Badwater 135 mile
4th Tuesday in July, Badwater, Death Valley CA to Mt. Whitney Portal, 6:00 AM first group start.
App and info click on Badwater above.
You can follow the race with check point times and photos on the Badwater web site.
Badwater in Death Valley California is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere at -282 feet below sea level. Badwater is a brackish mineral pool along highway 190 and the finish is 135 miles later at the Whitney Portal Road at 8,300 feet. The course has an elevation gain of over 24,000 feet. Those who have any legs left, hike or run Mt Whitney which is 22 miles round trip to the 14,491 foot pinnacle, tallest in the 48 states.
Below is John Radich's account of his one way 135 mile crossing in 2003, followed by his 292 mile Double plus Whitney event in 2006.
Badwater 2003, Running through Heat and Hell
Temperatures are expected to reach 130 degrees, surface temperatures reaching over 165 degrees from the newly paved black highway, making this the hottest Badwater race yet. An international race which draws the bold and brave including last years amazing winner, Pam Reed! No lotto, just good running credits and your in. 60 hours is the time limit. 48 hours and under you buckle.
My star crew are: Fellow Flyers, Mark Ryne and Shar (Angel with Wings) Anderson. Mark crewed for me last year. Ivory Phillips who also crewed for me last year and Jesse Morrow our youngest crew and who has run and cycled across Europe with me last summer. Like All State Insurance, "I was in good hands."
My plan is to run this race in "segments." Badwater can completely overwhelm you if you do not approach it in this manner. Badwater does not care who you are, how many medals you own, records set, who your charity is your raising funds for. Badwater will tear you to pieces and find your weakest link and work on you-if you let her. She is relentless. I share this from previous years of running Badwater. Like a lady, I treat BW with respect. That is my thinking, odd if it may. BW is a very technical race to run, there are so many factors involved here. Stuff happens.
Death Valley took 30 millions to form, once an ancient inland sea about half the size of Delaware. Meteorologist have recorded the driest temperatures on earth on several occasions in Death Valley. Making Death Valley the hottest place on a yearly average on earth. Only Antarctica would be considered the driest if challenged.
My crew stay close usually a mile or so ahead of me. Your pace is steady and slower than a typical ultra. The heat affects you in many ways. The first 50 miles are the "Death Zone." Your running at sea level and the heat is the strongest here. More runners break down on this stretch than any other point, from Furnace Creek onto Stove Pipe Wells. My crew do a great job of keeping me hydrated and with my salts and minerals and potassium which I take every hour. Mark does a great job of keeping my running times and pace. He is a master at this. We have two vehicles, Shar's truck and a new rental Van 2003 (only 21 miles). At 10 miles I am feeling the heat. Already it is 119 degrees and a long day ahead. My goal is to make it to Stove Pipe Wells in decent shape 41 miles away.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are serious matters to contend with in BW. It can sneak upon very quickly. Having experienced this in 97 and collapsing in the heat, I have been there and done it. It is serious. I was inches away from being evacuated. No lie, no joke. Already were hearing of runners going down and including a crew which gave their runner a DNF sadly. Many things can go wrong in BW. Despite your training and many sacrifices you make for Badwater, stuff happens. You deal with each one such as my stomach blowing up on me. My stomach cannot absorb all the water I have been drinking. A medical term I cannot pronounce or spell. It is very uncomfortable. Soon I decorate Ivory's shoes with my stomach fluids despite Mark having a bag for me. Throw up time. I deal with this and my feet are burning up hot spots everywhere. Other runners are suffering too, many a lot worse than myself. No one escapes or gets off easy in BW.
In a nutshell, Death Valley is a different planet and time zone. Some of the most barren driest god forsaken land on earth. Your shoes melt. Air-sole shoes explode, gel oozes out of shoes. Your sweat dries before it wets your skin. Salt crystals form on your face and clothing. Your food will spoil in minutes if not iced. Watermelons explode and can sodas pop off. Energy bars turn to liquid paste. My alarm clock melted which was in the van. It is amazing. At 25 miles Jesse calls me on my walkie talkie, "hey JR, we got a problem" our van won't start! We tried everything to get it started. My crew quickly transfers most of our supplies into Shar's pick-up. She is fully loaded like a camel in Saudi Arabia. They soon catch up to me. My crew assures me we will be OK. "Keep running JR" Ivory and Shar shout! My thoughts are now shifted to the broken down van. The dynamics of the race changes greatly. Only one vehicle now. That throws a wrench into the operation.
Cell phones do not work out of Death Valley. We can't call in to the rental agency and tell them our Van died of "heat stroke" and we need a replacement fast! At 41 miles I run into Stove Pipe Wells in somewhat decent shape and licking my wounds. We attempt calling the rental agency and reach a very uncaring service Rep in St. Louis, Missouri. He couldn't care less that I am running an ultra across Death Valley and for a good cause. This is quite rare to experience this from a well known car rental agency we have used often, but "stuff happens" as I said earlier. We would have to call our LA office the next morning. More time wasted. We continue on with the run. Shar and my crew are so positive. Clearly now I see how valuable her truck has become and it is basically saving my race. Shar is our Angel. My crew is a team extraordinare.
It is dark now. Running through Death Valley at night is eerie with the wind blowing and sand blasting your exposed areas your night vision perceptions become much shorter. A crescent moon offers little light. Yet I find a unique calmness running along the dark highway and Shar's red tail lights ahead of me waiting. Mark and Ivory runs with me and shifts off to Shar who also logs in miles. Their company I enjoy and takes attention off the run and van. Now and then I make a "Elvis and Cyborg sighting". 60 miles: We reach Townes Pass at almost 5,000 feet. We rest 1 hour here. The air is cooler and a welcome relief. Thousands of stars blanket the night sky. Coyotes howl. A few runners quietly pass us by on the dark road. I never sleep, only lying there thinking ahead, will my crew have enough rest? As they watch for my safety, I watch for theirs also.
Halfway home. I am treated to a nice downhill run into Panamint Valley 13 miles away. My pace picks up. Dawn breaks with an orange colored desert sky. We arrive in Panamint Valley. A small store, motel. It looks like a battle field with exhausted runners strewn on cots. Many quit here. Too worn torn from the blistering heat. A German runner shakes my hand and wishes me good luck. He pulls out. Runners still standing and ready for their adventure and mission to the finish. We finally make contact with the rental agency. Shar bravely volunteers to go back to van and the heat and wait for road side service. Somehow she catches a ride back to the stranded van. 4 hours of running time lost. We leave Panamint Valley and low on ice (there was no ice left in the store, darn BW runners!) but morale high. I am confronted with a winding steep hills and Mark joins me staying single file as we attack the climb out of Panamint Valley. Mark continues to log in miles with me. Shar's truck holds up despite some earlier moments of a rising temperature gauge which gave her concern. Jesse logs everything I eat and each event that unfolds.
We leave Death Valley National Park. The road flattens out now. To our surprise here drives up Shar with our original van. It was the ignition system Shar tells me out the window. Back to normal operation now. Were all relieved and I send two of my crew to Lone Pine and for that needed rest. Two Naval Jet fighters zoom by us 500 hundred feet above the desert floor which gives us a show out of Top Gun. We had the same experience last year. They know we are out there running and we could use a jolt. What a rush for the runners! 105 miles, Keeler: An old mining town and were greeted with rain, rainbows and a beautiful sunset and the Sierras looking a lot closer. It is much cooler now.
Running into Lone Pine is a welcome sight. A small sleepy western town famous for many old western and sci-fi films and the Wild, Wild, West marathon of course. Maybe I heard John Wayne telling me, "well, Pilgrim you are almost there." Now 1 am. The Whitney Portals lay 13 miles ahead. The climb is a steep and the winding paved road is spiked with tiring switch backs which test your mettle and mind. My crew really cheer me on. My fuel gauge is about on empty now. My engine is down do few ounces of oil left. Sleep creeps up on me as Mark is like a Sherpa guiding me up the long road. Weaving like a driver with too much to drink and too little sleep. The last 1 mile my crew joins in. It is amazing the boost they give me. We all finish hand in hand across the finish line and I carry the American Flag in honor of my brother, Lt. Col. Ron Radich USMC and the 5 Marines he lost in Iraq. Marines I had the honor knowing.
In Summary: Badwater 2003 was for me the most challenging and perhaps the toughest for me to really finish. I struggled. I did buckle with a 43 hour and change finish. Only with the help of my incredible crew, Shar and Mark, Ivory and Jesse. You guys made it work for me. Your da best! Your the stars. Every runner who finished from the amazing victory again of Pam Reed- Wow Pam!! To the last Badwater finisher, your all courageous runners. Congratulations to every one of you and those who failed did not really fail in the attempt. We all fought battles in the heat and the course. A real hero is humble. They never brag or want recognition. The just do their job and duty. It is a real honor for me to call Shar Anderson a real hero. She saved my race. She kept my dream alive for my cause. I cannot thank her enough but will surely try! Thank you again Shar! Hope I can crew for you sometime. You were just a life saver for our race. Ivory and I did make it to Mt Whitney. A first for Ivory. He was so thrilled to summit and so was I for Ivory. The view on top was incredible and well worth the efforts. From 14,000 feet you see a vast array of desert and mountains. We met some rain but lucky for us we had no dangerous storms or ice to force us back down. We got a nice break and the timing was right. Disappointing for me, I had to abort my run across the John Muir Trail. Making my decision on Whitney, I honestly realized this with my feet seriously thrashed and toasted (I can tolerate a lot of pain) but-- to risk danger to others and myself and family would not be wise or sane-it would be foolish. You have to know when to say no. My dream still lives. Yes, I will run Badwater 2004 and attempt running across the John Muir Trail. We can all have dreams. Mine almost happened. But yet it did happen. Mark, Shar, Ivory and Jesse will understand this. They will.
Badwater Double - 292 Miles
Some madness brings me back to the Badwater ultra marathon once again. You would think with all my wild experiences I would move on to some other ultra marathon run or life. This was a very personal run for me, not to say the five Badwater races I have run were not. Having our dear Sharlene on my crew on two Badwaters (Shar saved my race in 2003) was special and an honor; Mark Ryne as my super crew, pacer, and navigator; Sharon Cooper who kept me moving and laughing during that long lonely night section up Townes Pass. Of course Gary Hilliard last year, and pacing me while carrying the American Flag towards Stove Pipe Wells which made many web pages, media and tourist photo albums back in Europe and even perhaps Rancho Cugamonga. Frankly, I have been blessed with the best crews. Before I go on with my story, I want to personally thank you all these super Flyers, whom I consider my special buds for your care and getting me to the finish line in my past Badwater races. All of you deserve that recognition and appreciation. Thanks also to those Flyers who offered to help.
Death Valley is the largest national park in the contiguous US, with over 3.3 million acres of pure raw desert wilderness. Telescope Peak is on the west towers at over 11,000 ft and the Badwater basin, where the race officially starts, lies at 282 ft below sea level. The second hottest temperature ever recorded was in Death Valley at 133 degrees in 1932, though in 2003, it reached 131 degrees, some say 132, making it the hottest Badwater race to-date. The Badwater race is a selection process. Badwater has become an internationally well-known race to which many apply and only few get in. The "mystique" of running BW is worldwide press coverage and notoriety. Challenging your body in some of the harshest environment on earth does appeal to someÉI can relate to that. Billed as "the toughest footrace of its kind on earth" more than 85% are not qualified to run Badwater from race selection sources. Badwater does attract an international field; Germany having the most runners from overseas.
There is a 6:00 am start, 8:00 am start and a 10am start time; I started at 8:00am. Eighty-five runners are officially entered; 80 runners started last year. The Park Service is touchy on having any more runners and I agree. One year I ran with only 22 runners. I assembled a good crew for the race and later my double crossing. Many emails and phone calls paid off. Crewing BW is a craft; crews are your key to finishing BW. I had two veteran crew members back from last year: Brian Mackenzie, fairly new to ultra running who had just ran his first 100 at WS, a former Navy Seal and Ironman finisher my crew chief, leader, pacer. Brian's goal is to run Badwater next year. Also Big Mike, who is not a runner but a backpacker who did the PCT. Mike crewed for me last year and did a great job. Jeff from Ohio came on late since I lost a crew member due to family situations. Jeff is a very successful business owner who flies all over the world running marathons and ultras. Charles an ultra runner, Brian's pal, insisted on coming out. Like All State Insurance, I was in good hands.
The start begins: I tell all my crew we have to survive the first 42 miles of the "Death Zone", the hottest section from Badwater to Stove Pipe Wells. Runners have the toughest time in this section. The heat is tormenting. I bonked last year with heat cramps so bad I needed help getting into our van and lost 5 hours of race time.
More humidity this year, which combined with 120 degrees heat, made it quite miserable running, but here I am running my 6th BW. Go figure. Crew safety is paramount with me being very insistent they all take care of themselves.
I usually go through my first 15-20 miles of mind body adjustment. Media is there, CNN, Discovery writers from all over. Brian watches me like a hawk, always monitoring my water intake and food. I will not eat solids until after Stove Pipe Wells, "my glass stomach", a curse, prevents this. Hydration in BW is crucial, hydrate or die is true. On the other hand you can die from overdosing on water, it is called "hyponatremia", when your body can't assimilate the water fast enough and can cause serious problems including death. A teaspoon of sea salt in a cup of water every 2 hours was my own concoction I discovered. My body needs more salt than an average person, not sure why, years of running ultras perhaps. The salt water seemed to digest faster and Succeed caps also helped. Though gagging to drink, I chase it down with fresh water and am good to go. Heat cramps will throw you out of the race.
42 Miles: I make it through Stove Pipe in good shape and continued running as we did a crew change. Townes Pass is a arduous steep long grade of a climb. The good side is leaving sea level and gaining elevation, which is cooler. I run/walk this section. Oddly, I run this section alone passing a few runners on break. The code at Badwater is you always check on your fellow runner to see if they need water or help. I admire this about the BW runners and crew...you make a unique bond, not to say you do not in other ultra marathons, but Badwater is just different. Townes Pass, at almost 5,000 ft was a nice point into the race; the cooler air is a big relief.
Then a nice long down grade run into Panamint Valley, Brian running behind me like a father watching his son, almost scientifically gives me my pace per mile and next food intake. I request my crew never give me my finishing pace. In my mind I know we're at about 43 hours (knowing the course so well helps with prediction on times). Pacers in BW are not allowed to run in front of the runners. You can get DQed.
71 Miles: Panamint Valley went well, we continue all of our successful actions, short and snappy breaks and that "one nice" bathroom break you like to have in Badwater. My stomach settles down finally and food begins to taste like food. Brian pumps me up with calories. The Ensure drinks worked well for me though my choice of sports drink was Gu, H20, and Hammer Gel's Heed, Kern's mango and strawberry banana, worked well for me. Friction hot spots on my heel caused me to briefly stop and handle. Mike realizes an allergic reaction is caused by the tape sealant. We quickly take off the tape, instant relief though still raw, blisters from the Arizona 6-Day Race which never fully healed began to let me know they are still there. BW seems to find your "weak links"; one problem solved, a new one arises. Panamint check point is an oasis in Death Valley. They give us free ice which I call "diamonds of the desert." Ice is a very valuable commodity to the BW runner and crew.
Stars are sparkling, there are so many of them, the Milky Way can be seen easily. Brian challenges me who counts the most shooting stars wins a trip to Alaska. I tell Brain to dress warm. This stretch is a long and winding uphill grade, not as steep as Townes Pass, yet irritating with the curves and "spider walls." Eighty miles: we reach Father Crowley's vista at 4,000 ft; darkness shades the spectacular valley below. A handheld light works fine though I often keep it off. A runner from England stays with me for miles, I get ahead, he gets ahead, cat and mouse, his crew chief is a fitness trainer who ran BW last year, a fit and attractive bubbly gal from London who likes to flirt, and has a great sense of British humor.
Badwater runners are truly amazing.... they all have the goal of finishing beating Old Lady Badwater and earning the coveted BW buckle if you finish under 48 hours. For others, a bit unrealistic, a finish is a victory at BW. The work involved in just getting to Death Valley is an "ultra achievement" itself: planning, getting off work, travel expenses, lodging, Badwater is no cheap ticket to run. My hat is off especially to the international runners. "The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare."...Juma Ikanga, former NYC Marathon record holder.
100 Miles: Incredible sunrise. Jeff paces me and is totally in awe for the vastness of Death Valley and landscape. Body is holding up, running steady, blister's hinder me only if I walk. I run instead. At 107 miles we run through Keeler, a small mini "blink town" off of HWY 190. Temperatures at 100 feel cool. I catch up to well-known ultra runner Dean Kastenzas and we chat a bit. Dean will be running his 50 states marathon this year. Brian and Charles take over and pace and crew. Charles is meticulous and caring. I wonder where are Mike and Jeff? Soon I learned our Windstar van's transmission exploded on Townes Pass. They never let me know, but I knew from past car problems that having a back-up vehicle is crucial. It paid off without a hitch. Actually I was told all of this afterwards.
120 Miles: Lone Pine! You can smell the sweet clean air and horse ranches, the Sierras are almost in your face. Lone Pine is home; almost done. Those who run WWW marathon all know the western draw this town has and movie history. Our last checkpoint, Yahoo!
The last 13 miles: I waste no time as Brian I and head up the Mt Whitney road. Legs feeling it, we run sections and walk and run. Running is gentler on my feet than the painful walking. A storm comes in. The Sierras are spectacular and magical like a welcome mat. I know now my PR is realistic and running in daylight, I was really on a PR and all 8 cylinders working. Rain suddenly comes down on us, soft at first and then quite hard, strangely but fitting, the song "Rain on Me" by the Who pops into my mind and I sing that tune in my mind as we make our last few miles to the finish. Thunder and lightening blast all around us. We catch up to runners and cheer each other on exhaustively. Dean comes close to a lightening bolt striking a bush. You're in slow motion, yet your not. Your mind becomes so focused now nothing matters but to push your body across that finish line with your crew, hand in hand. You feel no pain, you feel emotions that were hidden suddenly arise from the dead and awaken you to a new life.
Last mile: I hear John!, hey John!, Here it was Art Soderblom fellow veteran Foothill Flyer and his friend coming back from a hike, Art had no idea BW was happening! A good omen or what?
The Finish: Brian tells me I ran a 33 hours 45 minutes or something. 9 hours shaved off my PR from 2003. I am humbled, in awe; it has not sunk in yet. My crew were outstanding and the heroes of my race. Without them, your race will not happen. I was blessed with such a great team. Art insists on buying me a hamburger, fries, coke at the Whitney Portal Snack bar. I do not refuse. Brian, Big Mike, Jeff, Charles all join in. There was a lot to share that moment.
Jeff and I procure our Whitney permits and head off around 11pm. Whitney is a tough long climb with over 90 plus switchbacks that never end. Trail conditions were good, some snow patches above Trail Head, but crossable. Your body is exhausted. You push on, though it had caught up with me, we took a break. A big rockslide on the other side of the mountain made a spectacle of sparks as the rocks clanked against the granite rock walls. The summit is always incredible, and was populated with more hikers than I've seen in years. Sunrise on Mt Whitney is golden. You have to witness it yourself to appreciate the beauty. Weather was nice, sunny, no threat of storms-yet. The only call I could make from my cell phone was, of all people, to Bill Dickey. Could not reach family, I was in a "sweet spot" just for a moment and T-Mobile connected me to Bill's answering machine. Our hike back down went well, we ran and hiked and though my legs really felt heavy and tired, our pace back down was slow and steady, careful not to blow a knee or ankle. Whitney trail is quite rocky.
Curt came in from LA to crew me on my Double. Curt crewed for me before on training runs in Death Valley. His Toyota Prius (50MPG!!) would be our support vehicle until my second team would arrive later that evening. Careful planning and some luck with schedules worked in my favor.
Running the Double can really "spook" you if you let it. Another 135 miles can be quite overwhelming. Somehow I do not see it that way. As my coach in high school once said, "Put your game face on, you came to run, just give it your very best and you will meet the challenge."
My legs thrashed, but somehow I begin my run and hold a steady pace, some BW runners who finished the next day stop and give me ice and drinks left over and wish me the best, I am inspired by them. It seems hotter as we come into Keeler, the humidity lifting, brings on more heat.
My niece Jenny from Simi Valley will join our team at Stove Pipe, Jenny is my late brother Bobby's daughter. She offered to help on a short notice. I could not say no; she really wanted to help. Tourists honk and take videos; they question your sanity why run in this heat? Never had the heart to tell them I was running back across to Badwater. Some asked me if I knew about the BW race, "I said yea, I think I have." Humbleness is a good virtue Curt tells me. Feet tender but still able to hold on to a steady run, I am happy with that. The reverse double seems odd; you see things differently from the race. Though you are losing altitude, the rolling hills are steeper coming back in many places. Coming into Panamint Valley at night was fun, Russ and Dave was my night shift crew, Russ has done BW crewing before, Dave has not and this was all new to him.
We get out of Panamint and I hit a very bad patch in this section and climbing out to Townes Pass; a real low point for me. Sleep factor, stomach upset, stuff happens. I chomp on some chocolate espresso beans a BW runner gave me; they do give you a "jolt". Jenny is right on time and joins me on the eastern down hill stretch of Townes Pass. Just before Jenny arrived, I had perhaps my first hallucination. It is now daylight and hot. I hear dogs barking, strangely I look and walk a moment to make sure I am not leaving them behind, maybe lost or stranded, never saw them, only barking sounds for a few miles, strange. Jenny is a happy sight and inspiration. I quickly talk to her about covering herself up from the heat. She learned quickly and I never had to worry about her. She brought her own ice chest of foods and turkey sandwiches that are greatÉmy body craved the protein. At Stove Pipe we take a well deserved break. I put my crew in rooms with the best air conditioning. Later that evening we have a big dinner at Stove Pipe for a crew turnover. Russ and Dave will take me through most of the night to Furnace Creek and head back to LA, their mission accomplished. Curt and Jenny will take me in to Badwater.
Headwinds began to pick up. A couple from Ireland stopped and asked me if I need water. I tell them, "I am okay and have a crew two miles ahead." They insisted I drink water. I made sure it was water and not Irish Beer though the thought crossed my mind it would taste great if cold. I guzzled the water to their satisfaction, did the camera thing, thanked them and ran on.
Russ and Dave kept me hydrated and well fed. The winds get stronger, I have them go a mile and wait. The heat and wind is a blast furnace. I see the red taillights of our van far out in the distance, as I know that is them waiting for me. The double was becoming more fun now. The race pressure off and just to experience running Death Valley after the race was a whole new perspective-only those who have run a double may relate to this hey, I am actually enjoying this-yes, it's weird, but you do get in a "groove" or "zone". Having Jenny with me was an honor and very special to me in many ways. I know her Dad would be very proud of her. As you close in on Furnace Creek and only 18 miles to Badwater, it really hits home you will make it.
Furnace Creek is a welcome sight, a few hours before dawn breaks, Russ and Dave have done a great job. We say our goodbyes, Russ gives me an ice-cold non alcoholic German Beer he likes (Becks would be great), we toast and I will miss them and thank them for their super job of crewing and wish them a safe drive back to LA.
Jenny and Curt take me in. Dawn breaking, Jenny has fun with her new digital camera. Curt and his super quiet Prius go by me to the next two miles. My pace quickens, I know I am closing in. Honks, two thumbs up from tourists happen more frequently now. I feel it being hotter than the race, even if a few degrees, you feel it. Wouldn't you know it Six-Day blisters really are coming to haunt me now as if they want me to really suffer again. The last three miles into Badwater I really feel tension in my ankles and knees, my gait had changed to compensate for the heel blisters. Though I had them taped, I would not stop to fuss with them. Walking was out of the question. You can see the Badwater vista parking lot from about two miles away. There Jenny and Curt awaited me. The last 100 yards was like some time warp, wasn't I here 5-1/2 days ago running the other way?? There is Jenny taking photos, tourist yelling and honking good job in their European accents.
After finishing 292 miles, Curt pours ice over my head. We all walk over to the Badwater marker sign. I am humbled and give thanks to my crew and the cause I support with my youth programs.
Whether you run the 135-mile race or do the double, Badwater brings the very worst out of you and the very best out of you. You cry, you become angry and frustrated and you laugh and sing. You soar with the heavens and stars when you finish. Seeing Jenny at the finish was more than special. Somehow I felt Bobby was there too sharing our moment. That made it all well worth it.
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