Take heed, aspiring Badwater runners, and those who have Badwater festering in the back of their brains for a bucket list race like blisters rubbing in their shoes...
It's almost February and the application process for 2012 is about to start. Whether it's this year you're applying, are thinking about it for next year, or some time in the future, there are things you need to know. If you aren't planning on applying this year but have already looked at the website trying to figure out what you'll need to do in order to be eligible in the future, that's a good start. You're already planning ahead, which is a more important skill for this race than any amount of running talent.
Get to know that Badwater website like your best friend. Read every article posted, every link, and more. There's a ton of good information on there. This blog has a lot of anecdotal information and advice, and there's a lot more out there.
Two must reads:
(1) Death Valley Ultras: The Complete Crewing Guide by Theresa Daus-Weber & Denise Jones .
(2) Fixing Your Feet 5th edition by John Vonhof.
1. Get your head screwed on straight.
This is not a race for you if you have a long history of DNFs. Get your act together mentally before you do this one. BW is not a race you "try". This is one race you don't want to DNF in, unless your life depends on it. Not to mention the incredible dedication of your crew who came out to support you and gave up their vacation time, family time, or whatever personal commitments they shelved in order to help you have the experience of a lifetime. They got you there, you don't want to disappoint them.
You need to be realistic about the time and energy commitment you are about to embark upon. If you haven't done this before, and even if you have, this is no little weekend 100 miler where you throw a few things in some drop bags. You need to plan meticulously, and realize that as you get closer to the race, planning will take up as much time as training. It's like having at least an extra part-time job. So apologize in advance to everyone in your life and explain what you are doing, and hopefully why, so they can support you and will be less likely to resent the time you must spend devoted to preparing for this event.
So if you haven't met the qualifications, you can start now. Figure out how long it will take you to get those required races under your belt and get going. Along the way, keep asking questions, talk to people, learn as much as you can, and find a way to get out there and crew so you can see for yourself what's involved. Many runners I know, who are successful at other ultras like Hardrock and Leadville with multiple finishes at both, have told me they went out to crew at Badwater and realized it is not for them. Or they just know, without ever going to Badwater, and they plan never to do it. This is something you want to know before you sign up. If it's not for you, nothing wrong with that. Everyone has their preferences. But if you're considering it, you'll want to know before you invest any effort in it.
2. Be ready to run the distance before you apply for the race.
What? You've never heard of that before? Well first of all, the race director makes sure you are fit because you wouldn't be able to apply without running at least two 100 milers in the year before the race, and you'd better have more than that under your belt.
I think that by the time you apply, since you have to be fit enough to manage the distance, the last 6 months before the race should be icing on the cake. You'll need to be focused on the finer points- maintaining fitness, sharpening, preparing for the heat, preparing for the conditions. Planning what you'll wear, eat, drink, do. Your training time will consist of lots of time on your feet, on the asphalt. Lots of hills, with conditions as hot as possible. Learn how to walk efficiently uphill and on the flats, because you'll need to.
3. Know what you're getting into.
Find someone who's done it before and talk to them. You should know someone, since you need to get crewing experience. Don't know anyone yet? The BW message board is available if you subscribe to the AdventureCorps newsletter at the BW website-it will show you how to connect with someone who needs a crew.
Read and learn as much as you can. The must-reads above, and then read as much from other runners' personal experiences as you can. Check the links section of this blog for my 2008 four-part race report, from my rookie year. Then check the following links for my 2011 race.
2011 Badwater race
Foot Care in the Heat
Other things to consider- the time, the cost. Roughly $5000 or more is a good estimate of what it will cost you, once you figure in everything for crew travel, lodging, food expenses, rental vehicles, gas, equipment, supplies, other training costs, shoes, etc. Oh, and don't forget the $1000 entry fee. Steep as races go, but worth it.
Personally, I get tired of hearing people whine about the entry fee. This is a unique event, with unique requirements for maintaining it as a quality event. The race director does make some money by producing this event, that's the business he's in. When you see what goes on, you'll realize he can't be making too much off of it. If you're going make the effort to do Badwater, the entry fee is really a drop in the bucket.
Figure in time to rest before the race and recover after.
And during the 6 months or so leading up to the race, definitely arrange your schedule so that you can take the time to both train and recover.
Crew will need to be prepared for this too. They need to be prepared for the heat, so heat training and/or sauna training is important for them, too. During the race it's nearly a weeklong commitment for all of you with preparation, recovery, travel, etc.
The 48 hour time limit has worked well. Over the past few years, the temperatures have been milder. But if we get some warm years, as this coming year could be, 48 hours might be a real challenge for some people. It's plenty of time to get to the finish, but you have to keep moving. Taking care of issues like feet are important and can take you off the course for several hours. Keep that in mind when you're thinking about the big picture. Stomach problems are another time-eating issue. Try not to have those in the first place. Read my posts above on how I handled this- I did a much better job in 2011 than I did during my rookie year of 2008.
4. Take the application process seriously.
It's like an essay contest, but you have to have the credentials to back it up. Try to write as much detail as possible, and sound intelligent. There's a reason why BW is hard to get into- the race director and staff absolutely do not want anyone to die, get sick or injured out on the course. This is an opportunity to run a unique race under dangerous conditions and in today's legal climate the fact that we can run this on these state highways through public lands- including a National Park- is somewhat of an act of kindness and good will on the part of all the entities involved. Don't risk the future of the race. Read the rules, like the application says. If it sounds like it's strict and rigid on the rules, it is, and for good reason, and you will get in trouble for varying from the established rules. Having each and every crew member and runner know the rules is crucial.
Oh yeah, one more thing. The media are there, there is a lot of attention paid to the runners and the event. You don't want to be caught on camera doing anything you wouldn't want your boss or your grandmother to see.
5. Have a plan in mind for how you will prepare for the conditions.
At Badwater, you need to be both physically and mentally prepared for heat, sleep deprivation, temperature extremes, foot care, hydration, caloric intake, and dealing with difficult and unexpected situations.
Art Webb's article on the BW website helped me more than anything else to make a plan for getting used to the sauna. I won't include the link here, I'll make you dig for it. That way you'll have to see all the other good information on there, too.
John Vonhof not only has a great book, he has an excellent website/blog on foot care too. The must-reads, above, will help you prepare for other conditions you will encounter, such as it being cold up at Whitney Portal, and sometimes at the higher elevations of the course. Seventy degrees or cooler can feel cold when you've been running in 115, and are depleted of energy. Sometimes it rains, or gets windy too.
6. Plan for crew, expenses, major equipment and supplies.
Now is the time, if you have not already started, to build your crew. Preferably you have already obtained commitments from a solid group of people. No head cases, no people who are in it for anything other than doing their best to get you to the finish line. They might get a few perks like building their BW resume for a future shot at running the race, but the main point of being there is to help you succeed. Seriously, you'll want to interview and get references on your prospective crew members, especially if you don't know them beforehand.
Make your reservations the minute you find out your entry is accepted. Don't hesitate.
Plan to acquire in advance any important equipment you'll need, that you can't buy out there before the race.
If at all possible, plan to go to Death Valley for a training run with at least one of your crew members in the last couple of months before the race, once it gets hot. Having been there recently and in the heat is a great confidence builder, and will help you to work out some kinks before race day.
7. Have a contingency plan for everything you can think of!
What if a crew member backs out at the last minute? What if the things you trained with (food, drinks, clothing) don't work during the race? What if one of your two vehicles breaks down? What if you can't get ice along the course? What if, What if. The more prepared you are, the less likely it will happen.
8. Plan to have fun.
It's fun. It's a blast. You will meet the most inspiring people, have the most fun you've ever had at a race, take home stories and memories to last a lifetime, build strong friendships, and so on. It's priceless.
Are you seeing a pattern here? Plan, prepare, prepare, plan. It's all in the planning. I have a supply list I'm willing to share if you write me.
Feel free to send a comment, you can also write me at sherunnoftatgmaildotcom if you have specific questions you don't want to put in the comments. But the beauty of blogging is that it is public, and everyone can see and benefit from the comments, questions, and answers. I can guide you to the best sources of information.
If you read the BW website and the links above carefully, and follow my advice, it's all there for you to learn. The old saying, To fail to plan is to plan to fail, applies here more than anything. Now that you've read this, you are a step ahead of everyone else who hasn't.