I woke up before the alarm went off, and listened to Stephanie's breathing in the other bed. She was still asleep and I didn't want to wake her up. I checked my cell phone for messages, and got a message from my friend Andrea, who is one of the most positive, happy people ever, it's like sunshine being around her. How perfect to hear from her wishing me well. Steph started to stir and as soon as I knew she was awake I said, "Good morning. Did you sleep well?" She said,"Sort of. Did you?" I said yes. I wanted Steph to sleep well because she was likely to be the one awake longest and have the most on her mind.
I checked the tape on my feet, which hadn't shifted or rolled up during the night, so I got dressed, had a double shot, and ate some yogurt and a piece of the coffee cake from Starbucks that I brought for variety. I didn't feel like eating much. I made a sandwich to eat on the 17 mile drive down to the start. I drank a bottle of water, and put everything important in my race morning bag, including the monkey for pictures at the Badwater sign. Steph was in and out of the room talking with the crew. They had everything ready to go, the coolers were full of ice, and we organized our bags so Dan and Nathan could check us out of the rooms.
I felt like a bride again, I waited until just the right moment to come out of the room and let the crew see me. I was either the princess, or the Saudi porn star, according to my crew. We took some pictures in the hallway and got ready to go.
When we drove past the building at Furnace Creek with the thermometer on it, around 7 am, it said exactly 100 degrees. I don't know what the temperature was at the start, but the high for the day was predicted to be 112 in Furnace Creek. Most of the course is hotter than Furnace Creek.
I didn't eat the sandwich on the way down. I had little appetite, which worried me. I normally don't get nervous before races. We passed the 6:00 starters on our way down the road, cheered loudly for them, and then arrived at Badwater and parked.
My first order of business was to go to the bathroom, check in, and weigh in. There were less than 30 women in the entire race, and they were split up among waves, so I didn't have to wait in much of a line for the bathroom. Some crew members let me go in ahead of them, which was really nice. I felt slightly nauseous, and when I got out of the bathroom, I headed over to the medical team to weigh in and check in with them. I got on the scale.
My medical team buddy Steve Teal weighed me in. 133! I weighed 125 when I left home. I guess with all the shoes and water in my stomach, and clothes I had on, but that was really heavy for me. I wondered if maybe I had last night's food sitting in my stomach and that was making me feel sick. Nothing I could do at this point, that's where I was.
As I looked for the crew, I saw John Vonhof and gave him a hug, he wished me good luck. I found Felix, who had the monkey, and we went down to the sign and managed to snap a couple of pictures, lots of runners and crews were down there taking pictures. Then I heard Chris yell, "All runners down to the sign." He was calling us to line up for our pre-race picture, and then we would go to the starting line.
I chose a place near the far end of the group (second from the right). Suddenly I had a funny feeling in my mouth and I felt extremely queasy. I looked over my shoulder to see if there was a place I could bail out and barf if I needed to. I knew that would look really bad, to already have left the puke free zone before we even started.
I felt shaky as we stood there and the different photographers snapped their cameras. Finally Chris told us to go up to the start, we'd have the national anthem and then start. I made a beeline for the bathroom one last time, just in case. When I came out, the national anthem was almost over, and I stepped in line in the back (behind number 67). We did our countdown, and we were off.
Suddenly, my stomach felt fine, all the nervousness went away, and I ran down the road with the group.
In the Zone
Ed, Felix and Steph would crew me through the first day, and Nathan and Dan would be my night crew. When we got back to Furnace Creek at 17 miles into the race, Dan and Nathan would have us checked out of the rooms, meet up with us briefly, then go on to Stovepipe Wells to check us into our room for Monday night. We had a room in Stovepipe so the crew could get some sleep in shifts during the day and Monday night while the other half of the crew was out on the road with me. I would cool down, eat something, possibly shower and change clothes after my long, hot day across the valley, and get ready for my ascent of Towne Pass that evening.
My rough plan for the first day was: 4 hours to Furnace Creek, 10-11 hours to Stovepipe Wells, and 20 hours to Panamint. I was figuring approximately a 40 hour finish was possible but that left me a big time cushion of 8 hours to finish in case I had any problems. My priority was to keep my feet intact and do frequent foot checks, because if my feet weren't good at the finish like in 2008, there was no way I'd be able to do a double crossing.
I also planned ahead to do 10 minute cooldown breaks every 60-90 minutes between Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells, and wherever it was hot along the course, because they would more than pay for themselves in time. Giving your body a break from the heat stress allowed blood that was diverted to my muscles to run and skin to keep me cool, to return to my GI tract, kidneys, and other organs so I could process the food and fluids that I needed to keep myself going.
Things went smoothly right away, from my perspective, with the crew. They gave me ice in my hat (head lice), or ice on my neck (neck lice) or a bottle of my mixed drink. Early on I decided that 2 S caps per bottle tasted right, so we stuck to that and I'd check my hands for swelling as I went along. I got the feeling that Steph was much more relaxed than she was in 2008 when there were only two of them crewing me at the start.
I don't remember too much of this section except I ran quite a bit of it. I felt good and it didn't feel very hot out there. I am always surprised how fast we seem to get up to the junction above Furnace Creek. You can see the greenery around Furnace Creek for miles, and then suddenly you're there. I ran down the hill and went through the time station in just over 3 1/2 hours. The crew was waiting for me with the chair and I sat down to take my first cooldown break. They brought me ice cream and a frozen fruit bar.
Feet? Check. Cooldown? Check. Yogurt? Check.
I put my feet up, checked the tape, and John came over to say hi. He looked at one of my toes that seemed to be forming a blister. He pointed out that the skin looked wet, so I changed my socks. Everything else felt fine. Dave from the medical team also stopped by and said hi. Nathan and Dan were there to meet us, and I took a long break. I was ahead of schedule, so I took my time and ate a sandwich, too. I wasn't puffy, my stomach felt fine, and I was charged up and ready to tackle the toughest part of the course, the next 25 mile stretch to Stovepipe Wells. I got up and started running.
I ran a lot of the stretch to Stovepipe Wells. I took my cooldown breaks as scheduled even though I didn't always feel I needed them. I'd take the time to eat, and for some reason yogurt was tasting good. After I'd get up from those, I'd feel great. I was peeing regularly but not a lot, so I was a little concerned about that, but after a few cooldowns I started to pee a lot more. That was the purpose of the cooldown, so obviously it worked.
Felix, in trouble with the authorities again, got a talking to by the race staff to be more discreet when using the "facilities", which is funny because he was so shy. Every time I had to pee, I'd duck behind the van, and Felix always seemed to be there. I'd announce what I was going to do, but he never got out of the way in time, and he'd get flashed every time, then get all embarrassed. Steph told him to get used to it.
I didn't have a pacer, I prefer not to run with one. It's distracting and I needed to focus on moving forward. During the race I only had a pacer when crewing was difficult from the car and there were long stretches between places where we could get ice and drinks. Ed ran with me for a brief time on the way into Stovepipe Wells while Steph went ahead to help Nathan and Dan get ready to make the transition to the night crew.
I felt great in the stretch around Stovepipe, by the Mesquite Dunes and Devil's Cornfield, one of the hottest parts of the course. I got into the Stovepipe Wells time station in about 9 hours and 44 minutes, well ahead of schedule. We lucked out and got one of the rooms down by the road, so all I had to do was walk a few feet up to the room from the road.
I went into the air conditioned room and took a sponge bath with big alcohol wipes, changed into my night clothes, and ate. They brought me ice cream sandwiches again. Nathan and Dan were getting gas and buying ice, and I was ready to go. I ended up having to wait an extra 12 minutes, which allowed me to stay off my feet a little longer, but irritated me. It seemed like I was waiting forever. Guys just don't seem to have that sense of urgency that women do. Or maybe it was just my random perimenopausal bitch condition flaring up in the heat.
Finally they arrived and I started out, and for about the first hour they were in the process of getting their rhythm. Ed went with them for the first couple of hours so they could make a smooth transition, and I was a little pissed off, trying to be nice, but it took me a little while to get over it. After an hour I was happy again.
Ed was amazed at my planning, how I stuck to it, and how well I knew what I needed at different places along the way. He told Steph, "Alene teaches pit bulls to hang on!" Finally Felix came up in the shuttle vehicle and picked up Ed, and it was Nathan and Dan on their own.
It was getting dark going up Towne pass. I saw Terri Pfeil from Boulder and her crew in their van, taking a break. I yelled to Terri to keep going and good job. She was having a rough time at that point, but eventually she did get going and finished. I leapfrogged with a runner from Australia who was being paced by my east coast ultra friends Phil and Dave, so it was fun to chat with them. Phil crewed for me at the Lost 118 last February in Florida, and Dave and I have run Across the Years, Lean Horse 100, they Keys 100, and other ultras together.
I started to back off on the S caps and found my hands getting a little puffy an hour or so later. I could feel my feet swelling, too, I was having a hard time making the transition from day to night in my hydration and electrolyte needs. I switched to some plain water, and that seemed to help. At the top of the pass we took a break, checked my feet, and things looked okay. My hands were not as puffy.
I saw Lisa Smith-Batchen up there, we were both resting at the pass. She was having a rough time. She was trying for her 10th Badwater finish, but she ended up being taken to the hospital in Lone Pine because she wasn't peeing. After a few days in the hospital, she's doing better now and is home. Another lesson, no matter how experienced you are at this, never take the heat for granted.
On the way down into Panamint I was still awake, and I got through the aid station in 19 hours and change. Corey Linkel and Jack Denness from the race staff were there to greet us. Corey is always so full of energy, he got me charged up. I did sit down and get off my feet, took a bathroom break, and ate.
When I looked at my feet, I could see a blister developing in the same spot that gave me trouble in 2008, under the ball of my left foot. The difference was, I could see where the fluid was, there is a lot less callus there since I've been working on reducing the callus for a year now, following John Vonhof's advice. I have an incredible respect for John and what he does. Not only is he an authority on foot care for athletes, he is a truly generous and good person. Anyone considering running Badwater, or any ultra of any length, should read his book.
I knew John would be at Panamint at some point but it was early. I asked Corey if he was there and he said John was still at Stovepipe Wells. We left a message for the medical team to see if John was going to be in Panamint later, I wanted him to look at my foot.
The Doctor is In
After a long break, we took off up the hill toward Father Crowley. About a mile out of Panamint, I decided I was ready for a nap, it was 4:30 am and it wasn't light yet. Nathan and Dan set up the cot for me in a wide turnout and I was out for 30 or 40 minutes.
I woke up at sunrise refreshed and started heading up toward Father Crowley. We figured we'd see the day crew soon. As it turned out they had gone past us when we were off the road for my nap. They turned around once they realized it was too far and came back and found us. What took them so long? Apparently Ed was having difficulty deciding on what to wear. Nathan and Dan took off back to Stovepipe Wells to sleep until they had to check out of the room.
My foot was hurting, but it wasn't terrible. I knew I couldn't let the blister go much longer, and I was prepared to stake out and have the crew drive me back to Panamint. We arrived at Father Crowley around 7 am and I took a break there and pulled my shoes and socks off, and the tape on my feet was coming off. I pulled all the old tape off and started retaping.
Suddenly Jeff Lynn drove up in a car with a medic sign on it. I have worked with Jeff on the medical team the past 2 years and he is awesome. He told me that John was wrapping up down there in Panamint and would be on his way to Lone Pine, so I should stay put and he would stop at Father Crowley and look at my feet. Awesome!!!
Jeff hung out with us for a while, and my friend Bob Becker stopped by briefly while waiting for his runner, Marshall Ulrich, who was having stomach problems. Marshall went by and I got a chance to talk with Bob a little. We were having a great time at Father Crowley, laughing our butts off about who knows what crazy things seemed funny in our sleep deprived state. John showed up soon after Bob left, and John set up his chair and his foot supplies, and went to work on me. Everyone gathered around to watch the surgery.
The blister wasn't too bad but it was starting to get bigger and spread between my toes. John wanted to inject zinc oxide into the blister to dry it out, and then retape me. I trust John, and of course I said go ahead. But I have sensitive feet and I squirm even touching my own feet. Everyone was freaking out on what John was about to do.
He pulled out the scalpel and started to drain the blister, and then he pulled out a dull, large bore needle and attached a syringe full of zinc oxide. He reassured me that the needle has worked for him since 1966 and it was really dull, so not to worry. He pulled out a rubber foot, and handed it to me. We were all laughing so hard we were doubled over.
Finally John injected the zinc oxide into my foot, which burned like hell. He apologized, he said he hates it when it keeps burning for a while. He massaged it into the blister, which didn't hurt, but the thing kept burning for about an hour after he did it. It did get better after a few minutes though.
Then he pulled out some pink kinesio tape and retaped the ball of my foot, then followed that with some hypafix tape between my toes to keep the tape from rolling up, That tape job lasted me through the end of the race, and I left it on until Thursday morning. It was perfect. I never had a problem again with that blister.
I was stiff when I got up to get going again, and I headed toward Darwin. Steph went with me for a while, and it was fun to have some girl time. Along the way Nattu and Karen stopped by and wished us luck. They were crewing for Terri, and then after the race they were going to crew for our friend Dale Perry who was doing a solo crossing starting Saturday.
Denise Jones stopped by on the road to say hi on her way into Lone Pine later that morning. Denise is another foot expert, and she literally wrote the book on Death Valley crewing. She and Ben are the Mayor and First Lady of Badwater, they are the foundation of that race since it's beginning. I have learned so much from her over the years, and it's all been great advice.
Along the way I also saw Megan and Dave from the medical team, Dave stopped by to say hi and Megan waved from her car on her way back along the course. Every time I saw them I got a little burst of energy.
On the way to Darwin we were all laughing again. We had a permanent case of giggles. This time I asked for gummy worms and there were some other runners along the course near us, and we were leapfrogging. I had an assortment of gummy characters before the race, and there were these gummy cherries that with a little imagination and even less sleep, looked amazingly similar to gummy testicles. I put one in my mouth and that got everyone going. The runners near us remarked on how we were having way too much fun at this point in the race.
The other things I noticed were the beef jerky signs. We never did find the beef jerky stand, it must have blown away in the haboobs.
We continued laughing all day. When we got to Darwin, Ed was blowing bubbles, and John stopped by to check on me again. My feet hurt from being on them, but the blister felt fine. My hands weren't puffy and I was eating plenty, peeing well, and I was pleased with how things were going. I downed another yogurt. At the Darwin checkpoint I got in a little later because of the long stop at Father Crowley, but still had plenty of wiggle room on the finishing cutoff. I did start to fade shortly after Darwin.
Nathan and Dan had taken the cot with them when they went back to Stovepipe, and it was windy. Dust was blowing everywhere, and it was hot. I was faced with the choice of sleeping on a thermarest pad that had a hole in it on the ground, or trying to sleep in the van. I tried the front seat of the van and that was really uncomfortable. After about 10 minutes I said to hell with it and went on toward Lone Pine.
I felt a hot spot developing on my heel, and when I stopped to check my tape and found a blister filling up. The tape was okay, so I popped the blister through the tape and it never bothered me again.
Later that afternoon Nathan and Dan came by on their way into Lone Pine. They went to go check into the room at Dow Villa. We finally had cell phone service so it was possible to let them know what we needed for when they came back out to crew that evening.
The 100 mile cheer
My feet were pretty sore all afternoon but that was to be expected at 100 miles into the race. We stopped at the 100 mile mark to celebrate and take a picture. The crew was cheering loudly for me. Or at least Ed and Steph were. Felix let out a subdued "WooHoo". The crew gave him a hard time about it. "Is that all you can do?" Ed said. "WooHoo" Felix repeated, with imperceptibly more vigor. Steph and Ed mimicked Felix. "WooHoo." "WooHoo." Soon we were all doing it.
Felix protested, "But it's perfect pitch!"
Soon the understated "WooHoo" became our official crew cheer.
We saw dust devils out in the distance. Ed pointed these out to me. "Look, a couple of haboobs!" I guess sometimes they come in pairs. I said, "We need a bra for the haboobs so they don't get out of control."
All these crazy things we were laughing about, I was laughing so hard I couldn't breathe and my stomach would hurt. Things that no one in their right mind would ever find the least bit amusing were hilarious to us. You had to be there, but we were the only ones there.
As the sun started setting, I realized I was hungry. I made a request to Steph. "How about if we call Nathan and Dan and have them bring a pizza out to us?"
"Excellent idea!" Steph said. She placed the order, and pretty soon, Felix was walking toward me with a pizza. Tomatoes and mushrooms, light on the cheese. He even picked the olives off for me. I sat down and ate one slice, waited a few minutes to make sure it was going to stay down, then I had another. It was incredible. The best pizza I've ever eaten. It was from the Pizza Factory in Lone Pine, which really does have great pizza. I've had it before even when I wasn't running, and it is good. I think we ate at least 4 pizzas from there by the end of the day Thursday, plus the post-race party is catered by the Pizza Factory. We got our pizza fix for sure.
The Visitor in the Shadows
Nathan and Dan came out to crew as it got dark, and I was starting to suffer from being sleep deprived. Digesting the pizza wasn't helping things, either. I went through Keeler and was staggering a bit, as it got dark. Felix stayed out with me on the road, beause I was not moving as well as before. A few times I felt his hand on my shoulder, guiding me back over to the left side of the road.
I could see shadows stretching across the road as we went past the saltbush of Owens dry lake bed. Some of the little plants growing in the cracks on the shoulder of the road were casting a shadow in front of me in the moonlight.
I started to avoid them, they were reaching out to me and I was afraid I would trip over them. Then they seemed to be out to get me, reaching for my ankles. I looked over into the saltbush at one point and saw something move. It was yellow. First I thought it was Pac Man, but then I realized who it was.
Spongebob was hovering in the dark side of a big saltbush, and he was reaching for me with his shadow arms. It scared the hell out of me! I needed to get away. I think I said something about it to Felix, who talked me out of it and kept me on the shoulder. I startled myself awake, and realized it was long past time for a nap. So the guys set up the cot at the side of the road and got out my pillow and threw a blanket over me, and I was out cold for a good 30 to 40 minutes again.
Apparently I was snorting and snoring like a freight train full of hogs. They were trying not to laugh, afraid they would wake me up. Felix tried taking a video of it but the sound track diidn't come out.
Again I woke up refreshed, but a little sluggish. I hobbled down the road, and Nathan paced me for a while, doing an incredible job of multitasking with all kinds of things I needed. Dan was doing an amazing job of reading my mind, too, the whole time. He had the hang of it after the first hour on the first night.
Corey appeared out there on the course and cheered me on, telling my crew not to let me sleep any more. Corey's presence charged me up, and we finally made the turn into Lone Pine shortly after midnight. I got through the Lone Pine checkpoint right at 1 am.
I knew I could do the Portal section in 4 1/2 hours if I kept moving. But I needed some caffeine. I had been avoiding using the doubleshots because they went right through me and I'd always have to poop afterwards. But I needed serious caffeine. I drank a doubleshot, and sure enough, minutes later I had to poop. After a brief poop detour, I headed up the Portal Road with Felix behind me.
I ate a few more yogurts on the way up, and kept moving well. It looked like I was going to finish in 45 hours or so. It took forever to get to the checkpoint at the bottom of the Z at 130 miles. Right after that, I saw Mike Thomas's crew vehicle. Mike lives in Fort Collins, is a podiatrist, and was running his first Badwater. I hoped it was a good sign, that he made it, because he was in the 6:00 start wave and time was running out for him. As it turned out, he finished. Great job Mike!
It was quiet at sunrise at the finish line. There was no one else finishing at the same time as me, we hadn't seen any other runners on the road, but could see them way down in the Alabama Hills behind us when we were on the Z. The crew parked in the lower parking area and went up to meet me at the finish line. I ran across the line in 45 hours, 30 minutes, and some seconds. Chris greeted me, we took off our reflective gear, got pictures taken, Chris gave me my belt buckle, finishers medal, and t-shirt, and it was done.
I was happy with my finish time, considering the many stops I made to check on my feet, and taking my time to rest my feet and stay cool. We had decided that if I got to the finish line early enough and felt like heading back to Lone Pine, then I would go.
I had to give it a shot, so I ran a few yards down the road toward the crew vehicles, but decided to just give it a rest and come back up the Portal Road to start Thursday. We could still fit Telescope Peak in if we did that, but it would be a tighter time frame. But I felt like the best thing was to get some rest for all of us, and start fresh after a full day off.
When we got back to Dow Villa in Lone Pine and went to our rooms, I was walking remarkably well. I was able to take the stairs with no problem. Going upstairs was fine, and coming down was a little more challenging, but okay. I seemed to be walking better than most of the runners I saw. I got in the room, stripped my disgusting clothes off and most of the tape except for John's beautiful, still-intact pink tape job with the white hypafix, and got in the shower. Then I crashed in the bed for several hours before waking up to go to the post-race party at the elementary school.
I felt great. The party was so much fun this year. It always is, but it was even better this time. I got to talk to so many people, and I realized that it's been four years straight I've been at Badwater now, which means I know almost everyone on the race staff, and a good percentage of the runners and their crews, either from running the race, other races, or being on the medical team.
I got to talk to Dan Westergaard, who wished me the best on my double. He wasn't sure if he was going back yet, his feet were very swollen. Mimi Anderson had finished the race well ahead of me and was already on her way up Whitney for her double. Everyone wished me well on my return trip.
Being around this group of people does something for me that is an overlooked part of the race experience. The people who run, crew, or are otherwise involved in some way with this race, are the most positive, enthusiastic creatures on the planet. Being in a room with all of them creates an energy that I'm surprised has not blown the roof off of the elementary school gym where it's held.
All the effort we put in all year individually, away from each other, suddenly converges in a small space and the result is combustible. It stays with me for a long time after the race, even for the whole year until I come back again. Remembering this feeling is like a miracle pill that I can pull out of a bottle anytime I need a boost. There is nothing else like it anywhere.
Nathan and Dan had to leave for Las Vegas to catch Dan's flight. We said our good-byes and thank yous, sent the stuff we didn't need back with Nathan, and they took off. I wish they could have stayed for the whole thing.
After the party, I had a salad from McDonalds, took another nap in the room, and soon we went to dinner at the burger place on the corner. I had a buffalo burger and french fries. It all tasted so good. Then we made a brief trip to the grocery store for me to pick out a few items I wanted the crew to get in the morning. I was thrilled to see they had my yogurt! In Lone Pine, they had Chobani yogurt, so I asked Steph to get me more than a dozen for the return trip. I downed at least a dozen of those during the race, they always were cold and tasted so good, plus they had some protein.
I wasn't thinking or worrying about the return trip. I was having so much fun, and looking forward to continuing it. I was a little concerned about how I'd feel running the 5000 foot 13 mile descent to Lone Pine first thing, but I wasn't going to worry about it. I was a completely different runner than in 2008.
My feet had held up fine. They were sore, but that's something you just get used to. My legs felt great, they weren't sore. My stomach had held up fine. My hydration was perfect, I'd stayed out of the puke free zone entirely. The only thing we didn't do was figure out who was the patron saint of the desert. I still had 3 days for that. And the only thing missing was the monkey. No one could find it anywhere.
We went back to the room again and I crashed in the bed, hard. I slept through the night, a good 10 hours, ready for the grueling downhill of the Portal Road at the beginning of my return journey.
photo credits: Nathan Nitzky, Felix Wong, Ed Green