Scatter my ashes here...

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

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Badwater runners, CREW and anyone else planning on being in Death Valley this summer for the Badwater Ultramarathon, if you haven't started your heat training by now, that should be a BIG priority.

Don't wait any longer. The race is only 2 months away and this year is shaping up to be a hot one...

Last year in May and June I went down to Arizona to do some heat training in the desert and the temperature was only into the 90s in May and barely cracked 100 in June. This year, it's already been 112 in Death Valley, and it's only mid-May.

I'm not only referring to the runners here, I'm talking about the equally important CREW. Runners need to be diligent about heat training, but they usually do their homework. It's the crews who have often been less prepared for the conditions.

A Hot Year

In 2003 I crewed and paced for my friend Ken Eielson. That was the year it was 133 degrees. I also crewed for Josh Miller in 2002, when it was was 127 degrees. I remember how intense the heat was, and yes, there really is a difference between 115, 120, and 130. Those two years I was living in the Arizona desert and one of the things I did to prepare myself was a 30 mile run on a 117 degree day in Phoenix, where I stayed overdressed most of the day.

I didn't have access to a sauna back then, but I'd park my car in the driveway, roll the windows up tight, and sit there baking for up to an hour with a magazine, a good supply of ice water and electrolyte replacement. My neighbors thought I was nuts, and it was uncomfortable, but I paced Ken the whole way from Furnace Creek to Stovepipe Wells that year and I had no problems with the heat.

Sauna training, overdressing and running in the heat, cranking up the heater in your car, attaching a hose to your clothes dryer and a hot suit and running on a treadmill, or whatever contraptions you use to prepare for the heat, make sure you're doing plenty of it.

Crew Preparation

I can't emphasize enough to runners that they insist their crews be prepared for the heat. Crews are the ones who tend to be less heat-trained, even if they are endurance athletes themselves.

Being in a hot car and staying busy tending to the runners needs makes it easy to neglect your own needs as a crew member- staying hydrated, cooling down, getting out of the sun, eating enough, getting enough electrolyte replacement.

Crews, you have to be on top of things in the extreme heat for your runner's sake. To function well under such intense conditions you are going to have to take of yourselves. Not only do you need a plan for the runner, but you need an equally important crew plan. You won't be running the A/C in your vehicles, so you'll be exposed, too. Inside a vehicle is hotter than outdoor air.

If it's your first time, if you can get out there to experience that kind of heat before the race, along with any or all of your crew, it would be a good reality check. Everyone on the crew should be doing some kind of heat training. Especialy if they aren't normally exposed to hot conditions. Even people who live in warm climates can easily be overpowered by the intensity of a 130 degree day.

If a crew member is new to intense heat and hasn't experienced anything like Badwater conditions, it's a good idea that they check with their own physician before jumping into a heat training program or just showing up in Death Valley in mid-July. If you have some undetected medical condition, it could become a serious, even life-threatening problem out there. I can't emphasize this enough. Don't assume that being a healthy, active person, or even a well-conditioned runner, under normal conditions, qualifies you to physically tolerate 130 degree heat.

Crew Supplies

Crew supplies include sunscreen, hats, clothing to protect them from the sun like those Sun Precautions suits, ice bandanas, towels for covering up hot vinyl like steering wheels, seats, and other items that heat up in the vehicle, towels for placing over the body with ice and ice water, enough ice for the crew to use for themselves, enough electrolyte replacement, water, and drinks for crew members, cotton gloves for touching hot metal on the outside of the vehicle, shadescreens for the windshield when the vehicle is parked for a period of time.

You'll need sunscreen, hand wipes and ways to keep the sunscreen from getting into the runner's drinks and drinkable ice, be careful keeping any food that could spoil. I advise avoiding thing that spoil altogether- certain fruits such as melons, anything with mayonnaise in it, anything with a short shelf life or that needs constant refrigeration under normal coonditions. At least one person on each crew or crew shift should be taking extra care of the crew, making sure everyone is getting adequate fluids and breaks from the heat.

Be Prepared for The Worst: A Backup Plan

You need a backup plan in case something happens. What if Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells, or Panamint Springs run out of ice? Where will you go? Lone Pine, Beatty, Pahrump? A backup plan includes a cooler large enough and enough extra ice that in an emergency, everything could be dumped out and the person can be cooled down in it. Have an emergency plan of what to do if someone does get sick. Plan for the worst, and keep the evil spirits away!

Knowledge is Power

For information on heat illness and how to prevent it, the Badwater website has great information. Check out all of those articles on heat training. Read every single one.

Everyone is going to suffer some degree of heat discomfort out there. The key is to stay on top of it, get ahead of it before it becomes serious heat illness, and know when your body is starting to heat up. It's time to cool down before you get uncomfortable, don't wait until you feel really bad. See my post on "Lessons Learned" about my cooldown breaks.

Stay Away From Me!

I'm looking forward to being on the medical team again this year and as much as I love seeing the runners and their crews at Badwater, I'd rather pass you on the road seeing you moving forward, smiling, or giving a thumbs-up. Other than that, I don't want to see you until the post-race party.

With just two months to go, it's enough time that you can adequately prepare for the heat. But don't wait any longer. Even if you follow a formal training plan such as Art Webb's excellent sauna training program that lasts 4 weeks leading up to the race, some extra preparation is a smart idea this year.

Be safe, and make your Death Valley experience a successful and enjoyable one.

photo credits: Nathan Nitzky

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