Badwater135 Ultramarathon! Where to start? So many good times with new friends and old. So many emotions this year and you would think after 5 years of crewing it would be the same, but its not!
A quick review, I crewed Cath Todd with Molly Sheridan in last year's Badwater race with a friend, Darryl that came with her from Dubai. It was a tough race with strong 25mph+ winds, of course hot temps 117-120*F and she also experienced stomach issues that caused her to get sick which has never happened to her in an event before. Cath was able to recover but it cost her some time and she finished her first Badwater in a very respectable 36hrs 28mins. and swore she was not coming back for the Worlds Toughest Foot Race.
So after she recovered and gathered her emotions a few months later she emailed to say she was going to return and asked if I would crew with her again, as well as, Molly. I was totally in but Molly would not be able to crew this year as she returning to Leh, India.
Cath quickly put together her crew consisting of myself, World renowned StretchDoc and ultra-runner and 5x super crewer; her friend Angeline who lives in Dubai with her and is a great fast marathon runner, Samantha Gash who we met in India a couple years ago at La Ultra - The High and is a very accomplished ultra-runner as well as the first women to complete all Four Desert Races in Racing the Planet series and many others, and Mathieu Dore, a Canadian guy she met while running Beast of Burden, also a great fast ultra-runner. It quickly realized that we had a power team as each one of us had our strengths that she could utilize. As the race drew closer we had skype meetings on logistics and race tactics but one of the meetings I remember distinctly was that Cath said she was coming back to Win this race in the women's division! I honestly didn't have any doubts she could do it but it would have to be the perfect storm because Badwater brings every element to test your will and make you fail in its beauty of places called Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells, Devil's Cornfield, The Sand Dunes, Town's Pass, Father Crowley's Point and the Portal Road to Mt. Whitney, so when she threw down the statement I was a little excited, okay, a lot excited to be on a winning team! Don't get me wrong, working on all the other racers crews was awesome and I wouldn't change it but being at the front could and would bring different responsibilities and dynamics I have not experienced with the other 4 years.
The week of the race we were all excited as flights were arriving on Thursday, Samantha was first and I picked her up and we had lunch and some REI shopping then a great salad dinner she fixed and relaxed at home. Friday, Mat, Cath and Ang would all be arriving. Sam and I went to the airport early to meet Mat who arrived earlier that morning and hung out and immediately I knew we were going to be a great crew. Then Cath and Ang arrived and once again the crew got stronger with Ang. We collected luggage and off to shop at REI, WholeFoods and Red Rock Running Company, then check in at Caesars Palace where they were staying.
On Saturday I picked up the MotherShip, which was a Kia Sedona, more on that later, then picked up the Team, packed up and off we went to Death Valley of course stopping at Starbucks and the Big Cow.
Arriving in Furnace Creek on Saturday this year was kind of nice and much more relaxing than a early Sunday arrival. We had plenty of time to chill and get things settled and just bond a little more as a Team. We went to the start at Badwater and took some pictures by the sign as well as chatted with Tony Portera, a now 5x Finisher!
Mat and I also took the Badwater Pale Ale for some electrolyte hydration, hey its Hot in Death Valley :-)It was then dinner and off to bed for Sunday's big runner check in.
We all woke up early and went for breakfast then took off to the race check-in as there is always a line at 10:30am when then start. In the mix of getting everything packed in the Mothership I forgot 3 vital things: 1) Race Waiver Forms (which they have there to complete but its easier to have them already done) 2) Blinky Lights, 3) Race Reflective Vests. Luckily, we were able to borrow some from Jimmy Gabany, race director/owner of Elemental Running, who was crewing for David Clark. In line we took a few photos and during the overall runner check-in process.
Once Cath was all checked in and the race meeting was over we were back relaxing with more food and final preparations. Cath went over her pace chart and times frames for all the check points. I tried playing on the new swing set but this was the notice:
Then it was time for Mat and I to decorate the car with all the great sponsor magnets. Many thanks to VOSS, Aqualyte, 2XU, AdventureHQ, SportinLife, University of Wollongong in Dubai.
After we were done with that it prepare clothes and plans to pack the Mothership in the morning. One thing about his KIA is that the inside seats are removable but then they have to be stored some place, such as on top of the roof, where as, in other vans like Dodge the seats fold directly into the floor board which is much easier to deal with.
We had a 10:00am start so we didn't have to get up as earlier but the excitment and wanting to get started simply wakes you up. We all got ready and Mat, Ang, and I started loading the Mothership with all 21 gallons of VOSS water, coolers, food, luggage and 2 stupid Kia seats. Once all that was packed up we had plenty of time to head to the start so went to take some pre-race pictures at the Badwater road sign:
Mats was "C" for Candana.
Ang was hugs for bestfriends!
and Samantha's was jump for Aussie's!
Making our way to the start its pretty great seeing the 6am and 8am starters already on the road and the crews working hard to keep them going. We got to the start took a few more photos, Cath weighed in and then gathered for the group photos and National Anthem at the start.
Start - Furnace Creek - Stovepipe Wells - Town's Pass.
Finally, the start came and everyone was off!! So exciting! We had a couple minutes before we needed to head out so we took our time and then rolled off the start line, only 135 miles to go.
Our first crewing was going to be interesting as Mat, Sam, and Ang are all newbies at this and so I was waiting to see how they would all do. We thought it would be best for me to drive at first because it can be a a little difficult watching other crews, where to park and your runner, as well as traffic and informing your crew to look both ways crossing the road. The first stop went pretty good and overall I didn't see too much confusion, just some pointers on how to space out a little more and let Cath run to you and not you with her.
The first 17 miles she has to run solo so its important to keep this spacing and not appear to have a pacer so the crew part must be quick as she passes. Overall, we got into a rhythm which is what happens and things start to just fall in place. Cath ran slower this year at the back and took her time and held great as this can be mentally challenging because the front runners and leaving you behind but its a long race and with her plan of winning she had to stay within her time she predicted she could win it with based on the other competitors.
As we approached the 17 mile check in at Furnace Creek she had started passing through the 10am group and some of the 8am group. At Furnace Creek she would pick up Ang as her first pacer, Ang would make sure she was checked in at the time station and have a full supply of water/drinks as the Mothership need ice and more gas so this would take a few minutes. After putting gas at $5.43 gallon we were back on the road and looking for Cath and Ang.
We soon arrived and Mat and Sam were ready to go because we knew they would need immediate crewing, Mat actually took over here Ang came back to Mothership to rest up and help crew along the way. The weather was certainly hot, 120-121* from our listings and the wind was blowing about 10-15 mph at times. We were also catching some of the 6am group and most of the 8am group heading towards Stovepipe Wells. Cath had to stop approximately 30-35 miles to do some blister prevention on her feet and right heel area.The spraying of water was somewhat getting into her shoes and making her feet soft so from here on out we were much more careful on spraying her legs and not drenching her upper body.
Making our way into Stovepipe Wells, Mat, Sam and Ang kept swapping out pacing, the plan was not more than 60 minutes per pacer but since it was pretty darn hot and these three were not super acclimated to the heat we changed that to 30 minutes to keep everyone fresh, of course me, I was driving and intermittently crewing at times just to get out of the Mothership and stretch the legs. My time would come later heading up Town's Pass. As we got to Stovepipe Wells, Samantha would be checking Cath in at the time station as Mat, Ang and I would be getting ice and gas. Mat had also just finished a hard pacing section in the heat wasn't feeling good so was resting. After the chaotic mess at Stovepipe, the store was crazy busy, the gas pumps were busy and this year they were bringing ice from the back of the store instead of the ice truck sitting outside, we got threw it and even organized a little in the van. After heading back out to catch up to Cath/Sam, Mat really wasn't feeling well and began throwing up! (oh shit, I thought, this is not good, this guy is tanked and will be worthless now) well in a few more minutes he threw up again!! Sam and I were chatting as Ang was pacing some and knew Mat needed to rest and recover. While going up Town's Pass we also passed Marshall Ulrich and Dean Karnazes, Cath was moving great and completed the 40.9 miles in 7 hours 37 minutes (11:10min/mile)
Soon after making those passes I took over as it was some good long uphill getting to the top of Town's Pass, it was hot but luckily the sun was going down and we had some wind but not nearly like last year, even Tony Portera would say later that it was Hotter this year than last year but less wind than last year.
Cath was doing great and holding strong and steady, she didn't really ask where any other racers were just doing her race. We chatted about last years Town's Pass experience with the head winds, her puking and having to stop for a while and how different it was this race. My personal goal was to get her to the top of Town's Pass and in some sections it is runnable just uphill and she chose to run making my life difficult :-) and eventually pushing me to my limit so I quietly bailed out almost near the top as I knew pushing myself over the edge was not wise as she would need me up Farther Crowleys and the Portal Road.
Finally we made it to the top of Town's Pass. It was dark and all you could see was blinking hazards and headlamps from the runners. As we hit the top of the pass the girls were rotating pacing duties and Mat was still resting but feeling better. The steep downhill into Paniment was going to be run hard so the girls were ready and as we started the descent the pace immediately quickened.
too be continued... Part 2 - to Paniment, Darwin and the Pass for first place!