Thursday, July 23, 2009

Badwater Ultramarathon

Because of our Mt. Whitney permit reservation, unbeknownst to us, our trip coincided with the Badwater Ultramarathon which is a 135 mile foot race (I never saw them run) from Badwater in Death Valley to Whitney Portal trailhead which is the start of the Whitney Main Trail. The promoters kinda like to let it be implied that the race involves Mount Whitney which it doesn't except for going up to Whitney Portal, but let's give them a break given this is basic insanity.

The main page of their web site is here:
The map of the route is here:
A recap of this race is here:

The recap refers to a fire that I will give much more personal detail in a later entry as it was only 500 feet away from my campsite.

It's 5pm and we're hanging out in Lone Pine eating an early dinner before going up to portal to camp and aclimate, it's around 90 degrees or so and obviously had been much hotter. Every so otten, I'd see someone dressed as a runner with one or two other people walk by with an obvious purpose in mind and clearly looking in pain - pain that they had signed up for, trained for, and paid for. Each racer had a support van with the competitor's name on it and signs like "Caution Runner." There was someone else in the restaurant and I worked up the nerve to ask him if he was associated with it (it also took me a while to figure out a polite way to ask if he was involved in this mascocistic quest.) He was and said that his daughter would be along soon. He said that they had started yesterday and ran all day and into the night. I asked him if they slept and he said they have the option to if they want (she slept about 30 minutes or so), but the clock doesn't stop. They didn't even stop the clock for the 10pm-7am road closure of Whitney portal access road bedcause of the fire.

Temps where they started the race in Death Valley can get in the 120s. This time it was considerably over 100 degrees, but I don't know how hot it got. Given that my body stops functioning at all around 110 degrees, the thought of running in such temps is pretty unimaginable. The winner of the women (who came in 5th over all) didn't even get any blisters. Her crew made her stop every 20 miles (!) to make her change her socks. 20 miles. The only way I've done 20 miles in a day outside of a car is on a bike. The idea that 20 miles is just a marker to take a break is so unfathomable to me. Not only did she not get any blisters (which means that she did far better off than the average adventure racer), she also didn't get sick from the heat which is another common problem.

Our first day on the Whitney trail was the day after the race had ended. Every so often I'd look up and see a very lean person with great legs and a Badwater shirt. I'd ask "So Badwater wasn't enough for you?" which garnered a variety of reponses. The best which was

"Yes we're card carrying mascocists"

I'm on the Whitney trail with a full backpack (obviously not a couch potato) and I believe I said something like "Yes, you're making us all look like wusses."

What was amazing was that the support people often run along with them. One did 45 miles and another ran 50. That's nearly TWO marathons. And you did it just as a support person. This makes me pause and marvel every time I mention it.

Another thing is that this race is very difficult to qualify for. You have to have a history of running in these types of races. they only let 90 people in. Yes, more than 90 people want to do this and you have to assemble a crew of people to chase you around in a van so that you don't die out there.

So given how hard this is to get into and to prepare for there must be some pretty sweet rewards right? This is the awards list quoted from the web site:
AWARDS: All racers who begin the event will receive a Badwater Ultramarathon t-shirt, hat, Race Magazine, and a goodie bag. All racers who officially complete the event within 60 hours will receive a finisher’s medal and a finisher's t-shirt. All racers who officially complete the course within 48 hours will also receive a commemorative Badwater Ultramarathon buckle.
- So if you start the race you get a t-shirt, a hat, a magazine and a swag bag.
- If you finish the race you get a medal and a finisher's t-shirt
- If you finish under 48 hours you also get a commemorative buckle.

Sign me up (not). Note the lack of anything monetary. Someone told me that if you win you also get free entry for life. They also told me that there really isn't much sponsorship money in it. One very accomplished racer gets free hats and socks. That is amazing. Racers may incure $6000 of expenses plus airfare if they're international. I thought us dog agility people were nuts. Not a chance.

I wonder what attracts people to this? The ultimate challenge? An accomplished runner or triathelete can make some of their expenses back in race wins. Certainly not in this case.

A google of: why ultramarathon
is surprisingly not coming up with much save for this little gem here:

On the insanity meter, this is second only to the running of the bulls.

There is an additional recap here:

The winners finished in under 24 hours. Which means they were doing an average of 5.63 mph, and given that I personally never saw them run, it means that when they were running they were going faster.

Of course I can't help, but notice in what great shape they are and how lean they are.
I'm in good shape, but I have elevated triglycerides. Aspiring to be as lean as they are or even just close would likely do me a world of good though my knees and feet might not like it. But my knees are fine right now so it's likely worth working on more. Even just shedding that extra 10 pounds I carry world likely be a boon. I have started back to treadmill running since I got back from Whitney and if I have anything startling to report I may put it here, but for now it will reside in my boring Training Diary.

But while someday I may enter a 5k, it's pretty much a guarantee that I'm never doing a marathon and it is a guarantee that you'll never see me in an ultramarathon. For them, I'll be happy to be an impressed bystander.

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