Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Badwater 135 2007


Pre Race:

Badwater 135 began for me earlier this year when the 2007 rooster was released to the public and there was 6 people listed I knew (Scott, Brian, Nikki, Lisa, Tracy and Bonnie). I penned a congratulations email to all of them and made a remark about who was now going to crew for them. In previous races one or two might have ran and the others been there for crewing, now there was 6 going.

Scott Jacaway who I knew via Lisa and from ultra races asked me if I was interested in crewing for him as he was putting together his team and thought I’d be a good fit. Having that weekend free from events and other commitments, and with approval from Laura, I jumped at the opportunity.

Then the worry set in. Badwater is a 135 mile running race held in Death Valley in July from Badwater (lowest point in the western hemisphere) to the Whitney Portals (trailhead to Mt Whitney highest point in lower 48). Yeah Death Valley in July and I’d be there crewing in the heat. This would need some training and planning just to crew. With the internet to guide me I read as much on the race as I could, watched the brilliant DVD Running to the Sun, exchanged emails with many and then started to heat train which included running and hiking at 2pm on hot days, running hill repeats with Scott and his wife Caryn on Mt Hoy in Blackwell forest preserve, driving around with the car heater on and wearing a jacket at times.

Before I think we all realized the race was upon us. Badwater 135 starts on a Monday (23rd) and so I found myself at O’Hare airport on July 21st for a flight to Las Vegas. Nikki Seger and Bonnie Busch were on the flight as was Scott's crew member Debbie Ullmann and some of Bonnie’s crew. I arrived first at the gate followed by Nikki with her fly fishing poles. We chatted for a few minutes then Bonnie’s crew arrived. They recognized Nikki and introductions were made. As the plane was boarding I was greeted by Debbie who I had never meet before. Flight to Vegas was none eventfully but I had good views of the mountains, desert and Hoover Dam.

Waiting at baggage claim was none other than Mary Gorski who had flown in from Wisconsin to crew for Nikki. The party was just beginning. But Debbie and I would not see these guys again until Death Valley the next day as we got out luggage and all went separate ways. Debbie and I made our way to the car rental area to meet Scott and fellow crew members Caryn (Scott’s wife) and Steve from Phoenix who had crewed a runner with Scott last year. The team was all together for the first time after many emails.

First order of the day was brunch followed by checking Scott and Caryn out of their Friday night hotel (they arrived one day earlier to sort out some logistic) and then we all headed to a super center to get supplies for the days ahead (groceries, water/beverage, camping items etc). Those tasks completed we plied everything into the rented mini van and car and motored to Death Valley. As soon as we left the concrete and bright lights of Vegas the scenery changed to mountains and desert terrain. Before long we reached Zabriskie Point and my first view of the valley floor that is Death Valley; plus the first real heat blast upon opening the car door. I was getting excited. A few miles later we arrived at Furnace Creek 178 feet below sea level and checked into our hotel rooms. I half expected some type of run down desert lodgings but these were very nice. Checked out the resort and had lunch at the 49ers Cafe and was pleasantly surprised to see a few veggie items on the menu. Returning to the room I found some soccer on prime time TV (LA vs Chelsea including Becks first game - well 12 minutes of his action) and then we all retired for the night.

Sunday soon arrived. Breakfast was out on the patio with Scott cooking up some fine eggs and Steve getting the coffee brewing. Tons of birds were running around on the grassy area, never seen what I think was a yellow headed blackbird before. Steve also saw a road runner that morning of the feathered kind which got Debbie excited with thoughts of Looney Tunes cartoons. The plan for the day was to discuss the race day plan, think of how to organize the van/car and signage placement (every vehicle had to have runner name and number attached) plus attend the afternoon packet pick up and the mandatory race and crew meeting. Both of these events were held at the Furnace Creek Visitors Center. Packet pick up involved Scott handing in his paper work with waivers and getting his bib number, goody bag, crew T shirts, mug shoots taken, web cast interview, picking up a Coleman cooler and chatting with others. There was also a very friendly road runner posing for photos, Debbie was swimming so missed it. I purchased a souvenir race T and cap. We strolled back to the room via the Borax Museum on the hotel grounds, borax was once mined in Death Valley. Hour or so later we strolled back to the visitors center to attend the race/crew meeting. We arrived early and got seats near the front. Before long the place was standing room only. Chris Kostman gave a talk as did a park ranger. Ben Jones and his wife were inducted into the Badwater Hall of Fame. Sponsors gave talks and so did medical director and friend Lisa Bliss. All the race staff and a little later the athletes were pulled up on stage for applause (well deserved) and photo ops. Then 2 hours later it was over. After dinner at the 49ers Cafe Debbie and I wanted to see the Badwater basin without a crowd so we took the car and drove the 17 miles through the desert and mountains. I was especially looking for mushroom rock due to a video by musician Morrissey http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTev6og-edU but we never found it. The basin was out of this world. Salt flats going out to the valley floor with mountains behind us and off in the near distance. Also behind us and 282 feet up was a sign that read, Sea Level. Soon we returned and got an early night ready for Monday's race day.

Race Day:

Badwater starts on a Monday with 3 wave starts 6am, 8am and 10am. Around 30 people are assigned to each wave. The 10am wave is considered the elite wave and that is where Scott was assigned. He had hoped for the 6am start which would give coverage from the sun by the mountains for a few hours but it wasn't to be. It did mean we could sleep in, relax and not have to worry about getting ready. After breakfast and my last coffee for 4 days the crew loaded up the van and car plus "decorated" them with Scott's signage. The Dodge car reminded me of a NASCAR car. Steve and I went to purchase many bags of ice then returned to finish the preparations. Meanwhile Scott was putting on his running gear, all white long pants, long sleeve shirt and sun hat plus shades. Around 9am I moved the car to the front of the resort where it would remain until Scott reached mile 17 and we all piled into the van for the drive to Badwater Basin. As we pulled out of the resort Brian Kuhn was running by in first place. We passed many runners and crew on the 17 mile drive. Currently it was cloudy and windy but still warm. Once at the basin Scott checked in, got weighted, blood sample taken (he was part of the medical study), sweat patch applied then we headed down to the valley floor for the team photo by the sign indicting place and elevation (-282feet). We took photos of the people ahead of us and the people behind us took ours, great sportsmanship. Chris Kostman then told all the runners to gather at the basin sign where the official race sign was unwrapped. Time to head up to the road for the start. Caryn, Debbie and I headed up the nearby hill for photo ops. Then it began, all 30 runners were off up the road, only 135 miles to go. Scott hung back from the pack to let the elite fast guys but was on his way too.

The race officials held all the crew back to clear the road so time for bathroom breaks and last minute van set up changes. We then joined the 30 crew vehicles on Badwater Road which caused a traffic jam in the middle of the desert for the first few miles before runners started to spread out. Scott wanted us to meet him around one mile from the start. Due to being held by the race staff and all the traffic Scott reached that meeting point at the same time as us and therefore the first stop was a comedy of errors. Thinking we'd have at least 10 minutes to prepare water bottles, wet towels and bandannas nothing was in fact ready. We had to rush so there was Caryn falling over boxes, rushing out the van without the bottle, dodging cars and us realizing the van needed a do over. Well Scott got his bottle and we slowly headed up another mile. The next stop was better and as we moved up the road each stop got polished. Steve the crew pro suggested experimenting with different numbers at each stop to see what worked so after the first stop with all four of us dashing across the road we figured 2 was plenty. We also found that we had time to get to the next meeting before preparing water and energy drink bottles or food and to make the van stops much slower so those in the back of the van didn't end up on the floor (sorry!!!!). Along the way we also had time to take photos and therefore 12.9 miles after the start we found mushroom rock. Steve actually found it at a scheduled crew stop "Hey I want to get a photo of that weird rock". By now the runners were spread out, it was still cloudy and very windy and we were almost at the Furnace Creek resort site of the first timing station and for us to pick up the car which we did by driving a little a head of Scott.

Furnace Creek was also where pacers could join the runners so Steve donned his running gear to join Scott on the course and the rest of us conveyed the van and the car along the course for around 14 miles handing Scott and Steve water bottles every mile or so. Night was coming and it was time for the first crew rest break. Debbie took over the pacing so Steve and I were to drive onto Stovepipe Wells (mile 42), 10 miles down the road. We stopped for photos at the Sand Dunes and then checked into the hotel and to get a few hours sleep. Shortly after we got to the hotel there was a knock on the door; it was Caryn and she told us Scott had staked out and was currently with the medics. The race allows the runners to leave the race course to seek rest, food, medic and they can then rejoin the race where they left it. A wood stake with the runners number is supplied and put into he ground to mark the point. We later learned Scott had ran less than a mile from where we left them and a race doctor had stopped by and suggested a stop at the medical camp in SPW. Scott had an electrolyte deficiency so ORS drink was given and a few hours on a race cot before he returned to the course. Steve and I therefore had a few hours extra sleep before Caryn woke us up. It was now Caryn and Debbie's time for a break and Steve and I time to crew/pace. Steve wanted to pace again so I drove the van into the night crewing every mile or so. During this time the desert night sky was crystal clear with no moon or light pollution. I had never seen the sky like this. The Milky Way was amazing and I tracked a couple of slow moving satellites. Scott also took a few naps in the van or in a chair. The ladies returned and we continued the long slow climb up to Townes Pass summit going from sea level to nearly 5000 feet in 17 miles. Caryn took over the pacing.

A few miles later we got our first view of Mt Whitney way off in the distance. Although at the time I wasn't sure which peak was Whitney the view of the Sierra range was stunning. Scott and Caryn came down the hill and the crewing continued for a few more miles before we rounded a corner and there was another view this time of Panamint Springs and the bed floor stretching out before us and the very long road that leads down to the valley floor and beyond. It was now approaching lunchtime and after Steve and I had been up through the night so Scott suggested we head into Lone Pine some 60 miles away for a resupply of ice, gas and to check into the next hotel for some sleep. On the way we stopped at Panamaint Springs where Gillian Robinson had told us a party was going on that night. Guess we missed the party but Jack and Mags Dennes where manning the time station and nursing a pint of Guinness,a lager and maybe a packet of crisps. We chatted with Jack for a short time (Jack is from close to where my family is from and my sister Julie lives). We motored on passing many runners including Lisa Bliss and crew and got to Lone Pine fairly quickly. We actually didn't get much time in LP after ordering a pizza (first real food in a day, although Steve's "crew van burritos" were great), 2 hours sleep then we had to fill up with gas and get ice before returning to find Scott some where on the course. Also now we was driving on the same side the runners where on so although the speed limit was 65 I slowed down whenever approaching to give them a wide berth and of course to crew them on. Lisa was doing great. Stopped at the sign for Death Valley for photos (had to do the tourist bit).

We found Caryn and Debbie waiting at Father Crowley point along with Scott Weber's crew/wife. Scott had made amazing process since we last saw him. He had gone into the valley, through Panamint Springs and up through the rather dangerous and narrow switch backs and was approaching the crew. At this point Caryn and Debbie headed to Lone Pine and was told by Scott not to return before midnight. Scott ran the next few miles alone before Steve rejoined him and I crewed from the van stopping every mile, sometimes every half mile to take in food (he was now eating more solids) or drink, sometimes Scott asked me to move another mile up the road. The Darwin time station seemed to take forever to reach and darkness was coming. Time again for the night lights and visibility vests for all. Darwin was the high point on the course except for the climb up to the finish so now after a 1000 foot decline in the next 10 miles the rest would be a gradual downhill into Lone Pine. Caryn and Debbie rejoined us. Scott motored on through Keeler and onto the long last straight road across Owens Valley. Here we meet up Nikki Seger and her fly fishing crew including the ever zany fun loving Mary Gorski who was in fine spirits.


Lone Pine is the gateway to Mt Whitney and the portals push to the finish line at 8360 feet. Only one crew vehicle is allowed on the portals road with the runner, the other vehicle has to be left in Lone Pine or driven straight to the finish line area. We had opted to take just the van leaving Scott's NASCAR at the hotel. We also had to clear the van of all food except what would be needed on the 5 hour finish push. I also decided I wanted to pace with Scott for at least a few miles much to Scott's surprise when he saw me coming down the road from the hotel with his fresh water bottle in my hand dressed in my running gear. I paced Scott through Lone Pine including the 5th time station, where finisher Brian Kuhn was hanging out with race official Jay Hodde, and then up to the start of the portal climb where pacer extraordinary Steve wanted to take over to the top. Although I only paced a few miles I was so happy to be doing so although I admit I am a tad quiet which is probably not what Scott wanted but maybe he did. The climb up to the finish was fairly non eventful for Debbie, Caryn and I but was exhausting work for Scott and Steve has they climbed 4500 feet gain in around 12 miles. The views down to Lone Pine and beyond where awesome (again) Finally after 51 hours and 33 minutes Scott was about to complete his 135 mile trek across the desert and over the mountains. Caryn some how found a place to park probably half a mile from the finish and Team 72 made the climb to the finish with Scott were we all linked arms as Scott triumphantly finished. It was definitely emotional but so amazing.

RD Chris was there to meet Scott and present him with his finishers medal, have photos taken and do a small interview. Scott then finished his medical study.

I am so proud of Scott for finishing the race and so proud to have been invited to be on his crew; I'd not hesitate to crew again at Badwater. Putting a crew together for such an event is a major part of race planning and I think Scott put together a great crew who got on well and worked well together especially after the first crew stop some 134 miles before.

Well what goes up has to go down so we slowly strolled down to the van where Steve took the drivers seat and with the smell of smoking brakes guided the van down the mountain and back to the hotel in Lone Pine. Upon arriving at the hotel we ran into champion Lisa Bliss still smiling as she had been before, during and now after the race. Way to go Lisa. Scott then got had a well deserved shower, massage and a 2 hour nap before we all headed off to the race pizza party for speeches, videos, awards and friendship.

Next day (briefly) was a leisurely but quicker drive back down the course stopping at a few locations for photos and video and a great encounter with the Dennes at Paramint Springs where Jack was nursing another Guinness and we nursed smoothies for a 30 minutes chin wag. Last night and day in the area was in Vegas which after days in Death Valley was a tad anti climax or maybe desert and mountains are more appealing to me than lights and urban jungle at that moment.

Congrats to everyone that finished Badwater 2007 which includes all the crew but especially congrats to those I know Nikki, Bonnie, Lisa, Tracy, Brian, Jerry and of course Scott. You are all amazing my friends.

Also thanks to Crew 72; Caryn, Debbie and Steve. It was a pleasure spending a week with you all and I trust I didn't get on your nerves - well not to much.




5 comments:

Brian Gaines said...

Congratulations Ian for crewing Scott to a solid finish. It sounds like you learned A LOT along the way and were able to successfully work without the comedic errors. It sounds like an awesome experience you had and I'm happy that you were able to help out a friend in need.

Brian

Lisa B said...

Excellent pacer report, Ian! It seems like just yesterday you and I ran that 5k fun run together through the lakefront park in Chicago. Remember that? And here we are together at Badwater! So very cool! Scott had an awesome race, and of course, you and his crew helped to make that happen. Thanks for the report.

Greg Pressler said...

Ian--

Great crew report, brother. I had nearly forgotten about the road runners (birds) that showed up outside after the pre-race meeting.

Thanks for sharing!

Gre

Steve Richey said...

Ian-- congrats on a great adventure -- I really enjoyed reading about it -- come join me on a slow 20 miler and tell me the rest. I'll see some of those folks this weekend at the Howl (Mary G., Tracy T., etc.) Steve R.

christopher said...

Thank you for the running commentary. I'm going to be crewing Badwater in 08 and I'm better prepared after reading you story.