Running into Panamint in the middle of the night/early morning is tough, simply because you can see the lights straight ahead and the dip in the valley is misleading as to how much elevation gain there is from the bottom of the valley. It's not crazy up but there is some gradual climbing while the road goes straight to the town and this is where Cath had it in her mind that we were closer than we kept telling her, haha. Your brain does funny things out there in Death Valley and distances, lights, elevations up or down all look different so when we told her how much farther it was she just couldn't grasp it and questioned our mathematics. Finally, I told the crew, just let her run and when she gets there, she get there, she'll then realize. haha, sorry Cath, sometimes we just have to let you experience the ever last moment but it does help when you see a road sign that says 3 miles to confirm our math. :-)
The run down from Town's Pass is always magical because you can see numerous other runners in the valley and heading up the other side with flashing hazards continually flashing, almost in a dancing fashion between all of them. At times they are all in rhythm and then there's the disruption of one set that throws the dance off but soon all others follow so it seems like it was planned. Again, I love this part of the course as well as the Whitney Portal road at night because you can see many miles to Lone Pine and back to Keeler with this same effect.
We drove up to Panamint and quickly topped off with $5.45/gallon fuel, luckily, we didn't need that much and then drove next door to the check point where we would wait for Molly and Cath to come in, check her in and then Darryl would walk with her while Molly and I went back to the store for some ice and supplies.
Cath arrived at 17 hours 48 minutes (avg. pace 14:48/mile) she immediately moved through on her way to Father Crowley's Point. Panamint is 1970 ft above sea level and Fr. Crowley's is 4000ft, the distance to get here is 7.9 miles so its pretty much continuous UP with some switch backs and steeper sections of the course.
Cath had settled into a nice rhythm after Panamint and when we returned we started to switch out a little more frequently simply because of the continuous grind up. Its just after 4 am and as I am walking with Cath we notice that the crack of light is starting break all around the valley, as the Sun rise is approaching. Cath takes notice and not sure if she remembers but she enjoyed this part of the morning as she commented on the beauty of the light approaching. I'm sure she would be cussing the amount of light she would be getting in about 7 hours heading into Keeler!
Pacing on this section of the course requires lots of attention to the runner and traffic, believe it or not, there is traffic, both oncoming and going. The roads are very narrow and basically there is No shoulder to walk on, just the White Line. Also, 18+ hours into the race your runner is very out of it and likes to wonder off the line towards the road so watching for the traffic and making sure they are close to the line is a must. I stayed with Cath till we hit Father Crowley's, 4000ft and then took a break while Darryl jumped back in. A great part here is now you start getting Cell Phone Reception! But just because we reach the 4000 ft mark doesn't mean we're done climbing, as there is another 1,050 ft of climbing into Darwin over the next 10 miles. I'm telling you, its continuous work from 72 to 90 miles!
By now the sun is up, its about 8 am and other crews have caught up or we have caught a couple as well. This is nice because it allows for more interaction between the runners and at least gives there brain something to think about and talk with as they are all going through the same stuff. Some portions of this course, you are completely alone. No runners, no humans, not even your crew because by now they are Zombies working for you. As we approached Darwin we started catching up to more runners and this seemed to bring Cath's spirits up and as we rolled into the Darwin check point, mile 90.1 at 23 hrs 02 mins. It was a quick pass through and pressing on. The morning was still relatively cool and this is the first time I have seen temperatures drop down into the upper 60's on this course. Talk about a huge temperature difference, 50*+!
The next goal was hitting the 100 mile mark on the course and I distinctly remember last year I was running with Connie at this same point and we were looking and waiting for this mysterious mark in the road but it never came so this year I remembered where it was and told Cath we still had a little ways to get there. Finally, we hit the mark and a great photo was taken by Molly!
After the this mark there is a long straight stretch that gradually declines into Keeler and then flattens out heading into Lone Pine.It's about noon and the sun is starting beat down with the temp pushing 110* and will soon hit 115*. Cath is starting to overheat again, basically, still cooked from the day before but the Sun today brings back quick memories of how it fried you the day before. We start with the cold hats and some cool water on her shirt again. Her stomach as once again decided to shut down and talking small sips of Isagenix or Aqualyte is a huge task but she manages. Just after lunch it is 115* and she has slowed to a walk/shuffle. The heat is winning out and the misery of this feeling is simply winning the battle at Badwater135.
During this time we have caught up with fellow runner, Jason Rita, a 6am starter and great guy we all met at La Ultra - The High last year. It was good to see him out there and I think it helped Cath at points. At one point she became really overheated and Molly brought out a beach towel that was soaked with cold water. At first she really didn't want to put it one but really there was no choice in the matter, crew wins, and we as I was pacing with her we just laid it over her head and her shoulders. She said it was heavy and we replied yes, but just keep it on for a few minutes to help cool you down, we have another towel that is smaller we'll get the next stop. Water was dripping all over the place and especially down her legs on her shoes which I wanted to make sure it didn't because she had already dealt with a blister from yesterday and this morning. As I walked with her she was a little bit in a sobbing moment simply due to being in misery from the searing HEAT! I chatted with her and just kept telling her she was doing good and that the towel would help, we're moving forward and that's all that counts, even if it is slow. I was holding this ends of this towel and realized it was Heavy, she was not kidding around. Just then Molly returned with the smaller towel and as I lifted the beach towel off I was really surprised how heavy it actually was! No wonder!! haha, sorry for the extra 8 lbs Cath. Now we were on to a smaller towel and continued moving. Just after this Cath asked to take a break and sit in the Mothership for a few minutes. As she jumped in to rest, it was about 5 minutes and we noticed Jason Rita passing us.
Molly was sitting with Cath in the front and Cath had said she couldn't really sleep and then asked Who was passing. Molly said,that's Jason Rita, he has been struggling all morning and having a very tough time but he is pushing through it and moving. About that time, Cath said she had to go. I'm not really sure what clicked in her mind or maybe it was small bites of food she was nibbling on but she basically got out of the Mothership, started walking with the towel and then pitched the towel on the side of the road and started running! It was like the scene from Forest Gump, when Jenny left him in the night and the next morning he's sitting on the porch and just gets up and starts running! This was Cath, she was running, and just a slow jog, she started running. Maybe it was the fact that Jason had passed her and she didn't want that, I'm not sure but we were all glad to see her running. Her and Jason would slowly play leap frog for the next few miles but as we approached Keeler where the wind was blowing like crazy from the side, like a Dubai sandstorm, she would pull ahead. By the time we hit the junction at Lone Pine, mile 120 she was looking for the Dow Villa hotel check in at mile 122.3.
She arrived at 122.3 in 31 hours 22 minutes. She would tend to medical for her blisters and we would resupply the Mothership with gas, and burgers for us! No supplies were needed as we were still doing on ice , Molly would grab a sandwich for Cath and after medical we would be heading up the Portal road to the Finish!
Stay tuned... The Finish!
ps. sorry so long, but got lots of detail for this race.