The Badwater labels itself as the world’s toughest footrace-Death Valley to Whitney Portal, in the middle of summer. It is 135 miles of tough running, and you have to finish it in 48 hours. Do the math…that is more than 5 back to back marathons.
Until Friday afternoon, Badwater was nothing more than a “what’s next” race. When I scheduled the East Coast version called Badwater Cape Fear, I did so as a response to winning the Weymouth Woods Ultra-marathon, and I picked this Badwater for the challenge of it. Thought it was the next logical progression. The Badwater Cape Fear edition starts with a “quick 12 mile warm-up” on the scenic roads of Bald Head Island before heading down to the beach to run 20 miles (or 40 miles) in the sand to Fort Fisher and back. Running on roads vs. running in sand is like trying to find something in common between standing in an igloo with walking through a jungle. The position is the same; the surrounding conditions are not.
It isn’t the statistics, but the people make that race unique. At pre-race check-in, awkwardness associated with meeting new people migrated to “very cool” first impressions in a matter of a minute or two. Conversation with other runners about their path to the Badwater never generated the same answer twice. Former triathletes, college track stars, marathon runners, women with two kids, etc, were all excited about lining up the next day. For many, their spouses were there supporting their athlete. I got to hear stories both from Badwater veterans and support staff who have been there as these extreme endurance athletes ran though the desert all night long, in the middle of summer. I had dinner with a multi-time Badwater finisher who gave stories about the depths of despair that are a part of running in the desert for that long.
I asked one guy why he signed up for Badwater Cape Fear, and he said, “I was in a funk, and I knew that I needed to suffer to get out of it (the funk), so I signed up and now I am here.” What the heck….
About 2 hours into the race, I stopped wondering what all the other athletes were thinking. “What was I thinking?” consumed my thoughts. Heading down to the beach, seeing 10 miles of sand ahead me, knowing that once I started the 10 miles each way, there was no quitting. Running on Cape Fear, with Frying Pan Shoals to my right and nothing but undeveloped dunes to my left put me in a funk that I had never been in.
Here is a sample of the comments that went through my mind:
- Oh, that man just got attacked by a dog. OK, he got up and is still running….
- That was a pretty fast puke! That girl just kept on running.
- That old man looks good in a tutu and pink high tops. NOT!
- Profanity isn’t helping, here. But it does feel good…
- Why don’t they have better choices at the aid station? No chicken, beef or pork tacos? I really want a taco right now.
- I am never doing one of these races EVER again. What was I thinking?
- Who in the hell invented high tide? Stupid.
- Who thought that running in high tide would be “loads of fun?” Idiot.
- I wonder when they are having the next Badwater? This is kind of cool, and I might like to do another one.
- How did I get sand up my butt? I have stayed away from that body part, most intentionally!
- Profanity doesn’t feel good anymore, yet it keeps coming.
- That guy is fast!
- Was that a boy or a girl?
- Why did that other girl get all those body parts pierced?
- Can I ride with the beach patrol in their truck, just for 5 minutes?
- How are the two of those women talking and laughing?
- Why aren’t I talking and laughing?
- I have a 3-hour drive home after I this race. That isn’t happening. My hip flexors are somewhere out to sea. WTF?
- The people working these aids stations are great! I could not keep going without their help!
- Profanity is working again.
- I am sure that those who don’t believe that Jesus is their savior will have to run this thing.
At the finish line, I felt blessed that not only could I do this race but be successful at it. Dave Krupski came up to me at the finish line and started some fun/casual chat. He DNF the race, as he got hurt and never made it down to the beach. He said that he had a couple of athletes that he coaches out on the run, and he was there only for them, now. I had no idea who he was, until I started writing this blog piece. He is a crazy successful Ultra Marathoner who personifies the ultra-running community well. No concern for awards or accolades. He had a focus on what races he had just done and what he has coming up…we could all learn from that sort of approach to living.
Will I do another Badwater Ultra? Maybe. Will I do the Badwater 135? Not a chance. At least, I got my steps in.
There is a Badwater 508 cycling event that has my attention, though…anyone want to do it with me?