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JOURNEY THROUGH HELL
Writes Ben Jones, Mayor of Badwater: "I have just received a wonderful story about Arthur Webb's perception of what the Badwater race is all about."
ARTHUR WEBB'S BADWATER 2000 STORY
It has been several weeks since the Badwater race and I am at home still licking my wounds. I am finding it hard to figure out where to start this story. For a myriad of reasons, I have found it very difficult to generate enough steam to even write the thing. It could be that Badwater really pulverized me this year. I am still having lots of trouble recovering and reentering the "real world." But, I figure someone out there may be interested in my struggle out in the desert, so what the hell here goes!!
It is almost 6 AM and all the runners are beginning to assemble at the starting line. There is a Sun Precautions Badwater 2000 banner which straddles a small piece of Highway 178 at Badwater. Since yesterday and, for the last hour, innumerable photos have been taken. There are plenty of hugs and good lucks being passed around to old and newly established friendships which will last a lifetime. As we line up and begin to stare into the teeth of the toughest footrace on this planet, Adam Bookspan, who has already covered 146 miles on his reverse double crossing, begins to honor our presence by playing the National Anthem on his trumpet. As usual it is an extremely emotional few minutes. In a very few seconds, we will be off and running on our own separate journeys into the jaws of the Death Valley torture chamber in an attempt to fulfill our dreams and aspirations of conquering this monstrous undertaking. This is one of the cherished moments which all the Badwater runners hold dear to their hearts. Fully trained, rested, ready to go, and it's only 90 degrees. Perfect except for one minor problem!. I don't know if I can even run 100 feet.
One month ago after an awkward fall off my deck, my left hamstring and sciatic nerve were severely injured. The damage was bad enough that it would take a miracle to get to the starting line. Up until race day, I was treated with a battery of anti-inflammatory drugs, a mountain of pain pills, tons of ice packs, numerous sessions with physical therapists and some acupuncture. High doses of Prednisone were administered five days ago. At that time, I could hardly walk and was completely depressed. Less than two days ago, Dr. Ben Jones gave me a lumbar cortisone trigger injection that successfully relieved a terrible pain in my lower back.
Yet against all odds and everybody's advice, I am here. The cry was for next year. Do it next year when you are healthy, but at my age there may not be many more next years. Besides does anyone remember receiving smart medals for any of the exotic runs we attempt?
A few days earlier, I had called Marshall Ulrich, who was injured and crew-depleted. I offered him my crew and a mini-market stocked van if things went sour. At the very least we would both get to the starting line and maybe even hobble through this thing together.
The word is given and off we go. Surprisingly, everything feels okay as I run a few miles with a pack of my friends and heroes; Lisa Smith, Jay Batchen, Steven Silver, Major Maples, Errol Jones, Maria De Jesus, and others. Unfortunately, Marshall and I have to back off if we are to have any chance of finishing this race. Since we are both sputtering on only a few cylinders, we will have to concentrate on running gingerly during the entire race. Maria De Jesus runs with us for awhile but a case of food poisoning will force her to drop out early. Around the 30-mile mark Kaname Sakurai and Dusan Mravlje, only yards apart and from a race-start time two hours later, were definitely on a mission. They zip on by us. It appears course records are in jeopardy. We are entertained by Kari Marchant, a live wire crew person from Bishop. If one could bottle and sell this wonderful women's personality and magnanimity, he or she would get rich overnight.
Running alone for a time, there is the realization that, for the next two days, the great expanse and immense beauty of this land will mesmerize us all. Amongst all the majesty, glory, and overwhelming beauty of this Death Valley, GOD is here (most likely in the shade). We are all privileged to be running through this magical, inspirational and definitely spiritual place. However, letting ones guard down even for a few minutes in this mystical and peaceful land, will expose you to its brutality. My lifeline crew of John Rodgers, Pilar Dizes and her husband, James, will be at my side to help protect me from this dark side. They will keep me hydrated, fed, and sprayed down with super-soakers for heat protection. They will essentially coddle me the entire race.
Marshall and I slug it out together for some forty miles by running a bit and doing some power walking. As usual, at the Stovepipe dunes and the Devils Cornfield, it gets extremely hot. Some say it got up to 127. The thermal winds seem to always blow down the Valley and across this area. I surge ahead a bit and follow Dean Karnazes. He was on a very good pace (and started later). He eventually turned in a terrific 32-hour race. I veered off the course at Stovepipe Wells Village (41 miles). This would allow me some pool time before Marshall scoots on by. Marshall runs by only minutes later, which means it's time to leave the pool and get going. Feeling somewhat refreshed I am able to run three or four miles up the hill looking for him. I pass Joe Decker who had just scattered the ashes of his beloved friend, Greg Jenkins, around Stovepipe Wells. A sad and honorable tribute to his former crew member, who died caribou hunting in Alaska several months after having been here last year. The heat is again stifling as I finally catch Marshall. He is having his own problems and soon falls into a heap alongside the road. With a bad knee and an Eco-Challenge in Borneo due in three weeks, he will wisely but sadly drop out.
Every year I have a tough bout early going up to Townes Pass (59 miles) and don't know why. I down some chocolate puddings and a couple of Starbuck's frapuccinos (my secret weapon). After my kidneys start to finally kick in, I begin to feel better. During the next ten miles, I hunker down and trudge up what seems to be this never-ending grade. As it gets dark, this trek up Townes Pass appears to be the stairway to heaven. It's as if I am literally walking into and amongst the billions of stars which are splashed across the sky. It is extremely exhilarating. I would have come here just for these few sacred miles. Near the top, we hear from other crews that the Russian runners have had dinner and a beer at Panamint Springs Resort. I get going and am able to run the entire 13 miles to Panamint Springs with the thoughts of scrambled eggs and a couple of beers dancing around in my head. Upon arriving it is no surprise to learn that the lodge is now closed. Darn. Oh well ,the hospitality room should offer a nice respite. After slicing open two large blisters covering both my heels, the diarrhea, which will bother me for the next twenty miles, begins. That's it. I have had trouble in this hospitality room every year and next time will not be stopping here again.
The monumental struggle and crawl up the eight-mile pass to the top at Farther Crowley's Point (80 miles), is next. Usually, I don't feel this fatigued until the Mt. Whitney climb some 42 miles from here. Not a good sign. I generate some energy by looking back across the Panamint Valley and toward Townes Pass at what appears to be a meandering string of white Christmas tree lights. These belong to all the other runners and their crews who are also grinding it out across this course. Spectacular. Yet another reason for coming here.
I am startled and frightened by the appearance of a gigantic and evil looking alien spaceship now hovering over the valley. Great! Now we are all doomed and no one is going to finish this race. My crew attempts to assure me that it is only a sliver of the moon just now cresting the mountains. It is night in the desert when all the demons start crawling out from the dark crevices of the mind and begins to rattle around in our head. Last year, almost in this same location, a large white menacing figure was hunched along the road getting ready for the kill but I was able to get by just in time. My crew said it was only a large white rock, but what do they know.
While lying on the ground making a fruitless attempt at a bit of sleep at Father Crowley's, Clive Saffery, who is looking fairly strong, jogs by. Good. Someone to run with. What's that old expression, "misery loves company." The extreme beauty in the desert this morning is enhanced by the arrival of Dana Prieto and Chris Kostman. Out on body count patrol, they will have to listen to me whine for a few minutes. Next time they will probably drive right on by.
Near the Death Valley boundary sign (95 miles), CHP Sergeant Randy Bierly, the unofficial Badwater grapevine specialist, stops for a few words. Kudos to this fine man for his updated race reports, giving aid, and support to those runners in need, and for citing those attempting to set new land speed records.
As the day begins to heat up, I dog Clive for over 20 miles, but then all my wheels start to come off. I begin having spatial problems and my mind is now out of sync with my body. My legs feel like rubber bands and there are periods of time when I don't know where I am because of all the cortisone flowing through my system. These symptoms will plague me for the next several days. The trek through the Darwin Flats and the Saline Valley turnoff is but a hot blur. By the Darwin checkpoint, walking becomes difficult, yet I am still able to survival shuffle along and the diarrhea is finally gone. I am at least moving forward. I wonder if the large white grave-site cross at mile 96 belongs to a former runner who crawled across the road and just gave up. Makes perfect sense to me.
High up in the pass at the 100-mile mark, where one can view the great stretch of the Owens Valley, I realize that all the down hills will have to be run in order to buckle. Two miles later I re-injure my left hamstring and pull up lame. The next half-mile takes30 minutes. Things are looking very grim. I test out several different pairs of shoes, inserts and sock combinations. I find some relief with a hand full of painkillers and a healthy application of DMSO (horse liniment). While gritting my teeth, I am now able to run the six miles to Keeler (110 miles) (should be renamed Killer).
The next seven miles are the most treacherous. I begin to choke on the smoke and ash from the forest fires and the sand, which is trapped in the super heated winds blowing across the Owens Valley. Then everyone is treated to ten miles of freshly laid 200-degree asphalt that penetrates the entire body like a red-hot skewer. Maybe this is a plot by the race director to make this thing even tougher. Next year we probably will have to run barefooted over ten miles of broken glass. The heat is atrocious and it begins to overwhelm my body. On top of everything else, I am red-lining heat exhaustion, or worse, and have to be packed and draped in ice several times. I am totally blitzed and have never felt this bad anywhere. They may eventually have to scrape me off the course, but I will not willingly drop out so close to my goal. I have been running long enough to know that these bad moments have a way of passing. Besides, what would the kids that I run for, at the Valley of the Moon Children's Home and Crisis Center in Santa Rosa, think? Many of these abused and abandoned children have to face even deeper pain almost everyday. There will be no quitting today. It is good to see Clive Saffery, who had red-flagged temporarily off the course, because of an Achilles problem return to the course. His tireless crew, Roberto de Vito and his adorable wife, Mizue Nagai, from Hong Kong, will help this hardworking warrior finish in a respectful 39 hours. Once cooled off and forcing myself to load up on lots of carbohydrates and juices, I begin to feel better. After a few baby steps, some momentum is generated and I am actually able to run six fairly decent miles into Lone Pine (122 miles), where I catch up with Lisa Smith and Jay Batchen, who are having their own problems. We commiserate for a mile as we walk towards the Whitney Portal Road.
There will be no more running tonight. I am spent and now dragging my left leg behind me. My hamstrings are screaming for relief and my sciatica is now on fire. As Ben Jones stops traffic, I practically crawl across the road seeking some relief at the hotel pool and hot tub. Later it's learned that the "Blister Queen," Denise Jones, was in the area helping other runners. This would have been an opportune time to have been pampered and treated by this lovely lady for the severe blisters on my hamburger- like feet. Better luck next year. After a splash in the water and downing several large malts and a few more frapuccinos, I grab a bag of crunchy cheetos for the Portal climb. Bobb Ankeney, bless his heart, volunteers to guide me up the mountain. The climb is agonizingly slow and extremely torturous. There are ten hours left to buckle and I may have to use every last second. Turning the corner for the final climb, we meet last year's running partner, Steven Silver, and his fine crew person, Jim Wolff. Unfortunately, I am just getting started and he has already turned in a very good 36-hour run. Sour grapes. It's a good thing Bobb is walking with me up this dark mountain. He can protect both of us from the flock of super huge Pterodactyls circling overhead and also from the large group of Yeti-like beasts which have been walking beside us for several miles. Luckily, they disappear as we walk into the switchbacks and finally enjoy the refreshing cool of the mountains. As usual, the switchbacks go on forever and, after passing the last mile-marker, we know that we have this last mile to go. Over the last hump, around the bend, and up the hill, we finally arrive at the finish. I cross the line and slump into a chair. Finally, it is all over. The mind and body as usual are completely shot. The emotional release is held in check and will spill out later in a private moment. The mission was accomplished in 43 hours and 12 minutes.
After watching Lisa and Jay finish and a brief medal ceremony with Lynne Werner, I am stuffed into a car and hauled done the mountain. Halfway down I throw up and almost fall out of the car. At the motel, I throw up, fall out of the car, and then pass out in the middle of the parking lot. I am dragged over to the hot tub and gently tossed in. Everyone finally goes to bed, which gives me several hours alone to soak and reflect.
This Badwater was by far the most difficult race I have ever had to finish. It would have been much easier to stay at home and nurse my injuries than to have come here and suffered all this pain and misery. But, then I would have missed this incredible journey, which was punctuated by the knowledge that once you have crossed the finish line at this race than anything is possible.
Staying at home I would not have met new friends: Scott McQueeney, Dean Karnazes, Johann Pratscher (Austria), Kaname Sakurai (Japan), Kari Marchant, Clive Saffery (Taiwan), Dixie Madsen, Michael Styllas (Greece) and sweet Clare. I would not have witnessed the courage displayed by Paul Stone, Adam Bookspan, Chris Moon, Errol Jones, Scott Weber, Rick Nawrocki, and so many others who had the determination to dig down very deep in order to complete their missions. Then there was Erika Gerhardt, a complete blathering vegetable at Lone Pine, yet still able to somehow struggle 13-miles up to the finish line long after most people had gone home. Commendable. Few people on earth have this much courage. This I would have missed. I would not have been around to enjoy the karaoke jam session and celebration dinner at the Totem Cafe in Lone Pine with Lisa, Jay and their wonderful crew: Sean, Stacy, Bob, David, Buddy, Clare and Bethie. Finally, I would have missed the opportunity to complete this most difficult of all races, after having trekked across the exquisitely beautiful Death Valley. This Badwater race and all the people involved are what I dream of all year. I could not have missed this special treat. I will be back.
A special thank you to Chris and Keith Kostman, Dana Prieto Tanaka and all the fine people helping from AdventureCorps. Without all your hard work, there would not have been a race. It was also nice to see Matt Frederick and Karen Raby (both formerly with Hi-Tec Sports, USA, Inc.) again.
Thank you Ben and Denise Jones for everything. Your hospitality, grace and dignity are loved by all. Everyone knows that, without you two, this would just be another long tough, tough, tough race.
Thanks to Sun Precautions for the lead race sponsorship and for the wonderful hats.
Thanks to SCORE INTERNATIONAL and the American Postal Workers Union for some of my financial support.
Thanks to all the runners who had the heart and conviction just to get to the starting line. Everyone is a winner here.
Thanks again to all the crews who helped us realize our goals.
Thanks to all the doctors and therapists who patched me up just enough to get to the starting line, which then allowed me to completely beat the crude out of myself for two days.
Finally, thanks to my beautiful, understanding and wonderful wife, Christine, who guided me to the starting line by helping me stay somewhat positive once I became injured.
My crew and I had an unbelievably satisfying five days dealing with the elements and all the terrific people out in Death Valley. We were overwhelmed by the camaraderie, compassion, and heroics of this close knit family. For this we thank everyone a million times over.
It was indeed an honor to be part of the toughest footrace in the world the Sun Precautions Badwater 2000 Ultramarathon.
GOD Bless everyone.
#29 Arthur Webb