I had a hard time falling asleep but once I did, I slept a good 6 hours. Not bad for the night before a race start. I've done ultras on much less pre-race sleep. I had plenty of sleep leading up in the days before the race so I was not sleep deprived.
I did my pre-race morning ritual: coffee, peanut butter honey and banana sandwich, a can of slim fast, water with electrolyte capsule for the road, sunscreened myself everywhere with Katy's help, put hydropel every place I thought I might chafe, made sure my smiley face earrings were smiling, got dressed and ready.
Katy and Steph were busy clearing all the stuff out of the room so the guys could check out for us. Katy and Steph would go to the start and crew me until we reached Furnace Creek, Nick and Ken were to get up at 4 am and fill the coolers with ice and go back to bed and get some sleep before they checked out of the rooms and we arrived at Furnace Creek.
With Katy and Steph doing everything for me I felt like a bride with my bridesmaids.
We got into the van and headed for the start. It felt humid and warm, but not terribly hot at 6:30 am. The sky was hazy and there were some clouds that looked like they might disappear after a few hours.
We drove down the highway the 17 miles to Badwater and parked in the parking lot. I parked myself in a chair and other than a few trips to the bathroom I stayed there until Chris called us down for our group picture at the Badwater sign.
As I sat in the chair a reporter from Agence France Presse interviewed me. I was in my own little zone, feeling very mellow and calm. All that was left to do was get weighed by the medical staff and line up at the start.
I weighed in at 126 pounds, WOW. I had breakfast and fluids, my running shoes and a bandana of ice on my neck but that is still a lot for me. Like I've said, this year I have been at such a heavy running weight. Some mysteries can't be solved and it's too late to worry about it now. They wrote it on the back of my number and I was off to line up at the start.
They played the national anthem, Chris said a few words, and lots of cameras were on us. I was hidden in the back row behind a lot of tall runners. (In the picture I'm behind the tall guy, #30, with an orange bandana around my neck) I didn't want to get sucked into the energy of the people who were going to take off fast. I planned to walk most of the first day. I don't even remember a starting gun, all I remember is the countdown from 10, and suddenly we were all moving forward.
To Furnace Creek at 17.4 miles
I settled into my power walk right away and I was dead last for about the first 5 miles. I let them go, determined to stick to my plan. It was humid and sticky, and the ice on my neck was melting and running into my shorts, which I had to keep wringing out. I was concerned that the water was going into my shoes, which is really bad, as it can cause blisters. I know that I did have wet socks for a while but as the morning went on it got sunnier and hotter and drier, and pretty soon my feet and shorts were dry as all the water evaporated.
Steph and Katy were frantically trying to keep up with my needs and establish their own rhythm. It takes several miles for this to happen so I had to be patient with this. Every time Katy came out to bring me something she'd apologize, as if they didn't get to me soon enough. I was doing well. I kept telling her not to worry, that they'd get a pattern down and everything would go smoothly after a few hours.
I drank Heed with salt stick capsules dumped into it, drank some slim fast and ate some crackers. I was slowly and steadily putting the calories away. I kept putting ice around my neck and in my hat. I was peeing about twice an hour and my stomach was feeling good. I listened to my tunes and passed just a couple of runners on the way into Furnace Creek. I could hardly believe it when I started to see the greenery around Furnace Creek, that I'd covered the first 17 miles so fast. I was there at noon and I had predicted 12:30 to 1:00, even though I ran no more than about 2 miles of the entire first 17 mile stretch.
I was totally psyched to see my time as I arrived at the Furnace Creek time station. Ben Jones and Jack Denness were there, and I chattered something at Ben, I was very excited and sat down in a chair briefly to eat some jello and put my feet up. I grabbed a full bottle, jumped up from the chair and was ready to go. The crew caught up with me down the road.
Furnace Creek to Stovepipe Wells at 42 miles
As the day went on it was getting drier and hotter. The leaders still hadn't passed me from the 10:00 start wave but pretty soon David Goggins and Jorge Pacheco came flying by. Soon after that I saw Pam Reed, then Jamie Donaldson. As Jamie passed we greeted each other and I wished her a great race, her running looked easy and flawless.
I continued with the crackers and Heed, had a little more slim fast, and even though I was doing well with taking in fluids, my stomach was starting to slosh. I didn't feel bad but I hadn't been peeing very often and I started to mention this to the crew. We thought about altering my electrolytes, maybe I needed more.
I was still staying cool with plenty of neck and hat ice. I kept my powerwalk pace and continued making good progress toward Stovepipe Wells. Ken paced me for a while in the hot section after Furnace Creek, and Nick switched off with him for a few miles. They continued to spray and ice me. The bug sprayer nozzle broke before 20 miles but fortunately we had a back up small spray bottle that worked well.
Around 30 miles on the course is a spot called Salt Creek, it's a low point where you drop down and then come back up a hill on the other side. It's one of the hotter parts of the course. There was a guy with a camera there, and he was aiming it at me. I felt okay but I was distracted by thinking about my situation, a sloshing stomach and not peeing. I was feeling bloated.
As I passed the guy with the camera he asked, "How's it going!?" and I put a big fake smile on my face and said "Great!" as if I could will it to be that way. I wasn't 20 yards past the camera when I started to feel funny. Not nauseous, but just weird, like my stomach had a mind of it's own. Suddenly...
I puked a huge amount of liquid up, three times in a row, as I was moving forward at my same pace, not missing a step. It just came up, one after another after another. I was thankful that I didn't have any nausea, because that would have slowed me down. Once I got rid of it, I felt so much better. I kept moving at the same pace, wondering if there was any more that was going to come up, but it didn't. Up the hill a few hundred yards I caught the crew and Ken came out to greet me. Steph was right behind him. Katy and Nick had gone ahead to Stovepipe to wait for us, to get things ready for evening and get some rest.
I asked, "Did you see me back there?" They said, "No" I said, "I just left the puke-free zone back there- briefly." They were both concerned, I told them I thought I was getting overheated and needed to rest and cool down a bit, and I wanted to rinse my mouth out. I sat down in the shade of the van and put my feet up and got a cold drink. I sat for no more than 5 minutes and put a ton of ice on my head and neck.
I got going and started out a little slower. We decided that maybe we needed to switch drinks. The Heed was tasting funny to me. They thought maybe it went bad in the heat.
I started out on diluted gatorade, then had some jello and a cup of full strength gatorade on ice. They all tasted good, and pretty soon I was increasing my pace and starting to pee again before I got to Stovepipe Wells. Whatever the stomach problem was never surfaced again. I was glad I got it over with. From then until the end of the race, I stuck to Gatorade. It was good that we had the backup plan for the drink.
Later I started to wonder if it was the camera. Wasn't it just 6 weeks ago when I was being chased by that Austrian film crew when I nearly lost my Slim Fast? Maybe I should avoid cameras. Whatever caused it, it was done and I was moving.
I descended into the Devil's Cornfield and Steph joined me for a little while. I was iced down and starting to feel good. I ran a little going into Stovepipe.
Less than a mile before I got there they went ahead to catch up with Nick and Katy. I made it into Stovepipe in 11 hours, which is awesome. I had planned on 12 hours.
The first glitch occurred there. I went to the time station at Stovepipe and Ken had already informed them that I was arriving, and a race official came out and greeted me with the news that there had been a change in the course. She told me that it wasn't for quite a long way and not to worry about it, that the race would still be 133 miles but would finish in Panamint Springs after turning around past Darwin. Apparently the road had washed out near Keeler and we wouldn't be able to make it to Lone Pine.
As she was telling me all this, I was looking for the crew. I had it in my head that I was going to set my stake there at the road and they would pick me up and drive me to the room, which was a ways up the hill. At that moment I realized I had never discussed this with Steph. Ken was telling me to come over there, but the crew wasn't there, and I didn't want to waste time waiitng if they weren't ready. I decided to keep going and told Ken to have them come pick me up with the stake and meet me up the road. I realized I didn't have anything left in my bottle and I yelled to Ken to bring me his bottle. He either didn't hear me or didn't understand what I was doing, but he disappeared behind the cars.
I figured it wouldn't take long for the crew to come after me realizing I had no water. I kept powerwalking but I kept turning around and looking back. It was still hot but I had ice on my neck. No more than half a mile from Stovepipe Katy and Nick came driving up. I apologized for the confusion but explained why I kept going. We staked out at a sign on the road and they drove me back to the room in Stovepipe. I didn't want to stop too long, just to change clothes, towel off with some cool water, put my feet up, eat a little, put my night gear on, and get going.
Stovepipe Wells to Panamint
After a half hour we left and drove back to the stake. I had my night gear and my flashing LEDs. Nick drove and Katy paced me most of the way up Townes Pass. Steph and Ken stayed at Stovepipe to shower, rest and refuel. The stars were coming out and the moon was nearly full. Katy and I blasted our way up the pass in just about 5 hours. The glitches seemed to have been worked out, the crewing seemed incredibly smooth. I arrived at the top at 12:30 am. I was feeling great and wasn't tired. I stopped, put my feet up and ate more jello.
The only thing I was concerned about was a hot spot on the inside of my left foot that felt like my shoe seam was rubbing. I pulled my shoe and sock off and found that the tape was coming off. I did have a blister forming there and I popped it. I retaped and put a clean sock and my shoe back on. I didn't touch the other foot since it felt fine. Steph and Ken showed up just as we arrived at the summit.
Steph paced me a little ways down the pass. I could feel my feet getting sore and didn't want to take the downhill too hard into Panamint. My pace was great and I was ahead of schedule so I didn't worry about running. As we got closer to the Panamint dry lake bed, I was starting to weave on the road. I kept finding myself on the center line instead of near the shoulder. Around 4 am I told the crew I wanted to take a nap, so they went ahead to try to find a good spot. We found one just before the lakebed, around 67 miles.
They put the foam pads down for me in the sand on the side of the road, on the side of the van. I told them to give me an hour, 1:15 at the most if I was still in a deep sleep when they tried to wake me up. I threw a dark cloth over my face to keep the headlights out of my eyes, and I fell asleep pretty fast. I woke up after about 30 minutes, then went back to sleep for another ten. When I woke up again I wanted to brush my teeth and get going. The sun started to come up and the sky was getting light as we crossed the lakebed. I had a total of 40 minutes of sleep but I felt refreshed and ready to face another climb.
I drank a Starbucks Doubleshot once I got moving and we went into Panamint. Twenty two and a half hours. I knew that it was important to get through Panamint in 24 hours if I wanted to make the 48 hour buckle, so I was still on track and ahead of schedule. Again I went through the time station and kept on going. There was no reason to stop. I felt great, the morning heat was coming, and I wanted to get up to higher elevations before the heat blasted again. It was already getting hot down in the lake bed as the sky got light...
photo credits: Nick Clark, Ken Eielson, Stephanie Willingham