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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."

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.