Scatter my ashes here...

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

Thursday, June 30, 2011

For your viewing pleasure

This is a video of highlights from the 2010 Badwater Ultramarathon. If this doesn't inspire you, call 911.

In the scene where the guy crosses the finish line with his baby on his shoulders, if you look to the right there are two women cheering in the background, standing next to a white van. I'm the short one in the white t-shirt. Megan and I were up there for the medical team while many of the fastest runners were finishing. That was pretty inspirational to watch, too.

Just another day at the office

This is the view from my "office". Thought I'd send a test post from my cell phone. This is what our mobile blogposts from Death Valley will look like. Just a few more days in here...

11 days and counting...

This morning I slept in. Last night I got home from the sauna absolutely exhausted. I realized that I have not slowed down yet, and it's time to do that...

Fortunately my pile of equipment that I still have to organize and pack comes down to this, which is really not that much. One more duffel bag and I should be done. I hope to do that today. I'm thankful for Southwest Airlines and their generous bag limits.

Yesterday I worked for four hours in the morning, then I gave a presentation to the awesome people at Patient Business Services, who raised $2,011 in their department for the Save Change initiative. They are an enthusiastic group and I enjoyed it. Shannon and Teresa have been incredible supporters and I appreciate them so much, I can't thank you two enough for all your hard work.

Afterwards I went over to the sauna, because it wasn't hot enough outside at 97 degrees. When I got home, I ate something, spent some time with the Buffaloes, and was in bed by 8 pm.

All I have left for training are short little runs. I am going up to do a small number of Rock Repeats, no more than 3, sometime in the next few days as a "memory run" for my quads, but that's it. An hour a day the rest of the week in the sauna, two and a half more 12 hour shifts at work, and making up my shopping list with quantities of items we'll need to buy in Las Vegas, and then I can take time to smell the flowers.

Only 11 days!

The Route

The other day someone said to me, "I'm geographically challenged, I don't understand where Death Valley is and what the route is like. I wish you had a map on your blog." Wish granted.

I've included these maps to give a perspective on what this looks like. In these two maps, Point A is Badwater (where the official race starts and also where my journey will end), Point B is Whitney Portal (the race finish), Point C is Mahogany Flats campground where our climb up Telescope Peak starts, and Point D is the top of Telescope Peak.

I included the map above to show where Death Valley is, geographically. It's in east central California, along the Nevada state line. It's below the point where California bends like the inside of an elbow on the map. You can see the closest big cities, Las Vegas to the east and Los Angeles to the southwest.

Below is a close-up view of the route. It's 135 miles from A to B. When we reach B at the end of the race, we will turn around and start heading back to A. It looks confusing, but the blue line indicates the road route. As the crow flies, the distance from C to D is about 7.5 miles. We will take a detour off the main highway when we get close to Stovepipe Wells on the way back, and climb the route from C to D and back to C, then we'll go back to the spot where we left the highway, and continue back to point A.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

About my upcoming adventure

This post is a copy of an e-mail that I will be sending to a large number of people in the community before I leave for Death Valley on July 8th. It explains how to follow me, why I'm doing it, how to support me, and a few other important details.

Dear Friends,

I will be running in the 135 mile Badwater Ultramarathon across Death Valley again this year, and I have added an extra "twist" to my journey this time that I want to share with you. The race starts at Badwater, the lowest point in the western hemisphere at 282 feet below sea level, and runs across Death Valley, crosses 3 mountain ranges, and finishes at 8300 feet elevation on Mount Whitney.

The race begins for me at 8 am Pacific Daylight Time on Monday, July 11th. My race bib number is 72. There will be a webcast at the official race website. There will also be postings on Twitter and Facebook, if you search for Badwater Ultramarathon. You can keep track of my efforts there, until the official race is finished for me, by 8 am Wednesday July 13th.

My plan this year does not stop at the finish line at Whitney Portal at 135 miles. When I arrive at the finish line, there will be the usual photographs, awarding of the belt buckle, and celebration for each finisher and their crews. But we won't hang out too long.

We will continue back to Badwater, with a climb of Telescope Peak, the highest point in Death Valley at 11,000 feet, on the way back. The total length of this journey is approximately 285 miles, with roughly 24,000 feet of vertical gain and the same amount of descent, over 6 days. I will be finished by mid-day on July 17th. During our return trip, there will be Facebook and Twitter updates from the PVHS Foundation as we go along. The crew will send updates whenever we have Internet access and cell phone coverage (not consistent in Death Valley) and these will be posted here at my blog , as well as on Facebook, and the Foundation's blog.

This is a different journey than the route that has been taken as the traditional "Badwater double" route to the small handful of people who have ever done multiple crossings on the Badwater course. That traditional route has included Mount Whitney, highest point in the lower 48 states.

When I first told a few people with longtime ties to the Badwater race, I was met with some skepticism and questions like, "You should do Mount Whitney", or "It's not REALLY a double unless you do Mount Whitney." "This run is about going from lowest to highest".

Well, I'm not like everyone else. I'm not doing this to compare myself to others or follow anyone else's tradition. My journey is about crossing the desert, and that's one of the reasons why I've chosen Telescope Peak.

Anyone who has been through cancer can tell you that their own journey is not like anyone else's.

I'm doing this in support of the Poudre Valley Cancer Center project, raising funds to build a comprehensive cancer center in the Fort Collins community. This Cancer Center has been envisioned and planned by local cancer survivors, and will provide top-quality medical and wellness services in a facility that will serve the needs of people impacted by cancer, for prevention, diagnosis, treatment, post-treatment, and getting back to a healthy, thriving,active life.

The Cancer Center is important to me because it will provide a link between the often disjointed steps along the journey from a cancer diagnosis to treatment to moving beyond treatment and regaining health and wellness, something that is a difficult process for many.

Recently a group of several cancer survivors and a few others were in a meeting, talking with a local artist who wants to build a sculpture for the cancer center. As we were discussing the sculpture, a common theme was the transition from being hunched over and withdrawn, wrapped up deep within oneself, to healing and growing through care and treatment, reaching out past one's own self, and finally reaching out wide, arms outstretched to the sky, welcoming all that life has to offer and living every day to the fullest.

My philosophy is to live each day as an adventure, and to make the most of every day. I plan to do this as long as I have my health. Running across the desert in some ways is a metaphor for going through cancer treatment. But the "trip through hell" for me is by choice. For others, their trip through hell is not by choice, and it's real. They can't stop at the finish line, because there is no finish line except for hope.

Even after cancer treatment, life has changed forever, and the trip back to wellness is as much a double crossing of the desert as navigating across through cancer treatment the first time is. The Cancer Center will provide resources to ease the transition into survivorship, wellness, and thriving beyond cancer. No one does this alone, it requires a team of dedicated, positive people to help.

My run is also entirely a team effort, I could not do this alone. I have a fantastic crew of 5 people, Stephanie Willingham, my crew chief, my brother Nathan Nitzky, Ed Green, Felix Wong, and Dan McGlothlin. Training has been going well. 120+ mile weeks, hours in the sauna, and trips to Florida and Arizona to run in the heat have all been part of the preparation for this year's run.

Some people have asked what else they can do to help me with my run. The best way to help me is to support the building of the cancer center, with donations to the PVHS Foundation, and by spreading the word. Messages of support are always welcome, I apologize that I won't be able to answer any e-mails until I get back to Fort Collins, but I will be able to receive them when I'm out there.

All this year, we have been raising funds throughout the community with the Save Change to Create Change initiative, with 100% matched funds by Poudre Valley Health System. If you have not already, will you consider making a donation to the PVHS Foundation, in honor of my efforts in Death Valley? If you already have, please tell someone else about it and spread the word about the Cancer Center. Online donations can be made at or Donations can also be called in to 970-237-7400, or text ENGAGE to 90999 from your cell phone to make an automatic $5.00 donation.

I will be giving several presentations this fall with a video and slides from the trip, and lots of stories to tell. I'll pass those details along later. My crew will be providing updates along the way wherever we get Internet access, which is unreliable and far apart in Death Valley, but we will do our best to keep you informed of our journey and how it's going.

Please, forward this e-mail and spread the word to everyone you know who has been touched by cancer, wants to support the Cancer Center, or is interested in supporting my journey.

Thank you,


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Too Hot for Snakes and Army Guys

It was too hot for army guys this past weekend in Arizona. My red, white, and blue gummy army guys that I found at Sunflower Market, they melted into a blob! I guess I'll add gummy worms to the things that need to be kept in the cooler during Badwater.

It was also too hot for snakes this weekend. I watched one big red racer crawl out onto the asphalt from underneath the shade of a mesquite tree, and it slithered out into the tree's shadow, but when it reached the sunny asphalt, I saw it jump up off the asphalt a couple of times then it quickly disappeared back under the tree. I've never seen a snake jump before.

But it wasn't too hot for me. It was a cool 102 or 103, depending on who you talk to, accu-weather or It was perfect for an easy weekend of running. I went back to McDowell Mountain Park to do 16 miles Friday afternoon, then 34 miles on Saturday, when I was joined by Chris Harrison for several hours. Chris showed up around 12:30, when it was starting to warm up, and he went with me until my last out & back.

The ice didn't melt too fast, which was nice, I was able to do some 5 to 6 mile out & backs, avoiding having to go back to the car too many times to refill my bottles. Woofie stopped by to chat for a few minutes while I was out there, I saw his car in the parking lot and left a note on his windshield while he was out riding his bike.

I drove down again, planning to do a couple of good runs and spend Father's Day with my dad. Driving this time it was the trip from hell on the way down. Raton Pass was closed due to a fire on the New Mexico side, with flames all the way up to the interstate. So I took the detour on 285, which is the route we always used to take from Arizona to our cabin, but this time 285 was under construction, there was no shoulder and there were multiple traffic stops along the way where you had to wait for a long line of cars to go by in the other direction.

It took 8 1/2 hours to get to Albuquerque. When I finally got to a gas station in Espanola and tried to use the bathroom to pee, someone had puked all over the bathroom, plus I got a big star and crack in my windshield from the gravel on the road, and it was generally not a fun day. I did see the trains in Antonito as I drove by. It's been a while since I've been that way, and it's always a pretty drive.

In Arizona as I drove down the Beeline Highway from Payson there were a lot of century plants blooming. They are always so bright gold, I had to stop at Mt.Ord and take a picture.

I spent Father's Day with my dad and stepmom, we spent the morning looking at old family pictures. One of my dad's cousins found an envelope full of old, original photographs from the 1940s, of my great-grandparents, my grandparents and my dad's uncles, and my dad. They were in unbelievably good condition.

My great-grandparents emigrated from Russia and came through Ellis Island, around 1915. I never knew my great-grandfather, he died before I was born, but I knew my great-grandmother, Celia Nitzky, she lived to be about 96. She had a thick Russian accent and called me "Haaalene". I only have one memory of my grandfather, he died of leukemia when I was 2, but I remember him lying on the couch and my grandmother telling me not to disturb him. I remember my dad's uncles well, they are both gone now, but I remember knowing them as a kid in Pennsylvania.

There were also boxes of pictures from my childhood and old photo albums from family events all the way back into the 1950s and my dad remembered everyone, he was telling me all the stories. He is going to get those photographs framed with archival materials so they will stay in good condition and eventually I will have those photographs, that I hope I can pass on to my nieces and nephews.

I can hardly believe it's taper time. I'll have to watch out for the taper worms, and I still have so much packing and organizing to do. Every day will be full, between going to the sauna, getting my stuff together, and all the preparations for the trip. The sauna has been 175 degrees, and I'm spending an hour a day in it, and I know it's working.

I was talking with Steph, my crew chief, about everything tonight, we had one of our weekly Badwater planning phone calls, and I told her it feels strange, I have my mind wrapped around the race, and the fact that I'll be turning around and going back, but I feel like I should be a little freaked out about this, since I've never done this distance before. But I'm not.

I feel very calm and accepting of it, and I'm looking forward to the long days on the road, without the hype of the race, taking it slowly, enjoying the miles, scenery, my thoughts, and the company of Steph, Ed, and Felix who will be with me on the return trip.

I'm ready. Less than 3 weeks!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Two Vertical Miles, One Half Burqa

Today I woke up at 3:25 am. I don't know why.

The girls insisted on getting up with me, and they have to do their routine in the morning, which meant they got their treats, went out to get the paper, and ate their breakfast way too early. They were pissed when I started packing up the car and putting my running shoes on. They were not going. I had to leave a note for Dennis to feed them halfway through the day because I might not be home until almost dark, and he was going to Denver.

JP started with me at 6 am at the Horsetooth Mountain parking lot. The sun was already up but it was cool outside. I was wearing my half burqa outfit. The Saudi porn star, with my half burqa, bare legs, pink leopard print gaiters, and compression leg sleeves.

I felt sorry for JP. Not because he had to run with me in my crazy outfit, but because he was suffering from what he thought was food poisoning and was barfing on the side of the trail after our second repeat. I gave him some ORS (oral rehydration salts- bitchen swill!) and he drank it, then he did one more repeat and called it a day, a good idea.

I continued on at a slow pace, not sure how I'd feel, but as the day went on I felt good and decided to go as long as there was daylight. I didn't feel like being bear, mountain lion, or snake bait. I called it a day when I reached 40 miles, which was exactly 9 1/4 rock repeats. My quads and calves were starting to complain and my shin was screaming. Forty miles and 10,350 feet of vertical gain, and the same of descent. That's climbing two vertical miles in a 40 mile run. Not bad, almost all of what I'll be climbing and descending at Badwater in 135 miles. It took me 11 hours and 20 minutes, not including breaks. I was in super slow mode today.

On my 8th ascent I ran into Dennis Vanderheiden, running club president, who was planting flags on the trail for the next day's Horsetooth Mountain trail race. He looked surprised and amused to see me. By then I'd changed into my hazmat hat and took off the white jacket, so I looked a little less like a porn star and more like a fashionable EPA employee at a Superfund site.

It was a cool day, never got much above 75 degrees. Nice views of Longs, the snow is melting, but lots of haze from the Arizona fires. I heard from Chris in Arizona who wants to join me for part of my training run when I'm in Phoenix next week. I'm off to Arizona for my last week of hard training, to get some heat. It should be at least 100 degrees this time.

Got a big blister on the side of my big toe. That's a bad callus area, so I need to work on that.

It was our 21st anniversary this week. The wildflower garden is blooming. We had a huge hailstorm the other night that trashed a lot of the flowers, but there are still a ton left in there.

Other than that this week I bought a pile of running shoes, because I'm out and I need some for Badwater. I got some bigger ones too, because I always need that when my feet swell. Maybe if my feet keep growing I'll catch up to Dennis and wear his size 14s. Then we can share.

Felix thinks Dennis has a women's shoe fetish. What do you think?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The 39.9 Mile Snake

Today was another perfect day to run. Again, it's not very hot, it might have hit 80 degrees, but it was such a nice day! I went up to Horsetooth Reservoir and ran 40 hilly miles, evenly paced and comfortable. I felt great.

Around 36 miles I ran into my friend Cat who was running with three other runners, they had just done a Horsetooth circumnavigation. I also ran into Mike who is also training for Badwater. I haven't seen him at all this summer and we stopped and talked on the dam, and he asked me some Badwater questions. He was in his hazmat suit, that's the only way I recognized him.

I keep looking for snakes on the side of the road as the asphalt heats up. Toward the end of my run I was headed up the last big hill before the parking area at the top, and I finally saw it. Literally, a minute from my car, there was this beautiful creature out in the road, and people were driving around it to avoid it! Awesome!

This time I pulled out my cell phone and got a picture. This is either a king snake or a bull snake. I am no herpetologist...but I do know that it's not a rattlesnake.

Just thought I'd share my snake picture...

Thursday, June 2, 2011


A 90 degree day, finally!

I ran at the lakes today in Loveland. It started out a bit warmer but cloudy and the forecast was for windy and 86 degrees. It was humid and buggy. I had to spray myself with insect repellent and wear my hazmat suit just to keep the bugs off. By noon there wasn't much wind at all and it was still cool, but sometime shortly after noon the wind picked up and blew away the bugs and I got the day I've been wishing for!

The snow is melting off Longs Peak and the Mummy Range but there's a lot of snow up there. They are predicting flooding since the Poudre River watershed has about 170 percent of normal snowpack.

I did 34 miles. I planned on 45 but opted to cut it short and do more heat training. I wasn't moving very fast today for some reason. I worked yesterday and it was busy, maybe I was tired. I didn't feel tired running. It was one of those days with my head not being in the right place to focus on what I was doing.

After the run I sat in the car with the heater full blast for 20 minutes on my way to and from the sauna. I did 30 minutes in the sauna.

While I was running I was thinking about how good it feels to be out there moving forward, with nothing else to do. It's so relaxing. That's what's so nice at Badwater, I can focus on moving forward and the incredible scenery, and nothing else, for a whole week, because I have such a great crew. How awesome that will be!