Hello again everyone! One week until the STYR LABS Badwater 135 Ultramarathon, a 135-mile run across Death Valley and the third instalment of the Badwater Ultra Cup (the completion of all three races under the Badwater brand). I completed the Badwater Cape Fear 51.4 mile in March, and below is an update from the Badwater Salton Sea 81 mile race from May, as well as the Florida Keys 100 mile run.
Badwater Salton Sea challenged 35 teams of two or three runners (running together as dues or trios) to tackle a course both on road and trail across the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in California. My good friend Jane and I would represent a mixed pair. After the usual check in and race briefing, we started the race and plodded along. The day passed with the usual run walk strategy and the heat encouraged us to drink water like it was going out of fashion.
We hit the trail section early evening. We are both fans of trail, and we both dialled into our favourite iPod songs and moved forward. I was listening to Barry Manilow. Yeah you heard me. Don’t diss Barry ‘Badwater’ Manilow. Exhibit A your honour: the song “Mandy.” Case closed. The song was in full swing when luckily, I noticed Ronda the rattlesnake slowly crossing our path. 3 more steps would have been followed by a love bite from Ronda, Jane running back down the hill, no medal, and several days in the hospital. Thank goodness my eyes and brakes worked! We carefully passed Ronda, who offered a brief hiss. Not sure if that was good luck or go away. I don’t speak snake.
Shortly thereafter we see a mixed couple team in distress. We stop to offer assistance in any way we can and continue on to realize that the steepest part awaits them. The golden rule in endurance events is that everybody helps everybody.
Team Echo 37, my movement for gender equality, crossed the line in a respectable 11th place in a time of 20 hours and 18 minutes. It was a great event! A huge thank you to Andrea and her awesome dad for being our crew.
Next stop? The Florida Keys 100.
The Keys Ultra is a popular annual event offering a 50k, 50 mile, and 100 mile run. The course is flat, and if you picked the 100 mile like me, you literally run down one long road across numerous bridges from Key Largo to Key West, home of Ernest Hemingway. For me, it offered the chance to conduct some serious heat training ahead of Death Valley, albeit humidity versus dry heat. Jane had agreed to crew, providing extra support along the way.
Starting at 6:30 a.m., I commenced a slow jog at about an 11-minute mile. The scenery was stunning with beautiful villages and amazing coastline helping the first 20 mile. Mile 25 offered the first glimpse of a problem. I did not expect to feel like this so early. What is wrong with me?, I kept asking (aside from the obvious decision to run 100 miles J). The sun had its hat on as midday emerged, and I was slowing down and beginning to suffer. Big shout out to the crews who not only cared for their own runner but any other runner. “Do you need anything? Water, ice? How can we help?”
At mile 40, I think Jane really knew I was in trouble. The famous 7-mile bridge soon appeared, which meant high winds, big trucks, and no fuel for 7 miles. A super scary experience even if it were cooler! Leaving the bridge at about 7 p.m., it was now full-on survival mode. No fast time today for this little runner, I thought. How am I going to finish?
As the sun set, I switched over from music to an audio book about the Iowa State legend Dan Gable to offer some words of encouragement. Did I mention I’m a Hawkeye ‘til I die? Remember the mission folks: this is about gender equality, not Big Ten loyalties. However, it would be remiss of me not to mention that Hersky donated to Girls on the Run!
Gable was famous for his mega work ethic, but even he was struggling to motivate me as I passed the 60 mile mark. It was possibly the toughest moment I have ever had in a race. Hemingway once said. “It’s not a sport if you can’t die.” This was officially a sport. It is very hard to convey how bad you feel. Self doubt, nausea, panic, stomach pains, muscle cramps, and an imposing feeling of fatigue. A constant battle with yourself and the growing need to sleep compels you to lie down and rest. Darkness creates insane hallucinations. Just keep moving, I tell myself. You try to recruit every trick in the book: childhood memoirs, moments of strength, fear of failure. You attempt to access every nugget of strength and repeat the immortal words of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, “Don’t Panic.” Get to the next aid station.
Lights up ahead offered hope. Praying this was not my mind playing tricks, I was so relieved to see Jane. She helped me get to the car so I could rest and recover. 15 minutes later, I sat up and gobbled down salted crisps (sorry – chips) and composed myself. At least I had Jane to pace me for the last 30 miles.
The rest of the night featured a lot of walking, declaring war on all bugs, cursing the relentless humidity, and meeting a variety of other wounded runners. The happiness of eventually seeing the sun rise was accompanied by the threat of sun burn. Yay as another great crew shared their sunscreen! The final 3 miles seemed to go on forever, probably because I was walking slower than an ant with some heavy shopping. Running next to the beach, we saw couples walking hand in hand and people walking their dogs on a beautiful Sunday morning. The tears were on stand by as people started to clap and cheer us on. “Almost there!” “You got this!” “Just around the corner!”
Jane ran ahead to the finish line to take some photos. I saw her momentarily slow down to offer some words of encouragement to another runner. Then she turned a corner and was gone. Hobbling after her, a massive wave of relief wash over me. “You did it Will! That was tough!” The cheers became louder as I approached the end. After 27 hours and 14 minutes I crossed the finish, swiftly followed by sitting down, having a cold beer, going back to hotel, and lying down.
Information about the race soon appeared. 45% of runners did not finish, which was up from 22% the previous year. Record breaking humidity for the event had forced many of the favourites to retire on a brutal day for all runners.
However, it was a good day for gender equality as once again! Aly Venti dominated the race. 4 hours slower than her course record, she still won the overall 100 mile run. She is without doubt one of the best endurance runners in the world. In the 50 mile event, 9 of the top 10 finishers were women. Forgive me when I shout “In your FACE!” to everyone who has ever mocked a female athlete. Go challenge Aly to a run!
Echo 37 was launched the following week. A blog/website to promote gender equality providing insight as to how across of all aspects of world, from business to sport to entertainment. www.echo37.com. Echo is a neutral form of communication and 1937 is the year the great Amelia Earhart disappeared over the Pacific Ocean.
At 9:29 p.m. on Monday, July 18th, I will be standing at the start line in Badwater basin, 200 feet below sea level, next to 99 other runners about to go on a journey of a lifetime. I look forward to sharing this experience with you!
Until then, please support Girls on the Run, please promote gender equality, and in the immortal words of my hero Amelia Earhart, “Never interrupt someone doing something you said could not be done.”
Badwater Ultra Cup Series Events
- Badwater Cape Fear 51 mile run on March 19th
- Badwater Salton Sea 81 mile run on May 1st-2nd
- STYR Labs Badwater 135 on July 18th-20th