Since today’s Tuesdays on the Run is a free topic and there’s not a lot going on in my world right now, I asked my friend Chavet to write up a post about her experience at Badwater 135. Badwater 135 is 135 mile race from Death Valley to Mt Whitney, CA. It is known as the “world’s toughest road race.”
I met Chavet a few years ago at one of the Mainly Marathons series that I did. I knew that since then Chavet had become an amazing ultra runner, but I did not know she was aiming for Badwater. She went from hearing about the race 5 years ago to picking challenging ultra marathons to prove she was capable of finishing to actually getting chosen to run the race this year. This is a shorter version to wet your appetite, but if you’d like to read every detail, please check out the post on her blog: Ultra Runner Chic
Chavet’s experience with Badwater 135
Once the initial round of excitement from getting chosen wore off, I began to put a game plan together. First things first, I needed a great crew (Team Blue Elephant)! This would prove to be one of the most important decisions I made regarding the race. I carefully selected four people who I thought could get me all the way to Mt. Whitney Portal. Jump ahead to June 14th, 26 days before the start of the race, and one crew member drops. After a mild panic attack, we rallied together to find someone who could join in at the last minute. Enter Mike. Mike stepped in saying he was nowhere near trained for any of this, but would be more than happy to help. He was the perfect fit and I now had a complete crew, Dee Dee, Melissa, Lisa, and Mike!
Training for this race was very different than any other that I had done. My fear wasn’t the distance, I had run 135 miles before; it wasn’t the elevation, I train at elevation continually; it wasn’t the climbing, I’ve done races with a lot more gain. It was the heat. I had never run in temperatures like that of Death Valley and I was not accustomed to that extreme heat. I set out to learn all I could about preparing for this element. I started heat training. I spent countless hours each week in a 180 degree sauna, put on winter gear and trained in 100+ degree temps, and drove around in my car with the windows up and no air.
After weeks of organizing more gear than I’d ever packed for any race…EVER, we headed out from Denver to Las Vegas to gather all of my teammates and headed to Stovepipe Wells to complete check-in. Once we were all checked in, we headed to Furnace Creek, where we would stay until it was time to start the race.
The next morning we got up, and it was here, it was finally here… RACE DAY! We slept as late as possible because I didn’t actually start running until 11pm. We got to the start about an hour before “go” time, where we went through the check-in process to get a GPS tracker and weigh-in.
After a few group photos we removed our hats and listened to the national anthem. This is always very emotional for me, but this race was so special to me that as we listened tears welled in my eyes. I was so thankful for the opportunity to run this amazing race in the land of the free because of the brave. I was one of four Marines who were running Badwater this year.
It was finally time, the race started and off we went (in 109 degree temperature at 11 PM). We ran up the ramp, through the parking lot, and onto the road. From here we would follow the white line for 135 miles making only three turns until we reached the Mt. Whitney Portal! My crew and I decided that we would meet every two miles. Less than ten miles in a runner dropped, at mile 15 I saw another runner vomiting on the side of the road. I knew this was going to be tough, but I couldn’t believe runners were dropping before Furnace Creek. Time seemed to pass quickly and I made it to Furnace Creek right on schedule. I stopped briefly to check-in and then headed out to make my way to Stovepipe Wells, the second check point at mile 42.
It was now the middle of the night and I was almost a marathon distance in. I had found a comfortable pace and was running alone at a fairly steady pace. As daybreak came, we also got some…lightning, thunder and rain! It actually drizzled rain in Death Valley! This may sound like a good thing, but it wasn’t, not at all. With the rain came intense humidity (the humidity was just 3% before the rain). This made the already rising temperatures feel even hotter and we now had an added level of difficulty laid out before us. I knew Stovepipe Wells was getting close and I picked up the pace. I couldn’t wait to get there, check-in and finally have some company. Runners under 65 are required to run the first 42 miles alone, but then we were allowed to have a pacer for the remainder. Lisa and I left out of Stovepipe Wells and continued the journey to Mt. Whitney.
Over the next few hours, my crew took turns running with me, keeping me company and tending to my every need. We finally broke through the first of three major climbs; Townes Pass was behind us. The first major downhill section came, and boy was I glad to see it! It felt so good to be running a decent pace again!
The downhill didn’t seem to last long. We then headed into the salt flats where the heat was scorching and the humidity was high. The heat index soared (up to 149!). The next checkpoint was Panamint Springs, mile 72. It was a planned stop to change socks, soak my feet in ice water, treat some growing blisters, eat, and relax for just a minute.
After spending a little time in Panamint Springs, Lisa and I headed out. We were now in the second major climb of the race, the climb to the top of Father Crowley. The crew had gone 1.8 miles to the next stop and Lisa and I were on our way to meet them. However, just minutes into the climb, I was sick. The food I ate in Panamint Springs wasn’t sitting well. I felt my body beginning to crash. I didn’t know what to do, I tried to expel the food from my body, but it wouldn’t come out. So I continued to climb, I knew I just needed to reach the crew; they were now about 1.5 miles away. I slowly put one foot in front of the other and eventually made it to the van. The hike up to the van is a little foggy, but I remember opening the front door of the van, getting in and asking for ginger and a Coca-Cola. I took the ginger and Coke, and promptly passed out. I woke up a short while later, I was feeling much better, but not even close to 100%. I knew I had to continue to move forward. My pace had been reduced to much slower than I had hoped, but I didn’t care. I was still in it, still moving forward and still on my way to get that buckle that was waiting for me at the Mt. Whitney Portal!
Mike and I left the van and continued the climb; we made it to the top of father Crowley before the sun set and we entered night two.
The reprieve from the sun and heat was welcomed, but with the darkness always brings new struggles. We put on our blinking lights and reflective gear and continued on. We continued the second part of the second climb up Panamint Pass. This climb was tough, it wasn’t as steep as the climb up to Father Crowley, but it seemed to never end. I was getting cold even though it was still a little over 100 degrees, so at the suggestion of Dee Dee, as soon as we got back to the van I put on clean, dry clothes that weren’t full of salt. It felt amazing! We continued on to Darwin, mile 90.6 and the next check point.
Finally, we made it. I did another quick stop to change socks and get setup for the next stretch… the stretch to Lone Pine. We continued on with relentless forward progress. At this point I was exhausted. I had been up for over 50 hours and covered more than 100 miles with just under 10,000 feet of elevation gain. Without the company of awesome friends, I would have fallen asleep on the side of the road.
We continued on through the night and finally the dawn began to break across the sky. As the morning continued on the heat began to intensify again. As we approached Keeler, the bugs got really bad! I felt as though I was continually swatting them off of me. By this point my feet were killing me, not from the mileage, but from the heat that had been coming through my shoes for the past 36 hours. The heat coming off the road was over 200 degrees and the bottoms of my feet had actually burned. I decided to get out of my shoes for a while and put on my flip-flops. I wore them the rest of the way into Lone Pine.
The road to Lone Pine begins to feel as though it will never end. I put my feet briefly in ice water and then put my running shoes back on, it was a bit of a struggle since my feet were swollen, but I got them on. Then my crew went ahead and waited for me at the checkpoint while Lisa and I headed out on foot to meet them.
I got to the checkpoint and there was crew, literally waiting with open arms. As I hugged Dee Dee my eyes filled with tears, that was the moment I knew with certainty that I was going to finish. Mike and I headed out to make the third and final turn of the race, the turn that would take us up to the Mt. Whitney Portal.
During this final 13-mile stretch, my crew decided they would switch out pacers every mile. I did not want to stop until I reached the finish. The only stop I made was the last checkpoint just a few miles before the finish. The switchbacks we went up for the last few miles were long, steep, and monotonous. I was salty from sweat, I’m sure I smelled like roses, and looked like what the cat dragged in, but I had told my crew one of the things I wanted was good pictures at the finish line so as we climbed the last few miles, we sprayed my hair with water, doused it with leave-in conditioner, got out all the tangles and re-braided my hair. It may sound silly, but I felt like a whole new person.
As we came into the home stretch, Lisa and I made our way up and Melissa, Dee Dee, and Mike went ahead, parked the van, and headed down toward us to join us for the final stretch of the course. After such an amazing journey, I would have it no other way than to have my entire crew cross the finish line with me, hand in hand. This race, this journey, would not have been possible without them. And so we did just that, we ran, hand in hand and crossed the finish line to a race that was years in the making, a dream come true. Tears of joy streamed down my face as Team Blue Elephant embraced in a hug, WE had done it!
I was now 1 of only 183 women in the world in 30 years to finish this epic race!