gas then headed towards Death Valley. As soon as we pulled out of the driveway to head to breakfast and got on the highway the signs which designated Cath's #9, country and residence flew off the side of the van and I pulled over to play frogger in the highway, luckily I made it. When we were about half way to Death Valley, the front sign, which was taped flew off the van and so here we were pulling over, again, to find the magnet sign. This time it took us about 20 minutes going up and down the the section of road we thought it was at. Finally, we recovered it and pressed on which we noticed we were running a little behind on time. We finally arrived at Furnace Creek Resort and runners were already checking in.
It was about 110* and feeling nice and warm. We all quickly got in line which moved pretty fast for runner check in. We were soon inside and as Cath peeled off and went to the right, Molly, Darrly and I, aka Team Cath, went to see all the Badwater gear for sale and take pictures as she picked up her packet, Runners On Road Sign and had a quick reuniting with race director of the Brazil135 Ultramarathon, Mario Lacerda. I remember Mario from last year when I crewed Connie Dockendorf and she had run Brazil in 2010 and introduced me. Mario is such a great and fun guy. After Cath picked up her race number she took her pre-runners photo and photo's with RD Chris Kostman and then we were off to see if we could check in to the hotel as the group photo was scheduled at 12:30pm at the pool. The room wasn't ready so we chilled and then returned for the group photo.
The group photo is great because you get to see all the crews and runners together. Once the group photo and we all chatted with other awesome runners we headed back to the hotel and grabbed some lunch where Marshall Ulrich came over and shared some great words and advice with us. Then it was time to settle into the room, coolers, grab some dinner and then off to bed.
Cath, #9, was scheduled in the 10am wave, which was great because now I have completed crewing in all 3 wave starts and this would also provide for us to sleep in a little more than the 6am start. We had to organized the Mothership and once we were complete with that we grabbed breakfast and then made our way to the start. I was awesome seeing the 6am and 8am runners already on the road and the feeling of race excitement increased! As we arrived at the start line, Badwater, we took some pictures, Cath talked to the media and then it was time for weigh-ins and the group 10am Badwater photo. Time went by quickly which was good because it was already 109* and the Sun was already shinning on the road where as the 6am and part of the 8am group got some shade coverage in this area from what I remember. Soon the National Anthem was playing and then the count down to start. 3..2...1.. Bang!
We took our time pulling out on the course and gave Cath a several minutes to run before pulling up for our 1st of 3467 crew stops, the joys of Badwater! The first few stops are always figuring out how things are feeling and what she might need. So far she was okay, but stated she felt the pace was FAST, and she wasn't kidding, the 10am group was FAST! We had all talked over her race plan and just reminded her to settle in to Her plan and just run her race, no matter what the others may be doing. I know this can be tough for a competitor and at some points she was feeling like she was getting left behind but in a long 135 mile race that takes 28+ hours time can be made up in many places if the Badwater Gods allow. Cath continued on her way and while Molly and Darryl were crewing, myself driving, she was doing great and moving along well on the course. Yes, she was hot, its about 111* in the Sun and feeling the baking rays of Death Valley. We continued to spray her with sunscreen and she began to mention she was hot, later on we made a command decision and put a long sleeve shirt on her which she gladly accepted because it was so hot on her skin.
As we approached Furnace Creek check point, we had plans to restock with gas, grab some Mtn. Dew, and fill with gas. This would take a few minutes so Molly would stay by the road and make sure she got checked in, this is also the place where a pacer to join the runner. Once Darryl and I got the ice and snacks, Molly had said she had passed about 10-15 minutes ago and we should go check on her and then return to the gas station. Darryl got ready to jump out and pace with her when we caught up with her. Molly and I return to to fill the car with $5.05/gallon gas and off we went to return to them. This is really a quick and somewhat high anxiety time simply because we only have one Mothership and no second crew car and so its imperative that the runner not be unattended for long periods of time, even with a pacer! This would be one downside of not having a second vehicle, as well as if something were to go wrong with the Mothership you have a second vehicle to replace the Mothership but you also need more crew members to man both vehicles which also increases the runners financial cost. So as we returned to Cath she was definitely hot and we started using a little water to spray on her shirt and keep her cool. She was still drinking and eating fruit which we had started before Furnace Creek. From here Furance Creek to Stovepipe Wells we would continue to rotate out in crewing and handing her supplies. The wind was starting to pick up and the only thing that seemed to bring some relieve was a pair of fighter jets practicing maneuvers overhead and using smoke to track there path, it was pretty neat watching them.
Somewhere here Darryl was taking pictures with his brand new small camera and somehow set it down on the side of the white line where we were parked and ran over to help crew Cath as she came by. Then we all jumped in the Mothership and took off to the next crew stop, then by the time the 3rd stop Darryl realized he left it on the side of the road. With it costing more than $200 we had to go back quickly and see if we could find it. He would stay with Cath and pace for while with a couple extra bottles so Molly and I returned to where he thought it left it and somehow, just as me stopping the magnet on the side of the road I saw the 2"x2" camera lying on the side of the white line that had flipped over. We quickly pulled over, grabbed it up and hauled ass back to them. We were getting closer to Stovepipe Wells and still with the wind beating down and the temp now 115* with the Sun straight into our faces.
In Stovepipe we would have to refuel, get ice once again and pick up some more juice-lemonade that Cath was drinking. Here once again we would leave Cath for short time as Darryl checked her in, mile 41.9 in 7 hours 24 minutes. Molly and I were tending to the gas and store needs which was quite busy compared to the 6 and 8 am starts I've come through on. We were soon back on the road and caught back up with Cath who was now heading up Town's Pass, into the wind, and Sun.
This is where the wheels start to come off... stay tuned... Town's Pass and night time to Panamint.