Scatter my ashes here...

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

Friday, January 6, 2012

So, Ya Think Ya Want to Run Badwater...


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.
Lessons Learned
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.

Do it!


Mike said...

Alene...Once again thank you for sharing your wealth of experience on Ultrarunning and all things Badwater.

EricG said...

Alene, Great post. I have crewed twice and think all the information you have offered is fantastic and valuable. One question. You mention a qualifying standard of 2 hundreds during the prior year. Has something changed that is not yet posted on the Badwater web site? It was and still says 1 hundred. Peace E

Alene Gone Bad said...

Thanks for your comments, Mike & Eric. Eric, I believe the qualifying standards are slightly different depending on whether you've finished Badwater before. They can change from year to year. The best thing to do is go to and read on the qualifying standards, whatever is posted there at the time you can send in your application is the final word. I'm not sure if he has posted the 2012 standards yet, but the application process doesn't start until February 1. If you're applying, good luck, and I hope to see you in Death Valley at some time in the future!

Horrie said...

Very well written Alene. People, in case you don't know, did the Badwater Double in 2011. So I would take this advice as gospel.

Alene Gone Bad said...

Horrie! How are you? Thanks for the comment. I still remember leapfrog-running over Towne Pass with you. I hope all is well with you.

Raj Vadgama said...

Alene : thank you very much for Golden words ,, one breath and read it fully , yes this is what i am dreaming about and Promise to see u and others in 2013,
i will appreciates if get more and more information on preperation, training, nutrition to achieve the best for qualifying for BW.

Alene Gone Bad said...

Raj, best of luck to you in your goal of Badwater. Everyone has a different method of training, nutrition, and preparation. If you read the books and the links I included, you will learn all you need to know about preparation. There are tips on training and nutrition if you read the links at the Badwater website. And learn what works best for you through experience running ultras. I hope to see you there in the future!

Chris Roman said...

Alene, so well written and spot on. Everyone who aspires to be a part of the race needs to read this. Having crewed for Tony Portera in 2010 and run the race last year there is no other place/race/family that I cherish more than Badwater. Preparation needs to be meticulous from all aspects beginning way, way before the application. It is the true passion that folks like you and Chris K have that make it so special. Honored and thankful to be a part of the Badwater family everyday of my life :)

Alene Gone Bad said...

Chris, thank you so much for your comments. I hope to see you at Badwater again in the future. Like you, I am honored and thankful to have been a part of Badwater and hope to continue being a part of it each July. As you learned, success at Badwater depends on being prepared and putting a lot of energy into that preparation, not just physical training energy, but way beyond that- mental, spiritual, etc. With Death Valley as the backdrop, it doesn't get any better than this!

Nattu said...

Very nicely written Alene. The first time I did Badwater I was essentially a weakend warrior with many, many terrible runs. The one thing that really, really helped my confidence was traveling to DV and training on the course. The first year I did it, I went to train there both Memorial Day weekend and July 4th weekend. The next two times I went there once three weekends before the race and ran from Furnace Creek to a little beyond Panamint Springs (where there are many narrow, blind turns). This helped me fine tune gear, nutrition plan and other logistics and boost my confidence. Obviously this involves additional cost but if you can afford it I'd highly recommend it.

Alene Gone Bad said...

Nattu, That is great advice. Yes, training on the course is the best way to figure out what to expect during the race. If you can bring one of your crew members along for this, it's even better for boosting the crew's confidence. Happy running, and I hope I'll see you on the roads this year!

Matt Ruscigno said...

This is a fantastic list of resources for Badwater. As a 2x race official I have to say that I'm glad you included having fun! This is anecdotal of course, but I've found that runners having fun are more likely to finish!

Alene Gone Bad said...

Matt, absolutely, having fun is the whole point, isn't it? I can remember running the stretch leading up to Darwin and passing people as my pacer and I were laughing hysterically at whatever crazy things that seem funny after 90 miles in the heat, that no one else in their right mind could ever understand. I remember my pacer, Ed, blowing bubbles and wearing his running skirt. No one would mess with a 6'5" guy wearing a pink skirt and blowing bubbles...
hope to run into you in Death Valley!

Raj Vadgama said...

Alene : thks for quick reply, yes it will help me if you suggest book, so can ask few runner from US to get it for me:) fortunately we have similar condition here in India , Rajasthan , where planning to run 100 mile in April which is hottest in April,also lined up three more 100 mile race in India, hope i can make out.

Alene Gone Bad said...

Raj, go to and they should have both books. If no luck there, I think should have at least one of them. I'm not sure as far as getting them to you in India. The Badwater website has a lot of good information and John's website is, you can go in the archives of his blog for specific information about heat and Badwater. Good luck with your running!

Gingergav said...

Fabuluous, inspiring, mental. Just completed my first marathon, so maximum respect to you ultra athletes - I cannot imagine how the highs and low the lows of Badwater must be. Go get it!

Alene Gone Bad said...

Gingergav, Congratulations on your first marathon finish! I think it's similar in a lot of ways to running your first marathon. It just lasts longer.

Lauren D said...

Thanks for being open and honest with your experiences. I am planning to crew a friend in the 2012 race. As a long time runner I am excited and humbled to be a part of this experience. But moreso, I am scared! There is so much room for error. I am reading and researching like a madwoman, and hoping that will work. Do you think it's necessary to have a member of your crew be a BW veteran runner or crewmember? If so, we need to find one, and I am worried about how to make that happen.

Alene Gone Bad said...

Lauren, I think it's important to have someone who has been there because if you go out there with no one on the crew knowing what to expect, there's going to be an even greater learning curve. The heat alone will blow you out of the water, plus the intensity of crewing for this race is unlike crewing any other race. It's not like a regular race where you have time to regroup between times you see the runner. You are ON, ON, ON constantly. You need to be thinking on your feet, knowing what to anticipate, and be prepared for the unexpected. Your runner will have needs during this race that might seem unreasonable or even impossible to meet if no one has ever crewed this one before. I am sure it's been done before, but I don't think it's a good idea unless everyone on your crew is solid, reliable, mature, and bombproof in the heat. Otherwise you risk too many things that could go wrong and your runner will suffer the most from it. I strongly advise against having a crew with absolutely no Badwater experience. Keep your eyes peeled on the message boards.

Unknown said...

I have a question, I have a hip injury, im going thru a couple of surgeries and then I would like to try BW, do you take people with previous injuries?

Alene Gone Bad said...

Felipe, I don't speak for the race, you can find entry requirements on the race website. As a person who has run Badwater twice, I can say that you'll want to make sure you are fully recovered and healed from any injuries or surgeries and fully trained and ready to run this event before you consider applying. Good luck.