Scatter my ashes here...

Scatter my ashes here...
scatter my ashes in the desert...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Lessons Learned

I am still going through pictures and stories but I thought I'd post some practical information for the runners who are looking for heat training advice and aspiring Badwater runners.

On my 2011 Badwater Double Crossing, here is a list of some of the things I did and learned. Like anything else in running, this is what worked for me. As they say, YMMV (your mileage may vary).

What went right:

1. Hydration I am not kissing Karl King's backside here, I am telling you that I used S caps exclusively, day and night. Under the conditions of Death Valley I can't imagine using anything else for electrolyte replacement, it is absolutely a superior product. I used two S caps per bottle in the daytime, then when the temps got cooler at night I cut back to one S cap per bottle or alternated with plain water.

I used Crystal Light Pure as my drink mix- a packet of it, contents of 2 S caps dumped in, and ice, with just enough water to mix it up. This worked the whole time, I got tired of a few flavors, but had no problem tolerating it. I checked my hands frequently for swelling. The only time I had puffy hands was in the evening, when I'd be making the transition from hot weather to cooler temps. Once I backed off on the sodium, my hands went back to normal. The morning transition of increasing the sodium never seemed to cause problems.

I was peeing a lot- at least once every 2 hours during the hottest part of the day, and more frequently during the cooler times.

a. Stomach: Because my fluid/electrolyte level was regulated so well, I was able to avoid nausea and stomach sloshing. I absorbed all the fluid- evident from my urination and non-puffy hands. See more about this under cooldowns.

b. Feet: You have to remember that whatever is going on in your hands is also going on in your feet. Avoiding the swelling that comes with fluid/electrolyte imbalance means your feet are not going to swell causing friction against your shoes, the layers of skin and tissue in your feet are not going to swell and separate, which means you avoid blistering.

My biggest problem in 08 was the blister under my left foot. I had a blister in the same spot but over the past year I read John Vonhof's book Fixing Your Feet and learned how to tape properly, and how to reduce the callus in my problem areas. In 08 the blister was so deep John was unable to drain it with a scalpel, he taped it the best he could to prevent further blistering, and the blister finally popped from repetitive trauma on it's own at mile 127, which hurt like hell.

This year, it was easy to access the blister pocket and drain it, which was much less painful and much easier to manage. Other than that blister, I developed only a few small, minor blisters which I was able to easily drain as soon as they developed, and they never became a repetitive problem. At the end of 270 miles, I only had one blister left, the big one under my foot, which didn't get any worse after 80 miles.

Keeping your feet dry is another requirement. Checking your feet for moisture is critical. I use Drymax socks exclusively and they do very well, but no sock is blister-proof. There are seams, movement in the shoe, and moisture builds up eventually no matter what sock you wear.

Changing your socks frequently is important, and you have to be very careful not to disturb your tape job. Don't let your crew mess with the lacing on your shoes or pull your socks and shoes off unless they know exactly how to do it right. The runner is better off doing this is they can.

Speaking of shoes, I run in Brooks Addictions and I used only two pairs of shoes, one during the race and the other on the return. I never needed to change shoes or go to a bigger size because my feet never got very swollen and they stayed dry.

2. Cooldowns- I planned to take forced 10 minute cooldown breaks every 60 to 90 minutes during the hottest part of the day, every day. I stuck to my plan. I would sit down in a chair, put my feet up, in the shade of the van if there was shade, and my crew would cover me with two ice towels- one on my thighs and the other wrapped around my shoulders, reaching into my armpits.

I would take the time to drink something and eat. This would always result in having to pee afterwards. What these cooldown breaks do is allow your body a break from the heat stress it is undergoing. Your muscles get a break and you get more blood flow available to the stomach, kidneys, and other organs, so you're able to process food and fluids.

Every time after my cooldown, I felt much better and was able to pick up the pace immediately. Also, the cooldowns allowed my feet a break from being on them, which was heaven!

3. Preparation- supplies, plans, food choices: A wide variety of food choices has to be available because you never know what you will want to eat. Your body will tell you when it needs protein, quick energy, salt, or whatever. In 2008 all I could eat was jello and baby food. This time yogurt was my staple. I used a good quality greek yogurt, with lots of protein and little sugar. (Chobani). I was able to buy this in Las Vegas and Lone Pine.

Other than that the ham and cheese sandwiches I relied on in training did not appeal to me at all after the first day, and pretzels and crackers were too dry to eat in the heat. I ended up eating fig newtons and Pringles, which are easier to chew and swallow. At the checkpoints I had a special "Ice Cream Bag", an insulated bag for the crew to run to the store as soon as I approached the checkpoint, and then they would bring me fruit bars and ice cream sandwiches.

I had coke, 7 up, and iced tea for variety from my usual drink mix. During the cooldown breaks coke on ice tasted so good!

When we were close to Lone Pine, the crew would go into town and get pizza to bring back. That was awesome, a real treat for everyone, and good calories.

Having done Badwater before, and having crewed twice, I knew it was important to have everything you think you might possibly need, that you can't get while you're out there. I had a huge foot care/first aid kit and lots of hardware, bungee cords, duct tape, electrical tape, tools, etc. We never needed most of it but when we needed something, it was great to have it.

It is very important to teach the crew to put things back in their proper location- everything needs to be clearly labeled and marked, because I promise you, you will never find it again if you don't. As the days go on and everyone becomes more sleep deprived, this becomes more of a challenge.

4. Crew Dynamics- You have to have the right mix of people. Avoid having any crew member who is overly controlling or domineering. I heard horror stories about this on other crews. Assertiveness is very important, along with good, direct communication skills, and a sick sense of humor.

Sometimes it is necessary to confront a crew member on their behavior or a mistake, and they need to be able to take the criticism without taking it too personally. Crew need to have good people skills and to be able to work with each other under difficult conditions, stress, and fatigue. Being able to think critically, anticipate the runners and other crew members' needs, having empathy and patience are crucial to the success of a crew.

Crew need to listen to the runner and the crew chief, and there can't be any power struggles between the crew chief and the other crew members. I don't know what the magic solution is for this, but do your research well. Know your crew members before you pick them and trust your gut feelings. On our crew things went very smoothly, with a few little hiccups, which I attribute to crewmember fatigue. When a crew member gets dehydrated and hasn't taken care of themselves adequately, they don't have as good judgment and that's what happened briefly on the last day.

Having a crew chief who knows the runner well is also critical. Steph and I have been together through 3 Badwaters, and we have gone to other ultras together, and she knows me and my habits well. As a result she is able to predict how I'll respond to a given situation and what I would want. That is priceless.

5. Pacing yourself- During the hottest part of the day it is difficult to maintain a fast pace so it's important to take this into consideration. Save it for night time. There is nothing better than running under the stars. Keeping cool and steady during the day pays off.

Things that slowed me down:

1. Blister/tape management- This is almost a given for anyone running across Death Valley in the summer. It is rare for someone to have no foot issues whatsoever, but it does happen. This was especially important for me this time because I wanted my feet to be intact at the end of the race so I could make the return trip comfortably. I spent the extra time looking at my feet, changing socks, draining small blisters, and retaping as needed. It was well worth it. I am sure I checked my feet a dozen times during the race itself.

2. Sleep deprivation- this has always been a problem for me as of the second night. I seem to do well for the first day and a half and then it catches up with me. I took 3 naps during the race of 40, 30, and 15 minutes. My crew said I snored and snorted like a freight train. I was out instantly. It was always refreshing. The second night I was hallucinating and weaving, and this is a sign that it's time to get a nap. When you're not making good forward progress, a nap pays off. I drank coke and iced tea to get some caffeine, and I usually use Starbucks doubleshots but the milk in the doubleshots was not agreeing with my stomach as well as the coke was, so I only did a few doubleshots this time. The doubleshots went right through me. Not fun.

Things that surprised me

1. (Caution: possibly TMI) Body functions- I guess when you are consuming a lot of extra calories, it makes sense that you would poop more often. Most of the food you eat in ultras is of very low fiber content and can be constipating. For me, on my rest day Wednesday, I ate a lot of salads, and as a result, on Thursday, it was like my body experienced a giant detox. I pooped 8 times total on Thursday, and this was serious poop.

It's important to keep your butt from chafing if you're having to wipe frequently, and baby wipes help to keep things clean. I would use toilet paper, baby wipes, and we also had preparation H wipes, a tip I learned from another ultra friend. These are very soothing when your skin gets raw from wiping multiple times. Following this with hydropel, and then HAND SANITIZER will keep you, your butt, and everyone else happy!

The silver lining in this is that I got to stretch my glutes and hamstrings a lot with all that squatting!

2. achilles/peroneal tendinitis did not bother me at all- I have had mild tendinitis in my right leg for nearly 2 years, which mostly bothers me on uneven surfaces, but when it gets fatigued, it can also hurt on roads. Going into the race I was worried about this, since I aggravated it in a training run about 6 weeks before the race. I taped my achilles for extra support the whole time. I never heard a peep out of my tendons the whole way.

Things I'd do differently

1. Lose weight (if I can)- This is not coming from someone with an eating disorder. It was hard to carry nearly 130 pounds on my frame back and forth across DV. My body is in the awkward transition of middle age, perimenopause, and to top it off I have thyroid disease. But mostly, I think it's because I don't train with intensity anymore because speedwork is too risky these days between my tendinitis and training exclusively for multiday events (all of which I'm going to work on in the coming year)

I tried to lose some weight this spring but only lost 3 pounds. I allowed myself to be a little more hypothyroid than I normally am so I'd avoid problems with the heat like when I unknowingly ran it hyperthyroid in 08, but I don't think it was enough to affect my weight. My body really likes it's 125+ pounds now, and I would love to drop about 10 pounds, but I sure as hell am not going to starve myself to do it. A little more intensity in my training will help with this, once I rehab my tendon.

2. Crew adjustments- As far as crew, I think the people we had were great. I would change how I approached their roles, though. I allowed one crew member to pace me quite a bit on the return trip, he was training for a 100 miler and I normally don't like to have a pacer.

It was nice to have the company the first day, on the second day I told him he could stay back far enough so I wasn't aware of his presence. I figured he probably wanted the training opportunity and I didn't care as long as I felt like I was alone. I kept asking him if he was okay and he said he was.

By the third day he got dehydrated and started blistering, and this resulted in some friction on the crew, so I insisted on going alone. The runner shouldn't be having to worry about a crew member, and the crew member should not put the runner in a position of having to think about the crew member's well-being, blisters, kidney function, etc.

3. Other- I wouldn't do anything else differently except maybe adjust the quantities of stuff we bought, since we had so much left over and unused at the end.

Am I glad it's over? No. Would I do it again? Yes. Will I do it again? I don't know, but I can't imagine doing Badwater again without doing a double, because the race is over with too quickly and there is too much to see and experience out there that you can't do in the rushed setting of a race. Death Valley has so much to offer in it's beauty, and the chance to see the colors and landscape at different times of the day, is something you really shouldn't miss in a lifetime.

photo credit: Felix Wong


Brian said...

Congratulations on your achievement at Badwater this year!
Thanks for sharing your experiences in this post. I'm fascinated by Badwater and I love reading about the runner's experiences. I've often wondered about how the sleep deprivation plays into the experience. I have a hard enough time managing to run well with a clear head!
Also, are there ever any concerns or encounters with wildlife? I imagine it's not a problem in Death Valley, but what about once you get into the mountains during the second half of the course?
Again, congratulations, what an amazing achievement to not only complete Badwater, but to turn around and run back to the start!

Anonymous said...


What an accomplishment. Truly good advice too, for lesser races as well. Thanks for sharing, and I look forward to the blow-by-blow report.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. I want to run Badwater and I haven't known how to start planning for it. Congratlations on your double - quite inspiring!

Mike said...

Thank you for sharing your knowledge of Ultrarunning and Badwater.

FreeYourToes said...

Thanks for the great advice you provide here. Hopefully one day I can run Badwater.

Alene Gone Bad said...

Thanks for the comments everyone! It is truly an experience not to be missed, if you're so inclined. Brian, the only wildlife encounters we had were a few scraggly looking coyotes who were very uninterested in us, some big blackbirds, a few jackrabbits, and one mojave rattler, which we were easily able to go around. Spongebob (see my writeup coming soon) was the scariest creature out there for sure!

Chris Harrison said...

Pearls of wisedom!!!!! Loved every detail. Thanks for sharing- printing this for my "Badwater" file.

Alene Gone Bad said...

Thanks Chris! I wish you the best on your own journey to Badwater. Hope I can be there to see it.

Ángel Martín said...

Hi from Spain.

I'm absolutely astonished by your race!!!, reading this cronicle shows the level of concretation that you kept during the race, being able to analize how it went with this level of detail. Amazing!!!


Alan Barnes said...

Great job on the race....and on the helpful info!