Badwater: Round 2

For the second year in a row, I was the start line of the Badwater Ultramarathon on Monday morning, July 15th with the rest of the 8am start group. Though strangely, this year feeling more nervous than the first. While last year, I maybe could have gotten through the race on sheer excitement of the fact that I was running my first Badwater, this year I’ll admit I  was a bit scared of how the day(s) would play out. I now knew what a monster of a race I was really in for and how much hurt I would have coming to me in those 135 mile miles. Normally, while that isn’t something that I would dwell on too much, it definitely was in my head more so because of the foot issues that I had been dealing with since before Badwater last year. Turns out I had multiple torn ligaments and severe plantar fasciitis. I did have foot surgery in April to repair everything and the pain due to the torn ligaments was gone, but my plantar was unfortunately not. During my training leading up to the race, I would have good days with my foot and I would have bad days and it was a huge struggle in my head whether I should just back out of the race. But, obviously I didn’t and so as I stood on that starting line, I just hoped that it would be a good day and it wouldn’t give me too much trouble. It also comforted me knowing that I had a very experienced crew (made up of my mom, Traci, Victoria, Becky and Amelia) who would be there to take care of me over the next two days. I tried my best to relax, keep a happy face and just take things one step at a time.

I started off feeling really good. My legs felt fresh and my foot felt good. It was hot already, even at 8am, but not horrible yet. I ran at a pace that I felt was comfortable, while my brain kept scanning for pain in my foot and for a while I thought I would be off the hook. Unfortunately, around 9-10 miles in, I started to feel a twinge of pain in my arch and heel. During the next couple miles it progressively got worse, so I made my first stop into the van around mile 12 to soak it in some ice water for 5 minutes and then was back out on the course. Icing seemed to help quite a bit and I was able to run a few more miles with no pain. However, about a mile from the first checkpoint at the Furnace Creek Hotel, it started to get bad again. I reached Furnace Creek, mile 17 in 3:21, 12 minutes slower than last year, but that was ok. I didn’t tell my crew how bad it was, but suggested that I should ice again and probably continue to do so every 5 miles or so until hopefully I wouldn’t feel it anymore (which was the case last year).

After Furnace Creek, we were allowed to have pacers. I had told my crew that I didn’t really mind who paced me when because I loved them all, but they came up with a good system where they would all switch off pacing 3 miles at a time until the next checkpoint at Stovepipe wells (mile 42), since it would be the hottest section of the course and that way no one would fatigue too much. I really liked this idea, not only because I thought it was really smart, but also because it broke down the 25 mile stretch for me and I also had new someone new to talk to every 3 miles.

I think it was only about 22 miles in when the first runner from the 10am start, Eduardo Calisto (the winner of the Brazil 135) caught up to me. That goes to show how fast they all went out or (maybe I was moving slower than I thought). Mario Lacerda, the Brazil 135 race director, was crewing him and even hopped out and gave me a hug and kiss on the cheek. I love that guy! Over the next few miles more of them caught up to me.. Oswaldo Lopez, Jay Smithberger, David Goggins, Dave Krupski, Grant Maughan, etc.. and all their crews were so nice and supportive, offering words of encouragement and offering a spray down (and some joking about a wet T shirt contest lol). It was freaking hot out and I could see some runners ahead of me running and puking simultaneously. By mid afternoon everyone was pretty much hurting it seemed like but there was a good sense of shared suffering and everyone was looking out for one another and it seemed like the crews were doing their best to keep runners in good spirits. Im not exactly sure what the official high temperature of the day was. Anytime I asked, Amelia would just tell me it was 90 degrees (which was a lie).  I heard anywhere from 120-125 degrees. My crew did a great job of keeping me as cool as could be, by giving me fresh ice bandanas or Chilly Chicas to wear around my neck about every couple miles and ice cold water or Vitargo every mile. Even though I was moving slower than I would in normal temperatures, I was very lucky to not be dealing with some of the stomach issues that others were.

Around 30 or so miles in, Mark and his pacer, Dean, caught up to me and we actually ran together for a couple miles, which was pretty cool. He seemed to be looking pretty strong (despite some puking a few miles back) and running a smart race, by not “racing” the first 42 miles in the heat of the day like some of the other top guys seemed to be doing. He would eventually go on to place 8th in one of the most competitive fields the race has ever had.

Around the same time that Mark caught up to me, the pain in my foot started to subside a bit (or maybe just go numb), however I started to feel some pain in the side of my left hip. I had dealt with the same pain in my opposite hip last year, which plagued me from about the same point in the race until the end and so I knew that this wasn’t a good sign. Both this year and last year, I never had any hip issues during my training at all. The road at Badwater that we run along though, is slightly banked at some points. Not a ton, but I think just enough that my hips do not like running on the same side of the road for that many miles at a time. It was very frustrating and I just hoped that it wouldn’t end up being quite as bad as last years.

I ended up reaching the second checkpoint of the race at the Stovepipe Wells hotel in 9:58, which was about 90 minutes slower than last year, but it didn’t matter. Unfortunately though, I had just missed Mark leaving the hotel by seconds I guess. It would have been nice to see him one more time, but oh well. There is a pool at the hotel, so I switched into my bathing suit and Traci and I got into the pool for 15 minutes. OMG.. it felt so good… best aid station ever! As I sat in the pool, I drank some Vitargo and Mila and then topped off with some vanilla Oreos… delicious. While we were there we ran into one of Amelia’s friend, Nancy, who had done the race before and was crewing for another runner, and she suggested trying an oral rehydration packet to see if it would help with my hip pain. My pain wasn’t in the joint, but more glute/abductor muscle and she said it could possibly be due to dehydration. My crew weighed me before I left and I was only 3lbs under my starting weight, so not too dehydrated, but figured it couldn’t hurt too much to sip on the solution.

After Stovepipe Wells, we hit our first climb of the race… Town’s Pass, which climbs 5000ft in 17 miles. I thought that I would be relieved to be on my climb up Town’s Pass, because the higher we climbed, the cooler it would get, but those feelings went away very quickly. I remembered the climb up being super windy last year, but I guess I forgot how windy and miserable it actually was. And then to top things off my hip was still giving me problems. My crew would switch off hiking with me and always kept me entertained with some good and sometimes silly conversation. A few miles up the hill, I could see Shannon Farar-Griefer and her pacer, Kate Freeman, and tried so hard to catch up to them. Those two ladies are badass and quite funny and I hoped maybe to be able to share a few miles with them, but unfortunately Shannon was having some issues, which caused her to take some breaks on the side of the road and eventually drop. I continued on, but at a very slow pace. My hip was just hurting so bad and now moving down the side of my leg into my IT band and knee. We tried massaging it out with one of those stick rollers, but it didn’t do much help and just made the side of my leg really tender and sore. When we were maybe a little more than half way up, I stopped to lay down and rest it for 10 minutes with some ice on my hip. About 2 minutes into my mini nap I started to get so cold from not moving that I had to throw a towel over me and even then I was still shivering. Amelia sat down for a few moments to rest and look over me and the same thing happened to her as well. Funny thing is, that it was 85 degrees out!

I continued to slow down to a pretty pathetic pace as we continued on. When we were about two miles from the peak, I told my crew that I needed to stake out. For those of you who don’t know what that means…. Each runner is given a stake that we can use as a place marker in case we choose to leave the course, so when we come back we can start at the exact place we left off. This was my first time staking out and honestly I didn’t even know if I was going to continue. I was having a really bad low and my hip hurt so bad, I couldn’t see myself coming out of it. I didn’t tell my crew that though, but instead told them my plan was to go down to the hotel at Panamint springs, which was about 16 miles away, take an Epsom salt bath to try and relax my hip and then lay down and let it rest for 30 minutes. There is a cottage at the hotel that is open for the runners and crew to use during the race with a bathroom and beds and luckily when I got there it was free for me to use. As I walked to the cottage, I saw several other runners who were resting outside who didn’t look much better than me. I remember walking by Dave Krupski and him asking how I was doing. I think my look was enough for him to tell that I was not good, in which he responded, “yeah me too.” But it did kind of make me feel a tad better that I wasn’t the only one deep inside the pain cave. It reminded me that what I was going through was normal. On my way to the cottage, I also met a guy named, Jason (who’s runner DNFd the race due to having to get in IV), who was a massage therapist. So after I took my epsom salt bath and laid down for 30 minutes, he was able to do some ART on my hip and leg to release some of the knots that had built up.

I was probably at Panamint for an hour and then it was time to drive back up to where I left off with my mom, Victoria and Traci, while Amelia and Becky stayed back at the hotel to get some rest. During the car ride back up, I took a Fein and sipped on Coke. I still felt like crap, but I had to at least try and go back out and give it another shot. During the car ride back up, the girls told me that while we were back at Panamint, Becky was trying to fill the car back up, but the gas station kept rejecting the credit card for some reason. It apparently happened to several cards (maybe the system was down or the bank thought it was suspicious behavior being in Death Valley in the middle of the night, who knows) but I guess some guy who was on another crew saw we were having trouble and so put $100 of gas in our car, just to be nice. Apparently we also received several bags of ice from the crew that Jason was on. So as we continued our drive up, I knew I couldn’t give up. Not only did I have my crew who would do anything for me to finish, but now complete strangers were helping out and pulling for me to finish as well. It would have been selfish of me to stop, at least without a major fight.

 Once I stepped out of the car and began to run again, I felt like a new person. I had about 2 more miles until we reached the top of Town’s Pass and I was ran it, fast. Victoria, who was pacing me, had to make Traci switch with her because she couldn’t keep up with me. Once we reached the top of Town’s Pass, we then had a 9 mile descent. I felt amazing and ran the whole way down, never stopping once. As we descended down, the sun was coming up and we could see all of Panamint Valley and it was incredible. This was probably my favorite part of the race and it was one of those moments that reminded me why I run. There wasn’t anywhere else I would have rather been than running down a mountain in the middle of Death Valley at 5 in the morning with my friends.  It was just magical. The downhill also helped me to open up my stride and further loosen up my hip. For those 9 miles, nothing hurt at all and I was in complete euphoria, jamming out to Taylor Swift’s “22” on repeat and having the time of my life.

After the long downhill, I had 4-5 miles to go of flat and then slightly uphill until I was back at Panamint. I jogged the first mile or two and then was starving and so had a super healthy breakfast of cookies and cream Pop Tarts and a Coke. I reached Panamint at 7:40am, 23 hours and 40 min into the race… way slower than last year, but at this point, all I wanted to do was finish. I took 30 minutes to rest and collect myself, ate a second breakfast of bacon and OJ with Mila and then started the second climb of the race, 13 miles up to Father Crowley.

Hill running is so mental I think. Well at least for me. Last year I had started up this climb around 3 or 4am so it was still completely dark outside and I had no clue what I was even going up and in turn ran really hard, passing quite a few runners. This year, I started a bit after 8am and so could actually see how steep the hill really was. My quads were also completely wrecked from that 9 mile descent that I had just done and so unfortunately this year, all I could manage was a hike up the hill. Victoria, Amelia and Becky were with me on this section, while Traci and my mom stayed behind at Panamint to rest and eat breakfast. While Victoria took a nap in our crew vehicle, Amelia and Becky took turns hiking with me up the climb. Even though I felt pretty much like crap, I have to say it was really cool being able to see in day light how far up we were climbing. We could back all the way to Panamint and to Town’s Pass. Becky would remind me of how far I had gone… too far to give up. I was actually kind of happy that I was slower this year and got to see this section in the daylight. Again, it was one of those moments that reminded me why I do these crazy races.

Somewhere along a half to three quarters of the way up, my new friend Jason, the massage therapist, and the rest of the crew he was on spotted us while they were making the drive to the finish at Lone and checking in on runners along the way. I laid on the side of the road and Jason did some ART on my quads to release some of the knots. I was so thankful that he was able to work on me a second time. My quads were wrecked, but after he worked on me and I got moving again I could feel a huge difference. Note to self… next year definitely more downhill training!

When we got close to the peak, I could actually start to run again and finally caught up to some runners. Karla Kent, Heidi Perry, Rico Dorsey and I went back and forth for a long time over the next few miles. Even though my legs felt better, I was just so tired and exhausted. It was now mid day and so hot out again and the sun and heat was just sucking the energy out of me. My mom suggested trying to run 3 minutes, walk 1 min to just try and keep me moving and the system seemed to work for a while.

Finally, at 2:49pm, 30 hours and 49 minutes into the race, I hit the next timing station at Darwin, which was mile 90. There was a sign that said “2/3s done” and I took a picture and then left. 31 hours is a ridiculously slow time for 90 miles, but all of my time goals were now out the window. I was still just hoping for was to finish in under the 48 hour cut off.

Shortly after we reached Darwin, I had another meltdown. My feet were killing me. I have this issue in 100 mile races (or 135s) where my feet become incredibly itchy. I recently found out that I have circulation issues in my feet, which is probably causing this, but it is the most annoying problem ever.  I was also just tired and cranky and was over running. I had over 40 miles to go and I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. Part of me really wanted to quit. I started making excuses in my head… I had foot surgery in April, I didn’t get in enough training because I still had plantar, I already finished the race last year, maybe I can just stop at 100 miles…. I wanted to stake out again and go and sleep and rest for a bit in Lone Pine but it was too far away still and my crew said no. I spent a few minutes trying to convince them, but in my head the rational part of me knew that they were right and I couldn’t. The side of me that just wanted instant gratification or comfort was taking over and forcing me to say things that I didn’t really mean.

We agreed upon letting me have another 30 minute nap. I don’t think that I really slept, but just needed another moment to focus around again wrap my head abound what I was going through. I don’t think I even spent the whole 30 minutes before I was back out on the road. My mom went out to pace with me first, but it wasn’t working. I am too comfortable around my mom and whine too much. Then Traci stepped in and it worked for a little while, but still with her as my best friend, I was too comfortable and wound up walking more than I should have. Next came Amelia… and she was maybe not the person I wanted to pace at that point (because I wanted to whine and walk and be a baby), but she was who I needed to get me out of my little pity party. I knew that I couldn’t whine around her and she basically told me to suck it up. I needed some tough love and she gave it to me and we moved well for several miles. Before I knew it, we passed the 100 mile point and she helped me to gain enough confidence back to know that I was going to finish.

So from the 100 mile point, I had 22 miles until Lone Pine (the town at the base of Mt. Whitney). This section is either slightly downhill or flat but so boring. My feet were still really bad, but other than that I was fine. I had an idea of cutting the toe box out of my shoes to see if it would help to let my feet breathe a bit and be less crammed together, but didn’t want to cut open my favorite Hokas, and so cut open my spare pair of Brooks. Then we even cut the tips of my Injinji socks and it did seem to help my feet feel a bit better, despite the fact that I looked like a homeless woman. Traci went out with me for a while and we got in some good miles. I would run about 3 miles at a time and then take a 5 min break to get my feet rubbed or soak them, which helped with the itchiness. I knew I was taking a lot of stop breaks, but was just having such a hard time with my feet and it also helped me to mentally break up the long, boring section of road since I only had to think about 3 miles at a time. When I got down to about 10 miles until Lone Pine I did better about not stopping as much. Becky was with me this time and we focused on running posts that were on the side of the road. At first we would run from one post to the next and then walk to the next one. But after a while she would push me to run two posts and then walk to the next. Even though we were now into our second night, it was still really hot out and there was no breeze at all. Bugs also loved our headlamps and a couple times, even some small bats flew right in front of us. I really couldn’t wait to just be done with that section.

Victoria and Traci were had parked the car right where we would make the turn into Lone Pine. Once we were about a mile away I could see the car lights, but they seemed like an illusion. I seemed to keep running and running, but never getting any closer to those damn lights! Finally, after what seemed like forever, Becky and I reached the car and to celebrate being done with the 190, the road I had been running on for 122 freaking miles, the girls were blasting “Call Me Maybe,” which had been our theme song from last year, and they had even made up a choreographed dance to it which they had been practicing at each of the stops as they waited for me over the past few hours. It was hilarious and I laughed so hard. I seriously have the most awesome friends 🙂

Once we hit Lone Pine, I made a quick stop at our hotel room, which was right on the course. I showered quickly, changed my clothes, tired to eat, even though everything sounded horrible at that point. The only thing I was craving was chicken nuggets (weird..) and luckily there was a McDonalds right before we would hit the portal road. Then I was back out on the road, ready to make my last climb (and a hellacious climb too of13 miles) up to the finish.

Victoria went out with me, while the rest of the crew finished clearing out part of the crew vehicle so they could all fit in the car and make it up to the portal with me. We had about a half mile or so from our hotel through the town of Lone Pine, until the left turn that we would make to start the climb. Victoria and I were chatting about something, but I noticed out of the corner of my eye that there was a guy standing in the parking lot to my right next to a silver corvette, that looked just like the one my friend, Chris had. Even more coincidentally, the guy kind of looked like my friend and was wearing a black shirt and it sort of looked like it had a big “A.I.” on it, which was the symbol of the CrossFit gym that I work at and he goes to. Right when I glanced over at him, he ran around to the other side of his car. I thought it was a little strange, but it was about 12:30 in the morning and at this point had now been on my feet for over 40 hours. Lone Pine is also about a four hour drive from Orange County, so there was just no way it could be my friend. So I continued my conversation with Victoria and kept walking, not thinking too much of it considering the circumstances. However, a few minutes later, just as I had forgotten about what I had just seen, my friend Chris, along with my friend, Dez, came running up behind us, yelling, “Surprise!” So I really wasn’t just imagining things! The two of them had driven all the way up to the race, just in hopes to see me finish. I was so in shock that they had done this, but it was the coolest surprise ever. Chis and Dez walked with Victoria and I for a few minutes and I rambled off how the past two days had gone (which were a lot worse than I had expected). They snapped some pictures, but then unfortunately had to head back home since Dez had to coach classes at our gym at 5:30am. I felt bad that they only got to see me for a few minutes, but the surprise totally helped to rev me up for the last 13 miles, which I estimated to take me about 5 hours.

I told my crew in the vehicle to stop every half mile, since I knew this last climb would be a hike and so would be a little slower. To help pass the time, Victoria and I made up a game, in which we would count down the stops to the finish. Since the car would stop every half mile, that would make 26 stops until the finish and we would count them down and get a point each time we passed the car. However, there would be times when we would get to the car, but we would ask for something so instead of us stopping, Victoria and I would continue walking, the crew would find the item, drive up a little to catch up to us and then get out of the car to run it over to us. In cases like this, we would only receive a point at the spot from where the aid was given and so we would tack on a little bit of distance on these stops. Therefore, we would end up hitting the finish before we got down to 1. Also, certain miles we would get bonus points, such as 19 for being under 20, 13 for being my race number and 10 for being only 10 to go. It was a very well thought out, complicated and strategic game as you can see…

While most of my crew seemed to be falling asleep in the crew vehicle as they waited at each stop, Victoria and I continued to be pretty chatty almost the whole way up. We were hiking at a pretty decent pace and I didn’t take any major stops the whole way up except for 2-3 one minute breaks where I would just sit on the side of the road, try and get into a happy place for 60 seconds and then get back up and forge on. We would get excited when we hit our “bonus point” stops. They gave us small milestones to look forward to, even though they meant nothing and were just part of our silly game.

During the last four miles of the climb up to the portal, the road gets even steeper and it switchbacks up to the top. At this point, it was around 3 or 4 am, only a couple more hours until the sun would come up and so the darkest part of the night. Victoria and I were getting sleepy and I couldn’t even walk in a straight line and was stumbling around like a drunk person. However, once again, to my surprise, my new friend, Jason, pulled up next to us in his car (he was on his way up to the portal to climb up Mt. Whitney), gave us some words of encouragement and said he would meet us at the finish line with a hug. This guy was seriously always in the right place at the right time! Victoria and I also took a Fein (a caffeine supplement that I like) and within minutes we got some energy back. Shortly after, we could see the sun just barely starting to come up over the mountains and we laughed about how even though I was slow, I would have one rad finisher’s picture, finishing right as the sun was rising. As it got lighter and lighter, we gained even more energy back and soon we started seeing signs leading up to Mt. Whitney portal, so we knew that we were close!

 After a few more shorter switchbacks, the finish line was now in sight. My mom, Amelia, Traci and Becky all got out of the car and together we ran in the last 50m or so to finish together. When I crossed, Chris Kostman (the race director) turned to Traci and told her congratulations on her finish, jokingly. Everyone always gets us two mixed up, but little did we know that he had heard about the mix up. Very funny Mr. Kostman! He then turned to me and awarded me my medal and then I took some finishers pictures with him and my shiny new belt buckle and then with my crew. I was so happy I was done and couldn’t believe that I had just completed that course for a second time. There were so many points in the race where I started to doubt myself and didn’t know if I had it in me this time around. I was so proud of myself for sticking through it and overwhelmed with happiness to have had a crew who cared so much to get me to the finish line and believe in me when I started to have doubts. I was also so thankful for everyone else who helped out along the way.. runners who had dropped and donated supplies, other crew members, friends, etc. I guess it was just in the cards for me to finish.
I didn’t even know my finish time, until a few hours later, but turns out that I finished in 45 hours and 27 minutes. I was about 8.5 hours slower than I was last year, but I couldn’t have cared less. Badwater is so much more than about a finishing time. In fact, if you finish first or last, you still get the same medal, the same T shirt and the same belt buckle. Badwater is about the lessons you learn along the way… about working together as a team, getting through obstacles, finding limits, digging deep, having fun etc.. However, most of all I think that it is the people involved in the race that make this race stand out above any other. Badwater attracts a unique group of runners, crew and volunteers. Everyone looks out for one another. Everyone is family out there. Its a pretty cool thing that happens out there in that desert and I think is what brings back runners and crew year after year. I have never felt so moved by one race ever (well except maybe the Brazil 135 equally) and I will without a doubt apply for this race again someday. Ok, lets be honest, I’ll probably apply again next year…

Thank you again to my sponsors (Vitargo, Injinji, Hoka One One, Chica Bands and Mila). And I don’t think I can ever truly express how thankful I am of my crew. Mom, Traci, Becky, Victoria, Amelia… You guys were the best. Each one of you brought something unique to the team and not only did you guys do a great job at getting me to the finish line, but you were all SO FUN to hang out in the desert with. That was the best girls weekend ever 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Badwater: Round 2

  1. Alexa, I just finished your inspiring story with great pictures and really enjoyed it all. I was glad to visit briefly with you before the race. I wish I had been able to spend more time with you and your crew. I did see you a number of times during the race but it was too dangerous to keep pulling over. Congratulations to you and your crew. I will keep following your career and look forward to seeing you next year. Ben Jones, Lone Pine

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