BY: ADDIE GREEN
I dove into all the books and documentaries about running that I could find. Somehow I came across Running on the Sun but I never thought I would ever attempt 100 miles and much less something like Badwater. “Those people are crazy...” That was five years, 14 marathons, three fifty-milers, 3 hundred-milers and 1 hundred and fifty-miler ago, when I began running.
Now, Badwater suddenly doesn't seem so crazy and things that seemed impossible don't seem so far fetched. I am now surrounded by people attempting the “impossible” and pushing their minds and bodies to the absolute extreme. One of those people who share my crazy dreams is my boyfriend Mike. When Mike got into Badwater this year it was just a given that I would be his crew chief.
Getting ready for such an adventure was no different than my usual 100 mile training, except for a few more miles of bridge work for this flat-lander. I knew it would be hot, but as a South-Floridian I am used to mid day runs in 100 degree temperatures. “No big deal right?” I ate my words…big time.
We arrived in Death Valley on Saturday and stepped into a sandstorm. Instant panic of “what the hell did I get myself into?” I went for a few runs to acclimate myself and immediately felt like I stepped into a hair dryer and freaked out when my cold water bottle turned hot (I mean HOT) within a quarter-mile.
I knew then that I had my work cut out for me to keep Mike cool, calm, collected and most of all… running. Sunday’s sight-seeing left me in complete shock as we drove up the first two climbs of the course. Looking back from the top of Father Crowley was simply the most breathtaking view I have ever laid my eyes on, but as my breath was taken away by the beauty, I was quickly reminded of what we had to tackle just to get our runner to that point. I had crewed many times before, but this time it would be really serious. So much beauty in this desert, but she could easily destroy you if you don’t respect her.
Mike would start his race in the elite wave of 11pm (in 122 degree heat), meaning we would already be tired going into the race. We woke up early that morning for a final breakfast and meeting, I then sent Mike to bed while I went for a final run and drive into Nevada for last minute supplies. The race started out perfectly until about mile 42, then the pressure was on to make cut off. Until then, Mike wasn’t allowed a pacer so the job of filling bottles, tracking calories and filling ice bandanas was pretty routine and robotic.
A “sprint” up to 2,000 ft of elevation meant he would reach cut off within 8 minutes, but would be absolutely battered and broken. We worked tirelessly from then on to keep him moving, massaging, stretching, encouraging, spraying him down, pacing, mixing calories, writing everything down, setting alarms, drinking, popping blisters, stopping a bloody nose more than once, carrying up to 4 bottles at a time, swatting horse flies, dressing up like wolves, carrying Biffy bags (look it up) managing medications and really trying not to complain as we also battled the pavement temperatures of 170 in the Panamint Valley. Thanks Volée crop top, stride shorts, spandos and Lesko bra! We made that cut off by 3 hours, so I felt good about that and we kept pushing.
The real job came on night two when we were all sleep deprived (we were out of coffee to add insult to injury). Mike begged me for a 30minute nap and we negotiated it down to 20 minutes. While everyone tried to shut their eyes, I stayed awake to make sure we didn’t miss the alarm. Watching Mike to be sure he was still breathing the stars fell all around me. I kept reminding myself to take it all in and in the moments of despair, I would encourage Mike to do the same.
I continually felt like we were in another world. The reality is, not a single picture I took fully captured what we were all seeing. Not a camera in the world will ever do the desert justice and there are no words to fully explain it. The mysterious desert would also leave me with some horrible hallucinations in the middle of the night (baby elephants and dancing jack in the box).
That trek up Mount Whitney reminded me “If it's gonna hurt this bad, we might as well make it worth it.” I took him up that last climb and made him repeat that phrase over and over. Even with the finish line within grasp, your mind tries to tell you that you can’t. I asked Mike to stop at one point and turn around, he could see all that he had tackled and pushed through. I said, “You did the hard part, now just get your buckle.”
Overwhelmed with tears, we marched up Whitney, the skies opened up and hailed on us. Yes, Hail! With a stormy welcome, we reached the finish and it was over. He got his buckle and those 40 hours suddenly felt like they went by so quickly. I was exhausted beyond measure, but somehow I wanted to experience it all over again.
Crewing Badwater is truly the hardest thing I have ever done, but simply the most rewarding. Watching every single runner battle through is awe-inspiring. You truly have to see it for yourself, its next-level kind of heart and soul. The whole experience in the desert is eye opening… A reminder of just how small we are, what real life is without the hustle and bustle, being open to adventure and conquering fears. I do not think a single person leaves there the same person and a piece of their soul drifts along the sand dunes forever.
“One sits down on desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs and gleams…”- Antoine De Saint Exupery