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2018 Badwater 135-Mile Ultramarathon Experience (Part 5)

13 08 2018

2018 Badwater 135-Mile Ultramarathon Experience (Part 5)

From Towne Pass To Panamint Springs

I consider the stretch from Stovepipe Wells To Towne Pass as the most difficult section of the course due to the following: 1) the runner had already ran a distance of 40 miles without sleep and exhaustion is about to creep in; 2) it’s the 2nd morning and the temperature is almost the same when one started and it can rise up to 127 degrees Fahrenheit in the middle of the day; 3) if the runner has the tendency to have an imbalance of electrolytes in his body system, the body will not be able to process whatever food intake, whether they are in the form of gels, liquid, or solid food; and 4) and the relentless uphill climb which is about 5% to 10% gradient where you can see the point where you should reach at a distance is too much to bear and think that particular uphill climb is endless.

On Our Ascent To Towne Pass

Tess and I were well-supported by our Support Vehicle and Crew on this portion/segment as they would stop to refill our hydration bottles every 500 meters to 1 kilometer. Tess would be only treated with Ice Cold Water spray by our team once she reaches the Support Vehicle. Sometimes, I would use the water from my Simple Hydration to douse ice cold water to Tess’ head. However, I did not have the plan or thought of carrying the ice cold sprayer bottle while I was pacing her. There are pacers who would follow their runners behind with a bottle sprayer and it was my first time to see such. By doing this, there is a tendency for the ice cold water to become a hot water while it is being carried by the Pacer due to the heat of the environment. The ice I place in my Simple Hydration bottle whenever I reach the Support Vehicle would be easily transformed to a hot water in a few minutes while I was following Tess. As compared with the Salomon Collapsible Bottles which I had for my electrolyte drinks, I’ve observed that the coldness of the liquid stays longer than the ice water in my Simple Hydration Bottle. During my pacing job to Tess, I was carrying with one Simple Hydration Bottle with Ice, and later melted to Ice water; and a 20-ounce Salomon Collapsible Bottle with my NUUN Electrolyte drink. So, for our relentless climb to Towne Pass, we repeatedly refilled our bottles whenever we reached our Support Crew/Vehicle. We also had the time to ingest some food available in our Support Vehicle.

We had KIND Fruit & Nut Bars (my primary food intake); fresh fruits (apple bites and ice cold watermelon); Rice O Roni; Champorado; Cookies; Sandwiches (prepared by Jas); Noodles; Pizza; Peanut Butter; Ham; Gels; Bundaberg Ginger Beer; and Ice Cold Soda (Coke & Mountain Dew). These food were prepared and served to us during the run, most specially along this segment of the course. I bought two packs (8 pieces) of KIND Fruit & Nut Bars and two packs (8 bottles) of Bundaberg Ginger Beer which I intend to use as my source of food and cure/treatment for any GI issues I might have during the run. I offered/gave one KIND Bar to Tess on our uphill climb to Towne Pass but she only took a bite and returned the remaining bar to me. I was then forcing her to eat some solid food but she would prefer her instant Champorado. I ate the remaining bar and consistently fueled by this fruit & nut bar which is a mix of sweet and salty tastes. I also started to introduce her to drink the Ice Cold Bundaberg Ginger Beer to make her stomach settle due to her frequent throwing out of her food and drinks from her stomach. I wanted her to finish one bottle during the course of our run for a few kilometers but she would not want it. Frankly speaking, this Ginger Beer and my NUUN Electrolyte Drinks had arrested my problem on my GI issues of not being able to fully process my ingested food in my stomach.

Bundaberg Ginger Beer

Our pace/speed was on the average at this segment even if we slowed when we were about 2 miles from the peak of Towne Pass. I told Tess that we will be able to even up or make up for our lost time as we descend from the peak of Towne Pass. It was a matter time as we relentlessly power-hiked the remaining portion before we crest the top most portion of the Pass.

After we refilled and re-fueled on top of the Pass, we tried to increase our pace/speed and we were making good with it. However, the strong crosswind coming from our right side or right portion of the mountain pass was so strong that it slowed us down. Coupled with the heat of the day, we would hike and run but our hike would become longer than the time we would run or jog.

At this point, I could see that Tess could not cope up with the increase pace that I would like her to attain. So, we walked and I allowed her to dictate the pace of our run/jo/hike down from Towne Pass. There was a time that she asked for a Peanut Butter Sandwich and that she had to throw it away after a bite on the side of the road. As for me, I would eat everything that I was offered by our Support Crew. Even if I was running and jogging, I was still fresh because I had only about 20 miles of running from Stovepipe Wells. Plus the fact that I was well hydrated and fueled by the solid foods I was eating/ingesting.

There are two important things that I did to entertain Tess while I was pacing her: First, talk to her and ask her about her past sports and past “love life”, however, I was not sure if it made her more motivated during the run or it made her weaker for asking her. Second, my regular Farting behind her made her laugh and smile at first but when it was becoming repeatedly heard, I was not sure if the smell had jolted her body system once in a while or had to stop breathing just to let the smell pass away from us.

The descending portion from Towne Pass would cover almost 9 miles and we would stop from time to time to refuel and refill our bottles. As we reached the bottom portion of the Pass, it was again another seemingly flat but increasingly uphill climb to Panamint Springs which could be seen from a distance. It was another challenge to us to be boringly looking up to the place of our destination along a straight wide road as if it is an endless road to run. The 7-mile road portion up to Panamint Springs seems to be easy but the strong headwind coming from the desert was battering us head on to our uphill climb pace. We would run/jog and hike to reach our Support Vehicle repeatedly.

Endless Road To Panamint Springs

There was a time that our Support Vehicle would park away from us longer than one kilometer that it took us more effort to reach it because of the hot headwind that would meet us along the way. Our Team would look for a more stable shoulder where they would park in order to avoid from being being stucked in the place and need someone to help them push the vehicle. I would complain that they had parked so far that we had consumed already our water before we reached them. At this point, I was feeling dehydrated but I would drink a lot of water and electrolyte drinks just to arrest and remedy such situation.

This uphill climb to Panamint Springs is very memorable as runners would hear the roar of jet planes or fighter jets of the US Air Force in a nearby Air Base passing and crossing above the route. There was a time that you can feel and hear the roar of a passing fighter jet plane on top of you but when you try to look up in the sky, you could no longer see any figure or form of a jet in the horizon. I would learn later after the race that this place is the training ground of the famous Stealth Jet Bombers which you could hardly see because of its speed and its appearance to blend with the sky.

At Panamint Springs Time Station/Cottage Area

It took us a lot of time to reach the Panamint Springs and the last two miles was too painful for Tess as she lagged behind down the road. I went ahead of her to the Time Station just to make sure that the Race Marshals were there to check us. Finally, Tess arrived at the Time Station at Panamint Springs weak and exhausted. She told me that she will have a shower at the “Cottage” and try to sleep for some time but she was already telling me to DNF at this point. I suggested her not to think of pulling the plug off at this place as she has at least 35-40 minutes buffer time before the cut-off time and we have a lot of time to reach Darwin after her rest at Panamint Springs. She has 9 hours to cover 17 miles to Darwin and after reaching Father Cowley’s Pass Vista Point which is 5 miles from Panamint Springs, it is all downhill and flat roads to Darwin for the remaining 12 miles before the next cut-off time of 5:00 AM of Tuesday morning.

Panamint Springs Restaurant

While Tess was having her shower and sleep/rest in the “Cottage”, we had the time to refuel/gas up our Supply Vehicle; resupply our stock of Ice but instead bought frozen bottled water by the gallon (8 gallons of frozen water) due to the fact that the 6,000 packs of Ice prepared for the event were all sold out as early as 6:00 PM of Tuesday; and we were able to have our first decent dinner/meal during the event Panamint Springs Restaurant; and we also had time to have our first Shower/Bath at the Park across the road from the Restaurant. The shower was Free with Towels. We ordered food for Tess but she did not mind touching it after she woke up from her sleep. The food that we ate at the Restaurant was the most expensive one that we had in California and to think of it that the food we ate were pasta and hamburger meals!

Tess was already reluctantly and forced herself to DNF at this point when she finished her shower and nap. I talked to the Race Marshal at the Time Station and told me that there are still at least 3 runners behind us and about 25 runners had DNFd already before reaching Panamint Springs! Wow! I was surprised later to know that at least 3 former Champions and Course Record Holders had DNFd at Stovepipe Wells and some at Furnace Creek.

We were able to encourage Tess to push up to the peak of Father Cowley’s Pass with Khris as the Pacer with the arrangement that I would pace Tess again once they reached the peak. Tess and Khris left Panamint Springs at 9:30 PM with 3 other runners left behind at the Cottage.

After 3 kilometers, I parked our Support Vehicle in a designated Parking Space at this ascending zigzag part of the route. It took Tess and Khris 1.5 hours to hike the distance. Again, Tess pleaded to DNF but we would find a way to ease her GI issues by giving her White Flower Ointment. The ointment made her continue but after two kilometers, I was told by Khris that Tess would be holding his arms as they walked along the road. I drove the Support Vehicle to the Parking Area of the Father Cowley’s Pass Vista Point (Peak). As I was driving, I would see Tess lying on the road while Khris was giving her massage on her legs. At this point, I have concluded that Tess is done with the race. The distance of 8 kilometers from Panamint Springs to the Father Cowley Pass Vista Point had been very painful and brutal to Tess’ condition and it took her almost 4 hours to reach the peak. There was no way she would recover and then cover another distance of 12 miles (20 kilometers) for 4 hours (5:00 AM Tuesday is the next cut-off time in Darwin) with her condition.

While we were parked at the Vista Point, the Park Ranger/Race Marshal would come to us and inform us that our runner were seen by them to be lying on the road. At the Support Vehicle, we waited for the arrival of Tess and Khris and our Race was over.

We are bound for Lone Pine, California, 35 miles away, and it will be my 2nd night without sleep as a Driver and Pacer of the Support Vehicle and Tess, respectively.

I wonder if I could still drive with one eye open and the other eye closed and reached Lone Pine safely.

To be continued…..

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The Cost Of Badwater 135-Mile Ultramarathon

5 08 2018

I am reposting this blog by Pam Smith aka The Turtle Path which was posted on August 3, 2018. Pam Smith was the Champion of the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Race in 2013 with a time of 18:37+ hours when Timothy Olson broke the Course Record. She finished 6th Overall and First-Runner-Up in The Female Category with a time of 28:47:53 hours in this year’s Badwater 135-Mile Ultramarathon.

It is my intention to write a separate blog on this particular topic as part of my observation and experience as the Chief Crew of Ms Tess Leono. However, since I am not “in the know” of the actual expenses that my runner had incurred before, during, and after the event, my estimate of expenses will be purely not exact and accurate and that is why it will be always considered as an “estimate of expenses”.

For an International Runner coming from Southeast Asia like the Philippines, a runner would add more of its expenses if he/she would pay for the flight fares of his/her support crew from the country where the runner is coming from. With an average of $1,200 per person, you can add another $4,800 to the total expenses. Merchandise and Souvenirs are not included in Pam Smith’s expenses and I would estimate another $300 for this purpose. International Runners like the Filipinos are fond of having some items for souvenir for the event like, Badwater T-shirts, Caps, Buffs or Stickers. Another thing that was not included is the Uniform T-Shirts/Long-Sleeved Shirts of the Team to include those OSHA gear aka Reflectorized Vests/Shirts and Blinkers. There is also a need to buy, at least, two (2) big Coleman Coolers, if possible, able to fit the core portion of the body of the runner if there is a need to submerge his/her body with ice water, to bring down the body temperature of the runner.

So, there you go! If you have any plan to join in one of the future editions of the Badwater 135-Mile Ultramarathon, you better start saving now or have a plan where to source your logistics and financial support. Good luck!

The Cost of Badwater

Every big ultra has its critics these days, and Badwater is no different. However, if you pay attention, almost all of the Badwater criticism comes from those outside the event; those who have participated are full of appreciation and praise. I am a cynic by nature and I admit there was plenty to make me skeptical as well. However, after participating in the race, I, too am a convert and you will only hear me say good things. That being said, the indisputable fact is that Badwater is a VERY expensive race and if this race is on your bucket list you might need to start saving a few years in advance!

Here is a breakdown of my costs. I believe I spent significantly less than the average person, but there are a few places which I noted below where you could shave off a few more dollars.

Badwater entry fee – $1500. This is probably the most criticized thing about Badwater – a $1500 entry  fee and they don’t even have aid stations! This starts to make a little more sense when you are there when it finally dawns on you that Death Valley is really the middle of NOWHERE and there are no locals to help out, meaning many people have to be put up in hotels. There are a few niceties offered to runners, such as a cottage room in Panamint and a post race dinner for everyone. I will say the race had more officials for monitoring and safety on course than any race I have ever been at. Race officials found me three times to try to help me with my tracker (not entirely successful, but still appreciated) and I used the cottage room and footcare available at Panamint. Yes, the race is for profit and I am sure the RD gets a decent wage from the race, but this is now fairly commonplace in ultra running. The price is steep, but the only way around this is to pledge to raise $7500 for charity.

Crew Travel: $1200. Standard practice at Badwater is for the runner to pay entirely for the crew. This includes travel, lodging and hotels. My pacer Dennis and I drove from Oregon and crew chief Jimmy drove from L.A, significantly cutting travel costs. I paid $660 for my sister’s flight and $515 for my other pacers flight. It was worth every penny to have them there with me, but if you want to keep crew costs down, stick with three crew members instead of four and find crew that doesn’t have to fly to get to Death Valley. (Update: Others have noted “standard practice” is to pay for crew once they get to Death Valley but for crew to pay their own travel. That would certainly mitigate expenses.)

Van: $750. I rented a van for a week for $525. I was a little taken aback when the person picking up the van added the $30/day insurance; however, this ended up being a good thing as we spilled dirty water in the van and it stunk to high heaven when we were done with it. The crew also reported there were a lot of places that it was easy to open doors into rocks. Anyway, we probably could’ve gotten by without the insurance, but it was nice to know we didn’t have to worry about anything we did to it while racing.

Hotels: $1900. I had two hotel rooms for two nights in Furnace Creek and two rooms for two nights in Lone Pine, plus one extra night while traveling. Both places outside of Furnace Creek, we stayed at Best Western, which has air-conditioning (about half the hotels in Lone Pine don’t – your crew will thank you for the AC!) and a free breakfast (decreased food costs!). I got 10% off with my Costco card. I paid $127 in Fallon, NV and $141 x 4 in Lone Pine, both of which seemed reasonable. Furnace Creek  is where you will pay an arm and a leg – nearly $300 per night per room – and anyone looking to save money should think about staying elsewhere and driving to the Sunday race briefing and the Monday night time start.  I had my crew come in Sunday, which worked out fine in the end, but most people arrived Saturday which made for a bit more leisure time and less stressful race prep, but certainly adds to the costs, especially if that means more nights in Furnace Creek.

Gas- $500. This was 6 tanks of gas to and from Oregon, plus three tanks of gas for the van to and from LA and during the race.

Food – $500; Groceries -$150. A huge chunk of this was a $190 crew dinner on Sunday at the nicest place in Furnace Creek. On the bright side my crew didn’t do much drinking and they weren’t into dessert. 😉 I brought a lot of groceries from Oregon and several crew members traveled with food, which meant we had snacks and race food covered.

Ice- $138. That’s 200 pounds of cube ice plus two frozen water jugs. Be prepared to be gouged on the ice pricing in Panamint (and severely limited) but every place else was reasonable and plentiful.

Race Items and Supplies – $120. This is where I spent nearly nothing but you could easily rack up big bills here. Driving from Oregon meant I could bring things like coolers, sunscreen, towels, chairs, and spray bottles from home instead of buying when I got there. Critical gear includes: calf sleeves, arm sleeves, a high coverage hat, ice bandanas, and full protection sunglasses but I already owned all those things (and actually didn’t pay for any of them originally either!). I also wore clear glasses for most of the second night but I used a free pair of protective eye goggles I got from the hospital where I work. I did not buy any of the “add-ons” offered by the race, such as signs or crew shirts, nor did I have any matching team shirts for my crew (they have to be in OSHA gear anyway, so not like anyone really sees them on race day!). Next time (yes, I said that!) I will buy better OSHA gear because I borrowed and skimped and we should’ve had a little higher quality stuff. I did buy 8 red blinky lights ($28) and 10 “Biffy bags” ($25) (cheaper online than through the race) as required, plus one OSHA vest ($8), and an umbrella ($14). I was able to borrow coolers and water jugs from a local race as well as a crew member and only bought one extra large cooler at Walmart for $60.

Total: ~$6,800. That’s a hefty price tag for a single race! (Now think about the ten time finishers or Marshall Ulrich and his 23 Badwater starts – yikes!). As one friend and excellent Badwater candidate told me, “I’d much rather vacation in Europe for that kind of money.” It’s hard to argue with that, and as such, a lot of top runners will never be on the starting line of this race. However, there’s a reason this is an iconic race and it was definitely a unique and special experience.

Badwater Check-In & Merchandise Sale








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